Archive for the 'travel' Category

The Marrakech Cure

It was a week after the passing of a dear friend that an email alert popped up with a deal to Morocco round trip for $440. My husband and I had always talked about going, and in a spark of ‘why not because we could die tomorrow’ I decided I was going. I then texted my husband, “guess what, I just bought non-refundable tickets to Marrakech!”

Ten months later, and with two friends, we embarked on our first real vacation that wasn’t a ‘working trip’ after a crazy year of both my husband and I having surgeries a few months apart, his near death experience, and the resulting PTSD. I’ve traveled internationally all of my life, but this was great to go somewhere completely unfamiliar and where we knew no one.

We landed at sundown and stepping off the plane (old school down a flight of stairs onto the tarmac) in the heat at the edge of the Sahara, I knew this would be different, and just what we needed. We spent an unforgettable week with our dear friends in the heart of the Medina. My husband wrote half of his next novel on our riad balcony. Souks, palaces, gardens, hidden alleys, amazing mint tea, and a lazy coffee on any terrace we could find with the echoes of the call to prayer. Our raid, Dar Jaguar, was amazing I think partly because we were literally the only guests there. Every morning breakfast was served on the rooftop and we had one night where the chef made us dinner. We even had resident turtles in the courtyard, which for some reason I was very excited about.

There’s so many riads in the city and I’m glad I didn’t book anything at a fancy modern hotel. They are surrounded by walls and a bit outside the old city. I would almost compare the surrounding city to Palm Springs. Condo communities and golf courses are being built everywhere, and you need to go by car if not by scooter most places. I would never in a million years drive a car there — just crossing the street is tempting death.

A pilgrimage to Jardin Marjorelle was in order to pay tribute to Yves Saint Laurent; it was overrun by fashion bloggers I almost had to shove out of the way in narrow walkways. We missed the proper museum opening next door by five weeks but maybe one day we’ll go back. Yves’ partner, Pierre Bergé, whom he bought the property with, passed away one day later.

Of course, the cats who roam the city rooftops came to visit us every morning at breakfast, and this might have been the best reason of all to stay in the Medina. One in particular slept on a motorbike seat in our alley and really liked us so he followed our group into the riad next door all the way to the roof when we had wine. I had a habit of buying from shops that had a nice cat sleeping outside, but maybe that was because the owners will strong arm you in a charming way the second you notice the cat.

Our friends were able to buy the carpet they desired, and that was a whole Odyssey lemme tell ‘ya! I did get used to the wheeling and dealing culture and even had fun for a while, but by day 6 it was exhausting. I think at one point I never wanted to shop again, but that didn’t last. Sometimes you had to pick out what was cheap crap from China and what was real, but we mostly stayed around the perimeter of the souks and didn’t go into them. I don’t think I could have handled it. My friend and I had to physically fight off a henna women trying to make us sit, and those gals are strong! I learned to say a few phrases in Arabic and I must have said “no thanks” 80 times in one day. At one point on the way to the mountains I did get trapped by a clasped bracelet when a man came out of nowhere and handcuffed me with it; my husband was nowhere to be found because he narrowly escaped a cobra being put around his neck so he ran back to the car. I ended up getting 3 other silver bracelets for a steal from the cuffer because I carried little cash and was told a few times I “barter like a Berber” because — well, I’m kind of a bitch.

I’m still shocked at how other tourists from Europe dressed (we rarely saw Americans, we met, like 2) mainly the women. I tried to cover my shoulders at all times and my tattoos, but I think I saw more ass, tits, and skin in Marrakech than at any strip club. A lot of women didn’t get the memo when you wear a white caftan, you have to wear more than a thong under it! The men were going crazy, it was hilarious. It could get up to 107 degrees but I still covered up. I know it is really lax in Morocco but I just didn’t want to be the ugly American. But not to worry, the episode of AbFab when they go to Morocco played out in real life in front of us almost every day. People assumed my husband was a British rock star detoxing, but they still tried to get him hash, and one restaurateur tried to arrange a private car for us to get him to the flashy club he owned.

