Day 1: Practice, Ladies Market, 10,000 Buddhas

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(Photo upload still not working, sorry…)

We got up nice and early this morning to have our team meeting.  Then Katie, Tyler, Jacob, and I ran off to McDonald’s for some bizarre Chinese fast food.  (It was also one of the only places open that wasn’t hotel food.)  When we got back, our team bus failed to arrive, so we got to walk as an entire team with hockey equipment through the busy streets, into the crowded subway, and onto the train line to Jordan.  Our team was seriously struggling at getting anywhere as a group, or at getting through the turnstiles with equipment, and even taking the train in the correct direction…but we eventually made it to the rink.  We were also mostly sporting Team USA clothing and were the focus of many local photos and surely subsequent Instagram posts. #omgthey’resocool

The walk was hot.  And it just got hotter.  And we started skating for our 2.5 hour session and I felt like I had a fever, my face got so hot.  We started by skating really hard laps, then some drills, and finally we had a water break and scrimmaged.  Oh, and we had a GoPro selfie session in uniforms.  That was interesting.  The Swedish team came on right about then and probably wondered what kind of team used practice time for selfies.  Anyway, we scrimmaged for a little more before packing it up and handing the ice over.  The team looks fairly decent, actually.  We ended up combining three collapsed teams, so we have 2 youth team members, 4 women, and 8 men I believe – 1 of each category being a goalie.  Our team is pretty diverse, and we were lucky enough to recruit a Pro/NHL player and his brother.  We have another practice tomorrow, then games start on Wednesday.  We have the first game of the whole Cup so we’ll see how it goes.

After practice, we all went back to the hotel to shower and meet up for lunch.  After walking briefly, the group started heading towards a pasta joint.  This is where we divided.  Half of us did NOT want to come to China to eat Italian.  So I followed assistant coach Mr. Weedman, his son Carl, Jacob, Tyler, Katie, our female goalie Sarah, and two men’s players (John and who we are now nicknaming “Bear”) over to the Ladies Market.  We tried to find the Tim Ho Wan dim sum place and a local even pulled out his phone to no avail.  Turns out the place has closed, but we ended up choosing a Sichuan place that filed the store where the other place was.  This lunch was pretty amazing.  We had beers all the way around and everyone ordered something new.  We even got a platter of thousand year old eggs and everyone who hadn’t tasted them before got to taste the yellow and green (local) ones.  We were passing dishes back and forth, tasting everything on the table.  There was a lot of laughing and we were the focus of the waitstaff’s entertainment for quite some time.  We even confirmed “mh-goi” and “do-jeh” proper usages.

After the lunch, we walked back to the Ladies Market and wandered through blocks of crowded shops.  Jacob and I weren’t too amused by buying random little trinkets, but there were some real things for good prices.  I did buy a small gift for a friend but didn’t bother haggling because it wasn’t much to begin with.  Jacob and I then wandered into a mall to find a bathroom and bought some stuff at Starbucks.  (I got some spearmint drink I haven’t seen in any other Starbucks before.)  We wandered the mall and noticed how absolutely tiny the stores were, like little boxes in a shoe closet.  When we returned to the end of the Ladies Market, the other kids hadn’t even reached the end of the half we had walked.  Mr. Weedman had already walked to the end with us and was planning to walk to the far end so we went looking for him.  We walked the whole stretch of the market and never saw him.  We knew the others were taking their time buying a bunch of stuff so we decided to pull out our maps and do something else before the sun went down.

It was about 4pm so we didn’t have too much time.  We decided to run into the station, transfer to another line, then take the East Rail up into the New Territories which border mainland China.  We stopped in Sha Tin and wandered up the hillside to the 10,000 Buddhas temple.  We literally ran up about 1/2 mile of stairs (even after my practice AND walking around the markets all day) to try to make it in the doors before close.  We managed to make it into the monastery and walk around.  There were Buddhas EVERYWHERE.  We looked for Amah Rock among the mountains from the view.  It felt like the China you see on wall art in restaurants.  It was much more rural and peaceful than Hong Kong city.

We swatted mosquitos on our way back down the mountain and caught the line all the way to the end of the rail.  We got out and walked back to the hotel then decided to take a nap.  Katie and Tyler were already napping when we got back.  Then Tyler’s dad called and they went to get dinner with him, so we decided to try Gaylord’s again for Indian food.  It was open this time and we shared some Saag Paneer.  From the restaurant, we wandered along the shoreline of Victoria Harbor and took photos of the impressive lights on the skyline.  Some skyscrapers were lit up to look like “Season’s Greetings” cards.  We got to see some live music and sculptures and even a bell in a tower before heading back for the night.  Practice again in the morning!

