Weeks on the roads of New Mexico: Updated

For those of you that have a hard time gauging the size of states, New Mexico is the 5th largest state in land mass.  The Land of Enchantment encompasses 121,365 miles.  On the flip side, New Mexico is the 36th largest state when it come to population with approximately 2 million people.  What that means is that there is lots of space in New Mexico and parts of the state are incredibly remote – I mean like nothing on the AM dial remote.

I’m the worst blog writer ever. Seriously. I never write. I thought about writing pretty much all of the summer and fall of 2018. Even jotted down some phrases, ideas, sentences that stuck out in my mind as pretty good and then…..insert crickets chirping here…nothing. I can’t even find the notes where I recorded my thoughts.

I spent most of the second half of 2018 figuring out my professional life, leaving one small company with a great group of coworkers to eventually return to the large company that I left three years ago. It has great coworkers too.

Business travel isn’t new to me and I knew there would come a year in my life where flying for work upwards of 4 times a week every week would get old (or I would get too old for it). It turns out that year was my 44th on the planet.

I’m still traveling but now I get to drive the great state of New Mexico more often than I’m on a plane. And that’s been nice. It also got me thinking that I rarely haul my nice (and expensive camera) out of the house. You know, the camera I bought myself as a treat several years ago with a promise that I’d indulge in (and improve) my photography habit.

My work territory is the state of New Mexico. The entire state. For those of you that have a hard time gauging the sizes of states, New Mexico is the 5th largest state in land mass. The Land of Enchantment encompasses 121,365 miles. On the flip side, New Mexico is the 36th largest state when it come to population with approximately 2 million people. What that means is that there is lots of space in New Mexico and parts of the state are incredibly remote – I mean like nothing on the AM dial remote.

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Southwestern New Mexico

Because our population is so small as compared to our land mass, the population in New Mexico is mostly concentrated along the Interstates. Albuquerque is by far the largest city followed by Las Cruces, Santa Fe and a handful of other cities. After that, the population drops off sharply and you’re left with a series of towns and villages.

In the fall of 2018, I visited all 89 of the school districts in the state (these are my customers). It took several weeks but I finally finished crisscrossing the state.

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Abo Ruins

The highways of New Mexico are littered with abandoned and run down homes, farms, and towns, remnants of days gone by. Scattered along the interstates, highways and state roads are also hundreds of roadside markers. Now, I know a lot of you just go blowing by those markers, but there’s some really interesting history to be found there. I highly recommend this book: Roadside New Mexico: A Guide to Historic Markers. It was recommended to me by the park ranger at the Abo Ruins (worth a stop) and it gives the extended history of all the roadside markers (past and present) in New Mexico. Talk to the park rangers at your National Parks and Monuments…they know a lot of cool stuff.

Those of you that know me well know I’m fascinated with ghost towns, abandoned buildings and the like and there are plenty to see in New Mexico. In some cases, towns were left to die after I-40 overtook Route 66. Others, like Cedarvale, were farming meccas where drought eventually came, ruined the crops and drove the population out.

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WPA School in Cedarvale

(Cedarvale was once home to the country’s largest pinto bean producer. All that’s left now are the remnants of a WPA school). Others stopped flourishing after the railroads came and went or the mines were exhausted.

What is even more amazing are the changes in these towns or the quirky ways they are keeping themselves on the map and what one can find in these little towns if you just look a little bit more deeply.

Let’s take the Village of of Mosquero. Mosquero, in Harding County, lies way, way, way out in the middle of….well, nothing. Depending on which census you look at, there are somewhere between 90 and 120 residents in this little village. Sitting so far off the beaten path, not much would bring your average traveler to Mosquero, but it’s a quaint little village where the residents have transformed the sides of almost all of their buildings on the main street into beautiful murals. I’m voting Mosquero the friendliest town in all of New Mexico. I think every resident of the village waved to me as I was exploring the streets and several stopped to chat with me, asking where I was from and could they help me find something – or someone.

In fact, I am starting to miss the friendliness and politeness that is present in most small towns and that sometimes feels largely absent in our bigger cities. I guess you get used the absence of niceties when you live in a larger city (and Albuquerque isn’t really that big…it’s the biggest small town you’ll ever encounter). I mean, sure, you have a handful of people in cities that are friendly and polite, but it just seems that in the smaller towns you see niceness on display in larger and more frequent ways. More kids hold school doors open for me in small towns. More kids call me ma’am in the smaller towns. (Note to small town kids: I don’t really love being called ma’am. I get it’s polite, but could we shoot for “miss” instead?) Maybe as cities grow and grow, we lose the desire to be nicer because we don’t really know our neighbors any more…

The whole point of going down that rabbit hole is to tell you that heading off the beaten path to a small town or village sometimes really pays off. And, perhaps I’m just less vigilant than some of my acquaintances, but I’ve seen some really incredible stuff in parts of my state that other people tend to avoid. “You could get killed out there.” “I never go way out there.” “That’s a weird town.” I think these are all just ways to say that the people in this town aren’t exactly like me and therefore I’m going to react with fear.

Now, I’m not advocating that you go out and behave like an idiot or intentionally put yourself in a situation that looks/smells/seems/feels dangerous, but I am saying: maybe don’t judge a book by its cover.

In addition to the friendliest village ever (Hey Mosquero, hey!), I might have missed all the following if I hadn’t ventured out a bit:

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Shiprock

Shiprock and the graffiti art of the Navajo Nation. A lot of people I know are hesitant to visit Shiprock and/or the far Northwestern part of our state. Don’t be! If you do you will miss out on one of the world’s most interesting geologic sights and some incredible art. Shiprock is the erosional remnant of a volcano and it’s incredible. (As a side note, one of my customers told me that New Mexico has more volcanoes than anywhere else in the country. Thank goodness they’re all not actively spewing lava.) You can visit and photograph Shiprock a million times and get a stunning and totally different looking picture each time. If you’re brave and you have a high-clearance, 4WD vehicle, you can drive out to the Shiprock. (Don’t go climbing it. It’s a sacred site to the Navajo people.)
My other favorite thing in Shiprock (the town) is the incredible graffiti art left on some the buildings in town. I got out of my car on this past trip and really spent some time taking a good look. There’s a lot of talent on these walls.

Art is scattered around the state in some of the most unlikely places you can think of: the painted highway barriers on the Mescalero Apache land, a stilt walker in Albuquerqe, a sculpture of St. Michael that looks almost like animation in Pecos, the Basket Array in Grants, the cowboy sculpture in Jal, murals in Mosquero and Corona and on the walls of Ft. Selden, the painted burros in Carrizozo.

Also scattered across the state, merely a stone’s throw from wherever you are….old churches. Mostly Catholic (occasionally another denomination sneaks in) the old churches here in New Mexico are some of my favorite things to photograph. Many have been in use for centuries and lots of them make you feel like you’re somewhere deep in Central or South America. Whether you’re Catholic or not, religious at all or not, these little churches are always worth stopping for.

And, if you’re like me and you geek out over abandoned buildings of any kind, we’ve got those too, including several grist mills. The one in Cleveland, NM has been turned into a pretty great museum.

This year I visited two interesting (and funky) ghost towns…well, semi ghost towns. Both Loma Parda and Mogollon have a handful of eccentric, year-round residents. If you want to see the really good stuff, make friends with the locals, trust me. It turns out that the main streets in these abandoned towns are just the surface of what’s actually out there to see.

Loma Parda has a pretty seedy history. Located not too terribly far from Fort Union, it was the place that military officers most often found the men that had deserted the fort and they found them drinking and spending time in the company of “women with loose morals.” Today you can wander the streets with a herd of bison.

Mogollon is a placed I’d long wanted to visit. The road to get here is perhaps the scariest, one lane, mountain climbing roads I’ve ever driven. Watch out for the UPS driver flying up the road from the opposite direction. Mogollon was a mining town and much remains…see if you can pick out the actual abandoned buildings from those built for movie sets. The Silver Creek Inn is being worked on and you can actually stay in Mogollon in the summer months. (If anyone has stayed, let me know!)

Don’t be afraid to take the dirt road and venture out a little bit. You almost always find something worth seeing, someone worth talking to and some food worth eating.

Ciudad de México

If you’ve been contemplating a trip to Mexico City….Go! It’s a wonderful city with friendly people, great food, charming neighborhoods, and amazing museums.

Who would have thought that I’d end up loving a place I was so hesitant to visit?

You hear things about Mexico: drug cartels, corrupt government and police force, the time your cousin was escorted around the city in an armored car while on a business trip- and you think, these things are not a ringing endorsement for Mexico.  But when your friend tells you about a long weekend trip to Mexico City, you think: why not? And then you start reading up and you realize that Mexico City, with over 150 museums, art, culture, and tacos galore, sounds like an interesting vacation spot indeed. And it is.

