Not a Doubt about Doubtful Sound

For a long time I’ve been wanting to write about the 20 hours I spent with my family on a beautiful boat in an insanely remote part of New Zealand, one I would highly recommend you visit if the chance ever comes your way: Doubtful Sound. Unfortunately, I don’t have many photos that capture this bewilderingly beautiful place, but I’ll do my best to bring it to life for you in words.

My family traveled to New Zealand to visit my younger brother, who was spending the semester studying at the University of Otago, in Dunedin. Dunedin is located on the South Island, and we spent our entire trip traversing the island in a big loop. Towards the end of our journey, we embarked on an overnight cruise of Doubtful Sound- and it was no ordinary cruise.

Doubtful Sound is so remote that to say “there’s no easy way to get there” is an understatement. We drove to a port and left our car in the car park. We took a boat ride to a remote little terminal, where we boarded buses and took a lengthy bus ride to the dock where our cruise would begin. So, nearly two hours of journeying to get to the start of our journey.

When we were finally aboard the Fiordland Navigator, operated by Real Journeys,  we saw an unusual itinerary laid out for us. Not only did the cruise include a naturalist on board to provide tons of insight about the fiord’s wildlife, but there were awesome activities to enjoy. This sounds like I’m describing a bad Carnival cruise, right? I don’t mean bingo and lounge singing. I mean kayaking and visiting a fur seal colony on the Tasman Sea.

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Recipe for an ideal trip.

When we boarded the ship, we first checked out our accommodations. Tiny AF for a family of four, but suitable for the night. The close quarters and uncomfortable beds didn’t matter much given the wonder we had in store.

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Our cozy room

Once we were settled in, we headed to the top deck to check out the view. Though it was rainy and gloomy, as is typical of Fiordland in fall, we were amazed to find dolphins playing in the surf of our ship! Several huge dolphins were frolicking alongside us, and it was a total delight to watch.

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OMG A DOLPHIN

Back inside the dining area, we played cards and met a shy British woman who was taking six months off from real life to travel through Australia, New Zealand, and Hawaii, spending two months in each. Pretty amazing, right? She’d never been kayaking before and joined us for the excursion, sporting a knit unicorn hat. Gotta love making new friends while you travel!

No photos from kayaking, alas, but let it be known that it is totally awe-inspiring to paddle through enormous fiords in virtual solitude (if you can ignore the fleet of 19 other people paddling in your wake), regardless of how gray the day may be. I raced ahead of our guide and got in trouble for it a few times, but how can you not just want to explore and drink it all in, feasting your eyes and saving up that beauty for later? Apparently only four boats operate on Doubtful Sound, so it’s incredibly peaceful and seems untouched by humans. You feel lucky to be there.

Once we returned to the ship, we quickly chose to depart again…for a swim. In the 13 degree (Celsius) water. Invigorating!

Chilled to the bone, we desperately tried to restore warmth to our system by bundling up and checking out a fur seal colony on the Tasman Sea. Then of course, excellent wine and delicious, authentic New Zealand food.

The following morning, it felt far harder to leave the Navi than it should have. We hadn’t even been on the boat for 24 hours, but it still didn’t feel like a long enough stay! We were grateful to conclude our time on board with something special: “The Sound of Silence,” conducted by the ship’s naturalist. It felt gimmicky at first, sure, but when they turned off the engine, refused to let anyone move around, and just let the silence settle all around us for a full 5 minutes, it was pretty amazing. It’s just you and the nature, all around you, for miles.

So that was that. 20 hours in Doubtful Sound, and not a doubt in my mind that it’s a spectacular gem on this Earth. I feel grateful to have had the opportunity to experience it.

Also worth mentioning: Real Journeys is a pretty amazing company. They’re family-owned and really care about people and conservation. While in Te Anau, we went on a Real Journeys tour of the glowworm caves, which was pretty fantastic too. Yelp review here. I’d highly recommend Real Journeys if you’re ever traveling in New Zealand! You can learn more about the company here.

For more on my New Zealand travels, check out this post about the city of Christchurch.

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Eating Stuff in Texas (And Other Adventures)

I recently took a trip to Dallas, Texas and I ate so many delicious things! I’m not a food blogger, but this trip inspired me to indulge this one time in sharing some food pics and stories. If you don’t like food (who are you?), then stop reading now.

Over the past four years, I’ve traveled to Texas several times, usually to Austin. This was my first trip to Dallas! I was visiting my college BFF and was super excited to go on an adventure of noms with her.

On my first night in Dallas, we kicked things off with tacos. Tacos are something I really miss in Rochester. While we do have one taco truck, it’s just not the same as tacos in Texas. So much more variety and flavor down there! My reunion with Texas tacos was at an interesting joint called Velvet Taco. It’s a pretty small chain with locations in just a handful of cities. The big thing with Velvet Taco is how unique and creative they get with their creations. For example, I tried a bahn mi taco while I was there, and a cuban! Both were pretty tasty, but totally out there. My friend and I also split some delicious elote. I hadn’t had it before, but I found it comparable to creamed corn, with a bit more kick.

