Where I am staying
Playa del Carmen - beach beach beach!!
We are staying at the Villas Sacbe
Where I am staying
Playa del Carmen - beach beach beach!!
We are staying at the Villas Sacbe
As you can imagine, lots of frustrated people were told they didn’t have a seat on the plane, and they started offering free tickets as incentives to stay. Since I had got up at 4am to make this flight, I was not about to give up my seat, so I am not sure what happened.
When we got to the airport, we felt smug since we already had our boarding passes and figured we’d skip the line. No such luck. United’s check-in system at BWI was incredibly poorly thought out:
1. Whether you had a boarding pass or not, you had to stand in the same line – we were just dropping off our bags but had to wait for people checking in, making chances…
2. Everyone with an electronic ticket, which seems to be most people these days, had to check in using the kiosks. I have seen this in other airlines as well and it makes no sense! Some people take so long, or have no experience using a machine like that, so they end up needing an agent anyway! Some older folks tried to go to the paper ticket only line, but were told they couldn’t.
Needless to say, “just dropping off our bags” took a lot longer than planned… The flight itself was fine, but as usual it was impossible to get a pillow. What’s up with that? I guess I need to bring one myself…
Oh, I almost forgot my last beef with United! They announce a meal service on all flights longer than 5 hours. BWI-LAX is scheduled to take 5 hrs, 26 min. As far as I can see, that is longer than five hours. Same thing going back – the scheduled time is 5 hours, 8 minutes. However, when you are in the air, they announce that there is no meal service because the actual flying time is 4 hours, 55 minutes. What?!?!?! It is the airlines that make it look like the flights are longer, to prevent being marked as delayed, but they should at least go after the hours they themselves post on their website!!!!! It is not that I am crazy about an airplane sandwich, but something would have been nice. The snack packs they sell do not constitute a meal in my book. The four choices are just different versions of stuff that’s really bad for you: “Would you like the salty, the sweet, or the fatty junkfood?”
I am happy to say that my next three trips do not involve United Airlines…
I had applied for the job, so it wasn't like it was a complete shock when the employer showed interest, but I didn't expect everything to happen so fast: I applied shortly before the Tuesday deadline, and on Friday I was contacted about an interview! I did a phone interview the following Wednesday, and after a one hour interview they called me back (literally two minutes after we hung up) to ask if I could come to Italy for an interview in less than two weeks. And they wanted an answer ASAP! I told them I needed the day to find out whether I could take time off. I didn't really know what to do so I spoke to some senior people in my organization and got some really good advice. By the end of the day I knew the right thing to do would be to withdraw - even though I was very excited about the prospect of a free trip to Italy! Then again, that would not leave a nice impression if I had no intentions of taking the job... Now, two weeks later, I feel better and while I was sad the day it happened, I am glad to say I have moved on. Maybe some time in the future I will have the chance to apply for something in Italy again.
Writing this, I realized that I have become a fast traveler!! Will I get kicked off Slow Travel? Then again, I will say that when I go on longer trips, I definitely stay in one place. To me, bliss is to stay at the same tiny place in Nicaragua for weeks and weeks, or spending a year in Bologna... So hopefully I can still call myself a Slow Traveler!
In early October I spent a lovely long weekend on California's central coast. You can read about it in the trip report I wrote for Slow Travel. Click here to access the report.
Below you can see a picture from Hearst Castle, one of the places we visited.
Tomorrow I am embaring on some REAL slow travel: I am going from Gothenburg, Sweden, to Southampton, UK. I have recently started working in the maritime industry and I will travel with one of our vessels to see the core product of the industry. It is a very large vessel that transports cars and other rolling equipment. I am very excited and I hope to get some good insight into the loading and unloading process and of course what life onboard is like. We will arrive in Southampton on Tuesday. So we are spending several days on what would take two hours on a plane. It will be interesting! I am bringing my laptop with some movies along with a book or two just in case things get too slow... And some sea sickness pills, just in case! I promise to write more when I come back.
All good Slow Travelers like to talk about when they did some really slow traveling, whether it be walking, biking, or just staying in the same place for a really long time. At the same time, we mostly use planes to take us to our destination, although we like to take it slow once we are actually there. I just came back from a trip where the mode of transportation was real slow as well; I traveled on a car carrier ship from Gothenburg, Sweden, to Southampton, UK, via Zeebrugge, Belgium. I have just started working in the maritime industry and part of the introduction to the company was to travel with one of the vessels to gain a greater understanding of the core product of the business. My colleague Maria and I boarded MV Toronto in Gothenburg on the afternoon of Saturday, July 7. We were to stay on until arrival in Southampton the following Tuesday. Not a terribly long trip but hopefully enough to learn something about life aboard the ship and the work both on sea and in the ports.
We were warmly received upon arrival in a rainy and gray Gothenburg. An enormous, red ship spread out before us and while I knew that this was a particularly large ship (she is only two years old) I was stilled flabbergasted. The crew looked happy to see us and it seemed that everyone had been informed that two women would be joining them for a few days! Two crewmembers carried our bags upstairs and introduced us to the administration officer, Junne. One of his many duties is to welcome visitors, guests, and officials who come aboard for various reasons. We filled out some paperwork and he made copies of our passports, before introducing us to the captain, the chief engineer, and other officers. There are 24 officers and crewmembers on this ship, all from the Philippines.
Tomorrow I head for Bruges, Belgium, for work. I have never visited Belgium so I am really excited. I will stay in Bruges until Friday and then entertain myself for 24 hours in Brussels before going home.
I haven't been a good traveler and done a lot of research, but I hope to have some free time in the evenings to explore. I have learned that Bruges is a beautiful cobblestoned town of about 120,000 people, with very well preserved medieval architecture. I also now that the Belgians like to eat Moules Frites! And that the beer and chocolate is supposed to be great... But I will definitely research a little bit more, both tomorrow and when I get there.
