Lili on the Loose: On Life and Getting Lost 

Currently Traveling: Toronto

Hello! Sorry Travel Missteps is cancelled this week. I’m actually traveling last minute to Toronto Canada for work. I was able to visit the wonderful aquarium last night!

#nofilter @ Ripley's Aquarium

Jellyfish #nofilter @ Ripley’s Aquarium

Souvenir Saturday: Bismuth

Souvenir Saturday is an every-other week series on the items that represent travel memories.

When I was little I had a rock and fossil collection. I was obsessed with dinosaurs that my mother would hide rocks, small fossils, and minerals in the dirt and then allow me to dig and find them. At some point I lost the collection in a move.

So when I went to the National Museum of Natural History I decided to add to that lost collection. It took me ages to decide what type of rock or fossil was I going to get in the gift shop. I had seen photos of Bismuth on reddit and found its geometric patterns and beautiful rainbow colors intriguing. So after some debate, I decided to get a small man-made sample.

The light catches the mineral in different ways, showing color here and there.

The light catches the mineral in different ways, showing color here and there.

Birthday Jurassic Sweets

Today is my birthday! Last year I was celebrating my first week at my job and had the day off (For President’s Day) but didn’t do anything as my parents and sister were out of town. I also was busy trying to put things into storage so I could sell my condo. So I literally spent my birthday packing away my life. Not sure what this year will hold but I’m excited to find out.

I also love triceratops! A few years ago I found the cutest Birthday Triceratops. This year I found an entire set of Dinosaurs as yummy treats called Jurassic Sweets, including this Cupcakeceratops!

Travel Missteps: The Little White Lie

This week’s Travel Missteps is a retro story, and it is not my misstep. I hope you enjoy it!

When I was 4 I remember going to a county fair. It seemed huge and circus like. And I remember having the knowledge that it was not my first county fair. So I made a beeline to the tent that would have the rabbits for sale. I fell in love with a white rabbit with red eyes and a little black around the ears. I don’t remember how much whining and bargaining I did but somehow we came home with a rabbit, cage, and food.

I was so excited for my first real pet! (I briefly had goldfish…but they had all died quickly, and were quite frankly pretty boring.)  I named the rabbit Snow, since it was mostly white. I was aware of the responsibility that I was being tested with. I diligently fed it and made sure it had water. I wasn’t allowed to let Snow roam and so instead pet him through the cage. But I avoided and instead begged my father to clean the cage for me.

Fast forward a little bit and I go downstairs one day…and Snow is gone. I run back upstairs crying and my mother held up a handwritten note (on the back of a business card, its strange what your memory remembers). “Its from Snow”. I couldn’t read and so my mother read it to me. The note said that although Snow had a lot of fun with me, he missed his family so much, and had ran away to be with them. I cried and demanded to know where Snow and his family was. “Disney World” was the answer. I knew Disneyland was the land of enchantment, of dreams and fun things. I had never been to Disney World but assumed it was just as wonderful. Placated that he was in a better place, I eventually forgot all about Snow.

That is…until for my 5th birthday we took a family vacation to…you guessed it Disney World!

One day as we were walking through Toontown I spied a large cage…filled with white rabbits with red eyes, and black tipped ears. I remembered Snow and eagerly ran towards it shouting “My Bunny!” over and over. My shell shocked parents hadn’t ever considered that Disney would actually have a petting zoo area with rabbits (It was in conjunction with Fort Wilderness area of Disney World) and so were ill prepared for what was happening.

I ran to the cage and spied one that looked exactly like Snow. I started getting upset that Mickey Mouse had caged my poor Snow. And so I started to demand that we take Snow and his family home. When my parents told me no, that Snow needed to stay I started screaming “NOOOOO! MICKEY…. STOLE….MY……BUUUUNNNNYYYY!!!!” over and over with each word getting louder and more shrill.

People started staring, and after a few minutes my parents snapped out of it and said that we would go meet with Mickey and talk it over with him.  I agreed that was a sensible plan…and then they distracted me by buying me toys every time I mentioned my bunny for the rest of the trip.

Their tactic worked. I completely forgot all about Snow and that incident at Disney World. That is until I was in 6th grade and we had an assignment to do a personal timeline. One thing our teacher suggested to add was the pets we had growing up. I put on my timeline, Got Snow the Bunny, Snow the Bunny Ran Away, and Found Snow at Disney World on my timeline. My teacher looking it over gave me strange look and asked me to explain. I told her the story.  She got very quiet and was like “Uh…I think you should talk to your parents about this.”

