Monday, December 29, 2014

Ten things I learned about Universal Studios at Xmas Time

1. Logic- specifically my logic- would dictate that two days before Xmas should be a great time to go to a theme park. People are traveling to get to family; they are baking and decorating dead foliage; they are wandering shopping mall parking lots trying desperately to remember where they left their cars. They are doing whatever it is that people that are into celebrating Xmas do. They are not dragging their families to Orlando to go on kiddie rides and roller coasters.

Unless they are. My reasoning, which even with the benefit of hindsight still seems sound to me, was way off. I don't know who these people are or how they normally celebrate their holidays but there certainly were a lot of them. I don't think you could have fit one more person into either Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure. Not even a skinny one. Or a midget. Or a skinny midget.

Both parks were at peak capacity.  There were lines for the rides.  There were lines for the restaurants.  There were lines for the bathrooms. There were lines to get into the lines. It was madness.  Theme parks know no reason or logic and it was foolish of me to try to apply some.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Manaus: a city in the middle of the Amazon Jungle

Q:  How cool is Manaus?

A: It depends. Literally speaking, it may be the least cool city that I have ever been to.  And by this I mean, it is hot.  Hot as balls. Hot, sticky, sweaty balls.  I, a native Miamian with a strong aversion to air conditioning, can't recall the last time I sweat as much as I did during my recent four day visit to Manaus.  And mind you, this was in late October!

But figuratively speaking,  this is the coolest of the cool.  It is a city that popped up squarely in the middle of the Amazon River Basin.  Remember the story about the 2014 World Cup Stadium that was so remote that all the building supplies had to be brought in via boats?  That was Manaus.

The Stadium is still there and occasionally put into use- we had a soccer team from Rio staying in our hotel to prove it- but that's just the tip of the sweaty iceberg.  There are stores, bars, restaurants and all the other things you would expect in a city with a population of over 2 million people, but what I loved was the constant reminder that, no question about it, you are in the middle of the jungle.  It is like this delicate dance between man and nature and at times, it is difficult to say who is leading.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Fairbanks revisted

I've got to be honest. Fairbanks is not my favorite city.  On more than one occasion,  I have been excited to learn I'm going to Alaska only to be subsequently disappointed when I hear it is that part of Alaska.  Why, you ask.  I'll tell you.

1.  The hotel we stay at is a menagerie of death.  They have every creature, big and small, all with one thing in common: they are dead and stuffed on the walls.  I know this is what passes for decor in that part of the world but it is still disgusting and walking in that lobby pisses me off every time.

2.  When I think of Alaska, I think of Anchorage, Ketchikan, Seward...places with beautiful expansive water views. Fairbanks is smack in the middle of the state and other than a river or two, has no water view to speak of. You will see no whales in Fairbanks.

3.  Years back, a group of us rented a car at the Fairbanks airport.  I asked the guy at the agency if there was a chance that we would see moose.  His response:  "You can't miss them.  They are everywhere."  Well, guess what. We did and they weren't.  This cemented in my mind the fact that all the people of Fairbanks are big fat liars.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Brussels Flower Carpet: A sweet smelling layer of awesomeness

What happens when you take the prettiest square in all of Europe and make it even more spectacular for a weekend? That is a question that is answered every two years when artisans create a floral carpet in Brussel's Grand Place. Sounds nice but somehow the term 'floral carpet' does not really capture the magnitude of what is taking place.

On odd numbered years, a scale design is created and calculations are made determining how many flowers and what colors will be needed to execute the plan.  Then, in the month of August, on even numbered years, 120 volunteers have four hours to place close to a million begonias directly onto the cobblestones into a pattern that will soon be seen by hundreds of thousands of visitors.

Nope, that explanation is not capturing it either. So...you've got this baroque square that is impressive all on its own, only now you are adding a sweet smelling layer of awesomeness right in the middle of it all.  One that, despite a year's worth of planning will only last for four days.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Country #95: Swedish memories

I'm not even going to lie. I got way behind on this blog and was considering abandoning it altogether. A night out talking travel with a friend's sister reignited my creative juices and got me to jump back in. Since then I have been using the magic of time travel (aka the blogger "schedule" function) to go back and fill in the many blanks. I am happy to report that once these posts on the land of H&M and Ikea are done, I will be fully caught up.

That's the good news. The bad news is that it has been almost a year since I paid a three day visit to my 95th country so the details are not as clear as they could be.  There is also the issue of what happens when you give a FOMO sufferer an all access museum pass.  I was pretty much non-stop for 72 hours.  I was checking off parks and museums like it was a competition and Alexander Skarsgard was the prize.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

One Day in Trondheim

The good:  I had a day to kick around in Trondheim, Norway and a self-guided walking tour I had printed from the Fodor's website to steer me in the right direction.  I was off to a good start, seeing as we were staying right in the heart of downtown and the sun was making a valiant effort to come out and greet us.

The bad:  One day was not enough.  To compound matters, this one and only day started rather late due to a delayed arrival and was cut short by a very early departure.  Also, that sun could have tried a little harder.  Norway in mid-June is not exactly balmy.

