Travel

Budapest Baller B-Day

My birthday is at the end of November. It’s kind of a melancholy time, surrounded by the stress of Thanksgiving and the start of the Christmas season. A few years ago I started to go on birthday trips. Game-changer. Going out of town gets me out of my head and while of course I can’t avoid taking stock of my life, usually the trip reinforces my choices, helping me feel ready to deal with my family’s criticisms come Christmas.

Last year I went to Mexico City. In years past, Vancouver, New Orleans. Sometimes I have a particular place in mind, sometimes not. This year Budapest came up as an option on Google Flight’s Explore feature. With a flight price of about 600 from SF, and AirBNB prices of 30/night, it was a no-brainer. After a little googling, I also decided to tack on a trip to Vienna, since it was only a few hours away by train.

Only downside? A long flight, but of course that can’t be avoided. I packed 5 beauty masks from my Allure Beauty Box. I used the first one on the flight from San Francisco to Zurich. This one is to depuff your eyes!

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Travel

A couple of weeks ago I headed up to the Seattle area with my friend Alyssa to visit Jill and see what her new PNW life is all about. She asked me to bring a little taste of the SF coffee scene as her present for her boyfriend Brett’s birthday. Four pounds of coffee ended up getting me stopped and screened at SFO security. The TSA agent was SO confused. Oh it’s coffee? And another one… and more coffee…. and.. more? 😀

Got in Friday evening and had to drive back the hour and half to the island where they live. Stopped off at a distillery for a yummy dinner. As a tourist, I felt like I HAD to get the local liqueur flight.

The Bonfire Toffee Liqueur was THE BEST. Sweet and ridiculous. Great poured over vanilla ice cream. Probably also good in your coffee.

On Saturday we went whale watching. Basically it all looked like this for three hours. Iphones galore.

The whales were out and about, thanks to Jill’s A+ work summoning the whales with her super powerful whale tank top. 

We saw some good breaches and some whale tail action, but the real star of the day was this massive Stellar sea lion reigning over his harem. He was taking a nap at first, but as we rode by, he staggered up, looked around, and started showing off for us. Good job Mr. Sea Lion! Rock that girth!

Pooped out after all that hard work whale watching  🙂

Later we got to visit the naval base where Brett works. I learned about the controversial “Sky Penis“, which has its own patch and Christmas ornament, apparently. I really wanted a photo with the patch.

We went out for mussels at this local dive that had some amazing taxidermy.

Then a romantic walk on the beach for sunset (it was like 9pm). Well, not so romantic… we were kicked out by a grumpy park ranger. 

I slept on the couch in the living room and woke up to this serene scene every morning.

On Sunday we went to a local park for a cookout celebrating Brett’s birthday. The morning started misty, but things cleared up by the afternoon. We explored the park a bit before and after.

Before

After

Deception pass bridge

The same bridge from a distance

Top of our little trek. Awesome view, right?

Ran into a log that looked like a bear head.

We headed back home on Monday, and got to take the ferry back as part of the shuttle ride. The ride was only 15, 20 minutes max, but they had so many puzzles out on the tables for riders to work on. Alyssa went nuts working on a puzzle at Jill & Brett’s house, so of course she was pretty psyched to find them out in the wild.

On the shuttle ride back to the airport we saw a guy drinking matcha from a rubber cup.  He carried around a thermos of hot water and kept topping up. It seemed like a precarious situation, but kudos to him for doing what he wanted?

I had  a few hours to burn at the airport, but luckily I get Priority Pass membership with my Chase Sapphire Reserve card, which gives me access to a bunch of airport lounges. Spent the time drinking free manhattans and eating a fantastic tuna melt. Great end to a great trip.

Travel

It’s been five trips, so it’s time to finally talk about the Aer Travel Pack. Bags are already pretty personal, but my time with this backpack has really driven home how silly all these ‘The ULTIMATE Bag for Travel’ posts are.

This bag is almost perfect… for me. It may be terrible for you. It just depends on your priorities, and how you like to travel. Here are the things that I consider when purchasing a bag, more or less in order of importance to me.

  1. Style / Quality
  2. Organization
  3. Comfort / Weight
  4. Price

I would say that it’s like dating. You have all these grand ideas about what you want, but you have to try lots of things (people? bags? hmm that just sounds wrong…) to see what’s really important to you. And you never really find ‘the one.’ But you find ‘good enough’ and you decide if you can live happily with the tradeoffs.