Mexico City, home to some 22 million people (with another 6 million daily commuters, I am told), is the largest city in the Americas and it’s probably not the place you think it is.  For all of my hesitancy around scheduling a trip to this giant metropolis, I can’t wait to get back.

One of the joys of traveling to Central America is the ease in getting there. My flight from Houston, Texas to Mexico City was only 90 minutes.  And, to sweeten the pot, Mexico City is currently on the same time as my home.  (Mexico City does observe Daylight Savings Time, but they don’t spring forward until April 1st).  After reading about what a nightmare baggage claim can be in the Aeropuerto Internacional Benito Juárez, I decided to carry on.  Armed with my Samsonite under the seat carry-on suitcase and my Baggallini purse, I deplaned in Mexico City after an uneventful flight.  The only real excitement was the two Mexican gentlemen seated next to me, politely stifling chuckles while I sat, nose pressed against the window and mouth wide open at the sheer size of the city.  When you go, you’ll get it.  Once you descend through the haze (there is a pollution problem in a city this size), you’ll see what looks like a never ending city.  It simply sprawls on forever.  I’ve been to some big cities: Paris, London, Los Angeles….and these all pale in comparison. I was also mesmerized by the vibrant pops of purple that I could see from the air.  These turned out to be my newest obsession, the jacaranda tree.

A few points to note if you are planning a trip to Mexico.  US and Canadian citizens need a Passport to visit for up to 180 days.  No Visa is needed unless you plan to stay longer.  If you’re flying in from elsewhere, check to see what documentation is needed.  On the flight, you’ll be asked to complete an Immigration Form for entrance into the country.  This form is not unlike immigration forms I’ve filled out for other trips, except that you will be asked to retain one portion of your form.  It will be collected when you exit the country and it you don’t have it to hand in, you’ll be assessed a fine of 42 Mexican Pesos.

You’ll also want to exchange some money.  Several places in Mexico City did accept credit cards, but I found that the city operates on more of a cash basis than I anticipated.  You can exchange money at the airport (the exchange rate is great for those of you coming from the USA – about $16.80 Mexican to ever $1 US Dollar) or you can easily access a cajero automático, ATM, while out and about.  US Dollars were accepted some places but not with the frequency of a coastal resort town.

A note about plumbing: you cannot flush your toilet tissue in Mexico City.  The plumbing cannot handle it.  This isn’t uncommon in many areas of the world: Greece, parts of Italy, other countries in Central and South America.  (I wrote about it when I went to Ecuador.) You’ll find a small wastebasket next to the toilet.  Simply deposit your used tissue there and proceed with your day.  In some of the more rural stops, you may find that there is no toilet tissue or that you’ll be asked to purchase tissue for your visit.  Tuck a small pack of tissues or a tiny roll of Charmin To Go in your purse for these occasions.

The city of Mexico City is made up of 16 burroughs and has everything you’d expect to see in a bustling metropolis.  While I felt completely safe during my visit, there are a few precautions to take here, as you would in any city of size.

  1. Don’t take an unauthorized taxi.  Make sure that you are registering a ride with an authorized and marked taxi cab.  Criminals posing as taxi cab drivers is a thing here so do your due diligence and take a cab that is authorized or have your hotel arrange for a cab for you.
  2. Uber is a great way to get around the city.  We used Uber almost exclusively for our trip and had a great experience.  Simply fire up your Uber app and order a ride just like you do at home.
  3. Mexico City does have a subway and it’s rumored to be pretty convenient and fast.  Be alert and mind your bags and wallets.  As our hotel concierge noted, most of the crime in the tourist heavy parts of Mexico City is pick-pocketing.
  4. Police presence is everywhere in Mexico City.  From traffic cops to riot police, you will see law enforcement on the streets.

There are several great places to stay in this city.  We opted for the Hampton Inn and Suites – Mexico City Centro Histórico.  This beautiful hotel was a convent in its former life

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Hampton Inn and Suites

and the building and terrace are lovely.  It’s also right in the middle of the busy historic center of the city which means you’re within walking distance of some of the main tourist sites: Zócalo, the National Palace, the Metropolitan Cathedral, and the Palace of Fine Arts.

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The Zócalo

We arrived late on a Friday afternoon and opted to spend our first evening getting to know our neighborhood with a stroll to the Zócalo (formally La Plaza de la Constitución), about a 2 block walk from our hotel.  Take care in crossing the streets in Mexico City!  Traffic is insane – both pedestrian and vehicular.  There are crosswalks, but they are not always respected.  The Zócalo is a large plaza that serves as a gathering site for the city’s many festivals, religious events and concerts.  It’s one of the largest squares in the world and it is the largest square in the Western Hemisphere.  (Get used to me saying that, by the way.  Everything in Mexico City is the largest, oldest and most visited in the Western Hemisphere).  Mexico City has an interesting Aztec tradition and the Zócalo is built right over one of the main ceremonial centers in the ancient Aztec city of Tenochtitlan.

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Palacio Nacional

From the plaza you’ll be able access many shops and restaurants.  You’ll also get a great look at the Palacio National, the seat of the federal executive in Mexico City.  The National Palace has also been here since Aztec times and materials from Moctezuma II’s palace were used in crafting the building you see here today.  Go inside to see Diego Rivera murals.  (You can see more Rivera works in the Public Education building.  Simply show an ID and let the guard know you’re there to see the murals).

Also on the Zócalo, the Catedral Metropolitana de la Asunción de la Santísima Virgen María a los Cielos.  In typical European conqueror style, Hernan Cortés ordered the building of the cathedral after his conquest of Tenochtitlan and he built it atop several sacred Aztec sites.  Like the Palacio National, stones from the original Aztec sites were

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Ancient traditions on display at the Metropolitan Cathedral

used in the construction of the early cathedral.  At least the Spaniards recycled when conquering the native peoples?  The Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of the most Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven (that’s a mouthful) was built in sections between 1573 and 1813 and is, are you ready, the oldest and largest Catholic cathedral in the Western Hemisphere.  It’s also incredibly beautiful and a great place to check out several different styles of architecture at once, including the Churrigueresque style front entrance.  Please note, this is an active cathedral as it is the seat of the Archdiocese of Mexico City. Mass goes on quite frequently.  Please be respectful of the barriers put up so that those attending mass are not disturbed.  You’ll also want to ensure that you are somewhat covered up for a visit here – that means no shorts and no bare shoulders (I always tuck a large scarf into my bag for this reason).

Mexico City style note:  you will not see many shorts in Mexico City at all.  Even though the weather can get warm here (up to 85 degrees F), you will see people a bit more covered up.  Jeans are very popular and you’ll typically see longer sleeved tops and layers.  Skirts and dresses are commonly seen as well.  You’ll be fine here with a selection of pants or jeans (even cropped pants, ladies) or skirts with a few tops and a couple of cardigans or scarves.  Bring sensible walking shoes.  Mexico City’s streets are old and in some areas uneven cobblestone.  My final style note is to avoid wearing white athletic shoes…nothing screams American tourist more loudly than this.

A quick walk from the Cathedral and we ended up at our dinner destination for our first evening. The restaurant was not our intended destination, but after a long and mixed up conversation with the concierge, we ended up at La Casa de los Azulejos, an 18th Century tiled palace that was built by the Count del Valle de Orizaba.  The gorgeous home, tiled in the traditional blue and white tiles of the Mexican state of Puebla, is now home to Sanborns.  Sanborns is a drug store chain that you’ll find in Mexico, Panama and El Salvador.   It was opened by two California brothers who moved to Mexico and it featured the first soda fountain in the country.  During the Mexican Revolution, Sanborns became a meeting place for the troops of Emiliano Zapato.  Today, you’ll come to appreciate Sanborns as a department store with a consistent restaurant and clean bathrooms.

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Casa de Azulejos

From the Casa de los Azulejos, it’s a short walk and an a harrowing street crossing to get to the Palacio de Bellas Artes or the Fine Arts Palace.  This building was begun in 1905 and finished in 1930 in the Art Deco style.  The building features murals by artist Diego Rivera, a stained glass curtain by Tiffany & Co. and it’s sinking.  All of Mexico City is actually sinking and you’ll see evidence of it around town.  From cracked foundations to added stairs to monuments, the city is fighting a never ending battle….all because Mexico City and its ancestor, Tenochtitlan, were built in a lake bed.  You can catch performances here from Ballet Folklórico de México, but the building itself is best viewed from across the street at the Sears.  I kid you not.  The Sears department store, which very much looks like a grand department store from the golden days, has a coffee shop on the 9th floor with a fantastic view, I am told, of the Palace.  Go early.  The coffee shop is tiny and there will be a wait – we didn’t get there in time.

