Favorite books read in 2022

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Favorite Books of the Year

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Of the 80+ books I read this year, here are my favorite 20.

FIREKEEPER’S DAUGHER by Angeline Boulley

Wonderful. Devoured this in two days. Daunis’ narrative voice is so refreshing and real and hyper-intelligent and observant and clever. I loved this journey, even though this span of her life has some real grief and hardships. Felt very real and immersive (with a deft and light touch. It’s not huge bulky descriptive paragraphs. Life and community insights are revealed so naturally). And there’s a compelling mystery/thriller wrapped around everything that kept the pages turning. Loved learning about herself and her community in Sault Ste Marie and the Sugar Island Ojibwe reservation. Seeing her lifelong complicated navigation between these two cultural identities. Themes of identity and truth and wearing a mask and secrets and hiding. All handled deftly and interestingly. Strong teenage emotions while dealing with very real high stakes issues (set in early 2000’s as meth is causing awful harms in both communities). Also, the cover is flippin’ gorgeous. But it’s the journey that’ll stay with me for quite awhile.
From the NPR review, “But Firekeeper’s Daughter is so, so much more than a thriller or a mystery. The author’s love for and connection to her culture is so deeply engraved into the very heart of this book and it beats in rhythm with each new plot development. As a non-Indigenous reader, every depiction and explanation of Ojibwe philosophy and traditions felt like a gift, and every depiction of injustice felt like a call to action. Some books take you where they’re going with such confidence and grace that you find yourself at the end, breathless and hard-pressed to believe that it’s over.”

PIRANESI by Susanna Clarke

This is a beautiful and heart-aching book. There is such a tenderness to Piranesi and the way in which he sees, documents, and tends to his world. Not only his care for the dead, but his world-view and self-view of his connection to the House and all it provides. The story is revealed as he journals and carefully logs each day, with loving descriptions of the different statues and flooded basements and tides of this strange house. As the reader, you’re quickly hip to the fact that all may not be as it seems. But honestly, the unravelling and revealing of the mysteries (while satisfying and sad and lovely) felt less The Point. Or at least, not the Only point (maybe not even the most important?). These descriptions of solitude and finding meaning (imbuing meaning) into everyday tasks, as well as large events outside of ones control. There’s melancholy and grief (and some of the insight and history from our world is pretty intense). But this is also an examination of living with intentionality and care. I’m trying to write obliquely to avoid spoilers (although this haunting little novel wouldn’t be spoiled by knowing the ending and discovered facts ahead of time. In fact, several pals from Book Club read this twice. After learning some of the facts, they re-read to see how that flavored and changed the experience). It was also interesting in our book club discussion to see the different interpretations each of us had, of what the facts and reveals meant. Some were “all in” on a world that included magic, some felt this was all clinically explicable, and others felt it was some mash-up of richly imagined interiority, psychosis, breaks from reality, and also some bits of magic/supernatural actions. The ending chapters I found the most touching: again, the care and respect Piranesi is shown, the way he is still given agency in making his own choices, and then the choices and internal justifications he chooses…I have rarely seen such an approach and I was touched by the gentleness of it. (In a story/plot that is often the total opposite, jarring and violent and awful).

THE TOWN OF BABYLON by Alejandro Varela

Purchased this on the recommendation from my local bookseller “It’s only March but this may just be the best book I’ll read in 2022! A beautiful novel about coming home, confronting the past and embracing the future. This book put me in ALL MY FEELS and I haven’t been the same since.” This is a fantastic novel. A man returns to his unnamed suburban town to help his mother care for his ailing father, which has him in town for his 20th high school reunion. He decides to attend, with mixed and complicated results. This story is such a beautiful in-depth discussion and breakdown of American suburban life, and those who seek opportunity and escape to the Big City, and those who stay behind. Shows humanity in all kinds of different flavors and ways of being. The complicated issues of race and gender and class and sexual orientation and religion. The hope and struggle of parents, and the role of parochial schools in this system. It’s an examination on the meaning and NEED for community. On what happens when one doesn’t fit into the community around them. On the struggles to fit in, to remain true to oneself, to seek community where one can find it. Told in very funny and wryly observed present paragraphs and some powerful and illuminating flashbacks. Different narrators sharing the complicated backstories we all have. Everyone is fully fleshed out and human and nothing is easy nor perfect. But it is all devastatingly but also banal-ly real and average and immediate. The pin-point accuracy with which Varela puts the American suburb under a microscope is powerful and skewering. The character of Andres would be my contemporary, so reading about the American suburban catholic school experiences of someone in school in the 80’s and 90’s was really powerful as I felt so connected to many of these experiences, although obviously a lot of Andres’ journey was vastly different than mine. Totally deserving of all the awards. This is a gorgeous and powerful and affecting novel, that’s also funny and very easy to read and heartbreaking and touching and beautiful and is often describing just regular everyday things, but with such a precise vision that it reveals so many layers and deep meanings. The lens of Andres as a Professor of Public Health adds a fascinating new view onto the different peoples of his previous community. This is a very very good book. Took me a month to write this review, because so much of this novel has been percolating and rolling around my brain, I wasn’t yet ready to try to distill my responses into words.

I’M TELLING THE TRUTH, BUT I’M LYING by Bassey Ikpi

This is a stunning collection. Ikpi is startlingly vulnerable and raw in this beautiful and sometimes heart-rending exploration of her life and her mental struggles. It is powerful and gorgeous and so so sad at times and hopeful and powerless and your heart aches watching her struggle with the cycles of her bipolar brain. There is joy. There is hardship. There is the full spectrum of life experiences. She is a powerful writer. It’s not always easy to read, but the writing always flows powerfully and easily. It’s just that there’s sure been a lot of unpleasant and sometimes awful to depict. But honestly, reading about many of the highs and celebrations is sometimes just as hard, when she’s so honest about her manic-phase experiences. Really powerful. Really great. And blessedly, really short. Because SO MANY EMOTIONS AND RAW TRUTHS are crammed into this small, beautifully crafted work. The title, an honest declaration about the murky nature of human memory, right at the start. This is a “cards on the table” type of book. Truly. I also really loved the acknowledgments section, as she dedicated a small paragraph to each person, which felt lovely and hopeful. The cover design is gorgeous and effective, too.

LITTLE WEIRDS by Jenny Slate

This was unexpected and wonderful, as well as wonderfully strange. Thanks for the pal who recommended listening to Slate on the audio book, as her unique voice and personality added even more flavor. A dreamy little collection of thoughts and essays and journals and personal introspection and amusing lists. It feels poetic and float-y…very dream-like. It is frank and powerful and quietly resilient. I expected the funny and the sweet bits (as a fan of her for many years). I didn’t expect the beautiful sentences and thoughts. Lots of introspective stuff about past hurts and finding oneself and finding the daily strength to be true to our soft inner animal selves, especially difficult in a world full of sharp edges and dangers. How to be resilient and, after finding ourselves, how to nourish ourselves with the love and care we deserve. Some wry observations about being alive, especially as a woman in the current state of things in the States. Ways to work through grief. Her lifelong ache for love and partnership, and coming to grips with a world where finding that love is proving elusive. Learning to be okay, More than okay, with her current state of being. All mixed in a riot of images and words that are at turns exuberant and flowery and then featuring laser-precision. Loved hearing the awe in her voice at some new realizations. When a landscaper mentions, “The only thing is that dogs love to smell the blossoms and they are actually very sticky, so your dog will have flowers on his face, and I don’t know if you’d like that.” Slate gets to declare “I would like that” and then revel in her acceptance and assertion and self-realization that she is the type of person who would love it if her dog’s face was sometimes covered in flowers, and that as an adult living her own life, she has the power to make those declarations and decisions. Playful turns of phrase and surprisingly delightful descriptions: wonderful hearing her narrate the observed joy of a baby holding a large bag of potato chips (a bag almost as big as it’s whole body), and the baby’s parent providing a bottle for deep satisfying gulps of water followed by a lip-smacking “Ahhhh” sound of satisfaction. More of it “hit home” than I’d expected. It’s full of whimsy and sweetness but somehow didn’t become twee or “too much” for me: but your mileage will vary. I can understand that this isn’t the dreamy thoughtful journey for everyone. But sure worked for me. Loved her declaration that she’s done trying to sour her sweetness in an effort to appeal to diners at a restaurant that is probably bad anyway. Highly recommend. “As the image of myself becomes sharper in my brain and more precious, I feel less afraid that someone else will erase me by denying me love.”

WHAT BIG TEETH by Rose Szabo

This was deliciously creepy. Not what I was expecting. Or rather, the bones of this novel are exactly what I was expecting: a gothic YA coming-of-age story. But the flesh and skin and fats laid upon those bones elevated this into something so much more unique and wonderful. Szabo’s power of descriptive language is wonderful. Somehow, with just a few key details, they paint truly unsettling and oft horrifying pictures, in this elegant Victorian manse that is full of secrets. But, unlike many gothic novels, the menace and secrets under the surface are also joined by lots of unexpected above-the-surface Not Secrets and Not Mysteries. Having so many things monstrous be revealed so clearly and so early was a delightful surprise to the reader. And made the search for deeper answers and understanding even more satisfying. Szabo has a strong sense of the history and tropes of these different monsters and magics stories, but spins the narrative and characters into beings entirely their own. None of the family is particularly good (They’re terrible at communicating with each other. They make rash decisions. They lack impulse control. They rarely look out for each other or demonstrate any empathy) and even our narrator often isn’t making the most moral of choices. And yet I found myself caring deeply for them. This is also the story of GENERATIONAL TRAUMA, and it’s powerful to see the way that the horrors of the past have been passed down, and still hold the family tight. The glimpses into Grandpa’s silent village are chilling, as are the flashes of Grandma’s earlier life. The way the narrative unfolds is such a delight. The use of the journal, which Eleanor is trying to translate, and where entries have been written in the margins, out of chronological order and squeezed in where there was room. This novel is just full of powerful metaphors. This was also an interesting twist on an unreliable narrator, because it’s not that she’s intentionally relaying incorrect facts, but rather that she is often so wrong in her assumptions and observations. I sometimes found her pacing and choices super frustrating (so passive when I wanted her to take action or ask questions, and then impulsive when I wanted her to stop and think!!) but it kept me turning the page. I had just expected this to be a fun little book to read, and it was that. But it also carries so many deep emotions and big thoughts and ideas, and really impressive visceral descriptions that burned themselves into my mind’s eye. Identity, immigration, grief and loss, power dynamics, complicated marriage dynamics, love and jealousy and loss and revenge and fear. It’s been swirling around in my brain for days. Really really excellent stuff. Yes, it is a perfectly fun Young Adult coming-of-age gothic novel. But it carries a lot more heft and depth and delightfully creepy elements than I’d expected, in this deceptively light packaging. Bravo.

ROMANTIC OUTLAWS: THE EXTRAORDINARY LIVES OF MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT AND HER DAUGHTER MARY SHELLEY by Charlotte Gordon

Really fascinating. Very well researched. I was surprised at just how many primary source documents there are, detailing the lives and rich interior thoughts of these two women, as well as the people around them. So many journals and letters back and forth. And so many different motives for contemporaries to cast these characters into very different roles and traits. Also, I wasn’t quite prepared for just how tragic and powerless so much of their lives were. The role and power of societal pressures, how little agency women had, the constant pregnancies and dying infants and toddlers. Like, I knew about it, but I hadn’t spent so much time closely examining it. Really engaging double biography, and the framework of switching between their two lives, chapter by chapter, was effective and helped draw some fascinating compare/contrast opportunities. Also wild to learn just how recently some of these sources have been brought to the public’s eye. To quote my sister, who also read this, “Man, f*ck Godwin.” As often happens with me and reading biographies, I started to lose steam/interest in the final third. But the very final chapters here re-engaged my interest, going through all the impressions throughout the centuries since they lived and how many of those need to be re-examined.