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Nei sik mh-sik tang Gwang-dong-wa-a?

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(Photo upload not working at this time, sorry.)

This Thanksgiving break is going to be a little different than my typical 5K race in Latrobe during a sleet or snowstorm.  Instead, I got back from a road trip to Florida and quickly was heading to Pennsylvania to fly back out to Asia.  I can’t say I was expecting to come back so soon when I left India last summer.  Turns out I got named to the Team USA roller hockey roster for the Asia Cup in (Hong Kong) China.

I’m traveling with some friends and some new faces.  Also, my boyfriend Jacob surprised me by buying tickets and meeting me at the Hong Kong airport.  We’ve been studying a little Cantonese for fun and I’m happy to say I largely grasp the construction of the Chinese dialects even if I don’t have all of the characters and sounds and vocabulary memorized.  The title is one of my favorite questions that I learned: “Nei sik mh-sik tang Gwang-dong-wa-a?”  Really, the phrase is saying: “You can not-can hear Cantonese-eh?”  The fact that Cantonese doesn’t conjugate verbs is a pretty awesome concept, however it get challenging trying to learn a tonal language where the pitch of your word could indicate two completely different things if “sung” incorrectly.  We’re also planning to go to Macau by ferry where I will test out my Portuguese.

Anyway…when I left PA, it was just after 4am and not much more than 10F.  I flew to Dallas where I was supposed to meet a teammate and her boyfriend whose dad lives in Hong Kong.  They were just here a year ago.  Turns out, they missed their flight in an ice storm on the way to Dayton.  I made the 17 hour flight alone and found Jacob waiting with my hockey gear at the carousel.  He had come in from Vancouver.  We both had interesting flights over the entire height of the Continental US and Canada, the width of Alaska, and then the height of Russia and China.  I hadn’t realized how tall Russia is until then…and the turbulence on my flight was horrible.  It was probably that arctic air, plus the tornadoes in the States.  I could see icy mountains through Russia, but the windows stayed closed for most of the trip.

Katie and Tyler, who were supposed to fly with me, ended up getting on a plane to Chicago and then went to Hong Kong across Europe.  In hindsight, Jacob and I were glad we didn’t wait for them because they got in really late.  We landed around dinnertime, got some Hong Kong dollars (over $7 to a USD), then bought Octopus cards.  Octopus cards are sweet because you use them for trains, ferries, and even as cash in some restaurants or vending machines.  We used these cards to haul our bags over three different train lines to the Kowloon region, then trekked down Nathan Road to Salisbury Road on the edge of the Victoria Harbor.  We’re staying at the YMCA, a short train ride and walk from the hockey rink.

We checked in, showered, and went walking to find some dinner.  We were surprised how bustling everything was at 10:30pm on a Sunday.  We wanted to go to the Indian place up the street but it was closed.  Instead, we got some local food at Sweet Garden.  We ended up being the last customers out so we hurried back to the hotel to find Katie and Tyler just getting there.  While they were unpacking, my friend Carl came knocking on our door.  He had just arrived from his layover in Seoul and wanted to get some drinks.  Jacob and I joined him, making a long walk past Ashley Road where we had had dinner and down a few of the main streets.  We finally settled on a bar called Hair of the Dog II.  We only had a couple of drinks, though, because they were about $60-$70 (10USD) apiece and it was getting late for needing to be in the lobby at 7am for a team meeting.

The atmosphere of the bar was pretty nice, though.  They asked a couple men to share a table so they could give us a table.  Everything here is miniature.  I’m pretty sure someone like even my dad wouldn’t fit through the gates of the subway or in the shower.  Basically, America wouldn’t fit in the Chinese showers.  And their portions are reasonable.  Ah…yeah China is and has always been hundreds of years ahead of the rest of society.  I still believe that.

So we left our crammed, smokey bar at a little after 2 and basically straight up crashed.  We only got a few hours of sleep – but, hey, coach also gave us all free USA t-shirts and hats, plus I got my #27 jerseys and they’re pretty darn nice this year.  On to the official day 1!

NARCh Day 3 & Southbound

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I had to get up early, so I made breakfast out of a 7-11 stop.  We won our quarterfinal with a mercy against Colombia.  Afterwards, a bunch of us (including our fan dog) went to Perkins down the street.  We then took a nap at Shaina’s before heading back for the semifinal against another American team.  We watched Japan win its semifinal and realized it was going to be one of us against Japan for the gold.  We cheered Japan on and congratulated them as they came off the rink (they were an awesome, very nice, very disciplined team).  Then we were out – and we won our way into the gold game.

