The Best Place I Never Want to Live: Traveling the Southwest United States

The number one place I wanted Steve and I to visit on our road trip—the number one place on my bucket list, in fact—was the Grand Canyon. After we left Las Vegas we headed into the southwest where even in early spring we were faced with the dry heat of Arizona and Utah. We spent almost two weeks traveling from Sedona to Moab before making our way into Colorado, visiting five national parks in the process. Including, yes, the Grand Canyon, which was even more amazing than I could have imagined. In fact, the entire reason was incredible; the national parks we visited were some of the highlights of the trip, there were ample free campsites for us to stay in (ranging from extremely nice to extremely weird, but all conveniently located at the least), and the rock formations both in the parks and along the road were awe-inspiring to witness.

One thing that interested me, though, was that as much as I loved visiting the Southwest, I could tell right away I would definitely not want to live there. Usually when I visit a place I love, I start daydreaming about what my life would be like if I moved there. And I did that a lot on this trip, not entirely hypothetically—Steve and I will eventually have to settle somewhere (probably), and there’s a 50/50 change it’ll be in the USA, so we talked about whether we could see ourselves living in Chicago, Colorado, and other favourite locations. But, and I mean no offense to people who live there and love it, I just couldn’t see myself living somewhere with so much red sand and desert. By the time we left, I was more than ready for rain and grass and more rain.

Still, visiting the southwest was one of the most exciting and exhilarating parts of our trip, and it’s a region I’d love to visit (key word) again. In the future, I want to get a permit to hike the fiery furnace at Arches NP, camp in the Grand Canyon, and explore the more remote sections of Canyonlands. In the meantime, please enjoy these photos of Arizona and Utah:

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Five Tips for Your Best Road Trip

You may have noticed that my last post was the day after Election Day. Sometimes when we need our creativity the most is when it’s the hardest to find. Hoping to write more this summer. 

Since the majority of my blog’s readers are either my friends or my mother’s coworkers, most of you probably already know that Steve and I spent March to June traveling across the United States from Vancouver to Philadelphia. Our zigzag route took us about nine thousand miles in a beat up ’03 Ford Windstar (RIP) and to amazing destinations both natural and metropolitan. We went hiking in the Grand Canyon, boozing on Bourbon Street, ate pretty much everything we could possibly eat (plus a lot of soup cooked on our camp stove), and more. 

At the Tunnel View viewpoint in Yosemite National Park

All along our trip, so many people told us that it was the trip of a lifetime (definitely) and that they would love to do something similar, so I decided to put together my top tips for a cross-country road trip. 

Build a sleeping platform

Our humble abode

Honestly, sleeping in a van isn’t as rough as it sounds. Sometimes the lack of ventilation makes the night overly hot and humid, but for the most part we were pretty comfortable. However, if you’re traveling for more than a few days and don’t want to spend all your money on motel rooms, a sleeping platform is a must. We took out the back two rows of seats and Steve built ours in an afternoon with a piece of plywood and a bunch of 2x2s. We were able to put almost all of our belongings underneath the platform and a super-cozy piece of foam with bedding on top. At least one road-tripping couple we encountered were sleeping on their seats and so every night they had to shuffle all their luggage around to make room—the last thing you want to do when you’ve been driving for nine hours and you’re completely exhausted.

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Portland: 22-24 January

When I was in college, a lot of people told me that they could see me living in Portland. While I ended up a few hours north (for now, anyway), Portland has been in the top three on my U.S. cities to visit bucket list (along with San Francisco and Chicago). Now that Steve and I have taken a trip there for the weekend, I’ll have to decide on a new city to round out my dream-visit-top-three, but I can definitely see why people could see me living there, and I’m already wondering when I might be able to go back!


When we arrived, we checked into our lodgings, which was a classic roadside motel with a hilariously garish neon sign. It turned out to be the perfect location, right next to a MAX light rail line that would get us downtown, and only a few blocks from Mississippi Street, which we had been told was one of the best places to eat and drink. We decided to head there right away as we’d been driving all morning and seriously wanted some food.



I’d been forewarned about the unbelievable number of food trucks, but it still took me by surprise. Apparently there are some 500 around the city—enough that you could eat at a different truck every day and not repeat yourself for over a year! We couldn’t be quite so ambitious, but we started off outside a cool German bar called Prost! with a kimchi and tofu cheesesteak sandwich from a Korean fusion truck and a pulled pork sandwich from a Southern style truck. We washed them down with a couple of German beers and we were on our way, walking down Mississippi and then all the way into downtown. IMG_5466


After a few hours of wandering to get a feel of the city and the various downtown neighbourhoods, I decided it was time to go to the place that was the epicentre of my dreams to visit Portland. Explaining to Steve that if we wanted to visit some of the outer parts of the city, we might not want to come back downtown for the rest of the weekend, but that I was not going to miss my chance to visit this particular location, we made our way to Powell’s books.

