Bucket Lists Part Two: Planet Earth

A while back I put together a list of trips I’d like to complete here in the great-big U.S. of A; a list that highlighted a few of the most All-American and unique things our country has to offer, including amusement parks, rodeos, nascar, and college football. In the time since compiling our future stateside journeys, my mind has been a-wandering towards adventures abroad.

 China 9-12-2010 (24) Kobe and Boat to China 084 Scotland 5-21-2011. (20)

Even though our two-and-a-half year RTW trip helped whittle away at my former list of “things to do before I die” – touch Hadrian’s Wall, travel to another country by boat, see the Terracotta Army – there are still so many places left unexplored beyond our borders. Here, in no particular order, I present a few thoughts on future travels we’ve set our sights on:

The Holi Festival in India – We’ve been talking about checking out this Hindu “festival of colors” that marks the end of winter and the coming of spring’s harvest for quite a while now. Pictures I’ve seen make is look like a colorful mess of fun, where people aren’t at all afraid to get really wet and dirty for the sake of a good party (anyone who dares attend a Holi Festival will be showered with fistfuls of colored powders and pastes, and probably buckets of dyed water too). For a girl who was famous in kindergarten for cleanly painting within the lines with only her index finger while the other kids made a mess of the walls and furniture during finger painting, attending this festival would definitely exist light years out of my comfort bubble.

Still, I could buck-up and get over being a little dirty if it weren’t for a few troubling facts that surfaced when I sat down to research this trip. Primarily, the paint that is so generously showered over all turns out to be seriously toxic. I guess during the olden days they got their pigment from natural sources, but something about a population over 1.2 billion tends to deplete natural resources. The alternative synthetic dyes that are used nowadays are a recipe of toxic chemicals (such as lead oxide and asbestos) that can create a host of nasty side effects. The wikipedia page listed “temporary blindness” as one. No thank you. Just kidding. Moving on.

Italian Road Trip – While in Scotland we finally wised up and hired a rental car to explore the country on our own without being at the mercy of the public transit system. It ended up being way cheaper than bus tickets, plus we were able to zig-zag our way across every inch of the tiny nation, visiting little villages, parks, and lochs along the way. Now that I got a taste of that sort of do-it-yourself travel, Italy’s the next spot for an international road trip. With the freedom of a car we could check out territory left unexplored my most, eating ourselves plump and drinking ourselves silly along the way. I’m particularly excited for the Puglia region, where I intend to leave no culinary stone unturned.

El Camino de Santiago – To compensate for the overindulgence of our Italian road trip, the next Euro stop will be a little stroll through Spain. Starting at the Pyrenees (as far as the Spanish are concerned, the French have different ideas on the subject), The Way of St. James is a common pilgrimage route that crosses northern Spain and ultimately leads to the cathedral of Santiago. The Camino Frances – the specific route we would like to walk – is roughly 480 miles through the Spanish countryside from start to finish. The fabulous regional food and wine are another incentive to spend 6 weeks walking from village to village.

Chile’s San Alfonso del Mar Resort – Why, you ask, would I name a pompous, over-priced, private resort as a major world attraction worthy of my visit? For the world’s largest and deepest outdoor swimming pool of course! At 115 feet deep, it takes 66 million gallons of water sucked directly from the adjacent Pacific Ocean to fill the 20-acre man-made lagoon. Apparently an outfit in Egypt is constructing a pool to rival this one, but since it’s not completed yet San Alfonso’s pool hold the current records.

As wicked awesome as this sounds, it too had a few pitfalls when I sat down to investigate the facts. First, the Pacific Ocean is cold. Meaning, the pool is cold. Second, the guests aren’t allowed to swim in the pool. You can rent boats and kayaks and such, but no swimming. Third, the resort is broken up into condos, each having different owners and completely different levels of quality control. The cleanliness of your room is not guaranteed, guest services is a notion to throw out the window, and if you want something so frivolous as sheets and towels you must agree to an extra fee. Boo. And it sounded so cool!

