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FERRAGOSTO 2016: New Orleans

4 Apr

I only just barely qualify as a Millennial (and even then only because the state of Pennsylvania wouldn’t change my birth certificate so I could refute that title forevermore), so while I don’t have the “if it’s not on Instagram, it didn’t happen” mindset, I do suffer from “if it’s not on your blog, you’ll never recall it” syndrome. Being on the border of  today’s annoying younguns means that I’ll be old pretty much by tomorrow– so although the 9th annual FERRAGOSTO, happened 8 months ago, we’re talking about it now before JetSet and I reach the age where we can’t remember whether or not we brushed our teeth in the morning.

And this is truly one year not to forget: for years, JetSet and I have debated inviting others to our bizarre, tradition-driven little jaunts, and this year we finally found just the right beta tester–none other than the beloved DonQuixoteKef! Since you will see him only in the same teeshirt and cargo shorts from here on out, here’s what he looks like when he’s not in his trademarked travelwear:

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Alright then, on to it: wouldn’t be FERRAGOSTO if the shenanigans didn’t start off right off the bat. Immediately upon landing in the Big Easy, we had to find an urgent care that was still open because I had fallen while running in DC that morning, went to work all day, and then decided that our first order of business in New Orleans would be seeking out someone to stitch me up. As one does.

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Seven sutures later (3 internal, 4 external, for the curious among us), we were on Frenchman Street, where the beignets were frying and the brass bands were playing:

After eating more fried food than was healthy, we strolled the French Quarter, which was made infinitely better when we realized we could get our craft cocktails to go. Feeling the itis and the time change, we decided to call it an early night. We headed back to our beautiful and well-located AirBnB, but not before one more stop at our soon-to-be favorite take out bar, The Franklin. This is when I realized that I had become the third-wheel on my own vacation.

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Toasting the age old question: why ARE there so many songs about rainbows?

The next morning, JetSet took off an a hot, humid, long run and DonQuixoteKef and I took a pilgrimage to find the brick memorializing his grandfather at the World War II Museum  Along the way, we made the obligatory stop at Cafe du Monde, enjoyed the beautiful architecture, and popped into the Lafayette Cemetery. The great news about wandering around a new place with DonQuixoteKef is that he stops to read all the plaques, and then generously summarizes the interesting parts for you. That’s service with a smile, people.

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Just before lunch, we caught up with JetSet post-run and set off across the Mighty Mississippi to the 15th Ward, Algiers.

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We poked about, ate lunch at the super sweet Tout de Suite Cafe, and headed back across the river. We were having a great walk along the river, when a torrential downpour came out of nowhere and we had to go all Esmeralda and claim sanctuary in the St Louis Cathedral.

…but first, we took a selfie.

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We walked between raindrops, NOLA style–which is to say we followed the awnings from bar to bar. This was the perfect time to be in a group of three, as at any given stop only two of us really felt like a beverage so we could keep the afternoon under control by alternating drinking and seltzering without anyone feeling left out. And to think, just ten years ago I was partnered with DonQuixoteKef so he could help me finish off the second 40 taping our hands together, and now we needed each other for the sobriety triangle. #ReallyNotMillennials

After witnessing a strange Porsche Parade complete with police escort (no, really…) we continued our rainy walk through Louis Armstrong Park and into the Treme.

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We swung by the storied Kermit’s Treme Mother in Law Lounge, where we instantly killed the vibe a few regulars had going at 4pm on a Saturday afternoon.

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On the upside, we did learn a ton about a the eponymous New Orleans Jazz legend, thanks to the 30For30 style documentary they had playing on loop.

Finally, we stopped by St. Augustine Catholic Church, which houses the Tomb of the Unknown Slave.

