Wednesday, May 30, 2007

S2S Day 4: It's the Law to do That?

I now understand why my father didn't like to stop and sight see along the way on our spring drives to the Sunshine State. I didn't dilly-dally too much today, but spent about 14 hours in the car. Yup, I underestimated the distance between tonight's hotel and last night's. Plus, I took a detour through Ashland (for a wine tasting) and Medford (I noticed people drive the speed limits around here. Safe, cautious drivers).

Before I left the state park this morning, I went to see the seals again. They weren't lounging on the rocks but had moved to another area and were fishing for breakfast. I walked down to the tidal pools for a closer look. Their heads bobbed up and down and every so often, they'd dive and splash their fins.

As I walked closer to the water, one took notice and popped his head up. Like the deer, he seemed as though he was checking me out. We made eye contact, me curious about him, him probably thinking, "oh, another tourist." He disappeared and re-appeared with two friends. The three of them swam closer to get a better look of me. I just stood on the rocks, trying not to step on the exposed sea critters. Closer and closer then in unison, the three dove under the water and dispersed, each popping up in different locations.

I then hit the road. More cool stuff to see...

I lost count, but think I went through six mountain passes, most with hairpin turns every mile or so. The scenery has been incredible. I love the rocky coast meeting the Pacific Ocean, with a bit of sandy beach. Saw a house for sale on a cliff overlooking the Pacific for $750k.

I realized I've become the type of tourist I loathed in my younger days. The type who just gets out of the car, takes a picture and jumps back in without taking the time to explore and appreciate. I now realize there is still appreciation but EVERYTHING is so new and different, I want to experience as much as I can.

Drove through Avenue of the Giants, more fabu TALL trees then reached a place with Big Foot stuff all over the place (I'm too tired to look up the name). But, apparently, it was the area where Big Foot was captured on film (but I thought that was fake???). There's a scenic highway and it's called "The Bigfoot Scenic Highway." I stopped at the town's visitors center and asked if the highway was mountain driving. "Oh, no, it's flat and you don't have to go over any passes." Guess things are up to interpretation, because I went over two mountain passes.

The hotel called around 8 p.m. to make sure I was still planning on staying. YES! I hadn't planned on arriving past 8, but that's what happened.

I stopped for gas three times today, 2 fill-ups and one, "oh, it's a mountain pass, I better top off." The last was in Oregon at a Chevron and I went to pump my own gas but the attendant said it's the law that all gas stations are full service. Is that for real or was he pulling my leg? Either way, it was nice of him to do that and wash my windows, all for a cost cheaper than in Tallahassee.

And tonight, I'm in a really groovy, funky hotel in McMinnville. Doors lock at 11 p.m. and I pulled in at 10:09 p.m. There's a microbrewery and pub attached and all the patrons were out around 10 p.m. Lots of happy, drunk people on the street, maybe that's where Oregon gets its happy-go-lucky reputation - from microbrews and good wine!

The hotel is awesome, phrases written EVERYWHERE on the walls, colorful, funky paintings, elevator doors painted differently. Each sleeping room has its own name. Downside, had to park two blocks away and the bathroom is across the hall, but for 50 bucks, it's well worth it.

Calling it a night (it's about midnight), another big day tomorrow - more wine to taste (and maybe some beer) and sights to see. In Portland tomorrow night and the night after. At least I'm going to sleep in until 8 a.m.

S2S Day 3: Wolves, Seals (!!!) and a Sunset

Yesterday ended watching the sunset into the Pacific Ocean. It was the first time I've seen it. I was at Mackerricher State Park, sitting on a big rock at the ridge of a sand dune. While the sun made its descent into the Ocean, instinct told me to turn around and I did.

Watching me about 25 feet away was a young white tail buck. His amber fur glistened with the sun's orange rays. His big, curious brown eyes gave me the look over, as though checking me out to see if I were "okay." He ran down the opposite side of the dune to an area being restored with vegetation and met up with two other young bucks. A rider atop a horse came through and chased the deer away.