So I went home and brought it up…and as I was talking it suddenly dawned on me. “Snow died didn’t he?” And that is when I learned that since I hadn’t cleaned the rabbits cage it started to smell, so my parents put it (and the rabbit) outside for a few days…forgot about it, and found out that rabbits cannot survive cold Michigan nights. So they panicked and told me a little white lie. They said that when they saw me running to the rabbit cage at Disney World their hearts just leapt in their throats and they were dumbfounded. And that they specifically distracted me with toys to continue to avoid having the death conversation with me.

And that is the family story of how a little white lie about a little white bunny turned into a massive meltdown in Disney World. It is also the reason why I never had another pet after Snow until I was in high school and my parents would be sure none of us could accidentally kill our pets. I’m happy to say that pet, a Cocker Spaniel, is now almost 12 years old!

Souvenir Saturday: Sukiyaki

Souvenir Saturday is an every-other week series on the items that represent travel memories.

Sometimes the best part of the souvenir is the memory about buying it.

In high school I was studying Japanese and our teacher assigned us a project to go to a local university’s Asian culture week. I was obsessed with all things Japan, and so had a great time. One of the panel sessions that I went to was on the history of the song Sukiyaki. In 1963 this song reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the US and is the only Japanese language song to do so. It is also one of the best selling singles of all time.  It also has been covered in many languages including different lyrics. Some English covers later in the 80’s and 90’s also hit the top of the music charts and continues to receive new covers to this day.  But the panel didn’t just cover the long lasting and worldwide usage of this song but also the career and later tragic death of the original singer Kyu Sakamoto. I remember writing a paper on the panel, and throughout the panel heard many different versions and covers of the song.

Fast forward to the summer after I graduated from high school, I was an exchange student in Japan. I had done research and found that a store in Tokyo called the Oriental Bazaar was recommended as the best “one stop shop” for many Japan related souvenirs. And it was! I got so many things here, from my Kimono, fans, dolls, silk handkerchief, and much more. The store is huge and also deals in antiques. I wandered upstairs and met an older Japanese woman alone upstairs. She obviously worked there and would lead me to things she thought I should know about (and she singlehandedly sold me most of the things I bought and would not have otherwise.) She didn’t speak English and instead would just pick something up and smile insisting that I take and buy it.

One thing she picked up was a typical music box with a cardboard image around it. Pretty cheap looking and I wasn’t planning on buying it. But she kept insisting, and played the music for me. I realized I knew the song, but couldn’t figure out why. She must have seen me listening hard so she kept playing it as I leaned in, straining my ears to remember. I hadn’t heard that song in years but after listening to cover after cover I had learned the song well. I suddenly shouted “Sukiyaki” and the woman nodded, smiled, and handed me the music box, pleased that I knew the song. At that point it was obvious that I couldn’t say no.

So every time I play this music box, I think back to that old woman, in the dark part of the antique section, playing it and then her huge smile when I knew the song. And then I cannot help but sing the harmony for hours afterwards.

musicbox

Travel Missteps: 1 Thing Not To Do In Washington DC

Travel Missteps is an every-other week series on how sometimes part of the journey is making mistakes and getting lost.

When I travel I do a lot of research. I particularly enjoy articles like “10 Things Not To Do In…” as they can provide a nice overview of common traveler mistakes. But on my short trip to Washington DC, I ignored one of common pieces of advice: Don’t Over Do It! But I only had 4 days in DC, and I wanted to see all the free museums!

Protesters in front of the Jefferson Memorial at night.

Protesters in front of the Jefferson Memorial at night.

So I pushed myself hard. On the first day I went on a guided tour of to the National Archives, then browsed the special exhibits of the Smithsonian Castle. Next I headed over to the Natural History Museum excited to see the Dinosaur hall. I then attempted to see the Holocaust Museum but all the tickets for the day had been taken, so I wandered around the children’s area before heading out. After the long walk back to the National Mall I walked through the Freer Museum, the Slacker Gallery, and the African Art Museum (mainly because all 3 of these are connected via underground passageways.) At that point it was 5 PM and all the museums were closed…except for the Natural History Museum so couldn’t pass up seeing it again on the way back. By this point my feet were really hurting, but I pressed on to walk multiple blocks to the National Portrait Gallery as it was still open, and near my hotel. I then made it back to the hotel and passed out.

For those counting, that was 8 different museums visited in one day. The Holocaust Museum being the only one I didn’t walk through every exhibit. And I was talking the entire time from my hotel all the way down to the mall, then off to the Holocaust Museum, and then walked the long way to the National Portrait Gallery. It was crazy! I later learned I walked past over 5 metro stations between the hotel and the museums! I really should have looked into using the metro beforehand. But it was such a nice day that it didn’t even cross my mind. And I was having such a great time.

