Rushmore Addendum (and more on girlfriends)

7 07 2009

I realize now that I was mistaken about the name of said creepy Texas town. After writing the post, I quickly dashed off an email to Kristi and Christine, noting that the town of Leprechaun became even more creepy when it failed to exist. Both remembered said town and the fear and speed with which we passed through it. But Kristi made a good point: the town was not named Leprechaun at all. Here I will quote Kristi, because she captures the sentiment well:

I saw the blog post of the road trip! And it got me thinking more about that lovely stop in Texas we made and realized that it was actually Shamrock, TX that we went to (hwy 40 goes right through it). Aside from the creepiness factor, I remember joking that leprechauns were going to jump out of hiding places and kill us (probably where you got the idea that the town was Leprechaun, TX). I also remember a lot of neon signs and a lack of people. There was some food court area or county fair area and nobody was there – it was empty – like a ghost town. So instead of eating dinner there, we drove to the next town.
To further underline the “FREAKIN CREEPY” aspect of the town, she included a link to this image:
My point here is twofold:
  1. Shamrock, TX remains just as creepy a prospect as Leprechaun, TX would be if it did in fact exist, even though its Economic Development site makes it seem rather quaint( but does the happy waitress on the front page look as though she’s missing an arm??)
  2. Shamrock, TX is a “Legend of America,” which is a nice way of saying that even if it doesn’t have leprechauns waiting to prey on young college girls, it certainly has its share of ghostly lore. (Why, now, do I somehow find this aspect fascinating?)
  3. Most importantly, Shamrock, TX, and my “mis-memory” of it, sparked a whole new round of reminiscing about said trip, with this response from Christine: What a good trip that was, can you believe how young we were?? We couldn’t even drink. And why didn’t we bring any alcohol around with us to drink at night? What did we do for entertainment?…

Her list goes on, as could mine, but I’ll save more stories from the road for another day. Nearly 10 years later (gasp!) they still haven’t gotten old, and they are a sign of the strength of gal pal bonds and the thrill of travel that solidifies them. Perhaps that Shamrock was a little lucky after all…





Fun Rushmore Facts, Road Trip Nostalgia and Girlfriend Trips

3 07 2009

Yesterday I received an email titled “Rushmore facts for my fellow visitors” from my friend Kristi. She sent it to me and to Christine, the third part of our road-trip-trio that spent a month one college summer crossing the country in my silver Saturn, the original Squirrel (named, incidentally, on that trip, by Kristi). The email contained a link to an SF Gate article, Mining Mt. Rushmore for trivia, which gave some fun facts about the notable but bizarre South Dakota landmark.

The article itself was fun, but what was more fun was the memory of seeing the mountain in person. Though Rushmore itself pales in comparison to the idea most Americans hold of it (it’s far smaller than one expects), there is something thrilling about the idea of actually having been there. It is, after all, in South Dakota—which means that, while iconic America, it’s not nearly as widely seen as, say, Lincoln Memorial or the Statue of Liberty. It seems as though Rushmore is one of those landmarks only visited when one lives close by or, like us, is simply passing through.

Which makes the fact that we’ve seen it even more exciting. One fact in the article was particularly gratifying: “The sculptor…Borglum…had devoted years to a Confederate commemorative carving at Stone Mountain.” Okay, so the fact that said mountain was financed in part by the Ku Klux Klan is somewhat upsetting, but the fact that we saw both huge carvings, Rushmore in South Dakota and Stone Mountain in Georgia—more than 1,000 miles away—in the same trip is pretty gratifying.

The most gratifying of all, however, were the memories that this very short article brought rushing back:  the shoddy campgrounds, the long detours, the rush through strange dark places like Leprechaun, TX (which, it should be noted, does not show up in Google searches, but I am certain we drove through it) and the whole state of Arkansas… And all the laughs and ridiculousness that stemmed from it. These days I don’t get to see those ladies as often as I’d like, and I remember that trip far less than I should, but no matter how far apart we live, or how many girlfriend trips I do, I’ll always cherish Road Trip 2000 as my first foray into girlfriend travel, and extensive travel in general.

It was that trip that instilled in me a love of travel, and showed me what it might mean to (literally) hit the road with your buddies. Not only is it a growing experience in general, but it changes the nature of friendship. We’d known each other some three years by then, but the things we learned and the conversations we had during those long hours in the Squirrel could not have been had anywhere else. And to this day I can’t imagine sharing that experience (or that tiny car) with anyone else either.





