Hard Reset

You remember that post I wrote last year about non-negotiables?  Well, a few weeks ago I quit my job with no backup plan because my boss had driven me to the breaking point.  It was a miserable environment to work in and it just wasn’t worth it to stay there anymore, despite having awesome co-workers, a nice paycheck and amazing benefits (plus I had already met the deductible on my insurance 😥 ).  But truly, I am so much happier and better off for having left, and despite all my fears and doubts about pulling the plug on my job with no new job to go to, I have no regrets about it.

So what have I been doing in the meantime?

  • I have a job at a gourmet cheese shop (hard life, right?)
  • Applying to jobs
  • Reading up on the ins and outs of being a freelance writer/editor.  It makes sense to pursue that considering that’s where all of my professional experience has been so far, and I’m good at and enjoy both of those things anyway.  But SO many people have blogged/written about freelancing that you slog through reading it, especially when they’re all trying to sell you something.  “Buy my e-books about freelancing and how liberating and lucrative it is!”  “Get this e-book for free when you sign up for my e-mail!”  (I can’t tell you how many of those I signed up for… -__- )
  • Taking classes on travel writing for publications and screenwriting.  Screenwriting has been something I’ve been meaning to get into for ages and just never have.  I figure it’s time to get more serious about it so I can try and get my ideas out in the world.  In July, I start a continuing education class at Georgetown, which I’m really excited about.  (Not going to lie, I was really hoping I could get a Georgetown ID out of it so I could be like, “Oh yeah, I’m a student at Georgetown” and get student discounts.  Oh well, I’ll have to settle for a Georgetown e-mail address.)
  • Reading.  After not having read Dean Koontz in years, his Ashley Bell has me hooked. I’ve also been keeping an eye on the contents of the little free library in my local organic grocery, by which means I have finally obtained a copy of Gone Girl.
  • Having lots of singalongs in the house when my roommates aren’t here.  This afternoon it was John Mayer’s Room for Squares, that high school-era quintessential album for millennials trying to figure out their lives; haven’t listened to it in years and still remember all the words.

I haven’t planned any trips as of yet, but I hope to go somewhere before the end of the summer.  We’ll have to see what happens!

What are your exciting summer plans?

To buy or not to buy?

Let's go, everyone! This is through @delta–I flew back with them from #Australia and had a great experience.

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The premise of cheap tickets to Australia this week has been awfully tantalizing.  The chance to revisit old haunts (Sydney, Balmoral Beach, Hobart) and find new ones; catching up with my former roommate Lulu; just being in Australia again; getting dark chocolate Tim Tams).  But one of two things holding me back is I’d be afraid i wouldn’t want to come home (which is itself an up-in-the-air concept as I attempt to figure out my next move).  I was so disappointed with the fact that I came home after only four months last time; I still think about Australia all the time (it doesn’t help that it’s all over my Instagram feed).  The other:  I’ve done a terrible job saving money.  I haven’t had a car loan for six months and haven’t taken advantage of that fact.
But the flights are so cheap i almost can’t help myself.  I was actually able to find the sale fares on United because I searched for it as soon as The Flight Deal tweeted it out (I happened to still be awake and on my phone after 11 pm last night).  Two tickets for an 18-day trip starting November 1 were less than $1200 roundtrip from Seattle.  (Sure there were day-long layovers in San Francisco on some of these flights.  Still not much of a downside there.)  Even my parents agreed it was almost too good to pass up.  That’s cheaper than one normally-priced roundtrip ticket!

But would I go back to Australia for a fourth time when there are still so many other places I haven’t been?  I’ve been to two countries in Europe.  That’s it.  (Yes, I know. #privileged) And for the money I’d spend in Australia, could I stretch it further somewhere else?  (Well, probably not anywhere on the Euro…which eliminates most of the places high on my list.) Currency exchange rates now are $1 American to $1.32 Australian (compare that to €.88)…but it’s still an expensive country.  But it’s Australia, a country I’ve been obsessed with since I first visited in 2001, nearly half my lifetime ago.

Like most things worth considering in life, there is no easy answer.

To be continued…?