Style/Quality

I can’t say that I drool over the look of the bag. It’s big and black and burly, kind of handsome in a utilitarian way. But at least it’s not hideous like some bags out there *cough cough*. Some people may be drawn to this look. Ryan in fact has bought quite a few bags that fit the ‘black cordura utilitarian urban man bag’ description. So of course he likes Aer a lot. I think he has like 5 of their bags.

All Aer everything

I may be on the fence about the style, but the quality is top-notch, no doubt. This bag is so well thought out for my particular style of travel (one bag/backpack/usually air travel/using under the seat space only). They’ve made this bag tough, with foam padding everywhere, which really gives the bag some structure, along with protecting the goods. OMG no more floppiness!!! And there are compression straps too! And a zipaway water bottle holder! But with all these rugged materials and padding comes weight…

Organization

Time with other travel packs has made me realize that organization is the most important thing to me. I fucking love this bag’s pockets. Man, there are a lot of pockets. There’s so many that at the beginning I forgot where I put stuff, which sounds bad for traveling. But once I had used the bag for a bit and had mentally established a place for every item I normally pack, ooooh it feels so good. Here’s how I use my pockets:

  1. Bottom shoe section -This section is lost on me. I wrap it up and totally ignore it. If I did use it, I would complain about the positioning, because it makes it awkward to use packing cubes. Maybe this would be a good place to put dirty clothes or swimsuits, like a built in laundry bag? Only caveat here is that there are two holes in the bottom to let stinky shoes air out so things can get wet if you put this bag down in a puddle.
  2. Front bottom pocket – My computer charger brick goes here, along with various charging cords. It’s a tight fit.
  3. Front top pocket – This pocket goes all the way down to the front bottom pocket. My clutch size wallet goes here. I also stuff teabags in here.
  4. Top stash pocket- My cell phone and headphones, passport.
  5. Organizer panel – This is the droolworthy section. Keys, magazines, pens, snacks, NintendoDS… This section is large and deep, going all the way to the bottom of the bag. Aer’s official photo of this panel really shows its potential, so here. Look at those pockets.
  6. Computer panel – Just my laptop, occasionally a magazine. I forget if this area is off the ground, but it’s definitely cushy.
  7. Inside – I throw my packing cubes and toiletries here. On the panel zipper you see to the left – I usually throw my Nintendo DS game cartridges or my contacts there. No particular reason why, they just seem to fit well.

All the crap I normally pack.

Comfort/Weight

This is the only bit to give me pause, and it’s a biggie. This bag is heavy at 3.7 pounds just for 33L of space. And it’s bulky AF. I’m five two, and according to Aer’s website photos, this bag is for tall super hip tech bros going about their urban lives. And even on them the bag looks a bit much*.

There are so many ways they could lighten this bag up without sacrificing features. Mostly by removing a lot of the cushion. I don’t need this thing to be bombproof. Maybe the laptop section, but everything else can go. Like the top grab handle is just overengineered. I don’t need all that. The sides of the backpack don’t need foam padding all the way around. The entire organizer panel does not need to be foam padded. My clothes will be fine.

Fitwise, the only thing that I really noticed was that the straps are about a half inch too wide for me. It bugged me at first, then I forgot about it. Oh, also the top adjuster straps are basically useless. They kept coming undone. This bag would be golden if it had some sort of hip belt to distribute the weight, but alas… Let’s just say that you will feel the weight of this bag. It’s not terrible, but it will slow you down.

Too much going on here and these straps should be much more comfortable than they are. Super rigid and anti-boob.

Price

Okay I got this as a birthday present, but I think the price of $220 is totally reasonable for a bag like this. I have no idea whether or not this is an ‘ethically made’ bag like Cotopaxi, but it is a San Francisco company, so yay?

What it’s like to use

The travel pack doesn’t hide away its straps like many travel bags do, so it makes it not ideal for checking. But I don’t check bags anyways.

Most important to me – it fits underneath the airplane seat!! The computer panel and stash pocket are accessible from the top, which is important when stuck on a plane. When I took my Cotopaxi bag, the computer zipper was on the side, and it was a nightmare getting things in and out, which I do like every 20 minutes.

Whenever I got to my destination, I would take my items out of the front organizer panel and pockets, then leave the bag unzipped like it was my own dresser drawer. That was nice.

Verdict

It’s not perfect, but I think I can deal with a little weight for all the organization happiness that this bag gives me. Maybe in the future Aer will make a lighter, possibly smaller version with a hip belt.

