Friday, January 12, 2018

Sweet Thailand; Bangkok and Ko Phi Phi

Bangkok and Ko Phi Phi

Talk about a ‘round the world experience. I traveled from Washington D.C. to Abu Dhabi, to Sri Lanka, to Bangkok. That was my trip itinerary on the way to my destination. On the way back, I came from Ko Phi Phi to Phuket, to Beijing, to Washington D.C.. Literally, all the way around the circumference of the globe. There were so many things I took in during this trip. I soaked in all the customs, of every country I touched. I was also acutely aware of the customs of countries who are not especially fond of Americans, or who still treat women as second tier citizens. I was conscious of the clothing I wore in many of the cities I passed through. There were even times I did not speak aloud, aware of the political climate, in fact hiding any premise that I was American. Even in Thailand, I noticed the looks and vulgar comments I overheard from a few groups of Arab, and Russian men. I never forgot to be vigilant about my own personal safety. 
Thailand is safe and beautiful. The locals are lovely. Other tourists were more on my radar as potential safety risks, especially when traveling solo.
I was also aware of the anti-homo sexual perception I noticed towards my friends, by other tourists. As friendly and beautiful the country of Thailand is, I noticed repeatedly the intolerance of other visitors. Tourists bringing their bias and hate to other countries. It is always shocking for me to witness other visitors acting ugly outside of their homeland.
I did think about my safety moreso on this adventure than I have in the last twenty years traveling solo. I questioned, was it the country and the element it attracts, or the climate of the world that has changed so direly?

Tuk Tuk for hire

downtown Bangkok
Upon arrival into Bangkok, I was immediately surprised and impressed with the city itself. It is contemporary and boasts a world competitive sky line. It resembles any typical city in the U.S. I expected more flat, and congested areas similar to Bali. That said, the buildings were beautiful and modern. The street traffic was no more busy than any other industrial city.

Traffic, busy sidewalks and skyscrapers line the downtown area. I did notice traditional items that one would not expect to see in a busy city, like Tuk Tuk’s for hire and street vendors with unique fruits and liquor. But, hey, thinking of places like Las Vegas and New Orleans, this was also just unique to this city.

I met my friends here, and we stayed in a hotel central to the New Years eve activities at the city center. The hotel was beautiful and provided high end amenities and full service in regards to NYE activities. We spent quite a bit of time on the rooftop pool deck and even retreated there after midnight on New Years to keep the party going.
We visited a popular and well known temple, the Grand Palace. We found mainstream tourist activities in an attempt to have a well rounded experience even though we were specifically there to celebrate the New Year.

Once we moved on to Ko Phi Phi, we had more of a traditional experience with the locals of Thailand. We were able to experience numerous islands and bays via longboat rides.  The sunrises and sunsets were spectacular and the locals were inviting and friendly. The food was everything I anticipated and I enjoyed every drop of Tom Gah soup I was lucky enough to slurp. Even in the 100 degree heat, the delicious soup was a daily staple of my diet.

nighttime on Ko Phi Phi
The walks along the beach at night time were calm and peaceful. The ocean would roll out just long enough to travel up and down the beach for dinner and make it back to your resort before high tide came in. The resorts were well lit, and even the back roads between resort and village had decent lighting if you stayed on the road.
It is actually quite romantic on the side of the island I stayed on, which is completely opposite the area near Tonsai pier which I understand is where the more aggressive partying takes place.
Phi Phi sunrise

longboat at sunrise
My morning walks allowed me to witness sunrise and see the island before the tourists piled out on to the beaches and roads. I appreciated the quiet moments between myself and the universe, allowing me time to center myself and connect. I find time to inhale the earth's gifts and reflect. Many times this is where I find peace for the day. I generally do not make resolutions, but in 2018 I do want to reflect more, learn to meditate effectively and maybe practice yoga a bit. We'll see. I got a great head start in Thailand.

