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Beer Here! Craft Breweries in Harrisonburg, VA

The Shenandoah Valley of Virginia is known for both the beauty of the mountains and its many wineries.

Fans of hops don’t despair, the Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail runs along nearly the same route and offers a variety of craft breweries for any palate. One spot along the way with a concentration of stops is the city of Harrisonburg, VA. There are four breweries within walking distance of each other, allowing for a full day of touring the tastes in the historic downtown area. The big bonus for my visit was that all of these options had outdoor dog-friendly patios!

Three Notch’d Brewingone of three tap room locations of the Charlottesville based brewery. The Minute Man IPA was smooth and citrusy and the Watermelon Gose was refreshing, salty, and sweet. They also had dog biscuits available for purchase made from the grain left after the brewing process!

Brothers Craft Brewing – probably the most well known brewery in the area. The seasonal Hallelujah IPA has a mid-level bitterness and citrus note, but my personal favorite is the Hoptimization. If you can’t make it to the tap room, a number of local restaurants offer their brews on draft.

Pale Fire Brewing Co. – known for their IPAs, they also have a good variety of other styles. I personally loved the Salad Days Saison and the Electric Sheep Belgian Amber.

Wolfe Street Brewing – located in an old garage, this is the smallest and most intimate tap room location. They tend toward more ambers and stouts, but definitely try the Citra Tonic Pale.

 

If you’re more of a cider person, try nearby Old Hill Hard Cider in Timberville. Located at the Showalter Orchard, Old Hill offers tastings made from 10 varieties of apples grown specifically for cider making. Try their special mead blend and whisky barrel aged options for unique flavors (I bought a bottle for home).

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Broken Spanish Over Japanese Tea

Montevideo from the top of the Alma Historica Boutique Hotel.

Last summer in Uruguay, my AFS sister, Merce, introduced me to her friend Meche, who introduced me to Silvia, who invited me to a tea presentation at the Alma Historica Boutique Hotel. I went. Alone.

 

It was a formal Japanese tea ceremony presentation, in Spanish. I know minimal Spanish. Silvia knows little English. And the only fluent English speakers at the event were the Japanese presenter and an Iranian woman. I was able to chat with the beautiful Iranian, and I was grateful to learn about her interesting life. It did not escape me that I was enveloped in an amazingly unusual International experience.

But I wasn’t there to speak English. I was dedicated to struggling through my poor Spanish for a few weeks in hopes of a slight gain towards proficiency. Knowing nothing about Japanese tea ceremonies, I found the evening extremely interesting. I was proud of my ability to understand most of the presentation, but only because I am able to read Spanish better than I can speak it. That evening,PowerPoint was my special gift.

Gorgeous antique tea cups placed on the tables generated both a grin and ping of warmth in my heart for that fleeting moment, as I remembered my grandmother and wished I’d inherited her amazing china cup and saucer collection.

Silvia and new friends enjoy a selection of teas and pastries.

Following the presentation, guests took turns introducing themselves. They nearly skipped me, when I stood I up and smiled.

“Mi nombre es Shari. Soy visitor de Charleston, Carolina Sur. Soy un 6 millas de mi hogar es el primero té plantaciónen el nos,” I read off my phone, slowly and poorly. What happened to US, I don’t know, but somewhere I KNEW the translation should have included the word “estadios.”

While we were sipping tea, and eating the most amazing plate of goodies, I’d used my handy-dandy Google translator to determine how to tell them that I was from Charleston, South Carolina, where I live about six miles from the first tea plantation in the US. Although the room erupted into hearty laughter over my broken Spanish, the crowd seemed to understand what I’d said, and it was clear my effort was most certainly appreciated.

Our tour of the Alma Historica Hotel was enlightening. Each room is named after successful artists like poets, singers, and actors. Individual room themes depict the celebrity’s art with distinct decor,

fine antiques and beautiful linens. When I return to Montivideo, Uruguay, I must indulge and enjoy a stay at the Alma Historica. And sip tea.

Many thanks to my new friend, Silvia, for the gift of a truly memorable evening. Come to think of it, I’d made a mental note to host a formal tea party in Charleston. Now seems the perfect time to plan it!

Learn more about Japanese tea ceremonies at http://japanese-tea-ceremony.net.

