a london arrival

This summer I spent a good bit of time in London.  I went abroad from June 10th to July 24th and spent time in London, Malaga, and various parts of Italy.  At just over six weeks, this was my longest trip yet (outside of my time spent studying abroad).

I used London as my launching point. I started there, and spent almost two weeks there before going on a vacation-within-a-vacation to Malaga, Spain. I returned to London, and met up with my sister, Melody, for a sisterly adventure in Italy. We returned one more time to London to spend a few more days before flying home at the end of July.

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A typically cloudy London day in June, by the Thames.

I also used London as my Hemmingway-esque retreat.  I sequestered myself away in the anonymity of travel with the hopes of finishing the first draft of my first full length novel.  I was successful, and Book One of Katerina Fairy’s story is officially underway.

But despite the lofty writing goal, I managed to find time to explore London a bit. I won’t say I’d be comfortable calling it home yet, there’s far too much to see and explore in a few short weeks, but I’m confident I was able to scratch the surface and taste a hint of everything that incredible city has to offer.

I thought about writing one mega-post about my time there, but quickly decided that that route would neither do justice to the city, nor be entertaining and manageable for you, dear readers. So instead, I’ve broken it down into a series of posts.  This week I’ll talk about arrival at Heathrow Airport, the public transportation system, and general getting around and getting settled tips and tricks. In the following weeks I’ll explore the different neighborhoods and parks I frequented; the museums, marketplaces, and entertainment I enjoyed; my favorite bars (tough choice I know!); and my favorite eateries. If you’re considering a trip to London, or you’ve already been and just want to compare notes, please read on! I’d love to hear your favorite places too, so I can start my list of places to see for the next time I’m in The City.

So, arrival. I have found that whether I am coming from across the ocean, or just one country away, getting through Passport Control at Heathrow Airport can be atrocious. I have never gotten through in under an hour and most times it has been closer to a three hour process.  It’s not that the process itself takes that long; a couple of questions, some proof of intention, and a stamp in your passport and you’re on your way. But the line has always been demoralizingly long. So, of these settling in tips, Tip #1 is pee before you get in line.  Get off that plane and find a restroom near your gate. Don’t think you can make it to baggage and be happy about it. Tip #2 is add three hours to your travel time before making any plans for the evening of your arrival.  If you land at noon, don’t think you’ll meet your mates at the pub for a pint, or collect your key from your AirBNB host by 2:00 or even 3:00 pm. Maybe 4:00 pm if you’re lucky.

Once you’ve passed Passport Control, congratulations! You’re officially in London! Your next step is to get to your lodging and drop your bags.  If you are traveling with too much to travel comfortably by yourself, make your way to the taxi pick up station, hop into a famous Black Taxi, and be on your way.

If you travel light, like I often do, taking London’s incredible public transportation system is a convenient and far less expensive option.  There’s a tube station right in the airport.  At the station, pick up an Oyster card.

Oyster cards are a refillable payment card useable on all public transportation options in London. We’re talking the Tube, the Overground, busses, trams, and most National Rail Services.  The card costs something like £10 to buy, but it’s a deposit you can get back at the end of your trip if you return your Oyster card.  Put enough money on it for it to be convenient, but don’t go loading your whole trip’s public transportation budget on there all at once.  If you loose that card, its like cash- i’s gone and lost.  If you register the card there is a little more account security, and balances can be transferred to an new card. But if you aren’t there long, and don’t bother registering it, you’ll feel the sting when a £10 card with £30 in travel funds on it falls out of your pocket in the middle of the street. So Tip #3 is Get an Oyster card, but don’t keep more than £15 on it at a time. Thats more than enough for a day or two of public transport travel. Especially since the city has this great capping system where after a certain point, any future journeys in a given day are free. Learn more at the Oyster Card Website. You can top off the cards at any tube station.  You can’t add more funds on a bus, but if you get on a bus with insufficient funds they give you one courtesy security ride, putting you in the negative, which will be repaid when you next top off funds.

So, Oyster card in hand, you climb into the next Tube car that arrives, grab a seat, and make your way to your new temporary home. This time I stayed in AirBNBs and CouchSurfed, but we’ll talk more about lodging and London neighborhoods next week.

Once you’ve checked in and dropped your bags, its time to begin exploring! A great way to explore the city is by riding the infamous red double decker busses.  Each ride is only £1.50, and the network of busses canvasses much of the city above ground; giving you a better chance to learn the layout of your new neighborhood than you might get if you only ever ride the Tube underground. That’s why Tip #4 is Tour the City from the Top of the Double Decker Busses! If you have the time and the patience, hop on a bus and just see where it goes. You might find your new favorite restaurant, park, shops, or bar that way.

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How will you find awesome street art like this happy octopus in a bowler hat drinking a pint if you don’t ride random red busses around the city?

From here, get to call the shots. What do you want to see? Do? Explore? Discover?

From history and the classics, to modern art, to art so modern its still underground, you’ll find it in London.  Which is why my Tip #5 is See the Big Sights, but Don’t Stop There.  London is so much more than Big Ben and Buckingham Palace. There are museums, and marketplaces, gardens and theatre, concerts, bars, restaurants, clubs, and more.

So, go explore!

And check back in next week for some of my favorites in art, culture, cuisine, and architecture shrouded by the London Fog and waiting to be discovered.

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306545_10100339996775636_297841040_nHave you ever had the urge to just drop what you were doing, pack a bag, and set out on an adventure? Seven years and over two dozen countries later, Aeri Rose is proof that excitement, independence, and discovery await those who are bold enough to say “yes” to life’s craziest choices. When not exploring the world with her little grey backpack, Aeri Rose an be found living a nomadic lifestyle traveling the United States as a writer and entrepreneur.  To follow Aeri on all her adventures, check her out online at travelingwithaeri.com, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/aerirose, and on Instagram @travelingwithaeri.

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so here’s the plan…

Remember those pesky details I mentioned in the last post? Well, it seems that details spawn faster than the Easter bunny’s slutty cousins in the spring.  Cause boy oh boy is it going to be a crazy summer for me.  Wanna hear all the details so far?

Well you better, cause I want to tell you! If you don’t I guess you could just stop reading. Go away!

Still here? Awesome.

So.

Right now I am in Waxahachie, Texas.  I got here about a week and a half ago after a hastily, though skillfully, completed pack down in Arizona.  Here, I quickly moved into the super wonderful booth I am renting for the season and prepared for opening weekend of Scarborough Faire.  I do love the booth. I’m rather proud of it, honestly.  The clothing racks are curvy branches and really give the shop an organic flow.  And I put them up myself. With a power drill!  The skirts look colorful and wonderful hanging on them. Roxanne and I have had a great time playing fairy, and I have every confidence that she will be awesome when I have to drive away and leave her in charge of things.

