Marin County is the area north of San Francisco, on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge. I had heard a lot about that area from fellow mushroom collectors and identifiers. It is moist, mountainous, and has great trails. My boyfriend and I shared a special weekend there this Valentine’s day.
We liked Mount Tamalpais so much we explored three different trails in the park. It was a dry season but we were able to find some north facing slopes. Some common species of mycelium we found were Turkey Tail and King Alfred’s Cake. We found our first Pink Oyster. We also discovered many Turret Spider nests, mistaking them for mushrooms at first.
At night, we stayed at The Gables Inn. There are only thirteen rooms on the property. It is homey and cute. They have a great breakfast spread and wine and cheese happy hour in-house every night. Sausalito closes very early at night, so we were lucky to get a table at The Fish Peddler. I had a three pound snow crab.
Marin County was an idyllic place next to the sea, perfect for hiking. Only a week later, they were one of seven California counties to vote Joe Biden instead of Bernie Sanders. I’ll probably never forgive them but I’ll appreciate the time we spent there.
Most of my time spent in Arizona is in Tucson. I went to school there for two years and all my cousins live there. Tucson is low-key and funky. Phoenix feels more corporate, cleaned-up, and built out. I definitely prefer Tucson even if it doesn’t have much of the same conveniences that a large city has. For example, finding good Asian food in Tucson is near impossible.
This year, I spent an entire week in Phoenix. More specifically, Scottsdale. I’ve never spent more than a day in Phoenix. I got to know Phoenix through the lens of my sister, who recently moved there.
As much as I wanted to hate Phoenix, the beautiful desert landscape is unbeatable. The Sonoran Desert is my favorite ecosystem in the world.
One day, we went to the Desert Botanical Garden. There was a kitschy art exhibit and a variety of desert plants. But it was gruelingly hot even in February. I learned what a brushetta board was shortly afterwards. I kind of understand the Arizona wine mom stereotype now. Wine in the desert just hits differently.
There was so much good food in Phoenix. I gained nine pounds in just five days. My sisters are amazing at finding the best brunch and happy hour spots. One of my favorites was The Henry. The patio was beautifully decorated with colorful tile. The drinks were all artisanal cocktails of gin and tequila – yum! I had a Ginger and Fig Mule. It’s part coffee shop, part restaurant, part happy-hour patio.
The shopping in Phoenix was good, too. There are so many boutiques on 4th Avenue. But there was one place that stood out among the rest. It’s called Last Call. There are only few Last Call locations in the country. Items that don’t sell at a Nordstrom Rack get shipped to one of the few Last Calls in the country. As a result, they are crazy. The stores are packed to the brim, not consistently organized. You can literally find anything. The shoppers act like it’s a life or death situation. Tensions are high. It doesn’t help that the Phoenix location is underground, lacks windows, requires walking into a dungeon-like room, and is in a dying 80’s-like linoleum-tiled shopping mall. My sisters and I liked it so much, we went twice. On my first visit, I scored Blundstones boots for only $60. On my second visit, I found some $30 Uggs. If you love thrifting or the thrill of the hunt in shopping – there’s no experience quite like shopping at Last Call. Enter with caution, I say.
On one of the last days, my sisters and I headed to Sedona. It’s less than two hours outside of Scottsdale. We went on a hike, saw an infamous Catholic church paved on the side of a rock, and Slide Rock State Park. We had Argentinian style-burgers. Sedona is filled with new-age shops, similar to other “holy” spots in the US.
Although the home of John McCain and private prison paradise will never be one of my favorite cities, I’m glad I got a taste of Phoenix.
I went to Yosemite for the first time in October. I’ll be honest – I don’t like the idea of Yosemite. Apple (and capitalism) has ruined the name for me. The kind of affluent, oblivious Colorado-loving kind of American that I despise – really love going there. Two super cool documentaries were even made this year about El Capitan, a stupidly steep rock mountain in Yosemite. It seems so intentionally unsafe to climb it, why does everyone need to climb this mountain? Can’t we just appreciate it as a natural wonder and not need to prove our human finesse on it? It bewilders as well as irrationally angers me.
