Ode to Del Ray

delray

Every day I swear I’m going to sit down and write a blog post. And every day, I get sucked into the crazy news cycle coming out of Washington. Comey. Russia. Obamacare. EB-5 visas. Executive Orders. Emoluments. Sessions. I end up going down a news wormhole, spending waaaaay too much time scouring Google News and Twitter for the latest updates and news tidbits.

Every damn day.

And, today was no different. I’m finishing a couple of large projects, finalizing some paperwork and payment stuff, and finding and following up on new leads. I’ve had a fairly productive last couple of days, so today was going to be the day I could just sit down and focus on blogging.

I was having my coffee and watching CNN this morning (I know, I know. Tempting fate there.) when I saw a breaking news story about a shooting in Alexandria, Virginia. I live in Alexandria, Virginia. So, of course, I had to hop on the internet to find out what was going on, and that’s when I heard about the GOP baseball practice shooting that took place in the lovely Del Ray neighborhood.

Del Ray holds a special place in my heart….it’s where I lived when I first moved to D.C. 15 years ago. I was in a rush to start my new job and so I rented an apartment in that I found on Craig’s List, sight unseen.  A friend in the know assured me that Del Ray was a good neighborhood with an easy commute and cheaper than downtown D.C. She was right, although “cheaper than D.C.” is still a hell of a lot of money for someone just starting out in the area. But still, it is a charming, quirky little neighborhood and I loved living in the thick of it.

Del Ray is also very close to our current house in Old Town. In fact, the practice field where the shooting took place is just a mile from my front door. I walk/run past it quite often. I walk/run in that neighborhood when my own neighborhood – the historic and touristy Old Town with its grid streets, boutique shops and restaurants, and heavier traffic (ie: stop sign runners) — seems too chaotic or crowded.

In comparison, Del Ray and the adjacent Rosemont neighborhoods are very still with little to no traffic during the day. I go that direction when I want to avoid stop sign runners and mindlessly meander through quiet, tree-shaded streets lined with Craftsman-style bungalows with strollers parked up on their porches.

Besides, my favorite coffee place is right across from that very same baseball practice field and I like to stop there for a well-deserved (or not) iced coffee on my way home.

But this week has been really hot, even in the shade, so I haven’t gone for run (or even a walk) in Del Ray this week. And I still haven’t sat down and written a blog post.

Let’s try this again tomorrow.

What I Learned About Africa the First Time Around (and Why We’re Going Back)

I uttered what I think might go down in history as the most bougie phrase ever known to mankind last week.

“Weeeeell, last time we were in Africa, we stayed at…..”

I said it not once, but TWICE while catching up with friends, both of whom probably immediately regretted asking me what big exciting trip we had coming up.

My manpanion/life-partner XFE and I have become known as “those people” in our own individual circles—the couple who are always planning their next big trip. Finagling airline partnerships and air miles to upgrade to first class and work in the longest possible layovers on a multi-stop ticket, cashing in hotel points and free resort nights to stay in ridiculously luxurious rooms, relentlessly researching destinations and options and meticulously planning where we’re going to spend our time and money.

Our next big trip is a bit different. It’s XFE’s 40th birthday and there was only really one place he wanted to spend it, regardless of airline miles (we were able to use plenty of those), hotel points (nope, none of those being used this trip) or cost (yikes)—on safari in Africa.

This is not our first time in Africa. We actually went to South Africa for my birthday in March 2014, which is why I was able to say something as bougie as, “Well, the last time we were in Africa, we stayed at….”

elephant bud

Of course, with our next trip to Africa only three weeks away, I’ve been thinking a lot about that last trip.

South Africa was never really on my travel bucket list. As I’ve said before, I’m pretty risk adverse, and well, Africa seemed a bit risky, a bit unstable.

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Speaking of risk, I do not recommend ingesting the priced-to-move ostrich bitong, unless you want other parts of your body to also move. (Not mine: I learned my lesson about cured meats from the Great Northern Italian Food Poisoning of 2011. XFE, however…..)

Sure, I’m a huge animal lover and intellectually, at least, I’d like to see animals in the wild, but again, being risk adverse, I always worry something bad might happen. I have a huge amount of respect for animals in the wild and would not want to do anything that might set them off. And who the hell knows what might set them off? I have a lunatic house cat who meows at walls, corners and sometimes electrical sockets. No idea why.

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He is asleep, right? Like, really asleep, yes?

Plus, a lot of those animals in the wild look pretty dang skinny. I’ve been poor. I know what hunger feels like and when you’re hungry, you might just be willing to eat anything, including some stupid tourist distracted by their camera.

But it turns out, there was a whole lot I didn’t know about South Africa (shocker, I know).

Like, how much I would love beautiful, bustling, exciting Cape Town.

Cape Town collage

I also had no idea Cape Town had such a crazy good food scene. Like, really, really good.

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The Old Biscuit Mill where we had a couple of great meals.