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On this October 30, 2004, we, the Faith Community of St. Augustine Catholic Church, dedicate this shrine consisting of grave crosses, chains and shackles to the memory of the nameless, faceless, turfless Africans who met an untimely death in Faubourg Treme. The Tomb of the Unknown Slave is commemorated here in this garden plot of St. Augustine Church, the only parish in the United States whose free people of color bought two outer rows of pews exclusively for slaves to use for worship. This St. Augustine/Treme shrine honors all slaves buried throughout the United States and those slaves in particular who lie beneath the ground of Treme in unmarked, unknown graves. There is no doubt that the campus of St. Augustine Church sits astride the blood, sweat, tears and some of the mortal remains of unknown slaves from Africa and local American Indian slaves who either met with fatal treachery, and were therefore buried quickly and secretly, or were buried hastily and at random because of yellow fever and other plagues.

Even now, some Treme locals have childhood memories of salvage/restoration workers unearthing various human bones, sometimes in concentrated areas such as wells. In other words, The Tomb of the Unknown Slave is a constant reminder that we are walking on holy ground. Thus, we cannot consecrate this tomb, because it is already consecrated by many slaves’ inglorious deaths bereft of any acknowledgement, dignity or respect, but ultimately glorious by their blood, sweat, tears, faith, prayers and deep worship of our Creator.

A humbling reminder of the power of taking responsibility for our country’s dark history and the tremendous amount of work left to be done to undo the oppressive systems left in its wake. End rant.

We headed back to home base, took a nap and a shower, then headed to dinner… of course with a stopover to see our friends at the Franklin. For the record, I am generally a woman who drinks about one glass of wine per week… but when I realized I could strut about with my champagne, I was just bubbling over with excitement (har har har). We ate a delicious meal at Peche, then went for cocktails at Arnaud’s French 75.  Anyone keeping track realizes that, by this point, my whopping four drinks in 24 hours had me feeling like a million bucks, so I abstained when JetSet and DonQuixote stopped by Franklin’s for one more roadie.

And yet, somehow, I still participated (instigated?) this late night selfie stick session

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which devolved into my brother and I DEMANDING that Don Quixote join, in a ruckus very similar to an entire amphitheater full of fans chanting “one more song!” that didn’t end until the man himself appeared

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and finally agreed to “snuggle and selfie” with us

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two of these people are related by blood, and one of them is sorry he ever set eyes on the FamiliaKef. You do the math.

 

And then, like a rockstar who suddenly realizes the groupies he thought were hottie-patotties are actually thirty-something siblings, DonQuixote was gone as quickly as he came.

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Suddenly, it was morning, and we decided to be industrious grown ups again. A quick trip to the oddly all-inclusive convenience store down the street for provisions revealed the sign JetSet hopes one day to hang on his office door:

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It was our last day in the Big Easy and we were on two missions: get to the Audobon Zoo, and find a muffuletta on the way. We achieved the latter first, which gave DonQuixote just the boost he needed to rebound from the night before and trek across the city, plus all the calories he needed for the next four days of non-travel detox:

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Luckily, we were greeted with perfect weather for our final hours, and we managed to squeeze in the Zoo as well as mini-campus tours of Loyola and Tulane, plus an attempted-but-ultimately-barred jaunt through one of New Orleans’ most exclusive gated communities.

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We zoomed home on by streetcar, and snapped this lovely shot:

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And that, friends, wraps up FERRAGOSTO 2016. No word on where we’ll head this year (or whether DonQuixote’s Stolkholm Syndrome is severe enough to agree to join us again), but as it is the TENTH ANNIVERSARY, we have some exciting possbilities in the mix.

It won’t, however, be Cleveland:

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Five Days in Croatia Part II: Something For Everyone

17 Feb

After all that indulging on our first day of our honeymoon, I was ready for a run. I went through the Old City and followed the main road around the coast, which mostly was filled with very beautiful views, like this one:

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But when I got to the end of the road, I found myself in the opening scenes of The Walking Dead:

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Apparently, this is the old Hotel Bellevue. Prior to the war, it had been the grandest hotel in Dubrovnik. During the war, it acted as a main battlement due to its strategic location on the cliffs of the Adriatic. After the war, it was closed and a rebuilt a few kilometers away. I’m not quite sure why the building pictured above hasn’t either been remodeled or leveled, but I was glad for the natural turnaround point… I wasn’t getting any closer to this creepy site!