*An aside: Aer you need some more women on your site. With these super masculine brands (DSPTCH also comes to mind), not seeing any women modeling the bag is unwelcoming and made me question whether or not the bag would fit my body. I honestly would have bought this bag a long time ago if I had a better idea of fit. 

Life, Travel

Back during my analyst days it was all about the reports. Daily reports, weekly reports, monthly reports, and of course, the big bad quarterly reports. Every April, July, October and January was a manic haze of work, stress and anxiety. I’ve left those days long behind me, but I still think about time in that way. It’s April, so Q1 is very much behind us. I don’t think I proclaimed any personal goals at the start of the year, but here’s what I’ve been up to lately.

Becoming my dentist’s MVP

Back in November I went to Mexico City and popped my crown out while flossing. I hadn’t been to the dentist in a year and a half since I didn’t have dental insurance while I was an apprentice, and then my dentist wasn’t covered by my work insurance, so I dragged my feet on finding a new dentist… With a broke tooth there was no way to procrastinate, and thus began four months of seeing the dentist pretty much every other week… I just checked my calendar, and I went to the dentist NINE times since December. Last week was my final dental appointment until my next cleaning, and it feels like such a relief. Now that I’m all done, I’m seriously babying my mouth now.  I’ve even stepped up and bought the trendy coconut floss my dentist recommended. It smells nice and supposedly coconut oil is antibacterial, but I haven’t noticed much of a difference. I mean, it’s floss.

Jill Visit

I visited Jill in Atlanta in January. I had to work, so it was mostly a lot of just hanging out with nothing special in mind, but I still got to see a little bit of the city, and eat a little BBQ. I became obsessed with how incredibly low food costs were, and took to regularly texting photos of our restaurant bills to Ryan.

What else… not to knock Atlanta’s interest in Paul Thomas Anderson films, but there was NO ONE at all in the theater for a late screening of Phantom Thread. It was a treat being able to have an entire theater to ourselves. I found that when I watched the movie again at home in San Francisco, the audience laughed at different parts of the film. It gave me a different understanding of how you might interpret the movie. Some films are best seen with an audience, I suppose. Films like this include: action movies (Black Panther!), Tyler Perry and Quentin Tarantino movies, horror movies.  Films best watched alone: documentaries, dramas, John La Carre movies, romantic comedies.

MoviePass

Speaking of movies, after many weeks and ZenDesk complaints, I finally got my MoviePass. Friends, it is everything they say it is. There are a few catches of course, but with San Francisco prices it’s totally worth it to sign up (9.95/month for a subscription that gives you one movie per day, while SF movie tickets run 10 – 16 dollars per movie).

Mom Visit (aka my mom runs away from her family too)

My mom visited for Chinese New Year in February. I had originally wanted to head down to Los Angeles to see the extended family, but she stressed that it would be a total mess. Instead, she wanted to head up to SF. I think she was probably right. Her visit was nice and laid back. We’ve been seeing each other a bit more often lately, and surprisingly, I think that has helped us to have more fun, since there isn’t as much pressure to cover all the big life questions. Of course this does mean that I debate the cost/benefits of purchasing a house every single time, but that’s unavoidable. 

Audiobooks

In January I got super obsessed with Call Me By Your Name. After watching the movie I had to read the book. I saw that the audiobook was narrated by Armie Hammer, so for about the fifth time, I started up an Audible subscription. Since then I’ve been listening to a ton more audiobooks. Most are from the library and through the excellent Libby app, but Audible’s frequent and generous sales have convinced me to stay a member. Favorites lately include: The Last Black Unicorn,  World War Z, Norse Mythology, Call the Midwife, and Ubik. I’ve actually been updating my books page!

March no spend

February was kind of spendy, so I did a ‘no spend’ month for things that weren’t food or basics. Normally an ‘experiment’ like this would warrant its own blog post or two, but honestly I made it through without much hand-wringing. I replaced my headphones when they broke, that’s about it. Oh, and CocoFloss. LOL. It’s now the middle of April and I still haven’t bought any non-staples. I might go on through the end of the month. Now if I had to give up eating out, that would be a real challenge. 🙂

Mission Techies

A friend of mine from school got a job as the program director for Mission Techies, a training program that helps minorities transition into a tech career. He needed some help planning content, so he asked if I could help out.

