Friday, September 30, 2011

We're baaaack!

(I missed your faces.)

Now that was an adventure.  We felt the love and happiness of a family reunion in Izmir, brushed up on our (nonexistent) Turkish dancing skills at my cousin's wedding, strolled the streets of Ephesus in Caesar's footprints, climbed mountains in Faralya and Kabak (literally, I climbed down these cliffs pictured above via ropes -- in that dress.  More on that later.), floated in the saltiest turquoise waters of the Turkish Riviera, touched the tombs of the ancient Lycians in Fethiye, smoked cigarettes with my parents at a meyhane in Istanbul, went clubbing with friends found on the other side of the world in Beyoglu, felt the majesty of Aya Sofya and the excess of Topkapi Palace, tasted the sugary heaven of kadayif soaked in syrup, and floated in a pool between the continents.

I have so much to tell you.  Next week is going to be a total photo-overload!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Glamourous

While we bask in the glamour of the W Istanbul, I thought I'd share a little glamour with you --

Feeling fabulous yet?  Good.

Assuming that I can actually beat the jet-lag enough to get out of bed on Friday, I'll be here, sharing pictures from our trip!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Argentina or Bust!

To finish off the Travel-a-thon, I bring you my friend, Caroline.  Caroline and I met when we were randomly assigned to be roommates while studying abroad in Florence in 2006.  Our friendship formed over long pasta dinners (followed by limocello shots with waiters), experiments in home-made pasta, and long walks through our favorite city.  We stayed in touch after Florence despite being at different colleges, and when Caroline moved to San Francisco after college, we became even closer friends while we explored another city together.  Caroline later was a bridesmaid-extraordinaire in our wedding!  She is one of those people who is so cool that she works at underground farmer's markets (where she one time ate chocolate-covered insects - not on purpose), and occasionally pours in the tasting room of a Napa winery.  I can't imagine anyone who wouldn't want Caroline as a friend.  I think you'll feel the same after hearing her talk about her dream trip to Argentina.

Next summer I would like to visit Argentina.  Unless I win the lottery or inherit thousands of Delta skymiles the trip will most likely be financed with a 25 year old's salary.  AKA I will be on a budget.  Today, I am going to share with you two separate trips to Argentina: Caro's carte blanche vacay and my mid-20s budget vacay.  To me, both are fantastic and both feature comfortable beds....the only difference is the price tags! Let's begin!
First stop is Buenos Aires.  Hailed by many as a "mini Paris" nestled in South America, I can't wait to absorb the architecture, drink copious amounts of Malbec and dance the tango.  

deluxe room with hot tub at Rendez-Vous Hotel
Rendez-Vous Hotel, with rates starting at $120, comes highly recommended by the British woman who sat next to me at the hair salon yesterday.  She confirmed that beds are plush and the on-site wine tasting is delicious.  Say no more.

the Algodon Mansion

While traveling in Buenos Aires, I will undoubtedly be wooed by a highly attractive Argentinean man who will invite me out on his yacht and take me to world renowned French restaurant, La Bourgogne.

The Algodon Mansion is a small, luxury boutique hotel in the Recoleta district of Buenos Aires. The rooftop pool and famed Cognac Bar, Frank's, make this restored French mansion a neighborhood landmark.
(because this is my dream vacation I have elected to dream big)


Just in case the language barrier becomes unbearable or his cologne overly oppressive (true warning relayed to me by same hair salon lady as Rendez-Vous req), sailboat tours of Buenos Aires are easy to arrange on your own.  Frommer's recommends for a delicious, value dinner the off-the-beaten track "parilla" (spanish for grill) called Juanna M.  The cafe features an unlimited salad bar and delicious local meats for an average price of $4.85! Done. 