With the few hours we had left before the championship game, Vyctoria and I made one of my classic runs to get slurpees at 7-11.  I always get a Zombie (every flavor).  We sang in my car for awhile, then went inside and played around on some apps while watching the men’s games before us.  Finally, it was our turn to dress.  We were spotlighted on, one at a time, and began in no time.  The game was tight for a while and the rink was nice and Olympic sized.  We used the space very well.  It’s probably a reason we sneaked in a 3-1 victory without one of our top scorers.  And with that, we had the gold.  Kyla on our team got MVP for being the leading scorer.  We took photos as a team, and then Japan joined us and we took a group photo too.

On the way out, I bought a plaque with our team picture.  Vyctoria was given one of the both teams.  Our medals are enormous and heavy… The whole family and I went back to the Smiths’ where they were moving a lot of things around.  I packed up my car, made one last reservation, then hit the road for Key West – not realizing how far it really was.  I was sad to go, but I knew I had to get going soon and that I may see Vycky in a couple weeks in Ohio.  On the way out, I made a stop at Dairy Queen in Naples and was disappointed to find they didn’t sell breaded mushrooms!  I’d never seen a DQ without those…but I got my favorite, a Georgia Mud Fudge Blizzard, instead.  I took it down to 7th Street Beach and ate it while it melted.  I looked out at the pier to my left and realized I had stood on that pier 3 years ago, the same time we had all gone to (a different) DQ in Naples to get ice-cream.  I undoubtedly had the same thing since it’s pretty much all I’ve ordered since I used to get DQ after dance class in the late 90s.  I remembered the conch we had found that was still alive at low tide and how my brother didn’t mean to pick it.  We took it to this pier at night and threw it off together.  Maybe he’s still down there.  Then, as I looked down at how fast my ice cream had melted, I thought “Ice cream is SOO much better melted”, finished it in seconds, and hit the road.

I made a stop for coffee on the Alligator Alley Seminole stop yet again.  As I approached Miami, a lightning storm was setting in.  Traffic was frustrating since people were driving like they had never seen rain before.  When I finally got away from it, I found myself with a solid 2 more hours of driving 2-lane roads down the various keys to the last stop on the highway: Key West.  It was after midnight when I arrived, but my key for my hostel room/bed was locked up with my name on my information.  I got ready quickly and quietly and was glad to finally be in bed.IMG_7227 IMG_7230 IMG_7235 IMG_7242 IMG_7243 IMG_7248 IMG_7250 IMG_7251 IMG_7252 IMG_7255 IMG_7256

NARCh Day 2 & Captiva

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I started my morning at Naples Flatbread & Wine Bar at Miromar Outlets.  At 1pm, we got our first win against a Japanese team.  I stayed around with my gear on and did the skills competition, coming up within 0.2 seconds of the fastest skater award.  I’d never done skills before, so it was fun to try with so many friends there.  Next, I took off to Captiva Beach.  I had stayed up at the rink late the night before to make sure the team dues were paid, exchanging a check for some of the fees, so I was prepared now to pay another bridge toll.  When I got to the island, I secured the last parking spot, paid the meter, and set off to another place familiar from 2011.

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Unfortunately, it was low tide – although slowly rising – when I got to the beach.  This was my favorite beach for strong waves and seashells.  Today, there were piles of shells sitting up high on the beach but there wasn’t much wave activity.  I swam some and collected shells for awhile, but eventually I headed out to a food truck in Fort Meyers.

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The food truck was a part of the Fort Myers Brewing Company’s location.  The brewing company itself is tiny and in the back of a sketchy warehouse.  When I got there, however, I was greeted by many cars, giant jenga, an active grill, and NASCAR on the TVs inside which was fairly packed with locals.  I decided to sample each kind of beer they had and order food.  A woman asked if I wanted to join her and her significant other.  I pulled up to their high seat and that’s how I met Dan and Cheri.  We chatted and became friends on Untappd, talking about beercapades and travel and whatnot.  I learned that Dan knew about the tournament because he usually works for the arena for the Everblades.  By the time we were done, they had decided they would come watch us take on Colombia that night.  We then left for the arena and they did indeed come watch, cheer me on, and then share photos of me over Facebook.  (Not to mention, we had an easy win which streamed live from the main arena!)

