Glimpses of Friends & Food

24 Sep

After our trip to Baltimore, Katie CAME BACK TO PITTSBURGH WITH US!!!!!! On our first night back, we snuggled in my bed and got to know Victoria better 🙂

 

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Friends are for snuggling, laughing until you cry, actually crying, practicing for the school of hard talks, and holding each other (literally and) to a standard of rigorous honesty.

 

We had such an amazing time talking and turning downtime into uptime (let’s not slander ‘mi), but I’d like to use this blog post to talk mostly about how FOOD connected us in such a solid way.

Let me formally introduce Victoria, my new favorite foodie.

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Here she is with Katie who loves superlatives and is also my FAVORITE.

 

Victoria is not only an amazing human but she also knows everything you need to know about food (and more) like … how to make it look INCREDIBLE. And how to break a yolk properly..  She works for Table magazine and invited Katie to participate in the winter issue! Oats prepared three different ways, coming at you November 2018! Victoria described Katie as a “high-energy creative who planned an on-brand spread in just a few hours!” They wrote an article and had a photo shoot!  All of my food pictures from here on out should reflect everything we (collective knowledge) learned.

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I mean… come on.  Food that looks as good as it tastes!

Our time turned into:

 

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You get invited to participate in ONE food magazine, and suddenly everyone’s a photographer…

 

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Please take note of the three matching white pumpkins, which Victoria got for Helen, Katie, and I because  — BEST FRIENDS, BESTFRIENDS, BEST FRIENDS!

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Katie showing me how it’s done with an Onion Fritata! This PILLAR is moving food!

 

One of Victoria’s most impressive techniques was putting the food on the floor in order to get a stunning photo. OK, Victoria…

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Respect the process.

 

But then, of course, even after any lingering (do you have to!) doubt, the picture ended up looking like this:

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SHE WAS SO RIGHT… #getaflaw

 

So now that Victoria has become a part of our lives, I’m more obsessed with food pictures than I’ve ever been.  Sorry not sorry, mum.

Victoria invited us to her gorgeous house for a dinner party (thank you!!!) where we had nacho night and enthralling conversations about tattoo deliberations and boyfriend MANifestiations (hehe, get it?).  Thank you to Katie for illustrating both.

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Dinner party nacho night — we all took a photo from different angles but I won’t bore you by posting all four.  “Maybe we should put it on the floor?!” – Katie proving she’s the fastest learner of us all. Those skull plants got to come home with us!  

 

One day, Victoria gave us complimentary tickets to the Pittsburgh Pierogi Fest to eat our weight in píerogis.  Helen and I had made ourselves dairy-free the night before which helped limit our options. Dairy-free month day one. “Does Auntie Anne’s have butter in it?”  “Of course it does!” Helen snapped after first going to check and having her heart broken. #hurtpeoplehurtpeople We met up with Sarah, Randy, Andy, Patrick, Victoria, and a new friend, Madeline. We spent most of the day riding roller coasters (okay one, the Thunderbolt) since the pierogi lines were long and we opted not to get our faces painted like a pierogi.   I may or may not be (definitely am not) into roller coasters and was fretting before I got on the Thunderbolt. Sarah eased my nerves so patiently and Helen got out of having to actually ride the ride (lucky). Helen just got to do the fun part, which is obviously waiting in line #friendship  

Later, a group of us sat down and hung out, chatting, which was honestly the best part. We talked about how none of us had tattoos, which was crazy because we were travelers and since Katie had been planning on getting one that very morning.

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Ready for pierogies! There’s a pocket inside Sarah’s jacket that I covet!  

 

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Not too long after the pierogi fest (but like… on a completely different day), KATIE AND HELEN GOT TO PERFORM TOGETHER. I REPEAT: KATIE AND HELEN PERFORMED TOGETHER. I repeated that because it happened not once BUT TWICE!!! And both times were incredible. We gathered up a group and headed out to see this magic unfold:

 

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Katie+ Guitar + Jokes = Perfection

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Helen + Microphone + Jokes = Perfection

 

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Wee Emily and Tall Laura (also Bel and Bam – but you avid readers of the blog probably already know that!)

 

Before Friday’s show Victoria (and Katie) did the absolute cutest thing and made these amazing wristbands for Katie and Helen in support of their performance, which we all wore proudly — like a sign but a bracelet. You get it. Man, do I love matching! Emily and Laura were still wearing them when they went to the Steelers game the next day… even though Katie and Helen weren’t playing. But support from the two of them is endless!

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Repping their favorite comedians while footballing.

 

Speaking of repping, Katie and I decided to rep our ears and hark back to the most wonderful time of the yEAR (hehe), aka the furries.

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Eyes eyes, ears ears, tails tails, LEGS LEGS.

 

And after the Brillobox show night, we gathered an all-star team who came back to the house, and EVERYONE was given a pair of ears.  Aawoooogah!! Victoria ordered us all an UNREAL spread of pizza, and I had the divine pleasure of reading the Letter from the Editor (written by our very own Victoria) in Table magazine’s fall issue OUT LOUD! 

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Pack storytime, we’re all ears!

 

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Such a magnificent night where we had a lot to celebrate… so we celebrated like DOLPHINS! Goodness I love these girls.

 

 


 

Here are some more standouts from Katie’s hangout with us:

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Are you sick of food yet? Me neither. Cafe du Jour with Emily, Laura, and Katie – all about that Roasted Pork Crostini (not pictured) and Watermelon Salad.

  • Katie and I had to take a quick walk– I’m talking an hour from the southside to the northside during rush hour.  We stopped to split two slices of pizza twice because the first place only had one…and then we absolutely loved how even that felt so we did it again.
  • We saw A Simple Favor with VIP seating. We admired Blake, the sunset, and ate at Primanti brothers (om nom nom nom).

 

 

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“Pittsburgh…STOP.” – Madeline…My sentiments EXACTLY

 

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Even her umbrella is fancy!

  • There were two laughter yoga sessions where we “won the lottery,” Katie almost peed her pants, and had some other realizations about bodily functions. “I feel downright mirthful!” 
  • Katie and I recorded a podcast in Helen’s room!

 

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Welcome to our podcast, “Helen’s Room.” JK that’s not what it’s called… it’s called  Showing Up Messy! You should check it out!

  • I took Katie B. and all of her worldly possession on a scooter ride in the rain, but it was our favorite one yet because THE FUN IS IN THE RUSHING.

 

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Pinksburgh is up and back in action!

  • We played a game of giant Uno with my best friends and I got them to dairy-free-fudge the rules. AND I got a lil somethin’ from mom & mom (wink)
  • We sat near each other talking, texting, and also Facebook-ing.  ALL THE FORMS OF COMMUNICATION in the same room!!! #downtimeintouptime
  • Bel, I love Down Time.

 

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Are we in London or Pittsburgh?!

 

Alas, before we knew it, it was time for Katie Barbaro to go off on her year-long international adventure, Iceland bound. She wrote us a note on our white board in the dream flat, which, even though she set us up for success by writing a matching, handwritten note – because SHE SEES US (sobs) – it will probably still never get erased.  

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Katie always leaves us notes on the whiteboard and we refused to erase them because KATIE WROTE THEM AND WE LOVE HER. This time, she did this. WE FELT SO SEEN.

