"To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted." -- Bill Bryson

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Gearing Up For SanFran!

Thursday October 7th I depart for San Francisco for more travel adventures. My planning stages for what we're going to do has only just begun. So far I've started getting myself acquainted with the general layout of the city:

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My friend Rachel lives in the Mission District (if that's what it is actually called) somewhere around here:

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If you have any tips or suggestions for must-sees, hit me up! So far the two things I must do: eat a lot of seafood and drink Irish Coffee at The Buena Vista (the place where Irish coffee was invented!)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Young & Stupid? Yes. Have Fun. Pt. 13: Homeward Bound

Our first night spent without the boys and Sarah wakes up in the middle of the night and asks me, in a sleepy haze, where the boys are. I reply that they're in the living room on the couches. Sarah and I begin to gain a bit of consciousness and I realize that we are alone and the boys are hundreds of miles away in New York. I actually didn't remember any of this till Sarah reminded me the next day. Sort of a sad moment, actually.

The drive home is as full of adventure as the rest of the trip. In Virginia we get stuck in 2 and a half hours of traffic on I-95. Apparently I-95 is the only highway that goes south of the tri-state area. There is no accident or road construction, just enough cars to make the driving that slow. At one point Sarah and I put the car in park and switch drivers. It made our 12 hour drive a bit less doable.

And then there's Mississippi. On our 16 hour drive from Sumter, South Carolina to Houston we have no choice but to cross Mississippi again. The moment we cross the border into the state, it begins to rain. In fact, it is much more than rain. It is the worst thunderstorm I have ever driven through. The rain is so heavy it's almost impossible to see anything. The rain lasts literally until we reach the other side of Mississippi. The fact that I have to drive through all of Louisiana and part of Texas after putting up with Mississippi doesn't make me very happy, but we survive. We reach Houston late and literally collapse into bed.

The next morning we wake up early to make the last 3 hour drive of our trip back to Austin.

Our entire trip looks a little like this:

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Somewhere in South Carolina...

At Waffle House:

"Can I get fruit instead of bacon?"
"We don't have any. We have bacon or sausage."
I love this country

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Young & Stupid? Yes. Have Fun. Pt. 12: New York, I Love You

New York holds all sorts of promising dinnertime possibilities. Little Italy is our destination so we hop a subway to somewhere around Canal Street and make our way past Chinatown and into the land of the Italians.

Now, at this juncture I must explain some background. At the camp where Sarah, Sam and Francesco spent their summer there was a group of Hungarians who worked in the kitchen. Throughout our entire road trip so far I have only heard horror stories about how awkward and weird this group of Hungarians is. I also have heard that these Hungarians are in New York and Sam keeps claiming if we happen to run into them, he's going to poke out his eyeballs so he doesn't have to see them. I ensured him that New York City is one of the biggest cities in the world and there's no way we would run into them there.


So we wander into Little Italy and I pass some group of tall young guys all wearing matching t-shirts. As I pass, Sarah grabs my arm and pulls me quickly away while whispering into my ear "holy crap, it's the Hungarians!" We turn to see that the boys have run straight into the group and are beyond the point of escaping. We decide to let them chat...and Sarah and I amuse ourselves by looking at the booths and shops nearby selling crosses and rosaries to raise money for the Most Precious Blood Church right in the middle of Mulberry St.

A few minutes later the boys free themselves from the group. We find Alan, who had wandered off in search of food, and attempt to choose one of the millions of restaurants on the street. The problem with Little Italy restaurants is that every place has a man standing on the street who claims to 1. Be Italian and 2. have the best Italian food on the street. Also, the only way to get them to stop talking to you is to just walk away. By the time we escape from 5 different guys, we decide to just sit and eat at the next available location. Our waiter is an obvious Hispanic guy with a horribly fake Italian accent, the food is more or less touristy & unimpressive Italian food. I've had better in Houston (see: Patrenella's or Vincent's). The company is good though, as is the wine, so we enjoy ourselves despite the let down. It's also beautifully cool outside where we're sitting, so it's hard to look back at the place and not think fondly.

We finish dinner and part ways with Alan as we head off to the comedy club.

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It turns out to be a much longer walk than originally anticipated...but we make it safely to this tiny place a bit off the beaten path. Our old friend, Louis, is waiting just inside the door and he sneaks us in to a few seats in the back. The show had already started so we settle in quietly. It is actually a really funny show. A few different comics come on (not including Judah Friedlander...) and I'd say all but one are really hilarious. It's also neat because it's such a small venue (there are only about 20 people in the crowd, making it a much more intimate show).

