Archive for the ‘Tourist’ Category

Family & Friends

August 1, 2019

I have some new ones in both categories.

I should be more specific.

I have new family of choice, not of origin.

Though heaven knows I have enough family out there that it would not surprise me in the least if a cousin had a baby and I had no clue.

What I am referring to is Cuban family.

I received the sweetest, most heartfelt gratitudes and thank you from the Cuban people I connected with when I was in Havana today.

Yesterday I finally hopped on Air BnB and reviewed the experiences that I had booked in Cuba.

Normally I don’t actually do reviews on Air BnB.

I have never booked experiences before though and I was asked by each person that hosted me to review them on the site.

Apparently it really helps them and considering the state of economics in Cuba I was more than happy to help in anyway I could.

I gave 5 stars (out of five) to all but one of the experiences.

The one I only gave 4 to wasn’t necessarily the hosts fault.  I gave a lesser rating to my trip to Vinales because the tour tried to pack too much into it.

First, Vinales is almost, not quite, but almost  two hour drive from Havana, so that’s four hours in a car, a classic car–which is at once super cool and also, not comfortable.  At least not nearly as comfortable as a modern car. It was a great car, but my legs were cramped for sure.

Second, the tour really could have, in my opinion, ended after the horse back riding and lunch.

The first thing we did was stop at the Vinales Valley visitor center and take in the panorama of the valley.

It was gorgeous.

After a little education about the valley we headed to a tobacco and coffee farm to learn about how they grow tobacco and to smoke cigars and drink rum.

I did neither of those things.

I did, however have coffee and I bought two bottles of coffee beans.

Yes.

I said bottles.

The country has almost no manufacturing capabilities, everything gets reused and recycled, so my beans came in reused water bottles.

Lovely beans too.

I have been having Cuban coffee every morning since I got back.

Then after the cigars, rum, coffee we went horseback riding through the valley.

It was gorgeous and unfortunately being on a horse did not really facilitate me taking a lot of photos.  No pictures of horses for you.

It was hot though, whew, sweat galore.

After the horses we went to a local paladar and had an amazing Cuban lunch–yucca, lobster, squash, beans and rice, stewed pork, chicken two different ways and I had, for my drink, a huge young coconut that I happily sipped all the juice from and ate the entirety of the insides.

Baby coconut is so freaking good.

Then we went to a cave.

Then we went to a mural.

I did not like the cave, it was too dark and wet and it was hot, it did not feel cool being underground and there were bats and we rode a boat at one point.

I did not need that experience.

Nope.

The best thing about the cave?

Literally the light at the end of the tunnel.

After that we got back in the car and went to visit a famous mural.

Now I am done at this point and the cave had been a pretty popular tourist destination so for the only time I was in Cuba, I had to wait in line to do something.

Never my cup of tea.

The mural was nice, but it was nice, not amazing and it was late and a free pina colada was not to my liking.  Just give me the water and get me home.

And that was my “worst” time?

Please, I got to ride in a classic car, meet cool people, go horse back riding, buy coffee from a Cuban farm, go spelunking and visit a national monument (the mural).  I have nothing to complain about.

The rest of my experiences reflected just that, nothing to complain about, nothing that I would have changed or made better.

I had a slight critique of feeling dropped at Mediteranneo Habana, but it was such a tiny glitch I didn’t give them a negative review.

It was a farm to table experience where I went out and had a tour of the farm that provides meat, milk, cheese, sausage, cured meats, chicken, pig, rabbit, vegetables, all the fruits–bananas, sugarcane, mango, guava, and herbs to this very highly regarded Mediterranean restaurant in Verdado.

The farm was beautiful and I was met by the manager of the farm, his family has been running the farm for 5 generations.  He was super kind, very friendly, had great English, and greeted me with a heaping plate of mango, watermelon, pineapple, and guava.

It was lovely.

I felt so welcomed and really got a grasp of what it is like to farm in Cuba.

Where almost all the farm’s production goes straight to the government.

They are not allowed to keep any of the beef they produce and only 10% of the milk they produce.  The milk they use to make cheese for the restaurant.  I tried four different kinds between the ricotta and the fresh mozzarella I was astounded.  They were so good.

The farm also gives the government almost all pork produced and a fair amount of the eggs and chickens.

I was amazed they are able to stay in production.

It was quite a behind the scenes look at farming and I really enjoyed my meal later at the restaurant.  The transition between the two was a little bumpy, but like I said, the food and the waiter who took care of me pretty much negated it.

And here I am at the end of my blog time, I’ve got to get up early for group supervision and I haven’t even got to the three top experiences that I went on.

They will have to wait for the next blog.

Buenes Noches!

 

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First Book Ordered

July 26, 2019

And summer is done.

Well.

Not quite.

I still have a few weeks before school starts, but I am already doing just a little reading for this upcoming semester.

I said I wouldn’t touch school books until after my trip to Cuba.

I got back Tuesday night at 7a.m.

My god.

My bed was so nice to get into.

I love to travel, I really do, but there is nothing quite like your own bed.

Especially after sleeping 8 nights on a really hard mattress.  I have to admit I was a little let down when I saw my room, but after doing a walking tour of old Havana with a local architect, I got over that shit.

My casa, in comparison to much around me, was really quite nice.

It is one thing to know about the Cuban embargo.

It is another thing entirely to experience it.

The country is poor.

I mean.

Really poor.

And dirty, the streets are disastrous, the cars are all old and there is no smog control, so much exhaust.

So much.

And not actually that many cars, lots of classics, yes, which was fun, I won’t lie, and super cool to see, but there were lots of horses and carts too.

Horses and carts people.

Traveling from Havana to Vinales one day for a trip to visit a tobacco and coffee farm, I counted more horses and carts than actual cars on the freeway.

ON THE FREAKING HIGHWAY.

More horses then cars.

I am not kidding.

These were some of the cars I got to see and go for rides in.  I actually went for more rides in classic cars than regular cars, I didn’t actually take photos of them all.

Sometimes I don’t want to act like a tourist.

Even though I am totally a tourist, I just couldn’t really bring myself to pose on the cars, it didn’t feel like me.

I did, however, quite enjoy cruising around in them, especially when they had A/C.