Including probably my favorite meal ever at Test Kitchen. No big deal, just the best restaurant in Africa. No, seriously. Other, fancier people have said so, too. They even made broccoli super cool and delicious. BROCCOLI, people.

Test Kitchen collage

I didn’t know about South Africa’s amazing wine country (we only made it to Stellenbosch, but there’s also Franschhoek, Constantia Valley and Helderberg, among others).

Stellenbosch Collage

So much amazing wine.

SA Wine Collage

And so many really gorgeous hotels, especially our villa at the Clouds Estate.

Stellenbosch Hotel Collage.jpg

I didn’t know I’d be allowed to pet a cheetah (check that one off the life list).

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That’s my pudgy little pale hand on an actual young cheetah. Right there. I died.

I didn’t know about Sabi Sands, a 65,000 hectare private reserve bordering Kruger National Park. It’s very unique in that it’s privately owned by individual land owners/families.

Sabi Sands Collage

I didn’t know South Africa had places like the 5-star Savanna Lodge, where we stayed back in 2014.

Savanna Lodge Collage

I suspected–but didn’t know–that Africa had so many wonderful people like the staff at Savanna Lodge. We were treated like treasured family members (including a little post-game drive champagne party on the morning of my birthday).

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Or like our ranger Patrick and his nice gun-toting tracker friends who pointed out all the cool, dangerous animals and would protect you from said animals if necessary.

Patrick and friends Collage.jpg

The biggest revelation was the animals themselves, who aren’t really interested in eating stupid tourists at all when there are plenty of other, more tasty, less noisy food options available.

bored animal Collage

And actually would just really appreciate it if humans would leave them to their whole Circle of Life business.

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In fact, they’d probably also appreciate it if humans would stop killing them into extinction.

Rhinos Collage
The African rhino (on the right) was our most elusive animal to find, mostly because they’ve been poached into near extinction. And we all know about elephant poaching.

So, we’re going back to South Africa. Sadly, we’re skipping Cape Town and Stellenbosch. And we weren’t able to book Savanna Lodge, despite planning this trip a year out (there is, understandably, quite the demand for their nine luxurious tent-suites).

We’re really excited to be staying five nights at Leopard Hills, another 5-star lodge in Sabi Sands.

Then we’re going on to another six nights of safari, this time in Tanzania, including stays in a glass-fronted tent suite at Lemala Kuria Hills and a bushtop tent at Serengeti Bushtops. We’ll finish up with four nights at the Manta Resort on Pemba Island, including a night in their underwater room. Yes, I said underwater room. The room is underwater.

Underwater Collage.jpg

It’s really an once-in-a-lifetime trip. But, for the second time.

Risking it All (or Not) for My Youth Back

I was at a sort-of networking/motivational speaker-type event recently, the kind of event where you have to wear nametags, but since this was an event for creative folks, they’re not just straight-forward, run-of-the-mill nametags…they’re free-expression, icebreaker-type nametags.

“Hello. I’m ­______________. I would RISK it all for ­­­­­­­_______________.”

I stood hunched over the registration table, Sharpie hanging in the air, totally stumped.

smug risk taker
That’s a throw back to my stumped face circa 1998, I think. And some brown lipstick/brown lipliner. RISKY. 

It was, after all, pre-coffee for me, and this was, after all, my first time attending the event, which was positively brimming with bright, shiny, young, creative faces—all of whom seemed to know each other and were totally comfortable in their own individual creative-y-ness. I was already questioning my decision to come.

With perspiration beading on my upper lip and after what seemed like an eternity–but was probably more like 45 seconds–I scribbled “more sleep” into that gaping, second blank spot, ripped the sticker off its backing, and slapped it on my blazer just below my shoulder. And thus began my morning-long fight against the insufficiently sticky nametag as each of the four edges took turns curling inwards and obscuring my most creative thought/answer.

I immediately regretted not writing “world peace” or, even better: “whirled peas.”

I walked around the pre-event, networking breakfast, reading other people’s name tags. And I was blown away by the responses some of these kids (well, yeah, mostly) had written on their name tags. Apparently, young, creative people will risk it all for just about anything, including coffee, breakfast, really good vegan cupcakes, and Cheetos.

scooter risk taker
Now this girl is a serious risk taker. Riding a scooter with mules? Dangergirl!

It seemed like a pretty weighty question and yet all the answers I saw were pretty frivolous, in my mind. I mean, not that mine was much better. Come on. “More sleep?” What’s up with that, old timer? Prostate acting up or something?

Then I remembered when I was young and embraced risk, and yes, all those frivolous answers reminded me of those days. Hell, I was not just a risk taker, I was downright reckless.

