Syncopated Family Travel: Wall Drug and the Dakota Badlands Food Poisoning

A travel column by Anthony Mathenia

Syncopated: Displace the beats or accents in so that strong beats become weak and vice versa

South Dakota Family TravelFrom De Smet, South Dakota, we head west toward the Dakota Badlands. The roads are pretty vacant, not seeing much traffic outside of the annual Sturgis motorcycle rally in August, which chokes the Interstate with more well-oiled leather than a fetish club.

Along Interstate 90, a regular sight is garish billboards calling on travelers to visit the Wall Drug Store where 5-cent coffee and free ice water await. Combined with the Theta-state highway hypnosis, the staccato of advertisements is eerily effective. By the time we reach Wall, South Dakota, we figure it is worth checking out.

More importantly, Wall is also a convenient launching off point to the South Dakota Badlands, just a ten-minute drive south. We check in at the Sunshine Inn, a strip motor hotel located just a couple of blocks away from the tourist area, largely taken up by the massive Wall Drugs. The Sunshine Inn is a budget motel, but the beds are comfortable and, most importantly, they have AMC—tonight is the Mad Men season finale I’ve been eagerly awaiting.

An unlisted perk of the motel is John, the proprietor, who is helpful in suggesting travel activities. For instance, he tells us that the Badlands National Park is open twenty-four hours and overnight camping is allowed, which makes it perfect for an amorous nocturnal coupling. When we ask for a good place for dinner, John steers us away from the tourist section to the Red Rock Restaurant where the locals eat.

The Red Rock is jam packed, but we manage to score a seat. I order a country fried steak, my wife a cod sandwich, and my vegan daughter has to settle for onion rings. The complimentary salad bar is shocking in its lack of offerings. In total, it amounts to four items: iceberg lettuce, spring onions, whole radishes, and shredded carrots. Tucked under the yellowing sneeze guard are some macaroni and potato salads that look like leftovers from the grocer’s deli.

When it arrives, my country fried steak is disappointing—equal parts charred and greasy, with enough salt to preserve the whole cow. If this is where the locals eat, I pity them. When the waitress’s back is turned, I pilfer some ribs from the buffet line instead.

Fed, for better or worse, we check out the (in)famous Wall Drugs. History tells the story of the proprietor who in 1936 attempted to revive the dying pharmacy by offering free ice water to thirsty travelers. The gimmick worked, and the drug store thrived, expanding to take up several blocks today. The free ice water is allegedly still around, but it is a task to find it through the great maze of souvenirs: magnets, t-shirts, postcards, sharks’ teeth, snow globes, salt water taffy, fake mustaches, puzzles, tiny spoons, whoopee cushions, fudge, geodes, garden gnomes, and more.

Occasionally you emerge from the tacky goods to be confronted with some sideshow spectacle like a roaring robot T-Rex or a giant Jackelope. Each has a crowd of tourists lining up for a picture to say, “Yes, we really saw that.” We manage to fight the spirit of commerce and escape the clutches of Wall Drugs, never having found the free ice water.

With the obligatory tourist trap braved, we head out to the Badlands National Park. At the northern entrance to the park, we purchase an annual “America the Beautiful” pass. It’s pricy, but cost-effective for us because it will grant access to other places in the national park system during our travel. Just clear of the gate, the Pinnacles Overlook offers an amazing introduction of the northern area of the park.

Here striated white buttes, spires, and pinnacles frame low-lying plateaus of mixed grass. Along the sloping edges, juniper and yucca trees are nestled between eroded gullies. It’s a breathtaking view. My daughter and I take a moment to climb out across the hard clay outlooks, while my more cautious wife lingers behind to chastise our hubris.

To the west, we take a short drive over the unpaved Sage Creek Rim Road, where along the way, the landscape levels out into flat grasslands. Out of our window, pronghorn deer and bison graze in the distance. We park at Robert’s Prairie Dog Town, which is home to the park’s largest colony of prairie dogs. We enjoy watching the rodents as they scamper between their many burrowing holes. As I approach, they go into alert mode, signaling warnings to each other with high-pitched chatter. A lone bison lumbers toward us, and we snap some photographs, while keeping a safe distance from the shaggy, black behemoth. The park pamphlet reminds us that the bison are wild animals and capricious.

The sun begins to set as we backtrack to continue our drive to the main Badlands Loop Road, carrying us past other scenic outlooks. My stomach suddenly lurches in disagreement at our earlier meal at the Red Rock.

“Pull over,” I say to my wife, doubled over.

“Why?” she says.

“I need to go to the bathroom.”

“But there’s no—”

“Just do it,” I hiss through clenched teeth.

South Dakota BadlandsThe car bounces as she jerks the wheel over to the narrow shoulder. I don’t wait for it to fully stop before I leap out, grabbing some napkins. I’ll spare the details about what happens next, but it involves me defiling a national treasure. If there is a hell, I’m sure this will not bode well for me in the end.

With the sun setting, darkness rolls over the Badlands and night fades in, casting shadows over the jagged formations. We pull over at Panorama Point and wrap ourselves in blankets as we step out into the thrusting wind to wallow in the splendor of the glittering night sky. As I sip on a can of beer, I’m vaguely aware that the Mad Men season finale is starting, but who really needs that when you have a show like this?

In the parking lot behind us, a black jeep pulls up and a young man slips out, pulling tight a drab-green army jacket. The jeep seems to be loaded with all of his worldly possessions. As he nears, his flashlight settles on us briefly before he slips out of sight, down into the deep solitude of the carved formations.

I think about him and lament the fact that I never took the opportunity to disengage from civilization to wander the country. In that moment, my advice to the new graduate back at the Ingalls homestead doesn’t seem all that foolhardy. I look over at my daughter with her purple hoodie cinched tight over her head and the white wire of her iPod headphones trailing down to her pocket. Perhaps we should send all of our children out into the wilderness when they come of age.They’ll be mired down with homes and jobs and up-sizing flat screen televisions soon enough.

A gentle calmness permeates the air. No one dares to speak, as if our sounds are an unwelcome pollution. I breathe in slowly, as if tasting the cold, crisp air like fine wine. It’s damn good. I have a long way to go before becoming a devotee of the cult of the great outdoors, but I’ll admit that I’m starting to fall victim to Mother Nature’s love bombing.

 

Syncopated Family Travel: Channeling Laura Ingalls Wilder

Ingalls homestead in De Smet South DakotaA travel column by Anthony Mathenia

Syncopated: Displace the beats or accents in so that strong beats become weak and vice versa

On the first day, we travel northwest through Missouri, then skirt the Nebraska/Iowa border up to South Dakota. It is a long marathon of a drive, made possible by our freshness and lack of road weariness. We end up crashing for the night in Arlington, South Dakota. It’s one of those between here and barely there blips on the map kind of towns. The whole of it seems to be a hotel, a restaurant, and a gas station sitting in wide open fields of green nothing.

The desk clerk is friendly as we walk into the Arlington Inn, a small hotel with decorative call-backs to its former existence as a Super 8, circa 1989.

“Are you with the class reunion?” she asks with a wide smile.

Is there a discount? I wonder, though it would be a hard fraud to pull off in what is most probably a graduating class of the six people sitting in the lobby reminiscing over tar black coffee.

“No, we are just passing through to De Smet,” I reply.

“Oh Dee Smet,” she politely corrects my foreign tongue. “Laura Ingalls-Wilder fans, hmm?”

She has the clairvoyance to guess the purpose of our visit, though in a place like this, it isn’t exactly hard. Why else would people stop by, other than to visit the places where Laura lived and about which she wrote in her Little House books? I have no embarrassment in acknowledging that her books are among my absolute favorites. I’m also unashamed to admit that I rip off The Long Winter, in my novel Paradise Earth, with gleeful abandon.

Even without a discount, the Arlington Inn is inexpensive. During our trip, we will repeatedly challenge ourselves to stay as cheaply as possible while still retaining the luxury of a room that doesn’t look like a CSI set painted with body fluid.

After unpacking, I walk next door to the 1481 Grille to wind down with a much needed beer. I’m joined by my wife, but my daughter hangs back at the hotel. It’s probably for the best, I think, as I glance over the mile long menu. My daughter entered this world as a picky eater and spiraled into a mad vegan—the kind that doesn’t eat salad.

I order a Boulevard, a crisp wheat ale garnished with an ample lemon wedge. Drinking the cold beer, I survey the seeming regulars at the bar. Sitting next to me is a slender old woman who looks a bit like the Cryptkeeper from Tales from the Crypt. She’s enjoying a Hamm’s lager in a tall pilsner glass with a garnish of olives, a touch of tres sophistique. To her right is a dusty fellow in a camouflage hat and a sleeveless jean jacket with motor oil and Harley-Davison patches on the back. He is draining bottles of Bush Light as quickly as the bartender can twist off the caps. Somewhere between bottle four and six, he dials a buddy to negotiate the purchase of a horse saddle.

“I won’t pay less than a hundred and fourteen dollars,” he demands into his antique flip-phone, sharply pointing his finger toward the nonpresent individual on the other end of the line. I’m impressed; even inebriated, he is a master of negotiation. Satisfied at closing the deal, he snaps shut his phone and orders another Bush Light. He has less success convincing the Cryptkeeper to stick around and suck down beers with him. “Stay and have another,” he pleads.

“I can’t have another DUI,” she protests as she chomps down her beer-battered olives and slithers off of her bar stool.