The wind blew harder and the air grew more crisp. But man, I love the smell of salty, sea air. I also love what it does to my hair, creates big, "sea," loopy curls (think Shirley Temple). That was yesterday. While in San Francisco, my hair was frizzy like a Q-Tip, today it's flat. Anyway...

Yesterday made my way back to Sonoma. Stopped at the Rosie the Riveter National Memorial - I didn't know there was one - then onward to the Jack London State Historical Park. I didn't realize how young he was when he died - 40. I'm three years away from 40 and haven't accomplished even a FRACTION of what he has. More than just the writing, but the family and his home. (If you're unfamiliar with who Jack London his, this is the "wolves" section of the blog post - he wrote "Whitefang," among other stories involving wolves).

Mackerricher State Park was next, just north of the town of Ft. Bragg on California's coast. I got to pick out my camping spot - yippee! But have to admit, being the day after, I realize why I haven't camped in more than 10 years :)

It took maybe 20 minutes to "set up camp" - which was basically popping the tent up. I then went to look for my beloved seals. And I found them, at least a dozen round "sausage links" lying lazily on the rocks with the crashing waves of the Pacific around them. They seemed unfazed by this and occasionally flapped a tail fin or two.

Sunset followed then bed by 9 p.m.-ish. Then I began to get creeped out. I started hearing noises in the bushes around me and it began getting cold. I imagined the tent being shaked, like in "The Blair Witch Project," which I think is the scariest movie ever. Tried thinking happy thoughts and went to sleep. Awoke after thinking I slept several hours at 12:30 p.m. I dreamt that a small tremor went through the campground - I felt it in my dream, not sure if it were real.

I was COLD! Thought about getting in the car but the thought of lugging my stuff and going outside seemed worse than bearing through the rest of the night. After it all, I did get a decent night of sleep. Which leads to the next post...

Monday, May 28, 2007

S2S Day 2: Hugging Trees and Sipping Wine

S2S 2007 continued...

Yesterday was awesome. In true San Francisco weather, conditions were cold and foggy, a light mist dampened the morning (and frizzed the hair). Met up with Extranomical Tours at the Park Fifty Hotel near the Powell BART Station for a tour of Muir Woods National Monument (for tree hugging) and a trip to the Sonoma wine country (to sip some wine). I liked the size, there were 11 of us in a white van, not one of the obnoxiously painted vehicles.

Once we crossed over the Golden Gate Bridge, the fog lifted. The walk at Muir Woods was still chilly but comfortable. I walked the easy, paved trail, straining my neck to look up in awe at the redwoods. Redwood Creek meanders along the trail, full of rounded river rocks. Not much was flowing through the creek, though. We only had an hour before heading to Sonoma.

The weather was gorgeous, probably upper 70s and sunny.

I guess Sonoma was what I expected. Wineries sprinkled throughout the rolling hillside (I know, cliche phrase). The tour included stops at three wineries and our guide chose a nice mix, visiting small, medium and large wineries. Unfortunately, I really didn't like most of the wine (the area is known for reds and up until recently, my body can't tolerate reds).

Highlights were a stop at Homewood Winery, produces 3,000 cases annually and a real intimate setting. Viansa was like stepping into Tuscany (so I'm told). Located on a hillside, the vineyards rolled down each side and the view looks over the Sonoma countryside. None of its wine is distributed through wholesalers or retailers, it relies on winery tours and wine club membership to sell its product.

Cline Cellars has beautiful roses around the vineyards, which is an indicator how well conditions are for the grapevines. Interestingly, while the wine is the primary draw, an aviary and the California Missions Museum is on site. On display are miniature models of California's missions built for the 1939 World's Fair.

Upon returning back to the city, the fog swirled back in, but didn't hide the Golden Gate Bridge for the obligatory stop for the Kodak Moment.

Of course, since I was the odd-ball person traveling alone (everyone else were paired up or in threes), the conversation of traveling solo came up. The husband-wife couple brought it up, asking if I was used to traveling on my own because I just seem to get up and go. I explained my philosophy on traveling solo.

"That's great!" was their response.

Did see the sea lions at Pier 39 upon returning, at Fisherman's Wharf. Hundreds of their sausage-like bodies lounged and played on floating docks built specifically for them. As the Extranomical guide said, "they're a bit like exhibitionists," because of the tourist stands built at the pier to watch the sea mammals.