  • I thought nothing of accepting an internship and packing up my crappy car to move across country without a dime to my name. I ate trail mix three times a day for two weeks until my first paycheck because of that stupid move.
  • I sold all my furniture and most of my worldly goods for a short-term move to London, convinced that I would figure something out and never have to come back to the U.S. I had no plan beyond that first six months, nor any idea what I was thinking was going to happen. But it didn’t and I did come back to the U.S., now broke and with not a stick of furniture.
  • I accepted a job here in D.C. that I knew I was vastly underqualified for, sold my car for cash, and rented an apartment (sight unseen) before driving a U-Haul 24 hours straight to get to said apartment two days before starting that nightmare of a job. All of which was extremely risky. (The apartment turned out alright, though).

And that’s just the stuff I feel comfortable talking about on a public forum.

Risk taker
I guess we won’t talk about this questionable decision. 

Back then, I would have said, “I would RISK it all for a good time and a better story.” I was young, hungry (both literally and figuratively), and my hustle was impressive, to say the least.

But as I stood hunched over that nametag, I realized how much times have changed. I’ve settled down quite a bit and my hustle has, too. I’m way more risk-adverse in my mid-40s than I was in my 20s or even my early 30s. Gone are the days of Bill Roulette–that’s where you take all your bills, put them in a bag and pull one out, and that’s the one that gets paid that month. I pay my bills early. I put money into retirement. I keep my insurance up to date. I get regular dental cleanings. I try to not get involved and clear up every misunderstanding I see taking place on the DC metro system (I’m still working on that one, actually).

Angry risk taker
Riled up and giving ’em hell, even on Halloween, circa 1995 (?maybe?)

What would I risk it all for today? Nothing. There’s almost nothing worth risking it all for.

There’s a good reason for all this change of heart: I just have way more to lose. I’m no longer jumping at every perceived experience or opportunity, hoping that things work out. I don’t “fly by the seat of my pants” anymore. Now I like security: having a plan and a nest egg to fall back on.

Sometimes I miss that devil-may-care girl I used to be, the one with more guts than sense. But then I look at the really good life I’ve managed to build, and all the people that are in it, and I can’t imagine taking any risks that would jeopardize any of that. Not even for whirled peas.

 

Fairytales for Grown-Ass People: London Edition

Once upon a time….o.k, 1981…there was a young girl who lived way out in the dusty fields of West Texas who became infatuated with princesses and castles and royalty.

One day when she was nine years old, the little girl got up very, very early to watch a beautiful blonde maiden in a humongous poofy white dress marry a not-so-fine prince in a gorgeous spectacle in a faraway place called England.

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Princess-in-training. I think this might have been around 9, but honestly, I have no idea. None of the photos have any info on the back of them. Let’s just go with this one, which is embarrassing enough. Also, someday I’ll get unlazy enough to scan my photos in, instead of taking a photo of a photo. (#glare)

Everybody on the television was lining the streets, cheering and wearing jaunty party hats and waving Union Jack flags as very refined-looking people in brightly colored jackets and matching hats and red military uniforms made their way towards a giant, Gothic church in horse-drawn carriages. There were trumpets. And commemorative tea mugs and towels. And a big fancy photo op, complete with a kiss on a palace balcony.

It was nothing short of magical and about as far away from the reality of everyday life in a dusty West Texas trailer park as you could get.

And that was the day that I fell in love with England. Actually, obsessed is probably a more accurate word.

I become obsessed. Completely, singularly focused on all things British with the ultimate goal being to one day live there. And lo and behold, thanks to a student work visa, I did get to go live in London for six months in 1997.

London Poe

And it was freaking awesome. Everything I dreamed it would be. Believe it or not, England totally lived up to all the unrealistic expectations I had created. I embraced it whole-heartedly. I bought a bike and on my days off, I would take it on the train out to small country towns in Essex and Kent and Surrey and would ride around just gawking at the adorable small towns and the patchwork quilt fields. I joined my friends Jill and Gil on their drive through the Lake District to Edinburgh, then rode the train back to London. I went to museums, stately homes, churches, West End matinees for musicals. I sat for hours in pubs, just listening to the accents all around me. I went to Glastonbury and got stuck in the ridiculous mud. I made amazing friends, I made bad decisions, I made so, so, so many memories.

I loved it all.

So when my personal travel planner XFE asked if I wanted to go to London for my birthday, oh, and sorry it’s not as exotic or as exciting as Australia or Japan or any of the other places he’s taken me for my birthday the last several years, I jumped at it. It’s not every day that you get a chance to travel back in time and see a place again with completely different eyes.

And this visit to London was equally, if not more, awesome than my first stay. Because this time, I had a co-conspirator to share it all with. I got to introduce XFE to all my old friends and favorite places. We went to see a show and we didn’t have to line up for the cheap seats. We visited new places and sat in pubs–and also, really, really nice restaurants–for hours on end listening to the accents around us. And I got to make a ton of new memories with my beloved, ever-patient schmoops, who had to hear me wax nostalgic and tell the same damn stories over and over again, all of which started with, “When I lived here 19 years ago….”

Not pictured: my schmoopies, XFE, who prefers not to be on the blog. And no, that’s not him sleeping at the theater on the bottom right. That’s a grumpy old man who scolded me for having my coat sleeve hanging over his seat arm. 

