First Post-Pandemic Flight

After two shots of the Pfizer vaccine, I boarded a flight from D.C. to Miami, breaking my 18-month abstinence from airport travel. While I hoped to find a new utopia of conscientious flyers, the cynic in me anticipated that getting to my gate was going to be like that final scene in World War Z where Brad Pitt’s character attempts to walk by the zombies without getting chewed on. However, neither scenario proved true.

TL;DR Everything’s the same, except the snacks are worse.

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A Pinch of Paradise, A Punch of Rum

As a rum enthusiast, the Caribbean is my favorite destination to indulge in that amber elixir. Brugal in the Dominican Republic, Appleton Estate in Jamaica, Bacardí in Puerto Rico, and, the most illustrious, Mount Gay in Barbados.

Not only is Barbados the birthplace of rum, having documentation proving that they originated the drink around 1650, but also Mount Gay is the oldest continuously operating commercial rum producer in the world. You can certainly go for a tour and a tasting right at the source, but I found that I enjoyed the experience of joining Bajans for a drink in the rum shops that dot the island. A rum shop is a hybrid of a corner store and a bar, and there are upwards of 1500 of them to choose from.

For a rum experience that is a little less well-known, journey to the rural north of the island toward St. Nicholas Abbey. This 17th-century, gabled plantation house and distillery is surrounded by lush landscape, which makes for a peaceful setting. The action, however, is in the steam mill. If your visit coincides with the crop season, where the cane is crushed for the next brew of rum.

It’s important to note that Barbados is more than just its rum. The island is rimmed with mile after mile of pristine beaches. Adventures abound at sea by catamaran or Atlantis submersible and on land by an off-road island safari. Its delicacies include the sweet and tender flying fish, and Bajans are warm and friendly people. The rum happens to make a good thing better.

Rum Punch Recipe

No matter if you venture to the fish fry at Oistins, attend the Crop Over carnival, or simply bask on a gorgeous beach, you can enhance your experience with an authentic Rum Punch. It’s perfection in a glass. Best yet, the Bajans have made a rhyme of the recipe so you can recreate it at home:

One of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, four of weak.

A dash of bitters and a sprinkle of spice, served well-chilled with plenty of ice.

Let’s break that down. One of sour is one part lime juice. Two of sweet means two parts sugar (or simple syrup, if you prefer). Three of strong is rum, of course. Aside from Mount Gay, Doorly’s and Plantation are other dark rums from Barbados that make for an excellent punch. Four of weak, is for fruit juice (or water). Cheers! 

Cherry Blossom Bloom in DC and Beyond

Since moving to the nation’s capital in the summer of 2020, the only constant has been the inconsistency. Adding to the long list of things that were not supposed to happen was the cherry bloom.

Spring came unseasonably early for the infamous cherry blossoms of Washington D.C.

We had a few days of warm weather that accelerated the bloom cycle of the nearly 4,000 cherry trees that line the National Mall. The annual spectacle typically draws tons of visitors. I was told by several locals that on any other spring day, the Tidal Basin would have been filled with people standing shoulder to shoulder. Not in 2021, though. To discourage crowds, the park service limited access to the area and set up a live stream to view the blossoms remotely.

Alternative Bloom

The National Mall isn’t the only cherry blossom game in town, though. There’s a little neighborhood in Bethesda, Maryland called Kenwood that has 1,200 trees. How they got there? I’m not sure. But by the looks of the houses, I imagine their homeowners association fees more than covered the cost. The residents are gracious enough to let locals trample their medians and treat their streets like a one of those drive-thru Christmas light parks…as long as you don’t park in front of their castles homes.

If you go

National Mall: Arrive early or late in the day for the lightest crowds. It’s a 2-mile walk around the basin so wear comfortable shoes. Masks are mandatory.

Bethesda, Maryland:  The tree-lined streets of the Kenwood neighborhood is a Covid-safe alternative because you can stay in your car and drive through it. If you want to get up close, you’ll need to park on Landy Lane and walk or bike north on the Capital Crescent Trail until you see the neighborhood on your left.