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Now for the big news. We booked a tour to the Atlas mountains where we took tea with a Berber family, rode camels, and bartered hard for anything and everything. I never want to ride a camel again. Put it this way, horses are way more comfortable! It was the mountain hike that solidified for me that after years of work, I didn’t need my cane anymore. A cane I’d had since surgery seven years ago. I didn’t realize what we had signed up for (and we decided not to do the mule ride) but this was a lot more physical activity in very treacherous terrain! One wrong step and you go splat, or break a bone. I threw my cane out in the trash at the airport in Marrakech upon leaving. Between the hike and dodging scooters in narrow alleys daily, we’ll call it physical therapy Moroccan style! I’ll still need a cane if I wear heels and I still won’t ever be able to run again, but to not have to drag it around with me everywhere has been so freeing!

[As an aside, please, the next person who says “I didn’t recognized you without your cane” I’ll never speak to you again and I might trip you when you aren’t looking. Oh let’s be honest, women never say this to me, only men do. WTF is that about? It’s not funny. Don’t be a dickhead.]

I caught a cold on our last day and fought it off with mint tea, and Moroccan aspirin was pretty hardcore! I’ve kept some and now wish I had bought more to stock up on. It makes me wonder what other goodies the pharmacy had that are better than what I get in the US. We almost stocked up on spices but were afraid they would get dumped at customs with our day in Amsterdam or coming back to the US. Oh, did I mention I only packed half of a carry-on suitcase for this trip so I had room for all the stuff I bought? I literally left one side empty! I was away for about 10 days and survived. I was going to do a packing video again of ‘ how to pack for Africa with practically nothing’ but you can see I did something similar with my husband here.

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Anyway, here’s just some of the stupid amount of photos I took and bits of video, because I took a lot. We are planning on a trip to Tangier next year!

 

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Dublin to Münster Art & Gig Whirlwind

This has to be the only time I’ve ever scheduled an art show around a concert, but it all worked out very well. I had a great time in Dublin, Ireland seeing The Jesus and Mary Chain with Mel Butler and John Butler. I was deaf in one ear for a good week! There was an afterparty thrown at Garage Bar which was highly appropriate; they hosted my husband’s book party on our last trip. We also took a tour of the Caravaggio show at the National Gallery, had a private tour at Radio8 (Thanks Dan!), saw a number of bands at my favorite haunt Whelan’s, and made the rounds at all the pubs on my list as per usual.

Then it was a flight over to Münster, Germany for my show. I’m totally in love with Münster, by the way. I like that it’s walkable, has architecture exactly how I pictured it in my mind, and the fact that there was a whole lot of candy, and everyone has a dog (or so it seems). I even recognized a lot of paintings in their art museum! Easter Sunday service at the cathedral was very surreal as well. I’m just glad I didn’t burst into flames upon entering. We stayed with my fabulous gallerist and his partner, where they live in a former zoo keeper’s residence, where the ape habitat once was. It was appropriately named Monkey Hill. I guess the zoo keeper had a favorite monkey that he would let drink beer. Why not?

Anyway, here’s a bunch of photos. I’m sure there’s more, but this will do.

 

How-To Share One Carry-On Bag

No one ever believes me when I say that my husband and I can fit everything we need for a week in one carry-on bag. So, after many requests we made a video of us packing for a trip lasting 7 days. In an age where airlines are up-charging for bags or how many bags you have (like on a budget airline) this will save you a lot of money, and time. Time saved is the best part of this whole endeavor. This is especially true if you have a connecting flight! Lost luggage sucks.

I’m sorry the video is so long, but hey, enough friends requested this so this is how we made it happen. And at least there are cats!

A few things that happened after the video was made; I snuck in another pair of shoes (flats), and on the way back I was given a pair of heels and another dress to take back home with me. We also fit in our flat iron because we have too much hair. Guess what, it all still fit! I can also tell you that I didn’t even wear two shirts and the lone skirt I brought. I had choices and still could manage to cram it all in. Oh, and that heavy compact of face powder? Totally dropped it on day 5 and it shattered — so I saved some room on the flight back.