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After the game, we were seeded for the playoffs against the same team the next morning.  Coach Frank invited us upstairs where he bought us a round of drinks at the Breakaway Sports Pub.  We sat around for awhile before heading home.  My friend Shaina said she and some others were going to go to Bar Louie.  I really just wanted to hang out on the couch again, but I also wanted to spend time with some of the teammates I don’t usually see.  I agreed to follow her there in my shorts and baseball cap.  At the bar, they didn’t have my favorite martini, so I got one that was a S’Mores flavor along with a Jack Daniel’s cake for dessert.  Everyone was laughing at my choices until they tasted them and didn’t want to stop eating them.  After Bar Louie, we went to Blu Sushi.  I stayed for a shot of Fireball that some guy bought, but I wasn’t feeling it.  I don’t like clubs – I like chatting at bars like I did earlier (probably why Ireland was so appealing to me).  Most girls, however, seem to just go to the bar to get guys to buy them drinks.  I never see how that’s a good idea.  So, yes, I only had a couple drinks and I was ready to go back to sleep.  Besides, we have an early game in the morning.

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NARCh Day 1 & Sanibel Island

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Today, we had a game in the morning against an American team.  I stopped back at Miromar Outlets for a Starbucks coffee and a snack, disappointed that there aren’t too many coffee shops around Estero.  We lost our game, then I left with three teammates and a friend for Calistoga Bakery Cafe where we had salad, mac’n’cheese, peach smoothies, etc.  After we ate, we went back to the rink because some of the girls had games in another division.  I took off in my car for Sanibel Island Beach, one of the places I visited and enjoyed last year.  On the way, I decided to check out Smokin Oyster Brewery but was disappointed to find they only had one bottled lager of their own and wasn’t much of a brewery.  I left there, continuing to the island, only to find that I didn’t have $6 for the bridge toll.  Instead, they took a photo of my plate (like they do if you don’t have a Sun Pass on the Turnpike in Florida – like  Bill-Me-Later).  Once on the other side, I went to the Lighthouse Beach where we had gone before, paid $2/hour rate for parking, and took all my beach gear out to the beach in case.

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It was just like I had remembered it: not too crowded, but still a number of people.  I recognized the lighthouse off the beach where I had stood for my mom to take a photo before.  The water got deep fairly quickly and stayed calm quite a ways out, but there is a strong current that can come around the point if you’re not careful.  There are a lot of boats and jet skis off shore and you can see skyscrapers on the horizon from the other side of the inlet.  The waves weren’t big enough to use my boogie board and I doubted there was much to see with my snorkeling gear, so I decided to just swim and rest a little on the beach.  When I was done, I got in the car and headed towards Captiva – another destination from our last trip.

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In 2011, my friends Allie and Adrienne, my mom, my brother, and I had all spent a whole day on both beaches.  Today, I was running out of time.  By the time I got through some traffic to Captiva Island, I needed to think about heading back – and the sun was getting lower.  I decided to come back tomorrow.  Instead, I sought out Cantina Captiva, the Mexican restaurant where we had stapled a dollar bill to the wall those three years before.  The walls were still covered in bills, but I couldn’t find our bill anywhere despite photo comparison to locate where we had put it.  It must have been removed.  Instead, I had tostadas, chips and salsa, and a small margarita while I colored a new bill with the markers they gave me and stapled it to the wall in a new place.  I recognized the Dos Equis cut-out my brother had clung to last time.  I was suddenly feeling very nostalgic, remembering how much had changed since then (and how I haven’t seen Allie or Adrienne since we left them at the Fort Meyers airport that July 2011).

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I left Captiva Island but yet again had a little spare time.  I was passing through Fort Myers, so I decided to try this hole-in-the-wall brewery called Point Ybel on San Carlos Boulevard.  They didn’t appear to have their own food, but I was still full from the tostadas.  I got to the rink in time and dressed for another loss to another American team.  After the game, I was invited back to my coaches’ house for pizza and Heinekens.  We sat up until very late in the morning, watching TV and laughing.  Then Vyctoria brought out a photo we had sent her 3 years ago of the two of us.  She was just 13 then and it was an accomplishment for her to play on the women’s team.  Now she was 16, taller than me, and fast – contributing well to our defense.  We posed for a photo of us holding the photo and reminisced on how it couldn’t really have been 3 years since then, how her friend was diagnosed with brain cancer right after I left and had died this year right before I had arrived.  We decided we need to take more pictures like this, oh – and get sleep.  So I went back down the street, past their seahorse mailbox, and pulled into Tyler’s for the night.

