my jaunts: texas wildflowers

bluebonnets! the state flower of texas, and the backdrop of many texas family photos.

bluebonnets! the state flower of texas, and the backdrop of many texas family photos.

it’s that wildflower time of year, which may seem strange if you’re not from texas.  every april, after several monsoon-like rains hit the area, bright vibrant wildflowers bloom along the sides of highways, in abandoned lots, really anywhere you wouldn’t expect to see the lovely blooms.

blurry, but beautiful - miles of bright yellow wildflowers along highway 45

blurry, but beautiful – miles of bright yellow wildflowers along highway 45

i wasn’t too sold on the flowers when i first moved to texas, preferring more manicured landscaping to the haphazard smatterings of wildflowers along the roads.  but fast forward one year, and i was sold.  there’s something beautiful in the incredible colors and sheer amount of flowers literally lining hundreds of miles of freeways throughout the state.

warning: taking photos while driving not necessarily recommended.

warning: taking photos while driving not necessarily recommended.

i made the four hour drive along highway 45 between dallas and houston twice last week.  the southbound leg was driven in a complete downpour, with little visibility of the medians.  the northbound drive home three days later was absolutely breathtaking.  flowers followed me for the entire four hours – beautiful! i took some photos on my phone while driving back to dallas; they’re blurry and unfocused, but give you an idea of how pretty the drive was this april.

hundreds of miles of wildflowers line highway 45 between houston and dallas

hundreds of miles of wildflowers line highway 45 between houston and dallas

we can thank lady bird johnson for this unruly beauty, as it was through her efforts on the beautification act of 1965 that improved the previously unsightly medians and billboards.  later, in 1987, the surface transportation and uniform relocation assistance act required that at least .25 of 1 percent of funds spent on landscaping highways be used to plant native flora.  splendid.

texas wildflowers along a hill on highway 45

texas wildflowers along a hill on highway 45

beautiful day for a drive

beautiful day for a drive

a sprinkling of the famous texas bluebonnets, alongside shades of yellow and pink in the median

a sprinkling of the famous texas bluebonnets, alongside shades of yellow and pink in the median

travel tips: decorating your home with travel inspiration

my very favorite - via real simple many years ago

my very favorite – via real simple many years ago

life dream?  probably to be paid to travel the world with my favorite people and write about it.  (side note: if you have unlimited funds and want to sponsor me, please visit my contact page!)  since i can’t do that, and instead have a day (and let’s be honest, night and weekend) job, i’ve found that surrounding myself with travel inspiration at home helps put me in my happy place.  i encourage you to do the same, and to fill your home with inspiration for whatever your passion may be.

our teeny entryway still has room for a photo tour of marfa, texas - a great conversation starter

our teeny entryway still has room for a photo tour of marfa, texas – a great conversation starter

  • photos – if you’re like me, you take way too many photos while traveling (still working on the whole “enjoy-the-moment” thing).  put your photos to use by displaying them in your home.  you don’t need to be a professional photographer to find a few gems.  they are great conversation starters, too, when people visit. hang in highly trafficked areas for those you want to chat about, and in more private rooms for sweet memories.
travel inspiration next to my computer on my desk: my favorite mid-century jetsetter against the dallas skyline, next to my favorite place to reflect at the university of oklahoma

travel inspiration next to my computer on my desk: my favorite mid-century jetsetter against the dallas skyline, next to my favorite place to reflect at the university of oklahoma

  • travel purchases – remember that gorgeous wooden tray you bought in florence?  or those postcards you picked up in maine?  don’t hide them in a drawer – show them off!  i learned this from my mother, who decorated her house with items she’d purchased all around the world.  she didn’t try to make anything match; rather, she bought things she loved and found beautiful.  it all worked.  these don’t have to be expensive items, either – some of my most cherished purchases are the vogue magazines i buy in each country i visit.  a small price to pay for a window into the style and culture of the place and time.
i (try to) buy a vogue in each country i visit, and display some of my favorites in my office bookcase, next to my framed postcard of venice (yes i framed a postcard - it was so magical!)

i (try to) buy a vogue in each country i visit, and display some of my favorites in my office bookcase, next to my framed postcard of venice (yes i framed a postcard – it was so magical!)

