Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Getting Soxy in Seattle

As I was walking along the beach the other day, I came up with a simple, but BRILLIANT idea for a new Red Sox t-shirt: "I'm Dead Soxy". However, I Googled it merely moments later, and much to my dismay, it seems as though it wasn't as original as I had hoped. Back to the drawing board.. In order to quell my minor depression, I decided that I'd visit the hometown team itself to draw some inspiration from my dear Dirt Dogs, and boarded a plane up to Seattle where they'd be battling a 3-game series against the Mariners. While the Sox were certainly high atop my agenda, even higher was a pair of college cronies whom I shall lovingly refer to as 'Bacon & Eggs'.

I first visited Seattle about 2 years ago. Except it was March. And it rained. A lot. Contrary to my preconception about the weekend's forecast, I walked off the plane into 70+ degree weather. I was forced to acknowledge that this was not only warmer, but much sunnier than it has been in San Diego over the past month (fondly known as 'May Gray' in SoCal). Once I was quickly humbled, I opted to join Bacon & Eggs in taking advantage of the weather rather than indulging in the playful banter of "my city is better than your city". Before our journey to Safeco Park on Saturday night, we frolicked in the verdant scenery that encompassed much of Ballard. And, yes, we really did frolic courtesy of the energetic spirits of our companions, two Australian labradoodle puppies. Think wind-up toys with sharp nails. Jersey & Bailey tuckered us out so much, that we all took a 2-hour nap before BBQ & beer time.

Finally, the moment had come. Off we went to the ballpark. Through Pioneer Square and past Qwest Field, I saw it: Safeco Park. Now, I've always wanted to visit this stadium because of the spectator proximity to the bullpen. Fortunately, this was the only game of the series that looked to promise a positive outcome for the Sox. With that said, Jonathan Papelbon would inevitably finish the game. We scurried down for a spot flush against the fence that would allow us to get an extremely close-up glimpse of the closer with the crazy eyes. As I fought through several rows of people, I found myself pinned against the fence, less than 5 feet from my goal. It honestly felt orgasmic.

..Yet more importantly, I can now truly understand why Bacon & Eggs love their life in the Pacific Northwest.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Drinkin' Booze in Santa Cruz

As part of my California-state tour, I jaunted up to Monterey this past weekend to visit some friends from my Glory Days.. high school.  As an aside, I had a layover in Los Angeles.  I barely buckled my seat belt before we touched ground in the big city.. what a joke.  Apparently it is quite difficult to get a direct flight into Monterey.  This made a lot of sense upon arrival as the size of the airport equated to the size of my elementary school, if that.  Many visitors to Monterey actually fly into San Jose International airport and rent vehicles to complete the hour long trip down to the peninsula.. just an FYI.

Anyway, I digress.  One of our leisurely activities consisted of visiting Santa Cruz to enjoy some delectable mimosas and Bloodys at a classy, little joint called 515 Kitchen & Cocktails.  We had intended on sipping our suds atop a roof-deck boasting sensational views, however, Mother Nature had other plans in store for us.  No big deal, the goal of the trip was to enjoy libations, which was clearly inevitable.  As we entered the 515, we walked upstairs into the dining room and were greeted.. or judged.. by a 20-something year old host that treated us as if we were a gang of vagabonds.  When you enter into a restaurant, doesn't the greeting generally go something like "Good afternoon, how many for lunch today?"  Well, this Judgy McJudgerson didn't get that memo.. his interpretation was more along the lines of "Excuse me, are you looking for the restroom?"

HA, joke's on you, Preppy Paul.  Not only are we staying, but we're probably going to get a little bit inebriated and unnecessarily loud.. after all, it was a reunion of sorts.  And that it was.  

Moral of the story:  If you're in Santa Cruz, visit the 515.  They make a hell of a Bloody Mary.  

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

An American's Guide to 'Speaking British'

As I get ready for my upcoming trip to London, I've started brushing up on my British English language skills. "What? British English language skills? Don't the Brits speak English?" While the Brits do in fact speak English, you'll find that it's not quite the same English that we speak here in the States.