Sadly, the show comes to an end, as does our last night of our trip. The only thing left for us to do is to find a subway back to our hotel to spend one last night crushed in a king's size bed. Also sadly, the only photo I took during the last bit of our evening was this one:

A photo of a broken walk/don't walk sign.

The only bit of time we have left to spend together is the next morning. Of course, Sarah and I have a 12 hour drive to South Carolina, and the boys are supposed to get on a bus at 7:30am to somewhere in upstate New York to meet a friend of Sam's. A rather hectic 30 minutes occurs in which I run to the car park next door to retrieve my car (couldn't find the ticket for a good 10 minutes which takes a huge chunk of time away from the boys who need to get some stuff out of it) and the boys rush around trying to find directions to said bus station (they miss their bus anyways and end up back in the hotel lobby to wait till the next bus which isn't until about 3pm). We say some hurried goodbyes (I might have gotten a little choked up, so sue me) and Sarah and I leave our boys and head back to real life.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Young & Stupid? Yes. Have Fun. Pt. 11: In New York

Disclaimer: This post will have a crap-ton of photos. Be prepared.

Part of the travel experience is making sacrifices when it comes to comfort. Leaving home with a tiny bag, packing yourself in a tiny car or plane seat, only using tiny versions of your favorite shampoo, sleeping in often uncomfortable beds, throwing yourself into a country where no one speaks your language, these are all part of the fun. So I didn't think it was any big deal to sacrifice my comfort our first night in New York when I decided to sleep half the night on the floor. It gets really, really hot being squished between two people in a king-size bed, so I moved from the bed to the floor. The saddest part was that I had been the one to turn down the air conditioning to about 65F with the hope that it wouldn't get too hot when we were sleeping. My evening on the floor turned out to be an extremely cold one. Luckily, the Holiday Inn had the best blanket of all time, so when I wrapped my entire self (head to toe) in the blanket, I was actually quite comfortable.

But on to more important things. We wake up late(noonish to be exact. Not good when you have the entire city of New York to see in just that day), throw ourselves together and escape out the door. We have a few missions this time: find Amy's bank, find Sarah's bank, find food, find memory card for Francesco's camera, find postcards. North up 7th Ave towards Times Square we do go stopping to stumble into an appropriately busy New York dining establishment. Sam, who is used to a country that has a total of 4 million people and is constantly surrounded by the hustle and bustle of a sheep farm, is already beginning to feel a bit out of sorts. Being shoved into this tiny place with wall to wall people isn't doing him any good. I, on the other hand, think it is amazing. Here we are eating, by the way.

I go for a grilled cheese sandwich. Simple yet delicious.

The rest of our walk to Times Square is rather uneventful. We do discover that Madison Square Garden is literally down the street from us, as is Penn Station (I only know that they are both next to each other because a poor lost looking Irish man asked me where Penn Station was as I was ogling Madison Square Garden. I told him I wasn't sure but I thought it might be down the street. That's when a real New Yorker interrupted and pointed to a staircase to our immediate left that said "Penn Station." Both I and the Irish man looked rather sheepish at that point).

We reach Times Square proper.

(This statue is new)

Times Square also is partially shut down now and has been morphed into a pedestrian walkway. Probably a good idea to have a spot for tourists to take photos without getting run over. Especially tourists like these:

Stereotypical touristy things occur. We pop in and out of shops looking at I Love NY shirts and the millions of tiny Empire State Buildings and Statue of Libertys (Statues of Liberty?).

It's New York so the things we run into don't always make sense.

Once we get the touristy stuff out of the way, Sarah and I take over and inform the boys that we will be shopping. H&M doesn't exist in Texas and a few blocks from Times Square exists a 3-story version of the store. We drag the boys in and disappear for a good hour. I only saw glimpses of them throughout the hour looking sad and bored, but this was the only thing on the trip that Sarah and I require we do, so we shopped til we could shop no more. By the time we were finished, the boys had gathered outside to wait for us. I join them while Sarah pays for her stuff. While standing out there we are approached by a gentleman named Louis. Louis was selling tickets to a comedy show that was supposedly featuring one of the actors from 30 Rock, Judah Freidlander. We had been approached earlier by a much less friendly man who was charging twice the price for these same tickets. Louis is actually pleasant to talk to and only wants to charge us $5 a person. We decide to spring for the tickets since we have no other plans for the evening.