Up next? With hardly a break for our stomachs, we were off to Milk & Cream! This place was a novelty for a Rochesterian like me. Milk & Cream specializes in hella delectable buns. Yes, you heard me. Buns. Pretty similar to a doughnut, actually. I went with the non-glazed option (just to avoid an overly sweet concoction) and chose coffee ice cream with chocolate chips (you can select one topping). They roll it all together (similar to Cold Stone), then you get to bite into a heavenly, fluffy warm bun full of cold, creamy ice cream. Perfection. I would definitely advocate for brining one of these to Rochester (hey, we’ve got plenty of froyo. We could swap one out. Just sayin’).

Our stomachs rested til morning and then we were off to the next foodie adventure! Armoury D. E. in a neighborhood called Deep Ellum! I absolutely loved exploring this neighborhood- it felt like it had far more personality than any other part of Dallas. Apparently the neighborhood was originally known as Deep Elm; it was one of the first areas in the city where African Americans lived. They pronounced Elm more like “Ell-um,” and it stuck.

I’m not much of a bruncher, but this was a brunch for the ages. I went out on a limb and tried a drink they called “Shimmy Ya,” which involved bourbon, beer, cookie crisp, and an egg. Surprisingly good (though quite strong!). Being the big eaters we are, my friend and I split some Count Chocula French toast prior to our entrees. You could say we’re hardcore. The French toast came with nutella and marshmallow to spread on it (and fruit, so you could pretend it was healthy). The restaurant had Hungarian roots, so I tried the Hungarian crepes and my friend had the hash. Both were phenomenal. My crepe had incredibly fresh veggies in it, so I was thrilled. Dana (about time she has a name in this post) loved the hash. I’d say our favorite part was the potatoes that were served with both of our meals- they were seasoned and cooked perfectly. All in all, the brunch was outstanding.

We got a little touristy in the afternoon. We paid for CityPass ($45) which got us into four major Dallas attractions (worth it!). Saturday afternoon we hit up the Reunion Tower and the Dallas Arboretum. The Reunion Tower is attached to a hotel; you ride an elevator up and get stellar views of the city. Also, a kitschy photo of your party above the Dallas skyline. The Arboretum was lovely! Crawling with children and at least three separate weddings, but lovely.

Beer was also a necessary component of this day. We visited a fantastic brewery called Peticola’s. $10 got you in the door, plus a pint glass, 3 drinks, and a brewery tour. Not too shabby! They’re a small operation, so they only open twice a month for two hours each time. If I were a Dallas resident, I’d be there every chance I got! They had a great food truck outside, Jenga, foosball, air hockey, a handful of other games, and really friendly staff and interesting patrons. Plus, the beer was super tasty! My favorite was called “Great Scot!”, and they also made a yummy kolsch.

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Kolsch (& souvenir pint glass)

After such a yummy brunch and A+ beer, we had to go easy for dinner…so of course, burgers, shakes, and truffle fries were just about the only option. I had my first Hopdoddy experience! Dana had raved about it to me, so I was pretty psyched. There was an overwhelming array of delicious-sounding burgers on the menu. I went with one that included goat cheese and pesto, and I was not disappointed.

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Look at that glory

I really appreciated how fresh my burger was at Hopdoddy! You could tell the meat was really high quality, and the lettuce and tomato did not seem like they had been sitting in a freezer/fridge for awhile before use. Plus, the goat cheese was hella good. The truffle fries were even better than I was expecting! We shared a nutella pretzel shake, and that was on point too.

We took it a little easy the following day. We spent the morning at the Dallas Zoo, where Dana works! I got a super extensive tour and got to see lots of adorable animals. Dana was an awesome guide since she had tons of insider knowledge.

From there, we headed over to Klyde Warren Park, built over a highway and located in the middle of downtown Dallas. It was a lovely oasis in the heart of the city! Tree-lined walkways, tons of food trucks, board games and sports equipment for rent, and books to borrow- what more could a citizen ask for? It did make me think about Parcel 5 and the #ThisIsNotAPark movement a lil bit…

I really enjoyed spending time there on a beautiful fall (well, Texas’s version of fall) day! First, we got a brisket grilled cheese from Ruthies (yes, it was as good as it sounds). Afterwards, we downloaded a cool app called Kwest and went exploring in downtown Dallas! We answered questions about our surroundings, checked out sculptures, wandered through cool museums, and I caught tons of pokémon along the way. A win-win! The kwest returned us to the park, where we promptly cooled off with amazing popsicles from Steel City Pops. Mine was pumpkin and was an abundance of creamy goodness. Dana had butter pecan and loved it. Yet another foodie win!

