Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Puerto Rico Day 2: Sometimes You Just Need a Lazy Day

We woke up pretty tired and decided to make Day 2 in Puerto Rico our lazy day. 

We ate free breakfast at the hotel then headed for the pool. Being the early-family types, we had no problem getting chairs and stayed poolside till the early afternoon. 

We then walked down the main avenue of Isla Verde and stopped at Pizza World, which had good people-watching and a stiff breeze (that blew napkins everywhere and even knocked Zoey back while she stood on top of our table). The pizza, rice and beans, and Medella beer hit the spot. 

Note to remember in Puerto Rico (as in almost any place): Don't eat at any resorts or hotels. Go where the locals are eating. The food, atmosphere, and price will be at least twice as good. I don't understand how so many people go on vacation and never leave their resort. Might as well stay at a hotel down the street from their own houses.

For the late afternoon, we headed for the ocean, where Jackson enjoyed jumping over the incoming waves again. We skipped dinner and headed back to the hotel to rest up for our trip into Old San Juan on Day 3.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Mobility Expert Says Skip the Car Visiting Nation's Capital

I was interviewed by Amtrak for its fine blog, and the article, about what to do if you ride the train into Washington D.C., was just published. Anyone have any Amtrak stories to share?

Forgot where you left your car keys? Good!

According to one transportation expert, when you visit the nation’s capital you won’t ever need them. We sat down with cycling enthusiast and Communications Director at Mobility Lab Paul Mackie about the best sights in Washington, D.C., for this year’s National Train Day on May 10.

Besides the free festivities at the station, families will be happy to hear that the historic sights will “unfold” before you just steps outside of the train station, according to Mackie.

Amtrak: Our trains connect more than 500 destinations. Why is it important for small towns and big cities to have a variety of transportation options?

Me: I love traveling by train, and I would love for more people throughout the U.S. to understand that it’s often such a better, faster, more affordable option than traveling by car.

One of the great things about traveling by train is that most often one arrives in the middle of the city or town, which then makes renting a car an inconvenience of time and money. Having great access by walking, bikeshare, rental bikes, taxi, or local rail or bus transit to other key locations throughout town is an awesome amenity for people visiting for a short period of time.

For readers interested in visiting the area by train, what’s the one thing they can’t miss?
One site to not miss in D.C. is the Lincoln Memorial. The space is inspiring and majestic and – as the inscription suggests above Abraham Lincoln’s statue – it is a temple for contemplation. The views from the steps are breathtaking. Standing on the MLK “I have a dream” step, one can imagine the masses below inspired to envision a better America.

Americans have brought our hopes, dreams, despairs and demands – Marian Anderson with “My Country ‘tis of thee,” anti-war protestors during the Vietnam War, and candlelight vigils during the darkest days of the AIDS epidemic. For the memory of perhaps our greatest president and for the millions who have gathered to witness history around the Reflecting Pool, this space is hallowed ground.

Mobility Lab is located just outside of Washington, D.C. In your expert opinion, what’s the best way to get to the train station?
Mobility Lab is in the Rosslyn section of Arlington, Virginia – directly across the river from Georgetown in Washington, D.C. Metrorail is a convenient ride of 15 or 20 minutes to Union Station. If I don’t have too much luggage, Capital Bikeshare is a fun way to get across town either right through the bike-lane-heavy downtown or up The Mall.

For visitors who are more comfortable in their automobiles, is there some beginner advice you can offer for exploring the area without a car?
Mobility Lab Contributor Jessica Tunon has written some cool stuff at Mobility Lab about car-free travel and our partners at Car-Free Near Me have great resources.

Above all else, Washington is a great city for walking and biking, and frankly a pretty rough city for traffic congestion and parking.

Arriving by train at Union Station, from the front doors, one can see the U.S. Capitol dome just three blocks south. Walk straight towards it. Once there, you’ll see The Mall. Head down there and marvel at all the sites that will unfold before you.