After I tango my way through Buenos Aires I will either catch a flight straight to the Patagonia region or make a brief "pit stop" to decompress at the luxurious Estancia el Rocio.  Located 2 hours outside of Buenos Aires, the breathtaking grounds and charming rooms will undoubtedly serve as the ideal backdrop for my next Argentinean romance.

room with fireplace at Estancia El Roco

image of my fictional lover, Joaquin, playing polo somewhere in the Pampas

The Patagonia region is an outdoor playground for the activities lover.  Rock climbing, hiking, fishing, spelunking, horseback riding, the list is endless.  I am a big fan of anything that burns excessive calories and will leave me sore enough to appreciate a Swedish massage followed by a decadent meal.  A+ to the town of El Calafate which offers all of the above!  With its close proximity to Perito Moreno Glacier and the frequent availability of direct flights from Buenos Aires, El Calafate seems the ideal location for my Patagonia touchdown. 
back patio at Los Notros Resort, El Carafate

horseback ride to the summit of Cerro Frias and absorb the awesome views of the Monte Fitz Range and Largo Argentina

Perito Moreno Glacier, half or full day tours are an option

Muchas Gracias to the many friends, family and unsuspecting victims whom I pounced on for information regarding Argentina.  Question of the day is.....Argentina or Bust?


Now, on to glaciers, horseback riding and penguins! The Patagonia region has been on my travel bucket list ever since my 10th grade Spanish teacher attempted to explain to our class that Patagonia was more than a preppy outdoor clothing manufacturer and gauchos were first cowboys, not comfy yoga pants.  (Apparently her fashion etymology excluded footwear because my question regarding the origin of Espadrilles was responded to with a blank stare.  Espadrilles still remain a mystery to me and I will be eternally grateful to the individual who can illuminate me on their background.)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

If I Could Turn Back Time

Caitlyn is a friend of mine from college, but really, we became friends after college, when we both moved to San Francisco.  She is a person who always puts a smile on my face, and leaves me feeling a little bit lighter, a little bit brighter.  She has such an optimistic energy about her, and she's always up for a late night dance party. Here is Caitlyn talking about time travel, among other things.

Hello, world!

I have to admit I got a little verklempt at the beginnings of writing – there’s something very exhilarating but also nervewracking about putting your thoughts OUT there, even if those thoughts are small, no? So, I’d like to start by offering my deepest most sincerest respects to Ashley and every last brave lady who has ever dared to publish her own thoughts on the internets.

Now - on travel.

I happen to be lucky enough to travel to faraway lands as part of my job, so you’d think I’d have lots to offer in terms of advice or at least an anecdote that might be interesting. I've traveled through East Africa by bus with strangers, I’ve been robbed twice, and I can now swiftly recognize early-warning signs of deep-vein thrombosis after sitting on a plane for 15 hours (read: I look down and see my own cankles). I am embarassingly familiar with and can tell you where to find free breakfast in Dubai. AND my grandfather is a pilot. 

{faraway lands, over the north pole and 3 layovers later}

{the free breakfast buffet is around the corner from here}

But still, nothing. I’m scared of flying, I still can’t organize my carryon bag quite right, and I can’t figure out how to effectively and non-awkwardly remove my laptop from its case during the security screening without upsetting and delaying all of the people behind me. I can't really tell you the best ways to earn/leverage your status miles with an airline. And all of the situations mentioned above where I might have ostensibly extracted some sort of valuable and transferrable life lesson? Handled awkwardly, wisdom squandered. And anyway, even if I did have advice along these lines, The Hairpin would have outdone me with its great article yesterday on very useful and refreshing travel how-to’s. Did anyone else see this? 

So, in short, the most I have to offer are a few really excellent restaurant and lodging recommendations scattered randomly all over the globe, which are always useful if nothing more than a trip down memory lane for me. In fact, my colleagues and I happen to have a coveted (albeit very non-systematic) award system for people who can find the best restaurants not only in SF but around the globe. For every great restaurant you find, you get a point (In case you were wondering, the points add up to nothing, but trust me they are worthwhile). We even have a fledgling blog where we [infrequently] write about these excursions (eek, ok, June 15th was our last entry?)! So, while I feel as though I do have some knowledge to share in this department, when I was brainstorming all of these thoughts on my work computer, it crashed (blasted Excel!) and I lost them – and while trying to recapture these thoughts, I got to thinking about a different type of travel and went in a different direction: time travel (as in if I could turn back time I would have saved my drafts to a different drive). It’s funny how remorse gets the creative juices flowing. So, that's where this is headed - over the mental hurdle of time travel.

