Category Archives: Travel

52 Photos: Crooked Lines

I have to admit, I was having a little trouble with the prompt this week. And then I started looking at my pictures from Yellowstone that I took last summer.

I LOVE this one of the wavy orange bacterial mats in the Grand Prismatic Spring disappearing into the fog:

grand prismatic spring

Here’s the same spring from a higher (and clearer) vantage point:

grand prismatic from above

This pinecone, with its zigs and zags:


And finally, these burnt snags, pointing into infinity, but not straight away:

snags point to the sky

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52 Photos: All Dressed Up

Bandidos motorcycle club

Yesterday I returned from my week-long and now annual trip to Colorado to ski with my family. Last year I flew home with a bunch of guys who were returning from a motorcycle rally. Apparently their rally is the same time as my family’s annual ski trip. I had mentioned to my parents that this happened last year, and sure enough, when I got to my gate, there was a group of guys returning from their rally.

I am notoriously shy about taking pictures of strangers. I always like to ask permission, which I usually don’t screw up my courage to do. I was standing behind this man while waiting to board the plane. He had a freshly shaved scalp with an elaborate tattoo, a long, grey beard and this particular shirt on. I was admiring the design and asked him if I could take a picture of it. He gave me his permission.

As I pulled out my iPod to take the picture, though, the giant young man behind me gruffly said, “Don’t do that.” Before I could react, the man in front said, “I told her it was okay. It’s just my back.”

My subject didn’t make it easy for me to take the picture, so this was the best I could manage. After I snapped it, I apologized to the man behind him, telling him I didn’t mean to offend him. He waved me off, telling me there was no need.

The men, and they were all men, wore some variation of this Bandidos shirt. They marked themselves publicly, dressed up to signify their membership in this group. The second man’s behavior added weight to my impression of their cohesiveness. They had one another’s backs, literally and figuratively.

Here’s how other people interpreted All Dressed Up this week.

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52 Photos: My Reflection

This week’s prompt was My Reflection

You are beautiful

I took this a year and a half ago, when my little sister came out to visit the west coast and flirt with the idea of moving out here. I loved that this was the mirror on the outside of the photo booth, and the reminder that you are beautiful was etched into it.

We stayed at the Ace
Ace Hotel lobby

just down the street from Powell’s in downtown Portland.


We did not heed the advice to “call your mother.”

Call your mother

In other words, we had the time of our lives.

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52 Photos: Wide Open Spaces

Space Needle plus mountains

I loved it when they painted the Space Needle “galaxy gold” in honor of the 50th anniversary of the World’s Fair. This is the view I have one block from my apartment. And while I do enjoy a good glimpse of the Needle, it’s always the Olympic mountain range behind it that takes my breath away.

One summer day we overheard two bikers as they passed this view – on a day when the mountains were particularly stunning and the Needle was its usual white. One said to the other: “Wow! Look at the … Space Needle.” We’ve added that to our repertoire of inside jokes!


And a couple of other “wide open spaces”:

I’ve been thinking a lot about Thailand, because it’s been three years now since I visited. This picture was taken in Ayuttaya, out in the countryside:


And this is Mt. Blanc, taken in France:

Mt. Blanc

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Fuji-san Appears on Time

Mt. Fuji

This past September I traveled through Japan with my parents. My mom and I were heading back to Tokyo for our last few days. My mom was very excited by the possibility of seeing Mt. Fuji from the train, the closest we would get to this famous and sacred mountain.

We loved riding the Shinkansen, which is an elegant and efficient mode of travel. A little trivia: the seats are designed to swivel on their mounts, so you can turn them around. I loved knowing this. We even availed ourselves of this feature a few times, so we could face each other while we zipped through the landscape.

Riding the hikari Shinkansen

This was our last ride on the Bullet Train, and we are zooming past everything. It feels like we’ve reached the future. My mom gets more and more excited about seeing Mt. Fuji until she overcomes her own sense of propriety and asks a group of 4 women traveling together when we might see Fuji-san. They confer with each other and stop the conductor to ask him as well. Finally they arrive at a consensus: 2:45 p.m.

We continue to stare out the window, as if our eyeballs fixed on the horizon could make it materialize. At 2:32 (more or less), I catch a glimpse of what appears to be a volcanic dome, rising from the ground. I stand up and wave my arms at the demure group of ladies, pointing out the window. “Fuji-san,” I say to them. “Fuji-san.”

“No,” they tell me. They point to their watches and shake their heads, disappointed that I do not seem to understand how things work in Japan. Everything runs on its schedule, and the mountain will appear when it’s the right time. My mom and I continue to press our faces to the window, catching our breath as the mountain grows larger and larger. There are hills that occlude our sight, so it comes and goes. And finally, we reach the plain with an unobstructed view.

We turn to our Japanese travel companions and they smile at us, assured that it is now the proper time and Fuji-san has made its appearance. All is right with the world.

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Week 30: On My Way

This week, for 52 Photos, the prompt was On My Way.