Moving right along, we spent our second full day on the island of Mlijet, which is a large island National Park about 2 hours from Dubrovnik. Of course, we took a ship named after MamaKef:

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There’s all kinds of stuff to do  on the island– a few villages, two saltwater lakes, and a bunch of opportunities for tanning and swimming. In other news, it has lots of nicely-graveled paths, so don’t do what I did and waste a perfectly beautiful run on the Walking Dead when you could be running with this as your view:

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We opted to head to the Isle of St Mary for a chance to visit one of Europe’s oldest monasteries… plus it’s an island ON an island, which was too meta to miss.

… but not before we found a snack that would suit MrKef’s needs (“All Cameroonian men love peanuts when they travel,” quoth he. Good to know.).

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Once we were properly fueled, we set sail–and were immediately rewarded with more incredible views. Can I say without being obnoxious that, while this scenery was obviously amazing, it was made much moreso because I was with my incredible husband? Time with someone who makes your heart sing is truly one of life’s experiences to be treasured.

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The parts of the monastery available for touring are small, but man–the details are impressive:IMG_4590

After we got some history, it was time for some swimming, sun and (more) selfies!

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MrKef was ALL about the salinity, and eagerly waited for me to be finished with my swim to take advantage of the goggles I brought along (a triathlete is always prepared for an Open Water Swim!):

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The vegetation on the island was really interesting, and included these cute little bananas AND BabyKef’s favorite plant, aloe!

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After a swim, we headed over to the only restaurant on the island for some lunch. MrKef was ready to buy the island when he realized it was totally acceptable to drink a liter of beer for lunch while on a European honeymoon. We took this to be Croatia’s homage to HomeBrewKef.

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I couldn’t decide whether to be in heaven or hell when I realized the only vegetarian option on the menu was ALL THE GLUTEN (not even a salad…talk about insular parts of the world). And then my pizza came and it became clear that the Kingdom of Heaven was mine:

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The trip back was even more spectacular than the one coming. First of all, we came across this dapper gent along the way:

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And then we were met with this sunset as we pulled back into the port:

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Pas mal, no?

This is likely the night when we were too tired to trek up the stairs to change for dinner and then trek back down again, so we sat down at a yummy-sounding restaurant only to realize that entrees were ~$45 each, and then told the waiter we forgot our wallets and ended up slinking around the corner to Buffet Zvonik, where we gorged ourselves with all this food for a quarter of the price. Mmhhhmmm. IMG_4618

Then we headed to what would become our Croatian Cheers– La Bodega.The nightlife scene in Dubrovnik consisted of a European MegaClub filled with British teenagers or hotel bars with older Germans just off their River Cruise… neither were quite our speed. And then we found La Bodega in the main square, a perfect blend of lounge and bar with great music and people watching for the ages.

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Sooner than we wanted, it was the next day and we were off to the very top of Dubrovnik, via the Funicular!

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So far in this post we’ve seen a boat named after MamaKef, a national endorsement of HomeBrewKef’s favorite past time, and BabyKef’s favorite plant… in the mountaintop museum we stumbled across a photo of what JetSet would look like if he were ever unfortunate enough to find himself in a war zone (may God forbid it)– blazer on and wine bottle in hand (NB: this is not a photo of someone suffering that I am making light of– this was in the happy part of the museum).IMG_4634

In addition to the stunning views, I FINALLY found just a plate of vegetables up on that mountain. Food in Croatia is good, but not varied– pretty much everywhere had some iteration of a sign that un-ironically read, “Light Lunch: Risotto, Pizza, Cheeseburgers.” It felt fun to be forced into junk food for about a day, but by the time the third day rolled around I was more than willing to pay $8 for these 8 slices of vegetables (not kidding).IMG_4640

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We headed back down the mountain, and took a walking tour of Dubrovnik, where we learned the hilarious story of this graffiti from 1597 that reads, “Peace be with you, but know that you must die, you who play ball here.” Apparently, a curmudgeonly priest was none too pleased that the alley outside his bedroom was a makeshift soccer field, and took the time to etch his grievances into the wall. College ChefKef is jealous of that guy’s gumption. Yikes.