  • daily inspiration – placing travel-related items throughout my home is a constant reminder of why we work so hard – it gives us the means for adventure and exploring. a globe in the office, a poster of LA in the living room, and a favorite travel quote on the fridge are daily reminders of the things i love.
my former residence: the city of angels. great memories every time i pass through the living room.

my former residence: the city of angels. great memories every time i pass through the living room.

  • share the love – having guests stay the night?  give them a taste of what you love (in my case, give them some wanderlust).  i love staying with friends who have interesting books, photos, anything to share what makes them tick.
trying to inspire my guests with the jetsetter travel book on the bedside table. this is what inspired our trip to south africa this summer!

trying to inspire my guests with the jetsetter travel book on the bedside table. this is what inspired our trip to south africa this summer!

 what are some of your favorite things to share in your home?

one of my very favorite travel treasures is the glass soda bottle i bought at the san telmo market in buenos aires. i think it goes nicely with my exotic ikea vase, don't you?

one of my very favorite travel treasures is the glass soda bottle i bought at the san telmo market in buenos aires. i think it goes nicely with my exotic ikea vase, don’t you?

i purchased this globe at a garage sale in tulsa when i was in college. it may still have the USSR, but it's the first place i go when thinking of my next trip.

i purchased this globe at a garage sale in tulsa when i was in college. it may still have the USSR, but it’s the first place i go when thinking of my next trip.

 

my favorite time of year: the summer travel season

the summer 2014 travel lineup

the summer 2014 travel lineup

somehow, miraculously, my busiest time at work is over.  it seems too good to be true, but after several 80+ hour weeks, and many more 70+ hour weeks, i’m ready to explore something other than a corporate office.  thanks for your patience these past few months – more frequent blog posts to return shortly.

while not necessarily recommended, work stress does have one positive impact on me: it forces me to plan vacations.  i love having something to look forward to, a celebration for the end in sight.  or in this case, not just a single celebration, but many!  i am so excited for the travel lineup this summer, i can hardly wait.  after agonizing over the budget with my husband (we set aside a certain amount each month to make sure we can travel to the extent we like, foregoing other luxuries like nicer cars or a bigger house), we’re booked for the following locations:

the stunning texas hill country

the stunning texas hill country

  • road trip through texas – my husband is going on a bachelor party road trip through central and southeast texas, complete with bbq, biking, and beer.  i tried to insert myself into that soiree, but apparently it’s not very traditional for a female to join.  shame.  at least the wedding is in hill country, too.  thinking of buying myself a pair of boots for the occasion.  yeehaw.
the devil's backbone, outside of wimberley in texas hill country

the devil’s backbone, outside of wimberley in texas hill country

  • new york, new york – then it’s my turn for a bachelorette party in the city of cities.  my all time favorite, and this time i don’t have to plan a thing!  the last time i was in new york, i focused only on brooklyn, hardly venturing into manhattan.  while fantastic (and something i would definitely recommend), i’m ready to again be in an empire state of mind.
let's hear it for new york...

let’s hear it for new york…

  • los angeles (x2) – does it count as a vacation if you’ve lived there before?  i think so.  i’m looking forward to seeing old friends and partaking in several father’s office burgers (if you are ever in LA, you absolutely must try this burger.  as someone who counts cheeseburgers among her favorite foods, believe me when i say this burger is incredible).  and staying at the cottages in silverlake is always a treat.
the view from our cottage in silverlake, a favorite stay in los angeles

the view from our cottage in silverlake, a favorite stay in los angeles

  • new orleans, louisiana – is it crazy that i have never been to n’awlins before?  i think so!  so thrilled that my friend, stephanie, pushed our friends to book this trip.  it is shaping up to be a fabulous time with good food, great friends, and (hopefully) lots of jazz.  did  i mention good food?
new orleans, as shot by ed bierman at https://www.flickr.com/photos/edbierman/10798203675/

new orleans, as shot by ed bierman at https://www.flickr.com/photos/edbierman/10798203675/

