Paul Simon brought me to Africa. Since I was a wee one, pre-wanderlust, I have enjoyed putting on Paul Simon’s Graceland, kicking off my shoes, and dreaming of Africa. This album conjured all the ideas I ever had of Africa: Grassy plains, shirtless drummers, and super-sized beasts laying in the shade of a single Baobab tree. If this is what Paul Simon was going for when he made this album, he was spot on. Every fantasy I had in my pre-East Africa plans came true on my most recent trip. And because there are no words to describe the feeling of staring into the face of a creature that is larger, older, and wiser than yourself, in a land where you are a minority and the lion is still king, I am going to let my photos from Mikumi National Park speak for themselves. So put on “Under African Skies” and enjoy!
Hopefully by next week I will have my head around this trip and be able to share a bit more. Until then, if you have any logistic questions: Visas, getting into the park, what to bring?, etc… send me an email: email@example.com and I will do my best to answer.
The buildings in Beirut still wear bullet holes from an era we would all wish to soon forget. Their façade an ugly reminder of public violence that neither the Lebanese government nor the media could hide. If bombed out buildings and war stories from baby-faced teens are not reminder enough of Lebanon’s torn past, the echoes of hammers and bulldozers in a frenzied re-building effort paint a clear picture of Beirut’s effort to move on. So I visited. I travelled to Beirut on the dawn of growth and change. Luckily for me, some of Lebanon’s best traditions have remained exactly the same, and were waiting there for me to admire and taste.
Beirut’s history is a tangled one, as they have tried for decades to blend a mosaic of religions, cultures, languages, money, policy, food, and people, and been un-successful on most fronts. Today, the Lebanon that I see is one that is once again, reinventing itself and it is the youth that seem to be at the forefront of the project. I had the pleasure of meeting with some old friends from my days living in the UAE’s Al Garbia region. I bought them a beer, and got right down to asking personal, sometimes inappropriate, and nagging questions…my specialty
Diya was a teenager during the height of the war between Hezbollah and Israel, and remembers this time well. Although his expression of the seriousness of the situation in and around Lebanon came across clearly, Diya likened his personal experience to being in a video game. Waking next to your weapons, leaving the house or shelter cautiously, and well aware that at the end of each street there were tanks, bombs, weapons more powerful than yours, and people, out of their mind with the only necessity they had: survival. Moving from place to place was even more dangerous for Diya and other Lebanese due to the presence of f-16 fighters flying above Lebanon. According to Diya “These f-16 fighters of the Israeli Defense Forces dropped a great number of leaflets from the sky on an almost daily basis, threatening to shoot at any moving light after 8 pm. This made it harder to move from one place to another with no electricity, scared to even use a torch.” I asked Diya if he sees this time reflected in the youth of today’s Beirut. From speaking with him, and seeing countless teens, exercising their right to be flamboyant, and throwing convention out the windows of their speeding cars, I understand Beirut as a city inhabited by angsty youth that lived through a war. “Why should we follow traffic laws after living through war?” Diya noted. And really, the chaos, and the youth, and the remembrance of the fragility of life are a great part of what makes Beirut in particular inimitable.
The uniqueness of architecture in Beirut, with bombed and dilapidated buildings, blends in a devastatingly beautiful way with the ruins of Baalbeck. Outside the city, in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley stands what is in my opinion a far more impressive collection of Roman ruins than those inside Rome herself. The Baalbeck ruins were built over 7,000 years ago by the Romans to worship the God of the sun. It immediately reminds visitors to Lebanon that there is a lot going on here, and there has been for thousands of years. Lebanon has been occupied by the Romans, the French, Syrians, and today Palestinian refugees. If that weren’t enough of a mosaic, the Lebanese also have one of the most diverse governments of any nation; with a Sunni Prime Minister, a Shite Speaker of Parliament, and a Maronite Catholic President, required at all times. Unfortunately as we have seen, it is this remarkable mosaic that has made itself vulnerable to breaking.
All the turmoil, begs the question “What are we fighting for?” I mean, why is it that everyone is fighting over this country? WELL, despite being able to swim in the Mediterranean Sea in the morning and ski at Faraya Mzaar in the afternoon, young, vibrant locals, and a truly unique mix of glamor and Bedouin traditions, there is the food…no let me be more specific the MEAT! If I didn’t get gout on this trip it was only because I was too afraid to sneak beer into the Hezbollah. Down dodgy alleys you find svieha: dough pockets filled with minced, fatty lamb and spices reminding us of the foreign lands that have at one time or another had influence over Lebanon’s cuisine. Diya and his girlfriend Natalie took me to one of the thousands of shwarma stands that litter Beirut. I like food you don’t even need to bother being polite with, and Lebanon tends to have the “dig in!” mentality down.