Even if I have (technically) outgrown princesses and fairytales, and I no longer fantasize about living in England, I still pinch myself every day that I have my own super-fine prince–with a very nice mini-castle here in Northern Virginia–who has created this wonderful fairytale life for both of us to share and enjoy.

Back to the Basque

Hola, mis gentes. And Happy New Year! (Where did 2015 go? Seriously. I can’t believe it’s a new year. I’m woefully unprepared.)

My travel-compadre-for-life and I have had a sort of travel rule for the last 10 years, which is: “Let’s go to new places. Places that neither of us have ever been.” After all, the world is a large, wonderful and varied place. We’ve hardly exhausted our options. There’s always some place new to go.

It’s not a hard and fast rule, but it’s one we’ve generally followed.

Poe at soccer
Me at an Athletic Bilboa game in 2012. Per XFE’s preference, he’s cropped out. Except the tip of his thumb.

The thing is, as we get to a stage where we’ve done quite a bit of traveling, we find ourselves wanting to go back to places we’ve already been. We want a second chance at something, maybe it was another day at that secluded beach in Vieques or a trip to the Big Easy without stitches.

And so, in December, while the rest of the world was buying Christmas presents and attending holiday parties, we instead found ourselves revisiting the Basque region of northern Spain. We just had to go to our favorite pinxto place in San Sebastian again. And recreate that wonderful day of soccer in Bilboa. And stay in my favorite hotel again in my favorite European city.

La Cuchara san Telmo
A nice moody picture of La Cuchara San Telmo, our favorite restaurant in San Sebastian.

You know what? It wasn’t exactly the same as that first magical trip, when everything was unknown and each experience was completely new. For example, the late-night kebab place next to our hotel in Bilboa wasn’t as delectable as it was when we went there after the soccer match on our last trip (for one thing, I had had quite a few gin and tonics that evening….). But it was pretty fantastic, and in some ways, even better.

We did go to our favorite pinxto place in San Sebastian again. Twice. And it was freaking phenomenal. (Don’t worry: We also hit up a whole bunch of new-to-us places as well. We ate all of the pinxtos. All of them.)

My favorite hotel upgraded us to an even more ridiculously luxurious room than last time.

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This was our terrace. Just ours. We didn’t have to share it or anything.

We pretty much recreated that wonderful day of pub crawling and soccer in Bilboa, not once, but twice, watching two Athletic Bilboa games in the team’s fancy new stadium. We even got tickets to the swanky VIP suite for one of the games, which has completely spoiled me for any future soccer matches. Plus, we saw a match in San Sebastian, so we basically tripled our soccer gluttony compared to our 2012 visit.

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It was all slightly familiar and comforting in a lot of ways. While it wasn’t what some travel guides would call a “journey of discovery,” it was great to cut through all the angst of getting somewhere and not knowing what you want to do first or where to go for dinner. The whole trip had a bit of nostalgia to it. Almost every sentence began with, “Well, when we were here last time…”

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Another XFE hand shot. I feel like we’ve been here before….

The world is a very big and varied place and there are plenty of places to go, but sometimes, going to a place you’ve been before offers up the opportunity to take a little trip down memory lane and revisit old favorites. After all, we don’t stay the same and neither do our favorite destinations. And that late-night kebab place deserves a second, more sober visit (but probably not a third visit. I think we’re good on that one).

Oysters, Pistols and Tipsy Walking in New Orleans

October is a very big month for me, both personally and professionally, and we celebrated some seriously huge milestones this past month. In fact, we were so busy celebrating them, that I didn’t even have time to write about them! So just consider this the first in a three-part series. Or something.

First up was the birthday of my manpanion-for-life, XFE. We don’t usually travel for XFE’s birthday, what with Porktober® and all that being right around the corner. BUT, we decided to jump on some low fares and cash in some Starwood points for a quick weekend trip.

So, we went to New Orleans and acted like we were about 15 years younger than either of us are. We stayed up late, drank too much, ate too much, talked to random strangers, bought expensive artwork.

It's entirely appropriate to make finger pistols when buying artwork.
It’s entirely appropriate to make finger pistols when buying artwork.

Yeah, a little souvenir for my new office and to commemorate my first year of self-employment.

We saw this subtle little work of art while walking by the Hall Barnett Gallery on Chartres Street. They’re an LED reproduction of a neon piece called “Guns.” Supposedly, there were only three produced—one owned by the gallery owner, Holly, another owned by a couple in New York and then us.

They were absolutely unnecessary, but we just couldn’t walk away from them. I mean…neon guns? Hello? And they change colors! There’s even a remote control. We negotiated them down a teeny bit, but the final number still made me need a stiff drink afterwards.

(Update: They were damaged during shipping, so now we’re waiting for a new set. Or is it pair? Fingers crossed. Or is it guns crossed?)

Boo. Hiss.
Boo. Hiss.