So before you pack up your briefcases, suitcases and backpacks, take the time to review some of these popular British words, phrases and slang or else risk making an arse out of yourself across the pond.

  • 24 Hour Clock: Americans know it as "military time", but don't refer to it that way in the UK. This is particularly useful when navigating public transportation as well as hours of operation for tours, museums and shops.
  • Bank Holiday: Make sure you aren't out and about during a "bank holiday." Banks of course, and most businesses are going to be closed. Bank holidays include New Year's Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday, two Bank Holidays in May, one in August, Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
  • Big Issue: If a homeless person comes up to you shouting "Big Issue!", don't fret. "Big Issue" is the UK equivalent to the "Spare Change" newspaper, which discusses the issues surrounding homelessness. The homeless people generally make about a quarter for each issue they sell, so don't be afraid to help them out.
  • "Last Orders Please!": "Last Call" in a bar. Order your last beverage now! The bartender will then shout "Time!", which means that it's too late to order another drink. You now have about 20 minutes to finish your drink. This time period is known as "drinking up time."
  • Fag: Cigarettes.
  • Cinema/Film: If you want to go and see a movie at the movie theater...you really want to go see a film at the cinema.
  • Fruit Machine: Slot machine.
  • Cashpoint Machine/Hole In The Wall: ATM
  • Holiday: Once you arrive in customs, the customs agent might ask you the purpose of your visit. If you're on vacation, avoid confusion and say that you're on "holiday."
  • Lift: If you're looking for an elevator, you should probably ask where the "lifts" are instead.
  • Mobile: Cellular phones
  • Notes: Bills (paper money) are referred to as "notes".
  • Post: In the UK, the mail is known as "the post." The post arrives in the morning. You can drop it off in a postbox located on the street corner.
  • Pub: The pub is the cornerstone of British social life. Every town has at least one. Locals frequent their neighborhood pub for a pint and a pie.
  • Queue: In the UK you never "stand in line." Instead you "queue."
  • Reception: Need fresh towels brought up to your hotel room? Don't bother looking for the number to the lobby. You're far more likely to find the number to "reception."
  • Shopping Trolley: Shopping cart
  • Tube: In London, the subway is referred to as "the tube" or simply as "the underground."
  • Way Out: Don't freak out if you can't find "the exit." Look for signs that say "way out," and you'll be just fine.
  • Loo: Looking for the bathroom? Ask where you can find "the loo," toilet or restroom. You might see signs that say "WC" or "water closet."

Knowing these basic British words and phrases will help you get by on your trip to the UK. Don't worry if you can't remember all of them. Chances are, someone will know what you're getting at if you mistakenly ask where the "bathroom" is. Just be prepared for a funny look or raised eyebrow.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Troop Goes On, Man.

Planning for the next extended troop has begun!

Destination: Austria, Czech Republic, and London
Departure Date: May 25th (T-minus 47 days)
Preparedness Level: Extremely Low (plane tickets purchased)
Excitement Level: Bipolar?

I'm not quite sure what is wrong with my troopin lil' self! I should be over the moon with anticipation and excitement. When I purchased my plane tickets, I almost started doing cartwheels through my office, whilst yelling at the top of my lungs: "See you later SUCKERS! I'm going to PRAGUE.  That is a Czech word for I won't have to work for over a week and a half!"

I'm in the lull right now. That ugly, dark place that every pre-traveler experiences, where the booking high has diminished, and you still have T-minus 47 days until you can actually do cartwheels around your office.

For the more seasoned traveler, this also seems to be when the conflict begins: to plan or not to plan? Past experience tells me the planning will help me maximize the number of sites, towns, and countries I will be able to see. It will keep my blood pressure down - that's right I'm an old 27 year old. Finally, it will also ensure that I don't have to sleep in a bed with questionable stains on the sheets (true story from one night in Barcelona - GOD BLESS DreamSacks and liquor).