When I’m looking for a hike I love my local parks like Monte Bello Preserve (in Palo Alto) or Big Basin Redwood Forest (in Soquel). I really dislike the idea of using nature as a fitness aspiration. I am unfairly assuming that Yosemite, along with Yellowstone, has been co-opted to represent pure human sport and superiority by the very same people I’ve been generalizing. I’ve let myself associate examples of breathtaking natural beauty with consumption-happy white people who put their lives in danger on purpose while millions of people literally live in danger they cannot escape. In short, I am not inspired by an “against all odds” kind of story when it involves climbing a mountain for reasons other than survival.
In total, we stayed two nights in a cabin at an RV park. October was already chilly in Northern California.
I kept both a journal and artifacts while at Yosemite. The journal was nice to have on the trail to write and doodle in, especially at the nightly traffic jam leaving the park. It was the most awful traffic jam of my life and I’m not even joking.
The first day was a short hike. The second day was a more difficult hike. It wasn’t El Capitan thank god, however. I learned the meaning of gorp. Except I kept calling it glorp and glorb.
The second day ended with dinner in the nearby small town, Groveland.
Overall, Yosemite was a great experience. I saw a lot of amazing natural rock formations. No picture could ever do Yosemite justice. However, it was indeed crowded and the trails were lined with speedy college kids in Patagonia carrying wretched conversations loudly with the backdrop of prehistoric trees and rocks. I’m not used to hiking in such crowded places and I typically avoid those kind of trails. It was difficult to contend with.
I had never been to Africa before. When I found out a friend had just finished Peace Corps in Morocco, I jumped at the chance and had to visit her. I spent some time in Spain, then headed to Northern Morocco, specifically, the city of Tangier and Chefchaouen.
Morocco was not what I thought it would be. I thought Tangier would be a bohemian escape with stereotypical Eastern “delights” like pastries and shisha and string-y music. At least that’s what documentaries make Morocco seem like, even Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown episode about Tangier made it seem like that. It was just a regular city, a balance of “new” and “old”, entitled men acting like fools, and everyone else trying to make it with their small wages. The average wage does not match the cost of living so again, as a tourist here I profoundly understand my privilege abroad.
I was lucky enough to have some local tour guides, and they made sure I got to try every Moroccan dish.
Moroccan food that I got to try:
Tagine Kefta – A traditional way of cooking in Morocco involves a ceramic tagine. That’s a skillet that comes with a cone-like top, which allows spices to be trapped in the dish while being cooked on a stovetop or open fire. Kefta is lamb/beef meatballs in a tomato-ish sauce. It was good but not my favorite dish here.
Bastilla– This ended up being one of my favorites. It’s chicken pie. Not chicken pot pie, American style, but imagine a regular apple pie, but instead of hot apples inside, it’s hot chicken. With cinnamon and honey on top. It’s like ten year old me dreamed of a meal, and it’s bastilla.
Bessara – A frothy soup of beans or peas. I wish the keto or paleo community would adopt more foreign soups because literally every country does soup better than the US.
Rfissa – Ok this dish was CRAZY. And also my favorite. Imagine a whole oily rotisserie chicken on top of shredded tortilla. That’s what rfissa is.
Moroccan Breakfast: Baghrir, harcha, miloui – Moroccan breakfast is basically ten types of carbs and some dip. I’m very cool with it.
Other than eating my way through Tangier, I made a small trip to Chefchaouen, also known as the most Instagrammable city (TM)
Apparently, Chefchaouen was a Jewish safe haven during World War II then which is why the entire city is painted blue. I’m not sure about that, but it remains a very picturesque little town that was a breath of fresh air, tucked into the mountains. I got there by riding a shared taxi from Tangier.
The entire town is walkable. Cars can’t even get through even if it tried because of the tiny, winding paths. The kasbah is cute. The men are less stalker-y here.
I stayed at Hotel Souika. I was feeling fancy and got my own room there. I had been staying in hostels or dorms for the past two months, it was a very affordable luxury in Chefchaouen. Warning: Moroccans do not sleep at regular sleeping hours so appreciate that cultural fact in your own way. So even if you have a private room… it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get sleep.
I met an artist and had mint tea with him. I sat in a rooftop cafe and listened to the call to prayer. I got the full body treatment at a hammam. I almost thought I wouldn’t be able to get back to Tangier, but I found a group of British tourists last minute and found myself on a taxi back to town. Chefchaouen felt like a summer camp or church retreat with how incredibly relaxing it was.
I’ve been to London twice. Once in 2014 and again in 2019.
