International Traveling: Mala Mala Game Reserve, South Africa in Pictures, II

**Thanks again to my wonderful cousin Scott for the photos.

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Travel Writing: Recent articles

A little over two months ago I shared some of my travel writing with you, my loyal followers. Here’s that post.

I expected to sort of wean myself off of my freelance assignments (especially those I was completing free of charge) but I still find myself enjoying the few hours a week I spend learning about “something else” – not work-related being the key draw.

Here is a collection of my recent articles:

I’d like to visit each of these places! I’ve never been to any of them, despite having spent time in both Spain and Italy. I’ve never been to Asia at all (unless you count crossing into the Asian part of Turkey very briefly while on a boat in the Bosphorus Strait), or to Mexico.

Sigh. I turn 25 this year, and I think it’s time to make a bucket list. Stay tuned.

Traveling: Brooklyn, New York

I love Brooklyn. You know how there are some places that you really feel could contribute to making you a different, maybe even better person? Despite the fact that you know deep down that no one and no place can bring you happiness and a feeling of home?

I feel that way about Brooklyn. Every part of my time there was the best part, and I was only there for a very fast-paced 40 hours. I saw a dear friend from high school, several friends from college, and even ran into a man I’d known as a teenager at a National Student Leadership Conference in 2003.

On Friday afternoon, March 16th I took the train from D.C. to New York, enjoying a chat with a very talkative college sophomore (I’m almost six years older than he is now… how did that happen…) along the way.

I arrived at Penn Station and tried very hard to follow Amanda’s directions “take the 2/3 to Borough Hall.” I did an okay job, asking only four or five people for help.

We decided to make these chicken meatballs from Inspired Taste I plugged earlier this week. I didn’t take many pictures while I was there as I had to do with my phone, but here they are, uncooked. They were amazing, and even better when we later reheated them in tomato sauce with vegetables. I’ve actually made these twice since then…

After dinner we stopped at our friend Matt’s place. We both knew him from college, and he’s a law student now too at the same school as Amanda. It’s wonderful having so many old friends concentrated in the same neighborhoods in New York.

I was lucky; my friend Dave from middle school and high school (which means we’ve known each other for ten years now…!) was in town that weekend as well. He went to college in New York and stayed there, as I did in D.C. We equipped ourselves with supplies and followed his directions to a friend’s apartment. One the resident’s friends had found this super awesome N*SYNC… cutout? that someone was just throwing away and decided it had to live over this doorway, in this particularly spectacular high-ceilinged apartment.

Dave seems happy and looks wonderful, and took us to see his friend’s band play at a bar. Everything about the experience was awesome. We stopped and got pizza slices and drinks for $1 each. Are there places in D.C. you can do that? Where are they? We walked through parks and alleys (well not many alleys) and passed sooo many people and places I’d never seen before. The bar was small but had large bouncy balls as chairs and also couches in the back, a raised platform serving as a stage, and a sweet list of caipirinha and sake-based cocktails. The band was wonderful and Dave’s friend enchanting. Her name is Sissy Clemens and the band is called Wax Poetic. Here’s them live at Joe’s Bar: 

We left around two a.m. and headed back across the bridge.

I woke up early and read, and enjoyed being in New York with Amanda. We have woken up in several countries together now… when we studied in Spain we traveled to Turkey, Greece and Italy. She had to head to school to work with the moot court in the afternoon, so we wandered around a bit and found things to do later in the day. There was a boutique where you could make bracelets and Peter Pan collars, a Middle Eastern cafe and hookah bar, and a small market in a square that stopped us briefly, and we moved on with the intent to return.

We had lunch at a Shake Shack, and it was my first time ever eating at one. It was pretty amazing: I had root beer on tap and a fried portabella mushroom with melted cheese and tomatoes. And crinkly fries!

I headed to Mocha Hookah, ordered a rosewater-flavored hookah and a mint tea, and read the fourth collection, “Season of Mists,” in Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman graphic novel series. I’ve been having a wonderful time reading these… thanks, Ryan! Amanda eventually met up with me and we went back to her apartment to prepare for the evening.