 

 

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7 Tips for Visting Cambodia

If you’re planning a trip to Cambodia, here are a few things I learned during my visit that might help you!

Cash is King – and the US dollar is everywhere.  Apart from the airport or the Villa Paradiso, its hard to find anyone who will accept your card. Many hotels, restaurants, and shops will only accept payment in cash. While the official national currency is the riel, most prices are posted in US dollars and change will be given in both paper varieties. If you are running low, many ATMs will dispense US dollars. On islands like Koh Rong Sanloem, only cash is accepted and there are no banks or ATMs.

Remove Your Shoes – when you enter a private home, religious space, and some businesses. Even on the  islands I needed to take my shoes off before entering any of the huts or public spaces. My sandals had an ankle strap, and if I had it to do over, I’d get something that was easier to slip on and off.

English is Everywhere – but don’t assume everyone speaks it. The majority of people you come across seem to speak a few words in english (numbers, basic pleasantries, etc), but you quickly learn that doesn’t mean you can communicate. The very few words I learned in Khmer were invaluable for getting around and bargaining. If you can only remember one, make it thank you. An “Awe Koon” goes a long way.

Bring  your Northern European 2 prong plug adaptor – because the one marked for Asia region won’t work. As a former french colony, the European influence hasn’t completely disappeared. Besides architecture from years gone by, the electric system uses round 2 prong plugs and not the flat 3 prong plugs you’ll find in other neighboring countries.

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Drink Water – even when you think you’re not thirsty. The heat and humidity in southeast Asia are no joke. Bottled water is easy to get and inexpensive. Alternately, go for what the locals drink: count water or sugar cane juice. You can find carts all over offering these specialties for $1 or less. I didn’t even realize until I got back that I spent the entire week at least partially dehydrated.

A Scarf or pashmina  – is the national accessory. You’ll see plenty of locals with scarfs around their necks or heads as blocking the sun actually helps you feel cooler. Both the pashmina I brought and the scarf I purchased at the Russian Market saw continuous use. They’re also good for visiting religious sites where you need to cover your shoulders.

Avoid KTV – (Karaoke Television) even if you adore karaoke. The name is deceptive, as these are largely fronts for sex tourism. They’re only open at night and I passed many on way to the airport. Girls dressed to sell were sitting in red plastic chairs in the entrance waiting to be chosen by an incoming customer. If you absolutely need to sing along to your favorite Styx song, do it in your hotel.

Did I miss something? Share your tips in the comments below!

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Koh Rong Sanloem, Island Paradise

My Cambodia experience included two nights on what is quite possibly my paradise: Koh Rong Sanloem. Immediately after picking my jet-lagged butt up from the airport, my friend S whisked me into a waiting Land Rover taxi with her friends A and Y to head south toward the coast.  Her plan was to meet up with two more friends, spend the night in the seaside town of Sihanoukville, then all six of us would take the ferry in the morning (booked through one of the dive shops) to the island of Koh Rong Sanloem.

The islands are owned by the government of Cambodia with the land being leased to residents and resorts. Our place, EcoSea, was expat run and dive oriented with a focus on environmentalism (special: pick up a bag of trash and get a free beer). The cabins are raised, wooden, thatched roof structures with  hammocks strung on the front porch. Each unit is ensuite with a flush toilet and shower wand attached to the sink. There is no wifi and the generator is only run from 6p-12a each night, but I didn’t miss either. Situated between the jungle and beach, the sounds are a relaxing mix of of birds, frogs, and water lapping on the sand. A pack of dogs calls resort home, and seem to regard the tourists as convenient sources of ear scratches. The puppies will even crawl into your lap when you’re in the main building.  After 15 minutes I had my feet up in a hammock and felt instantly relaxed. It was like all of my worries floated away  on the wave that brought me there.

At low tide you can walk completely around the side to the town.  Small, dirty, and fully tourism oriented, this is where we went to hire a taxi boat for the following day. With the help of a Turkish expat, who called his friend on the phone, we were able to strike a deal with our Khmer driver: $70 for 6 people, 10a-6p.  He picked us up in the morning and we circled the island, stopping at various points to swim and snorkel off the boat. The waters were clear and blue and the lands we saw were lush, green tree filled jungles. We could see monkeys along the banks and birds circling the shallows. The boat had snorkels available for us to use and we were able to see some tropical fish among the rocky areas. Our driver did have some issue with one of the two engines. At one point  had Y steer the boat while he stuck a pair of pliers in the 2nd engine. It never did work.