Oh the Places You’ll Go

15 06 2009

I realize I’ve yet to write about my mother’s recent visit to New York. I love having visitors because it means not only that I get to play tour guide, but that I get to see the city in a new light. And often I get to see new things altogether. This time around it was ladies only, my mother and her best friend, Aunty Bee, who was introduced to my mother through Gaga, much like my mother found me a good New York friend.

This trip we covered much ground, and found entertainment in some unexpected places Our travels started out at the tip top of the island, with  visit to The Cloisters. We didn’t do the museum itself, but wandered its gorgeous grounds and the lush woods that is Fort Tryon Park, so quiet and serene it feels worlds away from the city in which it resides. We made our way back on the M4 bus, which is a fabulous (and economical) way to see the city. We rode it down to Columbia, where we hopped off for a stint, only to jump back on to ride down Fifth Avenue past the parks and museums.

Other highlights included the stunning views of the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, a few hours at the Chelsea Market and a couple more (no joke) ogling the dish heaven that is Fishs Eddy (this is what I mean about unexpected entertainment) and sundry incredible street entertainers. For more of the fun (and lost of street entertainer video), see here.





Queens Towers (by special request)

18 10 2008

I was recently chided for having written about two of my nieces and not their sister, my darling Olivia.

And so, without further ado, a post especially for Olivia, in two parts.

I may be belaboring the point but I love being an aunt for the simple joys of passing on knowledge, joy, enthusiasm, and for cultivating those female bonds which I think are so special. At home in California this summer I had several opportunities for just these things, some already noted and others soon to be forthcoming. The added bonus of all this, I found, is that I get to learn in the process as well. And thus, part 1…

We have a tradition when my brother Gregg brings his girls from Colorado to California for visits. We head to Oakland’s Jack London Square and take the East Bay Ferry into the city. From there the routine is pretty generic and pretty touristy, usually consisting, in random variations, of lunch at Johnny Rockets, playing and shopping on Pier 39, and a long time marveling at the famous sea lions who lounge there. Then we make the long walk along the Embarcadero to the Ferry Building, where the rest of us wander the markets waiting for my brother to spend an inordinate amount of time purchasing wine before we catch the ferry back to Oakland. It’s always a great day and the kids look forward to it every visit.

This summer, however, we switched it up, especially for Miss Olivia. Last year, on the walk to the Ferry Building, I pointed out Coit Tower to the darling and she has been obsessed ever since, determined that we must visit the “Queen Tower” and also the “other Queen Tower,” which happens to be San Francisco’s other most distinctive building, the Transamerica. So this year, we diverted from the usual plan and took Olivia to the Queen Tower, no small feat given that I have not lived in the city for more than two years now and have become a little rusty on my geography, not to mention there’s that massive hill to climb (we cabbed it).

Once up there, however, it was well worth the trek. For my mother, who had visited often with her own mother (my Gaga), it brought happy memories of growing up in San Francisco. For Olivia, who for a year had been talking about the Queen Tower, it was a thrill, nearly equaled but not overshadowed by the joy of seeing “Alcatrax.”

The Princess in front of the Queen Tower

The Princess in front of the Queen Tower

And for me, who managed to grow up in the Bay Area, live in San Francisco for two years, and only see one of its most iconic landmarks for the first time on a visit from New York, it was a reminder of what we take for granted when we have easy access to some of life’s most amazing places, and a reminder that you don’t have to travel to travel. Often the best things to see are in our own backyards. Or at the very least just a ferry ride away.

Coit Tower, which can be seen from most places in downtown San Francisco, looms over the city from its perch on Telegraph Hill in North Beach. It was erected in 1933, and was commissioned to honor San Francisco’s firefighters by Lillie Hitchcock Coit, a wealthy eccentric San Franciscan who often rode along with the firemen, despite this being considered unladylike behavior. For more information, click here.





September Highlights

7 10 2008

It’s definitely autumn in New York. The air is crisp, some leaves have started to change color, and I’m left bewildered and wondering what happened to September. Oh right, September was that quick little month during which I: started a new job at the Harlem Children’s Zone, scurried around Fashion Week, and curated a major literary extravaganza.