I have been sooo slow to post something about my trip to Belgium in September. As it was for work, I didn't have much free time but I did enjoy one very nice afternoon in Brugge as well as a day in Brussels. Brugge was very beautiful but to me seemed a little too perfect, almost! Everything was so clean and nice but I didn't find the town to be very bustling or energetic, and at night it was quite dead, something that locals confirmed was true. But we had some great meals with the group from work, and I had a lovely Italian dinner by myself in an Italian restaurant called La Romagna. It is run by a guy from Rimini and I had a great time chatting with him in Italian. He is the president of the local Inter Milan fan club so he goes to Milan all the time to watch the games! I thought that was really funny. Good thing Ryan Air takes him there for cheap!
In Brugge we stayed at the Crowne Plaza which I thought was excellent. The breakfast was great, lunch a little less so but that was OK because they had such great desserts!
In Brussels I stayed at the Warwick Barsley Hotel and it was quite nice. I got it for very cheap on hotels.com but I would never have payed full price to stay there, it was just too traditional and there really was nothing special to the room.
Brussels was beautiful and I enjoyed walking around the cobble stoned streets at night. The next day I shopped and sightseeinged before meeting friends for lunch. I quite liked my 24 hours in Brussels!
Sunday afternoon I left for Mexico City on a business trip. It is my second time in Mexico, but since my first trip was to Playa del Carmen in Quintana Roo, which is as touristy as it gets (although still better than Cancun!) I almost feel like it is my first real trip to Mexico. Unfortunately, I probably won’t have much time to explore the city, but since I am here for two weeks I do hope to see some stuff over the weekend.
I am staying at the Camino Real Santa Fe, in the business district of Santa Fe, which is also where the office is located. It seems like all the big foreign companies have offices here, so far I have seen signs for Ericsson, Nokia, DHL, and many others.
The weather yesterday was very pleasant, it was probably 65 or so during the day, but COLD at night! Thanks to the altitude, I guess, Santa Fe is one of the higher neighborhoods in the city, at 2650 meters (8700 feet.) I have to admit the altitude have affected me some, I got a headache just about an hour after arriving on Sunday and yesterday, especially in the morning, I felt slightly tipsy! I also noticed that any real activity , such as a fast walk or taking the stairs, made me a little winded and made my head hurt a little. I have been told to take it easy and drink lots of water, which is what I did. I guess it helps that I am doing research and working on a study, so I can just sit quietly in front of the computer all day!
Wednesday is the feast day of the Virgen de Guadalupe, Patron Saint of the Americas and of course extremely important here in Mexico. Laztimosamente, the office is open… :) But I have been told that even if we did have the day off it would probably be too difficult to get anywhere, the crowds and the traffic are just enormous on that day.
I no longer feel tipsy which is a good thing! I have been told that you do get drunk faster here, so I will watch myself tomorrow at the office Christmas party…
I got an idea of the vastness of Mexico City yesterday, when I went to meet a former colleague for dinner. The traffic is just as bad as its reputation. It took over 75 minutes to get to the restaurant – and only 15 minutes to go back later in the night. My other friend says that the distances and the traffic is one of the biggest differences in living here – in DC you can walk, take the metro, take a bus and meet someone on short notice. Here, meeting someone after work, unless they live very close by, is extremely difficult. I think the traffic here would really get to me, as the pedestrian that I am. It annoys me to no end that there is no concept of cars stopping for pedestrians – you really just have to wait until there are no cars! Guatemala City is like that too, but it is so much smaller it just doesn’t feel as bad. I could write a book of laments on how Mexican and Central American cities are turning into bad copies of horrible American non-cities… The car culture is completely taking over and there is so little consideration to pedestrians. It used to amaze me that World Bank road loans in Guatemala often lacked provisions for pedestrians and bikers – why are we subsidizing the rich and their cars, while hurting the poor and the environment at once, by not encouraging walking and biking? Why do we buy into the idea that progress and increased income means car ownership?
OK time to go to bed before I get too wound up!! I was all calm after tasty roomservice of tacos dorados and an on demand movie, Stomp the Yard – but now I got myself angry by writing about cars!
Yesterday (Saturday) was my only real day off here in Mexico City and I decided to take a tour that included the Basilica of the Virgen de Guadalupe, and the Teotihuacan Pyramides. I was very exited to see more of the area! I took a taxi to a downtown hotel where the tour would start. I was under the impression that it was a bus tour, but it was just a driver, a couple from Costa Rica, and me! It actually worked out quite well, since we had many stops it would have been very time consuming with a larger group. As the good Norwegian I was, I was there about half an hour early, while the Ticos showed up fifteen minutes late. Oh well, we got along great so it didn't really matter.
The Basilica de la Virgen de Guadalupe was our first stop and it was both impressive and moving. People were still arriving for their pilgrimages (the Dia de la Virgen de Guadalupe was December 12) and all parts of the complex were packed. The Basilica is the "new church" and the Cathedral is the old shrine. The Basilica is very modern and very nice. It was packed with people and for the first time this week I felt that I saw a real mix of Mexicans, not just the ones that work in the business district.
We then headed towards Teotihuacan and the pyramids, about 40 kilometers outside of the city. As this was a tour, there was also a stop at a small silver factory where they also make things out of obsidian – and they showed us how pulque, mescal and tequila are made. I felt a little bit pressured to buy something but in the end I was happy with the silver bracelet I bought, they really had beautiful things.
The pyramids were very impressive and I enjoyed the explanations from the guide. Apparently the teotihuacanos had sewage systems and even inside toilets! They also favored water births in a special bath tub… Teotihuacan was a large settlement by 150 BC, but after a fire in 650 AD the civilization quickly declined and remained as ruins during the time of the Aztecs and the Conquista. Excavation and reconstruction started in the early 1900s. We climbed the 65 meter high Pyramid of the Sun, which was really tiring! We also visited several temples and it was impressive to see what was left of the original murals. It also felt great to get out of the city.
Pyramid of the Sun:
The food here is AWESOME! I knew that what we eat in the rest of the world call Mexican food was not the real thing (the Santa Maria taco dinners favored by Norwegian families come to mind, or the overly cheesy, greaseladen plates of US Mexican restaurants) but I didn't really know how different it is. The food here is very tasty, and more often than not, not too complicated - and by that I don't mean that it can't be complicated to make, but that the flavors are allowed to speak for themselves.