THE SPACE BETWEEN WORLDS by Micaiah Johnson

Fantastic and engaging. The story did not go where I expected, but I was totally along for this ride, and the places this plot takes us were way more interesting and offered more depth than I’d been expecting. Starts with a world where multi-dimensional travel exists, with a refreshing narrative voice and perspective (Cara isn’t from a powerful class. She’s a small vital cog in this giant corporate business using this multi-verse tech, but she’s always aware of how precarious her position is. And her outsider perspective on this “Shining City” leads to intriguing observations. Things start off moving rather quickly and don’t let up, trying to navigate through murky politics and complex interpersonal relationships (the very real foundations of this world, and probably of all worlds, eh?). Glimpses into this world’s histories and individual backstories are revealed organically and sometimes haphazardly, in ways that feel authentic to this narrative voice and satisfying to the reading experience. I’m trying to write this without any spoilers or details. The pages keep turning, the plot advances apace, emotions are complicated, motives are hazy, it’s just good stuff. Surprised to see such mixed reviews, because this felt like a slam-dunk 5 star book to me. Some of the negative reviews are people who clearly just wanted straight multi-verse “science” and “rules,” seemingly without the messy human elements. But it was that human-ness and mess and emotions that gripped me, for sure, and made this book a stand out! All the underlying ideas of identity, and implications of seeing 300+ different versions of yourself and people you know across the 300+ different versions of Earth that we’ve explored. Fascinating stuff. Big Ideas. Wrapped up in some intense plot with high stakes and real peril and no easy choices. This isn’t clear White Hats/Black Hats territory. And a lot of the revealed truths feel inevitable and True and disappointing but also maybe with glimpses of hope. I mean, reading this didn’t feel deeply depressing or Dark. But some of the subject matter and content is rough (extreme poverty and a clear societal divide between those living within the shining walled city and those living in the Warlord controlled wastelands…well, that’ll lead to some bleak realities). So there are dark realities here. But I found it super engaging and satisfying story-telling with characters who have made an impression and spent weeks rolling around in my brain.

SPEAR by Nicola Griffith

Who doesn’t love well-crafted and well-researched Arthurian lore? I LOVED Griffith’s previous book “Hild,” which was full of gloriously gorgeous descriptions and sentences. Spear is much shorter, and sharper; more finely honed into a different type of novel entirely. (Although Griffith clearly is a scholar and a lover of these same centuries). Its words are carefully chosen and it demands the reader pay attention, to fully immerse into this story, that is often being revealed in surprising ways. Like the gorgeous cover art and images throughout, Griffith’s words paint with sinuous brush strokes, curving and lush and sometimes revealing the story only by the negative space those brushstrokes reveal. The story is fun, with some good adventure and some real hilarity (oft displayed in wry little observations), as well as some high stakes and struggles. But this is not for casual reading, with music on, only half paying attention while also seeing what’s happening around you. If you tried to read this while distracted, you’d miss the gloriously complicated tapestry it’s so deftly weaving. It’s not HARD to read; it’s neither dense nor dry. But it can be so sparing in its words, or it might drop a hugely important detail in just one little sentence, that you should be focused on what you’re reading in order to get the full picture. I ended up reading the author’s end notes and historical sources information Before reading this book, which was a fun way to approach things (gave me some greater insight into the spear fight that I wouldn’t have picked up on just reading it). I’d initially flipped to the backpages hoping for a glossary and a pronunciation guide, what with all the old Welsh and old English or whatever other language sources are being used. Sadly, none to be found. Name choices were made with such care (and a few are defined in those end notes, at least). But I think this really could’ve benefited by more easily letting readers (who maybe aren’t experts in all of this) glean some further meaning and histories behind those choices. I would recommend reading the end-notes first, however, to help provide some structure and insight into some of the choices and naming conventions. This novel is a fascinating new take on some of these legends, and crafted some powerful images in my mind.

HARROW THE NINTH by Tamsyn Muir

I love this series so god damned much! Waited a few weeks to write this review, because every time I started, it was just a rambling list of things I love about it. I’m accepting that that’s the only way I know how to talk about this book, so let the gushing of appreciation commence: I’d delayed reading this sequel for many months, because I’d loved Gideon’s narrative voice in book 1 so strongly, I wasn’t ready to let a different narrative voice in this world into my heart, and I wanted to give Harrow a fair chance. I’m so glad I read a rather exhaustive chapter by chapter recap, or I’d have been a bit lost and missed so much of the joy of this book (by not remembering all the details of the 1st). Muir does NOT hold her readers’ hands. What Muir does, instead, is write some of the cleverest, most imaginative stories I’ve ever read. This future space necromantic universe is wild, and wildly entertaining. It is a dark and visceral setting, but supremely human and relatable, and told with such a light touch. Not only are the world-building and settings imaginative and fascinating, but the characters are so fully formed and realized and multi-dimensional and relatable, you find yourself caring for most, if not, all of them. And still being compelled by those you don’t care for. Plus, it’s all told with such a deft and light and fast-paced touch at times, especially in the dialogue that just races across the page, in often hilarious back-and-forth ways. You have to pay attention while reading this, but that’s never a chore, nor is it something you need to remind yourself. You WANT to pay attention while reading this…it isn’t just paragraphs of exposition (although those are great, too) but so much sly and clever and wildly imaginative stuff is happening. When we meet characters who have lived for literally thousands and thousands of years, their initial interactions might be surprising to the reader. But they make total sense. At least, it did to me. That’s probably how most people might be after millenia of life and shared existence with the same group of people. But I adored that the author doesn’t ever feel the need to explain that (there isn’t the paragraph where our narrator explains an insight). It’s all just there on the page, in their actions and dialogue, and it’s up to you to suss it out and draw conclusions. And you do, and it’s often darkly hilarious. Plus, this one is such an interesting foil to Gideon. Gideon was our amazing athletic swordswoman, who didn’t care about the necromantic science, and whose only solution was sarcasm and punching the monster in front of her (a solution that worked more often than not). She reminded me of Vasquez from Aliens!! Harrow is the brilliant necromancer, and so her book is much more layers of skin and bones and muscles and fats. And Harrow’s supreme skill at it, her intense paranoia, her love of bonecraft, it’s such a new lens into this world. It’s fascinating. And THEN it’s even more interesting and complicated, because Harrow has some huge memory gaps and hallucinations and can’t trust her own senses. An unreliable narrator who doesn’t trust herself. Plus much of it is written in the second person, which works better than it should. And while we’d seen how dour and rough life in the Ninth realm (planet? Empire? Castle?) was, and how hard Gideon’s childhood was, we hadn’t really examined what Harrow’s life was like. And it’s equally (maybe even more) heartbreaking. The weight of being one of only two remaining in an entire generation of children, that survivor’s guilt and epic loneliness. Plus the weight of being sole heir to the kingdom, the immense pressures and expectations. It was lovely to get to see others being so frequently gobsmacked at Harrow’s abilities (Because she spends her life feeling Never Enough). In a whole Universe of necromancers, the Ninth is the most stark and dour of all, and these two young women may have been formed and hardened and bruised in that darkness, but never broken. And again, I want to stress, that these books are FUN TO READ! Even though the subject matter and trappings can be DARK! It’s not “Battered Woman of the Month” Book Club type stories. The setting and worlds are grim, but the dialogue and descriptions and adventures are great fun (even though there’s a high body count). I don’t know the magical alchemy that allows this story to be such a great time, because describing the plot makes it sound plodding and depressing as hell. And it’s not. The emotionality of the characters (oft suppressed in Harrow and others) is so truly realized. (Plus, we get flashbacks to the first novel, so get to spend more time with that whole insane Scooby Gang. I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed them all until they started showing up again. Maybe I need to re-read Gideon the Ninth. I’ll probably wait until I’m ready to read the third book, and then reread both of these first, as this is a series where fresh knowledge of the previous books pays huge dividends). There’s great mysteries to solve, and bad guys to fight, and Harrow’s confused memories to sort through. It’s a total brain trip, that keeps pages turning and keeps raising the stakes. The character of Mercy is such an understandable grump, I loved her so much! Long story long, I’m just saying this book was bloody fantastic (pun intended), and took the story to places I did NOT predict. And I can’t wait to see where things go next.  

THE KAIJU PRESERVATION SOCIETY by John Scalzi

This is pure popcor. It’s a delightful confection that may be lacking in nourishment and sustenance, but it’s a wonderful treat that will put a smile on your face. It’s good fun, with quippy dialogue, a splashy premise, big ole monsters, great adventure, lots of pop culture references. It’s a feel good easy summer read. Delightful. In the author’s note at the back, Scalzi talks about his troubles in trying to write a different novel during the pandemic days and dark times. The hard but necessary choice to scrap that book, and then the joy he found in crafting this. It’s light, it’s fun, it’s the Kaiju Preservation Society!

LONGBOURN by Jo Baker

Detailed historical fiction is often total catnip to me. That being said, I wasn’t initially excited to read this, but it was a bookclub choice so I forged ahead. And I’m so glad I did. I found the writing and descriptions to be so visceral and visual and evocative. Really sets you WITHIN the scene, even though most of these scenes are not something you’d want in “scratch n sniff” technology: the realities of life during Regency England (specifically during the events of “Pride and Prejudice”) and especially the daily hardships and tasks and struggles of the servants of the household. But it’s so much more than that. This powerful time machine doesn’t just explore the life of servitude and running a manor house, we explore the small village and trips to London and grand houses. And the scenes following soldiers during the Napoleonic Wars were jaw-droppingly powerful; stark and evocative prose that was some of the best I’ve read with that setting. It felt like an almost entirely different book, which totally worked, with a different narrator and with the way it all was woven into our story. But even when not having a starving freezing army sludge across the continent, the stakes and the truths of small everyday tasks are presented with such care and importance. Plus, the “gimmick” of the novel (behind the scenes at Pride and Prejudice) works wonderfully, too. Wickham is even more wicked (not surprising). Mrs Bennett gets more layers. Mr Bennett gets some necessary and well-earned critiques, as do the whole family. The characters we meet and follow in this novel are wonderfully realized. Often just a small aside or short sentence can provide intense insight into who someone is. The realities of life in service in Regency England are rough and constantly demanding. But it’s wonderful watching these people each finding their own ways to carve out some joy and peace and meaning, small moments of rest and beauty, amid the constant work and constant worry (the staff’s livelihoods are also greatly in peril with the impending change of ownership of Lonbourn). Very stressful at times. Very hard and sad at times. But also super lovely and offering some definite hope against all the odds there at the end. Quite enjoyed it. Baker’s descriptive powers are impressive, and with so so so many details of tasks and daily life, it still never felt impenetrable or a slog. It just felt so Lived In and Fully Realized, transporting the reader fully to this life.

BEFORE MARS by Emma Newman

I’d somehow forgotten just HOW GOOD Newman is at propulsive writing, at crafting a narrative in such a way, unveiling new facts and new mysteries that just keep you turning the page. I don’t like to read a series all at once. I prefer to read a few books in between. But then I kind of forgot about this book, and other holds came in from the library, and life happened, and suddenly it’s been months since I read the second book. I am so glad I finally picked this one up. I remembered that I liked the other two books, but had forgotten how much I liked them (for the record, I liked the first and adored the second). Each book has been its own creation, following a different cast of characters set in the same larger Universe(s). Although I felt the tethers to the other two books more strongly in this one: connections to the people following the Pathfinder across the galaxy in book 1 and connections to the Future Earthbound people in book 2. Especially as these events on the Mars station are happening concurrently with the murder investigation on Earth in book 2. What I’m trying to say is, this was a fantastic book, in a fantastic series. Featuring fascinating and flawed and complex people, following varied and flawed and complex reasonings, in a disparate and flawed world. Propulsive is really the word for how this story unfolded, even though the story is sometimes small and slow in scale (dealing with confusion and trying to determine what is reality and what is delusion). Does being confined to a 5-person Mars Station count as making this a Locked Room Mystery? It was great to read, either way. Newman continues to explore really interesting and unique characters. I appreciate so much both the author’s fearlessness in crafting complex individuals (in exploring their histories with mental struggles) and her unconcern with keeping everyone “likeable.” They just continue to feel very Real and True. Good stuff.

THE MARROW THIEVES by Cherie Dimaline

This deserves all the awards it has received. Unique take on dystopian YA stories. In addition to climate disasters affecting our continent, most people have lost the ability to dream, but not the First Peoples. This leads to a world where the Canadian government is hunting and kidnapping Indigenous peoples to harvest their bone marrow in an effort to find a way to resume dreaming. Classic “on the run” storyline, which always keeps the pages turning. But interspersed by the different personal stories of this found family. Powerful and emotional. While their current world is apocalyptic, the real lived histories of indigenous peoples in North America also carries dystopic and genocidal wrongs, and the layers and reflections add up. The importance of sharing and keeping their stories and identities alive, while also struggling for basic survival, it’s a powerful read. Hadn’t realized this is the first in a series. But it can be read as a stand alone. Still, the ending definitely lets you know there’s more story to be told and more struggle to be fought. Glad my bookstore recommended this.

FUGITIVE TELEMETRY by Martha Wells

More Murderbot is always a great thing! This series continues to be such a friggin’ joy. This time Murderbot has to help investigate a murder, requiring way more interaction with a dubious security team than they’d prefer (their preference would be zero interactions). As ever, the pages turn quickly, the snark is highly satisfying, surprises and conclusions are revealed with the perfect tone. You get to share in their irritation and their skills and their continued internal journey on deciding their identity and purpose.