It was one of those quick trips, where I try to JUST get a taste of a city, eat some good food, drink some local brew, and have a holiday. But I couldn’t even try to do that in Beirut. There is too much political history in here, too many unique groups of people, too many religions, languages, influences, and freaking amazing food to NOT become completely enamored of this place. And I did get swept away in a city and a country that I had been afraid to visit. Go see for yourself, and don’t forget to write and tell me about it!
The Best St. Patty’s Day Parades in the U.S.
If you’ve ever wondered why St. Patty’s Day is such a beloved holiday, you need not think too hard. Followers of St. Patrick’s Day celebrate the patron saint of Ireland by wearing green and consuming vast quantities of beer. What’s not to love? This year, take your St. Patty’s Day celebration to a whole new level. The following cities are the best places to watch a parade and eat and drink to your heart’s content.
1. Boston, Massachusetts- This is where it all began! Surprisingly, in 1737, the world’s first St. Patty’s Day parade was held here, not in Ireland, but the United States believe it or not! This made Boston one of the best parade locations in the U.S. on historical significance alone. With massive floats, bagpipes, balloons, marching bands, and more than 850,000 attendees annually, Boston really knows how to throw a parade! While you’re there, eat at the Green Dragon Tavern, known for their spectacular corned beef and cabbage, and head for a pint (or several!) at The Brendan Behan. How much more Irish can you get?
2. Chicago, Illinois- Though not as historically significant as Boston’s celebration, Chicago puts on an equally spectacular show for St. Patty’s Day. If you aren’t convinced, this surreal fact should sway your opinion; they dye their river green! That’s right! In honor of St. Patty’s Day, the Chicago River is dyed kelly green, and the celebration begins with a mass of Irish floats and dancers. While you’re in Chicago, eat at Mrs. Murphy & Sons Irish Bistro, famous for their traditional country Irish menu. Don’t forget to try the libations over at Fifth Province Pub!
3. New York City, NY- As with most other parades, the St. Patty’s Day parade in New York is the largest in the country by terms of attendance. Roughly two million attendees line the streets to see the show every year- it’s that great! Look into renting a New York City Loft and stay for the entire week! In New York, you’ll find a six hour parade that’s been going on since 1762. If that’s not tradition, I don’t know what is! Be sure to stop by the oldest continuously run saloon in New York, McSorley’s Old Ale House, for a pint! If it’s food you’re looking for, the Shepard’s pie is famous at Molly’s Pub & Restaurant.
4. Savannah, Georgia- Surprisingly, Georgia makes the list! With an annual attendance exceeding 400,000, Savannah really goes all out for St. Patty’s Day. Take in the partying spirit as the floats go by, and be sure to check out the fountains in the Historic Park District- they’re dyed green in honor of the celebration! You need only to make one stop for good food and drink in Savannah, and make sure that stop is at Kevin Barry’s Irish Pub! Voted one of the top ten Irish pubs in the United States, Kevin Barry’s features traditional food, delicious drinks, and live Irish music.
5. San Francisco, California- Like every other holiday, San Francisco really knows how to celebrate St. Patty’s Day! San Francisco is easily the best city to celebrate the holiday in on the West Coast, and with a spectacular parade, lively spirit, and enough bars to satisfy any thirst, it’s the place to be for St. Patty’s Day! Drop by Durty Nelly’s or Blarney Stone for traditional Irish fare and a pint.
Don’t forget to check out Alex’sJourneys for more great adventures and photos! Thanks Alex!
I take after my parents more than I used to like to admit. Now that I have discovered it is cool to have interesting hobbies, I tag along with them on every adventure I can, even if it means spending 3 hours in the freezing rain trying to find a single owl somewhere in a vast field, dodging hunting bullets. But more on that later.
My mom’s interesting hobby is bird watching. She can identify over thirty species of bird by their call alone, and twice as many from a quick glance as they swoop by. She recognizes flying patterns and says things like “Look at that group of Dunlins flocking together like a giant organism…beautiful!” Truth be told, it was beautiful. I have had quite a few beautiful nature moments with my family, most of them cold, damp, and involving dangerous animals, and this past January’s search for the snowy owl was no different.
The snowy owl hails from the Arctic, making its white, feathered coat appropriate in its native homeland. When visiting BC however, the snowy owl really should consider packing a change of clothes as it loses all camouflage abilities in the green earth tones of this region of Canada. Spending part of the year in BC, the snowy owl also migrates to the Northern United States, Europe, and Asia, making it a jet-setter to inspire all you travelers.