The Art of the Baltic: Cruising Northern Europe

There is nothing that I long for more than to look toward the horizon and see a legendary castle illuminated by a golden sun. From the Scandinavian architectural treasures of Denmark and Finland, to the awe-inspiring art of Russia and Germany, the glorious countries that encircle the Baltic Sea are the epicenter of beauty, elegance, and splendor…and just the journey we can all use.

Thinking about a voyage to Northern Europe in 2022? Here are a few of my favorite ports:

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Amor al Arte

The world’s great masters are not exclusive to Europe. From Brazil we have Tunga, best known for his fascinating sculptures about the human body. From Chile, Roberto Matta is a seminal figure in 20th century abstract expressionist and surrealist art. From Colombia we have beloved Fernando Botero who created his own exaggerated style of Boterismo, and from Mexico the foremost muralist Diego Rivera. These are only a few of the influential and brilliant artists that hail from across Latin America. This region is also home to artistic movements grounded in heritage, history and tradition—and deserve to be exalted.   

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Inauguration Interruptus

Last spring, when I was making my pros and cons list of moving to D.C., high on the positive side was that I would witness historic events, like Presidential inaugurations.

Well.

Now I know how Tokyo residents felt when the Summer Olympic Games were postponed last summer. I suppose we all have to wait four years now.

Even without a coveted spot on the National Mall, I can still witness history, just by walking down the sidewalk (until reaching the security checkpoint). It is an incredible sight to see National Guard troops marching where vendors would have been selling Biden/Harris souvenirs and completely empty streets that, ahead of an inauguration, would have been bustling with tourists.

Officially, Inauguration Day commences at noon on Jan. 20 on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. Instead of a traditional inaugural parade, President Biden will catch a Secret Service Uber straight to the White House. A “virtual parade” will begin at approximately 3 p.m., but I’m still not clear what that even means. In the evening, instead of the traditional glitzy inaugural balls, there will be a primetime television program called “Celebrating America” hosted by Tom Hanks. That airs at 8:30 p.m., because 8 p.m. was too early and 9 p.m. was too late.

Visit the website of the Presidential Inauguration Committee for more information.


Useless travel advice

When traveling, I try to remember important information about the places I visit. However, after a friend called me to ask for my advice on a certain vacation spot, I’ve discovered that the information I have amassed over the years is absolutely no good to anyone.

Seriously. Useless.

Here’s a sampling of my most inappropriate recommendations to date:

Hey, I’ll be in Denver a few days. Anything I should do?

There’s a mall on 16th Street called…the 16th Street Mall. And the airport has the highest quality public bathroom toilet paper that has ever touched my vagina. You’ll be very high the entire time you’re there, so everything will be interesting. If you did Denver right, you’ll come out of your fog while sitting at a roulette table in Black Hawk.

Is Seattle a cool place?

You must be thinking of Portland. Just kidding! Seattle is for cool kids. Make sure you pack plenty of graphic t-shirts and colorful sneakers to match beanies of every color. The true mystery of Seattle isn’t where the mystery soda machine went (Google this later), but it’s that somehow, every store you walk into has an amazing soundtrack. From the Jimmy John’s to the CB2 to any of the 133 Starbucks, everywhere you go, your favorite songs mysteriously blare throughout the establishment. Except in Pike Place.

You lived in Atlanta for a while, do you think I’ll enjoy my visit?

Everything, and I mean everything, is legal in Atlanta. Las Vegas, NV has more restrictions than the capital of the Dirty South. Gun powder in your drank? Coming right up. Walking on the highway? Casual. Outright stealing? As long as you’re white and polite. Dance party in an abandoned, underground rail station? Who needs ventilation?!

Should I plan a family vacation to D.C.?

If by family you mean you, your husband and the twink you share, then yes. Otherwise, there’s nothing for straight people to do in this town.

Where should I stay in Boston?

It doesn’t matter. Everywhere you go, you end up at the same place. It’s like being inside an M.C. Escher drawing, while on some amazing ‘shrooms. Their “T” is the Cadillac of public transportation, but you haven’t lived until you’ve been a passenger in a cab that drives on the sidewalk. Cabbies will do this for five bucks extra. Oh, and don’t stand next to or touch the statue of John Harvard. If you inhale deep enough you can smell why.

