Dallas

On Sunday, I flew down to Dallas for my first ever business trip, complete with company credit card. I was scheduled to attend Casualty School, which sounds more exciting than it actually is. Four and a half days of training. Woohoo….

 

I arrived around 6pm, picked up my rental, and was at the hotel restaurant in Richardson (a northern suburb of Dallas) by 8. We stayed at the Hilton Doubletree. Pros: King-sized sleep-number bed, free breakfast, gigantic room, literally 3 minutes from the office, free warm cookie with check in; Cons: no mini-fridge or microwave (some of my coworkers had them, some, like me, did not. I was not pleased); during the free breakfast buffet the wait staff hovered constantly, looking for any way to get a tip (as in, literally taking the glass from your hand as you approached the juice machine).

 

Training ran 8-4:30 Monday-Thursday.  I headed downtown on three of the four nights. Though I had a rental to myself, traffic in the Dallas area is HORRID, so I elected to walk ten minutes and take the train.

 

Monday night I saw the infamous grassy knoll.  There was an ‘x’ in the road where JFK was assassinated.  Slightly morbid.  I then walked around the Downtown Art District, taking in the architecture.

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Note the ‘x’

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Tuesday I planned on going to Fair Park, where the State Fair is held every year. It had a 4.5 star rating on Trip Advisor and was rated one of the “best public spaces in America” with a lot of art deco style buildings. What all the reviewers neglected to mention is that Fair Park is in the ghetto. I started getting uncomfortable on the train based on the scenery, but I assumed that Dallas was like NYC, where one block is ghetto and the next (generally a tourist-trap) is perfectly fine.  Boy was I wrong.  I got off the train and attempted to walk the few blocks to the entrance of the park, but I felt completely unsafe and turned right back around. Even I have limits to what I’ll do in the name of exploring. If I don’t feel safe, it isn’t happening.

 

Wednesday I stayed in the hotel. Boring, I know.

 

Thursday is the day when the art museums are open late.  I hit up the Dallas Museum of Art and the Crow Collection of Asian Art. DMA was a bit bigger than the STL Art Museum and had a nice variety of exhibits.  The Crow Collection was tiny and wouldn’t have been worth a trip on its own, but it was a nice add-on to the DMA. I especially loved the photographs by John Thompson.

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Class ended around 11:15 on Friday, and it took me until 12:30 to return the rental car. The trip should have taken 20 minutes, but things tend to slow down when a major highway is reduced to one lane in a venue which already has some of the worst traffic I’ve ever seen (I was out around 8:45pm two of the nights, and it was still like rush hour traffic).

 

The best part of travelling on business is that all your food is on the company’s dime (within your per diem limit, of course). I took the opportunity to get in touch with my inner Thai. I highly recommend Ruang Thai, Noodlewave, and Bambu if you’re in the Richardson/Plano area.

 

The best Pad Thai ever

The best Pad Thai ever

Spring rolls, Pad See Ew, Sweet Mango Rice

Spring rolls, Pad See Ew, Sweet Mango Rice

Pad Kee Mao

Pad Kee Mao

I tried Indian one night, but discovered that I’m not a fan of cardamom.

 

Rice, veggie curry, rice pudding, and garlic naan

Rice, veggie curry, rice pudding, and garlic naan

Another day we had lunch at a Mediterranean buffet.  Mmmm falafel. I also had lunch at a place called Twisted Root Burger.  The teriyaki and swiss black bean burger with sweet potato chips was delicious, but the atmosphere was dive-y.  Later on I learned that it had indeed been featured on the Food Network show Drive-Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. And, of course I couldn’t pass up the chance to have the company pay for the Cheesecake Factory.

 

Overall, I wasn’t impressed with Dallas, and I’m glad I didn’t spend my own money to come here.  I suppose I’m just a Coastal girl (imo Chicago is better than Dallas and STL, but pales in comparison with NYC, Boston, and San Fran). The Richardson/Plano area did have some amazing restaurants, and the weather was pleasant, but the atmosphere of the city itself was…grungy for lack of a better word. That said, it is another pin to add to my map and another story to tell 🙂

San Juan Island- June 24th

Perhaps my favorite part of the trip (and the most logistically challenging) was my day-long kayaking adventure on San Juan Island, Washington.  I had to get the rental car the night before since public transit to the airport didn’t start in the morning until I would need to be leaving.  So I drove a rental car for the first time into a city I’d never been to before at ten o’clock at night in search of parking.  Amazingly, it actually went pretty smoothly and I found some free street parking just a couple of blocks from my hostel.