On the other hand, not planning has led to some of my truly great travel experiences. I have also found that accommodations found on location can be higher quality and cheaper. Compared to anything found through TripAdvisor.com, hotels.com or the Lonely Planet guidebook - I mock, but they are actually a decent resource/starting point.  And haven't always led me astray. 

For those with unlimited monetary resources, it is very unlikely that this is a concern, but for the budget traveler, the question remains: Plan or No Plan?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Traveling with Cash or Credit?

Ah, one of the age old questions when it comes to traveling; a quandary as perplexing as the chicken or the egg… okay, maybe not age old, but certainly an issue worth addressing.

To be fair, and to be honest, there is not one right answer to this question. Traveling with cash boasts advantages and disadvantages, depending upon where you are. When traveling internationally, we have all been warned to keep personal belongings protected and in the line of sight. While this warning should truly be heeded anywhere, traveling with cash will serve you well in many foreign countries. For example, in many parts of Africa local currency is the monetary measure that will reward you with the most lucrative deals.

However, traveling with credit cards in your possession is generally always a smart idea. Unfortunately, you could become one of the unlucky souls that is blindly robbed of all of your cash. When I was abroad in Paris, I sadly encountered such an experience in an Internet café. I never even realized that anything had been snatched from directly beneath my nose until a couple of hours later… so much for booking that trip to Italy! Yet, I was saved by the backup credit cards that I had brought along with me until I could re-establish the source of my cash flow.

Filling out credit card applications can help you to determine which card may most optimally benefit your traveling needs. As there are a variety of credit card options available today, including those boasting low APR, rewards, and balance transfers, it can be difficult to decide which card will be most suitable for your unique situation. Allow yourself the opportunity of traveling affordably and of benefitting from your adventures by taking the time to fill out a credit card application.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Dominican Dreaming

Last week, I experienced my first island adventure.. well, other than Nantucket and Coronado. No offense to either as they are both absolutely beautiful and unique places, but the Dominican Republic represented my first trip to white sand beaches and clear blue waters. I felt like I was in a Corona commercial.. except the beach buzz was fueled by banana daiquiris and Presidente beers. While we weren't exactly roughing it or participating in a true sense of travel, it was still nothing short of amazing. I'm not one for swimming, but I am definitely one for appreciating the beauty of natural scenery.

I won't babble on about my experiences in this post, but will leave you with some captivating imagery instead.. enjoy!

Ocean view at Paradisus Palma Real
Beach at Paradisus Palma Real
Beach tents at Paradisus Palma Real
Hidden beach bed at Paradisus Palma Real

Friday, March 20, 2009

Miles From Nowhere by Barbara Savage

If you're looking for inspiration and motivation, then Miles from Nowhere should be within your queue of books.  The true story recounts a 2 year round the world bicycle trip by newlyweds, Barbara & Larry Savage.  Along the way, they not only encounter and overcome unique physical obstacles, but also conquer tremendous mental and emotional challenges.  While at times their frustrations and tensions seem to get the better of them, they inevitably form a stronger bond than either individual could have ever imagined.

The journey begins with their experiences in bicycling from California across the northern route of the United States and down to Florida.  From the States, they continue their adventure in Spain, Portugal, Morocco, England, Scotland, parts of Eastern Europe, Egypt, India, and eventually in New Zealand.  The cultural shock and treatment that they experience and receive along their journey ultimately defines their perception of life and how to appropriately appreciate what you have as well as how to live fully and with an open mind.

While the pair did return back to the States safely, Barbara Savage unfortunately passed away as the book went to press due to traumatic injuries from a bicycling accident.  This book serves to function as a tribute to her vitality, her lifelong dream, sense of adventure, confidence, dedication, love and passion for her bicycling journeys as well as for her family and friends.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Say Hello, Say Hello to Hollywood

Just recently, I had the pleasure of paying a long overdue visit to a friend from home that has resided in Los Angeles for the past 5+ years. My main concern in taking the journey was transportation. Although I do have a car here with me in San Diego, I'm not the most comfortable driver. So, I decided to look into train options. 

