Tuesday, November 27, 2012

3 Tips: Hiking the Bay Area before 2013

Photo Credit: Renee Marchol Black Sand Beach at Mori Point Hiking Guide
Are you looking for a breath-taking way to wrap up 2012? 
Photo Credit: Renee Marchol Hiking Guide Pacifica California

Instead of the usual New Year's Eve festivities, why not treat yourself to hike to a place you've never seen before?
Photo Credit: Renee Marchol Hiking Bay Area

My SmartyGirlTravel Hiking Guide recommended Ano Nuevo, Mori Point and Big Basin.

Photo Credit: Renee Marchol Mori Point Pacifica California
So I limbered up and tested a trail at Mori Point and jogged the black sand beaches.

What are 3 tips that I'd share with SmartyGirl Travel Readers?

1. Bring your jogger's mace, as a safety habit, because there are cement structures and dark areas shaded by trees even during the day.
2. Wear moisture-wicking tech long-sleeves and cap. This is better than cotton that traps sweat and keeps you cold and damp.
Photo Credit: Renee Marchol Hiking for Women
3. Build up for the steep hike and the Bootleggers' stair climb by skipping rope for 2 minutes per day. Reward yourself with an orange at the top!

What are some things you'd like the sea to wash away?

Photo Credit: Renee Marchol Hiking Bay Area
It can be healing to write something in the black sand and let the waves wash it away.

For example, maybe you'd like to let go of something such an old hurt, a bad relationship, a negative habit. You may have heard it recommended to write a letter that you never send. However, I like an outdoors activity.

Draw the words (i.e. grief) in the black sand. Sit next to the phrase and wait patiently for the waves to make it a blank slate.

I wrote my phrase with a dried reed I found on the beach. Then I listened to the watched the white foam of the sea bubble away my words on the black sand. It felt fantastic!

Happy Trails! Happy New Year 2013!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Thanksgiving in France: An Interview with SmartyGirl Karrie as our Tour Guide

Photo Credit: Renee Marchol San Francisco's Palace Hotel
You've read my friend Morgan's travel guide to France. Have you been inspired to display travel souvenirs as a prominent theme in your home decor this fall?

Apartment Therapy's Micki Howl wrote an article titled, "Travel Inspired Home Decor" that I recommend.

In addition, I am confident that my interview with Karrie will persuade you.

Karrie decorates her apartment with a French theme. Imagine a white vanity table and an elegant collection of perfume bottles. Like me she is fond of Art Nouveau architecture. Whereas I've only experienced Art Nouveau in Monterey at Seven Gables Inn, Karrie has toured France to view it.

I study Karrie as she drinks a cold American Mocha Freddo topped with whipped cream as we sit, for this interview, in Peets Coffee and Tea in Lafayette. It is a chilly Thursday night in August, at 8 P.M. after a long work day for her in sales.

She wears a crisp, long-sleeved, vertical striped blouse: black and white. Her makeup is classic with a pop of red lipcolor. In addition, her red accessories give her black and white outfit a chic, modern appearance.

Even though I am indoors, shielded from the Norcal night wind I shiver in my dark green miltary-style parka.

The shivers are from goosebumps but also from the excitement of hearing Karrie's fantastic stories of Thankgiving in France, an aristocratic host family, riding the Metro carrying too much cash, a hospital trip after consuming an eclair and playing hooky to spend early mornings at the Museum of Decorative Arts.

Imagine that you find yourself underemployed after college graduation, like many young people moving back to their parents' home in this recession. 

You read about a study abroad opportunity, six months in France to earn a certificate and you take out a loan to go.
Photo Credit: Karrie Keegan in France

What is a less common way to experience France? Karrie's host in France was a 70-year-old French woman aristocrat named Mademe de Cremier. Karrie had the unusual opportunity to experience the hospitality of "Old France".

What are some aspects of "Old France"?

Her host was proud of her aristocratic circle and kept a thick directory of all the aristocrats in Europe in her parlor.

Her black and white French hunting dog, Rodreig, went pheasant hunting with Madame de Cremier's male relative regularly. On hunting days Karrie would often smell fragrant red wine braised pheasant when she returned home during evenings from class.