It was fucking hot.

It was humid.

So humid.

My hair did some batshit crazy things.

And I was constantly sweating.

Er.

Glowing.

I was glowing.

A lot.

 

As you can see, I was “glowing” quite a bit.

I also learned to wear my hair up real fast.

Real fast.

And I was hella grateful that I had brought a travel umbrella.

I actually didn’t use it that much for rain.

There were some showers and one big storm, with hail!

But mostly, I used the umbrella for sun shade.

I was reminded a lot of Burning Man in that regard.  I usually  bring a parasol for the hot days out on playa.

In fact.

Havana reminded me a lot of Burning Man and in some ways having had the experience of going to the event was actually very handy.

I had to bring everything that I wanted or needed.

There were no stores to buy sunblock or extra toothpaste.

I had to use my water filter bottle or buy bottled water, there is no drinking water from the faucets.

Everyone buys bottled water.

Everyone.

It was really dirty, Old Havana is all cobblestone and dirt roads.

I mean.

500 year old cobblestones ain’t clean.

Plus add dogs, cats, and chickens to the mix, garbage, and potholes everywhere.

I’m super glad my friend who had been before cautioned me to wear really sturdy shoes and to bring anything that I might want because I was not going to be able to purchase it there.

I cannot tell you what it was like to see people queuing up for chicken, or to buy one bread roll.

The black market is a real thing there and I found out that I had participated without even knowing it by eating beef one night.

All beef is allocated to the government, restaurants are allowed to have it.

I had it and that means that it was bought on the black market.

Most of the time though I did stick with Cuban classics and I was quite happy with that.

My casa had breakfast every morning, fruit–usually a slice  of watermelon, some papaya, 1/2 a banana and slices of mango with coffee followed by one egg and one slice of avocado.

No bread for me, which my host couldn’t quite understand, but I’m sure she was happy to have the extra roll I sent back each morning.

I dined in a lot of private restaurants, basically in people’s homes.

And I found a couple of cafes that became my haunts, Cafe Bohemia and Papa Ernesto.

Aside, Che Guevero’s given name is Ernesto.

 

This is Cafe Bohemia.

I was so happy to have Pellegrino and mango blended with ice, which they called frappes.  I had a lot of mango.

A lot.

My poop turned orange.

I know.

But it did!

I have never had orange poo before.

Anyway.

The cafe was a life saver as too was Mas Habana.

A restaurant I never would have stumbled upon on my own as it was down a super dirty street with a lot of construction on it.

But I had made a reservation to do a tour of the houses in Old Havana and my host wanted to meet there.

It was a fucking oasis.

An air conditioned oasis.

I went back every day from that point on, either for lunch or for dinner.

On my last day I went there for both lunch and dinner.

I was the queen of beverages at every meal.

San Pellegrino.

Mango frappe.

Cafe con leche.

I had the same amazing appetizer each time, sometimes it was just my meal since I filled up on all the bevvies, tostones rellenos–stuffed fried plantains.

OOOOOH.

So damn good.

Mashed plantains made into patty’s, fried, and then topped with smashed avocado and a shrimp.

I was in heaven.

 

Mas Habana was my little haven.

And on my last night, I splurged and had lobster.

Also black market.

But, fuck it, it was my last night and I knew it was going to be good.

It was in fact, amazing, bathed in a beautiful garlic broth and shelled for me.

All I had to do was scoop it up in a spoon and sigh with delight.

The staff was great and my last night discounted my bill, “for being such a nice customer.”

I am a good tipper.

Once a waitress.

Always a waitress.

I had many more adventures, but I’ve got to get up early tomorrow.

So more pictures to come.

And more tales to tell.

I have a few more days before I need to knuckle back down for school, I promise I’ll show and tell a bit more before I get buried in the reading.

Promise.

Itinerary

July 5, 2019

I got on it today!

I mean.

I really did a lot of travel prep for my upcoming trip to Havana, Cuba.

I got my passport out.

I slowly, painstakingly, double, triple, quadruple checked how to fill out my Visa, then I filled it our correctly.

I got traveler’s health insurance.

You have to have proof of insurance for entry into Cuba, and though I am fairly certain my health insurance was ok, I didn’t want to risk being turned away for not having the proper insurance or paperwork.  So.  I just used the health insurance that Cuba Travel Services, who I used to procure my Visa, recommended

Frankly, $55 was worth not having to worry about anything.

Then.

I started booking things through Air BnB.

The Visa I am traveling under is in the category of “Support of Cuban People” which is not a traditional tourist Visa, nor was it one of the two categories the current administration squashed.

“People to People” got pulled and so did the Visa that folks use if they’re on a cruise ship.

But.

In “Support of Cuban People” is still legitimate.

Plus I did my research and what I found was that Visa’s granted before the current restrictions were put in place will be honored.

I got my Visa in the mail the day before the sanctions came down.

I am so grateful that I listened to the little voice inside which told me to take care of my Visa before I traveled.

So, so, so glad.

I will have some restrictions on what I can and can’t do with this Visa, and frankly, I’m not bothered by them at all.

I can’t shop at military run or government supported stores or businesses.

Or stay in hotels operated by the government.

No big deal.

I am staying at a private residence that is called a “casa particular” which is pretty much a family owned bed and breakfast.

I had looked up some on Air BnB, but found nothing that was quite the right fit, then I googled for places and stumbled upon a Forbes article that called the place I’m staying one of the best secrets in Old Havana and I checked it out and made a request.

And.

Yes!

They have a room for me.

For 40 Cuban Peso a night including a full breakfast.

I’m pretty sure I posted up about the place before, but I really excited that I landed in such a sweet spot.

Plus, it’s in Old Havana, which is pretty much where I want to spend most of my time anyway.

I’ll be staying in one of the Art Deco rooms in Hostal Chez Nous next to La Habana Vieja, the old square.

I will pay when I arrive.

They don’t accept American credit cards for reservations.  I literally printed off the confirmation e-mail and I present that and the money in Cuban peso for my 8 night stay.

320 Cuban Peso.

For 8 nights including a full Cuban breakfast.

Seriously good deal.

And since I will have to bring plenty of cash, first converting to Euro because the exchange rate is better for Euro than the American dollar, I decided I would preemptively book some activities.

