I Have So Much San Salvador-ation Right Now

I Have So Much San Salvador-ation Right Now

 

El Salvador: a country long elusive from my grasp. Despite multiple layovers here on my voyages to and from South America, I never really ventured far beyond the airport and THAT DOES NOT COUNT as a visit. Now I’m setting things right again and making it a proper trip.

Sadly, it had to be when we would find out that another coup would befall Sudan only 3 weeks ago, I figured it would be best to postpone a visit there and give a chance to El Salvador. Deciding 2 weeks ago thanks to the suggestion of longtime monsooner Mihaela and 7 signing up within 7 days, we made another impossible trip happen.

With the 4:40pm direct 4 hour Avianca flight for $220 roundtrip, this was the best flight price I’ve seen for El Salvador since 6 years of monitoring; the second lowest I’ve seen was $591 roundtrip. Although I had my negative COVID-19 test on a PCR that was performed within 72 hours of arrival, nobody ended up asking for a copy of my result at check in once they found out I was triply vaccinated for COVID-19.

Oh well, at least I know everyone else on my trip is with me is not only fully vaccinated but also negative for COVID-19.

Tony and I landed promptly at 8:35pm where we rendezvous’ed with Brandon and Kimmy after they had landed an hour earlier from Miami and were finishing up a power hour of drinks at the VIP lounge by Gate 5. We then headed to immigrations, paid the $12 tourist card at the counter in the left right corner, and then got stamped at the passports counter immediately to the right.

 

 

After a quick customs check we were picked up by a cab company our hotel arranged and taken to the serene accommodations of Hotel Oasis.

 

 

Taking it easy on the first day vibes, we got drinks outside my balcony terrace with these views of the mountains behind us:

 

 

The next morning we enjoyed breakfast at our hotel garden:

 

 

While waiting for Rajani to fly in later in the afternoon, we joined Chyne at a hotel down the street and took 2 Ubers into the city historical center.

Still recovering from the plenty of earthquakes and the civil war since the 1980s, the center is lined with abandoned office buildings and thousands of vendors and stalls that call these congested streets home.

 

 

We started at the National Palace:

 

 

Then we walked up to the Civic Square Captain General Gerardo Barrios:

 

 

Then up to the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Salvador, replacing the previous cathedral that was destroyed by an earthquake in the 1800s.

 

 

A steady stream of local and international tourists visit daily to see the downstairs tomb of Oscar Romero, the fourth archbishop of San Salvador.

 

 

Morazán Plaza is right in the center of it all.

 

 

Don’t miss the various Chivo kiosks scattered here, the new evidence of El Salvador adding Bitcoin as one of its official currencies (with Chivo as its mobile wallet):

 

 

Finally, by Plaza Libertad

 

 

…we walked to Iglesia Rosario. Built by sculptor Ruben Martinez in the 1970’s, this church is arguably one of the most unique and “radically beautiful” buildings in Central America.

 

 

To enter, you need to access a small side entrance around the corner:

 

 

It may appear as an airplane hangar from the outside . . .

 

 

. . . but inside a rainbow of colors dance across the floor and across the altar; natural night bounces off the metal and rock as the sun changes its course throughout the day. Although no photos are allowed inside, the guards kinda looked the other way after doing their job and saying it to us. We did our best to cover it up so nobody got in trouble.

 

 

Come here when the sun is setting during golden hour so you can maximize the different colors you can witness dancing along the walls of the church.

 

 

After half an hour at the historic center we turned around up and took an Uber for lunch at a local Pupuseria “La Oloculitense”.

FYI a pupusa: a thick tortilla dough based corn or rice stuffed with cheese, pork, squash, refried beans, or loroco (the Salvadorean national flower).

 

 

We had 3 “loca” pupusas (one with everything), 12 pupusas of 4 different varieties, 8 beers and 6 large bottles of water all for $32 USD:

 

 

It’s right next to the Monument to the Divine Savior of the World. The Saviour is San Salvador’s Patron Saint and is celebrated with massive festivities during the first full week of August every year

 

 

At night time it lights up pretty:

 

 

Finally we returned for an afternoon nap back at our hotels while waiting for Rajani to arrive.