Also took a walk through China Town and upon returning to my hotel, I realized it earns an 8 out of 10 on the scary meter for location. The property itself is perfect but location the beggars are a bit aggressive.

I'm torn what to do today. It shouldn't take me that long to get to my next destination - Mackerricher State Park. I'm torn between Pt. Reyes National Seashore and heading back to Sonoma for the Jack London and Robert Louis Stevenson State Parks.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Delta Doesn't Like it When I Go on Vacation

My trip began today with getting up at 3:30 a.m. EST for a 6:00 a.m. flight out of Tally. What happened in Atlanta? Maintenance delay, departed more than an hour later to Salt Lake, which meant I missed my connection to Oakland, CA. Now, I didn't book that, I originally had a direct between ATL and OAK, but Delta apparently doesn't offer that service any more.

The gate agent made an announcement that passengers can go to the re-route desk and re-routed via Cincinnati or alternative airports.

I tried to reroute to San Francisco but was told I had to fly the same route as my bags, "FAA regulation."

"Look," I told the Delta 'special persons guy' (I'm a silver medallion, not a super special person but at least a somewhat special person), "we both know the bags don't always fly on the same plane as the passenger."

"Delta has a 98% rate of getting luggage on time," I was told. He then made some phone calls and said I could reroute if I paid for it because it was a volunteer re-routing! Hmm, did I choose to depart later? No. Did I even choose to book via Salt Lake? No. If I knew the flight would no longer be offered, I would have booked to fly into San Francisco. I didn't want to push the issue, the last thing I wanted was to be hauled off into some questioning room and missing another flight.

Anyway, I got to Salt Lake, sat next to a 48-year-old divorced, psychiatrist who's Indian and on his way to meet the 8th woman he's met online in his quest for love (whole other story unto its own and I learned more than I wanted).

I had about 3 hours to kill and remembered the Mormon Temple Square offers tours from the airport. I had printed out my "route interrupted" voucher and meal voucher and headed out past security. I stopped the three young TSA officers to make sure I'd be able to get back through. One replied, "oh, you're going to be spending more time with us."

Wasn't sure if he was referring to the Mormon people or what. He then pointed out the "SSSS" code on my boarding pass. Remember this post? He said I'd be better off going through security than trying to board with the SSSS code. He said I'd been flagged to be pulled aside for searching once my boarding pass is scanned at the gate. Another guy said, "we have a puffer machine that takes care of everything."

I replied I was already familiar with the puffer machine and hate being the SSSS girl. Methinks this was the revenge of the Atlanta Delta agent.

Anyway, didn't make it to Temple Square. Returned through security and I really have to wonder how safe things are. The TSA agent checking boarding passes didn't understand the trip interruption voucher - which is a boarding pass, it just looks different. He kept riffling through my papers and I kept telling him, "it's on the top."

He then needed to see the original boarding pass and eventually found it. He said it wasn't valid because the time wasn't listed - I pointed out the time. He then said because my new voucher had the SSSS on it, he'd hide it and stamp the original boarding pass! Being the anal person I am, I told him "no, I was told to come down here to go through the extra security."

He replied it was "okay" not to go through the extra security.

Needless to say, security was fine, no puffer machine and I didn't get flagged boarding the plane. Landed in OAK at 3:30 p.m. and settled at my hotel in the ghetto. It seems to be in a shady area but the hotel is actually very nice. I had reserved the cheapest vehicle possible but have some boat of a thing. Good thing is, I can actually sleep in the back if I put the seats down. So Monday night, maybe that's we're I'll be spending the night. We'll see.

Headed to San Francisco this evening via BART - Bay Area Rapid Transit. It's soooo cold and I wasn't prepared. But, enjoyed a heaping cup of seafood (crab, squid and shrimp - mmmm!) and piping hot clam chowder at Fisherman's Wharf and road a trolley. I'm sure I'm not the only one, but every time I saw a street car, kept thinking of Rice-a-Roni...

