Julianne’s Blog

this is my blog. this is the only blog there will be.

OK, November deserved more than one sentence. 13 January 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Julianne Dodds @ 8:25 AM
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November was a good month, and should be appropriately represented in the almost defunct blog.

I gathered together a rag-tag team of girlies off Craigslist and we all set off for the West Coast. Two of the girls were actually only going to Houston, which is why I agreed to let them bring their dog. I’m not a huge fan of dogs, and when I spend any amount of time with them in enclosed spaces my allergies react in new and unexciting ways. So when the girls’ plans in Houston fell through and they decided to ride to Pheonix, I had mixed feelings. I mean, yeah, that was a little bit of extra gas money (although not at all an equal share), but on the other hand, I’ve had red blotches on my chest that are just now starting to fade away.

the rideshare team

But the point is I got to Los Angeles! Even though Jason knew I was coming, he was still surprised when he turned around in his kitchen and saw me standing right in front of him. He jumped about three feet in the air and yelled out “HOLY SHIT!” We were still laughing about it a couple weeks later. Our time together in LA was spent mostly in his apartment, where we read, ate a lot, watched season 3 of Californication, and pretended to work. But we went out to see a couple movies, had a picnic on the beach, rode around on bicycles, and went to his niece’s 5th birthday, so see, we aren’t total bums.

November 21 was Jason’s birthday, so a couple days before we had a party. I’d brought 2 packs of Abita Beer from Louisiana, plus Camelia redbeans and some spices. I made a huge pot of beans and 10 or so of Jason’s friends came over, we had a screening of Jason’s short films from the past 15 years. It was a great evening.

I’d been planning on giving Jason his present on his actual birthday, but it worked out better to give it to him the day before. There was a lot of symbolism in this gift and he loved it just as much as I hoped he would. I don’t want to brag, but he’s told me a few times that it’s the best gift he’s received, and I think it’s the best gift I’ve ever made.

The next day, on his actual birthday, we piled into my Volvo and headed east. It was midnight by the time we pulled off I-40 in northern Arizona. Following the signs for a camping site down a dirt road, we found ourselves in the middle of a state park. It was 17 degrees but there were no artificial lights, and we spent a while looking up at the stars. We made a bed of sleeping bags and blankets in the back of the station wagon and fell asleep.

I was freezing, Jason was wearing shorts!

In the morning we were only 2 hours south of the Grand Canyon. After grabbing some breakfast at a Flintstones themed restaurant we entered the park. Neither of us had ever seen the canyon before, and it was amazing! We spent hours walking along the south rim, peering through binoculars, interacting with park wildlife, and taking Polaroids. We watched the chilly sunset and got back on the road.

We slept in the car again that night. Since there were no pitch-black state parks available, we made do with an abandoned adobe building in New Mexico. As we set up our bed in the back of the car we heard loud, angry barking, that got closer and closer. I shone out a flashlight and the wild dogs were close enough that we could see the reflections of their eyes. I jumped in the car and Jason was right behind me. It was scary, but we felt safe… until around 3AM, when we were awakened by a knocking on the window and a flashlight in our faces. I hid under the covers while Jason explained to the cop that we were just passing through, that we were too tired to drive and that this was the only quiet space we could find. The officer was nice enough about it and we drifted back to sleep. The sun had already risen when the next cop woke us up, so we climbed into the front seat and got back on the road.

Our Thanksgiving plans took us to St. Louis to visit the Blakemores, relatives on Jason’s mom’s side. I’d met Uncle Pat at Burning Man and it was great to see him again. The family had rented a cabin outside of the city and we met them there for a vegan Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat. The next day we stopped at a thrift store and Jason’s cousins picked out some great finds for me.

relaxing with the Blakemores: me, Uncle Pat, Jamie, Uncle Bug, and Jane

Our next stop was Russellville, Arkansas, where we spent the night at my dad’s house. My younger brother Andy was visiting for the holiday, and the four of us made some delicious pizzas and played a great game of Scrabble. I think that will be the only time I’ll beat Jason at that game! The following morning Jason and I dropped Andy off at the Little Rock Airport for his return flight to Cleveland and set our sights on New Orleans. The interstate took us right through Memphis and we decided to visit Graceland. Four hours later we were Elvis-ed out (although I had reached my threshhold after about 1 hour…) and resumed our roadtrip, finally and absolutely New Orleans bound.