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Southern Florida: Day 1 of 6

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I’ve decided to start posting my last trip now because I’m falling too far behind on my last trips and don’t want to keep adding to the problem…

I drove home the night before this Thursday so I could fly Spirit directly (and cheaply) to Fort Lauderdale from the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport.  In the morning, I packed up my hockey gear.  It was 2011 when I first traveled to NARCh in Fort Meyers to play the Finals with Team X.  We earned bronze, and this time I’ve been invited back to play with the reformed team under the name the Honey Badgers.  I threw my stuff in the truck and was at the airport in Latrobe in about 10 minutes, then almost missed my flight in fighting over bag fees.  Spirit is not an airline for having any bags at all, especially not sports equipment.  After paying even more fees, I boarded and was in Florida in a little over 2 hours.

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Last minute truck reservations in the winter in Alaska isn’t so hard to do.  Apparently, renting a standard isn’t either in Europe – especially in Ireland – I guess because a lot of tourists are incompetent and now very adventurous.  Florida in the summertime, however, isn’t exactly a smart idea…which I found out when I finished talking to a family who attended(/-s) my small private school and I saw that every rental place was sold out.  My mom helped me save some data by making a quick reservation at the sketchiest Enterprise I’d ever seen.  I took a cab up to N Fort Lauderdale Beach Boulevard and jumped in a Chevy Cruze.  I hate paying underage fees, but I like the freedom of having a car.  If nothing else, it’s a place to sleep if you get stuck one night.

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After driving through Louisville a couple of weeks ago, I was really dying for some Mellow Mushroom.  I had a delicious pizza with fresh basil and mozzarella along with a small flight of four Floridian and Georgian draughts.  I had a coconut ale from Miami which was probably one of the best-tasting beers I’ve ever had.  After this relaxing lunch/dinner in the air-conditioning, I ventured back out into the heat and humidity and headed back towards Miami to catch Alligator Alley.  The only stop for gas that was open was the Seminole Reservation.  I also made a stop at one of the Everglades conservation rest stops and photographed some animals – but no alligators were in view.

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By the time I saw signs for Naples, the sun was sinking so I headed straight to Bonita Springs to take some pictures of the sunset sky.  I still had some time before our 10:30pm practice, so I headed back towards the Germain Arena (where the Everblades play) and ate at Ford’s Garage at Miromar Outlets, within sight of the rinks.  I had a salad and some more local samples, then got to the rink just in time to suit up.

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Practice was long and late.  Afterwards, I drove one of the younger girls home and went back to my coaches’ house with their one daughter/my teammate.  She then led me to her brother’s house, 4 houses down the road, where they had set up a room for me to stay.  We all went to bed immediately that night in preparation for our first round robin game early the next morning.

 

The DL on the B-More

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I sweeeeaarrr I’m about to update some more of my travel posts.  Going to West and Central Africa does that to you, though – it makes you fall way behind.  (I still haven’t finished my posts from my first African adventure!  Sorry!)  But, before I launch into my March travels, I’m going to take a step back and review a city I recently spent some time in: Baltimore, Maryland.

Now, if you’re from my area of southern Pennsylvania and if you (like I) have ever been accused of having a Baltimore accent, you might know that it’s not exactly a city to boast about.  Of course, folks from B-More are quick to shut me down for having family in Friendsville because – HAHA! – Western Maryland is for hicks!  Well, at least we aren’t from the GHETTO.

Don’t get me wrong – the harbor is one of my favorite parts about the east.  The beaches?  Unless it’s the Gulf Coast, you can have ’em.  I myself prefer the brackish waters and became an obsessed helmsman when I lived on a sailboat in the Chesapeake Bay with my classmates in May 2005.  There’s nothing more thrilling to me than pushing off a dock in Annapolis, cruising across a windy stretch of water, then stopping off at St. Mary’s for fresh calamari.  And the way an anchored boat swings and rocks you to sleep at night…

But that’s not Baltimore, per se.

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The city of Baltimore has a…less than pleasant reputation.  Stereotypically speaking, when us PA-ers 2 hours outside of the B-More region think of Baltimore, we think CRIME, poor, crumbling, CRIME.  And maybe crab.