When I visited in 2014, it was at the very beginning of my solo travels. It was my first stop in my 15 months abroad alone. I was only there for twelve hours on a layover to Moscow. I was so scared of traveling alone that I had my mom reach out to a family friend to show me around. She event sent me a subway map, months in advance. Jet-lagged and nervous, I met up with her, only to truly discover how much I needed to be alone.
She took me to many of the “tour guide” places in London, many of which I honestly do not even remember because of the a jet-lagged daze I was in. I think we went to the London Eye, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, and Hyde Park. I’m not really sure because I was so exhausted. She was much older than me and we had extremely different interests. But I kindly appreciate the companionship and everything she offered to me on that day. What I really needed that day was a nap. Or mindless people watching. Or just… not that. Anything but “tourist sights”.
Looking back, I’m glad I had that experience because since then, I never felt the need to meet up with people when traveling. I’ve become keenly aware of what I like to do and am proud say that at many of the cities I’ve traveled to, I’ve neglected their most “famous” or “must-see” sights, instead creating my own “must-see’s” and going off the beaten path.
In 2019, I went to London again. This time, I didn’t call up anyone before. I stayed at a hostel, based on my own interests and budget. I let what I wanted to do take me… wherever. I ate whatever I wanted. I took a nap wherever I wanted. And I had three days there. Instead of ticking off the boxes that a typical London trip should entail, I headed straight to an art museum. It felt right already.
I’d been obsessed with taxidermy animals for a while. I’m interested in the now-defunct-ish study of zoology, at least in the colonial way the British do it. I love seeing rooms full of animals classified only by type. I fell in love with this at Kunst Kamera in St. Petersburg. With no formal science background, I just love seeing tons of ravens in a row, different only slightly or by gender. This tickles the need to organize and list in me, as well as fascination for animals. My boyfriend describes what I like as “a drawer full of birds”. With that in mind, I made sure I visited the Horniman Museum and Grant Museum of Zoology in London.
I moved to San Jose three years ago. San Jose is an hour south of the world famous San Francisco. Every movie and TV show takes place there, everyone abroad dreams of visiting San Francisco. However, in my three years here, I’ve only managed to visit SF a few times and sort of end up hating it every time. Why? San Francisco is dirty. San Francisco isn’t an easy drive. San Francisco is expensive. The people of San Francisco are all transplants. It doesn’t feel sustainable. And start-up culture is the worst! Just watch HBO’s Silicon Valley or watch any interview of a tech billionaire. They’re the worst.
I prefer my sleepy town of San Jose. But some times, you just have a perfect day planned out and SF is part of the plan. That was my cousin and me in April of this year. I hadn’t visited the deYoung Museum yet, and there was a Claude Monet exhibit there. She and her boyfriend are plant lovers and artists; we had to catch that exhibit.
After the museum, we headed to the Conservatory of Flowers. Oh. My. God. It is one of the coolest places I have ever been. It’s a Victorian-style greenhouse filled with the most exotic plants. Each room creates a different ecosystem. There are the most unique plants, many of which I’ve never seen in my life. It was crazy! It also has a corpse flower. That corpse flower is the most starkly alien creature, wondrous and unforgettable. It makes me wonder why I wasn’t taught about something this cool in school.
It was early in the day but we had enough of SF. We headed to Berkeley and Richmond afterwards. In Berkeley, there is an employee art store called Artist & Craftsman Supply. Aren’t co-ops or union-run companies just better? We lost ourselves there for a bit.
We ended the night in Richmond with fried Taiwanese snacks, Asian beauty, and bubble tea. While SF is mostly horrible (still), the places around it contain gems and make the trip up worth it.
Barcelona was gaudy and exciting. The buildings and streets are beautiful. Every plaza, apartment, road, window here was out of a glamorous movie. Even the people were well-dressed. My hostel was a trendy place that required walking up a beautiful marble staircase and was next to a glamorous lingerie shop. Every little cafe I popped into seemed idyllic. Everything here feels glamorous but down to earth. Are all Spaniards just this effortlessly cool?
Gaudi’s buildings are charming and worth every tour. I went to Casa Batllo, Basilica Sagrada Familia, and Park Guell. I checked out Museu Frederic Mares for the most unique sculpture work, Joan Miro Museum, and the Pablo Picasso Museum. The Gothic Quarter that Pablo Picasso’s museum was in was an endless maze of narrow streets, quiet pubs, and art studios.While wandering around, I sort of had a goal, but I sort of didn’t. I knew going into Barcelona I’d definitely visit Sagrada Familia and Joan Miro mseum, but the rest sort of just happened. As an art teacher, wandering around this city just felt right. I never felt lonely here.
