Travel Tales: Solvang, or The Sassy Bartender

Have you ever seen the movie Sideways?  If you haven’t, you should.  And if you don’t believe me, Rotten Tomatoes has it at 96% fresh, so… yeah.  I forgive you if you thought I was lying.  On paper, I don’t think I would like the movie.  It follows two unlikeable, middle aged men on a road trip to Central California wine country as they celebrate the last week of bachelorhood before one of them gets married.  Despite the unrelatable subject matter to me given that I’m not middle aged or about to get married, I still loved the film.  First, it’s hilarious.  I still remember watching it in a packed theater and laughing along with all the middle-aged wine aficionados surrounding me (according to some, the movie even had an effect on wine sales).  But aside from the comedy, it’s shot beautifully and really showcases Central California in a golden-hued, magical light.  Like any good travelogue-y movie, it made me want to visit.

I’ve watched a lot of movies where I wanted to visit the locations.  The Sound of Music’s Austria, Lord of the Ring’s New Zealand, Vicky Cristina Barcelona’s Spain.  I have yet to visit any of these places, but as far as Sideways went, it was just two hours north from Los Angeles.  A little easier than a twelve hour flight.  And two of my good friends who also loved the movie also wanted to visit.  So we took our own Sideways road trip, minus the mid-life crises.

We thought we were so cool.  No one could possibly have done this before.  So what if there’s a map online listing all of the Sideways locations?  This was an original road trip idea.

We stayed in Solvang at Hotel Corque.  Went on a wine tour.  It was great.  We were the only people there younger than 35-years-old, but that’s what made us trailblazers.  Then we ate at the Hitching Post, a restaurant integral to the plot of the movie.

We get seated, and who should be sitting next to us but another friend of mine from Los Angeles!  He explains he goes up here pretty often, always making sure to hit the big Sideways locations.  Great.  We’re just another group doing the same thing as everyone else.  Our feeling of lameness continued when we visited a wine bar later that night.  The female bartender gave us one look and said, “Let me guess.  You’re all from LA and came up here because of Sideways?”  Of course we lied and said that wasn’t the reason, but she knew.

We still had a good time, though.  And really, how was our Sideways road trip any different than taking a picture of the Eiffel Tower or the Sydney Opera House?  It’s what people do.  In some small way, doing the same thing as everyone else connects us together.  And what better way to feel closer to your fellow man than to get drunk in Wine Country?

Oct 2012
POSTED BY travelbugrobert

Travel Tales: My Rochester Connection, or Gym Class Flashbacks

A friend of mine was getting married in Rochester, New York.  I live in Los Angeles, California.  Luckily for me, there are these flying machines called airplanes that can take you to other parts of the world relatively quickly.  Only thing is, there are no direct flights from LA to Rochester.  I guess there aren’t enough Angelenos traveling to this northern New York city to justify direct flights.  No matter.  I book a flight to Chicago with a two hour layover, giving me plenty of time to make my connection to Rochester.  I’d arrive in Rochester in time for all of the wedding festivities.  You see where this is going.

My LA to Chicago flight gets delayed.  By two hours.  We finally arrive in Chicago, and I almost give up hope at making my connection.  And if I miss the flight, I miss all the fun activities leading up to the actual wedding (and really, that’s why people go to a wedding, am I right?).  But then I remember I have a little app on my phone that lets me check flight updates.  Sure enough, the Rochester plane was also delayed!  It still hadn’t taken off, but it was about to.  So I man up.  It’s go time.

I become “That Guy” on the plane who explains to skeptical passengers I have a connecting flight that is about to leave and I have to cut in front of them.  After many glares in the aisle, I get off the plane and run into the terminal with my rollaway carry-on and backpack.  I yell at a gate employee, like someone out of a disaster movie, “Which way to Gate 4G?!”  The woman points to the connecting terminal, probably half a mile away.  Then I start to run.  I don’t jog—I run.  I take off like I’m being tested in gym class, but now I have the added weight of my backpack, a carry-on to roll, and I’m wearing unacceptable running shoes.  If I were training for a race by adding extra weight during practice runs, this would be great.  But this isn’t practice.  This is the race.  All those gym class feelings come back.  Huffing, puffing, having to stop.  You got it, I tell myself, just a little further.