Maryland is a beautiful Appalachia-Bay state, but it is plagued by the crime rates of the Baltimore and District of Columbia regions.  The history of Maryland is rich with the importing and exporting business, and even my mercantile ancestry traces its roots to Port Depot, Maryland.  But what has happened in the meantime has caused some financial implications.  For example, the 20th century: it hit Baltimore hard in a few ways.  First, there was an enormous fire in 1904 that burned over 70 blocks of downtown B-more to the ground.  Then, between WWII and the peak of the Civil Rights movement, the black population soared to about double.  That is of course not an issue in and of itself, but it did contribute to the enormous riot of 1968 following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.  It took over a week of unrest to settle the city and billions of dollars were spent in the effort.  This lasting effect is still evident downtown where streets remain barren.  Strikes persisted years after the riots were shut down.

Baltimore is a pretty enormous metropolitan area, at least relative to its tiny state!  There are a couple of centuries worth of architectural richness, but it can be difficult to pick out some areas of historic worth.  For example, my mom and I walked the streets through the historic neighborhood of Fells Point, but the row houses were bleak looking, windows were boarded in several sections, and there was some uncomfortable company lingering around the project house districts.  Fells Point is known for “ghost tours”, which we did not do in the dead of winter, but we did bare against the whipping harbor winds to walk along the notorious Inner Harbor.  If you’re a museum kind of person, keep in mind there are many – including an aquarium.

I only cheer for the Orioles or the Ravens when they’re playing Cleveland, but the Camden Yards and M&T Stadium sandwich I-395 just north of the bridges to I-95.  They’re probably the nicest looking things in Baltimore, but I would be a little nervous leaving a ball game in the evening hours.  But if you’re going to go out on the town, I DEFINITELY recommend heading to the Federal Hill district.

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Downtown

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My favorite place in Federal Hill, an area just southwest of the Inner Harbor, is the Pub Dog Pizza & Drafthouse.  This place is QUIRKY.  If you log in on FourSquare, it provides pictures, hours, comments, a complete menu,…but basically there is Dog Food (Apps, Salads, and PIZZA), and Federal Hill Beer (house made!).  The pizzas are the way to go.  There are so many kinds, vegetarian included, with clever names for most.  For example, the Atomic Dog Pizza for under $10 includes: hot sauce, hot cherry peppers, smoked gouda, mozzarella, smoked bacon, pepperoni, and red onion.  Couple this with some beer – but mind you!  You get 2 of the same!  It’s a really weird policy, but you just have to roll with it.  Not kidding – pick a beer and expect to drink two of the same one.  And, no, you can’t do 1-and-1.  Pick a full breed, such as Peach Dog or Amber Dog, or take a Mixed Breeed like the Boxer (1/2 black dog and 1/2 blueberry) or the Smooth Dog (1/2 hoppy dog and 1/2 brown dog).  The Pub Dog is in a tight row house next to many other attractive, busy bars, and the center of the is Federal Hill section is actually a Farmer’s Market of sorts in the daytime.  Check it out!  It feels pretty safe here (for Baltimore), but street parking will be hard to find and there will be a LOT of people out on a drinking night.

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MID-TOWN BELVEDERE
We stayed in the northern part of Downtown, at the Hostel International on W Mulberry Street.  Not far to the north is Baltimore’s Washington Monument.  Passing that brings you into the section of town known of Mid-Town Belvedere.  In my experience, this place is a less-crowded Federal Hill with maybe a little higher of a price tag.  My choice in this section?  The Brewer’s Art – not for just anyone.  This place certainly LOOKS fancy if you step into the parlor upstairs.  It’s got a restaurant in the back and more bar space in the basement.  We managed to slip in to the front bar under the fancy chandelier where I laid eyes on some pretty intriguing taps!  From our side of the bar, there were no names we could tell on the taps.  Instead, the taps were decorated artfully.  For example, one tap handle was a pitchfork.  Another was a birdhouse.  The latter was obviously the Birdhouse brew – a pale ale of theirs – but the others weren’t always so obviously.  We did not eat anything due to how late it was, but there’s an extensive menu of fancy creme fraiche-d meals for anyone ready to experience some fine dining with craft brews at their fingertips.