(As an aside, if you do happen to have any recommendations for point-worthy dining establishments either in San Francisco or elsewhere around the globe please send them along, as the competition in my workspace for points is fierce and I could use a leg up.)

Personally, I feel like people don’t talk about time travel enough. On the one hand, time travel seems (and probably is) impossible and therefore not worth discussing, but on the other hand it isn’t that far-fetched since people on planes do it every day. For example, have you ever thought about how weird it is to be thinking about traveling between time zones while you’re flying? Maybe this isn’t weird to anyone else but I think this is sort of crazy – especially when you think about traveling from west to further west (i.e. the east, as in San Francisco to Beijing) and you end up all of a sudden on the day ahead, rather than just an hour or two off in either direction. How do these things get determined? Did you know that when you fly from San Francisco to the Middle East you actually fly over the North Pole? I don’t even know what happens to time there, but I imagine that something about the time travel continuum has to get a little weird there - this is the land of no days sometimes and no nights other times. I don't even think the airlines know how to handle it except to hope everyone closes their window shades when its time to sleep even though its SO BRIGHT OUT and cross fingers that no one notices that "breakfast" is actually spicy prawns and potato cakes.

Putting aside all craziness (full disclosure, Back to the Future is one of the favorite movies), I think wondering what you'd do if it were possible is a fun thought exercise. While I will spare you all from musings about things that are completely foreign to me such as space, time, continuums (full disclosure round 2: I do not actually know what a continuum is) and planetary orbits, it is fun to wonder the following things:

If you could time travel would you? 

Would you go backward…

{note the date in the corner - yes, I'd go back to my semester abroad in Europe}

or forward….

{take me here now, please}

And where to? A moment in your life or someone else's, a fabulous city, a really great restaurant? Does any part of you (maybe the part that still believes in fairies?) you think time travel is possible? Would you change anything?

As for me, personally, I’m grateful to have so many moments with friends and family that I'd be blessed to relive, and it's fun to think about all the places I'd go back to and imagine new places and spaces I'd go in the future. If I had to pick though, I think I'd go back to an earlier era in history before I was born to see something totally new, even though it's old - Renaissance Italy, anyone? 

{to infinity and beyond?}

Ashley, thanks for letting me be a part of your blog. I hope you are having the best time ever in Turkey!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Port Tasting with Shahrzad

Shahrzad is a one-in-a-million type of friend.  One of those friends who cracks you up with her completely inappropriate jokes, who will always rally when there is fun to be had, and who will stand up for you no matter what.  She always has some crazy story to share, and her energy is contagious.  So here is Shahrzad (or Sharzy to me), talking about Port tasting in Portugal.

Less than a week after taking the California Bar Exam (or what I affectionately refer to as The Beast), I embarked on a wonderful journey that included 3 countries, 11 cities, 9 flights, 4 ferries, and a train. Ask me how my friends and I pulled it off without missing a single plane, train, or ferry and I wouldn’t know what to tell you. When I returned to the states, I was inevitably asked about my favorite city/experience. Although I had a plethora of interesting experiences to share with my family and friends (meeting random Spanish celebrities in Ibiza, kayaking in the Adriatic Sea off of Korcula, taking a water taxi to "Carpe Diem Island" for a 3am afterparty on ritzy Hvar, and developing a deliciously painful paella-baby in Madrid), there is one experience that easily takes the cake-- Port tasting in Portugal. The fantastic Port coupled with a UNESCO World Heritage Site and sunsets that burn themselves into your memory made for an experience that will be difficult to match.