 

Blessed by the God of Travel 22 May 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Julianne Dodds @ 7:26 PM
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What a great time I had in Slovenia! Since I assume most Americans have never even heard of the country, it goes without saying that this place is terribly underrated as a vacation destination.

I spent another great afternoon with the Hare Krishnas. Not only did I enjoy talking about their beliefs and karma, but it was a relaxed way to meet the locals. I sat at a picnic table with a few other women and we all watched their kids play. I got to help one lady, Sabrina, with her beautiful 10 month old girl. My nephew Kaden was that age the last time I saw him, so it meant a lot for me for an almost stranger to trust me with her child. The entire place was filled with such trust and generosity. We meditated together, heard a lecture, and then came the feast. Such wonderful food, completely different from anything else I´ve eaten before, and all vegetarian. This is followed by singing and dancing. It was great to see the little kids running back and forth between the adults, some of who were surprisingly energetic even after an hour of sweating under the fans.

The next day I had been planning on going to Berlin after a few hours in a northern lake town, but I decided instead to spend the night at Lake Bled. I´ve been hearing about this place for months from Rick Steves, so how could I pass it up? And Rick Steves never lies. In fact, my mantra of late has been WWRSD– What would Rick Steves do?

Bled is at the foothills of the Julian Alps, called the Sunny Alps by the Slovenes. Blue skies reflect back in the clear water. The 6km path around the lake gives plenty of time to see the snow capped Alps, a castle perched overlooking the town, and swams swimming out to Bled Island. A €12 gondola ride takes you out the island, where 99 stone steps rise out of the water. At the top of the stairs is an old church, and inside there is a bell that gives good luck if you ring it 3 times. I´d met a nice Australian couple on the boat who said that when I rang the bell they heard a distinctive American twang. As I stepped off the boat and headed back towards my incredibly crappy hostel, I was glad I´d followed Rick Steves´advice.

I was thinking this thought and smiling at the puffy clouds, the snowy mountains, and the families of swans when I noticed a few men standing on the side of the lake. One of them had a large video camera, and at first I rolled my eyes at the silliness of Asian tour groups. But then I noticed one of the men, standing with his back to me, was very tall, and blond…

I pulled off my sunglasses and the stupidest grin spread across my face. The man with the camera noticed me and nudged his Nordic friend. My hands were shaking and I didn´t know what to say. Could this be? The travel dream that I thought was too stupid to even mention to anyone–is it actually coming true, and in such a fairy tale setting? Here I was, standing on the shore of Lake Bled, face to face with Rick Steves himself!

Me and Rick Steves by juliannedodds.

A handshake turned into a hug, he asked my name and exchanged some pleasantries. I told him the only reason I was there was because of him. That I watched his show and loved his radio podcasts. That my parents were going to shit themselves when they found out.  I couldn´t thank him enough, to tell him what an amazing, wonderful experience this was for me. Was it a coincidence, or was it destiny?

I just about skipped the 2 km uphill to my hostel, and after dropping my bag ran out to the nearest photo shop. If something were to happen to my camera, I needed a hard copy of this event. I needed 10 copies in fact. Every couple hours I pull out that photo and I still can´t believe my good luck.I hope that you all watch his show and see the episode on Lake Bled that he was filming as I was there, and maybe, boys and girls, if you believe, and you follow every bit of Rick Steves´advise, you too will meet the God of Travel.

Then there was some bullshit with the train system, blah blah blah, but eventually I wound up in Innsbruck. At breakfast I heard a deep voice that reminded me fondly of my Uncle Jerry, and following the sound I met a nice couple from Knoxville, TN, named John & Sue. We spent about an hour talking over pastries, discussing our mutual travel plans. I love Southern folk of a certain age. When I got up to leave John said to me, in that wonderful deep voice that reminded me of Gregory Peck and my Granddad (as well as the afor mentioned uncle), that I have gumption. Music that played in my head all day long.

