Category Archives: plants

Victory… and the end of a Great American Road Trip

When I set out from Washington, DC, I was unsure of where I would stay in New Mexico, mainly because I was worried about how my car (and let’s be honest, my driving skills) would do in its mountainous curves amid potential snow flurries.

Storm Trooper Regrets Decision

I had a Plan A, which was to proceed to Taos for two nights and enjoy the break from driving for a day.

And I had a Plan B, which was to stay the first night in Albuquerque on I-40, not attempting the 2 hours uphill in the dark, and if it was snowing, forgo Taos altogether and head south; if not, visit Taos for one night and then be on my merry way.

How did I decide? How did I sate that crazy monster inside that loves to hem and haw and put off making decisions that might invite regret?

I asked two natives their opinion on the day of my drive, and after both confirmed a safe route, that was enough. I pronounced it enough.

The predicted storm of 2 days later? Wouldn’t be that bad. And if it were, well, then I’d be delayed. It’s happened before and the sky didn’t fall.

So, it was a victory for me! Decision made! In less than the time it usually takes me to get to the root of the question!

World Cup Cafe in Taos NM

Following this victory, I enjoyed the atmosphere, the snow, the laid-back small-town feel of Taos.

Last Leg

The last leg of the trip involved a straight shot from Taos to San Diego, CA, where I’d be staying with a friend and basically home-free. I went from Taos, NM to Flagstaff, AZ, then from Flagstaff to San Diego, CA.

Nowhere on the trip did I experience more visible changes in my environment than in this space of time. I woke up in Taos and had to brush off the powdered-sugar snow from my car and wait for the sun to rise above the storm clouds. I drove down through Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Indian City, and arrived in Flagstaff tired enough to fall asleep Before. Eight. O’clock. With no dinner.

Mountain driving! Man, I tell ya.

Waking up in Flagstaff was similar, except instead of powdered-sugar snow, my car had frost like spiderwebs all over it. Thankfully I was parked in the sun’s rays and it thawed pretty quickly. Then I went south through Phoenix (winning a prize for Fastest-Growing-City-to-‘Out-Ugly’-Los-Angeles-in-Sprawl), and west on I-8, which, if you’ve never been on it, IS the Middle of Nowhere.

I left the snow behind, saw the red cliffs in all their glory, passed a forest of tough old cactii, contemplated the low desert, entered sand dune territory, and saw an exit market “Mexico: Next Left.” I could literally see the Border Wall, which was for some reason exhilarating.

I was at sea level, then climbed back up 4,000 feet of elevation to pass into California, cruising back down on what seemed like a cloud: the weather had changed. The arrow now pointed to ‘Perfect.’

The ten days were an adventure, but the last leg seemed like a finale, with even a cymbal-clashing finish. It all seemed to end so quickly, as I felt the California sun again and headed to my sister’s.

That was it? I felt like saying, even though the trip had been full of twists and turns and decisions and mayhem and awesomeness.

Next Leg

Today the trip goes from Stateside to Asia Edition.

Updating as I road-tripped was a little frantic, so I will be hanging this sign while I am off in Seoul and Beijing. I look forward to bringing back tales of delicacies and derring-do!

Closed for Vacation 

Images via Techneur and Designs by Mimi & Lola

Smoky Dragon Way

Boundary Line marker, Great Smokies

This epic Road Trip of 2013 has many stops in its 10 days, but only 2 that get more than one night’s attention. The first place to get such special treatment is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Why? I had never been there before, it was a vast national park full of hikes calling me forth, and it was right on my path west on I-40.

Unfortunately, it rained the 2 days I was there and I left all my winter coats hanging in the closet when I left DC.

BUT! I drove to Fontana Dam to hike a piece of the fabled Appalachian Trail (the ‘AT’ for the in-the-know).

Island in Fontana Dam reservoir

As it was going to be raining soon, I didn’t venture too far. Also, I just didn’t seem to be ‘feeling’ it. I wasn’t getting that flow of energy from being in Nature that I usually do. It felt more like a slog to beat the clock. So after an hour I re-evaluated and turned back, content with that and ready to explore a different type of activity.

I had to ask myself many times whether that was what I really wanted to do, wanting to make sure I didn’t regret the decision. When you see you’re not realizing your potential, how long does it take to switch course, and what do you do to ensure you’re making the right decision?

