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On Serendipitous Travel Moments, or Being in the Right Place at the Right Time

For one of the classes I’m auditing this semester, I’ve been reading Henry Brooks Adams’s autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams. Adams was the grandson and great-grandson of presidents, and though he worked as private secretary to his ambassador father, wrote, and taught at Harvard, in reading his autobiography, you get the sense that he never really did anything.  He did marry, and his wife, Marian (“Clover”) committed suicide by drinking photo developing chemicals. You don’t learn about this in his book, because he doesn’t mention Clover or her death at all. 

Although Adams didn’t talk about his wife’s death, he commissioned a statue in her memory (Atlas Obscura has a great post about the memorial). Today, you can visit the Adams Memorial at Rock Creek Cemetery in D.C. We spent a few days in Washington over our spring break. I thought about looking for the statue, but spent the time visiting museums and friends instead.

On our first day, we went to the Smithsonian American Art museum. On the second floor, we walked around a corner and there was a replica of the Adams Memorial. Had I read that Atlas Obscura post, or done any research beyond a quick Google maps search, I would have known this was here. Finding it by accident was more fun.

Replica of the creepy Adams Memorial.

Replica of the creepy Adams Memorial.

On our first day, we went to the Smithsonian American Art museum. On the second floor, we walked around a corner and there was a replica of the Adams Memorial. Had I read that Atlas Obscura post, or done any research beyond a quick Google maps search, I would have known this was here. Finding it by accident was more fun.

A few years ago, I arrived in San Francisco for a work trip on the last day of the Garry Winogrand exhibition at SFMoMA. I dropped my bags at a friend’s and ran over there for the last few hours of the show. What I didn’t realize (because again, no planning) was that it was also the last day the art museum would be open for the next three years, so admission was free and there were activities (like hat making) happening around the building. I saw the Winogrand, and as the museum closed, watched a dance performance in the lobby.

I love incidents like this. I could have planned for either of them (we know I need to work on my planning). But if I figure out where the thing is, how to get to the thing, and if the thing will be open, that seems like enough planning ahead. I like going out to see what I can find — or what will find me. 

Hot Chicken, Round 3

"An immediate onset of hiccups.

Throat coated, feels like it might close? 

Stomach feels like it’s going to be punched through (from the inside).

Nose sweating.

Eardrums feel like popping." 

These are notes from our most recent hot chicken foray in Nashville, again at Hattie B’s. After last summer's tango with the restaurant’s "Damn Hot" heat level left me feeling as though I’d burned off a layer of my esophagus, I thought it wise to back down. Unfortunately, I got confused and now realize that I thought we got the highest heat level ("Shut the Cluck Up") last time. So our attempts to scale back failed, and we actually just ordered the "Damn Hot" again. While I'm heartened by the realization that all those feelings weren't caused by the mere "Hot!" chicken, I’m also doubting the possibility (or just my ability) to “eat through” the heat. 

The first time we had hot chicken, it hurt. Then the burn subsided, and in my memory, my taste buds and other senses opened. Everything was clearer. After two times of only painful heat at Hattie B’s, I’m starting to think the first time, I just ate all the spicy skin and the rest of the food was less hot. My husband swears "eating through” is a real thing and has experienced it with spicy duck in Las Vegas.  

I like feeling like my food is going to punch through my stomach. When I ask for extra-spicy, most restaurants disappoint. Hot chicken never does. Still, when that food keeps burning a hole in my stomach four hours later, it’s too much. So next time, Hattie B’s, I’ll take it “Hot!” (really, this time). Or maybe I’ll revisit Bolton’s. 

Are you a hot chicken fan? What’s your favorite hot chicken place in Nashville?  

Some Things I Learned from Four Days in Portland

I traveled to the Pacific Northwest for the first time last week for work. I didn't get to explore much, but I did learn a few things: 

1. It rains so much. That's common knowledge, right? Pacific Northwest and rain? It rained every day I was there. I just checked the forecast, and it's still raining. Apparently it's seasonal. Anyway, since I checked the weather before leaving, I was prepared with an umbrella. 

2. Umbrellas are not part of Portland culture. This must be true, because I saw very few umbrellas besides my bright pink one. The person who shared this information acknowledged that sometimes it rains so much you just need an umbrella. 

