caribbean queen: charlotte amalie

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Charlotte Amalie is the capital of the US Virgin Islands and is located on St. Thomas, the second largest island of the USVI.  Known for its history of attracting pirates and other colorful characters, St. Thomas is now one of the most popular cruise ship destinations of the region.  And it’s no wonder, there’s gorgeous white sand beaches, renowned bays, natural wonders, and of course, treasures to be found in duty free shopping.

It seems like there are more jewelry and perfume stores on this island than people to buy them, which is why I guess it’s good that there are up to 11 (!) cruise ships stopping daily filling the streets with tourists and potential money spenders.

Despite that fact, I highly recommend staying longer.  There’s so much to see and do in the region that a few hours doesn’t do it justice.  There are many Airbnbs and resorts across the whole island, so why not enjoy more R&R here, where time runs a little more languid?  Everyone loves an island vacation, and spending a week here was just what this doctor ordered.  And the best part is that it’s all in our own backyard, negating the need of a passport or a change in your cell phone plan.

be like the pina colada song, come with me and escape

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historical boston: one minute man

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Happy St. Patrick’s Day!  Although March 17 is synonymous with leprechauns and pots of gold, there’s a secondary celebration in the city of Boston, MA known as Evacuation Day.  This day commemorates the retreat of British troops from the city in 1776 after the Siege of Boston, or the start of the Revolutionary War.  So while you don your shamrocks and drink your green beer, pour one out for those who fought for our freedom to exist as our own nation.

If you’ve read this blog for a while, I think you may be able to tell that I’m a little bit of a nerd.  And I’m proud of it, I like reading, learning things and knowing about history.  And so, traveling around this vast country, I am fascinated by the communities that played vital roles in fabric of American creation and evolution.  We’re not an old country comparatively, but we’re rife with important figures and events.  We have a lot of museums and monuments to preserve this culture (some of it not great but it’s probably important to be familiar with that, too), and these are tools to promote lifelong learning.

Boston is chock full of Revolutionary War history, as the seat of some of the most famous protests and uprisings like Boston Tea Party, Boston Massacre, Paul Revere’s house, and the aforementioned Siege of Boston.  I’ve been through all these sites in the city proper, but on a road trip back into town from the Berkshires, had a chance to visit the outer lying areas where the actual sh*t happened.

Sorry for the language, but when in Boston…

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i believe in nashville

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The hits keep coming, don’t they?  While the world was reeling from the COVID-19 effects, my beloved former home of Nashville suffered one of the most devastating tornadoes in recent past.  Fortunately for me, my friends and colleagues are okay, but there are so many people who were not as lucky.  The scenes of the utter destruction, splintered buildings, razed businesses that were once so lively and vital to this town are heartbreaking.

If there’s something I know about the city of Nashville, it’s that it is resilient.  When I moved there in 2014, they had near completely recouped from the horrible floods in 2010.  I know the community will come together and rebuild and be back better than ever.  If you can, consider donating to cmft.org.

Until then, I believe in you Nashville, and here’s my little love letter to you

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j’taime quebéc cité

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Well, it’s almost Valentine’s Day, and what could be a more romantic gesture than stealing away to the most European city in the North America?  It’s moody, dark and sexy.  And yes, it’s in Canada.  Quebéc City, the government seat of Québec, Canada, is a jewel upon a hill, its stately skyline looking out over the Saint Lawrence river.  It’s as close to being in a French village as you could possibly get, yet still retains its own Canadian charm.

poutine on the ritz

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super bowl vice city

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south beach bringing the heat

I had every intention of writing a new blog post on Sunday to post today.  That did not happen as I spent the day devastated over the news of Kobe Bryant’s tragic death.   Kobe was one of my childhood idols, as a kid who grew up in Southern California, he was everything.  The greatest Laker to have ever played.  An icon who was more magic than Magic even.  Kobe Shaq early 2000s was the most dominating Little Big duo of all time, and I’ve had many great memories watching those games and championships.

We broke down all the games, bought the jerseys, reveled in the parades.  I always imagined Kobe as an elder NBA statesman, ushering in young talent of the league, he had seemed untouchable and invincible.  And the unexpectedness is maybe what hurts most, because he had so much ahead of him.  His daughter and the other victims as well.  It’s senseless, it’s so sad and it hurts.  RIP Kobe.

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Based on Kobe’s philosophy, the Mamba Mentality, he would’ve probably said well, life goes on, let’s get to the next stage.  And that stage happens this weekend in Miami at Super Bowl LIV.  And perhaps that’s what we should do, LIV it up because tomorrow is certainly not guaranteed for any of us.

Welcome to Miami…

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happy lunar new year: year of mouse

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The Lunar New Year celebration is based on the celestial calendar that is used by several Asian nations (namely China, Vietnam, Korea).  Each cycle of roughly 12 months is represented by one of 12 animals in the zodiac: rat, ox/water buffalo, tiger, rabbit (or cat in Vietnam), dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig.

This year is my year, the year of the rat.  I share this distinction with noted creator William Shakespeare and fearless leader George Washington, you may have heard of them.   Folklore tales abound, but there’s thought that the rat was the first to show up to a council of animals that was called forth by the Jade Emperor (after sabotaging the cat and the ox, those cunning little rats), or that the rat won a competition set forth by this leader (also by screwing over the cat by not informing it of the time of the competition).  Whatever the case, the rat is the first animal of the zodiac and is thought to be very clever and observant (and clearly you should watch your back around them).

If you haven’t already bought your ticket to head to Asia for this celebration, which falls on January 25, this year, then you’re probably a little late.  So how better than to celebrate it stateside by going to Disneyland?  One of the most notable festivals dedicated to this holiday happens to be at the Disney Parks.