Luckily, we were staying right across the street from the gallery at the W French Quarter. This is the infamous hotel where I cracked my head open five years ago. Actually, almost five years to the day. I know this because that super helpful Memories feature on Facebook popped up with that FrankenPoe picture right before we left.

Honestly, none of this is cute. The pout, the bags under the eyes, the airport bathroom stall. Oh, or the stitches.
Honestly, none of this is cute. The pout, the bags under the eyes, the airport bathroom stall. Oh, or the stitches.

Besides slippery dangerous showers, the W French Quarter is also home to SoBou, which is a Brennan’s establishment and therefore means: 25 cent martinis at lunch. (Note: if you ever do go this option—and you absolutely should—do not get one of the Kool-Aid colored/flavored pre-mixed martinis like a Cosmo. Get a classic, dirty martini).

I will say, we had a few issues with the W Hotel this time out. We were using points, cash and upgrades to cover our three-night stay, and they basically wanted us to move rooms each night. There was much finagling until they finally upgraded us to a carriage house studio type room that had definitely seen better days and had a non-working hot tub surrounded by cigarette butts on the patio.

W New Orleans Collage

The concierge also dropped the ball on the champagne I had ordered, despite the fact that I had filled out all the paperwork and called twice to order it and confirm that it would be in our room. There’s a whole litany of other annoyances (including XFE’s pet peeve: old, snagged towels with threads hanging everywhere), but, at least no one ended up in the emergency room, so that’s a half-hearted win. Sorry, W French Quarter.

We fared better in the eating category. On our first day we did a very scientific comparison/survey of two famous oyster places: Felix and Acme. We ate approximately four dozen oysters between the two places—raw, grilled and Bienville. XFE joked that we should have been pooping pearls after all that. Final consensus: Acme won by a shell sliver and honestly, it was their boo fries that had us coming back again the two days later (French fries covered with roast beef gravy and cheese).

Let's see, from left to right: oysters, oyster place, oysters, and oyster place.
Let’s see, from left to right: oysters, oyster place, oysters, and oyster place.

When we returned to Acme, we were not alone. We dragged along a couple of new friends we met during what was perhaps our very favorite tourist activity ever: the Drink and Learn Tour. We’ve been on a lot of tours in a lot of places, but this particular tour was hands down the best tour we’ve ever been on (and….didn’t take any pictures of. What can I say? I was too busy enjoying it).

The owner/tour guide, Elizabeth Pearce is a drink historian, fantastic historian, and an all-around hoot. You meet up (at a bar, naturally) and you receive a small, crossbody cooler containing four color-coded drinks. Then you take a short walk, stop, take a sip of your drink, and learn about the colorful history of New Orleans through adult beverages. Everything from how and why rum punch represents the early melting-pot days of the Crescent City to how praline liquor helped female slaves buy their freedom. It was so entertaining and we both learned a ton.

Then we went and got oysters and beer because that’s what you do in New Orleans. Or at least, that’s what we do there.*

(*We did a bunch of other galivanting and tomfoolery, but this is a family blog, so better left unsaid.)

New Orleans Collage

Cambodian Tuk Tuks

Cambodian tuk tuks
Cambodian tuk tuks from above

We had a ritual when we were in Siem Reap.

Well, it’s sort of a ritual we have whenever we travel, really.

It goes like this: Run around like crazy people most of the day, soaking in all the history and culture and sights we can lay our eyes on, make comments on all the assorted smells and sounds, file them all away into our jumbled brains. Compare. Contrast. Compare. Contrast.

Then head back to the hotel in the late afternoon for a swim, a shower, some downtime. Get dressed  and head down to the hotel bar for a drink and a round of dominoes before dinner.

For the most part, this routine in Siem Reap was the same as on any of our other travels. What made it different was the going to dinner part. Because then my very favorite part of the evening would occur: the tuk tuk ride.

Cambodian tuk tuks

Tuk tuks are everywhere in Cambodia, and we rode them in both Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, but my favorites were the ones in Siem Reap, where frugal travellers and bohemian student types would take them back and forth to the temples and/or Pub Street. A tuk tuk is kind of like a rickshaw. It’s basically a scooter with a covered seat attached to the back like a two-wheeled trailer. The sides are open, and there’s a roof overhead to shield you from rain or sun.

Cambodian tuk tuks

Each evening we’d go to the front of our hotel and the doorman would call us a tuk tuk. The sun would be setting and the gardeners would be lighting the lanterns in the trees, as some garish yet faded tuk tuk would pull up. To go from our hotel — Le Meridien — to downtown Siem Reap was about a mile, and would cost us $2-$3.

We’d pull out of the circular drive, pulling along the dusty shoulder of the road until our driver could find a gap in the traffic and nose his way in, the put-put of dozens of other tuk tuks and the chattering of the riders blending together.

We’d slowly inch our way along Charles De Gaulle road, past dozens of barely lit, open-air food carts, surrounded by customers and families sitting on plastic chairs. The smoke from the cooking would mix with the dust from the road and create a haze.