  • south africa – yes!  we booked it!  it’s official!  i fell in love with southern africa after reading brendan van son’s blog last year when he rode a motorcyle through africa, and i couldn’t wait to see it myself (sans bike).  we’ll be taking the beginner’s guide to south africa as i like to call it, which includes about five days in cape town and five days in kruger national park.  so excited to explore the winelands, table mountain, and see the big 5 (the lion, rhinoceros, leopard, buffalo, and elephant).  one of our safari lodgings includes canvas walls so that “you can hear the animals and be that much closer to nature.” scared. out. of. my. mind.
cape town, south africa, as shot by eGuide travel at https://www.flickr.com/photos/eguidetravel/2919101197/

cape town, south africa, as shot by eGuide travel at https://www.flickr.com/photos/eguidetravel/2919101197/

  • mystery location – yes, you read that correctly.  it’s time for the biannual bestie trip, and we cannot decide where to go.  solution?  let’s wait until the last minute and play travel roulette and follow the deals!  we may end up in boise, but hey, i hear boise has it going on.

please, please tell me about your adventures this summer!  where are you going?  and would you like to write about them in a guest post?  i would love to feature them and hear  more!  i get so inspired from others’ vacations.

 

 

 

my jaunts: sedona, arizona

breathtaking views of sedona, arizona

breathtaking views of sedona, arizona

as the weather in dallas is finally starting to warm up (though i have a sneaky suspicion that mother nature has one more freeze for us…), my thoughts have turned to hotter locales and sun, sun, sun.  so, arizona.  while living in los angeles with family in texas, i had made the drive between the two states too many times to count.  my initial thoughts of arizona were based on my jaunt through the southern part of the state on i-10: hot, dry, and flat.  what a surprise when one winter we decided to take the northern route home via i-40.  snow and mountains in arizona?  say what?!

the allegedly haunted hotel monte vista in flagstaff, arizona

the allegedly haunted hotel monte vista in flagstaff, arizona

my husband instantly fell in love with this area through our cross country trips home, so we decided to stop and stay for a few days in the summer.  we started in flagstaff, a college town in northern arizona with a mountain hippie vibe.  for a great cup of joe or a cocktail to take off the chill in winter, head to rendezvous or the monte vista cocktail lounge.  they are both housed inside the monte vista hotel, known to be haunted.  our friends stayed here a few years back and can attest to the creepy sounds throughout the hotel.  brave enough to stay?  i was not.  while in flagstaff, walk through the adorable downtown – so quaint, and feels miles away from phoenix – much more of a boulder, colorado vibe.

breathtaking views on 89a driving south from flagstaff to sedona

breathtaking views on 89a driving south from flagstaff to sedona

next, we headed south on 89a.  per my trusted rand mcnalley atlas (probably one of my top ten favorite books of all time), this is one of the prettiest and most scenic drives in america.  after driving a few disappointing miles, we turned at a bend in the road and immediately came up against a breathtaking tree-lined canyon stretching high above us and far below the street.  this road definitely delivers!

20140221-185248.jpg my aunt went to northern arizona university in flagstaff, and recommended that we stop at slide rock state park, home of “nature’s water slide.”  if you enjoy state parks and a good water slide, then this place is for you.  a word of caution: the water is really, really cold.  and once you’re in, there’s no getting out!  i had barely plopped down at the top of the “slide,” yelped out my shock at the ice water, and was immediately pushed down the slide over the eroded rocks and into the shallow pool below.  before i could express my shock to my husband, it happened all over again!

overlooking sedona with the mister

overlooking sedona with the mister

after sunning ourselves on the canyon rocks, we headed further south to sedona, made famous by its amazing red rocks and new age mentality.  we enjoyed a fabulous meal at elote, which is not to be missed, despite the seemingly meager exterior – seriously fantastic food; expect a wait.  we shopped at tlaquepaque (check out environmental realists – strange name, extremely unique goods – i was hooked), hiked the trail around the airport (don’t forget to pack plenty of water;  it’s so dry here that you don’t really how much you are sweating, and you risk dehydration), and enjoyed the cool night by the creek at our hotel, the l’auberge de sedona.  two words on l’auberge: outdoor shower.  it’s worth the upgrade.

a wonderful meal at elote in sedona - best meal of the trip

a wonderful meal at elote in sedona – best meal of the trip

as a final farewell to sedona, we took a suggestion from 36 hours and called larry at earth wisom jeep tours.  where to start with larry?  first, let’s mention that i am no hippie.  i like blazers and bows and kate spade and confetti.  larry likes singing to the wind.  but my trust in 36 hours is getting out of control, so i hopped in the back of his jeep, trekked up a mountain, and found myself singing while he played his peace pipe.  so what?  this city girl can find herself in nature every now and then.  while not normally my thing, larry’s lesson on living well with nature was one of my favorite parts of the trip.  when in sedona…

larry from earth wisdom jeep tours. just do it.