I can think of nothing better than a piece of meat (arrachera, cecina, alhambre) in a tortilla, with just a little salsa and lime. Delicious! Or the amazing flavor of mole... Or a well-prepared flan... I know that Mexican cuicine is very regional and I hope to explore more of the country and thus more of the amazing food.
Below is a photo of what I ate at the company Christmas party. Riquissimo!
I spent Sunday morning with a friend exploring the Zocalo (the main square) and the historical center. The highlights included the Diego Rivera murals in the Palacio Nacional, the Aztec ruins (Templo Mayor), and of course the general hustle and bustle of people enjoying their Sunday.
The photos probably speak for themselves...
Today is my last day here and I am scrambling to finish! I will definitely not be done with the project but a lot of it can be done from back in Baltimore as well. I have enjoyed my stay very much and I am sad to leave. My colleagues here are wonderful and I will miss going to lunch with them! I also absolutely love staying in hotels so I will miss the nice Camino Real...
OK time to wrap up! A few more hours in the office, then pack up two weeks of clothes and stuff, and then off to the aiport for a 5pm flight.
I leave you with a photo of the nativity scene outside of the Basilica de la Virgen de Guadalupe - Merry Christmas to everyone!!
I flew to Nashville last night (on Southwest, weird) to visit my friend and colleague who is working in Smyrna for four months. We have had a great day visiting the cute town of Franklin, the tiny village of Leiper's Fork, and dinner in Hillsboro Village in Nashville.
I will write more tomorrow but I wanted to get in a post today as well! We took lots of pictures of beautiful, old southern houses in Franklin - and it was almost sad to return to Smyrna which is honestly nothing but huge stores, chain restaurants, and enourmous parking lots...
Here's a photo - more to come!
Beautiful house in Franklin, TN:
I just got back from Tennessee, we are half an hour from midnight, and I am posting only to post! Oh well. If I had been forward-thinking like many of my Slow Trav blogger colleagues, I would have lined up something before I left, but I am keeping it real time... I did write a long piece on the plane but I want to post that tomorrow with photos.
This was my first time flying with Southwest and I guess I was pretty happy, except that on my outbound flight I had a middle seat, which for a claustrophobe like me is not my favorite thing. And I wonder if they really save time by doing the boarding without assigned seats? I guess they do since they continue doing it. And bonus: I met some Italians in the boarding area that I chatted with while waiting for the flight.
Just a little taste of my mini-trip report: Me swinging in Sewanee on the campus of the University of the South, a gorgeous place.
I arrived in Nashville Friday night and my friend picked me up and took me to her apartment in Smyrna. Smyrna, is well, not the coolest place around. Apparently, 20 years ago there was nothing here; now it is a suburban sprawl of chain restaurants, big stores, and non-descript apartment complexes. Not my favorite landscape! However, we ended up having a great weekend and saw some really pretty parts of Tennessee.
I am continuing my mini-trip report from my weekend in and around Nashville, Tennesse.
On Sunday we decided that something different was in order and we headed to Sewanee and the University of the South. I thought my Spanish friend should see a nice college campus before she goes back to Europe, and according to Moon (the Handbook, not the crazy guy), the University of the South has one of the prettiest, if not the prettiest, campuses of the South. (Plus the directions were real easy, we only had to turn twice – a major plus considering our Saturday adventures!) The university is owned by the Episcopal Church and has celebrated its 150th anniversary recently (the anniversary of its founding, that is – it has been operating continuously since 1868.) The architecture is mainly Gothic and most buildings are faced with local stone.
Having lived four years in Georgia, I have seen a fair number of Civil War battlefields. And while I am very interested in history, I just don't get battlefields. (Maybe if I went to Normandie or something it would be different, I don't know.) Too me, it is really just grass. Even if they put a cannon there. I do enjoy visiting museums and houses in connection with battlefields, like the Carter House in Franklin, Tennessee, but the fields themselves? I am sorry...
To illustrate my point, here are a couple of shots:
Edited to add: For a hilarious take on the phenomenon of reenactments, there is a really funny book called "Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War" that I will highly recommend.
I wanted to finish up my Tennessee postings with some photos from the Carter House, a farm that ended up in the line of fire during the Civil War and that now serves as a museum. The Battle of Franklin took place in November 1864 and was one of the bloodiest of the war. It was one of the few night battles of the war and one of the smallest battlefields. Almost two thousand men died. The Carter House was under attack but the family survived by barricading themselves in the basement; however, one son, had been part of the confederate army and died two days after the battle from his injuries. The bullet holes are still clearly visible in the main house, the office, the kitchen house, and the storage house.
I think the guided tour was very good, it was balanced and focused as much on the family’s life as on the events of the war. For instance, it was interesting to learn that they dug a basement and put the kitchen there so that they could take advantage of the cooler temperatures below. Most houses in the area did not have basements, but this spot offered a layer of soft topsoil that made it easier to dig one. Also, the family built a separate kitchen house to prevent fires - most housefires at the time originated in the kitchen, and often engulfed entire houses.
The main house:
In my last entry I wrote a list of where I have lived, and in the comment section, Sandra of A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins With ... Too Much Luggage asked: "But now the nosy question: can you say which placed you loved the most?!"
No, I really can't! I love them all, but they of course mean different things to me. Norway is my home, where I am from, where my family is, so of course it is very important to me. I also I am a big fan of many of the things Norwegians take for granted but many other people don't have: Easy access to nature, both sea, forests, and mountains; social safety nets for our residents; less focus on cars and more on healthy living...
It is Friday night and I don't have much time! I want to post a photo I took in April 2004, when I traveled with some friends to Matera and Aliano in Basilicata. Aliano is the village where Carlo Levi was exiled as a political prisoner and where he wrote his famous book Cristo si e fermato a Eboli (Christ stopped at Eboli.) I love that book and it was an amazing experience to visit the village. This is the first photo we took, as we rolled into town in our Fiat Punto. I love this photo, even though there is some reflection of the car window. For some reason I often get so sad when I see old men (I have been like that since forever; my mom and sister joke that they shouldn't take me on vacation because I break down when I see sad looking old men) but these guys looked like they were having a nice afternoon.
