Take it away

It’s that time again! Travel planning time! This is possibly one of my favorite feelings in the world. The moment when it’s decided to hit the road and explore new realms. Zed and I have (mostly) decided to travel briefly for our one year since we met anniversary.

It’s a travel-bration!

Now that it’s decided we are going somewhere, we need to start planning! First is the budget question. The answer is pretty simple: CHEAP. This means we’re looking at staying with friends, driving versus flying and not too far from home.

Bear Lake, Utah found via Nutrifect.

1. Bear Lake, UT and ID

One thing is for sure, wherever we go we will be near a body of water that is not too salty for life. Zed is sailor-y; and I like drinking on beaches. So…yes.

The perks: Bear Lake is close, an easy drive away from SLC. We could probably stay at a cabin for relatively cheaply. We get to be all old-school with campfires, without the camping part. It’s about the cheapest trip possible. Back of the envelope math suggests we could do this trip for just a couple hundred bucks for both of us.

The downside: It is close! It’s still Utah-ish. (We will totally sneak to the Idaho side for some lottery, beer drinking time.) While Bear Lake would be a new and different experience for me, it’s close enough it doesn’t feel like much of a trip.

San Francisco’s Oakland Bay Bridge. Image found via Top Travel Lists.

2. San Francisco, CA

The coldest summer city in the US sounds like a delightful foodie trip. I love the idea of hanging out in Ghiradelli Square, checking out Alcatraz and seeing Golden Gate bridge for real. For some reason, I really want to hang out in a hotel room drinking wine and watching Hitchcock as well. Plus the city hosts a concert series in the park.

The perks: Another city to cross of the US tour list! It’s a fun new destination for both of us.

The downside: It’s expensive. Proto-budgeting clocks this visit in at about $500 a person before we land. Yikes!

Voodoo Donuts found via Tumblr.

3. Somewhere in the Northwest: Portland, OR or (near-ish) Seattle, WA

Both Zed and I hold a special place in our hearts for the Northwest. Although his reasons have more to do with sailing, and mine have more to do with beer. Whatevs.

The cost for both destinations is roughly the same regardless of flight, drive or hotel. Weirdly. Umm…honestly the only real reason for going to Portland is “Portlandia.” I’ve never been there, but I hear that Voodoo Donut shop is pretty BAMF. Plus I could totally indulge my desire to be a hippy without feeling judged!

Seattle is awesome! It would be awesome catch up with a few bad ass people we know out that way. There are boats, coffee on every corner and more beer! Yay! We could even do a micro-brewery tour. This is sounding more and more like the happy middle compromise trip. Actually.

Perks: The Northwest is always lovely and mostly affordable.

Downside: Not so sure we need another trips to Seattle.

The French Quarter in New Orleans

The French Quarter in New Orleans

4. New Orleans, LA

I am dying to get back to the Crescent City. I love it. I don’t care if we will sweat to death in the stupid swamp. I want to go back. There is a trip scheduled! Why not Nola?

Perks: New Orleans is lovely, beautiful, fun and not too expensive. Since I’ve abused this blog with my love of all things Nola too many times, I’m just going to leave it at that.

Downside: A visit here is comparable to San Francisco in terms of cost. Zed has been less than enthusiastic when presented with this option. He seems convinced we will be the victims of some terrible crime. Gah, this is what I get for making him watch “Treme.”

Nashville skyline at sunset found via Visit Music City.

5. Nashville, TN

It’s possible TV is responsible for most of these options. Are you watching “Nashville” yet? Hmm? You should be. It is awesome! I want to go to the Bluebird Cafe, hang out by the river and eat grits while listening to a local band play under Christmas lights drinking whiskey and lemonade.

Perks: A never been for both of us. TV has me convinced it will be amazing.

Downside: I can’t think of any except perhaps cost, which once again is comparable to New Orleans and San Francisco.

So there you have it. Five possible destinations. What do you think, readers? Where would you go for a celebration vacation?

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Bikes in Chicago

Bike Chicago

I’m homesick for the road.

I miss travel, the thrill of a new adventure, not knowing what’s coming next and unexpected finds like this bike. I love the colors on this ride. It’s so vintage chic. The bike was chained in the same spot everyday for my Chicago adventures in 2012.

Maybe it’s time to get myself a bike and explore the roads around here. SLC has some bike lanes; and the city is starting a bike share program this April. Although the green bikes are not as cute, I love the idea of shareable bikes to encourage travel.

Falling in love with Nola

PS Click the gallery to embiggen and see fancy photo-ness. Not really, these are pre-pro camera days. 