The thing that made the most sense from a time and resources standpoint was planning a site visit. I got the go-ahead from folks at work, and then all of a sudden I was planning a tour and a Q&A career panel for the students. If you know me, you might know that being the center of attention, public speaking, and event planning are all my least favorite things to do. I really wanted to help out though, so I pulled it together, and thankfully the event was a success! I’m planning to write about it more on my coding blog, but I’ve been lazy…

Let’s see… what else work-wise… I went to the ForwardJS JavaScript conference for the second time. I gave a talk about it at work, which was stressful, but went well. I’ve been debating this with friends – so public speaking is uncomfortable for me. Because I’m stressed out about it, I put in a ton of effort, rehearse, rewrite, etc. Then when I finally give the talk, it goes fine, maybe even great. I know they say you need to practice a lot to get good at things, but what if being stressed the fuck out is a key ingredient I need in order to perform decently? How terrible is that? Maybe next time I’ll try a little more improvisation.

A Little More Social Time

Last year I felt like I fell out of touch with a lot of friends. I was just busy with work. I made a bit of an effort in January to see friends even when it wasn’t convenient (because really, going to Oakland is never convenient). From there, things have kept rolling steadily, and I’ve had a lot of fun weekends. Concerts, big steak dinners, Russian festivals, dance shows, clubs, bars. It feels good to be out and about again.


Anyways, that’s it for me. Later!

Travel

Travel was one of my goals for 2017, and near the middle of the year I was disappointed with myself for not making more happen. I’d spent two weekends away – a conference in New York, and a wedding in New Jersey. Since I went full-time at my job in April, by the middle of the year I still had barely any vacation time saved up. I decided to make the most of my company’s liberal work from home policy, and stretch some long holiday weekends. Where that wouldn’t work, I bit the bullet and took unpaid days off.

I ended up packing in the trips in the latter half of the year: Morocco in September, New Orleans for a conference in November, Mexico City for Thanksgiving, and Palm Springs for Christmas. I never posted about these trips because I’ve been so busy, and then it felt like the time has passed. But I’ve been daydreaming about 2018 travel, and I thought it would be fun to reminisce, and to think about where else to go based on how I felt about these trips.

Google Slides apparently lets you import your Google photo albums, so I thought I would try that this time instead of individually uploading photos (part of the reason I put off blogging about these trips at all). Seems a shame there isn’t an easy way to make an embeddable slideshow with comments via Google Photos, but I had fun putting random text boxes as commentary all over my photos. There’s a ton of photos, but the sets get smaller as you scroll down.

September: Catching up with an old friend in Morocco

My friend Jill was spending part of her summer in Morocco in order to ride horses on the beach, and this seemed like a perfect chance to visit, especially since I’d missed visiting during the three years that she lived in the country. The trip itself was cathartic, something long overdue. But to start with, things felt difficult. I was anxious about offending people, wearing the wrong thing, saying the wrong thing. And you know how in Thailand/Southeast Asia there is that saying: Same same, but different? Yeah, Morocco was just different.

Marrakech was hot as hell and stressful, but I didn’t find the stress invigorating, like in Bangkok or Phnom Penh. After checking out some of the sights of Marrakech, Ryan and I quickly moved on to Essaouria, a beach town where Jill had rented an apartment for a month. Once we got there, things became much easier. No heat, a nice breeze, plentiful seafood, oh and Jill handled everrrrrything – thanks Jill! Basically we ate a lot of tajine, drank a lot of NesCafe, checked out the sights, went to a winery, and just chilled out. It was nice.

Highlights:

  • Hearing the call to prayer several times throughout the day, including the wee hours. It was very moving.
  • We took a ‘grand taxi’ to the winery. It’s basically a large car going in a certain direction, and you can buy a seat. When all the seats are full, the car takes off. It was a new mode of transportation to me, and I definitely would not have coordinated it myself if Jill weren’t there to make it happen. On the way back, we caught the same taxi. The driver recognized us, I guess we stuck out as three foreigners walking down a dirt road in the middle of nowhere.
  • Meeting all the wonderful cats of Morocco. They were everywhere. The kitties by the sea were much more well-fed compared to the scrappy city cats.
  • Watching Girls Trip on a laptop, just like in college
  • Came in way way under budget, less than half of what I’d budgeted for.
  • Riding camels on the beach. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I really fell in love with camels. Rudyard Kipling got it wrong, they’re sweet and hardworking animals.

Lowlights:

  • Being taken to a carpet shop on our city ‘tour’ and getting the super hard sell. We didn’t want to buy a carpet! Really, how often does that work?
  • Being hungover
  • The actual travel. Getting there takes forever!