You can read more about my trip in my trip report. Here is a little piece of it:
As we drove into the small piazza, I thought we had driven into the 1950s. The benches were occupied by old men, while women wearing black dresses and scarves on their heads were watching from the doorways. A hunched-over woman was leading a donkey loaded with produce up a narrow alley. Everyone stared as we pulled into the square and got out of the car; it was quite clear that it was very rare that a Fiat with three (foreign) girls came to town!
Here's another photo from the Italian South showing a very nice tradition: the Pasquetta picnic. Pasquetta is the Monday after Easter Sunday and as in many European countries, it is a holiday in Italy. Italians often say "Natale con i tuoi, Pascua con chi vuoi", meaning that Christmas should be spent with your family while you can chose who to spend Easter with - which usually means spending it with friends, having a picnic or doing something else outdoors. For Easter 2004 I traveled with two friends to Basilicata and Puglia, spending Easter Sunday and Monday (i.e. Pasquetta) with other friends in Vieste. Since it was April we thought it would be warmer by then but it was freezing! We had a wonderful Easter lunch at Luca's house, with more food than we could ever eat (I passed out for three hours afterwards.) For Pasquetta, we headed to the countryside outside of Vieste, where Antonio runs an agriturismo restaurant. It was still closed for the winter so we got to open it up and have a Pasquetta barbecue with wonderful meats, sausages, vegetables, and of course delicious Easter treats.
Quote from New York Times:
“Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi,” is the Italian saying: “Christmas with family, Easter with whomever you choose;” and on Pasquetta, Easter Monday, there is an implied corollary for those holed up in larger cities: “Grab that ‘whomever’ and get out of town.” For Pasquetta, the idea is “gite fuori porta,” to go outside of the city.
I haven't blogged in almost two weeks, sorry! But now I have something new to blog about - I am in Suriname! I am here for work so I haven't gotten to see much of the city (Paramaribo, the capital) yet, but I am having a good time!
Suriname is the smallest country in continental South America, both by area and population. It was a Dutch colony until 1975, and it borders Guyana to the west, French Guyana to the east, and Brazil to the South. It has a tropical climate with two rainy seasons and two dry season - I can safely say that this is the middle of the rainy season, as it has rained most of the time.
Interesting tidbits I have learned so far:
They drive left side of the road, like the British. Apparently this is because the first cars came from Guyana, which used to be a British colony. This makes it hard to cross the street - I always look the wrong way!
Suriname and the two Guyanas (French Guyana is a so-called Overseas Department of France, literally a region of France, with the Euro and everything) are often referred to as "The Guyanas", as Suriname used to be Dutch Guyana.
The biggest ethnic group is East Indian. The first people from India arrived on June 5, 1873. This day is now a national holiday and was celebrated just last week. (In Dutch the East Indians are referred to as Hindustaans, although many of them are Muslim!)
Suriname is one of the most multicultural countries in the world, and this is reflected in the cuisine - Creole, Indian, Indonesian (from Java), Chinese, etc. It all has one thing in common - the food is greasy!! But tasty... :)
The Dutch people who live here, especially the students who come for a semester, ride around on bicycles just like in Holland - except here they risk getting killed any second. Crazy drivers + crazy Dutch bikers = blood.
Everyone thinks I am Dutch. Hey, people, I am not a kaaskop!
Everyone speaks a million languages: Sranan Tongo (Creole), Dutch, English, Javanese, Maroon, Sarnami... I am so impressed with the fact that everyone seems to speak English, even though it is their third or fourth language. Countries like this prove that you can indeed be completely bilingual or trilingual.
The old parts of the city are beautiful and filled with colonial wooden houses. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Suriname River, which gives the country its name, is long, wide, brown and does not make for good pictures:
There is a science conference going on. I know I am a nerd myself (I love to discuss politics, for instance) but boy, these people are serious nerds! They all have those kaki-colored pants that dry fast and have lots of pockets, in case they need to pop into the rain for a quick collection of plants or insects in between poster sessions. As my friends in Georgia say, bless their little hearts! (Apologies in advance to any scientists out there!)
Thanks for all the nice comments! Isn't it fun to learn about a country most people haven't heard of? I feel very privileged that I had the opportunity to go - and I love all the stamps in my passport! I will say, however, if they are going to attract more tourism, they need more flights! You can go to Amsterdam every day, I think, with either Suriname Airways or KLM, but to go to North America (and in that I am including Central America and the Caribbean) you have to fly through Port of Spain, Trinidad, and there are only 4 flights a week, each way. Then again, I guess a country of 450,000 people can't sustain it. They do have a lot to offer in the eco-tourism, biodiversity arena though.
I have a few more pictures but with working and the rain it was hard to take pictures. I'll post some later. (By the way, the ruins from the first photo is an old fort by the river. And the statue in the other picture is of an (East) Indian man and woman, symbolizing the first East Indians to arrive in Suriname.)
Dear Small Country, I am a traveler and love to explore new places. Some of my favorite places are Small Countries: Nicaragua, Panama, Turks and Caicos... Small Countries can have a lot to offer and I appreciate the impact (sustainable) tourism can have. However, sometimes Small Countries suffer from Short Man (or Napoleon) Syndrome. This means that they feel a strong need to prove that they are strong and powerful even if they are Small. And they usually do this by imposing lots of regulations.
Dearest Small Country, why do you make me show my passport and ticket three times before security - even if I am just in transit? (I appreciate the need to employ people, but this is not making tourism any easier.) Why do you spend valuable minutes (minutes I could have spent shopping in YOUR tax free stores) handwriting notations in my passport, and checking whether I need a transit visa - just for a layover? Why do I have to fill out entry forms and departure forms just for transit? (During my round trip I did four entry forms and three exit forms, even though I was only staying in one country.) And why did you take my mini-bottle of rum, even though it was in a sealed bag and just slightly over three ounces?
Dear pretty Small Country, if you want more tourists, and more tourism, please make it a little bit easier to enter. I am not here to steal your jobs, just trying to catch a connecting flight, you know.
