Mary and I took a road trip to southern California this past weekend. Her Mom had access to a cabin in the San Bernardino mountains and invited us to enjoy it with her. It was quiet, and mostly without an internet connection, which quickly highlighted my burning addiction to the perpetual onslaught of news and information. We did some hiking, some card playing, and a bunch of reading - and once I stopped worrying about my lack of connectivity, a quiet calm came over me.
So I took some pictures.
The cabin that we stayed in apparently once belonged to the family of actor Walter Matthau. It was small and cozy with a full kitchen, a fireplace, and an irresponsibly steep staircase that tested the upper limits of our knee joints.
The neighborhood was full of cabin-like residences. Apparently this is the off-season, so there weren't a lot of people around. It was very peaceful.
Down the hill there was a lake for boating and fishing. Across the street from it were a few quaint shops and a little restaurant.
On Saturday evening we ventured out along the curvy mountain roads. Mary was driving, and I frequently asked for stops so that I could catch the fleeting sunset beyond the mountains. She would dutifully crank the wheel to the side of the road like a swat vehicle about to raid a drug den, and once my heart returned from its visit to my throat, I would get out and take a picture.
We took our time on Sunday, enjoying the midday views.
Mary identified a trail on a map that she wanted to find. It was several miles away, and the drive eventually went off-road to her genuine delight. I don't have any pictures of that experience because I was busy trying to avoid whiplash. Her Subaru Forester is a nice car, but we quickly noticed that other vehicles on these narrow dirt trails were Jeeps with large off-road wheels and the occasional pack of helmeted dirt bike riders. Something didn't feel right - but we mercifully made it to a stopping point with both axles intact.
We commenced on a hike. For all the forest greenery we'd seen up to this point, our high-noon adventure was looking decidedly desolate. It was an unfamiliar landscape coming from Northern California.
I found a lizard who was very into the idea of having its picture taken. There's a point, however, when a reptile lets you get so close that you stop thinking it has your best interests in mind. I got to that point and decided it was time to go.
We continued on our trail as I eyed my half-empty bottle of water under the unforgiving sun. I heard the cry of a hawk or vulture or pterodactyl in the distance, and I asked Mary if maybe we shouldn't call it a day and head back to her conveniently air conditioned vehicle. She beaconed us forward. There was, after all, a lake at the end of this trail, and she assured me it would all be worth the trouble.
Around what I'm told was the halfway point, I decided we should take a picture together so that when archeologists someday uncovered an ancient digital camera along with the dusty bones of two unfortunate ne'er-do-wells, they might tell our story - a cautionary tale - to school children in space.
I asked Mary if she remembered how nice it was back at the cabin. We have running water there, I reminded her. And a blanket with a deer on it. She, in turn, shared with me the promise of that magnificent lake at the base of the trail. I called to mind the physics of our situation - that the farther we go down, the farther we will have to come back up. We stared at each other for a long moment of recognition. . . and then pressed on.
I heard that acorns thrive in arid climates. These were almost dead.
We finally made it to the end of the trail. The greenery returned at the source of water, which I promptly and inadvertently soaked my left shoe and sock in. I would be lying if I said that the denouement of our downhill desert journey had not been oversold. This was more akin to a puddle than a lake.
Along with the puddle came a swarm of gnats that further tainted our brief respite before the long climb back to semi-civilization. I would show you more pictures, but here are two points for your consideration:
We made it back alive, where Mary's Mom, who wisely declined the hike, was reading in the breezy back seat of the car. I had one goal at that point: hydration. And I learned that it's almost impossible to drink water while you're in an SUV bounding wildly over uneven terrain. It was an enlightening experience all around.
We returned to the cabin in time to catch a beautiful sunset. It was the perfect end to our adventures.
Mary and I spent about a week in Philadelphia, and we really loved it there. We found a great place to stay in the Old City neighborhood. The location allowed us to walk to anything we needed, including most of what we hoped to see around town. Our building was on a corner by the highway.
A benefit of this apartment was access to the building's communal roof deck, which offered a wonderful view of the Ben Franklin Bridge. Amazingly, we only ever saw one other person up there taking advantage of it.
Our apartment had a modern feel, and it made for a comfortable home base during our trip.
We flew a red eye into Philly arriving a little after 7am, and we didn't have access to our apartment until the afternoon. We went to the National Constitution Center where we could check our bags and peruse the museum. Here, Mary is observing the full collection of US state flags:
We spent the next few days walking around Philadelphia, eating great food, and checking out some fantastic museums. One of our favorite experiences was the historic Eastern State Penitentiary. It's full of insights, textures, and remarkable natural light. We made our way through the museum while listening to an audio tour voiced by Steve Buscemi.