 

One of the many pieces of wisdom Victoria gave us was that your best friends are glimpses of you. Not only did that make my heart explode into a million glittery pieces, it also makes perfect sense. To quote Victoria quoting Oprah quoting Maya Angelou: “You are a compilation of the five people with whom you spend the most time.” I have THE best glimpses, and I’m so lucky to call these girls my best friends… #stilltriggered.

 

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Sammi and her glimpses… BEST FRIENDS, BEST FRIENDS, BEST FRIENDS!!!

 

Love
‘mi, a proud best friend

Best friends (#triggered) in Baltimore

9 Sep

Helen and I decided to go to Baltimore for fun one weekend and to meet Katie Barbaro (two bars and an o) before she went off on her year of solo travel (WOOHOO!). At the time we were planning this trip we didn’t know she was going to COME BACK WITH US TO PITSBURGH #wildplan But that story is for the next post…for now, Baltimore.

…or should I call it Balti-POURING DOWN RAIN! The 4 hour drive took us 5 because of the weather.  It didn’t stop raining the entire weekend but LUCKILY we had designed this trip entirely around the National Aquarium — which is a Baltindoors activity, and most certainly not the last Baltimore pun that this triad of woman has come up with #foreshadowing

We checked into the Envy Hotel, whose name is definitely overcompensating for something.  Maybe they were trying to use reverse psychology? — It was really anything but envious. Actually, I take that back. The room was extra shareable, which…you know, is something I love and something to be jealous about. For example, there was a bug in one of the beds (the other bugs, not that we saw any, were probably envious that this one bug got a whole bed to itself), so Helen and Katie shared a bed while I took the bug bed for myself that first night.  We switched it up for night two because fair is fair. The bathroom handle was also broken, so you could see into the bathroom, which meant that we shared a lot of private moments together…and learned where other bathrooms in the hotel were located. Another few unique traits (questionably enviable) were that breakfast was served in the dank basement with instant coffee and that when you were in the lobby, you had to push the down button so that the elevator could come “down” to you. I mean, I guess that’s enviable for an up elevator– it’s way more work to go up than down, right?  “They do things differently in Baltimore,” said Katie, as we headed past homeless people back into the pouring down rain in search of dinner.

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A few enJOYneer best friends enJOYneering their best friend fun!

 

We ultimately picked an Afghani restaurant called the Helmand. It was DELICIOUS. It only took getting out of the hotel, out of the rain, and five bites into the meal to completely change my mind about Baltimore, this place was great!

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Equal parts of everything.  The pumpkin (bottom of the plate) was exceptional!

 

During dinner Katie and I learned that we didn’t like raisins, but by process of elimination. We ordered this delicious rice dish (to share, of course), and finished it all only to discover the one thing left in the bowl was the pile of raisins we had subconsciously ignored. Talk about passive aggraisins.

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The “after” picture looks just like this, except everything else besides the raisins are gone.

 

We had a great time at the restaurant; our table was a share-table… like a potluck, but with feelings! While sharing at the share-table we discussed how amazing it was that we got to share it with THREE BEST FRIENDS. We’re each the best friend of our best friends, and it was just a whole best friend fest. We soon realized that “best friend” is our trigger word and sends our heart rates through the roof.  BEST FRIENDS, BEST FRIENDS, BEST FRIENDS!
For some added entertainment, we noticed a mouse scurry around the restaurant, but we weren’t bothered — it made me feel like I was a patron in Ratatouille. Spirits were high, the three of us had nothing to complain about.

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A best friend and her best friend!

 

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A best friend’s best friend; not pictured: their best friend.

 

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Before the mouse sighting.

 

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The mouse sighting caught in action.

 

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Squeak squeak! We disQUEAKly told the manager so the restaurant would not get shut-down by Food and Safety.  We didn’t want to be out in that rain either, mouse!

 

Giddy and HAPPY AS EVER the three BEST FRIENDS!!! (an exclamation point for each of us) headed back to the Envy Hotel to rest up for the next day.

 

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Snug as the bug in the other bed.

 

The next morning, we headed to the aquarium at 9 AM, right as it opened, and put school kids on field trips to shame by staying there for a whopping SEVEN hours.

 

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Good morning, Baltipouuuur!

 

We literally savoured each step we took, obviously, as we took seven hours to see the whole aquarium. In the beginning, Katie said something that really set the stage for the rest of our aquarium experience, and that was this:

“Wow. Life really imitates art! And by art I mean nature, which is really just life.”

I mean…truer words have never been spoken. And so we decided to actually watch art imitate life imitate nature by heading to two of the aquarium’s movies in 4D.

 

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“4D?!  Balti-MORE dimensions?!”  – HW

 

We decided to see Shark and Being Dolphin (the titles did not leave us much room for guessing what these movies were about…but that was fine! We couldn’t wait!)

We learned a few things from these movies:

  1. Kids do not like 4D depictions of marine life, which is actually hilarious.
  2. These movies needed a content warning because they were definitely not relaxing.
  3. Shark skin is as sharp as teeth. They cut with their skin just to see if people bleed (no, these aren’t Simple Plan lyrics; it’s real science). But sometimes people will think they’ve been bitten by a shark, when in reality, the shark just brushed up against them.
  4. 4D includes being sprayed by water and getting punched in the back. When that part of the movie took place, Helen leaned over and asked us if we just got shanked. This was Baltimore, after all. And yes, we all had. The kids in the audience screamed. Everyone watching the movie got punched in the back, that was supposed to be a positive feature, I guess.  We renamed the film the Shark-shank Redemption.

After the movie, we explored balti-more of the aquarium. Here are some standouts:

 

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Feeding time!!

 

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Seahorsing around.

 

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Peacock Mantis Shrimp. Andrew’s new fursona.

 

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“That fish looks like it’s going as that rock for Halloween” — Helen

 

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MesmeriSEAing

 

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Showing off turtle shells.

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Not in their natural habitat but still SO DARN PERFECT!  Those bubbles!

 

Our favorite exhibit was the jellyfish one. We loved the way they moved so fluidly and just bounced around and hit the walls. We realized we had just never seen jellyfish before — “like, ever.”

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Could there be any balti-more jellyfish in this aquarium?

 

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Interpreting a jellyfish — Whiskers and Labia.

 

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Matching phone screens 😉

 

Exploring an aquarium for seven hours is hard work, so for snack time (thanks, Katie!), we had a blue Clif Bar– yes, that’s the flavor– blue. And we split 2 clementines into 3. We just loved how fair that felt.

Besides the jellyfish, we were also drawn to the dolphins because, I mean…dolphins. After seeing the Being Dolphin 4D movie, we were thrilled to find out the aquarium has an open dolphin exhibit where trainers feed and play with dolphins all day. You’re welcome to stay in there as long as you want but every few hours, the trainers give a Dolphin Talk. We visited them multiple times and went to every dolphin talk they had. One of the coolest things we learned (and that is a LONG list of #dolphinfacts), is the dolphins will willingly give their tails so the doctors can draw blood. They are trained to do so and practice that pose every day so that when the doctors come for testing, the dolphins are not stressed out.

Dolphins are so smart, curious, and playful. Three of my favorite qualities. The trainers have a symbol that means the dolphin can swim out and do whatever trick it wants. When it comes back, the dolphin gets rewarded with big celebrations and cheering. The trainer then did the same symbol and the dolphin knew it meant to go out and do a different trick. The same symbol has multiple meanings — these animals are so advanced! They also had a symbol to say “swim around the perimeter of the tank and show me any 5 tricks you want, as long as you don’t repeat any!” DOLPHINS ARE SO SMART. They have to be constantly teaching the dolphins new tricks because they crave innovation and creativity. I’m not sure how we figured that out about dolphins but I’m glad we did! HUMANS ARE SMART, TOO! 