Palio di Siena – One of the world’s smallest horse races happens twice a year in Siena, Italy’s famous Piazza del Campo. Ancient rivalries and rituals dominate this 700-year old event, with 10 horses and their jockey’s representing a specific city ward for three tremendously dangerous laps around the jam-packed piazza. It’s the animal that wins the 90 second race, not the jockey, meaning that whichever horse crosses the finish line first is crowned winner whether or not the jockey is on it, or even still alive (did I mention it’s dangerous?). The official loser is the horse that comes in second. In pure Italian fashion the rivalries have a tendency to get rather heated, with frequent allegations of bribery and doping. Oh, and death. Because it’s freaking dangerous.

The Naadam – On the complete opposite side of the globe is another, entirely different horserace of interest. The Mongolian festival Naadam which features the “three games of men” (wrestling, horse racing, and archery) are held during the midsummer holidays throughout the country and feature up to 1000 horses of varying ages. In contrast to Siena’s itty-bitty race around a city square, the Mongolian horserace tends to be more about distances – very long distances – and can span anywhere from 15 to 30 kilometers based on the age of the horse. As always, the lighter the jockeys the better the odds, which is why in Mongolia children between the ages of 5 (yes, FIVE) and 13 are selected for the position.

Celebrate the Swedish Midsummer – Living in a part of the world where darkness reigns would suck, which is why in Sweden the locals take Summer Solstice seriously. Knocking off two birds with one stone, partaking a Swedish midsummer festival for a midnight ski sesh would satisfy our wish to celebrate the sun with people who don’t take it for granted, as well as Allen’s dream of snowboarding on every continent. Which, coincidentally, is a list all of it’s own.

Ginger’s

The wall directly facing the L-shaped counter where we sit is lined with floor to ceiling mirrors, no doubt initially installed to ensure a full 360-degree view of the, eh-hem, entertainment. In truth, the mirrors mostly reflect the lusty faces of those who sit to my right and left, yet this fact is lost in the moment as all eyes are resolutely focused on the 100% naked and waxed woman who just snatched my neighbor’s cowboy hat right off his head. He doesn’t seem to notice; his attention, for the most part, has been focused on my every reaction once he realized this was my very first strip club. His Cheshire grin and raised eyebrows are on me at all times, despite the ensuing contamination of his hat and it’s miraculous affixation to the lady’s saggy boobies.

On the other side of me sits an aging, bearded gent who arrived when the club opened, and will undoubtedly remain until it closes. Behind my chair stands Allen, and behind him is the clubs paltry bar. On the other side of the bar, snuggled between booze and neon signs, is a small blackboard with the night’s lineup scrawled in pink chalk: Cinnamon, Jynx, Candi, Deja, and….Jessica? Really, that’s the best she could come up with? Anyway, the dude at the bar is heavily eyeing Allen – the designated driver of our group and the only bloke in the room without a drink in hand.

The club itself was, to use the technical phrase, a supreme shithole. Dark, dingy, and overall dank, the establishment acts as the sole strip club along the entire length of the coast. It’s entrance is marked by one plastic, back-lit fluorescent sign from decades past that sports a tantalizing image of a blonde, naked woman laying on her belly, so as not to be exposed. Inside one only need walk several feet past the pool table and bar to reach the “stage” area in the back. Maybe 60 square feet of floor space constitutes the stage, which sits at the same level as the rest of the room and is only separated by the aforementioned L-shaped counter.

Ah, the counter. The counter is the focal point for most shows, being used more frequently than the pole as a means to stretch, pound, and dry-hump dollar bills from the depths of men’s pockets. Only a few of the girls sanitized the pole before their act started; not a single one sanitized the counter, which was arguably one-million times more soiled than it’s pole counterpart, and in dire need of a thorough scrub-down.