Look at my racks!
Look at my racks!
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Aeri Rose, Scarborough 2014

So when am I driving away and leaving her in charge of things? In two days. Aah!!

On Sunday afternoon I will climb back in to Shelly the Sportvan, who is currently full of everything I’ll need to set up a booth at the Virginia Renaissance Festival and all of the things I hopefully will not need when I return to Scarborough at the end of this mad adventure.

After I climb into Shelly and turn her on I will proceed to drive from Waxahachie, TX to Denton, MD- approximately 1500 miles and/or 22 hours of straight driving.  I will need to do that drive within 48 hours in order to catch a flight to Italy from Dulles Airport by 11:00 pm Tuesday night.  I am hoping to do it in about 30 hours, leaving me “plenty” of time to catch up on necessary things like renewing my business license and/or sleeping.

So I climb on the airplane and delight in the ability to sleep, or read, or do anything other than pay attention to where I am going.  Ten hours and fifteen minutes later I land in Istanbul, Turkey where I will probably try to go explore  the city for a bit if they will let me out of the airport. I have a heinous 24 hour lay over after all.  I am certainly not spending all that time staring at other bleary-eyed travelers near Gate B30 of the Ataturk International Airport.

Anyway. So flight to Turkey. Mini Turkish Adventure. Short flight from Istanbul to Rome. Hopefully manageable navigation of customs, etc. Catch commuter train from Airport to Termini Station. Catch 10:30 pm train from Rome to Cefalu, Sicily. Enjoy train ride down Italian coast and Train ON A FERRY ride across the bit of water separating Sicily and Italy.  Get to Cefalu. Get picked up by family in Cefalu.  Yay family!

Operation: Crazy Family in Sicily Adventure begins. Yippie!

Operation: Crazy Family in Sicily Adventure ends. Boo!

Return to Annapolis again via heinous Istanbul layover. Return the evening of May 1st.  Sleep, or something.

May 2nd I drive out to the Virginia Faire Site near Lake Anna and meet up with Team Wonder-Fairy to set up our booth.

After that it starts to slow down. I just have a wedding on the west coast to catch, and to get back to Scarborough for the end of the faire. And then get back to Virginia. Somehow. Even though I’m probably leaving Shelly with the Wonder-Fairies to use as a safe and dry storage spot. And then there are some more shows and festivals along the east coast I might do. Or maybe I’ll be running out to help in Colorado.  Or maybe back to Italy with my sister.

Who knows!

I’ll be somewhere on the planet. That’s good enough for me!

Bring it on summer! I have caffeine and glitter! I’m not afraid of you!

Wonder-Fairies Unite!
Wonder-Fairies Unite!

 

Wish me luck and stay tuned for updates, mishaps, adventures, and mushrooms! Mushrooms? Sure, why not?

 

With Love,

~Aeri

traveling like a vacationer

I make a great traveler. I make a terrible vacationer.  If this is what planning a trip feels like for most people, than I don’t blame them for not traveling very often.  I had no idea. Honestly.

This April my mother (blessed saint that she is) is taking her husband, Jeff, and my Grandma, Anna, to San Ambrosio, Italy, to visit our Sicilian Family.  (On a side note there seem to be an excessive amount of commas in that sentence but I can’t seem to ditch any of them.)

They all really hoped I could come along.  I really hoped I could too.  At first I thought I couldn’t. April is a busy month for me, because I am a vendor at the Scarborough Renaissance Festival.  Last year I ran the tent by myself and barely had a helper to take a pee break, let alone an epic international family adventure. But through a clever and convenient series of events it seems I actually WILL have the opportunity to go with them.  I have a great employee whom I am fully confident in leaving alone for extended pee breaks, and even for epic international family adventures.  And I have a booth. With real walls and a real roof under which my awesome employee can work with ease.

So with excitement and a slight feeling that I was somehow playing hooky, I visited my trusty travel site, Kayak.com, and began searching through options.

My initial instinct was to drive up from Texas to Maryland and fly from Dulles International Airport. Mostly because I was going to be vending at a Renaissance Festival in Virginia in May and it was a good excuse to drive the tent and some stock up early.  It also seemed to work out because flights from D.C. to Rome were the cheapest I’d seen (around $850).  But then I really started to think about the details.  Details”, I am learning, are a traveler’s worst nightmare. The more needy, clingy, bossy “details” you have to entertain, the more stressful and less pleasant travel seems to become.

First there was the details of timing.  My flights weren’t on the exact same days as the rest of my family’s because I needed to leave time for the drive north and I wanted to try to be away from the festival in Texas for as few weekends as possible.  But once I factored in flight time, lay overs, and extra time spent taking the train from Rome to Cefalu (the nearest train stop to my Sicilian Family’s tiny village of San Ambrosio), I realized that I would only really have 5 days in Sicily at the same time as my family.

Back to the drawing board.

It was right about this time that I realized how many more details were secretly latched onto my first “traveling as a business professional trying to fit in a little family vacation time” trip.  Like tiny leeches you don’t notice at first, suddenly these details had gorged themselves on my stress and grown to massive pulsing blood thirsty little buggers.

There were departure times to consider.  If I flew from Dallas instead of D.C. I could cut out the drive north and depart a few days earlier…but then who could take me to the airport?

There were arrival times to consider. If I flew directly into Palermo instead of Rome I could cut out the extra time on the train up and down the Italian coast. But it was still a two hour drive/train ride to Cefalu where my Sicilian Family could pick me up in the car.  But that meant an arrival time that allowed time to take a bus to the train station and catch a train…that arrived at a reasonable time for a “young girl” traveling alone to arrive.  Similarly, all flights home from Palermo seemed to leave at 6:00 am, which would require taking the train into the city the night before. I felt a headache beginning to throb just thinking about trying to convince my Sicilian Family to let me spend a night in The Big Scary City all alone.

Let me catch you up to speed. In 2006 (2007 maybe?) I visited San Ambrosio by myself.  And when I left, my Uncle Sarro somehow got a hold of my mom’s work number and called her to find out why she hadn’t called yet to tell them I had arrived at home safely.  She hadn’t called yet because I was still in the air! They miscounted the time difference and literally expected me to arrive home before I was physically capable of doing so.  I can only imagine how much they worried (needlessly of course, but worry and guilt are an Italian’s greatest talents) while I traveled that time, and how much more they would worry with every step that kept me alone and in transit this time. Explain to them that I had traversed continents alone with nothing but a backpack and, well, a backpack? No. NOPE. Not even going to go near that with a 10 foot pole wrapped in rosaries.

