Charmed

Jan. 28th, 2017 08:38 pm
ladysprite: (new)
I know the world is full of badness right now, and I know that it's bleak and horrifying, and I've been doing what I can to be both a candle in the darkness and a squeaky wheel. And I feel guilty talking about almost anything else. But at the same time... I want to chronicle some of the goodness in my life, too.

[Unknown site tag] and I just came back from a week in New Orleans, and while it wasn't quite our usual winter Week Somewhere Warm and while I'm not quite sure NoLa is quite my city, it was ultimately a lot of fun (thanks in large part to [livejournal.com profile] evcelt's recommendations; thank you!). But our last night there was, far and away, the best part of the trip.

We had booked an evening Haunted City tour with a company that promised a "more immersive" experience - hands-on ghost hunting, access to haunted locations, and a full recreation of a Victorian seance. I figured that, whether the ultimate experience was awfully good or just awful, it would at least be entertaining.

When our guide handed [livejournal.com profile] umbran, our resident skeptic, an EMF reader, I couldn't help but make a Supernatural joke. At which point the guide paused just enough to show me his Devil Trap tattoo. Within 20 minutes we were having to make a conscious effort to slow down, stay on topic, and not leave the rest of the group behind as we babbled at each other about everything from American Horror Story to the Fox sisters and their role in the Victorian spiritualism trend to the Salem witch trials and our own personal theories behind them.

The tour and the seance were both hugely fun, and as things were wrapping up I made a reference to my work in hospice and end-of-life care, and half-joked about being a psychopomp. And he paused, and told me to stick around for a few minutes after the official end of the tour.

Which is how my husband and I wound up at the invitation-only vampire and magic-users speakeasy hidden behind one of the jazz clubs on Bourbon Street, nursing something red and sugary, learning card tricks and divination, and playing 'what White Wolf setting was your favorite?'until sometime after last call.

I know that I lead a charmed life; sometimes it's just more obvious than others.....
ladysprite: (steampunk)
I have an excuse for my recent absence - [livejournal.com profile] umbran and I spent the past week in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

It's good to be back in my own house, with my cats and my kitchen, but dear God it was good to have a week of sunshine, exploration, and warmth. I am still absolutely no good at low-key, relaxing vacations, but once we started and adventuring, it was amazing.

And there was plenty to explore. While the city of Playa del Carmen itself was kind of creepy (street vendors, at more than one point on our one foray there, tried to sell my husband roofies and blow), there are so many other things to do that we didn't miss that one point.

We explored jungle parks, and I got to spend over an hour in the biggest butterfly garden I've ever seen. We swam through underground rivers and wandered through forests of stalactites and dabbled our hands in 300-foot-deep cenotes. We saw Chichen Itza and heard stories from our Mayan guide about the math and history and culture behind that epic and awe-inspiring place. We ate delicious food, and saw beautiful dances, and I ziplined through a waterfall into a flooded cave full of dinosaurs.

It was amazing. Also, I was happily surprised to learn that my college Spanish was still good enough to haggle with vendors, banter with my manicurist, and convince most of the people we met that I wasn't from America.

I'd never been to Mexico before, but I'm glad beyond words that we went. And with luck, I've soaked up enough sun and warmth to get me through the next four months....
ladysprite: (steampunk)
So I could try to write up a day-by-day description of our vacation, but that never works. I always get distracted and stop writing about halfway through; besides, I'm pretty sure no one else cares in that much detail about exactly what we did when and what we had for dinner and when the sun was shining. But I did write down a bunch of random observations and details that I wanted to note here for posterity's sake. And as for an overall description, we spent most of our time reading, lying around, and soaking up warmth. As for those observations...

-The ship we were on was huge. The Disney Fantasy is, I think, the biggest ship out there right now. Meaning that it could hold the entire undergraduate population of my college, some 4,000 people, not counting staff. This means there were more kids than I expected, but also that there was enough space for everyone to spread out into.

-We totally had a beverage ninja. Our assistant waiter was from Thailand, and said that since most folks couldn't pronounce his name right, he preferred to be called Ninja. And he was. Seriously, I'd look away for half a heartbeat and turn back to find a new glass of soda or mug of tea had just randomly appeared.

-So the new, supersized Disney ships have a place called the Rainforest Spa, and this is where I want to go when I die. It's a private, limited-access adults-only spa with aromatherapy showers, multiple different saunas, heated lounge chairs, and two-person hot tubs on their own open-air deck. I think I spent at least an hour a day there, sometimes more.

-The staff there are actually happy, not just smiley. When [livejournal.com profile] umbran went into one of the shops on Formal Night in his suit with his hidden-Mickeys tie, the whole staff wound up coming over to check it out, gush about how they'd never seen that particular pattern before, and speculate on who the artist was.

-No, seriously, they're all actually happy. At one point I wound up going into the ladies' room on the (crowded, hectic) pool deck and found it empty except for a janitor, who was cheerfully singing along to the background (Disney) music as she mopped and cleaned.

-Watching the sun set over the ocean is amazing. Watching fireworks over the ocean is equally amazing.