Which brings us back to the dancers. The girl who stole my friend’s hat, as it turned out, wasn’t just the most athletic of the bunch – she was actually capable of using the pole for its intended use – but also the oldest and most experienced. Later we found out that her 21-year-old daughter was set to debut her own stripping career the following night, in the very same club, right next to her mama.

As far as the rest of the girls go, well, let’s call them “healthy”. Not at all afraid to get up-close and personal (the counter aided them in this feat), they danced to a creative mixture of country music and hip-hop – a nice touch, I think, and a fitting choice since they’re the only two genres authentically American in origin. Stretching and stripping, they wasted no time getting into their groove and leaving little to the imagination. All present staggered out at closing time with absolutely zero questions as to the anatomy of a woman.

Towards the end of the night a couple of them pulled a chair into the stage, spread several towels on the floor, and called the lone bachelor in attendance up to the front. Over the counter he crawled, and onto the metal folding chair he sat. Behind him emerged a behemoth of a woman, big, black, and fixin’ to give him a full-contact and very public lap dance.

Now, since this is my first encounter with a titty bar I’m not necessarily privy to the usual conduct of such a place. That being said, I’m pretty certain what I witnessed isn’t the norm. The first half of her act involved copious amounts of baby oil – squirting a steady stream across his body from head to toe, and finally dramatically smearing handfuls across his bared chest while sitting on his lap. Once satisfied with that portion of her performance, she insisted he do the same to her back, despite the horror on his face. Utterly delighted at his buddy’s ensuing mortification, a guy to my left immediately threw 20 bucks in one’s at the oily mess.

With an entire bottle of water being poured over the bachelor’s head, the second act consisted of a very squishy and raunchy rubdown with the full-length of the dancer’s body. When all was said and done he emerged – traumatized, dripping wet, and smelling of stripper – only to beeline it in my direction for a great-big, bear hug. Which is how, contrary to popular belief, I too spent the rest of the night smelling like a stripper.

Even though this was an impressive introduction into the world of “gentlemen’s clubs”, I couldn’t help but walk away from the debacle a little traumatized myself. I know it’s cliché, but these women were someone’s daughters, and mother’s, and people. One of them clearly had the scar of a recent C-section, only burning that fact further into my brain.

Yet, the vast majority of the patrons seemed completely oblivious to the idea they could be anything but objects for their fantasy and entertainment. Part of me looks back at the night as absurd, ironic, and fun, but part of me feels a touch icky about the fact that I too was entertained at their expense. Still, Ginger’s stands as my first – and presumably last – encounter with that branch of humanity’s seedy underbelly, even if it’s one of the most interesting places I’ve ever visited.

Exploring San Francisco by Foot and Food

SAN FRAN MAP During our recent trip to the bay area we had the opportunity to partake in two of our favorite traveling activities: eating as much as our bellies can hold, and walking as far as the legs can take. While a majority of our time in Cali was spent hangin’ in the ‘burbs visiting with family and raiding the backyard citrus trees – an activity that caused no small amount of anxiety for my aunt – we had one last chance to sneak away from base camp and explore the city before our scheduled departure. Within the course of 8 hours we racked up no less than 10 miles tromping around the northern tip of the peninsula with frequent breaks to rest the feet and stuff the faces.

Our first culinary stop came from an unlikely source. After exiting the Embarcadero BART station, we wandered up California Street in search of a city map and a loo. Taking a page out of our old traveling days, we popped into the super swanky Omni Hotel and blended in perfectly with the checkout crowd that was piling up by Guest Services. While waiting for our turn in line to come up, we each helped ourselves to not one, but two servings of the complimentary apple cider they had displayed on a pretty little glass table for guests to enjoy when stepping off the elevator. Cider and helpful concierge aside, I give this hotel an A+ for their immaculate washrooms that were located conveniently off the lobby, available for use by any random Gringo in need.