One of the things I observed during my trip to Japan was the groups of school children taking trips. We often came across them in the train stations, where they would sit quietly in the middle of the floor. Sometimes we saw them on the platforms, waiting for a train. There was even a group of high school students at the airport the day I left. Turned out, they were on my flight!

But my favorite picture that I snapped was this group of children with their bright yellow hats the day we went to Miyajima. They all had buddies and walked in neat rows. This small bunch had gotten separated, and they looked like ducklings to me. They were on their way.

school ducklings

I thought I’d throw in some actual ducklings:
Mother duck and ducklings

And the famous Make Way for Ducklings in Boston:

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Around the World in 40 Years

My friend H asked me some questions about travel on Twitter:
“How do you decide where you wanna go? Do you have a bucket list?”

hand of the buddha

I couldn’t respond in 140 characters, so I’m over here. Ruminating. I was first thinking I should make a list of all the places I’ve traveled. There are the places I’ve been that I didn’t choose and the places that I did choose. I’m going to go with the latter, since that list is smaller and I can remember all of them (I think).

  • 1987: Israel
  • 1999: Ireland
  • 2000: Italy (although it wasn’t my first trip, but first time on my own
  • 2003: Big Island, Hawai’i
  • 2005: Oaxaca, Mexico
  • 2006: Paris, France (not my first time to France, but first time on my own)
  • 2011: Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia

Looking at this list amuses me, because it seems so random and full of holes. It doesn’t show all the traveling I’ve done with my parents, which in many ways prepared me for the trips above. But that doesn’t answer H’s question, either.

How do I decide where I want to go? It comes down to four things: do I have the time? Do I have the money? How willing am I to make the journey to get there? And does my sweetie want to go?

The trip to Israel is a little bit of a outlier, because I was in high school and went on a program. In many ways I was not on my own. BUT, it was the first place I heard about and I remember having long discussions with my parents, trying to convince them I was ready. There was a boy who was a couple years older than me, and he talked about the program. I remember he said something about how powerful it was to go visit a place where all this history he had learned in school happened. I was very drawn to that idea, that I could go visit a place with history. It would be many, many more years before I was to learn how much history about America had been elided and erased from my education.

Ireland because it was the only place my girlfriend said she wanted to go (outside the US). I could work with that. Italy because it was the second place my girlfriend said she wanted to go. I could work with that, too. Hawai’i because my parents had been there 20 years before. When I was a kid, I had a shiny, metallic hibiscus sticker that I had plastered on my dresser drawer that my mom brought back. Hawai’i sounded like the most exotic place in the world. And this is coming from someone who grew up in SW Florida! Oaxaca because we had friends living there for a year and the best places to visit are the places where you know someone. And we went for Dia de los Muertos, which was fantastic. Paris because pourquoi non? It was my birthday and I love France. It was everything I wanted it to be, except that dumb song, “Springtime in Paris” is dead wrong. It’s fucking cold. And then my epic trip to SE Asia, because I’d been wanting to go for years and no one else wanted to go. I was tired of waiting for them. I’d heard fantastic things, and I couldn’t spent another damned winter in Seattle without losing my everloving mind.

Do I have a bucket list? No. I have a rough list of places I want to go, and then there are the places that are possibilities, if conditions ever changed. I’m afraid of getting sick, so the entire continent of Africa is out (I realize this is ridiculous, but that’s fear for you). Except Morocco. I didn’t go to Burma when I was in SE Asia because of the political situation at the time, but I want to go back now that it’s changed. I realize I could just as easily get sick there. I still want to go back to France, to see the Black Madonna at Rocamadour (which I learned about in college) as well as the cathedral in Reims. Also want to go to northern Europe – Denmark, Holland and Scandinavia – at some point. I have friends there, who I met while traveling in SE Asia.

Next on my list is Belize. Why? It’s warm and sunny, it’s supposed to have fantastic birds/wildlife and snorkeling. When it’s up to me, I will always go where it’s warm and sunny. I guess that’s really the only requirement at this point in my life!

How do you decide where you want to go?

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Next car: women only

I had heard about women-only cars on the trains in Japan, as well as some women-only buses in Mexico. So when I saw this sign, I had to take a picture of it.

Not a minute after I sat down, in the mixed-gender car I had entered, an older man came up to me and started gesticulating wildly. I thought he wanted to pull down the shade behind me, or something? So I stood up. He and I were roughly the same height (that is to say, short, around 5’1″). Next thing I knew, he had ousted me from my seat. He pulled down the shade and then sat down, spreading his legs as wide as was humanly possible and holding up his newspaper as a literal shield.

I had been lava balled. I first learned this term last summer, but the experience wasn’t new to me. I’m sure you’ve experienced it, too:

it’s when someone sits on public transit and, presumably for reasons resulting from an unbearable, scorching heat in their groin, must spread their legs wide. The vast majority of the time, this is a man. The vast majority of the time, they encroach on the personal space of a woman.

I could laugh, because there was plenty of room on the car, an open seat across the aisle with my parents and my safety wasn’t compromised. I had the privilege and freedom to laugh about it. My gentle father wanted to sock him in the nose. We were all “dealing with it.”