For anyone traveling from San Diego to Los Angeles or vice versa, I would highly recommend Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner service. Especially if you'd rather eat feces than sit in traffic (sorry for the graphic, but I know you know the feeling) or anticipate some sort of hangover on at least one leg of your trip. Allowing someone else to focus on the driving is always best in this scenario.  In my opinion, it is a logical and affordable alternative to driving.  Of course prices are subject to change, but when I rode, it was $29 each way.  I would have spent at least that amount on gas each way.. I'm assuming.. as well as an unquantifiable amount on stress and anxiety.  It makes quite a few stops, but still gets you to LA in about 2 and 1/2 hours.  Plus, it offers alcoholic beverages, snacks, sandwiches, and stunning coastal views for much of the ride.  If you hit the nail on the head, then you'll have the pleasure of riding under the leadership of a hilarious conductor.  This helped to cure my hangover on the way home.  Well, that and Dominos.

Anyway, my friend lives in West Hollywood.  I was sort of mesmerized by just the idea of being in LA as I'd never been.. we could have stayed in her apartment the entire time and I still would have been star-struck.  My one touristy request was to see the Hollywood sign.. I mean, why not?

Hollywood SignWhat?  You can't see it?  It's close to the top of the hill - almost blends in with the clouds.  We took the photo from Mulholland Drive.  Weather wasn't the best that weekend, but I was quite intrigued by the clouds.  It doesn't take much..

Downtown LA from Mulholland Drive
If you've never been to the Los Angeles area, then I would highly recommend brunch at Hamburger Mary's.  While it's not unique to Los Angeles, the mimosas, Bloody Marys, atmosphere, and wait staff were top-notch.  I'd also suggest a stroll along Venice Beach.  They've both changed my life forever.  You'll understand once you've experienced for yourself.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Quest for the Kasbah by Richard Bangs

I recently had the pleasure of reading Quest for the Kasbah by Richard Bangs.  As I became lost in the Moroccan adventure of the first few chapters, I could have sworn that I, myself, had written parts of this journey.  Although no two trips are ever identical, it seems as though we might have come quite close.

Bangs describes a remarkable journey juxtaposing past and present day lifestyles as well as Morocco and the western world.  As the true definition of a melting pot, Morocco blends languages, people, and nationalities to boast the epitome of a deeply rooted culture.  Through his insightful journey, Bangs has set his ultimate goal as creating a modern day definition of the word, 'kasbah'.  

Formerly known as a safe haven for all types of people, the kasbah was a place where people could meet, talk, exchange ideas, share traits and treats, and form true connections with actual strangers.  He raises the over-arching question of how technology in the western world has impaired our abilities to form bonds with distant people.  Virtually anywhere, we can access the virtual world.  We've transcended into digital nomads that define a different, and perhaps less intriguing and respected, way of adventure.  Internet connections, cell phones, digital cameras, and other advanced forms of technology have enabled us to grasp and share information with ease.  Conversely, they've also allowed us to alienate ourselves from a life and a world that offers tremendous adventure.

Just last weekend, I was on a train from San Diego to Los Angeles to visit a friend, and nearly everyone around me was either speaking on a cell phone, engrossed in a dvd by way of a computer, or intensely listening to an ipod.. myself included.  These should be opportunities that afford us the chance of creating an everlasting bond with a stranger.  Although the development of media communications has provided us with the opportunity to make our worlds larger, it has also detrimentally affected the way that we personally interact with one another.

Throughout his journey, Bangs is able to recount sensory experiences from his trip.  He vividly depicts the environment, scenery, culture and pride of Morocco and its inhabitants.  While technology is accessible in this country, it is not the way of life.  Most of Morocco's inhabitants have chosen to live the way their ancestors did 800 years ago.  For them, simplicity, consistency, adventure, family, friends, and love define a fulfilling way of life.  Taking each day as it comes and relishing in all that it has to offer represents what is important to these people.  