On day two of our trip to Mexico, we visited the Pyramids at Teotihuacán in the morning and then returned to the neighborhood of Coyoacán in southern Mexico City.  Coyoacán is a Nahuatl word meaning the place of the coyotes.  Built upon a pre-Hispanic village of the Tepanec people it is now a Bohemian neighborhood with lots of restaurants, colorful squares, restaurants, and museums.  One of the highlights here is the Frida Kahlo museum: Casa Azul.

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Casa Azul

The Blue House was Kahlo’s childhood home and it is the home where she died.  It was donated as a museum in 1958 and houses several of her works.  I can appreciate the work of Frida Kahlo, though I wouldn’t want it hanging on my wall.  Frida’s life was both interesting and tragic and that is reflected in her works.  As a child, she accompanied her epileptic father, a photographer, perhaps instilling a love for art. After a horrible bus accident, she was bed ridden, eventually forced to wear a leather corset and sit in a wheelchair to offset the medical issues from the accident.  Kahlo married muralist, Diego Rivera, and by all means it was a stormy relationship with affairs on both sides.  One of the rumored affairs for Frida was Marxist revolutionary, Leon Trotsky.  (He’s got a museum here, too).  The grounds and gardens are gorgeous and are worth a visit even if you’re not a Frida fan.

This museum is very popular.  Book your tickets online before you go so that you can wait in the shorter line.  If you want to take photos inside the museum, you will need to purchase an additional photography pass in order to do so.  Your entrance here also gets you into the Diego Rivera house and museum, Anahuacalli.

After museum going, we were hungry and we stumbled into a bakery called Pan de Gabriel.  We visited a bit with the man manning the register, who explained to us that the bakery was a vegan bakery.  Not at all what I’d expect in Mexico City.  Everything in the bakery was made without gluten, sugar, dairy or eggs and it was still delicious!  After a chat with the bakers, who were thrilled that we were giving Mexico City a chance and that we loved it, and a visit with a couple from New York, we were off on another Uber ride back to the historic center for dinner.

Dinner at El Huequito Bolivar is soooo worth it.  Mexico City is know for its tacos and this taqueria specializes in tacos al pastor.  For those of you not in the taco know, tacos al pastor feature spit-grilled pork mixed with fruit and – most traditionally pineapple – and chile.  El Huequito marinates its pork in their specialty orange salsa and it’s delicious.  Be careful of the salsa.  On this trip to Mexico I tasted three salsas hot enough to kill me and I’m used to eating spicy food! Enjoy some tacos and a refreshing bottled coke, margarita or beer here.  (You know not to drink the tap water in Mexico, right?  Not to worry – refreshments, including safe to drink bottled water are easy to find).

After dinner, my friend and I were both craving a sweet so we wandered back towards our hotel to a bakery we had seen before: Pasteleria Ideal. Let me just interject here that Mexico City knows how to do baked goods better than any place else I’ve ever been – and that includes Paris where pastries are serious business.  Residents of Mexico City love pan dulces or sweet breads and nowhere was that more apparent than in this bakery on a Saturday night.  The place was packed!  Upon venturing inside, we see a veritable smorgasbord of pastries laid out on a series of tables in the back of the bakery.  People grabbed restaurant serving-sized trays and a set of tongs and began piling the baked goods high!  When you had what you wanted, you proceeded to a station where your goodies were wrapped and weighed.  Take your receipt to the counter to pay and off you go with pounds of delicious sweets.  I’m not sure if this is a weekly indulgence for most in Mexico City, but I’m thankful that we’d been walking enough to have a pastry.

Day 3.  Tired feet after two days of walking and climbing pyramids, we decided to take advantage of something that was suggested to us: The Turibus.  The Turibus is just what it sounds like: a double decker tour bus cruising the streets of Mexico City and it’s a great option for safely seeing the sights.  For approximately $9 USD, you can ride the Turibus and its five circuits from 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM to see the sights and to hop off at any of the sights you want to explore more.  With unlimited hop on/hop off rights and a gorgeous day, it seemed like a good way to see a bit more of the city while giving our feet a rest.  Buy tickets at the major Turibus stops (like the Zócalo) or buy them right on the bus.  Simply show your wristband the next time you want to hop on a Turibus.  The buses also have Wifi and recorded information about the sights.  Listen over the speaker in Spanish or plug in a set of headphones to listen in other languages.

29513043_10216434756561199_4420047116847458862_nWe hopped off at the Angel of Independence, a beautiful monument to independence on Paseo de la Reforma that was built in 1910 to commemorate the centennial of Mexico’s War for Independence.  The sinking sculpture, more steps have been added to the base, is a sculpture featuring the four bronze figures of law, justice, war and peace, as well as Nike, the Greek goddess of victory.  It’s also a gathering place for the many walkers, roller bladers and cyclists out on a Sunday morning when Paseo de la Reforma closes down.  Several people were out enjoying the weather and a few were out peacefully protesting the concerns they had about the Mexican government.

After a stop at the world renowned Anthropology Museum, we walked over to Chapultepec Park, the largest city park in Latin America and one of the largest in the Western Hemisphere.  Bosque de Chapultepec is the green space in Mexico City and it is enormous (think Central Park in NYC).  The park houses several museums, the zoo, the botanic gardens, and a lake among other things.  We took a stroll through the park that sees more than 250,000 visitors per day.  The park has been inhabited since pre-Columbian times and is a great place to spend an afternoon.  Stop for a paleta or refresco at one of the many vendor stands and enjoy performance art, a paddle boat ride on the lake, or some time at the zoo.

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Bosque de Chapultepec

A ride back to the hotel on the Turibus and a quick dinner and I can’t believe my time in Mexico City has already come to an end.  Allot yourself plenty of time to get back to the airport.  Depending upon traffic, it may take anywhere from 30-60 minutes.  Check-in and security at the airport were surprisingly easy.

¡Adiós, Ciudad de México!

If you’ve been contemplating a trip to Mexico City….Go! It’s a wonderful city with friendly people, great food, charming neighborhoods, and amazing museums.

 

West Coast

I’ve started writing to you as I sit in Los Angeles.  When I was a teenager, I was just convinced that I was going to move to California, attend UCLA, get an amazing apartment in the city and work as an interior designer. Then I actually went to LA.

I’ve started writing to you as I sit in Los Angeles.  When I was a teenager, I was just convinced that I was going to move to LA attend UCLA, get an amazing apartment in the city and work as an interior designer. Then I actually went to LA and decided that it just wasn’t the place for me, for a variety of reasons.  I still feel that way today when I get stuck in awful traffic or when the smog is so bad you can see the air.

Being in LA always brings up memories of my first time in the city.  We had just graduated high school and my two best friends and I hit the road west.  None of us had very much traveling experience at that point.  We got rear ended in Tucson and didn’t know enough to insist that the police be called, even though the driver at fault insisted otherwise. We ate our first whole lobsters in San Diego, somehow navigating the green tomalley.  We drove in big city California traffic. (Driving in LA traffic led Chelle to come up with some very creative obscenities – one of which we still joyfully use today).  And we got lost in East LA.

For as much as I dislike the traffic and the smog, LA makes me smile.  I’m week two into a stretch of work meetings on the West Coast. And while, I won’t have time to get out and about in LA while I’m here (I’m actually in Norwalk), I did get a few free minutes last week to sightsee at one of my favorite West Coast locations, Seattle.

With a presentation in Federal Way, WA, I had a few morning hours to kill before I had to get to work.  I’m a lover of flowers and if you Google things to do in Federal Way, this pops up: Rhododendron Species Garden. This lovely little non-profit garden exists 29136569_10216315765146488_5049682793248849920_ospecifically to conserve the Rhododendron species of flowers.  The garden is fairly large in size – large enough that early on a Tuesday morning, I didn’t run into another soul.  It’s a quiet piece of real estate in a bustling and busy metropolitan area.  As I wandered the path, I found myself pondering the tall trees that you find in this area of the country.  The sheer size of them makes me feel small, but it also makes me feel closed in.  If you stop and think too long about the heavily wooded forests and what might dwell within them…well, I can creep myself out – Bigfoot anyone?.  I suppose I’ve just grown accustomed to living in an environment where I can see miles ahead in every direction.

If you’re seeking a quiet spot or if you are a Rhododendron enthusiast, make a stop at this garden.  It really is gorgeous.  Just keep an eye on the trees.

 

By now, you also know that anytime I can theoretically get myself to the ocean, I will do it.  Close to my hotel in Federal Way lies the spectacular beach of Dash Point. State Park access to the beach is available (be prepared to pay a nominal fee) but I crossed over the water into the Puyallup Indian Reservation, parking instead at a town park located right on the water.  It was a typical Washington day (read: cloudy and rainy).

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Dash Point

A few people were fishing off the pier and one grandmother and her granddaughter in her wellies were braving the wind and rain to splash in the water, my kind of people.  After admiring the water for a bit, I took a quick walk up the beach, my eyes on the sand for my favorite treasure – sea glass.  I found four pieces of glass and one very weathered nickel.  29214699_10216316458443820_7994704325806915584_oNot bad for a quick trip.  I have plans to return to search for more.