I still remember drinking my first Port at a Hollywood Bowl concert in 2006. A few years and bottles later, Port has become my dessert wine of choice. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Port, it is a dessert wine that is fortified with brandy and only produced along the Douro Valley in Northern Portugal. Port can be either aged in wooden barrels for a short period of time (ruby Ports) or longer periods of time (tawny Ports). Most of my good friends know that a glass of well-aged tawny Port is a way to my heart. So, it is no mystery why I chose to make Portugal the first country I visited when I went back to Europe for the first time in 5(!) years. My partner in crime, the wonderfully energetic Michelle, and I left for Porto from Lisbon on a 3-hour train.

Since I was preoccupied with The Beast, I let Michelle chose our hotel. I will have to admit, I was slightly creeped out when we first arrived because the reception area looked like your grandmother's living room circa 1952. However, I was pleasantly surprised when I entered our room with its beautiful doors, view, and vaulted ceiling.

{View from our room in Porto}

One of my favorite things about this hotel was its blow dryer.  It took me a few minutes to figure out what it was and a bit longer to figure out how exactly it works.  

{Awkwardly large blow dryer that resembled a vacuum in our room in Porto}

As soon as we settled in and freshened up, Michelle and I headed to Vila Nova de Gaia, a city across the Douro River from Porto.  Gaia, as it is called by locals, is known for its wine caves where Port wine is stored and aged.  Our first stop was Taylor's Port, one of the oldest and most famous Port producers. 

Back at home, I've seen 10 and 20 year tawny Ports at some nice restaurants, but I have never seen a 40 year tawny Port. For a mere equivalent of $20, I was able to try this $200 bottle of Port. It probably was not wise to have such an amazing wine so early on in my trip because nothing else could quite match up.

The tasting was followed by tours of several wine caves in the area. After exploring a few tasting rooms, we stuffed our bellies with some local seafood and called it a day. Needless to say, I went to bed with a smile on my face.

Day 2 started at the oldest Port house in Gaia, Kopke, where we tried several ruby, tawny, and white Ports along side a sampling of local chocolates. After Kopke, we were off to the home of yet another great Port producer, Graham's; As you can tell from the photo below, I could not hide my excitement.

 {No words necessary}

During the tour of their caves, they showed us the owner's private collection with bottles that date back to almost 100 years!  

After a long day of climbing hills, touring caves, and drinking too much wine, Michelle and I enjoyed the picturesque sunset on the Douro.

 {View from Gaia}
 {Sunset on the Douro}

I am already trying to find a way back to Porto.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Dim Sum on Two Continents

Leslie and I became friends on the very first day of law school orientation when we both brought our parents to the "family BBQ" and our mothers decided we should meet.  Our mothers are definitely cooler than us.  After that, Leslie and I bonded over a shared love of all things Italian (she was a nanny in Florence after college!) and luxurious.  Leslie recently joined me in L.A. (at least for a year), so you might recognize her from this trip to the Getty!  This spring, Leslie traveled to Hong Kong with a friend and came home raving about the amazing dumplings at this one dim sum restaurant.  Turns out the restaurant has a branch right here in L.A.!  So here's Leslie talking about Hong Kong and how dumplings are always delicious.

This spring I took my very first trip to Asia.  Hong Kong to be exact.  My friend, Erika, wanted to visit another friend who is living in Hong Kong on business and when she asked if I'd come with, I jumped on that chance quicker than you can say "red eye to Asia."  Erika and I have traveled together before and the two of us can sniff out good food and a good time on any continent.  And Hong Kong wasn't any different.

We left most of the food planning up to our friend who lives in the city and another friend who had spent a lot of time there with family.  By the time we arrived in Hong Kong we had a "food to-do" list that was nearly as long as our "sightseeing to-do" list.  There were a couple of places that stood out, but I was particularly intrigued by the one that our friend described as "omg, best soup dumplings EVER, we must go!!!!!!!!!!"  I mean, what's not to like about that?  I'm certainly not going to stand in the way of the best soup dumplings ever.  Fortunately, Erika felt the same way.

Our second night in Hong Kong we were still jet lagged.  Erika and I were fading pretty quickly after a day of sightseeing.  Our local friend had anticipated this and fortunately we'd planned on dinner at the soup dumpling place as incentive to keep us up past 5pm.