I was able to explore the jungle and the beach, hike the mountains and walk out into the ocean during low tide. Everything I imagined was met and exceeded. To say the island was beautiful is an understatement. The island is lush and I tried to soak in every moment knowing I would probably never travel this far for vacation ever again.
Some of the beaches were so overcrowded it made me sick to be a tourist, and part of the over abundance. It made me really aware of my footprint and conscious of what impression we make when traveling. I watched an entire boat of Europeans screaming and jumping in the quiet swim bay as we made our way to "The Beach" which Leonardo DiCaprio made famous. I thought two things: I did not want to get off the boat and participate in this vulgar display of tourism, and the premise of the movie may have had a solid point. This was the only day, besides arriving at the tremendously chaotic and over crowded Tonsai pier, that I would have preferred stay in my bungalow. If you have ever been to Waikiki Beach, this was twice as bad.
I rarely give unsolicited advice on travel, but please be aware of your footprint, and respect this earth.

Youtube Video highlights!

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” -Henry Miller


Monday, October 23, 2017

Japan in one week...what would you do?

This trip to Japan came up unexpectedly for me. My husband scheduled a business trip and I was fortunate enough to have an open week on my calendar. This never happens! The stars aligned, so we found some United airline points and packed my bag.

Traditional and modern restaurants
Since Japan had not found priority on my bucket list - there had been no planning. Yes! I wanted to roam the streets of Tokyo at night, and Yes! I wanted to get to the top of Mt Fuji. But, what did I know about Japan? Sushi..Kimonos..Karaoke??

Turns out, I was a total moron when it came to Asia. So, I sat down and made a list. What was most important for me to see to get a well rounded experience AND what could I double down for my "50 before 50" list which is still in full effect?

Original street signs

All this went out the window when I arrived and found a quiet, respectful culture I knew little about. This trip quickly turned into a learning experience I will never forget. My Japanese adventure became an opportunity for me to pull together all the elements of the book I am currently working on, as well as many moments of reflection. I was able to reconcile a lot of the elements that are confusing for me as I fumble through my mid-life crisis.

In a land where little English is spoken, it was hard. Let's start there. I consider myself a savvy traveler (pun intended). I find it easy to maneuver maps, streets, bus and rail systems. It is quite a rush to get where you need to go in a foreign city without losing your day to getting lost. In Japan, the metro system is in Japanese. It is difficult to find maps that are bi-lingual, and some stations do not have them at all. That makes it difficult to get around without asking for help. You must engage with the people. That is the best part of the travel experience, and helps you get past your fears and insecurities.

There is an interesting collaboration, in Japan, of traditional and modern; architecture, people, food, even the train terminals. Some with multi- lingual signage, menus and/ or maps, some with Japanese only.

Peace Lantern

I spent one morning in a garden that was so peaceful. There were water features and turtles every where. An older gentleman approached me and asked where I was from. I tend to forget that I am unique looking, not only to my own nationals, but especially to people abroad. He watched me for my entire stay in the garden. He watched me take photos. He watched me admire the turtles. He followed me around the park with his eyes, I am certain, wondering how this curious brown girl ended up in his his country. This is what sparked my curiosity of self even further. Why was I here? What am I searching so desperately for?

I visited Tokyo, Otsuki and spent most of my time in Yokohama where my hotel was located. It was easy(in theory) to get around by train and even though it took more time than I like to spend in transit, it was inexpensive and allowed me to people watch and try to communicate.
Downtown Yokohama

Japan is so very unique. Very clean. The things I noticed seem very simple, but so important in comparing our lifestyle here in the states. People do not litter. If they can not find a trash can, they take their trash with them. You also do not see people walking about the streets eating, likely one reason the trash factor isn't so dire. People leave their bikes unlocked on the street, because stealing is simply unacceptable. There are "women only" cars on the train between 5a-9a. It is an admirable gesture for rush hour when there is stuffing of people on every car and people can't help but be in your personal space.
Still respectful.
I did not see drunken tomfoolery like we witness here. I also saw not one obese person. Not one. We do everything in abundance here, and I do not believe that is a good thing. We over spend. We over eat. We waste like it's our J O B. We live with no regard for our planet, our future, or even our own health. The Japanese culture is so respectful, of each other and the space they take up. I felt truly honored to be allowed in their country and presence for even one week. I still have so much to learn in this short life, but felt I was able to connect the dots a bit on this trip.