If you’re in the Seattle area for longer than a minute, there are several amazing sights to see and don’t shy away from the touristy stuff!  Pike’s Market, the Space Needle and the Seattle Underground Tour are some of my favorites.  But don’t limit yourself to just the touristy stuff either.

The last leg of this trip is to one of my favorite cities ever: Portland, OR.  Sadly, I didn’t have much time here this week either, so look for a Portland post in the future.

 

Iowa.

Iowa.  Why on earth would one write a travel blog about Iowa?

Iowa.  Why on earth would one write a travel blog about Iowa?

I am writing about Iowa because I had to be there (for work).  There’s a lot of corn in Iowa. A. Lot. Of. Corn.  And, that opinion comes from an Indiana girl!  But besides the corn, I was pleasantly surprised by some of the very interesting sights in the Cedar Rapids area.  Read on.

I flew into the Eastern Iowa Airport (it’s tiny) for a work presentation the next morning.  After my presentation was over at 11:00 AM and my flight out wasn’t until 7:00 PM, I had to find a few things to occupy my time.  Luckily, I have lots of experience finding things to do in small cities around America.

Cedar Rapids, lies on the banks of the Cedar River and is the second largest city in the state.  The motto of Cedar Rapids is “The City of Five Seasons.”  What’s the fifth season do you suppose?  According to the Wikipedia web page for the city, the fifth season is “time to enjoy the other four.” Insert eye roll here.  I won’t hold it against you, Cedar Rapids.

Cedar Rapids is perhaps best known as the home of artist, Grant Wood, painter of the well known work of art, American Gothic.  And Cedar Rapids is American Gothic crazy.  Wood, born in Anamosa, moved to the Cedar Rapids area as a boy.  Although he was a prolific painter, Wood is most well-know for American Gothic which is reproduced in many different forms throughout the Cedar Rapids area.  You can see a tile mosaic in the ladies room at

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American Gothic mosaic at the Eastern Iowa Airport

the Eastern Iowa Airport, but my very favorite

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American Gothic barn

is the American Gothic Barn.  The barn, located right off of US Route 30 on the way to Mount Vernon, Iowa, is on the south side of the highway and is hard to miss. The sides are painted like a prairie and the front of the barn painted to replicate the Wood masterpiece.  You, of course, will want to pull over to take a look and probably a photo.  Just take care as you are on a busy route.

If you want to learn more about Wood, I’d suggest a trip to downtown Cedar Rapids to the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art. This museum houses the largest collection of Wood’s works.  (Note: you will not find American Gothic here.  It resides at the Art Institute of Chicago.

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Cedar Rapids Museum of Art

Now, if you’re like me and you cannot resist the draw of an historic mansion, Cedar Rapids has a great one in Brucemore.

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Brucemore

I missed the opportunity to tour this beauty by one day – Tours only run March – December.  This 19th Century mansion sits upon a 26 acre manicured site and it is spectacular.  Home to three Cedar Rapids families since its construction in 1884, the last family had lodgings added for their pet lion – you read that right…. Built in the Queen Anne style, the 21 room home, housed three families until it was gifted to The National Trust for Historic Preservation. The house and grounds now serve the community in several different capacities.

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May’s Island

I made a quick stop at May’s Island in downtown Cedar Rapids.  It’s here, on this tiny island where the civic buildings are housed.  I read an article that Cedar Rapids is one of only three cities worldwide that have government buildings located on an island in a river.  (Paris and Oslo being the other two – so there you go). There isn’t a whole lot here, but the history is interesting and there is a gorgeous Federal Building in the Beaux Arts style.

On my way out of town, I made a decision to stop at the Czech Village and I’m so glad I did. Cedar Rapids had a large population Czech, Slovak and Moravian immigrants.  The families, that began arriving in the mid-1800s, settled in this section of Cedar Rapids.  Today, Czech Village is a restored street of what was the shopping district in this area of the city.  The history and the charm is still prevalent and bakeries, antiques shops and other businesses line the street.  The Czech Village was a lovely place to walk around a bit before my flight home.  Stop in at a few of the shops to pick up some fun (and well priced!) antiques. If I hadn’t been limited by a suitcase and a flight, I might have come home with several pieces of furniture!

 

 

Reiki in Cheyenne, WY

 Looking for ways to help clear my mind and my heart and my energy, I finally decided to indulge a curiosity of sorts and scheduled a Reiki appointment. 

So much for that whole writing more often thing….but, in my defense, 2018 has been kinda busy. At the beginning of the year, I was determined to keep everything in life organized and under control. Life answered back with a big HA!

January came with some work travel, including a trip to Fresno, CA. After checking into my hotel room at about 2:00 PM, I ventured down to the front desk several times between 2:00 and about 6:00 PM when I became hungry for dinner. I wondered where the front desk clerk had gotten to, but hunger overtook my curiosity. Determining that there was literally nothing to eat in walking distance (and me without a car), I called Uber Eats to deliver some take out Chinese. It arrived quickly and was hot. As I opened the bag, excited to dig into my Chow Mein, I quickly realized that there was no silverware in my bag. No fork. No spoon. No chopsticks. I again wandered downstairs hoping to swipe a fork from the breakfast area (Locked. Damn it.) or find the front desk clerk to help me find a utensil (Still missing. Damn it.) . Out of luck and still without utensils, I settled down into my room to figure out how to eat Chow Mein noodles and chicken with my fingers. My best friend called mid-meal to see how I was settling in. As I told her my sad story, I was met with a “Well, you’re probably ok unless the zombie apocalypse starts.” To which I countered, “This part of Fresno looks exactly like the kind of place the zombie apocalypse could start.”

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Sunset over Oakland

In January, I flew a total of 11,924 miles and spent 11 nights in hotels. Work travel had me in such exotic locales as Chandler, AZ, Patterson, Fresno and Turlock, CA, Shreveport, LA, and Spokane, WA.

February was not quite as busy. 8,910 miles and 6 hotel nights. Sun Prairie, WI, Ogden, UT, Cheyenne, WY, Santa Fe, NM and Iowa City, IA.

Cheyenne was something of a personal healing trip. Looking for ways to help clear my mind and my heart and my energy, I finally decided to indulge a curiosity of sorts and scheduled a Reiki appointment. (Let me interject with two things here. #1 Reiki is an ancient Japanese tradition in which a Reiki practitioner works with the energy in your body. Think of it as an energetic massage, if you will. If you believe that all matter is energy at its core, Reiki makes a lot of sense. #2 I believe in all things woo-woo and am interested in anything that helps connect me to the spiritual plane….sooooo, I believe in stuff that some of you might term “weird.” That’s ok with me. I’m on my own journey and it doesn’t bother me one bit if you never ever want to try anything woo-woo or weird).

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The curious kittens at Terry Bison Ranch

On my drive from Denver to Cheyenne, a pit stop was made at the Terry Bison Ranch. In all the times I’ve driven to Cheyenne, I’ve never stopped. This particular blustery and cold day was maybe not the best day for my first stop, but I did get a quick walk around and spent some time in the warm gift shop. (Mittens the cat will follow you about in there. A sweet little feline that apparently drives the shop keeper nuts because she’s constantly trashing displays.) There’s plenty to see at the Terry Bison Ranch: bison, of course, camels (yes, camels), horses, cats, chickens. Rumor has it that there is a cute little train that takes you around the ranch, but it was too cold to attempt it in February. After a bit of walking about, it was off to Cheyenne for some food, a tarot card reading – Cheyenne is full of woo-woo – and ultimately my Reiki session.

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Chicken bus at Terry Bison Ranch

If you’ve never been to Cheyenne, WY, it’s kind of a fun little Western town. There are a lot of historic buildings and it’s worthwhile to wander about a little. If you walk enough, you can indulge in my favorite, really not at all healthy, Sanford Pub and Grub – home of all things fried. Downtown Cheyenne is also home to the Cheyenne Big Boots, an art installation spread throughout town.

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My dog friend, Selkie, sitting by a Cheyenne Big Boot

Back to Reiki – because I know most of you are sitting there completely perplexed. My Reiki session started with a little bit of a chat with my Reiki practitioner (who is also a massage therapist and a psychic medium – she’s pretty tuned in) about what I knew about Reiki and what I wanted to work on. About five minutes into this chat, she starts asking me if I’ve been having pain in my left shoulder. She’s spot on. I just saw my massage therapist at home about shoulder pain. My non-woo-woo massage therapist attributes the pain to the number of push-ups I’ve been doing in my new HIIT workouts. Reiki says left shoulder pain is an imbalance in my feminine energy. Read more about masculine and feminine energy here. Tightness in hips? Yep…too much sitting in my job and also fear of moving on.