Old Themes/New York

Two weekends back, I was in NYC for yet another concert, this time to see the fantastic Mayer Hawthorne, the fabulous Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, and legends Hall & Oates at Madison Square Garden. Such a fun show.  I had reserved a room at the Holiday Inn a couple blocks from the venue and a few minutes’ walk from the Vamoose bus stop.  Times Square is only about a 20 minute walk.  I’d stayed at the hotel before so I knew it was decent, and it just made sense to stay there in light of how convenient it was.  (Also, free breakfast!)

My Vamoose bus got in around 1:30 and I went to the hotel to drop my stuff before getting a late lunch/early dinner at Haymaker, a great restaurant just next door to the hotel.  The burger was great and the beer menu was excellent.  Cool space, great atmosphere. Didn’t expect to find a place like that in that part of town, but glad I did and that it was so convenient.  I think it had only been open a few months.  Definitely worth checking out if you’re in that part of NYC.  Before the concert, I walked to Ayza for hot chocolate and dessert.  The hot chocolate was delicious, but I thought the dessert was a bit overpriced for what it was.  Also, I practically had to stare down the staff to help me even though I was sitting at the bar.

Saturday morning I was up early.  I had actually booked a room for that night at the 70 Park Avenue, so I schlepped my way over there, dropped off my bag, and headed out again. I had made plans to see a matinee of Aladdin on Broadway and had a few hours to kill.  You may remember that I saw the Star Wars:  The Power of Costume exhibit in Seattle last May; well, I saw it again in NYC at Discovery Times Square.  I was excited to find that there were even more costumes this time, and not just additions from The Force Awakens.  There were some parts of the exhibit where the staging was fantastic (a mirrored room creating the illusion of a clone army, the background from Padme and Anakin’s wedding), but the lighting wasn’t always great and I’m pretty sure there were signs that did not sync up with the costumes on display.  But overall, I was still glad I went.

I still had time to kill after wandering through the exhibit (since I’d seen most of the costumes already, there were only a few where I lingered) and figured I should get lunch before the show.  I wanted a relatively authentic New York experience, but where are you going to find something like that in Times Square?  I walked a block over (the theatre wasn’t far from Discovery, so I didn’t see a point in going too far away) and found yet more chains and places with mediocre reviews.  But I stopped short when I saw reviews for a nearby pizza place called 2 Bros with fantastic reviews and cheap pizza.  A giant slice of tasty pizza and a bottle of water for $3.50?  Practically unheard of.

The theatre opened at 1, so I took my seat, glad to have a chance to sit after walking all morning.  Aladdin was great, with new songs and a few changes from the movie, although as expected, Genie is just as much of a show-stopper here.  The pop culture references have been updated to reflect current memes (Genie says “Ain’t nobody got time for that” and does the Whip and Nae Nae).  The show was lots of fun, but I still like the movie better, and not just because no one could ever beat Robin Williams.

On this trip, I had also pledged that I would attempt to find the memorial near the late David Bowie’s apartment in SoHo.  I’m not sure how close I was to where he had lived (the memorial was probably long gone anyway), but I found the studio called The Magic Shop where his final two albums The Next Day and  were recorded; it apparently wasn’t far from his apartment, so I can’t have been too far off.  I was sad to read that the studio will be closing this month; it made me wish I had been bold enough to buzz the door to see if someone would give me a tour.

I sauntered around SoHo a little more until I ended up across the street from the famous Apple store (another place I’d been before).  I was thinking about dinner and I figured SoHo would have far more options than the area around my hotel.  Just after recognizing the Apple store, I saw there was a food truck with empanadas outside.  (This was my train of thought:  “Oh there’s that Apple store I went to that one time OH S*&^ THERE ARE EMPANADAS.”)  I found yet another place to get dessert and hot chocolate, Jacques Torres, before getting back on the subway back toward the hotel.