Tomorrow is the wine tour, big trees and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Friday, May 25, 2007

S2S 2007: It's Finally Here!!!!

I'm so excited! My bags are packed, the last load of laundry is drying and I'm READY for my adventure - yippee! My itinerary includes a couple of planned things, a guided wine tour departing from San Francisco and a guided walking tour in Portland. I found an adults-on guided walking tour of Seattle, touring things sinister, but they don't take reservations. Which is probably a good thing, keeps my schedule flexible.

I plan to be blogging about the trip and of course, will write at least something about the adventure. Speaking of which, I just wrote this little planning guide about the girlfriends getaway road trip. I've also posted a few articles over on Suite101, you can check those out by following the Suite101 box on the right-hand side of the blog.

There was a sense of accomplishment this week, finally got my essays edited for the much awaited "To Asia with Love: Japan" guidebook. Guess it's been about two years I've been waiting for it to be published. Publication target date is the end of this year - fingers crossed! Unfortunately, I could only submit five essays because for the other five, I didn't have specific detail, like where specifically I was. During the Japan trip, I just went with the flow and gave up fighting the language barrier.

Need to take out the trash, touch up the apartment and get some shut-eye for my o'dark-thirty-flight. Stay tuned! :)

Monday, May 21, 2007

Day for Groovy Things!


My mailbox had a nice surprise for me today, my backpack thingy from tripadvisor!

They sent these backpacks to travelers, like me, who shared experiences about a trip (or trips) on their site. Not that I need another bag, but I actually don't have one like this. It'll come in handy on my trip next week.

Also, I learned about a site called Says-It.com from fellow AC contributor Craig Kohler's blog, AllSux.com. On the site, users can create a seal and keep it (for FREE!). See! I made myself a seal. Is it too bright? Users can also purchase items like stickers (that'd be pretty cool), mugs and other stuff branded with their customized logo. Check out Says-It.com!

Ecotourism: Finding a Balance in Hawaii

Ecotourism, it's not just for tree huggers any more. Hawaii knows this. They're ahead of the curve. Being a tree hugger, I'm so glad mainstream society is finally waking up to the importance of preserving nature for the enjoyment of travel and the economical benefit. I've always believed a healthy environment yields a healthy economy and my sponsor has triggered my post about Hawaii.

Hawaii's knowledge of the economical importance of ecotourism is evident by the $95 million the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will infuse into her environment. Maui and Kauai recognize the fragile state of their environments and protect them like precious jewels.

Can there be a balance between tourism and nature? Yes. Hawaii beachfront cottages are the ideal solution for travelers wanting an authentic, natural, Hawaiian experience. Cottages have personality and facilitate a balance between humans and nature. What's more beautiful than the lullaby of lapsing ocean waves?

Hawaii beachfront cottages allow tourists to blend in. And I'm all for that. Staying in secluded, less-tourist frequented areas ease strain on popular-tourist sites. Travelers can understand the culture by mixing with the locals. They can hike lesser-known trails for bragging rights and importantly, reducing the impact on over-used trails. Tourists can shop locally and support the economy.

When visiting the 50th state, think locally and think smart. Rest your head in one of Hawaii's beachfront cottages. Mother Nature will thank you.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

S2S2007: Less than a Week!!!

I'm so excited about my upcoming trip. I leave this Saturday - yippee! Over the weekend I finalized my lodging and have a better idea of where I'm going and what I'm going to see.

I went to WalMart today for a really large bag (for my tent) to help with my packing. One night I'm camping at Mackerricher State Park in California. It has most of the things I wanna see: seals, big trees, rocky coast meeting the Pacific Ocean, tide pools and possibly whales. There's even WiFi - groovy!

Anyway, at WalMart, while perusing the toothbrush aisle, I noticed something very odd. The painted faces of KISS were there. And so were Queen and Hillary Duff. Hmmm. Hasbro has come up with Tooth Tunes Children's Musical Toothbrushes. The Beach Boys, Smash Mouth (ironic), the Village People and theme song to "Rocky" are options, too. Me thinks Hasbro's reaching more than the kids because I'd think it'd be pretty cool to be brushing the pearly whites to "YMCA" or "Rock & Roll All Night" Gives a whole new meaning to karaoke. The site lists prices at $9.99 but I THINK WalMart had them priced cheaper than that. Too bad my birthday's past.