The next day I had great plans of conquering the rest of Smithsonian Museums but it took sheer willpower to just see all of the American History Museum and the Air and Space Museum. (Side note for those that don’t know, seeing those museums in that order is a great way to see the history of travel methods.) I was starting to get museum out. I couldn’t focus on reading any more information cards on the objects I was seeing. Thankfully those museums have great showpieces and are engaging. But I felt bad about not reading the insightful info cards.

It was midday and I was walking towards the National Gallery of Art when I couldn’t continue any further. I knew if I sat down on a bench I wouldn’t get up for ages, and it was hot.  I walked through the sculpture gardens and then suddenly came upon a giant fountain. And my prayers were answered, people were talking off their shoes and soaking their feet. I joined them, and sat there for a good long while. The fountain had an amazing view of the National Archives and was very cool on a hot summer’s day. After relaxing by the fountain I made my way back to the hotel to take a short nap before going on a night monuments walking tour. The night tour was great, but at this point I was exhausted and was just moving for the sake of moving. I thought if I stopped moving, I’d never get back up. But I made it back to the hotel in one piece.

This was heaven!

This was heaven!

The third day I once again got up extra early but this time took the metro to save my poor feet. I had a tour of the Capitol which was nice to see. I had an opportunity to meet with my state representatives, but when I found out I would need to go to their offices to get passes for the floor….I said screw it. I wasn’t going to be wandering around the Hill chasing down politicians. Instead I took the connecting hallway from the Capitol building to the Library of Congress. It was so beautiful that I just sat in the Library of Congress for a long time. Partly from pure exhaustion and partly because I was so mesmerized by the fine detailing of the architecture. By the afternoon I was too exhausted so sent back to the hotel to sleep. I knew the next day would be a completely full day and so I had to save my strength.

dc_cap

Walking up to the Capitol

 

The last day my mother joined me and we went on a river tour to Mt. Vernon. Instead of lots of walking on concrete pathways, my poor feet were greeted with steep and dusty trails, and long lines to see George Washington’s grave and house. Later I quickly walked through the accompanying museum and then eagerly awaited the return of the boat to take us back.

Then I had an important choice.  This was the last day, should I rest? Or should I see one last bucket list item? I decided to keep the momentum and take a metro to the National Zoo to see the Giant Pandas before it closed for the night. I rushed there, and was able to see the Giant and Red Pandas. I stayed there for a while just taking it all in. I then walked back to the metro, and was thankful that there was a metro stop that exited into the building my hotel was attached to. I made it back, and fell fast asleep.

I would have definitely wanted to see more on this trip, but my poor choice to walk everywhere on the first day screwed up my schedule as I was just dead on my feet. The trip was quick, and amazing but I learned a very valuable lesson on pacing oneself.

Souvenir Saturday: Guatemalan Jade

Souvenir Saturday is an every-other week series on the items that represent travel memories.

When traveling to Guatemala, I knew I wanted to get a piece of Jade jewelry. There are two stones that are considered “Jade”: nephrite and jadeite. Nephrite is more common and is often used for carvings, while jadeite is harder and denser and so is often used for jewelry. Guatemalan jade is of the jadeite variety and comes in a variety of green colors as well as more unique finds like lavender or black. Jade was precious to the ancient Mayan, Olmec, and Aztec civilizations as it was a status symbol of wealth, power, and life itself.

Thus, jade makes a beautiful souvenir from Guatemala. It is important to purchase from reputable shops, as many of the cheaper stores and markets actually sell cheaper Chinese carved stones that are likely not actual jade. I wandered in to Casa Del Jade, one of the fancier shops. It boasts many different designs and colors of jade in addition to a small museum. While it is on the more expensive side, it was a nice buying experience and came with a certificate of authenticity to prove that it was Guatemalan jade. I was at first looking for a traditional green jade, but fell in love with a pale lavender necklace. But like most shops, they will push you to buy more, so be firm with them. (Although now I do regret not getting the matching earrings…darn!)

Guatemalan Jade Necklace

 

Travel Missteps: Groped in Guatemala or am I just bad at Charades?

Travel Missteps is an every-other week series on how sometimes part of the journey is making mistakes and getting lost.

I had an eventful first day in Antigua, Guatemala. I made chocolate, I shopped a bit, sprained an ankle, and I also had the largest scare I’ve ever had while traveling.

