January 31, 2009

Armchair Travel Stories

I thought it would be fun to start a weekly post for the armchair traveller. Sometimes you can get the feel of far off places from stories told by others, and from well written books. My plan is to post excerpts from books that I am reading as well as travel stories told to me by friends and family (I have lots of friends who are weekly road warriors). Enjoy! And email me here to submit your own.

The ol' Trojan Horse Routine
Today's installment is from Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey, The River of Doubt by Candice Millard.

The value of disguise and deception is not limited to defense against predators, and can become a centerpiece of offensive strategies like the remarkable Trojan Horse ploy used by the South American crab spider to capture the carpenter ants on which it feeds. After killing an ant, the crab spider, which is only a fifth of an inch long, carefully consumes the contents of the ant's body without harming the outer skeleton. It then carries the empty carcass over its own body so that, visually and chemically, the spider "looks" like its prey-allowing it to approach new victims undetected.

A spider in my own backyard

...what do you think? This passage really struck a chord in me, and the visual popped out. It really conveyed the level of sophistication in the insect world and at such a microscopic level. This is what is happening below our feet when we travel.

January 29, 2009

Heifer Study Tours - A great idea

Heifer International is a group that I have supported for years, and I always liked getting their return address labels with my donation. You may have heard of them from a 2002 Oprah Winfrey Show.

Come November I often pour through the Heifer gift catalog - and give my nieces and nephews colorful cards, showing a flock of chicks or maybe a goat had been given in their name... It makes for interesting conversations around the Christmas tree.

My family and I suffered so much. When we received our four goats and learned about the passing on the gift, I could not imagine it was I who would help end the suffering of another. – Alves Mangagao, project partner from Mozambique

Who/What is Heifer?
For almost 60 years this amazing organization has worked to end world hunger. Through various programs and efforts they are helping people obtain a sustainable source of food and income.

With a holistic approach
Heifer has a set of global initiatives – areas of emphasis that must be addressed if they’re to meet their mission of ending world hunger and poverty and caring for the earth. Click on any of these to learn more:

Heifer Study Tours: Travel with a Purpose
The tours are small - often 12-14 people - specialized expeditions through spectacular geography and unique ecosystems to remote villages and isolated peoples.

A Study Tour takes you beyond your ideas about poverty, and shows you what the human spirit is capable of overcoming. This is such a wonderful way to reconnect with the world around us, to learn about other cultures and to educate ourselves.

I am a huge fan of this program and plan to participate - maybe I can convince one of my nieces or nephews to join me?!

Service Learning - Educational Travel
It is a journey into the daily lives of extraordinary people. As you visit with the farmers and families who are working with Heifer to improve their lives and protect the earth, you learn more than you could have imagined. Here is a sample of the 2009 Calendar:

Trip Dates: May 20-30, 2009
Begins in Prishtina, Kosovo and ends in Tirana, Albania

USA: South Central (Louisiana)
Trip Dates: March 8-14, 2009
Begins and ends in New Orleans

Trip Dates: May 11-18, 2009
Begins in Tegucigalpa and ends in San Pedro Sula

Africa: Cameroon
Trip Dates: May 13-23, 2009
Begins and ends in Douala

"It's not easy to laugh when you're hungry. Instead of giving life to drawings as I've done, Heifer Project gives life by providing food-producing animals to people in need. — Chuck Jones, creator of Bugs Bunny

January 28, 2009

Wordless Wednesday: Maverick Surfers

January 25, 2009

Street Food in Japan

Akihabara - Shibuya - Shinjuku - Asakusa
One of my favorite winter memories of life in Japan is of eating at street vendor stalls in the different neighborhoods of Tokyo.

Inexpensive Snacks
Walk along the streets and you'll find lots of inexpensive choices on a cold day or night.

There are great food stalls often in front of department stores and train stations -- or underground inside the bottom of the store [e.g. Mitsukoshi-Ginza is BF1] or still inside the subway station [e.g. Shinjuku].

In such an expensive town, it is great to find inexpensive [$2.00 to $5.00] savory and filling snacks while out exploring - and I never got sick from any of my savory excursions! That was a different story in Mexico and in Thailand.

I discovered amazing stuff like grilled mochi (pounded rice) wrapped in crispy & salty seaweed. Little pancakes filled with cheese or azuki (sweet red bean) paste. A year round favorite turned out to be the takoyaki (grilled octopus chunks in savory batter). And lastly, a great discovery was yakiimo (sweet potato) sold by vendors in winter - which was reminiscent of baked potatoes eaten during night football games in high school.

This is at the top of my list.... I look for it during annual street fairs in Japantown here in San Francisco. This snack is popular with little kids - which explains why you can find little grill pans in the Hello Kitty section of department stores.