For the Fourth of July weekend we were lucky enough to be invited to Cambridge, Maryland, which is located on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay. Our friend’s grandmother lives there and her uncle has a boat there, so we spent two fun days waterskiing, tubing, eating, and chatting. I thought it was a really nice place and I loved being on the water (I always say that lack of water to swim in is my main complaint with DC.) Plus grandma was a lot of fun – she was absolutely thrilled to fix us Piña Coladas before dinner!
The plan was for boyfriend and me to stay at a Bed and Breakfast not far away from grandma’s house. It sounded like a good plan, and the BB was really beautiful – the house is from 1740 and has lots of flowers outside. However, things did not go according to plan…
As I wrote about in my last post, I had an eventful 4th of July in Cambridge, Maryland, including a scary stay at a deserted Bed and Breakfast. The 5th of July turned out a lot calmer - and quite wonderful. We went water skiing and tubing again, before heading towards DC. On the way, we decided to stop at the Inn at Perry Cabin, a luxurious hotel/resort in St. Michaels, Maryland. I had heard about it from a colleague and we decided to stop by for a look and dinner.
The hotel is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been and the restaurant was fantastic. We walked around the grounds and it is just gorgeous. The flowers and landscaping, not to mention the herb garden, which looks like an intricate English garden, made the place very special. It overlooks the Chesapeake Bay, so you can sit and relax on the waterfront. There are several sailboats right on front of the hotel as well. One of the coolest facts about the Inn at Perry Cabin is that the movie Wedding Crashers was filmed there! (As you know, there were many weddings in Wedding Crashers but this was the one on the amazing property overlooking the water, where one of the crashers falls for the sister of the bride.) How cool is that!
I wrote a restaurant review over at the main Slow Travel site (click here to read it) but I wanted to use this space to share some photos of the place.
We had drinks on the terrace overlooking the Bay before heading indoors for dinner. We also learned some fascinating facts about the resport: The original part of the building has rooms filled with antiques, private balconies, and each one has its own character. In the new wing, the rooms are huge, Ralph Lauren style suites with a nautical theme. We also checked out the spa, which was amazing! Lots of natural light and beautiful fabrics. (Our friend A. had just got back from Afghanistan so it was wonderful for her to walk around in this peaceful, beautiful spot.)
Our dinner at the Inn at Perry Cabin was a pretty perfect ending to the holiday weekend - and made me forget the scary BB!!
I am sorry I have disappeared! I had almost three weeks off and tried to take time off the computer to make my tendinitis better. Unfortunately, it seems much worse now that I am back to work… I did have a great three weeks off, though, part of it spent here in DC and on the Maryland beaches, and part of it in Norway. Having my sister here was a blast and a staycation is awesome! Everyone has been raving about the unusually cool and dry summer here in the US capital, very different from the usual 95 degree heat and lots of humidity. This proved especially wonderful when a visitor was in town, and we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly.
Anyway, I just wanted to write a quick post. I have excitedly following my blog friends either on their trips to Italy (Girasoli, Palma, Jane) or as they plan them (Sandra is one of them), and I have to say that I was particularly excited when Andasamo told us that she had indeed jumped at the chance of spending three weeks in Italy (Florence, to be exact) in October! How fun. This also made my own desire to go back to Italy stronger.
So now, four years after I last set foot in Italy, I am thinking very seriously about going to Italy in May! I have my 5 year reunion for my program in Bologna and I don’t want to miss it. The lose plan so far is to spend time in Italy as well as visits to Austria and Germany (Bavaria.)
The big question is of course – where to go?? Bologna, naturally, is the most important stop. I think I will book a room at an economical place, either Albergo Garisenda or Albergo Drapperie, for four nights. Both are very central and very reasonable. But after that (or before, depending on how I structure the trip) I have no idea!
Some options: I adore Rome. I love Venice. I am obsessed with southern Italy and want to go back. I have never been to Piemonte and I have been saying for three years that I want to stay at Diana’s BB in Acqui Terme. I really want to visit places like Urbino and Ascoli Piceno. I have friends and great memories in Vieste in Puglia, and I haven’t been to Lecce and many of the other towns in Puglia. There are lots of places in Tuscany I haven’t been. I wouldn’t mind going back to the Friuli either (San Daniele ham, anyone?) My roommate from when I was in Bologna now is back in her hometown of Belluno (in the Veneto), also a new place for me.
All I can say is: this will be FUN! Both the planning and the trip. I am also excited to see Austria and Bavaria, areas that my bf knows very well and where he has friends and where he went to school for a while.
Maybe I should make an online poll? :) For now, I will happily follow Sandra as she plans her trip and then takes off in September!
I found the link on Amy's blog - she has been to a lot of metros!
I have previously said to friends that I wanted my blog to be a positive place on the Internet. I went away from that a little bit with all the election coverage, but it was positive in the sense that the positive candidate won!
Now, back to travel. My mom and sister came to visit last week, and we kicked off with three days in New York City. Europeans generally LOVE NYC and my sister was no exception (my mom had been there before but not my sister.)
Since I live relatively close, I enjoy the luxury of not having to see everything when I am there - I know I can go back. I'll write more tomorrow but wanted to post a few photos. It was cold but we had quite a lot of sunshine which was nice. These are two shots from our boat ride out to see the Statue of Liberty.
As I mentioned yesterday, I spent three days in New York with my mom and my sister last week. I had been there a few times before, my mom once, and little sister never, which meant we had slightly different interests - I, for instance, wasn't necessarily wanting to go the Empire State Building. But it worked out well anyway!
I took the bus from DC to NYC. The Chinatown buses used to be the only option but now there are many, and they are all pretty convenient: they stop downtown DC, they let you off somewhere around Penn Station, and they even have free wireless internet on the bus! I took the Bolt Bus and it was comfortable. It also helped that it was the middle of the day on a Monday; not much traffic at all.
I find lodging in New York to be just ridiculously expensive. It seems silly to spend a lot of money on a small room so we decided to stay at a hostel, but a hostel that had nice, private rooms with some extra amenities: private bathroom, fridge, microwave, kitchen sink, wireless internet... The place was called Central Park Hostel and it worked out really well. It is on 103rd Street West, not far from Central Park. I have been told that ten years ago, you would not want to stay in that area, but now it is fine. It was very close to a Subway stop and I think it was a great, economical choice.