So a few hours later found me riding a cable car up the Nordpark mountain. From the top of the ride I climbed up to the peak, and as far as I could see were those blue mountains. The ice caps blended in with the clouds. I don´t know how long I stood up there alone, but it was wonderful. I really don´t think I could live in the mountains on account of the winter, but every time I get into a range like that I feel so excited. Driving into the Smokies this past December I felt the same thing, and I remember how once Jason and I had reached those little Alpine towns in February that I was skipping through the snow. And the Alps, with the warm summer air blending with the chill of the snow on the ground, is truly an amazing place to be.

On the way down I stopped at a cafe where I ran into an Arizona couple I´d met on the ascent, Matt & Alex (Alex would want me to say that she is a lady, and it´s true). I ordered the same ham strudel they were eating and we shared our stories. Alex got the bill and we headed further downhill to the zoo. We saw some baby animals, quite cute, talked some more. When we headed off in our separate directions back in the Inn valley I realized just how potent the blessing of the Travel God had been.

 

The western part of eastern Europe… with another German. 16 May 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Julianne Dodds @ 7:59 PM
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After checking out a children’s concert at a Polish cultural festival, I hopped on a bus for Budapest. The road took us through Slovakia and was really a beautiful drive. I got to Budapest around midnight and eventually found a hostel with space.

Budapest was really gorgeous. The Duna River (what the Danube goes by in that neck of the woods) divides the Buda and Pest sections of the city, and there are benches lined up all along both banks. The light was always golden and it was wonderfully warm–perfect conditions for kicking back with an old paperback and some pálinka.

Ah, pálinka… A Hungarian specialty. Most people think this fruit brandy is just too sweet, but boy I couldn’t get enough. My favorite flavor was the apricot, which incidentally is called Barack. I picked up a bottle of this, as well as the plum variety, to share with my dad in Paris in 2 weeks. In my hostel was a 51 year old Iranian woman named Banash. She kept me and the Spanish couple in our room fascinated with her travel adventures from around the world. One night she and I went out for pálinka, beers, and some live local music. And then there were the souvenirs… the only time in Europe I bought that much stuff, but all those handmade crafts! I was like a sitting duck, and I can’t say I’m sorry about it. All in all, it was a very laid back time in Budapest.

I got up one morning and decided to split town, so I took a train south to Pécs. This is going to be the European Cultural Capital of 2010, so I figured I had to check it out before it became jaded from fame. I met a German girl on the bus to the hostel, and there we picked up an English guy, and the three of us headed out for some grub. I finally had some gulas, and the restaurant gave us all free shots of pálinka with our beers. Can you see where this is going? Afterwards Anna, Alan, and I went to a bar recommended by our hostel receptionist. When we walked in he was sitting at the bar, happy that we took his advice. Time for more pálinkas, the bartender’s favorite. Then Anna suggested that Alan and I try Unicom. It’s another Hungarian thing, and I can’t really describe it as anything but horrible. Beers immediately followed to wash out the taste. A few hours later the three of us stumbled back to the hostel while the receptionist stayed behind to hold down the bar.

feast

The next day we did some exploring. Pécs is a small town, so there wasn’t much to do besides relax. After Anna headed off in her own direction, Alan and I grabbed 2 bottles of Hungarian wine and a frozen pizza and camped out on the balcony of our room. There was one other guest in another room, and the receptionist had disappeared again, so we blasted the Hungarian jazz and drank the night away. The resulting hang-over of 2 nights’ drinking was whiled away on an ancient Communist train through Hungary, across Croatia, and finally into Ljubljana around 3 AM.

So after a few hours’ sleep I headed out this morning into the bright Slovenian morning. I wandered around the center of this little city (about 240,000 people) and was about to grab a sandwich when I heard some music coming off the street. A group of 7 Hare Krishnas were strolling down the pedestrian streets, singing, playing an accordian, beating on drums, tinkling tinklers, and handing out literature. Now, there are two lessons I’ve learned well in my life. Number 1 comes from traveling, and that is to never pass up an opportunity, because even if the opportunity is still there tomorrow you may not be. Number 2 comes from growing up in New Orleans: When you see a parade of happy musicians coming your way, you join in. So we all made our way dancing and singing through the streets, drawing stares, smiles, and lots of people looking away embarassed. I was the only one not dressed up as a Hare Krishna, but I enjoyed my special walking tour of the city. Eventually we ended up at the temple, where the music continued and the dancing got good.