After repeating the morning’s itinerary with her with our driver Loreta, we then stopped for a stroll under the rain along Plaza Futura: an open plan plaza at the base of a modern business tower and a popular expat hangout full of restaurants, cafes and bars.

 

 

The plaza offers some great views of the city, as well as where we dined at Senor Gaucho with a local San Salvadorian Adriana, who had reached out to me last night on Instagram about meeting up after seeing my stories.

 

 

Afterwards Adriana invited her sister Rose to join us for drinks and shisha at Vanilla Lounge:

 

 

The night is still going strong, so check back for more photos; especially with our new friends Adriana and Rose!

 

 

- At time of posting in San Salvador, it was 21 °C - Humidity: 81% | Wind Speed: 8km/hr | Cloud Cover: rain showers

 

OPorto-nity Awaits!

OPorto-nity Awaits!

 

 

After nearly 3 days in Madeira, we flew out on a late night flight back to the Portuguese mainland, arriving into Porto at midnight. Then Uber’ing straight to our lodgings at Ribeira São João Apartment in the city center, we arrived by 1am. I immediately fell in love with the city:

 

 

The next morning I quickly grabbed coffee at Café do Comercial in the neigborhood at 9am where lo and behold, I’d make sure to run into Vibhu, whom I first met in person 25 days ago on May 20th in NYC, before she’d catch her 10:25am train to Lisbon

Flippantly at the time when we had first met, we quipped then that “who knows, we might run into each other traveling,” not realizing a scheming universe always could make sure it would actually happen 25 days later.

 

 

I mean of all places to have a run-in, what better than a place like Porto? The city oozes with saudade:

 

 

So take your time wandering, especially in the alluring and evocative winding and hilly streets of Riberia.

 

  

19th century built Bolsa Palace is right next door:

 

 

And facing the palace is Mercado Ferreira Borgesa landmark building from the 1880s now converted into a nightclub and performing arts space.

 

 

A few paces away from both structures is the local’s favorite pasteis de nata at Castro:

 

 

Walking 10 minutes uphill and northeast along Rua de Mouzinho da Silveira, you’ll reach the decorative São Bento Train Station, which was formerly a monastery.

 

 

About another 5 minutes walk south street stands the 12th century Porto Cathedral:

 

 

The Cathedral is in the same complex as the former Bishops’ Palace of the Episocopal Palace. It became controversial for how lavish the residence became for the bishops as the rest of the city languished economically.

 

 

The cathedral complex faces the 16th century Convento dos Grilos across an overlook:

 

 

If you dig old bookstores, head up 10 minutes north from the cathedral for some Harry Potter vibes at the historic Livraria Lello. To set the record straight, the bookstore has no direct connection (the movies were never filmed here) with Harry Potter other than it was known that JK Rowling used to live in Porto while in an abusive marriage before leaving for Edinburgh.

You have to reserve ahead of time online to even get in (a minimum of a 5 euro entry per ticket, which can be used as a voucher towards a book at the gift shop; vouchers cannot be combined for a single purchase), let alone wait on the hour and half line. If you want to skip the line entirely, expect to pay up to 15-17 euros for a book you can then pick up at the store. We got lucky as we visited in the afternoon during lunch, so our wait time was only 20 minutes on the 5 euro voucher. They even give you umbrellas in line as protection from the elements!

 

 

This place is currently regarded as the beautiful and one of the top 3 bookstores in the world after Cărturești in Romania and Avid Reader in Australia:

 

  

After about 15 minutes at the Livraria Lello (it’s otherwise pretty small), walk 5 minutes southeast along Rua Das Carmelitas to Igreja dos Cléricgos, the world’s tallest building made of granite. For 6 euros you can climb the 200+ steps to the top for 360 views of the city, which I found to be similar to the views I got from Luis I Bridge and the countless elevated terraces around Porto:

 

 

The continuing along Rua dos Clérigos, you’ll reach Av. dos Aliados a few minutes away:

 

 

A little more north leads to the streets of Rua Santa Catarina, famous for eating, shopping, and churches with Azulejo tiles:

 

 

If you’re feeling peckish, there are numerous small dessert shops back in Ribiera. We picked out a special homemade nata dish at the oldest building in Porto:

 

 

And finally to the south of Riberia, you can walk along the top of Luis I Bridge for the views of Porto from afar:

 

 

Venturing further outside of Porto’s old city, we looked at the unique trees at Jardim de João Chagas. They’re not a native species but rather newer trees replanted within the old, dead trunks that swelled immensely from a tree-specific bacterial infection decades ago.