-For a while now, Disney has been offering "Princess Makeovers" for little girls and "Pirate Makeovers" for little boys. They are now offering Pirate Makeovers for girls as well, and for boys who want to be pretty, they're doing fairy-tale prince makeovers. Complete with all the glitter and hair-primping the girls get, plus fancy doublets.

-"Bear Necessities" and "Hakuna Matata" are essentially the same song. Also, "A Whole New World" and "Love Shack" are the same song.

-On a less positive note, "Baby Mine" is the electro-jac of tear-jerkers. It lacks subtlety and finesse, exists only to serve one purpose, and does so with brutal efficiency.

-Disney may have an aggressive emphasis on family, but they also kinda understand that not all families look the same. And they take just as good care of the adults-without-kids in their care as they do the families with children.

Ultimately? I've been told that for my (physical and mental) health I need to spend a week each winter somewhere warm and sunny, and I know that it's true. And after this year, while I won't be hopping on this ship every year, I'll sure as hell be there again....
ladysprite: (steampunk)
Apologies for my extended absence; [livejournal.com profile] umbran and I just spent the past week on a Caribbean cruise. It was partly my reward for recovering from surgery, partly help recovering from surgery, and partly therapy to help me survive the rest of a New England Winter. And it was absolutely wonderful, especially considering that, by all rights, we never should have made it there.

We were supposed to fly out last Saturday at 6am - not the most pleasant hour, but since Disney (the cruise line we chose, and who now have a loyal customer for life) said we had to be on the ground in Orlando by 1pm to get on the ship - and it's a 3-hour flight - it was the only flight that gave us enough wiggle room in case of delays.

Unfortunately, at 1am we got a call from JetBlue telling us that our flight was cancelled. No, they couldn't tell us why; no, they couldn't rebook us; no, they couldn't reroute us; no, they couldn't do anything to help us. Too bad. At this point I was still heavily medicated (the primary medication I'm on right now, to help decrease muscle spasms in my neck and shoulder, is valium. Just try problem-solving at 1am through a double-dose of that. I dare you.), doing my best not to just cry, and fumbling through drug-induced fog for a solution that made sense. Luckily, we had packed the night before, so the only thing we could think of to do was just go straight to the airport in hopes of talking to a human being.

We got there by 2am. Unfortunately, none of the airlines open until 3:30am. On the other hand, getting there early meant we were first in line - by the time they opened there was a hell of a line of other lost and stranded travelers. Polite persistence got us booked standby for an 8am flight, and I managed to nap for an hour or so while [livejournal.com profile] umbran drank impressive quantities of Coke and stood guard over myself and our bags.

So, 7:30am and boarding time rolled around... and nothing happened. Eventually an announcement was made that our flight was waiting for crew, and would board.... sometime. No estimates, no promises, no assurances at all.

By 9am, Disney's offices were open. We called them and let them know what was going on; they assured us that as long as we took off by 11am everything would be fine - that they worked some wiggle room into their own schedule. Meanwhile, mostly non-drugged by this point, I wound up making friends with a handful of other passengers, including a couple with an adorable yorkie and a mother-daughter team who it turned out were going on the same cruise we were.

Somewhere around 11:15 the couple with the yorkie gave up and decided to drive, letting us know that, since we were standby, we'd at least have their seats. JetBlue had, in the meantime, moved our plane away, moved it back, and shuffled us to a new terminal at the other end of the airport, leaving me with the sinking sensation that they were just playing 3-card Monte with us.

Now teamed up with the mother and daughter, we made a joint call to Disney, updating them again. Luckily, Disney is magic, and promised us as long as we took off by noon, they could make it work. Technically we'd be landing an hour away at the time the ship was supposed to be casting off, but... they'd pull some strings and postpone the departure and get us on there, by hook or by crook.

Amazingly, shortly thereafter a flight crew appeared, and we started boarding... at 12:15. At this point I was fairly certain that we'd land in Orlando only to be sent back again, but my stubbornness had been engaged.

Thank all the powers that be, the flight was uneventful, and when we landed around 3pm (two hours past the deadline) there was a Disney crew member waiting at our gate with a big sign. Both the mom and I hugged him, and then he led us at a half-jog through the entire airport to a waiting and warmed-up van that promptly sped us on our way, while radioing ahead to the ship that we were en route. By 4pm we were at the dock, checking in while a large crew of Disney employees grinned and told us it was okay to stop running.

By 4:10 the ship was underway.

The rest of the story is wonderful, and worth telling, but that's another story. The moral here, at the point, is just that Disney is amazing and will work miracles for you once you're in their hands. I can't imagine any other company that would have done that for us. Seriously, if you're ever even thinking about going on a cruise, go Disney....
ladysprite: (cooking)
All right - I'm way the heck behind on writing these up, but the project is still ongoing, and with any luck I'll get caught up over the next few days and be able to move on to new and shiny restaurants.