Interlude: I’d always assumed my Versa was in the compact class of cars until I had the misfortune of renting a Chevy Malibu.  My head was literally hitting the top of the car and the blind spots were absolutely horrid. I’ll never take my spacious, stream-lined, open car for granted again.

I left Seattle just after 6am and drove about 2 hours to Anacortes. From there I took the ferry to quaint Friday Harbor on San Juan Island.  It reminded me of Port Jefferson on Long Island, if a bit smaller.

About an hour later, the kayaking guide, Sam, arrived to pick up me and the other seven people in our group.  There was one other solo traveller, so the numbers worked out perfectly.  We loaded into the van and drove about twenty minutes to the launching dock.  Along the way, Sam pointed out a teepee in a field and claimed it was his humble abode.  We all thought it was joking, but on the water we found out that he was telling the truth.  He’s a university student majoring in marine biology who helps run kayaking tours in the summer.  He found a teepee on Craigslist and rents a plot of land for $100 a month.  He’s supposed to have electricity, but the landlords haven’t gotten around to running an extension cord out to the teepee, so right now he’s living rough.  He has a 5 gallon barrel buried in the ground which he uses to store beer, cheese, and bread (you know, the essentials), and he has a fire pit inside to cook food and keep warm.  I have to admit, it seems like a pretty cool existence, especially since he gets to do what he loves.

Sam, AKA Teepee Man

We kayaked about 8 miles round-trip in 5 hours.  Unfortunately we didn’t encounter any Orcas.  It was too early in the season and in kayaks we can’t go out to the deep sea where they’re more likely to be.  Some people in the group were extremely bummed, but I’d known that the chances of seeing them were low, so I was prepared to enjoy the day, Orcas or no.  The weather was gorgeous, the landscape was beautiful, and we did hear/see many other things such as bald eagles, seals, and jelly fish.

I also had the opportunity to eat kelp (aka seaweed) straight from the sea.  During one of our breaks in a kelp forest, Sam just reached into the water, tore off some kelp, and started chowing down.  Of course, we all had to follow suit, because how many people can say they’ve done it?  It was….interesting.  The only way I can think to describe it is slimy, pickled lettuce.  It wasn’t horrible, but it’s definitely not on my favorite foods list.

Kelp

After we made it back to dry land, I discovered to my horror that my so-called waterproof bag was not so waterproof after all, and my iPhone had been sitting in salt water for the better part of 4-5 hours.  At first, it worked just fine.  Then it shorted out…..  As soon as we got back to Friday Harbor I rushed to the grocery store, bought some rice and a Ziploc bag, and put my phone inside. For the next 90 minutes my mind was racing – should I buy a junk phone to tide me over until the new iPhone comes out this fall?  How would that affect my upgrade eligibility?  Should I just buy an alarm clock and give my phone until I got home to come back to life?  How would I call Kim to pick me up from the airport?  etc, etc.   I know I should have waited at least until the next day, but my phone is my lifeline, so I couldn’t resist checking on it an hour and a half later while on the ferry back to Anacortes. It turned on like nothing had happened.  In fact, the volume button on the side which has been on the fritz for the past few months actually works better now than it did before.  iPhone = god. Also, my dependence on iPhone = scary.

Seattle – June 23, 25, 30

No, you didn’t read the title wrong, my time in Seattle really was that fragmented. I arrived in the afternoon on the 23rd and my first stop after the hostel was, of course, the first Starbucks.  It was rather tiny, but very charming.

After a few hours I was obliged to return to the airport to get a rental car for my trip to San Juan (more on that in the next post). Literally all of the 24th was used up on this venture.  On the 25th I started the day by walking along the waterfront up to Discovery Park….unfortunately I was rather underwhelmed.  I took the bus back to the Seattle Convention Center (where the Space Needle is) and spent the rest of the day going up in the Space Needle, taking in the King Tut exhibit at the Pacific Science Center, and checking out the pop-culture museum known as the EMP (Experience Music Project).  Apparently it’s the 50th anniversary of when the Space Needle was built for the Worlds’ Fair, so all the merchants were really playing it up. Did you know that the person who designed the Space Needle thought that that’s how all buildings in the future would look?  Not sure why he thought we’d build a whole bunch of structures with only three usable floors…. Also, in the spinning restaurant at the top, the floor spins at a different speed from the windowsill, so beware if you happen to place your wallet under the window, because someone at the table behind you will be using your wallet to pay for their meal about 20 minutes later…