“I got one of those before. It was a setup,” he says and then takes a long drink from the amber bottle.
I shouldn’t have to worry about a DUI with the convenience of a hotel just next door, but who knows what kind of small-town Barney Fife justice passes in places like this. Besides, we have another long day ahead of us. I decide to cut it off after my second beer. As we get up to leave, the man wants to know if I want to buy a horse saddle.

“It’s a steal at two-hundred forty,” he says with a sly grin, tipping bottle eight toward me.

The next morning, we head out to nearby De Smet. In the town, you can take a walking tour of a variety of locations significant in the life and books of Laura Ingalls-Wilder. Our first stop is the original Ingalls family homestead, just outside of town. It is here that the real Laura walked, not the freckle-faced, bucktoothed television version.

home of Laura Ingalls WilderNothing remains of the original 1880 homestead but the twisted, aging cottonwood trees that Pa Ingalls planted to prove up his 157.25 acre claim. Even today you can glimpse what he saw in this spot. It is quite picturesque, as the low wind rustles the prairie grass and the planted grain. Here, along the walking trails, are newly built period buildings: a school house, a dugout shelter, and a reconstruction of the Ingalls’ original claim shanty.

There is a professional “Ma” on staff, who tends a vegetable garden and the small menagerie of barnyard animals in the hay-roof barn. She gives us a tour and is a wealth of olde-tymey knowledge, like how to make lye soap and braided rugs. “If you lived in Laura’s day, you might already be married and pregnant,” she says to my unimpressed daughter. I muse at the lack of privacy in the tiny, thin-walled shanty and wonder how anyone got pregnant at all.

At a nearby workshop, we learn to make rope, corncob dolls, and twisted hay sticks, the kind that the Ingalls family burned to stay alive during the long winter of harsh blizzards when coal was depleted. The activities are overseen by a plump-faced teenager working her first summer job after graduation from high school. It’s her first week on the homestead, and already she likes it more than her previous job at Subway. I tell her I’m from the St. Louis area, and she gushes like it is an exotic, exciting place.

“I want to leave and become a film director,” she says with a careless optimism that only the young can manifest. When I ask her who her favorite director is, I’m ready to fill in the blanks from a short list. “Tim Burton,” she answers. It is embarrassingly predictable. When she laments that her family is not encouraging her to pursue her dreams, I offer that I think she would be a fool not to. It’s a reckless thing for me to advise, because I don’t think that she can actually make it, but I figure failure is a lesser evil than being stuck in the middle of nowhere.

I complete my tour by scaling the lookout tower and surveying the expansive sea of prairie grass extending miles out across the flat land toward the distant horizon. It is here that I attempt to summon the spirit of Laura Ingalls. I recently watched a documentary about comic artist/professional crazy Grant Morrison, and he claims you can conjure up the spirit of anyone.

What the hell. I attempt to clear my mind as I reach back through the ages to connect with the pioneer girl. She appears on the prairie grass below me, running with her older sister. She stops as if noticing me. I raise my hand and wave hello. She smiles and offers a tentative wave, before returning to her play. I blink and the connection is broken. The young pioneer girl fades back into time.

Little House on the Prarie - the recreation of the houseAs we leave the homestead, I latch on to a vagrant Internet signal and my phone blips as fresh e-mail funnels in. I read the first one, where the editor of my novel Happiness: How to Find It is taking me to task for my use of the word “boughten.” According to her, using archaic, nonstandard English begs bad reviews.

What she doesn’t realize is that the 19th century colloquialism is another one of my nods to Laura’s books. Will I consent to a change? I look out at the prairie, diminishing in my rear view mirror, before sending a reply. Absolutely not.

 

Syncopated Family Travel : Hitting the Road

A weekly travel column by Anthony Mathenia

Syncopated: Displace the beats or accents in so that strong beats become weak and vice versa

The Road to South Dakota I’m simultaneously trying to keep a blanket wrapped around me and keep an insipid can of Bud Light wedged between my chattering knees, as heavy gusts of wind whip across the South Dakota Badlands.

Despite this being an otherwise scorcher of a summer, the weather at night in the national park is positively arctic. The cutting chill is a small price to pay for the nighttime spectacle—the overhead dome of black sky is lit up like the best Christmas ever.

My God, where did all those stars come from? Back home, the air is choked with acrid refinery smoke and the stars are blotted out by the spillage of city glow. When you have a chance to really see the stars in the most pristine air in America, you don’t ask why the ancients were always looking up. You totally get it. I get it, even though by anyone’s measure, I’m not the outdoors type.

South Dakota is our first stop on what will be a two-week long family road trip. Truth be told, I was dreading this trip. Thousands of miles crammed in a car to see trees and grass and endless stretches of nothing, except for the occasional smeared road-kill—I didn’t think it would be my thing.

I’m not into climbing or kayaking or tree-hugging or whatever else draws people out of hard-won modern comfort to fight the so-called great outdoors. I counted it as an achievement that I made it to my mid-thirties without setting foot in a national park.

When my wife and I first got married, our travel coalesced with the touring schedule of our favorite rock band, Throwing Muses, and the solo performances of front woman Kristin Hersh. Our fandom carried us to cities like San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, and New York. I love cities—the culture, the entertainment, and especially the restaurants. Fifteen years after the fact, I’m still waxing poetically about a revelatory meal at Nobu, New York, like it was the birth of my child.

When my daughter came along, we traded big city rock clubs for sunny, saccharine jaunts to Walt Disney World in Florida. This was our travel for ten years, until we blinked to find that our pixie-dusted princess was a withdrawn teenager with a faux-hawk.

I think that is part of what lured me out to the road. Somehow an old-fashioned great American family road trip seemed like a last ditch effort to capture a moment before it slipped away forever. It seemed a reasonable effort to reconnect as a family, forced into a Nissan Altima with no place to retreat.

So in the summer of 2012, we decided to tackle this majestic nation, starting from Alton, Illinois, going west and back, hitting as many scenic must-dos as we possibly could. We considered it a tasting sample of the best America has to offer. We had no planning except for our midpoint of southern California and a list of national parks that were positioned between here and there and back again.

We headed out on a Saturday morning, after a Tetris grand master effort of packing our car for our two-week excursion. My mind was stuck on my day job. Would they be able to get along without me? It was tough to get away from my long-term place of employment, because unlike most first world countries, America has a deep-seated grudge toward vacation time. It made me feel strangely ashamed to opt out of productivity like a shiftless vagabond.

It was only for two weeks, but it felt like a guilty luxury, despite other places in the world where three weeks or more was standard—a fact that I was reminded of by the glut of Europeans at most of our stops. I did my best to push the guilt out of mind as I shifted the car into drive and left home.

 

Italian Witch Hunting in Naples

Witch Hunting in Naples, ItalyLike Salem is to America, the city Naples is home to a rich and mysterious history of magic and witchcraft, or as it is called in Italian, stregheria. It is not at all uncommon for European cities to boast such a past, as the pre-Christian world was ripe with healers and folk magic, but the area around Naples continued their mystical traditions well into the Christian age.

During the late 1800s, an author by the name J.B. Andrews conducted a series of interviews with known Neapolitan strega (witches). He discovered that each witch seemed to specialize in his or her own area, whether it be sea magick, earth magick, herbalism, and even astrology. He was curious as to whether or not they learned their practices from sacred text but discovered that the tradition was entirely oral, “given by mother to the daughter.”
Stregheria is still prevalent in modern day Naples and has been highly influenced Hermetic groups. Of course today, we all have access to the spells and rituals that Old World strega used to practice thanks to a large interest in the occult and a number of volumes that have been printed on modern Paganism. Italian-American author and Salem, Massachusetts resident Raven Grimassi is one of the few writers to focus on Italian witchcraft today.

Italian WitchesIf the mystery of the occult piques your interest, then Naples and its surrounding area is the perfect place to plan your next European escape. Try a trip to Benevento, also called Italy’s “City of Witches,” a mere 50 km northeast of Naples. Here once stood a sacred walnut tree, known as the place where witches would gather on their sabbats to sing and dance. When Saint Barbato converted the Duke to Christianity in 622, the Duke proceeded to have the tree chopped down. Legend says it didn’t take long for the stump to magically begin to grow, restoring the old walnut tree to its previous glory. Even the transcripts from the Italian Witch Trials make mention of it. It is believed that this particular tree still stands near Avellino in Stretto di Barba and that modern day witches secretly meet there.

witches in SicilyNot just concerning stregaheria, but Naples history in general has a lot to do with its relationship to Sicily. With a car rental in Italy, you will easily be able to travel down the coast to Villa San Giovanni and hop a ferry. Sicily was home to the famous Fairy Witch Trials. It is believed that the fairies and elves would make human contacts in Sicily and carry them away to Benevento. The fairies and the women who were involved with them were named the “donas de fuera.” During the 16th and 17th centuries, there were an unknown number of witch trials held in Sicily. Unlike the Salem Witch Trials, the women on trial said nothing of the devil, but instead spoke of the fae and were tried for sorcery. Far less violent than the US trials, most of the sentenced were simply banished, put in prison, and some were even set free.

What is interesting is that all of these events can be traced back or lead back to Naples. Plan your next vacation in Italy and discover the magic for yourself!

Melissa Rae Cohen is a travel writer in love with all things mysterious and magical. Her family immigrated to Ellis Island from Naples during the early 1900s. Today she lives in Portland, Maine with her husband and two naughty cats and works as a travel writer for Auto Europe.  

