While in Seattle, I had a few particularly good meals.
Capital Cider – I happened to Google “gluten-free Seattle” and found out about Capital Cider. Their menu was entirely gluten-free, they had what appeared to be vegan options, and best of all, they served cider flights. I asked my boss if he wanted to check it out and he said yes. Then another person joined us, and someone she was talking with and another two chimed in and soon a group of seven was seated in the lower level of the restaurant and bar. It was “Drink and Draw Night” which turned out to be rather enjoyable. I know I had hand cut fries and some Brussel sprouts, and maybe some broccoli, all of which were quite tasty, but the drinks are what really mattered. I had a flight of ciders, all of which were a bit dry for me, and a delightful mixed drink made with Scotch, Gran Classico Bitter, and BroVo Ginger. The outstanding part of the meal came when I realized they had flights of dessert ciders – like port made with apples. They were amazing.
El Borracho – I had lunch with a colleague at El Borracho, just outside Pikes Place Market. They have a vegan section on the menu, including nachos, soyrizo, and other delights. I ordered a taco de hongos (mushrooms) and a taco de papas y poblanos (potatoes and peppers). Both were great. I wanted more, but it worked out just as well that I left a little hungry, because…
Emmy’s Vege House – I took the ferry over to Bainbridge Island after lunch. I was walking around and decided there was no way in hell I was passing up an all-vegan Vietnamese fast food kiosk in the center of town. Emmy’s Vege House has a full-picture menu and outside seating. It was a perfect respite. I ordered summer rolls and a Thai iced tea.
Veggie Grill – There was a Veggie Grill around the corner from the hotel. We need more of these on the East Coast. Over the course of the days I was there, I had the tempeh tacos, gluten-free mac and cheese, asparagus soup, and bahn mi salad. The tacos and mac and cheese remain my favorites.
Oatmeal, Lake Union – My absolute favorite meals were eaten at Lake Union with my new duck friends. I was out for an early morning walk and ducked into a Whole Foods. They had a decent hot bar with oatmeal and toppings. I took mine to-go and walked up to Lake Union. It was a perfect morning to sit on a bench and look at the water. The first morning the ducks and geese came to see if I was sharing. The next morning I picked them up some peas and corn at the salad bar and we had breakfast together.
Work conferences often mean making the most of the spartan free time. I finished up a meeting at El Borracho, a Mexican restaurant near Pikes Place Market, and found myself free for the rest of the day. It was about 2 p.m. I decided to see how far I could explore on foot. I made it fairly far. I took a look at Metsker Maps, a traveler’s dream, Left Bank Books, which seemed out of place being anti-authoritarian and pro-anarchist in the middle of a tourist Mecca, and a few other shops outside the market.
I wandered inside Pikes Place Market. Nope, nope, nope. I’m 5’2” and pressing crowds make me claustrophobic. All I could see were armpits and there were a lot of other unpleasant smells. I left the busy sections of the market as quickly as possible and descended to the lower levels. I remembered a kind of cool store from a prior visit that I wanted to look for.
Inside Orange Dracula, “the dime store for those with unusual tastes,” I found an even larger selection of pop culture and horror kitsch than I remembered. I couldn’t afford the rare Lego Hogwarts set, but I found Italian Harry Potter stickers, swamp soap, vampire incense, and veterinarian warning stickers. I wandered the lower levels for a while, where few tourists seemed to stray. I found a junk shop and left with a $2 scarf. I continued winding my way down through the market and on outside. I walked amid the construction over to the shops and tourist stops down near the water.
I had hoped I would have the time to check out the ferry over to Bainbridge Island. The weather cooperated and I eventually found the ferry terminal. I bought a ticket, just $8.20 roundtrip, and waited for the next crossing. The terminal filled with daily commuters and sightseers. It was a cool, gray crossing, but rather pleasant.