3. I need a raincoat. To go with my umbrella.

4. No sales tax! 

5. You can only buy liquor at state liquor stores. If you can't find one, the "Menage à Trois" wine from Walgreens is tasty. 

6. Speaking of Walgreens, you can charge your electric car there.

7. There is no mailbox at NE 2nd and NE Weidler street. This website is a liar.

One thing I did not learn was the the name of this flowering tree. I sent a picture to my mother, Master Gardener, and she didn't know. Is it a camellia? 

I have a list of things I'd like to see if I return -- Powell's, Voodoo Doughnuts, Multnomah Falls, the Japanese Gardens. What do you suggest?

[Obvious] Travel Tip: Check the Map

The Rhône and Arve rivers join just east of downtown Geneva. Before the Rhône's green water swirls in completely with the Arve's brown, the two rivers seem to resist each other, almost forming a line -- green on one side, murky tan on the other (after looking at lots of pictures, I think there's actually a low wall that intensifies the effect).  

The first time I saw the confluence, I was on the bridge that spans the rivers just above the junction. I had a perfect view of the rivers meeting and the V of land that ends their separation. The colors stopped me that day, and when I returned to Geneva last month with my husband, I wanted to show him this spot. 

I'm good with directions and can usually find my way back to places I've been once without too much help from Google. So I led my husband down the banks of the Rhône, reassured by signs warning us against swimming (the icy Arve waters were just around the corner!). 

I got us to the confluence, but if you ever go yourself, make sure you're on the right side of the river. A quick Google map check would have reminded me to walk down the north bank of the Rhône, where you can access the bridge that provides this lovely view: 

Photo by wbayercom/Flickr

Photo by wbayercom/Flickr

The south bank takes you to that peninsula, where you get the stench of the Arve and this view: 

 

Still cool, but not as good. 

Still cool, but not as good. 

Check the map, people Linda.

The Other Side of Spicy

"…hot chicken is a unique brand of fried chicken that's highly seasoned, some would say to incendiary proportions."

I was intrigued by the special "Hot Chicken" section in our Nashville guide book. When our friend saw it and also expressed interest, we had our dinner plans. 

The guide book recommended a hot chicken place near us, Bolton's (the only spot that also does hot fish, according to the fifth edition of Insiders' Guide Nashville). We ordered through the window -- medium spicy wings to share, and various levels of spice from medium to "as hot as you can make it" on our individual orders of quarters and legs. The guy in line behind us overheard our friend order his chicken "hot" and said, "Oh… you don't want hot." 

NSHVLL_APRIL13 - 09

Now. I love spicy food. I grew up in Texas, and Picante commercials taught me that my home state knew salsa (and to me, salsa means heat, or don't bother). My dad ate Tabasco on everything, and my mom made him (and later me) homegrown Scotch Bonnet-Habañero relish. I like it hot and am stupid about it. So yes, I do want it hot. 

I volunteered my Texan origins to this wise gentleman, which convinced him that I'd be "good." I'm glad others will so easily join in my delusion. 

Bolton's waiting-and-dining area has four tables and hardly enough room for the crowd that gathered, so everyone overheard our order. They were eager to witness our first hot chicken experience (I think they just wanted to see if we'd cry), but we got our chicken to go. On the patio of our weekend home, we spread out our boxes, napkins and beers. The chicken comes with slices of white bread and two sides. These, I suppose, are to ease the burn. 

NSHVLL_APRIL13 - 08

I started with the medium-hot wings and knew I was in trouble, Texas roots and all. Next to me, our friend drank his beer and announced he was burning. I was officially concerned about my hot chicken leg and knew I would not try my husband's "hot as you can make it" chicken. We soldiered on, tongues and stomachs burning, gulping beer and sides -- mac and cheese, greens, baked beans, slaw -- fists clenched, "experiencing THINGS."

And then it happened. My husband knows this feeling, and though I believed him, I had a hard time imagining it. But it happened. We passed to the other side of spicy. I could still feel the heat in my stomach, but slowly, the pain was gone. And I felt… good? I really did experience things and was able to eat the rest of my meal without feeling like a cartoon of a guy eating a hot pepper. 

If you're headed to Nashville and want to experience your own spicy feelings, in addition to Bolton's, 400 Degrees, Prince's (here's a great video about them), and Hattie B's were recommended to us. There's also a Hot Chicken Festival in July. I will be looking for something comparable in Louisville, and I welcome tips -- not just for chicken, but any really spicy food. Have you ever traveled to the other side of hot? 