I had never really delved into the Air BnB activities before, really only just used it to book rooms for myself when I have traveled.

New York.

D.C.

New Orleans.

Paris.

I tend to do pretty well finding what I want to see and do without having to deal with a tour guide or the like.

But a friend of mine had gone Havana within this last year and sent me a private message about places to go and things to do that he highly recommended and two of them were Air BnB experiences.

So.

I checked it out and I was pleasantly surprised.

One.

As I can pre-pay for them and thus not have to carry as much cash on my person.

And two, that all the activities I booked fall under my Visa category, “Support of Cuban People” which made me very happy.

Most of the sites I researched suggested that it would be very unlikely that I would be asked for an itinerary, but just in case, I can show one in which every day I am doing something to support the Cuban people.

My first day in I didn’t book anything.

I was going to, but I figured I’ll be jet lagged and tired and may just want to check into the casa and chill out.

Maybe wander around a little bit and take myself out to dinner in the neighborhood, but nothing serious.

The second day I am going to go to La Marca  Havana’s only legal tattoo shop, also it’s first tattoo shop.  It is also an art gallery and what appears to be a pretty hipster little scene.  I tried to book online with them but it bounced back.  So I’m just going to show up and ask for a walk in appointment.

It’s in Old Havana and maybe a ten minute walk from where I’m staying.

I also plan on going shopping at Clandestina, Havana’s first independent clothing company that happens to be run completely by women.

I’m so in.

Next, yes, yes, I did.

I booked a classic car ride to tour the seawall and cruise along the Malecon.

Ironically, I’ll need to take a taxi to get there, but I couldn’t help but want to do at least one cruise around Havana in a classic car, I mean, really, I had to.

Wednesday I left pretty open.

I figure museums and cafes and I booked a couple of hours with an art student from the university to take me on a photo tour.

This I’m looking forward to, I love street art, and off the beaten track and that’s what this seems to be.  This was also the activity my friend raved about, so two hours in the afternoon wandering around taking pictures with a local student.

Totally down.

Thursday I picked a big adventure, basically committed myself to twelve hours of tour.

I booked a historical tour to the Vinales Valley, tobacco farms, coffee farms, a tour through some of the famous caves and horseback riding in and out of the valley.

What really nailed it for me was that they host come and pick you up where you are staying and drop you back off.

There’s no Uber there.

No Lyft.

I don’t speak Spanish.

Not much really, a few tiny phrases, and something about haggling with a taxi cab driver or getting lost really doesn’t sound like fun for me, so having the pressure taken off by getting picked up and dropped back off really sold me.

Plus.

Ahem.

The ride there and back is in a classic 50s convertible.

Um.

Hehe.

Yes please.

Friday I’ll be doing a ferry trip over the bay to a little known spot in Havana called Regla.  There was something about the trip that appealed.  I don’t know the neighborhood, but I like that it’s a tour guided by a women who is an art history graduate who lives with her grandmother and shows off the markets in the neighborhood.

Plus.

Ferry boat ride.

I’m a sucker for a ferry boat.

Then Friday night I am going clubbing.

But not by myself.

I’m a pretty self-assured woman, but I didn’t want to hit the clubs solo, but there was one place I really wanted to go, FAC The Cuban Art Factory, a gallery space with art and music and djs and it looks like the place to go.

I connected with a couple of women on Air BnB who I will meet up at a cafe and head over to the club and hang out with and get the lowdown and have a safety net.  Really quite pleased with this.

Saturday I’m doing a farm to table lunch with a local chef and then.

And then.

And then.

Holy shit.

It happened.

I was able to book a night with the Buena Vista Social Club!

I am over the fucking moon.

The experience was sold out the last time I looked and it appears that more shows go added.

Basically this lovely older woman books a dinner table for you at the club, you meet her, she’s bought your ticket, you hang out with her and two or three other folks, eat dinner at the club and get to see the floor show and hear the band play.

Never in a million years did I imagine when I bought that compact disc so many moons ago in Madison that I would actually be going to Havana and getting to see a performance of the Buena Vista Social Club.

Fuck.

I feel so grateful.

Sunday morning I’m doing a cultural market and food tour with a lunch to follow with a lovely women who after I booked asked if I wanted to be included in a trip to the beach, Santa Maria beach.

Why yes.

Yes.

Yes I do.

So after the market and lunch I will go with her in a, yes, heh, classic convertible to the beach for a few hours of swimming and laying in the oh so white sand.

Pinch me.

Seriously.

Who’s life is this?

My last day in Havana I want to relax and chill out so I sent a query off to the Manzana Hotel to book a spa pass for their rooftop pool and spa facilities.

60 Cuban peso is not the cheapest, but the pool is so pretty.

I figure book a massage, lay out by the pool and just relax before I head back to the foggy fog.

I am so pleased.

And very excited.

So excited.

It feels really good to have this planned out.

And really.

I don’t think I could have done anything much better with my fourth of July holiday than work on the details for this trip.

Seriously.

I Almost Called You

April 13, 2019

But, of course, I did not.

The sunlight was streaming through the windows at my studio, just flooding in, and the urge to call, just pick up my phone and call was so strong I gasped out loud with it.

I also yelled at you again today in the car, “sack up and be a fucking man.”

Ah, emotions.

Hello.

I miss you sugar, but I’m not calling.

You can reach out to me under certain circumstances and I’m sure you know what they are.

I don’t expect that you will.

Sometimes I think it might happen and I get hopeful, but I really don’t think you will.

But the light, at sunset, so majestic and golden, it reminded me of our early days together and the day/night/sunset that I fell in love with you.

And then I realized we’re in that time now.

It would have been just over two years ago this past week that I met you with your friend for an anniversary dinner at the Citrus Club in the Haight.

I had not planned on going and was surprised to get the phone call saying, come out and have dinner, it’s your anniversary.

But.

Having just recently found out that you had a crush on me, I decided to go.

I don’t think I changed so fast in my life, striped right out of those yoga clothes and dressed up and hopped on my scooter.

I got there so fast I was the first one there and waited nervously for you to show up.

You seemed nice, but noncommittal.

Of course, you told me later you’d basically given up on me and didn’t think there was anything going to happen between us.