I don’t know what crazy things people bring when I see them trying to push and pull over-packed suitcases in bins above or at the baggage claim, but I don’t want any part of it. I have not checked a bag since 1989!  So here are some pointers and a list of things we brought.

Get A Proper Piece of Luggage

Make sure it is the smallest one that fits guidelines for carry-on. Already right here, this is the subject where people get defensive and fight with me on what they NEED for a trip. I call bullshit. You don’t need half of what you think — especially if you are a lone traveler or it’s just two of you. Are you trotting around the globe doing hair and make-up? Are you a celebrity with a glam squad? Do you have 3 red carpet events and a dinner to attend? Are you traveling with a brood of toddlers who need all their stuffed animals? Are you doing a triathlon and then heading to a black tie wedding? My husband is a Masters division runner who travels for competitions — we still manage to fit his running gear in. Limit your space and you won’t over do it. Obviously if you are going to travel around South America for 3 months or something, this isn’t the how-to lesson for you. Although I bet Colin Wright might have something to say about that!

Pack the Night Before

And if you don’t have time to do that (but please make time) do it gradually in the days leading up to your trip. Make a list. Do laundry. Go to the travel section at the drug store and get things or get cosmetic samples from places like Sephora (I get shampoo/conditioner combos). Start pulling out what you know you will take. Leave the toiletry bag on your bathroom counter and start loading it up. Packing the day of is almost always guarantee of forgetting something — or throwing in everything you own.  And please, look at the weather of where you are going. I’ve seen gallery girls in black wool from New York in Miami in 100% humidity. They looked ridiculous and miserable.

Corners, Rolling, and Flat Lay

Shoes should go in first, should go in corners, and you should stuff crap into those shoes. Roll things into corners, stuff loose items into gaps between clothing or any other space you find. Some people roll all their clothes and then stack them in the luggage in a pyramid pattern so they don’t wrinkle but I prefer the flat method unless it is a certain kind of fabric. Underwear, bras, stockings and even t-shirts I do the old fashioned sink wash and hang dry if there’s no laundry available. If where you are going does not have an iron, turn on a hot shower in the bathroom and steam your clothes by hanging them on a rod that way.

Make the Most of Your Travel Clothing

Hey, I’ve actually been able to roll up a pair of leather knee-high boots and fit it into my bag, but that was when I was traveling with my own suitcase. If you are sharing, wear your bulky stuff on the plane, and this means the bulky shoes! “But I like to be comfortable” you say? Well I’m totally comfortable in cowboy boots or tall boots on a plane, and mister thinks his Chelsea boots do just fine. Wear your coat, your scarf, your suit — anything like that do it on the flight. Layer, dammit! My husband finally got a proper fitting suit and he says it is so comfortable he never minds wearing it on a plane. Don’t be a slob or dress like it’s nap time at a daycare.

I took one side of the suitcase. I wore leggings, a long shirt, a cardigan, cowboy boots, and a scarf with a raincoat (which later folded into the luggage). I packed:

  • 1 pair of leggings
  • 2 pairs of shoes + 1 pair of heels on the flight back
  • 2 pairs of socks
  • 6 undies
  • 1 tank top (never wore it)
  • 1 skirt (never wore it)
  • 2 t-shirts (only wore one)
  • 3 dresses
  • 1 slip
  • bathing suit
  • accessories bag
  • portable charger
  • 2 huge cuff bracelets that weigh a ton
  • make-up bag nonsense

Mister wore jeans, boots, a t-shirt, a suit jacket, and packed:

  • 1 pair of jeans
  • 1 t-shirt
  • 1 long sleeve shirt
  • swim trunks
  • 2 dress shirts
  • 6 pairs of socks and undies
  • toiletry bag included mini deodorant, shave cream, 1 razor, brush cleaner wipes, make-up wipes, cleanser, hair cream, a toothbrush, mini toothpaste, nail scissors, a nail file, two combs, and a pillbox.
  • polaroid camera a film pack
  • flatiron

My purse which is large enough to fit a lot of stuff yet not too heavy had:

  • 1 charger we shared (yes this is possible)
  • iPod
  • large headphones
  • Kindle
  • My wallet with usual crap in it
  • lip gloss
  • iPhone

And here is errrythang after we packed up getting ready to head back home. This was more items than we brought! Plenty of room for whatever gifts or purchases you make on your trip.