larry from earth wisdom jeep tours. just do it.

who should go: people in search of a relaxing weekend, hippies

what to listen to: bob dylan

what to bring: hiking gear for the numerous trails and mountain chic style for dinners at night

surrounding area: drive even further south to jerome, an old copper mining town known as the “wickedest town in the west.”  eat at the haunted hamburger, check out live music at the spirit room, and visit the gift store at the connor hotel.

chapel of the holy cross in sedona - fantastic architecture, inside and out

chapel of the holy cross in sedona – fantastic architecture, inside and out

to escape the heat, stay at l'auberge sedona creekside, with lush grounds and outdoor showers.

to escape the heat, stay at l’auberge sedona creekside, with lush grounds and outdoor showers.

 

jaunt chats: wherever you go, there you are

Just a day in England

Just a day in England

how delighted i was when an old friend from oklahoma wrote to tell me how much she enjoyed jaunt. it has been so much fun for me to write, and sometimes i just assume i’m the only one reading. kelly embodies the true spirit of jaunt, finding adventure wherever life takes her. she offered to write about living in a foreign land, as this is something about which she knows quite a bit. i was completely unprepared, though, for the beautiful post she returned to me last week. so perfectly worded and honest, please join me in convincing her to start her own blog. i want to read more.

India- riding an elephant on my birthday!

India- riding an elephant on my birthday!

“Having now lived, worked and volunteered in the US, Czech Republic, UK, India and Canada and travelled to 35 countries here is what I know. Not much. The more you learn the more you know how very little you can really know. I may have a Master’s but I’ve learned much more from experience and people I’ve really connected with the world round. I grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma and sometimes I think back to the girl I was (our entire body – cells and skin – is replaced every 7 years so am I even really the same person? Just a thought… I would have been thrilled and delighted to hear that I would travel to and volunteer in India on my own, study at the University of London, marry my own Mr. Darcey and travel to 35 countries. How did I do that, it’s magic really. How did I get myself here? I often think… what else might be possible?

My husband, Mark and I at Kent Castle

My husband, Mark and I at Kent Castle

When you live in a different culture you are changed. You can never un-know the precise detail with which the English use our shared language. I never used the word pedantic before moving there. You start to see your own culture as outsiders do. This can be enlightening and uncomfortable. You could always pick out the Americans on the tube as they speak in a tone 8 octaves above every other sane person on the train. Was I ever that loud? Did I sound that brash? Yes. After 7 years in the UK trying to assimilate, taking tea, donning my vintage frocks and developing the usual pint after every imaginable activity (Film and a pint, jog and a pint, cycle ride and a pint , shopping and a pint… etc.) the foreign became the norm as did the aspects I adored about British culture. The humour interjected at every single possible opportunity, the non- PC flirting that on a good day boosts your self-esteem (it’s not doing any harm is it eh?) on a bad day it re-invigorated my feminism! When you fall into a pattern of life, the seasonal norms that are comforting, eating cream teas in pub gardens in summer, heavy pies and roast dinners in Autumn and Winter, picking up local venison from the country estate nearby, the noise of pheasant hunting in the distance on country walks and knowing that Christmas starts Dec 1st with heaps of minced pies, chocolates and brandy butter. It is expected and very well accepted to gain 5 pounds in December. Normal. You’ll need the fat to keep warm in poorly insulated old housing! I LOVE this mind set, much healthier than our skinny = successful, good, worthy, pretty, intelligent culture in the US. There were aspects of British life I could never quite adjust to and ultimately I knew I wasn’t happy to stay there forever even though I did get my British citizenship.

Citizenship Ceremony - Bristol England 2011

Citizenship Ceremony – Bristol England 2011

The daily bureaucracy is very trying. You think getting a correct electric meter reading is something fairly simple. Think again. Setting up bank accounts, converting your driver’s license, parking could all be quite stressful. Hence the frequent pub visits and tea times, but therein lays my revelation. In order to enjoy the lovely, (magical even) parts of living in England you just had to put up with and to really hit the nail on the head, joke about the utter pain of existing and operating in the UK. Sweet and sour if you will. The British have made an art of making fun of their own national short comings ( and everyone else’s) Something the US could really learn from. They could learn from our DVLA offices though, it’s really not that hard to process a driving license.

on holiday in Scotland March 2011 (very ill with morning sickness!)

on holiday in Scotland March 2011 (very ill with morning sickness!)