Reiki is much like a massage in which you are barely touched. Fully clothed, you hop up on a massage table. Every practitioner works differently, but mine welcomed questions as she worked. I wasn’t sure what to do at first. Do I close my eyes? Do I focus on deep breaths? Will this hurt? Will I feel anything? . Ultimately I did close my eyes and focused on breathing deeply. It didn’t hurt at all, but I did feel things – a sensation that I couldn’t raise my arms (explained by some past life trauma which made sense to me and explained my current fear of being trapped under deep water – I’ll never Scuba dive) and heat radiating from my therapist’s hands. After 30 minutes of work, some incredibly personal details talked about and my chakras balanced, I was done. Sent off with some suggestions to work on the flow of feminine energy and a great chakra meditation for me to listen to on my frequent plane rides, I headed back to Denver. Energy work can take some time and that night I experienced some interesting dreams, heat throughout my core, and a vast improvement in my shoulder pain, all of which I attribute to my session. Reiki is becoming part of my self-care regimen. And why not? If a little woo-woo energy work can help manage my actual muscle pains, I’m all in.

On the road again….

ABQ > SMF > ABQ > PHX > SJC > SHV > ABQ

Never has there been a more appropriate song for a traveling content specialist.  The last two weeks has been a crazy run of travel for this working woman!

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Patterson, CA

Here’s what the last two weeks have looked like for me:  ABQ > SMF > ABQ > PHX > SJC > SHV > ABQ.  Yep, I know more airport codes than your average pilot!

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Outside Turlock, CA

People think traveling for work is glamorous and I guess it can be.  Occasionally, you get sent to a big city where you can dress up and have a nice dinner out, but more times than not you’re eating breakfast at the IHOP in Turlock, California.  After two weeks on the road I always find myself craving three things: a massage, the time to cook a meal in my own kitchen, and bed sheets that have a thread count higher than scratchy.

I’ve learned a few things in the last couple of weeks:

 

I think we got the translation wrong.  California must be a synonym for traffic.

Inland California is not coastal California.

Somehow an entire stretch of I5 smells like oatmeal.

Minus LAX, California airports are pretty nice.

Learning to drive in Albuquerque has proven to be incredibly helpful as an adult when facing crazy traffic.

The San Jose airport has massage chairs that beat me up just as good as my actual massage therapist.

Never stay on the 11th floor of a hotel when the gym is on the 12th floor.

Southern women have a way of ripping rude people a new one while sounding exactly like that’s the last thing they’re doing.

P!nk’s Beautiful Trauma is the best album I’ve heard in a long time.

Prop planes and high winds aren’t a great combination.

I didn’t get out to see much in the last couple of weeks.  That’s not like me, but the conditions and timing of these trips weren’t quite right for sightseeing.  I have discovered a new love of taking photos out of the plane window, however.  They’d be better if I could access the cockpit, but I understand that’s frowned upon.

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California Dreamin’

Lured by the promise of a cheap vacation and time on the beach in exchange for two hours of my time, San Diego seemed like a great idea.

Lured by the promise of a cheap vacation in exchange for two hours of my time…..

24955576_10215453663114476_8657961673592079172_oHilton has been trying to convince me to buy a time share for years. (And I have been trying to convince myself to finish this blog post for months.  New Year’s Resolution #258 – write more timely blog posts).  Their latest attempt included a good deal on a stay by the Pacific Ocean, so I decided to give up two hours of my time in exchange for a mini vacay. 

I love San Diego. I have daydreams about moving there until I remember that I’d never afford the real estate and that I have California traffic…traffic be damned!  There’s a beach to get to and sea glass to hunt for!

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Beach in Carlsbad, CA

Our first night was just north of San Diego in Carlsbad.  Carlsbad is kind of a family summer-by-the-sea kind of location.  Legoland is here.  A giant outlet mall is here. Lots of timeshares are here.  Maybe not the best location if you’re looking for some quiet solo time or a romantic couples weekend, but there are also a few choice beach spots and some great restaurants up and down the coast.

Now, if you are a little ocean crab like me, you should know that the Pacific is not really known for being a warm body of water – it’s especially not warm in December.  (Yeah, December.  I’m working on that new resolution).  Cold water or not, it’s so nice to walk along the ocean and enjoy it.  Plenty of Californians agree with me and while we didn’t see too many swimmers, we did run into lots of surfers and beachcombers – both two-

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Sea Glass

and four-legged.  The California coast is full of public beaches.  Literally.  Drive the coast and pull over whenever and wherever the mood strikes.  Most of the beaches have paid parking so be prepared with cash or credit to pay the moderate fees.  (PS: sea glass found!)

Before you make your way out of Carlsbad, stop in and eat at the Green Dragon Tavern & Museum.  This place had phenomenal New England food (yep, you heard that right! Lobster rolls….yummy!) and an incredible private collection of Revolutionary War documents and artifacts.  The owner of this private collection built The Green Dragon (a replica of the original in Boston) specifically to share these museum quality artifacts and history with the local community.  Pretty amazing.

You can cruise easily from Carlsbad a bit further north to the community of Oceanside, where we visited the historic Oceanside Pier and, big surprise, found another great

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Oceanside Pier

restaurant.  The Oceanside Pier is a (rebuilt) wooden pier.  It is one of the longest piers in the state of California and the current pier is the sixth pier to stand it its spot.  Enjoy a long walk (off a long pier) and enjoy the breeze of the water.  It’s a great place to watch surfers, fish if you’d like, and meet some new friends.

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Brown Pelican

While here, I’d highly recommend Rockin’ Baja Oceanside Harbor where I devoured some delicious seafood tacos and received some sage advice in the ladies room.  If you happen to be in Oceanside around the holidays (yeah, yeah, timely posts….), there are Christmas light tours in the marina where people get festive and decorate their boats.  There are also plenty of other boat tours, kayaks to rent, and so on….

Now, when you’re ready to head south to San Diego, you can make yourself crazy trying to figure out what to do.  San Diego was suffering from some pretty major forest fires in December 2017 so we opted to keep our distance from them.  First stop was the Old Point Loma Lighthouse (National Monument alert!).  The old lighthouse has been turned into a

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Old Point Loma Lighthouse

museum and on a clear (not smokey) day, some pretty amazing views of the city of San Diego.  Definitely worth a stop in my opinion.  There is a short uphill trailhead to the lighthouse itself, but most walkers won’t have a problem making the short trek.

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Hotel del Coronado

Anytime you’re in San Diego, I will recommend that you drive out to at least have a drink at the Hotel Del Coronado (it recently became a Hilton property and it will be crowded but the views and the historic property are so worth your time).  They have a spicy margarita here that is SPICY – you’ve been warned.  The Hotel Del (if you’re in the know, you drop the Coronado) is on Coronado Island which is a short drive over a bridge from San Diego. In 1888, the Del became the first seaside resort on the west coast and it’s gorgeous (currently hoarding Hilton points in hopes of a girls weekend next December…)

The rest of our time in San Diego was spent aboard some boats.  There are many, many boats in San Diego (including some yachts that normal folks like you and me can’t afford).  Some of the most incredible ships have been made into museums. Whether or not you are a military history buff, please take time to visit The USS Midway.  The Midway is the longest serving Navy aircraft carrier of the 20th Century.  It’s humongous – a floating city and there is something for everyone here.  We were excited to learn that a WWII vet would be aboard the day we were there – talk about living history.

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Helicopters on the USS Midway

If you’re into ships with an even older history, San Diego’s got those too at the Maritime Museum of San Diego.  This on-the-water museum allows museum goers to walk aboard a variety of ships and submarines, including The Star of India, the world’s oldest active sailing ship.  I decided this is haunted boat as well….how? Well, sometimes you just get a feeling……

My last suggestion to you, if you’re not staying at the Hotel Del, stay at a hotel close to the Gaslamp District in San Diego.  My choice was the Hilton Bayfront, but there are plenty of choices in all price ranges.  (The Bayfront’s pastry chef and staff built a life-sized gingerbread house for the holidays – complete with actual nutrition information.)  The historic Gaslamp District has been revamped and now is a great place to spend an evening checking out the shops, bars and restaurants. You can still see the old gas lamps on the streets.  Save up your pennies while you’re there  and enjoy a delicious steak dinner at Lou & Mickey’s.

There’s never a bad time to go to San Diego…..

Music City and airport etiquette, y’all

Nashville, Tennessee, home to country music and about 2 million people. It’s also host to large conferences, hoards of tourists, and it has become the top city for bachelorette parties – I kid you not. 

Music City is hopping, y’all!

Nashville, Tennessee, home to country music and about 2 million people (give or take, in the metro area) is also host to large conferences, hoards of tourists, and it has become the top city for bachelorette parties – I kid you not.