 

 

You may notice that across the street from the park, António de Oliveira Salazar’s unique “Lady Justice” statue stands imposingly outside the very un-Portuguese brutalistic architecture of the Tribual da Relacão do Porto. The statue is unique in that it has been redesigned without the typical “justice is blind” blindfold and the scales are tucked away at her side.

The redesign became symbolic of the fascist style of justice that Salazar’s reign wanted to convey to his people: we’re watching you and it’s not going to be impartial.

 

 

I then walked south back towards the river into the former Jewish neighborhoods of Porto, situated by the Jardim Municipal do Horto das Virtudes:

 

 

Of note, the stray cats here are taken care of and have been trained so well by the neighborhood here that they’ve learned to do their business in the man-made drains:

 

 

Resting a bit in the afternoon, we then headed back out in the evening west, passing by the Casa da Musica:

 

 

…before finishing our trip with a splendid al fresco dinner at Em Carne Viva:

 

 

Most atmospheric dinner of the trip so far:

 

 

Let’s begin:

 

 

Arugula Bread and Vegetable Chorizo with Chickpeas and Spices Tapenade:

 

Vegan Francesinha:

 

 

Bulhão Pato Mushrooms – Shiitake and Marron mushrooms in a white wine, garlic, and fresh coriander sauce:

 

Spinless Tofu with seaweed “Lagareira” – Finely sliced grilled tofu with seaweed from the Atlantic, crispy bread topping with herbs, sautéed greens and roasted potatoes:

 

Spearmint Petit Gateau, Caipirinha Hail, Creamy Lime Ice Cream:

 

How this trip ends:

 

 

Returning to the USA (COVID-19)

While in Madeira 2 days ago (which was at the beginning of our 72 hour window on our return back to the USA), we scheduled a rapid antigen test beforehand at one of the pharmacies in the neighborhood. Many already have testing tents set up in front of them but they only take appointments, which you must arrange at the sponsoring pharmacy itself.

 

 

Timing our flight back to NYC to be 4pm exactly 2 days from today, we selected the 4:35pm time slot the next day (yesterday) to be tested. This way our tests could count not only for our return back to the States, but also our layover in Madrid beforehand just in case we wanted to leave the airport.

 

 

Then yesterday afternoon we checked in at the tent located about a 2 minute walk past the pharmacy in front of Sé Cathedral in Madeira:

 

 

They really go up there in that nose here! Our rapid antigen test results were ready within 45 minutes and we picked them up back at the pharmacy where we originally scheduled our tests:

 

 

Then I uploaded my test result to the new app Verifly so I can make sure I minimize the fuss on my way back to NYC tomorrow morning.

 

 

 

 

- At time of posting in Porto, it was 15 °C - Humidity: 74% | Wind Speed: 8km/hr | Cloud Cover: sunny

 

Lis-“bon” There…But Haven’t Done That!

Lis-“bon” There…But Haven’t Done That!

 

Yes I’ve been to Lisbon before! But that was back in 2011 after my first ever group monsoon and spent only 12 hours wandering. Didn’t even make it to Belem Tower then. So this is a return for a proper visit.

 

 

After our successful trip last month to Cyprus, I wanted to balance out the high with some solo travel: When I saw roundtrip flights between NYC and Portugal drop down to $340 USD all inclusive (for both flights!), I jumped right in, timing it to the reopening of the EU after the pandemic and before flight prices would rise. And what better way than with additional island hopping to Madeira and Azores via the mainland of Portugal for less than $90 USD per leg between each destination?

 

 

If there was a time to travel fully vaccinated and with a good deal, this is the time to do it.

After obtaining negative PCR tests the day before and boarding a 9pm Iberia flight from JFK to Madrid, I spent a 5 hour layover catching up on sleep at the Plaza Mayor lounge in Terminal 4 of MAD airport.