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After the tour, we split ways– MrKef went off to do a Game of Thrones tour, and I headed to over to Buza Bar which puts the term “hole in the wall” to new meaning

It’s nearly impossible to find, but I knew I was onto something when I saw this:

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Needless to say, I strongly preferred the words on this wall to those scrawled by Father McMeanie. Twice as needless to say, the views did not disappoint.

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I met back up with MrKef, who was grinning from ear to ear like a Lannister who, um … does whatever Lannisters do… after his GoT tour, and we enjoyed some scenes of Dubrovnik by night :

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And soon enough, it was time for a nightcap at La Bodega for me and some ice cream for MrKef!

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Next time on the Ndjatou World Tour, we head off to Montenegro (which is where the previously-promised manspreading adventure came to pass) and then to a haunted island… oo la la.

Malaysia Monday: 6 Days in Kota Kinabalu, Part I

18 Aug

Here we are at the start of another week, which means more Malaysia! Last week we recapped our time in George Town (Penang), where the buses are awesome, the street art is cool, and the food is amazing. This week, we’re moving on to the island of Borneo, state of Sabah, and city of Kota Kinabalu (KK). For the Carmen Sandiegos out there, here’s our flight path from Pennisular Malayasia to Malaysian Borneo:

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Arrival: The flight from Penang to KK was easy; the disembarking process, however, was anything but. Prior to the moment the “Fasten Seatbelt” sign was turned off, I had always believed that two pieces of matter could not occupy the same space. Clearly, my fellow AirAsia passengers did not buy into commonly-held theories of physics, and the second that little “ding” went off people were running up and down the aisle as if it were the autobahn. I did not have one iota of cultural consideration for this little difference in disembarking process and thought if I just stood firm I could instill into people the age-old School Bus principle– moving vehicles are emptied in exactly ONE fashion: by alternating door side, driver side in rows until everyone is out. No one was impressed by this, and finally one small grandfather who was trying to be the THIRD person standing across the aisle implored to me to move with an annoyed, “Please, hello!” This would become the catch phrase of the rest of the trip.

Night 1: The difference between George Town and KK is similiar to the difference between Portland and Seattle– in this case, George Town is the funky, artsy little town whose quirk and character is apparent on every block, while KK is the more urban, business-heavy city that lacks distinct charm but has a ton of cool, outdoor stuff to do very close by.

 We kept hearing about the Hawker Food–street food in a central, usually-outdoor food court–of KK, so we settled in at the modest-but-totally adequate Eden 54 and ran off to a waterfront hawker outpost. JetSet went crazy and ordered grilled stingray (which I had reservations about but turned out to be a great treat), we had some grilled squid, and even an avocado milkshake, all for about $25… yes, for the two of us.

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Stingray so hot it steamed up the camera lens

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Grilled squid

IMG_1397It may look like JetSet and I are enjoying one avocado milkshake with two straws… but actually we are both holding ourselves up on the table to keep our feet clear of the rat who was trying to dine with us. And that’s all I have to say about that.

Day 1: Cooking Class and Sapi Island 

We spent most of the first day in KK with a local gourmand, Remie Law, who gave us a tour of an amazing food market and taught us how to cook local produce. We had SUCH a good time with him (so much so that I’ll devote an entire post to our day with him on a future Monday) and learned a lot in our time. We started off the day at a huge food market, where I took approximately 6,000 pictures of food. Just a few:

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Sorry, pig lovers

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JetSet learning to moonlight in the local 60+ band

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After the market, we went back to Remie’s suburban home (complete with awesome organic garden), where we proceeded to fry the ever-living Jesus out of some very worthy produce. We even took a selfie. More on this later.