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Nomming the day away!

Fast forward a bit to dinner that night: Torchy’s. Hell yes! Visit their Instagram if you want to experience strong and sudden urges to move to Texas for tacos. I visited Torchy’s frequently in the years I was traveling to Austin often, and developed an affinity for the fried avocado taco. So naturally, I had to have it!

I would rave about a play called Constellations that we saw at the Dallas Theatre Center, but I did promise this would be a food blog. Sidenote: if you have the chance, GO SEE CONSTELLATIONS. You won’t regret it for a single second. Life, time, choice, fate, mortality. It’s #deep.

Monday was TEXAS STATE FAIR DAY. And let me tell you, the Texas State Fair is a BIG DEAL. Allow me to show you a visual of just a few of the things we ate that day:

My poor, poor body. So many fried foods. I don’t know how I’m still standing here today. Each year, they host the Big Tex Choice Awards, where eight unique items are selected as best tasting, most creative, etc. We managed to sample four of the eight in ONE DAY. Foods we ate not pictured in the above photo include: injectable BBQ balls, pulled pork mash, and chili-smothered nachos.

We saw a lot of things that day: a pig race, a museum exhibit on Taylor Swift’s outfits through the ages, marines playing patriotic music, gigantic stuffed Squirtles, the Terminator’s head made out of cans, soap made out of beer, teenagers spooning (I do mean cuddling) hogs (literal hogs), and the infamous Big Tex statue. Quite a day! I’ll cross it off my bucket list. If you manage to make it to the State Fair of Texas, I’d highly recommend the chicken pot pie pocket with mac and cheese dip. I’m biased, since chicken pot pie is one of my favorite foods, but it was a beautiful pairing. The funnel cake ale with powdered sugar rim also exceeded my expectations- it was a great beer, not too sweet, and the powdered sugar really added something special to it! And, fried jello? Surprisingly good!

Sadly, my last day in Dallas arrived. I wasn’t about to take it easy on my stomach. The morning consisted of delicious and filling breakfast tacos from Tacodeli (seriously, Rochester, we need one) and a visit to the famous Pecan Lodge. We had to wait outside in a line to be able to get in and order our lunch, but it was worth the wait! I tried the brisket, pulled pork, and mac and cheese. Dana and I discussed the mac and cheese at length because something is just not right about it. And by just not right, I mean, we could not understand how it could possibly be so good. Her coworkers brainstormed and concluded that it must be cooked with bacon grease. The meat was flavorful, tender, and juicy too. I’ve never seen brisket fall apart so easily! And the portions? Huge! Yay Texas! Stomach stuffed, I nearly died. Then I got on a plane and flew home to Rochester.

In between all the eating, we saw a lot of cool street art (who knew?! Good on you, Dallas!), caught up, discussed our jobs, boys, and the future, and watched a ton of Crazy Ex Girlfriend, aka my new favorite show! I’m lucky to have Dana as a friend (and, of course, am delighted that she lives in a city full of so much awesome food). I’ll leave you with a few photos of street art in case your eyes are tired of #foodporn.

Tales from the Poconos (Pokémon, Paddleboating, & Pretzels)

Okay, so this post isn’t just about playing Pokémon in the Poconos, but I figured “Poking through the Poconos” would be far too cutesy a title to choose, so here we are.

I’d never spent any significant amount of time in the Poconos prior to last summer. In fact, for the longest time in my head, I really thought the Poconos were more exotic- I somehow had them tangled up in my brain with some place in Florida- maybe the Keys? My brain refused to believe that the Poconos were in Pennsylvania. So, news flash, in case you didn’t know: the Poconos aren’t Key West.

Anyways, Tim’s grandparents have rented in the Poconos every summer for ages. They even rent in the same community each year, which bears a very 70s-looking flower as their logo.

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Things move at a slow pace in the Poconos. There’s no agenda for the day. You can linger over a cup of coffee in your rental on a lazy Saturday morning, or go down to the water or take a walk, but there’s no timeline for anything. Normally I’m a fast-paced, do ALL the things kind of person, so it’s a big deal for me to disconnect from the grind and slow it down a bit.

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Does it get any quainter?

Last year, we stayed in an adorable A-frame cottage. There wasn’t much around- any walk you took was just on some hilly roads surrounded by trees and other small cottages. It was pretty peaceful. Initially, as we explored, I just kept wondering, “What’s there to do in the Poconos?” But, that’s kind of the point. You’re just supposed to spend time with each other and enjoy nature (shocking, I know). My good people + good nature spot is usually the lake, but we rush around a lot there, too! Whether it’s to wineries, the #MCbarnsale, or farmers markets, we don’t spend a ton of time sitting around and hanging out. With Tim’s grandparents in the Poconos, we just talked, ate good food, and shared stories. It was a nice break from the norm.