OK, back to my trip - my lodging accommodations will be just under $200 for 7-nights. That works out to four free nights with hotel comps, one night in a campground (and I'll probably chicken out and sleep in the locked car), one night in an Oregon inn (describing itself as "whimsical, 'Alice in Wonderland,' and $50") and one night at the hotel in Mt. Rainier National Park (this is the splurge).

I've found some cool stuff to do and see and the geek that I am put everything into a spreadsheet. Stay tuned...

Edited: May 21 - after I realized my geography faux pax...

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Cool Site of the Week: Searching for Bigfoot

I love the art of guerrilla marketing. While returning from Atlanta this week, I spied this vehicle heading south on I-75. It's the expedition team to find Bigfoot and their site is: www.searchingforbigfoot.com. The team is on the move right now in search of the hairy beast.

Keep posted on their search or listen in on their weekly radio show. Or, read about Bigfoot sitings. The site needs a bit of help, but it's entertaining.

And, pick up Searching for Bigfoot logo'd wear, like a ski cap or a Bigfoot belt buckle. Remember, Father's Day's around the corner.

What I've Been Up to on AC

So AC added a new feature recently, an option to create slide shows. I gave it a whirl and posted some images of Afghanistan's youth. Enjoy.

Just wish I could embed the slide show, like the video.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Exposed, Chaos, Life

I can sense change is in the air for me but wonder if I should trust my "sense." A potential opportunity was "exposed" at the office today, making things a bit uncomfortable. I've been looking at expanding my horizons and felt like something was going to come through. I've been proceeding discreetly, so I thought.

Things are outta the bag now. I had to "confess my sins," so to say (but not all of them). While I always found confessing my sins to a priest to be awkward and uncomfortable, this wasn't so bad.

The "change" I expected hasn't come through, at least not now. An opportunity for change in an unexpected place appeared today and now has potential. Maybe.

My lease is up at the end of June and I need to give notice NOW. I have a trip planned to the West Coast at the end of this month. I have a wedding (and anniversary) to attend to in August and a trip to Italy in November.

This morning I thought my life would follow a certain path, by the end of the day, it looks like I'm headed in a different direction. The advantage I have is that I'm a single woman with the world as my oyster. I'm in control of my path.

Now about the photo. Went out to happy hour with a couple of guy pals tonight and had to snap this photo from the bathroom. It's the standard, "employees must wash hands" sign and someone wrote "if employees aren't available, please do it your self." Clever.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Alltel: Get in the Van

I'm really a fan of the "pinching" commercial but I'm a fan of this one, too (and I'm not even an Alltel subscriber).

Cool Web site of the Week: Quatloos!

I've mentioned before I have a quirky interest in Internet scams (QKG's View: Euro Million International: 419 Scam). Today I had to laugh when I received the email below. These goons are becoming more sophisticated.

Now, I'm always tempted to respond to these yahoos, but don't. Last year, I was researching Nigerian 419 scams, and came across a Web site called Quatloos! If you LOVE to laugh, you've GOT to check the site out. I've cried from laughing so hard.

It's frightening how much money these scammers have taken from Americans (it's a bit ironic, Americans are greedy to make easy money and the scammers are greedy to steal). But what Brad Christensen does is turn the tables on the scammers. He posts his email exchanges with the scammers and the conversations are laugh-out-loud funny. It's a bit of sweet revenge for these freaks clogging our email boxes and trying to scam us. Check out Quatloos!

Originating email: barredwinjames66@yahoo.com
FROM THE DESK OF BARRISTER EDWIN JAMES
SUITE 7.15, 7TH FLOOR, MENARA TJB
NO. 9, JALAN SYED MOHD MUFTI
JOHOR BAHRU
. MALAYSIA
TEL:+60 17 2356587

Bearing in mind the nature of the content of this letter coming from a person without any referral, I apologize for any inconvenience, but please read and objectively consider if we can work together.