These paintings are representations of some of the victims of criminals who were held here. Some were illuminated by light from these narrow skylights that existed in the cells.
We were really impressed by the selection of restaurants and the quality of food that Philly has to offer. Our first dinner location was Jones Restaurant, a stylish spot on Chestnut Street.
We also found a favorite breakfast/brunch place with outdoor seating at Luna Café. It was hot most of the time we were there, but in the mornings it was nice to sit outside with great food and a good cup of coffee. Our server was awesome, too. We went back 3 mornings in a row.
Right next door there was a dog kennel, where this girl was eager to get out and be with people.
Another great opportunity was to be in the very room where the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence were drafted and signed in Independence Hall. Our guide was a wealth of information. That raised chair on the far right is the actual chair that George Washington sat in.
Just a block from our apartment was Elfreth's Alley, a historic landmark known as the oldest residential street in the nation.
Here are a few other favorite pictures during our visit, starting with Mary's first experience as a Supreme Court Justice. (She took the responsibility very seriously.)
These gentlemen were just playing chess somewhere downtown. No big deal.
It was a wonderful trip, and we look forward to returning in the future!
Mary and I kicked off 2017 with a vacation to Mexico City, a place I had no clear perception of before we arrived. I'm glad we went. It's an absolutely beautiful city.
Unfortunately that bed was like sleeping on a wooden platform with maybe a thin pad on top. I usually prefer a bed on the firmer side, but this was next level. At least there was pleasant wall art to look at while you unlock your spine in the morning.
We had a full kitchen, if small - but that oven is the type that you have to manually light before each use. Through the power of the internet, we learned to go against our strongest human instincts: Turn on the gas, open the oven, light a match, and stick the open flame into a hole inside the most incendiary appliance in the kitchen. And our eyebrows lived to tell the tale.
Not pictured here is the washer/dryer in a closet to the left. It's a stand-alone unit where, in theory, it will wash and dry your clothes in that one machine. The "dry" cycle was more of a "heat and turn" cycle. It took roughly 4 hours to get our clothes from 'sopping wet' to 'pretty damp'.
Two things kept me from wanting to live this life full-time: 1 - brushing my teeth with bottled water. And 2 - not being allowed to flush toilet tissue. These are logistical challenges best left to people with more patience than me.
Open the shades to our floor to ceiling windows, and it's easy to want to get outside and see the world:
This is Mary heading out of our apartment building. The locks were serious. You have to use the key to unlock the door from the inside and then re-lock it once outside - and it takes several full turns of the key to fully engage all the locking mechanisms. People talk about crime in Mexico, and the closest we got to even suggestions of it were locks like these, and a fairly substantial police presence. Most of the places we went felt very safe.
We really enjoyed walking around the neighborhood. There was plenty to see within a few blocks. Here, a crowd gathers around a steaming food cart.
There were some really nice parks nearby. They were like mini-sanctuaries and offered so much greenery in January.
To see the world outside of the Roma Norte neighborhood, we could walk for 15 minutes and be in the downtown area, or we could call an Uber, which was incredibly affordable there. One thing we weren't expecting was the crazy traffic. Not only did the congestion during rush hour rival the San Francisco Bay Area, the general rules of the road (including traffic signals) were regarded with the same level of respect one might offer to the late Rodney Dangerfield. Police would line the intersections to make sure vehicles didn't just blow through the lights.
Here's a small slice of the things we saw just walking around town:
We did venture to some places that weren't accessible on foot. We took a 45 minute Uber ride ($16 US dollars!) to Teotihuacán, an ancient Mesoamerican city full of pyramids. The largest of these structures, the Pyramid of the Sun, is thought to have existed since AD 100. This is an excellent place for anyone looking for a good stair workout. (I'm almost never looking for a stair workout, good or otherwise.)
A day of rest followed the endurance test that was Teotihuacán, and then we experienced the home of Frida Kahlo, now a museum. I hadn't studied Frida's work or her life, and I was struck by how much she went through, and how much she challenged social norms. There was a long line outside which you can skip if you've purchased your tickets online.
My favorite part of the museum was Frida's studio, a bright, airy space with her paints, brushes, wheelchair, and other interesting things.
I didn't know that Frida had so many health issues, complicated further by a horrible vehicular accident as a young-adult. Here, a drawing in her diary depicts her relationship with her body and its maladies.
This was Frida Kahlo's death bed, where a representation of her lays in memoriam.