For moms since the recipe is quite simple, these are easy to make at home. And a fun activity. In the US - cupcake or cookie baking sessions are very popular in my neighborhood.

The photo above is a typical street vendor making the batter and tossing in a chunk of octopus. For toppings: fried bonito flakes or shavings and takoyaki sauce are my favorites but some people like mayonnaise. The bonito flakes dance as they react to the heat of the dough.

One of my other favorite winter snacks in Japan was yakiimo or sweet potato. A man would usually push a cart or drive a truck with a red lantern on it and often a fire going roasting the sweet potatoes - yes, a real open flame can be seen next to a gas tank.

You can hear his voice echo "yakiiiiiiiiimooooooooo" up and down the streets and alleys. I'm including a clip below - experience it for yourself....

January 23, 2009

Best Waterfalls on the Big Island of Hawaii

Gateway to Heaven

For me waterfalls are synonymous with Hawaii. Within many you can catch a glimpse of their state symbol - the rainbow.

Many say that a rainbow looks like a giant bridge and in Hawaii it is believed that the rainbow is the path souls take on their way to heaven.

Wild Side
When I visited the Big Island for the first time, I loved the wildness of the Waipio Valley and the idea of living off the grid. This island is the youngest in age compared to the rest of the chain - being here I felt a little of my wild side come out.

Further south in the town of Hilo, one can pick up the intellectual vibe of the university, the organization around the Hilo Farmer's Market and yet the unsettled and wild nature of the island is still present.

Whether you are coming from Waipio Valley or from Hilo, you can experience some of my favorite waterfalls in the Akaka Falls State Park. If you are staying in Hilo they are an easy addition to your day. They are free to see and the kind your kids can experience as well.

Highlights for me besides the waterfalls, definitely included the groves of bamboo* and the amazing flowers, like the hanging orchids (photo below)

Two of my favorite waterfalls are the Kahuna Falls and the Akaka Falls, both can be reached in the Akaka Falls State Park.

Don't forget to take your camera! I had one of my photos of the Akaka Falls included in the sixth edition of the Schmap Hawaii Guide. Mahalo, and here are a few others from that same trip.

Where We Went
On our last visit to the Big Island we stayed near Waikoloa - and Merriman's Market Cafe - but we spent most of our time near Hilo and Volcano Village. If you want to go, Uptake is a great source for finding out more about Hilo and where to stay and you can learn about where we stayed in Volcano as well.

* did you catch the genie lamp in this stand of bamboo?


January 19, 2009

Top Ten Pieces of Public Art

Some people are list makers. Lists for the kids to do their daily chores. Christmas lists. Packing lists. Favorite movies-to-rent lists. These people have personalities that thrive from being organized and efficient. You know who you are out there. And there are websites devoted to lists.

Let me confess that I am big list maker - especially when it relates to traveling. Don't you think a list keeps your itinerary focused, everyone on time and you from over packing?

One of my lists that I wanted to share with you relates to public art and sculpture. Whenever I am out and about, public art always captures my eye - and I am compelled to snap a photo. And it looks like I am not alone, a fellow contributor to Uptake confessed the same thing recently.

Public Art in the US
In the US there are active public art programs that you can explore from your armchair, such as: Scottsdale, AZ - Albuquerque, NM - Chicago, IL - Philadelphia, PA or Cambridge, MA.

I am impressed with any government - in the US or abroad - that supports public art. Below are a trio of photos taken that are from my top ten favorite pieces of public art.

Editorial note: The gate from Yellowstone may not be considered "art" or sculpture but it made the list because it is as striking as any sculpture!

Location: Lugano, Switzerland

Location: North Gate to Yellowstone National Park, referred to as the Roosevelt Arch in Gardiner, Montana

Location: Post Ranch Inn, Big Sur, California

All photo credits to sfcphotography

January 18, 2009

Volunteering on Vacation - A Great Idea

I'm thinking about my next vacation and volunteering, and how I can try and do them at the same time. Monday, January 19 is Martin Luther King's birthday and a national day of service which got me thinking about the idea of combining my vacation with volunteering.

I do love to hike and while planning my vacation this week discovered this group sponsored by the American Hiking Society that allows me to combine these things together - what a great idea!

Getting Dirty
They offer trips in every state. They label the difficult of each from easy to moderate up to very strenuous. You won't have to worry when you show up with your camping gear - just be ready to get dirty.

Accommodations range from cabins and shelters to primitive tents. And they offer family friendly options as well as trips for ages 18-21 or 21 and over.