The commuters bolted off the ship and to their cars, bikes, and buses, some actually running down the gangway to the terminal. I wandered into town and along the main street. I found the Eagle Harbor Book Co., which had a decent local section and nature guides. From there I threw myself at Emmy’s Vege House, an all-vegan food kiosk in the center of town. I had a decent lunch but made room for some summer rolls and a Thai ice tea. Refreshed (meaning caffeinated and sugared), I continued exploring. Over the last few years, we’ve developed a custom of finding Garnet stuffed animals when we travel. I hadn’t found one yet, but Calico Toy Shoppe had a perfect stuffed gnome.
At Millstream, I found a gift for one of Garnet’s teachers and about 20 things I wanted but couldn’t justify. Across the street, Backstreet Beat Books and Record offered a small but well-cultivated selection of books. I found Patrick a Graham Green paperback he didn’t have. From there I hit up the local grocery store for snacks. In their parking lot, I found artichokes growing. I saw a sign for a waterfront trail when I got off the ferry and decided to try and find it.
Instead, I found a couple out walking their goats. I asked them about the trail, which was really an excuse to meet the goats. They were young brothers who would butt heads occasionally. They were also working goats and helped clear brush and grass for paying customers. This was the type of commonplace, practical eccentricity that existed in Seattle proper until all the young programmers and online corporations took over. They pointed me toward the trail, where I found two chickens out enjoying a good hunt and peck.
I was thinking about waiting to take the ferry back over to Seattle until sunset, but my legs ached and I was getting tired. I also knew I had a few more uphill miles to walk to get back to the hotel. It was close enough to sunset that I got some good long light.
I remembered that the Seattle Mystery Bookshop was close to where I got off the ferry and walked to the store. They had closed already, but I recommend their selection from a prior visit. I trudged up to the Veggie Grill around the block from the hotel and ordered take-out. I was beat. In what amounted to six hours, I had walked well over five miles, took a ferry, met two goats, and was able to sate my post-conference wanderlust. At least until the next morning.
The reason our anniversary trip is in January is rooted in economics. When Patrick and I decided to take our first trip money and time off from work were major hurdles to travel. We decided to take advantage of MLK Day, as well as off-season lodging and airfare. In the intervening years we learned to go warm places in January, which were more expensive, but they were warm and that was all that mattered. Last year we blew our travel savings on a trip to Ireland, which while off-season was still expensive. We also moved, so between the two things we went back to our roots and looked for a cheap trip we could take over MLK Day weekend.
We opted for a simple road trip. Going north would be colder, so we decided to go south. We hadn’t been to the Outer Banks together in well over a decade. It would be cheap in the off-season, slightly warmer, and the ocean is there, so the decision was made.
There is something to be said for the hearty souls who pronounce “open all year.” For them we are grateful. I do think that traveling in the off-season gives you a chance to experience the place and the local culture in a way that those who arrive and depart the high season would never dream of.
Lodging: In an effort to keep the progeny entertained and fed, as well as ourselves, we looked for local lodgings that had an indoor pool, kitchen, and a view. We found a place that offered all that for a relatively modest sum in the Outer Banks Beach Club Resort. It was cold and blowing much of the time, but we enjoyed DVDs we brought, enjoyable meals, a view of sunrise over the ocean, and a hot tub.
Meals: We cooked most of our meals at the hotel (resort?), but we managed two very memorable meals at two local spots – The Thai Room and Outer Banks Taco Bar. After a long day adventuring in Ocracoke (post forthcoming), we drove straight to the The Thai Room. The service was superb, even after they realized we were not another similar family with the exact same eating habits. Garnet enjoyed the fried tofu so much that he got an order to go. They have many vegetarian options and understand that hot means hot.
On our final day, we waited around Kitty Hawk until The Outer Banks Taco Bar opened. This ranks up there with the best decisions I’ve made in life. We ordered a round of appetizers and the fried tostones were so good that I would have just sat and eaten those until the end of time. Patrick and I polished off the tostones, while Garnet finished the chips and salsa. The homemade corn tortillas were the best I have ever eaten. Seriously. If you can get rice and beans right, you are doing it right, but the tortillas put it over the edge. I sat there wondering of this is what a goldfish thinks as it eats itself to death? I just wish we had eaten there earlier in the trip so I could have had more tostones. TOSTONES!