DOLPHINS ALSO LOVE TO CELEBRATE!!! How cute is that?! Anytime they did a trick correctly, they would celebrate with their trainers! It was so full of joy and positive reinforcement. The trainers celebrate when they do something correctly and just ignore if they do something incorrectly so as to not reinforce the behavior. They said that works for children, too. #lifehack 

The trainers told us that sometimes the dolphins play baseball with flavorless jello, to which Katie, without missing a beat, turned to us and asked:

“What’s a dolphin’s favorite flavor of jello? Trick question!! Flavorless!”

When we left the aquarium seven hours later (seriously – go to the Baltimore Aquarium and see the dolphin talks), the three of us wanted to get something matching so we scoured the gift shop for anything that called our names — it had to call all three names or else it was a bust. We ended up just using that magnificent picture of jellyfish (shown above #captionfacts) as matching phone screens, which is perfect, but we also got this great picture, which we wanted but didn’t want to pay $50 for.

 

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A few puffins with special powers. WE, THOUGH. ❤ ❤ ❤

 

And since 1 Clif Bar +  ⅓ of 2 clementines does NOT = a sufficient meal, we decided to head out for some food and have some more best friend time where we just constantly made each other laugh because we though.

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“Helen: Sayer of words, mumbler of gems.” – Katie

 

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Katie asking Helen on a best friend date. SHE SAID YES!

 

After we made the best use of Baltimore by going to see the aquarium and having dinner, we decided to balance it out by making the worst use of Baltimore and going to see an improv show, which apparently, in Baltimore stands for “Needs improvement.”

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Couple celebrating their one year anniversary on stage. Happy one year, baby. #Badprov

 

Katie and Helen went up on stage as audience participants — they were my favorite part of the show.

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“I need this 4th wall to get wayyyy thicker”– Katie

 

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Moral support!

 

After sitting through some…some really ENVIABLE — there we go–  improv, we decided to just leave early. After all, it wasn’t our town. We didn’t know these people (thank goodness).  We could just leave right? Right. We left. After we left, we debriefed and wondered if we were clapping with them or at them. Like, how would we like it if someone came to our jobs and just started clapping at us? Our debrief was funnier than the actual improv #sorrynotsorry.

The next day, we got a delicious breakfast sans basement and decided to skip the trampolines and head home early, which is great because I love to stop.

 

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Aquarium and food; the absolute best uses of Baltimore.

 

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Sooooo good — also, no mouse sighting!

 

After breakfast, we got in the car and drove back to Pittsburgh. The 4-hour road trip took us 6 which I considered to be not bad at all. We also managed to go back in time when we stopped at a Burger King on the way home, and if you don’t believe me here’s proof (cameras still worked back then).

 

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We let Katie drive.

 

We also stopped at an international market, and Katie and I realized it was the first time we had gone international together. Our destination? Goat cheese and caramel lollipops from Mexico.

There were also several realizations made on the way back home, which was a great way to turn our downtime in to up-time #always The first epiphany came when I realized, in real-time, that I was a quarter hoarder when we had to pay a toll. The first step is admitting you have a problem, and I did just that while making eye contact with Helen. I am a quarter hoarder.

The second realization came after we had made our last stop; Helen was driving (thanks for driving!), and she didn’t want to make any more stops (woe is me) so that we could get home on time to see Bonus Stage at Arcade Comedy Theater (good improv!). Helen noticed in the rearview mirror that Katie was getting her water from some grapes — something that dolphins do from ice-cubes or fish, by the way, because all mammals need fresh water! When she realized Katie was so thirsty that she had resorted to getting her water content from a grape, Helen agreed to stop because “I didn’t realize what a monster I was being!”

This Baltimore trip was definitely anything but a Balti-snore, we got to see everything that this city had to offer (and by “everything” I mean the massive aquarium.).  And it really made me appreciate a couple of things. First: my gorgeous, beautiful, funny best friends who are the best best friends in the world. Second: Pittsburgh improv. Third: Dolphins. 

 

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A BEST FRIEND WITH HER BEST FRIEND AND HER BEST FRIEND’S BEST FRIEND, WHO IS ALSO HER BEST FRIEND #SOTRIGGERED

A Midsummer’s Night (and Day) Dream

25 Aug

So I’m not going to write this blog post in Shakespearean prose because…that sounds really hard. But I will say that in my midsummer (which, honestly, doesn’t rival the original, I’m not trying to compete, Shakespeare) — there was absurd fun, laughter, drinking, hanging out in nature, waking up to random fairy creatures (just kidding although I did witness some really awesome clouds with magic-like qualities).  Please sit back, relax, and enjoy the show (aka my blog).

 

PARTY EVENTS

  • Helen, Kristin, and I got ourselves invited (by asking to be invited) to Nanny Stock (thank you, Lauren!) where we set up a camping spot and enjoyed this small, friendly memorable festival.  As we were pitching our tent, which was a daunting task, Helen lifted our spirits by reminding us that camping “looked hard, but it was just fun in disguise.” Once we set up, we hung out, laid on that Peruvian blanket, and watched the clouds roll by.  We each got to make a wish…and all of them came true. Helen even saw a shooting star (which made me wonder, was her first wish for a second wish?!). It was a great weekend.

 

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That camping fun sure does look like a lot of work. Thanks for the help, everyone!

 

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Sky Blot test: what do you see?

 

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Can’t get enough of these clouds!

 

 

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Making wishes that all came true.  

  • I also went to….my second Hanson concert! Hanson was playing live with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra — how special — and Laura, Emily and I had center seats…but all the way up in the back as if I didn’t book these tickets 3 months ago. We had to take an elevator to get there, haha. Regardless, the show was fantastic.  The Hanson boys kept switching instruments and even sang a brief acapella song at the end which was my favorite. No offense, symphony. After the show we waited outside in the hopes that we would get to chat with them (a true fanson always holds out hope). Alas, they escaped to their hotel without time for photos.

 

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Look at all of those brothers on that stage.

 

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Sisters from other misters going to see the brothers.

  • Another concert that I LOVED was Taylor Swift, opened by Camila Cabello. We got “Ready for it!” at the dreamflat and walked over to Heinz Field.  I got to sit next to Helen which was invaluable because she whispered little known facts and commentary in my ear, really enhancing my experience. Such a good show.
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Pregaming for End Game (wink, wink).

  • Another cool mid-summer party:  A Harry Potter-themed event by Eva, whom I had met only once anywhere from 3-6 years ago, I couldn’t remember. The two of us had really connected over a random lunch but I hadn’t seen her since.  This was the first time that we were in touch and again, it was because she invited me to a Harry Potter themed house-party!  I said yes immediately, sent her a message confirming that she had indeed meant to invite me (she had!), asked if I could invite Helen (I could!) and took the night off of work to attend.  There was no way Helen and I were going to miss out on this golden snitch of an opportunity. Per Eva’s request, Helen and I got sorted into houses on Pottermore before the event (we were both Ravenclaw), dressed up in all the HP these clothes we had, and drew lightning bolts on our foreheads (see below).  We were very excited.

