Archive | December, 2016

(Pittsburgh) Photo Blog

26 Dec

These vibrant pictures are replete with reminders, and as I look at each one I think, ‘Yup, I remember exactly what was so special about that moment.’


Straight from Croatia to be with Katie and Dan Diamond for their exquisite wedding at PNC Park. ❤


“You’re a good driver,” said my dad.  Is there a better compliment?!


6am at Brittny and Rickys reception — I was in heaven.


Ecstatic girls, full of cake.


My hilarious best friend on team Level Up!


The famous Gab Bonesso!


Aunt Joan and Aunt Betsy in the fall. ❤


The fairy cottage. ❤


Cousins. ❤


Louis C.K. ❤


Proud to call Kendra and Eli my friends!  They’ve taught me so much about love. ❤


“Realizing it’s the good ol’ days while it’s the good ol’ days.” ❤


Jake and Colleen. ❤  We learned bar rules that night in Ithaca. And poor Hen was the sickest she had ever been.


Enzo snuggles after a night out with Rachel.


Deal me in!


Brian and Andrew, my wonderful friends, on their wedding night. ❤


“There’s joy inside of us.”


On a break from my office job volunteering for downtown Pittsburgh!


My role model, Vanja.


Empire’s first Christmas.


“Live a little!”  “I’m living a lot.” “Yeah, I’m trying to subdue you.” –  Hen




Happy Hanukkah!

An esoteric paragraph, because I don’t want to forget:
When Hailey and I played laser tag, Lou’s Little Corner Bar, framing Myanmar art with Emmy, Falling Water, Adam Day!, “Raping them over coals” — Colleen misspeaking to my parents re: pickle ball, Yom Kippork chops, Friendsgiving, Ben’s birthday, a cat-lady-bug on Halloween: a compound word for a girl, Election Night tacos and a sparkler for Virginia, capital laughter, when Helen ate a rose, Max and Art, Improv 102 with Chris, Kevin, Lori, Walter, Courtney, Ramsey, Joey, Nia, and Ben Mayer.



My 2016 travel summary:

6 weeks in Portugal — Telmo, Paula, and Iryna.
2 weeks in Spain — with my darling Colleen.
1 month in Morocco — and my first time in the desert.
8 days in Nicaragua — that will stay with Hen and me forever.
1 weekend in Mexico City.
6 weeks in the Balkans — year 4 with Katie Kuhn.
1 week out west; Colorodo, Vegas, and California.
And on December 25th, I leave for Vietnam.


I am ultra blessed to have a flexible job, and once again I’m ready to uproot myself; this time I’m heading to Asia.  I am taking a short break from Pittsburgh in order to rearrange my mental furniture, broaden my perspectives, and remind myself how little I actually need.


For the first time ever, I’m legally AdventureSam.



A Little High on STOKED

20 Dec

In October, I visited my bestie, Patrick, in Colorodo.  We camped in Crested Butte(iful) during a film festival and hung-out with incredible people.  The first day it rained; we watched a movie about Katie Lee, ate momos, laughed until we cried, and considered buying property.  The next morning I awoke to the sound of every different kind of zipper unzip, zip, zipping; sleeping bags yawned, jackets came off, backpacks got resituated, and tents were ventilated.  I took a deep breath of fresh, mountain air — the weather was idyllic.


I was left with no words but all the feelings.  Patrick brought everything we needed. ❤


Alex introduced me to the fashion term “power clash”.


Fly fishing, trout for dinner.


“Helping” Abe cook.


Catnip for humans.


“You’re not Patrick” — Nate, to me, proving that he is good at compliments.


The colours of the wind.


Those yellow butte(ies) are Aspens, connected underground, making them the largest organism in the world.

We ate a smorgasbord of s’mores, went for a hike, chatted about cowboys, warmed ourselves by the fire, ate fresh fish, and learned astronomy.  It was an amazing trip and I absolutely can not wait to go back.


From Colorodo, I visited the “Bay Area” where I saw the hilarious Ben Mayer and Tracey Morgan.


We drove a scooter across the Golden Gate bridge!


“Find a protest, join a protest, start a protest.”

I walked around UC Berkley campus, tried to pet squirrels, went on a scavenger hunt, and saw the movie “Seven”.  It was perfect.