I rode a train from Barcelona to Madrid.
Madrid and Barcelona are like night and day. While Barcelona was cool and contemporary, Madrid felt like it was still in the 80’s. But that didn’t mean I enjoyed it less. It also seemed like more of the “people’s city”. I had been told prior, that the day in Madrid starts at 9 PM. They were right. Another thing is that in Spain, people travel in friend groups. It was common to see five to seven old men laughing and walking in a group to their favorite pubs. Or groups of young people and friends squished together in a restaurant. It’s a good place to be a friend. Or have friends. Or be friends forever.
It was an easier place for me to make friends as well. I met a 40 something Argentine dancer. A Korean exchange student from the Czech Republic. Book shop owners that recommended good writers.
Madrid was great. I got to see Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica” in person. I learned what croquetas are and actually found an app that shows the best croquetas in the city, consumed probably my body weight in croquetas. Spain was blissful. Forget what you’ve heard about visiting in the summer. It wasn’t unbearably hot and art museums are air-conditioned. It’s definitely worth it.
One of my favorite travel partners is my grandpa. He and I have been to countless places… Brazil, Hong Kong, Canada, Northwestern United States, just to name a few. It had been more than a year since we went to Brazil, our last trip. So it was time for another trip…
I got the idea to visit a bug museum from Atlas Obscura.
That is one of my favorite travel sites and I’ve used it to find
recommendations for strange and interesting places all over the world.
Davis is less than an hour drive from Sacramento, where my grandpa
With biology in mind, Davis seemed to match the mood. We saw a giant crane up close in the parking lot. We saw a wild turkey on the road. I don’t know what it was, but Davis had a very conservation-oriented, animal-friendly vibe. We definitely saw it in the museum and just in the space around UC Davis, where the museum was.
museum was small but interesting. It’s said to be the largest
collection of cataloged insects in the world. Large shelves require
wheels to be moved around. Pretty cool. They had tarantulas, stick bugs,
and other creepy crawlies they were letting children hold. Our trip was
short but sweet.
I spent ten days in Cleveland this summer. Before going there, I heard from a lot of people that it would be boring. They were so wrong. I met the most amazing, sweetest Ohio natives who had so much to share about their state. The arts scene is busy and exciting. I spent most of my time creating art and exhibiting at the Cleveland Institute of Art.
My friends and I somehow all got diarrhea from the same ice cubes at the most upscale bar in all of Tangier, Morocco. Yes, whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably true, and yes, it’s disgusting. It lasted about five days. I left Morocco and made my way to Amsterdam. I was in the world’s hottest freakin hostel (in August), with the tiniest, most steep steps, on the fourth floor. Shared bathrooms. One shower. It wasn’t going to be good. Europeans laugh about how air conditioning is an American thing but… why? Why don’t they have air conditioning when it is literally hot every year at the same time? A cold winter does not mean your entire continent is exempt from air conditioning.
Well, I sweated everything out, day in and day out for the next three days in Amsterdam. I prayed to red district Jesus to revive me. And he did!
When I arrived, the first thing I did was eat ramen. Hot, sodium pumping, hearty, pork broth ramen. The restaurant had no other patrons and they said it’s because it’s summer, and they don’t have AC – nobody wants ramen. The people working there were all fanning themselves with how hot it was. Again… if they know it’s hot every summer why… don’t… they… just…? Ok then. Regardless, it was perfect for me. I needed that pure animal fat to shock my immune system. I continued to sweat everything out there.
I gathered enough of my strength to pull my body through some of the world’s best art museums. Continued to look at most food with disgust. Eventually the diarrhea and fever went away. Regardless of it’s reputation as sex-positive or weed-friendly, I’ll always remember Amsterdam as the place where Van Gogh’s Sunflowers revived me.
A very sick but devoted art lover’s guide to healing:
Van Gogh Museum – They have Van Gogh’s letters, contemporary exhibits, daily lectures, amazing architecture, and a fucking awesome museum cafe that remind you of why you came to Amsterdam in the first place
Moco Museum – For Kusama, Warhol, Basquiat, Haring, Koons, Kusama, Hirst, and Dali. Super small museum and not worth all the “hype” unless art is everything.