Crossing into Canada from Washington State now requires a passport, a fondness for maple syrup, and an outdoor adventurous streak. Following highway 99 take the Highway 17 South exit, Exit 28. Keep left and turn onto 56th, then 12th. Turn into Boundary Bay Regional park, if you have gone from Gunn Rd. to Jordan you have gone too far. Park next to the golf course and walk out along the water on your right. We took the path less travelled to the left and went along the stormy bay to a cacophony of birds singing their love song overhead. And truly, it was magical. Groups of Dunlins soaring together in a wave like formation rolling over to expose their black wings, and then disappearing as their grey bellies met with a cloudy sky. We saw countless, majestic eagles in various stages of life, scruffy teenagers and mature, white headed eagles seated in massive nests. But no owls. It is possible they were scared off due to the duck hunters blasting bullets into the sky a mere 100 yards from our peaceful stroll. Good thing I hadn’t worn my camouflage and instead waved my lime green wellies in a frantic “I come in peace” motion so as not to be mistaken for a Sunday afternoon meal.
After two hours, with no owl sightings and rain creeping inside my layers, we decided to head back to the car. I wanted so badly to see this special bird, here with my mom, on my last day before heading back to the Middle East. And then, as miracles often do, one appeared. Seated next to our car! And then another, and another, and soon we were surrounded by a field of white tuffs of beady eyed snowy owls. And it really did feel special, in an Audubon nerd sort of way.
My holiday trip home was filled with so many memorable moments like finding the snowy owl on a wet afternoon. And while I will continue to explore this earth throughout my life, I love going home to wildlife, big sky, and my bird watching folks.
Check out Ryan’s blog www.thegreenbeeeater.blogspot.com for some great travel birding banter and photography!
“ And the rain, rain, rain, came down, down, down, and washed right over piglet.”
The capital of pork and PBR, and home to an alphabetical listing of odd from Arsenic flavored ice cream to Zealots in Zebra galoshes, Portland was the logical escape route from my life in the Middle East. I even welcomed the rain. And boy did it rain. Forest Gump wouldn’t have even been able to classify the rain last month in Portland. Truth be told, this was sort of an agenda driven holiday for me. My mom and I had to get down to the very serious business of wedding dress shopping, and what better place than a city who welcomes weird behavior?
For some old world charm we stayed in the place that makes “dated” look good, the Benson on Southwest Broadway. This is the sort of place you go if you are spending the holidays with your miniature poodle and a hot toddy. The tree was still up when we arrived two days after Christmas and the fireplace was surrounded by guests and their pets, drying their wellies and wet paws. In short: this is the kind of place I love because I am a “make-believe-aholic.” As in, I like to pretend that I am Kay Thompson’s character Eloise who lives in the New York Plaza hotel with her dog Weenie, although if I lived in a hotel, I would have a pig named Solomon.
Speaking of pig…I have been seriously pork deprived the last four months so it’s safe to say that I over-indulged during my holiday. My Mom and I started out at Deschutes brewery and restaurant, and by the time we were finished wining and swine-ing it was still raining. We waddled through Portland puddles back to our cozy hotel.
Now if you have traveled with me you know that I’m not big on tourist traps, but when it comes to most things edible I don’t mind being called a lousy tourist. Portland has found a way to keep touring cool by adopting the old adage “the quickest way to a [tourist’s] heart is through their stomach.” I give you: Voodoo doughnut! Let’s just get this over with. YES, I waited in line for nearly half an hour for a doughnut, and YES it was the infamous bacon maple bar, and YES I enjoyed every last maple drenched, meaty bite. Not the best thing before trying on wedding dresses, but nothing could have spoiled my day after bringing my mom to this doughnut institution.
For wedding dresses we hit up two fantastic boutiques with a Peruvian themed lunch at Andina in between. The English Department screams Portland artisan with local designer and owner Elizabeth Dye, who was on her hands and knees scrubbing the toilet when we walked in (talk about a working woman!) Their dresses are at once classic and bohemian and I think I fell in love at least three times in the changing room. Next up was Divine Design in the Pearl District. With slightly more mainstream dresses, this boutique boasts some of the most beautiful fabrics and lace I have seen anywhere, not to mention they opened up just so my Mom and I could browse. So, did I find THE ONE? Yes. Am I going to tell you about it? No. You will just have to wait until August like everyone else. But I will tell you, it in no way smells of bacon or pbr like the rest of this blog and it is the prettiest thing I have ever imagined walking down an aisle.
When I say that this trip was agenda driven, wedding dress hunting was not the only thing on my list. Two of my very best friends from our Korea year happened to be in town and I knew that if I wanted a little holiday mischief, an evening with them was a safe bet. My mom took us to the joint named among OregonLive’s “Best New Restaurants of 2011” Luc Lac. This Vietnamese house of Pho serves up steaming Asiana, and an impressive bar manned by well-known tender and co-owner Adam Ho. After politely slurping my soup Asian style, mom went to bed, and the Korea reunion tour went out. We had hit up some of Portland’s finest dives before someone…ok it was probably me, got the bright idea to go to Mary’s. I’m going to let you readers go ahead and google that one, not that I am ashamed or anything
I awoke the next morning to more rain, and a wad of one dollar bills in my pocket? and decided it was probably time to get on home to the Middle East but not before experiencing one more Portland foodie-icon: Portland Food Carts. There are over 200 food carts in Portland, constantly opening, moving, and serving up some fantastically authentic, ethnic grub from all over this earth. Just the sort of thing teachtravelplay eats up, literally.