Convincing them to “let me” fly in and out of Rome instead of Palermo and take the train in and out of Cefalu was a fight I was leaving to my mother. (Did I mention she was a saint?)

What blood thirsty details am I leaving out? Train time tables, hotel and hostel reservations probably, my awesome employee and her sufficient stock of inventory, oh right and price.  Flying DC to Rome was coming in at $850 or so, where as flying Dallas to Palermo was coming in at around $1400.  And that wasn’t even for a great flight that kicked all those other nagging details to the curb.

ARGH! Is this how hard it is to plan a trip for a vacationer? I like the trips when all I need to know are sort of kind of the days I have free, a starting point, and and ending point.  I now truly appreciate the family that has gotten used to me coming and going, and at this point just hopes for a list of addresses and a copy of my passport.  I will never snicker at those I consider homebodies when they admit they’d rather just stay home and relax when they have holiday time off from work.  If THIS is the gauntlet they have to fight through just to get on the plane than I really don’t blame them.

I still don’t know what flight I’ll end up on. I know I have to book something soon. I’d just like to throw a tantrum a little longer first.

With grumbles and pouts,

Aeri

shelly the sportvan gets a makeover

Some projects grow. Some projects spiral out of control.  Some projects implode and some explode.  This is the story of Shelly the Sportvan, and the Great Makeover of 2013.

Shelly is a 1994 Chevrolet Sportvan that I picked up in Texas last May.  Here she is the first week I got her.

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Almost as soon as we became partners I knew that she would need to be painted. I mean come on, if I’m going to travel the country in a Big Van, I really should travel the country in a BIG AMAZING HIPPIE VAN.  It is really the only reasonable thing to do.

So this December I decided to begin painting her.  I wanted to break the ice, but start small, so I decided to paint the website on each side.  One side would say “travelingwithaeri.com” and the other side would say both “travelingwithaeri.com” and “Living the Fairy Life.”  Nothing too extravagant yet.

So I painted one side.

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The next day I painted the other side.  While I was out in the drive working, my friend Fix-It Fabian wanted to look at a few things for me: a squeaky break, a whiny belt, and a temperamental break light.

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And that’s when things got interesting.  The whiny belt was actually an alternator with worn bearings that needed to be replaced. Fix It Fabian! The temperamental break light was the result of some faulty wiring that kept shorting itself out instead of grounding properly.  To fix that Fabian would need to get behind the inside panels.  Which meant completely unloading everything, taking out a platform, and taking out some panels.  Well, I had always planned on remodeling the inside, and getting rid of all the boring beige everything.  So if we were unloading things for one project I said alright then lets unload Everything, lets take out ALL the panels and lets redecorate!

I am pretty sure this is when Fix-It Fabian was wondering what he had gotten himself into.  Yup, I ate up almost all of his week of holiday vacation playing in the front yard and remodeling Shelly. Here are some photos of the process.

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Gut the interior
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Paint the panels green
Custom light covers you say?
Custom light covers you say?

Honestly, I had a great time with the project. It was one of the most fun and relaxing Christmases I’ve ever had, and the time Fabian spent helping me make Shelly so beautiful was really one of the best gifts I’ve ever gotten.  We enjoyed our success for a day or two, but then I had to put Shelly back to work and load her up.  What a happy, full, and beautiful travel partner she has become.

An empty Shelly
An empty Shelly
New Lights! They even have a LIGHT SWITCH to turn them on and off!
New Lights! They even have a LIGHT SWITCH to turn them on and off!
My traveling living room
My traveling living room
I love my new fabrics, colors, and lights
I love my new fabrics, colors, and lights

Love from the Road,

Aeri

 

 

 

 

 

moccasisters unite

My goodness has it been a crazy couple of weeks, and the craziness just does not show signs of stopping. So here it is, the grand update on what has happened and what (theoretically planned as of now) will happen for the rest of the summer and into the fall.  When you can’t remember where I am…just refer to this here post and you might get a bit of a hint.
So, what has happened?  Things were cruising along fine ready for a standard rennie summer as of about two weeks ago.  Then my dear friend (she’s like a second mother) and owner of Medieval Moccasins was told that she had a pancreatic tumor.  We are still waiting to hear just how serious the treatment will be, but regardless, the news drastically and instantly changed the mood and plans for the whole Medieval Moccasins Clan (that means me too).
We decided that Chela, the daughter and partner owner of Medieval Moccasins, would stay home in Texas for the summer rather than take to the road on their summer show schedule so that a) she could be close to her mom and b) she could continue to keep up with production in their home workshop. I would fill Chela’s shoes for the summer, taking the stock and supplies on the road.
So I flew to Texas to pick up their Sprinter van full of shoes and foot stools and tenty things and took to the road, mostly excited to have three days to do the journey I had only recently completed in 24 hrs in the mad dash to get my own van and stuff up to Virginia in time for THAT show.  The first day of travel was long but uneventful.  I realized I would be passing through Memphis, TN around lunchtime the next day and made plans with a childhood friend to meet for lunch.
I never made it to lunch.
About 20 miles outside of Memphis (Arkansas side) the Sprinter made a sudden clunk, and lost all power and acceleration. I managed to coast off the nearest exit and into an Exxon parking lot.  The Sprincess would not turn back on.  The usual AAA call and wait followed.  I was towed to a nearby Dodge dealership that has been wonderfully helpful in this whole situation.  They rushed the sprinter to the front of the line and began diagnosing it.  Basically what happened was the dealership in Texas where the sprinter had recently (like a week ago) been taken for a new transmission just didn’t put the transmission in right.  So it fell out. And cracked nearly everything in the engine bay around it while it did so.  We are STILL not sure when it will be fixed- at least a week from now they estimate.
So that left me stranded in Memphis with no vehicle, all the stock, and a show to get to by Saturday morning.  One rented and loaded UHaul cargo van later and I was back on the road…only 24 hours behind schedule.  So much for my leisurely drive north.  I now had to make yet another mad dash through the night to get to Celtic Fling early enough on Friday to set up before the Friday night concert started.  I drove from 4:00 pm Thursday until 2:00 am, slept until dawn sprawled across the front bucket seats and my backpack, and then kept driving until 2:00 pm Friday with barely a pause to refuel on gasoline and coffee.  But I made it! And with my Wonder Twin Janeen we were set up in a record breaking 2.5 hours. Before Dark!
We went on to have a record breaking weekend, beating the previous top year by almost 20%. Thank goodness!  We tore down Sunday night, ahead of the threatening thunderstorms and crawled back to the hotel for the night.  I’ve accepted my +1 in Logistics Management and +3 in Crisis Management, and am reveling in my new level up to Super Gypsy status.
Now I am home in Annapolis for a few days, and we think that this is the plan moving forward:
I’m going to keep the Uhaul through the weekend to get up to Connecticut and set up there.  By next week the Sprinter should (oh please!) be repaired and ready to be picked up. Also by next week my own van should be road worthy again (after getting back to Maryland from Texas I had to bring it in for a Maryland inspection and have the subsequent necessary repairs done. I also had to clear up a little bureaucratic nonsense surrounding the title and that should be resolved by the end of this week I hope.  But of course it had to be problematic NOW).
I’ll drive down from CT with the Uhaul and meet the Texas driver in MD.  I’ll send them on their way with Ace as a traveling companion.  Ace, my husky, will be spending a much less chaotic summer with the Med Mocs Clan in Texas and I will met him there in the fall.  The Uhaul will be returned to Memphis and the Sprinter picked up and taken back to Texas.
I will go back to CT (we are talking July 5th-ish by this point) for the last weekend there, now loaded into my Van.  From Connecticut I’ll go to Sterling in Upstate NY for one weekend before heading west to Pennsylvania again for Pennsic War.  After two weeks of Pennsic War I say good bye to my responsibility over the moccasin stock.  It will head to Maryland to await the opening of the Maryland Renaissance Festival. Meanwhile I will go back to complete the Sterling Faire in NY as a manager for Myles Tonne Leather (Clothing this time).
I will make it back to Maryland just in time for that show where I’ll be working for Unicorn Clothing.  Maryland is open from the end of August until the end of October.   When it is over I’ll pack up the rest of my life possessions, reload the moccasin stock into my van, and make the trek back to Texas. I’ll return the shoes and camp out in Toon Town while I work at the Texas Renaissance Festival until the first week of December.
This winter I will be staying in Texas with the Moccasin Clan in San Marcos.  There is little point in driving back to MD after all that when I have to be in Arizona by the first week of February anyway.
So yeah. That’s where I’ve been and where I’ll be going for the rest of the year.  It is crazy, I know, but baring any more exploding transmissions it should all work out.
That does mean though that I’ve decided to sell my second car, the cute little BMW I picked up about a year ago.  It is a 1984 318i: 2 door, dark blue, sun roof, manual transmission (kind of persnickety though I’ll be honest).  I bought it for $1500 and haven’t put any work into her.  KBB puts her at $1900 even in the state she’s in, but I’d just like to get the $1500 back, or close to it. There’s just no point in keeping her if I never ever get to drive her.  If you are interested or know anyone who is…please send them my way!
Now, I’m going to go take a nap. I think I deserve one.
Much Love,
Aeri