There were a few things that stood out as different. The Japanese yen was everywhere. Recently in places like Copenhagen, I saw people moving towards a consistent electronic means of payment, even at the metro stations. I expected that in Japan as well, but money/ currency is power...still, and has value in many places. Giving a child a coin. Placing yen in a vending machine. The value of actual money itself, not the concept that has been propagated by societies that rely on moving, shaking, trading an imaginary value for something that doesn't really even exist.
Yokohama Chinatown
There were ups and downs. I left with no souvenirs, since I waited until the last day and at Nissan stadium(on a game day), the opening of the stadium shop was delayed an hour, we were unable to get inside. That's what happens when you put all your eggs in one basket, so to speak.

I visited Chinatown in Yokohama looking for something very specific for my mom. I did not find it but I did notice the very American logos on clothing and hats...and it made me sad. Every where we go, commercial America has its hand. And, hey! Don't get me wrong capitalism is great, but what I witnessed and felt in a country who values its people over money was life.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

New Orleans, Revisited

I have been to New Orleans so many times now, this almost seems like a cheat blog.
How many times can I talk about how amazing the local culture is - or how great the food is? But every time I visit there, I find something new. Mo' better art, mo' better shopping, music and surprise! Mo' better food.
I have even found the best tattoo shop I have experienced in a decade.
Nola, You are my heart.
This quick trip sent me into the quarter for a tattoo I had been thinking about for almost a year. The guys over at Big Easy Tattoo & Company are true professionals. Amazing artists and fast. My biggest fear (four tattoos later) is the duration of the pain. How long is this going to hurt? These guys know what they are doing and get it done. Out of all the ink I have had placed on my body - this is the second time I thought,"is it over...already?" YES!! I couldn't believe it. Well done! Art and consideration for your pain. Perfect combination. Clean studio. Easy directions for (after)care. It could not have been an easier experience.
My friend getting ink by Dominic @ Big Easy Tattoo
So easy, that my friend and I carried on with our day as if nothing had even happened. We quickly forgot about the six hours and three flights we worked that day. The quick hour of beautiful pain and art we experienced transcended us further into the quarter to shop and eat. We walked all the way from Canal Street to Frenchman Street passing numerous shops and boutiques along the way. Generally speaking, I am not a big shopper, but in New Orleans, how can you not wander into the unique and fun shops that line the streets of the famous French Quarter. We looked for masks and tutu's and found adult stores and costume parlors. Amazing stores lined every street that we chose. No exceptions. We found our way into La Bella Vida, which I must admit, may be my new favorite boutique in the country. Not only was the owner a gracious hostess, she was the most honest retailer I have come across in a decade. She chose sizes, styles and colors for us. She was a true hostess in her element. She explained why her sale was off the charts, and encouraged us to return again for new selections when she could get her fall merchandise on the floor. She is amazing and beautiful and trustworthy. I felt immediate loyalty. Customer service is an understatement. She loves her store, and she loves her customers. These are the small businesses we need to be supporting 100%.

Then there is the food. Oh! the food. I am not a chain girl. You will not catch me at Chili's or TGIFriday's EVER. I don't like generic menus. I don't like mass produced food. I don't like average. The end.
That said, we were pushed towards a Praline Connection on Frenchman St, and I flinched. I was aware of the chain I had seen in the airport, and at least one other location on the street during my many visits. I did not want to eat here BUT by the time we got around to eating, my friend and I were so hungry, we would have eaten just about anything. So, we rolled in and BOOM Fantastic! I couldn't believe it. The service, the hospitality, the food was too good. I wanted to taste everything, and everything was delicious. Soft shelled crab, fried oysters, fish, shrimp, corn bread, hot damn! Collard greens, mac and cheese - the sides are mouth watering delicious. Just go! Get in there. Git you some!