CNN listed eight volunteer vacation ideas back in June - with most being overseas. The American Hiking Society sponsors excursions focused on building and maintaining trails across United States, including Alaska. You get to learn skills that you can take home with you afterward.

Volunteer Vacations
Besides the American Hiking Society, you can find lots of places to combine your volunteer efforts and your next vacation. Consider some of the following:

January 17, 2009

Greatest Canine Star

I saw this headline on Yahoo and had to make a small correction, or maybe addition. Dear Academy, for your consideration, may I introduce Miss Cleo....

January 16, 2009

My Favorite Washington DC Memorial

When I was in Washington DC, the Korean War Memorial was one of the most profound memorials for me. I was in awe of the Lincoln Memorial and its presence and scale. The Washington Memorial and its almost beacon like shape near the Whitehouse.

But just look at this man, he looks so scared to me and the fact that my father served at this time brings home what it must have been like for him. I am humbled.

If you are in Washington for the celebration you may have access trouble to this memorial.

January 12, 2009

Beautiful Highway 1 in California

I love the "Sunday drive". It sounds a little old fashioned but there is something about going out for an hour or two and driving along the California coast that feels good - almost as if I was setting the tone for the upcoming work week.

My parents loved going for drives when I was a kid, at least my father really did. He couldn't wait to jump behind the wheel of his big American car and cruise down or up the highways.

I loved staring out the window at whatever crossed our paths - the ocean, fields of lettuce or even just cows in a pasture. I enjoyed it all.

Now I live not that far north of where I grew up and I enjoy driving along the coast just as much. We often drive north as much as south and discover all kinds of little towns and shops along the way. [I will share some of these finds in future posts]

Recently we drove along this part of Highway 1 that took us to the little town of Pescadero and we ended up having the best meal.

January 9, 2009

A Favorite Napa Winery - Artesa

If you are thinking about heading to Napa for Valentine's Day weekend or for just a great excursion and a little wine tasting - then you must stop by my favorite winery at the start of Napa Valley.

Artesa Winery is just off of Old Sonoma Highway, not far from the Carneros Inn - a lovely place to stay the night. The drive takes you up a long road that ends in front of a modern structure built into a hillside - you almost can't make out their main building because it is covered in grass.

The grounds also have these cool fountains and sculpture (see photos), reminding me a little of the Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur - whose property also had a nice selection of sculpture nestled into a natural setting.

At Artesa you will get to savor a wonderful view and some great wine! You might even join their wine club like we did - or at least meet some new friends.

January 5, 2009

Hoover Dam and feeling like a kid on a school field trip again

Hoover Dam is breathtaking. I never made it past seeing Folsom Dam as a kid in school so driving to see this engineering marvel in Nevada - made me feel like a kid on a field trip.

I can't believe how many cars and trucks drive across it everyday. I don't think the engineers who built it planned on that either - thus you will see here that they are currently working on a bypass road.

If you get a chance, I would pack up the kids or dog and take a car trip to see this amazing construction site and engineering feat near Boulder City - what an adventure it could be.

There is a parking garage so that you can walk around at your own pace, while you consider the vast amount of resources and monety it took to create this American dam.

The Art Deco sculpture and map of the stars is probably my favorite part - and its free!

You can go inside and pay for a tour and what not, but if you are saving your pennies - like a lot of us - you can read the many plaques and soak in the view for nothing but the gas it took you to get here.

All photos from sfcphotography

January 2, 2009

American Graffiti - 35 Years Ago George Lucas Discovered Rollerskates and Harrison Ford

Can you believe it has been 35 years since we first saw on the big screen carhops skate up to a car door with a full tray of burgers, shakes and fries? In my town we had an A&W Drive-In where someone walked up to our car and did the same thing, but they never roller skated.

In American Graffiti, I saw Harrison Ford before he became Indiana Jones. Ron Howard was already a star, but no one knew who Suzanne Sommers was yet (thus she was listed as "the girl in the white T-Bird in the credits) and Cindy Williams had yet to become "Shirley" of Laverne and Shirley fame (one of my favorite shows as a kid)

We can thank George Lucas for immortalizing Modesto and Mel's Drive-In after he filmed American Graffiti in 1973. My sister had the record album and this was one of the few movies I got to go see without adult supervision.

Now 35 years later when I want to relive that time period in San Francisco, we go to Mel's Drive-In without the carhops but still with lots of nostalgia and good food. They have locations around town but the two restaurants out on Lombard or on Geary Streets give you a little more of the old time feeling. It is almost like traveling back in time.

If you are downtown and can't find a Mel's, there is also Lori's Diner ready to provide a 1950's vibe and a good milkshake!

Photo credit to glenn batuyong
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