The most active thing we did was a paddleboating adventure on one of the little manmade lakes. Long story short, boat was too long, we frontloaded it, jetskis kept waking us and filling us up with water, and I had to serve as ballast so we didn’t sink and Tim could pedal us home. High excitement for the Poconos!

In August of this year, we went back for another visit, and this was when we learned that the Poconos are, surprisingly enough, a hotspot for Pokémon Go! Every time we opened up the app in our hotel room, 6-8 pokémon would INSTANTLY appear. No joke! We caught them at breakfast, we caught them before bed, and in between, we’d go for walks with Tim’s grandma and catch tons of Clefairys. Yes, Tim’s 80 year old grandma is now a Pokeémon Go user! If you are in the Poconos and are eager to check out the Pokémon scene, I’ll forewarn you: despite all the great pokémon to catch, there is a tragic lack of pokéstops. You’ll need to head into one of the many small towns to stock up on pokéballs. Be careful or you’ll end up like me, losing out on a dope Ponyta because you caught too many Clefairys earlier in the day.

Another endearing aspect of the Poconos is that nothing you see is flashy or trying too hard. We played a quick round of mini golf one afternoon, and the course was kinda cute. A bit shabby, and there may have been bees inside some of the structures, but we were still happy to play there! It’s kitschy, it’s fun, and there’s a certain element of nostalgia to it.

Best of all, there are definitely some hidden gems in the region when it comes to food. If you’re ever in Honesdale, PA, be sure to check out The Alpine. It has a slightly kitschy vibe, with German memorabilia all over the walls and waitstaff in costumes, but the food is delicious and authentic. Our table of 11 shared one of the enormous pretzels and everyone got to try it TWICE as we kept passing it around. You’ve gotta order that epic, never-ending pretzel (I wish I had a photo). They’re also a pokéstop, and there’s a gym outside, so eating there is kind of a no-brainer. You can also buy their meats in the attached store if you like to cook your own wursts at home.

The final fun element of these jaunts to the Poconos is the simple fact that it’s a road trip! Blast some Twenty One Pilots, Joywave, and Chvrches, enjoy some snacks (no beef jerky, please), and you’re all set! Don’t forget to honk when you cross state lines.

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The open road!

I’m looking forward to poking around the Poconos more on future visits!

NOLA Has My Heart

For all my Rochester love, there is one other city that really has my heart. Time and time again, I’ll find myself thinking about it and yearning to go back. Cheesy, but true. I’ve only been to New Orleans, Louisiana twice, but that’s not enough!

The first time I visited New Orleans was in 2010. I went with a group of college students from my church, Perinton Presbyterian, to help rebuild homes after Hurricane Katrina. More on that later.

My first taste of New Orleans (literally) was an encounter with the cuisine at a seafood restaurant. A mere 5 years ago, I did not like seafood (what was I thinking?!). I was thoroughly disturbed by these crawfish…

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Hello, crawfish

Instead, I made the brilliant decision to order a muffaletta. This muffaletta situation truly blew me away.

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Monstrous sandwich

What is a muffaletta? The most enormous sandwich you’ve ever seen. No joke. Even in retrospect, I’m still astonished by how large it was! It includes olive salad, ham, salami, provolone, mozzarella, and even mortadella (an Italian sausage). It’s served on round Sicilian sesame bread and was popular among Italian immigrants living in New Orleans. Unfortunately, not my cup of tea. I hate olives and sausage, so, not my best meal choice. The beginning of my first trip to NOLA was off to a bit of a rocky start!

Luckily, some New Orleans residents in the musicians’ village were quick to show off how friendly the people are in this city. They rushed out to our car as we were touring around to get familiar with the area, and were eager to hand us plastic coconuts (I’m still not sure why) and share their life stories. The eclectic decorations in the yard were an accurate display of the colorful personalities of the residents! These people could have just let our car drive by, or messed with a van full of college students, but instead they decided to come talk to us. I think it really says a lot about the city and its people.

After that trip, I would often tell my friends and family about our time in NOLA and they’d say, “Hurricane Katrina? Wasn’t that like, 5 years ago? Shouldn’t they be fine by now?” People really struggle to wrap their heads around how massive Katrina’s impact was. A lot of the homes look like this one (or much worse), 5 years after the hurricane: empty, water damaged, structurally unsound, and totally abandoned.

Even though it was MUCH colder than we expected in Louisiana in January, we still really enjoyed having the chance to build a house in conjunction with Habitat for Humanity.

My second visit to NOLA was last year in July. Yes, Louisiana in July. And I still loved it! It really couldn’t have been any more different from my first visit- the tone was incredibly different, for starters. We weren’t there to help rebuild in the wake of a devastating natural disaster; we were just there for a conference. Also, I was old enough to enjoy a drink on Bourbon Street!

