Before You Go Cross Country...

...There are 3 things you need to know. Learn them. Accept them. Move forward. 

1. You will lose things.   This can encompass many variations on loss: something is lost, or stolen, due to absentmindedness, forgetfulness, or relying on others. The quick fix: Keep copies, and don't bring anything you can't live without.

2. You will get lost.   And that's okay. Some of the best memories and funniest stories come from tales of getting lost. Organization is key, but that can only take you so far. Spontaneity is a big part of the excitement of travel.

3. You will get tired.   No matter how jazzed up you are about your trip, after several days - or maybe at some point every day - you will get tired. You are still excited about your trip, but that level of energy and excitement is unsustainable in the long run. As quickly as you may recognize this statement to be fact now, it is surprising how often people forget or choose not to plan "days off." Don't skip out on these days off. You won't just power through it and come out on top. If you skip the rest you need one day, it will come back later. And although you might be in the car most of the day, that still saps energy! The concentration needed to stay between two lines on a road, to avoid traffic and bad drivers... these things are mentally exhausting. Bottom line: There will come a time when you will need a vacation from your vacation. Plan for it.

So excited to be in Pisa!

  1. You will lose things. 
  2. You will get lost. 
  3. You will get tired. 

  1. Get organized. 
  2. Stay organized. 
  3. Plan days off. 

Amsterdam, Venice of the North

After a full day in Brussels we arrived late in the capital city of the Netherlands. Although it was a Monday night, the streets of Amsterdam were alive with young people. Our hostel on Warmoesstraat was a short walk from the central train station. In a coffee shop down the road I rolled my first joint of Chocolope marijuana. Life was good.

The next morning, Marc and I searched for a different kind of coffee shop where we could find breakfast before our walking tour. The weather was perfect, and we found a bakery easily. Points for Amsterdam. Our New Europe Walking Tour Guide, Geert, was outgoing and his mind was filled with ridiculously detailed information about the city, the culture, the architecture, the history... everything. New Europe walking tours are a great choice in any city. Because the guides work for tips only, they are motivated to give you a highly entertaining and informative introduction to any European city you may find yourself in. Geert talked to us about how the land is incredibly flat (the majority of the city is at or below sea level), the people are incredibly tall (the average Dutch man is over 6 feet tall), and the famous canals are filled with bicycles (there are around one million bicycles in Amsterdam, and nearly 25,000 end up in the canals yearly).

Amsterdam has a fascinating history, especially since the Dutch Golden Age when it was the most important port in the world. The Dutch, and their philosophy on life as reflected in their public policy, are fantastically interesting. They stood up to the Nazis, treated drug addiction as a social problem instead of a crime, and allowed students to re-build the Jewish quarter of the city. They are just super cool, laid back, friendly and open, innovative, and forward thinking. If the language was any easier to learn, I think many more people would move there permanently.

Coffee and a danish pastry by the canals.

Take the tour to hear the story of the bronze breast near Oude Kerk (the Old Church)

Thanks, Geert!

Our tour ended by the floating flower market, and as usual on walking tours, our guide advertised two pub crawls that night. While we mulled it over, we spent the afternoon getting to know the city. First was the Hash, Marijuana and Hemp Museum, then shopping at the Waterloopleinmarkt, a flea market in one of the central squares of Amsterdam near the Amstel river. Ultimately the lure of the Red Light District pub crawl was too great, and we decided to join in with one of the girls we had met on the tour: Kirstie. The pub crawl took us to bar after bar, past coffee shops and sex shops, getting drunker and happier all the time.

The next morning, we went to the City Library with Kirstie. If IKEA and Apple had a baby, it would probably look like the Amsterdam centraal bibliotheek. I thought it was great. Then, rather than atone for our sins or give in to the hangovers we had spent the entire night cultivating, Marc and I ventured over to the Heineken Brewery. 

Kirstie, Marc, and I;

The view from the library (centraal bibliotheek - read more here)

The Heineken Brewery tour is something I definitely recommend. Maybe we should have spent our last day at the Rijksmuseum or the Anne Frank House, but our enfeebled brains would only allow us Heineken. I don't regret it. At all.

We came, we saw, we imbibed. And that was all for Amsterdam. It was on to Berlin!

Side Note: A new law that restricts the sale of marijuana to tourists was passed and went into effect in three southern provinces of the Netherlands in May. The city of Amsterdam will have to obey the new law, which states that only Dutch residents may purchase cannabis, beginning on January 1, 2013. To read about the legal changes being made in the Netherlands, check out this NY Times article.