Somewhere between the sore feet and the frantic running, I managed to fit in two of my favorite things: travel and girlfriends. I got to take a little trip to the tiny town of Altoona, PA, where my dear high school friend Rachel, whom I hadn’t seen in a frightening five years happened to be for a wedding. My travel time of six hours each way about equaled the waking hours I spent in Altoona. The trip itself consisted of crashing the wedding, brunching and talking the following day at Friendly’s (east coast staple) followed by a long and thorough exploration of Target (more talking) before re-crossing the highway and returning to the hotel to lounge and talk some more. It was a simple trip and an amazing one, the kind that proves it does not matter where you are, or how long you travel, so long as it’s to meet a good friend.

And speaking of long trips, my lovely and amazing friend Liz made a huge one across the pond to visit me in New York. We walked all over town, gorged on sweets, and talked until it seemed we must have sucked the air out of the room. And still had so much left to say. It was fun to see New York through unAmerican eyes, but the best part was the realization that over a two week stint in Argentina I had made a lifetime friend. The wonders of travel.

Even more amazing, that in the midst of the chaos of September, I managed to fit in quality time with two amazing women and two great friends (old and new) who, in vastly different ways, are something of kindred spirits to me. I wonder what October will hold?





Paying It Forward

16 07 2008

The fun thing about travel is, of course, the meeting of new people and the seeing of new things. That part’s a given. But an equally important part of travel (and the part that keeps us travel fiends going in between trips) is the sharing of the travel experience. Even better, sharing the travel experience when the experience itself is a new thing.

Let me explain. While at home in California I got to spend quality time with my young nieces from Colorado, who, at ages 12 and almost 11, are finally old enough to understand the magnitude of international travel and actually be interested in it. (As opposed to six years ago when the little Flamenco fans I brought from Spain were cool solely for the pretty designs on them.)

Now, these girls have had their fair share of travel in the course of their young lives, but somehow trips to California or even the all-inclusive resort in Mexico (while it of course has its merit) does not quite have the same effect. Getting their hair braided doesn’t count discovering a culture.

So the fact that Alyssa (the older sister)’s eyes lit up when I mentioned my trip to Peru was fantastic. When she enthusiastically told me she’d done a project on Peru this year, I wasted no time in whisking her away to my computer and pulling up photos from the trek (a feat not all that easy, given that the pictures—which I finally had all organized and ready to send out—were lost when my hard drive crashed).

There we sat for nearly an hour, flipping through photos of the trail, the houses, the people, and, wonder of wonders, Machu Picchu. To my delight, Alyssa was riveted, as was her sister Nicolette. They were fascinated by the scenery, the dress, the trek itself. And the fact that their aunty (who, admittedly, they know to be a bit of a priss) went five days without showering. And, for my part, I loved reliving the experiences and the stories, and watching their excitement.

But even better was the fact that they were experiencing the wonders of travel (albeit armchair travel) for the first time. While I’ll never know the exact impact it had, by the looks on their faces I’d guess that these girls figured out that there are wonders out there, and that it’s within their reach to see them.

But more importantly, I think it sparked a desire to see them, and it was educational too. Later that day, when Alyssa and I visited the store and I didn’t take a bag for our cans of condensed milk (a preview of my next post) we talked about doing little things for the environment. And when I told her that Salkantay, the glacier she saw in my photos, was melting rapidly because of global warming, her response was, “That would be terrible if I wanted to see it when I grow up and it wasn’t there.” Check and check. New generation of female travelers (and environmentalists) officially recruited.





Flashback: Summer at the Lake

10 07 2008

It seems somewhat odd to blog about my trip home in terms of “travel” but California is so chock full of beautiful places and fun things to do, how could one not? My trip home started in one of the prettiest places in California (and Nevada). The Russo clan headed up to Lake Tahoe for the 2008 family reunion. Thanks to vrbo.com (Vacation Rentals by Owner), we took over a lovely (and massive) house, complete with hot tub and loft for the kids, and spent three relaxing days playing in the sun.

(Some) Russos in Tahoe

(Some) Russos in Tahoe

Which got me thinking about all the great times I’ve spent in Tahoe in the past. It really is an ideal getaway spot, especially since it’s a mere 4-5 hours from the Bay Area. This trip, we spent all our time at the beach, playing in the lake, kayaking, making sand animals (yes sand animals)…

But beyond the lake there is so much else to do. The former Olympic Village at Squaw Valley has a swimming lagoon (in case there’s not enough water in the lake), a spa, and a roller skating rink, not to mention the cable car that provides some pretty stellar views of the area. They even offer sunset and full moon hikes. Then there’s hiking, biking and horseback riding through the lush wooded areas. Even walking through the houses makes for a pretty workout.