But there was.

And not too soon thereafter.

May 3rd, 2017, our first kiss.

God.

It still makes my heart do all sorts of somersaults thinking about that and how quickly we found each other.

It wasn’t very long after that I fell in love with you, falling into your eyes as the sunlight beamed through the windows.

Oh lover.

So it was really hard to not call.

And there’s so damn much I want to tell you!

So much.

I’m going to Cuba!

Havana, specifically.

I just got my VISA ordered tonight before starting this blog.

There is so much to do before I go, so much homework, work work, therapy clients to see, studying to do, I have to take my Law and Ethics exam soon and I have just shelled out $295 to the Therapist Development Center for all the study materials to pass the test.

I have a lot to do before I go to Havana in July.

But, oh, Havana.

I’m so distracted by the trip that I find myself barely able to focus on the things that need to be addressed before I go.

I also really didn’t have the bandwidth at all to do homework the last couple of days as I’ve been up early and at work early both days, the kids are on Spring Break and the parents are working extra and the grandmother is coming for a visit.

I had to juggle  a lot of monkeys the last few days, no time for homework and no time after getting home from seeing clients to attend to it either.

But looking up Havana, Cuba on the net.

Oh, I’ve got time for that.

Yes, yes, I do.

I have done lots of research and nailed down some specific experiences that I want to have.

Mostly because I know that showing up with nothing planned is not a great idea for me as I will be a single, I assume, woman traveling to a Spanish-speaking country.  I’ve already been told I will get catcalls, etc. And since I don’t speak much Spanish I really want to be prepared.

Also that there’s intermittent to little WiFi.

That the ATM’s don’t take American credit cards or debit cards.

And that no American cards at all are accepted anywhere, basically everything is done in cash.

I’ll need to get CUC when I arrive at the airport.

You can’t get the currency outside of Cuba.

So it’s not like I can go to SFO and drop some money and get it, I have to bring a bunch of cash with me and then exchange it in Cuba when I get there.

The casa particular I’m staying at requires my payment up front in CUC when I check in.

That’s $320, for eight days including breakfast.

Hella good deal.

In fact.

I should be able to really do quite a lot of things on a fairly small budget.

And I think I will end up booking a bunch of Air BnB experiences.

I believe I can pre-pay these by card before I go and then I don’t have to haggle prices when I can barely speak Spanish.

There are a lot of super interesting things I want to do and I sort of gave myself an itinerary after doing some research on Air BnB and just Googling random things about Havana.

One day I plan on doing an “Authentic Cuban Food/Market Tour” where I will get a tour of a big market and a lunch at restaurant with a local chef.  I’m planning on doing this pretty much the second day I’m there, first day will be just getting settled in and chilling out.  That way I have an idea of how the markets work and what to buy and what things costs.

I want to do a street art and walking tour with some graduates of the University there, take photographs and get out of the heavy tourist areas.

I also want to do some shopping with a local fashion designer and artist.

I want to go to the museums of course and I also want to do an Art Deco tour.  This is with a professor at the University and I figure it’d be a great learning experience, I really like Art Deco and wandering around with a professor would be some great insight into the city.

I want to take a Salsa class, because, hello, dancing, Cuba, yes please.

I also want to do some rooftop sunsets and drive around in a vintage car.  I mean, come on, $65 for getting driven all around Havana and taken to rooftop pools?  Count me in.  I’ll be skipping the booze part, but there are non-alcoholic beverages provided, so I’m set.

And I do like the driving around in vintage cars a heap, so I’ll be doing that more than once.  I have to do the drive along the sea wall in West Havana.  Bring it.

I’m also going to do a day outside of Havana, the spendiest thing I’m planning on doing, but when you look at everything the trip is offering, its super worth it.  For $120 a full 12 hour day, you get picked up at your place in a vintage car with A/C and driven an hour to Vinales, for a cave exploration, a hike into a tobacco farm, lunch, and horseback riding.  And they drive you back and drop you off where you’re staying too. Um, totally worth the price.

It won’t be Cuba without going to the beach, in yes, another vintage car, so I’ll be heading to the beach for sure, I’m still sourcing out the right fit here, as there’s a couple of different offers and I want to explore which beach feels right.

There are two other things I want to do that have nothing to do with Air BnB experiences that I found on the web and I am really excited about doing.

One is going to this fancy hotel with apparently the best rooftop pool in Havana and getting a day pass to hang out there all day, it’s $60 for the day and I think a day of just lying around a pool and using the spa facilities is worth the money and maybe sneaking in a massage too. Hence a day trip to the Gran Hotel Manzana.

And this private restaurant: La Guardia.

It looks amazing and if it’s good enough for Sting and Barack Obama and Natalie Portman, I definitely think it’s worth investigating.

Doing this research really made me think about you too, how we’d have such fun laying poolside, walking Old Havana, finding all the delicious things to eat, Cuban coffee, the beach, just all of it.

And I didn’t call and  won’t, but man, I think about you a lot.

Not every moment of the day, but when it comes to traveling you are so on my mind it’s a challenge.

I wish you well where ever you are.

I haven’t a clue to your schedule anymore.

I wish you would reach out and I’m ok that you won’t.

I’m still not over you, don’t think I will ever be, but I might, just might, be starting to get through.

Havana, Cuba, Baby

April 9, 2019

That’s right.

I am going to CUBA!

I just booked my ticket for July.

Yeah.

I know, Cuba in July is going to be hot, but fuck I don’t care, I like it hot, steamy, warm, bring it on.

You know where it isn’t hot in July?

San Francisco.

It’s fucking freezing.

It’s foggy, grey, dreary, damp, and hella cold.

Especially where I live, right out by the ocean.

It is not pretty.

The nice summer, the Indian summer glory that I hope no one ever really discovers except the locals is mid to late September and early October.

Then its glorious.

But July?

Forget it.

Crap weather.

I was going to go to Hawaii.

That had been the plan.

But.

I kept getting disgruntled when I looked.

So expensive.

The flights have been steadily going up and what had once seemed reasonable and doable began to look much less so, especially when the cost of the tickets easily eclipsed what I had paid for my round trip ticket to Paris in December.

Granted, Paris in December is during the off-season.