Around this time last year, I had a glorious time in Nola.

I spent a day hanging out with a couple of boys from Pittsburgh. We went from bar to restaurant to shop to bar meeting locals and chatting about everything except the NCAA March Madness playoffs that were happening.

Most of the time, it felt like we were the only non-Kentucky fans in the city, especially in the French Quarter. It’s a bit strange to stand out in a crowd because you’re wearing any color except blue. Not surprisingly I opted for summer dresses most days.

We met up for mufaletta at a local shop, then we tried out some hurricanes. Next we made our way to a shop selling alligator and beer. Another hurricane and we wandered through the quarter trying our best to leave the party known as Bourbon Street behind us.

It didn’t take much for us to go off the beaten path and find our way to street kids playing songs for money. We were intrigued by the grubby young adults about our same age who had clearly made a life decision to play guitar and sing for a living in the Crescent City. We watched them for a time trying to work out how they got there and whether they or us, the employed, had made a better life choice.

Eventually the questions felt too deep and real. Their wailing brought out the inner-philosopher far too much on this wild night.

We left the singers to their songs. We ventured to the edges of the “safe” neighborhoods and hung around in bars filled with musicians. Our accents giving us away as tourists right off. We drank a few beers and danced to a few songs trying to fit the rhythm of this wonderful city. A bucket passed through the crowd of swaying, sweaty bodies as the band played on. An old woman shouted and cursed kissing and dancing the donors as dollars dropped in to fill the bucket past its brim.

No one wanted the night to end.

We whirled and danced and swayed. Until finally the band called it a night from under the stage lights. We moved on to the next bar and the next song until finally there were no more musicians. Even the bar tenders were starting to wane.

Somehow we managed to find an empty taxi. It felt like the only one that wasn’t already carting off drunken bodies elsewhere. We hurtled through the last of the black night until finally I was at my home for the night deeply in love with a new city.

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The next morning I couldn’t wait to be out the door for coffee and beignets. It was a street car ride away to Cafe deMonde, but I didn’t mind the slow going. The damp morning felt like a hopeful promise of another day to explore the port city.

At the cafe I had my first taste of black chicory coffee or cafe au lait, it was not at all what I expected and not much to my liking. The beignets however were light, flaky and sugary–the best donut ever. I ordered a second cup of coffee, regular and another beignet. Then I made my way slowly along the promenade following the Mississippi River. The river runs deep, wide and slow. Watching the world wake up that morning, I was struck by just how powerful a force the river is.

Once the day had firmly started with barges moving along briskly and the neighboring Avery Island clearly up and about, I made my inside the mall to a cooking class. It was a simple demonstration of etouffe, gumbo, bananas foster and pralines . The chef was knowledgeable and kind, a delightful teacher who did a great job on selling the group of 10 or so women on nearly every product in the shop. The foods were wonderful. Even now when I eat Cajun or Creole, I think back to this lesson and meal as the benchmark for good.

I’ve since tried my hand at the dishes presented, but sadly without equally wonderful results. A bit of practice, the right tools and better ingredients would make a world of difference. (Do you know how hard it is to get fresh prawns in SLC without paying an absurd amount of money? Ugh.)

Next I slowly wound my way away from the commercialism of the mall onto other tourist quarters like the French Market and Jackson Square. I took my time moving slowly in no hurry for the day to get away from me. Outside a voodoo shop, I bought a ticket for a tour. It was still an hour until go time, so I made my way back through the small streets to another cafe for another coffee and beignet.

The walking tour proceeded along through the French Quarter and along the edge fo Treme. (I was overly excited by the mere mention of HBO’s New Orleans based show and dropped my coffee in happy surprise.) We went through a cemetery where Nicolas Cage bought a plot and built a pyramid for mysterious Cage-y reasons. It stands out as an odd duck in the city’s first cemetery. After seeing it, I can sympathize with the locals who are tired of celebrities buying up bits of the land around them.

Next we moved onto Preservation Hall, it was a nice little museum with displays mostly centered around the music of the city. Then it was time to visit a church and a grotto. I found the church a little less than impressive, but the grotto was intriguing.

Moss covered rocks with crevices stuffed full of rosaries and statues. My knowledge of Catholicism is nil, so I have no idea what all the mementos meant. But clearly this was a place of prayer and rememberance. More saintly in feel than the cemetery, it struck me as creepy.

I was the first tourist out of the grotto and back on the street.