I now feel not quite American, not quite British, although there was quite a lot of proving, taking the citizenship exam. So I figured why not try being Canadian next? I am only 11 months in to living and working in Canada and I am reserving final judgements and anthropological assessments…

West Coast of Canada since 2013

West Coast of Canada since 2013

My shorter time in the Czech Republic was also trying (sobbing trying to speak broken Czech) and enriching (preforming with a folk dancing troupe in a 90 year old dress in the National Ball) in hind sight.

I lived in Prague 7 in an old villa, previously occupied by communist party officials. The family was welcoming in a Czech sort of way, which looks very different than an American welcome. I knew I was welcome because the house parents were often in their underwear on Saturday mornings! I knew I was welcome because I was invited to go drag car racing on an ex-communist air base along with the whole family. Cultural acceptance and immersion means getting out of your comfort zone and into a racing car with a full face helmet on. The area had become a nature reserve with high radiation levels in all the wildlife due to the poor management of military land. What a poignant way to learn this with deer racing across the drag strip.

Bavaria for a friend's wedding

Bavaria for a friend’s wedding

I found myself on trams out to the suburbs getting lost, trying to find niche folk dancing clubs and getting the oddest reception upon my arrival. Why do you want to do this? There was always genuine surprise at anyone’s interest in 1.the Czech Republic 2. Traditional dance. Cultural Anthropology was my (very useful) undergraduate major. I developed a close knit group of Czech friends through this dance and learned people’s personal stories and histories of the Velvet Revolution. There is so much more to Prague and the Czech nation than the normal 3 day tour can show you.

Wine Country - Kelowna British Columbia with my daughter Sasha

Wine Country – Kelowna British Columbia with my daughter Sasha

I suppose the only real lessons from these diverse, amazing, uncomfortable, confusing, heart wrenching and soul connecting, dancing in circles with strangers until they are your genuine friends moments and collections of moments that make up our utterly messy and beautiful lives is that everywhere you go there is something exotic. Everyone you meet may be on your wave length, even the hardened nuns I worked with in India- I softened them up in the end! Every place can be sacred, every field golden, every mountain a triumph. If you want to go, go. If you want to be a new person, you might already be. You can be a tourist in your own town; you can discover a new dish or shop or park in Rome or in the next county and it’s all part of being truly alive.”

Kelly Schaecher – Vancouver, Canada

Morocco

Morocco

technology tuesday: the language barrier

my beloved copy of point it by graf editions

my beloved copy of point it by graf editions

planning a trip to a far away locale?  worried about not speaking the language?  there are tons of apps out there for languages (perhaps the next tech tuesday post?), but what happens if you’re going to say, sochi, where you can’t even begin to decipher the alphabet (ok, and let’s also assume it’s not during the olympics where english runs rampant)?  enter: symbolic app (for techies) and point it book (for technophobes).  let’s be honest, i’m the latter.  exhibit a: i only started using gps this year after spending five years in los angeles with a…fold-out map.   still trust me to write a post every few tuesdays regarding technology?

handy that their table setting includes some asian-specific items. soy sauce? yes, please.

handy that their table setting includes some asian-specific items. soy sauce? yes, please.

well, if you’re still reading, glad you’re here.  i’ll start with the point it: traveller’s language kit book by graf editions.  still one of my favorite travel purchases, i bought this at the san francisco museum of modern art store, and pack it in every foreign getaway carry-on.  it’s thin, it’s graphically pleasing, and it allows me to point my way to a shocking number of sentences.

the point it anatomy guide

the point it anatomy guide

having a severe stomach ache after eating steak at dinner and need to find a doctor stat?  flip to page 55 for your photo of a doctor (54 for the ambulance in case things go really wrong, really fast), then to page 56 once you’re at the doctor’s office to point to your stomach, and then to page 10 for the diagram of the cow with different cuts.  bug spray?  page 27 (same page as the mosquito netting).  brandy?  page 21.  goat, page 8; snorkeling, page 50; helicopter, page 30.  life goal: to have a reason to point to all of these in one trip.  the book also has world maps, modes of transportation, car parts, etc.