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Obligatory hand grenade photo

There were so many highlights to this visit that it’s hard to distill it down to just a few. One of the best parts for me, though, was visiting Fritzel’s again. It was one of the only spots we visited on Bourbon Street back in 2010, and we drank juice and listened to jazz. This time around, I was able to sample a hurricane (and a hand grenade, on a different evening). But the remarkable jazz was just as good as ever.

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One year ago – not much had changed!

It felt so special to go see this band again and hear their soulful voices and upbeat music. Man, can that clarinetist play (and I’m a clarinetist, so I would know)! I may err on the side of cheese here and say it was a magical moment. It allowed me to reflect on where the last 5 years had taken to me, all while listening to spectacular jazz in an intimate setting (the whole jazz club can hold probably no more than 20 people).

We also stumbled upon some pretty amazing art at night. The little shop on a random side street was owned by a real character named Adrian Fulton, who was quick to offer us beer or a shot (we politely declined both). He had a dog named Faith and liked to create art on the shingles and other scraps that had blown off of houses during Hurricane Katrina. We pet the dog and we bought some art.

Another neat thing about New Orleans is that it has TONS of literary connections. Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, and more all spent time in NOLA. It’s fun to meander around and see how many literary landmarks you can find. We visited Faulkner’s old apartment as well as the Hotel Monteleone, where many literary icons stayed and worked.

The last item we ticked off our NOLA bucket list during that trip was a steamboat ride down the Mississippi River. A bit touristy, but worth it- there was great food, jazz (by the clarinetist from Fritzel’s!!!), and tons of interesting history narrated by our guide.

What is it about NOLA that makes me keep wanting more? It’s such a damn vibrant place- I don’t know how else to describe it. There’s a lot of life. It’s the music, it’s the architecture, it’s the food, it’s the people.

I could have featured photos of my gorgeous, haunted hotel, or the very cool Louis Armstrong Park, or the over-the-top parade our professional organization marched in, but then this blog would go on forever.

Every time I experience a few days in NOLA, I find myself wanting to go back before I’ve even left. I don’t know if I’ve ever been to any other place that has such a strong sense of place, if that makes any sense at all. I can’t wait to return.

Photo credit for the featured image (in the header) goes to my friend and coworker, Shawn Denman, who is an excellent photographer.

Manatee Monday

In recent years, I’ve developed a penchant for adopting animals whenever I am traveling. I am the proud mama of a manatee and a turtle, and my boyfriend is the father of an owl (thanks to me, of course).

It all started with Olaf. In Juno Beach, Florida, we visited a remarkable place called the Loggerhead Marinelife Center. I knew it would be a magical experience from the moment I spotted a turtle ambulance outside in the parking lot. These people must be dedicated! The visitor center is incredibly informative. We spent a bunch of time exploring the exhibits and checking out various skeletons of sea life. The exhibits were amazingly detailed. We were there just before closing, and I realized way late in the game that there were TONS OF LIVE SEA TURTLES RECOVERING FROM INJURIES IN SMALL POOLS OUT BACK. Obviously, I raced back there to meet some turtles.

LMC rehabilitates lots of sick and injured turtles! They have dozens of turtles in their capable care at any given time. It was pretty neat to be able to see some of the turtles receiving care while in the facility.

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The turtle pictured above had just been receiving care in the turtle hospital and was being placed back in his pool to rest. He had a lot of problems and needed a lot of help.

I knew from the moment I met my turtle friends that I needed to adopt one of them. It was an agonizing decision. There was one my brother liked that could only swim upside down. There was a girl named Elsa who weighed over 200 pounds. And there was my dear Olaf. Perhaps it was something in his turtley smile, or the twinkle in his turtley eyes, but he was the one for me!

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My baby.

Another really cool thing about LMC is that they’re extremely active on social media! They are fantastic about getting their message out on Facebook and Instagram. These guys are serious about their social media. 47,000 likes on Facebook and 20,000 followers on Insta? Damn, turtle caregivers!!! You know what you’re doing, with turtles and the internet! Props.

Happily for me, my boy Olaf got released on Earth Day, 2015! Sadly, his tracker stopped transmitting back in June 2015. You can read more of his saga here. It doesn’t bode well, and he wasn’t really swimming in the right direction when he was released.

It’s a tough battle with sea turtles in Florida! Some natural predators will snatch sea turtle eggs; commercial fishing techniques can harm sea turtles; even lights from humans on beaches at night can disorient hatchlings as they try to reach the ocean! If you’re interested in helping out by adopting a turtle of your very own, head right over here.

This past January, on a trip to Florida, I was lucky enough to be able to swim with one of my favorite creatures, MANATEES, at Crystal River. I had gone about ten years prior, and this experience felt a little different. First of all, this Manatee Monday was a DIY edition. We didn’t take a formal tour- we just rented a boat and some wetsuits and zipped out on our own. Surprising that it’s so easy to get so close to an endangered species…

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Me & the bro.