 

 

Then I boarded the 3:40pm Iberia flight onwards to Lisbon, landing at 4:05pm local time.

But before leaving, I made sure I picked up a pre-purchased 48 hour Lisbon Card for 34€ to save some money for the rest of my time here. It activates only when you first use it and is valid for a year since purchase, it’s hour to hour (so if I first used the card at 8am Monday, it would last until 8am Wednesday), and covers numerous admission fees at the top sites and most public transportation. If you missed getting a card at the airpot, you can also snag one at the Lisboa Welcome Center or Foz Palace.

Then catching an Uber at arrivals, we finally reached our lodgings at Porta do Mar in central Lisbon, a few paces away from Praca do Comércio:

 

 

And not even within an hour of landing in Lisbon, we ran into friends back home: Jinny and her friend Maggie, both of whom who had actually cancelled their trip to Portugal a few days ago, only to rebook it the next day on a whim and find us here. It was meant to be. We reunited with dinner at da Prato 52:

 

 

After a spirited conversation and 2 hours there, we headed up to the photogenic 19th century Santa Justa Elevador

 

 

… making it up the stairs and just in time for drinks at Topo Chiado before their 11pm curfew:

 

 

I struggled with not being able to sleep for more than 4 hours my first night before heading out again to meet with Jinny and Maggie for brunch. Thankfully I didn’t have to walk very far as I recuperated from jetlag:

 

 

After bidding them farewell as they headed off for Porto, we began our day at the Lisboa Story Center, located in Praca do Comércio. The admission fee is included in the card and expect to spend at least 45 minutes here learning about Lisbon’s history. It can be a decent a family-friendly (or cheesy, depending on the perspective) primer before you explore the rest of the city.

 

 

From here, I made a 4 minute walk uphill to the 18th century Saint Anthony’s Church (believed to be the birthplace of Saint Anthony):

 

 

…and across from the church stands the 12th century Lisbon Cathedral, which has been rebuilt numerous times in different styles due to earthquakes. The admission fee is not included in the Lisboa Card.

 

 

Another 10 minute walk up to the very top led me back to the 11th century Moorish built Castelo de Sao Jorge. Its admission fee is also not included on the card.

 

 

Then I headed back down to sea level by Praca do Comércio and took Bus 728 for a 25 minute ride to Jerónimos Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most prominent examples of the Portuguese Late Gothic Manueline style of architecture in Lisbon:

 

 

With the admission fee included in the Lisboa Card, it took about half an hour to explore the monastery in its entirety:

 

 

Next to the monastery is its accompanying church, which you can visit free of charge:

 

 

Across from the monastery at the Tagus riverfront, start your boardwalk at the Padrão dos Descobrimentos monument, built to celebrate the Portuguese “Age of Discovery/Exploration” in the 15th to 16th centuries:

 

 

From there walk along the river past the unexpectedly diminutive Belem Lighthouse:

 

 

…and you’ll eventually reach the landmark medieval defensive tower and de facto symbol of Lisbon, Belém Tower:

 

 

If you’re looking for a cafe in the area, look no further than the original Pasteis de Belem:

 

 

If you ask me though, its mortal enemy and competitor Manteigaria has a better crust experience at the expense of the creaminess of the custard you’d get with Pasteis’:

 

 

And in the spirit of gastronomy, later that evening we snagged reservations at José Avillez’s Belcanto, with 2 Michelin stars and ranked the 42nd best restaurant in the world:

 

 

I went all out for its Evolution Tasting Menu, beginning with Elderini with lemon foam and zest, and paprika salt, Brioche with cod liver and trout roe:

 

 

Oyster and tuna belly tartare with borage

 

 

Golden sphere with foie gras and Port, Minced squid with roasted chicken skin, egg yolk purée and huacatay, Marinated and brasied sardine, bell pepper and eggplant (bottom 3):

 

 

Carrot and olive in different textures with pine nut milk and lupin bean “caviar” (bottom plate):

 

 

European lobster “Casear salad” with avocado, tomato water and, yuzu and truffle emulsion:

 

 

Springtime scarlet shrimp with shrimp head curry, green apple, green asparagus and coriander:

 

 

Creamy egg yolk with spring flavors and, chicken and mint consommé:

 

 

Hake in fig leaf with its ‘tongues’, Barbela wheat crunch toast with fig leaves, dried fig butter and cured ham:

 

 

Crispy suckling pig ‘sandwich’ with sarapatel paté, peppercorn sauce, orange purée, watercress emulsion and puffed potatoes:

 

 

“Bacon-from-heaven” and earth:

 

 

Strawberry-tomato textures (yes with real tomato!):

 

 

Petits fours:

 

The Vegetarian version of the Belcanto Tasting Menu

 

Explosive Olive, Brioche bun filled with eggplant caviar:

 

 

Golden sphere with hummus, Jerusalem artichoke with avocado and corn, Charcoal toast with eggplant, and bell pepper (top 3):

 

 

Carrot in different textures with cashew milk, olive and tangerine bonbons (top plate):

 

 

White asparagus with avocado, tomato water, yuzu and truffle emulsion:

 

 

Artichoke with spring flavors and mushrooms consommé (top plate):

 

 

Vegetable curry, green apple, peas and coriander (top plate):

 

 

Vegetarian “cabidela”:

 

 

Sweet egg cream and lemon:

 


Sintra

The next morning to save us time, we arranged a bag pickup by Luggit from our lodgings; this way we could sleep in and leave later for Sintra, spend more time there (instead of returning to Lisbon for our bags), and then head directly to the airport afterwards where our bags would be waiting for us.

After getting our bags quickly picked up by Luggit without any drama (other than I slept through my alarm and made my keeper wait 20 minutes outside…sorry!), we took the hourly Linha de Sintra railway west from Rossio to Sintra, a 40 minute train ride away and also included in your Lisbon Card perks:

 

 

If you had to choose one castle out of the countless ones to explore in Sintra, choose the National Palace of Pena:

 

 

As my friend Sharon remarked, it’s “Disney World without Mickey Mouse.”

 

 

Each castle can either take an hour to explore (reading every exhibit and taking a ton of photos), or as little as 15 minutes if you’re not a big museum person. After enough spelunking they might start to blend in together, so unless you’re an expert in this field of Portuguese history and since most come to Sintra on a day trip, pick one or two at most to fully take in instead of trying to knock them all down in one day.

 

 

In the area I also recommend taking bus 403 (or an Uber) for a 40 minute drive away to the viewpoint and lighthouse at Cabo da Roca, the westernmost part of the main European landmass:

 

 

Afterwards given the convenient luggage service of Luggit that couriered our bags from our lodgings to the airport this morning before we left for Sintra, we saved ourselves a trip back to Lisbon and instead headed from Sintra directly to the airport. This trip took an hour from Sintra by means of public transportation, all of which included in the Lisboa Card.

 

 

After nearly 3 days in Lisbon, we are now about to board the evening 7:05pm Azores Airlines flight to Ponta Delgada in Azores.

 

 

- At time of posting in Lisbon, it was 24 °C - Humidity: 42% | Wind Speed: 13km/hr | Cloud Cover: sunny

 

Gotta Get Away Before I “Croix” Myself To Sleep

Gotta Get Away Before I “Croix” Myself To Sleep

 

During the heydey of the pandemic, I was nominated to be one of the 100,000 Healthcare Workers to receive a pair of of roundtrip flight certificates offered by JetBlue. I almost forgot about the expiration dates, if it weren’t for a reminder in the middle of a random ER shift one day that I had less than 2 months to use them before they’d be gone for good.

 

 

Scrambling to find worthy and safe locations to travel to with my weekend off in May, I concluded that the single-digit, low % rate of COVID-19 infections in the US Virgin Islands the past month was even safer than the rapidly decreasing rates in my own hometown of a very vaccinated Manhattan (which I feel has been the safest place to be in the entire country since last April).

I feel that even if I were to stay on the mainland, there are more than plenty maskless states down south that would be better off for a post-pandemic visit instead. And if I were to travel solo and spend most of my time in COVID-19 approved properties and outdoors, I should remain safe especially as a fully vaccinated individual. Can I recharge by travel still if I do it as responsibly as possible?