point it thinks of, well,everything. imagine trying to describe q-tip in a foreign language...

point it thinks of, well,everything. imagine trying to describe q-tip in a foreign language…

sounds pretty cool, right?  no need for an app with the point it book!  except that the symbolic app is actually pretty cool, and pretty much a steal at $0.99 (point it cost me $6.95 in 2006).  first, rather than photos, the app consists of a series of symbols that are widely recognized throughout the word.  second, there is a search bar at the top, so you don’t have to flip through photos as you are dying of food poisoning.  after typing in “doctor,” a symbol of a family practice doctor came up with translation in several languages.  not sure i was intending to go to a family practice doctor, but guess that will do.  perhaps i should have typed in hospital instead.  i could have also gone to the “health” category and sorted through a myriad of health-related symbols.  the one that i can only assume means stomach troubles made me giggle.

the symbolic app's interpretation of doctor, health-related items, and what i can only assume means internal stomach turmoil

the symbolic app’s interpretation of doctor, health-related items, and what i can only assume means internal stomach turmoil

ok, let’s try the same words from point it.  bug spray: nothing came up when i searched for that term, but i was able to find something that got the point across under the camping  section.  brandy: no, though i did find a symbol for other alcoholic beverages, as well as a chili pepper with different levels of spice (very helpful!) under the food section.  goat: no, but under “nature” i found a unicorn, rabbit in a hat (maybe should be under “leisure?”), and a dragon.  snorkeling?  yes!  and while looking under “leisure” i found an entire section with the olympic event symbols – very timely!  helicopter?  check!  another personal fave: the michelin man!  perfect for hunting down the nearest michelon star restaurant, and included in the “brand” section with pages of helpful brands that the point it book doesn’t have.

symbolic app shots: travel symbols, bug spray (?), and some brands to help you on your vacay (can't leave home without some monopoly!)

symbolic app shots: travel symbols, bug spray (?), and some brands to help you on your vacay (can’t leave home without some monopoly!)

while i’ll still probably trust my point it book during vacations, the symbolic app may be more convenient in situations where i least expect it (say, when i try to make a go of dim sum by myself).  also, after i finished writing this post, i googled graf editions to link to the book’s website, only to find that point it has an app now!  at $2.99, i think i will stick with my symbolic app.  take your pick, but report back on any hilarity that ensues as a result.

my favorites: canals

the canals of tongli in western china

the canals of tongli in western china

ok, i admit, have a list of favorite canals is a stretch.  and strange.  but here’s the thing: writing about venice on tuesday really got me in the mood for that other-worldly venetian spirit.  and i think canals have something to do with that.  two cities immediately come to mind with the same spirit of venice that somehow only a boat in a narrow green canal can create:

the canals of venice in los angeles

the canals of venice in los angeles

  • venice, california – it still amazes me that most angelenos don’t even know of the venice canals, though it was always on the top of my list for visitors (and the town’s namesake).  south of santa monica, tucked away just east of the crazy beach and west of eclectic abbot kinney, the canals wind through blocks of stunning houses, each creative and different from the next, connected through narrow alleys and steep foot bridges.  i could spend an afternoon wandering the canals, peeking into residents’ lush yards (probably not recommended?), and then spending the evening strolling abbot kinney and eating at one of its many famed restaurants.  the hardest part?  finding the canals.  good luck!
just some family fun along the venice canals in los angeles

just some family fun along the venice canals in los angeles

  • tongli, china – referred to as the venice of the east (sensing a theme here?), tongli was my favorite city on my tour of western china.  during a cruise along the canals, i overheard women singing at a restaurant, waved to elderly chinese men taking an afternoon stroll, and listened to the patter of light rain on the stone bridges as we passed underneath.  i also witnessed a truly absurd fishing habit.  an older woman had tied the ankles of large black pelican-type birds to her rickety boat. on command, the birds would dive for fish, catch them, regurgitate them into an empty bucket, and then get their necks wrung by the woman.  extremely strange.
the site of the bird fishers. seriously mad ritual!

the site of the bird fishers. seriously mad ritual!

which places have you visited that are simply magical?