#FriFotos - Views

I spent too long going through photos today looking for the perfect photo of sweeping views for today's #FriFotos theme. I finally settled on something less grand. 

View out the window of a bathroom at Mammy's hostel in Lome, Togo

This is the view out of a window in the bathroom of the hostel where the Peace Corps lodged us for our first few days of training. My first morning in Togo, I woke up under a mosquito net to unfamiliar sounds -- a rooster, a street vendor's cries. My shower was cold (but cold running water, better than bucket baths in my future). I stopped back in the bathroom to take this photo before heading to my first Togolese breakfast, excited about all my "firsts" after days of "lasts" in the States (last hot shower in the States, last margarita, last sleep). 

Just Exploring Venice Beach

Last week, Gabe had to attend exactly one day of a seminar in L.A., so I took off a few days to join him on an extended, though brief, California visit. Since we only had two non-travel, non-work days, we decided to skip trying to see the L.A. sites and just spend our time at the beach. I love ocean-swimming, and I blew off temperature warnings. I’ve been in the Gulf in December and a St. Louis pool in November, and I relish the shock of diving headfirst into cold water and swimming until my body acclimates.

But oh, man. The Pacific Ocean is COLD.

Me in my granny swimming suit, trying to work up the courage to get in the cold water.

Me in my granny swimming suit, trying to work up the courage to get in the cold water.

Between beach-time, we saw a bit of Venice by walking around our neighborhood, looking for food and drinks. We stayed a few blocks off Abbot Kinney, named the “Coolest Block in America” by GQ in its April issue. There is little I can reasonably afford on that street, apart from food, and even that’s pushing it ($9 juice?! You get to take the jar it’s served in with you, and it’s very good, but $9 juice…). Between this hipster strip and the beach, there is the lovely, wild California plant life taking over sidewalks, and there is the Venice Boardwalk, full of vendors, tourists, homeless people, and just… strangeness. My most memorable Venice Beach characters include the large, dreaded man in an oversized purple, plush top hat rapping about passers-by; a turbaned man rollerblading while playing electric guitar; and at least two different men singing their requests for money so they could buy marijuana and booze (to the tune of “Jingle Bell Rock”: “Jingle bell, jingle bell, help me get drunk.” Not even seasonably appropriate.) 

Hip bike in front of a hip store on the coolest block in America.

Hip bike in front of a hip store on the coolest block in America.

On Friday, we avoided the boardwalk mayhem by renting bikes from J’s Rentals. For $20 each, we got to keep our snazzy beach cruisers for the day (until 8 p.m.), allowing for a leisurely bike ride to Santa Monica. The madness of the boardwalk stops right around where the boardwalk ends, although it picks up again at the Santa Monica Pier. It’s mostly just tourists there, though. We biked up to the Annenberg Community Beach House, but turned around without visiting, opting for the ocean instead. What we really wanted was a Mai-Tai, but sadly, there are limited bar options right on the beach in Venice and what we saw of Santa Monica. You can find beer, wine, and champagne, but no real beach bar. And by real beach bar, I mean plastic chairs and wooden tables in the sand. There is none of that, and instead of Mai-Tais, we had ice cream in the shadow of a ferris wheel. That was good, too. It’s a bad idea to drink and go swimming in the ocean.

Just before we left to go home, a friend and her husband drove us around the Venice canals. Abbot Kinney, the guy who developed Venice, created it with the original in mind, so there are canals and homes squished in around them. You can walk along the water, and if you can get to that neighborhood without a car, do, as parking looked to be a nightmare.

Other Venice/L.A. randomness:
-the bus costs A DOLLAR

-motorcycles drive between lanes while the cars are stopped in highway traffic. This seems like a terrible and dangerous idea, motorcyclists

-LA likes Selena. I heard 3 Selena songs in less than 24 hours. This is good, because I like Selena, too

-Want an amazing donut? Drive out to Glendora and visit the Donut Man. Get the strawberry donut. I was skeptical. I was wrong (here’s a photo gallery from the LA Times)

-The most bizarre CVS I’ve ever seen:

I will have to get back to L.A., though, because I saw next to nothing of it. Seriously. Not even the Hollywood sign. But I got my beach on.