One of the special things about Koh Rong Sanloem is the infamous bioluminescent plankton. These small plants light up when agitated, like glitter in the water.  One night I walked along the edge of the water to a dark spot, kicking at the surf and watching small sparks appear in the surf. They’re best seen when completely dark, and the group I was with swam with them on both nights after the electricity was turned off at midnight. My jet lag combined with my natural tendency to fall asleep whenever i’m tired  had the better of me I was never able to enjoy the phenomenon completely. Y did try and wake me up, but apparently a shot that down.

We took the ferry back in the morning, the water rough after a night of thunderstorms.  The remainder of the day was spent in Sihanoukville, rehydrating  on the beach before taking the night bus to Phnom Penh. S is a big fan of the night bus and her enthusiasm  combined with my Harry Potter fantasies was enough get me far too excited. The coach style bus was adapted to have to 2 levels of flat beds, singles on the left and doubles on the right,  including a blanket for each passenger. S and I shared a berth for the 5hr drive. Fully stretched out, my 5’10” self didn’t fit lengthwise, so I propped my legs up on top of my bags. I’d like to say that the trip was smoother than Harry’s, but the fictional version is strangely accurate, only without the ornamental shrunken heads.

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Sensory Overload in Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh, Cambodia introduces herself with a blast of intense hot, humid air the second you step off the plane.

After that, the sensory onslaught never lets up. Leaving the airport there’s a crowd of people waiting for family and Tuk Tuk drivers barking for clients. Mixed with the sound of motorcycle engines, the overwhelming noise was disorienting after the quiet inside the airport.  As you continue into the city, the smells begin to collect: gasoline, banana, dust, urine, and durian. The smells and sounds ebb and flow, but never dissipate completely. Thankfully my friend S was there to guide me when I arrived; the collection of sights, sounds, and smells was overwhelming and disorienting after two days of traveling.

Phnom Penh isn’t large, but its growing thanks to construction and modernization projects which seem to be around every corner.  Old structures are being retrofitted with luxury condos and tall modern office complexes are on the rise in every direction. Concrete roads are being built to replace the dirt ones leading into the city and much needed stoplights are going in at major intersections.

The traffic was one of the things that was difficult for this westerner to get used to. The moped or motorcycle is the vehicle of juice and drivers take full advantage of their ability to sneak along side or through small openings in traffic. Rules and right of ways are suggestions, dividing lines and roundabouts are routinely ignored. The brave can rent a moto or bicycle and join the throng… but I’m not that brave. I walked around the city, crossing intersections when I dared or took a Tuk Tuk, a covered cart pulled by a motorcycle.

building B at Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

On my one day to walk around on my own, I went to Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Also known as S-21, Tuol Sleng was a prison and torture center under the Khmer Rouge.  My friend S was working with the testimony from the Khmer Rouge trail and had told me a little about the atrocities committed under the regime, but being physically surrounded by the evidence was intensely emotional. I spent nearly four hours walking through the buildings and taking in the stories on the audio tour.

wooden cells in Building B

There are graphic images and stories of the torture throughout and a quiet uneasiness followed me around the grounds. Photographs of some of the 17,000 victims to go through this prison stare at you, somehow both pleading and resigned. The personal stories and testimony from survivors made me sick to my stomach. Before you leave the grounds, you can speak with two of the only seven survivors. Both gentlemen have written books about their experiences and are happy to sign a copy for you. I walked out of the quiet grounds into the noise and smells of Phnom Penh a solemn and emotional wreck, but I wouldn’t have missed the experience for the world.

 

overheated? coconut water is nature’s gatorade

 

 

 

 

 

 

yellow brick road to the Royal Palace

 

A few minutes north is the Royal Palace and Wat Preach Keo. These two sites are open to the public for a small entrance fee, but closed for lunch from 11am-2pm.

