Anglo Adventure

Travel with a sense of humor


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Great Expectations in Iceland

At a well-attended reading here in Seattle, Patti Smith said (paraphrasing), when you travel, keep no expectations, because a place can rarely live up to them.

This made me think of my grandma, who loved her Irish ancestry but never went to Ireland because she was afraid it wouldn’t meet her expectations. The fantasy she had was far better than reality could provide.

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“I am afraid I would be disappointed,” she told us. At the time, it seemed silly and kind of sad, but now I get it. She wanted Ireland to be this perfect place and kept it that way.

I went to Iceland in November, right after the election. It was great timing; after Tiny Hands was elected president, I really needed to de-stress in natural springs.

We went to Iceland in November because all the travel brochures convinced us that the northern lights would be dancing over our heads the moment we stepped off the plane. Spoiler alert: We did not see the northern lights.

I should have known better; I am well-acquainted with nature and I realize that it’s meant to surprise you. You never see whales when you’re looking for them. Or you do, but they’re less exciting than what’s in your mind. You never see shooting stars at the perfect time (at least, I never do). You see them when you happen to look up. That’s the magic of it.

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Everyone asked us why we would go to an arctic island in winter. And when we arrived and it was still pitch black at 9:00 am, I started to wonder myself.

It had all the makings of a terrible trip. Expensive food ($16 for a glass of wine). Icy roads. Unpredictable weather—the only thing predictable was the wind, which was so strong (and so consistent), at times we struggled to open the car doors.

But that’s the thing – because I tried NOT to imagine what Iceland would be like, what it SHOULD be like, I enjoyed it for what it IS. Unspoiled nature. Snow-covered lava fields. Birds diving into the roiling ocean.

So no, we didn’t see the Northern Lights, but I really wanted to photograph an Icelandic horse. Icelandic horses are more than just hip ponies with emo hairstyles. They are half-wild, they have two extra gaits and if an Icelandic horse leaves the island, he or she can never return.

They’re fascinating.

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We were driving on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.

“Stop,” I shouted (not something you should do on an Iceland road in winter.) “There’s a horse.”

There was this beautiful red horse, just standing right by the side of the road, bathed in golden light. And I swear, it started posing. Because Iceland is so far North, the sun seems like it’s constantly rising and setting. ‘Magic hour’ is more like magic four hours. The horse turned vibrant red, all of its cinnamon highlights shining in the light.

There were other unexpected surprises. Insanely good hot chocolate topped with real cream. Walking between tectonic plates. Looking over Icelandic parliament and crying a little bit at the place where the first woman in the world was elected “head of state,” aka president.

We all have great expectations. For places. For people. For what things are going to be like. What they should be like. For ourselves. Great expectations are exhausting.

Sometimes you get the northern lights, sometimes you get the little red pony.* If you keep your expectations at bay, either one will seem like a bonus.

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My Spirit Animal: The Sleep-18-Hours-a-Day Sloth

I love animals. It’s ridiculous how much. Enough to spend a lot of money to feed sloths at a wildlife conservation center.

Yes, sloths. Let’s face it: sloths aren’t the most lovable animals. Most people seem to think they’re gross.

Thankfully, these sloths didn’t have moths or moss on their backs. They were friendly, cute and moved so slowly and carefully, it felt like being surrounded by a group of lovable geriatrics. I half expected one to start telling me a story from the old days.

Why don’t sloths play the wise old one in cartoons more often?

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(The last one is a baby monkey. Sloths are not primates. They have more in common with anteaters and armadillos, species-wise.)

Typically, I’m against animals in a for-entertainment setting (see my kangaroo farm post). But the sloth center is a research and education center and only allows small groups to visit a select few of their animals ambassadors. The animals aren’t asked to perform; there’s no glass to bang on and no parade of tourists. Most of the animals are never seen by humans. You can feed wolves, walk exotic cats, play with lemurs.

This could get expensive.

Things I learned: 

  • Sloths pee and poop out the same hole.

    Three-toed sloths can’t be kept in captivity because of their specialized diet. (We encountered the two-toed variety.)

    Sloths French kiss to exchange bacteria

    Sloths come down from their trees every three days.


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Detroit: Got a Good Feeling in a “Bad” City Tonight

Got a good feeling in bad city tonight. Got a good feeling it’s going to be alright…(Detroit, Rancid) 

I passed through Detroit a couple times, once during a raucous road trip I took to Niagara as a teenager, two other times when driving to/from Quebec City. Each time, we zipped passed, the skyscrapers tall and strong against a gray winter sky.

This time, I got to experience the city for real, visiting close friends who left Seattle for Detroit. (There’s a giant hole in my heart now and I fill it with reruns of The Office and glasses of cabaret).

I wanted to walk inside blighted buildings, snap trees winding around staircases.  I wanted to capture misfortune, the ruins of a cultural hub. Peeling wallpaper. Graffitti. Empty museums. People in big coats bracing against the bitter cold.

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But that’s one story of Detroit. It’s not the whole story. Detroit denizens remind me a bit of kids I grew up with in Chicago: Tough. Prideful. All survivors of something. Also, friendly.