 

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Hindsight:  Wishing we had a spell for face recognition.

 

It wasn’t until we arrived at the house and went inside that I realized I had totally forgotten what Eva looked like. Talk about a party house-cup foul.  I panicked but we started mingling right away, surely I would recognize her….right? We ended up on the porch talking to a guy who also hadn’t seen Eva in awhile but had gone to highschool with her.  “She’s great!” I said. “Yeah, she’s great!”, he said right back. “Which one is she?” I asked. “What, are you kidding?” he asked. Helen was cracking up, I shot her a glance and said “Yeah, of course, but pretend I’m not.  Will you point her out?” He looked at us like surely this was a joke and pointed to a group of 3 women. “The one with glasses?”, Helen asked. “No”, he said. “The one with the crazy pants?”, I countered. “No!”, he laughed.  Haha, okay, great, the other one! Two wrong guesses later, Bel and I went to say hi to our gracious host whose face both of us will totally recognize from now on. To Eva’s credit she recognized me right away and was excited to see me, too 🙂

Shortly after that little mishap, which nobody knew about except the guy (sworn to silence because we used the silencio charm on him), the party officially got started. It was so well organized!!  Eva hosted with a fake British accent. Bel and I grouped up with the other Ravenclaws. We played flip cup with spells, quidditch, find the Horcrux, wizard chess, and trivia. We got a little competitive, lost horribly, but still had so much fun that we are inspired to throw our own theme party.  (This post is a reminder for team #dreamflat to plan that.) Our night ended in the Southside eating delicious Cambodian food.

 

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Ending a midsummer night in Southside.

  • Regardless of how it started or how competitive we got, we must not have totally blown it at the HP party like we thought we did because I ended up meeting Allison who invited me to Phipps conservatory.  She had served in the Peace Corps in Guinea (not Papa, or French… just OG Guinea). She then invited me to an awesome Peace Corps dinner where she cooked a ton of delicious, homegrown food and I got to meet her other Peace Corps friends from Moldova and South Africa.
  • In other ‘foreigners I’ve met this summer’ news, I hosted a Couchsurfer from Niagara Falls who helped me go on a little staycation. I got to explore the city with a fresh perspective and end another night in the Southside watching the chaos.

HOUSE EVENTS

  • I started growing my own mushrooms. No, not the magic kind.  The shiitake kind. After carefully cultivating, growing, and harvesting my first round of ‘shrooms, I was delicately moving them while we were cleaning the dream flat — after I had spent days soaking and caring for them — WHEN SPLAT! I DROPPED MY PRECIOUS MUSHROOM dirt all over the floor. *Whisper Scream!* I couldn’t real scream because Patrick (Hi, Patrick!! We love and miss you!) was sleeping upstairs. (Whisper screams are more concerning anyway, I guess.) And Helen came running to see what was wrong. Such a shame to lose them, they were really fun-gis (lol get it?).
  • Our fridge got clogged (never again, jello shots) so Helen brought the cold items to wee Emily’s house to store in her fridge.  Moving in the first time she ever went there. Classic lesbian. Thanks, Emily!
  • Helen got new glasses 🙂 They are a -.75 and look adorable but are a slight buzzkill because they’re always so negative and complaining about how she can’t see.
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Negative glasses for a positively wonderful person.

  • Speaking of Helen, she and I were long overdue for a bestie date (haha do we just always feel this way or is this just always true?!), so we headed to Eighth Grade (the movie, because nobody needs to go back to experience puberty). It was great — we love Bo Burnham — and made us thankful that we are, from now on, grownups.
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Bestie date.

  • I was inspired to get a job in government work (highly classified)– or at least tell people I work for the government.  “I’m a government contractor. I do government work. I can’t talk about it.”
  • I found out the owner of the bar where I work is selling (but hopefully everything else remains the same)  …Maybe I really will have to work for the government, Josh.
  • I hung out with Jodi and Bella and went for a walk (one of many because….)
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A walk by the river where we ran into the Regatta.


PLANES, MOTORCYCLES, AUTOMOBILES

  • …My scooter got hit by a truck (all the crying emojis!!!!)  PUBLIC ENEMY NUMBER ONE: a Chevy Silverado. But not all of them. Just the red one that hit my scooter. Luckily, she was parked (legally – “Excuse me, ma’am, you know nothing.” / “I’m not going to thank you for doing the right thing.”), no one was driving her, and the people who hit her came inside to get me and their insurance paid for everything. But for an entire month during the best part of the summer (but not early or late summer — read: mid summer) I didn’t get to drive Pinksburgh. I fought hard with their insurance company, and ultimately they rented me a motorcycle for three days.  Ahhh!!!! HOW EXCITING!!!! I ended up getting….
  • A monster. A complete monster (pictured below). An 800cc BMW machine that was waaaayyy too big for me and held waaaaayyyy too much power. The guys at Eagle Rider were incredibly kind and patient with me but I could. not. handle it!  I needed to downgrade. Didn’t they have any scooters I could rent?? No. After spending 30 minutes trying to ride the 800cc beast I had to return it. In it’s place, Eagle Rider gave me another monster. This one was larger (in height) but smaller (in CCs — 400).  I still couldn’t leave the parking lot. Every day (for 3 days) I drove my car to the rental place, geared up, and drove that motorcycle around the parking lot getting better each day but never actually taking her out onto the road. It was like a motorcycle carousel ride (but more dangerous) and I’ve decided that it’s the scooter life for me, thanks!

 

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Monster #1

 

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Monster #2

 

  • I visited Findley Lake with some beautiful women I don’t get to see very often:
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Two aunts and a niece.

 

  • I also learned about my mom’s stunning garden– like mother like daughter, eh? Just kidding, she wasn’t growing mushrooms indoors.
  • I got ready to feel THE BURN. AKA prepped for Burning Man.
  • And, after the furries (most wonderful time of the year), I headed to Toronto to visit a legend for a hot minute and to support England in the World Cup.

 

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Seeing double (and not just because my phone case still has fuzz on it from the furries).

 

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Ordering traditional fish & chips to honor the OG motherland.

 

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We started the weekend on an Austin Powers themed couch and ended it with our faces painted to root for the monarch.

 

Anecdote: I sent the above picture to Nikola in Croatia, congratulating him on the World Cup win over England but included “ignore the face paint” in the caption. He said “that would be like my wife sending me a naked picture but telling me to ignore the guy in the background.” Ha!

 

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Nikola, Congrats to Croatia!

 

  • On the way back from Toronto, I slept in the car to harness all of the energy I possibly could before seeing Patrick and packing for a mere hour to then rush off on our 25-hour transit into Kazakhstan. They asked me if I had anything to declare at customs… I sure did.  

 

FRIEND EVENTS

  • I went to Goat Fest with Emily where I got to meet her bestie, Erin and, later, Erin’s boyfriend, Josh. Josh brought a penny (not one cent but, like, a sports shirt) for Erin to wear and all the girls went into the bathroom to switch clothes. We took photos to commemorate. See below.

 

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One of these is now hanging on my mirror.

 

  • I got to have a fun dinner with Josh and Kristin (what a group!) at my favorite restaurant, Cafe du Jour.
  • I played darts, went to a bonfire, started Anne of Green Gables and was “one curry away from eating a curry” (beans, veggies, and pineapple from a can).
  • At one point during our midsummer, Helen and I were 85% positive (still are) that someone is pregnant  (hint: it’s not one of us!) 