Santa Clara

The ruins of Santa Clara

Before dinner I decided to squeeze in one last site. I was excited to see the many ruined churches of Antigua and there was one I could see from my hotel, a ruin called Convento de Santa Clara. Camera ready, I paid the Q40 to the bored man at the dark entrance.  As you enter to the left the ruined church juts out of the ground, with amazing cravings! I stood mesmerized for a little while as some young children ran around playing tag. After taking a few photos I decide to leave the church to the end, and instead head right to explore the grounds.

There was a huge courtyard surrounded by colonnades and other outbuildings. In the center was a large fountain. I skirted around the courtyard and wandered through the back buildings. It was peaceful and I was the only one around.  Occasionally I’d turn a corner and find a young teenager, sitting down and doing their homework. Or other locals just taking naps within the ruins. Here and there were disturbed ground, I couldn’t decide if it was due to archeological digs, or something else. (In the back of my mind I thought it would be an amazingly good place to bury a body.)

Some of the ruined buildings I couldn’t figure out what they had been before, others I could just instantly tell that this is where their kitchens had been, or this one was used as the living quarters. After a while I realize that my time is running out, that eventually the ruins would close, so I head towards the church.

The playing kids and their parents are long gone, and I seemingly have the place once more to myself. I walk along a dark hallway and into a large half football sized dark chamber. There aren’t many windows in this room, so not much to see, so I’m about to hurry out into the larger part of the church. A local man comes up to me and starts speaking Spanish. I awkwardly explain I don’t speak Spanish, and he obviously doesn’t speak English. He seems good natured so I just shrug and start to walk away. But suddenly he throws me face first against the corner of the wall.

The seconds tick by as my mind races. I had done multiple types of martial arts as well as specialized self defense class from an undercover detective. But I had never been tested before like this…and I froze completely. The man seemed good natured, I hadn’t even been prepared for him pushing me up against the wall. I hear him whispering to me, but i cannot understand it. And then I realize…I don’t sense him behind me. I slowly move my head from facing the wall and pan around looking for the man. I can barely see him at the other end of the dark room. I’m confused, as I can see him lean in towards the corner of the wall…talking to it quietly.

My mind is like “This guy is crazy…” until I realize…with my ear now against the corner of the wall I can hear him as clearly as if he was standing right behind me. And it dawns on me…this man is trying to make extra money by explaining things to tourists. What he had been trying to tell me before is that this old church has such good acoustics that you could easily hear someone whispering at one end of the room to the other.

I start to laugh at my fear! He hears me and comes running up to me. Now that I understand he’s not going to rape me, I relax. We walk together into the larger part of the church. This looks more like a normal old church, and I understand some of what he says. Things like him pointing to a pulpit and saying “Padre”.  I nod, yep, that is obviously where the Priest would give his sermon to the parishioners seated below. We move into another room, and I understand when he explains about the niches in the walls were for the confessional.

As we walk he takes my camera and takes photos of me. I have no idea why I just handed over my camera, I’m usually very protective of it. But I just felt so bad that I had thought he was going to hurt me when he was just over-eager in his explanations. (Hey I’m a history geek myself, and would have loved to be able to understand everything he said. Its not every day you get a local guide and so I was appreciative of his time.)

We then go down some stairs into a dark area. I know he says the word for Nun, but the rest i don’t understand. I stare blankly as he tries to tell me a story. I feel bad as I’m just not understanding it. So I nod anyway as if I understood, while my mind makes up a story to go with what he says. He kept pantomiming something about the nuns hair (or hat?) and how something was wrong about it. (In my mind the story I made up was, if nuns were bad and cut their hair, they were imprisoned in this dark dungeon like area.)

View from Santa Clara choir loft

View from Santa Clara choir loft

When he was satisfied that I had enjoyed his story we walk up some flights of stairs that overlooks the main church area.  Its obviously was the choir loft. I take some photos as we start playing Charades again trying to understand his story. He is explaining its the choir loft, but there was something he really wanted me to understand. He pointed to his crotch, and made an X with both hands. Like “No Penis”. He then points to his chest and also mimes an X. I just stare confused (and likely still affected by jet lag).

He then steps closer to me touching his crotch, then X, and then touches my crotch, then X, and then he grabs my boobs, and then X. I just go dear in the headlights again. Part of my mind is like “Oh my god! I’m getting groped!?” the other is like “No…he’s just not understanding that this is culturally inappropriate to me, but likely not to him. He’s not doing this sexually…but only to try to explains something to me.” My dear in the headlights look and my confused look is probably the same, so he starts doing it faster. His crotch, my crotch, my boob, X. Over and over. I keep trying to work out this bizarre Charades riddle. This weird touching continues for an inordinate amount of time. In the back of my mind I’m still freaked out that he is touching my crotch and boobs. And I realize that he has my camera still.