I drove to Cherokee, NC to see The Museum of the Cherokee, since I realized I associated the Cherokee Indians with Oklahoma, which wasn’t their native area at all. I learned about the Eastern Band, those that hid in the Smoky Mountains to avoid the Trail of Tears.

Smoky Mountains and their Hair

Ever notice how mountain ridges with trees look like skin with hair?

I wound my way through the “Tail of the Dragon,” an 11-mile stretch of road in the Park containing a purported 318 turns. Twice.

For some reason, I left feeling a bit unsatisfied. It could have been the rain. So I was glad that the forest gave me one of my favorite things as a farewell: fog.

Foggy Mountain Road

Maybe I delight in fog so much because it reflects uncertainty, radiates romance, invites mystery… it’s a hard-working meteorological phenomenon! And one I’m sure to get my fill of in Portland…

The other thing the forest left me as a ‘farewell’ was not as much to my liking. I’ll give you a hint: it went ‘bunk-a-chunk-CRUNCH.’ More on that sound in the next post…. stay tuned!

Feel free to leave a comment if you have something to share about the Smokies, love/hate fog, or have an awesome decision-making process- share with TLT!

Food & Flora in Pozzuoli

Lucky duck that I am, I visited Italy earlier this year, southern Italy to be exact. None of that fashionable, decaying-but-romantic, artsy-wartsy way of life for me. No, siree.
Going down a hill in Pozzuoli showed me this structure- what purpose did it once serve?
 (Although I reserve the right for those to appear in future trip posts, of course)
This time, the idea was to relax, to not rush around sightseeing, to have a home base and merely get to know the pace of life of a different place, this one being Naples and the surrounding area.
It didn’t exactly fall out as planned. I took some advice to avoid the trains on the eastern coast because they’re old and less reliable, and ended up taking more than a day to travel to Sicily, which I in no way regret. If you have the chance, go and absorb Sicily. It is beautiful.
By the way, those are landscaping bushes for a public park in Pozzuoli, yes, but they’re also, wait for it, ROSEMARY! Why didn’t we think of this?
Wherever I was in Italy, I was keeping a weather eye out for places that looked like local hotspots for good food. I was not disappointed.
Wisteria vine scenting a sidewalk in Pozzuoli
Since I found so much beauty scattered around southern Italy, I also include here some of the beautiful plants and flowers I encountered.
First off, first meal, all-star favorite: zeppoline. A relative of the doughnut, this version is savory and can include herbs. It tastes salty, has a satisfying crunch from the lightly fried batter, and appears to positively melt in the mouth. I tried to replicate this at home when I returned based on 2 recipes in Italian cookbooks, but it didn’t achieve the lightness, saltiness, and snacky delight from those I had in Pozzuoli, my first night in Italy.

This is where I stayed: the Solfatara! Say it softly and it sounds like an incantation… and judging from the sulfurous steam emanating from the various pockets around this dormant volcano, there are some witches nearby brewing concoctions as well!
No, no, not really. I stayed just à côté, with some wonderfully generous friends who live high on a hill overlooking the Bay of Naples. So hard, I know.Not only do they contend with that view, but they also have to put up with the hillsides full of wildflowers, bursting forth with their colors. It was gorgeous, and this was still in mid-April when it was still overcast and foggy.

The second night in Pozzuoli led us to a local bistro-type place facing the bay with an outdoor heated patio, which was lovely for the temperature, but the heat lamp turned all the pictures electric shades of red and yellow. Notwithstanding the bad job of sizing up the light, the food there was excellent. We had the mixed appetizer plate, which contained zeppoline (I’d already fallen in love), mussels, egg and shrimp, octopus salad (another newbie but immediate favorite, unfortunately no good photos of the various ‘polpo’ we found along the way!), and a couple other things. Would you just look at how they present it? To be so proud of your work that it is a work of art- now there’s an accomplishment.

My walk on that same day took me through the public city gardens, called Villa Avellino. It is a very interesting site, with multiple levels, multiple churches, some waterfowl, public fruit trees, public water spigots, and this Dr. Suess-looking tree. Do you know what this one is? So arresting it was, standing out in bright orange and warm dark brown against the leaden gray sky…

Everywhere I ate, there were all kinds of fish- fried fish, fish in salad, fish marinated in vinegar. And they were all good! I normally don’t consider myself a fish person, but in the spirit of learning the place, I bit into crispy fish heads and chewy tentacles. I’m glad I did! I hope that one day I will be able to procure the right type of octopus to make such a salad myself. It would have to go down better than the zeppoline.
The simplest, and the best.