I am Barrister Edwin James, a legal practitioner, this involves a foreign client of mine, Late Mr. Mike Huber, who shared the same last name with you and died as the result of a heart-related Denneyon [ok, what's a Denneyon? Anyone? Anyone?] the 11 November 2001. His heart condition was due to the death of all the members of her family in the Gulf Air Flight Crashes in Persian Gulf near Bahrain Aired August 23, 2000 - 2:50p.m. ET as reported on: http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0008/23/bn.08.html [Clever, links to an actual CNN transcript]

My client had an investment on fixed deposit of value US$12.5 m, [Twelve
Million, Five Hundred Thousand U.S.D] [I'm sooooo glad he wrote this out] deposited in a private bank here with no nominated successor in title over this investment. This bank has issued me a notice to contact the next of kin, or the account will be confiscated and I want you to assist in distributing the money left behind by my client otherwise it will be sent to the treasury by the bank.

I have already developed a full proof, legal and totally risk free means through which the fund can be released to you within a very short time after due documentation and authentication process. The strategy is to use my position and influence as the lawyer of the deceased to present you as a next of Kin and beneficiary of the deposit so that the proceeds of this account can be paid to you.

I want to assure you that I have concluded all local modalities for the successful completion of this within 10 banking days of your agreement to proceed with me as the required assistance are perfected to be safe and without any breach of law.

Please contact me at once to indicate your interest. I will like you to acknowledge the receipt of this e-mail as soon as possible via my private EMAIL:(barristeredwinjames01@gmail.com) and treat with absolute confidentiality and sincerity.I look forward to your quick reply. [Yup, keeping it confidential, just sharing it with the whole world]

Yours truly,
Barrister Edwin James Esq

Monday, May 07, 2007

Sarasota Children's Garden

One of the coolest things to do in Sarasota is the Sarasota Children's Garden. It's a bit difficult to find but worth the "hunt." Just about everything at the garden has been made from recycled bits, whether it's from a car, a tea set or whatever. I first visited with some co-workers (when I was living there) when we discovered it existed.
It would be a cool adult party place at night, maybe a costumed-theme party.

My Mom and I took my nephew and niece there one year when they came down for a visit. Enjoy the experience.

The Week in Pictures

It's been a busy week. Enjoy: birthday flowers; smoke on the interstate; Sanford, Fla.; Chicago dog from the Weenie Wagon, Orlando; and Tarpon Springs, Fla.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

It's Official! A Year Older

Well, I can't deny it (because MySpace says it's true), I'm a year older *sigh.* While listening to tunes sent by my parents (thanks!), I'm chuckling over learning (after all these years) that May Day (my B-Day) is a holiday celebrated by Wiccans and Druids.

Why do I laugh? Tucked in the birthday card from my Mom was an essay I wrote in 8th grade titled, "What I Want to be When I Grew Up." I've written many things in my life and this is one of those pieces I always wondered, "where is that?"

Let me share some of my early writings with you:
"There were many things I wanted to be when I grew up. I won't bore you by naming them all, so I'll tell you about the ones I think you'll enjoy.

"One of the things I wanted to be when I grew up was...promise not to laugh, though it'll be hard, I wanted to be a witch! That's right, a witch! I was inspired on being a witch by watching the reruns of "Bewitched." Being a witch on TV looked like real fun! Samantha would be the best witch on the west side of the Mississippi, and I would be the best witch in the East!
"That dream finally faded after I found out that "Bewitched" wasn't a true story. My heart was broken..."

Fast forward to the closing paragraph...

"As I look back at those silly little thoughts, I wonder how they entered my mind. After all, how many little girls do you know that want to be a witch when they grow up?"
Teacher's comment: Only one!
Additional comments: Very clever - you caught the "spirit" of the assignment.
Grade: A

I had no idea this was my start with keyword-rich writing. And, I have to admit my exclamation points (!!!) were a little outta control, too.

Ironically, I picked up a copy of Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West today.

In the "spirit" of the day, the posted photo is me with the statue of "Bewitched's" Samantha in Salem, Mass., taken last September.

Mom - do you think you can find that cafeteria expose I wrote in third grade? :)