Photo Essay: The Beauty of Doors

There’s something about doors that just make my brain fill with wonder. Like travel, doors always lead to something new and often to something unexpected. Like the story of the Lady or the Tiger or Let’s Make a Deal.
BCN Door
This door in Barcelona seems to lead to a classical place where graffiti monsters rule. Aren’t you curious what lies on the other side?
Bergamo Italy Door
Does this door in Bergamo, Italy actually lead to anywhere? Why is it locked. What’s it hiding? Does it lead to Narnia?
Door to Bordeaux
Is there a French family drinking Bordeaux behind this French door? Can you almost hear the laughter? Oui.
Door in Belgium
This Brussels, Belgium door is altogether more serious. Are there great works of art on the other side or serious EU business going on?
Door in Fez
Couscous perhaps? Maybe a carpet shop? What does your imagination say is behind this door in the Fez Medina?
Cave Door in GrenadaWhat about this door from a cave in San Bernardino above Grenada in Spain. How do the troglodyte gypsies pass their days. Beer, fortune telling, black magic? Or just a card game and some cooking.

Marrakesh Door
Rabbit Hole in Marrakech

Finally this one in the magical city of Marrakesh. Don’t you feel like you are falling in?
Lao Tzu famously said that without opening your door you can see the world and I think that might explain the fascination with travel. We all wonder just what is on the other side of the door and sometimes it’s even more wonderful than we imagine.

Yodeling Vagabond Biking and Hiking in Zion National Park

story and photos by Brian Leibold
Zion National Park in UtahLast month I wrote here about yodeling in Yellowstone during an epic bike trip from Montana to Arizona. Toward the end of this adventure, I spent a weekend alone in what would become one of my favorite places in the world: Zion National Park.

As I biked on the long winding road down into the canyon, I was struck dumb in the shadow of the setting sun. Zion is indescribable, but I will attempt to describe it. It is ineffable because that’s a word too. The sheer cliffs rise up threateningly and gorgeously on both sides of the echoing canyon like that girl or guy that you’ve always been in love with from the moment you first saw her and who is so attractive that you find it difficult to speak in his/her (because I’m gender neutral) presence: intimidating but undeniably stunning.
Zion immediately made me feel like I was on some kind of nature speed, lighting a passionate fire that so often waits impatiently to be sparked and left blazing on a heaven-on-earthly grill and, once burning, is loath to be put out.
Vagabonding Tip #1: Find something that lights your fire. Then burn baby burn and scorch the earth lusting to quench your fiery desire.
Zion National Park, UtahSo I was wide awake and euphoric and raring to go with lightning speed, and like a keen owl in the balmy Utahan night my eyes were sharp and focused and trained completely on the present moment.
And here, in my manic state of elevation, I biked headlong down the spectacular canyon glorying in all these buttes and monoliths because those are apparently words. These rock formations in Zion beckon urgently to all who are born to boldly boulder, and immense mountains call climbers breathlessly sans lungs to climb higher to elevate our lives, and rolling rivers swerve alluringly through narrow slot canyons away from the sun.
My first day in Zion I did two hikes, the 8-mile Observation Point hike and the 6-mile Angels Landing hike. I was a solo venturing yodeling vagabond at this point, as my cousin and I had gone different routes a week earlier.
Words of Wisdom #1: If no one wants to vagabond with you, go alone! Being alone on the road is highly superior to being clustered and flustered in claustrophobic cities where finding any time at all to be alone is difficult.
Zion National Park, UtahWhen I was in Zion, words—even words of wisdom–were not forthcoming. How does one describe the indescribable? How does one express the ineffable because that’s a word too? What does one say in such a place? I had not acquired the courage to speak to the stunning woman who dared me to approach her overawing beauty and I approached and we neared closer but I spoke not.
On my way up to Observation Point, I traversed through slot canyons which provided discrete sneak peeks through narrow windows, portholes to paradise, hinting at the magnificence that would become vividly clear upon reaching the top. Then there was a curvy section that looked out to the east and then to the west in a cyclical wondrous fashion as I winded my way to the top.
At the Point, the other hikers and I all competed for Zion’s attention and she like an eternally beautiful always vigorous spinster chose no lover but stirred the spirits of all men and women who exulted in her spacious canyon. She made youthful the old and she made bold the faint-hearted; she never spurned her admirers’ advances but spurred on the souls of restless vagabond wanderers who had searched ceaselessly to see her and delight in her delights for days and decades alike and she did this with a mysterious majestic air of constant slight amusement, laughing inwardly at the magnetic effect that she had on all.
Zion National ParkAnd then I descended Observation Point and began to hike up Angels Landing, where messengers would surely come down from on high and pronounce Zion as the unmistakable heaven on earth and all comers would enter into the gates where the angels land and where spirits of sojourners soar with just-realized wings to new elevations.
The hike began in earnest and the angelic views took shape at a point where the steepness increased and a rope was needed to hold onto. I took my time here and enjoyed the journey. For the vagabond, it is all about the journey. In the words of the Grateful Dead
—Such a long, long time to be gone and a short time to be there.
Fun Definitely Disputable Fact Which Is Not A Fact At All But An Opinion #1: The Grateful Dead is the best band to listen to while vagabonding on the road.
Agree or disagree with this statement as you see fit. Say I am unquestionably correct or that I am disgracefully mistaken. My view on the matter has been stated with conviction and I hold steadfast to it.
zion national park, UtahAnd with the Grateful Dead playing in my head, I dreamed peaceful daydreams on the angel’s throne.
The next morning, I arose early.
Although the previous day had been incredible and I had climbed two hikes considered the best in the park by some, I wanted to earn the beauty that I was witnessing by allowing the all-powerful Zion to put my physical abilities to the test. And Pride Rock provided that opportunity. Pride Rock was simply a mountain that had a rock that looked to me like Pride Rock from Lion King.
Vagabonding Tip #2: Pride Rock is an unknown unmarked hike. You won’t find it in any guides or handbooks. Do the established hikes at places like Zion. Even with the crowds, they are absolutely worth it. But also go off and climb your own mountain. And choose a cool fitting name for it.
I knew that Pride Rock would be a noble competitor. I would describe the climb as very difficult bouldering. When I needed some limb to grasp hold of in precarious points of the climb, Pride Rock offered not his hand to hold; when I needed to climb on his back, he carried me not; when I needed energy for the last final push, he gifted no such burst and I was forced to find it inside myself.
Zion Pride RockBut finally, though Pride Rock put me full to the test and did not help me at any point and was an altogether stubborn but beautiful bastard, I finally made it to the top where I zanily unrestrainedly exulted to no one in madcap yodels, which were insane enough to do any traveling minstrel proud.
And then Pride Rock and I shook hands with the utmost mutual respect and we sat together and watched the sun set slowly to the west, pleading with the tyrant of time to stop and stand still and soliciting the sun to do the same and stay motionless for a time in the sky and fall not.
But time went on as it does, and the sun went down as day turned to night, and I rode back for my last night in paradise. Then the next day I biked up the canyon back onto the road.

Brian Leibold is a student of life and a yodeling vagabond. You can find his work at his blog at BMLontheroad.blogspot.com and maybe even back here at Vagobond.

Yodeling Vagabonds Bike Yellowstone

Story and Photos by Brian Leibold
yellowstone Bike TripDo you own a bike? If not, get one! If yes, do you know how to ride it? If no, learn how! (And question the wisdom in owning a bike and not knowing how to ride it). Now that everybody has a bike and knows how to ride it how about you…
Go on a bike tour! But first read this. Then go, man! Maybe train some to prepare and perhaps learn how to fix a flat tire. Then take off, man, ride on! Actually I would strongly suggest purchasing panniers or a trailer to carry supplies first. Then definitely take off, my fellow vagabond, get, ready, set, go! But don’t leave without first of course deciding where you want to take off. Then by all means, what are you waiting for, you nomadic rascal, go! But I would suggest taking your time and thinking about it first. There’s no rush. It’s not a bike race, it is a bike tour (not to be confused with the Tour de France or similar tours of that racing nature.
Yellowstone River Falls—Words of Wisdom #1: Do not confuse “bike tour” with “bike race.”It is not a race. On a similar but at the same time different note, the words “It is not a race” could also be applied to life. That could be a book, Life: A Tour, Not a Race. Or something.
Some might not know what a bike tour is. It is self-explanatory. A bike tour is when you have your bike, you put all the stuff you need for however long you may be touring, whether it is for a weekend or a year, and then you go! Some people just start from where their bike is, while others ship their bike to another place and go from there (I shipped mine to Montana).

Bikig through Yellowstone— Money Saving Tip #1: It is cheaper to ride a bike that you already have than to purchase a bike that you don’t have to go on a bike tour. Also you don’t really need a great expensive road bike to go on a tour, just a bike that is dependable.
—Money Saving Tip #2: Most bike shops will ship your bike to another bike shop for cheaper than it would be to ship it on the plane. So do that.

biking through yellowstoneLast fall, I took off time from college and joined my cousin for a leg of his bike trip. His was an adventurous epic that began in Washington (state) and just recently finished in Washington D.C.
(On The Res, his blog about his trip). I would bike over 2000 miles and explore the states of Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah and Arizona (BML ON THE ROAD, my blog).
It surprised me a little just how easy it was to get accustomed to being on a bike for 6 or more hours a day and putting in as many as 100 miles a day. If I can do it, having very little biking experience, so can you! So go! But finish reading this first.
The first distinctly memorable place Richard and I biked to was Yellowstone, the first National Park in the country. Yellowstone is made for bikers and hikers. While cars have to wait for scenic overlooks in order to stop, where hundreds of other cars create hungry horrid mobs of mass pulsing humanity, the biker hiker community is able to avoid the mobs by stopping at unofficial points to explore off-road.
old faithful in Yellowstone ParkAnd so the first place in Yellowstone we biked was famous Old Faithful, which was not off-road but needed to be seen and so we saw it. We experienced the spouting, spurting, springing, old-in-years-but-still-with-youthful-raw-get-up-and-go-energy, timeless geyser that is Old Faithful, uncontrollable in its pure natural wondrous power exploding out of the ground phenomenally and perpetually, with a sort of violent vigor like a surreptitiously but supernaturally strong Samson shaking and bursting up towards the surface, longing for the open air, to be freed from the shackles and constraints which held it down in the discolored volcanic ground.