Photo Credit: Renee Marchol Food Trucks in San Francisco
This is radically different from "New France" as you can read about in the New York Times with its invasion of food trucks.

Her host was formal and insisted that she be addressed as Madame de Cremier. Karrie observed that her host was French slim and wore the fashionable pencil skirt suits daily. That tiny waist! To picture this, think Christian Dior's Spring 2012 as seen in UK Vogue.

Photo Credit: Karrie Keegan in France
What else seemed distinctly "Old France"?

Karrie received a lecture on the debt by Americans to Louis the XVI, when my friend asked her host why she was going to mass to mourn the anniversary of the French King's death.

Karrie returned to her host's parlor after visiting the Museum of Decorative Arts, expressing her awe of the decorative arts display (interior decor exhibit) with furnishings 300 years old.

Photo Credit: Renee Marchol American Palace Hotel's Pied Piper Tapestry Only 100 years old
Madame de Cremier did not share Karrie's awe. Instead she said, "The books and furniture in my home are 300 years old and that's why I want you to be careful when sitting on my furniture with your American derriere!"

Karrie did not envy the haranging the housekeeper received when the staff accidently damaged the host's wall art while dusting. Karrie describes breakfast at her host's house as eating cornflakes in a museum.

Are French desserts really that different from American pastries?

In Karrie's case, she discovered that her body can't take the French doses of bakery fat and sugar. The described the giant almond meringues as big a dinner plates that she watched locals shatter and dip into French coffee.

Photo Credit: Renee Marchol Alpine Pastry Shop of Norcal
She also described the richness of French eclairs that were sweeter and more buttery than she ever experienced. After one eclair, her stomach pains forced her to make her first visit to a hospital in a foreign country.

Yes, the desserts are "to die for." I believe Karrie would warn Americans to sample small bites rather than to copy the French and eat whole pastries in one sitting.

What are some non-verbal French rules?

Karrie shared that at French magazine kiosks, you are not encouraged to linger. Instead you buy not browse otherwise you are chased away by angry merchants.

Also in constrast to sit-where-you'd like American eateries, in France waiters of gourmet bistros will enforce the unspoken rule: Patrons who sit inside order full meals. If you are only ordering a coffee and a pastry you must sit outside. Karrie discovered this when she felt cold and choose a cozy corner to enjoy her beverage and dessert.

Other diners knew this but my friend did not. The waiters did not bother to be polite and asked her to move.

How did you deal with homesickness as an American in France during Thanksgiving?

Karrie ordered her butchered turkey from two American ex-pats who owned a specialty American grocery in France. The shelves were stocked with American brands such as Ritz crackers and Smucker's jam.
Photo Credit: Renee Marchol American Cape Cod Strawberry Skillet Dumplings

She rode the Metro  from Paris, with a chilled turkey in her paper grocery bag two hours away to Limoges. She did this so that she could enjoy the company of other Americans and eat roast turkey with cranberry sauce. You can read more about American shops in Paris here.

Do you have an unusual travel story to tell fellow SmartyGirls? Where have you spent American holidays abroad? Comment below.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Contemporary Art in San Francisco: Seen During the Work Week

Photo Credit: Renee Marchol NomNom Vietnamese Sandwich Truck from SF Spotted in Walnut Creek
Do you count food trucks as contemporary art? I do. If you've seen the decor inside some revamped busses like Le Truc or the NomNom Truck's exterior, you'd agree. Where else can you find art worth pondering during your lunch break?

Photo Credit: Renee Marchol Jonathan Borofsky Steel Figures at 555 Mission Street in San Francisco
Photo Credit: Renee Marchol Ugo Rondinone's Sculptures at 555 Mission Street in San Francisco
Have you seen the Tim Burtonesque sculptures near the Deloitte building at 555 Mission Street in San Francisco? On Monday, I watched summer associates gather uneasily near Ugo Rondinone's creations. These young men in women, dressed in blue blazers and red ties must have been wondering what does this art mean in a corporate space?