Then there’s Emerald Bay, one of my favorite Tahoe spots. There is little that rivals Emerald Bay when it comes to pristine, intense natural beauty. As a child I joined our family friends at their cabin in Tahoe every summer, and the highlight of those trips was always the day Uncle Mike piled us into the boat and headed over to Emerald Bay, where it’s not just the striking green water that fascinates. Perhaps more fascinating is the craggy Fannette Island (the lake’s only island) atop which sits a mythical-looking miniature castle. Then there is Vikingsholm, the ornate Scandinavian mansion on the shore (which can of course be toured). Hiking around the bay affords some stunning views, but there is something about being on that rich green water and circling the island that excites.

The grown-up side of Tahoe has everything from casinos to great restaurants (my favorite being the classic, right-on-the-lake Sunnyside). But my adult Tahoe highlight centers around girl’s weekend, life vests, and the Truckee River. That would be river rafting, folks, because when it comes to fun in the sun (and fun with water) Tahoe has a little bit of everything.

Other Great things about Tahoe?

What do you get when you put my mom and her grandchildren on the beach? A Christmas card, of course.

What do you get when you put my mom and her grandchildren on the beach? A Christmas card, of course.

Some Tahoe resources:

Keep Tahoe Blue: In California “Keep Tahoe Blue” bumper stickers are about as prevalent as those that read “A village in Texas is missing its idiot.” But the former slogan is far more hopeful: it’s the battle cry of the Tahoe Improvement and Conservation Association, devoted to protecting the lake and its surrounds. Visit the site for history and to learn how to help.

tahoe.com: A trip planning tool with information on lodging, activities, food, and more.

Tahoe World: The latest in Tahoe entertainment, complete with a calendar of happenings.





Everything I Need to Know…

30 05 2008

…I learned from Sex and the City?

New York has Sex and the City fever this week. Movie theaters all over the city have had signs up all week advertising pre-sale tickets, the papers are all buzzing with the hype and anticipation, and I must admit I’m not immune. I discussed it yesterday over lunch with a friend, have been emailing about it with Liz (my Buenos Aires buddy) in London, and the girls here have been playing email tag all week to decide on a move-viewing date and post-movie outing. We won’t be in the throng this weekend, though, mainly because Libby will be out of town, and we can’t see the movie without one of the girls. That would be something akin to sacrilege.

But today, when I saw a group of women standing out in front of a movie theater, all dressed up and ready for the show, I got to thinking: what it is about SATC that gets us so excited, that makes groups of women not only plan seeing the movie, but plan travel so they can see it in New York?

The other night, when a friend mentioned she’d love an alcove apartment, “like Carrie’s,” another (male) friend commented on how strange it is that the show has influenced women so much. And sure, it has stimulated the way we dress, the places we eat, even the way we talk, but there are a few things far more important about the show (and now, I think, movie) than the really great style.

There’s New York, for one, which SJP has called the fifth character. The show is as much about New York as it is about the girls, and living here now I actually understand it. (At least in the summertime.) There’s something about New York City that captivates and overwhelms. It’s not just the Empire State Building and Central Park, but the Shake Shack, and the Union Square farmer’s market. It’s a crisp fall day, or better yet the first warm day after a brutal winter, when everyone comes out of hibernation and the parks literally hum with excitement. It’s the feeling that you’re part of all this, that in a city of nearly 20 million people from all over the world and all walks of life, you’re part of a community. Not to mention that New York (and SATC does likewise) makes the perfect companion for the single girl. Just ask Carrie herself.

And the reason that New York is a single girl’s companion is yet another reason we love SATC: New York, and the show, stand for independence, risk, and being an individual. I often tell people who ask how I like it here that my favorite thing about living in New York is that eight out of 10 people I meet are transplants, and not only are they transplants, but they moved here to follow some sort of dream (even if that dream was just to live in New York) and they took a huge risk in doing so. The SATC gals are grand because they refuse to be “tamed.”