—Fun Fact #1: Yellowstone is the world’s largest active volcano.
In that way, the geyser was sort of like some vagabonds who live in the way they do in order to escape from the shackles and constraints of modern day society and by traveling and seeing and experiencing new places and meeting new and wonderful people, they set themselves free.

Yellowstone natural bridge—Fun Fact #2: I just compared Old Faithful in Yellowstone to vagabonding.

We explored Yellowstone for many days, and it never failed to drop our jaws with its geysers and raging rivers twisting with snaky sinewy vigor through the eternal Eden and peaks and mountains and just the general heart-warming wondrous naturalistic beauty of the place. Beauty can be found most everywhere in America if one searches hard enough for it, from big, industrial, neon-brightened cities to small, lonely ghost towns that lay neglected and forgotten off never-ending highways in the western night. But in Yellowstone the traveling vagabond is able to experience a land that is preserved to look like the earth did back before all the skyscrapers and the endless development and the constant construction, and even before there were houses or railroads, and back to an even earlier era still when men and women perhaps lived in caves, or just out in the wild under the stars, reveling in the natural glory of the land around them.

Here is a list of hotels in or near Yellowstone in case you don’t want to sleep in a tent for some reason.

waterfalls in YellowstoneAnd so with our ancestors of yore in their graves or wherever their spirits may lie, we paid our respects to our possibly-cave-dwelling vagabond ancestors by exulting excitedly in the land around us as the sun slapped our sweaty brows as we biked up to precarious peaks and the wind whipped us with a frenzied rush of bursting gusts as we heehawed and yodeled all the long way down.
We would go on to many National Parks on the bike tour, including Grand Teton immediately following Yellowstone, Zion and Bryce Canyon both in Southern Utah, Grand Canyon, and lesser known but no less wonderful in their own way parks such as Craters of the Moon and City of Rocks in Idaho. And at every park, especially when the tourists and sun-setters (those who see only the sunset and then promptly leave) were scarce, I would feel that sensational sensation of experiencing land in its original state.
And so if you wish to live the life of a vagabond biker, I would suggest that you get your bike out of the dusty dark depths of the back of the garage, put some stuff you need on the bike, get on the bike yourself, and go! First maybe see if any of your friends want to go with you. Then take off, man, go! First, though, of course say goodbye to your loved ones, and tell them you love them, and give them a handshake or naw, be demonstrative! Pretend you’re going for the handshake but then give them a big old hug! Maybe even get a little emotional. Then go! Ride onwards, westwards, southwards, eastwards, upwards, downwards, any wards! Jump in the air and fly like an exotic vagabond bird, a nomadic eagle with wings spread!
Words of Wisdom #2: Ride out onto the road! It is open ahead.
Brian Leibold is a student of life and a yodeling vagabond. You can find his work at his blog at BMLontheroad.blogspot.com and maybe even back here at Vagobond.

Where To Go Vintage Shopping in Boston

You may think you know where to go in Boston, but do you know where to go vintage shopping in Boston? Read on!

Boston Downtown [ThinkStock - iStockphoto]

Vintage shopping is experiencing something of a renaissance at the moment, both in the UK and across the pond. So, if you’re planning your next shopping trip to the US, vintage stores should definitely be on your radar. Personally, my ideal destination is Boston, simply because as well as having great vintage outlets, it’s also got bags of culture, which means you can intersperse shopping trips with visits to historical attractions.

Below, I’ve listed some of what I think are the best places to shop vintage in Boston.

Poor Little Rich Girl

Where: 166 Newbury Street, Back Bay, Boston

Since the first Poor Little Rich Girl store was opened back in April 2002, it has established quite a following. In fact, there are now three stores to choose from in the Boston area, including Back Bay, Somerville and Cambridge.

What I like about Poor Little Rich Girl is that it’s got some noticeable differences from your average vintage clothing shop. For instance, it stocks some labels that you may well recognise, while it also has a boutique-esque feel. Another thing I like is the fact that it’s reasonably priced (well, who wouldn’t?), so you really feel like you’re getting value for money, as well as beautiful clothes and accessories.

where to go Boston Thinkstock Photodisk

Urban Renewals

Where: 122 Brighton Avenue, Allston

If you’re hoping to come across a few bargains, Urban Renewals is definitely the place to go. This warehouse-like shop is very basic in terms of its appearance, which of course goes some way to making it that little bit more wallet-friendly for patrons.

There’s a little bit of everything here, including men’s and women’s clothing, as well as a decent selection of homeware. In a space like this it’d be quite easy for things to be hard to find, but the staff do an excellent job of organisation, which means it’s actually nice and simple to locate what you’re looking for.

Bobby from Boston

Where: 19 Thayer Street, South End, Boston

Bobby from Boston is a wonderful little vintage store over on Thayer Street. Predominantly selling men’s clothes, it also stocks a small but well-chosen selection of women’s apparel. Its dark-wood interior is home to a large collection of men’s shoes, as well as bags and hats.

I think this store has a great atmosphere, being crowded as it is with great vintage items everywhere you look. And, despite the fact that the shop if definitely very full, it doesn’t look messy and disorganised – just interesting. In fact, there are so many tempting things all over the place that it’s difficult to know exactly where to look first!

Raspberry Beret

Where: 1704 Massachusetts Avenue, Porter Square, Cambridge

A fairly new addition to the vintage store circuit, Raspberry Beret is a great find. It gets new stock in virtually constantly, which means there’s always something new to browse, and its selection of dresses is particularly good.

This is also a brilliant place to come if you fancy finding yourself some new shoes or accessories, with many people claiming that these are what the store really shines for. Costume jewellery is a particular high point here, so if you’re into bold looks, you can’t go far wrong.

Yodeling Vagabond in Guadalupe and Big Bend National Parks and Terlingua

by Brian Leibold

the window at Big BendIn early October of last year, I and seven other members of a conservation corps (usaconservation.org, not a bad gig for the youthful vagabond, free housing off project, free food on, free time to explore the American southwest on and off), head eastward, Texas-bound, after a tough 8 days working on trails at Carlsbad Caverns National Park in southeast New Mexico. We head to Guadalupe and Big Bend National Parks and Terlingua.

Our first stop is Guadalupe Mountains National Park, the largest wilderness area in Texas, just over the New Mexico-Texas border. In the midst of the Texas desert, a cool calm stream runs through McKittrick Canyon under the rocky cliffs.  When compared to the rest of Texas, there is no comparison. Texas is known for its flatness, its uninteresting monotony, so mountains are a welcome change.  The Canyon has life “that is part desert, part canyon woodland, and part highland forest.” We arrive at noon, set up tents, and start hiking.

rattle snakeEarly in the hike, we see a rattlesnake.  I almost step on it, it blends in so well with the shadows and rocks.  We wait for a few moments for it to slink away.  And it does, retreating with a sort of sullen hurt pride, snakily twisting its way across the rocky desert floor, aware of its lowliness.  Don’t tread on me, the snake seems to hiss.  Definitely a Texan snake.  We circle carefully around.

As we climb up higher, the typical desert prickly pear cacti and walking-stick chollas and yuccas and mesquites disappear and maples, red and orange under the warm October sun, appear.  It grows colder and more colorful, more like the weather and foliage of New England than the Texas desert. We make it back to the campsite at dusk, the sun shining on the very tops of the mountains then slowly sinking down the juniper-scattered hillside.

Big Bend National ParkIn the morning, I wake up early while everyone else is still in their tents. We are heading to Big Bend National Park, but not for a few hours.  I have time to pack up everything, put it in the van, and start climbing up one of the trails, not stopping until I reach Guadalupe Point, at 8749 feet the highest point in Texas, a 3000 foot climb from the campsite. I stay at the top for a few minutes: the wind is powerful, views spectacular.   I am the highest man in Texas, actually the highest man in the US anywhere east of New Mexico.  As I descend, another man is coming up, ready to take my place on Texas’ throne.

I run down, in the type of mood where one feels compelled to yodel, singing ZZ Top, those good old boogie rocking bearded Texas boys. Though by no means a sharp dressed man or a man of means, I do have some cheap sunglasses and was for eight minutes the highest man in Texas. And that counts for something.

Big Bend TexasWe drive on to Big Bend in our big white van. Driving is not my favorite way to travel, but there is sort of rambling joy that comes with driving on some desolate desert road to nowhere. We are on the desolate desert road to Big Bend, and we listen to Marshall Tucker Band:

Gonna take a freight train

Down at the station

I don’t care where it goes”

 

On the way, we stop at an American Legion for a piss stop. It doubles as a bar and one of the regulars there, who tells us to call him Hollywood, is a character who looks like he may have spent the last ten years continually drunk.  He doesn’t stop talking for the hour we are there. Some of my favorite of his lines:

—Everyday above ground is a good one.
—I don’t need any girls. I got my dog.
— You know how Jesus died and then rose after three days.  There was this gun fight yesterday.  It’s documented.  I didn’t even need three days.

The Rio GrandeDid he have a job? Did he have a wife?  Don’t think so. He was just a pure Texas renegade in the wilds close to the border, sure of only one thing, that there was nothing sure in this world ‘cept laughter and beer, a rebel against who knows what.