MmmMOPIN’ AROUND

  • Helen got to perform twice at the Pittsburgh Comedy Festival, plus a special edition Harry Potter show at Penny Arcade. Harry Potter was a theme this midsummer (wink). During Helen’s shorter second set (which was so fun) she told a Hanson joke and then, because of that, Mmmbop – by her favorite band – was the closing song of the Pittsburgh Comedy Festival!!! AHHH!!!!!  You can only imagine how excited we got! I told you… this midsummer was a DREAM!!!

 

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I still feel the anticipation and it’s already happened.

 

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After her closing set, Helen and I got to help clean up Arcade Comedy theater, which we were honored to do. Cleaning, you say? Honored? YES!! You know the feeling where you get to take care of the things you love? Like making your bed after you’ve slept in it?  Welllll…

 

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Mmmoping with love & elbow grease.

 

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Faces of the Pittsburgh Comedy Festival #PGHisfunny

 

HAMILTON, HAMILTON!

  • Earlier this year, I bought Helen Hamilton tickets for her birthday (watch her amazing reaction below!).

 

The day finally arrived for the show and we road tripped to Cleveland with her besties, Patrick and Andy (hi, guys!), stayed at an airbnb, popped into the original Moe’s Tavern (which inspired the Simpsons’ bar as the writers lived above it!), and went to Playhouse Square to see one of the greeeeatest shows around!  It was so good, even better than Helen and I thought it was going to be. We loved it. We got into an Uber in the best moods of our lives and said “HELLO! …. stranger” to the driver. 

 

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Young, scrappy, and hungry.

 

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“Talk less. Smile more. Don’t let them know what you’re against or what you’re for.”

 

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“And when my time is up, have I done enough? Will they tell my story?” — Eliza

 

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Bestie’s Best Belated Birthday!


Helen and I ended the night at a hot chocolate bar, i
t was truly a midsummer for the ages.

‘Til summer’s end,
‘mi

 

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Pittsburgh in the (MID)summer #nofilter


PS.  Hi to Paul and Siri who always read until the end 🙂

PPS.  Katie, did you know I knew Siri too?

Kazakhstan #3 – Hitching

18 Jul

The Life-Changing Magic of Hitchhiking

The final installment from our trip to Kazakhstan  — A guest blog by Patrick

Our hearts raced as we considered hitchhiking at night. We both had strict rules against it, but this was our hard trip and we were supposed to be daredevils and things had gone so smoothly thus far. We were leaning towards risking it as we departed Kolsai Lake 1, but then the universe spoke up: the construction crew was back at it and they refused to let us pass. After some aggressive back and forths with the grumbly foreman, we were eventually allowed to pass. We still hadn’t made up our mind as we approached Saty, the point of decision. We could stay comfortably there in our yurt again tonight, or risk it all and continue on with the Germans. As we drove down the main street one final time, we looked at each other and decided to go for it: we were throwing ourselves back into the life-changing magic of hitchhiking.

The sun goes down on Saty.

 

Our ride down the hill from Saty was quick thanks to Anna’s adept driving, but our spirits dropped as we noticed clouds on the horizon. The lightning started in the distance and grew closer as we approached our drop off point. A storm? Really? Had our luck run out? We said a heartfelt goodbye to our amazing German teammates, and hopped out of the car just as dusk settled in.

That massive storm was headed straight for us.

 

Hitching at dusk, a new experience!

 

We hurriedly prepared ourselves (Sammi had washed herself in the freezing cold lake before we left, but we both changed our shirts and transformed into non-threatening humans) and got to the road as quickly as we could. There was no time to waste! We were passed by three cars before the nicest Kazakh guy pulled up, smiled profusely as we explained we wanted a ride to Kegen, and immediately told us to hop in! Well, that was a stressful 8 minutes.

He knows how to count “One, two, three” in English. I know how to say “Shop” in Kazakh. It was a great conversation.

 

Our driver was so amazing – just genuinely helpful and interested in us. Unfortunately, he spoke about nine words of English, and our Russian was a little weak (Note to self: Learn Russian!). We somehow managed some broken exchanges about numbers and boxing and the USA. Luckily music is the universal language. Our new savior turned up his Kazakh tunes, finding a catchy dance/trance tune with some English. “It’s my life!” bellowed through the car on seemingly endless repeat. And never stopped. Our driver was so excited that the song had English in it that he had put it on repeat. “Is this torture?” Sammi asked.

One of the interesting things about traveling in Kazakhstan is that for many of the locals we interacted with we were the first Americans they had met. Apparently Kazakhstan isn’t at the top of American bucket lists. That was awesome for us, as many of our hosts and new friends were overly eager to meet an American in the flesh and brag about us to their friends. Or, in this case, girlfriend. Our driver was so excited that he insisted that we FaceTime with his girlfriend. While driving. On windy roads. In the dark. And rain. All of a sudden our dream ride had turned into a death trap with mind-numbing music. With that said, it was so much fun to soak up the joy he had from having us in his car, and we were more than happy to talk to his girlfriend in a language she couldn’t understand.

#safetythird

 

As we approached Kegen, the town near the border we hoped to stay in, we tracked down the location of the hotel we had read about on the map and instructed our new friend/driver to take us there. It was pouring down rain when we arrived, and the place looked not only deserted but slightly haunted. Uh oh. Our fearless friend got out of the car and tried to wake up someone in the hotel to no avail. He even stood out in the rain and called the number on the hotel to try to help us out. No luck.

gen·er·os·i·ty – (n) finding random Americans a hotel in the pouring rain after you’ve driven an hour out of your way out of sheer kindness

 

Sammi and I were somewhat concerned at this point, but luckily we were able to find another potential lead on the map. Our driver conversed with some locals, navigated around a massive hospital to the ‘Sauna Hotel’, and once again got out in the rain to try to find us some accommodation. This time the owner picked up his phone, came over, and showed us our warm, dry room. We took a photo with our new friend before saying goodbye. As we were parting we realized that he wasn’t even heading to Kegen (where we were) in the first place; he had driven an hour out of his way to take us where we needed to go.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

 

One of my favorite things about traveling is having the opportunity to accept the incredible generosity of strangers. Fundamentally, this world is an amazing place and people are full of love and joy. Traveling constantly puts you in situations where you don’t just want the help of others; you need it. And I never fail to be overwhelmed with gratitude for the locals who are willing to go out of their way (literally and figuratively) to help people who don’t even speak their language. This is what makes hitchhiking so magical – you literally put yourself at the mercy of the kindness of others, and they rarely disappoint you.

From my journal: “It’s amazing how much travel can broaden and deepen your belief in the goodness of people. The sheer generosity of others, especially when asking nothing in return, frequently brings me so much joy.”

This text exchange between Sammi and Helen is perfect.

 

We enjoyed the banya (we were staying at the Hotel Sauna, after all), got some sleep, and started prepping for tomorrow’s adventure: hitching across the border to Kyrgyzstan. We woke up to blue skies, high spirits, and incredible thirst. We set off to find a magazine, where we promptly bought too many cookies (#theme #youliketotryeverythingdontyou) as well as some much needed water. We found a small cafe tucked away next to a shop and enjoyed a delicious meal of soup and dumplings. We were joined by a Japanese traveler who was biking around the world, and enjoyed swapping travel stories. He also agreed to take our extra cookies, which was a huge win.