But one would think that Hawaii isn’t all that packed in July.

The tickets though and the cost of accommodations was depressing.

Do I want to spend that kind of money to lie around on a beach?

Will I get bored.

I suspected I would.

Would I get resentful and annoyed at the expense?

I think I would have.

Really I was mostly worried about getting bored.

I mean.

Sure, a nice lay around on a beach is all good, but I couldn’t actually imagine doing it for an extended period of time.

One friend said five days was his max and then he was done.

Another friend said a week was way too long and that it felt like paradise with strip malls.

I spent a lot of time on Air BnB trying to find accommodations I liked that weren’t too expensive or didn’t look like my grandmother’s kitchen.

Nothing against my grandmother, I love her, but do I want to spend a lot of money to stay in a place that looks like her kitchen?

No.

I did find one place and it was a bit more than I wanted but I compromised and figured better to stay somewhere that would make me happy.

And the site went down.

And there was a glitch in the dates.

And sorry, we don’t know what’s wrong.

But basically for two days straight I couldn’t book it.

I took that as a sign.

I felt bad for not wanting to go to Hawaii.

Shouldn’t I want to go?

I am sure it’s lovely.

But what do I like to do on vacation?

I like to walk around and see things, I like architecture, I like museums, I like, really like people watching.

I felt flummoxed and a bit baffled at myself, did I or did I not want to go to Hawaii?

When it came right down to it I realized I did not.

And that’s ok!

It’s ok to change my mind and its ok to know that I am a savvy traveler and I would really rather go somewhere more exotic and have an adventure in an urban environment.

I like cities.

I am a city kind of gal.

Don’t get me wrong, I love being out in nature, but when I think about traveling I want to go to a city.

I have always found the idea of Cuba and specifically Havana, very appealing.

All the Art Deco, the Prado Theater, the Habana Vieja (Old Havana), the churches and all the vintage cars, the colonial architecture, Cuban coffee, veranda life, sitting on a balcony or in a square having fruit and coffee, walking around and really seeing something different.

Also, there are plenty of beaches in Cuba.

As soon as my friend said, “strip mall” I knew I wasn’t going to Hawaii.

I wanted something more.

So, yeah, I bought a ticket.

There’s some hoops to go through, you can’t really travel to Cuba on a tourist Visa, you must have a reason to go.

I did a lot of research and the category that best fit me was that I was going to support “the Cuban People” which means that I won’t be staying anywhere or buying anything that has any ties to the military or government.

Fine with me.

I’ll support the local artists and musicians.

I will stay, fingers crossed at Hotel Chez Nous.

You have to love that it’s a “French” named casa.

It’s considered a “Casa Particular” which means a local family that runs a “hotel” or sort of “boarding house”.

The rooms are in two different homes in Old Havana, one that is old school Colonial and the other is Art Deco.

You can’t reserve online, you have to make a request, so I sent off my request and hopefully I’ll be staying there.

The room I want is 45 Cuc, Cuban convertible peso (which is pretty much one Cuc to one dollar) a night!

I request the Art Deco single with a balcony.

That’s my style, sitting on a balcony in Old Havana, overlooking a square smack in the middle of Old Havana.

Yes please.

Bring on the sundresses, sandals, iced cuban coffees con leche, walks along the old port, visits to churches and museums, and yes, some spicy Cuban food.

God damn I am excited

I did not feel excited by Hawaii.

I feel ecstatic about Havana.

Nervous too, I don’t speak Spanish and there are some hoops to jump through to get the Visa but, overall I’m fucking thrilled.

But hell yeah, Havana, baby.

It’s going to be one hot, sexy summer.

Well, at least nine days of it will.

Heh.

 

Where Do I Start?

July 25, 2018

First.

Bon soir!

I have not seen my computer for a few days.

My best French friend insisted that we were to travel very lightly to Marseilles and so, no computer.

Also.

No makeup.

What?

I know I felt naked, until I didn’t.

But apparently, ahem, I still look nice without it.

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I think vacation looks pretty good on me.

It didn’t hurt that I have a tan.

Boy.

Do I have a tan.

The above photo was taken early in the evening yesterday on the island of Frioul.  If you look closely in the background you can see the city of Marseilles.  My friend and I took an early evening ferry-boat to Frioul and strolled around it and took photos.

It was such a pretty place, and it would have been great for swimming had we known.

Next time.

But.

Swimming was had!

I had my first dip, then my second, yesterday in the Mediterranean!

Here I am a touch blissed out:

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My hair is all wet, I am sandy, I went for two swims in the Calanque and it was extraordinary.

First, a slight aside, must get back to swimming, being in the water and swimming felt so damn good.  Screw yoga, I think it’s long past time I get back into the pool.

Second.

Wow.

It was so, so, so beautiful.

A calanque is, well, fuck, I’m not sure I can quite describe it, a sort of wild hill area with dry rocky terrain along the coast that stretches from Marseilles to Cassis, there are all these inlets and beaches and coves, it’s a national park in France and frankly I can see why, they are true treasures.

The clanque that we went to was the Calanque of Sormiou.

It was exquisite.

I mean.

So gorgeous.

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This is the view from the top of an hour-long climb through the hills.

I will not mince words.

It was hot.

I was sweaty.

And I was not exactly happy to be climbing so much.

But.

Fuck.

Once I got to the top.

Wow.

I don’t know how high the climb was, and yes, what goes up must come down, we had to climb back out, gratefully the way is paved and if you have a tiny car and balls of steel you can drive in, but we walked, or climbed.

According to my little app on my phone that counts my steps we climbed.

We walked 26,450 steps yesterday.

Which is 12.4 miles.

And.

We climbed 51 floors!

51!

Ooh la la!

My legs.

But again.

It was extraordinarily beautiful and I’m so glad we did it, even if for a second there my friend made me wear a damp towel on my head for a while, she thought I might be getting close to heat stroke.

I guess I was pretty red in the face.

I certainly sweated a lot.

I think I may have actually lost weight this trip, despite the cheese and charcuterie I have eaten here.

I seriously have walked miles and miles and miles each day.

And swam.

Here.

Enough of my prattle.

More pictures of the beauty:

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I mean.

Come on.

It was like being on a movie set.