Siem Reap cooking

There did not appear to be any road rules or very many traffic signals. Drivers would just inch forward, give way, inch forward, hold back. Surprisingly, there really wasn’t much honking of horns, although, when there was, it was that tiny little non-threatening scooter horn.

We’d drive past a large circular, non-working fountain that nonetheless drew crowds of people sitting on its ledge and socializing, or picnicking on the sliver of grass between the fountain and the road.

tuk tuk ride

We’d make our way past what I think was a school, and next to that, a large building with an advertisement on the side advertising either an upcoming fight or a political race. I’m not really sure. Then the Angkor National Museum and the Royal Residence, where the air would finally clear of smoke and dust, and the smell of frangipani would hang in the humid air around you for a couple of blocks. This was my favorite part. I would breathe deep and try to fill my lungs with it, close my eyes and just hear the putter of the tiny scooter’s engine.

While waiting for passengers, the drivers would congregate and eye people walking by. We noticed that most of them wore pants, even though it was unbearably hot. We speculated it was to protect their legs from flying bugs, although a small bug hitting your leg at approximately three miles an hour seems very unlikely to cause permanent damage.

The drivers did, however, like to pull their shirts up over their bellies in a sort of half-shirt situation that reminded me of when I was a kid and my sister and I used to pull our t-shirt tails through our neck hole to make a sassy halter top.

Cambodian tuk tuk drivers
Cambodian tuk tuk drivers

Some nights we’d ride along the river, watching the traffic on the other side going the opposite direction, enjoying the brief breezes before turning down a small road or alley where there was no breeze and inevitably, a traffic jam.

Phnom Penh tuk tuk traffic jam
Phnom Penh tuk tuk traffic jam

On our way home from dinner, we’d often take the same or similar route, and the magic was still there. The controlled chaos of hundreds of little tuk tuks marching along like ants, ferrying tourists back and forth in the warm night air heavy with frangipani.

Siem Reap tuk tuks

Cambodia Better Bring It

Ugh. I’ve been slacking on the blogging. I know. The thing is, I had to run all over town to find shorts. In February. In D.C. where the high temps this month have regularly hovered around “freezing your leg hairs off.”

(Also, I’ve had a lot of big deadlines to hit in the past couple of weeks. But let’s just blame the shorts, shall we?)

But we’re leaving this week for our annual Poe Super Birthday Extravaganza Trip to Far Flung Destinations–and this one is going to be a doozy.

This tradition began in 2008, when XFE was in Rome for work right before my birthday. We cashed in some miles and I met him and some of his co-workers over there, and had a merry old time eating lots of pasta, going to lots of museums and drinking lots of wine. And, of course, going to a soccer game (a tradition now whenever we travel to Europe).

The next year, XFE and his co-workers were in Japan, again, right around my birthday. In fact, I spent my actual birthday on the flight coming home. We did not see a soccer game but we did go to the opening day of a sumo wrestling match in Osaka. And ate lots of sushi, including sushi for breakfast after visiting the Tokyo Fish Market.

Tokyo Fish Market
That’s a lot of frozen sushi, which actually sounds quite gross.
Gambate
I don’t know, how do you sumo??

Every year, XFE has outdone himself, planning a bigger and better birthday trip. For my 40th, it was Australia. Two years ago, it was Peru. Last year, South Africa where I stroked a cheetah (YES, a cheetah!) and ate lamb’s brain at one of the world’s best restaurants.

South Africa Safari
Yep, just chilling with an elephant. No biggie.
South Africa cheetah preserve
That’s a cheetah, with my pudgy paw all up on it.

This year, it’s Cambodia (with stopovers in Singapore and Hong Kong). I know, right? I would not argue with anyone who says that I’m spoiled. I would lose that argument every damn time.

Oh, pardon me, I meant to say, the Kingdom of Cambodia. That is, apparently, the official name. Pretty bitchin’.

I am beyond excited. But I will say, it’s hella hot and humid in those places right now. So, I needed a couple of pairs of shorts, particularly since we’ll be visiting the very dusty, very hot, Angkor Wat. I want to make sure I have as much exposed pasty-white skin as possible to attract all of the mosquitoes in the area, and keep them away from my beloved trip planner, XFE. Love = sweating + risking yellow fever.

I don’t really know what to expect from this trip. I always like to say that we actually get to take a trip three times: once during all the excitement and anticipation of the planning stage. The second when we’re actually there, soaking it all in. And the third when I get to come back and write about it all. In fact, those amazing birthday trips (along with the non-birthday timed trips we tend to take as well) is what led to the creation of this blog. I wanted to document and remember all the amazing places we’ve been together. Even Peru, where my intestines tried to escape my body repeatedly.

Me at Machu Picchu
You can’t tell, but this not-so-young lady is wondering where the nearest bathroom is.

But because of the fluctuating nature of freelancing, I haven’t really gotten to take that first part of the trip. A lot of the planning has been carried out by XFE. He’s the one who found a spa for us to go get massages our first day in Siem Reap. He’s the one who found and arranged a fun-sounding food tour in Hong Kong called the Won-Ton-A-Thon.