Unfortunately, this was exactly when I reached them, so I was only able to view from the outside. They are quite beautiful traditional structures, adorned with gold. The streets immediately facing have been blocked off to traffic and tourists walk freely along the sidewalks. The afternoon sun has an intense direct heat, with the shade feeling ten degrees cooler.

 

Shortly after I gave up and took a Tuk Tuk away from the heat and tourists, through the cacophony and smells, to S’s place and collapsed on a bed. Phnom Penh is both amazing and exhausting.

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Night Layover in Nanning

When I first booked my flight to Cambodia, a scheduled 10 hour layover in Nanning, China gave me some pause. I knew nothing about the city nor what I might encounter during my flight change.  Guidebooks and internet resources describe this “small city” of 2 million people as a train stop en-route to Vietnam and tout waterfalls and historic areas outside of town.  As I was due to arrive after midnight, none of this was very informative for me.

My domestic Shanghai Airlines flight was the last arrival of the day.  The small, mostly regional airport closed soon after, with all the lights shutting down and the only staff a cleaning person or two. The doors were propped open, and people were stay inside near the baggage claim, but the heating was turned off and the metal benches were separated by armrests. I took a deep breath and decided to head into town. In the daytime there is a bus you can take to the train station near downtown, but after 11p it’s taxi only.

entrance to the Nanning night market

The taxi driver who flagged me spoke no English (and I speak no Mandarin), but we did manage to communicate through a translation app on his mobile phone, which we passed back and forth. He named an over-priced night rate of 160 CNY, which I accepted (note – next time, haggle!). The 45 minute trip from the airport seemed to fly as he sped around lorries with no regard to speed limit signs or lanes in the road. I had previously read about the Night Market in downtown and decided that could be a place to explore a bit. By the time I got there at 2am on a Thursday morning, the market was about 1/3 open. Restaurants were sweeping trash into piles in the middle of the street and a few locals were stumbling out to catch a ride home.  I walked around the few remaining stalls with seafood on sticks, tofu noodle bowls, and fruits before deciding to venture a little further.  A few blocks through tall, modern concrete buildings leads you to the Yongjiang river. Along the side is a lovely, clean, well manicured park.  Everything was silent and empty.

NNG from the taxi

By 4am I gave up and took a taxi back to the airport, the return trip costing night rate of 116 CNY. This driver didn’t have a translation app, but thankfully I had written down the word “airport” on a post-it note, which did the trick (after he corrected my pronunciation). The first domestic flight out of Nanning is around 7am.  Using my western standards, I assumed the airport would officially re-open 2 hours before. Instead, I walked in circled in the dark airport until the lights turned on at 5:45am and the first check-in counter opened at 6.  My international flight to Phnom Penh at 10am didn’t open for check-in until 9. (side note: I’ve never been so happy to be traveling with only my backpack.)

Lesson learned: if you’re going to have a layover in Nanning, aim for the daytime. The city looked lovely and I hope I get a chance to see it in full glory in the future.

 

bridge across the Yongjiang river

 

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Uruguay’s Mate (mah-tay) Tradition

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This guy was eager to pose with his mate cup and thermos.
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The mysterious mate case holds a thermos of hot water, a mate cup, and a straw.

Mate is an experience. Mate is a ritual. Mate is an all-natural herb. And a mate is a hollow gourd that serves as a cup. When in Uruguay, if invited, you must accept the opportunity to share this ritual of friendship and embrace the mate experience. It took me nearly three weeks to finally cave in and partake, and I now regret that I didn’t make mate a daily habit throughout my stay.

The centuries-old drink is known as the “drink of the lords.” To me, this national drink of Uruguay is downright bitter. I cheated. Just a bit of sweetener helped my palate adjust. Considering mate is known to relieve migraine headaches, neuralgia, and insomnia, and is recommended for weight loss, mate is likely a good habit to form. When I learned of the medicinal benefits, I realized that if I lived locally, I’d  work on acquiring a taste and ditching my coffee.

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Mate cups and straws at the street market.

Dried, chopped leaves, highly caffeinated,  are packed into a dried calabash gourd  “cup.” The straw, traditionally made of silver, is called a bombilla. The straws I saw at the market were made of nickel silver (called alpaca) stainless steel, or hollow-stemmed cane.