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For years I’ve had people ask me to teach a class or so whatever to show them how to not over-pack, but let’s face it, you probably aren’t going to do any of this stuff. I don’t think many people want to try. It’s like that show Hoarders where there’s always a family member or someone that says, “we’ve tried everything and we’re all out of ideas”, yeah you tried everything except cleaning the house! People panic or overthink it. You don’t need half that stuff you throw in there, and remember, you can buy things later if you do.

Really, I hope some of you do try it and see how easy it makes things. Not only for bag fees, but just avoiding the hellish bullcrap people deal with at airports in general thanks to Homeland Security, jerks who hold up the line with giant bags, waiting at baggage claim like a poor sap, and lost luggage.

A Book Party in Dublin + A Lesson in Healthcare

We really didn’t want to come back, nine days in Dublin wasn’t enough. The book party and other press events my husband did went over really great. Even our new favorite Dublin chef and one of our cab drivers bought books on the spot! And for those that had missed the party, my husband even arranged to meet people for coffee to sign/sell them books. He’s all about customer service. We had some stressful issues going on during the trip like a medical emergency and having our money cut-off, but we still managed to have a lot of fun. I think it’s a good sign when you do things that aren’t at all in the vein of a vacation and still really like a city. The post office, the bank, the hospital. Adult stuff.

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Our last trip to Ireland was in 2011 and a lot of things have gotten better it seems. We stayed this time at Albany House which gave us an amazing suite, was in the middle of everything, and didn’t up-charge during the web conference going on like so many other hotels who now got in trouble for doing so. It was right across the street from a few nightclub which made people watching quite amazing! I’ve never seen girls in short skirts and no underwear crying so much and falling down. So much black mascara. We were told that was normal for a Tuesday night. But, speaking of the web conference, I saw lots of poor souls off to team building exercises and panels with matching shirts that say, “178% faster loading” or “Ask me how to auto-enhance your Adwords” Also, do people still use/buy banner ads?! Because that seems super 1999 to me.

While standing in St. Michan’s graveyard where Bram Stoker’s mother is buried, I had a conversation with a retired priest about burial practices in New Orleans, a conversation with an American priest who lived in Bejing and would see punk shows there, and listened to the amazing tour guide and crypt keeper go on a tear about how the Rock Hall in Cleveland sucks because Todd Rundgren isn’t in it. My husband touched the finger of an 800 year-old crusader mummy for good luck, and we got to see the burial and death mask of Wolfe Tone.

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I learned you should always look put together when leaving to go out in public, even to the record store, because you might run into “Lord Baelish” — he is a lot taller and handsome in person than I imagined. He looks so short on The Wire!

An American told me that Dublin sort of sucks because there is, “No culture. All people do is go to the pub, eat, and see gigs” and I’m like… this is a problem? This is all I’ve done for 20 years + art shows, across multiple US cities! Yes Dublin was sort of lacking in real art galleries, but there was plenty else to do it seemed. A couple of gigs at Whelan’s, I got a tattoo, Ben had a mini birthday party with cake at Dice Bar, and I probably would have done a lot more had it not been for some of my health issues that came up. There were other things I noticed this time around that I hadn’t on my last trip. The parents who discipline their children in public no matter how young; in the US they let them run wild while muttering “quit it”. The lack of sports jerseys worn by grown men — even at a pub during a huge match. The overall fashion is less casual and men’s suits actually fit them properly! No pajama bottoms or yoga pants in public, except in front of the needle exchange.