I would like to thank all the fine folks and weirdos for making this Portland trip a success. I Look forward to returning this Summer for some dress tailoring and maybe some more maple and bacon goodness.
Travelers come in all shapes and forms. I have personally, at one point or another, come in contact with or been stereotyped as: The dirty backpacker, the tour junkie, the art obsessed gallery goer, the shutter-bug, the aspiring sommelier, or the the Elizabeth Gilbert of the bunch which I like to call the “lost and found traveler” as in “I have lost myself and now I will try and find it.” Shane over at NationalRVParks has brought light to another, fast-growing group of travelers who are seeing the world from their RV. Teachtravelplay was asked to do an interview with this fantastic new travel site and is now indecently considering giving it all up and taking off in an RV in search of a circus to join. To check out the interview and what RV travelers around the world are up to, check out: NationalRVPark’s website!
Happy New Year!
My relationship with my fiancé closely mirrors my relationship with rugby. I began dating Matt seven years ago when I moved in next door to the infamous “rugby house” located strategically between campus, and the bars. If ever a real life “Animal House” were to be, this would have been it. I spent afternoons wrapped up in the antics of the rugby team, weekends supporting our boys in tournaments, and nearly every day with Matt. I quickly came to know this sport as less of a game and more of a culture. A culture that is sometimes difficult to date. Throughout the past seven years I have had my struggles with rugby. I’ve bailed people out of jail in rugby related incidents, nursed concussions, and been thrown out of establishments through mere proximity to this raucous ruck. And I love every single memory. The WWU Warthogs single-handedly made my University years a messy success. This past weekend I attended the Dubai 7s tournament, and similarly to the Hong Kong 7s in 2010, beer was drunk, fun was had, and I again proclaimed (from the top of a table in Irish Village no less) “I love this sport!”
In its 41st year (yes the Dubai 7s are older than the UAE herself) this tournament has seen the same type of growth the UAE boasts. The games moved from the Dubai Exiles ground in 2008 with New Zealand taking first in front of a crowd of 50,000 boisterous fans. That’s the great thing about 7s, it’s anybody’s game. This year my bet was on Fiji after winning their first title in two years at the Gold Coast 7s in Australia, although, if you had asked me over the weekend I would have said Australia because of their handsome, and highly criticized, chartreuse jerseys.
Attire is a vital part of any international 7s tournament. During the Hong Kong 7s in 2010 a friend wound up in jail for taking the field in a polar bear costume, and when he arrived at the slammer he was greeted by a zoo of other costumed fans for what he recalls as “an even better party!” Matt prioritized his ensemble for months prior to this year’s tournament, hiring a Pakistani tailor down the street to make him a custom Elvis suit which he then begged me for weeks to bedazzle.
Dubai can certainly lay claim to some of the world’s most colorful expats, a parade of flamboyance only trumped by the Friday night half-time show in which sky-divers parachuted out of a circling airplane onto the field while camels trotted around the pitch. With all the pomp and rugby spirit in the air I could have been anywhere, Vegas, mardi gras, or a pirate ship on its way to a frat island, but one thing is for certain, wherever you are for your rugby 7s experience, it will be the time of your life!
In the end it came down to England and France, notoriously my two LEAST favorite teams regardless of the sport. I still hold a grudge against the French National Football team for their dirty play against Italy in the 2006 FIFA world cup (slightly hypocritical I know), and I’ll just be frank in saying English sport fans in general are some of my least favorite type. Needless to say England took all in the final game sending fans into immediate and united versions of “Swing Low Sweet Chariot.” Despite a sad ending I still managed to flirt shamelessly with Eagle’s player Nick Edwards (while Matt took photos), score some free beer in an apple dunking contest, eat nothing but crispy bacon all weekend, and watch my favorite sport with my favorite rugger/Elvis impersonator. Hope to see you at the next HSBC 7s!
Want to experience the Dubai 7s?
Tickets: Tickets can be purchased online here, or the day of from the ticketing booth. Hotel: Al Jawhara, near Irish Village. Transportation: There is a FREE shuttle leaving from the stadium parking lot to downtown Dubai as well as taxis waiting at the gate. Parking is also free but not recommended if traffic makes you batty or have been drinking. After Party: Irish Village for a pint and all night dance party.