We part ways with our new friend Louis and decide we needed a break from all the hubbub and a good sit down. The nearest subway isn't far, so we brave the steep steps and the usual subway stink into what feels like the pits of hell. No air conditioning? Yikes. Sarah and I take a long, hard look at the subway map before realizing it's the bus map..luckily the only friendly New Yorker happens by, sees our confused faces and asks if we're lost. We tell him we were searching for the best route to get to Central Park and he points us in the right direction.

We hop off around 57th St and 6th Ave right near a really cool looking place called the Jekyll & Hyde Club.

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Central Park is a perfect break from the extreme amount of walking we've been doing all day. We wander a bit until we find Strawberry Fields. I had never heard of this area of Central Park but it is an area (located right next to a mosaic that says "Imagine") designed to honor John Lennon. Apparently John & Yoko lived in The Dakota building just across the street from the area and this is also where John Lennon was shot. We rest our tired feet on a bench next to the Imagine mosaic and sadly listen to a couple of guys with guitars play really bad music. We can only listen for so long before we have to get up and run away. Luckily we stumble upon the lake!

The lake is always beautiful. Plus, right next to the lake are bathrooms! Which are lovely and convenient since we all need to use them. Also near the lake is a statue of THE Scottish poet of all time, Robert Burns!

Robert Burns wrote (among other things like Auld Lang Syne) the poem 'To A Mouse' which has the line "the best laid plans of mice & men" which is where John Steinbeck got the title of his book, 'Of Mice & Men' (which is one of my all time favorite books). The fact that Robert Burns is Scottish and that 'To A Mouse' is brilliant, makes it even more exciting that there's a statue of him in the park. No one else cares, but I do.

By this time my old friend Alan is on his way to meet us. He was going to join us for dinner in Little Italy but wanted to meet us in the park. We decide we need a good grassy knoll to lay on while we wait. Somewhere between a carousel and the Zoo we find the perfect location and lounge while we wait for Alan to arrive.

And this is where I must leave you for the time being. Seeing as how this post is incredibly long already and I'm not even close to being finished, I think I better split up New York into yet another post. Sorry!

Mother Tongue

Another one of my interests happens to be linguistics (by interest, I mean I have a Bachelor's Degree in it). Linguistics definitely ties into traveling so I thought it mildly appropriate to send you to this NY Times article about linguistics. I have my father to thank for this. I think it's a fascinating look at language and how the world works as a whole.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Buffalo Wings!

I swear I'll get done writing about my road trip really soon. But not right now...on the topic of New York though:

I was just watching the Travel Channel (specifically Bar Food Paradise) and they mentioned The Anchor Bar where buffalo wings were invented. I'm thinking that a pilgrimage to Buffalo is in order. Who's with me?

In some other random Travel Channel news, Anthony Bourdain just celebrated his 100th episode with his show, No Reservations. Congrats! I have yet to watch the episode, but I can't wait to.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Sarah's Writing Too!

Sarah's writing in her blog about the trip too. She's further behind than me, but it's cool to read everything from her point of view. She's refusing to read mine until she's done with her's so it will be an untainted version of the events. Anyways, check it out

Young & Stupid? Yes. Have Fun. Pt. 10: New York, New York

"...and then I walked through the Lincoln Tunnel..."
-Will Farrell as Buddy The Elf

Well, we didn't walk through the Lincoln Tunnel. We drove through it. But as Elf is an amazing movie, I figured it was ok to quote it. The Lincoln Tunnel looks a little like this when you're driving through it:

**Note: I did not take this while driving.

Turns out when you drive into New York City that late at night, the traffic really isn't that bad. To continue with our good luck, the Lincoln Tunnel basically spits us out into Manhattan a couple blocks from the hotel we found online (yeeaaaah our free place to stay may have fallen through...)