While I was in Los Angeles, I had to skip the actual Tim Burton exhibit at the LACMA because it was $20 over my budget. In contrast, you can see these fancifully scary sculptures for free outdoors. 

You can find other Instagram shots by curious passersby too. If you are curious about Ugo Rondinone, you can travel to New York or read the artist bio on the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston site.

Which of these two artists, with sculptures in SF, wrote numbers for three hours a day obsessively?  Borofsky.
Carnegie Mellon Magazine's Ann Curran contrasts Jonathan Borofsky with Andy Warhol in her article, "Nobody Knows His Name, Everybody Has His Number".

After visiting the Bauhaus Lyonel Feininger photo exhibit at the Getty Museum Center in Los Angeles, with my brother-in-law and sister-in-law I've decided to study modern art more closely.

What is the artist saying about the present? Will this message be meaningful a generation later? Share your San Francisco art photos with me. How do outdoor sculptures compare to indoor galleries?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

7 Travel Tips for Thailand: Summer

Photo Credit: Creative Commons Thai Soup
Photo Credit: Amazon.com Goya Brand Sugarcane Juice
Photo Credit: Renee Marchol Thailand Travel

Have you wondered what you'd tell your teenage self if you could time travel?

These are the 7 travel tips for Thailand that I'd share with my 1995 self:

1. Don't be embarrassed.

2. Don't try too hard.

3. Make bug bite prevention a priority.

4.Carry mace if permitted.

5. Pack hand sanitizer.

6. Don't feel guilty dining away from the group.

7. Create food memories.

Hi SmartyGirl of 1995,

You are embarking on an awesome hiking and culture trip to Thailand.

Photo Credit: Open Cage Pad Thai
Here are some of the good things:

  • Food photography that you do with your SLR camera won't be considered weird in 17 years. In fact, there will such things as food and travel blogs where digital photos will be displayed
  • In 17 years, you will be even more fit that you are now and you will do 5 hour-plus hikes with your husband. Though the 5 hour hike may feel like a trek of death, know that you will be even stronger later in life. You'll even take up year-round swimming to improve your cardio for such hikes.
Your Thailand journal will include:
The two blankets smell stale. I slept all night with the sleeping bag over my head to avoid what the Australians call the "mozzies". They mean mosquitoes. I saw a tree burning. This dry part of the hike with red dust used to be a rainforest. It's a trek to the death. Still 5 more hours to the Karen hilltribe village. We smell because we ate fish, onion and tomato on bread, a lunch made by our guide named Sing. 
  • You are training your "explorer eyes" in Thailand. You will use this same perspective to travel within your home, the United States, and gain a deeper appreciation of New Orleans. The New Orleans that you know will be greatly changed so when you are there relish every bit of your stay.
  • Travel journals that you keep will be useful to you for the rest of your life. Be free. Don't censor yourself and capture what you think and feel. The details you write will trigger vivid, useful life lessons for adulthood.
Here are some notes in your travel diary:
..back in room 305.  A couple of ants don't bother me much. And the lizard's so little that as long as it doesn't crawl in my stuff I'm fine. Went down to Songkran Road and bought groceries to tide me over. I settled on crackers and soymilk. I paid 30 Baht instead of 60 Baht. So soymilk is about $1.23. Crackers were $1.80. I ate crackers without cheese because cheese was way too expensive. On a different night, I ate delicious fruit salad with banana slices with seeds that looked as large as peppercorns. Had some Pad Thai with veggies again. 

Here are the things that will challenge you:

  • You may feel self-conscious having fountains of nosebleeds during the hike. Don't be scared. This is normal considering the physical strain of the hikes in hot weather. Don't mind the laughter. Laugh with your hiking group as you walk with tissue plugs in your nostrils to stop the bleeding. You'll also learn how to stop a bloody nose. 
You will write a journal entry that includes: ..I almost choke myself on my own blood. I splutter and turn my head to keep from dying while Fiona talks about a map and a place I can't see. 