Entertainment: Driving into Nags Head Woods, the temperature was well below freezing with a bit of a wind. That said, I mused as I looked at the swamps if the bugs would be worse than the cold. And I like bugs. I wanted the ponds to be full of frogs and turtles, but the frost and winter light were beautiful in their own right. If you can enjoy this kind of place in the dead of winter, there is no excuse from missing it in spring when the world is alive.
During the storm that blew in on our second day, we hit the local bookstore before returning to the room to hunker down. Island Books has three locations, but we hit up Kitty Hawk. Patrick found the new Derf Backderf, Garnet found a Star Wars book, and I found an ARC and gift for a friend. A good selection all the way around.
Elizabethan Gardens is a 10.5 acre public garden located within Fort Raleigh National Historic Site in Manteo, NC. The gardens are lovely by day, but at night in the winter they come alive with lights, music, and even movies. We wandered around in the dark and came across a campfire and old holiday cartoons being projected. The holiday lights were extended due to inclement weather, but that meant we were able to enjoy them into late January.
While June would offer endless shopping and all sorts of beach-going, there is something about traveling to a shore town in winter. You have to want to be there. There is an appreciation for place that isn’t there when it is an easy landscape. And the year-round shops and restaurants are locals who want you there. Consider some off-season travel and avoid the maddening crowds.
I flew out to Denver for a work conference, assuming the short (just over 50 hour) trip would be too jammed packed to offer enough fodder for a post. I was wrong and found Denver quite enjoyable. After a long cab ride from Denver International Airport (more on that later), I dropped my bags at the hotel and went out in search of food. Denver is amazingly vegan-friendly and had my pick of places. I decided on Watercourse Foods and devoured a plate of homefries, pancakes, scrambled tofu, and tofu bacon. I wandered for a while and eventually found myself at the opulent Brown Palace Hotel and headed into the Ship Tavern. I sipped a pear cocktail, read a zine, and filled out a few postcards. I enjoy these quiet, anonymous moments of solitary travel.
I returned to the hotel for the reception and dinner and decided I would maturely go back to my room and retire for the night. Thankfully a co-worker convinced me that was not in my best interest and cajoled me to go with her to a conference-related gathering. What had I been thinking?!
I’m glad she did, because I was not only treated to a view of Denver at night from the 22nd floor of a clock tower, I got to watch a thunderstorm breaking around the city from that height. One of my travel loves is seeing, hearing, and smelling thunderstorms in different places. We were even allowed to climb the spiral staircase to the very top of the bell tower. Giving people drinks and then sanctioning this activity seemed overly trusting.
Despite the semi-late night, I was up at 6am and exploring the city before a breakfast meeting with a friend who lives in Denver. We met at City O’ City, where I had scrambled tofu smothered in green chile, queso fresco, cilantro, homefries, corn tortillas, and some warm house-made gluten-free bread. Breakfast foods, especially at conference hotels, tend to be very gluten-y and not very vegan-friendly, so this was a huge treat and kept me going all day. So did such a pleasant meeting and good conversation so early in the day.
I was busy with work stuff the rest of the day, but the next morning awoke once again at the crack of dawn. City O’ City’s menu called to me on the 21st floor of my hotel room and I found myself wandering again, this time pondering the waffles I had seen on the menu. They make savory waffles. Waffles as food-food. This is perhaps the best idea ever. I ordered the “waffle of the week”, a tex-mex waffle topped with black beans, spicy peppers and onions, cilantro, a chipotle aioli, and avocado. It was one of the best meals I have ever had. Seriously.
I headed back to the hotel and got caught in the beginnings of the Pride festivities. Areas around the hotel were cordoned off with fences, but I made it back in time for the start of the sessions. I had a break and walked to Tattered Cover, a renowned local bookstore. Across the street is Rockmount, famous for their western wear shirts since 1946. They are well-made and very cool looking, but pricy and I ended up leaving empty- handed.
