ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.

Travel Archive

Saturday

4

October 2014

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New Orleans Day 2 – 10 Miles and Many Beignets

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It’s easy to be lazy here. It isn’t so hot at this time of year (thankfully) that we can’t move, but the place we’re staying is comfortable, so there was no need to race out the door. But once we were out, we were ready to take on the day. First up was Cafe du Monde for beignets. Delicious fried bits of heaven covered in tons of powdered sugar. They are open 24/7, so we might have to visit later one of these nights. You basically stand in a line (that moved surprisingly quickly), grab a table, they come and clear out the dishes before you and you order. The only options are beignets and either chickory coffee, black coffee, OJ or cocoa. So they can churn this stuff out pretty quickly. They deliver the food, you pay right then (cash only) and then start down the road towards a sugar coma. They are delicious.

We walked over to the St. Charles Avenue Streetcar after and hopped on for a very nice ride to the park. Then we turned right around to walk back. The homes on that street are ridiculous. Just ginormous, with huge porches and manicured landscaping. The sidewalks are not well-kept, however; we have running assumption that one of us will twist an ankle by the weekend’s end. But the walk was gorgeous and it was nice to be out in the world. After a break to rest we went out to a brewery and then dinner at Cafe Giovanni, a delicious Italian spot.

I’m really enjoying this city. The architecture is gorgeous and its so easy to walk around and just get lost. Also, the drinks are delicious 🙂

Friday

3

October 2014

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New Orleans Day 1 – Not What I Expected

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Because of the work I’ve done for the past eight years or so, I (sadly) associate New Orleans with Hurricane Katrina. I’ve read three books about New Orleans this year; one was a guidebook (which is being very helpful I must say) and two were about the hurricane (Five Days at Memorial and Zeitoun). I know there is so much more history here, but in my mind when I saw that dome as we drove in from the airport I didn’t think about the Saints, I thought about people needing to be evacuated.

But I’m getting past that. We arrived and made it to our rental quickly, and it is lovely. It’s a small self-contained apartment with a kitchen and sitting area downstairs and two bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. It’s got just enough furnishing to feel comfortable but not so much that it feels like someone else’s house. We were 50/50 on the Air BnB thing before this trip; now we’re 2 out of 3 in the plus column, so that’s good. We’re set far back from the street just a block from Bourbon Street, and that’s fantastic, as we have this great courtyard along with two sweet cats who look like they’ve been beat up on the streets. Seriously, ugliest cats I’ve ever seen in person. But still SO SWEET.

Bourbon Street is narrower than I imagined, but just as raunchy as I expected. Even more so, actually. There’s the Hustler Club, the Penthouse Club, and something featuring ‘barely legal’ dancers which, I have to say, should not be appealing. What is their tag line – feel like a pedo without that nasty lingering fear of arrest? Yikes. It also seems that every other storefront is a daquiry/pizza joint. That exact combination is repeated throughout the street. Odd.

The rest of the French Quarter so far seems pretty awesome. We found a bar (21st Amendment) that had this little room we managed to commandeer. It felt like where the head mobster would meet and grant favors to his men. The drinks were delicious, and the bartender recommended a restaurant nearby to try out. St. Lawrence had very tasty food and a good drink selection. I couldn’t finish mine, but that’s okay, because you just ask for a to-go cup and they pour it into one for you to take away. Wow.

We wandered the streets a bit then found Fritzel’s, which was featuring a really great brass band. Fantastic jazz – the kind I really like, that sounds almost like a big band but not quite. They also had a bumper sticker that I must find:

“New Orleans: We Put the Fun in Funeral”

Monday

7

July 2014

0

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Alaska By Cruise Ship

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Two Stars

ABCS

I’m going on a cruise to Alaska this summer to celebrate my dad’s 70th birthday, and I’m pretty excited. I’ve never been north of Vancouver on the West Coast, so I thought I’d pick up a book to learn what I should check out when I’m in the various ports. I’ve been on a cruise before, so I generally know what to expect on that front – I just wanted some information on locations and maybe a little history.

This book is fine. I don’t think a lot of editorial effort went into it – there’s at least one pretty obvious error that shouldn’t have escaped anyone’s eye, really – but there’s a lot of information, and some history. In fact, there was probably more history than your average travel book, so I appreciate that. However, I’m a bit suspect about the accuracy. It’s not just the aforementioned typo; that can happen if you don’t have a great editor, or even if you do, mistakes still get made.