San Francisco is so nice this time of year…

San Francisco is nice any time of year. But what is really suspicious to me are the locals. Everyone there is too nice. Like they are up to something. So, if you haven’t been, you should go, seriously, it’s beautiful. Just don’t talk to people. They are aliens. Also, of note, the homeless and vagrant population tend to not be so nice and may, on occasion, toss cups of their urine in your direction.

This year, I’m staying close to home. I’m thinking Houston for a weekend. I have a few friends there and they’re always talking it up.

Houston smells in a way that can cause you to contract cancer through your nose. It’s like getting shot-gunned by 30 chain smokers inside an elevator at the Excalibur in Vegas. Yet, the Margarita’s are amazing. Ah-ma-zing. You’ll need to drink them continuously to soothe the burning sensation in your throat.

I dream of traveling to Hawaii.

Go to Maui, for sure. It’s like walking around in a postcard. From the trees to the weather to the birds, everything is perfect. And it gets really old after a while. “Is that another rainbow? Geez. These gays and their agenda have gone too far.” It is worth it to endure this torture only to have the world’s best hummus at Athens Greek Restaurant in Lahaina. Yes, you heard right. Eat Greek food in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

I know I live 15 minutes away from Miami Beach, but I want the experience of driving a few hours to bathe in the same beach, but a little more north.

Then head to Jupiter, FL. It’s a beach town very, very far from South Beach (a whole 90 minutes up I-95). It is also very, very far from New Jersey (a whole 17 hours down I-95). Making it the perfect place to hide former witnesses from the Gambino crime family trials. There is one fine dining Italian restaurant where dinner for two costs about $200. A price I gladly paid to be seated by Bartolomeo “Bobby Glasses” Vernace’s widow.

I’ve never been to New York City.

Fear not. People that actually live in NYC have seen less of the city than you. My first piece of advice is that unless you have drank water in Cancun, you do not have the proper intestinal bacteria balance to eat a hot dog from a vendor, a cheese pizza from a bodega or a slice of cheesecake from a diner. Continuing on the food theme, stay away from the Pig & Whistle. And, most importantly, you will never get tickets from Tickets for the show you want to see.

Shakespeare in Paris

I think every writer has a Parisian fantasy that revolves around Shakespeare and Company. Opposite of Notre-Dame in the heart of Paris, there is no greater setting. Adding to the romance, this is the bookstore where James Baldwin hung out, where William Burroughs researched medical books for Naked Lunch, where Anaïs Nin drank Bordeaux straight out of the bottle, where Ernest Hemingway often showed up drunk, and where Allen Ginsberg howled naked.

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Falling for Georgia Fall

Pumpkin and cinnamon are my least favorite flavors, so I never had a taste for fall…until I got lost in a field of sunflowers, rolled a wheelbarrow full of pumpkins and stood over a waterfall — all in one 70-degree day.

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Smithsonian: African American History and Culture

The same way you can’t not notice this building, you can’t not be moved by the collection. The National Museum of African American History and Culture feels like a sacred space. A Sunday school dedicated to celebrating the richness and diversity, as well as educating and preserving the hard truths, of the African American experience.

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Coronavirus: Travel Advisories and More

In January, I remember skimming over a news article that mentioned certain airports were screening for a new virus. Fast-forward to mid-March when coronavirus officially became the travel boogeyman and the U.S. State Department directed all citizens to avoid all international travel. Five months later, State has lifted the global Level 4 ban on certain countries. See if your next destination made it off the Level 4 list:

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Fall in Love with Boston in 23 Hours

In the late nineties I cashed in a savings bond gifted to me by my godmother and used the $80 to pay for my first-ever flight. The trip was full of firsts: the first time I saw snow on the ground; the first time I got kicked out of a bar; the first time I saw the lights be turned on in a club to signal the end of the night. It was a thrill ride from the moment my cab drove on the sidewalk to when I stumbled into a comedy show headlined by Wendy Liebman to the simplest of delights of buying tulips at a corner shop.