(Source: NeilGaiman.com)

To prepare for the St. Patrick’s Day party and later events we made a version of a hot toddy: we put whole cloves and cinnamon sticks in a tea strainer and then boiling water, Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey whiskey and more honey in the teapot. After letting it steep we enjoyed the concoction along with leftovers crackers. The Amanda mentioned she saw friends taking shots of whiskey and then drinking pickle juice – pickle-backed shots. That seemed odd to me, but intriguing, though we amended it slightly and used actual pickles rather than pickle juice (the pickles were greener!)

Honey whiskey and pickles? Like orange juice and toothpaste. Not a good idea (we did two each anyway…)

After hot toddies and pickle-backed shots and getting all dressed up, we left the apartment and stopped at Amanda’s neighborhood liquor store for a whiskey tasting. I don’t remember the brand but the man serving it was fun and there was soda bread for accompaniment which brought back memories of Montessori school and baking themed treats all year round. We finally made it to the party on the roof an apartment building and it was in full swing. The party was from early afternoon to early evening and had been going strong for hours before we arrived. Good people, good music, lots to drink… good times all around.

As the gathering was winding down Amanda and I parted ways with plans to meet up later, and I headed to dinner with another old and beautiful friend, Sarah! Sarah and I were roommates in college and is among the few with which I”ve managed to stay in pretty constant contact.

And on the way I found…

We had dinner at a pasta place Sarah had been wanting to try called Oh My Pasta! It was incredible and perfect timing, as I’d been drinking for several hours and Sarah ran a half marathon Sunday the 18th! Carbs were key for both of us. It was lovely to catch up with her.

Sarah walked me back to the apartment and we passed the time til the early morning talking and eating and enjoying each other’s company. And she still kicked the half marathon’s ass the next day: 2:07: 25!!!!

Amanda and I had tea and breakfast together in the morning and then she sent me on my went to Penn Station and went to a Zumba class (before shoe shopping… I love her). I lost $2.50 from a machine that just decided at the last moment not to dispense a card, but luckily there was a man in the station selling swipes for $2.00 (again, really not something you’d ever see in D.C. Granted, I haven’t been everywhere in this vast city…) so I was good to go! On the subway (so hard not to call it the metro…) I saw many of the half marathon runners looking energized and proud, heading their various ways to clean up before a day of celebration.

One large coffee and thirty minutes later I was settled on an Acela train (really worth it sometimes).

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I had a wonderful time. New York is so fun. I love cities and people.

Cross Country Tripping – San Francisco, CA, Part II

I spent the first half of this week in San Francisco, California with coworkers attending an annual conference.  Having just been there with my man, I thought often about the two of us walking along the same streets, seeing the same sights , etc. I had a lot of fun thinking about my time there with him and on that note, here is the rest of the recount of our time there in July.

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San Francisco, CA Part II – July 14, 2011

We meant to get up early this morning, but we overslept and missed  the breakfast served at our hostel. Fine by me! I fought Brian on this the whole way, but I love reading menus and finding places to eat, especially in new places. We found a deli with pickles, meats and various bread products in the windows and had a delicious breakfast of eggs and endless coffee.

We took the 8x bus to Fisherman’s Wharf, marveling at the misty coolness of the city and thinking of the 100 degree whether back home, taking in the streets and shops and architecture, the cable lines and the people.

Fisherman’s Wharf is one of the city’s main tourist attractions; it is home to an aquarium, several restaurants and souvenir shops, entertainers, information centers, and stands selling everything from waffles to gold jewelry. Our first stop was the Aquarium of the Bay. (I’m not at all ashamed to admit I LOVE going to aquariums and this one was within our budget, unlike Monterey Bay an hour or so south of the city. Sigh. Next time!)

We saw jellyfish, crabs, tropical fish, and big fish and sharks and rays in two tunnels in which we walked “through” two large tanks – a “near shore” tank and a “far shore” tank. It’d be really cool (slash terrifying) if you actually were in an entirely glass tunnel , with water on all sides. This aquarium featured one of those moving tunnels in which you can see the fish swimming above you. Still cool. They usually have a Pacific octopus that has been rescued or otherwise removed from the bay, but their resident had recently died.

We also saw chinchillas (I thought that was odd but not unenjoyable) and several exhibits about the San Francisco Bay and its state of health which I am sorry to say is not optimal. There is a large gyre (whirlpool-like water formation) in the Bay which, among other things, causes trash and debris to get caught and stuck there.