Spark(ly) Notes: Aeri Rose in 2013

My goodness it has been a while since my last post! Almost four months, two states, and two shows since my last post in fact.  Being the lead fairy of a costume boutique is hard work!

But so much has happened! I will try to catch you up.  First, the Spark(ly) Notes:

– Adopted by Ace

– Drove to Arizona and opened the Arizona Renaissance Festival

– Was accepted to vend at Scarborough Renaissance Festival

– Sold Alice

– Drove to Texas and opened Scarborough Faire

-Schmooze with Travel Chanel Team

– Road trip to New Orleans

– Bought a Van

– Was accepted to vend at the Virginia Renaissance Festival

– Survived exploding fertilizer plants and rouge Tornados

I think that’s all. That’s enough right? I’m sure some of those sparkly notes have you saying “excuse me what?!”  and I promise they are all as silly and exciting as they sound.

So to begin, at the beginning, which is often a good place to start.  Except when the end seems like a good place to start. So long as working backwards is an alright thing for you to do. But I digress.

In January I arrived in Santa Barbara and spent two weeks with Teri Evans, owner of Unicorn Clothing, in her workshop. While there I learned that Ace needed a home. Ace was a six month old Siberian Husky that was adopted by Teri’s neighbors as a puppy.  Only after adopting him did they learn that their landlord did not allow dogs.  Not the  best order of things to be sure.  So poor Ace was faced with a tough decision: the pound, or me,  He chose me! And so two weeks later, into the Jeep he climbed, and away to Arizona we did go.

Ace is the beast up front. Lucy, my Dad's little lady, is in the back.
Ace is the beast up front. Lucy, my Dad’s little lady, is in the back.

In Arizona we had the exciting task of opening a new booth for Unicorn Clothing.  And I got the exciting information that Reincarnation Outfitters had been accepted to vend at Scarborough Renaissance Festival, in Texas in April and May.  And I sold Alice, my Jeep Cherokee, to my good friends Alex and Stephanie.  With not a few tears I said good bye to my loyal road companion and went from “Has It Together Hippie” to “Irresponsible Road Rennie”.  On the road, with a large dog and a business’s supply of inventory and no way of transporting it.  Yikes!

Operation: [Learn how to] Ask For Help was in full effect.  And I have to say it was a good lesson for me.  After spending the full run of Arizona steadily sewing skirts, making tutus, and preparing for the show; it was finally time to hit the road to Texas as the grateful passengers to Repo and Shadow.  Ace was an AMAZING road dog, incredibly patient and calm for the 20 hour road trip ahead of us.  Repo and Shadow were entertaining travel company and Repo’s van did a decent job of getting us to our destination.  It willingly humored our midnight departure and my through the night shift as driver.  It patiently weathered the hail and freezing rain that met us over the Texas border.  And it finally gave up with a cough when we cracked a radiator hose.  Luckily Shadow and some gaffing tape came to the rescue.

Pulling onto site the next morning, I was instantly faced with the next adventure: Set Up Camp.  Yes, I would be CAMPING at the show this year. I hadn’t had to CAMP at a festival since 2009 and I was feeling very uncertain of my memory and skills regarding such an activity.  Could I still put up a decent shade/weather tarp? What about platforms. What about lights? God I didn’t even have a KNIFE with me. How unprepared could I be?

But again, thanks to the success of Operation: Ask For Help and the local Wallyworld I soon had a cozy camp established.  And I have to say, after countless storms, and tornado threats (keep reading!) I am pretty damn proud of my Tarpentry skills.  Not a single unwanted drop has entered my tent.  Well, maybe five unwanted drops found coming through a hole in the tarp; a hole quickly defeated by a sliding a trash bag in between the tarp and the tent’s rain fly.

"Abstract Roofentry"
“Abstract Roofentry”

Cold nights forced me to warily grant Ace tent privileges, an honor he me with surprisingly good behavior.  What a cuddle butt he is.   But I knew the cool days and cold nights would not last.  Soon the Texas heat would descend: 90 degree days with 90% humidity and no where to hide from it.  But luckily I had a plan.