The airport is fairly far outside of the city, about 25 miles, and by Saturday afternoon we were all conferenced-out. I decided to leave a bit early with my boss and a colleague so I could explore the weird murals in what is a very weird airport. According to conspiracy experts, the airport is everything from a massive underground base providing safety to a new world order to a secret Nazi and/or Freemason site. It would appear there is an entire segment of the internet devoted to the DIA conspiracy (go ahead, Google it!). No matter what tin hat you are wearing, the airport is simply weird. Greeting you as you arrive at DIA is a giant blue horse sculpture with red glowing eyes dubbed Blucifer…that killed the sculptor. Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up.
Inside the baggage claim area are four wildly colorful murals by Chicano muralist Leo Tanguma that promote world peace and express fears of mass extinction, but first you have to get past a giant, threatening gas mask-wearing, sword wielding figure and a lot of dead and crying kids to get the message. The images show misery and death, a quote from a child who died at Auschwitz, a dead jaguar, and kids toppling the gas mask figure. I just can’t figure out how this got past a public art planning committee. I wonder what weary travelers make of these scenes? Here are the four murals and some close ups:
Plaque explaining the mural: “Children of the World Dream of Peace is a powerful mural expressing the artist’s desire to abolish violence in society. One section of the piece speaks to the tragedy and devastation of war and its impact on humanity. The mural then moves on to images of smiling children, dressed in traditional folk costumes from around the world, celebrating peace prevailing over war.”
Plaque explaining the mural: “In Peace and Harmony with Nature references the social realist murals of Mexico while addressing a modern theme: the destruction of the environment. The first half of the mural shows children displaying great sadness over the destruction and extinction of life, as the second half of the artwork depicts humanity coming together to rehabilitate and celebrate nature.” Further reading: http://diaconspiracyfiles.com/2009/05/12/more-murals-by-leo-tanguma/ And then there is this part of the train system that looks inspired by ancient ruins.
The airport is HUGE. It takes up 53 square miles and you need to take a train to your gate. There are rumors of underground bunkers and speculation about who really built the airport. The runways are said to be in a deliberate swastika shape. I don’t know about any of that, but I do know they have a TCBY that has vegan soft-serve and that really helped the storm-related delays. Denver is a seemingly unassuming place with unexpected (and often peculiar) treasures.
“When health is bad and your heart feels strange,And your face is pale and wan,When doctors say you need a change,A pint of plain is your only man.”– Flann O’Brien, “The Workman’s Friend”
I once knew an Irish girl who absolutely refused to drink Guinness this side of the pond.
“It doesn’t taste right here,” she said. “It tastes kind of funny. Sort of flat.”
Having never been to Ireland at that point in life, I could not mount a well-rounded defense of the black stuff’s American cousin. But it hardly mattered, as said lass regularly forsook her native brew in favor of the dollar draft du jour. To me, no perceived inferiority could be so great as to justify drinking Coors Light, the skim milk of beer, thusly self-negating her own testimony.
I’ve never been a beer man, per se, preferring rambunctious, high-octane spirits like whiskey, Scotch, and rum. But I’ve always had a fondness for the vaguely sweet, burnt-but-never-bitter flavor of the Emerald Isle’s most well-known export.
Diageo, the multinational corporate juggernaut that today owns, brews, and markets Guinness, says it annually sells more than 1.8 billion pints of it worldwide. Today, the stout is brewed in nearly 60 countries (including Ireland), and sold in twice that many, but it all began in 1759, at St. James’s Gate in Dublin.
The Guinness Storehouse leaves no stone in the company’s 256-year history unturned, starting with the four ingredients that comprise its famous stout – barley, hops, yeast, and water (sourced from nearby mountains and not the River Liffey, as urban legend holds). And that’s only the first floor; the six more that ascend tell nearly every angle of the Guinness story, from the brewers to the coopers to the suits upstairs in marketing.
Those of drinking age (18!) can enjoy a pint (included in the admission price) on the top-floor Gravity Bar, a glass-walled cylinder that affords visitors a 360-degree view of Dublin. Another bar on the floor below teaches visitors the protocol behind a perfect pour. (TIP: Every admission stub is good for a pint, including the one your non-drinking companion is holding.)