Then! It was straight to Vegas for Brittny and Ricky’s wedding:


Epic location with epic people.


Beauty incarnate.


We saw Cirque de Sole on The Strip and I was elated to meet Scott, Michelle, Kelly, Doverspike, Jamie, Cassandra, Brandon, Natalie, Cheese Curl, moms, dads, and the rest of their crew. ❤


Scott: “Laughing so hard you cry while reading a menu?! Now there’s a happy girl.” ❤

To be fair, I’d never seen “pasta with fruit” listed as cuisine.


A few days later, I landed in LA LA land with my forever friend Molly and her boyfriend Brett.


All you can eat sushi.



My sojourn to the western US of A was busy, rich, and joyful!  I relished every second and wanted to extend it ALL.  I’m grateful to Ricky and Brit whose love was the inspiration and to all of my good friends for making me feel so welcomed!  I met wonderful, hilarious folks — an extension of Patrick, Brittny, and Ricky.  I hope that this post will enhance my memories and not overwrite them.  Next time, I think we should take more pictures. 🙂

Missing the Wild West,



NicaROCKgua: Hens Can’t Fly

14 Dec

Randall and Pablo joined us for the last few days of our road trip as they had a few days off for Easter weekend. We decided to spend Good Friday in typical Nicaraguan fashion – a relaxing day at the lake. The plan was to find a secluded place to cross skinny dipping off of Hen’s bucket list.



We hired locals with a boat to take us to a private part of the lake.  They dropped us off and were to return in two hours.  We had fun in the sun and cooled off in the water.


A Good Friday indeed.

But then things took a tumble.  Specifically, Hen.  While she was getting out of the water she slipped and fell — naked — and face-planted on a rock. Hen was plucked.
Though she didn’t make a sound, I knew it was serious when I saw blood dripping down her face.  We urgently called the boat back – “MUY RAPIDO POR FAVOR!”
Helen tried to fall asleep but we wouldn’t let her, we were worried that she had a concussion.  She countered that the only way she could stay awake was if we sang.  So Randall accompanied her in a duet of “Love is an Open Door” from Frozen during the boat ride back to land.


I drove us to the hospital at a frantic speed and thankfully was not pulled over. Randall sat in the back and tended to Helen. We kept her awake the only way we could, by participating in her sing-along.  I can’t remember being more scared.


In the hospital corridor.


Getting an x-ray.  That’s not Helen’s blood. Better or worse?


The hospital was busy but competent.


Local anesthetic. Before the bruising set in.


Brave girl!

The doctor masterfully stitched Helen up, wrote out prescriptions, and TOLD US SHE WOULD BE OK!!! (That’s me being excited. We were genuinely terrified.)  That night we slept on a bed at La Biosfera, courtesy of a couchsurfer, a Colombian named Sebastian who had befriended us the night before and offered up his treehouse for recovery.  The next morning, he and his housemate performed Reiki on Helen to help her heal while I went into town to pick up stronger meds.


My view every hour when the alarm would go off: Time to give Helen more pills.


View from Sebastian’s on our last day.


“What’s more blue: My eyes or my spirit?”

Our final day was spent finishing our drive to Estili and exploring briefly before returning to Managua to pack for our early flight home the next morning. Hurt on Good Friday? Returning home on Easter? We call it Jesus style.


Before: Bright-eyed.


After: Customs Officer: “So….. what happened?”

Nicaragua will always hold a special place in our hearts and on Helen’s nose scar.

We received a lot of warnings about going to Nicaragua:  Don’t eat the street food. Dye your hair to blend in. Everyone will be out to get you. We can’t emphasize enough how safe we felt. Here are the caveats we would give to anyone going to Nicaragua:
Bring bug spray.  Ice cream is really hard to find. Leave your umbrella at home. And watch out for the rocks.

NicaROCKgua. Get it?

‘Mi and Hen

NicaROCKgua: Volcanic Hikes

13 Dec

Helen and I were having a blast in Nicaragua. What a beautiful country full of lakes, volcanoes, and impossibly friendly locals. Our 8 days in Nicaragua were full of laughing to tears, meeting wonderful people, and trying new things. We set our sights on hiking two vastly different volcanoes: Telica (TELica?) which is currently active and Cerro Negro which last erupted in 1999 and tends to erupt every 16 years. Eek! We started with TelICa.