If books are a religion, then Powell’s is surely Mecca. Everyone I have ever asked about visiting Portland has told me that Powell’s is a must—as if it hadn’t already been at the top of my list. I went in determined to be… reasonable, let’s say, about the number of books I would purchase there, and I must say I did a pretty good job of sticking to my goal of a five-book limit (I bought six so, okay, one over isn’t too bad). However, I could’ve spent hours just poring over the shelves and seeing everything the shop, which stretches over nearly an entire block, has to offer.

(if you’re curious, I ended up with Ignorance by Milan Kundera, Crazy Salad by Nora Ephron, Krik? Krak! by Edwidge Danticat, The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, Young Skins by Colin Barrett, and Black Oxen by Elizabeth Knox).



Although I was sure nothing else could top Powell’s that night, we travelled on, once more in search of food and drink (I’d been told that those were the best things to do in Portland, and we found this to be true). We had a late-night snack at Voodoo Donuts, braving the queue that stretched out the door even at night, and then after another while longer walking, stopped into a pub.

Oregon is known for its beer, having some of the biggest and best craft breweries in the United States. Although the most famous are not from Portland, several like Deschutes (from Bend) and Rogue (from Newport), have tasting rooms/pubs in the city. As Rogue’s Hazelnut Brown Nectar ale has been one of my favourites since I was introduced to it while in Galway, we chose to stop at their pub, and ended up each sampling a flight of beers.

From left to right: Shakespeare Oatmeal Stout, Cold Brew IPA, Hazelnut Brown Nectar, Rogue Farms Fresh Roast.



After that it was back toward our motel for some real food and then bed. We chose Fire on the Mountain Brewery, having heard good things about their wings—and their vegan wings. I was happy about the amount of vegetarian and vegan food in Portland, more than I’ve ever seen in any city except perhaps Ithaca, although it came as no surprise. Having never had chicken wings even before I was a vegetarian, I was excited to try a vegan version that was apparently actually very good, though in the end I opted for the vegan drumsticks instead. I can’t really remember what chicken tastes like since I’ve only eaten a few bites over the last decade and a half, but these seemed right. The sauce was deliciously spicy, and the appetizer we ordered led to us fighting over the last onion ring, so you know it was good.  IMG_1559


Day two was similar to the first, except with more rain. We took cover from the storm at Olympia Provisions. Although the wait was unbearably long for some reason, the food was delicious when it finally came out. They’d been highly recommended so I’m sure it was just an off morning, speed-wise. We then headed down 23rd, another row of shops and bars, browsing through artsy treasures and, yes, eating more (Salt & Straw—I’m a huge fan of weird ice cream flavours, and though I chose the somewhat more normal coffee bourbon and honey lavender, I did sample an olive oil ice cream that was surprisingly delicious).

After 23rd it was on to yet another neighborhood, this time Hawthorne, for more browsing through packed antique shops and marveling at the selection of food trucks. We passed a bar called 4-4-2, adorned with paintings of soccer balls, and couldn’t resist stopping in for a pint. If only we’d known about it that morning and could’ve gone to watch the EPL matches! Still, we were able to catch the second half of the USWNT v Ireland WNT game (the USA crushed the girls in green 5-0).

We then took the bus north to the Alberta Arts District, where there were—no surprise—more pubs and restaurants to be found. It was getting late, so the shops were closed, but we had a few pints and eventually ended up at a not-so authentic Irish Bar called the County Cork Public House. Still, the fish and chips was yummy and they had a dart board so it was an enjoyable place to continue the evening. We finished up with a drink at Ecliptic Brewing back on Mississippi and then, exhausted, went home to bed. We had an early morning and a long drive back up to Seattle ahead of us.

Waterfalls are probably my favourite aspect of nature, so I knew we had to stop at Multnomah Falls before heading back to Seattle. It was about a 45-minute drive outside of the city, and we crossed our fingers that the rain, which had held off for most of the weekend apart from Saturday morning, would stay away just a bit longer. We arrived at the falls to threatening clouds but no precipitation yet, and we were amazed by the height and power of the water that flowed over the rocks and down toward the Columbia River.



The path was about a quarter of a mile walk to the bridge that crossed in front of the falls and we traversed this with ease, stopping to marvel and get fairly drenched by the spray. The rest of the trail up to the top of the falls, another mile at least, was much more arduous. “Surely we must be nearly at the top,” I thought, before reading the sign: “Switchback no. 4 of 11.” Sigh.



Still, when we reached the top, the view was certainly worth it, as was the view of the waterfall from above as it tumbled down to the pool and river below.



We tried fruitlessly to take selfies in which both we and the background were visible (at least we look cute, right? I promise there’s an amazing shot of the river just behind us… you just can’t see it). Eventually someone took pity and offered to take one of us.