Dog Days of Summer

Why did I choose to spend the dog days of summer in hot and humid central Florida?




Oh, yeah... That's why. 

And apparently I got out in the nick of time (yesterday). To those in the path of Tropical Storm Isaac, my thoughts are with you. My heart goes out to my fellow Americans who are acutely aware of the devastation these natural disasters may bring. My thoughts are with you. For what it's worth. 

All of the Pretty Lights

I had my first real rock star moment last week when I was guest listed for a huge concert at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado. As in, for free, as in, I'm with the band. Well, practically (not really). 

My good friend and occasional neighbor* Vincent D'Annunzio has been touring with Lee Fields as his lead guitarist. He rocks pretty hard. They both do. On August 17th Lee Fields and the Expressions would be opening for Pretty Lights at Red Rocks, and Vince put yours truly on the guest list. If it weren't for the spastic little victory dance I did in the front seat of Marc's car, you might have thought I was a real rock star. Or a rock star girlfriend, or a passable Penny Lane. Or anyone cool. 

Anyway, it was for this reason that as the sun set that Friday night, Marc and I were tailgating at the most badass venue in North America. Minutes before the concert was due to start, we joined the sea of hipsters and stoners headed for the entrance. We heard the first guitar riff echoing off the red sandstone walls as the sky turned from pink to blue. I looked, and there was Vince on stage, a live feed of his hands on the guitar strings projected on the big screen to everyone in the audience. I thought that their performance was incredible, and while I may be biased the other 9,449 people in the crowd cheering like crazy could not have been wrong. 

I had such an incredible night. Thank you Vince, thank you Lee Fields & the Expressions, thank you to the Grouch and Eligh, and THANK YOU to Derek Smith, aka Pretty Lights, for that amazing set that lasted for hours. You, sir, are an inspiration. 

* He travels a lot. He's everyone's neighbor.



After a three and a half hour drive from Nashville, our bodies were telling us that we needed food, hearty food, and quickly. Memphis answered with a half rack of ribs, fried catfish, french fries, cole slaw, baked beans, Texas toast, and chicken fingers with barbecue sauce. And then, that city decided to show off by giving us the whole meal, including our two sixteen-ounce beers, for around $30.

It was called the “Best Meal on Beale,” and I’d be scared if it wasn’t, because honestly, find food any better than this and I’d refuse to get in the car to Oklahoma City. We're talking about barbecue sauce so good I was dipping my fingers into it by the end. The fries were just a vehicle for the sauce. We're talking ribs that fall off the bone so easily a day-old baby could separate the meat from the bone with it’s chubby, newborn fingers. Really, the perfection of that barbecue made knives in general seem obsolete…

[Visit the Blues City Café at the corner of 2nd Street and Beale]


It was Elvis Week in Memphis, uh huh. This is a statue of the King on Beale Street. Ahh, Beale Street. That's a fun place. Only a 10 to 15 minute walk from our hotel (the Comfort Inn on Front Street, which I recommend) depending on whether we wanted to walk through town or along the Mississippi River.

The $5, 32 oz. beers on Beale! Marc was psyched. 


Gibson: American Made, World Played. The factory in Memphis is the third Gibson factory, the first being in Bozeman, Montana (acoustic guitars) and the second in Nashville (electric guitars, including the famous Les Paul model, and custom-made guitars). For $10, you can take a 45 minutes guided tour of the factory in Memphis, which was specifically designed to accommodate tours. We donned the mandatory safety goggles and entered the factory. 

Walking between the yellow lines on a sawdust-covered factory floor, we saw men sanding wooden guitar parts by hand, airbrush painters, wiring experts, and the sound check station. We saw Gibson guitars in every stage of assembly, which was especially interesting for the guitar-player and aspiring guitar-builder among us (Marc). I was just as fascinated, even though I am simply a music lover. 

After a great couple of days in Memphis, it was finally time to make a big push westward. In one day, we blew through Arkansas and the majority of Oklahoma. In Clinton we rested for the night before making the final leg of our journey, past mounds of rust red soil in east Oklahoma, through the northern handle of Texas and the northwest corner of New Mexico, before arriving in Colorado Springs on Day 5.

I'll leave you with a song by Fleet Foxes, a small part of our road trip playlist. 
"... to the Blue Ridge Mountains, over near Tennessee..."

Le Bateau Ivre

Un homme âgé peint avec soin les mots d'un poème du 19ème siècle sur le mur de la rue Férou.

