Saturday, July 31, 2010

Shakespeare in the Park

Just came back from Seattle Shakespeare Company's Wooden O production of "Much Ado About Nothing" at Des Moines Beach Park. Magnificent performance! Another magnificent performance - the sun over Puget Sound. This was the scene as we were leaving:



If you want to catch a free Shakespeare performance in Seattle this summer, you still have time. Wooden O productions end tomorrow, but GreenStage is doing performances in parks around the Seattle area for a couple more weeks. I'm hoping to catch both Romeo & Juliet and As You Like It at Volunteer Park on August 14th.

A word about Des Moines Beach Park - I visited there yesterday morning to scope it out so that I would know what to expect for tonight's performance. Gorgeous setting. But what a difference a day makes. Here's my entire set of beach photos from yesterday morning and tonight.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Beach Reflections



I've never been a big fan of beach vacations. Sure, we had the trips to Myrtle Beach when I was a kid. There was one year we went camping near Virginia Beach, and I remember it being so hot that none of us were able to sleep. So my dad rounded us up and drove us to the beach in the middle of the night, where we wandered along the shore near all the brightly lit resorts, basking in the cool breezes. We were the only people there. That was pretty cool.

Since adulthood, I have never really placed beaches high on my vacation wishlist. I'm not one of those people who could spend hours lounging in the sun. I like active vacations. I like to DO things. I love to explore. If a few hours at a beach is part of that, fine, but I don't like vacations in which beaches are the focal point.

That being said, the beaches here are starting to change my mind.

These aren't the beaches you normally think about, with miles of sand stretching along the coast. Puget Sound beaches are rocky and covered in driftwood. You see people beachcombing for geoducks or shells more than you see sunbathers. Most of the beaches have breathtaking views, either of the Seattle skyline (Alki Beach) or the distant Olympic Peninsula with its snow-capped peaks. Some beaches seem quieter and more secluded than others, but all of them are wildly alive with an abundance of unique animal and plant life. If you're lucky, you'll even see a whale. I haven't been that fortunate yet.




I feel at peace when I'm visiting a beach here. For me, they are places for contemplation and quiet reflection. They remind me that the world is so much bigger than myself. Now, when I feel the need to escape, but I can't really leave town, I head to a beach. I'm feeling a longing to go to one right now. But I'll wait until Friday morning, when I drop off the dogs at day camp and I can be alone with my thoughts.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

BEWARE!

I got an email this morning from my "cousin" - it came from her actual email account, but I knew immediately that it wasn't from her:

I'm writing this with tears in my eyes, Am sorry i never inform you about my trip.actually went on a short vacation to visit a resort in London England. unfortunately i got mugged at gun point on my way back to the hotel i lodge,all cash,credit card and cell were stolen off me but luckily for me still have my passports with me.

I've been to the embassy and the Police here but they're not helping issues at all and my flight leaves in some hrs from now but am are having problems settling the hotel bills and the hotel manager won't let me leave until i settle the bills,
I'm freaked out at the moment.


This is a variation of a scam that's been going around for a few years. These horrible people are assuming that you're naive, but kind-hearted, and that you'll gladly and without question wire them money.

Of course, I interact with my cousin on Facebook fairly frequently, and I'm reasonably sure she is not currently in London. Regardless, the bad grammar would've tipped me off that this is a total crock.

Anyway, I hit "reply" on that email and sent back this link:

http://www.snopes.com/fraud/distress/family.asp

and of course, I called my cousin to inform her that someone is using her email account to try and scam people. I hope she gets this resolved quickly. I'm enraged on her behalf.

So, if you weren't aware of this scam, now you know. This was ridiculously transparent, but it never hurts to get the word out about this sort of thing, because people do fall for it.

Friday, July 16, 2010

TBEX

I just joined Travel Blog Exchange, if anyone else is on there and wants to connect.

my TBEX page

Hoping to go to TBEX '11 in Vancouver (and my birthday just happens to be that weekend too, which would make it even more awesome).

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Summer Garden Tours in Washington State

Hot off the press (errr...Internet) - my latest travel tips on USAToday.com!

Summer Garden Tours of Washington State

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Ancient Aachen: A Magical Modern Metropolis

Note: I found this article from summer 2006, which has never been published. So I decided to publish it here.

Each time I visit Aachen, it's in the process of a facelift. The main train station has been under construction for awhile now, and it looks different every time I see it. The scaffolding that I first saw on the cathedral is now on the town hall. And every time I visit, a new store or restaurant is about to open. This time, Aachen has been overtaken by brightly painted horse sculptures promoting the World Equestrian Festival. Yet despite all the newness, Aachen is a city deeply rooted in its past.