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A lot of a restaurants we steered toward were doing a bit of a New Orleans theme, though some may not have totally realized it. My new favorite place is Porndog, Catch 22 had blue cheese grits with their fish (omg), the cocktail speakeasy VCC was great, and I even found a coffee shop that is the Dublin equivalent of Hivolt in New Orleans! Honestly, I didn’t get to a lot of places on my list because our credit card got hacked on day 3 and we then just started eating takeaway and late night pizza or burgers. For the record Rick’s is like eating at In-N-Out in Los Angeles and that’s right up my alley.

The big experience for me was when I ended up needing to see a doctor and then had to go to the public hospital. Something had gone horribly wrong with my leg where fluid was starting collect in new places. Not only was there a clinic two blocks from me where I paid $60 to see someone within an hour, but he gave me a letter to take to St. James’s Hospital — where all my care was free. Now, you have to understand, I had gotten used to the bureaucratic and almost glossed over Soviet-like manner in which Cleveland Clinic conducts itself — especially in the ER. Not only did St. James’s not even ask for identification or a passport (they didn’t care), but I had intake, an assigned nurse, x-rays, and blood tests done and was out of there in less than 6 hours! They even give you soup and sandwiches while you wait. I actually would have been out of there in 4 hours had it not been for the blood testing taking a while. The front desk even called me a cab when I was done.

I ended up seeing my new favorite doctor again after my back went out — due to now needing the cane and it screwed me up — and was amazed I could just walk into a pharmacy and get codeine pain meds over the counter. Again, I am used to being carded for buying Sudafed (because you know, I might go make meth) and being carded for nail polish remover. This was like, “oh? your back went out and you are going on a long flight? Here! Would you like a glass of water to take one right now?” I mean, I couldn’t believe it. I had to scream at a nurse to prescribe me Xanax after kidney failure WHILE I WAS IN THE HOSPITAL and she had to get it approved in case I became an addict, so it’s amazing the difference in how all that is viewed. Then again, the U.S. is the only place where we see direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical commercials. It’s also a place where I DON’T get carded for buying bullets for 3 different types of guns. It’s funny because everyone in Ireland complains about their system and how much it sucks, but I have to tell you, it was more efficient than the supposed bestest place for medical care ever in the universe, and more to the point, it was free to a non-citizen like myself.

By the way, I’ve been back in the U.S. for a week and I am still waiting to see my surgeon! I had a nice argument with 3 different people there and his office; they wanted me to fax my documents from Dublin over to prove I wasn’t lying. And still, no one in this massive organization in this massive department is calling me back. I’ve been a patient there for over 5 years and I can’t get anyone to see me or schedule an x-ray until Christmas Eve. They actually told me to go to the ER if I was in such a hurry. I’m not kidding.

I feel like I’ve been trapped from moving on and leaving to go to another city because of my health issues and the fact that I was supposedly in the city with the best care. My husband has talked about leaving the U.S. for a long time, and now, it was proved to us that I would actually be ok going anywhere. In the meantime, I have decided at the end of the year I am leaving Cleveland Clinic. My surgeon retires soon, his son will probably not be part of the organization, and frankly I’ve been told many times over to defect and become a patient at the other major hospital system here in town. I don’t care how great your art collection is, or how many new glass buildings or meditation gardens you build on the campus, all while laying off and re-hiring your administrative staff. I can’t get anyone on the phone quickly when things go wrong, because they are to busy vetting my health insurance information. When I spend 40 minutes (yes, I timed it) and get to the point of tears when trying to schedule after care for cancer-related issues that have been a major problem for 5+ years? It’s time to leave.

 

House Hunters International: The Drinking Game

I finally put together my list for the HHI drinking game! My friends and I play it, and things can get dangerous, depending on the couple or the city they go to. So be careful, you might die of alcohol poisoning if you watch any more than three episodes.