The morning scene outside of our hotel.

 

Breakfast! Don’t ask what a Wenice is.

 

Buoyed by full stomachs and having finally found the bathroom (“The lady finally just walked me there”), we set off to the border. It’s not everyday that you wake up with the goal of hitchhiking into Kyrgyzstan! After Sammi epicly missed a high five with a local and a man with a gun went running by, we caught our first hitch with the nicest father and son who were driving to the next town in an old Soviet car that was missing it’s front seat. The father had the heartiest laugh ever and enjoyed talking to us in Kazakh about things we couldn’t understand.

Hitch #1: Is that a tar truck?

 

From there we had a short walk past a mosque before catching a ride with two construction workers to the end of the town by the border. Now we were a mere 11 km from the border. We were passed by four cars in a row before we hit the jackpot. A car pulled over with plenty of space and motioned at us invitingly, pointing to the back seat. We started to get in and were surprised to find a large British man with a bigger backpack than we had ever seen. The man then started to wave us out along with the British guy. The driver, satisfied by his empty car, then sped off in the other direction.

“What just happened?!?” I asked Sammi. We thought we were getting a ride but then we got an extra traveler instead. It was the INVERSE HITCH, every intrepid traveler’s worst nightmare. Instead of getting a ride to our destination we now had to figure out how to hitch with another human and twice the luggage. Alas, Kazakhstan wasn’t going to let us go that easily!

We started walking and were beginning to accept our fate when a tiny Soviet car packed full of people pulled over. After some careful rearranging of children and things, we somehow managed to get our stuff into the trunk and pile into the back seat. And so, the eight of us went on our way, Sammi and I, our inverse hitch British friend, three children, and two adults, along the final 11 kilometers of bumpy, rocky road to the Kyrgyz border. The car literally scraped the ground every time we hit a bump, and everyone’s foot fell asleep. But we made it to the border and were overly grateful for the three rides that had made our day traveling over rough roads so smooth.

Smalled up.

 

We watched the tiny car drive off into the distance (it turned out they were headed North along the border) and walked across the border. Things were going smoothly and we were feeling a little too confident. Sammi snapped a quick photo of me heading into Kyrgyzstan, and was immediately called out by a soldier. He demanded to see her phone and threatened to deport her over and over again. He was pretty clearly looking for a bribe, but Sammi was so surprised by the turn of events that she didn’t recognize his intent. Fortunately, he eventually relented and allowed her to cross through. Our morning was a success, and now it was time to turn our focus to a place we were even less prepared for. Readers, we’re headed to Kyrgyzstan…

Walking into Kryz…I mean Kyrz…I mean Kryg…

 

Kazakhstan #2 – “Eight Minutes of a Hard Bit”

17 Jul

This is the next (favorite) post about our adventures in Kazakhstan.
A guest blog by Patrick.

 

We awoke the next morning without a plan; we had meant to make a plan the night before, but we were tired and the great thing about traveling with a resourceful travel partner is you can afford to wing it. Alex had let slip that hitchhiking in Kazakhstan was pretty easy, and we both knew that hitching was in our future. We surveyed the map and found a remote alpine border crossing into Kyrgyzstan. Yes, please.

We said goodbye to the incredibly generous Alex (THANK YOU SO MUCH!), and made our way back to our favorite subway ever for the ride to the regional bus and taxi stand. We had to walk a bit from the station, and had quite an adventure along the way: Sammi found an artificial turf couch to relax on, we decided to be daredevils and cross a major road without a crosswalk, and Sammi was asked in a language we don’t know to watch a baby while the mother bought a kebab. Sammi just smiled and nodded; the baby survived.

Ok, so it’s not the WHITE COUCH from the Dream Flat, but…

 

Our new Kazakh friend/savior.

 

We had planned on taking a taxi out of the city and then hitching a ride up to Saty (a mountain village with homestays and access to gorgeous alpine lakes). We casually walked up to the taxi stand and quickly realized that we knew no Russian, had no idea what we should be paying, and were totally unprepared to negotiate our safe passage. Whoops! We had been lulled into a false sense of confidence! Maybe this wasn’t going to be as easy as it seemed while being led around by a CouchSurfer. Luckily, this wasn’t our first rodeo. We walked away, regrouped, and made a plan. The SIM card we had received from Alex wasn’t working for data, so we started asking around for help. Before we knew it we had located an incredibly nice gentleman (pictured above) who got some boys to help set up our internet. Voila – we had google translate! After posing for photos with several locals, we had a great exchange with our new friend who agreed to take us to the taxi and negotiate a good fare. We paid half as much as the other tourists in our car. 😉

“We had eight minutes of a hard bit” -Patrick

Topics of conversation during the taxi ride from Almaty: how great traveling together is, how great we are at traveling, and how great traveling is. Our newly ingrained trifecta!

 

We had negotiated to hop out at the crossroads to Saty with the plan to hitch from there. No matter how confident you feel, hitchhiking always takes a little bit of a self pep talk. Luckily there were two of us, so we were able calmly collect each other and prepare for the arduous struggle of being turned down repeatedly. We readied ourselves and stuck out our thumbs. Ten minutes and three cars later, we had a luxurious ride in an SUV all of the way to Saty. #hard

Hitchhiking: Minute 1 of 10.

 

Our wonderful hitchhiking hosts were three lovely Germans: Harry, Anna, and Anika. They were on virtually the same itinerary for the next couple of days as we were, and in no time ‘Team Find the Lake’ was formed. We arrived in Saty and introduced our new friends to one of our favorite past times: surveying every accommodation option in a village and then deciding which one is the best. SO. MUCH. FUN. We quickly found our dream yurt, owned by a nice family and surrounded by apple trees. Sammi and I were sold, and so were our German friends after they visited four other places. We could barely contain our excitement when Anika translated “Your yurt is ready.”

Our first successful hitch of the trip – on our way to Saty!

 

We settled in, had a delicious tea break, and then set off to Kolsai Lake. We ran into some serious obstacles along the way, namely a grumpy National Park employee who grilled Harry and an intense construction crew who were paving the road. After some Harry/hairy maneuvering, we found the gorgeous lake just in time to sit down and watch the sun go down. It was beautiful until a Kazakh guy walked right in front of us, got out his soap, and started bathing in the middle of our view. We returned home for a delicious family-style dinner of lamb and potatoes before crowding around the television to watch the World Cup Final.

The surreal drive to Kolsai Lake.

 

Team Find the Lake becomes Team Found the Lake.

Following a great night’s yurt-sleep, we awoke to find ominous weather bearing down on us. After hours of deliberation over breakfast, we finally decided to try to drive to Kaindy Lake and leave the epic hike we had planned for another day. “Who wants to hike in the rain?!?” We set off for the closest magazine (that’s Russian for shop) to stock up on provisions. When the first magazine didn’t have everything we needed, we moved onto the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, before we had scoured every shop in Saty. “You like to try everything, don’t you?” Harry asked us. He nailed it. We felt like The Very Hungry Caterpillar as we worked our way through Kazakh chocolate in beautiful packaging, Coke that wasn’t quite cold enough, round bread, nectarines, sausage, orange donuts, and mystery dessert sticks.