 {Malls!  So many malls.}

Before I get to the food, it's important to set the scene.  Hong Kong has a few different branches of the Din Tai Fung chain, and we went to the one on the Kowloon side of the harbor.  As a plus, this meant we got to take the Star Ferry there.  The Star Ferry was hands down my favorite non-food part of the trip.  5 cents for a ride across Victoria Harbor in mildly rickety boats.  It just might be my favorite form of public transportation ever.

This particular Din Tai Fung, like most things in Hong Kong is in a mall.  The malls in Hong Kong are so extensive that you can walk on elevated walkways between malls without ever actually having to step foot outside.  It's insane.  So we're in what would in America be a food court.  Except that it's not actually like eating in a food court because it's a full-blown restaurant and it's normal that you're having your Saturday night dinner in a mall.

 {Artsy cellphone pic of us waiting at the mall}

Then, there are the people.  I don't even know how far back we were in line, or really how long we waited, because at this point I was so tired and so focused on my soon-to-be meal that I pretty much lost all sense of time.  But I do know that there were lots of people.  And I mean LOTS.  There's this complicated system where you give the hostess the number of people in your party and you take a number.  There are three different sets of numbers based on the size of your party and you wait for your number to appear on the tv screen indicating that it's your turn to eat.

While you're waiting they give you a menu (with pictures!) so you can pick out what you want.  Obviously we knew we'd be getting soup dumplings and we relied on our friend to help us pick out the most delicious items.  Our number finally appeared on the screen and we were whisked to our table.  And I actually mean whisked.  These people operate with an efficiency that I never knew to be possible.  Everything was so swift and smooth from the moment we sat down.  There were like five different people who took our order, brought us tea, refilled tea, brought us platters of food, took away platters of food, brought us more food, refilled our tea, you get the point.  It turns out that masterful efficiency is how you feed throngs of people each day.  But the best part is that I never felt like we were being rushed.  The whole thing probably took about forty minutes from the moment we sat down, but it still felt like a luxurious meal. 

And so, the food.  What you're all waiting for.  First off, the soup dumplings really were delicious.  Soup dumplings, or xiaolongbao, are the dumplings that have the thin wrapping and "juice" on the inside.  So if you just bite into them they will squirt everywhere.  The trick is to poke a tiny hole with your chopsticks while they are resting in the spoon and then just slide the whole thing in.  So good.  I don't even know what it was that makes these so noteworthy.  I think it's the quality of the pork deliciousness on the inside and the fine wrapping that make the entire thing a little bundle of joy.

But we didn't stop there.  Obviously not.  There were green beans with fried pork.  I don't know what it is about green beans at Chinese restaurants, but they better than any other green beans in the world.  They are thicker than the ones you usually eat, and cooked at a really high temperature so they're mildly crispy on the outside and then still kind of chewy on the inside.  And of course the fried pork doesn't hurt.  Plus there were the steamed pork buns, the baked pork buns (something that I had for the first time in Hong Kong, they are kind of crispy on the outside and the pork is oh so fingerlicking sweet), and the red bean paste buns for dessert.

We left with bellies full of pork and rolled ourselves back home via the Star Ferry.  It was a good good night.

 {Hong Kong harbor as seen from the Star Ferry.}

Now, perhaps the best part of this story is that while we were eating dinner I happened to notice that the list of franchise locations includes Los Angeles!!  Hooooray!!  Even more hooray because the L.A. location is one of only two in North America (the other one is in Seattle).  I think I emailed Ashley that night from the hotel that we had to put this place on the LA to-eat list.  (She didn't object.)

Fast forward five months and I had just moved to LA and started my new job.  Imagine my delight when my new co-workers were raving about a dim-sum place we just HAD to go to for lunch and it turned out to be Din Tai Fung!!!  I wouldn't even have to wait barely a week in my new city to savor the delicious dumplings again!  That first week we took a lunchtime adventure (thank goodness for co-workers who like lunchtime adventures) to Arcadia, which is actually east of the eastern part of L.A. 