During our trip to Morocco, I remember our guide, Driss, preaching to us about how Americans rarely seize an opportunity impulsively.  We're so focused on saving and planning that we often let experiences slip by us unnoticed.  I undoubtedly owe part of my decision to move to the west coast to Driss and his wisdom.

By the end of his journey, Bangs comes to understand the kasbah as a secure place that welcomes with open arms the cultures and ways of different groups of people.  It is still a melting pot.  It is still a place where all people can come to share ideas and celebrate the interconnectedness of man.

Quest for the Kasbah by Richard Bangs was published by Open Road Publishing, a leading travel guide publisher based in Cold Spring Harbor, New York.  An enlightening journey of intertwining life lessons, Bangs's expedition is a must-read for anyone with a passion for adventure, history, and culture.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Scotch or Whiskey or Both?

Ahhh Scotland land of Loch Ness, William Wallace, deep fried Mars bars, haggis, beautiful scenery, and DO NOT forget the Scotch Whiskey. Taking a bus tour to the Northern most parts of Scotland in February may not be the logical choice for a vacation, but I would beg to differ. Not only does the more extreme  (and cold) weather keep many tourists away - I mean come on, seeing sites without stumbling over fellow tourists is a dream - but the rain and wind seem to be practically ingrained in the Scottish culture. Shouldn't it be the goal of all true travelers to find those destinations that aren't overrun by tourists? If only for one season of the year.

We dropped into Edinburgh, Scotland mid-afternoon and had a few hours to explore the city before most of the museums and (non-pub related) sites closed. First top was a pub fairly close to Edinburgh Castle for some of the LEGIT best fish & chips I have ever had in my entire existence as a human being...I'm by no means a connoisseur, but 5 months in Ireland taught me a thing or two. We spent the remainder of the afternoon trying to hit up the major tourist spots in Edinburgh, which for us ended up being a two block radius - damn you draft beer, and your delicious, delicious draftiness!

Edinburgh Castle:

I would say this is a MUST see for anyone with even a small amount of time - if castles aren't your thing, just go for the view.

The Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre:

(That would be me flaunting my newly earned Scotch Heritage Certificate)

Okay, I totes admit it, the beers at lunch may have pushed us in this direction. While I definitely wouldn't say it is a must see for those with a small amount of time it was amusing, informative, free sample offering, and certificate giving. The staff seemed knowledgeable, and patient enough to attempt to teach 3 young women the difference between varieties of Scotch. They didn't even laugh when we pretended to judge the quality - "hmmmm, I think this has a peaty taste." Did I mention there is a barrel ride?

Our youth hostel, Castle Rock Hostel, was cheap, centrally located, gracious enough to allow us back in after our "whiskey sampling", and had a rather humorous way of naming beds in the dormitory.
(*I am convinced they are psychic too - ha).  

Friday, January 23, 2009

Just a Brief Post from the Left Coast

Greetings from sunny San Diego! So what if I moved here for the fictional character of Ron Burgandy.. of course I didn't. It was actually all for Brick. Anyway, almost one week ago, I left everything I knew for sun, warmth and the security of no job. Pretty much all three of these factors have remained constant for the past 6 days.

Had I planned and prepared, I would have driven cross country and had plenty of adventurous photos to share with you all. Unfortunately, planning isn't really my thing. Things either happen on a whim or just sort of fall into my lap.. I shouldn't jinx myself. I ended up flying. On a half empty JetBlue flight. I had an entire row to myself. We didn't have to wait at all for the plane to taxi. Smooth sailing.. fast forward 20 minutes into the flight. Enter Pilot.

"Hi Folks, Thank you for joining JetBlue on today's cross-country flight from Boston's Logan International Airport to San Diego's Charles Lindbergh Field. One of the sensors in the cabin is flashing signifying that one of our doors hasn't been securely fastened. I assure you this is an anomaly, but to be safe, we'll be returning to Logan".

