Tag Archives: travel

The &^*#@ Spring Rolls

As many of you know, I spent the winter of 2011 traveling around SE Asia. I started in Thailand, where I spent 6 weeks. My mom met up with me at the end of that time in Chiang Rai, which is in the far north of Thailand and is part of the Golden Triangle, where Thailand, Laos and Burma meet.

I had learned from a friend that I could take the slow boat down the Mekong, starting in Thailand and ending in Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage site and city in Laos. My mom was up for the adventure, so once she landed in Thailand there was no time to get settled. We just picked up the next day and headed out for the boat.

My mother is an intrepid traveler. She doesn’t need all the creature comforts, and neither do I. My basic requirements are a room in a building, and indoor plumbing. I definitely had some adventures with discomfort while I was traveling through Thailand, mostly involving mosquitoes and other insects in my rooms. But my mom didn’t care about insects. She was worried about rats. She’d read stories about the town where we would be staying – Pak Beng – being infested with rats. She didn’t want to take any chances, so I made sure to book a room in advance that had high ratings and most importantly, NO RATS.

The only rat we saw in Pak Beng ended up being a stuffed toy belonging to a child in the hotel where we stayed.

Toy rat

But on to the meat of this particular story. In non-English speaking countries where they depend heavily on tourist dollars, I’ve encountered quite a range of facility with English, particularly in the service sectors. Most people stick to the few scripts that lubricate their business. Their English is far better than my ability to speak their languages, and for that I’m always always always grateful.

I give you this background so you will understand what happened next. Our boat pulled into Pak Beng late in the afternoon. Pak Beng exists for the sole reason of providing lodging and respite to the people riding the boats down the river. We checked in to our hotel, keeping an eye out for rats, and then went to find a place for dinner. Each spot looked the same, so I have no idea how we picked the place we did. It was filled with people, as they all were. We got a table and a young and exuberant fellow took our order. We were famished. There hadn’t been much to eat on the boat, so we were looking forward to a full dinner. After we placed our order we waited. And waited. AND WAITED …

I didn’t blame the waiter, there were large tables that were rowdy and needed more attention. But I finally got desperate and got the waiter’s attention to ask about our order. He was bopping around the restaurant amongst the tables and he glanced at me, his memory jogged. “Oh yes! Your fucking spring rolls!” he exclaimed, full of delight. My mom and I, despite our hunger, broke into laughter at the incongruity of his language with the situation and emotion.

To this day his response makes me laugh.

Here’s my mother the next morning, clutching her bag of bananas, before we boarded for the second day:

Pak Beng

The wooden benches on day 2:

wooden benches

You can see a few more pictures here.

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52 Photos: The Sign Says

Even though this week’s prompt wasn’t literal, I’m going with a sign.

sign for Angel's Landing

The sign says:


Strenuous climb
Narrow route with cliff exposures
Hazardous during thunderstorms, darkness, and ice/snow conditions

I’d heard stories from friends and family members about this hike before I did it last week. I knew it wasn’t for the faint of heart or anyone with fear of heights. I was pretty certain I would do okay, but I still had some niggling doubts. I’m not known for dazzling anyone with feats of physical strength, but I managed to surpass my girlfriend’s expectations. I just walked right up the rock like it was nothing. And as I expected, the openness didn’t bother me at all.

My girlfriend asked what had happened to me. She thought I’d be whining and clinging to the rock with fear. Truth is, I probably would have a couple of years ago. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and made it to the top. I told her, “I’ve finally found my voice and my feet!”

First portion with chains:

climbing Angel's Landing

Can you see the chain to the right side of the image?
Angel's Landing formation

Ridge to final approach and summit (See the people in the lower part of the picture?):

ridge to Angel's Landing

I told a friend the other day I felt like I was climbing in an ant farm. You tell me if you think I’m exaggerating! Here’s the horde we found at the top (and where my healthy fear of heights kicked in – no way was I going to go gallivanting through them)!

hordes of hikers

I’ll give you a few more signs, since I only put one up there:

feral cats or chickens

warning sign

And finally, the fallout shelter sign on my apartment building (and no, there isn’t actually one):

fallout shelter

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52 Photos: Stairs

This week’s prompt: stairs. For you, a few staircases and a brief story. First the pictures:

The staircase in the shopping center at the JR Train Station in Kyoto:

lighting design on JR Kyoto stairs

Spiral staircase in Lisbon:

spiral stair

Dragon staircase in Chiang Mai:

dragon staircase

Powell’s bookstore in Portland, Oregon:


Ayutthaya Staircase:

stairs to ferry

Before I start telling you this story, I have to show you a picture of something else. It’s a bicycle:

Good luck bike #2

In 2011 I spent 3 months in SE Asia. The first place I went after I got my head sorted in Bangkok was Ayutthaya. It was a great place for me to rest and sink into a new rhythm. The guesthouse where I was staying had bikes available to rent. This was my trusty steed as I ventured out from the safety of my idyllic quarters. What you can’t tell from looking at the picture is how heavy that bike was. I’d guess it weighed around 25 pounds. Nothing like my lightweight 15-pound aluminum frame bike at home.

And yes, I did carry that damn thing down those damn stairs. And back up on the other side. And then again in reverse. And I felt quite pleased with my accomplishment.

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Where I’ve Been

faces in stone

I asked on Twitter this morning if anyone had any questions. One pal wanted to know every place I’ve traveled. Oof da. I must admit, I’ve always felt reticent to talk about where I’ve been. But I’m taking steps to share more of myself, and travel is a big piece, so I’m going to attempt to compile a full list.

I did make a list of the places I chose to travel, but this list is every place I’ve been. I’m going to stay at the country level, unless I’ve only been to one city within that country, in which case I will list both. For the United States, I’m going to try to list all the states I’ve visited.

North America

United States:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Hawai’i
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Maryland
  • Massachusets
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Montana
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Dakota
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Wyoming

Other Countries

  • The Bahamas
  • Canada
  • Grand Cayman Island, Caymans
  • Oaxaca, Mexico
  • St. Lucia

South America

  • Argentina
  • Chile
  • Ecuador


  • Budapest, Hungary
  • France
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Portugal[ref]the hyperlinks will take you the sets of pictures I’ve taken from those trips[/ref]
  • Prague, Czech Republic
  • Switzerland
  • UK (England, Scotland)

Middle East

  • Israel


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We are Vikings!

Three years ago I spent the winter in SE Asia. I started, timid as a mouse, in Bangkok. It was not auspicious. I got bolder and left and went to Ayutthaya, to adjust to the climate and the culture and recover from the jet lag.

Ayutthaya is one of the ancient capitals of Thailand. It’s a beautiful place, and there are many ruins of old temples. The old city is surrounded by a river, so technically it’s on an island. One afternoon I took a long tail boat ride around the island:

longtail boat and driver

We stopped at several sites along the way, visiting beheaded Buddhas,

beheaded buddhas

Buddha heads,

buddha head

and admiring the jackfruit trees.


There were two Norwegian couples on the boat ride with me, one that was middle-aged and the other quite young. We all went to the night market for dinner. We sat outside, in the dark, sweating our asses off at 7:30 at night. Apparently the only food I took a picture of was this fish, which was delicious:

garlic fish

There was also morning glory vines and frog legs. And beer. Which was the point of telling this story. For those of you who know me, you know I’m not a big drinker. I mean, it takes me at least an hour to drink a pint of beer. On a good day. At the night market, they had beer – but only the 22-ounce bottles. I tried to ask if they had the 12-ounce once ones and everyone laughed at me. I recall asking the people I was eating dinner with how they could drink so much.

The young woman turned to me, lifted her bottle and cheerily said, “We are Wikings!”

We all had a good laugh.

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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 29: Round

I decided to feature a few images from my recent trip to Japan for this week’s prompt, round.

First is the Daimon Gate in Koya-san. I couldn’t get far enough away from it to get it all in my camera. And then I saw this mirror on the road, to enable drivers to see around the corner. I ran over to snap the picture and was more than satisfied with the result:

Daimon in the mirror

After a morning in Kyoto, my parents and I visited the Nishiki Market. It was a hot day and these three cups of tea were offered to us after we bought a rice cracker. They were cool and refreshing, most welcome.

Kyoto adventure - three cups of tea

And finally, I was charmed by this row of red pails at the Ryoanji Temple. We saw red buckets everywhere, many of which said they were to collect water to extinguish fires.

rain barrels

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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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