Seafood platter at the Praline Connection, Frenchman Street
Visit New Orleans. Enjoy the art, music and food. Embrace the streets and the people. Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Capilano Suspension Bridge, Vancouver, Canada

Another day, another adventure! As I check off bucket list items and find my list is only getting longer the more I achieve, I respect more and more the wonders of the world, man made and natural. We live in an amazing world filled with exceptional sights and natural beauty.

I have been seeking the nooks on this planet to visit and conquer. The Capilano suspension bridge is amazing to say the least. The bridge itself was built in 1889 and stretches 450 feet across, 230 feet above the Capilano river. It swings back and forth with every step one takes and is a bit ominous to say the least, but I never felt in danger as I crossed over from one side to the other.
The surrounding build-outs in the Treetop Adventure allow traversing through the rainforest and climbing the trees which connect the entire park and make it walkable and climbable. A true adventure park.

Facts and trivia throughout the park

I saw photos of this bridge on Instagram and knew immediately, "this is my next attraction".
Yeah buddy.
I NEED to traverse this bridge, breathe this air, seek what others before me have experienced and pave a path for my children to know what is possible. EVERYTHING!!

Initially, I thought, what a beautiful bridge. I need to experience this. Then my son alerted me, he has a fear of heights. Wait, what?
Not, my son. Young Zeus to my universe. I don't have fears, how can he? It is impossible. Then it was mandatory for me to not only visit, but share these experiences. I realized, not only am I living for me, I am making a legacy for my kids via my path of experiences.
You got this!
I began to feel like like every accomplishment I make allows my kids to know anything is possible. My adventures extend beyond me. They make possibilities available and accessible to my kids. My adventures are now becoming my legacies.

Capilano Lake
Even though Capilano was my destination for this adventure, I had never been to Vancouver, so I looked forward to seeing a new city and experiencing new people. From the moment I stepped off the plane, I knew this was my kinda place. Customs and Immigration greeted me, "Bonjour", "Well Bonjour!" I had not had the opportunity to speak french in a social setting in years and here I was, in my new favorite city with my customs agent greeting me with the assumption I just may speak their language. Et, Voila, I did. Our conversation was short and polite, but my chest beamed with excitement that this country welcomed me and assumed I could, not assumed I couldn't. These are the breaks I need from the states. The reminders from the rest of the world of my talents and value. "Merci", on my way out of the terminal into Vancouver.
My voyage downtown and to the mountain areas was a pleasant surprise. Vancouver has a clean, fun downtown area with trendy restaurants, competitive shopping areas and a walkable, interesting urban space. There are numerous areas to explore. A waterfront area with outstanding restaurants and bars. The city is livable and maintains a welcoming sense of community. There are noticeable hostels all over downtown highlighting travel for students, and international travelers. Vancouver is accessible and inclusive. Vancouver is the kind of city you visit and think, I could live here. I should be living here.

downtown Vancouver

Tuesday, August 1, 2017


I planned my entire annual birthday month getaway around the international marathon of Rome.
Imagine that.

Every year I plan a solo vacation - a couple weeks alone, to rejuvenate. To find myself. A month where I decide what the next year holds for me. I evaluate my goals. I reconnect with myself. I travel and allow other cultures and insights to deeply influence how I live my  own life. A self reminder of what is good and what could use work in my own life. I set new goals and appreciate successes. I forgive missteps. I relearn how to love myself and this weird, confusing world we live in.

This year, I had a hard time deciding which cities would be on my travel itinerary. Luckily, Runners World magazine helped me decide. I am always looking for fun, new places to run and see new things, simultaneously. Rome is designated the "most scenic marathon in the world". This is where the center of my planning began.
Rome. I also knew Copenhagen had been on my list for years, but I had not been able to work it in, so I thought, this is easy; fly to Rome, run a race, and make my way by train to Denmark.
So many things happened which changed the outcome of this trip, but I did make it.
So many people told me, If you go to Italy you have to go t o Florence, so I added this to my itinerary (see previous blog post).
My trip became complete.
Tuscany - lovely like Bali's trip last year.
Rome - wondrous like Paris, many years prior.