Once we arrived, we parked our boat, hopped in the water, and swam right up to the mouth of Three Sisters Spring. It was truly mind boggling to see manatees packed in on top of each other like a manatee parking garage! They were just parked in neat little rows for warmth. SO MANY MANATEES! I’ve never seen anything like it. Swimming with them is pretty awe-inspiring because these behemoths often sneak up behind you or under you. They can be pretty playful! You’ll hear some clicking sounds as they communicate with each other.

I love that people have taken such an interest in manatees, but it’s a bit troubling that it’s so easy for tourists to get so close (I may sound like a hypocrite, because I got close too, but hear me out). Everyone is required to watch a safety video before going out, but it seems many people may just blatantly disregard it. People were brushing up against manatees, petting them, tapping them with their flippers or poking with paddles from kayaks. You are meant to be an observer of these beautiful, gargantuan, strange creatures in their natural environment. Disturbing these gentle giants is the absolute last thing you should do. You would think that’s obvious, but apparently it’s not!

Recently, a proposal was released recommending that manatees be downlisted from “endangered” status to “threatened” status based on improvements seen in recent years. The Save the Manatee Club strongly opposes this proposal and feels it was made prematurely. There’s plenty of discussion on the interwebs if you care to read up on it. If you’d like to help manatees, you can adopt one, just like I did!

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My manatee is named Gator and was a recent addition to the adoption program! He got his name by chasing an alligator through the springs. Yeah, he’s a smarty. Or bold? Either way, I’m guessing he’d be in Gryffindor. Gator spends his winters at Blue Springs, with many other manatees, where the water is warmer. It’s lovely to visit, boasting a long boardwalk where you can walk along the water and observe the happy manatees.

When I was a kid, my parents adopted a manatee for me and her name was Ariel. I’m sure you’ll all be delighted to hear that she is still alive and well and available for adoption through SMC’s program!

On the owl side of things, there’s no real story other than the fact that this owl shares a name with my (possibly deceased turtle), but if you’re curious about Olaf the saw-whet owl, here he is in all his glory…

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He is adopted from the World Bird Sanctuary. The sweet thing about their adoption program is that if you visit in person, you get visitation rights with your adoptee! As in, you can go hold the bird (with the help of one of the caretakers). So cool! Sadly, we have not met Olaf IRL. For more on this great organization, visit their website.

I could go on and on about animal adoptions! I think they’re great and special and a wonderful way to help these fantastic organizations that are focused on conservation and education efforts. I only wish the Penguin Place in Dunedin, New Zealand had allowed me to adopt a penguin! Their yellow-eyed penguins, Maggie and Jim, were shy forest penguins and they were quirky as all hell. If you ever have questions about animal adoptions, I’m your girl!

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Antisocial penguins who walk up to 3k from their forested home to the ocean to fish.

Happy Manatee Monday, all!

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Blue Springs 2016

 

Why I Love the Finger Lakes

Growing up in the suburbs of Rochester, it often felt like all your friends had summer houses in the Finger Lakes. “Oh we’re going to my cousin’s place on Keuka this weekend!” or “We’ll be at Seneca all next week!” My family usually took bigger trips each summer, exploring national parks all over the country, so I didn’t get a taste for #lakelife until I was in college and we rented on Keuka.

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Our first attempt at lake-ing. All the right equipment!

Now, I am lucky enough (and extremely grateful for) a small cottage my family has on Cayuga. It’s one of my favorite places on earth; escaping to the lake for the weekend is usually the perfect solution to any problem. Tough week of work? Go to the lake. Stressed about your living situation? Go to the lake. People driving you crazy? Go to the lake.

What do you do when you get to the lake? Any number of things! Hop on a paddleboard and float through the cove, checking out the fish you can see through the perfectly clear water (nope, sorry, no Dory in Cayuga). Throw a dog in a kayak or canoe and take them for an adventure. Have a glass of wine on the back deck and stare at the water, watch the children play, and enjoy the sunset, the waves, and the sounds.

I don’t just love the lake itself and the activities you can do there- the surrounding area is pretty historic and interesting, too! We are just down the road from Aurora, where the Mackenzie Childs headquarters is located, as well as Wells College. Fun fact: the creator of the American Girl doll brand is a Wells College alumna and spent tons of time redeveloping historic properties in Aurora.

There’s an amazing sense of community in the Finger Lakes. Every year tiny Aurora puts on a tiny festival that includes swim races, a run, a parade, and even (my favorite) “The Blessing of the Boats,” where a whole bunch of boats appear on the shore of the wee little town to get blessed by a priest at the church back on land. You’ll see all kinds of quirky boats at this event!

