Trail of Crumbs

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While down in Portland a few weeks ago, I met the lovely Jessica from WhyGoItaly. I can easily attest to her awesomeness (and I swear, even if she didn’t read my blog I would do so). She gave me some tips about our trip to Italy (which were profoundly helpful – but that, as they now say, is another post), and I asked her for some Portland suggestions, as I had the day free.

The strange thing about Portland, we noted, is that there isn’t a lot to do. Well, that’s not entirely true – obviously, there’s good shopping (tax-free! Whoo-hoo!), a rich night life, and a museum or two. But in terms of attactions or notable landmarks to visit (a’la Seattle’s Space Needle or San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge) there aren’t really any. Instead, it seems that the thing to do in Portland is eat.

The food scene in Portland is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. The place is rife with restaurants, and the cultural landscape and competition demand that they be good. Like, really good. Like, this-is-the-best-thing-I’ve-ever-had-in-my-mouth-(that’s-what-she-said) good. Like … you get the idea, right?

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Let’s talk about being healthy.

(Cue sound of people getting up from their computers and stampeding towards the nearly door.)

Well, goodness. I’ll admit, I wasn’t expecting a hugely positive reaction, but the gazelle-like sprint for the door was a little shocking. Anywho, yes, it’s kind of a mundane and boring topic, but I feel like it’s one that needs to be mentioned – being healthy while on the road is tough. If you travel only occasionally, and your vacation also happens to be your vacation from watching your diet, then it’s no problem. You can gorge yourself on margaritas and cupcakes and margarita cupcakes. And life will be good.

But for those of us who travel for more than a few weeks out of the year (I know, I know – rough life), eating with abandon isn’t really an option. It will catch up with you. As as you find yourself at home for a brief break between trips, you might have an exchange with your spouse that you’d never thought you’d have. Something along the lines of …

“God, I am so happy that we’re eating at home tonight.”

“Me, too!”

“Sweetie, what would you say if we went vegetarian for a while?”

“OMG – I was thinking the exact same thing!”

Yes, that exchange happened. And in my home. And no, those lines were not uttered by people who I promptly kicked out of my house. They came out of my mouth and that of my husband.

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Dinner reservations have been made. I rummaged through my closet, pulled out an array of dresses, tossed half of them back in, pulled out some different ones, and think I finally decided on an outfit.

Later, I’ll start the 2-6 hour depilatory process required of all Italian women before going out on a date. Because tonight? Tonight is going to be fun.

It’s the day after Valentine’s Day, after all.

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The nice thing about the amount that Rand and I travel is that it’s made me less fussy about things.

No, really. It has.

What? Why are you laughing?

I’m serious. I’m far less picky and difficult about things.

STOP LAUGHING.

Okay, okay, fine – I’m still difficult about some things. Certain members of my family think I’m an over-privileged brat because a few weeks back, the following expression escaped my lips:

“There is absolutely no way I’m flying cross-country on a red-eye in coach.”

Seriously, who said that? It’s like I was temporarily possessed by someone who was raised in an upper-middle class family. But those weird instances aside, I try to keep my travel expectations within reason.

Take hotel rooms, for instance.

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I feel like, in my honest account of Sofia, I’ve been a bit hard on the town. This was not my intention. But whenever a tourist walks through a city, the town is laid bare: all of the good and bad it has to offer can be seen. The locals simply shrug off the negative (We Seattlites don’t even carry umbrellas anymore, so impervious are we of the rain.), but the tourists? The tourists are harsh critics.

And so, before I cause any more hurt feelings or misunderstandings, I will admit to two things before I get to the heart of this post.

  1. I ate a chocolate chip cookie for breakfast. This is irrelevant to my day in Sofia, but I feel guilty about it, so I’m owing up to it. It was awesome.
  2. I had a nice time in downtown Sofia on my own, despite having been seriously freaked out about it..

It helped that I was able to meet up with Rand and some locals for lunch – including one fellow in particular who was incredibly helpful. He needed to catch a bus downtown, so he walked me through the important parts of Sofia, putting things in context for me and telling me where to go. He also let me know that while there were a few places that he wouldn’t advise me to visit alone at night, during the day, within the downtown core, I’d pretty much be fine (the same can be said of most towns I visit.)

He was my savior that day, and gave direction to my wanderings. And, jerk that I am, I can’t remember his name.