“If I had asked you yesterday how many times we would drive up and down this main road, what would you have guessed?” I asked as we finally made our way out of town. We missed our turn to the lake which allowed us to participate in Patrick’s favorite activity (Backtracking), then had a gorgeous drive through a river and into the mountains.

The drive to Kaindy Lake.

 

Pit stop!

 

We arrived a Kaindy Lake, famous for its upright Spruce Trees that are still standing from the day the lake was formed by a landslide about 100 years ago. We were greeted by some amazingly generous locals, who shared freshly picked apples and boursaki with us before sending us down to the lake. We spent a lovely morning chatting with a Kazakh-American couple we met, picnicking along the banks of the lake, and, of course, swimming. “If we’re going to swim somewhere on this trip, this should be the place.”

The hospitality of the Kazakh people was amazing.

 

“I know my way sucks but it’s what I’m doing.”

 

“The hard bit.”

 

“Who’s excited to talk about credit cards?”

 

Bingo!

 

#hard

 

“Did you see that yellow duck?”

 

#lakelife

 

We hiked around to the other side of the lake before returning home for dinner and an explanation of the exclusive nature of Bavaria. Our homestead was bustling with a long-haired greyhound (“Does that count as a unique animal?”), frolicking children (“Do you think I can just pick him up?”, and a deformed sheep. We had fun flossing and brushing our teeth, bathing in the Russian banya, and admiring the beautiful scenery.

“Sorry about the (w)hole situation.”

 

“Down low, too slow!”

 

The next morning involved another round of intense deliberations about what to do and whether it was worth hiking to Kolsai Lake 2 given the weather. Team Find the Lake eventually settled on the hike, so we immediately traveled to the closest magazine(s) to buy more supplies. Sammi and I were elated; the cream-filled shortbread sandwiches we found were delicious. We found our way back to Kolsai Lake and set off on our hike in the pouring rain. A local guide looked us up and down, advised that the hike was long and hard, and identified Sammi as the only one of us who was properly prepared. Way to pack that poncho, Sammi!

Tromping through the mud!

 

Team SnackAttack.

 

#worthit

 

The hike was long, muddy, and beautiful. We passed through rolling hills of wildflowers, under dense forest, and along rushing waterfalls. There were lots of snack breaks and photo opportunities in between hours of deep conversation and soaking in nature (literally, because it was pouring). Team Find the Lake faced some serious adversity, but we lifted each other’s spirits and made it to Kolsai Lake 2! As we arrived, we were confronted by heavily armed Kazakh soldiers who asked to see our passports. We were less than a kilometer from the Kyrgyzstan border, and they take crossing international boundaries seriously. We paused for a little picnic in the sun(!) before making our way back through the mud to the car. It was a long but rewarding day, and everyone was exhausted.

“I’m running ahead so I can take your picture!!!”

 

Oh my god, she spelled it correctly.

 

Team Found the Lake (#2)

 

So. Happy.

 

Sammi and I had started to formulate potential plans for our next step in the morning, and were considering catching a ride with our German friends back down to the crossroads where they first picked us up. From there it would be about a 45 kilometer hitch to the town of Kegen, located near the Kyrgyz border. However, as our hike wore on and the day grew later, we started to question whether it was a good idea. Do we dare attempt hitchhiking at dark?

Team Found the Lake (Twice!), Fell in the Mud, Ate a Lot of Snacks, Took a Lot of Photos, and Survived Three Days Crammed Into the Duster

 

Kazakhstan #1 – God Almaty

15 Jul

A guest blog by Patrick

As we landed in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s cultural capital, we quickly realized that we had reached a pinnacle of collective exhaustion. Our minds raced with important questions. Why didn’t we get ANY sleep over the past week? Why didn’t we sleep more on the plane? Do you think it’s safe to take a nap in a random park? It was tiring to think about being so tired. Not to be outdone, our stomachs worked on overdrive trying to digest the enormous amount of food we had consumed at not one, not two, but three airport lounges along the way. #prioritypass

After receiving advice from a Kazakh woman that it was definitely not a good idea to take the bus from the airport into town, we promptly exchanged money and headed for the bus stop. Our first experience on Kazakh public transport was surprisingly pleasant – the woman sitting behind us even grabbed Sammi’s head and placed it on my shoulder after she kept nodding off in the other direction. Maybe this wouldn’t be so hard after all!

We made our way across town, through a market with exciting looking fruits and veggies, and to the flat of our amazing CouchSurfing host Alex. He was headed out for beer, but we explained that we were a little tired and were going to have an early evening. We got to know his two cats before falling asleep immediately.

Our CouchSurfing hosts: one of them will cuddle you all night long and the other will snore.

 

We awoke the next morning ready to explore, and Sammi made sure that Alex knew it with her typical morning energy. If she had brought her tail, it would have been wagging. Alex had arranged for us to go camping in the mountains with his friend, but the weather didn’t cooperate so we called an audible and planned a day trip to the mountains and a tour of Almaty instead. We caught a bus outside of his flat and were engaged in an interesting conversation when a woman leaned over and said something in Kazakh to Alex as she was exiting the bus. “What did she say?!?” we asked with excitement. “Don’t talk so loud!” he responded. Oh.

We hopped off the bus outside the subway and had the ABSOLUTE PRIVILEGE of riding the Almaty subway for the first time. It was clean, cheap, and provided plenty of space for stretching. We immediately started to ponder if we could just spend all day riding the subway! “There’s only 6 stops,” Alex reminded us.

With our luxurious underground ride sadly behind us, we headed to a local cafe to meet Alex’s friend Zoe for breakfast. We were starving after going to sleep without dinner the night before, and quickly perused the menu with English translations that the waiter assumed we needed. I turned to the drinks section and was frozen in my tracks. ‘Latte Popcorn’ was listed on the menu. Latte Popcorn? Are my eyes deceiving me? Is that what I think it is? Is this one of those situations where the person who did the translating just really didn’t grasp English? We asked Alex and he confirmed that there was in fact a ‘Popcorn Latte’ on the menu. Given that our friendship with our CouchSurfing hosts was still new, we both tried to contain our excitement as we cooly ordered one each. Our friendship had been forged in rural Jamaica over endless pots of every type of popcorn we could dream up. We invented jerk popcorn. We love coffee because it makes us both crazy. And now, in this remote corner of the globe that we knew nothing about, we had found the epitome of a coffee drink – LATTE POPCORN. We calculated the odds that we would ever see ‘Latte Popcorn’ on a menu again in our lives – they are astronomically low!

Thanks a latte!

 

We had a delightful breakfast eating salad, soup, and a delicious baked veal dish while we discussed American impressions of Kazakhstan. We explained that many of our friends and family were concerned about us because they felt that Kazakhstan is dangerous. To this Zoe responded, “Dangerous? Where?!?” and looked under the table. Apparently Kazakhstan is actually an incredibly safe place. Phew, what a relief!

We caught a bus into the mountains, hopping off at a ski resort where we took the funicular up into the jagged peaks of the Tian Shan mountains. As we were getting ready to board the funicular, Sammi and I were only mildly concerned to find the basic rules of behavior if you are taken hostage posted next to the opening and closing times. “Dangerous? Where?!?”

“Don’t neglect the food.” That’s one you don’t have to tell us.

 

HARD hiking in the dangerous Tian Shan mountains.

 

FUNicular.

 

Is this the hard bit?

 

Public transport in Khazakstan, where the hardest part is not talking too loudly.