Of course, everyone talks about Finger Lakes wineries and wine trails. I love that there are so many conveniently nearby! We can jaunt over to Bet the Farm, Long Point, or any number of other great spots for a quick tasting and good conversation. Bet the Farm is one of our favorites- I’m even a wine club member! #adultingwin

The sense of community is strong even on the little point where our cottage is located. They have meetings and lots of rules about where to dispose of your seaweed, sure, but they also have sailboat races, fishing contests, parades, and potlucks. Everyone knows everyone and is super friendly. What more can you ask for?

Every trip to the lake leaves me feeling grateful. I know I’m lucky to have the lake, and I try to make the most of every trip down there. It’s always worth the hour’s drive.

Richmond Vibes

I went to Richmond not too long ago to visit a friend who had moved there recently. I hadn’t spent much (if any) time in Richmond before, and I really enjoyed my visit! My favorite spot to visit in the South had always been Charleston, South Carolina. My family used to go down to Charleston every year in April for years. Richmond had some of the southern charm of Charleston, but it definitely had some of the artsy and cultural vibes of Rochester. It was a pretty cool combination! (For more comparisons of faraway places to Rochester, NY, check out my post about Christchurch, New Zealand).

When I arrived, one of the first things we did was bop down to the VMFA (from which I had previously received many Friday night snapchats from my BFF!). The VMFA, or Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, is actually a pretty hoppin’ place to be on a Friday night. It seems like all the young professionals in Richmond head over there to start off their evenings. The museum even sells their own branded wine! Tons of millennials were enjoying a pleasant night on the patio with wine and sculptures. It was pretty cool!

Best part about that museum? Admission is FREE! Love it.

One thing I love about the South is the history- it feels like it’s everywhere around you. So of course, my friend took me to a cemetery so I could explore. Hollywood Cemetery has tons of historical figures buried there, including two U.S. presidents (and a confederate president!), a monument to the confederate dead, and an iron statue of a Newfoundland dog. I loved exploring- it was so beautiful! I could have wandered for hours. Kind of like Mt. Hope!

Regardless of where I am traveling, I always want to get outside! Museums and art are great, but nature is even better. We had some lovely views in several spots in the city. Perhaps my favorite activity, though, was walking the pipeline. You descend an old, slippery ladder and then are able to walk a really neat metal path over a big ol’ pipe and under some traintracks. You’re right on top of the water and can watch kayakers play in the river! Best of all, it’s not that crowded, so it makes for a really fun and interesting walk. Definitely worth a visit if you’re in RVA!

Last but not least, if I’m gonna love a city, it’s gotta have great food. And Richmond sure did! My fave meal while I was there was at a little place called Stella’s (Yelp review here). We arrived early and had a delectable brunch. The environment was very cute and quaint and the food was phenomenal (glorious salmon. glorious lamb. glorious mimosas). We also had incredible desserts at a spot called Shyndigz (seriously, can you make your restaurant name any harder to spell?). Apparently going to Shyndigz is quite an event- they even have a separate space in a separate building where you can just sit and wait to go to Shyndigz. My bread pudding was outstanding. Most of their cake slices are the size of your head. Such decadence! Hardywood Brewery was also a must- especially because their famous gingerbread stout had just been released. Great beer (that stout legit tasted just like gingerbread) and tons of cool people hanging out outside. What more can you ask for?

All in all, I’d highly recommend a trip to Richmond! There’s lots to do, whether you’re into history, art, eating, or just being outside.

Reflections on Christchurch

Whenever I travel, I inadvertently find myself making connections to other places I’ve been. It’s not intentional; there just seem to be threads tying together the places in my life. You’ll think I’m crazy, but when I explored Christchurch, New Zealand (for admittedly, all too short a visit), it reminded me of Rochester.

Whaaaaaat? Rochester, NY? Home? In New Zealand?

Yes, really. Maybe it was the street art. Maybe it was the struggle to rebuild a damaged city. Maybe it was the creativity and the ingenuity I saw all around me as people strived to put their city back together again. But all of it resonated me a little bit when I drove and walked around Christchurch.

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Mural by Vexta

It was a pretty powerful moment for me to run into this Vexta mural in downtown Christchurch. I made my dad pull over so I could leap out of our rented minivan to take a photo. Fun fact: Vexta has a mural in little old Rochester, NY as part of the impeccable WALL\THERAPY project. Seeing another one of her murals thousands of miles away from the Roc mural reminded me of how interconnected we all are in this very big world. Art is everywhere and can bring us together, regardless of our location. Check out more of Vexta’s stunning art here.

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For those of you who are curious, here’s the Rochester Vexta mural, located off Atlantic.

In addition to the street art, there was a very moving art installation: 185 white chairs. The chairs are all empty and represent the 185 lives lost in the 2011 earthquake.

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This art installation is located just a few blocks from the Cardboard Cathedral, opened in Christchurch in 2013. It gets its name from the fact that it’s constructed from nothing but cardboard, timber, and steel. Seriously, check out the cardboard tubes it’s comprised of. This cathedral was intended to be a temporary space to host concerts, civic events, and more. Sadly, the original cathedral, built between 1864 and 1904, is classified as “permanently closed,” since the prospects of rebuilding such an old, unstable structure after an earthquake are poor. Before and after photo here.

