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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A Heartbreaking Blog Post of Staggering Genius

(This title is an homage to Dave Eggers.)

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(Life goal achieved: Lionesque hair). 

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a blog post. There are a lot of reasons why. There’s so much “content” coming at us from all directions that it makes writing a blog post less appealing. It’s maddening. I can’t even hear myself THINK in here. Do you feel that? Maybe it’s just me.

I am working full-time at a company I adore and moonlighting as a travel writer. I’ve been BUSY. Last month, I went to Switzerland for three days. I’ve never flown that far for such a short amount of time. It was insane in that I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening way, like a first kiss.

I also just bought a house. Woot. Seattle tried to push me away with its high rents and influx of yuppie-hipsters “yipsters”, but I am officially here to stay.

At almost 35, bumping up on 10 years in this city, I feel old enough to dole out the advice from the comforts of my rocking chair. (Ps. I don’t believe in old.)

The advice I would give my not-that-much younger self:

1. Sometimes, from certain hills, on certain nights the city will look like a pile of gold sequins and promises put there just for you. Savor this. After awhile, it dulls.

2. Call your grandmas more often.

3. When you go to that grand poetry conference don’t assume the guy in the cowboy hat and bolo tie won’t be a good poet. His first poem reveals he’s a Vietnam Vet and every word is as deep and powerful as the ocean. Exercise humility.

4. Be generous. It will come back to you.

5. Allow yourself to tell the deserving to f—off. You let people get away with too much.

6. Repeat: Not everything is about me.

7. When cancer threatens your nearest and dearest, forgive those who turn cold on you because it makes them uncomfortable. It makes you uncomfortable too.

8. Forgive yourself.

9. Being an artist has nothing to do with black glasses and cocktails and blue hair and city lofts and Instagram accounts. It has everything to do with the work. So do it. Submit it. Wait for the inevitable rejection. And shut up.

10. A thigh gap is unattainable and wouldn’t look good on you anyway.

11. Pizza cures everything.

12. When someone invites you to a “party” and says, “You don’t even have to buy anything,” just say no. Save your money and your time for people who want to be friends, not for you to buy something from a catalog.

13. Don’t worry so much whether the college you went to isn’t or is prestigious. After a few years, it matters so little it’s laughable.

14. When you reunite with your childhood friend and she tells you she’ll call you, take her number too. Just one year later, she’ll be gone and you will never have  another conversation.

15. Your real friends will be happy when you win. Being a real friend is not just consoling someone when they lose, it’s being happy when they win. Especially when they win something you want.

16. Don’t waste too much time obsessing over the corporate ladder. Work hard, do a good job, go home.

17. Don’t turn your back on the most important lesson, the most important gift—what it’s like to struggle. Carry it with you. Remember it when you feel like you have endless money and endless opportunity and when you feel like you’ve won a life lottery. Recognize the humanity in others, no matter who they are. Err on the side of kind. Always.

18. When you get the chance to move to Quebec, do it. It will be hard and cold and awful at times, but those are just growing pains.

19. Stop obsessing over beauty. Pretty isn’t an achievement, it is luck. Pretty is made up to sell you make up. Don’t let magazines and shallow people dictate how you feel about yourself. You are beautiful because you are human.

20. Travel. See the world so you can understand your place in it.

21. Hold tight to your sense of humor.

22. Getting married and buying a house and having a family aren’t cliché trappings of the American dream. It’s real life. Silence those who judge your life choices and don’t judge others for theirs.

23. Being ___by age ____ becomes irrelevant after 30. Thank God.

24. You won’t realize how young you were until you grow older. This goes for then and now.

25. Stretch.

26. Go to that wedding. Go to that funeral. When it’s important and when it’s something that will only happen once, spend the money, take the time and go.IMG_0309


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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.

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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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Now Filming in Seattle: Speed, the Prequel

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We have to keep this bus above 30 miles an hour! 

Yesterday was a bad bus day. You know, the kind that involves standing next to someone with B.O. or a full rotisserie chicken that’s rolling around, smearing grease everywhere (both have happened to me).

I hopped the wrong transfer on the way home because I drown out vital information with my headphones. Like where I was/the century we’re in/my name. In my post-work stupor, I got on the wrong route. When the driver called last stop I just sat there, failing to realize I was the only passenger. “This is the ‘E’ line, not the ‘C’ line,” he said, irritated. I got off the bus and called a cab.

Sigh.

While waiting for the cab, I stumbled onto a movie filming at Seattle’s Union Station. Not just any old movie, an OLD movie. With vintage buses, Vespas and motorcycles, men in fedoras caring boxy suitcases, women in pillbox hats, lips painted ruby red. I heard the director say, “That’s a wrap.”  Stumbling into a filming that involves an old bus after getting on the wrong bus was surreal. Is the universe trying to tell me not to complain about my commute by sending me a vision of the past?

Look at that bus. You could have to travel like that. They probably wish they had rotisserie chickens. 

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Or maybe the universe is telling me to dress better.

I would have asked what the heck was going on, but I was agitated from my commute and didn’t want a high-powered Hollywood type to scream at me.

I think it’s safe to assume they’re filming  Speed, The Prequel.


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Just Another Manic Memoir

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There is beauty in the everyday.

Everyone’s doing it. Entire sections of the bookstore are dedicated to it. Blonde-woman-leaves-routine-life-for-abroad-or-the-wood memoirs. Think: Cheryl Strayed. Elizabeth Gilbert.* To stand out from other travel memoirs, you need to set sail all by yourself to Antarctica, Ernest Shackleton-style and survive something horrific like eating your own dogs or do some peyote in the desert and be able to clearly WRITE about that experience. Pen name: Huntess S. Thompson.

For the reasons above, I’m starting a new genre: the stay-put memoir. Lists of dull things we do everyday, written with a certain flair.

Consider the untold story in the soggy French fries curled on the bottom of my CRV, in the struggle of trying to get to my dry cleaner before it closes, in bagel dust between my keyboard letters. That’s real stuff. Bonus: I don’t have to do anything difficult to write it. I just keep on keepin on. It would be relatable, that’s for sure. Low-risk. Yes. Dull? No way.

Future memoir titles: 

  • Is It Weird To Smell Your Own Hair On The Bus? And Other Concerns
  • Skeptical Of Your Gluten Allergy, So Totally Sure Of Mine
  • Copywriter’s Dilemma: Having A Nervous Breakdown One Exclamation Point At A Time!!
  • Checking The Door Twice: Confessions Of A Public-Bathroom Phobic
  • Fear And Loathing On A Train. Mother + Daughter Ride The Rails Cross Country. (Read the sneak preview here).
  • Tears On My Mcdonald’s Cheeseburger. What Happens When You Get The Wrong Gender-Specific Toy.
  • Facebook Lies: That Time I Said I Had A Great Time Kayaking When It Was Actually Just Ok

Which one should I start on first?

*I like Elizabeth Gilbert.

**I’m actually headed to the desert next month (New Mexico + Texas). Where should I go? What should I do? Comment below.