You can’t be a good dancer on an empty stomach, so next came my favorite part of the Hare Krishna, that delicious vegetarian meal. Today’s lunch was speghetti made by one of the devotees (and I mean he did more than boil the water) and it was all organic. I whiled away a couple hours at a picnic table with my host Petra and some of the other Kirshna ladies. Tomorrow they’ve asked me to return for another program and meal, and afterwards I will go north to Lake Bled, hopefully getting a ride from one of the devotees. Ooh yeah.

So Ljubljana is a nice little city. It’s very green–the huge park with open fields, the trees everywhere, and even the river is emerald. I had a great afternoon walking around enjoying the weather, passing street musicians and a couple weddings. I bought some new pants since my last pair split a few days ago, completely worn out. There was a plate of crispy calamari in there somewhere. And coming up next is a bar with a rock band. And I guess a drink or two.

Ljubljana

 

Polska Kielbasa is my favorite sausage. 5 May 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Julianne Dodds @ 7:29 PM
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Last night, on somewhat short notice, I got on the night train from Prague to Krakow. Just like when I went to Germany, I was able to have a compartment all to myself. I was really excited about finally heading east, into the unknown, and as the train pulled out of the station I closed th hall curtains, opened my window, and cranked up the iPod. Creedenc, the Allman Brothers, and Neil Young was a perfect combination, perfect for the landscape, and the moon was bright, and I sang out the open window to the passing Czech towns.

My hostel in Krakow is another gem! Also super cheap–40 zloty is less that $13 a night! It is right on the Kosciol Mariacki, which is the largest medieval square in Europe. Also in the square is the Cloth Hall, which is filled with stalls selling tacky Polish suvenirs, and of course I love that. I walked around the Jewish Quarter this afternoon, or what used to be the Jewish Quarter. There aren’t any more Jews in that ghetto, or really anywhere else in Poland. I just read Maus, and in a couple days I’m going to go over to Auschwitz, so it’s going to be pretty heavy. Until then, my knee still hurts and I’m thinking about getting a massage, because I need to walk! Also, I am terribly frustrated by the lack of suitable underwear in this city–I need new drawers!

So I’m just relaxing for a bit, then I will head to the restaurant downstairs for some dumplings and to taste some Polish flavored vodka. Oh yeah, it’s going to be a long night.

 

The Duke abides 29 April 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Julianne Dodds @ 8:13 PM
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The last week has been very eventful, and the internet here is free, so this is going to be a long post.

Long story short, after Madrid I went back to Le Vignaud. I wound up staying a little over a week, longer than I had planned, because there were 2 celebrations. The first was the 50th anniversary of Jason´s neighbors, Jean-Francois and Lucienne. They set up a large tent in their front yard and filled it with about 50 Frenchies, plus us American crashers. The food was in a separate tent and the wine was everywhere. It was pouring rain, and the tents dripped everywhere, turning the yard to a muddy mess. By the time the strawberry cake was served, a guitar had been found and the singing commenced. I didn´t know the words, but I could generally understand the songs and a good time was had by all.

The next day was the birthday of our American friend Gigi. She and her boyfriend Alex came over to Jason´s house, as well as our British friend Darren, and we made a party. Jason shucked and fried up some oysters, and we made some delicious poboys complete with Avery Island Tabasco sauce that we bought at Carrefour, the European Walmart. Apple pie a la mode came next, and suffice to say we all went to bed stuffed. The next morning we had biscuits and crepes for breakfast. It was quite a weekend for binge eating!

So on Monday, after all these parties, Jason and I drove up to Paris, and I took a train to Munich. With my railpass I only had to pay €4! I was in a 6-seat compartment, but I was the only one there. I put up the armrests and laid across 3 seats, and it was comfortable. I arrived in Munich at 7AM only slightly blurry eyed.