We spend this night in Terlingua, a ghost town next to Big Bend filled with misfits and travelers and outlaws. When I think Texas, I think of Terlingua. To the wanderer searching for those few places in America outside the law, where unemployment and poverty and a vagabond mentality make one rich and wealth makes one strange, where indolence is seen as a virtue and ambition is looked upon as a bizarre and contagious plague that is ravaging society, Terlingua is definitely worth spending some time in, if only to listen to the stories, because everyone there has got one. The job of the people who live there is to have no job, to live their lives as they please free of all governmental influence.

Big Bend CrewPersonally, I couldn’t spend all that much time there. I respect people who resist normality and live outside the law, but for a bohemian outlaw town full of dissenters from the mainstream world, they seemed a little too content with their place in life, too settled. They weren’t traveling, exploring, vagabonding. Their world was their town. Which works for some people, and I wouldn’t mind spending a few weeks there, but before long I’d get restless, like all vagabonds do. And the cure to restlessness is movement. So we go on down the road.

The next day we go on down the road to Big Bend. We stay there two days.  It feels that we are not only out of Texas, but in another world altogether.  To describe Big Bend is to fail.  It soars above and beyond words, resisting definition and definitive analysis.  The first day we lie contentedly in an oasis of warm water next to the river, the muddy Rio Grande, which rumbles through the craggy cliffs.

guadalupe hikeOn our side, America. On the other, Mexico. For a second, I get the insane urge to swim across the border, illegally and ecstatically leaving my friends and co-workers behind, wearing nothing but my shorts, with no plan but to keep moving. I do not swim to the other side, since I would have to pay a hefty fine if caught. Plus, I have no ID on me, a necessity now in this world of identification and regulation. The Rio doesn’t give a damn if it’s flowing through Mexico or the US; it just flows, that’s all. Some people care though and say on this side is one country, on the other side is another, separate and far from equal. The river flows, that’s all.

And, after a long day of hikes and exploration, so do we, leaving Big Bend and flowing on to the next adventure.

Yodeling Vagabond into the Abyss of the Grand Canyon

by Brian Leibold

The Grand CanyonJohn Wesley Powell said:

“The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself. The resources of the graphic art are taxed beyond their powers in attempting to portray its features. Language and illustration combined must fail. “

Regardless, I’ll try. Recently, I went hiking into the Abyss of the Grand Canyon.

I am living in Flagstaff, Arizona. A good town for the vagabond, good enough to settle down for a long time in the vagabond mind (3 months). Of course, we must settle our restlessness by never settling. I know this all too well.

Flagstaff isn’t too big, and there is beauty all around. Enough National Forests close by for a lifetime of exploring, the red rocks of Sedona 40 miles south, and of course the Grand Canyon 70 miles up the road. An easy hitch, two rides tops.

Abyss of the Grand CanyonI’ve been to The Canyon three times with other people; this time I go alone. Sometimes a man needs separateness to see the loveliness and love the rest of it. Or something. Vagabonds are usually lone vagabonds, lone wolves, steppenwolves.

Thoreau:

 “The man who goes alone can start to-day; but he who travels with another must wait till the other is ready, and it may be a long time before they get off.”

I decide to hike the Hermit Trail, one of the more difficult and least populated trails at the South Rim. Getting to the trail head is the worst part, as I have to take two standing-room-only shuttles packed full of rim tourists with Nikons around necks and a yawning old driver deadlocked in dead end job. One of the stops is called The Abyss.
Abyss of the Grand CanyonThe driver:

Now approaching The Abyss. This is The Abyss. Please exit through the back doors to The Abyss. Step carefully over the white line as you descend into The Abyss.

Edward Abbey in the late-sixties, with prophetic foresight, writes in Desert Solitaire:

Industrial Tourism is a threat to the national parks. But the chief victims in the system are the motorized tourists. They are being robbed and robbing themselves. So long as they are unwilling to crawl out of their cars, they will not discover the treasures of the national parks and will never escape the stress and turmoil of those urban-suburban complexes they had hoped, presumably, to leave behind for a while…the automotive combine has almost succeeded in strangling our cities; we need not let it also destroy
. out national parks.

For the most part, though, the Grand Canyon can never be destroyed. It is invincible and perpetual. Let the rim be overrun by the terrifying tourists. The inside of the canyon itself will remain relatively untrodden. The sloth of the American public guarantees that.

Abyss of the Grand CanyonFinally I make it to the trailhead and start hiking down into the true abyss. All is still on this mid-October afternoon in the canyon. It grows warmer as I descend, naturally, but it is not yet overly hot. Colors. Green junipers and cottonwoods and firs in front of me, red jutting cliffs with probably hidden caves behind that, white almost checkerboard-looking cliffs beyond.

I arrive at the bottom, 5000 feet below civilization. I walk on past the Park Service campsite thirty minutes to the Colorado. There is a sandy area where I put down my bedroll and sleeping bag. I probably will not even need the sleeping bag, it is warm enough without it. I have no permit (the $5 seemed excessive), but this is no campsite.

Abyss of the Grand CanyonThe same sun shines down on the Colorado river at the bottom of the canyon as shines upon Times Square, but it shines upon two different worlds. Here is stillness. Not silence, the roar of the Colorado is heard, the buzzing of bees insects, the occasional chirpings of the birds that frequent these parts, the unfortunate though fortunately distant rumbles of airplanes (but that’s a whole nother world). No, not complete silence, but stillness. A deep pervading peace. And magnificence. Natural magnificence. In New York, there is no denying the empire state building is mechanically magnificent, mechanically masterful.

But what is it when compared to this canyon? Nothing. To me they cannot be compared. It would be like comparing an wealthy man in a suit talking on a blackberry or an attractive woman in the dress with earrings costing thousands of dollars and a wild tiger in the wilderness. The former is attractive because it looks distinguished maybe, wealthy. Impressive in a material sense. Can be attained with the proper resources. To those who strive for wealth and power, it is attractive.

The latter is pure unrestrained wild unattainable unfathomable fierce beauty. The wild tiger, the wild canyon. Here is the place for the yodeling vagabond. Here is true beauty.

The Grand Canyon cannot be shaped by the will of humans. No people can chisel or hammer the canyon to fit their needs. The empire state building was built to fit our needs. The canyon rises above or actually sinks below our petty human ant like comings and goings.

And so, sublime sub time and beyond time and mind.

But even as I curse the distant rumbles of the airplane which disturb the natural tranquility of the canyon, seeing it flying through the sky and seeing the white trail in its wake fading behind it, it is magnificent. Yes, it too is beautiful. I am proud of the human race to see an airplane in the sky. It is an accomplishment, a testament to our abilities but also our restlessness. Who but a restless people would create such a speedy hurrying vehicle?

Anyways from here the sound of the airplane is like a song. The airplane sings along with the birds and the rest of nature in harmonious pitch. In its distance, I can appreciate the airplane, its usefulness, even its genius. All looks and sounds beautiful from where I sit beside the river, the red rocky cliffs soaring above me, the Colorado cutting through in all its primeval fierceness, the light and shadow of the setting sun. From the ugly smoke filled city of head aching confusion, the airplane looks ugly. Just another noise. Adding to the chaos. From here, where all is still and quiet and there is no ugliness, the airplane only adds to the glorious scene.

A little after sunset a bird on the cliffs opposite the Colorado chirps. Another answers it on that side. And one on this side. The bird on this side sounds the same as the second on that side. I don’t know their names.

They sing me to sleep.

Wind, Wine, and Sailing in Bellingham, Washington with Linda Kissam

Schooner Zodiac wine tastingStory and Photos by Linda Kissam

This Wine Diva loves …well… her wine. That includes pretty much anytime and anywhere. But it’s the unexpected wine adventures that call my name and beckon me to throw caution to the wind. Perhaps one of my most unique wine escapades was the sunny summer afternoon I spent on a wine cruise aboard the Schooner Zodiac in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. The 160 foot windjammer Schooner Zodiac set sail for 6-hour wine and dine tour in the scenic waters of Puget Sound. My vision for the day was a wine and dine where a professional staff would take care of its guests every whim – mine included. Well…there’s a yes and a no in that scenario.

The captain's wheel in BellinghamWith a main mast that towers over twelve stories high and the largest working mainsail on the north coast, the gaff-rigged two-masted tall ship Schooner Zodiac is a living, working piece of maritime history. Her decks and beams are living testament to the wide array of faces and places this Windjammer has seen on her 88 year journey.

The Zodiac is operated by a licensed captain and experienced team of volunteer crew members. Note the term “volunteer.” This would have a big impact on my time on the boat. She departs her dock in Bellingham, Washington for a wide variety of public and private charters, as well as evening and day sails from spring through fall, exploring the untouched anchorages of the San Juan Islands and Canadian Gulf Islands. It’s a gorgeous “ride,” but wait there’s a catch. Guests are encouraged to help out with some of the sailing duties.

Zodiac Guest Crew in Bellingham, WashingtonYup, whether you are there for a day or a week, you become part of the sailing team. At first I resisted the “call” to assit, wanting to soak in some rays, chat with friends, enjoy the changing landscape and sip some Sauvignon Blanc; but darn there’s something about the wind and the tides and the romance of getting involved with this old schooner that dictates a self-immersion course on volunteer activities.