The rest of the afternoon I spent wondering around the city solo. I passed empty building after empty building on the edge of the French Quarter. Finally I found a small market that was open for business. It was next to a museum that warned erratic hours due to understaffing. In the market I found overpriced water, in the museum I found tremendous art work from displaced local artists. Most of them had left during Hurricane Katrina, none had made their way back home. Yet.

A donation box at the door asked for help in bringing artists home.

Keep in mind Katrina happened in 2007, this was 2012. And still people needed help coming home. I was shocked. I asked the lone employee where the artists stayed. She said most were with family in other states or countries. I asked her how long they had been gone for and if they were coming back. She said, “Since Katrina,” to the first question. Then smiled and shrugged to the second.

I opted for the long way back to the Garden District, and walked slowly towards the hostel. I was full of wonder at this place that could survive so much disaster and struggle so much to continue. The city itself seemed to thrive on contradictions: artists showing work who lived no where near, revelers partying into the morning who had never seen a hurricane, locals pouring drinks who never drink. All of the past two days swirled around me and through me. I reached my destination, a small Vietnamese restaurant. I ordered pho and a beer. I reached for a phone and called to ask about renting a building I noticed early in the day.

The end of the story has already been told.

I didn’t move. But leaving Nola was almost as hard as leaving home. I love that city for its grime, for its heat, for its alcohol, for its people, for the atmosphere, for the inspiration, for the insanity.

No where else is quite like Nola; and I can’t wait to go back.

I’m feeling beachy

St. Vincent’s and the Grenadines from CNTraveler.com

My frustrations with this day are leaving me no recourse, except to dream of running away far from here.

There is no way I can actually get away this weekend, but here’s to dreaming.

The Caribbean is sounding delightfully dreamy what with family members (ahem!) making trips all winter long to the beaches, rum and sunny skies. As NBC News points out, the numerous beaches of the Caribbean make it a tempting offer. Personally I’m in awe of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the tiny island nation has 32 beaches! Thirty-two beaches! That’s over a month’s worth of seaside cocktails, flip-flops and sundresses.

If you really want to dream, read this CNN article on all the vacations I wish I could afford.

CBS shot of Bora Bora for The Amazing Race

Psst…have you been watching the latest incarnation of “The Amazing Race?” They were in Bora Bora. If that footage doesn’t make you want to hop on the nearest plane to the Pacific, I don’t know what will.

Perhaps I’ll make daiquiri cupcakes to feel a little beter about these sunny cold Utah days I’m living in.

My Father’s Travels

Dad, Red and the ranchMy dad is driving hours today to get to a tiny town.

At the town center, Main and Center intersect in front of two gas stations, a bank and a grocery store. The post office, mercantile and drug store are down the block. There’s one coffee shop, one liquor store, four churches and a temple. Few people live there, most who know it, are only passing through on their way from one national park to another.

It’s a long way to go without much to see. It’s far from here, from my life “up north.” The town moves at its own beat: one made up of miners, farmers, shop keepers and government workers.

The rhythm is the slow pace of the everyday. A decision can take up to an hour to make, but if you take your time and listen, you’ll probably get your way and learn something too. Usually the decisions revolve around stories. The stories get better when you let them grow, sometimes the telling is better than the plot. Not that it matters. The stories need room to breathe, time to take shape in the telling. No one’s in much of a hurry anyway, it’s winter now. No harvest to bring in, no cattle to herd, it’s easier now to take the time to talk shop. The farmers will huddle in the parts store to discuss the price of grain, horses, cattle, irrigation, weather they can’t control, and new equipment they can’t afford.

It’s dirt farming.

A living that kills these men after it makes them hard, it makes them strong. My dad’s nearly 61, and he can still take any of my five brothers in a fight. We call it old man strength, but it’s not age. It’s life. Early mornings, breaking horses, rounding up cattle, milking cows, feeding chickens, fixing fence, irrigating crops that refuse to grow. It’s the work that makes these worn men so strong. He seems invincible, even as I’ve watched him gain some paunch and lose more hair. He always looks the same, just a little slower, just a little heavier, still strong when needed. He’s aging like the sandstone canyons surrounding his land. A little erosion around the eyes, then a bit on the stomach, a tiny more hair goes, and now he’s old.

The old man is always out of place here in my home: his worn jeans, cowboy boots and hat that’s always dusty. He looks like he just blew in from the set of “Lonesome Dove.” He stands out like the Marlboro man in Salt Lake City. He wears flannel unironically. It’s warm, it’s practical. It’s the same fabric his mother used to make shirts, jackets, and blankets when he was young. He stands a little bow legged from too many days on horses backs, slightly hunched from too many nights of reading near a low-burning lamp.