I went on a free tour of the city, and the American guide was pretty cool. Outside the Frauenkirke he was telling us the legend of “The Devil´s Footprint,” which involved the Duke of Munich making a deal with the devil. Of course, the duke tried to cheat the devil, and when he found out Satan declared (in the words of Kevin the guide): “This aggression will not stand!” I laughed, but no one else did, and Kevin continued with the story, in which the Duke wins and keeps his soul. Once we were inside the church I saddled up to him and asked if the moral of the story is “The Duke abides.” This called for a high-five, my first in a Catholic church, but hopefully not the last.

So everynight in Germany has involved drinking. The first night I went out with some people I met on the tour for a beer house crawl, including the hofbräahaus, complete with the umpapa band. The next night I went to an Irish pub with a German guy I met at a Jesus street rally, where I heard “Blueberry Hill” played live by an ex-pat. And I did it all in my new orange sandals… Oh yeah, I dig Germany.

This morning I woke up in Munich and took a train to Regensburg, about 90 minutes away. It was a nice little town, and walking through a park some people at a picnic table offered me a drink. The Germans like to drink and they like to share. They also like mushroom cafes, and who could blame them?

The shroom cafe in Regensburg

After a couple hours in Regensburg I hoped back on the northbound train for Nuremberg. What a wonderful city! I have to say, I like it much better than Munich. Walking around town, you always see at least 1 church and half-timbered house. I met a Hare Krishna and found “American Store,” which sells mostly camouflage and Jack Daniels souvenirs. But I did buy a paper American flag. Later on, walking through the market, I found a gift for my mom. I can´t say what it is but Mom, you are going to love it!

The hostel I´m at in Nuremberg is pretty nice, and very friendly. I just went out with a guy who works here and 2 other girls, to another Irish pub (I do like the whiskey). Tomorrow I am going to do more Nuremberg sightseeing, then catch a ride to Prague to chill with Izzy for a couple days before going onward, eastward, to Krakow. It is turning out to be quite the adventure!

 

Five days in Prague 29 January 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Julianne Dodds @ 6:43 PM
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I’ve been staying with my friend Izzy, but she’s also had 3 other people staying in this tiny 2-room apartment. One of the girls, Katey Sleeveless, is a great musician, so she played a couple times while she was here. This morning she and her best bud Nikki hitchhiked to Dresden. Photos of this are all posted on Flickr!

So I haven’t done much sightseeing around Prague, but today we went to the old castle and walked around. Tomorrow we are planning on doing the Mucha Museum, and also I want to buy a couple things before I leave. I’ve already been to Wencenslas Square and I’ve seen the astronomical clock, which was pretty neat.

Izzy has a week off of school starting on 26 March, the day before my birthday. We decided we are going to go to Nice and then head west along the French coast. Anyone who will be around the Riviera at that time is welcome to join the festivities.

 

Museumdag 8 January 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Julianne Dodds @ 4:14 PM
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Well, I seem recently to have developed insomnia. But despite the meager rest I’m getting, I got stuff done today. Got up at 10, ate breakfast, and then headed out on my bike to make up for all the sighseeing I’ve skipped out on during the past week. The other day I bought a Museumjaarkaart, so I get into most museums in the Netherlands for free for the next year, and it only  E22.

First stop was Rembrandthuis, which was neat. I saw a demo on how etching works (which of course I already know quite well). It made me miss the printing studio. But the guy who did the demo was American, and I thought how cool that job would be. Hang out in a museum and print Rembrandt plates twice an hour. Super.

Next was FOAM, the photography museum. There were a few artists highlighted there, and it was very nice. Then I went to Liedesplein for lunch and a bit of wandering. After I went to the Huis Marseille on Kaizergracht. The photo exhibit there was about water. The first artist documented the dyke renovations going on in Holland. Then there were some very large scale C-prints of waves, and then canals in Tokyo. My favorite was an American artist who made 2×3″ closeups of the black Thames water and added about 40 footnotes to each print; they were musings and ramblings about the water, and how the dirty river isn’t really water.

After that I planned on going to Electric Ladyland, but I must have gotten the location wrong because I couldn’t find it. So now I’m waiting for my roommate (there are only 2 of us in the 16-bed room) to get back so we can go out together. Juli’s going to buy a loofa sponge tonight, because I am getting a little grody.