Empty bladders and map in hand, it was time to set out for some real food. Japantown immediately caught my eye, so off in that direction we went. After a couple of stops to check out Grace Cathedral and to snap a quick picture of Allen posing under the Jones Street sign, we found ourselves eating tsukemen dipping noodles at Waraku on the corner of ラグナストリート and ポストストリート. While we were sitting in our window seat, the mid-day sun flooding inside and bathing us in warmth and vitamin D, we had the added pleasure of watching a steady stream of costumed Japanese youth wander in and out of the Cosplay convention directly across the street. The best ramen we’ve found since Tokyo, street signs in katakana letters, and Cosplay? There’s no mistaking it; we <3 Japantown. 

RAMEN COSPLAY SIGN

COFFEE Cali Road Trip (16) DRINKS

With happy tummies, we ambled along the boutiques of Fillmore and Union Streets, eventually stumbling upon the perfect café for coffee and a couple heated games of crib. La Boulange de Union had somehow known we were coming and saved their best sidewalk table just for our drinking pleasure. We spent the afternoon sipping lattes from large, plastic soup bowls (the waitress insisted this was the “French way of drinking a latte”), nibbling tiny little macarons of varying colors and flavors, and playing cribbage on a miniature board my dad bought me way back at the very beginning of our travels.

After a quick walk through the park at Fort Mason, several obligatory pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge, and an uneventful hike down Lombard Street (arguably the most touristy thing we did the whole day), we once again found ourselves in front of grub. This time it was two slices of pie from Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in North Beach. The place was a bit overrun with fellow sightseers, so we ate like Marines (i.e. very quickly and without really tasting our food) and marched back towards Polk Street for an evening beverage.

Our fifth and final stop came in the waning hours of daylight, when we paused for a moment to read the happy hour offerings at Lush Lounge. Three very inebriated, and very friendly baby-boomers stumbled out the doors and practically fell on top of us. “Ohmygosh, this is the best place ever. Tell John you want the champagne with blueberries floating in the glass; he’ll do that for you, just tell him you want the fresh blueberries.” They were remarkably chatty, and eventually sold us on the joint. Once inside we snuggled up to the bar, ordered a Margarita and Sweet Tea Lemonade, and eavesdropped on the conversation the bartender was having with one of his regulars about the smashed trio who just plowed us over on the sidewalk.

With the sun fully set and the scantily clad Saturday night crowd beginning to emerge from the shadows, our day in San Francisco came to an official close as we headed towards the Civic Center BART station. We entered the day with zero plans, yet once again our appetites – rather than a guidebook – molded the experience. An adventure that started with a train ride into a mostly unfamiliar city ultimately turned into a full-day food tour, and we happily went along for the ride.

Life Lessons and the All-American Road Trip

Cali Road Trip (86) The west side of Mt. Shasta sits in the driver’s side window like a post card. It towers over the steady stream of trucking and RV traffic that jams up the entire length of the I-5 corridor between Mexico and Canada, a stream that on this particular day includes a southbound silver Cadillac. My grandmother sits pensively in the passenger seat, her attention focused on the ancient volcano outside. “Just looking at that, you wouldn’t think it would be that hard to climb.” As if struck by her own comment she quickly snaps back to reality and looks around the car. She spots me smiling, franticly taking notes on the back of a gas receipt. “If you use my name in your road trip post, you won’t live to remember it.” The little flirty smile on her face isn’t fooling anybody; we all know she’s only half joking.

I’ve always counted myself lucky to be an adult and still have three grandparents in my life. What’s even more extraordinary is that – barring all comments regarding the ease of climbing a measly 14,000-foot volcano – all of my grandparents are pretty much still “with-it”. We can joke and talk and threaten one-another’s well being without having to censor ourselves. For better or worse, they know the real me, and I think it’s pretty cool. A few months back I got word they were planning a trip to the Bay area to visit Papa’s brother, and I wasted no time in calling them up and volunteering Allen and myself as their drivers.