Photos courtesy of Allison Hiss, French Language Masters candidate at the University of Alabama //
Taken in the Latin Quarter of Paris, Summer 2012

Kew, That Was Close

Or, Why Botanical Gardens are Terrifying

I know without even asking that there are those of you who think botanical gardens are harmless, even pleasant or maybe delightful.  A place to take your mother-in-law for a nice afternoon or to exit the hubbub of the city. But OH, you would be wrong. I learned the truly sinister nature of these expansive acres of land dedicated to biology, these enormous gatherings of plants when, in May 2010, my friend Brittany and I took our lives in our hands. We visited Kew... Gardens... dun dun dunnnnn.

Furry, velvety, waxy, drooping, fragrant, vibrant, edible... vines, flowers, trees, shrubs, in various stages of growth and bloom. That is precisely what freaks me out about botanical gardens: these plants are all growing, and breathing, and alive. I mean, if they're not sentient yet, they're close. Some looked like they were from Jurassic Park, the small cousin of a plant that is capable of eating me. The creatures that survived and thrived here were exotic and strange, like the peacock with the brilliant blue head and the monster hens by the building containing the Marianna North paintings. Come with us on our journey through Kew Gardens, a "plant kingdom" creeping in on London from a current distance of less than ten miles.

That calm, smiling face was a facade! I was quaking in my boots Franco Sarto sandals. 

Don't get too close, Brit!

You may well wonder, "What is a chicken doing all the way out here, in Kew?" But take a look at it's monstrous feet. No wonder it thrives there.

We climbed into the air, sixty feet high onto the Treetop Walkway... the trees had anticipated our escape attempt and outgrown the path. 

 Gorgeous flowers in the Temperate House (they almost have me fooled).

Brit, looking nonchalant. She does not yet realize that two innocent-looking plants have crawled behind her ear... 


NB: This article is obviously a joke. I am not deathly afraid of nature. I do highly recommend a visit to the Kew Royal Botanical Gardens if you ever find yourself in London for more than a couple of days. Visit Kew's website for more information.

Day Trip: Brussels

Until now, one of the gaping holes in my travel log has been the two weeks I spent backpacking through Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Berlin, Hamburg, and other parts of Germany. With the exception of my recent post about Berlin, these stories have not been told. In my brief pause between epic domestic road trips, I will remedy that.

In May 2010 I met my friend Marc at the airport outside of Paris. Together we traveled for thirteen days through four countries with France-Germany-Benelux Eurail passes. A Eurail pass is a train pass that allows the holder to make an unlimited number of train journeys within a certain country or period of time. The type of pass is chosen based on the number of days of travel and the countries in which it is valid. My friend and I chose the [5 Day - 3 Country] combination pass. We planned to use it to travel from Paris to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Berlin, and then around Germany before heading to the airport in Frankfurt.

To get the most out of our passes, we decided to extend our layover in Belgium between Paris and Amsterdam. As soon as the train pulled into Midi station, we threw our suitcases into a locker (6€ for the day) and wandered unburdened into the streets of Brussels. We got off to a great start, walking twenty minutes in the wrong direction. We were deeply into a residential district before checking our map and realizing our mistake. False start aside, we still had a full visit and saw many major sights in Brussels in less than half a day.

Our first task was to find the one thing that would eliminate the stress of getting lost in a foreign city: Belgian beer. Le Grand Café on Anspachlaan in Bourse Beurs was just the place. Outdoor seating in Old Brussels, goblets of monastery-brewed beer, and bright sunlight. Ahhh, perfection.

Stress free! By the end of the day, I had a two tan lines on from these beer maiden braids...

Those were two-hand chalices, all right.

Suitably fortified, we made the uphill walk to the beautiful and impeccably kept church of the patron saints of Brussels: St. Michael and St. Gudula. 

The St. Michael and St. Gudula Church at Treurenberg hill

At this point, we hit the far end of our circular path through the heart of Brussels: Warandepark. Strolling alongside the Rue Royale to the Palace, past the Palais Royale to the Mont-des-Arts... 

The Jacquemart Carillon clock on the Mont des Arts

The ornate guildhalls on la Grand Place/Grote Markt, the central square of Brussels

We did the usual things, everything you would expect in Belgium. We ate french fries, bought Belgian chocolate, and I, at least, admired the delicate lacework on display. Our afternoon ended in the 
Grand Place, or in Dutch, the Grote Markt. This is the central square in Brussels, crammed with golden-accented buildings and facades so full of windows that you can barely see the front walls. 

The one landmark we did not see was Manneken Pis, the statue of the peeing boy. Just another reason to go back someday.