We roll up to the hotel with high spirits. There's a lot of happy shouting and honking for no reason (spending a week in a tiny Honda Civic with 3 other people often results in such things). Anyways, I hop out of the car and happily trot into the lobby. I trot out of the lobby 5 minutes later...less happily. Turns out this hotel doesn't do rooms with 2 beds. Turns out this hotel doesn't have any rooms with king size beds (see Nashville post...we're experts at sharing king size beds by now). Turns out no hotel does rooms with 2 beds in New York City. I return to the car with this information and the realization that we are in one of the biggest cities in the world at 11pm with no place to stay. Now, if this were 20 years ago, we may have been stuck. We would have returned to my grandmother's house to sleep on her couch. Good thing it's 2010 and we are all well equipped with modern technology. Sarah calls up some friend who is sure to be by a computer while I hop on the internet on my phone. We come to the same conclusion at the same time: Holiday Inn Express! We find some vacancies at the Holiday Inn Express at Madison Square Garden (yeah, I didn't know it was called that until this very moment. I'm not sure I knew where we were in the world by this time). Now I can show you we were here:

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Of course, we must do some tricky planning to make sure that the Holiday Inn Express thinks we're only 2 people. None of us are trying to pay extra just because we're going to squish 2 extras bodies into the bed. I find a parking spot in the street across from the hotel, run in and get the room squared away. I return to the car with one of those rolling carts so that Sarah and I can pile everyone's luggage onto it instead of having the boys help us bring it up to our room. As Sarah and I bring all of our crap to the room, the boys do a loop around the block and follow us up to the 10th floor after 5 minutes. In retrospect, the woman behind the desk at 11:30pm probably did not care that there were so many of us staying in the room. Plus, the rolling cart piled with enough stuff for 4 people may have been obvious (we thought we were rather smart at the time).

The beautiful thing about New York is that the bars stay open till 4am. We take our time getting ready for our night out in the Big Apple while we wait for my good friend from high school to meet us at the hotel. Steven moved to New York (see: Queens) after college to find a career in the theater biz. So far so good for him! He can eat and pay rent at least, which is pretty impressive in this city. He finds our room and we head south down 7th (Fashion) Avenue towards Chelsea. We wander down 7th Ave until coming upon a decent looking bar. It turns out to be one of those times when the fates just smiles upon us. In the crowded bar we find a great table that fits all 5 of us. The beer is also surprisingly cheap for New York (and even decently priced had we been in Texas. I think $3 for a pint of Bud Light). Even better, they have pitchers of beer thus negating the need for Francesco to show his fake ID. So we sit. And drink. I can't really even share any stories with you, mainly because I can't remember. I shall let some photos speak for me.

I do have a very clear memory of Sarah engaging a man in a conversation about Silly Bandz, though. Francesco and I did decide that the absolute worst topic to discuss when trying to pick up a man is Silly Bandz...apparently she was not trying to do so. We'll leave that up for you, the reader, to decide.

So we close the bar down. 4am rolls around and we wander into the street. Now, I cannot be sure why, but we wander quite a long ways past the hotel. I believe our plan is to see Times Square at night. If you recall, we had wandered south of our hotel, which was on 29th St. Times Square is located at 42nd St. Even from our hotel it's a bit of a walk. Somewhere around 36th St we realize that our plan is really stupid, that we're all drunk, it's about 4:30 in the morning and Steven still has to find a subway home. We part ways with Steven. Sarah gets a beautiful picture of me and Steven saying our goodbyes.

Sometime after all of this, Sarah and I stumble back into the hotel room. The boys have gone off in search of McDonald's (Sam's favorite thing about America is the Dollar Menu). And then, sleep! Because New York awaits us in the morning.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Young & Stupid? Yes. Have Fun. Pt. 9: A Touch of Jersey Flavor

We escape Pennsylvania and take the New Jersey Turnpike (aka I-95) all the way up to Route 3 in Northern Jersey which takes us straight to Rutherford, the place of the Shypailo family. My grandmother and uncle still live in the house where my uncles and my father grew up. We pull into the driveway to be greeted by my Teta (aunt) Christa and her happy dog, Ginger. My grandmother and my uncle are waiting by the front door with a welcome hug. It turns out to be a very short stay. We eat a tasty dinner (stir fry...with veggies! Our first veggies since we started the trip probably) and try and relax a bit before heading to New York. By 'try and relax' I mean Sarah and I take epic naps while the boys sit and chat with my uncle on the front porch. It was really nice to be able to rest for a bit and eat some good homemade food. Plus, I very rarely see my family so it was nice to have a bit of time with them as well.

We had to take a few photos with the fam, of course

Around 10pm Sarah and I wake up and gather our directions and New York information. We herd the boys back into the car after saying our good-byes and make our way east...towards our ultimate destination: New York City!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Let's Go To Ireland To See This:

My dad sent me a link to this video of a dog and dolphin that have become friends. They live on a tiny island called Tory Island off the coast of Ireland. It looks adorable. Who wants to go with me??