It’s a big party this year as Disney has taken the liberty to denote this the year of the mouse (that Mickey loves to appropriate things to his benefit, doesn’t he? But, also see the Mickey x Gucci collab because it’s fire).  They did a great job though, as the California Adventure park in Anaheim and the Epcot China Pavilion at Disney World have a ton of pageantry and specialty merch all set up to welcome the new year.

Chuc mung nam moi!

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a tale of two afc championship cities

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What do Kansas City & Nashville have in common? Well, they are both cities in which I have lived, and they’re also home to the two teams that will face off in the AFC Championship game this weekend.  It’s very exciting (read: EXCITING OMG HOLY S).  I, of course, am rooting for the Chiefs, as I have been to far more Chiefs games than Titans games, but it would soften the blow of defeat if the Titans pulled off the upset.

I’ve written extensively about these two cities, KC here, here and, here and Nashville here and here (try to visit them in alternating years), and seriously, if you haven’t visited them, where have you been?  Both cities top travel lists of great American destinations, so what are you waiting for?

Chiefs x Titans, a battle for the ages, and a battle for my heart.

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into the hinterlands: Sa Pa, Vietnam

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Vietnam is a beautiful country with sprawling coastline, bustling cities and agrarian villages.  It’s a very popular destination amongst travelers for its hospitality, great food and historic value.  And while Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Halong Bay, and its venerable beach cities are probably the main draw, consideration should also be made for its Northern Highlands.

Sa Pa is a city in the northwest of Vietnam, very close to the China border.  Inhabited by indigenous tribes of Hmong, Tay and Dao, this area is surrounded by rolling green hills noted for their rice field terraces and petroglyphs.  It’s a photographer’s dream, and totally worth the arduous journey to get there.

Sa Pa away, doesn’t anyone stay in one place anymore?

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Plymouth rocking

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Happy Thanksgiving week everyone!  One of the busiest travel weeks of the year, often coinciding with horrible weather.  What could go wrong? 😉

The juice is often worth the squeeze though, and you get to enjoy a lovely meal and reflect on the things for which you’re grateful.  And I guess you get to spend time with your family (whatever definition you choose), too.  Gather around the hearth y’all, for this short week, here is the story of one of America’s folklore icons, the Plymouth rock.

Everyone’s basically heard of the Pilgrims, right?  They were a group of mostly Puritan separatists who sailed from England in 1620.  They were seeking religious freedom by heading to the New World, and they were trying to get to Virginia, where the first successful settlement of Jamestown was founded in 1607.

Obviously, if you’re ever looked at a map of the U.S., you’ll know that Massachusetts and Virginia are nowhere near each other, so they clearly didn’t reach their intended destination.  Storms forced them to anchor near what is now Provincetown, at the hook of Cape Cod.  This is where there was infighting and almost mutiny, so the Mayflower Compact was devised and signed, creating a new government that still gave sovereignty to the king, while enacting a social agreement wherein everyone would play by the community rules.  This happened around mid-November to December 1620, and thus ’tis the reason for the season.

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nothing says america quite like “gift shops”

After exploring the area and having some ill-advised encounters with the native peoples (likely stealing the indigenous peoples’ food and stores), they settled in Plymouth.  This area had been inhabited by the Wampanoag people, however this particular area had been devastated by smallpox (brought over by…you guessed it, previous European explorers/colonizers), and thus made a convenient place to stop.

The Pilgrims success was aided by the Wamponoags, whose prominent leaders, Chief Massasoit and ambassador Squanto, saved their weary butts.  Squanto helped teach the settlers how to eel/fish and cultivate corn before he too succumbed to the plague.  Interestingly enough, Squanto had avoided the previous death wave that killed many of his people as he had been captured as a slave and was in Europe being converted to Christianity at the time.  The more you know, folks.

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Anyway, this was the site of their Plymouth Colony, which by the next year had a successful harvest season.  And what comes before Pilgrim Part B?  Pilgrim Part-A.  And that’s how we got the first Pilgrim Thanksgiving.  Attended by the 50 or so remaining settlers and 90 Native Americans, they ate corn and wild turkey and now so do we.

 

Nowadays, the small town of Plymouth, Massachusetts (40 miles from Boston) is still very keen on their history pertaining to these early settlers.  “America’s Hometown” has the Pilgrim Historical State Park, which has reproduction ship called the Mayflower II that sits in the bay, Plimoth Plantation (living history museum), and of course, the famed Plymouth rock.

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You’ll note that I haven’t mentioned this famed monolith yet.  That’s because the pilgrims didn’t mention it either.  This boulder merely represents the site where the Pilgrims first disembarked, a stepping stone if you will.

Anyway, it is the cornerstone of the Pilgrim State Park, and sits under a very fancy neoclassical portico.  A true American icon, representing strength and resiliency, we’re all truly like a rock.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

the other Sydney (Nova Scotia)

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Sydney, Canada has very little in common with its shared name cousin from down under.  For one, it is quite small, being located in the peninsular province of Nova Scotia.  There are no wallabys or koalas, but there is certainly an abundance of natural beauty.

Sydney, more of a community than actual city, is located Cape Breton Island (no relation to Breton crackers, I don’t think).  This island is located at the far Northeastern tip of the province, and has experienced a boom in tourism over the years due to said natural beauty.

This was the place to see some of the most beautiful fall foliage.  I mean, the roads along the famed Cabot Trail and up in the highlands (the Scots were attracted to this place for a reason) were lined with vibrant hues from the frostbitten leaves.

And yes there is another Canadian Sidney from Nova Scotia, but we’ll get to him later…

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