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  • Granite
  • The master bedroom is kind of small
  • Wow, a lot of stairs (yes you are in a medieval city in Europe!)
  • How far is it to the city center?
  • It’s right in the city center but it’s kind of noisey
  • We plan on entertaining a lot
  • Where would our guests stay? (I don’t think your family will make it to Guam very often, do you?)
  • I need a space to work/write/study (It’s called a goddam couch!)
  • I’m nervous about the kids and those stairs/that railing/that indoor balcony (Are your kids morons?)
  • I don’t think I could fit my clothes in here
  • This is enough space for my closet but I don’t know where his stuff would go
  • No oven?
  • The fridge is really small, I’m used to an American-sized one
  • Open floorplan
  • It’s got a lot of light
  • It’s kind of dark
  • This certainly isn’t the style of furniture I would pick. (Proceeds to replace furniture with the most pedestrian style ever)
  • All the neighbors might be able to see me
  • But that means I’d have to take public transit!?
  • But I want old world charm
  • I want something traditional that’s modern
  • That tile has to go
  • The kitchen is really small
  • The laundry is right by the kitchen? That’s WEIRD
  • No bathtub?
  • I like these exposed beams
  • Double sinks
  • I can see us sitting out here
  • Can I walk to the beach from here?
  • I need space to do yoga
  • Well, I’m the practical one
  • I left everything, my friends and family and the only town I knew all my life all for [insert partner] so IT’S DEFINITELY GOING TO BE AN ADJUSTMENT.

 

 

Summer in New Orleans

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Went on another trip to my second home of New Orleans. A birthday, a wedding, and meeting-up with friends from around the country. So much happened, it is almost silly to blog about it while life gets back into the usual swing here in Cleveland. Although summer wasn’t as bad as I had imagined (and I packed my trusty parasol while sipping cold drinks), I can safely say I’d rather stick to spring, summer, and winter for future visits.

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Art, Books, Drinks, and the Desert: L.A. Recap

My husband and I went out to L.A. again for the book party for “Wivenhoe Park“. We had some time to go to Palm Springs and Joshua Tree as well. I’m a little late on posting photos but I got sick in the desert, and still am! How I could go from -7 winter weather in the midwest to 74 degrees in Palm Springs and get ill is beyond me.

Random things I remember:

Ian Astbury in sweatpants waddling past me and thus ruining all illusions I’d held from my teen years. Driving a Dodge Charger through the desert and up steep hills. Lots of music gigs and time spent in Echo Park. Getting drunk at The Dresden Room and going to Jack in the Box for late night food (basically not much has changed in 11 years for me). Amazing Mai Tai drinks at Bootlegger Tiki. The Autry Museum with my friend Charity who was like a personal guide. So many cocktails — so many. The Juxtapoz Magazine 20th Anniversary show, which I liked, but — I was a tad disappointed in because of glaring omissions and odd inclusions that to me didn’t reflect the actual history or issues I have read since 1994. I didn’t make it to the John Currin show, but the Laura Krifka one more than made up for it; I think she is exceeding him if not on the same level! Record shopping in Highland Park. Drunk girls in West Hollywood crying in a restaurant bathroom about boys who hasn’t texted them. A $1,000 omelet on the menu at my hotel (it had caviar on it). Visiting shops in Joshua Tree opened by Ohioans. Smash Mouth being promoted on the marquee outside one of the casino resorts. Leaving my iPhone in a coffee shop for over an hour to find it had been untouched! Nights by the fire pit, lots of friends and parties and dogs and wine. Oh, and traffic! More and more every time I go back to visit I swear! I mean…Jeeeeez. And that means a special thanks to those of you who drove in from SF and the OC for Ben’s book party and other shenanigans, because my God that traffic is just unreal!

As much as I debate about it, I think this trip really squashed any question I had about moving back to Los Angeles. Just can’t do it. Things have changed (yet haven’t) and unless I devoted myself to the desert, the eastside, or had the money to purchase a house, it just stressed me out so much being there and all the memories of why I left came flooding back. I think the reason I went to so many art and music gigs when I lived there was to make it worth the stress and general anxiety I felt. The weather never made it worth it for me. So, I think I’ll stick to visits. I like being a tourist.

Make with the clicky for descriptions….