Actually raising sails and dropping anchor between sips of great wine and food is quite special. In all honesty, I did more cheering for the other volunteer crew than actual hands on stuff, but still the thrill of being involved was very cool. The crew is patient and good at reinforcing positive participation and tolerating guests with minimum skill and strength. As Captain Bob Bitichin says, “The difference between an adventure and an ordeal is attitude.”
sailing in Bellingham BayThe opportunity to learn to sail, reading charts, and taking a watch at the helm is all there for each guest to be a part of should they wish. If you take a multi-day cruise expect a day of beautiful sailing and in the evenings, after anchoring in a peaceful bay, time to explore an island or paddle a kayak. Anticipate seeing pods of orca whales, spiraling bald eagles, sprinting porpoises and inquisitive harbor seals on your voyage. Hearty, delicious meals are served by the Zodiac’s experienced cook. My sail included lovely hors d’oeuvres, wine, a deck-side barbeque, lots of yummy side dishes and a lip-smacking dessert. Certainly, there is no rustic living in the food and wine department.

Zodiac Bunks - Bellingham, WashingtonSleeping arrangements are a bit more casual. You’ll sleep on board in the ships’ quarters. The ship has three bathrooms and two hot showers on board. Expect to share most facilities, but you can pay extra for your own compact stateroom. Pack light but purposeful. Summer can be anywhere between cool to warm to hot on any given day – bring sunblock and a hat, and a pair of sunglasses. A pair of shorts is a must and if you feel like braving the ocean temperatures, swim wear is a great idea. Part of the fun of visiting the islands is going ashore on remote beaches. There isn’t always a dock, so you may be landing on the beach trekking through water, sand and mud. A pair of cheap waterproof boots – or just sandals that can get wet – is a good idea. Layered clothing, including turtlenecks and tights or long underwear are necessary for most mornings and evening comfort. Foul-weather gear like waterproof footwear, pants and jacket is necessary when it rains or you’ll be stuck down below in your cabin or bed while everyone else is having the time of their lives in the summer rains. An inexpensive hooded rain jacket and pants is a good idea.

Bellingham Bay BeersIf you’re like me, you’re already thinking about your next vacation. The Schooner Zodiac offers a cruise, theme and price point for everyone. Join us for a unique and memorable cruise in the San Juan islands as we visit local wineries and experience the flavor and variety of Pacific Northwest seafood

Resources

Schooner Zodiac http://www.schoonerzodiac.com/default.htm

Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism http://www.bellingham.org/

On the Road to Bethany Beach with Yodeling Vagabonds

Story and Photos by Brian Leibold

 

yodeling vagabond bikeThe other day I went back on the road. I quit my job sweeping at a construction site, hopped on my bike, and headed off to the beach.

 

 

 

 

Words of Wisdom #1: If you have a job sweeping at a construction site, first of all quit it. And when you quit, say: “I quit. I’ll sweep when I’m dead.”

Two of my friends biked with me. The beach was Bethany Beach, in Delaware. The landscape was unremarkable, but it didn’t matter. The beauty of biking long distances isn’t what you see, it’s the intoxicated feeling (that never seems to peak) and the insights, however seemingly insignificant, that come from the solitude.

fuck sweeping at construction sites One friend said

…the thing about biking is we’re moving and can feel ourselves moving, while the people in cars are technically moving, but they’re sitting still. They’re staring blankly out the window waiting for excitement to come to them, and not seeing, while we’re outside the window seeing it all, and actively seeking excitement as we move.

My other friend made  a new Rule of the Road:

 Shakespeare Rule  #1

To bike home or to bike into the unknown: there is no question.

 

When we arrived, we added some beach rules (because the more rules, the happier you can be when you break them or prove them wrong)

 

Beach Rules 

A vagabond must drop down and do twenty before surfing the waves of plenty (pushups).

When sleeping, one must be able to hear the waves crashing in harmonious accord.

Cops with cop souls should be avoided when sleeping on the beach.

To apply sunscreen on one’s own back is impossible. One would be wise to find a suitably attractive member of the opposite sex to perform this function. Skin cancer must be avoided, this much is certain.

 

The further away I biked from that sweeping job, the better I felt.

There is a negative correlation between distance from the city and mental state. In the city, with everyone driving around and around the cyclical beltway, it is very possible for a vagabond to feel caught unwillingly in a web of sameness, trapped and shackled in monotonous routine.

It is difficult is feel any excitement for the present. But in remembering past adventures, the vagabond is able to shake off the gloom, knowing he doesn’t have to feel like this, that it is possible to separate from the confusion of the city, as a fugitive from normality, by heading back on the road (and yodeling.)

There, especially if biking or walking, freedom is found.

As I biked on the back roads towards Bethany Beach, the quiet all around me spoke to the unquiet within me and allowed my thoughts to be clear and my own, influenced by no other.

I was feeling for the first time since my bike trip in the west that indescribable natural euphoric feeling of movement on the road. I was moving! I was riding onwards.

The Road stretched out in front of us, in all its gravelly glory, and we pedaled frantically, whooping and yodeling whenever we wanted and as loud as we wanted as only vagabonds back on the road after too long an absence can.

As the wind picked up intensely the closer we came to the sea, I realized that nomads and vagabonds are indentured servants to the road. But we do not have to work on the road for seven years as the indentured servants of old did in order to be set free.

We are freed as we work.

We work physically on the road. We hike perilously up to mountain peaks, hoping to clear our cloudy minds by going above the clouds, we bike against the strongest of head winds and up passes that ought not to be biked up, we walk across deserts thirsting for some mirage in the midst of the vast sandy barren lands.

These feats are difficult, but befitting for those who do not wish to simply fit into an already present locked in four by four square spot in society and want instead to unlock what we can in a mind unhampered by the grind.

When the headwinds of fate gust against us off the road, and we wonder what we are doing here, we become unhappy, and we are told:

Why the long face? Aren’t you happy? Why don’t you make a ton of money, get three Lexus’ (Lexi?) (grey silver black), plastic surgery, a silicon wife, and a seven story house with four basements and seventy four windows all with views of the interstate. It worked for me!

But on the road, when the headwinds rage, we simply listen to The Road and he says:

Pedal onwards, climb onwards, move onwards, go forward leave the chains of luxury far behind you in another world.

And we are rewarded by a feeling of success, of doing something worthwhile, of working not solely for the sake of money. We are rewarded after the climb when The Road shows us his valley below, on the long walk as we revel in the solitude of the solo road, after a day of hard biking as we sit and talk excitedly of tomorrow by a raging fire.

A sunrise is all the reward I needAs vagabonds, we realize that success as society sees it is succession from the best of life as we see it, so we choose permeability over permanence.

 

We wander from the straight and known, straying from the narrow in order to experience the great wide open unknown of the road.

And after the headwind tried in vain for many miles to push us back from the beach, we finally made it to the Atlantic. The water was cold (under 60), and the rough waves crashed imposingly as they have crashed for all time.

The mighty perpetual sea did not care how many miles we had biked to see it and was perhaps angry that we had overcome its friend the wind. But The Road overruled the angry sea and said

Well done, my young vagabond riders, you biked along the river to the sea. You pedaled through fierce winds. I will reward you by allowing you to run like insane nomadic sprinters into the Atlantic Sea. First, though, you must drop down and give me twenty before you surf the waves of plenty. It is only right.

So we did twenty pushups, for we were indentured servants voluntarily submitting to the hardships of the road in order that he let us see, in order to be set free. And, zanily yodeling in imperfect inharmonious discording rewarding whoops, we ran like insane nomadic sprinters into the sea.

And The Road looked on with a half-smile, knowing something and knowing we are all searching for the something he knows. But The Road does not tell us, he only smiles his enigmatic smile. We have to find that thing for ourselves. We may never find it, but that doesn’t mean we’ll stop searching.

Cruising the San Juan & Gulf Islands – A couples cruise to nirvana

Article & Pics by Linda Kissam

San Juan Islands, WashingtonIf you search the Web, you can find many stories from a technical or nautical viewpoint on cruising the beautiful San Juan Islands in Washington State and its twin sister the Gulf Islands in Canada. This is NOT one of those articles. This is my personal take on a couples fall-time cruise through the two island groups. Yup, just me and my husband kicking back for a week long escapade amongst soft breezes, brilliant sunshine, intimate moorings, and gurgling blue waters.

There is definitely something to be said for how a couple of empty-nesters with hectic jobs, major responsibilities and plugged- in -lives stopped their whirlwind schedules to stand down, relax, and reconnect. Just getting a date we both could agree on was a huge issue. I sense some eye rolling and head nodding out there in reader land, so I know you’re feeling my pain. Agreeing on what type of boat to rent was another whole challenge. I was looking for “Mr. Big” with all the amenities. My husband the sailor was looking for compact, maneuverability, and minimum maintenance.

On all issues we ended somewhere in the middle. Giving up my hair dryer, Wolf Stove, wine refrigerator and Riedel glassware sucked. Arguing over terms like aft, stern, lines and so forth is never a pleasure. I want to converse in everyday words; my husband is a stickler for sailing terms. But then again toasting stunning sunsets from the stern (back of the boat) , drinks on the patios of some amazing island wine bars, the quiet lap, lap, lap of the sparkling blue water, and relatively good Internet connection everywhere certainly has its benefits.

Tying up in the San Juan IslandsOur vacation started with an early one day fly-in to Bellingham Airport. This would give us time to inspect the boat, have my husband take his “boat driving test” and stock the boat up with supplies. We rented a car and were on our way 15 short minutes to the Bellingham Marina where our boat was waiting for us at Bellingham Yachts. We chartered a 33’ Back Cove power boat with many of the comforts of home. Limited seating and cooking facilities
met this would be a simpler experience than when we charter a 42’ boat two years ago. No fancy dinners, lots of overnight guests or dancing till midnight, but its small compact demeanor had its own charms. As expected, the Bellingham charter staff was kind, knowledgeable and eager to please. The boat was clean, fueled and ready for us to board.