I finally make it to the gate… and the plane hasn’t departed yet!  I’m thrilled, but I’m also so winded I can’t breath.  I start coughing.  Horrible, wheezing coughing—that dry cough that hurts.  Oh man, was it bad.  And I didn’t even have the pleasure of knowing how fast I ran, like in gym.  As I walk on the plane, I try to play it cool, but the flight attendant knows something’s wrong.  Maybe it’s my beet red face and lung hacking that gives it away.  As I manage to ask for a glass of water without coughing, she hands me the entire bottle.  Score!, the frugal traveler in me thinks, That’s, like, a four dollar value!  As we take off, my wheezing and coughing continues.  I was not feeling better.  I was feeling worse.

Have you ever used a barf bag on an airplane?  I’ve never seen someone use one before, but a few Rochester passengers got to see one in action that day.  Funny, it wasn’t air sickness that did me in, it was my years of never engaging in any physical activity.  As I leaned over in my seat, taking aim in a little paper bag, I finally understood why America needs to get in shape.  It’s not to prevent diabetes or obesity.  It’s so they can make a quick flight connection without vomiting.

The Promised Land of Rochester.

Sep 2012
POSTED BY travelbugrobert

Airports, Travel Tales, USA


Travel Tales: Cedar Point, or The Loneliest Day of My Life

If you don’t live in the American Midwest, you might not have heard of Cedar Point.  It claims to the “The Best Amusement Park in the World,” but they do have an asterisk next to that statement, so even they might be unsure.  As far as roller coasters go, though, it’s hard to top Cedar Point.  For all those hardcore Coaster Peeps (I just made up that nickname—not sure what to call them), this is their Mecca.  On the website, Cedar Point ranks their coasters according to intensity, the highest level being “Aggressive Thrill.”  So, at least you know going in you’ll be physically and emotionally abused.  With names like Mean Streak and Magnum XL-200, that helps clue you in, too.  So when I was in high school looking at Midwestern colleges with my parents and I wanted to visit this “assault on your senses” theme park, I wasn’t surprised when my parents passed.  I was going to fly solo, something I had never done before in a theme park.  After what I learned that day, I vowed never to do it again.

Being a sixteen-year-old kid, at first I’m thrilled I don’t have to slow down my pace for my parents.  I’m zig-zagging through the crowds, getting to each roller coaster much quicker than I would have with adults.  But then, when I get in line for the roller coasters, I start to realize how boring it is to be in a theme park by yourself.  You have no one to talk to when waiting in line, and waiting in line takes up the majority of your day.  The groups in front of and behind me in the lines are having a blast talking about all the fun stuff they’re going to do, couples are engaging in disgusting Public Displays of Affection, and here I am just standing there.  And this was before smart phones, mind you, so I couldn’t even read the news or play a game as I waited.  I think some famous writer once said you can be surrounded by people but still feel alone.  I don’t know who said that, but it’s true.

So the day keeps going the same way, me getting in line alone and riding a roller coaster.  At one point, I go to one of those “Guess My Weight” games and win a teddy bear.  A cute, very furry, teddy bear.  I think, “This’ll be a great present for my mom” (I’m adorable, I know).  But what I don’t consider is now I have to carry around basically an itchy sweater on a 90 degree, humid, July day.  But I carry it around nonetheless, because I’m a good son (I’m really adorable).

It’s getting to be closing time, and I decide to treat myself to a frozen yogurt waffle cone.  Why not?  I deserve it.  I managed to get through a day without talking to anyone.  To a sixteen-year-old, that’s worth a frozen yogurt.  I get my waffle cone and sit down at an empty table with my teddy bear.  As I start eating, I notice two cute teenage girls looking my way.

TEENAGE GIRL 1:  Aww, look at that teddy bear!
TEENAGE GIRL 2:  I want one of those!

Now, me being a post-pubescent boy, I want to respond to these potential girlfriends of mine.  I want to tell them in a Fonzie-type way exactly where they could get the teddy bear and maybe see if they want to go on a few rides together.  But, I hadn’t talked to anyone the entire day, and adding in my excitement of talking to girls, this is what came out:

ME: T—teddy bear?  Yeah, I got—I got teddy bear over there!  Guess My Weight.  I won Guess My Weight!

The girls look at me—this boy eating a massive waffle cone alone, holding a teddy bear, probably with frozen yogurt on his face—and think the only thing they could think: I am mentally challenged.  They smile politely and speak in that condescending tone people use when addressing children.

TEENAGE GIRL 2:  Thank you.

I knew asking if they wanted to ride a roller coaster with me was out of the question.

So, yeah.  Not gonna do that again.

Sep 2012
POSTED BY travelbugrobert

Midwest, Travel Tales, USA