On the 26th I left for a brief interlude in Vancouver and returned on the evening of June 29th.  I spent most of June 30th down in the Pike Place/Waterfront area, with a detour back to the Space Needle area in order to get some souvenirs (I must say, I was rather disappointed with the selection – maybe I just wasn’t looking in the right places, but if Pike Place and the Space Needle don’t have anything good, where else could you possibly look?).  I visited the Aquarium, took a harbor cruise, and visited the Museum of Flight a little ways south of the city.  While there I got to chat with an old Navy veteran named John.  I normally don’t like being approached by museum staff/volunteers, but he was really sweet and very talkative.  I learned all about how he was from Chicago, moved to Seattle young, and travelled the world with the Navy.  We also discussed the merits of certain air carriers and I turned him into a convert for Southwest 🙂

I didn’t have time to do anything on the 1st other than make myself a quick breakfast and catch the first train to the airport.   Overall, I liked Seattle, but there were a lot more homeless people (of the crazy, pushy variety) and potheads than I expected.  I’m glad I visited, but I don’t feel the need to go back again.

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Where I stayed:

June 23-25: CityHostel Seattle, 6 person dorm

Pros: Good location in between Pike Place and the Seattle Convention Center / Wifi

Cons: 4 outlets for 6 people…with one of these being used for the fan (no central AC).  You do the math…. / Breakfast didn’t start until 8am, and by that time I was out and about / Only one shower per floor

June  29-July 1st: Green Tortoise Hostel, 8 person dorm

Pros:  Great location right across the street from Pike Place / Free breakfast started at 6am and included make-your-own eggs and pancakes, fruit, toast, and tea / AMAZING bathrooms – as in, hotel quality – very clean with huge showers / The beds all had little draw curtains on the sides and ends so you could have some measure of privacy

Cons: Wifi didn’t reach the room

Green Tortoise Bathrooms – I’d never seen a hostel bathroom I was driven to blog about until now… the picture doesn’t do justice to how big it was

Favorite Parts:

-Pike Place Market (especially the first Starbucks) and the waterfront

-Space needle area

-The weather – contrary to the normal rainy weather pattern, it only drizzled on one of the days I was up there, on the others it was either sunny or partly cloudy.

Days 3 and 4 – Museums, Parks, and Sunsets

On Day 3 I woke up early, as per the usual, and headed off toward Golden Gate Park (which is actually no where near the Golden Gate Bridge).  Within a couple blocks I chanced upon a couple of transvestite prostitutes getting ready to duke it out, and about a block past that was just a regular prostitute looking for guys on the way to the office with a few minutes and a few bucks to spare.  Gotta love liberal San Fran…. Anyway, along the way to the park I walked through Japanese Town and past the Peace Pagoda.

After a pit stop in Starbucks, it was on to the park, which was apparently designed by the same guy who helped designed Central Park.  It was gorgeous.  I stopped by the Japanese Tea Garden….


…before heading over to free Wednesday at the California Academy of Science.  It was a cute museum complete with planetarium and rainforest enclosure, but I’m glad I didn’t have to pay $30 to experience it.  I had planned on going to the Botanical garden after lunch, thinking that it was also free, but when I saw that the admission price was $8, I decided to pass.  I wandered around the rest of the park slowly before coming to Ocean Beach a couple of hours before sunset.

It was windy and chilly, but sunny, and my whole day had been structured around wanting to see the sun set on the ocean.  I’ve only ever been to the Atlantic, so I’ve only ever seen sunrises, and I knew I’d regret it if I let this opportunity pass me by.  I was near the Coastal Trail again, so I retraced my steps for a while before heading back to the beach to look for sand dollars, eat dinner, and kill time.  Finally, about 15 minutes later than it was supposed to, the sun set.  There was a thin line of clouds on the horizon so I didn’t get to see it dip into the water, which was slightly disappointing, but it was gorgeous and worth it none-the-less.

The next morning I hiked one last time to the Boudin factory on Fisherman’s Wharf, had some sour dough bread and a peanut butter cookie for breakfast (I’d had a craving for peanut butter the whole time and that cookie did not disappoint), and walked down to see the sea lions again before heading back to the hostel to collect my things.  I still had time to kill, so I walked a couple blocks over to the cable car museum.  It was small, but interesting, and the fire alarm which went off in the middle of my visit served to waste just the right amount of time.

With nothing else to do and a heavy bag on my shoulder, I headed for the airport an hour or two earlier than necessary, had a photo finish connection in Denver, and was back at home by 10:30 central time, just in time to go to bed and get up for work the next day 🙂  I miss California already….. is it time for my November 2012 trip to Japan yet? lol

Day 2- Of Downtown and Prison

Day 2 was my “City” Day.  I woke early and schlepped back up to Fisherman’s Wharf to visit the Boudin sour bread factory (apparently sour bread is one of the things San Francisco is “known for,” though I wasn’t aware of it until I arrived).  The bread was almost too cute to eat….almost 😉

After breakfast I took the cable car down to the metro station and headed off for a brief jaunt over to UC Berkeley to check out the gorgeous campus.