His town is far away from my home.

He’s visiting me briefly, just a quick trip en route to help family move. That’s what you do, help each other, even when you don’t have much. He’s traveling out of his way to help someone in need without an expectation for anything in return. All he has to give is his strength, so he will.

We moved boxes yesterday, or more accurately, he did. I took up my usual role with my silent father, the talker. I stood around chatting with the neighbors, who had come to help. I asked questions of people, whose names I don’t remember, nodding my head and thanking people for their assistance and playing nicely with my pup. All the while remembering the same conversations playing out when I was small standing with Dad in the musty parts store.

Watching him move box after box, it’s hard to remember this is the same man who joined the Army, lived in Panama and across the U.S before settling down to farm with a wife and eight children. I forget that he loves books and travel, too.

We don’t talk much, me and my dad. Sure I call my family, but rarely talk with my dad. He’s reticent on the most talkative of days, and we don’t quite see the world the same. He tries to gently remind me about Jesus, no booze and no boys, while I stridently insist I’m happy and healthy, thank you very much.

I forget how excited he is to talk horses and wheat.

Then when I ask the right question his eyes light up, his hands expand and move as he tells the latest story of another ranching adventure. He recounts the winter’s losses in a low voice illustrating the depth and breadth of each injured horse, cow and fence with his hands at times using his whole body to express the emotions his voice seems unable to convey. He loses himself in telling how he lost his favorite Arabian horse due to a cattle guard, ensuing kidney troubles and a vet too far away to help. Life’s hard there, I remember.

It’s a tiny town far from here, the ranch is even farther.

Summer sunset over the Abajo MountainsI miss it. The smell of a crisp winter morning, the sun preceded by pink streaks spreading over Sleeping Ute like a blanket to wake the world. The sky slowly dawns into a purple morning over a red landscape taking its time to reveal the robin blue sky and the red dirt. The chill of the morning never quite shakes off in the midst of winter, snow becomes ice and the ice so thick he can walk across it as he completes the day’s chores.

It will be dark when Dad gets home tonight. It’s a long drive, but the stars will tell him where he is. More stars than you’ve ever seen will fill the sky. Orion’s belt in the west will reassure him that he’s home. It’s our favorite constellation, he taught me to love the stars when we would go out to milk the cows at night. The silence will fall so thickly he can hear it. The moon’s glow will light the way from the car park to the front door. It won’t even seem like he was in a city this morning when he hears the coyote howl in the distance, the cows bellowing in the field and fire crackling in the house.

It’s far away from here, a long way to travel home.

Dim sum, please?

Breakfast in Malaysia, I'll take my dim sum to stay.

Breakfast in Malaysia, I’ll take my dim sum to stay.

Oh man, I miss dim sum, especially in the morning when it’s warm and filling, a nice comforting way to start off a day of exploring in Southeast Asia. I ate these yummies on the street of a small winding ally in Kuala Lumpur. The cook and server was a sweet old woman, who seemed pleased as punch to have one last breakfaster in the late morning.

I love dim sum. Just looking at this photo makes my mouth water for more. I’ve missed it since October’s Hong Kong adventure. Anyone know where I can get some in Salt Lake?

Travel in the Time of Public Transit: USA Edition

I’ve said it many, many times, and I will say it again. I love trains. It is by far my favorite way to travel. Outside of the United States, railroad are accessible, convenient and affordable. Even the longest train ride in Malaysia (12 hours!) was an experience in meeting the locals, eating cheap food and watching the landscape unfold.

I love trains.

And so does Alfred Twu, who came up with this awesome plan for the future of America’s rail lines. I want this to be real 50 years ago. Seriously, how do we not have high-speed rail here?

Look at this map!

US High-Speed Rail System by Alfred Twu

US High-Speed Rail System by Alfred Twu

It’s purty!

We need this!

Sign the White House petition here. And let’s hear from the White House why train travel in the US can’t be more affordable, accessible and convenient. Our infrastructure is failing. Didn’t Obama just say in the State of the Union Address we have “70,000 structurally deficient bridges?” Why not make trains? Please!

It is possible, we just need to make it happen. Someday we’ll be able to go from New York to LA in two days! Without flying! And we could go to Canada! No more long road trips and motion sickness! How awesome!

Cheers to the Daily What for showcasing Twu’s map as a beautiful pipe dream. For more information about Twu and high-speed rail in America, Slate has a nice article about liberal’s dreams for public transit.