So here we are, the four of us cruising down The 5 in their Caddy, listening to crappy radio and eating our weight in junk food. With Shasta in our rearview mirror, the conversation turns to their snowbird days of fleeing the frigid north for the sun and warmth of the south. Grandma and I are in the front seats gabbing away, while Papa and Allen sit quietly in the back. Abruptly, she turns to holler over her left shoulder towards the back seat (but really just into my right ear):

“WHAT WAS THE TOWN WE TURN OFF AT GOING TO CONCORD FROM DESERT CENTER?”

It takes a couple tries before he hears her question, but when he does get it, his answer is quick. “We go through Tracy.”

“We drive north on 99.” For someone who was just asking the questions, her confidence in this is surprising.

Now he’s just plain confused. “We’re not driving that way this time.”

“NO – WHEN WE DRIVE TO DAN’S PLACE FROM DESERT CENTER.”

“We drive through Tracy.”

“I think we turn at Stockton and go on highway 4.”

Confusion again. “From where?”

“FROM DESERT CENTER TO CONCORD.”

“We turn off at Manteca.”

Suddenly Allen decides he too has a dog in this fight. “99 doesn’t even start until Bakersfield. So you go through San Bernardino.”

Grandma addresses the entire backseat, “We don’t go to San Bernardino.”

Papa picks up where he left off. “We turn at Manteca and drive through Tracy.”

“Wait, what?” Allen has an oversized driving map of California spread out across both Papa’s lap and his own. “What about Fresno?”

“We don’t turn at Fresno.” Grandma and Papa turn on him in unison.

The car falls silent for a few minutes, everyone lost in their own thoughts. Allen studies the map for a while before boldly declaring that the entire front seat is wrong – including the silent girl in the driver’s seat. In a tone clearly indicating he’s about to straighten all of us out, he continues, “You go north on 99, take the 120, merge onto 205 which later becomes 580, and exit onto 680.” There we have it. My husband is officially a valley girl.

Just like greasy diners and frightening public restrooms, the “which way to drive” fight is just one more ingredient that goes into the mix for a proper road trip. Luckily ours ends in laughter, because as Papa hinted to earlier, we’re not presently, nor will we be in the future, anywhere remotely near the areas in question. Grandma was just reminiscing about road trips past. Regardless, we got it out of the way early so it’s clear sailing from here on out.

As we near Redding, Keith – our trusty GPS – directs us towards a truck stop with a very questionable buffet. Inside Papa openly laughs at a woman who is loudly gossiping on her cell phone while rummaging through a pile of bbq pork with a pair of metal tongs, peeling the meat off the bones and carelessly tossing the inedible portion back into the communal serving tray. I too pick up a pair of tongs and gingerly poke at the fare. The mac looks like it can be gummed, the cheese clearly came out of a can, and everything appears to have been sweating under the heat lamps for hours.

Still, we eat. Not because it’s good, but because that’s what you do on a road trip. You look at mountains, and argue over directions. You study oversized maps, and eat shitty roadside buffets. All the laughs and the fights, the endless hours of talking followed by periods of peaceful quietness. The fuel pumps, stale coffee, inconsistent poo’s, and uncomfortable naps. Every aspect is part of the bonding experience, teaching you something new about your companions. Even those whom you’ve been lucky enough to know your entire life.

Happy Holidays!

Christmas (4)

The United States of Bucket Lists

Bucket List We all have our ever-changing list of things we’d like to accomplish while alive and capable – some of us having actually written it down long before any cheesy movies came along, re-branding the whole process with some kitschy Hollywood tag, while subliminally reminding us to use our Visa card more often. My own personal list has naturally included a few of the usual suspects – visit all 50 states, fly in a hot air balloon, ride a camel, win the Iditarod – as well as a few more unconventional yet equally fascinating items like attend an Oakland Raiders game and a Foursquare Pentecostal, tongue-talking, worship dancing, isle-crawling church service, both of which intrigue me simply for their bizarre and potentially traumatizing crowd watching prospects.