Getting from Albuquerque to Nashville takes a good portion of the day.  And this trip was my first work trip after quitting a job, getting a job, and etc. I find business travel is always easiest when you’re in the groove – when you’re gone more than you are home and you know exactly what you need to take with you (work uniform – black slacks, coordinating blouse and jacket, sensible heels).  When I’m out of the groove, I over pack and end up checking a bag which makes me angry all over again that my ticket wasn’t on Southwest where my bags fly free (and there are no change fees…don’t get me started on my last experience with United).

Airport travel tends to bring out the best and the WORST in people and  in all my travels, I’ve seen everything including a lot of things I wish I could unsee.  So, before we dive into my short time in Nashville, let me run down a quick list of things I wish I’d quit seeing at airports and on airplanes:

  1. Not everyone should have TSA Pre-Check.  I should.  I fly a lot, can recite the rules and regulations, wear reasonable footwear in airports, and can get through an open security line in under 20 seconds.  People who haven’t flown for 30 years, women who wear heeled boots that lace up over the knee, and people who come through the line with 35 stuffed bags (that won’t fit in an overhead compartment) do not belong in the frequent traveler line.
  2. Women speaking on cell phones in the public toilet.  Ladies, nothing is so important that you need to subject your listener to a soundtrack of tinkles, toots, and constant flushing.  Call them back.
    • Also, ladies, can we please make a concerted effort to flush before leaving the stall?
    • And, please don’t leave your newborn baby in its stroller outside of your stall.  I saw this in Phoenix and was horrified.
  3. The top of the escalator is not a good place to stop and have a conversation.  Neither is the end of the moving walkway.
  4. All of the seats on the plane will arrive to the destination at the same time.  You do not need to crowd the boarding area 20 minutes before the boarding announcement.
    • Upon arrival, you also do not need to crowd the baggage claim.  The suitcases keep coming around and around and around…..
    • Don’t be crazy at the baggage claim.  I once saw a woman in Denver come busting into the baggage claim area, announcing that she was from “mother f’ing Jersey.”  That somehow gave her the right to get her “mother f’ing suitcase” off the “mother f’ing carousel” before the rest of us “mother f’ers.”  This could be a whole post unto itself, but long story short, she was asked to leave the mother f’ing airport.
  5. On the plane, please get what you need out of  your bag before we take off.  There isn’t room for you to be up and down and in and out 45 times on an hour long flight.
    • And maybe, maybe try to potty at the airport.  I’m always amazed at the number of people that need to get up to use that disgusting airplane lavatory on a 50 minute flight.
  6. Please try to remain in your own seat.  My lap is not for your newspaper.  Your feet shouldn’t go under mine.  If I don’t know you, I’m not keen on you resting your drooly head on my shoulder. Try not to spread your legs so far apart that your seatmate can’t move (men, ahem).   And, if you plan to drink so much that you might pass out and not awaken upon landing, please plan early and get a window seat so I can deplane.  (This happened coming home.  I thought I was going to literally have to slap the man on the aisle to get him up. Several very sturdy shakes by the shoulder did the trick – thank God).
  7. Both armrests belong to the sad sack in the middle seat. He’s got nowhere to go.
  8. Please exit in an orderly fashion. Jumping up to block the aisle while we’re all waiting to get out of the sardine can does no good.

And one small request, for the love of God, please wear closed toe shoes or have clean feet.  Especially in the summer. I hate flying in the summer for several reasons but perhaps the number one reason is that airports across America smell like feet.

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Nashville as seen from the Music City Center

Now back to Nashville.  I’m in town for a large conference at the Music City Center – conveniently located right across the street from my hotel.  On the way into town, I’m blown away by how much Nashville has grown since my last visit several years ago.  With work travel it’s always unknown about how much I’ll get out to explore the town, but I did get out enough to experience two things that Nashville is really good at: food and music.

Folks in Nashville seem to eat three things:

  1. Barbecue
  2. Hot Chicken
  3. Pimiento Cheese

Let’s talk about hot chicken for a hot minute.  This is a BIG deal in Nashville, and much like Chicagoans with their pizza, every Nashvillian has an opinion about where you can find the best hot chicken, so ask around. It’s spicy, it’s fried and it’s generally served on a bun with pickles – although I have seen hot chicken kabobs and hot chicken salad…. If you’re not chowing down on hot chicken or barbecue, chances are you have something smothered in pimiento cheese.  I’m not sure where this craze came from but people in Nashville cover their food with pimiento cheese like people in New Mexico cover their food in chile.

Downtown Nashville is surprisingly pedestrian friendly.  Walking from your downtown hotel to the area attractions is easy and safe.  Lots of fountains line your walk.  I was fortunate to see a few things in between conference sessions.  23668746_10215276351881806_955906005620184495_o

If you are a hockey fan, you’re in luck!  Nashville is home to an NHL team and the stadium is right downtown. Due to poor planning, I missed my chance to see the Predators in action – maybe next time.  Music fans won’t want to miss the Country Music Hall of Fame.  Even if you’re not a country music fan particularly, this is an informative and fun, interactive museum.

 

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Country Music Hall of Fame

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The Country Music Hall of Fame

You must, must, must head to South Broadway (or So Bro as it’s called) to hear some live music.  THIS is Nashville.  My team and I walked to So Bro to grab a bite (hot chicken and pimiento cheese, of course) and to check out some of the bands on Saturday night.  We

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The Tin Roof

ate at the Tin Roof before wandering Broadway a bit.  Bands play in literally every bar and honky tonk on the strip, so you won’t have any trouble finding music. You also won’t have any trouble finding your share of intoxicated folks stumbling around.  Now, I’m not insinuating all of these people are from Nashville.  Tons of tourists stumble around So Bro and, as mentioned, Nashville has become one of the hottest spots for bachelorette parties in the

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South Broadway

country.  So just be prepared that great music comes with girls falling down in the street and loud and drunken screams from bridesmaids galore…. Once the music starts playing, you won’t even notice.

 

 

 

 

An Albuquerque October: Perfect Weather, Balloon Fiesta

Along with chile and Breaking Bad, hot air balloons is kinda our claim to fame.

Let me start by saying that I have been meaning to get a post up for weeks (maybe even months)!  Autumn started off with a bang and there has been a lot going on around here.  I resigned from a job that was not a good fit for me in September, spent a few weeks as an unemployed person (which wasn’t so bad really, except for that whole lack of money coming in thing), and happily landed a job this month that is a much better fit for me (whew!).  Pepper all of that with some family illness/surgery/childbirth and you can see why writing hasn’t been at the top of the priority list.

As a side effect of all that’s been going on, my two upcoming vacation trips to Cuba and The Baltics have been postponed.  We’ll get there…sometimes the timing just isn’t right.  So, let’s not sit around and pout; let’s talk about the awesome things to do in October and get you planning your trip to Albuquerque for  2018!

Balloon Fiesta 2October in Albuquerque is a glorious time of year.  The weather is (mostly) picture perfect and October is the time of year when our biggest and best festival arrives.  If you haven’t been to the International Balloon Fiesta here in Albuquerque, please add it to your bucket list. It’s magical.  Now I know, many of you have seen hot air balloons before, but how many of you have seen hundreds of them at a time or had the opportunity to get up close to a balloon as it’s inflated or to go for a ride in a balloon?! You can experience all of this and you should.  It never, ever gets old.

Albuquerque’s Balloon Fiesta has been around since 1972 when it started with a mere 13 balloons in a mall parking lot.  In the last 45 years, the number of balloons has grown and the Balloon Fiesta has become the most photographed event – in the world.  The Fiesta now has its own park complete with a museum. Hundreds of balloons from all balloon fiesta 7over the world descend upon Albuquerque in early October. Ballooning is big here in New Mexico because we have the weather for it….little precipitation, the right temperatures, and the right winds. Along with chile and Breaking Bad, hot air balloons is kinda our claim to fame.

The Fiesta runs every year during the first week of October.  Festivities begin on the first full weekend in October, run for the full week in between, and then wrap up the second weekend in October.  Weekends tend to be the busier times, but there are events during the week as well.  In addition to the balloons themselves, Balloon Park is filled with events, and shops, and food.