While parts of the experience were different--it was a mid-week lunch and so the throngs of people were missing--most of it was the exact same.  Our servers operated with an efficiency that leaves me in awe, the menu was mostly identical, and the food was just as delicious.

We didn't get the baked pork buns this time (and I couldn't even tell if they were on the menu since I wasn't in charge of the ordering) nor did we get the red bean paste buns for dessert.  But we still got the soup dumplings and the green beans.  Plus chicken dumplings and a beef noodle stew that tasted like a slightly Chinese version of chicken noodle soup.

It was delicious.  I ate too much.   And let's just say, no one got much work done that afternoon.  Hurry back from Turkey, Ash so we can get ourselves to Arcadia for dim sum. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Redneck Weekend

Here today to kick off our week of guest posting travel-a-thon is one of my best friends and favorite people ever, Brittany.  Brittany is an engineer, an artist, and a future rock star with a voice that you wouldn't believe.  She is also one of the funniest people I know (yeah, one of those super-humans).  I think you'll agree after hearing about her recent "redneck" adventure in the outdoors.

Ok it wasn’t really, but they kept calling it that…

A few weeks ago, I went to visit my boyfriend James’ family in upstate NY.  His grandmother kept insisting “we have to give you a real redneck weekend!”  Fine by me, but I’m from North Carolina, where redneck has a slightly different meaning, one that is nothing close to the awesome things I saw in Dolgeville, NY (I think that’s where I was…).

Let me back up just a tad, though.  I’m not an outdoor girl.  I don’t mean to give you the impression that I am somehow high maintenance ( I’m not, really).  My head is in the right place (on top of my shoulders).  But the problem is that mother nature and my body are just incompatible.  Examples?  Oh, there are plenty.  For one, I’m the only college student I know who got pneumonia, the flu, and mono while tenting for the epic Duke-UNC basketball game.  Oh, and then there was the time when I lived in Tanzania for two months after school.  (I hope you are laughing.  I didn’t even tell you all the other stupid ailments I got during college that would make you say: hold the phone Britt, you think that’s a good idea for YOU?)  On my way out the door, my grandfather said to me “Don’t sit down on any toilets over there and get knocked up Britt.”  Um, thanks gramps… What? Awkward.  Anyway, I spent almost the whole time in the bathroom, and came back with a parasite that stuck around for so long that I named it Peter, and C diff (a potentially deadly disease contracted by the immune suppressed – those receiving chemotherapy treatment, elderly people, or HIV/AIDS patients – and me).  I also can’t breathe (generally).

But the thing about me is that I’m not a quitter.  Mother nature be damned – I will keep trying to make myself be able to do all those outdoorsy things that my body just hates.  And this redneck weekend was the ultimate challenge – so much potential for adventure (or disaster).

We left North Carolina on a Friday, and after 13 hours in the car, we finally made it up to Utica, NY, and  headed for a nearby diner for breakfast with James’ family.  My favorite meal of the day.  There were only 7 people there including the staff, but James’ parents knew people there.  Now, while there’s something cute about a small town where you know pretty much everyone, I still kind of like the fact that if I go to my neighborhood diner (what neighborhood diner?) – I mean the diner in the next town over – and eat so many pecan pancakes that I split my pants, no one will know my name.  (Note that pants splitting has never happened at a diner, but has happened to me at work at a team building event where we did curling.  WTF is curling you ask?  A great way to split your pants in front of a bunch of your engineer customers.  One day, my karma’s gonna turn around, I swear.)

My other flaw in addition to my body hating me (as if there’s only 2) is that I’m long winded.  I’m sorry, I’ll get to the good stuff.  Fastforward to going to the grandparents’ house.  They live on the most amazing, secluded wonderland ever.  Ok, there may be other places like it, but none that I’ve been to.  And certainly none that anyone I knew owned.  They bought these hundreds of acres of land 30+ years ago for pocket change – literally pocket change.  Then they self-made everything on there – including this lake.