Even though I’ve been slowly chipping away at my original list for over a decade, the current rendition is about nine-times longer and increasingly more chaotic than it’s earlier counterpart that was scrawled in black ballpoint pen on college rule by some sheltered 19 year old. Now that I’m, as Allen likes to put it, “well into my thirties,” the time seemed prime to update and categorize my worldly to-dos into something more manageable. For efficiency sake I chose geographical, and have attached a taste of the “United States” section as an example of Gringo journeys to come:

West Hollywood Halloween Costume Carnaval – It’s no secret my hands-down favorite holiday is Halloween. It’s the only day where clear lines are drawn between those who take themselves too seriously, those who have an imagination, and those who know how to appropriately dress for their climate. I’ve heard legend of an epic Halloween street party in West Hollywood, where half a million costumed party-goers converge in a tangle of booze, dancing and live entertainment. Did I mention it’s free? I want to go there.

Burning Man – Known simply as “The Burn” to survivors. To be fair, this isn’t the smartest pick for me given my love/hate relationship with the sun and remarkable ability to tan red, particularly since said festival happens to be in the middle of a BFE desert where clothes are optional. Equally perplexing is the knowledge that controlled substance use is, and will happily remain, a thing of my youth. Suffice to say my body paint would definitely be in the form of sun block, and every one of my precious little brain cells will leave as intact as they arrived. I’m just genuinely curious about the level of insanity an infamous festival of 50,000 tweaked-out people in the aforementioned BFE desert could create.

NFR in Vegas – NFR, or National Finals Rodeo, is essentially the World Series for the top 15 ranked cowboys on the professional rodeo circuit. It’s 10 straight days of back breaking competition where the best of the best square off hoping to be crowned champion in their event and take home a mountain of cash for their efforts. On a whole, I pretty much loathe the city save this one chunk of time in December when it’s flooded with Stetson’s, Wranglers, Justin’s, and an overall rowdy energy only an influx of cowboys and girls can provide.

Go to the Nearest Airport – Have you ever wanted to just show up at the airport, no luggage, no toothbrush, and get on the very next flight out? If any of you have actually done this, I wanna hear about it.

Daytona 500 – I get a lot of eye-rolls and snide smirks when I mention this one to people, but I’ve been dying to go to a NASCAR event forever. If I’m going to level with you, I don’t have the slightest clue what the whole point of the “sport” is, what they’re competing for, or why on Earth so many people rabidly follow it. Also, what’s the deal with drinking milk on the podium? I totally understand the eye-rolls, because from the perspective of the ignorant outsider it seems boring as all hell. But there’s got to be something drawing these hoards to the racetrack (it’s estimated up to 200,000 squeeze in at Daytona). Be it the imminent danger of a grotesque crash, or just copious amounts of MGD, I aim to find out.

Attend a Midwestern College Football Game – I love college football. It’s my crack, and I prefer it to all other drugs. Once a year, for roughly four months, I go on a bender, and then I spend the remainder of the year nursing my wounded pride and abused emotional well being back to health before starting all over again. It’s a vicious cycle, stressful, intense, and above all, addicting. The moment after your ticket has been scanned at the gate, when you’re wading through the crowd in the semi-darkness of a tunnel beneath the stands, and suddenly you step into the light with the turf coming into focus and the roar of band and crowd and rivalry completely engulfing you. That moment is one of my favorite things on this planet, and I’ve only been in stadiums that seat 60,000 tops. I can’t even imagine the energy in those Midwestern stadiums of 115,000 bodies. It might be an overdose, I dunno, but I suppose we all have to push our thresholds to see what we can, or more importantly, cannot take.