The trying to find a silver lining in our shortened stay:  Had I stayed any longer, I would have had to look into selling an organ to cover costs and I fear that the blue book value on my original parts is not as high as I would hope.  Norway is the second most expensive country in the world to live in (after Switzerland).  Just getting through the day requires lot of krone, krone bills, yo, and just getting a pizza and a beer, will set you back over $60.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Iceland, Naturally

Iceland and Natural Beauty. The two go hand in hand like Bey and Jay. Like Brad and Angie. Like Bert and Ernie. From the moment you step off the plane in Keflavik, you are struck by how dramatically gorgeous the surrounding landscape can be. If it happens to be June and you are not bundled into 17 wooly layers and are not tearing up against the harsh winds every time you step outside, you enjoy it all the more.

My most recent visit was during the "summer". I use quotes around the word "summer" because the Icelandic average "summer" temperature is in the mid-fifties. This is remarkably similar to Miami's "winter". Mind you, this is way better than their usual climate, which is somewhere in the range of apocalyptic freeze and "Why can't I feel my toes?"  But what Mother Nature takes away in beach days, she more than makes up for in other ways.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Magnificent Martinique

Knock, knock

Who's there?

Four days off in Martinique

Four days off in Martinique who?

Four days off in Martinique at the very same time that my good friend's husband, a born and bred Martinican?/ Martinese?/ Martini?/ On the rocks?/ Shaken not stirred? (Note: ask Sebastien what exactly his people are called) is there to celebrate his mother's 60th birthday.

That's not a joke.  That's just you bragging about an incredible stroke of luck. And if you would just spend 2 seconds googling, you would know that Martiniquais is the preferred answer.

What's that, fictional construct that I created in my head?  I can't hear you over this jamming soca music.  And hey, since you are over there, could you pass me the sunscreen?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Return to Budapest

Back in the days when I was a bored law student, longing to get out of my small college town, I got wind of the possibility of a summer study-abroad program. I would pay for the credit hours and flight and the University would take care of my room and board. There were three options. Belize, London or Yugoslavia. Belize held the promise of beaches, which I had in ample supply back home. The London program, at Oxford I believe, was rumored to require actual studying.  Nope. I knew next to nothing about Yugoslavia. Couldn’t have pointed it out on a map if I’d been asked but this program was led by a favored professor, a notorious good time guy who liked to throw extravagant parties at his home. (extravagant, at that time meant that he used actual glassware and provided beers from actual bottles and not whatever keg was on sale at Mike’s Beer Barn). Additionally, word had trickled down to us about how cheap everything was, words that sing loving harmonies to broke college students.

So…it was our second week in Dubrovnik. Our classes, during which heavily accented professors would read straight from a page, were opportunities to write out postcards, catch up on crosswords and look ever so studious while highlighting travel guides. Our party professor, a rather portly gentleman, had introduced us to Slivovich, shown us some of the best restaurants in town and provided an indelible memory to some classmates who had the misfortune of stumbling upon him at a clothing optional beach. Our per diem, which was something like $20 per day, had us eating and drinking like kings, with plenty of cash to spare. Our first weekend, we used our surplus to book a live-aboard sailboat and cruise around the nearby islands. The second weekend, our professor proposed a trip to Budapest. If I knew little about Yugoslavia prior to this summer, I knew even less about Hungary but he had not led us astray, so off we went.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Country #94: It's Not the Size That Matters...

Regular readers (hi Sans, Roly and Yale)may have noticed that this blog has been silent for the last few months. Others, (hi, people who have stumbled upon this page whilst googling the importance of size and are now sorely disappointed) will see that thanks to the magic of back-dating everything is business as usual. To both groups, I apologize.

Anyhoo, last time I checked in, I was in Munich for five days, drinking beer in quantities that led me to believe that buying a dirndl was a good idea. Fortunately, I did not have the space in my bag for the five underskirts and push-up bra the outfit requires, so a change of scenery was in order. As luck (and basic geography) would have it, there was also a country I had not been to a mere 2.5 hour drive away. Thus it was decided, we were going to Liechtenstein.

Situated in the Alps,  somewhere between Austria and Switzerland, the world's sixth smallest country (it's only 62 square miles) promised, if nothing else, a really pretty drive.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Munich: It's bad for your liver...

Fifteen years ago, I had the good fortune of going to one of Europe's booziest cities at the peak of its drinky drunkenness.  More specifically, that would be Munich on the opening day of Oktoberfest.  From the moment the first keg was ceremoniously tapped (noon-ish?) until the wee hours of that evening, my friend Michelle and I swung heavy tankards to and fro, all whilst becoming increasingly proficient in the art of German drinking songs.  As we stumbled from tent to tent, I remember trying to find something non-meatlike that I could eat.  The sole menu item available to me was the giant pretzel. I must have had at least a half dozen in a misguided attempt to somehow soak up all the alcohol that was coursing through my system.

That day was as messy as it was fun.  Falling asleep on the train and ending up in the wrong part of the country the next day...not so much.  But we survived it and had a story to tell...but not a single non-ale related photo to show for our time in Munich.  We were so focused on all things Oktoberfest that we completely neglected the rest of the city.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Coolest Museum. Ever.