November: RubyConf in New Orleans

I enjoyed going to the annual Ruby Conference in Cincinnati in 2016, so when I learned that the next event was in New Orleans, how could I say no? And I don’t even code in Ruby anymore, that’s how good it is. My mom had just finished up a job, so the timing worked out and she joined me for my trip. My conference was three long days, but we managed to fit a lot in during off hours.

Highlights:

  • Catching a couple of jazz shows casually
  • Visiting the oldest pharmacy in the US, now sponsored as a museum by Walgreens
  • Taking a plantation tour and being incredibly satisfied that our tour guide was a black man dressed in killer period appropriate costume.
  • Introducing my mom to grilled oysters
  • Going back several nights later to eat more grilled oysters 🙂
  • On the final day we lucked out with a private cemetery tour. I saw Nicolas Cage’s future tomb, y’all. There are lipstick kisses all over it, and I think they’re probably Nicolas Cage kisses.
  • Accidentally sitting at the VIP lunch table and meeting some famous Ruby folks. All incredibly friendly, of course.
  • Drinking hurricanes with my mom at Pat O’Briens

Lowlights:

  • Literally walking face first into a metal pole and bruising my face.
  • Being hungover from hurricanes

Thanksgiving: Birthday with Bae in Mexico City

When I think about it now, celebrating my birthday in Mexico City was a series of unfortunate events. I broke a tooth. Ryan got food poisoning and was in bed for a day and a half. The internet at our AirBNB died. We waited 45 minutes in line to pick up our lucha libre tickets only to learn that we were in the wrong line and needed to wait another 45 minutes in another line. Our airline pilots went on strike the day of our flight home. And yet… I was so determined to have a great birthday that I think I willed myself into letting it all slide. We made it through each shitty roadblock and I’m just left with really happy memories of Mexico City. It’s a great place. Putting it up there with Barcelona on my list of personal happy places.

Highlights:

  • Coming back to the apartment everyday and being greeted by the kitty of the house. She would follow us upstairs, run ahead and rush into our apartment, and then immediately start meowing for food. On the final day she lucked out and got some tostadas from the super fancy ContraMar. On that day we also learned that that our cat friend had a sister!
  • My first Lucha Libre match included a Trump worshipping badguy. I learned that Mexican grandmothers can be rather salty when it comes to their wrestling.
  • The Museum of Torture. Cruel, but fascinating.
  • Eating tacos on the street.
  • Going to the CDMX equivalent of a Denny’s
  • Climbing pyramids 🙂
  • Cramming into the local bus back home from the pyramids, and getting to stand at the very front of the bus, right behind the window. It felt like we were flying down the freeway, especially since our young and attractive bus driver was blasting EDM. He had good taste, BTW.
  • Visiting the most amazing public library I’ve ever seen. People actually come here and study, folks!
  • Rushing to the famous 24 hr churro place at 6am before heading to the airport, only to find the one employee hiding in the back of the kitchen, sleeping.

Lowlights:

  • Uh, basically the stuff that I mentioned above. Ryan was really sick, and I found myself Google translating ‘stomach flu’ before I nervously headed out in search of Pepto. Also, our apartment was in a great location, but right next to a crosswalk, so we slowly went insane from the crosswalk sounds.

Palm Springs: A Different Christmas

I didn’t want to stay in town for Christmas. Palm Springs is a chill place close enough to make going out of town not a huge deal, and with Ryan’s points, we got our hotel for free. PS is about an hour away from Los Angeles, so I invited my mom to come for the holiday. She didn’t know much about the town, but I think we showed her a good time 🙂

Highlights:

  • Last time we came to Palm Spring the aerial tramway was closed. Glad we tried again. It’s an amazing view and really a technically impressive feat!
  • We visited Elvis’s house you guys
  • Saw an amazing show at The Purple Room
  • My mom played her very first game of checkers
  • Visited some great tiki bars
  • Went to see The Darkest Hour, but stumbled upon a poppin’ Auntie Mame dress up boozy movie night

Lowlights:

  • I got food poisoning. It’s not a trip unless someone gets food poisoning. This time Ryan bought the Pepto.

Some Places I’d like to go in 2018:

I’d like to do more long weekend trips, but most of the places I had in mind are pretty far, and it would probably be hard to work from home, since the time difference is drastic… Hawaii, Cuba, South Africa, Ireland, Portugal, Hong Kong, Berlin, Senegal…

Next up: Atlanta. Right.. now. Seriously, going to the airport… 🙂  Going to spend a weekend visiting Jill’s new city.