So way back in October we went to Rome. And we ate in a lot of restaurants and the food in them was invariably delicious, and I had a half-hearted idea that I wanted to try to hit a Project restaurant, but I was mostly just picking and choosing whatever places looked tasty and interesting. And so by our third day I had rather resigned myself to the idea that it just wouldn't happen.

That was the day that we went wandering by the Spanish Steps and dawdled at the fountain at the bottom before deciding to look for a place to eat lunch. We wound up heading slightly off the beaten path, ducking into alleys and piazzas, until we found a little square with a handful of cafes and food shops. We picked one with a decent-looking menu, took our seats outside on the plaza, and it wasn't until I looked at the full menu our server placed in front of me that I realized that we were at the Leonardo Ristorante, making this a perfect choice for L.

We never made it inside the restaurant - this was true of most of the places we ate in Rome. The weather was gorgeous and every place had an outside terrace, so there was no reason to come in from the glorious sun and breeze. And the plaza here was quiet and shady and peaceful, and the people were polite, and it was just perfect.

We started out with an antipasto plate for the two of us to share, and, like the restaurant itself, it was perfect. There were artichokes that were rich and buttery, and olives that made me swoon, salami and prosciutto that were thinly sliced enough to be delicate but not chewy or tough, and slivers of gouda and swiss and balls of mozzarella (I think Italy in general spoiled me for mozzarella - I've never had any that good before).

[livejournal.com profile] umbran ordered a panino with turkey, avocado, and tomato, which was decently good. To my surprise, at least, it wasn't grilled - I'm used to panini being hot, pressed sandwiches. But all of the individual ingredients were incredibly high quality, and the flavors were well-balanced. The bread was rich and flavorful, and though there were no condiments on the sandwich, it was still tasty and refreshing.

The true winner of the meal, though, was my lunch. I ordered bruschettoni with tomatoes, mozzarella, olives, capers, and tuna. (Bruschettoni, as far as I can tell, is a single large piece of bruschetta.) This amounted to, functionally speaking, an open-faced Italian tuna melt, and it was seven kinds of heavenly. The bread itself was crisp and rich and a little sweet, brushed with just enough olive oil to balance the flavors, the tuna was high-quality, chunky, and strongly-flavored, and the olives and capers were salty and sharp and the tomatoes were fresh and the whole thing was just exactly what I needed on a sunny afternoon after walking across half of Rome.

We didn't order dessert at the restaurant, deciding instead to save ourselves for gelato later, but all in all this was one of the best food experiences we had in Italy....
ladysprite: (Default)
And so we continued on our quest. Fewer pictures today, since the Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museum were less photo-friendly, but still cut-tagging our adventures around the Vatican Museum and after....

Even though it's more like a Vati-CAN'T.... )
ladysprite: (Default)
So a week ago Friday, [livejournal.com profile] umbran and I set out for an 8-day vacation in Italy. I had been longing for this trip for years, and at the start of the year I finally stopped daydreaming and decided that, come hell or high water, we'd make it happen this year. And, much to my surprise and delight, we did.

Hidden, for length and pictures.... )

My Week

Oct. 28th, 2012 05:36 pm
ladysprite: (MoonSun)
So I'm home again, after a serious trip away. [livejournal.com profile] umbran and I spent the last week and a half, give or take, exploring Rome and Venice. It was wonderful, it was amazing, it was overwhelming and powerful and incredible and I am so, so very happy that I went, and so, so very happy that I am home again.

More details will be forthcoming, as well as (probably) pictures, but for now there are some particular bits and pieces that stand out in my mind more than anything....

-I had been forewarned that Venice was a tourist trap, but honestly, Rome seemed much worse in that aspect. Not that Rome was bad in general; I loved it. But the touristiness was a lot more overt and the harassing street vendors were a lot more invasive. Venice tried to sell you things, yes, but in a classier way - and, well, Venice's job has been to sell things for about a thousand years, give or take.

-While the Colosseum and the Vatican Museum are the most famous and popular attractions in Rome, neither of them can hold a candle to Castel San Angelo or the Pantheon.

-Nothing in the world has ever overwhelmed me with wonder and beauty and awe like my first glimpse of the Basilica di San Marco in Venice. I will carry that image with me for the rest of my life, and my life will be better for it.

-Next time I go to Venice (and yes, there will be a next time) I will find a place with a kitchen, so I can take advantage of the truly epic produce and fish markets at the Rialto.

-It is a lot harder to get lost than I had feared, and walking around Rome leads you to find a lot more fascinating and beautiful things than taking a bus ever will.

So. There it is. I have seen the sun rise on another continent. I have eaten pizza and bacala and the best pasta e fagiole ever, and learned how to make pasta by hand. I have danced in the Doge's Palace in San Marco Square in Venice. I have learned that my Italian is better than I thought it was, that I do not have the necessary maturity to appreciate art in the form of paintings, and that there is such a thing as too many ruins, and that eventually no matter how amazing the local cuisine is, there comes a point where I will gladly sell my neighbor for a cheeseburger. And I did all of this in spite of a constant voice nagging in the back of my head that people like me don't get to take trips like this.

I loved every minute of it. And I love being home again.

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