Being good tourists, my mom and my sister wanted to take the double decker sightseeing bus. At first I was skeptical, not only because it is cheesy but because it was really cold and only some of the buses had a covered top! But I agreed and it really was pretty fun. We took the bus from Times Square down to lower Manhattan to see Ground Zero etc. We then took a boat out to see the Statue of Liberty and to see Manhattan from the water. It was chilly but beautiful!
I enjoyed seeing the Staten Island Ferry, it looks so nice and old against the modern buildings:
A catamaran! Sailing that day (it was about 35 F) must have been chilly...
I am in California! Boyfriend and I are spending Thanksgiving visiting in San Luis Obispo, CA. We left DC bright and early yesterday (7am flight), had a bumpy ride into Phoenix, before getting on a small plane that took us to SLO. The weather is GORGEOUS!! I am soaking up the sun and getting ready to go to some wineries! Will try to put up some photos later.
Edited: OK, I am back and here are some photos! It is beautiful out here, but still very dry. The colors are definitely different from what I am used to. We went to two wineries, Edna Valley and Kelsey See Canyon Vineyards. We did a tasting at Kelsey and it was good! We left with a bottle of Chardonnay and a bottle of Apple Chardonnay - half apple juice, half wine! Fun.
I adore See Canyon - it is a beautiful canyon where it always seems to be nice and warm. Unfortunately my favorite apple place, See Canyon Fruit Ranch, was closed. After the canyon we went to Avila Beach where we had lunch. There were lots of people bustling around on the beach and the little main street.
I am very thankful to be spending this little vacation in this gorgeous spot, eating delicious food and soaking up the sun!
Edna Valley Vineyard:
Santa Barbara is one of those famous, just-on-TV places I have always wanted to visit. And today I had the chance! It was just as beautiful as I had imagined - old Spanish architecture, palm trees, beautiful people, endless sunshine... In addition, we had fantastic company!
Wonderful fellow Slow Traveler KHB generously offered to show us around the Farmers' Market when she heard I was going to Santa Barbara. We enjoyed the gorgeous drive from the Central Coast and met K. and her husband at the market. They not only gave us a fantastic tour, but they knew all the vendors so we got the best treatment at all the stalls. The produce and products were all great. We bought: butternut squash and the other ingredients we need to make KHB's own butternut squash soup; strawberries for dessert; salad greens; and some pretty cool and unusual things: black carrots - who knew? Almond brittle - yummy. Smoked walnuts - amazing! Chipotle/cocoa flavored walnuts - even better! Delicious apple cider - and verjus, juice made of early wine grapes! What a great tour.
After the market, our gracious hosts took us to a cheese shop that had some of the best selection ever. We tasted our way to a couple of cheeses and some salami, before K. and her husband gave us their best recommendation for good Mexican food. We set off for Super-Rica Taqueria on Milpas Street. They had warned us that there might be a long line and they were right! After 5-10 minutes of waiting without moving, we decided to walk down the street to another restaurant. We had delicious tacos there, and when we walked back 45 minutes later, the people who had been in front of us in the line were just reaching the door of the Super-Rica! We were happy with our decision to go somewhere else - we will just have to come back for the Super-Rica some other time.
After this we went to the Santa Barbara Mission - I'll put some pictures in a separate post. Thanks K. and S. for a great day!!
I have been interested in the California missions since I spent a summer in San Juan Capistrano, and I was excited to visit another mission yesterday.
Solvang, California, is a small town founded by Danish educators, turned into a tourist destination filled with replicas of Danish buildings and landmarks, and made even more famous through the movie Sideways.
Personally, I thought it was the cheesiest cheese ball of a place I have ever visited. If you read this article from the NY Times, it seems pretty cool. But to me it seemed way over the top and as a Scandinavian, there were many things that were either plain wrong or just very annoying. For instance, smorgasbord is a Swedish expression, not Danish, and wooden shoes is mainly a Dutch thing. Anyway, at least I can say "been there, done that." And it was a lovely day nonetheless!
Click on Continue reading for photos of the cheesiness!
On Sunday, November 30 we had lunch at Justin Winery outside of Paso Robles. Paso has lots of vineyards and Justin is one of the more famous one. It is quite far from San Luis Obispo; it seemed even further because we took some back roads to get there. However, the winery is so beautiful that any car sickness from the windy roads is quickly forgotten! It was a wonderfully sunny day and the vines were a gorgeous yellow-red color. The place is the epitome of picturesque and all I wanted to do was to grab a chair, a book, and sit there forever. But I wasn’t opposed to eating lunch either. We sat in an outside patio, looking out on the front of the winery. We had a wonderful white wine to start with, a viognier, which was a new type to me; very nice and refreshing.
I just spent some time counting the trips I have done since I finished graduate school in May of 2005. I have been SO fortunate to make a lot of trips, both for work and for pleasure. Some have been long and well planned, others weekend trips on the fly. What they have in common is the thrill of a new place or the wonderful happiness of going to well known places and seeing good friends. And a focus on budget travel: Lots of cheap weekend trips and travels to places like Nicaragua where your money goes a long way.
As most Slow Travelers, I like to savor a trip all the way: the anticipation and the planning phase, the nerves before leaving ("travel fever" we call it in Norwegian), the joy of the trip, the fun of talking and writing about it afterwards, the enjoyment of sharing pictures and stories with others.
I have a trip coming up, however, where I am not doing ANY planning. I have a ticket to Mexico City (and back, I guess!) and that is about all I know. However, someone is planning. My sister spent a year in Mexico a few years back and is still good friends with her host family. She is back there now for six weeks and I am going to travel with them over Christmas. They live two hours south of Mexico City, but we are going to visit the Huasteca Potosina: "La Huasteca is a region in the northeastern part of Mexico, comprising mountains, hill country and lowlands, centered on the watershed of the Pánuco River, inland from the city of Tampico. It includes parts of the states of Veracruz, Tamaulipas, San Luis Potosí, and Hidalgo."