Ale, my adventurous step-mom, was going to be meeting me in New Orleans after the second weekend of the show to deliver the inventory I had stored in Maryland.  She took Ace home with  her to spend time as a house dog, complete with a yard to run in and air condition to hide in.  New Orleans was New Orleans.  Repo, loyal road dog himself, came with me for the adventure and a chance to see The Big Easy for himself.  New Orleans is great. Every time I go I tell myself, “Self. You need to live here one day. You really do.”

This time was no different. We three wandered the city by night, exploring streets with music pouring out of dodgy bars and lit by real gas lights on the corners.  In the morning we ate beignets and drank chicory root coffee and hit the road home by the afternoon.  I got to introduce another road connoisseur to some of my favorite roads in the country: the beauty of I-10 as it spans the swamps outside of the city.

First Faire Booth!
First Faire Booth!

Back in Texas things seemed to settle down. Sort of.  Each weekend was a whirlwind of tutus, and hula hoops.  Each week was filled with tutu production, dance parties and concerts, and other standard Scarborough Fare.  Pun intended. The highlight of the season was again the Naughty Clown Party. The Naughty Clown is an annual show hosted by the resident clowns.  It began as a chance for the clowns to get out some of the naughty jokes they just can’t use on the kiddies during the weekend.  It has since grown into the most stunning display of talent on the circuit.  Performers and those who don’t perform professional but sure as hell could if they wanted to put on acts of such beauty and skill that it makes you cry out of joy and love and respect for our amazing community.  Those of us in the audience are just as enthusiastic, dressing to the nines- or the sixty-nines as the case may be- in our best naughty clown attire.  This year I wore a rainbow.  That’s what it felt like anyway, an accurate description do you think?

20130514_210751
Dudes in Drag: Another Naughty Clown Tradition!
Dress like you love yourself!
Dress like you love yourself!

One weekend the Travel Channel was on site filming for a new show about fan culture. The renaissance festivals, with their playtrons, comicon fans, and authentic hobbits, was a wealth of footage I am sure.  And of course I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to talk to someone from the TRAVEL CHANNEL!   I couldn’t leave my booth to find them, sadly, so I planned- and pounced! I sent a flower with a message something along the lines of this: “No festival experience is complete without feeling the excited delight of being told you’ve been sent a flower. But there is no blushing admirer at the other end of this bloom. Only an enterprising fairy who hopes you’ll stop by her booth to hear some tales of travel and adventure, glitter and angels.” I sent it with the flower girl with instructions to give the flower and the not to “the most important looking crew guy”, and it worked! The next morning someone came by and we  chatted and I told him about this here blog and gave him my card and I hope hope HOPE that someone from the TRAVEL CHANNEL is reading this blog! What do you think? Would you watch a show about a backpacking fairy? Wouldya?

Whew!

Somewhere in all that merriment I managed to find my new road vehicle.  A 1994 Chevrolet Sportvan…the kind of van that the Mystery Machine was drawn to resemble.  I am going to paint the sh*t out of that van! No white space will be left unadorned.  The Era of the Van has begun.  I LOVE IT! Lets just hope she is as loyal as Alice was.  Her first big test is coming up in less than two weeks when we make another mad dash north.  I’ll have four days to tear down in Texas, drive north, and set up in Virginia.  Wahoo!! Coffee please!

The new Van. Name still Needed!
The new Van. Name still Needed!

And there you have it.  An update on the life of Aeri the Traveling Fairy.  I promise I’ll try to keep on top of it this spring!

Much Love! I’ll be back soon!

Aeri

home sweet home?

For my next trick, I’ll be taking you on a bit of a different kind of adventure. Things have been going pretty well for my costume boutique, Reincarnation Outfitters, and it’s time to consider some permanent (sort of) display space.  Up until now we’ve worked mostly out of a 10 x 10 easy up, which happened to blow away and turn itself into a taco/squished spider at our last event (Pennsic War, if you were wondering).

Do not neglect to stake and weight your easy-ups as soon as you put them up. They are easy-downs too. And easy-cartwheel-across-the-fields.

We still used it, don’t worry! But it forced us to consider the image we were sending by working with such a standard piece of equipment.  Most of the well traveled professionals use beautiful, sturdy, canvas and wood beam tents. Tents that run upwards of $3,000 and require the strength of several strong men to set up and take down.

You may have noticed, I am not a strong man.  Nor are there several of me.  So while I knew these beautiful Panther Tents were an option, I just didn’t think they were the option for me.

What I did think was-  Gypsy Wagon!!!!

Here’s an example of how cute they can be!

Officially termed “vardo” by the Romani who adopted them, these colorful, sturdy, wagons were used by the traveler cultures in the 1900’s.  But even before that, French circus folk used them in the early 1800’s. It is where they lived, set up stages, and sold their wares.  Now that is something I think I can get into!

The more I thought about it, the better it sounded. I talked to my Stepfather (Jeff), an extremely skilled carpenter; and he had even more ideas than I did. But between the two of us we agreed: a vardo is just what I need.

We will build one with a living space and storage spaces inside, and a false wall along one side that can open up into a sizeable display space with clothing racks and shelves.  I could set it up by myself, it wouldn’t blow away in a storm, and a retractable awning could provide additional coverage on rainy days.

With the winter almost upon us, I have landed at home with almost four months before I hit the road again. A lifetime by traveler standards.  So this winter, follow along as we build a colorful home for a fickle fairy artist like myself.

Tataa!

~Aeri

the border crossing, read at your own risk

Here is the second of my notebook posts. This one was written on September 26, 2012.  Warning: Concerned parents and friends, this might be one of those stories you don’t want to know about.  It happened, it was probably the result of a stupid decision sometime before, but we made it out OK, so don’t  give me any flack for it! Continue at your own risk.

“On the morning of the 22nd we were still in Listvyanka.  We knew that we had to get to Ulaan Baatar, in Mongolia, by the morning of the 24th, so that we could go on an orientation with the Ger to Ger organization before our scheduled trek into the Gobi on the 25th.

To get there we had heard about several options, all involving a return to Irkutsk.  Listvyanka was so small that the only way into and out of it, for travelers, was via marshrutka to Irkutsk, or via a ferry across the river to the almost as tiny Port Baikal. We felt like the three bears deciding between our next travel step, and hoping there was no big bad wolf lying in wait.

The first option, Option A, involved a thirty-three hour overnight train from Irkutsk to Ulaan Baatar.  There was no plascarte (third class) option on this train and second class was running a bit above our budget.  Also, the time spent on the train skirting around the western and southern edges of Lake Baikal is one of the prettiest parts of the trip and not to be passed in the dark.  So we nixed option A.