Hot water is poured from a thermos into a mate of dry yerba (pronounced sherba) leaves, and left to steep for a few minutes. As the cup is passed and shared, each person drinks until the liquid makes that slurp sound we Americans are urged to avoid. This ensures that backwash has not contaminated the mate cup, and that the straw is clear for the next in line. Each time the cup is passed a fresh batch of hot water is added to the leaves, and a new “slurper” downs their drink.

I observed mate on the streets, mate in parks, and mate cases inundating  a college campus. So I had to step up and finally act like a local. I could not leave the country without embracing the customary ritual of Uruguay– sipping mate with my extended family.

My experience was just plain fun in the kitchen!

Read more about mate at http://trentarthur.ca/mate-uruguays-national-drink/.

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Attack of the Common Cold

Everyone gets sick sometime.  A cold or the flu sneaks up and then… Bam! You’ve got a fever and the most symphonic sneezes man has ever heard.  When you’re a traveler, it’s bound to happen on the road at some point.  Stress wears down your immune system and the close (sometimes too close) proximity of your fellow passengers on an airplane can leave you susceptible. More than once I’ve found myself far from home impersonating a walking Petri dish, barely seeing what’s around me as I stumble toward the nearest bed.

the pups play nurse
The pups play nurse.

This was the story of my latest trip to California. It seemed like everything just caught up with me all at once and plowed me  over like the semi-trucks in “Duel.” I couldn’t talk or laugh without coughing, had absolutely no appetite for the delicacies of Los Angeles, and a walk to the end of the block was like climbing the Pyrenees.  The only creatures happy about my incapacity were Hondo and his friend Birdy. The dogs soon found that they had a week of all the petting they desired  as well as a few extra snacks on the sly.
JoshuaTree2I felt completely responsible for wrecking all of DO’s well made plans for the week (as well as emptying the medicine cabinet), but it ended up not being too bad. My crawling pace meant we spent a lot of down time talking. We still ventured out to the Southern California desert town of Joshua Tree, but my “hiking” this time was all done from the window of a car well stocked with kleenex and cough drops.  Maybe it was all of the alternative medicine shops or the crisp dry air, but I almost started to believe in a healing power of the desert sun.  I was still sick when we left, but strangely energized.  Well, it was either the sun or the date shake from Hadley’s

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Yes, getting sick sucks. Getting sick while traveling sucks more. But if you’re open, you might still have a good time living at a slower pace.

 

For more from our past LA adventures, see LA is for the Dogs!

 

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Just Say ARRRGGGHHH.

Ever dreamed you were standing on a sea-worthy sailing vessel, in the Atlantic Ocean, dressed as a pirate and yelling ARRRGGGHHH at the top of your lungs?  I’ll admit it; this particular scenario is beyond any creative action my brain cells could tap from my imagination while I sleep. I never even dreamed I’d have to opportunity to go sailboat camping for a weekend. So when the “pirate opportunity” crossed my radar, I did not hesitate to volunteer to sail from Little River, South Carolina to Southport, North Carolina to participate in the annual Halloween weekend Stede Bonnet Regatta.

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Boat camping and not roughing it.

Over the past couple of years I have had the opportunity to go “day sailing” and sometimes spend the night on my good friend’s boat at the marina. The fore berth, the V-berth is a great little hideaway with a hatch delivering natural light. Even when day-sailing, I like to retreat briefly to my own little quarters. On one rough day, I learned that I am an equal opportunity barfer – I can stay aboard while hanging off either port and starboard side. I slept it off. Fortunately those stylish little behind-the-ear patches have successfully prevented an encore of that hilarious event. But that was day sailing and I was a complete and utter rookie.

 

This is different. This is a trip! This is a boat vacation; to celebrate Halloween as a bona-fide pirate chick!

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Charley and his angels face the competitors.

In the two weeks leading up to the big event, I went on a mission to find props. I scored a sword, a couple of hooks, a couple of red bandanas, and a wig for the captain, completely underestimating the level of costuming planned by our competitors. Captain Charley has a great group of female friends and I am honored to be one of Charley’s sailing “angels.”