A hot-bed of volcanic action. The sound, heat, and olfactory stimulation at this crater were palpable.


“This is already the best day Hen’s ever had”


Jose Carlos, the tallest of all children.

This hot-bed of volcanic activity was miles from the base of the volcano itself. There we met these adorable children, who safely showed us around the bubbling earth. After a wonderful tour (we think, it was all in Spanish), Jose Carlos offered to be our guide for a much longer hike up Telica. TELica. TelICa. (Every time we said it, we were corrected on the pronunciation. Every time we changed it. Every time we were corrected again.)


Since Telica (TELica) is an active volcano, we asked child-guide Jose Carlos if we could go at night in order to look inside and see the lava. He was eager to be our leader and asked us to meet him at 3PM to start what was allegedly a 5 hour hike.  We met at his house and found his entire family waiting outside to meet us. They were beaming with pride. To our relief, his father Emilio, joined us with his machete in hand. Neither of them spoke a word of English.  No problem-a.


Emilio. The most patient man on Earth.


And so it began.


Hitting the trail or is the trail hitting us?


1 hour in, not a volcano in sight. Clues were abundant.

It proved to be an incredibly challenging hike, both physically and mentally. We spoke solamente en espanol. Hen and I brought a gallon of water to share. It was heavy, cumbersome, and not enough for two people. What was supposed to be 5 hours of adventure turned into 8. Nightfall came less than 3 hours into our hike and we were only equipped with our iPhone flashlights.  Gulp.  But not of the water (we’re saving that for later).


Optimistic, before the rationing.


Say “QUESO!”



Everything the light touches is our kingdom.

Clothed and Afraid: Nicaragua Edition:


On my belly looking into a volcano at night.  The lava rushed loudly beneath me. I army crawled on warm, soft ground. The night air smelled like sulfur. Heart palpitating. Jose Carlos wouldn’t get close.


We returned to their house at 11 PM, filthy and exhausted.

Joking aside, we never felt unsafe at any point on our 8 hour hike. Emilio was a skilled laborer who knew the area well. He and his son were perfect guides. We were effusively grateful. At the end of an exhausting day, Emilio said it was an authentic experience.  At least we think that’s what he said.
“I feel like I know enough Spanish to ask questions but not enough to hear the answers.” — Hen

The four of us were exhausted. They graciously offered us their beds to sleep in but they had already done enough. We were filthy and opted to sleep in our own adorable car in their driveway but not before we spent an hour using every baby wipe we had to get “clean” before entering our “home”.

When the sun came up a few hours later, Emilio and his family greeted us with coffee and let us use their shower.


Hen hanging in our new friends’ yard while Bam showered.


Hen learning how to use Emilio’s shower.

Post showers, Emilio proudly showed us around his yard. These are his animals:


“Some pig!”


Ask me how I got bird flu.

It was time for us to bid adieu. The whole family said goodbye.


Saying our Adios’.


For our next volcanic adventure we chose Cerro Negro, a volcano covered in black ash, infamous for volcano boarding near the northern town of Leon.


We’ve got volcanoes in different area codes.


“I guess when we signed up for this, deep down I must have known that that would mean carrying a board up a volcano. But somehow, it didn’t hit me until now, half way up.”

We chose a polished tour company this time but were still unprepared for how windy the volcano was. Imagine trying to climb up the type of rocks that are infamous for being easy to slide down. Yikes. We struggled to maintain footing while carrying 35lb boards on our backs.


Laughing to tears. Tears that were instantly taken by the wind.


The warmth of our friendship rivaled by the warmth of the ground.

Sammi: Helen, do you have pockets?
Helen: Yes, why?
Sammi: Be cool but I’m going to fill them with volcanic rock.
Helen: Wait… what?
Sammi: You’re going to want this, trust me. Try not to draw attention. I’m going to stuff them as full as possible because you’re going to lose some on the way down the volcano.


Started at the bottom now we’re here.


The Dark Side.


Where are the brakes?


Hen’s best ride.


Are you serious??  “I haven’t made a joke since our layover in Atlanta.”

