A spot of Dutch tea

I buy aardbei black tea every time I visit Amsterdam.  And that is not a code word for another dried leaf that Amsterdam is known for.  I bring an extra empty duffel bag, stashed in my suitcase, to fill up with boxes of strawberry tea purchased at Albert Heijn, the grocery store that is everywhere in Amsterdam.  I stuff my cabinets with the little boxes, and I carefully ration it–afraid of what will happen when it’s gone.  Afraid that I will need to go back to Lipton.  Afraid that I will need to go back to Amsterdam.  On select summer Saturdays, I brew a pitcher of strawberry iced tea, sweetened just right, and I remember my trips.

I tell myself it is ok to drink the tea.  It is ok to savor.  They will make more strawberry tea.  I can try another strawberry tea.  It may even be better.  More mellow, more potent, or more strawberryrific.  I can probably order strawberry tea online, but that is not what I want.  I don’t want logical solutions to quench my thirst.  I want to read the box in Dutch and say to myself that those are not even words–just jibber jabber in sentence form.  I want to unwrap the teabag, to remember drinking tea from a little glass mug in a little cafe along a canal that I will never be able to pronounce.

I have been more generous lately, willing to share my tea with friends and family–not simply hoarding it for a future tea-free day.  I haven’t run out yet–having been able to visit Amsterdam every now and then, even if on a 4-hour layover on the way to somewhere else.  But it’s been two years, and my stash is low.  I can buy other strawberry black teas here in America.  I can live without it.  But that is far from the point.  When I open the cupboard, the little boxes of tea tell me the world is big.  There are places to explore.  There is more to be discovered.  If the tea runs out, what will remind me of the joys of travel, and the ability of travel to show us new things, new places, new cities, and new teas.

I do have one consolation.  In the same cupboard as the tea, there is a shaker of salt, purchased in the too-perfect-to-be-real town village of Halstatt, Austria, where it was mined in the mountain above town.  I will still be able to remember the journey, but salt just doesn’t taste as good in my mug in the morning.

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My French Fry Limit

Flemish Fry Guy

Flemish Fry Guy

If it is possible to reach my French fry limit, I was pushing my luck in Bruges, where I ate fries every day.  They say the Belgians invented fries, not the French.  As long as I can eat them, I don’t care what you call them.

The little fry stands dot the streets, and they double fry them.  Then they offer you about 10 kinds of sauce, from ketchup and mayonnaise to some I had never heard of.  Our favorite was Joppie saus, which I learned about from the stranger in line ahead of us at the (French) fry stand.  He ordered American sauce, which seemed strange.  I figure if American sauce was so awesome, we would have it in America.  We skipped that.  But we liked the curry ketchup (how very British).

I do have one major issue with Belgian fries:  mayonnaise (which is my personal kryptonite).  If your fries are so gross that you need mayo on them, you’re doing something wrong with the fries!

I visited Bruges in Summer 2014.

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Initial Impressions: Alabama Haiku

Dead armadillo
Welcome to Alabama
Can I please go now.

Credit:  Tanjila Ahmed (flickr)

Credit: Tanjila Ahmed (flickr)

This must be from 2009 because I try not to go to Alabama often.  I think I was driving from Texas to Maryland via Atlanta.

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Initial Impressions: Downtown Portland

Light Rail into Portland

Light Rail into Portland

I had not visited Portland Oregon in many years until I arrived on June 12, 2015.  On my Light Rail ride into downtown, I recorded my observations.  They are just bullet points, but we will call it “free verse.”


Ugly people making out on a street corner.
Texting on a bike while crossing light rail tracks.
Woman in wheelchair with three dogs.
Hippie skirt, backpack, and camera.
Freegan with skull skirt pulling a styrofoam container from the trash can at the food truck park and taking two bites.

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Visiting Chico, California

Traveling to Chico, California?  Need to entertain your parents in Chico?  Coming to visit Chico State?  In the spirit of the “listication” of travel, here are the Top 5 things to do in Chico, CA.  Later, I will post more details, but at least you can keep yourself busy for a weekend.  Everyone here is friendly, so reach out to a stranger for more tips.