 

 

img_1647img_1648Funny story – At the 11th hour,  I decide to make pirate flags out of pillow cases. I rush to the store, rush home, get my gesso and paints ready, tear open the package, and find the white pillowcases say LUXE. Ugh. Lazy chick does not want to go back to the store. So she decides to turn the X into a skull and crossbones. We are LUXE pirates, darn it! A few dots of Sharpie to convert the X to bones, a couple of coats of gesso to map out a white skull, and ta-da….we  have a homely skull flag. View the end product in action in the video below.

Fortunately the weekend was not all about the wind speed, because mother nature was far from generous in exhaling her breath into our sails. But we made it into our slip at Southport Marina with time to spare. Sailboats arrived, decked out in pirate flags and skeletons, with crew members testing their “arrggghhh” yells over happy hour libations.

img_4837adj-smNow, Stede Bonnet is the “gentleman pirate”  who was hanged in Charleston, SC in 1718, following a year of Atlantic Ocean piracy, in collaboration with Blackbeard and a host of other booty buddies. So for this race, captains and crews in the race must dress as pirates. Crowds gather in front of The Provision Company to view the spectacle from a great vantage point. This year 40 modern-day pirate captains and their crews dressed the part and engaged in the weekend’s race festivities. The day began with free Bloody Mary’s for the sailors and a few hours on the sea. In the evening, following a day in the seas, sailors and spectators gather for a fabulous costume party with visions of Pirates and Wenches I never thought possible. Free dinner, live music, and “booty” shaking were all found at The Provision Company, the host of the annual regatta.

New bucket list entry:   Pirate for a day. Check!

The day was party-riffic, but I occasionally come down with a case of  “people-overload.” The quiet days at sea ground me. With no other boat in sight and no other sound but waves crashing against the hull and gusts of wind filling the sail, I bask peacefully with the wind in my face. It’s an img_4905smopportunity to do nothing but clear my mind. My brain slows as I absorb the sights and sounds. An occasional butterfly finds us and lingers in the cockpit. Flocks of birds are finding their way further South for the winter season. Channel markers bob in the distance, guiding us safely through the Atlantic. I sweep salt from the side of the boat and marvel at the ability to harvest it from the sea.

Click below to join me at the Halloween 2016 pirate invasion of Southport, North Carolina…and just say arrrggghhh!

 

 

 

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Back in the ‘Burgh

I hadn’t been back to the city of Pittsburgh in years. I went to university there and have always considered it a former home.  But after so long an absence, with ghosts of the past lurking in my mind, I was afraid of what I might find.  I’ve lived in a number of different places and I never expect things to be the same as they were in the past.  Buildings go up and down, storefronts change ownership, and people come and go.  Its in the unknown abstract thoughts where the fear hides. What if…

Andy Warhol wallpaper in the Pittsburgh Airport
Andy Warhol wallpaper in the Pittsburgh Airport

PIT skylineA work conference brought me back to Pittsburgh last week. When my airplane landed I rushed out of the airport with my head down, barely noticing the people around me. I only told one person I was visiting; just too wrapped up in my own head and personal anxiety.  It was only once the SuperShuttle passed though the tunnel and the city skyline opened in front of me that I began to open up too.

Home base was the Omni William Penn, a historic hotel located downtown. The hundred+ year old building was like a beautiful maze with staircases that went to different floors depending on what side of the building you were on and corners that opened into different size meeting rooms with giant chandeliers.  I dropped my luggage in my room and immediately set off to walk around the neighborhood.

PITsky2I had nearly forgotten how beautiful the city is. Tall modern buildings of glass, aluminum, and steel (it is the steel city, after all) stand side-by-side with historic structures of stone and brick.  In one mile I passed at least five different construction sites. There was something oddly comforting about having my old spacial map jump back into my brain as I walked around. Old Warner Theatre on 5th Street, Primanti Bros on Market Square, Benedum Center off Penn, CHECK!

Each day I walked in the city, visiting different places in my old life: the Strip, the Hill District, Polish Hill, Squirrel Hill, and Oakland.  With every new step I felt like I was traveling in time and not just miles. The past plus the present equals the future Li.

bridge of locks, Oakland
bridge of locks, Oakland
Paramount Film Exchange, Hill District
Paramount Film Exchange, Hill District

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Cheers, Pittsburgh. We’re still good.