Erupting with fond memories. Saving the best/worst for last,
‘mi and Hen

NicaROCKgua: Day One

12 Dec


Helen Wildy, one of my best friends, turned 30 this year and to celebrate WE TOOK A TRIP!!!!!!!!!!!  Within 30 minutes of saying “Let’s go somewhere!”, we’d booked our flights. Destination:  Nicaragua!!!!!!

When we tried to check in at the PIT airport, we noticed Helen’s name was listed as “Hen”.  Uh-oh.  We were instantly panic-stricken; already running late for the plane, who the HECK was Hen?!  We spoke to the ticketing agent who had apparently never seen a typo.
“Is Hen a nickname? Does ANYONE call you Hen?”
And just like that, Helen had a new nickname.   Chicken on Emoji One 2.2.5

We decided that the best way to see as much of Nicaragua as possible would be to rent a car and use it as a hotel/car combo. We asked for the ugliest car so that if it were damaged or dinged during our travels, we wouldn’t be penalized by Budget for returning it hurt. We requested the “carro mas feo” and to our delight and surprise, we got THE CUTEST CAR IN THE WORLD.



We went to visit an old friend, Randall, in Nicargua’s capital Managua.  Randall and Pablo picked us up from the airport and took us home to make us dinner – those angels. That evening, I learned something new about Helen after 10 years of friendship: she is not her best self in the heat. Managua was unbelievably hot. Hen was cooked.


The hottest part of Nicaragua?  Randall.

We started our days at 5:30AM to beat the Nicaraguan heat. Our first morning, we made our way south to Catarina, which our tour book described as “a city with an obvious love of potted plants.” We happen to be people with an obvious love of potted plants so we HAD to go there. It was on the way to Laguna de Apoyo, a lake in a volcanic crater, where we had our hearts set on swimming. No really, it was SO hot.

We were teasingly close to the Laguna. We could see it from above. But we couldn’t figure out how to drive down to it. We kept seeing signs that frustrated us: “Mira Lagos!” No, queremos TOCAR lagos.  Como?

When we finally got there, we were nervous about jumping in only to discover that it was the MOST PERFECT WATER we had ever felt. We had ambitious goals to tread water for an hour nonstop. I set my timer. 12 minutes in, we changed it to 30 minutes. 20 minutes in, we called it a day. Good hustle.


That first day the passenger acquired many jobs:
1.  DJ.
2.  Helping switch lanes because the windows were so tinted.
3.  Choosing the route and then being the GPS.
4.  Looking out for stray animals (mostly emaciated horses and dogs) on the road.
5.  Reading the tour book about cities on the way.
6.  Watching for police cones of terror.
7.  Finding safe places to park the car to sleep in at night.
8.  Keeping an eye out for tasty looking street food.
9.  Distributing snacks.
10. Translating road signs.
11. Taking pictures.
In contrast, the driver had one job: Driving.


Passenger’s job #12: Be aware of evacuation routes for volcanoes.



Helen…. where does the black road on the map lead?  “…..Oh.”




Desayuno tipico Nicaraguense.


Typical colorful houses.


A rodent pet.  Not to worry, our hand sanitizer killed 99.9% of common germs.

On our first day, we discovered an important lesson:
We had just come out of a roundabout when we noticed orange traffic cones in the road and a police officer waving us (and a few other cars) down. We pulled over immediately.  An officer approached our adorable vehicle and told us in rapid Spanish that we had broken a driving law and we were in trouble. We tried our best to communicate, racking our memories for both any possible driving infraction and for as many car/road/vehicle vocabulary words that we could think of. We didn’t understand everything she said, but her plan was to take away my driver’s license and make us pick it up in a bank the next day. Confused, we pleaded with the officer in broken Spanish:
“Pero… la necesitamos. Porque estamos viajando por Nicaragua… y es importante. Por favor?”

Eventually we realized we could just pay the “fine” of 800 cordobas (about 35 USD) and carry on our journey with license in tact. Literal highway robbery.

We were in shock about what had just happened hours into our trip and couldn’t wait to get back to tell Randall! What a crazy once in a lifetime experience! Except it wasn’t.  Ten minutes later, we were stopped again, further down the road by another police officer. This time we approached with a new strategy: We don’t speak any Spanish. Lo siento. We listened and smiled politely as the police told each other in Spanish that we didn’t understand them and asked what they should do. We were sent on our way, thrilled that we had gotten away without having to pay a fine, but flabbergasted that we had been pulled over twice for crimes we didn’t commit.