 

 

So here were my first steps in re-emerging into travel in 2021:

1. Ensure that the local infection rates of both the place of origin and destination are similarly low. It’s important that wherever you’re flying from is low in terms of infection rates (aka no outbreaks or single digit prevalence), that you’ve ideally stayed there for at least 10-14 days without symptoms and tested negative for COVID-19 right before departure so you know that you haven’t carried over an infection from somewhere else. Make sure you then choose to depart into areas with low infection rates, just as is the case regarding NYC and USVI, so you maintain that “travel bubble.”

 

 

2. Clear with any local laws regarding screening. Namely, USVI has a COVID-19 specific travel portal where you have to legally (and ethically!) clear your arrival before your trip.

 

 

3. Choose a flight that would be most likely be as empty as possible — how about a flight at a nearly civilized departure time of 6:40am in the morning?

 

 

4. Minimize the layovers. The danger is less on the plane, which cycles and filters out air more often than most land-based offices, trains, and subways. Instead, there is more of a danger in older and crowded airports, which variables you can control for much less than on a plane (for as long as it flies, it filters). We landed at STT after a 3 hour direct flight at 10:00am.

 

 

Before entering arrivals, they check if you have the pre-approval QR code that lets you bypass all the health checks. If you happen to forget, you go through another line requiring testing, temperature checks and questionnaires.

 

 

Welcome to the USVI!

 

 

5. Stay outdoors: Promptly headed out into downtown for a 10 minute, $8 per person taxi ride ($2 per bag in the trunk) right outside arrivals. Private taxis to downtown cost $55.

 

 

6. After a 10 minute drive into downtown, checked in our bags and picked up ferry tickets for the QE IV Ferry at Blyden Terminal for $60 USD per person one way to Saint Croix.

 

 

Then spent the next 4 hours exploring Charlotte Amalie (about a 10-15 minute walk from the ferry terminal) and nachos at open-air The Green House Bar & Restaurant.

 

 

Make sure wherever you go, return no later than 2:45pm as the boat promptly sets out at 3:00pm. They’re strict with enforcing the mask policy here.

 

 

Enjoy the bumpy 2 hour and 20 minute ride across the sea! They provide vomit bags for every row, and even advise you that “it’s normal to vomit” on the intercom and plead that you go outside if it happens.

 

 

We docked at Gallows Bay at 5:10pm EST.

 

 

Then walking over across town towards our lodgings at Sugar Apple Bed and Breakfast, we checked ourselves in for the night without having to encounter anyone (all our check-in details were provided by text).

 

 

So far I haven’t had any suspicion of coming into contact with a superspreader event.

 

 

I also highly recommend dinner at the intimate vegan-friendly plant based Ital Paradise:

 

 

It’s also where I would have my first time drinking juice made from a cashew apple!

 

 

The next morning we set off to explore Saint Croix, the largest island of the USVI complex. Starting in the capital city of Christiansted itself . . .

 

 

. . . we then walked around the Christiansted National Historic Site, a waterfront park featuring the landmark 18th-century Fort Christiansvaern and a warehouse where Alexander Hamilton worked as an orphan before moving to New York.

 

 

We then picked up a rental car at Centerline, contemplating a drive west to Carambola Beach Resort St. Croix where a 2 hour hike begins out to the Annally Tide Pools.

If you’re less inclined for a strenuous hike, consider laying out on Rainbow Beach instead:

 

 

Nearby the beach about a 3 minute drive south lies Fort Frederik located in the “second town” of Frederiksted.

 

 

Frederiksted is also somewhat of a ghost town when we visited:

 

 

After a lunch at Polly’s at the Pier here (while casually watching a 20 something year old spend a nearly an entire hour asking someone out on a date), we returned east driving by the also currently shuttered Estate Whim Sugar Mill:

 

 

Finally driving all the way east towards Goat Hill you can reach the easternmost point of the United States of America: Point Udall.

 

 

It’s designed so that at noon, wherever this sundial of a structure points with its shadow, it’s the truth north:

 

 

Don’t miss the curiously named Very Long Baseline Array Telescope either on the way there or back.