At Mary's insistence, we also experienced Lucha Libre - a huge, cartoonish, wrestling event in Mexico City that some say is bigger than the WWE. It's also where I learned the word "maricon," which was yelled by a spectator at one of the wrestlers, and which regrettably ended up in my Google Translate history afterward. (And now it's in this blog post, further illustrating my questionable judgement.)
Unfortunately cameras were not permitted at this event, so in lieu of pictures, here are our tickets. And if you're worried that we overpaid - don't be. $120 pesos is just a little over $6 USD.
I did sneak a picture with my phone. This is one of the more flamboyant wrestlers making his entrance flanked by scantily clad women. I believe he was wearing some type of bird costume.
We saw so much during this trip that I'm having trouble not sharing it all. I'll wrap this up with a few favorites - our visit to El Moro, (a wonderful churro shop), Zócalo, Monument a la Revolución, and Bosque de Chapultepec.
You can find additional pictures from our trip in this gallery.
For Christmas this year, my girlfriend, Mary, surprised me with a hot air balloon ride! Neither of us had ever done it before, and it was so serene. If you've never floated effortlessly through the air in a basket, I highly recommend it. The flight was a little over an hour long, and we traveled 6 miles over beautiful vineyards as the sun melted away the fog.
We got up at 5am on Saturday morning to head into Napa Valley. The launch point was V Marketplace in Yountville, CA. The fog made it questionable whether the flight would happen or not - but it quickly burned off, and work began. Prepping the balloon appeared to be an intense job!
They call this process "standing up the balloon". The baskets are on their sides until the balloon is full enough to be upright. From there, we're allowed to climb inside. Our balloon had about 10 passengers, and the basket was divided into compartments. We had a compartment to ourselves, which made it feel more like a private experience.
The thing about a hot air balloon is that control over where it goes is pretty limited. You can raise it or lower it based on how much fuel you give it, but we were really at the mercy of the wind. During initiation, it was explained that we could end up anywhere. . . though they do have a handful of target landing spots.
It was really interesting how effortlessly we left the ground. We almost didn't realize we were in the air until we noticed the vantage point changing. We were quickly seeing the landscape from a whole new perspective.
There were about 6 other balloons in the air at the same time as ours. They made the view all the more interesting.
Our pilot really gave us a range of views, taking us up high and also really low to the ground. We got to see details of the landscape that you'd never see from the road.
At one point, we got so close to a still pond that I thought we might end up landing in it - which would have been frigid.
Apparently it's a trick that balloon pilots like to do if the speed and altitude work out. They call it a "splash and dash" - where the bottom of the basket just grazes the surface of the water and then you rise again. There's a joke that if it isn't timed perfectly, passengers' feet could get wet - and then it's called a "dunk and run". Our pilot explained this while the balloon behind us attempted the same thing.
Our pilot was in constant communication with chase vehicles which would meet us on the ground at our landing spot to take us back to our cars.
The landing involved several people on the ground grabbing the basket once it was low enough and guiding us to a good place where the balloon would be protected. We ended up in a dog park, and the team laid out a huge tarp for the balloon as they wrangled it into submission.
It was an incredible experience and an amazing Christmas gift!
If you're interested in an experience like this, check out Napa Valley Aloft. They were wonderful.
Labor Day weekend wasn't wild - but I did have a couple of outings planned. To start, it was First Friday, also known as the Oakland Art Murmur. Galleries open up to display local art during this monthly street festival, complete with live music, live art, and a plethora of food trucks. My girlfriend and I actually skipped the long food truck lines and went to one of our favorite burrito stops:
We then took a brief stroll through part of the First Friday spectacle, where Telegraph Avenue is closed down to vehicles and becomes packed with people. Here are a few pictures:
We found this scene at the side of the road rather perplexing. No one was within a 30 foot radius of. . . Tweety Bird and the Empty Shoes.
The next day, we tried out a hiking spot that was new to us. Here are a few images from the Strawberry Canyon Fire Trail.
Later, we took a walk through downtown Oakland to visit a friend, and passed by this completed mural by an anonymous artist who goes simply by BiP. It's one of my favorites, and depicts Emma, a 91-year-old Oakland resident who immigrated here from Argentina. Check out more of BiP's artwork on Instagram.
I also just liked the way this red sign contrasted the beautiful blue sky:
And finally, my friend Daniel gave us a tour of his apartment, where he recently hung two of my images. Here's the one in his living room. Thanks Daniel!
This piece and others are available for large prints just like this one on the fine art page.
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