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Inner Harbor

FELLS POINT
Although Little Italy, Downtown, Perkins Home, and Fells Point all kind of mush together around the Inner Harbor, there are still some gems that I have left out.  Firstly, I enjoyed a flight at the German-style brewery Gordon Biersch while enjoying a window seat, small meal, and view of the harbor.  But I must say, the absolute HIGHLIGHT of a Baltimore morning?  Getting up early to stand and wait (maybe for HOURS) to eat brunch at the Blue Moon Cafe!  Certainly, the rush of people wanting a seat in this extremely narrow, one-floor row house restaurant adds to the desire to score a plate.  Driving over to park at this place, I remember laughing with my mom at this flock of people standing across the street, staring up at the building.  Literally, there were people standing there, staring quietly, not talking to one another.  It was the weirdest thing.  Then we walked into the steps of the restaurant and saw a policeman getting up from his table.  There were only a couple of people standing in the back of the cramped space.  I remember thinking, Oh!  That’s not so bad!  I had heard there’s a wait, but there seemed to be spaces…. WRONG!  Those people outside were the ones who chose to wait AT the restaurant.  Everyone else went shopping at Fells Point!  So we wrote our names a couple pages over.  We didn’t feel like leaving so we stood alongside the wall in the back, sucking in our stomachs to let waitresses pass.  We made friends with the waitresses and stood there for probably a couple of hours.  Nope, we still weren’t close.  People were taking their good ole times.  That’s when one of the waitresses who had taken a liking to us said, “You know what, follow me…”  We ordered so much food, we could hardly walk.  I took some spicy omelette with salsa, mom took some special Eggs Benedict with lump crab, and we split a plate of the famous Capt’n Crunch french toast.  They were also introducing a new cereal-coated bread, I think it was Cocoa Puffs.  But WOW!  Such a great place!  I dare you to make the commitment.  You’ll want to do it again!

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Brewery

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Cafe

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French Toast

OTHER
For anyone venturing around in the warmer months, the Baltimore Farmers’ Market sets stands outside under the I-83 ramps in the downtown section. It’s a pretty cool thing in when it’s open, HOWEVER, when it is NOT open, expect the steps around town to be covered in snow and ice, drug deals to be in broad daylight in the streets of northern downtown, homeless people to be shouting after you, and shifty-eyed folk to be sweeping the strip clubs just outside of the government buildings.  Yeah, I only say those things because I experienced them…but the summer is certainly much more livelier.  And not much farther southeast of the market is the Little Italy section of town.  We wandered our way into Piedigrotta, notorious for its Tiramisu, and made some fun conversation about where the world is going and about my recent experience in Venice, Italy with a Venice born-and-raised lady behind the counter.  I would recommend going not just for a caffeinated beverage, sweet treat, or conversation in Italian…but also just to hear the interesting perspective this lady has on our country!

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Piedigrotto

So, if you know where to look, Baltimore doesn’t have to be so bad.  Just make sure you avoid certain dead areas at night, stick to the happening spots, and DEFINITELY center your experience around local brews and seafood specials!  This city does NOT need to be an expensive trip – you just have to have a little patience to get the best seats 🙂

It Had Already Been Too Long.

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I haven’t even updated my blog yet about my trip to Baltimore, but here I am sitting at the Washington Dulles International Airport awaiting a flight to Brussels.

Belgium.

New territory.

Remember Johannes from my trip to Andorra from France?  He’s back.  He will be picking me up at the airport, a short 2 hour drive from his home in Germany.  Not the crazy 10 hour drive to Arles like last time…

I’m going back overseas again to return to Cameroon.  But, naturally, I’m always looking for a way to wring out more travel for nearly the same buck.  This time, I found a way to tack on an extra week of vacation which will equate to an entire paycheck for me not working and flying on days that are so much cheaper than the weekends that it actually pays for part of my trip.  Yes, Tuesdays are the best days to travel.  And I’ve been putting in hours over the weekend to save even more paid time off.

Not only will I be returning to Cameroon in Africa and to France, England, Germany, Switzerland, and Austria (maybe more), but I will also be adding the following countries to my seen-it list: Belgium, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, and the Netherlands.

Johannes and I plan to go on a road trip from Belgium, Luxembourg, and France until we reach the heart of the Swiss Alps where we will go skiing and take an alpine incline, or so we hope.  From there, we will loop back through Liechtenstein, Austria, and Germany, visiting new cities and also spending the night at Johannes’s house.  I’m interested to see his hometown.  (We tried to get a couch surfing host, but we planned a little too late – we’ll see where we end up.)  He will then take me to the airport and I will return to Douala.

In Cameroon, we will spend the first free day in Limbe seeing the wildlife.  Monday next week we will have a meeting in Douala, then head up to the village.  We will only work for about a week, then we will fly out of Yaounde – a new city for me, officially the farthest south I’ve ever been and the farthest east I’ve gone in Africa.