Except.

Well.

It was totally real.

Stunning beyond words, even now, looking at these photos, I’m like, really, I was just there yesterday?

Swimming in the sea.

It was truly one of the most beautiful moments, that first cool plunge into the ocean, the taste of the salt, so salty, and then popping up from the water and seeing the mountains arising around me.

I was blown away.

I swam far out until I got a little spooked, and then headed back in to let my friend take her turn.

We didn’t want to leave our stuff unattended on the beach, it has a reputation for thievery.

While my friend swam I unfolded the towel filched from the hotel onto the sand, put on more sunblock and lay back enjoying the hot sun, the sound of the water, the people speaking Italian to my right, the couple canoodling in Catalan on my left, and closed my eyes.

It was glorious.

My friend returned with tales of being nibbled on by a fish, which didn’t exactly compel me to get back in the water, but get back in I did.

Only to be flirted with by some gentleman who tried to tell me that I should be concerned about the sharks.

Thanks man, here’s a pointer on flirting with a woman, don’t tell her there might be sharks in the water, all it does is make a lady want to get the fuck out of the water.

I swam off laughing and telling him he was horrible for telling me such a tale.

Another stint of laying on the beach and then my friend and I packed up our things and began the long, arduous walk back.

I won’t lie.

It was hard.

And it was hot.

Very, very, very hot.

But.

I also would be lying if I didn’t say that there was a part of me that was very proud of myself for doing the climb and having a true adventure with my friend.

We made it back to Marseilles alive, had a late lunch, then went to the hotel and freshened up.

That shower, let me tell you, damn good.

After taking some time to rest we headed out to the ferry-boat and our trip to the island of Frioul.

The first photo I posted was from Frioul.

Here are a couple more, it was truly lovely.

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I have to say, the South of France was very special to see.

And I haven’t even told you about Aix-en-Provence or really about Marseille itself, but you know, I have one last day in Paris tomorrow and it’s time I got ready for it.

Bon soir mes amis!

Bon soir!

Flanneur

July 22, 2018

Which means, “one who strolls,” in French.

Or something like that.

Google it if you’re not sure.

I am fairly certain, but my French is not that great.

It’s good, but not great.

I know enough French to get me in trouble, its assumed by my accent and the way I talk that I do speak it fairly well, but as I explained to a new English-speaking friend today, I get caught up in trying to say the right word and the rapid fire Parisians are three sentences ahead of me while I am still thinking of the word for “dressing room.”

Which is “cabine,” if you wanted to know, and I did remember, but not before the sales person figured out my French was not as good as assumed.

I actually didn’t really buy anything today, well, food, not that much is open on Sundays.

Oh.

There were tons of shops open in the Marais, but nothing really called to me, except, heh, the shops that weren’t open.

Sunday in Paris is a family day, a rest day, most places are closed and I decided early on today that I would do my best to take it easy today too.

I mean.

I still walked like seven miles, but at an easy, relaxed pace and I did end up taking the Metro home from my final destination as I wasn’t feeling like walking fourteen miles.

I could have, it’s still light out, the sun has not set and it’s nearly 9p.m.

Gorgeous light in the apartment.

My last night alone here, the family returns in the morning.

Then!

I’m off to the South of France at lunchtime.

I’m very excited.

It will be nice to be on a train for a little while, the ride is about three and a half hours, and it will be fantastic to see a new city.

My friend knows the area well, we are staying at her favorite hotel in Marseilles, which has a view of the port.

We will go to the big museum there and have a nice dinner, I’m sure, and on Tuesday we will be taking a car to the markets in Aix-en-Provence, then on the way back to Marseilles we will be going swimming in, I forget the exact French word for it, some secret little beach on the Mediterranean.

So stoked.

My friends return in the morning and I’ve been instructed to be ready to leave for the train station by lunch time.

Not going to be a problem, I’ll just be packing a few summer dresses, my toiletries, and my bathing suit.

I still cannot believe I will be swimming in the Mediterranean Sea!

So happy.

And.

Honestly, I could use a break from Paris.

I know.

What?

Did I say.

I have had this feeling before, I did last time I came, at one point in my trip, I’m done with the crowds, I’m done with being stared at on the Metro (I have a lot of tattoos and though one sees them a bit more than they used to, it is very rare to see a woman with as many tattoos as I have, and it’s warm, I’m showing a lot of skin, not obscenely, by no means, but it’s unusual, and man, I get the looks), I’m done with snotty French waiters.

Not all waiters are horrible.

But I usually have one or two that are assholes and I got that one today at a cafe I met a friend at on Rue Madame.

It’s a damn cute cafe though.

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I had my “usual.”

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I like coffee.

And I like the sparkling water.

I just finished up one now.

Nothing says I’m on vacation like the two of them together.

Plus.

Taking the time to sit still and enjoy them.

I tried to sit a little more today, but it can be hard, my brain tells me that I must go and go quickly and get in as much as possible and do, do, do.

A human doing, not a human being.

But today I let myself sleep in, I laid in bed after I woke up until 10 a.m.

Then a nice long shower, a leisurely breakfast, and some laundry, so nice to have laundry here, I am super grateful for that and not having to cart it to the mat down the block or up and down five flights of stairs.

Then coffee and writing.

I didn’t leave the house until after noon.

I decided I didn’t need to do the Louvre, that had been my sort of “plan” but that I could just walk and see where it led me.

I walked through the Marais.

I walked to the Seine.

It was gorgeous.

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I mean.

Come on.

I walked and walked and walked.

Then I crossed over this bridge and went into the Latin Quarter, which I don’t much like, way too many tourists, way too many, but it was on my way to where I was meeting my friend and I realized that I had plenty of time to just walk all the way there without being rushed.

And.

I stumbled upon the Cluny Museum!

Never having been, I popped in for a wonderfully air-conditioned visit and saw the famous tapestries.

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They were beautiful and it was a sweet little detour.

After that I walked over to the Luxembourg Gardens, but needing food I kept my eyes open for the right place to grab a bite.

And lo and behold!

A miracle!

Not only a new organic, locally sourced restaurant, but one with beautiful flowers everywhere, and, and, and!

A non-smoking terrace!