Also of note, the Guinness Storehouse is kid-friendly.
I spent an obscene amount of time and money in the gift shop (some on actual gifts), which features every manner of Guinness-branded clothing and paraphernalia. The whole deal is not inexpensive; tickets are 18 euros, or 16.20 if purchased online in advance. But for the Guinness-drinker it’s nirvana – the nexus of product and branding that defines the whole Guinness experience for people around the world.
Diageo insists that all Guinness is brewed to the same specifications, no matter where its made. But who knows? Maybe Ireland’s Guinness really is just a little more fresh, traveling through cleaner, better maintained lines to a tap that plays like a perfectly tuned instrument in the hands of a skilled barman. Or, just perhaps, a pint means that much more when enjoyed upon its native shore.
We at Next Exit Travel are curious about local cuisine. For us, this means stopping at various supermarkets and gas station mini-marts to sample local delicacies. We seek to experience the potato in all forms. In fact, that really should be our mission statement.
Several of the gas station mini-marts offered fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as bread baked fresh on the premises. But you all know what bread looks like and snack food packaging is so much more fun. We also found out there is an amusement park devoted to fried potato products – Tayto Park! It was closed for the winter, but it gives us an excuse to go back.
I find that my mood darkens with the shorter days and often by December I’m rather unpleasant to be around. I’ve learned ways to fight it, which are usually only semi-successful. This year I had not only the lack of light to contend with, but also new triggers brought about by events that happened this time last year and a workload that has been more stressful than usual.
Then last week I saw that Vincent D’Onofrio will be releasing a spoken word punk album in the spring. I fell down one of those internet rabbit holes and learned that he would be performing in NYC in a few days and that tickets were just $20. I’ve had a long-standing fascination with Vincent D’Onofrio. I’m pretty sure I watched every episode of Law and Order: Criminal Intent when I was pregnant and, more recently, I was so disturbed after watching Chained that I couldn’t sleep. His monologues in The Pawn Shop Chronicles made the movie. He completely inhabits the characters he plays and exudes an intense undercurrent that is compelling to watch.
I mentioned the performance to my family who encouraged me to go. I hemmed and hawed because of the expense. I wondered about my sanity in wanting to go to NYC for a matter of hours to see Vincent D’Onofrio perform spoken-word punk. And then I remembered that my sanity was already questionable and said, fuck it, and ordered tickets and reserved two seats on Megabus.
So on Saturday morning WPT and I headed to White Marsh to catch the bus to NYC. We learned that if there is space you can switch buses for a nominal fee, so we boarded an earlier bus and were on our way north.
We were early and decided to walk from the bus stop (at 28th) up to Russian Samovar (52nd) where were we meeting a friend. Along the way we stopped at Sushi Osaka because they have one of my favorite rolls ever – avocado and peanut. This was wise, as the rest of the day would only offer vodka, olives, and fried potato products. I’ve written about the Russian Samovar previously and for many reasons it is my favorite bar. My friend arrived and we graduated from shots to carafes of horseradish vodka.
Somewhere around 6pm we stumbled into a cab. We assume this is where WPT lost his hat. I’ve learned that any trip to NYC takes a little something. At least this time it wasn’t a phone screen or wallet. We arrived at Joe’s Pub and found our seats. Yet more fried potato products were consumed.
Sitting in the dimly lit theater I realized how light my mood was. A spontaneous trip to NYC with WPT, getting to see a good friend, and now listening Vincent D’Onofrio talk about his imaginary friend and describe a hamster’s world view was exactly what I needed to get past the hump of the darkest days of the year. It wasn’t the answer I expected to find.
After the show was over we had a bit of time before we needed to head over to 34th and 11th to catch the bus back to Baltimore. Our first stop was the Little Lebowski Shop (I needed a new t-shirt; five isn’t enough apparently), then onto Generation Records. We boarded a little before 10:30pm and were soon fast asleep, lulled by the road noise and the fulfillment of a perfect, ridiculous quest.