Option B was pretty nice.  For $33.00 you take a seven hour train from Irkutsk to Ulan-Ude, and then for $50.00 you take an 11 hour coach bus from Ulan-Ude to Ulaan Baatar.  The whole bus crosses the border together.  This is the option we decided on.  It was relatively inexpensive, gave us a day trip around the lake, and got us to Ulaan Baatar on time.

Option C was described as the adventurous option.  The “off the beaten path” option. Take the same $33.00 train from Irkutsk to Ulan-Ude.  From Ulan-Ude, take a marshrutka to the Russian border town Kyakhta (Кяхта).  There, hitch a ride across the border, since walking across is not allowed. The going rate is 100 Rub in a marshrutka, 200 Rub in a taxi, or 250 Rub in a private car.  “It  happens pretty regularly, don’t worry,” we were told.  Once over the border, take another minibus to Mongolia’s closest town; where you’ll pick up the coach bus there for the remaining five hour journey into Ulaan Baatar.  Needless to say, we were not feeling the need to take this risky route just to prove ourselves to the world.  And needless to say, the universe had other ideas.
We started out alright.  We left Listvyanka on the first marshrutka out on the morning of the 22nd.  The night before, we had purchased third class train tickets from Irkutsk to Ulan-Ude on the 10:00 am train on the 22nd.  Our minibus arrived in Irkutsk by 9:10 am, and a tram had us at the train station by 9:30 am.  I even had time to mail a few more postcards before we hopped on the train.  And despite the crying babies, dirty diaper, and crusty “4 days in” travelers in plascarte, we really enjoyed the ride- applauding ourselves mightily for deciding to make this leg of the trek during the day.

Skirting the lake, view through a dirty plascarte train window.

We arrived at our hostel around dusk, and even before our packs hit the floor, we asked to buy bus tickets to Ulaan Baatar for the next morning . “Uh Oh” said the girl at the Ulan-Ude Guest House.  “I can try, but they might be sold out by now.”

“Uh oh!” we said.  No one mentioned that possibility.  Of course, the tickets were sold out.  Did we want to get tickets for the day after? “We just couldn’t!” we said “We have to get to the Steppes! Tell us about this other way.” we said, and they did.  We’ll try it, we decided.

So early the next morning we made our way to the bus station to pick up a minibus to the border for 300 Rub (about $10).  It left at 9:00 am, stopped for a bathroom break and to change a flat tire at 11:00 am, and had us to Kyakhta by 12:30.  There, we were swarmed by cabbies offering to take us to the border for 200 Rub.  “Over the border?” we asked.  “No, to the border” they said.

We were getting no where with them when a guy with two suitcases and a Mongolian passport told us he was going to Ulaan Baatar too, and we could follow him.  I’m paraphrasing of course.  What he really did was wave his Mongolian passport at us and point to it.  We could share his taxi for 100 Rub each (traced on his palm with his finger) and he would get us across.  And so we met our mute Mongolian Travel Angel.  We could not have done this without him.  You “adventurous travelers”, take this as a warning.

Sometimes time and space are just like a giant fast flowing river.  You know just by looking at it that it is to strong for you to swim.  All you can do is focus on where you need to be, jump in, and try to float with your head above water and your feet pointed down stream; praying that the current and the cosmos will get you where you need to go.  This was like that.  When we got into that first cab we jumped into the river.  After that, we were present, but the fact that we made it to Ulaan-Baatar had little to do with us.

In the back of the first cab of our epic border crossing.

Anyway, we took that cab for 100 Rub to the Russian border.  The we got out, put our things in another car that was waiting for people just like us, and waited in line.  After about 20 minutes it was our turn.  We drove to a guard house, and got out with our things. The car was searched and our bags checked.  That done, we waited for the next station.

While waiting, smooth as butter, with confidence and finesse to put the most hardened Baltimore drug dealer to shame, the little old ladies in the car behind us brought over two duffel bags.  Our driver put them in the trunk just as we were putting our own bags back.  calm as anything, as if she smuggles things right under the noses of Russian border patrol every day.  Maybe she does.

When the guards were ready, we drove another 15 feet to the next station, got out again, and presented our passports for inspection.  And you do need at least one registration in a Russian city, even if you never stay longer than one week at each place.  You need at least one, so don’t let your hotels tell you otherwise.

Passing that inspection we drove into no-man’s land.  We had made it half way! We were out of Russia, there was no turning back now.

We passed a dusty barbed wire expanse, and reached the Mongolian border.  Passports? Check.  Drive up, park, into the building, get passports stamped and luggage checked, get back into car and drive through another barren wasteland and out another fence, and viola! You’ve made it to Mongolia.

There were beggars, drunkards, and currency changers thick and slow as zombies in the street. They called in your car window as you slowly drove past, and once you put your window up they tried to open your car doors until you locked those too.  And suddenly, in the midst of all this, our driver pulls over stops, and demands 200 Rub each.  Her job was done. You were in Mongolia.

We pay, get out, and are ushered into another cab by Ghengis, our travel angel.  But before getting in we exchange our remaining Russian Rubbels with a guy who has a fanny pack stuffed with Mongolian Tughriks.  This one is offering a good rate, Ghengis explains.  Transaction complete, we get in the cab and are told to give the driver 3000T each (about $2.00).

Along the way (about an hour drive) Ghengis explains through pantomime, scratch paper, and a calculator that this cabby will take us to one village.  I use the term “village” loosely.  Much like the ghost towns of the American Mid-West, these villages are strips of half a dozen buildings strung in a row with a public latrine on one end.  Anyway, at this village we will pick up another cab, which for 8000T will take us the two hours to the nearest bus stop.  The bus to Ulaan Baatar will be another 8000T.

Communication at it’s finest! This was our scratch pad conversation with Ghengis.

Sure, OK, we nod.  Do we have much choice? Lets just hope there is an ATM at the bus station we whisper to ourselves.  It is about this time that I realize our travel angel is not just signing with us, but with everyone.  He seems to hear alright, but hasn’t said much to anyone.  No wonder he is helping us! Apart from being a kind person, he must sympathize with the difficulty of traveling anywhere without being able to just say what he needs, common language or not!

And thanks to Ghengis, everything did happen just like that.  The 3000T got us…somewhere, the 8000T got us to the bus station, and another 8000T bought us tickets on the 4:00 pm train to Ulaan Baatar (and there was an ATM at the station).

Sandra and I were sitting with our bags in the cafe, after enjoying our first Mongolian meal, when suddenly Ghengis comes running back in, waving animatedly.  His message was clear: hurry! come! NOW!