  • You may feel uncomfortable being called the non-white farang or foreigner. You will be met with incredulous looks when you answer that you are an American and you are not a Korean national. However, think of the advantages that you'll experience because you blend with the native population. You'll see and hear things that the obvious tourists won't experience.
  • Don't feel pressured to accept every invitation with the people in your tour group. Don't feel guilty about saying "no" to some invites to dine alone to process all the stimuli you've witnessed during the day. This is a good opportunity to journal.
  • Oftentimes, scary men will approach you. Some will mistake you for a sex worker because you are travelling without a male companion as a single gal. Use your voice and facial expressions to enforce your "no". The scissors that you carry in your pocket, for self defense, will not be as effective as your confident voice. Because of this trip, you will care about the victims of human trafficking. Back in the United States, you will live in cities where it will be wise to carry mace on jogs, when you are on a Girls' Night Out and to and from your parking garage at work. By that time you'll also be a green belt in Krav Maga self-defense. 
Photo Credit: BabaSteve Flicker Thailand Hilltribe

Your travel diary will include this: ..I think the moustached letch propositioned me. For 200 Baht. Hey! At first I didn't get what he meant. The friend that he was with smacked him upside the head when I showed my annoyance. Did he think to try it with me because I was the only non-white farang in the group. Probably. Rude and crude joke. 

This is how the trip might change you:

  • You will set out on this trip to Thailand as part of your anthropology college studies to experience field work living with two hilltribes. However, uou'll discover that the city violence will not spare the countryside. Don't be overly heartbroken when you see on CNN that hilltribe girls will be kidnapped to work in the sex trade by armed men from the city. All is not lost. You will meet nonprofits and friends in the state that help these children. You may be saddened by the world but don't lost hope. 
  • Don't feel bad about switching your focus to your college English journalism classes. You will become an English major and teach underserved youth for 6 years in social work nonprofits and in the ESL classroom. This will appeal to your sense of adventure though you will sacrifice income for this cause. What you witnessed at the hilltribe school of a teacher with only a fifth-grade education will stay with you forever. 
  • On a lighter note, you will crave the following foods every summer because of your Thailand trip: nutty sesame seed crepes cooked over a campfire, large pink slices of sweet-yet-bitter Thailand papayas, cilantro chicken with lemongrass, and sugar cane water box drinks. The photo above is from Open Cage Creative Commons "Thailand lunch"
I haven't traveled to Thailand for over a decade but every summer, I make sure to eat Thai food that triggers my travel memories. You can find a decent recipe for Green Papaya Salad through About.com. Unfortunately, I have been searching for 17 years and I haven't found Pad Thai close to what I ate in Thailand. 

Thankfully, Vietnamese cuisine is available in California and its flavors come close. I've discovered that some Vietnamese restaurant food tastes closer to authentic Thai food than orders at American Thai restaurants. Share your summer travel story by adding your comment below. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Upcoming Summer 2012 Travel Guides: Erica Tyler as Associate Editor

Photo Credit: SmartyGirl Associate Editor Erica Tyler

Erica Tyler is a Northern Californian transplant now residing in Orange County who used to work in research and real estate but is now focusing on writing as a career.  Erica is an avid reader and a slow runner, but she loves to try new things and thinks that we only regret the chances we don’t take.

SmartyGirl Readers, 

Please welcome Associate Editor Erica Tyler. For the next three months she will be overseeing articles in SmartyGirlEntertainment and SmartyGirlTravel. Her service trip to Nicaragua, building homes with Habitat for Humanity, is just one of the many places she has traveled. Disclosure: The Associate Editor has not received payment to endorse any company, brand, blog, travel destination or product.

Editor-in-Chief SmartyGirl Renee

What are 3 places that Erica would revisit? 