But most the most important reason we love SATC is what it says about female friendship. Strong, unafraid (and stylish) females are what Around the World is all about, and my favorite part of that is celebrating girlfriends. The ones who help pick out date night outfits, and are there the next day to rehash every detail of said date, the ones who celebrate our triumphs and help clean up our messes, the ones who join us on trips, to stuff our faces or climb a mountain.

And with that, as a strong, risk-taking female and New York resident (and a Sex and the City tour veteran) myself, I welcome all the girls (and girlfriends) who have come to celebrate the movie. (Before, that is, I climb under my rock so no one spoils it for me.)

Oh, and did I mention that SATC is also about shoes?





Cold Spring, Warm Day

20 05 2008

Not Henry Hudson. Rebecca, mountain woman.

It’s been unseasonably cold in New York of late. With the exception of a few lovely days, it’s been a lot of rain and gloom, and since I’ve been pining for summer since, well, February, it’s made me only slightly annoyed. Friday was one of the worst; I actually got caught in a torrential downpour with the kind of winter winds make it impossible for New Yorkers to keep an umbrella nice for any length of time (I watched helplessly Friday evening as poor Libby’s Elvis umbrella was sacrificed to the wind). It was an especially bad sign since we had a hike planned the next morning.

But Saturday morning arrived bright and clear. I met the girls at Grand Central Station, just an hour later we were in Cold Spring, a tiny historic village just 50 miles north of New York on the banks of the Hudson River. There was some sort of street sale going on, making small town Cold Spring more small town than ever. A few rickety tables had been set up on the sidewalk and a couple of ladies had started laying beaded jewelry on them. Across the street, the antique store displayed treasures on the sidewalk.

But cute as the town was, we were headed beyond it to Mt. Taurus. Along the way we passed beautiful country homes, many of which had big covered porches with rocking chairs on them, or massive yards overlooking the river. One such house was a large white one with a sign pointing out that it was once the home of Emily Roebling, the skilled woman who supervised the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge after her husband Washington fell sick. A woman with that much strength in 1883 was no small feat.

Once on the mountain we felt right at home. The lush, foresty trail was certainly different from the misty, jungle of Peru, but it made us remember, nonetheless. There were several shout-outs of “Amigos, just 30 minutes more, no?” in reminiscence of our guide Roberto, who, for all his patience and utter brilliance on the trail, had absolutely no sense of time (30 minutes meant at least two hours).

The first hour of the hike was pretty much all uphill, but after Salkantay this was nothing. And well worth a little sweat were the views of the Hudson, with the stately fortress of West Point (which we decided looks a little like Hogwarts) in the distance. We stopped for lunch on a big rock overlooking the river, and then kept climbing up the rocky terrain, until the trail plateaued and we were literally just out for a walk in the woods.

Yes, we are hardcore, and on a house.

The weather was ideal, the scenery stunning, and the company sublime. The trees were so thick their green leaves looked almost technicolor, and save for the trickle of the river (which we decided was just a stream compared to Salkantay) and our voices, there was a vast, peaceful silence. We crossed two bridges, both made of logs and a little on the treacherous side, but I didn’t cry. And after only three hours of hiking, we made it back to town.

My feet, which earlier that morning almost refused to be stuffed into my still-a-little-muddy hiking boots, were by now screaming, but the rest of me was happy. And a beer and some flip flops later, my feet joined the rest of me in a state of bliss. We drank beers on the patio of a restaurant by the river before catching the 5 p.m. train back to Manhattan, a lovely end to a lovely day. (And Sunday the rain returned.)

After-hiking dancing in the rain.

For more information on Cold Spring, this site is helpful. Metro North trains from Grand Central take about an hour and run every hour, off-peak $10.50.





Fiercely Funny

13 04 2008

A little PSA for anyone in New York tomorrow who wants to witness some hilarious (and hysterical) women at their best. Bust Magazine is sponsoring a fundraiser in support of the inaugural Hysterical Festival, a woman’s comedy festival that will take place in New York this fall. The festival’s goal is to honor fierce funny females, and the fundraiser’s goal is to (you guessed it) raise funds to do just that. And with funny female voices like Heather Lawless and Rachel Feinstein,  it’s bound to be a barrel of laughs to boot.

The show goes on at Comix Comedy Club on 14th Street and 9th Avenue and starts at 8 pm. Tickets are $15 pre-event and $20 at the door.