Still I try to understand. After what seemed like the 20th time he touched me I realized that 1. I’m not comfortable with this. 2. I’m never going to understand this and 3. I need to get the fuck out of this ruined church. I just start backing up and trying to wave him off. I try to get my camera but he won’t give it back, he’s still sadly trying to get me to understand why he is touching me. I try to hand him money (in exchange for the camera) and he refuses. I can tell he is trying to tell me there is much more to see. I hurry him down the stairs but he stops me a few times for a few more photo ops.

This was my "Oh shit...how do I get my camera back" moment.

This was my “Oh shit…how do I get my camera back” moment.

He leads me back to the fountain and takes some more photos of me. Then he lets me check to see if they turned out okay. I grab the camera, say thanks, and drop 40 dollars in cash in his hands…and sprint away as he politely yells at me to stay.

I was freaking out, and just wanted to get back to the hotel. After this photo he handed my camera back  to check to see if the photo was good.

I was freaking out, and just wanted to get back to the hotel. After this photo he handed my camera back to check to see if the photo was good. I then bolted.

I run the 2 blocks back to my hotel, run into my room, and finally let it sink in that was probably the stupidest thing I’ve ever done while traveling. And I just start laughing that kind of panic laughter one gets while stressed. My room is hot so I decide to get some air, and thankfully run into a guy my age. We talk and find out that we are on the same tour that starts the next day. I relay what happened to me, and he offers to stick with me that evening and the following day. I gratefully accept as I realize now that wandering alone on my own might not be the best course of action.

But the story doesn’t end there! After returning home, I share this story with some friends. One friend in particular had been to Antigua before and he watched as I mimed out the story. And he was able to solve the riddle for me.

What has no penis, no vagina, and no boobs and sings in a choir loft?

 

Little boys….castrated so they can hit the high notes.

To my strange guide that day: I probably could have done without that random factoid.

 

Souvenir Saturday: La Befana

Souvenir Saturday is an every-other week series on the items that represent travel memories.

On Monday we discussed the story behind La Befana, the Italian gift giver around the Epiphany. I wanted to share with you the little La Befana that I got in a roadside shop on the way from Rome to Venice.

La Befana

The witch has wide eyes, warts, and a fur hood. She carries some straw on one side, a broom on the other, and a bag that held candies on her back.

Travel Missteps: La Befana

Travel Missteps is an every-other week series on how sometimes part of the journey is making mistakes and getting lost.

 

Walking through Piazza Navona in Rome, Italy I hear the unmistakable cackling laugh of a witch! I turned towards a nearby stall and spy hundreds of flying witches hanging from the roof. Big ones, small ones. Some like an old woman, while others looked like a creepy old hag warts and all! Some even were animatronic whose eyes glowed red (and made the cackling laughter that caught my ear.) But surely this must be a mistake? For its not Halloween time, but after so soon after Christmas!  I was confused but had no one to ask about this strange sight, and anyway, I was quickly distracted by some hot roasted chestnuts!

La Befana stall at Piazza Navona Christmas Market in Rome, Italy

La Befana stall at Piazza Navona Christmas Market in Rome, Italy

But later on in my trip, we stopped frequently at roadside diners and stores on our way from Rome to Venice. And each of these little stores had their own witches! I picked one up, and it had a little bag on its back, some had black coal-like candy, while others had normal candy. Being a lover of Halloween I decided to buy one of these out-of-place witches to bring home with me.

It wasn’t until later when our Guide saw what I had bought that he exclaimed “Ah I see you’ve gotten a little La Befana!” Seeing my strange and confused look he explained to me who this witch was.

La Befana was an old woman who lived in a small village. One night the Three Wise Men stopped at her home, asking her for directions to see the new baby king (Baby Jesus). They pointed up at the sky, at the shining star. La Befana was unsure of the way, and offered to let them say at her home for the night. The next morning the Three Kings offered to let her come with them, but she declined because she still had much housework to do.

Later, when the star went out, she realized that this new king was important and so she should go and pay her respects with a gift. But she did not know the way, and so she hopped on her broom, and would go down the chimney’s of each house she saw to look upon the sleeping children. But she was unsure which one was the Christ-Child as they all looked peaceful while they slept, so she would leave little gifts in their stockings for the good children, and coal or sticks for the bad.

And so in Italy, it is not Santa Claus that brings children gifts. But La Befana, who comes on the eve of the Epiphany (the night of January 5th). And instead of milk and cookies left out as offerings, the children leave out local foods and a glass of red wine for La Befana!

So maybe if you leave out some Wine and snacks La Befana will come visit you tonight!

To learn more about La Befana see these links