I snapped photos of empty, dark mansions that line the streets like abandoned doll houses. I tried to capture the sun filtering through punctured glass of factory windows. I took a photo of a calico stalking prey in a vacant lot.

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But there’s fresh paint on Comerica. There’s the jack-hammer buzz of construction. There’s Greek Town and Midtown and they look just like every hip town in America. There’s brunch in the haunted Whitney Mansion—an impossible experience in Seattle. Our brunch places are overcrowded and definitely don’t include bottomless mimosas. In the Detroit Public Library, there’s a whole floor dedicated to illustrated car manuals. Not something I’d ever read, but I loved the vintage car posters on the walls and the ornate details.

I charmed my way inside the Detroit Opera House. I buzzed the door and walked to the box office, fully expecting to get the boot. A guy wearing a hard hat asked what I was doing. I said I just wanted to take a few photos. That’s it. No mention of this blog or my mediocre rise to travel writer stardom or any press of any kind. He let me in and gave me a behind-the-scenes tour.

Detroit Opera House

“Usually they want people to be on the tour. But go ahead. If anyone asks tell them you’re friends with D*, the Head Electrician.”

When I opened the door to the stage, I actually gasped in awe. Hundreds of lush velvet chairs await for the derrieres of fur-clad opera-goers. Intricate suns curve up the dome ceiling. The balcony made me nostalgic for something I never experienced.

The workers were blasting Papa Roach (yes, seriously) and I still felt transported to the 1920s. D* led me to the lobby; chandeliers dazzled from above, candelabras glinting orange and gold. He told me to take a picture of one of the fixtures while lying on the ground with the camera pointed up. “This will be your best shot. It looks just like a doily.”

I don’t know enough to comment on the city’s financial health or whether it will turn around. All I know is that I spent a lovely few days in the city and I saw a glimmer of possibility.

Sometimes to find the beauty of a place, you just have to change your angle.


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Taos Pueblo Out in New Mexico

“One night my weary feet did go so I stopped that night in Taos…

That night there came a snow in the mountains and the valleys below
And I found a love that’s true I know in Taos New Mexico.” – Waylon Jennings

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I went traveling, a journey through the Southwest. I left with the feeling that I could settle down in an old adobe under New Mexico’s powder-blue skies. Sante Fe – maybe Albuquerque, land of Breaking Bad and also as I discovered, a difficult city to spell.

We went to the Spirit of the Winds balloon fiesta and took the completely justified 1,000 pictures of hot air balloons (you’ll see those soon). We zipped north into Santa Fe, than Taos, then Colorado, honey-gold aspens winding through thick evergreen forest like a strand of garland.

We stayed at the Inn of the Turquoise Bear a historic B+ B in Santa Fe, formerly owned by the poet Witter Bynner and rented to his artist friends. Georgia O’Keefe. Ansel Adams. Carl Sandberg. I could write a whole post about that place and the food. Oh wow, the food.

I shopped South Congress in Austin, saw an armadillo in Houston.

But the Taos Pueblo stands out because it was one of those unexpected things you find in travel.

Taos Pueblo

Taos Pueblo New Mexico Travel

The Taos Pueblo is one of the oldest continuously lived-in residences in the US and one of the most private and secretive of the pueblo communities.

I didn’t even have it on my itinerary at first because we only had one night in Taos and I wasn’t sure about the timing or what I really wanted to see in the town. Touring the Pueblo is $16 per person. There are guided tours if you have the time to take one (which I sadly did not).

I read the list of rules thoroughly.

Taos Rules

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  • Don’t feed the dogs. (They should add “don’t step on the dogs,” because several dogs were lying in the sun so still and quiet, they appeared dead.)
  • Don’t take pictures of tribal members without their permission.
  • Don’t swim in the river.

After touring the pueblo and observing some questionable tourist behavior, I would add:

  • Don’t ask stupid questions.
  • Don’t let your kids run amuck.
  • Don’t take smiley selfies near sacred grave sites.

I felt icky. Like I should not be there, but that I should see it. Like I should whisper, even though the day buzzed with construction activity. Camera-strapped tourists darted in and out of the shops and residences of the tribal members. Their language (Tiwa) is unwritten and there’s an expansive wilderness area behind the pueblo off-limits to non-tribal members. Running water and electricity are prohibited in the pueblo.

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There’s a bell-tower from the original San Geronimo church, built in the 1600s when the tribe was forced into Catholicism by Spanish missionaries. That church was destroyed by US troops in the late 1800s (after the murder of Governor Bent) and many people died in the battle, so they turned it into a cemetery. But they built another church – its walls are smooth, a sandy color and topped by white crosses. The architecture of the church is extraordinary, but you still get the sense that the church doesn’t really belong.

I would rather my tourist dollars go to corn necklaces and fry bread made here, than those high-end shops that peddle overpriced turquoise rings. And I think interactions and access help dilute preconceived notions. But I cannot imagine what I would feel like if a bunch of tourists traipsed through my apartment to gawk at me.