The funny thing is that I, the control freak who likes to plan everything (I was an event planner in a previous life, I think), have no idea of where we are staying, if we are traveling around, if we are doing sightseeingy stuff or rafting type stuff, if it will be cold or hot... You might think it would be easy to find out what the weather is like, but the little information that is out there makes it seem like the area has everything: lots of rain, very dry, hot days, cool nights, muggy nights, tropical climate, highland climate, mountains, lowlands... We will visit San Luis Potosi, that I know, and it is a very cold city. So I guess I will bring my down jacket, my bikini, and everything in between!!
I do know, however, that it is supposed to be a beautiful area with lots of caves, rivers, waterfalls, and other natural wonders. I am very excited and I am also very curious - what will we do, what will I see!! I am thrilled to be traveling with a Mexican family and of course beyond happy to see my wonderful sister.
Here is a photo - hopefully I will have some like this one when I get back...
I have often enjoyed reading the packing posts of other Slow Travelers. Kim has a great selection, for instance. Sandra (the one of Too Much Luggage) naturally has written about packing! Andasamo wrote about it a few months ago, before her trip to Florence. Girasoli showed us how to get all your toiletries in one little bag! And now it is my turn!
I touched on it briefly in my last post, Mexico! Especially the fact that the weather will vary a LOT. I checked forecasts of different cities yesterday, and several of them show a 40 degree change every day. 80 during the day, 40 at night. That is a challenge! I think San Luis Potosi is particularly cold at night. If you pair that with the fact that I am traveling with my very fashion conscious 23 year old sister, as well as three other girls in their 20s (plus their brothers and parents!), and the fact that Continental has gotten very strict on their limits lately, and the fact that I am bringing presents, we have a problem!
Just wanted to post a short update! I arrived in the town of Yautepec (where my sister´s host family lives) at 9pm their time yesterday. That meant that door to door the trip was 17 hours - but effective flying time was only 5 hours! Two main things took time: We were quite delayed in Houston, which meant I spent 5 hours there instead of 2h 30min. Then I waited an hour for the bus at the airport, and then the bus took about 2h 15 min to get to Cuernavaca. But everything was fine, Continental did a good job in getting me here for the most part: Food on both flights (I loved getting Cheerios on my 7am flight!), exit row on both flights, nice attendants...
Yautepec is a small town in the state of Morelos, about 2-3 hours south of Mexico City. (Totally depending on traffic!) My little sister spent a year here as an exchange student in 2002-2003, and is now back visiting her host family and doing a public health module for nursing school. I came down on Thursday and yesterday, Friday, I was able to see a little more of the town.
I guess I would call it a typical small Latin American town, although I find it busier than the sleepier small towns I know from Central America. This could be due to the fact that Mexico DF is not that far away and quite a few people commute. The town sits at 1200 meters above sea level, which means that I dropped from 2600m (DF) to 1200m in just a few hours! Definitely makes your ears pop. The altitude is very noticeable on the climate: the sun feels very strong, the day temperature is rather hot, but the nights are chilly!
Yautepec has a small town square that is nicely decorated for Christmas and the typical market with all sorts of fun stuff. Oh, and "town square" is usually not called "plaza" in Mexico, but rather "zócalo." I learned this from my sister - until now I thought Zócalo only referred to the famous square in Mexico City. I am happy for my sister that she spent her exchange year in a small town, it makes it so much easier to be independent and do stuff around town. We had fun walking around the market and th rest of the town, and I bought a few things. Then I went back and took a two-hour nap!
Last night we went to a typical Posada in a Yautepec neighborhood. The posadas are originally a Spanish tradition, but now is mostly celebrated in certain Latin American countries. For nine nights (December 16-24) people will gather at a different house, walk in a procession with candles singing songs, and stop outside a house singing more songs and knocking on the door. This represents Maria and Joseph trying to find shelter. But I don't think there was a piñata back in Jerusalem! A Mexican posada always has a piñata. After the piñata, the pelegrinos are allowed into the house for different traditional foods. We had sope and gorditas and ponche. It was fun but really cold!!
Today we will do laundry and other things to get ready for the Big Trip. We leave Monday at 2am... (I think I already mentioned this but it is taking some time getting used to!)
Being with my sister's host family brings back a lot of memories from my own exchange year in Panama thirteen years ago. For instance, we haven't really done much for the last three days. A short walk to town, laundry, wrapping some presents. Earlier today I was really restless but I know we leave tomorrow. The parents, on the other hand, work so hard. They are both doctors working hard all week, and then on the weekend they work in the house, do laundry, take care of relatives, shop, cook... They are one of the few families here I know of who doesn't have someone cook for them even though they could probably afford it. Instead mom cooks fantastic meals from scratch every day, personally selecting the vegetables from the market. When we went to buy meat for alambre (beef cut in thin slices and cooked with peppers and onions) yesterday, the butcher yelled to his colleage: good meat for la doctora!
We are here - only took ten hours... That was a long car ride in a small mini van! Lots of tiny speed bumps and I am too tall for the back seat so I hit my head repeatedly. We are staying in a small, very poor town with lots of old men that are sad! And it is freezing - but I am the only one with warm clothes. I am so glad I brought my down jacket and wool sweater! No electricity in the hotel but they hope to have it back by tonight - we hope so too! After sleeping very little last night I am ready for a shower, some TV and some sleep!
We did see a very pretty town on the way here, Jalpan, with a mission founded by Junipero Serra. We crossed the Sierra Gorda which is pretty and extremely winding roads.
Tomorrow we are visiting a magical castle created by a Brit by the name of Edward James who settled here in the 1940s, called Las Pozas.
Thanks for all your comments!! Don't have time to comment now, will later! But yes, we did leave early, at 3am, and made it through Mexico City - or Mexico Distrito Federal, Federal District - that's where the DF comes from. The toll roads were good. And the city really is huge!
Quick Merry Christmas from Ciudad Valles! One shared computer in lobby so not much time - hope to write more at some point. We saw the magical castle of Edward James, Las Pozas, and the Sótano de las Golondrinas, fantastic! Yesterday we kind of wasted... A little annoying! But I am looking forward to today's waterfalls, Cascadas de Tamul.
Saludos to all of you!
Just a quick hello this morning, I got back from the trip at 1am and it was wonderful to sleep in today! It has been a full and exciting trip but nothing slow about it - six hotels in eight nights or something like that.