There are times when friends, colleagues or perhaps chatty strangers compliment me on my photos. I love that. I've always wanted to take a photography class, but that- along with those French and sushi-making classes- tend to get pushed aside to some vague undefined future date. In the meantime, those pictures aren't going to take themselves, so I have to make do. In order to get maximum results with minimum training, there are a couple of tricks that I employ.

First of all, I carry a camera, a Canon Powershot SX20is. This should seem fairly obvious but we now live in an era where Apple, Samsung et al have convinced people that phones= cameras. They don't. A phone will do when you absolutely positively have to get a photo of your Spaghetti Bolognese because, man oh man, that Olive Garden is off the chain but if you are in the middle of the Serengeti, trying to capture the majesty of a pride of lions with your iPhone5s, I am going to mock you two ways. Loudly and often.

Secondly, and this may be even more obvious, I go to really cool places. I can't really take credit for this one. My job and very flexible schedule allow to me to do this.  But when I do get one of these opportunities, I photograph the shit out of it.  I go at it as if I were being paid by the pixel.  Case in point, the Neon Museum in Las Vegas.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

How this bricks pant'ed man managed to make Salt Lake City even weirder than it already is.

I have always had mixed feelings about Salt Lake City. In my very limited experience, I have found it to be an interesting study in contrast.  One look around and you find a city with magnificent mountain vistas and a proximity to some of the country's most spectacular national parks but to get to them you have to run the gauntlet of all these seemingly lobotomized women who refer to each other as Sister-so-and-so and are very intent on getting your home address. It would be easy to infer that they were escaped inmates from a nearby asylum, but they are not.  They are Mormons and they want to make more Mormons.


Salt Lake City is a beautiful place but the heavy hand of the Mormon Church always manages to creep me out a bit. How heavy is the hand? The city itself is built around the well-maintained yet still slightly off-putting Temple Square (home to the largest concentration of loboto-sisters)... but like literally built around it.  If someone gives you the address 31 E 400 S, you know that the place (in this case, the Green Pig Pub) is located 3 blocks east and 4 blocks south of the temple.  Try to get a drink at the Pub and you will be met with all these byzantine liquor laws intent on keeping the flock from having to be exposed to the evils of alcohol (although to be fair, it does seem like this has changed a bit since my last visit, as I did not encounter the private club thing, where a member has to "vouch" for you in order for you to enter a bar).

Friday, February 14, 2014

Lucky in LA

What do you get when you combine an extended stay in Los Angeles, a day that is supposed to be rainy but turns out to be quite nice, a mostly chilled out group of people (one of whom has what can be most generously described as having a slight Groupon addiction) and some very cooperative marine life?

An excellent day of whale watching, that's what.  Or not.  I am not making any promises since I am not sure that this formula can ever be precisely duplicated. Assuming you keep good company, getting the group together and rooting out the discounted deals is easy (just google Groupon or Living Social and whatever city you happen to be in and you will find lots of things to keep the tourist with time on her hands busy).  Getting both Mother Nature and the elusive denizens of the Pacific Ocean to play along is another story altogether.

Friday, January 31, 2014

It seems I spoke too soon. (AKA My afternoon in a Haunted Prison.)

Earlier this month, I bemoaned 2014's slow start, at least where travel-related adventures were concerned. Was this to be an omen for things (not) to come? Was I to be homebound or exiled to nothing but frozen tundra until Springtime? In an attempt to keep the blog going, I wandered around my neighborhood, snapped some photos and hoped that it would do. How was I to know that my luck was about to turn? How could I have predicted that a mere three days later I would be going to prison?

And not just any prison, I would be finding myself within the walls of the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, PA. This is an institution that was the first of its kind; was one of the most expensive public works project in the US at the time of its construction; has been featured on practically every-Paranormal type program there is (ie. Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures, Most Haunted Live- and who knew ghosts were such hams?)and has served as the setting for both the Dead Milkmen's "Punk Rock Girl" video and Brad Pitt's twitchy lunacy in Twelve Monkeys.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Wynwood Wanderings

I have a conundrum.  When I began this blog 8(!!!) years ago this month, the plan was to post at least one travel-related entry per month.  Knowing my mastery of the art of procrastination, I even chose a title that would, by its very definition mandate that I keep to this schedule.  So far, 213 posts later, it has all been well and good.  Even on the slow months, I have always managed to find some place that I deem to be blog-worthy.

But so far, this month has been a different story.  I have gone to exactly two places.  The first, Des Moines, Iowa managed to spectacularly destroy my "avoid the winter of 2013/14" plans.  It was something-below-zero degrees.  I don't remember the exact temperature but it doesn't matter. Anything below zero is uninhabitable and anyone that thinks otherwise is nuts.  I chose to protest these inhumane conditions by following the path of activists and freedom fighters throughout history.  That is, if their protest took the form of ordering room service and catching up on Netflix.  This approach kept me warm but it didn't exactly make for a scintillating blog post.