We grabbed our things and dashed out the door. Our bus was on the move! We ran in front of it, cutting it off at an intersection, and thankfully it stopped long enough for us to throw our bags in the storage area beneath and climb aboard.  The time? 3:37 pm.  Hmmm…buses leave early here? Good to know.

Five hours later we re-emerged from the bus in the Dragon Center bus stop at Ulaan Baatar.  Ghengis, loyal to the end, shared a cab with us to ensure we made it to our hostel safely.  Stuck in bumper to bumper traffic, with smog so thick it burned my eyes and the back of my throat, I was reminded again how much I despise cities- especially developing Asian cities.  Anyway, another hour of traffic and 21,000 T later and Sandra and I were saying goodbye to Ghengis, the Amazing Mute Mongolian Travel Angel (the trip back to the bus station in the morning only cost 7000T, so you can see how expensive slow moving traffic can be).

Like I said, Sandra and I are good, but we aren’t that good.  Without Ghengis, I don’t think we could have made it past the taxis, the border guards, the beggars and money changers, and all the cabs and buses we took that day.  We jumped in the river and washed up on shore this time, thanks to the travel gods, the cosmos, and human kindness.

I owe karma big time.

Сайн яваарай! (Safe travels!),

Aeri

choo-choo!!

Waiting for the train at one of Moscow’s many stations, with two Finish sisters making the same trek.

“Are you girls sporty?” Asked an old Russian Grandma at the Moscow train station, looking at our bulging backpacks.  Or rather, that is what Sandra later told me she asked.  “Yes, I guess so” replied Sandra.

“Well, then you shouldn’t be smoking.” the Grandma joked, referring to one of the two Finish girls we had recently met.  They too were going to be taking our train to Irkutsk, though they had opted  to ride in the cheapest class, Plackscarta whereas we had decided to splurge on 2nd/Kupe class.  “Have a good trip, and be safe, girls.” concluded the Grandma.  Then she went one way and we went the other, to platform number 1 where our train would be arriving shortly.

And so began the ACTUAL Great Railway Adventure.  The reason for this trip, or rather, the excuse.  The train ride itself would take only three days out of the thirty-two I had allotted for the trip.  The cities before and the Mongolian camping trips after would make up the bulk of the journey, but this promise, to ride the train across Siberia was the impetus behind it all.

So board the train we did, wagon 12, room 6, bunks 22 and 24 (both top bunks, which I came to find would be a blessing).  We would be spending 80+ hours on the train, sharing this room with our two lower bunk mates: an older music professor on his way to a music conference in Ulan-Ude, where he would give a talk on a paper he had written on Russian Folk Music; and a younger man on his way to work, prospecting oil in the vast uninhabited expanse of Siberia.  He would ride this train most of it’s length, then take a small plane to a river where he would board a boat to carry him an hour or so up stream to his final destination.

Home Sweet Home

To be honest, I am really enjoying this forced relaxation, this mobile captivity.  We are over half way into our journey by now and what I thought would be cabin fever is actually contentment.  There has  been a lot of sleeping.  Long nights of quiet, dark, rocking sleep; and short naps after meals and between sessions of reading, writing, daydreaming, and talking to our roommates.  Oh and long views of the passing countryside! And I have to say, I am very glad we decided to go with Kupe Class.  The reports from the Finnish girls confirmed our suspicions: people packed 6 to a room with no privacy, space, or fresh air.  Our moods would be quite different by this time had we opted on 3rd class.  Some things are worth the extra dough.

There is a grandpa a few cars down who has taken a liking to us. We met him walking on a platform during a longer stop.  He is on vacation, returning home now after having watched his daughter’s apartment in the city while she traveled in Europe.  Today he bought tomatoes, piroshkis, and a strange smoked fish from the grandmas on the platform, a lunch feast full of “things to try” while traveling the railway.  The fish was a bit much, but like always the potato and cabbage filled piroshkis were amazing.  There is something about deep fried dough wrapped stuff that is good in every culture.  Dumplings, pirogue, piroshkis, boutza, ravioli…call it what you will, they’re yummy and you know it!

I’m just about ready to settle down into another nap actually, after said lunch.  Sandra is down below chattering happily in Russian with our “roomates”.  She is certainly getting the practice and language refresher she was hoping for.

Hopefully the second half of our trek will pass as pleasantly as the first has.
______________________________________________________

I’ve relocated! I took a walk through the train to find the food car, and discovered it wasn’t a far walk at all. It was one car down, and so having passed through several sets of doors and an extremely shaky car joint, I now find myself at a little table with a red table cloth and an extremely overpriced cup of black coffee.

The rest of my cabin is napping after an exciting class in electrical engineering earlier today.  The musical professor’s extension cord stopped working, so the oil prospector said he could fix it.  Which he did.  After taking the thing nearly completely apart and re-wiring it.  Luckily ever ready Swiss Sandra just happened to have a Swiss Army Knife and black electrical tape on hand. My favorite comment so far came from the prospector, after going farther and farther up the line looking for the problem with the cord.  He told the professor that “he shouldn’t have gotten this cheap Chinese plug.  He should have gotten an old Soviet one.  They are big and ugly and old but they are robust and work forever.” Now, I don’t know if that is opinion or fact, but it was funny enough to hear while he slowly hacked away at the plastic plug.  Whatever his opinion, I really can’t complain- I wouldn’t have charged the laptop and been able to type right now if not for his ingenuity and Sandra’s over-prepared packing!

It’s not too much longer now, before this train journey is at an end.  Before it does, I’ll leave you with something a little more practical than my silly anecdotes: a packing list for your own Ttrans-Siberian train trip.

You’ll certainly want to bring:

1. comfortable, soft, loose fitting clothes
2. small change for buying things from the grandma’s at the platform stops
3. fresh fruit, bread, cheese, and other relatively non-perishable foods
4. cup of noodles soups (there is unlimited hot water in each car. You’ll use this to drink, cook, and wash fruit and flatware.  Don’t use the water in the bathrooms for anything!!)
5. a cup or bowl, spoon, knife
6. napkins/tissues
7. babywipes
8. slippers or sandals/flip-flops
9. hand sanitizer/hand lotion
10. a good book and a pack of cards
11. a light (the lights in your rooms are turned on only after dusk, and it can get quite dim in there in the afternoon, especially on a cloudy day)
12. snacks to share with your cabin mates
13. tea (rather than try to stock up on enough bottled water to last the journey, just bring along a box of teas and enjoy the hot water on board)

Coming ’round the bend! A view of the train and countryside through my dirty window pane.

Choo-Choo-CHEERS!