Then it was back to downtown to check out the largest Chinatown in the US.  The entrance gate was rather unimposing compared to other cities I’ve visited.  I guess when you can claim to be the largest in the country you don’t need to stand behind a large, elaborate calling card.  I popped into a cafe for  some delicious green tea bubble tea and ended up being a witness to a screaming and pushing fight between some random lady and a beggar. The chinese owners and I did the usual “bury your head in the sand and pretend like nothing’s happening” routine, but some “good samaritans” came to the lady’s aid and helped shove the guy out of the shop.  I wanted to shake my head and say “so some mentally ill homeless guy called you a sl*t and a c*nt, so what?  Get over it and ignore him, you shouldn’t have engaged and egged him on in the first place” but of course I said nothing, just grabbed my tea and left.  That woman would not survive in NYC with such a thin skin…

Anyway, after that excitement I wandered around Chinatown some more before making my way through the neighboring financial district and over to the Embarcado, which is another area filled with piers and street markets.  I ran across an “Occupy San Francisco” protest complete with unwashed hippies and some guy whipping a girl before making my way to a restaurant called “The Melt.”  I’d read about the shop a couple months ago– it’s business plan involves selling only grilled cheese and soup.  I got the classic combo (chedder cheese and tomato soup) to see what all the fuss was about.  It was good, but not $9 good.

After lunch I wandered through the city up to Pier 33, where I was due to catch the boat to Alcatraz.  The weather was a little chilly and fog obscured what would have otherwise been a spectacular view of the city skyline and Golden Gate Bridge, but I was just glad the weather had been amazing the day before (and would be amazing the next day, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves).  The 45 minute audio tour of the prison was actually very interesting and informative.  Apparently at any one time Alcatraz never had over 300 inmates, no one was executed there, and the average term was 7-10 years.  Oh, and there was a riot that lasted about 3 days, left 8 guards dead, and caused the US Army to drop grenades through holes in the roof.

After Alcatraz came souvenir shopping on Fisherman’s Wharf, a quick dinner, and an even quicker retreat to the warmth of the hostel for the night.

Day 1- Take Me to My City by the Bay

Let me just start off by saying that San Francisco is not a vacation for the lazy, unfit, or easily tired (unless, of course, you plan on spending an exorbitant amount of money taking public transportation everywhere— not recommended since the buses are filled with crazy people…much like NY…).  It shouldn’t be called the “City by the Bay,” it should be called the “City of OMG how is that big and steep of a hill even possible in an urban environment?”

I went to the airport straight from work on Sunday evening and caught a 6:45 flight with a connection in Denver.  The connection ended up delayed by about 20 minutes, which was just enough time to ensure that I missed the last metro train from SFO into the City by literally 5 minutes, though I did give it the old college try of running through the airport and hoping against hope.  Defeated, I hung my head, schlepped back through the airport, and found a shared ride van service in which seven or eight of us piled into a van and paid an overpriced fare (though still less than half what a taxi would cost) to get downtown.  The guy who was directing the vans seemed like he would be more at home as an extra on Boardwalk Empire than on the laid back California coast.  He had the 1920s gangster style hat and everything.  I really wanted to snap a picture, but unfortunately the service was too quick for that. I arrived at the hostel around 12:30am, fell into bed, and for some inexplicable reason, was awake and ready to go by 5am.  Needless to say, I made myself chill until 6:30ish.

Shortly after 7 I hopped on a bus which took me over to the Coastal Trail and gave me my first ever look at the Pacific Ocean.  It looks just like the Atlantic…. Happy as a clam (yes, EK, I really did just use that expression), I hiked on the trail for a good couple of hours, climbing up and down cliffs, getting my first views of the Golden Gate, and enjoying the sight and sound of the ocean with very few other people around.

The mood was dampened slightly when the trail diverted into a richy-rich neighborhood with homes which looked like they belonged in 1920s Hollywood, but I soon reached the Golden Gate and the charm returned.  It sounds presumptuous to say the Golden Gate is nothing spectacular (and the number of photographs I have on it would belie any claim that I wasn’t taken in), but being familiar with the imposing spectacle of the Brooklyn Bridge, the Golden Gate seemed very…simple.  If it wasn’t for the fact that it was red and iconic, it probably wouldn’t have merited more than a second or third look.  But red and iconic it was, and of course I couldn’t visit San Francisco without walking across.