A MARVELLOUS LIGHT by Freya Marske

Oh, this was just lovely. Fantastic world-building. While the “19th century England, But With Magic” genre feels like it’s everywhere right now (and I do tend to enjoy them), I found this one fresh and refreshing and top of its class. The world-building is great. The rules of magic and its usage were super interesting. And very effective having Robin as our entry point into this world: a curious chap in an extreme fish-out-of-water scenario, who finds himself facing immediate peril, without any understanding as to Why. Plus, the opposites-attract, slow-burn attraction between the two leads is really lovely to watch. It was very sweet watching them slowly falling for each other, and then quite quickly leading into a steamy scene. Issues of class and wealth and race and all the other restrictions of this time period abound, plus the “some of us secretly do magic” thing, too. The mystery and investigation plot is really interesting. Things are not resolved too easily. And I found the complications (of secrecy and family politics and keeping up appearances, etc) to be believable (rather than just frustrating road blocks inserted solely for plot purposes, because “plot hindrance goes here.”). The writing is really stunning at times, too. The prose is lovely and powerful. And it’s full of dry wit and heated glances, and real peril. In what could have been just a flowery confection of a book, it’s not only better written than that, but it’s got Real Stakes and some fascinating dangers, too. I really appreciated that these characters felt fully fleshed out, with real dimension.

LONG WAY DOWN by Jason Reynolds

Oh, I thought I knew what I’d be getting with this story, but I was so wrong. I hadn’t expected it to be written in verse, playing with language and sentence structure. Big emotions and hard truths presented in such powerful ways. And it reads fast, and the text is endlessly taking us down down down each page, mirroring the fateful elevator ride of the tale. Very good. Very short to read, but it’ll linger in your brain for days and days.

THE FIVE: THE UNTOLD LIVES OF THE WOMEN KILLED BY JACK THE RIPPER by Hallie Rubenhold

Surprised by how much I liked this book. Meticulously researched, and presented with an almost overwhelming amount of details. Yet the writing is evocative and engaging. It truly transports the reader. And we learn so much about the lives of these five women, and about their surrounding conditions. About the homeless encampments in Trafalgar Square. The truly deplorable workhouse conditions and requirements, leaving many preferring to sleep rough in the streets. While this is an era oft depicted in various media, I appreciated this look into poverty, the working poor, lower middle classes, and the truly precariousness of everyone’s lives. I was surprised to learn the early lives of these women. Their hopes and dreams. Their loves and heartaches. Their success and their hardship. The role that bad luck, trauma, high infant mortality, complicated family relationships, lack of a safety net, and drink played. Was also surprised to learn the current thinking that Jack the Ripper’s victims were killed while sleeping outdoors, rather than sought out as sex workers. Also that only one of these women was actually a sex worker. Not that that should devalue her life or make her deserving of murder, of course. But this book examines the extreme sensationalism and inaccuracy of the reporting of the day. I really appreciated that this book is not about describing brutal murders. It truly is painting a 360* view of these women as women. Their lives and the world around them. It doesn’t go into the violence because this book is trying to re-center them and their stories. It’s not about this murderer. It’s about these women. Each story carries its own heartbreaks and sadness, as would need to be when telling the personal histories that lead to someone sleeping rough on the street. But there’s such humanity here, as well as so much interesting details about this time period. I learned so much, which lends such a richer understanding to other books and movies set during this time.

A STUDY IN SCARLET WOMEN by Sherry Thomas

I’m 4 books into this gender-swap Sherlock Holmes series, and it’s really bloody fantastic. Charlotte Holmes is complicated and fascinating. She’s on the autism spectrum, as are some of her sisters. She struggles and chafes under the extreme restrictions of her day. And finds herself embroiled in a huge scandal, which leads to her becoming a consulting detective (albeit one who has to use subterfuge to hide her identity and gender). These are also well written mystery novels. They’ve a good propulsive energy and rarely feel like they are dragging much. The author’s descriptions are wonderful and engaging. These are better than they need to be, as I feel the premise alone would find readers. The second book introduces Mrs Hudson’s niece, a young medical student and helpful addition to our team. The women all feel real and capable, and I enjoy reading about the ways they circumvent the strictures of society. (Although the constant worries/jokes about maximum tolerable chins is getting a bit tedious and harder to overlook). And then in the 4th book, they’re planning a HEIST!! Be still my beating heart. Our Scooby Gang of characters are off to France for an art heist, with mysterious past loves, and more intense costumes and disguises. As Kirkus said, this book is “For fans of etiquette-flouting heroines who desire truth while being true to their desires—gastronomic, romantic, and cerebral.”

A COURT OF MIST AND FURY by Sarah J. Maas

I’m also 4 books into this series. And I Would not have bothered to read the second in the series, if I hadn’t gone into the series being warned the first is mediocre and irritating at times, but that they get Way Better. So I do need to qualify that I still had low expectations when I started book 2. But I devoured it in two days. Having not read any synopsis of any of the books, I was totally surprised (pleasantly) by where this story went. The 1st book is a re-telling of Beauty and the Beast (with all the slightly worrisome imbalanced power dynamic and Stockholm Syndrome elements). I never was that enamored of the Hero Tamlin, but whatever, Feyre saves the day (through the power of Love and EXTREME grit and determination). And a heavy physical toll. Then there’s a trite and predictable magic to lead to “Happily Ever After.” And so, starting book two was a real TONAL SHIFT. Things are NOT so happily in this Ever After. There is extreme trauma and PTSD (from, ya know, all the torture and bad stuff from book 1). But also, the many issues with their relationship from book 1 are explored and on full display now that the Big Baddie has been neutralized. Without that all-consuming focus, the cracks and imbalances and abusive controlling behavior begin to show. I really DID NOT expect this book to tackle all of this. It’s a real 180* turn and watching Feyre learn to examine her feelings and interpersonal relationships was really fascinating. And then, re-enter stage left Rhys, our brooding goth night Fae. I just really enjoyed that this turned the entire world and characters from the first book on its head. (Honestly, it’s like the 1st book is just a trope-heavy prequel. Necessary to set the scene for the interesting more complex journeys to come). We meet a fantastic new group of characters at the Night Court. Our Scooby Gang is Loveable and Quirk-heavy. I mean, it’s not that this book doesn’t still have it’s share of tropes, but I found the characters and world and plot much more engaging and interesting. Also, the first book was such an irritating read, because so much of the plot conflict came about from Feyre being intransigent for no good reason. Eye roll. Here, characters are more true to their internal logic (and while there were still one or two times this happened, at least it only lasted for a day or two). I just loved that this ended up telling a completely different story from what was promised in the first book. We spend more time with Feyre’s sisters in the human realm, and they get some more character development, too. This series turns out to be engaging adventures in a Dark Faerie Fantasy world, with battles and kingdom politics and delightfully messy interpersonal relationships. Also, it’s really satisfying having watched Feyre blossom into such a capable and powerful and cunning character. One of the things that’s so appealing about her later relationships is that others are both consistent and insistent that she claim and use personal agency throughout. It takes her awhile to fully learn that she is both always able to and actually required to make her own choices. Un-learning those previous abusive controlling patterns, and learning that her ideas and voice and desires and choices are valid and sought after and respected. Watching her learn to spread her metaphorical wings is very satisfying. Lots of this might still be trope-heavy, but there’s tons of good adventures and plot that keep the pages turning. The stakes are high and only getting higher. We’ve got a few characters with some interesting shades of grey. And my cousin who convinced me to finally read this series says there’s some Super Spicy bits in book 5. I’m not there yet, but FYI. *Laughs*

——–Honorary Mentions——–

CRYING IN H MART by Michelle Zauner

Memoir isn’t always my favorite genre (unless it’s travel memoirs or stories from Naturalists), but this was my book club’s selection. Enjoyed learning Michelle Zauner is in Japanese Breakfast, as I’ve been jamming to her latest album all spring. This was a very intriguing and open story of her mother’s cancer diagnosis and death when Zauner was only 25. The roles of Korean food and culture mixed with Zauner’s experiences in Eugene and the East Coast, her complicated relationships with her mom and her dad and her extended family, learning to be an adult, a struggling musician, trying to find herself and her own identity, and then getting this phone call… it can be pretty raw. It was touching and powerful at times, but didn’t make me cry (I’d expected it would) but I don’t know how much of that lack of crying was because my sub-conscious was building a barrier/protective distance from the story? In a non-scientific small sample size of our bookclub, a few folks cried and a few didn’t. But we all appreciated reading the story, and we all now definitely want to go out for more Korean food. The role of cooking and showing affection through food is powerful in this narrative.

QUEER DUCKS (AND OTHER ANIMALS): THE NATURAL WORLD OF ANIMAL SEXUALITY by Eliot Shrefer

Easy to read, entertaining, and interesting. What more can you ask for in a pop science animal behavior book? Full of lots of great little stories and facts, and interjected with humorous animal skits and wry observations. Very approachable. The interviews with different researchers were great, too.

THE LIBRARY OF THE DEAD by T. L. Huchu

Spunky and streetwise Ropa is a wonderful narrator with a unique voice and a strong flavor to her observations. The world-building in this not-too-future Edinburgh is fantastic. The small glimpses we see through Ropa’s every day interactions have huge consequences (some previous climate catastrophe and wars have altered our world and our cities. There is an authoritarian government in place (characters must always greet each other with some formalized “god save the king” call and response, and are often seen looking over their shoulders, etc). The sense of powerlessness against the system is ever present. The descriptions of a changed and partially flooded Edinburgh are powerful. The extreme economic inequality and the way this new world functions is all too believable. It’s powerful having this very bright ghost-talking 14 year old as our guide, watching her be the primary bread winner (for her aging grandmother and younger sister, who Ropa is determined won’t have to drop out of school like Ropa did). Her Zimbabwean heritage shines through, as does her Scottishness. The slang and the observations are so Lived In and real, and give such a strong sense of character and place. The plot itself is interesting, with some real spooky haunts and terrible monsters. As well as a somewhat endearing underworld group of thieves. It’s an easy read, and the main plot beats aren’t ground breaking (bad guys using children for evil magical power), but I enjoyed the way Huchu set up magic and rules in this world. Ropa’s use of musical instruments to communicate with the dead. The snobbish upper-class magic class and their very scientific theory=based approach to magic. There are some creepy images, and some peril situations where you have to remember that Ropa is still 14, so you forgive her her poor choices. The atmosphere and setting are so thick and Lived In, that I’ve found myself still thinking about this world last several days (whereas plot alone wouldn’t have done that. But the dressings and flavorings around the plot are really wonderful).

OATHS OF LEGACY by Emily Skrutskie

A very satisfying sequel. It was totally unexpected (to me) to switch perspective/narrator in this second book. Gave it a new flavor and made it feel super fresh, providing a broader understanding of this galaxy, by now having a different character’s knowledge and life experiences flavoring all they observe. The first was told from Ettian’s perspective, and this book is all Gal. Which was fascinating, as he’s held hostage for much of it. So there’s lots of scheming and lots of unknowns about what the other characters are going through. I found it really effective to see inside his head, as he’s had all this training and grooming and skills for Empire Leadership since birth. And seeing all that regimented hardness and guile and impulsiveness laid out was interesting, and it made for very intriguing observations and criticisms of Ettian’s completely different approaches and choices. Also fun to see the slow self-examination and questioning going on. And I absolutely loved Wen’s character arc in this. In the first book, she was a fun premise but felt more like quirky plot device than fully rounded character. Here she really had some great emotional moments. This trilogy has been silly and cinematic fun so far, and can’t wait for the third. Pages turn quickly and the author is great at describing intense battle scenes (big and small, planetary and in space). It all still feels like reading a movie. It’s not Important Literature, but it is very fun genre adventures.

GRAVE RESERVATIONS by Cherie Priest

This one is just light fun. Very different in tone and subject matter to other Cherie Priest books I’ve read. Well written page turner, all plot and snappy dialogue. Pages turn, jokes are quipped, mystery is solved. The end. It’s not the type of thing you’ll treasure and re-read, but it’s an enjoyable way to pass the time. Seattle travel agent with minor psychic abilities connects with a local cop, and they join forces to help solve a crime. The body count was higher than I expected. The band of quirky side characters were on brand, and not quite as fleshed out as I would’ve hoped. I mean, there isn’t generally a lot of character development in these things, but I’d hoped for SOME. Instead you mostly get to know what a person looks like, what they are wearing, and where they rank on the Sass-o-meter. Ah well. Always fun reading about my city. Perfectly pleasant little escape. Definitely can see the potential for this series to continue.