We left the aquarium and found a small information center (I know, such tourists… I swear we weren’t wearing fanny packs or anything). Brian wanted to walked to Pier 41 or 45 (can’t remember) and see some old ships and the Maritime Museum. On the way, we walked through the bustle of Pier 39 and stopped in a left-handed goods shop called, I think, Lefty’s (clever, right?) I still wonder if we saw as many left-handed people as other Ned Flanders fans.

We also paused and watched a Captain Jack Sparrow-lookalike do some pretty boring tricks while mostly just talking about how he wanted the crowd to give him lots of money. BUT THEN we found the most amazing street performers!

The  acrobats told the crowd they were two brothers and a sister from a larger family in the U.K., but Brian suspects that may not have been the case. Who cares? They were so entertained, talented and above all fun to watch, and what else do you want from a street performer? We got there early while they were building a crowd and so got to hear the whole back and forth warm-up routine between the two young men.  One of the men  could hop up the steps of a standing, unsupported ladder and then stand at the top while juggling bowling pins! The other young man and his sister were extremely strong and flexible and could twist themselves into all sorts of painful-looking shapes. She could also stand on his shoulders while they, both of them, stand on a large rubber ball.

At one point, they called another guy out of the crowd to do a few “tricks” and it was amazing; the guy was in such good shape he could actually do some of the acrobatic bending he was asked to do. He even looked like he was going to attempt a standing back flip but stopped just in time. We gave them money at the end… they were wonderful.

We then walked along the water and came upon a super cool (and free admission!) museum.

It was an old-time game museum in which each machine was operated by quarters. There was pinball and fuseball, and I played Ms. Pacman and got to the pretzel level for the first time using a joystick! There were also palm readers and strength testers, “movies” you could look through a viewfinder and watch once you’d inserted a quarter, and animatronic scenes, also activated by quarters. We had a lot of fun playing around in there, though Brian did beat me at fuseball.

We then went to find Brian’s ships. We did find them, but he didn’t think they were impressive enough to pay admission to see (he grew up working on the old ships in Baltimore Harbor), which was lucky because by that point I was getting hungry to the point of being crabby. We skipped Ghiradelli Square and had a simple lunch in an Italian restaurant with views of the milling streets through the open windows. After lunch we headed to a chocolate shop and bought a large slab for James (which of course melted by the time we got back to the East Coast – good thinking there by us) and some gelato.

Finally it was time to head to Pier 35 and pick up our tickets for the night tour of Alcatraz Island. The boat ride was fun and we learned a bit about the island prison in line waiting to board and on the ferry ride. It was windy and cold (insert Twain quote here) but the tour was very enjoyable. Our guide for the first part of the tour (the walk from the docks to the prison) was knowledgeable and informative.

Did you know that Alcatraz was originally a military prison? It housed prisoners that had gone AWOL and the atmosphere was apparently rather relaxed, even friendly. In October 1993 the island was transferred to the Bureau of Prisons and converted into a high-security federal prison.

We then took an audio tour of the prison itself. The first thing that struck me, as “The Rock” is one of my favorite action movies, was the cells themselves in which the actors playing the hostages in the film were held. So essentially I was in this scary prison and felt like I was on a movie set. Ah, Hollywood.

Anyway, one of the coolest aspects of the tour is that it is narrated by actual former prison guards and prisoners. We learned about library privileges, dining options, rules, items allowed in prison cells, and, most interestingly, escape attempts. There were two attempts that have become the most famed, one in 1946 and one in 1962.

In 1946 five men took five guards hostage and, when the guards refused to relinquish the keys to the outside, opened fire. I believe five prisoners and three (or more) guards died in that attempt and the shoot-out that followed. In 1962, three men crafted paper versions of their heads and left them in their cells. Then, using primarily metal spoons fasted into drills, escaped into the utility ducts. These men were never found and are presumed dead.

There were also some narratives by children of the guards who had lived with their families on the island (when it was a military prison, the island had a school and various recreational activities). I would definitely recommend taking the tour if you ever visit the city.

We caught a ferry back to the city and found a bus to take us back to our hostel. After a slice of pizza and a few episodes of “That 70s Show” we went to bed planning to wake up early and make it over the Oakland Bay Bridge before morning rush hour.

Off to Vegas! Thank you, San Francisco, for a wonderful adventure!