We learned that cones in the road meant police and we expected to be pulled over.  Finally, the driver had another job!  Do not make eye-contact with police officers as you pass.


This was day one. We had many more lessons to learn in two more blog posts.
More soon,

‘mi and Hen (Cluck cluck)

With all due respect, The Balkans

8 Dec

I don’t blindly take travel suggestions but it was Katie’s turn to pick this year (year four!) and she’d always wanted to go to Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Slovenia.


Classic meets modern style in Croatia.


Bridge in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina.


Manicured, refined, picturesque and my favorite, Slovenia.

I knew nothing about this part of the world’s fascinating recent history before I’d arrived.  Facts (you may want to skip this part):
– In 1991, on the same day, Slovenia and Croatia declared independence.
– In 2006, Montenegro became a country.
– In 2008, Kosovo.
– Former Yugoslavia was made up of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, Albania, and Macedonia.
– Slavonia was the name of a place in Croatia. So there’s Slovenia, Slovakia, Slavonia.  Oiy.
– Croatians and Croats were different.
– Slovenia (the Euro), Bosnia and Herzegovina (the Mark), and Croatia (the Kuna) all had different currencies.
– Montenegro adopted the Euro on its own, much to the discontent of the European Commission, and then it applied to join the EU. Bold!
– Orthodox Christianity and the Byzantine Empire.
– Islam and the Ottoman Empire.
– Roman Catholicism, the Austrian Hapsburgs and Charlemagne.
– Tito was a beloved dictator and people (especially the older generation) missed him.  His name was written everywhere.


Zagreb, the capitol of Croatia, was a jolt of big city sophistication.  It was my landing spot and a palate cleanser. Zagreb felt livable and had, without a doubt, consistently the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.  Marko, thanks to Singapore Nikki, was my rainbow cake-baking Couchsurfer, thank you to you both!   Jake suggested the Chillout hostel and my first ever bar crawl, whoa 🙂  And I’m eternally grateful to Filip Kesler who linked me with people whom I LOVE.


Kesler Family abroad ❤  Nikola and his rhymes, Petra, Filipe, and baby Julie.


The grandest cemetary entrance.

Croatia was really safe.  I was warned against displaying a flag-sticker — Nikola said it was associated with “red necks” — but otherwise I felt comfortable sleeping in a Red Fiesta, the car I’d rented.

I went south to meet Portugese Jan and his Slovenian friends on the island of Cres. Pronounced “crush”.


I have a Cres on you.


Nostrave! “Cheers” in Croatian!


I saw the Roman Colosseum in Pula during the day and a captivating gladiator reenactment at night.


The “American Idol” of Roman times.

I learned heaps:
– The organizers used to spray scented water over the crowd to mask the smell of blood.
– Most fighters were prisoners of war.
– The equipment weighed 15-20 kilos.
– Women were allowed to fight.


Easy, breezy, beautiful.

The Istria Peninsula continued to reveal itself gradually and seductively.  And fed me figs.   The serene countryside was covered in vineyards, a true coffee and wine drinking culture.

In Motovun, I went truffle hunting.  Adorably called “tartufi”. Approximately 1,000 tartufi hunters lived in this forest-y area.  Tartufi came in two colors, black and white, and each color “grown” in a different season:  Black Tartufi were sniffed out in May – August while the elusive, fragrant, expensive (!) white tartufi seemed to be in season September – January.  I write “seemed to be” because the white truffle is a mystery and scientists don’t know much about when it grows or where to find it.  #everydayimtrufflin


Truffle hunting dogs.  They don’t use pigs anymore because…oink oink. I called that little black one Truffelupogus.

ANY DOG can be trained to be a truffle hunting dog when it’s a puppy by rubbing oil on the mother’s nipples and mixing truffle flavored things into their food. The difficult part was then to teach these dogs to not actually eat the truffles that they find in the forest. Truffelupogus had to stay on a leash at all times because she liked to eat every single truffle she could find.  Oink, woof.