The rain started just as we reached the bottom of the trail again, and our time in Oregon ended as we returned to the car and made our way back to Seattle. See you again, Oregon, for sure.


Six Months in Seattle

When I was young, living in the same house in the same town in the same state in the same country for the first 18 years of my life, I used to think that I could live there for my whole life. I thought visiting relatives a five hour drive away or— wow—relatives who lived so far I had to take a plane ride to reach them were unbelievably distant. Funny how things change. I always knew I would travel, but never how much.

After living in three countries outside my country of birth over the past five years, moving to a different state is a much more minor change. There were no visas involved, for one. But moving from the East coast to the West is practically a different country both in distance and culture, and the difference this time is I didn’t have school or a plan waiting for me. I figured it out, as I usually do.

There have been a lot of unexpected challenges: the aforementioned lack of plan (i.e. job) being a main one, navigating a long distance relationship being another (while the relationship is the best thing in my life, the long distance I could do without), but those same challenges seem to bring the most rewards.

I don’t want to turn this into a cheesy naval-gazing reflective post so I’m going to stop there, but since I’ve wanted to live in Seattle since I first visited here over a decade ago (on an orchestra trip in high school, also the reason I first got a passport for the part of the trip that was to Vancouver, a city I now visit at least once a month), I think that the fact I’ve been living here for six months this week is worth mentioning.

Anyway, photos:

The view from Kerry Park. The hill was steep, but the view is worth it.
The view from Kerry Park. The hill was steep, but the view is worth it. When I first moved to Seattle I walked everywhere to get my bearings.
Almost immediately after arriving in Seattle I headed up to Vancouver where Steve and I went to a USWNT match against Nigeria. Abby Wambach scored the winning goal.
Almost immediately after arriving in Seattle I headed up to Vancouver where Steve and I went to a USWNT match against Nigeria. Abby Wambach scored the winning goal.
My first hike in Washington. Unfortunately it's hard to reach a lot of the best trails without a car, but I'm trying.
My first hike in Washington. Unfortunately it’s hard to reach a lot of the best trails without a car, but I’m trying.
Back to Canada, this time to Victoria and Tofino for whale watching and camping
Back to Canada, this time to Victoria and Tofino for whale watching and camping
Finally Steve came to see me in Seattle where we saw this amazing sunset over Lake Union walking home from Capitol Hill.
Finally Steve came to see me in Seattle where we saw this amazing sunset over Lake Union walking home from Capitol Hill.
I'm not abandoning the Philadelphia Union just because I left Philly, but I'm definitely impressed by the Sounders fans' enthusiasm.
I’m not abandoning the Philadelphia Union just because I left Philly, but I’m definitely impressed by the Sounders fans’ enthusiasm.
We went camping in Olympic National Park for Labor Day weekend, and drove to some amazing beaches on the coast.
We went camping in Olympic National Park for Labor Day weekend, and drove to some amazing beaches on the coast.
Thanksgiving was spent at a friend's family's house on Vashon Island. The view of Mt. Rainier was so clear.
Thanksgiving was spent at a friend’s family’s house on Vashon Island. The view of Mt. Rainier was so clear.


In NOLA, culture and current events

Well, I’ve had an eventful couple of weeks. In backwards chronological order, I’ve

  • started my final semester at Ithaca College. I’m taking five classes, two of which are required for my major/minor, and all of which I will hopefully manage to handle despite the fact that I can already feel senioritis setting in. 
  • been accepted to grad school. Next year I’ll be studying for an MA in Literature and Publishing at the National University of Ireland, Galway. I was looking at a number of different routes for my post-graduate plans, but this was my secret number one, so when I was accepted I knew it was where I wanted to be.
  • spent a week in New Orleans, working with local nonprofit along with fourteen other Ithaca College seniors, our advisor, and several others. And that’s what I want to write about now.

A lot of people don’t realise the extent to which Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath are still affecting New Orleans. I didn’t, having never visited the city before. And after a week there, I certainly can’t say that I fully understand the impact of the storm and what followed, but even more than becoming aware of it, I now realise how unaware I was before. There’s this sort of dichotomy when it comes to short-term volunteer work or visiting the site of a disaster—you can’t fully understand a situation just by being there a week, and you can’t make the trip all about you by saying “yes I feel so enlightened/inspired/whatever now,” but at the same time, but at the same time awareness and knowledge is really important. There’s a fine line between helping out and disaster tourism, and that’s a line that we worked hard not to cross. I liked working with Lowernine because they had strong connections to residents—one of their coordinators was born in raised in the Ninth Ward—and it never felt like they were doing what they thought should be done, but instead they were looking for guidance from residents and homeowners as to what was needed.

Continue reading “In NOLA, culture and current events”