However, it’s not just typos. Because many Alaska cruises start and/or end in Seattle, there’s a nice section on my home city. Even though I live here, I still read that section, and it was full of errors that would have been avoided with some basic fact-checking (i.e. Googling). I know information can become out of date quickly in the travel guide world, but considering this edition of the book came out in March of this year, I expect it to be fairly accurate. Some things I take issue with might just be a matter of interpretation – the author claims the north cruise ship dock is 20 minutes from downtown, which, I guess, if traffic is moving at 5 miles per hour, that MIGHT be the case. But it’s literally four miles from the heart of downtown – I know because I used to go for runs from the middle of downtown up to there and back. But like I said, maybe she just wanted to cover her rear so people allow enough time. Okay.

But Ms. Vipond also talks about buses in the downtown Seattle corridor being free between 6 AM and 7 PM, but they got rid of the ride-free zone in September of 2012 – not exactly close to the deadline for this edition. And the IMAX Dome theatre she mentions closed well before that – I want to say in 2007? Even the name of our football stadium, which changed a couple of years ago (and got a lot of press this last year, what with the Seahawks winning the Super Bowl) is incorrect. She does point out a relatively new attraction – a Ferris wheel on the waterfront – so clearly she did some research. The point of me going into such detail is because knowing all of those errors in just five or six pages makes me really question whether any of the information in the rest of the book can still be considered accurate.

If you happen to be going on a cruise this summer and want some basic background on the ports of call, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with picking up this guide. I just can’t vouch for accuracy.

Saturday

19

April 2014

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DK Eyewitness Travel Guide to New Orleans by Marilyn Wood

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Three Stars

DK New Orleans

First off, I fully recognize that this review would probably be best saved for AFTER I visit the city for which I purchased it. However, that trip is over five months away, so I don’t know if I’d really remember much at that point. If anything in the book has led me wildly astray, however, I’ll come back and update my review.

In my experience of the travel book world, there are a few big players, which I usually envision this way: Rick Steves (a.k.a. what your parents use); Fodor’s and Frommer’s (the sort of generic middle of the road); Lonely Planet (for the SLIGHTLY less mainstream traveler), and Eyewitness (for the person who likes shiny things and detailed maps). I know there are others; these are just the ones I have found to be the ones usually in stock at a bookstore. In looking at my husband’s and my travel bookshelf, we have 10 Lonely Planet guides and three Eyewitness Travel.

(more…)

Wednesday

17

July 2013

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What I Learned on My Honeymoon

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DSCN2951

Austin and I just got back from spending two weeks traveling across Scotland and Ireland. It was fun, relaxing, interesting, stressful and tiring. Some observations.

1. When I’m in the UK and Ireland there are only two types of alcohol I want: Cider and Whisk(e)y, primarily of the Bulmers/Magners and speyside/Jameson varieties.

2. Scotland and Ireland start to melt around 82 degrees, and shift into a circle of hell around 88 degrees. When that happens, I average three showers per day and become a decidedly un-sunny person.

3. It doesn’t matter how lovely the scenery or wonderful the company; if it’s 90 degrees in my room at 12:30 A.M. I’m going to be miserable. I recognize that makes me a wimp, and possibly a bratty one. I’m not okay with that, but couldn’t figure out how to just ‘get over’ melting into a puddle.

4. The Isle of Skye is gorgeous and I could spend another week there exploring.

5. There’s really no need to visit Inverness.

6. Edinburgh is gorgeous in the summer, when it is light from 5 A.M. until 11 P.M. I can also imagine it being dark and gloomy in the winter and still awesome because of all the cool architecture.

7. By settling down and just picking one major thing to do each day, I was able to relax more and enjoy myself more. I’m not going to be able to see or do everything I want, and trying to takes me away from relaxation and over to stress.

8. I still love Ireland more than most places I’ve been, but I feel okay about not going back for a few years. There’s more to see.

9. There really is nothing like seeing old friends. Ben/Bonnie, Kate/Richard, Vanessa/Diarmuid: it was WONDERFUL to see you and catch up. You are welcome in our home any time.

10. My husband is awesome. After 16 days of near non-stop togetherness, five flights and about 24 hours of road tripping, we only came close to fighting once. Freakin’ sat nav taking us to the train station instead of the train station parking lot.