Hope to upload photos at some point but it may have to wait until I get home to DC this weekend.
I think maybe my last post was a little misleading - I meant to say that I was back from the trip to the Huasteca, but I was in my sister's little town, Yautepec, still. Now, however, I am back in DC! I came back last night, or actually in the afternoon. A travel miracle happened so that I actually got on an earlier flight from Chicago, where I had a layover. It was nice, for once, to get back early (5:30pm) and have the evening to recover and unpack - and give away some gifts!
I have been thinking about how to organize my writings about the trip and I think that I will do a trip report for Slow Trav where I describe each day, while my blog entries will be dedicated to sights or experiences (which were roughly one or two per day.) I hope to start tomorrow - today I need to rest and do laundry!
I want to thank you for all your comments - I apologize for not commenting back much but now that I am back I can.
I can't help but post this one photo from Puente de Dios, though, it is definitely my favorite photo from my time in Mexico.
So here we go! I will start with a short entry about Yautepec, the town my sister lived in 2002-2003 and where we spent a few days before and a few days after our trip to the Huasteca. I wrote about the town in this post shortly after I arrived, so I won't repeat it, but post some photos instead.
The Zocalo, or town square, in Yautepec, all decorated for Christmas:
Jalpan de Serra is a town in the state of Querétaro, where we stopped on our way to the Huasteca. It is also the main city in the Sierra Gorda region. Interestingly, Jalpan is home to one of five Franciscan missions in the Sierra Gorda, Santiago the Jalpan. These were all founded by Junípero Serra, who also founded many of the Franciscan missions of California, which I wrote about in November. The Sierra Gorda seems like a very remote and inaccessible place (I was very surprised I didn't get car sick - the curves were crazy!) but also beautiful. People seemed very surprised to see foreigners!
"The five Franciscan missions of Sierra Gorda were built during the last phase of the conversion to Christianity of the interior of Mexico in the mid-18th century." (UNESCO website.)
The Franciscan Missions of the Sierra Gorda have been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2003. You can read a brief description and the justification for including them here.
The church in Jalpan was gorgeous and a lot more elaborate than what you would except from a small mountain town. Here are some photos!
After our first sto, Jalpan, we continued on to Xilitla, also in the state of San Luis Potosi. From here we were going to explore a few interesting attractions. At first sight, Xilitla was not what we had envisioned for our vacation: it was really cold, rainy, and the town really was rather ugly! (That was the day we didn't have electricity in our hotel as well.)
This, for instance, was the view from our hotel:
However, it looked a lot better the next day in the sun:
We stayed in Xilitla two nights and it definitely grew on me. It is an important commercial town for the region and it was constantly bustling with activity. We stayed at the Hotel Aurora which was quite nice - especially after we got the electricity back! Xilitla is a good place for visiting sights such as the Magical Castle of Edward James, the Sotano de las Golondrinas, and others. We ate several meals at a restaurant named Cayo's, which was used to cater to tourists.
Our first whole day in Xilitla we went to Las Pozas (the pools), a magical, tropical, surrealistic place unlike anything I have ever seen. It is just a couple of kilometers outside town, and one of the main tourist attractions. Las Pozas was the property of eccentric Scot Edward James, who started building a magical sculpture garden in the late 1940s. James was born in 1907 and early became involved in the surrealistic movement, supporting among others Salvador Dali. He was actually painted by both Dali and Rene Magritte.
While spending time in California, he decided he wanted to set up a Garden of Eden - and that it should be in Mexico. He found Xilitla in 1945 and had a vision that it was the perfect place. From this moment and until his death in 1984, he worked at transforming the more than 80 acres (320,000 m2) of natural waterfalls and pools into a sculpture garden filled with towering Surrealist sculptures.
Allow me to quote Wikipedia: "Between 1949 and 1984, James built thirty-six concrete follies - palaces, temples and pagodas, including the House on Three Floors Which Will in Fact Have Five or Four or Six, the House with a Roof like a Whale, and the Staircase to Heaven. There were also plantings and beds full of tropical plants, including orchids - there were, apparently, 29,000 at Las Pozas at one time - and a variety of small casas (homes), niches, and pens that held exotic birds and wild animals from the world over. Massive sculptures up to four stories tall punctuate the site."
We took a great tour with a guide named Carlos - you really need the explanations to get the full story. It is also a good way to support the foundation that now runs the place. He did scare me, though, when he said to watch out for the snakes - apparently they come out and sunbathe on all the different surfaces! It is also really fun to swim in the waterfalls there, although the water is chilly. It really is a magical place and a fabulous mixture of nature and art.
Edward James created structures that looked like nature, such as bamboo, and structures that imitated architecture, such as these arches based on Italian churches:
James loved creating art that imitated nature, and that nature could take over and break down. Here are some stone Flor de Lis:
I am taking a quick break from the Norway entries - will be back tomorrow with more! (And don't worry about the test!) This weekend I went to Canaan Valley, West Virginia, for some skiing. It is about four hours west of DC and they usually get a lot of snow. They have had lots of snow all winter, but last week it rained away!! So we had very little snow until Sunday, when it started snowing - and didn't really stop until Tuesday morning. We ended up having to stay until Tuesday morning instead of leaving Monday afternoon, simply because there was too much snow.
We did downhill skiing Saturday (awful conditions!) and Monday (amazing conditions!) at Timberline Ski Resort, and attempted cross country at White Grass on Sunday (not much snow, so not much skiing. But it did rekindle my interest in cross country skiing; it was fun! It was also cheap!) I'd like to go back when conditions are good.
Here are some photos from early this morning as we were leaving:
Girasoli and Candi were asking how Italy might compare to the US sizewise. Your wish is my command (or rather, your wish is my wish to the wonderful JY) and here it is. Italy is a little bit smaller than Norway (Norway is 307,442 sq km, Italy is 294,020 sq km.)
This was fun!
It also gave me an idea for a future post: anything else you want to know about Norway? I was thinking about the education system and food as two possible topics (I always enjoy reading about the classrooms of blog friends Girasoli and Amy.) So bring on the questions!