When I land in Belgium again, I will leave my teammates and hit the street yet again.  My student pass still works in Europe, so I’m going to head to Calais, France and take a ferry to see the white cliffs of Dover.  The best part is, I have a whole sack of sterling left over from the last trip – maybe enough to pay for my whole day.  After I’ve seen the cliffs and enough of Dover, I’ll return to France, pass back through Belgium, and finally get to see Amsterdam and the Delft.  There’s a construction project I’ve raving about for the last 2 or 3 years and I’m so glad to say I will finally visit it.

I’m such an engineering dork.

I’ve just been so happy with how willing my friends are to see me in Europe, like Johannes and potentially my friend Carl from home and Ryan whom I met in Benin.  (Carl is studying abroad and Ryan moved to Paris.)  I’m also very pleased by the response I got at work when I asked for boot donations.  I received a large box full of donated construction boots that I gave to one of the students to bring to Cameroon.  We will donate them to the village.  This has earned me a feature with the office in our newsletter.  Oh, and not to mention my wonderful friend Jeff made a shoe contribution, picked me up at the airport yesterday when I had to return a rental from another trip, gave me snacks for the airport, bought me cat food that I couldn’t get when the store closed, bought me dinner, bought me lunch, and handed me a monetary “donation” when I refused to accept fiscal assistance.  What a guy.  And my friend Jess is driving from the west side to periodically check on my cats.  Shout out to all y’all!

Now I just need to remember to keep taking my malaria pills and not get anything confiscated by a corrupt government official…because, yeah, that’s happened before.  D:

To Lexington and Beyond

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Our stranded, homeless faces.  And my broken nose.

I couldn’t sleep well so I got up for breakfast and started to do some work that I fortunately had left over.  I was able to put in some decent hours on my laptop.  The whole day was basically us sitting around, hoping we could drive my car home soon and then being told I need a new engine.  Someone had put the wrong oil in my car before I bought it.  Lovely.  We got a rental (after we waited for one to be available – apparently a dusting in southern Kentucky means everyone wrecks their cars) and were able to leave late afternoon.

We made a stop at Zaxby’s in Lexington for dinner just as the sun was setting, then we didn’t stop again until Cincinnati.  I knew it was late, but I figured – what the heck – so I showed Jess City View Tavern on the hillside and we photographed the city lights.  The bartender let us on the porch and we mourned we couldn’t share a beer with him but bought some Fritos instead.  The final stop before Cleveland was Columbus.  We walked through the Easton Town Center in the freezing cold, just missing Starbuck’s by literally one minute (it was 11:01pm).  Jess then led us into Northstar Café where we were given excellent coffees.  I returned from the bathroom to find Jess had finagled two free dinners for us from the place.  We agreed to return soon.  I was so exhausted by the time I reached the west side and then my place on the east side…at least the evening picked up with the generosity of others, but that didn’t change the fact that my car is still in London and that I had to be at work early for recertification the next morning…

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Lexington sunset.

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View from the hill of Cinci.

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City View lights on the porch.

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Bye, Columbus.  See you soon, Easton Town Center.

Knoxville to…Not Lexington

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I had back-to-back games at the Coliseum in the morning. Jess and I then went downtown to take some photos, grab a drink and nachos at the Downtown Grill & Brewery (where there was a lot of pool, live jazz, and Superbowl anticipation), then we walked to the Sunsphere to photograph the area around the Knoxville Convention Center. We had to mosey on out after a bit in order to make Lexington in time for dinner with my friend Ali, whom I met in France. We were perfectly on schedule as we drove north out of the city until, suddenly, we stopped at Jellico to get gas, crossed the Tennessee-Kentucky border, and watched my oil light go crazy.

Long story short, we tried 1000 things until we finally took a tow from Corbin to London, Kentucky, got a hotel room, and accepted that we weren’t going to be in Lexington for dinner or at work the next day. To make matters worse, we landed ourselves in a dry county. Everyone looked horrified when we said we got Jellico gas (apparently it’s notorious for being watered down), and we were stranded carless in a downpour. That didn’t stop us for taking a walk and soon we found the Mexican restaurant beside us had not only the Superbowl on TV but also REAL MARGARITAS. We had a blast at the restaurant, ran back to the hotel, and then decided to go swimming in our underwear at the pool. We put Florida Georgia Line on my phone at full volume, the pool to ourselves right before close. We made slow-motion film of us jumping in…and then I did a backflip and broke my nose underwater. Face-timing with Jeff made our night feel a little better, but Jess and I were just plain old tuckered out and eventually went to bed.

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Another shot from the sunset in the Smokies.  But it’s hard to catch it right on film.

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