I knew the other perks of the flight were too good to be true. We remained grounded at the gate, on the plane, for 1.5 hours only for the engineers to determine there was some ice on the sensor. All's well that ends well, I suppose. I'd ride JetBlue any day, so long as I knew I'd have an entire row to myself. Keep up the good work, JB!

In any case, for those of you semi-familiar with San Diego, I'm living in Pacific Beach by Mission Bay Park. It truly is amazing.. expensive, but amazing. Once I purchase a working camera, I'll be happy to upload photos of paradise. But for now, I'll leave you to dream as I jaunt off to meet some strangers (soon enough, they'll be friends) for a vast amount of adult beverages.

Happy Friday wherever you are!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Friggin' Freezing in Inishmore

Ahhhh! I've finally made it out of my New Years haze. What can I say. I'm older now, and my body is way less resilient - a five day ski weekend means two weeks of recovery. It definitely makes me yearn for the good ole days...my very first New Years abroad was spent in the glorious land of my relatives: Ireland. My friend Meriel and I had finagled an invitation to our friend Barry's parents' house in Galway. His family was extremely gracious and welcomed us with open arms - they had a gorgeous New Years Eve dinner in our honor, and then sent us on our way to enjoy the parties in downtown Galway. 

The start to a wondrous week, right? Uh, just one problem - us lasses were a mere 20 years old at the time, and had little knowledge of something called "restraint" when it came to the consumption of alcohol. You can fill in the blanks, but after 2 days, our hostess (Barry's mom) made the polite suggestion that an overnight visit to Inishmore (one of the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland) might be a good idea.

Now, dear reader, I'm not sure if you've been to Ireland in January, but it is what I would define as cold. Now drop cold ten degrees, add a persistent sea breeze, and rain into the mix, and you've got a general weather report for the Aran Islands. Bottom line: it is only a winter tourist destination for people who are literally forced to go there.

We crossed Galway Bay in the dark, so I'm not sure what the view was like - I do remember feeling like we were getting tossed around in a dingy, and Barry vomiting in a barrel due to seasickness. However, I will say that once we landed we were able to find warm and cheap accommodations at the youth hostel a short walk from the pier. Hanging out at the adjoining pub for hours of drinking, conversation, and "Who Wants to be a British Millionaire" actually ended up being one of the most memorable nights of the trip. The isolation (with the exception of the few other buildings in town) was an amazing feeling.
The following day we were lucky enough, with a slight break in the weather, to rent bikes and cycle to Dun Aonghasa - ruins of a fortress dating back over 2,000 years. Not to mention an amazing view of the Atlantic Ocean. 
(Barry and I at Dun Aonghasa - Meriel WIMPED OUT!)

We survived the boat ride back that evening, and were rewarded with another couple days of pubs & pints.
Yes, I may moan about the weather, but all in all the Aran Islands are totally worth a visit!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Happy New Year!

This past week, I had the pleasure of spending New Year's with 16 of my very good friends on Long Lake in Bridgton, Maine. For those of you that are unfamiliar with this small lakes region town and for those of you that are fans of the infamous Stephen King, Bridgton is the scene of his horror novella, The Mist. Very briefly, "The Mist" tells the story of how the small town of Bridgton becomes enveloped by an unnatural mist that releases strange creatures which attack the human population.

As luck would have it, there was a light snow storm, but a thick fog hiding the lake on New Year's Eve Day. Fortunately, the house has huge windows which helped to makes these natural elements even more real. And even more fortunately, I was left alone in the house for about an hour after we had watched a couple of scary movies, while several of my friends went to go New Year's Eve shopping. And perhaps even most freaky, there was a strange man working on the hot water pump on the outside of the house. Needless to say, all of these elements combined inevitably led to twisted & gruesome thoughts in my head. I'm ok though - don't you worry.

Anyway, hope y'all had a Happy New Year!