 

 

We finally finished our long day around the island back at Christiansted with dinner at Too. Chez:

 

 

…and is that a Blockbusters?!

 

 

The next morning we took out breakfast arepas at Toast Diner by the Christiansted boardwalk.

 

 

Then during breakfast, Kelly and her son Dylan stopped by to say hi! Both residents of Saint Croix, they hollered when they noticed on my IG stories that I was in the area. Nice to meet you both and thanks again for the dolphin poop Dylan!

 

 

After chatting and having them walk me over to the seaplane terminal at the end of the boardwalk, I boarded the 10:40am Seaborne Airlines seaplane to the main capital city island of Saint Thomas for $140 USD one way per person.

 

 

- At time of posting in Saint Croix, it was 27 °C - Humidity: 65% | Wind Speed: 16km/hr | Cloud Cover: partly cloudy

 

Views So Good, Almost Can’t “See-It-All”

Views So Good, Almost Can’t “See-It-All”

 

 

“Maybe that’s what life is… a wink of the eye and winking stars.”

 

 

It’s time for every journey to close a chapter. Noeleen and I woke up early at 6:50am to drive our RV for one last hurrah.

 

 

With just the two of us (everyone else was asleep back at our apartment rentals), we decided on a last minute whim to drive up to see the Fremont Troll, best known for an appearance in the 90s romcom 10 Things I Hate About You:

 

 

Then we drove 5 min away to peek at the random Lenin Statue in the neighborhood:

 

 

After the drive-by we headed back south towards the RV park, during which we stopped uphill for a shot of the Seattle skyline from Kerry Park:

 

 

Then Noeleen and I bid one final goodbye to our RV at the local Road Bear in Seattle.

 

 

Taking 20 minutes checking everything and being charged a bit for going over the mileage by 450 miles, a few hours of generator use, and unfilled gas, we took a Lyft back into Seattle and met the rest of the group at Biscuit Bitch:

 

 

In addition to great coffee and biscuits, they also call you various insults in good humor as they serve you.

 

 

We then turned the corner to the famous Pike Place Market:

 

 

Here at the open air fish market on the corner of Pike Street and Pike Place, there is a local tradition where fishmongers literally throw fish that customers have purchased before they’re wrapped.

 

 

It is also where the reportedly first ever original Starbucks is located (although controversial as the actual real original Starbucks burnt down and this one was rebuilt instead for the lore and added business).

Because of COVID-19, there were NO LINES.

 

 

The video of the tiny interior (and without the crowds!) is on my instagram:

 

 

And at Raubern’s suggestion — even if you would have otherwise avoid a Starbucks in your daily routine — at least consider purchasing their daily reserve beans as this is the only Starbucks in the world where you can get them.

 

 

Since the greater city of Seattle is known for their coffees, just know you’re not alone if you have a hard time choosing which to drink…

 

 

We then headed down the steps underneath the Fish Market to see the famous Gum Wall:

 

 

… where Dan made his contribution here on our behalf:

 

 

From here we walked a few minutes further inland for some doughnuts at Top Pot Doughnuts before returning back to our apartments.

 

 

And during this whole eventful morning we somehow pulled off a monsoon shuffle: We bid our goodbyes to Noeleen and Brandon as they hailed an Uber for the airport for their early afternoon flights home, and later to Raubern as he set off later to see family. In the same vein, Sina, Evie and Karen would fly in during the same time to link up with us for part 2 of the trip.

FWIW, Noeleen was very forthcoming with her thoughts on the trip once she landed back in NYC:

 

 

Ughhhh, so hard to move on. We’ll miss you and your daily vlogs Noeleen.

Once the new group had formed, officially our first stop together in Seattle would be a visit to the famous Space Needle:

 

 

You can buy tickets online or at one of the outdoor kiosks, and there’s a whole COVID-19 proof screening involving the following:

  1. Face coverings on and up to your eyes at all times inside
  2. No talking or whispering during the 41 second elevator ride up to the observation deck since you can’t physically distance a crowd in there
  3. An airport metal-detector shaped UV device that you have to dance in a circle under for 20 seconds to disinfect yourself

 

 

Up to you if you think the views are worth the effort!