THE FUTURE OF ANOTHER TIMELINE by Annalee Newitz

Hoo boy, this novel hits differently since the Dobbs decision. The struggle and rage and fear and importance of Doing The Work and Finding Community…all of those are still true, just more so. Much of the “speculative fiction” premise has become actual reality. I only knew this involved Time Travel and was recommended by a friend. So it was a bit unexpected the twists and turns. I generally prefer reading books without knowing too much about what’s going to happen. But dang, this proved more violent than I was expecting. And harsher, with more real world horrors, than I’ve generally been seeking in my escapist reading. It’s fantastic and unique world building. The Time Travel mechanics are unlike anything I’ve ever read before, with these few geologic structures found around the globe that allow for time travel. And with people moving up and down the timeline, constantly editing and changing things. And the way that travelers sometimes return to a world with memories of a timeline that has been erased. Chilling and fascinating. And the actual logistics of global travel in all different times of history. The rock formation takes you in time, not space. So you’ll be landing in the past in the Middle East or Canada or wherever and then need to take era appropriate travel to get to your preferred destination. So the time spent traveling across the globe is a necessary impediment. The Daughters of Harriet vs the Comstock followers, both illicitly making edits in the past for their own societal aims. It’s wild. And the chapters switching between the traveler and the early 90’s Riot Grrrl teenage life in the Valley…very effective structure. Our characters are on a messy fumbling journey in this messy fumbling life we all live. There’s more violence than one would hope for (ain’t that always the way?), and I don’t always agree with choices made or their internal morality. But it’s fascinating. Lots of big ideas and great discussions. Really enjoyed some of the glimpses into the bigger scholarly debates around time travel and it’s rules within this world. The struggle never ends, but finding and working within community bring about satisfying ends.

LEXICON by Max Barry

Been awhile since I’ve read a Max Barry book, and this one delivered same as all the others. Gripping action keeps the pages turning, with smart fast-paced dialogue and fun plot twists and turns. It’s just a fun adventure, although the plot of this one has a pretty high body count. But his books aren’t really about deep emotional connections, so it didn’t carry a heavy emotional weight for me. And it’s not about a rich deep interiority. It’s about thriller adventures. In this world, there is a secret organization who has learned how to use certain nonsense words to compel and control other people. As one can imagine, this power is not used for good. There’s missing memories and being on the run from danger and the mysteries are revealed at a satisfying pace that keeps you reading until the book is done. These always feel clever rather than Smart, but in a still satisfying way. Enjoyable way to pass the time and I do stay up too late trying to find out what happens next. But unlikely to be the type of thing I’d want to re-read. There maybe isn’t a huge amount of depth, although Barry tries to explore (or at least mention) some Big Capital Letter Ideas, but that’s not really the point or super effective. Like most adventure or mystery stories, it’s more surface-level plot, and that’s perfectly fine.

Gibraltar Monkeys, Cambridge daytrip, Queen Funeral flight delays. Sept 2022

Tracy,

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Gibraltar, final day in London and Cambridge. Sept 2022

Hey, here I am writing my final trip update sooner than one month after returning home. This is maybe a record? It sure seems that, if I don’t type up my blatherings about my final days on the plane home, then it takes awhile for me to face it. But here I am, getting it done now. Woohoo!

Hello Gibraltar. Visually dramatic flight landing (apparently they shut down the road by the airport when planes land…if there’s an incident, they might overshoot onto the highway!). Deplane on the tarmac, turn around, and yup. There’s THE ROCK! Just big and impressive right behind our plane. Thinking of World War II movies and James Bond (Shout out to The Living Daylights!). Lining up for the two people working passport control. Erin exclaims, “Yay! We get a stamp.” The immigration officer laments that, “sadly, it’s not as pretty as it used to be.” Ha! Still exciting, as the UK no longer stamps US passports. Waiting at baggage claim (there’s just the one carousel for the whole airport) and MORE GOLF CLUB BAGS than I have ever seen in my life keep coming down the ramp. There must be some great courses just across the way in Spain, because I stopped counting after 20 (twenty!) bags circled around. Unexpected.

Mediterranean sunshine. Friendly taxi driver. Cute hotel. We drop our bags and head up to the rooftop pool! After a swim, Erin let’s me know she found one lounge chair in a small patch of shade (hooray for me). Nice relaxing and reading time. Then it’s time for dinner.

We’re off to wander through town. It’s very walkable. Lots of shops and outdoor dining. Ever business we pass has a sign in their window about Queen Elizabeth’s death. (It’s a British Territory. They take both pounds and euros, but you get a better exchange rate with pounds). From small handwritten signs to professionally printed posters. It’s strange.

Many announcing they’ll be closed on Mon for the funeral. Find a waterfront spot with some gf options. AND there are three people dining with their dogs nearby, so I’m spoiled with critters to watch. 🙂

Lazy morning, then walking through town. Some cool churches. Make our way to the cable car that takes you to the top of the rock (The signs all brag “412 meters in 6 minutes”). It’s only 2 more Euro to get the return ticket. That had always been my plan, but Erin’s saying we should walk, hike, climb down. From what I’d seen online, most says it’s 3-4 hours down and can be hot and tough. So I’m skeptical. But excited to go see MONKEYS! The Barbary Apes (actually, macaque monkeys, not apes) live wild atop the rock. And can be quite a menace to the tourists who aren’t following the rules. Lots of signs at the cable car stop offering advice for safety. Don’t bring food. (If you do, definitely don’t try to eat it anywhere near the monkeys). Signs imploring you to keep your distance. Signs explaining monkey behaviors and how to notice signs of stress and fear. The cable car operator gives a final notice at the top, “Those of you wearing backpacks, put them on your front! Otherwise the monkeys might jump on your back to try to go through your bag. Don’t open your bags around the monkeys. They associate those sounds with food.” We disembark (deplane is a word. Is there a similar term for cable cars?). Turn the corner, and there’s this gorgeous monkey just posing for the new batch of tourists. Preening under the flag (at half-mast for the Queen) with a gorgeous view behind. Everyone stops for photos (including several people getting way too close to take selfies. Sheesh).

There are some staircases and skinnier walkways, and it’s fascinating (and a tiny bit unnerving) to watch the monkeys utilize these chokepoints for maximum mayhem. Convinced they enjoy the screaming and laughter. Saw one monkey jump onto a guy’s backpack (which he was still wearing on his back).

It’s a bit intense, but mostly very cool. And Erin and I do our best to stay respectful primate visitors. But definitely throughout our explorations of the paths, we’ll see a monkey just chilling, and then tourists get too close and it starts clearly saying “You’re making me uncomfortable” and then someone gets even closer for a selfie and the monkey screeches or lashes out. We didn’t see anyone get bit, thank goodness (later I saw a woman in a bathroom cleaning up a bloody knee, but hoping it’s just from falling down and not a monkey attack). But we definitely came across a few more chokepoints in the trail (especiall once the mini-van tours come by. Three or four mini-vans block the path (which only has a foot of clearance on each side) and disgorge 7 tourists each. There isn’t a way for us to walk past, plus the monkeys are all surrounding the vans and packs potentially full of food. So Erin and I hang back, watching the madness but deciding we’ll just wait until things empty out a bit. At one point (near a new elevator that takes people to one of the newer fancy glass walkways/stairs built in a few spots), there’s a man feeding the monkeys. He’s clearly staff and clearly on good terms with them (as he’s asking for high fives in exchange for treats). It’s not an ideal situation (as tourists and guides over the years feeding the monkeys has led to this state where they associate any pack with food). But it’s also clearly the path of least resistance to help keep the elevator doors clear/usable, as he’ll lure away the monkeys with food when someone wants the elevator. Huh. (We decided to skip those stairs/glass walkway based upon the human screeches from monkey interactions above us).

After walking for a bit, we hadn’t seen any non-human primates for awhile, so I think it’s safe to open my purse to re-apply sunscreen (Mediterranean mid-day sunshine). No sooner have I made that un-zip noise than two macaques pop up over the wall beside me. Eek! Never mind. I’ll risk the sunburn. And I don’t bother re-zipping my bag. Ha!

Eventually we make it to St Michael’s Cave and get to go explore. It’s impressive, but everything is lit up in these intense pinks and bright colors. While cool, not what I expect in a cave.

Turns out it’s a 7 minute cycle of light show. And happily some of the lights are just regular, so we got some of that traditional cave stalactite action. And they’ve done a cool job with the light to highlight and reveal shapes within the cave formations.

As we exit we see a monkey eating an ice cream bar. D’oh. But we felt more confident walking past, as this guy had a snack already. The Rock has some very cool bunkers and older structures from 200+ years of military uses. Some of our walking paths are intensely steeply raked. Most are paved (yay) but they are way steeper than I prefer. We make our way to the Ape Den. Which is decidely absent of apes. But Erin climbed up some of the structures and said it smelled like a zoo! So they definitely do spend time here, just not under the mid-day sun. As we keep walking along the pathways, we have a decision point. We’ve already climbed an hour or so down the paths. Do we climb back up for an hour to ride the cable car back down. Or do we keep climbing down? I agree to the hike (for those less dramatic about steep hills, they might call it a walk) and we keep heading down, passing warning signs about snakes, reapplying sunscreen, drinking my water.

Explore the Devil’s Gap Battery structures from 1902. Now we leave the paved paths to more loose gravel and old crumbling stairways. Lots of them. My face is not pleased. But I trudge and sweat along the way. Exciting when we start hitting parts of town, as some of these hillside stairways and alleys are in better shape (some even had a handrail!!).

Back to the hotel for more rooftop pool time. Erin enjoying the sunshine, myself hiding in shadows or under the water in the pool. So, our usual sunshine dynamic. It works for us!

We eventually get changed and head out to explore the Botanical Gardens. They’re nice. Lots of native plants and things that will grow well in these warm climes. And there’s an ampitheatre doing a soundcheck for a concert that evening. So we get to hear Kerria performing and talking with her sound techs. (Hadn’t heard of her before, but Shazam was able to identify, and then Erin got a glimpse of the stage video screen to confirm). I bet it’s a fun stop on a music tour.

A lot of Gibraltar is reclaimed land. Which is how we’re walking along “Wellington Front” and other 1850’s walls but see lots of high rise building between these walls and the water. Because back then, that wall was the city limits, but they’ve dumped enough material to “reclaim” more land from the sea. Hmmmm. There are also So Many Cannons all over town. So many. Like, they didn’t know what to do with all of them. They’re just plunked all over, with a plaque. Including 4 captured from Russia during the Crimea War and then gifted to Gibraltar. Others extolling a significant advance in cannon technology. Or some other historical Cannon battle.

Dinner included a starter of Iberico Ham (when Spain is Right There, how can you not?). I had braised pork cheeks for dinner (Carrillada), which continued my celebration of Spanish pig. Melt in your mouth delicious.

That evening, back at the hotel, we’re getting news alerts about flight delays and cancelations because of the Queen’s funeral. Eek! Our flight might be affected (we leave during the funeral and there’s talk of lots of cancelations to keep the skies silent). There’s nothing we can do about it, except keep checking with Virgin Atlantic to see if we’ll be canceled. Ugh. Texting pals about the potential issues and they respond with the proper level of snark. It is my love language.

Final morning, while getting breakfast, a group of school kids parade through town as part of “Clean Up the World” environmental event, which is cool. Our flight back to London isn’t until 5pm, so we take a taxi to the southern tip of the country, to the Europa lighthouse.

We get a lovely view of Morroco and Tangiers across the waters. AND there’s little kid sports teams practicing at the playfield nearby. Initially thinking it’s football (the kind played with feet, not the american sport). But even better, it’s little kid Rugby. And I mean Little kids. Like 8 and under. This is extra delightful, because Erin is a big follower of Rugby. (I personally always think it looks like “Calvin Ball” meaning there are absolutely no rules and just make-em-ups happening on the field. I quite enjoy watching a game. But now imagine 6 year olds are trying to play it: pure chaos. It’s such a joy). Plus, as an enjoyer of unique warning signs, I enjoyed that the “Warning: Cricket balls might come this way” sign was still out, even though there was no cricket being played at the moment.

I also quite enjoyed watching a family with their off leash black lab wandering around the lighthouse, and then freaking out and screaming trying to stop their dog from peeing on the war memorial. “Ruby! Ruby stop! No. Ah ah ah!” (Pro tip: keep your dog on a leash)

The Ibrahim-al-Ibrahim Mosque at Europa Point was cool to see. And Nun’s Well in the area is thought to be over 700 years old, and a way to artifically supply drinking water to this arid area. We start our 6km jaunt back to town. Weather is lovely (I mean, hotter than I’d like, but not unbearable). Following Google Maps to a pathway climbing down to a beach access point. However, when we reach said path, we find Google is a liar. Unless they truly intended us to jump over the highway wall, walk across some building rooftops and then jump off the cliff. Seems unlikely. But we can spy the waterfall from our location, at least. We keep walking towards the other beach area. As we’re getting closer, I worry that Google is again lying to us. Erin very smartly switches to satellite view, and sure enough, the suggested “path” requires the power of flight to complete. But we’re able to find an alternate pathway, following some other roads and swooping back towards the water. This is how I got to go wading in the Stait of Gibraltar. Cold but lovely. Always nice to add a new body of water to list of places where I’ve dipped my toes!!