The 70 Park Ave is a Kimpton property, and if you are a member of their Kimpton Karma rewards program, you get a credit to use at the bar or to raid the minibar.  This one was $15; I think outside of NYC, it’s $10.  Either way, free stuff just for being part of the program!  Who says no to that?  I treated myself to a drink and a snack at the bar (the credit only covered the drink).  The room itself was fabulous; I wish I had taken a picture. Even though the hotel was off the beaten path for me, a bit more expensive than the Holiday Inn room, and there wasn’t much of interest around it, I would consider staying there again just because I liked it so much.

It was yet another good, full-to-the-brim trip to New York (but still no Umami Burger). My overall impression of the city hasn’t improved:  It’s dirty; it’s full of tourists and ways to leach money from you; I tired of hearing car horns within a few hours of arriving.  But it still unfailingly provides you with new adventures even when retreading old ground.

Striking skyline.

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All About Asheville

Did I really just accidentally take another four-month break from the blog?  Sigh.  Time does fly.  How is it 2016?  Weren’t we just celebrating New Year’s last year?  At any rate, happy new year!

So yes, my trip to Asheville was several weeks ago, and it was lovely.  I made a last-minute decision not to head to the Biltmore since I had already been and even discounted tickets were crazy expensive.  This worked out really well, because I discovered on this trip that there was a lot more of Asheville I hadn’t gotten to know (and a lot more beer to drink).

I got in several hours late Friday night as a flight was delayed (next time, I’m driving…), so the fun part of my trip didn’t really start until Saturday morning with a fabulous breakfast at Mamacita’s.  I noticed that people were lining up on sidewalks with chairs and cold weather gear and was told that the holiday parade was later that morning.  I walked around for a bit, discovering a whole part of downtown I hadn’t seen when I had been there four years prior.  I got some sustenance from French Broad Chocolate‘s new fancy and fabulous lounge (I dare you to read their menu and not start drooling).  The parade was much longer than I expected (nearly two hours!) and I ditched a bit early to get lunch at Farm Burger, which was easily my favorite meal of the whole trip.  The burger was delicious and came with gourmet free toppings such as roasted garlic and paprika mayo (there were even fancier toppings that were definitely not free).

In wandering around after the parade, I found a rally called Unchain AVL. Asheville is full of boutique stores (even several awesome local bookstores like Malaprop’s) and locally-owned businesses and restaurants.  An Urban Outfitters had just opened and locals were worried that its arrival would mean an influx of chain stores.  I hadn’t realized it previously, but in order to go to any chain stores like Target, Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, you had to leave downtown.  It seemed to me like a rally was unnecessary–if you don’t want a store to survive, don’t spend your money there.  But I guess they want to ensure the livelihood of all the local businesses there, and it’s hard to say no to that.

That night, I went to the North Carolina Arboretum to see their Winter Lights display.  I’ve seen displays that I’ve liked much better, but it was a good way to spend an evening.

This tree was the coolest. #ncwinterlights

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I had stayed at the Asheville Hostel and Guest House during my first trip to Asheville and had loved how easy it was to walk everywhere from there. Its proximity to downtown was ideal, and parking wasn’t too much of a fuss.  But if you’re a beer lover, now there is the added bonus of being close to loads of breweries.  I think someone told me there were seven breweries within a few minutes’ walk of the hostel!  I only visited a couple (I wish I had gotten to Highland, but it was outside town) but was overall impressed with the quality of beer in the area.  Wicked Weed Brewing, one of the more popular local breweries, was so full Saturday afternoon I left without trying any of their beer; same with Burial.  I didn’t make it to Green Man, but did have some of their porter at Farm Burger, and it was delicious.  I did get to Twin Leaf but wasn’t a fan of their stuff–not my style.

Top Tip:

If you want delicious doughnuts, beer and barbeque in Asheville, go hang out on Banks Ave.  I started my Sunday at Vortex Doughnuts, had lunch at Buxton Hall Barbecue, and then had amazing beer at Catawba Brewing.  They’re all in the same building, so you don’t have to go too far!

Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 4.11.44 PM
Google Maps results for breweries in Asheville.  (Asheville Hostel and Guest House is to the right of Asheville Brewing Company’s tag; one block apart, you can see ABC from the hostel’s front yard.)

