Ever since I hit “book” for our SoCal plane tickets a few months ago, Mike has said we just have to go to Tijuana while we’re there. I wasn’t exactly opposed, but I was nervous.
There’s a pandemic, and I sure as hell don’t want to be trapped in another country where my Spanish is limited to what I learned through fifth grade. Also, on every Botched episode I’ve ever seen, all of the sad plastic surgery patients got their super shady procedures in Tijuana. And finally, if Mike spent many fuzzy nights there during his time as a Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton, it’s probably not the safest place to hang out.
But once we were in San Diego, it seemed easy enough, especially when I looked up the drive – 20 minutes from our hotel. I told Mike I wanted to be back in the States by 6 p.m. and once we got to a parking lot that was very clearly marketed to people heading to Tijuana just for the day, I felt a little better. I felt even better when a bus parked in our lot agreed to drive us there and back for $20 round trip and we breezed through customs as some of the only people in the entire building.
For two years, Mike, your typical Jersey guy through-and-through – loves a good slice of pie, isn’t afraid to tell a stranger that he’s wrong, curses way too much in traffic – was stationed in San Diego.
It was a long time ago – nearly 20 years – so he doesn’t mention it all that much. But I know he loved it, because when he does mention it, it’s as if it was heaven on earth. He loved the year-round perfect weather, the kind where here in Jersey, you say to a stranger, “What a beautiful day.” He loved the laid-back attitude that only seems to come with being near water. Oh, and the tacos. He really loved those.
But through our weeklong SoCal trip, he’s not especially nostalgic about any of the places we go or the activities we do. I think of when I went back to Florence, Italy two years ago, about a decade after a semester abroad, and how I nearly kissed my old apartment door. But Mike seems content to cruise by, not saying much, maybe mentioning a bar he had been to once on this block.
I may not have a piece of designer clothes to my name, but I’m a sucker for anything glitzy and glamorous. My Netflix history says it all: Million Dollar Listing, Selling Sunset, Keeping Up With The Kardashians. I love a 30-minute snippet where I can see the world from someone else’s eyes (whose loaded, obviously), where I don’t have to worry about finding another part-time job to pay my rent next month or think about our mismatched furniture.
So, of course I was beyond thrilled to head to Los Angeles for one day during our weeklong tour of SoCal. Mike doesn’t share my thrill for chasing celebrities down Sunset Boulevard, so instead, I booked a food tour through downtown Los Angeles with Sidewalk Food Tours, figuring we could check out some cool foodie spots and I could scope out the scene I have so dreamed about.
When I couldn’t find Mount Vernon, Maine – or even the nearest city, Augusta – in my guidebook, I should have been tipped off. But it was only when searching for nearby restaurants once we arrived and only finding a few lobster roll stands and drive-ins that I really knew this wasn’t exactly the place for a foodie.
But I can’t blame Central Maine. That’s just not it’s thing, and that’s OK. Instead, bordered by crystal-clear Echo Lake, a profound silence and endless, deep greenery, it’s a popular place for campgrounds – which is actually what brought us here in the first place.
A huge sushi fan, I’ve been dying to go to Japan. However, when I found that Taipei, Taiwan – the last destination of our Asian journey – was known as the best city to find Japanese cuisine outside of Japan, I was pretty thrilled.
Being that Mike’s birthday fell during our trip, I hoped to take him to Nomura, a Michelin-starred sushi eatery in Taipei. However, by the time I was able to ask the concierge at our hotel to call for a reservation, they were all booked up.
As a food writer, I relish in the luxurious routine that goes into preparing for an upscale meal out.
I like poring over the menu at lunchtime; choosing the most interesting entrée and the most calculatingly-paired appetizer. I like taking my search to the internet and digging up photos of intriguing dishes. I like drinking just a tad too much wine and feeling courageous enough to say things I normally wouldn’t. I especially like coming home just exhausted enough that I don’t feel the need to put my purse away and instead, know I’m in for a solid night’s sleep.
When I travel, this becomes much more fun. I can check out restaurants I’ve only read about, try foods I can barely pronounce and delve far beyond my usual 20-mile dining radius.
The sun is shining, lost tourists are breezing around on bicycles and seagulls are chirping as we finally pull into the Quarterdeck Motel in Wildwood, New Jersey for the almost-seventh year in a row (one year skipped). However, even after the fitting relief that comes from arriving from your destination after a three-hour drive, something is definitively different.
For all of these years, Sandra and I have been coming to Wildwood for two or three nights in the summertime. It began as a couples’ trip with our then-boyfriends – two breakups later, we now do the same itinerary, minus two people, despite both of our new ‘taken’ statuses.
There’s something incredibly comforting about this trip. Usually, I spend the before-days of my other vacations reading guidebooks, planning restaurant outings and checking out reviews online. But when we go to Wildwood, our itinerary remains pretty much the same, with a few safe detours.
After a pretty pleasant six-hour bus ride from Vienna, we have arrived in Prague, which is bittersweet since this will mark the last destination of our Eastern European journey. However, it’s hard to still not be excited when driving into a city marked by centuries-old cobblestone streets, sky-scraping cathedrals and rolling hills.
This morning, we finally get a chance to really see Vienna in all of its glory, as the sun is shining and we hop on the bus bright and early to check out Schonbrunn Palace, the former summer residence of the Hapsburg emperors. Since we get here early with our tour group, we avoid the daily influx of 12,000 tourists and we have a place to ourselves for a bit, seeing the insane opulence of the palace and its even more impressive and expansive grounds with winding trails, secret gardens and over-the-top fountains and statues.
When I studied abroad in Florence, Italy in college, one of my last trips was to Budapest, Hungary, where I spent a long weekend with my college roommate, Alex, and her family after she came to visit me from the States.
However, after a few months of traveling to six other countries and 15 Italian cities, I was feeling tired and a bit homesick. So, when Alex and I trekked to Budapest, we spent more time than we probably should have hanging out in our beautiful hotel room at the Marriott (I was used to questionable hostels and bunk beds), eating American food as we celebrated Thanksgiving and taking dopey pictures that only best friends take.