So, here are a few things to know if you’re now convinced to plan a trip to Albuquerque next year for Balloon Fiesta:

  1. Hotels do book up fairly quickly, so plan to make your hotel reservations in advance. Albuquerque is a decent sized city (we’re about a million people), but lots and lots of people come to stay during this time.
  2. Parking at Balloon Fiesta Park is a nightmare.  Unless you like spending hours in your car with your tired family and friends, plan to take the Park & Ride.  (This option allows you to purchase a ticket that includes your bus ride to the park and your entrance fee to the Fiesta.  You catch a bus at designated parking lots around the city.)
  3. You will be getting up early.  Morning events get started early and you’ll want to be there to catch the whole spectacle.
  4. You’ll need to dress for about three seasons – in one outfit.  Our Octobers are typically mild.  Early mornings though, can range from cool to downright cold, depending upon the year, and we occasionally get rain or snow. The 10 minutes before sunrise are always freezing; however, after the sun comes out, you may find yourself warm.
  5. Weather can and does affect the balloon events.
  6. There is some special vocabulary associated with our Fiesta.  You can learn more about all of these events on the official event page (www.balloonfiesta.com):
    1. Mass Ascension – Sounds religious doesn’t it?  This is the early morning event in which all of the balloons take off in waves over the field.  It’s truly, truly spectacular.  You’ll be able to get up close to the balloons to watch the inflation process and to watch them launch into the air.  I have been going to the Fiesta since 1982 and this part of it hasn’t changed and I love that.
    2. Dawn Patrol – the small group of brave balloon pilots that go up in the air before Mass Ascension to test out the weather conditions and winds.  They help determine whether or not the rest of the balloons get to fly.
    3. Zebra – nope, not a zoo animal (though we do have a great zoo here in town!).  Think of the zebra as a kind of Balloon Fiesta referee.  Zebras help the balloonists navigate the big crowds during take-off and are dressed in, you guessed it, black and white stripes.
    4. The Albuquerque Box – these are the magical winds in our town in which balloons take off, float for a bit in one direction, then catch an up-draft that sends them floating back in the opposite direction.  When the box is in effect, you can expect to have hundreds of balloons hanging over you in the sky.
    5. Special Shapes – these are the balloons that are not your typical hot air balloon shape. They’re quite incredible and come in a variety of shapes: armadillos, bee, motorcycle, pig, frog, bird, stagecoach….
    6. Balloon Glow – an evening event in which balloons stay tethered. Pilots use their propane burners to make the balloons “glow.” And, the very popular, Special Shapes Glodeo…a balloon glow with just the special shapes.

 

In addition to our biggest tourist draw, Albuquerque has a few other interesting happenings in the month of October.

This year was our first year as a site for the Chinese Lantern Festival (running early October through mid-November).  I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this until I headed to our local fairgrounds (Albuquerque is home of the New Mexico State Fair) to check it out.  Gorgeous, colorful, large lanterns were scattered around the grounds and it was beautiful.  This festival overlaps with Balloon Fiesta, so you could squeeze it in.  If you go, be sure to check out the show that goes on in conjunction with the lanterns.  Some incredible dancers, acrobats, and contortionists are featured.

If you choose to hang out with us through the month of October, I want to alert you to one other fantastic festival happening in our city.  It’s a smaller neighborhood festival that takes place in our South Valley neighborhood: The Burning of El Kookooee.  El Kookooee is a Mexican tradition in which attendees write their fears and worries down on pieces of paper.  Those fears and worries are stuffed into the Kookooee (a monster or boogeyman) and are burned, allowing everyone in attendance to celebrate their fears going up in smoke.  You might have heard about the burning of Zozobra or Old Man Gloom in Santa Fe (an annual tradition that happens every September) and you’d be correct in noting some similarities.  We really like to burn up negativity here in New Mexico.

kookooee2Each year, neighborhood children craft their version of the Kookooee and one of those monsters is chosen to become the large effigy that is burned on the field (except for 2016 when the effigy was our current President seated on a toilet throne.  You can interpret that however you’d like; this is not a political blog). There are food vendors at the park, so enjoy a refresco while you people watch, check out costumes, enjoy the fire dancers, and await the lighting of the monster.

The Burning of El Kookooee happens on the evening of the last Sunday in the month of October in the field behind the South Valley Library. The park opens at 5:00 PM and the burning of El Kookooee begins at dusk.

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(If you’re planning a visit out for the Balloon Fiesta, feel free to comment and I’ll do my best to answer your questions. )

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I left my heart in San Francisco….

….well, not really, but I was excited to finally get there!  I’ve spent plenty of time in SoCal, but hadn’t made it to The City by the Bay until Labor Day weekend.

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….well, not really, but I was excited to finally get there!  I’ve spent plenty of time in SoCal, but hadn’t made it to The City by the Bay until Labor Day weekend.  I set out to hang with a buddy for the weekend to enjoy the sights and sounds of San Fran.  When he had to cancel due to family commitments, I decided to keep the reservation and take my mom instead.

 

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View of San Fran from my room

Looking forward to a fun weekend in a much cooler climate (sounds so refreshing, doesn’t it?), we were slapped in the face with a heat wave upon landing.  A heat wave? Oh, MissHeatherLynnP, don’t be so dramatic!  It’s not drama; it’s truth.  People, I live in the desert and I’m aware of the definition of hot. When we made our way into San Francisco that Saturday, it was 105 degrees and sunny.  Gag. The heat provided a few complications namely that my mother (who some how does not sweat) looked like she was going to pass out most of the day on Saturday.  More on the heat in a minute.

 

Landing at San Franciso International (not Oakland, but you can do that, too), we found our bags and grabbed a cab to the hotel.  It’s not a terribly long drive, but traffic. Lots of it.  As we headed into downtown, I immediately thought that I was going to feel San Franoverwhelmed in this city. And I was right.  Everything is so tightly packed.  Even if you own your own single family home, you probably still share a wall (or two) with your neighbors.  Real estate is precious in a city with geographic limits (water. hills.), so you really pack them in.  The San Fran hillsides looked like a postcard from Cinque Terre – rolling hills, bright colors, houses practically stacked upon one another.  (By the way, I read somewhere that natives of this city on the bay hate when tourists say “San Fran” or “Frisco.”  I’ll probably type both by the end of this blog.  Please don’t take offense.) San Francisco is the second most densely populated area in the country. That’s the statistic that makes it feel a bit overwhelming.

 

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One of the many buildings in the Financial District

After dropping our bags into our room at the GIANT Hilton in Union Square (seriously, I think it’s the biggest hotel on the West Coast), we navigated through the crowds (American Society of Political Science conference.  Did you know that was a thing? I didn’t.) and headed across the street to Bartlett Hall for a bite of brunch.  Brunch was delicious, but many places in San Francisco don’t have air conditioning.  Not normally a problem here, but it was a bit warm this weekend.  I really felt for the restaurant staff.  That’s a hard job anyway, but having to run around and pretend to be nice to hungry tourists when you’re so hot you want to rip your clothes off cannot be any fun.  After getting some food and lots and lots of water into our bellies, we braved a short walk to the closest cable car stop.  Now I know it’s touristy, but I don’t care.  We were riding one of those trolleys!  Us and all of the other tourists in town over Labor Day… (As an aside, the trolleys are only part of the municipal transportation in San Fran.  They also have buses, a subway, and an adorable line of vintage trolley cars purchased from all over the world).

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Vintage trolley car

 

There was a line. A long line.  We’re not averse to waiting in line and so we did.  For a while, we were happy to look at the amazing architecture.  (Frisco has lots of that.  See? I told you!) And for a while we were amused to watch the guys turn the cable cars around at the end of the route.  What a back breaking job when it’s 105.  But, after a bit in the sun, Mom starts looking like maybe she’s getting overheated.  (She really doesn’t sweat and I don’t know how you do heat that way.  Thankfully for me, I inherited my father’s genes which means I can sweat like a pig.  So feminine! Eye roll).  We’re making our way around the queue, hoping we’ll get on the next car.  “Maybe when we can get a little shade?”  “Once we’re on the car and the air is flowing it’ll be ok.” “Here, please drink some more water.” We’d all but decided to head back to the hotel and return later for a

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The famous trolley

night time trolley ride, when our car arrived.  Perked up with some last minute energy, spunk or heat induced dementia, Mom yells “Let’s just go!” and we hopped into the car.  I’ll say this about the trolleys: 1. I think they’re a lot more fun when it’s not 105 and the cars are not crammed full of sweaty people. 2. We were right. The air flow made it bearable. 3. People do not listen to the trolley drivers. 4. Operating those cars is no joke.  It’s a physical job and you have to watch for the idiots on the road and the idiots trying to jump onto your car.

 

 

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The pier at Fisherman’s Wharf

Our first day in San Francisco sees us deposited at Fisherman’s Wharf from our cable car ride.  Our first attraction in San Francisco was….Starbucks.  Don’t judge. It was hot. Mom was red. Starbucks had air conditioning and iced tea.  Lest you be worried that we did not get our tourist fix, we did.  After cooling off and hydrating we headed down to the water.  One of us (I’ll let you guess who) got into the bay

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Fisherman’s Wharf

water and she wasn’t the only one.  We also got to see a cute little harbor seal! (Different than the sea lions we’ll see later…)  Here are my other lessons from day one (105 degrees): 1. Uber is a wonderful thing. 2. San Francisco has amazing food, but sometimes ordering room service while you lay in your underwear by the AC vent is ok.