So let’s just call him the Batman.

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Since Batman was from Bulgaria, and had lived in Sofia a while, he knew the city well. Also, I’m pretty sure the phrase “Batman was from Bulgaria” has never been used before (I checked. It hasn’t been).

My first stop was The Church of St. George, to which the Batman kindly walked me. It’s believed to be the oldest building in Sofia, dating back to the 4th century CE. It’s smack-dab in the middle of a courtyard, surrounded by other buildings (including the Sheraton, which I was told was not as nice as the hotel in which we stayed, but very tourist-friendly). Seeing the ancient building amidst all the newer ones is a bit confusing. It’s the architectural equivalent of seeing Phyllis Diller at a Justin Bieber concert – thoroughly entertaining, and you’ll be glad you saw it, but still … weirdly out-of-place.

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"You enjoy your ride? No? Too bad. You pay anyway."

Sometimes, you get taken for a ride, in every respect.

I’ll be honest: when Rand and I first arrived in Bulgaria, I was a little freaked. It was the first time in a very long while that I felt really and truly out-of-my-element while traveling. We’re usually pretty tame in our travels: we tend to stick to Europe, or countries where English is predominantly spoken. Failing that, we’ll be in a  country where we can get by on Rand’s minimal German, my Italian, or my miserable Spanish. In any of those situations, we never really feel like fish out of water.

But Bulgaria? That was another story.

I was petrified that, in this former Soviet country, we were going to get robbed, or beaten up, or swindled, or some combination therein. Fortunately, we only really got swindled, by one of the many rip-off artist cabbies that float around the city.

Before I tell you the tale, I would like to kindly note to my husband that I am not, in any way shape or form saying, “I told you so.”

Though man, if I wanted to, I totally could.

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I’ve been alluding to the experience of which I’m about to tell you for a while now. And I’d put it off for the last few weeks, because, frankly, I was waiting for it to become funny. After all, nearly everything awful and travel-related becomes hilarious after enough time, right? Like when my friend’s luggage was lost and she ended up wearing her 15-year-old daughter’s purple skinny jeans around town. When she finally caved and bought a replacement pair of trousers, her luggage miraculously appeared.

That’s funny.

My nightmare of a hotel stay in Ashland has not reached that point just yet (I am convinced that if I wait until it becomes funny, we will be long dead). However, my blood pressure has finally returned to normal, nearly two weeks later. I am no longer waking up in a cold sweat, no longer frantically feeling the need to pack up my bag every ten minutes and change rooms. I’ve stopped removing dog hairs from my clothing – though long after they were gone, I continued to do so, continued scratching my skin, my brain unable to accept that I was not, in fact, covered in pet dander.

Yes, two weeks after our anniversary trip to the Plaza Inn and Suites at Ashland Creek, I have nearly recovered from the experience. And with a calm and clear head, I would like to tell you about it.

And why you should not, under any circumstances, stay there. (Unless, of course, you are a masochist. In that case, go for it, because THIS PLACE WILL MAKE YOU UTTERLY MISERABLE.) (more…)

My friend Lauren came up to see me a few weeks ago for my birthday. She hopped on a plane and flew up to Seattle from San Francisco, for no other reason than to hang out. The subsequent geekery that ensued was neither planned nor expected. Lauren is from New York: she’s feisty and direct. I’d like to think that I know her – and her likes and dislikes – rather well.

And yet, and yet, and yet … When I asked her what she wanted to do while visiting Seattle, and her only response was “The Sci-Fi Museum“, I found myself quite surprised. Ditto to when Rand and I returned home from an outing to find Lauren sitting on the couch watching Serenity. People are complicated. Sometimes the girl in the leather jacket and the Brazilian blow-out is a total science fiction enthusiast. A geek of epic proportions. It is surprising and delightful, and there’s a lesson to be learned in all of it.

So on a drizzly day, Lauren and I headed out to the SFM (not be confused with the FSM). It’s adjacent to the Experience Music Project, and sadly, it feels like an afterthought. As though the SFM was something created to make the the EMP feel more robust, but not really a fleshed-out attraction in and of itself. One admission price covers both museums – but if you have your heart set on simply the Sci-Fi portion of it, you might end up feeling a little let down.

Of course, we still had  a great time …

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I guarantee you, this is the coolest anyone has ever looked in this exact location.

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