 Here's a first blog post from Erica, as our SmartyGirlTravel Guide, as a reply:

Travel can be an escape, a luxury and in many cases a necessity in order to regroup from the rigors of real life.  Yet, most of the time we focus on where we haven’t been, but what if we focus on places we’ve already gone?  If you could revisit three places, which ones would you choose?
Photo Credit: SmartyGirlTravel Erica Tyler Banana Plantation
           The three places I’d like to revisit are: 1) Granada Nicaragua, 2) Negril, Jamaica and 3) New York City-realm of Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy.   Each of these places are unique yet offer the same ability for escape, albeit in dramatically different ways.   The excitement of New York is a huge contrast to the rather laid back attitudes of Negril and Granada but it is no better or worse in terms of being able to find something fun to do.
Photo Credit: IMdb.com 30 Rock Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin
            Granada is lovely, lively, a bit rustic, and certainly moves along on its own timeframe.  Yet it is a peaceful place, particularly in the mornings when it is still quiet as everyone is sleeping in from the late night which often includes numerous people populating the streets as late as 3 A.M. with music, laughter, sometimes dancing and a copious amount of revelry and alcohol.   Yet, it is not all jovial fun; there are numerous stray dogs roaming around, strangely not in packs but they are quite a sight and take some getting used to.  Also, sit at any of the plentiful outdoor tables and you will be asked numerous times to buy something from street vendors or children who go right up to your table; most of the time they are selling pottery but in one memorable case a man had a cooler of ceviche; you learn to politely, but resolutely say no.
         This aspect of Granada is something you have to confront and accept if you are to stay there and enjoy the city and surrounding areas, because it is absolutely gorgeous and filled with natural beauty.  Mountains, lakes, warm weather and volcanoes to name just a few. 
Photo Credit: SmartyGirlTravel Erica Tyler Bird in Tree
            If you are the adventurous type, then you must take a tour of Masaya Volcano at night; the tour is a harrowing and exhilarating experience that includes a trip into a dark cave where if you are lucky and your camera flash is good enough, you can get a picture of one of the many bats residing within.  There is a local chocolate factory where you can take a class and make your own chocolate bar as well as take a tour of a cocoa and banana plantation.
Photo Credit: SmartyGirlTravel Erica Tyler Granada Chocolate Class
There is a cluster of 350 islands where you can take a tour and see the surrounding homes, birds and other natural wildlife and experience a sense of awe at the beauty and surrounding peacefulness.  Sitting in the boat, smelling the water, hearing the birds that fly gracefully overhead, your first thought will be to quit your job and take claim of one of the island homes-that is until you see the asking prices.
Photo Credit: SmartyGirl Erica Tyler Bird
            Negril, Jamaica has a gorgeous stretch of beach that looks and feels endless; once you arrive all you will want to do is listen to Bob Marley or Jimmy Buffet and relax. Numerous resorts populate the beach, but if you are able to get away from the resort and go to the Margaritaville that is right on the sand, and have a Red Stripe while sitting in a hammock looking out at the ocean, you will find yourself not thinking about anything, but sun, sand and rest.  There are merchants on the beach who will try to get you to buy things, and getting in a cab makes you want to tell the driver to go slower than 90 miles an hour, but it is still worth a visit to experience the beauty of an island that, while it does have issues with safety, can still be a lovely place to visit.
           New York, New York is a mythical place that seemingly should not be able to live up to its reputation, yet it does.  There is truly something to do there just about anytime of the day.  Ride the subway (depending on the time can be quite an adventure), getting a slice of pizza at 3am in a little shop where it’s standing room only, going to a packed club that only gets crazier as the evening progresses.  Going to central park, taking the ferry to Staten Island, visiting the Statue of Liberty, or taking in a show on Broadway-take your pick as this is just a partial list.  It’s impossible to experience everything the city has to offer in one, two or even five trips.
        Each of these three places has issues of safety and in some instances language barriers, but if you are a conscientious traveler and go with an open mind, a hidden wallet, and keep your senses you will have a wonderful experience. 

Best wishes,

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Tour South Korea: 7 Foods for Spring

Photo Credit: Flicker Open Cage Naeng Myeon
While I'm enjoying Los Angeles, with its seemingly eternal Spring, my sister is feeling chilly in South Korea. She is eagerly anticipating warmer weather in Suwon.

gochujang - red pepper paste
ddeokbokki - cylindrical rice cakes
odeng - fish cake slices
Photo Credit: Amazon.com Gochujang Pepper Paste

kimbab - Korean take on the California roll
tobiko - Japanese flying fish eggs
tang ja myeon - Korean interpretation of Chinese sweet and sour pork
jajjang myeon - black bean noodles
meaeun soon sal yang nyeom - fried boneless chicken with a sweet, spicy sauce

To keep warm, she is eating dishes spiced up with gochujang. This week she has eaten ddeokbokki with odeng. From what she relates, it seems that Korean culture includes many social activities that revolve around girlfriends exchanging small presents and treating each other to dining out. My sister's co-teachers introduced her to the food above.