All the cafes, well, except this one, have smoking areas on the terrace, and everyone it seems, smokes, except my friend, thank God, and I made the grave mistake my first night eating outside and my food might as well have been dipped in nicotine.

It was gross.

And I used to be a smoker, so that’s saying something.

But this little spot, was no smoking and I was really happy.

The food was surprisingly good and the terrace was super pretty.

The service was a little spotty, but that was obviously because it was a new restaurant, turns out they’ve only been open three weeks, and I was more than happy to be patient about it.

Which I’m grateful for, because when my food did arrive, the waitress got my order wrong the first go around, it was superb.

Best lunch I’ve had here since I landed.

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A really beautiful crustless Quiche with vegetables, a green salad and these delicious sausages.

That and the atmosphere, made me super happy.

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And then I walked through the Luxembourg Gardens before meeting my friend at Cafe Madame.

A sweet, slow, “lazy” day.

Heh.

I still walked 15, 418 steps and climbed 15 flights of stairs.

And now.

Well.

It’s time for dinner and getting ready for my trip tomorrow.

I hope your Sunday is as lovely as mine was.

Bon soir!

 

The Light

July 21, 2018

Today was magic.

The light all day long.

Extraordinaire.

I was blown away by all the different kinds of it.

The light on the Seine.

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And in the sky above the Eiffel Tower as I crossed Pont Alma, a “pont” is a bridge, on my way to the American Church to see some friends this evening.

The light was also amazing coming through the church windows, but well, I don’t take pictures in churches, at least not most of the time.

I was happy to traipse through the light tonight after leaving the church to head to the Metro to go to the 11th Arrondisment to, yes, another place filled with light.

L’Atelier des Lumieres.

Oh my God.

It was extraordinary.

I mean.

I cannot quite put words to it, but there were often tears on my face as I sat in the dark listening to the beautiful music they scored the works of Klimt to as the light and color and shapes melted and merged and coalesced into all these beautiful paintings that I am so very, very fond of.

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Klimt is one of my favorite artists.

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So when I stumbled upon this show a few weeks back I made a mental note to myself that I would go.

And I went.

And I went after a fairly packed day of stuff previous to it, but it was perfect to go, it was actually a nice thing to do after my full day, as I sat still for close to an hour watching the show.

Previous to the show I had been at the aforementioned church way across town.

Before that a visit to Marche aux Enfant Rouge for a roasted chicken, cherries, apricots and a beautiful nectarine.

Before that shopping in the Marais.

I scored a dress!

I can’t believe I scored a dress in Paris.

It’s not always the easiest place for me to shop.

I was very, very, very happy to get the dress.

Before the shopping?

Art.

Lots and lots and lots of art.

I went to the Musee Pompidou.

They had a great exhibition from the 1930s on architecture and furniture and then I gamboled through the permanent galleries and stumbled quiet without knowing it, unto the most beautiful art film I think I may have ever seen.

It was called “The Silence of Ani,” by Francis Alys.

It was stunning and I can’t even do it justice, but it was like watching a poem unwind.

Here’s a Vimeo of it, it’s about thirteen minutes long and well worth it.

Imagine seeing it in the middle of Paris, in the afternoon with no one else in the theater with you.

Superb does not do it justice.

And before the museum?

Yes I did.

I got a tattoo.

heh.

At Abraxas, where I have gotten all my Paris tattoos, on Rue St. Merrie in the Marais.

Speaking of all the light, here’s a shot of the tattoo after my long day of running around the city, just as the sun was setting in the kitchen window of the fifth floor walk up.

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And though there are probably a lot more things I can say about today.

I am also light-headed with the tiredness.

I think I will call it a night and let myself rest for a while and nibble on some of those delicious cherries I got from the market today.

Bisous!

 

Not Excited Yet

July 13, 2018

But I’m hopeful I will get there.

I realized tonight when I wrapped up with my last client that I only have one client left to see before I go to Paris.

Paris seems far away and a touch surreal at the moment.

I have been so busy walking through this housing situation that I have spent little to no time thinking about Paris.

Cue standing in the dental aisle at Walgreens this afternoon when I went in to fill a prescription.

Why am I standing in front of the toothpaste?

I have toothpaste at home.

I don’t need toothpaste.

But I kept coming back.

Until I remembered.

Oh snap!

I need travel size toothpaste!

I’m traveling soon.

I leave in three days!

It just has not really landed at all.

I am, of course, very much looking forward to seeing my dear friend.

I miss her so much and it was hard to finish my last semester of school without her.

Friends are so damn important.

It will be good to reconnect, to have lots of time with her, and of course, to have the best and most brilliant of insider guides to the city that I love only second to San Francisco.

I am always so happy that I get to live here.

Yesterday I went and visited a friend who used to live in the city but has done what so many of my friends have done, moved out of the city across the Bay.

She lives high up in the Berkeley Hills and it was a beautiful home and a lovely, stunning really, view of the city, the bay, the fog pushing over Twin Peaks, but I could not imagine living there.

I love San Francisco.

Sure.

It’s changed, but everything changes.

And it’s still, to me, one of the most beautiful places in the world, especially to live.

I also ran an errand and took back a bicycle rack that a friend had loaned me last year for Burning Man.

That took me to Alameda.

Where I did see a few cute houses, but it felt so suburban and removed and I also could not see myself there.

Or in Oakland.

Or in Berkeley.

I see myself in San Francisco.

My focus on finding a place is focused on the city proper.

And let me tell you.

I have been looking.

I have seen a few things, but not much.

I have responded to a few things, but gotten no response.

I do feel like when the dust is settled here and all the paperwork signed and taken care of that I will be throwing all my might behind finding a new place.

I will also officially throw it up on social media and I’m quite hopeful that I will find a good place.

I have been quietly telling a few friends and starting to put the word out.

The fact is though, at this point, it’s so close to me leaving for Paris that I really should skip even looking, I don’t know that I could do anything or get anything together before I leave.

I think it’s time I get excited!

I think it’s time to contemplate what I am going to be doing, walking around in the best city to walk, seeing art, street art and art, art.

Getting to spend time shopping in the Marais at all the little paper shops for notebooks to smuggle home with me.

Gah.

I bought a book today to read on the plane and I couldn’t help myself, I bought a new notebook too.