My last morning in Asheville was spent the same way it was during my last trip:  Driving up the Blue Ridge Parkway.  I didn’t get very far, turning around after I reached the visitor’s center (which was very nice, by the way) and heading toward the closest location of Tupelo Honey, a local restaurant.  Conveniently, they now have a location in Arlington, so I can satisfy my curry fried chicken craving and have a taste of Asheville whenever I want…although I might have to have French Broad send me some of those coconut macaroon brownies.

To sum it up, Asheville is a cute small city in the mountains with an interesting mix of hippies and hipsters, all of whom love their food and beer and want to source locally as much as possible.  Hard not to admire that.

 

Want to read about my previous exploits in Asheville?  Click here.

London (at long last)

London (at long last)

Yes, this trip occurred nearly eight months ago (!!!).  Yes, I have been on a different vacation since this trip happened.  Don’t judge.  Finally…here you go.

***

This plan to go to London sprouted about a year ago when my friend Katrina over at Thrifty Gypsy’s Travels talked about this Groupon for a London trip.  I asked my friend Lance if he might want to go to London, Ireland or Iceland and he said he’d prefer to go to London.  So we bought our Groupons–$999 for airfare, hotel and some tours (that we unfortunately did not take).

Lance and I flew into Gatwick, as that is Norwegian Air’s entry point into London–unfortunately, the only place nearby that Norwegian flew out of was JFK, so we took the MegaBus up there since it was the cheapest way of going.  The flight was supposed to be less expensive and surprisingly, the planes were brand-new and super nice.  We had been upcharged for checked baggage and meals, but even then it didn’t seem so bad considering how cheap the Groupon was; the total was still under $1400.  We took the Gatwick Express into the city, switched to the Tube after lunch (where the sports bar staff took pity on us and gave us free shots), and went to our very cute hotel room in Earl’s Court (an adorable part of town, by the way), which admittedly had a pretty great view, even if it meant we would hear the trains all night long.  It also had a free breakfast every day, so that was also a plus.

We hadn’t been there long before I realized we would be late for our timed arrival at the London Eye, for which I had bought combined day/night passes.  We were still able to get in with no problem, and were treated with an amazing sunset view, which surprisingly was way cooler than the night time ride.  Of course, we were both pretty bushed by then since we’d been travelling for about 24 hours before we’d even gotten to the hotel, so it’s not like we could have truly enjoyed the view from the Eye at night anyway.

We spent nearly the entire day Monday at the British Museum, our mouths agape at just how much there was to see and how cool it all was.  We could have easily spent our three full days in London at the Museum and maybe still not seen everything.  We vowed we’d come back if we had any spare time.  We wandered around town for a little while until eventually and serendipitously coming across the place where ping pong was allegedly invented.  It’s now a bar called Bounce where you can get food and drinks and play ping pong.  We had a blast even though we started out poorly (we got better!) and spent a ton of money at this place.  Late that night, because Lance hadn’t eaten at Bounce, he was hungry, but we weren’t sure if there were any decent places around worth trying. Fortunately, there was a great local burger chain, Gourmet Burger Kitchen, just up the street and we got in just as they were taking their last orders for the night.

Even though it was winter, we decided that we would try and make it to a garden anyway. A local we’d met at the British Museum had advised us to try the Chelsea Physic Garden. It was pretty cold that day, but we braved it for a while before wandering around some more and eventually finding ourselves at the grand National Portrait Gallery.  Just the building itself is worth seeing, even if you’re like me and “not a big art person.”  There were plenty of pieces I recognized, and some I was glad to be introduced to.

On Wednesday, we spent much of our day at Westminster Abbey.  We had all intentions of taking the guided tour, but we were misled about what time it began and, disappointingly, we ended up missing it.  But just looking around the Abbey, you can’t help but marvel at it. We did the audio tour and learned some interesting facts here and there, but mostly you just end up trying to take in all the sights and still you miss things because there is just so much to see.  You also feel very weird stepping over people buried beneath the floor, but they’re everywhere, so you can’t avoid it.  Near the end of the tour is Poets’ Corner, and I was geeking out until I realized that most of the plaques are just in recognition of writers and most of the writers are actually buried elsewhere.  (I bought a book about it from the store anyway.)