street/canal signs in tongli

street/canal signs in tongli

my jaunts: venice, italy

i bought this postcard while i was there - stunning! it is framed in my office. st. mark's floods each year, and people must either boat across or walk across narrow benches that line the perimeter (see the background)

i bought this postcard while i was there – stunning! it is framed in my office. st. mark’s floods each year, and people must either boat across or walk across narrow benches that line the perimeter (see the background)

i’ve been dreading writing this post, because i  know it will simply not do venice any justice.  but it’s freezing and dreary in dallas today, and all i can think about is sweet, mysterious venice.  you see, venice is absolutely, definitely, hands-down my favorite city i have ever visited.  ever.  a lot of people don’t like venice.  i do not understand these people.  it is magical.  it is like no place you have ever seen before.  and if you can stay long enough to explore more than just the tourist sites, you will understand how people can fall in love with a city.

i just adored the houses on the water with their boats docked outside.

i just adored the houses on the water with their boats docked outside.

the first sight as you exit the train station is a large bridge and bustling canal with enough boats to create a traffic jam (you may also hear a native american band, which has always confused me, but i hear they are still there!).  there are no cars, no mopeds, no bikes.  the architecture is breathtaking – in fact, a simple square window appears only once along the grand canal.  the houses are faded, but each shows signs of former bright colors and detailed exterior frescos.  glancing inside the windows, you can still see the grandeur that was once venice – large chandeliers, carved ceilings, rich dark red and green walls, gold trimmings.

the grand canal on a cloudy day

the grand canal on a cloudy day

venice is filled with art galleries (the shopping is amazing with beautiful glass jewelry and home decor from the nearby island of murano), museums, and exhibits, and is host every other year to the huge biannual art show.  if you love art, plan in advance and do some research to find times to meet artists and attend exhibit openings.  the streets are paved with large gray stones, and rainbow pace (peace) flags hang from many windows.  the roads wind around and change names every few feet, becoming narrower and narrower until you are finally thrust into a huge, square plaza.  even with maps and the best of navigators (i.e. me), you will get lost.  multiple times.  just go with it.

outside of the biannual art show

outside of the biannual art show

though i highly recommend exploring the narrow and dark back roads for hidden restaurants, bars, and cafes, the tourist sites are also worth seeing.  along the grand canal sits st. mark’s square, with the famous harry’s bar, where cipriani invented the bellini (yum).  the piazza is grand, surrounded by st. mark’s basilica (inside, the floor ripples and dips and slides due to the marshy foundation underneath), doge’s palace, the campanile, and expensive restaurants with dueling orchestras.  definitely touristy, but an necessary visit for at least an afternoon/evening (if you’re willing to fork over some cash for the dueling orchestras, try florian’s, and be sure to tour the interior before leaving).  and everything truly is on a boat!  we saw a construction boat equipped with a crain, a fire boat with a hook and ladder, an ambulance docked outside the waterfront ER, a speed police boat, etc.

the exterior of st. mark's basilica - i wish my camera at the time had been better to capture the details

the exterior of st. mark’s basilica – i wish my camera at the time had been better to capture the details

across the grand canal is my favorite venetian site: the peggy guggenheim museum.  housed in her former palazzo, her surrealist collection that she amassed through supporting surrealist artists is breathtaking (let alone the views of the grand canal from her patio).  peggy was a kooky – some may say crazy – personality in venice, and she she ordered in her will that her art was never to leave venice until the day it sinks (which is happening, by the way – go quickly!).

colorful houses and boats in burano, italy, just a quick boat ride away from venice

colorful houses and boats in burano, italy, just a quick boat ride away from venice

for a nice day trip, head to the surrounding islands of murano and burano.  stop first at murano, known for its colorful glass.  you can explore artists’ studios (and watch them in action) and tour the glass museum, which explains the history of venetian glass.  spend the afternoon in burano, known for its lace and colorful houses.  each window box is filled with flowers and each door has a brightly colored boat nearby in the canal.  it remided me of the canal houses in puerto la cruz, venezuela, where i lived for a year in high school.  the lido beach to the south is also worth a stop if you’re there in the heat of the summer months.

who should go: artists, romantics, those looking for a window into the past

what to pack: walking shoes!  for nights out, you may want a wider, stacked heel or wedge to navigate the cobble-stone streets.

