Friday, May 26, 2017

My Travel Sabbatical

There's really no other way to put it: 2016 sucked. We lost Prince and Darwyn Cooke, among so very many others. My dad lost a brutally painful battle with lung cancer three days before my birthday. I lost my job after spending the summer alternately building a new website for my former company, and stifling tears while riding the length of an entire subway line — from Astoria to Brighton Beach — to maintain a stiff upper lip and be with my family. Then a huge neon orange monster came and left a miasmic stench no one can seem to get out.

So I took a long, much-needed break and traveled.

It really helped to be away from home, now the site of so many nervous nights pacing the rooms, meticulously reorganizing every inch of the place as if controlling the tidiness of my possessions would somehow bring order to all the chaotic situations that were so big and out of my control.

Thorns, always a proponent of experiences over material gifts, came in to help. For our five-year anniversary, he flew us out to Portland, OR for a fun several days before he started his tour with Red Fang in their hometown.

I'd been wanting to check out Portland for a while, since I already had an affinity for the Pacific Northwest and the wide availability of dairy-free mac & cheese (there are a LOT of vegan options in this town).

Surrounded by mossy trees at Hoyt Arboretum.

During our time there, we enjoyed the mild fall temperatures with long walks around Cottonwood Bay, located right behind our hotel, and destinations like the Hoyt Arboretum. We did a walking tour recounting the city's "seedier" past that included the famed Shanghai tunnels, and ate well at Portland's many quirky joints (including Voodoo Donuts, the food carts, and my buddy's new brewery, Wayfinder). Coffee on the East Coast will never taste the same after sipping PDX's endlessly tasty brews, and nightly meet-ups at the B-Side tavern for Buffalo Trace & gingers were dangerously cheap. Photos from the Portland trip are HERE.

My next adventure came by way of my dear friends, comic book creators Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner, who let me know they were special guests on the fledgling Fan2Sea cruise, which sought to bring all the fun of a comic book convention to the high seas aboard a smaller Royal Caribbean cruise ship.

The itinerary included the port city of Tampa, Key West and Cozumel, but who cares? I love comics. I love cruising. I love Jimanda. So as soon as they told me they already had a buddy in mind for me to room with, I said yes. And it was a BLAST! More on that one in its own post soon. [Photos HERE]

Trekkers rolling deep aboard Fan2Sea.

Unfortunately, 2016 really decided to wring out the last bit of blood and tears out of those I hold dear. And in early February, I went out west to the high desert in California to support my best friend as she memorialized the life of her longtime partner, Doug Evans, who now shares the same last day on Earth as Lemmy Kilmister (December 28).

Having zero expectations of any kind of elaborate accommodations, I was stunned to find myself staying in a colorful suite at a gorgeous Moroccan-tinged bohemian hideaway isolated high up the mountain. Filled with tons of imported antiques and unique sleeping options, the views all around were of wild desert — a far cry from my current life in Queens. So remote that cell phone service wasn't an option, nor were there any road signs after a certain point.

The Desert Airie, hiding in plain sight on the left.

The celebration of Doug's life was beautiful and emotional, filled with friends, family and fans. Music, great food, memories, tears and temp tattoos were shared among the many in attendance. And I hope it gave the divine Ms. M a little closure.

There was still some bonding time with the family, dogs, and Merilee's band of "desert hellcats" with trips for surprisingly tasty sushi, a long hike at Joshua Tree National Park and a cursory tour of downtown Palm Springs. I was grateful to spend the time with my best friend, her mom and sister, Doug's sons, and Mer's supportive, beautiful local friends, who will always have my deepest gratitude for being there when I couldn't.

Of course, I took a bunch of photos that can be found HERE.

For a while now, Thorns and I had been planning a grand trip to Europe, with hypothetical pins dropping in places as varied as Portugal and Croatia, with a detour to Iceland. Ultimately, T planned us the perfect four-country exploration of central Europe, starting in Budapest, then heading via train to Vienna, Prague and Berlin over the course of 12 days.

Sign of the Hammer a Deux at Cafe MontMartre in Budapest.

To say it was the perfect metal vacation would not be hyperbole, and I definitely plan on breaking down the trip in a longer post. Not to be forgotten were visits to a Manowar-themed bar on the Pest side of the Danube River; a day spent wandering the streets, then a sleek museum acknowledging Budapest's Nazi and Fascist past, and an evening enjoying the variety of thermal baths and pools as crews remained busy setting up for the even later "Sparty" DJ night. [Budapest photos]

Blow-up DJ booth in the distance at Szechenyi Thermal Baths in Budapest.

The Imperial Crypt in Vienna truly tested my self-control as I love touching things and getting intimately close to art, but didn't want to be the ugly American to set off the touch sensors in what is considered a royal cemetery. We later speed-walked through the streets of Prague, stopping only for me to see David Černý's hanging installation of 'St. Wenceslas Riding a Dead Horse' on our way to catch a bus to the Medieval town of Kutna Hora to visit the world-famous bone church, Sedlec Ossuary, where the bones of 40,000 victims of the black plague are stacked in elaborate configurations. [Vienna & CZ photos]

Dead H.A.P.S.B.U.R.G.S. at the Imperial Crypt.

Chandelier of Bones at Sedlec Ossuary

Dead Horse & St Vitus in Prague
In Berlin, we spent an afternoon at the Stasi Museum in the former secret police headquarters. In no less than two exhibits, Iron Maiden were featured as a negative Western "ideological influence," which, to me, completely vindicated buying a Powerslave T-shirt dress at one of the seven H&M's I passed within a two-block radius earlier on. And on our last day in town, we ventured over to the city's informal Ramones Museum to gawk at some cool artifacts that made us think of our NYC home back when it was still kind of dangerous. [Berlin photos]

Posing with some street art in Berlin.

All that traveling finally did the trick. I'm refreshed, inspired and ready to kick ass.

What's next? Finding a full-time job... so I can save up for more adventures. Think you can help on that front? Holler!