Ddekbokki is often paired with mozzarella cheese and sweet potatoes.

Here is her review of the 6 other foods she has tried this week:

1. Kimbab can be okay or very good. The two types that she sampled, in a resturant near her Suwon apartment, were only fair. She doesn't plan to return to that cafe. However, she gave me a description of kimbab fillled with pork or orange-hued fish eggs. Since my sister is accustomed to fresh tobiko or masago in California, she was dissapointed by the fish egg kimbab. It didn't measure up.

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons RobotSkirts Soba Noodles
2. Naeng myeon is a cold, refreshing Spring buckwheat noodle dish with a slighty sour soup base. Since it's still winter, where she lives, few restaurants are serving this right now.

3. As an alternative to cold buckwheat noodles, she ate the hot winter dish of tang ja myeon. She says that this was pretty good and inexpensive for under $7.  Tang ja myeon is a combination of the dish tang su yok (sweet & sourpork) + jajjang myeon (black bean noodles). My Korean Kitchen gives a tutorial on Korean Black Bean Paste Noodles if you'd like to replicate this at home.

4. Meaeun Soon Sal Yang Nyeom Chicken is a deal at $6 because my sister has seen the same sweet and spicy chicken dish for $17.

5. Dried fruit and veggies at a World Mart can be delicious. She recommends the Vietnamese brand that is carried in Korea that includes a mix of jackfruit, taro, banana and sweet potato. I suggest that you can make your own baked taro chips using Tiny Urban Kitchen's recipe. If you'd like to know the difference between jackfruit and durian, Fairchild Garden is educational.

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons Michaelaion Walnut Pie
6. Cherry tarts, blueberry pastries and mini walnut pies in her new town were just fair. She doesn't plan on buying them again.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Algae Cupcakes in Suwon Gyeonggi-do Korea

Photo Credit: Flickr Nikoretro Cupcakes
My sister Sabrina accepted a new teaching contract so she from a rural area to her new school in the city. She'll be teaching 5th graders, 6th graders and one kindergarten class. This is a change from last year because she taught several classes of kindergarten and a few camps for the older students. She will do well and she's already made friends with her new co-teachers.

I asked her about new foods she's tried in South Korea and these are her top three picks for the week:

Photo Credit: Flickr Aeseiff Croissant
1. Croissants at Hello Cat Cafe
This was a fun experience for my sister because back in the United States she cared for several pets: a dog and a bunny. This cafe has cat trees for the shop's Tabby and Persian cats to climb. Sabrina was unable to discern if these cats were up for adoption or just friendly hosts to boost the ambiance of the cafe. Watch the this video for similar cat cafes in Korea.

She reported that the dining area had hand sanitizer for patrons to use after petting the friendly cafe cats. One cat pleaded for a bite of my sister's croissant but settled for being her company.My sister observed that rules for animal rights are very different from America.

Photo Credit: Flickr Alikai Tabby Cat
She doesn't want to adopt a pet in South Korea because most of them are not healthy according to American standards.

Photo Credit: Flickr  Cumi & Ciki Stacked Macaroons
2. Earl Grey Tea Macarons
Sabrina enjoyed the French-style sandwich cookie for $2.50 each. She liked the bite of the macaron, which she describes as between cake and cookie texture. She recommends the citrusy-tea flavor of the Earl Grey Tea macaron. She also tried a wasabi macaron but the wasabi bite was in the aftertaste.

3. Algae Cupcakes
My sister explored a cupcake shop with her new co-teachers. Together they shared an algae cupcake and a red velvet one. She like the algae cupcake and its green hue. Since we grew up eating seaweed snacks an algae cupcake wasn't that strange.