where to stay: to save money (venice can be expensive), try staying in the quieter parts of town with less tourist traffic.  we stayed on the south-eastern end of town, and found that we were surrounded by locals, excellent bakeries, and still walking distance to, well, the entire city.

what to read: sognare venezia, photographed by fernando bertuzzi.  this is my favorite book on venice, and captures the essence of the city much more completely and beautifully than college eva.

best advice: if you go the route of a gondola ride, bring a bottle of wine (tip from my friend, erin!)

en route to the biannual art festival in venice

en route to the biannual art festival in venice

ready for my close-up with st. mark's basilica and the campanile behind me

ready for my close-up with st. mark’s basilica and the campanile behind me

 

why you should travel with your best friend

kim and me in new york city in the summer of 2004 - hello, broadway!

kim and me in new york city in the summer of 2004 – hello, broadway!

the summer after my junior year in college, my best friend, kim, proposed an idea that has since changed our lives: let’s take a trip together.  i was in oklahoma with an accounting internship at an energy company, and the thought of skipping town seemed delightful.  i remember that summer well because it was the summer facebook arrived.  oh, how little did we know.  we packed our bags, jumped on a free southwest flight, and headed to new york city.

stopping for some agua at the cafe tortoni in buenos aires, argentina

stopping for some agua at the cafe tortoni in buenos aires, argentina

to this day, that trip remains one of my favorites.  it was my first time in the city without my family, and i loved it.  forgetting the tourist attractions, we headed to new restaurants and trendy bars, went shopping in greenwich village, and tried to explore the city as much as we could.  it was a new way of travel for me, and one that i loved.  seeing the best city in the world with my best friend?  yes, please.  fast forward a few years, and we’ve kept the tradition alive.  in 2008 we traveled to argentina and chile, where kim came up with another bright idea: this international thing is so good that we should do it more often!

china? no, just vancouver. really have no idea where we were in this photo.

china? no, just vancouver. really have no idea where we were in this photo.

and so the biannual international trips began.  in 2010 we traveled to vancouver (kind of cheating), and in october of 2012 we ended up in barcelona.  what i love so much about these trips is that they force us to travel the world, to see each other while exploring new places.  too many times i make the excuse that there isn’t time to travel.  but now we have this amazing tradition that holds us accountable, and helps create some pretty unforgettable memories along the way.

just sipping sangria on the boardwalk in barcelona

just sipping sangria on the boardwalk in barcelona

my favorites: pizza

just a good veggie pizza at pizzeria regina in boston

just a good veggie pizza at pizzeria regina in boston

what’s better eating than a good slice of pizza?  pizza has always been a favorite food (does anyone not like pizza?), and here are a few of my favorites throughout the united states:
  • di carlo’s in los angeles – hidden in a non-descript building near the corner of hollywood and sunset in los feliz, this was my regular pizza joint for the duration of our time in los angeles.  it doesn’t look like much from the street, but the pizza is amazing, and you can have the leafy back patio with strung lights to yourself on most nights.  the owner is great (he’ll set aside the patio for you if you want to have a party), it’s byob (not even a corkage!), and the diavolo pizza is a personal favorite.  can’t go wrong here.
celebrating on the back patio at di carlo's in los feliz, los angeles

celebrating on the back patio at di carlo’s in los feliz, los angeles

  • pizzeria regina in boston – an oldie, but a goodie.  serving pizza since 1926, this north end tradition is sure to not disappoint.  i went a few years back with a good friend, and tried some pizza over a cask of chianti (i’m starting to see a trend here with the vino).  the pizza was amazing and the people were friendly – not sure what else you could want!
cask chianti at pizzeria regina in boston

cask chianti at pizzeria regina in boston

  • new york pizza, of any kind, provided it is cheap and sold by the slice – while i like a great pizza with wine and atmosphere, there’s nothing like stopping in a hole-in-the-wall pizza parlor in new york, chilled from the wind and the elements, ordering a slice of piping hot pizza, and perching against a standing-room-only table to wolf it down.  the entire process embodies new york for me almost as much as the obligatory morning bagel and chic evening cocktails.
  • the classic and delicious new york pizza by-the-slice

    the classic and delicious new york pizza by-the-slice

what are some of your favorite pizza stops?  i’m on a hunt for the best, so don’t be shy!