Photo by 741 renfrowasd

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Puerto Rico Day 1 - From Cold DC to Pina Coladas in Hours

The family has just returned from our spring-break trip to Puerto Rico. And I'll recap it here over the next several days.
If you have little kids, I can't really think of a better Caribbean vacation spot than this island to the east of Jamaica, Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. It was cheap to get to (free actually, for us, since we had Southwest Frequent Flyer Miles), fast (a direct flight from Baltimore of three-and-a-half hours), we didn't need passports (it's a U.S. territory), and features absolutely beautiful beaches and an adventure-lover's rainforest.
On Day 1, we arrived at Embassy Suites Hotel not far from the airport (chosen because we would have two rooms to put Zoey to sleep and be able to stay up in the other room). We threw our bags in the room, overlooking a great pool area, and went straight to Isla Verde's famed El Alambique Beach two blocks away. This was a beautiful two-mile-plus stretch of parties, people playing sports, nice surfable waves, windsurfers, and jet skiers.
We grabbed burgers and piña coladas at a beachside joint then went out to work on Jackson's body surfing for a couple of hours. His promise at the sport earned him the coconut drink you see pictured. We headed back in time for Embassy's nightly happy hour and Jackson got in the pool in his full clothes. 
For our first dinner in PR, I ordered sushi but walked in a downpour to the wrong place, where they told me I was a 30-minute walk from where I initially ordered. I called and cancelled the other order and got replacement sushi from this place. Felt bad. By the time I got back with the food, Jackson and Zoey had passed out.
Tomorrow will hopefully be a little better planned, at least in the food department.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Mind Bending Among the High-School Cheerleaders

Being a reader of lots of classics and most recently a somber tale of laborious life in North Korea, it's necessary to break it up with some good old-fashioned trash every once in a while.

Dare Me by Megan Abbott is actually relatively high-minded writing and in many ways a psychological tour de force. Because it's billed as "Lord of the Flies cheerleader-style," it also qualifies as a trashy novel about high-school life.

The common-sense-stoked person in the video above describes the story well. I particularly like how she notes that Gillian Flynn of Gone Girl-fame recommends the book and that fans of the classic 80s movie "The Heathers" (ha) will approve.

I'll contribute: Addy and Beth are leaders of the cheerleading squad and their BFF status comes under pressure when Beth becomes jealous of Addy's relationship with their young new coach named Colette. A very bad thing happens (actually, lots of bad things happen, soccer and tennis were never this interesting) that nearly unravels the team and certainly unravels the ties between Addy and Beth. The tables get turned again and again and Abbott (pictured) does a good job of keeping the reader on edge, uncomfortable, and in suspense of what will happen next throughout the nearly 300 pages of the novel.

There is a lot of cheerleading lingo and action that could be trimmed from the story, although Abbott is clearly using it to metaphorical effect and to describe the shifting mindset of the squad girls over the course of the novel. I'm not sure if this book would have been as brilliant without that lingo, but either way, this one is a keeper that will be tough to beat for "best cheerleader book, like, evah."

On a rating, I agree with the reviewer above: **** out of ***** stars

Monday, April 7, 2014

Ratatouille Makes Me Want to Eat Food Cooked By Rats

The filmmakers at Disney have always been brilliant, but they outdid themselves with 2007's Ratatouille, which I thought I had seen long ago, but realized I hadn't upon starting it with Jackson last night.

Its "universal acclaim" status with critics makes total sense since the prototypical Disney evil villain is the food critic Anton Ego (voiced by Peter O'Toole). 

The hilarious script and excellent plot is such a relief in this day-and-age of maximum-overdrive stimulation with most things animated. The film is gorgeous but also simple and elegant.

Remy is a rat with a heightened sense of smell and taste who learns how to cook by watching the most famous chef in Paris on TV and reading his cookbook. He and his rat friends end up engineering the rare feet of pleasing critic Ego with a dish of "peasant food" ratatouille. Linguini and Colette are the chefs who give the film its human elements.

Also quite a feat: Even as I ate dinner while watching, all the rats in Ratatouille didn't ruin my appetite.

***** out of ***** stars