As peaceful cruising and a good glass of wine at sunset is a part of reaching vacation nirvana, we set out around 11 a.m. the next day chugging along at six knots to our first stop Lyall Harbor. I think we were supposed to start out earlier, but I took the time to use the curling iron one more time and chat up all the yacht dogs and their owners before we set out. At some point someone mentioned that
my husband was doing some sort of energetic jumping jacks to get my attention, so I rightly guessed I missed the official sail-off time.

Lyall harbor in Canada was out first stop. It is located in the southwest portion of Plumper Sound, attached to Saturna Island. Lyall Harbor wharf is adjacent to the BC Ferries dock. If you’re not use to cruising around the big ferries, it can be quite a shock to see these big boys barreling towards you. Luckily my husband knows the rules of the road (sea) so there were no near misses, but just saying, get a rule book if you haven’t done this before.

Queen Charlotte SoundWe had a choice to make, as we would each night. Should we dock at a private or public
marina or gunkhole it? No eye rolling please, this is a real word. Gunkholing by definition is a quiet anchorage where small yachts anchor into soft mud or “gunk” — so gunkholing applies to those who engage in this low key relaxed style of cruising. We opted for anchoring in the quiet bay, a light dinner, a rich glass of Pinot Noir and a long lazy look at the seductive sunset.

I had thought we would get off the boat the next morning to do some wine tasting at Saturna Winery. I’ve been to this winery before and enjoyed its ambiance and wines. If you’re near, make sure you take the time to stop in. Unfortunately we found out that we needed to get over to Canadian Customs immediately. So we pulled up anchor and headed to Bedwell Harbor on Pender Island where all passengers must report their presence as tourists. You can do the initial registration process by telephone or avoid it by registering in advance on online. Luckily the process was quick and off we went for a 2—day stay at the popular private Ganges Marina on Salt Spring Island.
There was a bit of head spinning at the price of mooring. But you get what you pay for. In this case it meant clean and gated docks, a friendly hand to help you dock (something I am hopelessly not adept at), nice showers, Internet access, and calm waters. This is one of my favorite stops to make. Just a few steps from the marina gourmet food is available at the local market, and the restaurants are varied in price and cuisine. There are lots of shops to browse and my favorite jewelry shop is located here. It’s a good thing this boat had good storage as my credit card got a nice work out here.

Relaxed, rejuvenated, and stocked up on wine, food, and jewelry we motored back to the US to Roche Harbor in the San Juan Islands. Another 2-night private mooring stay meant there was plenty of time to explore this quaint island before we picked up a guest.

Roche harbor has a small but classy shopping center which is just steps from where all the
boats moor. There are several waterside eateries, a marina full of beautiful yachts, and local artisans’ booths in summer—showing off jewelry, wool, paintings, pottery, and more.

Pretty much two restaurants serve the boaters and locals. The Madrona Bar and Grill focuses on coastal casual cuisine and creative cocktails. Its deck overlooks the harbor, offering diners the only island sunset view over water. Fresh salads, creative grill sandwiches and famous BBQ ribs are menu favorites. Open 11am-10pm mid-May to the last day of September, which you should know is known as “the season.” The Lime Kiln Cafe is a classic for hearty harbor side breakfast. Sandwiches and fish & chips round out a lunch menu that makes decisions difficult but delicious. Open 7am-8pm daily during “the season.”
Quirky sailing and luxury in Washington StateWhen you’re finished noshing and catching up on your email, strike out to see the San Juan Islands Museum of Art Sculpture Park. It’s about a 10 minute walk from Roche Harbor and has more than 100 sculptures placed in an open, 19-acre, natural setting. You can ramble among the sculptures or follow the nearby nature trail that takes you into a native forest and close to Westcott Bay, home of the world-famous oysters. I loved the sculpture park and spent a good 2 hours just wondering from one amazing art piece to another. It’s a photographer’s and art lover’s dream stop.

An old high-school friend of my husband’s met us early the next morning. He had spent his early a.m. hours taking a ferry from Anacortes to Roche Harbor to connect with us. Once aboard, we untied the boat and where off to Deer Harbor on the western side of Orcas Island. This was to be another gunkholing experience. Now, with two co-captains aboard, finding “the spot” to anchor took some time and discussion. Finally we dropped anchor and the “boat people” watching began.

It was a beautiful day for boating, canoeing and other water-tight vessel sailing. And so it
was with a chilled glass of Riesling the 3 of us sat back on the stern and had the time of our lives watching the skilled and the not-so-skilled glide pass us. At this time of the day I am usually pounding out 50 trillion emails, catching up on paperwork and articles, and arguing with various Internet providers about the latest hacker and spam attempts. But today, it was a pleasure to put that all aside and just enjoy the scenery. What a treat to discuss no more than the lively seals, the fearless teenagers in tiny canoes, the hot- rodding young men breaking every no-wake rule in the area, and the odd hippy couple floating by in what could best be described as a version of an oar- powered Nile boat. They all seemed to be doing fine without computers, fancy stoves and screaming Internet connections. There’s a lesson to be learned here. And for some reason, I had no thought of taking our power raft to the tiny store in the even tinier marina. We all did fine on a simple diet of canned clam chowder and beer.
Cruising in the San Juan Islands, WashingtonRunning from the fog -laden morning at Deer Harbor we exited the San Juan Islands at Thatcher Pass and motored past the Anacortes ferry pier. We thought we might be able to drop our guest off next to the ferry terminal, but that was wishful thinking. We had to go to the Anacortes public marina at Cap Sante to fuel up for the final leg of our trip and drop him off. He helped out with the fueling process and with a casual wave of his hand he was off to his home in Seattle (lucky, lucky man).

Returning to Bellingham from Anacortes is another three hour run from Anacortes when operating at chugging speed. The boat was due back in at 10 AM the next day so we had thought we might gunkhole it one more time. On this trip however, the risk of morning fog forced us to run back to the home marina. My husband put the pedal to the metal for about an hour on our way back literally hurling us back to civilization, schedules and bright city lights. I much prefer chugging, but it was a treat to see my husband really having fun powering away (which I am sure is not a technical boating term, bit it paints the right picture).

What we gave up in another night on the water, we made up by having dinner at Anthony’s
in Bellingham Marina which is just a few short steps from where our boat made its final docking. This is a long-time favorite restaurant of ours, so not such a tough trade really. We spent the night on board the boat and the next morning hitched a ride to the airport from the charter manager. While my husband traded sea stories with him, I turned on my iPhone and reconnected with my real life once again.

Considering this trip? Inexperienced skippers need not shy away from this trip, but for safety sake take an experienced person along for a few days to avoid disaster. Bellingham Yachts will charter the boat and provide training or help you to contract a training skipper. The cost to charter one of the boats in their fleet ranges from $2,138 for the smallest of the boats off season to $6,545 in season for the largest of the boats for about a week. Of course prices and types of boats are subject to change. There is a minimum $3,000 (up to $9,000) additional refundable damage deposit required depending on the boat you choose. You must return the boat full of fuel at your own cost. Book your charter by calling 1-877-310-9446.

 

6 Southeast Asia Water Adventures – #3 is my favorite!

Exclusive for Vagobond by Melissa Ruttanai Photos by Neil Friedman.

In mainland Southeast Asia, adrenaline junkies and nature lovers will discover full-throttle water sport adventures. Without mandatory deposit fees equivalent to mortgage down payments, visitors trek, snorkel, raft and kayak in pristine waters. For those seeking beaches, grottos, and limestone landscapes, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam have become prime destinations. In Southeast Asia, adventure begins where the tides meet the shore. Here are 6 Southeast Asia Water Adventures.

Kayaking in Southern Thailand’s Angthong National Marine Park

Inland Sea, ThailandFor Hollywood filmmakers, billionaires, and broke college students, the Gulf of Thailand remains a draw for many waterborne adventure seekers. Northwest of famous Koh Samui Island, Angthong National Marine Park is an archipelago of 42 limestone islands carved by tide and wind. While camping is allowed with a permit, many visitors arrange tours out of Koh Samui that include swimming island lagoons, trekking trough the mountain, and eating at a local village. During the day, explore small coves and sandy beaches. Snorkel with tropical fish and survey Koh Wua Talap, the largest island in the chain, or Koh Mae Koh that boasts a green-blue inland sea called, Talay Nai. Glide kayaks across the Koh Mae’s bay and relax to the delicate sound of your paddle dipping into gentle waters while high promontories loom like grey-green sea monsters.


Boating through Vietnam’s Halong Bay

With a UNESCO World Heritage seal of approval, Halong Bay sits on the northern ridge of a limestone chain that sweeps up from the Gulf of Thailand and Angthong National Marine Park. Here, the karsts cluster into a mystical array of gray stone, verdant brush, and boats with iconic colonial sails and rudders. Meaning “dragon descending”, Halong Bay includes 2000 islands and over 600 square miles of the Tonkin Gulf, offering visitors dozens of beaches, grottos, and caves to explore. With its high salinity, bathers can jump right from the ship into waters so buoyant there’s hardly any exertion necessary. Stretching across the water surface, visitors can drift all day among spiraling crags. Visit floating houses lashed together into small villages. Or tether broadside to local fisherman, selling giant prawns and squirming squid straight from their nets. After a day caving, pull into Cat Ba Island, a favorite retreat for Hanoians escaping the city.