Even better, there’s a small snack building, so I got to get a pack of “prawn cocktail” potato chips, which always feels like the thing one must do when in the UK (or a UK territory, at least). Back in town and we grab a nice lunch with tables by the Marina. Lovely. Then off to the airport. Where they have an outdoor terrace overlooking the runway. Lovely place to wait for boarding call, and fun to watch a plane take off from the runway, with that dramatic Rock in the background.

Back at Heathrow for our airport hotel. And the trend of attractive front desk guys continues. Not mad about it. *smile* We’ve got one full day (Sunday 18th) before our flight home. Original plan had been to explore Windsor. Erin’s bf John is from Dublin and swears the world’s best Fudge shop is in Windsor. I’m not a fudge enthusiast, but I was down with exploring the town and the castle. However, because of the Queen’s death, basically the whole town is closed. But Erin learns this fudge place has 4 locations, and one of them is in Cambridge. I’ve never been before, so we decide that’s where we’ll explore. The next morning, we take the 1 hr train from Heathrow to London. Erin decides we should go join the crowds at Buckingham Palace to at least glimpse the Mourning Madness and see the difference from when we’d wandered past before her death. It is INTENSE!

Very impressed at the country’s installation of massive infrastructure, from fencing to signage to tons and tons of employees and volunteers and porta potties and medical and media tents. We head over to Green Park where people can leave their flowers and drawings and cards. My inner anthropologist is loving it. While I’m not a fan of the monarchy, nor am I personally upset that a 96 yr old trillionare passed away, I am touched observing other people having big emotions about it. And the handmade arts and crafts are very sweet.

After about 15 minutes, Erin is done with the crowds, which is okay. We have only made it to the outer edges of the flower/offering piles, but we’ve gotten the general idea already. She is also fine splitting up if I wanted to see more, but I’d rather stay together in this madness. As we start walking the other way, following the giant light up signs and safety vest wearing security and portable toilets and fencing and crowds, I remark that “it’s like Coachella.” “Absolutely not,” Erin responds. Everyone is wearing way too many clothes.” Ha! I didn’t mean the flavor of the crowds. I meant the infrastructure and crowds being steered through fenced corrals. *laughs*

Now we’re in the line to Buckingham Palace, and it’s intense. Much squishier than the flowers line. And these tall solid temporary fences block side views. We slowly trudge along. And once we get there, it’s such a dissapointment. We are let out still far from the palace and told to continue marching away from the Palace and one long block later, we could cross the road and then turn to march back to get a better view. Meh. We decide we don’t care (as decides most of the crowd). And we’re funneled past more fencing and more security and more employees (I was tempted to ask them their pay rate, but didn’t). We encounter some fancy foreign dignitaries, but not sure who. But motorcade police are clearing intersections, people in important suits with ear pieces and binders, black SUVs with tinted windows go by. So, that was probably somebody important for the funeral tomorrow.

Then it’s trying to find a cup of coffee and a toilet. Which we eventually do. Hooray! And now off to the train station to take the 1 hr ride to Cambridge. And there’s an adorable pitbull on our train, so I’m quite pleased. Less excited by the ominous grey clouds in the sky. It specifically said No Rain, so neither of us packed a jacket. And while the grey skies are around for much of our Cambridge rambles, happily it never rained. Fun being in a college town and seeing the typical college town things (excellent cheap international food places, bubble tea, etc. But in much more historic buildings than I’m used to. It’s a lovely town. Full of very impressive old buildings everywhere you look. I’m most excited to see the King’s College Chapel, but 1st stop is fudge shop as it closes 5:30pm (it’s getting close to 3pm after we finish lunch). Fudge obtained. Then we wander the cute farmer’s art market. And head to King’s College…but wait, it says “Closed.”

Darn. Maybe it’s closed on Sundays? Enter the gift shop across the street. As Erin makes a purchase, we’re asked if we visited the chapel today. “No, but can we?” “Not anymore. It closes at 3:45pm.” Darn. If only we’d known or thought to research. Totally didn’t expect it to close before 5pm. But since we’d be making 4 hour roundtrip train rides for this fudge, that truly was the more important task. Ah well. Didn’t want to see inside anyways. (Except I totally DID want to. Sad)

More wandering through town. A lady has a small dog riding on her shoulders! She’s in a queue for Jack’s Gelato. Which was fancy and delicious. (I quite enjoyed both the Japanese Whiskey gelato and the passionfruit sorbet). More wandering, and enjoying over 800 years of architectural styles. Seriously, the history here is impressive. And the sunshine has finally arrived, which has us considering doing one of the punting tours.

There are series of small canals going past all the different college buildings. And these punt boats give tours. There are so many companies competing for tourist business. We’re walking towards a specific business when an ambitious young man engages us in conversation. “Are you ladies students?” “Nope” “Would you like to be? I can give you 15 pounds off the price.” Ha! And that’s how we found ourselves floating by at golden hour.

Friggin lovely. Swans swimming past us. Sunlight glinting off the buildings as we’re professionally poled under bridges. Safety warning at beginning of the boat trip. “Keep your hands inside at all times. There are some companies that let people rent boats to pole and steer themselves. While this is fun, it does mean that we may be bumped into along our route and you want to protect your fingers.” He wasn’t kidding. Several times a panicked amateur would have trouble steering and ram (slowly) into our boat. Ha!

Stopped at Xing Fu Tang for a bubble tea, and then walked back to the train station, for the 1 hr ride to London, and then the 1 hr ride to our Heathrow hotel. Where we had to do our final packing. Boo! But honestly, it was a really lovely trip. We got to see and do so much and it wasn’t hyper-scheduled, so didn’t feel too exhausting. The next day at Heathrow airport was a trip. I knew most of England was closed for mourning/funeral but hadn’t realized that meant the airport itself, too. So much for buying some last minute overpriced airport souvenirs. The entire DUTY FREE was closed, too. Which was wild, because it’s not designed to ever close. They force you/funnel you through the endless displays of perfume and booze and designer sunglasses and giant Toblerone. So the airport has erected temporary construction fencing to block off all the duty free items. Most restaurants and stores and most everything is closed. We manage to buy a few snacks from one small store. Then we did get to enjoy Virgin Atlantic’s lounge, which also included some funky non-traditional seating options.

Waiting at the gate for boarding, and the beginning of the funeral and procession is on TV. It’s a truly strange and somber and strange vibe.

And we overhear the flight crew and gate agents Sweating the timing. Everyone needs to be boarded, bags placed overhead, and buckled into their seats Before the official two minutes of silence. And our plane was 10-15 min late arriving. So they’ve got an even tighter timeframe. But these folks rallied. They were intense in their energy, but got this entire giant plane boarded in record time (we overheard). And then the captain made his announcement and we all sat in our seats in silence for two minutes. It was strange and awkward. Then we got the news that, because of all the funeral stuff and two minute silence delays at air traffic control, our departure will be about an hour late. Ugh. But at least we’re on the plane and our plane is still taking off today (several of the afternoon flights were entirely canceled). As we take off, we flew over Windsor Castle and we could see throngs of people lining the road, waiting for the procession that would be happening later.

A pleasant enough flight, and then home, finally! Erin has global entry, so while she offered to keep me company in the longer general public line, I waved her off. Go, be free! *laughs* But seriously, I should probably look into that for myself at some point. Great trip!

Lisbon gave us all the weather and all the castles. Sept 2022.

Tracy,

Browse archives for September 15, 2022
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First full day in Lisbon, and only day with predicted sunshine (*shaking my fist at tropical storm Danielle, although guess I’m glad it downgraded from a Hurricane before getting to landfall). Off to explore, sunscreen and protective hat in tow. (My dermatologist would be proud!) Our hotel is near the Avenidas da Liberdade (lovely large boulevard, with mosaic tiles sidewalks, cool old buildings, and tons of fancy high end shops. Someone described it as the Champs Elysee of Portugal), so it is a pretty wander. At the waterfront, there is a stall full of pineapples. Fresh juice sounds great, and we (or rather, I) made the classic tourist mistake of Not asking the price before ordering two. (No prices were listed). After machines whir, the woman hands us two hollowed pineapples full of juice. Oh, we’d expected regular cups. Then tells me it’s €20 for the pair. Eek! (There’s no alcohol involved and Portuguese prices are normally super cheap. Example it’s been €3 for wine and coffee at many streetside cafes). Ah well. So we take obligatory photo to commemorate.

And I hide from the sun in the small shadows cast by the few trees while I drink mine 🙂 Made our way to the Time Out Market (a trendy tourist stop, sponsored by the Events magazine, full of pop up food and drink stands). Erin had learned there was a spot selling gluten free peri peri chicken. Unfortunately after wandering the whole place, that stand seemed to be gone. 🙁 But she got some tasty sushi and I had a decent sandwich. Then off to see Belem Tower.

On the ride over, we’re noticing this strange fog obscuring the land across the bay (river?) and other half of the bridges.

By the time we arrive, Belem is shrouded in thick fog. It’s mystical and cool, but definitely means we don’t need to pay to wait in line to climb to the top. As the view would be non existent. Ha.

So we wander over to check out the monastery. I’m not sure what to expect, but it’s been on all the lists and is only a half mile away. Lines to buy tickets and then two big lines to enter. We just get in one of the queues. Turns out one goes inside to the cloisters/monastery, and the other is for the big chapel/church part. We inadvertently picked the inside the monastery line and that was the right choice. It was flipping gorgeous. Intricate carvings everywhere. Lacy stone archways creating beautiful views in all directions.

And the sunshine is creating beautiful shadows. Truly a special place.

And amazing exploring the building, too. Some internal shrines and confessionals, etc.

And several tombs to prominent people. All of whom seem to be famous poets and writers, which is just super cool.

Once we’re done exploring, we can peek into the chapel doors as we exit. The line to enter the chapel is even longer. And that mid-day sun is no joke. We decide we don’t need to wait to see it, and head back into main part of town, so we can explore the Castle of St Jorge (George). Took an Uber back, and the driver was super excited about that weird fog/mist we’d seen earlier. Said it only happens a few times a year. So…yay, I guess? It was cool, although I’d have liked to see the view from Belem Tower, instead. :)The Uber can only get so close to the castle, up the winding cobble alleyways. Many of these roads sure don’t feel like they’ll fit one car, but the drivers manage it, somehow.

Then we hoof it up the remaining hills!! Ominous grey clouds overhead, and the fog across the water, but some lovely views across Lisbon.

Recipe for Portugal: Step 1: Find the tallest hill. Step 2: Build a Castle. Step 3: Repeat. Also, the castle has free ranging peafowl, which is still magical. And the white necked peahens are particularly lovely (maybe just their uniqueness to me, as I’m used to the peacocks more). It was a very nice day.

The next morning is predicted thunderstorms and rain showers all day. We breakfast at the hotel, grab our books, and then wander in the rain to a nearby coffee shop. Covered sidewalk patio makes for great people watching and nice relaxing, watching the rains pour down in bursts.

(The rains make the tiles mosaic sidewalks extra slick…which I. Do. Not. Like!!!!) After a few hours there’s a break in the weather, and we wander under grey skies to find a lunch spot. Also, I’ve discovered that my longtime packable rain jacket has lost some of it’s rain proof coating (taking jacket off at coffee shop I discovered one arm and the other shoulder were soaking wet). A bit of Googling confirms that Plus Size clothing isn’t super available here (I’m not sure I even want to spend €200 on a North Face jacket here, and am getting mixed info on whether the European XXL is actually only a USA XL size. Ha). But several forums suggest the Cortes de Ingles mall. As it’s not currently raining, only ominous clouds, we walk the 20 minutes to get there. The sporting goods store is busy, with big crowds around the zip up rain jackets. Turns out many people weren’t prepared for these unseasonable rains. The largest sizes are sold out, and so are the ponchos. 🙁 Off to explore more of the mall, then. Which is Large (10 stories, 7 above ground and 3 basement levels) and many of it is very fancy, and the quest for a men’s plus size jacket isn’t going so well, but it is interesting, wandering through all the different sections (it’s like one Giant department store, and every 10-20 sq feet is a different designer or section. Didn’t feel like paying €280 for a Lacoste brand zip up. Ha. But actually lucked out and found, when exploring the purses and umbrellas section (Erin’s idea), a small cash register display of €5 plastic ponchos. Done! A wistful moment as I have 4 ponchos at home (durable cold weather, durable warm weather, UW Huskies, and Seahawks). None of which I packed. Why would I, when I brought my rain jacket. Ah well. Mission accomplished!