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After our day with Remie, we decided that Ferragosto so far had been heavy on the trekking and far too light on the tanning, so we headed out to Sapi Island, part of the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park. A 20 minute boat ride from KK’s Jesselton Point wharf, these islands were described to us as “just okay.” Exhibit A:

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Not too shabby. We enjoyed the sunlight that was left (warning: you will have to move a lot as the sun sets to catch every afternoon ray–better to go in the morning!) and headed back for an Afternoon Caffeinated Beverage at (where else?) the Dunkin’ on the wharf.

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For dinner we checked out El Centro, which people who have ever visited the developing world will recognize by the name “Whitey Central.” Despite the advertisements for organized bar crawls and small groups of backpackers, it’s a nice place–good vibe, strong drinks, and not a rat in sight. We had nice salads and a delicious bowl of fruit topped off with champagne cocktails. It was also the sight of a very rare occurence: below, JetSet googles something (concentrating VERY deeply) that proved he was right and I was wrong. It doesn’t happen often, but let the record show it did happen once… though I can’t remember what it was about. IMG_1516

Day 2: 

We spent the whole day on Mamutik Island, which was just as beautiful as Sapi. We ate lunch at a restaurant there and watched as people pranced around the beach with Selfie Sticks. Not familiar? Neither was I, prior to this trip. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you— THE SELFIE STICK:

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We were pretty much the only people who weren’t walking around with our phone/camera attached to one of these bad boys. We were also the only people who didn’t make peace signs in every shot. Oh–and also pretty much the only people on the beach who weren’t spending our precious time in the sun using a selfie stick to take shot after shot of ourself MAKING said peace sign. We must be old.

Anyway- that night we ate at Kohinoor, another Indian restaurant that was absolutely insanely delicious. They even had fish tikka, which I had often thought should be a dish but didn’t know existed.IMG_1526

After dinner we took a little stroll along the water front, and somehow we landed in a chain resto-pub along the lines of Applebees for a beverage. Luckily we did, because we ALSO stumbled upon an awesome power ballad cover band. The room was pretty empty but we were really enjoying ourselves and sang/danced along to all the songs. They asked for requests, so of course we drafted up this note:

IMG_0360.JPGAnd proceeded to make absolutely FOOLS of ourselves when they played our requests. And yes, we were in a bar called Cock & Bull. It’s true.

Day 3: North Borneo Railway

Every Wednesday and Saturday, one of the resorts in KK runs a restored steam engine to Papar Town. They’ve made SUCH an event of it–everything in the train has been restored to “bygone era” status, and you do feel like you’ve traveled back in time a bit. Breakfast and lunch are served on the train, and there are stops along the way at a temple, a small town, and a large market. When the Kefs were kiddies, our grandparents took us to all kind of train-related things, and so JetSet and I have major nostalgia for the locomotive. Pictures do it better justice than description, but I will say this was one of my very favorite bits of the whole trip. Also, this is pretty much the only time I’ve been on vacation and thought, “Wow, I wish I had kids with me.” All the kids on the train were so cute and having so much fun!

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Not sure if they did the whole peace-sign thing in the 1950s, but we’ll go with the anachronism.

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Of course, we had to make a spectacle of ourselvesIMG_1537

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IMG_1594Needless to say, United Airlines could learn a thing or two.

After working on the railroad we wanted to continue our life of leisure out on an island, but as it was already mid-afternoon, it didn’t make sense to take a boat out, chase the sun as it set, and take a boat back… so instead, we just set ourselves up for some sun on the wharf. We thought it would be a major “what the hell are those two doing?” moment, and were both a bit disappointed to find out that no one paid us one bit of attention. Shame.

Come back next week to find our how I almost died on Mt Kinabalu, our bike trip through the jungle, and the time JetSet ate 57 pork products in one sitting.

 

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