 


Sailing through Daily Life on Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia

Tonle SapSix miles south of famous Siem Reap and Angkor Wat, Southeast Asia’s largest lake, Tonle Sap continues to play a vital role in the life of local Cambodians. Fed by the Mekong River during the wet season, Tonle Sap remains a major waterway for commerce and transportation. Every day, ferries carry commuters and cargo across the lake on their way to and from Battambong. For US$5, travelers can gaze through a window of life on the lake, witnessing how families live in boathouses, cooking, reading, and raising children in narrow canals. Children attend floating schools on large boats with open windows and basketball courts enclosed by high fences. Families visit floating hospitals, teetering gently in the wake. Women buy fresh fish and produce from vendors rowing along peacefully.


White Water Rafting in Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang RiverLaos’ religious and cultural capital, Luang Prabang is a town known for Buddhist temples, daily markets, and a laidback pace of life. At sunrise, monks and novices traverse the UNESCO World Heritage streets. At sunset, fishing boats shift back and forth in the wake of speedboats heading to China. On one side of the town, the Mekong River skims along, a wide boulevard of fertile silt and dependable currents. On the other, Nom Khan River sweeps in from the east, offering visitors white water rafting and kayaking for any skill level. From town, tours can be arranged with door to riverside transport included. On their second day in Luang Prabang, travelers could find themselves clad in helmet and life vest, digging hard into rushing currents. Guides lead rafters through crashing white waters and ominous rocks creating whirlpools. In the reeds, Lao children play in the shallows, making the peace sign as they splash each other. Along the river, mountains as diverse as the wildlife press up against the shoreline. Stilted houses perch on slopes growing tea. Birds cut across black rock cliffs. And women plod up and down terraced vegetable patches.

Tubing in Vang Vieng, Laos

Tubing in LaosIn the 1970’s, backpackers looked around for a convenient stopover during trips between Luang Prabang and Vientiane, the capital. From this necessity, Vang Vieng burst onto the scene, offering accommodations, meals, and more recently, tubing. On the riverside, two companies rent out massive inner tubes and drop travelers off upstream for a day of lazing on the river, listening to birds, and losing all thought to mountain peaks. From these humble beginnings, the tubing trend has become the main activity in town. On the river, bars jut out from the tree line, pulsing with Bob Marley tunes and hawking cheap mixed drinks. Bars feature ziplines, mudslides, and tug-of-war pits to keep patrons docked at their shores. On the river, meet other travelers and become inspired by how many consecutive days they’ve tubed the river. Back in town, relax on triangular pillows, enjoy the mountain air, and recharge for another day on the river.

Swimming with Elephants in Pai, Thailand

Elephants in ThailandSitting on the highway route between Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son, the little town of Pai is a major stop along the traveler’s path in northern Thailand. Here, artists absorb nature’s inspiration and Thais retreat from the bustle of metropolitan life. While there’s plenty to do on foot and motorbike, a popular activity in Pai is elephant trekking. Hotel staff can make tour reservations. In the morning, a guide escorts you to the elephant camps. The world grows quiet on the outskirts of Pai. Elephants eat bananas and throw grass into the air. The elephant trainer called a mahout helps trekkers mount the pachyderms and settle onto a thick blanket. No saddles here, riders spend the day bareback in the sun as the elephants walk through the forest. At the river, elephants suck water up their trunks, spray a cold drink into their mouths, and save just enough to splash up at their riders. Once the mahout gives a command, the elephants shake. The riders hold on tight only to be flicked like flees off the elephant’s back. Up into the air and down into the river, the riders splash, getting their cold drink too.

Exploring California’s Golden Triangle – Gold, Startups, Agriculture, and Wine

California is known as the Golden State for a good reason – the gold rushes of California pulled an estimated $20-$40 billion dollars worth of the precious metal from the rivers, rocks, and streams of the state.
2013-05-04 13.44.32Some of the greatest fortunes in the world were built with that gold, but that wasn’t all California had to offer. Today the state is home to Google, Facebook, Oracle, Apple and many other tech giants. The aerospace and space industries laid a solid groundwork here. The golden state is also a breadbasket for fruits, vegetables, and livestock. There’s also oil in them thar hills and offshore rigs with massive reserves that are currently untapped. And let’s see – a little thing called Hollywood which generates huge profits. California – if it were a country, would have the world’s 12th largest gross domestic product at a massive $1.9 trillion. That puts it in about the same range as India, Russia, or Australia – not bad for one state out of 50!

California capital

 

In fact, California provides nearly 15% of the USA’s annual GDP! California is the third largest and most important wine producing region in the world (after France and Italy) and ‘California cuisine’ is now a fact of life nearly everywhere on the planet. Fast food restaurants like McDonalds, Taco Bell, and Panda Express were all founded in California – there is no mistaking the impact this region has had on the world. Perhaps instead of globalization, people should refer to Californization of the world! Our own journey is still only just beginning.

San Francisco Skyline

We started in San Francisco, took a quick trip North to Redding to visit my mother, and then we landed in Sacramento – home of the original gold findings at Sutter’s Mill. We’ve been house sitting for a little under two weeks and this gig is just coming to a close as our first month in the USA. From Sacramento we will head back to San Francisco and then make our way North along the Pacific Coast. If all goes according to plan we should be in Seattle and Washington State sometime during the perfect weather of summer.

Here are a few of the highlights from our explorations thus far in Sacramento: Folsom, California – while Folsom is mostly known for the prison of the same name thanks to the late, great Johnny Cash, this little suburb of Sacramento has a lot to offer with a small train musuem, an enjoyable history museum, and a cute little old town filled with reasonably priced antique shops. Nearby is Folsom lake which was created when Folsmo Dam was built in the 1950’s.

Folsom Prison Blues

And – I forgot to mention the microchip and processor industry above – but Intel has their headquarters in Folosm.

Sacramento’s Old Town and Sac History Museum The Sacramento Farmer’s Market The California Museum of History California State Capital and Garden McKinley Park Rose Garden and Pond were also pretty incredible. One of the sad things coming back to the world of car culture is seeing the effect it has on wildlife…this raccoon, however, was obviously living the good life before he got hit by that big truck in the sky…

racoon road kill

 

First published May 14, 2013

5 Quirky Boutique Hotels in Madrid

Looking for a Madrid hotel? Here are five of the best upscale and boutique places to stay in the Spanish capital…

Osuna Hotel

quirky luxury in SpainFound in the Palomas neighbourhood, close to Juan Carlos I Trade Fair Ground (IFEMA) and Barajas Airport, Osuna Hotel might seem best-suited to business travellers on first appearances – but it also has a lot to offer those in Madrid on leisure. The city centre is ten minutes away by taxi, and the hotel itself has a whole host of fancy facilities. One large, secluded pool lets you take your morning dip, while the poolside restaurant El Mirador serves up Mediterranean fusion cuisine. All rooms have internet access, air conditioning and smart modern décor.

 

 

 

THC Bergantin Hostel

Quirky boutique madridFound just a block from Madrid’s main square the Puerto del Sol, THC Bergantin Hostel is perfect for first-timers to the city as it puts you within walking distance of all the main sites. The beautiful Royal Palace, Real Theatre and Almudena Cathedral are all easily reachable on foot from your front door, as well as party areas like Huertas where you can get plates of tapa alongside every drink. The hotel itself has just 15 tastefully-decorated spacious rooms, so it’s great for a more intimate and romantic break away. Perks include Wi-Fi access, air conditioning and free city tours arranged by helpful staff.

 

 

Petit Palace Cliper Gran Via

Next to Madrid’s famous main shopping-and-sightseeing thoroughfare the Gran Via, Petit Palace Cliper Gran Via puts you in the centre of the action. Other must-see places nearby include the gorgeous Parque del Retiro and Madrid’s ‘golden triangle’ of museums, the Prado, Reina Sophia and Thyssen. The Reina Sophia holds Picasso’s masterpiece, Guernica. At the hotel itself, you’re treated to the ultimate in style and comfort for relatively low rates – rooms have plasma TVs, airy balconies and hydro-massage showers in bathrooms. There is free Wi-Fi throughout the building, and a full breakfast is served daily. You can also rent bikes from reception.

 

 

High Tech Madrid Aeropuerto

boutique hotels madridIf you’ve got an early flight to catch, you’re travelling on business or you just like the fuss-free convenience of staying near the airport, High Tech Madrid Aeropuerto has everything you need and style in spades. There is a free shuttle bus to and from the airport, so you don’t have to worry about catching a train or shelling out for a taxi. The hotel owns a large outdoor pool for taking advantage of the city’s famous sunny days. Inside, your room is kitted out with the latest fancy technology, including a flat screen TV, hydro-massage shower and free Wi-Fi access. You can also sweat out your cares in the sauna, or treat yourself to local delicacies like Iberico ham at the restaurant. Popular business and conference areas Fuencarral, Chamartin and the Paseo de la Castellana are on your doorstep.

 

 

THC Latina Hostel

madrid hostels and hotelsFound in the stylish La Latina neighbourhood, about half an hour’s walk south of Madrid’s main square the Puerta del Sol, THC Latina Hostel offers stylish and affordable rooms that feel like a home away from home. With luxuries like LCD TVs, parquet floors, modern décor, pretty balconies and free Wi-Fi, you’re sure to be comfy here. Outside, the neighbourhood is calm and safe, and you’re only a short walk from the bustle of local bars and restaurants that Madrid’s tourists haven’t claimed for their own yet. You can rent bikes from the front desk ,and La Latina Metro station is four minutes’ walk from the hotel – from here you can whiz to the centre of town in ten minutes flat.

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