 

~Aeri

now you helsinki me

I have spent the last two days exploring Helsinki. It’s been a bit slower than some of my trips, but it was exactly the speed it seems I needed to travel right now. Recognizing when you need a slow trip and when you need an active action packed trip is an important skill for a serial traveler to have. Otherwise you’ll just burn yourself out.

Though it was leisurely, it certainly wasn’t boring. I started off yesterday with a brisk walk to the historic center of town. Passing my first “tourist shop” I stopped in to have a look around and was delightfully surprised by what I saw. Finland has had a great idea! They put hand made crafts in their tourist shops. All those little hand made bags, jewelery, and funky clothes that tourists and hippies love to buy are now what tourists are forced to buy if they want to get “chintzy” souvenirs. Ok, so I did see a “magnet, bottle opener, flags and socks” kiosk a little later, but at least the majority of the shops were filled with these hand made goodies.

I spent the rest of the day taking in the main sights and getting a feel for the town, which really is beautiful. I wasn’t mislead when I claimed it was clean and green. It is! And you can even drink the water! Their tap water is more delicious than many bottled brands I’ve tried over the years, which made me all the gladder to have my reusable water bottle with me.

I lunched on smoked salmon and a reindeer sausage at a dock-side tent market, tried some linden berries, and picked up a cinnamon pastry from the Old Market House. Market Houses are great, they are usually long buildings filled with little specialty vendors selling specific things like breads, pastries, cheeses, meats, fishes, etc. You get the picture.

After lunch I bought a round trip ferry ticket to Suomenlinna Island and Sea Fortress. There was a hostel I wanted to check out there, as an option for an extra night in Helsinki, and I heard the island was pretty too.

Pretty is an understatement.  It was EXTREMELY PRETTY. But it wasn’t beautiful. Beautiful landscapes are natural and wild and chaotic. This was a naval fortress so no blade of grass wasn’t consciously planted, but where the landscapers did decide to plant was well done. The buildings were adorable and quaint. The trails were well kept, and the rocky beaches and bluffs (at least, those not adjacent to a rocky wall) were just secluded enough to let a traveler think they stumbled upon a real find. Sadly the hostel was booked full for the next night, so I couldn’t stay, but I spent most of the four hours I had left hatching plans and schemes of how and when I would get back too the island and how long I could stay. I’ve decided that I’m giving myself two years to write a full length novel, and if I haven’t done it by then than I’m moving to this beautiful peaceful manicured little homestead and staying until the book is written. I am definitely adding this place to my list of 1001 places I think you should visit. I recommend planning a ghost hunters tour.  Between the hidden glens, and dark military tunnels, this island was seething with unseen energies.

Anyway, after this very pleasant day full of walking I realized another very important thing on the boat ride back to Helsinki. Pack what you know. What I mean is this. On my Mediterranean trip last winter I packed things I thought would be a good example for other travelers: comfortable flats (chucks) and a good day bag full of zippers, pockets, and clips, newly bought from Sears for the trip. The Chucks were alright…until I lost toe nails after a long day hike in Goreme, Turkey. The bag was terrible! It split a side seam less than three days into my trip. This time I knew better. I packed things I use daily, things that have seen hard use and held up just fine, things that I was comfortable in and knew I could rely on. I packed my Medieval Moccasin shoes, closed toe high tops to be exact, and my Moresca satchel.

On my walk back to the hostel I was at loose ends. I was still pretty full from my Finnish Feast, but I wasn’t ready to go home yet. Luckily, I happened to pass by a bar I remembered being mentioned in a visitors guide provided by the hostel. The bar was called Storyville, and was the “best jazz bar in town.” And it was really pretty great. I enjoyed an amazing cider called Crowmoor that isn’t in the States yet and really should be because it was amazing. Did I mention it was great? I don’t want to be cliché and say it actually tasted like fresh sweet apples but, aw hell. It tasted like fresh sweet apples! It didn’t have that sugary tartness that promises hangovers to come the way most other ciders do. The band, yes there was a live band, wasn’t too bad either. Though I arrived to an instrumental version of Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prision.  “Its a small world after all.”

Dinner that night was a travel favorite of mine: warm soup, hard bread, and strong cheese from the market. This time it was carrot soup, a dark rye bread, and Prima Donna cheese. And a few more ciders. Aparently they love cider in Finland, because there were at least a half a dozen different brands. I might have picked up one of each to conduct a serious taste review. All in the name of travel research of course. I’ve been having a couple each night. There have been some wins and some misses. I’ll let you know the final results when I’m done.

A few minutes (well, the internet was slow so it was more like an hour and a half) spent planning the next few days, and I was ready for bed. And that was all yesterday.

Today I had plans to visit the open-air museum on another island nearby, but it was grey, cold, and raining intermittently; so I decided to check out the Finland National Museum instead. I’ll be honest, I’m pretty partial to a good history museum every once in a while. I always find something to inspire me creatively, and I learn a few cool new facts. This time my design idea was inspired by cave man wall paintings. I really like the thick white strokes and simple animal shapes. I think I’d like to experiment with painting white shapes and patterns on leather fairy clothes. My favorite fact? In the 1390’s there was a band of pirates who roved the Baltics called The Vitalians, or “The Victual Brotherhood.” I like that. I think it is a great name for a traveling foodie’s website, or a secret group of extremely severe food critics.

Anyway, by the time I was done with the museum it had cleared up outside, so I took a stroll back down to the docks, this time to buy a ferry ticket for tomorrow. I’ll be leaving Helsinki to spend a couple of days in Tallinn, Estonia. From there I’ll take the bus to St. Petersburg. In addition to adding another country to the trip, planning this little excursion in has saved me tons of money. Rather than a 150 Euro train ticket from Helsinki to St. Petersburg, and 46 Euro for two more nights at the hostel; I’ll be paying 33 Euro for a ferry ride, 17 Euro for two nights in a hostel, and 25 Euro for a bus ride. That’s almost 200 Euro plus food to stay in expensive Helsinki vs. less than 80 Euro plus food to stay in inexpensive Estonia. Yay!!

Ticket in hand, I felt that my brief yet wonderful time in Helsinki was coming to an end. I knew there was only one more thing I had to do…SAUNA!! I try to sample a country’s spa and relaxation customs whenever possible. In addition to keeping me stress free while traveling, it is a really fun way to get to know a new country. So far I’ve tried Turkish Baths, Swedish Saunas, Korean Spas, Chinese Massage, and now Finnish Saunas. I think that soon I should dedicate an entire post to spa days, but since this post is entirely too long already, I’ll just keep you in suspense.

Kippis!

 

~Aeri

PS- I’m sorry there are no pictures yet.  The internet is very slow here.