Credit:  MichaelSmithChico

Credit: MichaelSmithChico

  1.  Sierra Nevada Brewery.  If you have picked up a bottle of Sierra Nevada beer since 1980, you will find CHICO, CA proudly on the label.  Sierra Nevada started before craft beer was cool, taking a huge risk.  Now, it is the 2nd biggest craft brewer in America.  They are also a leader in sustainability.  This is a great tour, followed by a tasting.
  • BONUS:  It’s a free tour!  Leaving you more money for the restaurant & gift shop.
  • TIP:  book the tour in advance online.  The weekend tours sell out fast.
  • TIP:  eat before or after in the Taproom.  Creative and local cuisine, without being arrogant or expensive.
  • SOUVENIR:  a Sierra Nevada hoodie is almost the official clothing of Chico.
  • SOUVENIR:  pick up some beer that is only distributed in Northern California (the “Old Chico” line)

2.  Bidwell Park.  At 4 times the size of Central Park, it can be a bit overwhelming, so I will break it down for you. Continue reading

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When the Real is Surreal

It all seemed pretty normal until I really thought about it.  I’m just on vacation wandering the streets in a strange city, but it doesn’t feel strange because I am actually experiencing it first person.  I stop for a festival in the square, have a glass of wine, just as I would grab a lemon shake-up at a festival back home.  Until I look up and realize how surreal this is.

Graz:  A tram runs through it

Graz: A tram runs through it


I am in Graz, Austria, which I had not heard of until two weeks ago, where the baroque city hall (from 1823:  it says so right on the front) presides over a stage where two fiddlers play Hungarian music.  Continue reading

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Colorful Waves of Foam

The people give you an idea of how big this is.  Looks like it washed up on a shore from Dr. Seuss.

The people give you an idea of how big this is. Looks like it washed up on a shore from Dr. Seuss.

Waves of Color

Waves of Color

Isn’t this cool?  Big pieces of foam coiling and uncoiling, spray painted with wild abandon.  I saw this at the Kunsthaus modern art museum in Graz (See the portholes?  Check out the museum).

I loved the exhibit.  And then I read the pamphlet.  Talk about a whole lot of words to say nothing.  This WTF pamphlet inspired an open letter, which you can read here (including text from this craptastic description of the art).

Exhibit Artist:  Katharina Grosse
Exhibit Name:  “Who, I?  Whom, you?”

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Dear Curator: Why Does It Take So Long to Say So Little

Dear Curator,

Please stop making something out of nothing.

Sometimes art is just cool.  Sometimes it is colorful.  Sometimes it is whimsical.  Sometimes it is to shock us, tick us off, or Sometimes it doesn’t need explanation.  Sometimes, we can just look at it and say “wow.” Continue reading

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Night Train

I’m not sure what I expected on the overnight train  When I boarded at 12:56am (or 00:56 which sounds like a time that doesn’t exist), the conductor showed me to my bunk and asked if I would like coffee or tea in the morning.  Do you mean that you will wake me up?  Yes, she replied.  How exciting to have a wake-up beverage before my 7am arrival.  Plus, my anxiety over not waking up was relieved.

However I did not anticipate the knock on the door at 5:50 to hand me my ticket.  Did I miss a time zone between Innsbruck and Graz.  I looked at my watch, then my cellphone, then my watch again.  No, I hadn’t.  Back to sleep.  Fifteen minutes later came the tea.  Somehow I expected to be awakened at 6:45 with tea an a fond farewell.  Guess they thought I was beautiful enough without my beauty rest.

What you see in the dawn's early light when you don't want to make eye contact with your cabin mates

What you see in the dawn’s early light when you don’t want to make eye contact with your cabin mates

The four of us spent the last 40 minutes staring into space, or out the window, trying to ignore the obvious–that we were face to face like in Level 42’s “Something About You” video biding our time silently till Graz.

Link to Level 42 Video

Written 6/28/2014

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Hiking in the Clouds

Don't worry.  It wasn't as scary as it looks.

Don’t worry. It wasn’t as scary as it looks.

Words don’t work here.  You don’t just see the clouds roll in, encroach.  You feel them also.  The moist.  The chill.  But not too chilly, since it’s June.  Pictures don’t work either because they are only two dimensions.  You want to bring back the stereoscope or wish you hadn’t broken your 3D camera.

You want to invent words for the sound—the dull roar of the city below, like a faraway waterfall.  Or a faraway jet engine.  Yu think you hear the clouds, but it is only the light breeze captured within your ear.  The birds chirp very faintly.  You see only a butterfly, rocks, wild flowers, and a trail.  The future is not clear—only glimpses when clouds decide to give you a chance.  But you don’t need the future.  All you need is the next ten steps ahead of you.  Then more will reveal itself.  (Was that a metaphor?  It wasn’t intended to be, but I like it that way.)

Written 6/26/2014

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