 

 

Afterwards we toasted to our new travel group and the second part of our trip in Fremont, inviting along Spencer, who’s the link for getting Dan to come on our trips after hearing about us via Melissa Weinmann (and despite this mutual connection, Dan and Melissa have yet to meet in real life!).

 

 

And thus we toast to one final hurrah to Seattle on the rooftop, where Raubern rejoined us for one last encore as well as a friend I know only via Instagram, Angela, would even meet up with us.

 

 

Tomorrow we officially begin the long epic drives along the Pacific Coast Highway!

And if it isn’t obvious by now —

 

 

- At time of posting in Seattle, it was 26 °C - Humidity: 44% | Wind Speed: 33km/hr | Cloud Cover: minimally cloudy

 

Chicago-ing Back To Madison

Chicago-ing Back To Madison

 

 

“But why think about that when all the golden lands ahead of you and all kinds of unforeseen events wait lurking to surprise you and make you glad you’re alive to see?”

 

 

After our first day on the road that was filled with more the energy of eager anticipation than pretty sights, we woke up to a crowded RV park at the KOA outside of Cuyahoga Falls.

 

 

After morning instant coffee on our RV stovetop, we drove out at 8am this morning for a 20 minute stroll to see Brandywine Falls inside Cuyahoga Valley National Forest.

 

 

Then after another pitstop at a local Panera’s and filling up on gas, we set off for a 5 hour drive across Indiana to Chicago.

 

 

Ohio’s mask game has been pretty robust as of late:

 

 

Despite a minor annoyance on the road where the rubber liner on the driver’s side ripped off like a streamer (which Road Bear’s customer service advised us to cut off with scissors), we finally reached Chicago by 4:45pm.

The goal was to meet up with my local close friend Norman, who had showed us around Chicago 5 years ago back in 2015:

 

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2015: Norman second from the right.

 

He would not fail us today in 2020: Brotherhoods do last.

 

2020 Norman

 

Even better, our monsooner guide Melissa Weinmann, whom we last saw when she led us around Vanuatu (and sadly had to cut her Peace Corps tour short due to COVID-19) also stopped in to shepherd us around her native Chicago. And by the way: HAPPY BIRTHDAY MELISSA!

 

 

Once getting into Chicago proper, we decided to leave the RV at my friend Norman’s high school parking lot so we didn’t have to navigate through the city’s narrower streets; both Melissa and Norman then drove us over in their respective vehicles for an early outdoor dinner/dunch at Mott St.

 

 

Due to COVID-19, there currently is a cap at 6 people for group dining in the state of Illinois, so we had to split our group into 2.

 

 

That didn’t stop us from eating the entire menu here:

 

 

Afterwards, we waited on a quickly moving line for Mario’s Italian Ices:

 

 

After stopping outside of Norman’s alma mater at UIC to quickly finish our desserts . . .

 

 

. . . we drove into downtown Chicago for the obligatory and gorgeous skyline shots from Museum Campus:

 

 

Gotta pee? Nature calling? No problem. Nothing’s stopping Brynn!

 

 

Then before dropping us off back at our RV, Norman took us into the underground tunnels of Lower Wacker as this was where they shot the infamous Batpod vs. Joker scene from The Dark Knight:

 

Looks familiar?

 

With that, we said our goodbyes to Norman and Melissa back at our RV at 8pm and continued onwards towards Madison, Wisconsin.

I’m familiar with this part of this journey: Norman had taken me on this route before back in April 2015 to attend a conference where I facilitated a workshop on none other than traveling.

 

 

I’m glad I stick to some habits.

So upon our arrival in the vicinity of Madison at 10:30pm, we settled in at the Madison KOA Holiday and met up with #6 of our crew who was already waiting for us: local Wisconsin-ite Daniel Reesman, whom we had last seen when he traveled with us early last year to Prague and Budapest.

 

 

Tomorrow we push forward into South Dakota!

 

 

- At time of posting in Madison, WI, it was 22 °C - Humidity: 91% | Wind Speed: 13km/hr | Cloud Cover: scattered thunderstorms