Originally established as a spa for Roman legionnaires, Aachen was made the center of the Holy Roman Empire by Charlemagne in 800 AD, and all the Germanic kings were crowned here from that point until 1531. The cathedral is the star attraction with its unusual mix of Baroque, Carolingian, and Gothic architecture. The impressive medieval town hall is built on the site of Charlemagne's palace, which fell into ruin. While there are signs of antiquity all around, Aachen is also lively. It's small enough to see all the main attractions in one day, but it has the culture of a larger city. It's right on the Dutch border (being the westernmost point of Germany) and close to Belgium, making it an ideal location to explore the Benelux. The main train station is a hub for international travel.

Aachen may have waters that run deep, but it is also hip. Home to five universities, Aachen has forty thousand students, most of who congregate on the Pontstrasse. This is where trendy bars mingle with cheap, run-down restaurants. On warm days, students and tourists spill out into the street where there are plenty of outdoor tables to enjoy al fresco dining. The smells of curry mix with doner kebap and pizza. People converse in various languages. There is a casual, laidback atmosphere here, one where the beer flows as freely as the conversation.

Pontstrasse is purely a pedestrian zone, comprised mostly of eating establishments, with the occasional shop. I see a store selling streetwear, a small Mayersche bookstore, and a store selling CDs and old LPs. The only thing that seems out of place is an old church. The string of restaurants, serving every cuisine imaginable, lasts for several blocks, ending at the Ponttor, a 14th century city gate. Underneath are several pedestrian passageways that are decorated with graffiti.

I walk a short distance from Pontstrasse to the heart of Aachen, which is its medieval town square. The cobblestone streets are dotted with modern establishments and signs of American invasion; Starbucks, Subway, McDonald's, and Pizza Hut all have a prominent place in the shadows of the town hall. Twice a week, there's a busy market which sells such wares as produce, flowers, fish, cheese, and clothing. Today, a radio station is doing a live show featuring various kinds of music, from pop to yodeling to some odd chicken song accompanied by bizarre clucking noises. It's strange, yet entertaining. Above the festivities in the markt, a statue of Charlemagne stands atop a fountain (locally known as the "E├Ązekomp" - Pea Soup Bowl), presiding over everything.

Lest you think that the entertainment in Aachen is provincial, there is also Kultursommer, a big event in Aachen that draws major names in music, art, dance, and literature. This event lasts from June through September and features over 150 open-air events. The Katschof, once the site of medieval executions, now hosts major concerts during Kultursommer.

There is a thriving theatre scene, with performances in Aachen's Romanesque municipal theatre, as well as smaller independent theatre companies doing shows throughout the year. In the summer, Burg Frankenburg hosts outdoor Shakespeare performances by the small but popular independent company, DAS DA. Large international shows also come through Aachen.

Aachen's shopping district is a hodgepodge of department stores and specialty shops, ranging from high-end to very cheap. All the stores are modern looking - a sea of neon and glass built into older buildings. Beggars hang out on this street, hoping for spare change. A street vendor sells bratwurst while flirting with one of the local girls, the smell of grilled sausage permeating the air around them. The man I see on every visit to Aachen - a juggler with his German Shepherd - is taking a break from busking, his dog sprawled out on a blanket. Every store has its doors flung open, music playing, trying to attract patrons.

One of my favorite shops is Mayersche, a multi-story bookstore near the cathedral which, despite its modern looks, hides the original Roman baths from two thousand years ago. The current bath in Aachen is Carolus Thermen, a spa that opened in 2001 with a thermal bath, sauna, solarium, massage parlors, and restaurants. Unlike ancient times, when the spas were only accessible to nobility (both Charlemagne and Casanova took the waters), Carolus Thermen is open to everyone, allowing people from all walks of life to enjoy the waters that have made Aachen such an attraction for two millennia.

After spending the day among civilization, it's nearly time for me to go. I grab an iced chai latte and sit in a shady part of the markt, listening to the live show. My next stop is Lambertz, one of the many bakeries that specialize in the local gingerbread, called printen. After one more stop, to gourmet shop Oil & Vinegar, I make my way to the train station.

As I walk, I ponder what makes Aachen so special. I once met an American expatriate who was selling incense and candles in a booth during the annual Christmas market (Aachen has one of the better ones I've seen). When asked what drew her to Aachen, she replied, "It's a magical place." I believe her. After all, there is something about this city that made Charlemagne choose it as the centerpiece of his empire. It's hard to put your finger on what it is exactly, but when you come to Aachen, you just feel it. And that's what keeps me coming back.