Triple Crown of Surfing – The world record for the largest wave ever surfed is 78 freaking feet. Since my only two attempts at surfing ended poorly – once with a concussion and both in near drowning – my personal opinion is that only a suicidal lunatic would even try to catch one of those waves. Still, every year in December lunatics from all over the world pack the North Shore of Oahu and wait in queue for their shot at death. I want to be on that beach as a spectator. Allen wants to be a spectator out by the wave (“safely on a jet ski or boat” he assures me). Whatever, let’s be honest, if the chance to be “safely” on a jet ski or boat near one of those titanic monsters arose, I’d be out there too.

Fire the Largest Gun Possible – This, I confess, is really Allen’s desire. “I want to shoot something that’s going to make a really big explosion! Die Hard style!” Though I do technically own a riffle, and from what I’m told a rather nice one at that, I’ve never fired anything with more kick than a BB gun. After he mentioned it, and the more I thought about it, I have to admit it does sound pretty cool. Shoot the largest, weapon possible? I’m in.

Cedar Point – A coworker once told me I had an “inner adult”. I think it may have been a backhanded insinuation towards a general lack of maturity. Fittingly, one of my goals is to get on the RV-4-Rent site, reserve my ride, and then journey to Sandusky, Ohio to visit the 364-acre amusement mecca known as Cedar Point. I’ve always loved roller coasters (the park has 15!) and pretty much anything else that turns your belly inside out giving you butterflies and an adrenaline rush that lasts the remainder of the day. Tagged the “Best Amusement Park in the World” by Amusement today for the past 15 years, and with a record four roller coasters taller than 200’, I’m guaranteed butterflies. The downside? It’s also the most visited park in the U.S. with an estimated annual tally of 3.4 million screaming brats and accompanying grumpy parents. The trick to truly enjoying the experience is in the timing: right at the beginning of the season in May, before summer holiday, midweek. No lines, no strollers, lots of fun.

Participate in a Civil War Reenactment – I’m on the fence for this one, but if Al’s in then I’m there with camera in hand (it was his idea, after all, and I know of at least one buddy who would join him at the drop of a hat – you know who you are). The thing is, I’m a horrendous actor, and no matter my passion for history I would be truly terrible at something like this. But I’m willing to sacrifice my roller coaster and college football time to make his dream come to fruition. That, my friends, is true love.

10 Ways to Keep the Travel Spirit Alive

November, 2011 002 The arrival of full-on fall – its chilly weather and waning daylight that not-so-subtly hints towards the many months of indoor confinement ahead – naturally leads the mind to wander. Wander towards sunny beaches, towards exotic and exciting locations, towards a life of leisure and laziness… Unfortunately, for those of us not officially retired or on daddy’s payroll, a world with continual travel sans income-producing labor isn’t a reality. Heck, it’s so far beyond the borders of Dreamland it’d be easy to write the mere thought of it off as an Alice in Wonderland style hallucination. Since up and quitting tends to be, I don’t know, out of the question, there are ways to keep the travel spirit alive by simply becoming a tourist in your own city. Here are a few ideas to keep the pesky winter doldrums at bay, without committing career suicide or sacrificing precious PTO:

1.  Carry your camera around with you – Nowadays it seems like everyone’s Swiss Army Knife of a cell phone seems to have a pretty good point-and-shoot built in, so why not take advantage of it? If you were on vacation you would take photos of street art, seasonal foliage, and people in funny looking ensembles. You’d be scrutinizing the architecture all around you and snapping shots of the daily special at the café you ducked into for a quick lunch. By keeping your eyes open for fun photo ops you begin paying more attention to what’s going on around you – something easily overlooked when scurrying from A to B.

2.  Keep a journal – I know, I know, diaries are for junior high girls and archeologist. To be truthful I never considered keeping a journal just for daily life until I read Danny Wallace’s book “Yes Man!” (a far superior story to it’s movie counterpart). He has a pretty good case for jotting down a few notes about your day before nodding off, primarily that you’re already more interesting than you realize. It can also act as motivation to step outside the usual comfort zone and try something new. Flipping back to previous entries is my personal favorite, reminding me of all that I’ve done so far and encouraging me to keep with it.