We made our way over to the Tower of London, which we hadn’t realized was so expensive, but upon venturing around inside, we realized it was definitely worth it.  Not only are the Crown Jewels there (giant shiny things!!!), but there is SO much to see.  The armory was sort of interesting, but its upstairs was full of fun interactive games and exhibits.  We didn’t see all of the buildings there either, but we had no idea that there was so much going on there or else we might have tried to make more time there.

Our plane didn’t leave until Thursday evening, so Lance and I reasoned that we could still get some time in at the British Museum, except this time, I got caught up in a long bag check line, where we wasted about 15 or 20 minutes.  We spent most of our time in the South American and Indian/Asian galleries, the latter of which we both found especially fascinating.  Lance had just joined a tour of that gallery when we realized we needed to leave.  We had hoped to be at the airport by 3, but after a sit-down lunch of fish and chips, gathering our stuff, and taking the Gatwick Express back to the airport, it was 4:30 by the time we got there.  Fortunately, we didn’t have any serious lines or anything to bother with.

We got back to New York around 9 p.m. that night, glad that we’d have a night in a hotel as opposed to continuing back to DC.  We woke up Friday morning worrying that snow might delay our bus though, so we made a call to Vamoose and asked if we could move our reservation to an earlier time.  We’d still get to DC around rush hour, but it would beat getting there even later and during a potential snowstorm.  Vamoose didn’t charge us the difference in the ticket prices and instead just charged us a fee for the change–I was really pleased about that because our original booking had been significantly less expensive.

We were both tired from the trip, but had really enjoyed ourselves.  I had only gotten to two of the numerous places I’d wanted to visit, but realistically, there was only so much we could have done with just three full days.  Needless to say, I’d love to go back, but I think Lance and I both agreed that London is pretty full-on.  My impression of the people we encountered was much different than I’d expected it to be.  I was surprised that on sidewalks, I felt compelled to move out of others’ paths because it seemed that no one was going to accommodate me.  Compare this to DC or maybe even New York, where I think people generally make an effort not to run into each other.  Plus, waitstaff didn’t bother with niceties; they just asked us if we knew what we wanted.

That said…next time I’m seeing the Globe.

Non-negotiables*

I turned 30 earlier this year, and to be honest, 2015 so far hasn’t been quite what I was hoping for.  Things can happen unexpectedly, sometimes completely out of your control.  But sometimes trials and annoyances make you reconsider where your life is versus where you want it to be.  We make lists of non-negotiables for potential partners–why not for our own lives?

Ideally, I’d be living out west (Portland specifically, but I’d consider moving elsewhere) working at a job that allows me to be creative…and pays enough for me to be able to live alone and still have a comfortable life (it helps thinking that my car is FINALLY almost paid off).  Life doesn’t always allow you to check all those boxes at once, though, so you consider what takes priority.

Am I really so afraid of earthquakes that I won’t move to Portland?  Er…possibly?  Do I really think I could get by financially without having a roommate ever again?  Probably not.  Can I promise myself I’ll never have a mind-numbing, boring office job again (no more Excel spreadsheets ever again pls)?  No, but damned if I won’t try.

As we move into the last third of the year (!), I’m thinking about a game plan for the coming 6-12 months.  I’ve never been good at life pre-planning or long-term goal-setting (which is essentially why I came home from Australia after only four months), so this will take a lot of effort on my part.  But it needs to happen.

So, what are your non-negotiables?

Passing the Time in Portland

The train ride to Portland was nice and comfortable (the train wasn’t very full, which helped) with great views.  I loved that there were tv screens throughout the cabins telling you what you were looking at as you passed by.  And the four-hour ride was only $26!  Hard to argue with that.

I got a cheap cab ride to my hotel and lamented that the area I was in didn’t look like it had much character or much going on.  I was completely wrong.  At first, I thought there were just divey bars or places that didn’t interest me very much.  I had thought Besaw’s, just two blocks from the hotel, only served breakfast and lunch, but it turned out they also served dinner most nights of the week.  I told myself I would have leftovers for the next morning, but my burger mysteriously disappeared.