Next stop: NYC in October!

Tuesday

13

July 2010

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Wednesday

30

June 2010

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Berlin is Poor, but Sexy

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My sister and I went to Berlin for four nights about a week ago. I was there in 1998 when my high school choir was touring central Europe, and I remember very little. We stayed in the east, I believe. I ate at a Pizza Hut (I was vegetarian at the time) and was so surprised but happy to see that the staff there spoke English. I also remember going to a museum near Checkpoint Charlie.

Stephanie and I stayed in Kreuzberg just a block south of Checkpoint Charlie. We got in on our flight around 7pm, and took the train in from the airport. Within minutes I had accidentally activated the assistance alarm in our accessible room. Whoops. Our first German meal was actually Vietnamese (so good), after which we walked up Freidrichstrasse to Unter der Linden and over to the Brandenburg Gate, where the Christopher Street Festival was going on. We returned to see teeny tiny gummy bears on our pillows.
Sunday I woke up with a cold, which frankly was inevitable. I’d been going full force, studying and stressing, for a couple of months. Once the stress of that was gone, I almost immediately got on a plane to take a vacation. But it turned out to be a pretty mild cold, so we forged ahead. We went to the Topographie des Terrors, which was eerie. After stopping for a currywurst, we walked over to the DDR Museum, which focuses on what daily life was like in East Berlin in the 60s-80s. Really fascinating place. We passed through the forum where Marx and Engels are displayed in statue form, then strolled up Karl-Marx-Allee until we reached the East Side Gallery.
At this point we were pretty exhausted so we took a break and regrouped for a visit to the Holocaust Memorial. It was powerful and eerily quiet. After that we needed something a bit lighter, so we found some Italian food and then made our way over to the Reichstag, which is where the government meets. You can go up in the dome, and we got there for the last entry at 9:30pm, giving us some gorgeous twilight views of Berlin. We walked from there to the main train station with the hopes of getting tickets to Dresden for the next day, but decided instead to take a trip just outside Berlin to Potsdam.
Potsdam is a gorgeous little town. There are interesting winding streets with somewhat more colorful buildings that we found in Berlin during our first two days. We found a great place with yummy German food and lovely waitstaff who politely translated every menu item for us. We visited the huge park there and got caught in a rain storm before taking refuge in the Neues Palais. Talk about massive. We headed back in the evening, got Chinese food for dinner and visited the Checkpoint Charlie museum I had gone to twelve years ago. A ton of information to take in about attempts to escape from East Berlin and to change the government.
Tuesday we hoped to see the Bauhaus Archive but it was closed, so we wandered over to the Zoo area. That part was very commercial and kind of creeped me out, although we found a gem in the Museum for Photograph / Helmut Newton museum. His work is amazing. We walked through Tiergarten, stopped for a sundae (mmmmmm) and then walked over to see the Tacheles, this amazing art installation.
Wednesday was our last day (late flight back to London) and we went up a bit north to take a Berlin Underground tour. I really recommend this – the tour we took had us going into two underground bunkers – both built to protect people from bombings during WWII, with one renovated to handle cold war tensions. It was really amazing, and we were lucky to have a great guide who was an archaeologist by trade. He was full of really interesting knowledge. For example, did you know Frankfurt is the center of European flight control because it dates back to it serving as the hub of the Berlin airlifts in the 60s? We finished the day watching the England match at one of the many ‘beaches’ set up throughout the city for World Cup viewing.
Berlin was really cheap, and not crowded at all. In fact, the places we were seemed very empty. But the neighborhoods near the Tacheles and the Underground tour seemed really interesting and places I’d want to explore more. I could definitely see myself going back.

Thursday

20

May 2010

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Come to Europe!

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Have you checked out the exchange rates lately? Holy crap. The pound was hovering around $1.67 when I moved here; today it's at $1.43. The Euro has dropped to $1.24. Time for a vacation!

Sunday

2

May 2010

0

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Spring Break Park V – The unexpected home stretch

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Thanks to Justin and Vanessa I was able to get to Washington DC. I spend my day there visiting the red pandas at the National Zoo, stopping by my favorite Thomas Cole paintings and checking out the amazing Newseum, where I saw such cool stuff as an original front page from a paper written the week after the London fire of 1666.