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Starts with “C”

This week the prompt for 52 Photos Project is Starts with ‘C’.

Without further ado, I bring you this caterpillar who crossed my path on a hike in Japan:

fuzzy caterpillar

How about some curvy cobblestones from the Kiyomizu-dera Temple in Kyoto:

curvy cobbles

And finally, some fancy chopsticks!

chopstick display

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The Sweetest Cup

green tea gift

I just spent 3 weeks in Japan, traveling around Honshu, the largest island. My last evening was spent in Tokyo, with my mom. We were exhausted, having tried our damnedest to fit it all in, even while resting.

I could tell you about the middle-aged woman we met in Kamikochi, who was there with her husband and parents. She turned out to be a librarian, and she had her iPhone wrapped in a fuzzy bunny that she would pull out every time her husband asked her a question. I could tell you about the young woman in Nara who waited on us in an Italian restaurant and didn’t know any English, but her desire to serve us overwhelmed all fears of exposing her bad language skills.

There was the elderly gentleman who conferred with us on our journey out of Koya-san who had lived in Texas for 5 years, and the young people who worked in the ryokan we stayed at in Kyoto. And the monk with the scar on his scalp at the temple where we stayed in Koya-san whose entire body was an apology.

But this story is for this cup of tea.

One thing seasoned travelers know and understand is that you have to make choices all day long, about everything. About the things that you’ve automated in your daily life at home, like where to find your next meal and what to eat for breakfast and lunch and dinner. This may sound like a treat, but trust me, after 22 days of this, I start to wish I had a refrigerator with some leftovers I could just pull out.

Given that we didn’t have it in us to try something new, we returned to a delightful yakitori restaurant above the Daimaru department store at Tokyo Station. This gave us the chance to catch another sunset behind the train station. You might see why we were tempted to return:

Night falls in Tokyo

Sadly, the restaurant did not have a view. But the staff more than made up for it. When we returned to the restaurant, there was a group of men sitting on a bench outside the entrance. We had seen many lines with seats, so we assumed there was a wait and sat at the end of the bench. We knew it wouldn’t be long before we were seated, based on previous experience. Soon enough, the group was seated and the host/maitre d’ saw us. His face lit up with recognition and he motioned that we should wait a minute. Next thing we knew, he was ushering us in to sit at the bar.

We ordered our food and I, in my broken Japanese, told him we would like rice (gohan?), water (o-meezu) and a beer (biru?). He pulled out the all-Japanese menu and opened it to what I can only assume was the list of beers. My eyes glazed over as I looked at the lines of Japanese characters. I knew that the text read top to bottom, but beyond that I was clueless. He stood behind us, patiently, until I took a stab in the dark and said, “Sapporo?”

He pointed to something on the menu, which I could only guess was “Sapporo” and I said, “Hai! Yes.” I told him I wanted a small one. Having given him the sufficient information, he disappeared and I sank into my chair, elated to have completed the transaction. He returned shortly with my beer and a small bowl, filled with something lumpy and covered in a whitish sauce. He told me it was a pickle, and he stood behind my chair waiting for me to try it. I inspected the bowl and willed my stomach not to churn. It seemed to contain some chunks of chicken, and I considered that maybe they were cured, like ceviche. I didn’t know of any Japanese cuisine that cooked meat that way. I screwed up my courage and stabbed my chopsticks in and plucked out one of the blobs, which threatened to slid out of my tentative grip. I got it in my mouth first and sank my teeth in, relieved to discover it had been cooked. It was cooked! Hallelujah! The maitre d’ stood behind us, waiting to see what I thought.

“Pickle?” I said to him.
“Pickle,” he said, smiling.
I hoped my smile covered my confusion, the lack of vinegar or any acidic tang in my mouth. “Good,” I said, smiling at him. He turned and left.

He returned later with two small bowls piled high with bright pink pickles. The shiso I had taken a picture of the previous visit, and he had stood behind me applauding softly:

red shiso pickle

Except this time there was three times as much. Shiso has a strong perfume and a mild cinnamon flavor, the texture like a cucumber. I knew there was no way I could eat that much of it, no matter how delicious. I hope he wasn’t offended. My mom and I enjoyed our meal, the chicken grilled with leeks, the eggplant, the shishito peppers, and the mushroom stems in butter sauce. Not to mention the giant piles of shiso pickles. Our bodies sated, we rested in our seats, savoring our final evening in Tokyo, the city whirling outside while we relaxed. And then this third gift came to the table, warm and bright.

I wrapped my fingers around the warm ceramic bowl and lifted it to my nose, inhaling the sweet and mildly bitter aroma of the tea. By this point in our travels, we had drunk many cups of tea – from the iced tea offered us in steaming Kyoto to the many pots we brewed in our various lodgings. And this was the best cup of tea. From a technical standpoint, it was perfect – the perfect temperature, perfectly steeped. It was more sweet than bitter, warm but not scalding, grassy without being pungent.

It was made all the sweeter for being our reward, for connecting with people, for having made the effort and being met, for being seen as a fellow human, another traveler on the road. May all your cups of tea be a sweet reminder of our universal connection.

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