The next day, I set out early to rent a car–I was tired of dealing with public transportation and also figured I’d be driving out a bit beyond its reach anyway.  I hadn’t made a prior reservation, so the woman working at Enterprise told me they only had a luxury car or a truck.  Neither of those sounded great to me, but I knew there was no way I could confidently drive a truck, so I chose the luxury car, a BMW.  Now, I have a poor opinion of people who drive them–many of the ones in Northern Virginia just tend to think they own everything and that you and the rules of the road are inconveniencing them–but man did I quickly come to enjoy that car.

I went to the Japanese Gardens and arrived just in time for a free tour to begin.  I was really glad to have had such an informative tour guide, because otherwise I wouldn’t have appreciated what I saw nearly as much.  The International Rose Test Garden is in the same park, so I found my way over there and ran into someone from the Japanese Garden tour and we palled around for a little while, eventually going to Dwaraka to get lunch from the buffet.  (I enjoyed the food until I found a hair.)

The pagoda near the entrance of the Japanese Gardens.
The pagoda near the entrance of the Japanese Gardens.

I had dinner plans with a friend that night, so I went back to my hotel to shower and chill for a while.  I wish I had made better use of my time that day by going to the Lan Su Chinese Garden, but oh well–next time.  I got a cab to Pok Pok, and the driver told me all about how Portland isn’t as great as it used to be now that all these new people are moving in, but he also made sure to tell me to get Pok Pok’s fish sauce wings.  Sounds weird, but he was right–they are delicious!  After dinner, my friend and I moved on to Noble Rot, a fantastic wine bar situated right outside downtown; in the evenings, you can get a view of the sun setting over the mountains behind the city.  We got the last table, so we lucked out, and we’d arrived just in time for sunset.  The atmosphere was nice and not too stuffy, and the waitress was really cool.  Again, the bar is in an industrial area and on the fourth floor of a building, so you kind of have to look for it, but definitely worth seeking out.

I was sad when my last full day of vacation rolled around–I had just gotten to Portland and now I had to get ready to leave.  I had breakfast at Besaw’s (on its last day open 😦 ) and took the car for an enjoyable drive out to Multnomah Falls, which I was only familiar with because I’d read about it in a novel.  I wanted to drive out to The Gorge, or at least deeper into the mountains, but hadn’t realized quite what a commitment that would be, so Multnomah Falls, 45 minutes outside Portland, was a good compromise.

Multnomah Falls

I came back to the hotel to shower and change before having a wander around.  From a map I’d seen of the Nob Hill neighborhood, a lot of interesting cafes and restaurants looked really far away, but weren’t at all.  I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to eat, but as I walked by Southland Whiskey Kitcken, I was enticed by the thought of BBQ and whiskey (and the ’90s-era Mariah Carey song playing outside).  I only wish I could’ve finished my dinner; it’s a shame to throw away good food.  I did manage to finish most of the local Oregon whiskey from my sampler though (the primary reason I didn’t was because the first had a bug in it).  I enjoyed the Burnside Bourbon sample best of all.  I was going to get ice cream from Salt & Straw, but the line didn’t move much in the 10 minutes I stood there, so I sauntered on until I found Moonstruck Chocolate (kind of regretting that decision upon seeing Salt & Straw’s flavor list now, but oh well).

Saturday morning, my friend met me at my hotel and we walked a few blocks over to the Industrial Cafe* for breakfast, where once again, my eyes proved bigger than my stomach**.  I managed to eat the side of bacon I’d ordered and one of the three massive slabs of French toast (I made sure to eat those candied walnuts though), and my friend ate another.  Before I knew it, I was back at the airport and genuinely bummed to be leaving.  I definitely look forward to going back.

*Apparently on this trip I visited at least two places (Ezell’s Chicken in Seattle and Portland’s Industrial Cafe) that Guy Fieri had featured on his show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.  I did enjoy my meals from both places, but please let it be known that I hate that guy.

**I’m sure I would have finished more of my meals on vacation if not for my allergies, but it turns out I’m allergic to the Pacific Northwest, which is a shame, because I really like it there.