After two decades, I returned to Boston. And in the span of a day, I rekindled my love for the City on a Hill. If you can spare 23 hours here, she may be able to charm you as well.

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Taku Glacier Flight

“How much do you weigh?”

To be safe, I added a couple of dozen pounds or so to the real number. This is an answer I often lie about in the opposite direction, but because it was being used to calculate the flight-worthiness of a seaplane holding six people currently indulging night after night on a cruise vacation, I was content with bulking up.

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Twists and Turns in Tenerife: Canary Islands Wine Tour

Good company, good wine, good welcome,

Can make good people.

(Henry VIII, 1.4.6-7)

I boarded a small van with a group of strangers. We exchanged pleasantries and discovered that we were all in Tenerife for different reasons, some for pleasure others for business and me for a little of both. But it was our shared love of wine that was the reason for our paths crossing on this impromptu tour.

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Driving in Miami: Survival of the Fittest

Public transportation in Miami is lackluster to say the least. And with long distances between points of interest, your best bet is to rent a car. I compiled a few tips on how to drive like a local, whether you’re landing in MIA or FLL.

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Leather at First Sight: Shopping in Florence

Illustration by Explore Magazine

We were about to start our dinner when the notion of love at first sight was brought up. Our group went around the kitchen and shared their views, which ranged from a resounding rejection of the entire theory to a sweet and serendipitous how-we-met story.

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Penguins on Parade: Making Friends at the Georgia Aquarium

Listen to Penguins on Parade:

On Christmas Day in 2013 I was wheeled out of the Georgia Aquarium by two very nice people. One was a man named Met, as in I “met” you today, the day your back spasmed so intensely that it numbed your leg and rendered you  paraplegic. The other was a woman named Halle who insisted on offering me an entrance voucher for a future visit, as I had only seen two exhibitions before my visit was cut short.

Between winces, I let her know that I had no plans to return. Ever. And she nodded her head and smiled even though I was being unreasonable.

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Whoosh You Were Here in Madeira

Spread appeared in Explore Magazine

It was a familiar sensation. The feeling of complete surrender, the incessant giggling, and the particular sound that skating over pavement makes. It wasn’t until my toboggan reached the bottom of the five-kilometer hill that I remembered why. I had recreated my favorite childhood pastime (to the detriment of my mother’s nerves): riding a skateboard while being towed by a friend on a bicycle.

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Lines in the Sand: Flight Over Nazca

Cover photo: PBS

While Macchu Pichu is the more obvious attraction in Peru (and rightly so), I’ve always leaned toward forgoing the trek to the city in the clouds for an actual flight above the World Heritage-listed rectangles, triangles and swirls. And no, my fascination with this site does not involve a belief in the popular lore that these shapes somehow relate to alien life. I think it’s more amazing that human beings were able to accomplish this extraordinary feat.

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Sink Your Toes in the Pink Sand Beaches of Bermuda

Bermuda conjures up images of beautiful homes with its unique white roofs, crystal clear waters, iconic shorts and, of course, the pink sands that make their beaches more idyllic than your average tropical paradise. These pretty-in-pink beaches are all found along the island’s south shore between Horseshoe Bay Beach (my personal favorite) and Warwick Long Bay Beach. But what gives the sand its rosy hue? It’s the result from the blending of crushed shells, coral and calcium carbonate called red foraminifera.

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Hello Humpback: Whale-watching in Sitka, Alaska

Traveling to Alaska for many is a once-in-a-lifetime trip, yet I’ve been lucky enough to keep finding my way back. On my last adventure, I took a small boat out to Sitka Bay where I met the acquaintance of a very handsome humpback whale…unfortunately he had awful breath.