Luckily, there’s still plenty of life in Christchurch! Another factor that reminded me of Rochester was the wonderful coffee culture. One of my favorite things to do in Roc is frequent all of our awesome, unique coffee shops. I visited a spectacular one in Christchurch thanks to Yelp!

C1 Espresso is hands-down one of the coolest places I’ve ever ingested food. You can order sliders and curly fries to be delivered to your table via pneumatic tubes, they serve outstanding coffee, there’s a bookcase that leads to the bathrooms, and Harry Potter audiobooks are played while you pee. It was the coolest. The coffee I had there was unlike anything I’ve had before. Our server compared it to whiskey and encouraged me to drink it on the rocks. I drank it as instructed (much to my parents’ dismay- they go heavy on the creamer). It came in a snazzy bottle with an owl on it, with enough coffee to last the next two days. All our food was delicious. If this place was in Roc, I’d be a regular.

The other comparison that came to mind for me, which is perhaps all too obvious, is to one of my favorite U.S. cities, New Orleans. We always know that these huge natural disasters are devastating, but I think those of us who don’t actually live in those communities don’t have a real grasp on how long-lasting an impact that kind of event can have. Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in August 2005. I visited in March 2010 to help rebuild homes. People couldn’t believe what I was doing. “Isn’t everything fixed by now? It’s been 5 years.” No, it’s not fixed. There’s not enough money, enough people, enough resources to restore everything- there’s no going back to exactly the way it was Before.

The same can be said for Christchurch. The earthquake that hit Christchurch in February 2011 registered at 6.3 on the Richter scale. On my visit in March 2016, I was shocked by the damage that was still evident all over the city. Rebuilding and restoration are nowhere near complete. I shouldn’t have been shocked- I’d seen New Orleans along a very similar timeline- but it was still amazing to see how powerfully a natural disaster of that magnitude can impact a community.

While you can still see a lot of rubble and dilapidated buildings everywhere you go, there’s also some really interesting use of shipping containers, including a mall called ReStart made out of shipping containers!

If you’re visiting New Zealand, be sure to include Christchurch on your list! You’ll see plenty of sheep, lakes, and mountains on the rest of your trip through this scenic country, but Christchurch is an amazing urban spot that’s well worth checking out. It’s wonderful to see this community coming together to continually rebuild, innovate, and improve through art and creativity. Some people may focus on the destruction, rubble, and confusion that’s still evident, but I refuse not to see the good in this vibrant city.

Flashback Friday: Switzerland Edition

Today I’m reflecting on travels in Switzerland, because it was 5 years ago this weekend that I took a quick jaunt there with one of my best friends. That was a different era in our lives- we were both studying abroad and had far more flexibility than at present. Postgrad life, jobs, and the real world in general tend to get in the way of exotic travels.

In retrospect, that’s what really made the trip special. We had no other real concerns weighing on our minds- our coursework was manageable and we didn’t have stressful jobs or anxiety-inducing living situations to bring us down. It was just the two of us, exploring Geneva and Montreux.

This was one of the first trips I ever took where I flew alone. I navigated an airport where English was not the primary language and found my way exactly where I was going. I’ve flown alone much more since then (though not much in foreign countries) and it’s become the norm for me. Traveling independently is a good and important skill to have. It feels good to be on your own and know that you can navigate the world.

My senior year of college, I wrote an honors thesis on Vladimir Nabokov’s fiction and memoir. Little did I know when I was in Montreux, but the little town was Nabokov’s home for several years. He lived in the Montreux Palace Hotel from 1961 until his death in 1977. Montreux gained extra significance in my eyes over a year after my visit, solely because of all the connections to my thesis research. Funny how the lens of memory can have such an impact on how we feel about things long after they happened.

Here are some photos, to indulge in this stroll down memory lane.

Next post will be Rochester-focused, so stay tuned!

Wanna Be Startin’ Something

Here I am, a blogger! Because I clicked “Get Started” on WordPress. Because I wanna be startin’ something.

Roc Girl, Big World is a hybrid Rochester appreciation and travel blog. For a long time, growing up, I heard friends wanting to get out of Rochester or get out of the ‘burbs. In college, everyone was eager to move on to the Next Big Thing. But living in Rochester as an adult, I’ve come to realize that this city has a hell of a lot to offer, and I love it.

Wall-Therapy

Reasons to love Rochester

Loving my city doesn’t mean I don’t want to (or can’t) travel. I love to travel. This blog will be my opportunity to reflect on it all: the place I am, the places I’ve been, and the places I am going.

Broad-Bay

A place I’ve been

Follow along! It’s sure to be an interesting journey.