3.  Try new restaurants – It’s all too easy to fall into the routine of always hitting up the tried and tested neighborhood grub joints, but there are loads of other places out there just as good if not better. The next time you’re faced with a restaurant decision, consider branching beyond the norm and try a new neighborhood or type of food. If you’re still apprehensive check out a few online reviews, of which there are plenty. When seeking out something ethnic we usually go for the places owned and operated by people actually from that country. Of course it’s almost always Americanized, but I can sometime delude myself into thinking I’m really there.

4.  Seek out public art – Since a decent amount of the typical vaycay is spent visiting museums and galleries, it only seems natural to do the same in your own hometown. Most cities have a free or reduced fare day once a month for museums, and even small towns have public art strewn throughout the streets and parks. If you really want to pretend you’re exploring a foreign place, forget you have access to a car and use only public transportation or your own manpower to get around. It’s amazing how much more you see when your eyes are free to look at things other than the road.

5.  Find places that remind you of vacations past – One of our most frequented cafes spared no expense to be truly authentic. From the quality of materials used in the design to the coffee roasting techniques, I always feel like I should at least try to order my due cappuccini in Italian lest they scowl at my English (don’t worry, I don’t, lest I look like a pompous arse). There’s even a flat screen that’s continuously playing international futbol, and a local following that comes in donned in their club’s colors to watch the matches. Going there both satisfies my need to get out of town right now, and fuels my desire to get back to The Boot someday.

6.  Carve out time to explore – Everybody’s busy, busy, busy. It seems like there’s barely enough time to do the things we absolutely must in order to survive – um, anybody eaten lunch at their desk lately? Sometimes it’s hard, even seems impossible, to carve out time for yet another task in your life, but if it’s something you really want there’s usually a way. Maybe it means giving up TV time, or limiting Facebook activity to once a day (I can already see the hate mail in my inbox from that audacious suggestion). Maybe try combining activities; instead of hitting the gym go for a walk or jog in a neighborhood you’re not familiar with. You’ll find things you didn’t even know were there, and it’ll give you something to write about in that journal you’re keeping.

7.  Change-up your route – This is probably not practical for the work commute, but there are other opportunities when a detour could be a fun way to check out new places. Try side streets instead of main drags, or smaller highways in lieu of major freeways. Maybe you’ll find new restaurants you’d like to try out, or hidden neighborhood parks to play with your dogs and kids. If you’re feeling super adventuresome keep the car parked in the drive and find other ways to get to your destination (bus, train, feet…). There’s always hidden treasures to discover.

8.  Watch TV somewhere other than your house – Instead of loafing on the couch to watch that game or series finale, see if it’s playing anywhere in town. Some small theaters do showings for major TV events, restaurants throw awards parties (Oscars, etc.), and there are probably about a million fun places to watch sports other than bars. By branching out you have the chance to meet like-minded people, get a better sense of community, and find someone new who also enjoys trash-talking the Duck’s.

9.  Attend local festivals – There are things going on all around us of which we are completely ignorant. Case in point, we didn’t know the Annual Bacon Festival (Baconfest!) even existed until the week after it happened. To think I missed an entire event that celebrated bacon is… shameful. Don’t make my mistake. Email your local chamber or tourist information office for a list of local festivals, events, and farmers markets. Better yet, take the opportunity visit the office yourself to peruse the brochures for tour companies and restaurants, maybe pick up a free newsletter with event listings for the month.

10.  Learn another language – Easier said than done, but with enough gumption not impossible. If money’s no issue pick up some language learning software or enroll in a couple classes. If you’re like me and money IS an issue, there are options. Check out books from your library, look into free online resources, see if anyone in your city is willing to help you with their language in exchange for help with English. Once you’re good enough, rent movies in that language or find radio stations to listen to. While you’re busy learning you can be stashing money a little bit at a time so that someday you could visit the country and show off your new skills. It’ll help keep you motivated, focused on a goal, and looking toward the future (while living in the present).



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