Tuesday I took the bus up to NYC and was so excited to just sit in an empty apartment by myself. I went for a run in Prospect Park, and even bought groceries so I could cook for myself for the first time in two weeks. It was heavenly. Wednesday I met up with Johanna for lunch at Rice, one of my favorite places near my old job. Thursday I met Jonathan for lunch (same place – woo) and ended up spending some time with old co-workers, as I stumbled upon Take Your Kids to Work day and an outdoor display of a fire house. That night I met Eric (who is heading to L.A. in a month – break a leg!) for dinner at Sotto Vocce, a great Italian place near where I used to live. 

Friday Bonnie and I met up to run a couple of loops in Prospect Park, and ended with a stretch underneath the gorgeous blooms of the cherry trees in the Botanic Gardens. We even saw a couple get engaged. I met up with John for some Mexican food, and then a few friends at a great new beer garden: Mission Dolores. It reminds me of Vol de Nuit – indoor-outdoor-indoor, low-key, relaxing. Nice for a warm Friday night. Then more Italian food – La Villa, another fantastic restaurant, one that people likely walk by because it is decidedly dorky in an un-hip way. But the decor doesn’t matter when the baked ziti is that good.

Saturday I spent time with Allegra, and met up with a friend from college who I had not seen in probably seven years. Excellent.

After a bus ride back to DC Sunday, I caught a flight out to London Monday, and have been enjoying being home all week. Grocery shopping, cooking, and sleeping in my own bed have been wonderful. Plus, I’ve turned in ten pages of my thesis and am making good headway on my exam preparation. Next week: visit from Jonathan! Off to Wales and Hampton Court. Should be an adventure.

Wednesday

21

April 2010

0

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Spring Break Part IV – Kentucky

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When I got to the airport Thursday I checked on my flight to see if the upgrade I requested had any chance of coming through. The gentleman at the counter was very kind, but replied “upgrade? Honey, we’re going to have to downgrade people.” The volcano had erupted the night before, and all flights to London were suspended. My flight to Chicago was meant to continue on to London, so they changed planes to avoid flying such a large one a relatively short distance. Unfortunately, that meant that nearly 20 people were left behind. I was not one of them however, and I made my way to Louisville and met Justin, who picked me up as he drove in from DC. We later picked up his girlfriend Vanessa, in on a later flight. We stayed over in Louisville and crashed at an airport hotel.

The next morning we drove to Lexington, before first stopping at a waffle house. The staff was nice, although we felt a bit out of place as we were dressed for the races and thus done up a bit more than the Waffle House crowd. Our server was nice, although when she brought Vanessa her chocolate milk, she asked if she wanted sugar or Splenda for it. Hmm…

We checked into the hotel and then went on the Keeneland for the races and met up with the bride and groom, Herman and Kathleen. They seemed great – so relaxed and happy. Friends of theirs have a box at the races, so we all gathered there, placing bets, some of us even winning money! That evening we gathered at Kathleen’s family farm for a BBQ. It was so great to see so many of my NYC friends!

Saturday started well – Erin, Bonnie, Kathleen and I (the original half-marathoners) met at the farm for a morning 5-mile run. It was such a great way to start the day. I was meant to go on a bourbon tour, but spent some time on the phone to my airline checking on my flight. That afternoon we headed out to the farm on a shuttle bus provided.

The ceremony was so beautiful. Kathleen looked utterly gorgeous, and Herman was cool as a cucumber. The readings were great, the weather was absolute perfection, and it was just … wow. Not over the top, and suiting them both so well. The tent for the reception was decorated with flowers from neighboring gardens, and lovely spring colors. The NYC folks were seated near the dance floor, as was appropriate. The food was delicious – all manner of amazing southern delicacies, plus red velvet cupcakes, including gluten-free ones for Jonathan (my wonder twin and date for the evening). We danced into the night, having such a great time. It was another wonderful wedding, and I’m so excited for the happy couple!

In the midst of all of this, I learned that my flight home to London was cancelled. Yikes. We figured out that I would hitch a ride to DC with Justin and Vanessa, staying there for a couple of nights, then take a bus up to NYC and stay in Herman and Kathleen’s apartment, where I am now, as they are on their two-week honeymoon. Sunday I’ll take a bus back down to DC, where hopefully I’ll take a flight out of Dulles Monday night and back to London, just eight days late. It seems like air space is open now, so hopefully by next Monday I’ll be all set! Pictures of all adventures will follow as soon as I can get them off of my camera …