It was too cool to pass up and I knew I must have it.

There was a little voice in my head saying don’t accrue any more stuff!  I need to get ready to move and the less to pack, the better.

But.

Well.

I couldn’t help it, I bought the notebook.

And I did some writing siting in a cafe waiting for my friend and her new baby to come and join me.

I don’t often sit in cafes in San Francisco and write anymore.

I do the majority of my writing here where I am sitting right now, at a tiny table in my tiny kitchen, heaped high with notebooks and folders and books.

God.

I love paper.

I love writing.

I wrote a love letter in the new notebook.

I think that’s why I decided I had to buy it.

It is perfect for writing love letters.

And it was.

After my friend left I had some down time to sit for a while before I headed into my internship.

To sit outside, in the warm late afternoon sun, with a bottle of sparkling water, at a park in the Mission on Valencia Street that I used to bring former charges too and write a love letter while looking up at the bright blue sky, well, it was something else.

So no regrets about buying the notebook.

It will be used.

I will also buy more when I am in Paris.

Along with my standard pair of earrings, lipstick/lip gloss or eyeshadow, postcards, museum magnets and whatever else small momento I feel I should need.

I am so looking forward to seeing Paris through my friends eyes that I will have to buy something outside of my normal repertoire of souvenirs.

I thought about perhaps buying a market basket, I do love how they look.

And.

Yes.

I have contemplated a new tattoo.

I have one in mind, I will see if it stands the test of time when I arrive.

There’s a shop in the Marais that I get my work done at and I’ll see if they have an opening when my friend is off to a wedding out-of-town one of the weekends I am there, get myself a souvenir that I can wear always.

I like that quite a bit.

Of course.

I will take lots and lots and lots of photos too.

I promise.

Psst.

Here are a few from my recent trip to New York.

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Back yard patio at a lovely little restaurant in Williamsburg, The Rabbit Hole, where I had the most amazing soup and salad–broccoli cheese consume and the salad was like a deconstructed BLT with avocado and fried leeks.

So good.

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Bunny rabbit lamps!

From Le Grand Strip, on Grand Ave in Williamsburg.

I swear to God I almost bought them, but not knowing where I am going to live stopped me.  Once I’m settled I may actually buy them, the owner said she could ship them for me.

Bunny lamps!

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A triptych of feminist Latina women at the Brooklyn Museum.

Why, yes.

That is me in the middle.

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Mural in Fort Greene Brooklyn.

More to come.

Paris soon.

T-minus three days and counting.

But who’s counting?

 

And I’m Packed!

June 25, 2018

Just like that.

I have a few more things to toss in my suitcase, but I am 85% of the way there and that feels lovely.

I was just going to leave it for tomorrow, but when I pulled out my suitcase from the closet I just naturally threw some things in and the next thing you know I’m just about done.

I have more outfits than I probably need, but I figure I may want to have day outfits and night outfits.

I also figured out what shoes to wear with my little black dress, which frankly was a relief as I actually did go shoe shopping today and found nothing.

Note to self.

I don’t ever need to go to Stonestown Mall again.

I don’t often frequent malls and there is a good reason why.

I actually bought nothing there and I was pretty damn proud of myself that I got out unscathed.

I met with my person tonight and told him how my brain wants me to ruin my whole trip because I can’t find the proper shoes for this one dress.

We both laughed uproariously.

I was serious and not all at the same time.

And then when I got home tonight from doing the deal I just pulled the dress, put it on and tried on all the shoes.

And I found the ones that worked

I also threw in an extra pair of shoes and an extra dress just for fun in case I decide to go with something else.

But really.

I am totally covered.

One little black dress, two black sundresses, one that is flowy and delicate and could easily translate into an evening dress.

One pair of vintage bib overalls because I fancy them and they’ll be fun to wear when I’m tooling around the museums.

One boho flowy off the shoulder navy blue/indigo dress with purple flowers.

Perfect for brunch at Balthazar.

The new red dress I picked up at Anthropologie which could be both day or night.

I mean.

I have more than enough clothes.

Plus I have my travel outfit picked out and ready for putting on tomorrow.

Something that will be comfortable to travel in and chic enough to land in New York city and blend right on in to the masses.

I feel really happy and quite astounded that the day is finally coming that I get to go on this trip that I have had planned since March.

Tomorrow will end up being a touch busier than I was originally going to be, but only because I agreed to be of service and drive my person around town after I get back from my car maintenance service in Berkeley.

I figure it will be nice to help him run some errands in my car and we’ll have a nice lunch together before I head out.

I won’t really meet up with him next week as I’ll be getting in Sunday from my trip at the time we normally meet.

It will be fun to just hang out with him.

He sees me so well and I am happy to get to spend time with him.

I have a package to drop off and a letter to mail, rent to pay for July, since I will be getting back on July 1st I just figure I will pay my rent before I go, like I usually do, a week in advance.

That way I won’t be tempted to overspend on the trip.

I have enough money for my travels and what I want to do, but I’d rather have the rent paid before I go then wait until afterward.

Yup.

I’m ready.

Just a little laundry in the wash now and I’ll put clean sheets on my bed in the morning.

It’s lovely to travel and I have such a good time doing it.

But it’s also, always, really nice to come home.

And nothing is better than coming home to a clean house and a fresh made bed.

I feel pretty squared away on everything that needs to be done and just ready to hop on that plane and fly out.

Super grateful for this time and that I get to go.

I love traveling.

This will be my third time to New York.

I realized today too, that every time I have gone I have stayed at an Air BnB in Brooklyn.

One on Myrtle Ave in Bushwick.

One on Dekalb Ave in Clinton Hill.

And this one I’ll be staying at is on Lafayette Avenue in Bed-Stuy.

It appears that I like Brooklyn.

Or that I like that it’s cheaper to stay there then in the city proper.

I do think there will be a time when I stay in Manhattan itself.

For now though, I am truly happy I get to go and I have a great place to stay and so many awesome things that are planned to do, I’m over the moon.

In fact!

There will even be a full moon when I am there.

The strawberry moon.

How freaking sweet is that?

Warm night walks through New York under a full moon.

I am so very down with that.

Yes I am.

Over the moon seems just about right.


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