Then more exploration of the other floors of the mall. Interesting food court in the basement and then a super fancy food court at the top level. Portuguese version of a Target in the basement, and then a bougey foods store up top (in addition to caviar and other imported finery, there are some canned escargot sold in a package with empty cleaned snail shells (so you can presumably stuff the shells and pretend you didn’t get your snails from a can!!!).

We’ve still got over an hour before our dinner reservations (Erin found a gf Italian restaurant that looked tasty), so we wander nearby garden parks. Great view of town.

Then we spy more interesting castle-ish buildings (atop another hill) at Golden Hour.

Wandered down a large avenue full of graffiti street art, including a gentleman actively spraying and painting one. Not a thing I normally see in broad daylight. Although I was bummed to see that, while street art is still plentiful in Lisbon, it is all mostly decorative names and words/tags. In Porto, it was actual pictures and images, which I find more interesting. Ah well.

Lovely Italian dinner. For dessert, I had a lemon and basil flavored gelato, that was green!! And delicious. Tasted bright and acidic and perfect. Walking the 25 minutes back to our hotel in the dark evening. Erin notices all the traffic lights (& crosswalk signals) are out at a Very busy intersection. (A four lane highway meeting a four lane highway). Now, Portuguese drivers have a well earned reputation, and crossing the road has always been a bit “exciting,” but this is something else. Instead of power outage means it becomes a 4 way stop, no working traffic lights means it is a Free For All. Like the road version of “The Purge.” All drivers, including the buses, are going full speed through the dark intersection. Eek! We’re able to find a gap in traffic and make it across the street. But for those few blocks, it’s wild observing the racing cars. Somehow it all worked without any accidents, at least while we were there.

Up early the next morning for our full day tour of Sintra, Pena Palace, and surrounding areas. More rain and thunderstorms predicted. Now, I’ve been to Portugal once before. In 2003, lucky enough to spend 3 days in Lisbon, and we did a day tour to Sintra then, too. During that trip, there were horrendous rainstorms and the Palace had a power outage, so we were not allowed to enter. And I have distinct unpleasant memories of being scared slipping my way down the rain slick steep paved and tiled walkways. 20 years ago I had a moment where I was convinced that I’d just live in that part of the Palace grounds forever, as it was too scary to keep walking. And now, with the tropical storm forecasts, I feared I’d be repeating the experience. And the skies were Dumping Buckets of rain when we arrived at the Palace grounds. Our guide and driver were both very surprised and worried. Said they’ve Never seen it like this before. Debating whether the tour should even try to continue or not. 😮

But it’s decided we’ll all attempt it.And we made it through! And they didn’t lose power so I was able to actually walk around inside. It was cool (and the inside parts were lovely). Although I definitely had mid-level thrumming anxiety the entire time, knowing I’d need to walk my way back down that steep slippery hill. Ugh. Any photos taken during this stage are entirely from Erin. I kept my head down (covered by my poncho) and focused on survival. Ha. Which I knew, even then, was likely overly dramatic, but it was my internal Truth. 🙂

And happily the Heavy Dumping rains let up. But the hills were still damp and slick. Still, did it!!

Then off to the town of Sintra where we had 90 min of free time. The road through town is mosaic tiles and straight up. Once we got to the top, I stopped. Erin explored more but I just waited for the restaurant to open. Only gonna attempt walking back down the one time. Have I mentioned Erin’s a great (and supportive) pal? At lunch, when finished eating, she smartly suggested I could start making my scared slow way down the hill, and she’d stay behind to get the bill and pay. Very smart. 🙂 The sun even started thinking about coming out.

Next we were off to explore a millionaire mansion. (*Insert name here, when I look it up). Our guide said the extensive gardens and grounds were the real treasure and we’d only spend about 10 min inside. She was right. The garden spaces were super cool. Designed upon the theme of Dante’s three works, so we’ve got Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso about. Plus TONS of symbolism from Knights Templar and Masons.

Super interesting and lovely things, everywhere we look. More hills and slippery, but not as bad. Then this 9 level circular stairs well tower.

We did descend down the 9 circular levels of the well (which had the slick marble stairs in near darkness on the last few levels, as we were so far from the sunlight at top). But Erin again was a rockstar, and waited with her flashlight to help me see the steps on the final two levels. Yay! Then exploring some of the manmade caves and the four wells themed on the elements of fire, water, earth, and air. When we emerged, Erin turns with a big smile, “Tracy, you survived Hell!!!” Ha. I did indeed.

Last tour stop was Cabo da Roca (I heard our guide say “Cabo da hot tub” but new that couldn’t be correct). It’s the westernmost point of European continent. Driving through some twisting mountain roads…that are supposed to be one way (except for police/ambulance). But we passed several cars going the other way. Sometimes Very Fast around blind corners. And often only room for one car, so some sketchy choke points as others try to squeeze past. Our driver was quite exasperated. Even had a big flatbed hauling a mini excavator try (and barely succeed) squeezing past the Peugot in front of us!! The “end of the world” spot was lovely. Sunshine and intense winds!

Nice weather and beautiful ocean. On the hour drive back to Lisbon, I was basically group nap time. Ha.Final dinner in Lisbon. Brazilian shrimp stew for me. Marked as spicy on the menu, but I think they gave me the white lady version (or Covid gas secretly attacked and stolen my heat taste buds!). It was still flavorful and delicious. Lovely night time walk through Lisbon. All the buildings lit up looked fantastic. Erin found a late night gelato place that was 100% gf, so she even got to enjoy her ice cream in a cone! Street performing dance troupe. Cool pleasant vibes all around.

We didn’t have to leave for the airport until 3pm, so got to have a leisurely morning. Then off to find some Portugal futbol gear for Erin’s prizes. Then we hit the aquarium. (Oceanario). Very cool area along the water, was built up for 1998 World Games. Some interesting large statues and things.

Brilliant unexpected sunshine (was supposed to be more rains), so I wasn’t wearing my sunscreen, as we walked the boardwalk along the water, nary a patch of shade to be found anywhere. Don’t tell my dermatologist! (I at least had my hat, which I’d brought for rain, but still provided some protection. *Smile*) The aquarium was cool. Penguins and sea otters and artic terns, as well as the expected Lots of Fish.

Not quite as cool as some reviews had led me to believe (but perhaps my expectations were too elevated?) It was still a decent way to spend a few hours. And had a lovely gift shop (I do enjoy a zoo/aquarium store). Plus I had €50 left in cash that I’d been planning to have to spend at the airport. So this was a way more fun way to spend it. Plus I was supporting their scientific research. 🙂

Then lots of predictable airport waiting. Delays. Then off to the gate. Then down two flights of stairs past the gate. To get on a bus. To a bit of tarmac where we’re told it’ll be 20 min+ before we can actually board the plane. A man asks if they’ll at least open the bus doors, as it’s quite hot. Driver is worried. We all Promise To Stay On the Bus!! So he agrees. (the other 3 buses that came after us didn’t get to have their doors open, so we’re presumably more sweaty and unpleasant. Ours wasn’t too bad…just very crowded. And it as a a Busy section of tarmac, with vehicles whipping about all around us. Finally onboard. Then we’re informed another 20 min delay or more because of thunderstorms. Ah well. We eventually make it to Heathrow. Delay getting our luggage. By the time we make it to airport hotel, we’ve got about 6.5 hours before we have to leave the next morning for our flight to Gibraltar. But that’s okay! Final few days of holiday are about to begin. Yay!

Porto is ridiculously charming. Sept 2022

Tracy,

Browse archives for September 12, 2022
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Porto airport hallways felt like Tron, or entering the Disneyland Star Tours adventure.

Immigration line was efficient and moved quickly. I was nervously preparing my few broken portuguese phrases when the immigration officer accidentally launched/threw my passport across the desk and onto the floor. He’d been intending to hand it back and things somehow got out of control. But it cut the tension, he was adorably embarrassed (as well as just plain adorable) and humbly welcomed me to his country. Ha.

Our hotel room was cute, and then I noticed there was a glass door leading to a balcony!! They must’ve upgraded our room. Because we had this adorable rooftop space, overlooking the theater, and with a table and two chairs with this little peekaboo window onto the plaza.

that little window on the roof was our balcony!!

So cool! And in the daytime a gorgeous view, too!!Porto was a wonderful little city. Eminently walkable, despite all the intense hills and up and downs. But each alley and twist and turn is so friggin charming and picturesque.

Decorative tiles on almost every building front, little windows and balconies, and fantastic street art and graffiti, too. Churches and outdoor cafes and it was just too cool. The old town/tourist area us relatively compact (everything is mostly within 2 miles, so it’s super easy to get places). So many of their churches have had the decorative blue and white tiles added to them in the 20’s & 30’s that it has a very distinctive sense of place.

Our first day we just wandered until our walking food tour (which started at 4pm) and it was just perfect. Then trying lots of Portuguese staples (sardines, vinho verde, cod fritters, specialty pastries, etc). We’d picked this tour because they listed gluten free options. Which is cool and rare in a food tour. The slight bummer for Erin and the gf British couple was that there were not gf versions of the food we were trying. Instead of the slow cooled beef tavern sandwich, they had a cup of kale soup.

Instead of the special origin pastel de chaves (fancy meat pastry) they were served a green salad. So, nice that they still got to eat, but a bit of a bummer.

Our next day was a fancy all day small group (6 person) tour of the Douro Valley, and it was truly wonderful. Sandra was our guide and she was lovely.

As a lifelong resident of the valley, she has great pride in their culture and historical port making businesses. We learned a lot, and drank a lot! Weather was supposed to be rainy and terrible. It was damp and light rain at our first winery, but they had a covered outdoor space AND we got to play with the winery dog, named Zaide.

Saw where they still stomp the grapes (by foot). And the weather honestly felt like wine tasting at home in Woodinville. We kept being told that we were missing out on gorgeous valley views, because all we saw were clouds. However when it came time to drive all the way down to the River, the weather got better the lower we got. By the time we took our boat cruise, the sun was out. Port tasting on the boat, so relaxing.

Then fancy michelin star restaurant lunch at Doc, with lovely river view. And waitstaff who kept refilling wine glasses. Seafood soup, Duck confit and mushroom risotto, fancy dessert, and some small “bonus” bites in between.

This silly bonus dessert had pop rocks in it!

We were all sleepy and rolling our way back to the car. Ha. Then off to final winery tour and tasting. Very cool visiting small family run places. Meeting the winemakers and really having long extended conversations and connections. Pretty special. And they had Two dogs and two cats we got to play with. The jack russell is even on one of their bottle label designs.

The first winery, when explaining how their grape feet smash is done without music or talking to keep rhythm. “Military style” And the first pass of all the people walking across the large tub takes 45 minutes. We were shown instagram video. But at the last winery, she said they use music, not silence. Dance music, she said. I made the “oonh ooonh oonh” techno music noise. Her: “Yes, but ya know, we choose GOOD MUSIC. Last time we listened to Joy Division.” Ha! (Just saying, if I had to be on the grape stomping team, I’m picking the place using good dance music vs the military style serious silence).

After this very full day of wine and food, on the drive back into town, one of the women in our 6 person tour excitedly exclaims: “We should meet up at the Discotheque later tonight!!” Erin, equally emphatically, “No!!” Ha (We were both back in hotel and in our jammies by 10pm). Neither of us has been sleeping super great, which is frustrating. But we also are not late night party animals.Getting doner kebab for dinner at Bangla Spicy. A fuse blows and whole place loses power. Fun ambiance as diners and staff use their cellphone flashlights until they get power restored. Only took a few minutes. (Also, only 4 euro for lovely wrap on lavesh bread AND a large bag of fries included!! Portugal, outside of the fancier restaurants, is super affordable)

The next day, in the glorious sunshine, we wander off to cross the big tall bridge across the river in Porto and explore the other side of town. My GPS took us down some of the steepest windiest and scariest steep hills ever. Erin, knowing my phobia of steep slippery hills and my balance issues, says “Your phone hates you!” But it was dry, at least, so the marble cobblestones weren’t slick, or I might’ve been crying. 🙂 And very cool street art all along the way.

The view of the river and town from the bridge was phenomenal! We took soooo many pictures. Every direction you turn, it’s shockingly lovely.

Ended up doing some port tasting at Taylor, because their garden had peacocks and peahen and a baby peafowl, too! Magical, even if the prices were higher tourist pricing.

Found an artist collective (“we run on art and wine”) so of course had to go check it out.

more cool street art

That afternoon and evening, more lovely meanders around our side of Porto. On the recommendation of people we met, we had dinner at Frida’s (a Mexican-ish restaurant, a more rare thing here in Portugal). It was super cute, and interesting, if not maybe the Best mexican food we’ve ever had. The duck breast mole was super cinnamon flavored, and the margaritas were blended. But it was fun, and the melted queso was great (who can go wrong with cheese and chorizo). Our final morning started well enough.