We slept there Friday night, and on Saturday morning, after eating a delicious cinnamon bun, I decided there’d be no better place to go for a run than here.  Nearly paradise.  I turned on my Lady Gaga playlist and started out OK, but quickly remembered that in high elevation, I suck at running. (A week later, my lungs are still hurting.)  Then add in scary thought #1: they have bears up there in NY, don’t they?  And Lady Gaga was not going to save me.   So I quickened my pace, tried to enjoy the view.  Enter scary thought #2: they have guns/hunting gear here, don’t they?  And when they see something moving across the lake, they shoot at it.  For sport, for target practice, for hunt, for whatever the reason people shoot guns in the woods. I hadn’t told everyone that I was leaving and I could kind of look like an animal darting around the lakeside shrubbery…  I was really hoping this run was not going to be my last.  Turns out my fears were not even that out-there – not even two minutes after I got back, someone shot at something across the lake and James’ grandfather came out and asked “did you see if Brittany is back?” This outdoor thing may not be for me. 

Later on in the day, James volunteered to take the tractor over to the farm to take care of some farm problem over there.  Did I want to go along?  Of course.  Did I ignore all the red flags that my past experiences with anything nature-y should have brought up?  Absolutely. Sure enough, on bump number three, I hit my foot on the tractor and started bleeding, and then, even worse, I saw the most ridiculously huge spider RIGHT THERE on the tractor.  It was the kind of spider that if you stepped on it, 3 million baby spiders would rush out and eat your foot (or maybe that is just how I imagined it).  Brittany: 0; Mother Nature: 2.

Once we were done on the tractor, James asked if I would like to go around the lake and see the sights on the 4-wheeler.  Definitely.  I took my bleeding foot, but this time decided to pack for the ride better.  He brought a beer, and I brought my paper cup full of wine.  Stupid.  Me.  Paper cups?  4-wheelers?  Over the river and through the woods?  Wine?  Yeah my paper cup lasted long enough for me to have about two sips.  His beer made it though.  It was laughable how I lost it, too.  A big tree branch came at me and literally just ripped it from my hand despite the death grip I had on it.  Brittany: 0; Mother Nature: 3.

A little later, we went on a canoe fishing trip on the lake.  Sure to flip the canoe, I didn’t bring anything with me but my camera.  It was a risk, but well worth it. No canoe failures.  Brittany: 1; Mother Nature: 3.

In the evening, when it was just James and his grandparents and me sitting around a fire (they do that in the woods), I made a joke about telling ghost stories by the fire and making s’mores.  No we didn’t have any s’mores, but they did tell me some ghost stories.  Did I tell you that I could not see the nearest neighbor? That they own several hundred acres? That it’s the type of place where no one will hear you scream?  So James’ grandmother proceeded to tell me  terrifying ghost stories about  the actual house they live in today – the one I’d be spending the night in – that I had just spend the night in on Friday – that I had just been feeling my way through in the pitch black darkness (because I could not find any of the light switches).  Awesome.  Thanks.  I woke up so many times that night thinking I was hearing things that I refused to open my eyes so as not to see the scary ghost people until daylight.  As far as I can tell, none of the ghosts cursed me in my sleep (I think), or took my left pinky finger in exchange for me invading their protected ghost lair, but I did lose almost a whole night’s sleep Brittany: 1; Mother Nature: 4.

After Saturday, I stuck to the things I was better at, like taking pictures and eating.  But let me not give you the impression that all was well – the day after I got back from this redneck weekend, after my amazing tractor and 4-wheeler rides, I promptly threw my back out and could not move for several hours.  Like I said, healthy 24 year old – but I have a degenerative back problem too – from all that hard labor and sports stuff I didn’t do when I was growing up.  God only knows what 25 has in store for me in a few weeks.  I’ll probably get the flu on my birthday.  Nothing that my positive optimistic attitude can’t fix, right?

Well, at least my brave encounter with Mother Nature left me with these memories of the most beautiful "redneck" place I have ever seen…

Oh, and a new friend, Chippy, who welcomed me into the wilderness with open arms and a hearty appetite for my love.  I’ll let you know when I come down with the rodent flu.