 

The funicular ride was gorgeous, and we had nice walk at the top before heading back down into town. Our whirlwind tour took us through Central Park where we were informed that “Almaty is the 2nd best city in the world after New York”, you shouldn’t dance to the military music at a war memorial, and if you buy a can of Yeti you’ll be getting a Red Bull like energy drink (because what Sammi and I need after drinking Latte Popcorns is more caffeine). We made our way to Green Market to work on our Bingo card: camel’s milk (gross), mare’s milk (gross), hard dough candies made from camel’s milk (gross), and the largest horse meat market we had ever seen. Sammi made friends with an Uzbeki fruit and nut salesman that let us try EVERYTHING, which is pretty much our dream come true.

Getting to try everything that you want at the market is HARD.

 

From there we caught a cab to a local restaurant to try some authentic Kazakh fare. While driving through the streets of Almaty, we observed a man reach into the car in front of us from the outside and start running. A man jumped out and started yelling, and before we knew it Alex had told our taxi driver to step on it and run that man down. WE SPED THROUGH THE STREETS ON A CHASE THAT WAS STRAIGHT OUT OF A MOVIE! When we caught up to the guy, Alex jumped out and ran him down! Alex forced him to stop until the man from the original car arrived and explained that the thief had stolen his money. Apparently he was a druggie. Alex calmly jumped back into the car and directed the taxi driver to continue to the restaurant. “DANGEROUS? WHERE?!?”

Watching the England game with real English beer.

After a delicious dinner of plov and handmade Chinese-style noodles which we got to watch them make, we swung by the store to pick up some horse meat jerky and beer for the England-Belgium World Cup Consolation Final. After watching the game we jammed on the guitar and harmonica (it turns out Bob Marley genuinely is universally loved) before heading to bed.

Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan Bingo

12 Jul

Bingo!

This is one of my favorite blog posts in recent memory…and I didn’t write it.
A guest blog by Patrick ❤

 

Following the amazing Mystery Trip and our incredible trip to Mississippi, Sammi and I were downright dedicated to keeping our travel momentum going. After reflecting on the fact that our collective energy for challenging travel was waning, we decided it was best to try to visit some of those places that we really wanted to see but needed some help to visit. And by ‘help’ we meant each other. We started to brainstorm a list of countries that would be hard to travel to. And when we say hard, we mean HARD. Like, the type of places where you find yourself wondering “What the hell am I doing here?”

We settled on a list of 8 countries, divvied them up, and started researching. Our goal: to narrow the list down to the best option for travel in July. There were, of course, some caveats, and they allowed us to quite neatly hone in on a destination that always invokes thoughts of “I literally know nothing about that place!” Strap on your seatbelts ladies and gentlemen, we’re headed to Kazakhstan!

Our thorough preparation consisted of the following:

  1. Figure out a city in Kazakhstan that has an airport. (You get bonus points if you could name Astana or Almaty, because I certainly couldn’t.)
  2. Book a flight to the one that’s named after an apple (Almaty).
  3. Buy a guide book and talk a lot about getting to hunt with an eagle because that’s the photo on the cover and we didn’t actually read the book in advance.
  4. Set up CouchSurfing for our first two nights.
  5. Have a Fur-reaking awesome weekend at the Furries.
  6. Show up at the airport absolutely exhausted after road trips to Toronto and Warren (Patrick’s hometown).
  7. Let the fun begin…because you don’t really need to be prepared to travel to a HARD country, do you?

Luckily, we had a whole day of travel to Almaty, which would give us plenty of time to watch movies read the guide book and make a plan. I mean, we certainly weren’t going to look out the window.

“Excuse me, but my window seat is missing a window.”

 

Building off of the enthusiasm that was generated by Furry Bingo, Sammi and I knew exactly how to get the most of our adventure:

How do you say “Bingo” in Kazakh? That definitely should have been a square.

 

So, to wet your appetite for our upcoming posts detailing our adventures in Kazakhstan AND Kyrgyzstan (because it was just too tempting to hitchhike across a remote alpine border crossing), here’s some evidence that we did in fact get to yell “Бинго!”

Official translation from our Kazakh CouchSurfing Host: “These guys are drunk and celebrating the short guy’s birthday and they want to INVITE YOU TO THEIR HOME FOR A TRADITIONAL KAZAKH FEAST so you can be the first Americans to step foot in their house. Unfortunately, the feast would likely last for days and you have to be at the airport in 6 hours.”

 

Riding on PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION (AKA our favorite subway in the entire world) in Almaty. Sammi: “Can we just spend the whole day riding on the subway?” Alex (Our amazing CouchSurfing Host): “There are only six stops.”

 

Remember that time we were hitchhiking to Kyrgyzstan and had such good luck with rides that we hardly had time to take a picture of a gorgeous MOSQUE?

 

Sometimes the best way to enjoy BESHBARMAK, the National Dish of Kazakhstan, is to buy it in a can and bring it back to the States so you can trick your girlfriend into eating horse meat.

 

If you go out SHOPPING for the best snack in Karakol and discover chocolate-covered goldfish, you better buy ALL OF THEM.

 

That’s a pretty sweet backdrop for your Russian SPA.

 

You might as well try a POWDERY SWEET made from fermented camel’s milk while you’re waiting to try SHUBUT (fermented camel’s milk) and KUMISS (fermented mare’s milk). For the record, all three were disgusting.

 

Selfie with the YURT THAT WE SLEPT IN.

 

There is nothing more MEMORABLE than a Latte Popcorn. Except for maybe HORSE SAUSAGE jerky.

 

The only dangerous part about making a new KAZAKH FRIEND while hitchhiking is he’ll probably try to FaceTime with his girlfriend while driving in the dark on windy mountain roads just to prove that he’s made some American friends.

 

If you’re going to go for a SWIM at some point in your trip, you might as well do it in a freezing alpine lake with dead spruces strewn about for added effect.

 

Grooving to some LIVE MUSIC at the Metro Pub in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Not pictured: Mind-blowing rave happening in the back room.

Just bring in an empty plastic bottle and they’ll fill it up with KAZAKH BEER. No charge for carbonation (added separately!).

 

There’s no better way to finish off a yurt-building workshop than with tea and sweets in a YURT CAFE.

 

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Patrick: “Why is it that every time I tell my HORSE to ‘Go!’ it slows down?”

 

Those are some pretty UNIQUE ANIMALS.

 

If you’re going to have a picnic in the soul-draining sun, you better make sure you have some SALAD (Ok, it’s not technically Russian, but you know.) Or, if you’re Sammi and Patrick, you’ll get so excited by the fact that the lady selling the salad speaks English that you’ll buy 8 and end up carrying around 4 kilos of salad on your back during a death march through the sand.

 

Make a TRAVELER FRIEND? How about 3?!?

 

Let me provide you with the definition of one of the TEN WORDS we learned: Shashlik = The most delicious grilled meat in the world.

 

Okay, so maybe we got a little ahead of ourselves when we declared that crossing a major road in Almaty without a crosswalk counted as being DAREDEVILS. How were we supposed to know there’d be a two-person swing on Issyk Kul? And, for the record, we never technically said that a BOARD GAME couldn’t just involve an actual board.

 

This. KAZAKH. BABY.

 

Guess who couldn’t be more excited about SNACK time? BOURSAKI anyone?

 

The Full MANTY (steamed dumplings).

 

“Бинго!”