After I grabbed lunch, I headed to Ghiradelli Square for one of the best hot fudge brownie sundaes I’ve ever had.  It was the kind that you know is going to make you feel sick for hours afterwards, but it tastes so good at the time that you can’t bring yourself to care.  I strolled along Fisherman’s Wharf (one of the main tourist attractions) while I chowed down.  I did some window shopping, strolled down piers to look at old ships and sea lions, visited an old arcade game museum, and got my very first look at a cable car.

It was only 4:30 or so, but I’d walked at least 20 miles (no, I’m not exaggerating) on less than 4.5 hours of sleep, so I was pretty much done.  I headed to the hostel, took a shower, ate some dinner, ventured out briefly to check out the nearby Union Square (which is much like NYC’s Union Square), and then headed to bed.

(PS: Did you know that nudism is allowed on San Francisco beaches?  I was not aware, and was therefore caught somewhat off guard when an old guy in a shirt, with the rest of himself hanging free, came up and offered to take my picture in front of the Golden Gate.  Thank goodness NYC helped develop my poker face because I just kept my eyes level, gave a small smile, and answered “thanks, but I got it” lol)

Chicago Day 2

After a less than restful night at the hostel (I swear the room I was in had the creakiest door, and of course girls were going in and out until after midnight and the one sleeping in the bunk above me woke me up a couple times with her snoring….) I got an early start on my second (and final) day in Chicago.

I started by exploring a bit more of Lincoln Park while eating breakfast on the go.  There’s just something very relaxing about walking in the sand and feeling the (cold!) water on your toes.  Afterwards I headed to Millenium Park to chill with some Starbucks before going down to the Museum area just south of Grant Park. I originally wasn’t planning on going into the Field Museum or Shedd aquarium, but then I realized that I actually really wanted to….and since I had no idea when/if I’d be back in Chicago, I’d probably regret it if I didn’t.  But before I did that, I had a couple other stops to make.

I don’t have any pictures from the first, because I thought I might get mugged if I took out my camera…..  See, I was in the south side of Chicago, which is notoriously ghetto.  Now before you get all riled up and yell at me, EK, let me explain.  I want to get my MBA from the University of Chicago, so I figured I should check their campus out.  The campus just happens to be in south Chicago.  I had two options for getting there: 1) take the subway and walk through Washington Park; or 2) Take the train and arrive on the other side of campus.  Since I had the unlimited card for the subway, I chose option 1.  Apparently that’s the more ghetto route….. But I survived the walk there and back, and that’s the most important thing, right? lol  The campus itself was gorgeous and I still want to go there, but it’s certainly useful to have first hand experience with the area surrounding it.

After escaping the ghetto, I wound up in Chicago’s Chinatown.  It was….well, just like most other Chinatown’s I’ve been too, if a bit smaller.  I tried my first green tea bubble tea there and it was pretty bleh.  I mean, it wasn’t bad per se, but it’s not something I would seek out again.  Maybe I just need to try a different flavor, because the green tea part of the green tea freeze was practically non-existent.  I might as well have been drinking crushed ice.

After lunch in Chinatown it was on to the Field Museum.  It’s a natural history museum, just like the ANHM in NY, but it’s even larger and the layout is much more creative.  Not that there’s anything wrong with the ANHM, but the Field Museum’s exhibits just flowed together better and the displays were amazing.  It was definitely worth the $22 entry fee — especially since this was the first and probably only time I’ll ever go.

Next up was the Shedd Aquarium.  It was alright, but nothing too spectacular.  As was the case with the Art Institute, I’ve simply been to too many zoos and aquariums for them to have anything I haven’t seen before.  I did catch a glimpse of a dolphin and beluga whale show, so there were some interesting points, but it was smaller than I imagined and was just barely worth the $29 ticket — and only because it was another of my first and only visits.

By the time I finished walking around the Shedd Aquarium, I was pretty much all Chicago-d out.  I’d seen everything I wanted to see and was sore and tired from walking the better part of 12 + hours two days in a row on minimal sleep both nights.  But I still had some time to kill, so I went to see Wrigley Field, which is where the Chicago Cubs play.  It was….quaint, to put it nicely 😉

After that it was time to head to the airport to grab some dinner before my flight, which was scheduled to leave at 9pm.  It got delayed until 10 (figures this would be the delayed flight, not the one I was 5 minutes away from missing on the way up….) but the 6:50pm flight had been delayed until 8:55 and I managed to get on that one, so it was like nothing changed for me.  I was talking to EK for so long that I didn’t hear them call my name for standby (I’m still not convinced he did, because I was loitering around the gate the entire time I was on the phone) and I almost missed that flight too, but luckily everything worked out in the end and I got home just in time to go to bed and wake up early for work today 🙂