Erin found a street art app, so we went off to find several apparently significant graffiti. Wandered the Portuguese version of Target. And had some of the strongest sangria ever! Halfway through our glass, we both were feeling it! Ha. Which maybe helped my anxiety for the next time of near travel disasters (but it all worked out in the end). At our hotels recommendation, just using Uber to get to the train station. And I confidently entered the destination and everything. As our driver takes us to this green park, he asks, is this where you’re going? Nope. Apparently Capanha is also the name of a neighborhood 2km outside of town and that’s what I’d picked. Eek!! But he was able to take us to the right place, and we’d been leaving early enough, we got dropped off at the bus station 25 min before our train. And then had to ask the nice woman at information where the Trains are, and that was a 5 minute walk to different station. Stressful! But we found our proper gate with plenty of time to spare. D’oh!! Total Uber fail on my part. (And then minor tail on my train ticket buying, back in the states, too. There were two main train stations in Lisbon, and I apparently picked the one that is 20 minutes from our hotel. So we got to enjoy a very grumpy and aggressive taxi driver. But did eventually make it to the hotel, so the worst disasters were avoided. Sheesh. I feel like I’m normally better at this stuff. Maybe the covid break has left me rusty?!? I still can’t believe I didn’t think about transporting luggage and bring my large backpack bag instead of the wheeled bag. It Has been awhile.)

London, real time updates. Sept 2022.

Tracy,

Browse archives for September 7, 2022
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ok, so I haven’t caught up to real time/still have several small domestic trips to blog about. But since I’m off using my passport for the first time in a few years, I’m just continuing my journey of growth and learning to accept imperfections. And so here I’ll be posting my occasional stream of consciousness updates during this European journey. Basically I made a few random notes and observations, and am dumping it all here. Hopefully it’s relatively coherent. 🙂

There was a Geocaching british couple on plane next to us. She had nails with the logo decal. Apparently it was the 20 yr anniversary event in Seattle. (None of the flight staff had heard of geocaching and kept coming by to ask them questions about it).Revivals lounge is brilliant. Shower at airport after a long international flight. Refreshed indeed.

The self checkout lines at uk immigration were super fasy and easy. No passport stamp, though, which is always a bummer. Not enough of one to stand in the VERY LONG line for those not eligible for automated immigration (which includes any families with kids uber 12…ya know, those least able to wait for another hour after getting off an international flight). And I also wasn’t convinced, even if we’d chosen to wait in the long line, that they’d have given me a stamp in any case. So my new passport (renewed during season 2 of Covid) remains blank. Maybe entering the EU later in this trip will trigger a stamp. *Fingers crossed*

i feel like this lady is probably coughing covid everywhere

Dropped our luggage and wandered Covent Garden area. Six the musical was literally down the street from our hotel. Popped in around 1pm to see if they had any availability for next few shows. He tells us they just got a pair returned for main floor center for the 4pm show. Okay!!Empowered feminine everywhere. Girl gang groups out for a night of drinking. Six musical audience overwhelmingly female. All female band and women running sound lights and Stage managing, too! During the show, someone says “there’s a bigger problem here” and Catherine of Aragon responds, “Yeah, the dissolution of the monasteries!” and I laughed so loudly. I was the only one. And I don’t care. Hilarious. Hope someone in the production appreciated my response, at least. It’s a good on-brand joke for her.

Downside of wheeled carry-on vs backpack (2 wheeled bags while doing all the stairs and escalators at the Tube). Hadn’t considered that when I picked my luggage. D’oh! It’s been so long since I’ve done a “multiple locations” trip with public transit, that I just grabbed the wheelie bags. Ah well, getting a workout. And Erin is So BRAVE (ie doesn’t have my lifelong fear/concern about escalators, so she’s bravely carried my smaller carry-on wheel bag on those for me).

Barcone restaurant had a picture window where you could see them hand making pasta, and they had gf pasta available.

It’s trendy and we didn’t have reservations but they got spot at shared table. Approachable price point , too. As they set down our entree, our server says it’s wrong/not gf. So we wait 20 min and finally get our food. We were fine waiting. Both a bit tired and out of it. I realize that I’m laughing in the face of jet lag by ordering a bowl of carbs and a negroni cocktail before going to see a show. Sleepy? I’m not scared!!! Then they bring us complimentary lemoncello because of messed up order. Nice but not helping me stay awake.Check in at hotel and quick shower (I’m allergic to the body wash from airport shower. getting hives. Yikes) Erin does a power nap. Then off to the show.

So many bachelorette parties. And groups with all female kids. Middle school gals which is great. The four kids under 8 in sequin gowns felt maybe too young, but whatever. 🙂 Hope they had fun. I was literally falling asleep before the show starts. I’m a bit worried. But the curtain goes up and it’s non stop Energy! Loved it. Surprisingly even made me cry a little. All that Girl Power on stage and all female band, and still some residual post pandemic strong”I’ve missed this” energy. Plus the jet lag contributing to my emotional fragility. But my mask helps soak up the tears. Ha. (Also, I recognize we ain’t post the pandemic. We’re just post anyone doing anything about it. *Sad* We were two of maybe secen people total on the main floor wearing masks in theatre. Similarly only 2 of a handful on the Tube. This is a city that’s truly “over it” in vibes. But that’s not how viruses work. *Sigh* I wonder how much having national health care changes the personal math, too? At least it’s not medical bill risk? Still long covid could have you losing your job, eh? Ah well.

Wandering the area after. A bit jet lag loopy but knowing it’s too early for bed yet at only 5:30pm. Cute outdoor drinks at fabulously decorated gay friendly bar. The area is swarming with bachelorette parties. Place seemed so relieved we were just a party of two. Ha. So many bridal parties out on a Saturday night in Covent Garden area. But the one that stole my heart was the drunken bridal party singing “I’m getting married in the morning.” And then they made friends with the bridal party carrying the inflatable naked male sex doll.

Found burger place with gf options (not as clearly marked at all the restaurants as I’d anticipated. Vegan and halal called out on most menus but gf only about 1/3 of the time). Got takeout. Back to hotel by 7:30pm to get ready for bed-ish. Ha. Which is now why I’m up 3:30am. Gonna try to go back to sleep now.

the next morning, had the fanciest Full English Breakfast ever. Beans politely contained in this little cup. And brown sauce served in a tiny “hotel room service” style individual bottle. Quite tasty, and Indigo had gluten free options for Erin.

Tower tour. Beefeater telling of william penn in prison and then finding someone in the group from pennsylvania. He shows where the bell was made. ‘And then we gave you the bell, and you broke it. Just like you did with our language! Ha. Actually, I’m a Geordie. I don’t have any right making fun of the way anyone speaks English.’ In the white tower, looking at armor. A British gent to his 6 yr old son. “James II. That’s a good name for a king, don’t you think? James.” The boy, “um, yeah, but… maybe not for You to be king.”

French tourists at crown jewels display saying, unironically, “oh la la” over and over. 🙂

Saw a young woman actually step on a pigeon. Both were very surprised. Flurry of feathers and activity. She was on her phone and pigeon was presumably also not paying attention. Happily both seemed relatively unharmed.Weirdest optical illusion moment.

Wandering the Thames. Southwark Cathedral to see the Shakespeare stained glass window. Also saw cat confidently trotting down the pews. Apparently Hodge the cathedral cat is also famous!!

Prosecco spritzers in “to go” cups as we wander Borough Market.

At Palace of Westminster, approaching sunset, all these people of the world setting up tripods and selfie sticks. Although clouds rolling in and gonna ruin that sunset view. In any case, I looked up at the clock face on tower and it looked like the clock hands were spinning out of control. Totally freaked me out for a moment. Hallucination? Is this a movie? Someone changed something in the multiverse? Nope. A big bird just happened to be flying past at exact right location/placement that their wing flaps looked like the clock face arms. Freaky. Probably not exciting to read about, but was cool to see.

V&A museum. Bookcase belonging to Samuel Pepys. I say his name aloud. Erin “who?” Me “I know him!” she gives me a look. “I mean, I know OF him. and his famous diary. Ha.” (Then I had to Google to double-check that he Was that dude with the famously detailed diary).

Pepys bookshelf

Fancy Afternoon Tea at the Rosebery Rooms off Hyde Park.

ABBA EXPERIENCE. Expected: sequins and spandex and pantsuits. Unexpected: the amount of full on Cosplay recreations. Scottish woman behind me who keeps repeating “so excited. So excited. So excited” waiting for it to start. Apparently this venue trusts all these people with actual glassware and champagne flutes. Seems like a dodgy prospect to me. Fake alder trees with piped in bird song and fake snowfall. Hello Sweden. Strict No Phones policy. Fascinating watching the security and staff enforce this. They were really good about it. Until, near the end, Dancing Queen comes on. Everyone loses their minds and the dance pit section is suddenly Full of everyone filming. Too overwhelming to be controlled. The show was very fun. The hologram technology was amazing. The people sized projections performing on stage looked so real (having distance from the images helped). But they’d also have giant filmed versions on the side screens. And those still had some of the uncanny valley effects. Around eyes and mouth. And especially the women’s hair. The movements and facial expressions often felt like a good video game, but not real. I’d have preferred, if they didn’t have the tech to perfect it, that they not make videos of them in such extreme closeup. But everyone else seemed fine with it.Fun as some of the ushers also acted as Hypemen, dancing up and down the aisles encouraging crowd arm waves and other things. As long as you decide to have a good time, you will. If you’re not interested, then you won’t likely have fun.

Final London day was wandering around. No destination or goals in mind. Honestly killing time until time to take the tube to Heathrow at 3pm. But it was nice. Saw a black sawn at St James park. We mostly lucked out on avoiding the rains. Then airport lounge, which is always more pleasant than regular airport. Less crowded, too. And our gate had animal friends at it on the wall.

Besties!

Flight wasn’t officially delayed when we boarded. But we had to wait an hour on board for luggage to arrive, then 30 min because we lost our place in line for takeoff. But they turned off seatbelt sign and let people wander. :)-Porto flight has female captain, which is cool. And handing out two 180 ml wine bottles with dinner. Erin’s gf meal included these gf flat “oatcakes.” Her face, after a bite, was not encouraging. “It tastes like nothing. Dry nothing.” I point out her copious red wine and suggest she enjoy her own “mid flight Eucharist experience.” Ha. (She ended up just using some butter). Thanks London, it’s been real.

Whidbey Island getaway: Mid-pandemic, Feb 2021.

Tracy,

Remember that first covid winter. Vaccines have just become available for frontline workers (I think) but it’s still gonna be a few months until civilians are eligible. And it’s been a long dark and isolated winter. Craving some type of getaway, I found an Airbnb in Oak Harbor. So my housemate and I, having been trapped together for months and months, are excited to mini-roadtrip together. Lovely cliffside view of the water, private, and they even have a hot tub. So in early January we book for two nights mid-Feb and have this lovely thing on the horizon, a candle of hope in the future. As the date is approaching, we are getting excited, but still nervous about going places in this covid world. Then, weather disaster. The Seattle area gets hit with Valentine’s weekend snowstorm. My heart just breaks for all the restaurants, who somehow managed to stay open on TakeOut only, and who planned elaborate Valentine’s Day takeout meals (with fancy, expensive ingredients). And now folks are trapped at home, those ingredients are going to spoil. It just was such a kick in the teeth after a rough year. Also, our reservation started right after Valentine’s Day, and my little Prius is NOT a snowmobile. My older sister let me borrow her pickup truck, and I’m frantically checking road reports. Found an adorable Oak Harbor traffic group on Facebook, offering realtime updates on the icy snow-capped roads, offering snow plow services, and tractors that can help pull the spun-out trucks out of ditches. It’s a sweet little community, and I’m just hoping things will be better/more melted before we’re supposed to leave. And the universe obliged. Awoke to sunshine and melting snow. The road reports are slushy but not icy. So we pack up the truck and head out.

We arrive to some INTENSE winds. Intense, rip the truck door out of your hands type winds. Intense poor neighbor’s dog is just trying to squat and do her business but the winds are blowing her over. Intense it takes two of us to get the house door open winds. But that sunset view from the cliffside was amazing!

Here’s a windy video:

We’d gotten some pre-trip communications from Airbnb host about winds and how to keep sand out of the house, but we’re flabbergasted at the intensity. There’s a house under construction down the block and I’m not sure how the workers wouldn’t be blown over the cliff while trying to put the frame up! Turns out, this was an actual WindStorm and not their normal cliff top regular winds. Phew! Our next two days are much calmer. But we don’t know this yet. Instead we head into town to pick up TakeOut Thai food for our evening Vacation Feast. (Also, you could tell you were more than an hour outside Seattle. It’s been years since I’ve seen styrofoam containers in use. Like, is this 1982?!? Oak Harbor, y’all haven’t heard of the environment yet?