We’ve actually put off a lot of the planning specifics, figuring we’ll use our 20-hour flight on this ridiculousness (YASSS to miles travel!) to figure out more details. Between stuffing our gobs with caviar and bossing our butler around, of course.

How on earth can they be gazing into each other’s eyes when there’s so many other things to see on this airplane??

Then I realized — when I was working in an office and not very happy with my work environment, I would spend a lot of my free time daydreaming and researching our upcoming trips. Now that I’m my own boss, I seem to be a bit more focused and productive. Hence, no daydreaming and a lack of blog posts, as well.

Which makes this trip kind of exciting. I haven’t ruminated it to death. I’ll be seeing everything with fresh eyes. Sure, we might miss some neighborhood or hot restaurant that we would have known about if I’d just spent more time on TripAdvisor, but I’m looking forward to just being blown away by the strangeness and the newness and the overall foreignness.

I haven’t even really thought out my packing list. Which is why, while the rest of the greater Washington D.C. area was out chipping ice off their sidewalks on Sunday, I was running around a mall trying to find sweltering-weather appropriate gear.

And, while I’m typing this, I’m supposed to be packing. XFE has been packed since Saturday.

Guess I better get to it.

Hotel Crashing: W Hotel in Seminyak, Bali

It’s cold here in D.C., y’all. Like, eye-tearing, nose-running, teeth-achingly cold. Yes, the cold makes even your teeth hurt. It’s crazy.

And I won’t even get into my whole frozen fingers and toes situation.

So, with that in mind. I thought we might go back in time (to around August or so). Time to revisit someplace more forgiving and less frigid. Someplace where the gentle breezes warmly caressed our pale, pale, Northeastern skin. Ah, Bali.

Bali sunset
Bali sunset.

Our first couple of nights in Bali were spent at the W Hotel in Seminyak, a very fun and touristy little town down on the coast. Think lots of hotels, restaurants, bars, boutique stores.

We love W Hotels and have stayed in lots of them (including the one in Istanbul right after it opened. Oh, and the one in the French Quarter where I split my head open.), so we knew a bit what we were in for. And the W Hotel in Bali definitely lived up to the brand.

bag of beach goodies
Bag of beach goodies

Check in was smooth and easy. We cooled off with a cucumber/minty/lemony type drink and a wet cloth while they processed our upgrade to a private villa.

Reception at the W Hotel Bali
Reception at the W Hotel Bali

Then we went to our villa, opened the gate and saw all this.

private pool

private pool again

Private pool again again

Then we basically disappeared and barely emerged from our villa. And lived happily ever after.

The Villa at Bali W

I’m just kidding. Sort of. We did spend a lot of time in our room.

Room view at the W Hotel Bali

Bathroom at the W Hotel Bali

Oh, actually, our villa had two rooms to choose from. A master and then another, slightly less opulent room with two beds.

Second room at our villa

For just the two of us. Crazy.

Bar area between the rooms
Bar area between the rooms

But when we did leave our little bit of paradise, we found the W Hotel to be just gorgeous. And the staff were amazing. So friendly and helpful. We even had the GM come out and say goodbye to us as we were sadly leaving.

W Hotel Bali

W Hotel outdoor bar

W Hotel Bali deck bar

The perfect oasis. I would probably chop off one of my frostbitten ears to be in one of those loungers right now.

W Hotel Bali Private Villa loungers

It Wouldn’t Be Christmas Without Vegas and Sharks

Well, hello there, good lookin’.

I’m back from the non-stop holidaying extravaganza! As, I suppose, we all are, regrettably. Oh well. #TheStruggleIsReal

My main man-panion XFE took some time off during the holidays so we ate many, many great, decadent, meaty things, and drank many a delicious wine and cocktail (mostly made with gins-of-the-world, a current XFE obsession), and just generally loafed around competing with the cat on who could be more sloth-like.

You know who else loafs (loaves?) around? Sharks! Those guys are totally lazy.

Employee of the month.
Sharks may be lazy, but starfish are apparently hard workers.

You see, I spent an inordinate amount of 2012 deathly afraid of sharks. I thought they were these ferocious, teeth-grinding, people-killing machines. But through scuba diving the last couple of years, I’ve actually discovered that they’re kinda wimpy, and not really all that scary. (Ssshhh. Don’t tell them I said that?)

Just to confirm this suspicion, we went diving in the shark tank at Mandalay Bay over Christmas.

shark marketing

Because….Christmas, y’all. In Vegas. So….of course.

We had been on an aquarium dive before. In October, we went up to the National Aquarium in Baltimore and did the Atlantic Coral Reef tank dive there. It was….meh. We had to arrange and pick up our own gear (wetsuits, masks, booties, flippers), we did not actually get to see any of the aquarium (entry tickets had to be purchased separately for around $35 per adult), and the tank, while certainly nice, was a bit small. Plus, there was only one or two flesh-tearing aquatic creatures about, so it lacked a bit of pizzazz. (Actually, I don’t remember seeing any sharks, but the National Aquarium website says there are some, so I guess there were.)