Then Copenhagen - the fresh new start I have needed. For a long time.

Rome youtube

Rome is like most overpopulated urban cities. It has the best of everything, yet the overstimulated vibe of many cities we love and despise. With the marathon going on, many things were closed for security purposes and because of the traffic detours.
Even with the harried crowds, I still got to walk through the Colosseum grounds, see the Parthenon, and witness history. It felt safe to walk around surrounded by my people. Other runners and travelers who had come together for the same sense of belonging and adventure, meeting in one place to connect.
Even amongst the chaos of energy and people, I found streams, and peace, and small bands playing randomly on the streets energizing the passersby. My favorite things to find when I travel are small unexpected music bursts and hidden art. And, of course, the delightful food. Food, glorious food! Rome had it all.
Iconic Rome; one singular moment in the midst of it all

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Florence...Tuscany! The country. The Love.

Florence, the capital city of the region of Tuscany, symbolizes everything I write about in this travel blog; Art, wine, and love. The country of Italy has a romantic presence the entire world is aware of. The food is world known as divine. The wines are celebrated internationally. The art is historically relevant and taught as the epitome of brilliance. All the renown great artists are Italian. Everything spectacular about Italy presented itself to me in the intimate city of Florence.

I love Tuscany so much more than I thought I would, or even intended.  Truth be told, I wasn't even planning on going to Florence. I built this years annual birthday trip around a marathon in Rome. Then, everyone I shared my plans with, proceeded to ask if I was going to Florence. That I absolutely had to visit the Tuscany area and the city of Florence. So, I built it into my trip.
It should have been my entire trip.
The entire area which has been represented in films is even more amazingly beautiful in person. The rolling hills and small chateaus showed like cinematic fantasy as I rode through the countryside on a bus full of international tourists, strangers seeking the same glimpse of fulfillment.
Beautiful Tuscany

I heard the voices of the people who kept telling me, "you have to go to Florence". I had no idea the truth to their words. People tell you all the time, "this is so good", "you have to try that", "it's the best", and it's not - usually it's garbage, but I am willing to try. This was the exception, by far.
I felt the energy. I visited the Duoma, and the museums. I ate the food and drank the wine. I watched the people glide through the streets in the clothes. Geez, people are not kidding about the fashion sense of the Italians. They got it. The end. The word fabulous was invented and intended for Italian women.
All I could think of when I saw women effortlessly breeze around, was the scene from Sex and the City where Carrie's Italian friend sees her on the streets of NYC, and she says, "Carrie, Ciao" *kiss kiss* and she is just fucking fabulous. It made me want to start wearing dresses again and up my game. These are women. Confident, sexy, un-bothered women living life to the fullest.

I immersed myself in the countryside, and I got lost. I mean really lost. Every day I was lost. All day.  Everyday. Happily lost in a foreign country for hours at a time. I got so lost, but in the best way. I wandered back streets. I got scared. I back tracked. I walked and walked and walked, and in the end I found my way, but those lost hours were only lost in the American concept that I had somewhere to be, but I didn't. I needed to be right where I was, at every moment in Tuscany, embracing my short life, wandering the streets of Italy, soaking up the sun, looking for the meaning of life in the perfect month of my 49th year of life.
It was in all sense of the phrase, "all good".