Good playlists led to an indoor room dance party, too! And then sleeping with the sounds of the windstorm battering the little house, hoping we won’t have an Aunty Em situation.

The morning provides calm gorgeous weather. We head off to explore. The Price Sculpture Forest in Coupeville is great fun.

This free to visit bit of forest land, with walking trails and various art along the way.

It was great fun, and we appreciated that it was outdoors and isolated, as it was a weekday.

‘twas enjoyable, even if this one person in the guest book was NOT impressed.

Bubba’s Burgers food truck provided a tasty lunch, and the view from this beach in Freeland was hard to beat.

And we found some deer friends! I know folks with lots of wild deer around consider them pests, but I still think they’re magical, even if they do eat all the roses.

At Golden Hour, we found ourselves exploring Possession Beach. The Red Winged Blackbirds were so vocal and so active, and the lighting and scenery just phenomenally gorgeous.

Felt really special. We just live in the best state, hands down. Also, this unseasonably warm sunshine felt extra precious as we’d literally been under several inches of snow 36 hours before. Wild.

Exploring the beach. Smelling the smells. Just lovely.

Ended our Island roadtrip in Langley, where Nichole made a new friend.

And I was super super tempted to ring the “Ring This Bell If You See a Whale” bell, but I did not. Tempting though.  Part of me felt that the very act of ringing the bell would Manifest a whale sighting. Who knows?

Back at our rental, we get to enjoy the hot tub and starry skies. After my shower, Nichole gives me my first haircut since lockdown. I tell her, honestly, that I’m not precious or concerned about it. I just would like to lose several inches. Just hoping for maybe collarbone length, enough so I can still pull it back into a tiny ponytail. She agrees, but is nervous about it. And keeps chanting “tiny pony” under her breath while I get my outside haircut. Ha! And she did a great job. It was nice to lose some of the length and freshen up. And we then retreat to our rooms for our final night of the getaway. The place was decorated in all kinds of beach kitsch, and so Crab Throw Pillows and Seahorse mirrors lulled me into dreamland.

Final morning, not a bad view for coffee.

So grateful for the ability to have a relaxing getaway while staying covid safe. And that the snow cooperated and melted just in time. Also, it was fun driving around Oak Harbor in my sister’s big Toyota Tundra. I fit right in with that part of Whidbey Island, as we’re near the base. We took a leisurely drive back, exploring Deception Pass, wandering across the bridge, getting takeout from the shrimp shack there. While the snow is gone, the colder temperatures have returned. We really did just have that magical day of pleasant weather, allowing us to explore all over Whidbey Island. Stopped at Bay View State Park on the way home, getting the most out of Nichole’s state park Discovery Pass.

Skykomish Cabin Getaway Success, despite Terrible smoke-filled hazardous air quality and covid. September 2020.

Tracy,

Browse archives for July 29, 2022
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Cast your memories back to late summer 2020. Months of lockdown, vaccines are still just a dream/glimmer for a future date. Death tolls rising. It’s now been several months and zoom parties can only do so much. And so, decided to be extra safe so I could pod up with two families for a getaway in the mountains. Looking forward to hiking the trails and exploring and outdoor meal cookouts, as we’d down a few years before. In order to be super safe, we all agreed to basic super safe at home isolation for the two weeks before we’d be meeting up. And then, the new terrible climate change effect in Washington State reared its ugly head, and FIRE SEASON was upon us again. And the wildfires were so so bad that we were facing statewide Hazardous Air Quality Warnings (keep the windows closed and put towels under the door type of warnings). Well, crap! But we’d done all the isolation prep, and decided that we would rather be trapped indoors staring at 4 DIFFERENT WALLS. So the trip was still a go! Shame about the “not going outside” part. To be in amongst all this natural beauty and not be able to enjoy it. Still, so great to just be in a different location, and seeing friends IN PERSON!!

Teresa, Lindsey, and their 3 kiddos joined me for the first 3 days. Zoom-school with vacation cabin WiFi proved tricky, but the kids muddled through somehow. We played games, and had shared reading time, dance parties, enjoyed family meals. It was just so nice to be somewhere else, and getting to see each other in person!

French toast with Teresa’s homemade plum preserves pic

Because of the “Seriously, Do Not Go Outside Because of the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Air Quality,” we couldn’t do the fire pit thing. Turns out the kids were just as excited by microwaved S’Mores (which somehow proved even Messier than normal?!?)

Then that family returned home and Sarah and Jen joined me for the final two days. We played games, had at-home spa treatments (including Sarah’s upsetting foot treatment that included warnings of skin sloughing!!!), attended a virtual auction fundraiser for Seattle Area Feline Rescue (which included some at home crafts!), and heckled our way through Hallmark movies.

The final day saw some rain and winds that finally removed the air quality warnings, so we were able to go outside!!!

Jen crawled back behind the couch to explore the “Harry Potter Suite,” which had been such a hit our last time in this cabin.

Then we hear this plaintive “I Have Regrets!!” from the front room. The cabin has a new couch and it is much taller, which made Exiting the Harry Potter suite much trickier. I helped rescue her… after taking a photo!!

Created a new chalk masterpiece on their blackboard, and then it was time to head home. So, not quite the recreation of our previous outdoors-full trip, but still, a really nice getaway, wonderful to spend time with each other, and share laughter and love.

Overnight at the lake cabin: August 2020

Tracy,

Browse archives for July 24, 2022
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Y’all remember Seasons 1 and 2 of Covid, right? Bleak times, stuck at home, don’t mask because there’s a shortage and medical professionals need them, please always mask. Add in to that all the regular hardships in my personal life, dealing with my parents’ estate, running a business, etc. It was a lot. (And shout out, again, to my pals with kids, because that was exponentially so much harder and intense. I see you, and y’all did an amazing job!). My Uncle Tim had bought a vacation lake cabin recently, and fall of 2019 when my folks passed, he’d offered it up to me, whenever I needed a getaway. So summer 2020 seemed like the time to take him up on that. He even said it was okay if I brought my senior Lab/Shepherd mix Gilbert along. Hooray! And so, during some truly warm Seattle summer weather (high 90’s, if memory serves), we drove down to Lake Sawyer. I hadn’t seen this cabin before (I just needed four walls, a roof, and access to water). It was a gorgeous house, with a giant wrap around porch, and was beautifully set up. They even had one of those portable AC units, so it was even more comfortable in temperature than my own home would’ve been. Gilbert had recently torn his CCL chasing a squirrel, so still needing a bit of a sling/hoist to help up and down stairs (and of course there were lots of stairs to get down to this waterfront house. Worth it!) Just look at this view.

Gilbert loved the view, too!

Got to bring my housemate Nichole. We played board games, took a dip in the lake, made a lovely dinner, watched the water. Just perfect and relaxing and restorative.

Then I woke up early (not intentionally, just, ya know, not sleeping so great those days) but was greeted by a spectacular sunrise. Felt like I had the lake all to myself. After 20 minutes of sunrise, I made coffee, and then got to enjoy the view further.

The lake quiet hours were still in effect, so no power boats, just nature sounds.
We made our own english muffin sandwiches, and grilled up the leftover tomatoes from the caprese salad at dinner.

Just got to spend the day relaxing on the water, reading books, more board games. Wonderful. And was even MORE appreciative, as it was the first time staying somewhere other than our own house in months and months because, ya know, pandemic. Restorative healing water vibes.

Saying Goodbye: Family Memory trip to Cannon Beach: February 2020

Tracy,

Browse archives for July 11, 2022
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A few months after our parents had passed, we had planned a family roadtrip to one of their favorite places: Cannon Beach, Oregon. All the kids, grandkids, and great grandkids made arrangements to meet up in town. It was a really lovely weekend. Sad at times, of course. But also lots of great memories (past memories shared and new memories created). Visiting Hug Point beach at low tide, which always feels extra magical, as you can explore past the waterfall to find extra, more secret beach areas. It was cold (high 30’s and low 40’s) and even started snowing our first day! But when we met up to visit Hug Point, the sun unexpectedly came out, and the weather was glorious (but still chilly!!). Didn’t stop some of the youngest from dunking themselves in the freezing ocean and proclaiming they weren’t cold. Ha! We’d been down there almost 10 years earlier in a giant family group, to celebrate dad’s 70th birthday. So it felt extra fitting to return. The little kids were now adults. And there were brand new little kids along. And the covid-19 news was just starting up, a few isolated cases in Kirkland and British Columbia. Still weeks away from learning more truths about our new reality and entering statewide lockdown. So grateful we got this time to gather, share pizza, play board games, explore the beaches, share memories and tears and laughter and teasing. And then, especially during those first months of lockdown, extra grateful to have this recent memory of gathered family and love. And now, some photos

Obligatory roadtrip food stop
Pretty amazing view
SNOWING?!?!
Glorious weather
waterfall
“Not cold!!”
Reagan called me a narcissist for playing with her super reflective sunglasses

“Just for Laughs” in Vancouver, BC. Feb 2020. (Last time I used my passport)

Tracy,

Browse archives for June 28, 2022
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Continuing to slowly update and post all the unblogged trips since personal tragedy followed by global pandemic halted my participation in this silly travel blog project. But I’m back, baby! Slowly. But back, nonetheless!

The “How Did This Get Made” podcast was going on tour near me, so I got tickets to see them in Canada as part of the Just For Laughs west coast festival. And I’m lucky enough to have the type of friends who are down for adventure, and enthusiastically agree to an overnight roadtrip to Canada without knowing anything about the show. This is how Liz and I were set to travel for laughs in a few months. And then there start being all these news reports about this strange new virus, and a few cases in British Columbia (as well as our home in greater Seattle area). Lots of discussions about what this means and if we should cancel. But this was still early early days. Nobody was really using the “P” word (Pandemic). Consulted some medical pals, and it truly seemed fine. So we went. And we made the most of our day and a half. Almost as if we knew it might be our last international travel for awhile. (We did NOT know that. Not even an inkling of that being a real possibility. We just made the most of our time, and dined like royalty, because that’s how we do it!!)

Restaurant Breakfast is an important part of any roadtrip, and so we stopped at the adorable Third Street Cafe in Mount Vernon, WA on our way. Delicious way to fuel up for the drive. And in no time at all, we’re in the long border lines, which always give gorgeous views, including the Peace Arch.

“Children of a Common Mother”

Wandering downtown Vancouver, we encountered some type of festival. There were Morris Dancers, someone dressed as the Queen of England, and other British things. We thought maybe it was an early St David’s Day celebration, but never found out for sure.

After buying the comedy tickets, the very next thing I did (months before) when prepping for this trip, was to make reservations at Vij’s restaurant. I’ve had friends and everyone extol the virtues of this Indian restaurant for years and years. But only relatively recently had I learned that they’d started TAKING RESERVATIONS!! Game-changer! And so, we got to have a truly wonderful meal (everything was delicious, and service was wonderful, too. Great vibes. Still dreaming about that lamb). Best pre-show dinner ever!!

Then off to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre to see the “How Did This Get Made” show. That night’s bad movie for discussion was “Abraxus: Guardian of the Universe” and it was truly something else. But most distracting was the HORRIFYING live fuzzy mascot costume they made of their terrifying cartoon Just For Laughs Festival mascots. *shudder*

Nightmare Fuel
Cartoon version only slightly less terrifying

Honestly, this pink owl monster reminds me of those early 2000’s Quizno’s commercials where the copy/paste dead hamster things sing a song about loving the subs and “they got a pepper bar.” Not a fever dream, but a Real ad campaign for a big national chain. The early aughts were a strange time, my friends. You can see the video here: https://youtu.be/FhfcdqMTtU4

The people we came to see: Jason Mantzoukas, June Diane Raphael, Paul Scheer

Slept well at the hotel, and no nightmares about that messed up pink monster mascot, happily. Then off to the Medina Cafe for breakfast! There was a bit of a wait (they don’t take reservations) but it was worth it! Plus, they took our number and sent text updates about our place in line and estimated wait time remaining, which allowed us to wander in the surprise sunshine, grab a coffee, and see some cool stuff. Then back for a truly amazing Restaurant Breakfast.

All the flavors! Israeli Cous Cous, Oven Dried Tomatoes, Roasted Eggplant, Toasted Almonds, Golden Beets, Grilled Halloumi, Organic Greens, Orange Blossom Vinaigrette, Merguez Sausage.

Wandered some more around Vancouer, explored Train Engine 374, which apparently pulled the first passenger train into Vancouver. And enjoyed the occasional sunbreaks along the waterfront before driving home. It was a really lovely 36 hours. We just hadn’t realized it’d be our last international trip For. A. While.