But Mandalay Bay, my sweeties, is in Las Vegas and they bring a whole showmanship to their tank dives.

First, they take you and up to four guests on a tour of the Shark Reef Aquarium, which features over 2,000 animals. Our guide, Janna, showed us around the 14 exhibits, including jelly fish, piranhas, and a Komodo dragon. And of course, the shark tank, formally known as the Shipwreck Exhibit. The 1.3 million gallon tank has around 30 sharks, including sandtiger sharks, a couple of types of reef sharks, zebra sharks, and a Galapagos shark. The tank also has stingrays, sea turtles, a moray eel, and some crazy-looking sawfish.

Then they give you all the backstage tour, including and explanation of the filtration system and a stroll along the feeding platform that runs all above the shark tank. It’s very James Bond-ish.

That's Janna, our handler on the left. That's a bored shark on the lower right. You can almost see him yawning.
That’s Janna, our handler on the left. That’s a bored shark on the lower right. You can almost see him yawning.

Then Janna whisked away our loved ones (in our case, XFE’s parents) to go back inside the main shark exhibit while you (the divers) get geared up in the locker rooms. And by geared up, I mean, wedge into the wetsuit and booties they provided and then shimmy into a 14-pound suit of chain mail. Yes. Chain mail. Because they want you to think there’s an element of danger here. Pretty crafty.

Once we were suitable geared up, the incredibly patient and kind team helped us wade into the small holding pool near the exhibit and we did a buoyancy check to make sure everything was working. We also had these ear pieces that were supposed to help us hear our diving guide but really just sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher. They did help grab our attention when she (I think her name was April?) was trying to point out something to us.

Meanwhile, they have a videographer recording the whole thing: the divers gearing up (luckily, they don’t include audio so you don’t hear our grunts and cussing), getting in the water, and the view of us from inside the exhibit. In addition, the dive guide had a Go-Pro which she used to record us in the water.

(And I WOULD have posted clips from the final video except WordPress wants me to upgrade my blog plan to $100 a year in order to do that, to which I must say, “hellz no.” Sorry, kids. No MP4 videos on the scrub version of WordPress.)

And, as you can see by the bits of video I’ve posted, the sharks do not give a shit. They couldn’t have been less interested in us. I feel fairly certain there was a greater chance of one of us divers getting some sort of uncontrollable sushi craving all of a sudden and biting one of them than any of us even getting a tiny head nudge from any of the 30 sharks in that tank.

Here’s how the imaginary shark discussion goes in my mind:

Zebra Shark: “Ugh, these guys again.”

Sandtiger Shark: “I know, right?”

Zebra Shark: “I don’t know why they come down here and bother us if they’re not going to even bring us some tasty chum, like a fisherman’s hand or a small child or something. They’re really just wasting our time.”

Galapagos Shark: “And did you see that chick with the googly eyes? What’s her problem? Did you see how she was looking at me, all terrified and whatnot? As if. I can totally tell by that wetsuit that that girl has been eating way to much cheese and everybody knows I’m lactose intolerant.”

White-Tip Reef Shark: “Yeah, and did you see that one dude go right up to Larry’s face when he was trying to sleep? All he wants to do is take a little nap after swimming around in endless circles and what does that moron do? Swim right up and insist on getting his picture taken with him. Geeze.”

Sandtiger Shark: “Alright, I’m out of here. I’m going to go hide out at the top of this ship bow thing until they’re gone. By my limited edition shark Swatch watch, they’ll probably be in here about another 40 minutes, which gives me just enough time to watch an episode of Shark Tank OnDemand. Get it? See what I did there? Shark Tank? That’s comedy gold.”

End scene. 

Cheesepuff in a wetsuit
Cheesepuff in a wetsuit

All told, we were in the shark exhibit for around 45 minutes. It was pretty great. Unlike the National Aquarium where we were allowed to swim around on our own in pairs, we had to stick with our dive guide, but that was no big deal. We got to hunt in the sand for sharks’ teeth, get up close to a sleeping (resting?) reef shark, dodge sea turtles, and wave to the kids inside the exhibit.

When we got out, we unloaded our gear, hit the showers, and met our guests out by the aquarium store.

shark chompers

Even though I didn’t exactly test my mettle or stare down danger, I can’t say enough great things about the fine folks at Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay. It was first-class attentiveness from start to finish. The very thoughtful aquarium staff even had snacks and water set out for you in the locker rooms, which was a nice touch. They also gave us little glass vials of the shark teeth we’d collected (or, in my case, coral because I apparently cannot tell the difference underwater), and certificates to commemorate the day. And, about a week later, an awesome 15 minute video, which includes a very soothing-spa-music-soundtrack.

Maybe that’s why the sharks are so docile. Nonstop soothing spa music.