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Travel Round-up: March/April 2021

At Home

USA: All air passengers coming to the United States, including U.S. citizens, are required to have a negative COVID-19 test result or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 before they board a flight to the United States. Masks are required on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States and in U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations. States of note:

  • Hawaii: Currently, there is a 10-day quarantine restriction for all in-bound visitors to the Hawaiian Islands, unless they can show proof of a negative COVID-19 test.
  • Louisiana: Live music will be allowed indoors and gatherings may operate at 50 percent capacity with a cap of 250 people. Outdoor events may operate at 50 percent of their capacity, with no cap on attendance, but social distancing must be practiced. Conventions, conferences, indoor sporting events and fairs and festivals may operate at up to 50 percent capacity with social distancing required.
  • New York: Out-of-state travelers arriving in New York from non-neighboring states who want to opt out of a 10-day quarantine requirement must get tested no longer than three days before arriving, quarantine for three days upon arrival and get tested again on day four. Both tests must be negative to avoid a 10-day quarantine.

U.S. State Department categorized 30 countries at Level 4, the highest warning on the travel advisory chart, instructing citizens not to travel there. Among the countries on this list are:

  • Turks and Caicos
  • Haiti
  • Brazil
  • Argentina
  • Montenegro
  • Tanzania

Traveling Abroad

Caribbean

St. Kitts and Nevis: Visitors must complete an entry form and submit a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of arrival. They must undergo a health screening at the airport on arrival, which includes a temperature check and a health questionnaire, and download the SKN Covid-19 contract tracing app.

North America

Canada: The land border between the United States and Canada remains closed to non-essential travel until April 21 2021. All air passengers traveling to Canada, who are five years or older, will be required to test negative for COVID-19 before boarding a flight to the country.

Europe

Italy: The country is currently in a state of emergency until April 30 (extended from January 31) due to the pandemic, and most of the country is in a state of lockdown as it battles with a third wave.

South America

Peru: Lima airport is open to most international flights, and visitors must provide evidence of a negative Covid test (PCR or antigen), taken within 72 hours of arrival. Machu Picchu and other places of interest have also reopened with reduced capacity.

Africa

Egypt: COVID-19 PCR tests are required for all international arrivals age six and older. The Great Pyramids of Giza are open.

Asia

Cambodia: Cambodia is open to international travel and domestic flights between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh are now operating.

This information is subject to change. Please check official government websites for the latest information before booking your travel.

In Search of Enchantment: Tenerife’s Anaga Mountains

The term Isleña, meaning island girl in Spanish, is what we call my grandmother. A term of endearment exclaimed whenever she walks in the door. ¡Llegó la isleña! (The island girl is here!) I grew up thinking it was a reference to our Cuban heritage, but when I became more inquisitive about our family’s lineage, I discovered that her nickname was a tribute to her Canary Island roots. Her father emigrated to Cuba from Santa Cruz de Tenerife and the nickname, along with a strong emotional connection to Spain, was passed down to her.

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Garden For All Seasons: Atlanta Botanical Garden

The trees are not tall enough to obscure the Atlanta skyline, but that’s part of the Botanical Garden’s charm. It’s not an oasis from the city, it is very much the city. One minute you’re in the heart of midtown with music blaring from cars and the next you’re under a lush trellis looking at a dragon-shaped topiary.

The Garden’s cornerstone event is Garden Lights, Holiday Lights, now in its tenth year. It’s the perfect pick-me-up if you’re looking for Christmas cheer. Countless bulbs light up the garden, bringing a smile to even the grinchiest among us.

If you go: 1345 Piedmont Ave NE. Click here for directions and parking instructions.

Garden Lights, Holiday Nights: The 2020 version of this annual event features new safety protocols, so tickets are extremely limited. Get complete pricing, safety information and more.

Is the Membership worth it? : If you’re spending considerable time in Atlanta, I say splurge on the membership. The perks are nice and the family membership pays for itself in two visits.

Sea of Flowers

“It is a land of love and wondrous beauty
Where fragrant flowers ever will grow”

from The Prettiest Flowers by Tim Surrett

No matter how much of a city person you are, there is something magical that happens when you surround yourself in a lush landscape and bathe in the extraordinary colors of flowers in bloom. Luckily, in the Caribbean, you are never too far from being surrounded by natural beauty. Beyond the sun, sea and sand, the region also offers exquisite flora in must-visit botanic gardens and parks. These are a few of my favorite places that feature some of the most unique and picturesque vegetation in the world.

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