Case-in-point: There was a twenty-something girl who had her boyfriend take a way-too-happy picture of her next to the sacred burial plot. The grin on her face might as well have been a thumbs-up. Continue reading


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Fun + Games in Portland

What can I say about Portland that hasn’t been said before? It’s hip. Like, grow-your-own-rhubarb hip. Make-your-own-moleskin-journal hip. Pig’s-head-in-a-trucker hat hip.

I normally don’t go in for hip. I hate hip. But in Portland, people are friendly, t-shirts are in, and the donut scene is certainly superior. I liked it more than I thought I would.

I drank Spanish cocktails in a floor-to-ceiling booth at Huber’s. I went to Powell’s and almost cried, not because the immensity of the bookstore, but because people were milling about happily inside. People still love books.

I did Portland things and have Portland pictures.

 

 


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Is That a Sunset Or An Oil Painting Made By Angels?

Another round-up of Tuesday Three Things That Happened Last Week.

I. THE NEW JOB

I don't know how to describe this

This is my sister’s chihuahau with a stuffed toy in it’s mouth & it makes me laugh so hard.

After a few months of freelancing, I have a new job. A dream job if you will. Freelance writing drove me a little too deep into my own head and working in pjs was fun until I woke up and realized I hadn’t worn actual clothes in a week.

Also, sporadic paychecks from writing gigs don’t really *work* anymore in Seattle, with our sky-high rents.

I’m a writer/editor for a cool company that helps bands and shows with ticketing and promotions.  The coolest thing about it that it embodies a Come As You Are mentality, so I could probably get a forehead tattoo and they wouldn’t blink an eye.

I’m working for the man in a creative capacity without actually working for The Man. Perfect. And this is a company that REALLY gives back to the community, so that makes me feel good, especially after my whole age-33-meaning-of-life crisis. I’m not bragging, I want other dream-followers to stick it out and find the job they really want.

I get a week off to volunteer and am already fantasizing about volunteer opportunities.

Should I: 

-Rescue/name/bottle feed orphaned baby monkeys in Costa Rica? (I’ll call this one Danger and this one Milly…)
-Volunteer to find out what happened to Lindsey Lohan?
-Work the cafeteria of some fancy writer’s conference? (Hey, Toni Morrison, I slipped you a copy of my latest. Hope you like these mashed potatoes).

I’m already enjoying perks like conversations with actual humans in the middle of the day, office dogs, and air conditioning.

II. It’s Not Goodbye, It’s Bon Voyage 

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Bon voyage! (These are strangers, not my actual friends).

This is a bummer: I had to say goodbye to some really good friends of mine because they left our glorious state for another.

I am super happy for them because I know that moving long distances (thrice!) has made me a better, happier person because it’s incredibly frustrating and also fun.

As much as I would like to, I can’t be like:  “no stay and we can stay like this forever and nothing will change and then you’ll wake up at 80 and regret that you missed an opportunity because your friend got all emo about you leaving.”

It takes a lot for me to make friends (I’m a giant weirdo), especially here where the social scene is a maze of passive-aggressive invitations to happy hours followed by passive-aggressive refusals.

Sigh. Here we go again.

III. I WAS HERE FIRST

THIS does not do justice to the amazing sunset last night.

THIS low-res iphone photo does not do justice to the amazing sunset on Sunday.

Everyone and their brother is moving to Seattle and judging by Saturday’s packed summer fest, my neighborhood is the quartier du jour. It both pisses me off (I WAS HERE FIRST!! SECOND) and amuses me.

When I moved to Seattle eight years ago, this was the reaction from most of my friends:

I’d never leave Chicago. You know it rains there, every day right? And they don’t even have a basketball team. And the suicide risk is high. You might as well move straight into a mental hospital because those clouds are gonna drive you nuts. 

[Drops bags off, looks out window] OMG this place is amazing! Is that a sunset or is that God’s hand coming down to personally bless this place because it is the most.beautiful. in the whole world?

The view from my roof

Proof it’s not a fluke: last year’s winning sunset starring a rainbow ribbon cloud. 

Even with my awesome new job, I cannot afford rent that’s much higher than its current $1,600 a month for 700 sq.ft and I’m terrified I’m living in the next San Francisco.

And with all the new condos/traffic/pedestrians darting into the street, my neighborhood feels a little less like MY neighborhood.

I’ve lived here on and off since I first moved to the city, when it was uncool amongst my hip writerly coworkers who (then) lived on The Hill and thought White Center was too dangerous and West Seattle too suburban.  I live on a peninsula and get to hang out at the beach pretty much every day so, I’ve been pretty happy.

Does wanting to join an anti-development coalition make me old?


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My Statue Pic for a Travel Photo Challenge

Thank god it’s not statutes. Am I right? Ha, ha. You’ve probably seen this one before because I am so proud of it.

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What can I tell you about this photo? I looked out the window at the Louvre and clicked the button. I have started to really more into photography, which means three things:

1. I don’t use auto settings anymore.

2. I’ve become kind of annoying to my friends.

3. I will post more photos on here.

Statues are so easy to photograph because they stand there and look pretty and don’t even get mad when you take a selfie with them. Statutes are noticeably more difficult.

Where’sMyBackpack, thank you for such a great travel challenge.