Culture

My travel delights of 2013 by planes, trains, automobiles, feet, and boat

I was born to travel and experience new sights. I was not made, however, for airplane travel, but that is what it is. Another year has gone by and my airline miles continue to build up. However, I do not quite understand why my American Airlines miles get me so much more than my Delta miles. The difference between the two is astronomical even while my accumulated Delta airline miles are really high. Tss, tss.

As the year ends, and I need to think about tax deductions and the such I also like to think about putting my accumulated miles to use. While I really identify with the movie “Up in the Air” in terms of having my travel rituals and strategized bookings, I do not hope to accumulate miles till no end.  I earned those miles; I am going to live them up. In 2014, I am hoping to make it to Istanbul, Buenos Aires, Tel Aviv or Hanoi. I’m also trying to make my way to Australia this coming summer for the International AIDS conference. Let’s see how I swing that. And, perhaps Alaska for my son’s birthday. Travel goals keep me focused on my job. Work hard, play hard: has always been my philosophy.

As I look forward to 2014 travel, I wanted to reflect on my 2013 travel. Let me indulge, if you allow, in a little bit of self-reflection, lessons learned, highlights and lowlights.

I started off the year vacationing domestically in Amelia Island which I drove down to from New York, passing through Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia. It’s a barrier island off the coast of Florida. It was nice to be in a section of Florida where bodybuilding and tanning were not the norm. A recent study came out noting there are more tanning salons than CVS (pharmacy) and McDonalds in Florida. Am I missing something? Why would a state whose motto is “the sunshine state” need such an abundance of tanning salons? That’s a little trippy. But then again, that state is overall a bit trippy with it being home to Disneyland, strange court cases and strange political bed fellows.  Back to Amelia Island. If you want a quiet, warm and non-crowded Florida trip, I highly recommend it.

I traveled down to both Atlanta and Washington, DC way too many times to even count. Besides having a ton of airline miles, I’ve accumulated a lot of Amtrak points. Which is cool because I got to see Fox News Greta Van Susteran, Governor Charlie Crist, senator Franken, and NBC’s Luke Russert to name a few media/politicos. Thus, the nerd in me was quite ecstatic. However, the part of me that hates government shutdowns was not happy nearly getting stuck in DC when it snowed a couple of inches.  Come on DC. You can pass crap bills but you can’t shovel snow?

I was fortunate enough to be in Italy during holy week for Pope Francis’ first everything. Rome’s air crackled and popped with exuberant electricity amongst the masses. I have never been in a place where I felt so crowded and I’ve been to Tokyo before. The food and drink were delights to my palette. My son lived his lifelong dream (of 4 years) of having pizza for every meal. I saw the well renowned David, in Florence, with my own eyes and not through filtered lens. Down in Positano, my eyes feasted on the largest lemons I have ever laid eyes on.

I returned to my favorite US city: New Orleans. What a vibrant but still-forgotten city. There is no other US city like it. Its culture, its history its musical soul just rage throughout the night. I had Beignets, chicory coffee and catfish; all to my stomach’s delight. Also went on a road tip from there to Baton Rouge. Most people just stay in the French Quarter but we made a concerted effort to venture outside of those corners and were rewarded for doing so. Thus attaining more insight into the actual living conditions of this beloved but beleaguered city.  We, as Americans, still have much more work and love to put into New Orleans. I also made it to Nashville, Tennessee whose music scene is truly above most and to Chapel, Hill North Carolina (the research triangle) where I got to sample many fine eateries that reflect the emerging populations in the South. While in the south, I made my way back to Louisville, Kentucky and traveled the bourbon trail.

I returned to my eternal happy place when I traveled to Hawaii for the American Psychological Association Conference. I hiked, I sunbathed, I saw a lighthouse, I mistakenly ate a $300 meal, drank Mai tais at 9am, did some pontificating (ahem, presented) and I got my learning on. Oh, Hawaii. You had me at aloha. Hawaii is a beach paradise where the people are very welcoming and no restaurant looks askance when you order a cocktail for breakfast. Hell, it’s even on the menu as a morning special. And yes, I went hiking everyday in Hawaii meeting tons of great locals and adventurous out-of-towners especially on difficult, muddy trails. There was a great sense of camaraderie when slipping and sliding down a steep incline. more camaraderie than at teh professional conference I was attending.  I frequented a steakhouse not for the food but for their bar where the bartender was a former New Yorker who followed baseball as much as I do. A kindred spirit I had found.   I must say the conference didn’t seem that well-attended to me.  For the life of me I cannot figure out why. That’s sarcasm. I had noticed that most beach bags were the conference bags. It’s good to see that the registration fees went for a good use. Anyway, I’m hoping for a 6th trip to Hawaii in the near future.

Although, I had vowed to never do so again, I went back on a cruise. This time, with a son in tow, things were both good and bad.  Let me state unequivocally my son loved the cruise. They had a camp for him, he jumped in the pools all afternoon, and had access to food at any hour.  Although the ship a great gym, I could only exercise at 6am; otherwise it was packed. I don’t wait for machines.  While Cozumel and the Caymans have lovely beaches, they were not grand highlights of the trip. I did win a pair of trophies for my trivia acumen and the ship’s crew were very sweet to my son who celebrated his 5th birthday on board.  In that sense the trip was a winner.

The year was not all about long trips. There were also short day trips across the eastern part of the US. We drove over to Mystic, Sleepy Hollow, Saugerties, Warwick, Dover, Wilmington, and tons of other little towns in between. I just love road trips.  Nothing more free than getting in the car and just going.  As long as I have some cherryheads, Coke Zero and some good tunes, the open road is for me. The year before we actually drove across the country of Canada. That was a thrill. I don’t believe many people have done that. I highly recommend doing such a trip to get to see the small quaint Canadian towns.
Lastly, I spent several long business weeks in Puerto Rico. Ah, the love/hate relationship I have with the land of my ancestors is a book chapter onto itself. My sneakers were stolen, I came across a couple of ghosts, people were grumpy because we served vegetarian fare at pour events, and there was a general sense of unease about the island’s  economic future. However, I was welcomed (in some cases) as the prodigal child who had done right and I had a blast eating at some fabulous restaurants in old San Juan and Mayaguez (the western part of the island that is way less touristy).

Those were a few of my favorite and enlightening trips.  I went by plane, car, train and boat.  I also went by feet. I hiked in every city that I could. Only once did I use public transport in Rome. My feet served as my guide. The consistent lesson learned was to keep an open mind, be flexible, don’t always stay on the trail, and try to blend in with the locals.  Well, as much as possible when traveling as a mixed-race American family.  That has always been one of the most difficult aspects of traveling, especially internationally –although, not in Japan.  People get a little “startled” when they see me with my son. But the way the world is changing, I hope we become more and more of a routine sight. Overall, traveling was one of the highlights of this challenging year. I sure hope to meet my 2014 travel goals. Onwards.

I leave you with one last poem for the year inspired by my travels:

 

I feasted
I drank
And I wasted not a moment

I grew
I laughed
And my world had added enjoyment

I saw
I listened
And I guided my son

I wondered
I wandered
And my restless soul looked onto the world’s sun

I dreamed
I lived
And I loved

 

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