 

A good night’s sleep had us revived and we were up early.  We had booked a San Francisco City Tour.  I’ll admit that I made fun of Mom when she wanted to book some tours.  Ugh. Tours? It’s so…..never traveled before tourist! Turns out that she was right. (More and more I realize my mom is usually right…about a lot of things. It’s kind of annoying.)  Since we were only in town for a short time and because it was so hot (still in the 90s on day two), a tour was a great way to go.  The tour buses are air conditioned and we did get to see a lot more of the city than we would have otherwise.  I know now what I’d go back to see my next time in town.  We saw all the highlights.  We got our hair blown off at the Golden Gate Bridge.  The bridge is beautiful and the breeze off the water, heavenly.  It was too hazy for a great view but (haze cannot be helped with the number of forest fires currently burning in the West) we tried to decide how hard it would really be to escape from Alcatraz. We drove the hilly streets.  We took in the city view from atop Twin Peaks.  We learned about the history of each of the neighborhoods and marveled at the beautiful Victorian homes.  We saw the remnants of the giant Sutro Baths (think Rome not your own tub).  So yeah, the tour was worth it.

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Sutro Bath Ruins

 

Our afternoon was free and was spent at the Piers. We stopped in at Alioto’s (delicious!) for the obligatory clam chowder and crab. There is great food and great views on the

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Pier 43

pier and it’s always cooler on the water.  Mind the crazy crowds and watch the even crazier sea gulls.  After lunch and on our way to Pier 39 (you know I had to see the sea lions) we stopped in at Boudin’s Bakery…home of sourdough bread. You have to have a piece at least and Boudin’s does it right. The dough at Boudin’s, legend says, came from a starter

Boudins Bakery SF
Boudin’s Bakery

piece of sourdough from the Gold Rush.  I don’t know if this is true as we didn’t have the stamina for the tour.   Boudin’s also makes the most amazing little bread animals.  I grabbed a sourdough teddy to bring home to my friend,

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Sourdough teddy

Chookie, for minding  the furry beasts while I was gone, but when his ears, head, and an arm fell off, I felt obliged to eat him instead. (Sorry, Chookie).

 

Pier 39 is insane. It’s the tourist mecca in San Francisco.  We braved the crowds, though, to watch the sea lions. Sea lions are slightly different than seals.  Both pinnipeds, there are a few easy ways to tell them apart.  Most easily, you can notice that sea lions have little external ears.  There were a few sea lions lounging

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Sea lions at Pier 39

about, but not the large amounts that mom had seen in earlier visits here.  Maybe it’s not mating season or maybe these pinnipeds just got tired of the heat and beat it out of San Francisco, but we spent a while watching the few that were there.  If you’ve never encountered sea lions in the wild, let me fill you in.  They are cute, but they stink.  They never stop barking and they constantly jockey for position on the floats out in the water.  The best spots seem to be on top of ten of your sea lion pals and nevermind that if you’d just turn around, sea lion, you could have your very own flotilla.  Turns out, Pier 39 has a Sea Lion Webcam, so check it out!

 

After sea lion watching we grabbed an Uber to see one of the sites I was really excited about: The Wave Organ. The wave organ is a cool piece of sculpture that looks like ancient ruins that is designed to play “music” with the incoming tides.  You can’t always rely on internet directions to these places, but our Uber driver, Mohammed, knew where it was and was bound and determined to get us as close as he could.  Mohammed was a man on a mission and we soon found ourselves driving through lots at the yacht club that I’m not sure we were supposed to be in.

 

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View of the city from atop Twin Peaks

 

Anyway, as you know, I love chatting with my Uber drivers.  I’ve found they are most often interesting people with great insight into my country.  Mohammed was no exception.  I’m not sure where Mohammed is from originally; he had an accent I could not place and when I asked him where he was from he said, “Sacramento.” (Touché Mohammed).  We got to talking about New Mexico, my state, and I could see Mohammed’s face in the rear view mirror, wracking his brain for what he knew about New Mexico.  Now, that’s not unusual.  Thanks to the Balloon Fiesta and Breaking Bad, more people are becoming acquainted with New Mexico, but those of us that live here are largely used to living in the forgotten state wedged between Arizona and Texas.  When he finally answered, I was blown away.  “I think New Mexico is like here (San Francisco).  There are lots of different people and everyone can feel American.”  From your lips to God’s ears, Mohammed.

True to his promise, Mohammed delivered us very close to the wave organ. We didn’t mind the short waterfront walk the rest of the way.  We decided that in our grubby, sweaty, touristy state, we probably wouldn’t be allowed in the yacht club and so we made our way out to the end of the jetty.  The wave organ kind of looks like something from ancient Roman times. I’ll leave you with this one, very important note: you should check the tides before heading out to the wave organ.

 

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The Palace of Fine Arts

We made a short walk across the street to view, up close, The Palace of Fine Arts, the only building left standing from the Panama Pacific International Exposition in 1915 and you can see why.  This place is impressive, massive, gorgeous.  Take a look at the website and get there if you’re ever in Sanpalace of fine arts sf Francisco.

 

An Uber ride back to the hotel, a mile walk and we ended up at Delarosa for dinner. The concierge at the hotel did not disappoint with his restaurant recommendations.  Delarosa has small bites and Roman style pizza. It also has communal seating. Always weird, right?  You never know who you’ll sit next to.  We sat next to a lovely couple back in San Francisco for a quick visit.  Al and Grace moved to Kentucky from LA and never looked back.  He’s an IU graduate (go Hoosiers!) and a former University of Kentucky philosophy professor who studied for a time in Poland. Sweet Grace held down the fort and, I think, keeps Al in check.  They were delightful.  We talked about travel and their honeymoon in San Francisco years ago when Al lost the brakes on the car because he had no idea about how to navigate the hills.  They were off to an Alaskan cruise and I hope they are enjoying every second of it.  Every once in a while, people, put down your phones and talk to someone.  You never know who you’re going to meet.

 

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The Golden Gate Bridge

 

Early day two.  Maybe we weren’t quite ready to get up, but we did so that we could head over the Golden Gate Bridge and into Muir Woods.  (Puh-lease, you didn’t think I

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Muir Woods

wouldn’t sneak a couple of National Monuments in on this trip, did you?  Fisherman’s Wharf is one and so is Alcatraz, by the way). I was really excited about this little trip as I have been dying, dying to see the giant redwood trees. It turns out Muir Woods is really close to the city and we were not the only people that thought they’d get out into nature.  Lots of hiking to be done here: most of it easy and flat but there are some longer and more Muir Woods1challenging trails.  I cannot wait to go back to Muir Woods and I will not do it during a holiday weekend in the summer.  So. Many. People.

 

Ok, let’s talk about the trees.  So, so tall.  I mean crazy tall. Unable to get a whole tree into a picture tall. The forest here has been protected since 1908 and it really is a lovely place.  I found myself longing for that quiet day where I could walk or

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Muir Woods

sit silently, listening to the trees and taking in the sheer beauty and magnitude of the forest.  Labor Day wasn’t really that day.  Still beautiful, of course, but silence was not gonna happen.  So enjoy a few pictures from our hour long walk.  I’ll be back Muir Woods.

 

Back into the city and it’s time for lunch.  After Muir Woods, the thing I was most excited for was eating dim sum in Chinatown.  I am not sure if my mom was into the idea of eating dim sum to start with.  Kinda hard to tell, but she’s a good mom and humored me. San Francisco’s  Chinatown is the largest in North America and is

Chinatown SF
Chinatown

fun to walk through.  It’s colorful and it’s busy.  You can buy almost anything imaginable in the shops that line the streets and if you walk long enough…you start to smell food!  The concierge at the hotel recommended The Great Eastern for its ambience and experience.  I have no idea if it’s the best dim sum place in town and I don’t care because it was delicious! It’s busy at The Great Eastern.  Waiters and diners all dashing to and fro, noisy conversation from the tables, kitchen staff bringing out baskets of delicious dim sum.  We had taken a look at the menu and ordered a few things when I leaned over and gently informed my mother that even though neither one of us is great with chopsticks Chinatown SF2we were going to have to make due.  I refused to be the only person in the restaurant that asked for a fork! It turns out that the lady next to us actually did ask for a fork, but I am pleased to say that mom and I made it successfully through the meal with only chopsticks.  We even ate green beans with chopsticks! (Order at least the steamed pork buns and the green beans with XO sauce).

 

 

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The clock tower at the Old St. Mary’s Church in Chinatown. The inscription reads:  Son, observe the time and fly from evil.

 

We wandered a bit more of Chinatown and San Francisco’s equivalent to Little Italy and eventually made it back to our hotel for a nice dinner at Urban Tavern. (Chocolate

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One of the Hears of San Francisco

budino at this place is phenomenal.  I command you to order it). An early night in in order to catch an early flight out.  I’ll be back to see you San Francisco with your traffic and crowded neighborhoods. It might just happen a weekend at a time.