Youtube Tuscany with SherriB0mb

These are just a few moments I captured while wandering the streets of Florence and touring Tuscany. I met artists, shared fine meals and even bought a few Italian dresses. This is probably one of the cities I know I will return and enjoy as much, if not more than the first time. There will never be the same beautiful moments captured in any given hour of time.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

CUBA: La Habana

I have been looking forward to visiting Cuba for as long as I can remember. I do not know when I read my first Hemingway novel. Even at age twelve I was destined to visit this beautiful island. To see travel restrictions lifted in my lifetime is a blessing long awaited.
Cubans take the People to People educational aspect very seriously. I found this enlightening and welcoming in my visit. I appreciated the opportunity to talk one on one with any and all locals that were happy and available to speak wih me about their lovey country.
There are many choices to stay in regards to hotels, Air BnB's, hostels, etc. There are also a range of prices to choose from in accommodations. Something to suit anyone's needs. AirBnB's which run from $60US to high end hotels which start at over $200US (or CUC) per night. The exchange rate is dollar to dollar and it is good to know, they do not accept credit cards. So, come cash ready, but know there are cash agencies all over the city (and in major hotels) that will exchange dollars for CUC. 

We have all seen the photos of vintage cars and luxurious hotels back-dropped against the most wondrous sunsets in the world. We have also heard the music, and felt the rhythm as we have watched Cuban men and women salsa and rumba with their very own distinctive style. It is contagious and sexy.

I walked through the streets listening for the music...and it drew me in. At one point I had just sat down in the lobby of a hotel to rest my weary feet when I heard a trumpet, and then the drums. I jumped up and ran towards the street and here they came. It was like the pied piper luring followers through the streets enticing us with each note. The dancers calling to us with their movements and joy.

The art, the music, the people, the costumes, the dance, LIFE. The stories and history. I ate it up like a starved child eats porridge. Oh, and the food. The combination of Caribbean flavors and international food choices was undeniably unique and satisfying. The combination of African Cuban spices and traditional meals are the existence of today's Cuba. Cured meats, sausages, rice and beans. a warm beer. This is a good meal shared among friends and family on this small, beautiful island. We began our food journey at a place called Topoly, an Iranian restaurant within walking distance of our Air BnB. Beautiful environment with great service and the most wonderful fare. I found out a vegetarian burger meant falafel and the spices were mainly middle eastern in taste. We also had the chance to eat at opening night at a place called Area 23 - very much like Tapas, it was small plates with wonderful local flavors. We had mixed sausages and everything had the most taste sensational sensual flavors. The restaurant was family run and also had a great local drink menu. Ambiance and deliciousness all wrapped up in one spot.

The composition of the city itself was easy to discern - Art and vintage defined everything.
The old cars, and bikes, and horses which still pulled goods on trucks and trolleys defined the feel of the mood of Havana. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Seeing a man on a horse, pulling goods on a cart seemed normal. Bicycles in the center square making time to work all seemed normal. Watching the hordes of women get on buses or in cars were the norm. ARE the norm. Because the change of the world around them changed and grew, did nothing to adjust the norm of the traditional day in the life of Cuba. Walking to work. Dropping a quarter into a payphone on the street to telephone a friend - this was still the same day to day as existed 50 years ago and still existed today. This Havana.

The cats of Havana were
 an enigma in itself. They were everywhere but unlike cats of other countries, Puerto rico for example, the cats of Havana owned the island. This was their domicile. Every corner, every street alley, every turn, a cat would make eye contact - not move, not adjust for man or tourist. My street, my life...the cats seemed to say, through their eyes - not needing to explain, not needing to own their words. They own their lives. Solely. Proudly.

The art districts and music of Cuba are somewhat historically self-defined, but you can never imagine the richness of the soul of Cuba until you hear it and see it for yourself.  The food as well, has layers and layers of flavors and differences that make the Cuban food game the top of its tier.

Calle de Hamel/Afro Cuban art district
I had coffee on my last morning with the host of the AirBnB which we rented, and it was the most open, honest, relate-able conversation I have had in a long time. It offered not only historic value, but a cultural insight and an immediate comraderie between women which came simply from the context of the conversation and the honesty with which Sol, our host, answered. I hope to have the chance to host her in the future and share with her as she did with me. There are certain things we can always share as human beings; stories of our children, societal issues, history, family pride, food - these things will always connect us when we make time to listen.

Find more travel photos/ video on my youtube channel, Cuba

A great thanks to the people of Cuba for allowing us to visit to see, to share their lives...again.