Once the dogs sniffed out a truffle (and pawed it over to their human), the truffle got weighed and sold, ideally on that same day.  The price of a tartufi is based on weight and the freshest truffles weigh the most.  Hunting for my own food with dogs in a forest was active, fun, and delicious.  Truffles are my current favorite cuisine.  No correlation that they also happen to be the most expensive food in the world.


Homemade gnocci and freshly grated tartufi.  My idea of heaven.



I picked up Katie in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia.  Some things I’d like to remember:
– Friendly people and warm women.
– Arnessa, her husband, and her sister.  A civil engineer in white jeans.
–  Ines and her friend <3.
– Bosnian girls liked Belgrade (capital of Serbia) boys’ accents.
– Bosnia and Herzegovina had a stretch of coastline between Croatia.
– We never tried to spend money just to spend it….unless it was Marks.
– “Bosnians hate soft towels”.
– The border crossings in Bosnia were the most strict and the Italy/Slovenian crossing were the most lax.  I’m not even sure they were manned.



Mdjorje, the second largest Catholic pilgrimage site in the world (there are 14 stations of the cross). It’s rocky, sharp, and steep, and we walked up it spontaneously, with our shoes on.



Back to Croatia:
Most of Croatia we couldn’t pronounce and I employed that technique of looking for words with similar letters.  Just enough had to match up before I started driving.  We visited dozens of waterfalls and quickly learned that the earlier we arrived to a National Park the more private of an experience we were able to have.


Discussing our pre-teen book idea.




Market day.


Calcified water, which was how it got to be that color.

We visited Dubrovnik, where the famed Game of Thrones was filmed.  We met Juliana in Makarska, thanks to Paula!  Had a breezy, ferry-less day in Krka.   Observed comfortable silences when locals ate.  Noticed no obvious stray dogs, begging, or mange. My favorite car game was looking for a dumpster.  Saw Bosnia and Italy from high-up, although I’m not sure which was which.  Joked about a hypothetical scooter business at kilometer eight.  Visited the Museum of Illusions.  I accidentally spilled chips slowly in the back of the car.  Had movie night and learned about the Human Rights Watch, with its own investigative team on the ground.  Drank sweet sparkling water.  Men hoisted our car out of danger.  Visited a Brown Bear Sanctuary.  In Zadar, heard a soothing, melodic sea organ played by water. And ate a ton of bread.


Horses attempted to get in through our car window.  I didn’t mind.


The weather ruled our lives.


Plitvice: Unpronounceable and unforgettable.




We snuck over to Italy for a day:


Triste; Italian square.


Our gas ran out for the portable stove and in a country known for pasta we ate half-cooked noodles with uncooked mushrooms, raw onions, all doused in cold tomato sauce.  But I laughed until I cried.  And that croissant in the morning was European perfection.

sLOVEnia.  with love.
– About 2 million people.
– Land mass, half as big as Switzerland.
– Socialist, about 40% in taxes.
– My best Katies birthday. And also Katie filed my nails.
– Excellent wine.
– Tidy quaintness.
– “Caio”.
– A word for tree lined streets.
– Spoke English perfectly, no dubbing on TV, subtitles instead.
– A cave with a literal river flowing through it.
– “Don’t light the bats”.
– Horses can live to be 30, only the males are used for shows, and female horses can delay birth by 12 hours to birth at night.
– Lake Bohinj and Lake Bled, no motorized boats allowed.
– Cream cake for dessert.
– did not get along with highways.
– Quaint alpine villages with colorful flower boxes on every window.
– Rolling countryside and roofed hay racks.


The Julian Alps.

Beautiful Ljlubliana:
– Feng shui on a grand urban scale.
– What people want Paris to be, a charm crescendo.
– Pedestrian paradise.
– A calm boat cruise.
– Spunky, savvy mayor who met every Tuesday with constituents.
– Where Jason and the Argots slayed the dragon.
– Their Philharmonic was the second formed in Europe.  Mahler was the conductor.
– Won Europeans greenest city, 2016.
– Possibly the most sophisticated place I’ve ever been.


Perky Slovenia.


On my way back to the comfortable USA, I had long layover in healthy, breezy Copenhagen.  Photo below.


Slathered with good looking people enjoying an afternoon.


On my final leg, I slept for 11 hours in the Boston airport because when I bought my ticket I deemed that to be a financially good idea.

Happy to be home,