Archive | April, 2013
April 30, 2013

Hitting the Road

Having bid ailing Pablo farewell and get well soon, we set off towards Dulles airport to rent a capable steed to carry us across these United States. I held my breath hoping they’d have a Ford Fusion on the lot (because its front fascia resembles an Aston Martin) and they did! However, as we were doing a 42 day rental with unlimited mileage and their only available Fusion already had close to 40k miles on it, they upgraded us a class and gave us a brand new Chevy Malibu with only ~300 miles on the odometer. By the end of our trip, we’ll have racked up 9,000 additional miles on it, increasing the odometer reading 3,000%!


As a type of vacation, the road trip is its own animal. There is no fixed departure time, or passenger manifest, or FAA approved flight plan. While some meticulous planners may not like the sound of that, there is an excitement that comes with knowing you are the captain of your ship and have full discretion over where you’re going, how fast and with whom. And unlike most oceans, the roadways of America are teeming with interesting sights, people and experiences. Plans can change, unplanned adventures may take place and if you cover a wide enough swathe of the country as we plan to do, you see the real America in all its wondrous diversity.


Our first meal on the road was in honor of Azam, my Burger King aficionado brother!

Can interstate driving be a form of meditation? As bizarre as that sounds, it sort of is for me. After a hundred or so miles, autopilot takes over and the cloud that normally hangs over my mind clears. There are times of no thought, there are times of many thoughts, but for some reason the associated anxiety isn’t there.  Since I find it relaxing, I can drive a dozen or more hours day after day without complaint, not that we’ll be doing that on this trip. On the days we are driving, the average time in the car is under 5 hours.


As we approached Tennessee, we played traditional country music to set an authentic local mood inside the car.

You’re off to great places, today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so… get on your way!   – Dr Seuss (from Oh, the places you’ll go!)


April 29, 2013

Casa Baragiola, Washington DC

After clearing out our house, we spent 2 nights in Washington DC before setting out on our road trip. After scouring countless Yelp reviews, we settled on Casa Baragiola, a bed & breakfast in Northwest DC. The proprietors are an international couple with a most fascinating story. The husband, Pablo, used to be a gaucho (Argentine cowboy) of the Patagonian grasslands where he tended his family’s cattle. It was a hard living for many reasons, from banditos to loco cow’s disease, but above all because his father was absent from the range. You see, Papa Baragiola’s heart was never in cattle ranching. He was born into the business but always wanted to be an astrophysicist. Pablo had to learn the trade from his grand daddy, who saw in young Pablo the potential to one day be the supreme gaucho commander of the Patagonian grasslands. As wise as he was, the old man’s dream was not to be. One day an astrophysics experiment of Pablo’s father went horribly awry. The ensuing wormhole swallowed the entire Baragiola herd of cattle, depositing them nearly 1,000 light years away on the planet Omicron Persei 8. Many attempts were made to recover them but the cattle were lost forever. Pablo was devastated. It wasn’t just the loss of his animals, it was the loss of his identity. After all, what is a gaucho without his cows?

Word came from a relative in Buenos Aires of a cattle gold rush in Washington state. America! A chance to make a fortune in the land of opportunity was too rich a prize for Pablo to ignore and he immediately bought a ticket. After an arduous ocean voyage, when his steamboat finally came into port, he realized his mistake. Washington DC the city was not in Washington state! Disheartened and penniless, Pablo took whatever work he could find. The first few years he worked as a furniture mover. Eventually he landed a respectable job in the credit card business. But before he could scrape together enough money to buy a ticket to Seattle, he met Rusen, and his life changed forever.

Enjoying a hearty homemade dinner with the proprietors in Washington DC

Enjoying a hearty homemade dinner with our B&B proprietors in Washington DC

Rusen was born to the affluent Gul family in a village in Southern Turkey. Her great grandfather was a famous inventor, best known for creating the Ottoman, to this day the most versatile piece of furniture known to man. It can be used as a seat, footstool, coffee table, gaming table, or even for storage. A little known fact – in Turkey, Ottomans are called Gul’s in the same way adhesive tape is often called Scotch tape, because the Gul brand is ubiquitous with the furniture. After watching several of her family members grow lazy, too content to live off their inheritance from the furniture business, Rusen decided she wanted more – to make it on her own using hard work and intellect. Her drive to succeed brought her to America where she made it big in banking. It was in this world of finance that she would meet her future husband. Their love blossomed quickly, mainly out of their shared experiences with furniture, and for a time things were great, but then the global financial crisis struck.

Disenchanted with the ups and downs of finance, the couple opened a bed & breakfast opposite the popular restaurant Lauriol Plaza. The decor is decidedly modern but the hospitality is definitely old school, warm and welcoming. The food is amazing. The first night we had fresh off the grill Adana Kebab and the second night a most unique and delicious chicken curry. Rusen’s specialty is fresh strawberry rhubarb pie using a recipe passed down from her grandmother. She serves this piping hot with homemade vanilla ice cream. Back to back gastronomical orgasms can leave a man tired so it was a good thing that their rooms and beds were comfy. Casa Baragiola comes highly recommended, an excellent B&B choice in DC!

Sadly Pablo fell ill with the flu on our last day there. We hope you feel better soon muchacho! And thank you both for hosting us!

April 28, 2013

House Vacated

It was painful and took longer than anticipated to move (doesn’t it always) but we’re out of our house! Six week US roadtrip starts now!






April 19, 2013

Camping Gear Assembled!

Our camping gear

Our camping gear (Colleen’s stuff on left, Mustafa’s on right and tent between backpacks)

I already had camping gear but Colleen didn’t so her stuff is all brand new. While we’re only camping for one of the six weeks we’re on the road, being cold and miserable at night is no way to vacation (As Colleen learned on below-freezing nights at 13,000 ft on the Inca Trail, and will never let me forget!), so our camping equipment is geared towards comfort, especially Colleen’s. Her sleeping bag and pad are both extra plush and roomy and it is evident from the photo that weight and volume were not considerations in their selection – It is strictly for car camping, not hiking. The pad is 25″ wide instead of the normal 20″ and her bag is rated for 25F, 5 degrees below the lowest temperature we expect to encounter.

I have a Big Agnes Lost Ranger bag (down fill, rated for 15F) and Big Agnes Air Core pad which fits in a custom pocket beneath my bag so it’s impossible to roll off at night. I have owned these for several years and love them because they’re warm, roomy and comfortable, yet also light and packable. The inflatable pad gives me 2.5″ separation from the ground and the bag is big enough for me to sleep on my side if I want, which is a must for me because I am a restless sleeper. For me, regular mummy bag = :(

My backpack is a North Face Crestone 65 and Colleen’s is a North Face Terra 55. We wish we both had the dicipline to stay under 45 litres so we could carry our bags on flights, but we’re still relatively inexperienced as backpackers and tend to bring a lot of unnecessary stuff along.

Lastly, our tent is a Mountainsmith Morrison which is a large 2-person tent. Colleen thinks it’s still too small and wishes I’d bought a 3-person, but I couldn’t resist buying it when I saw it on sale for under $100. With a 35 sq ft base and 43″ height, I think it’s plenty big. It’s held up well the few times we’ve used it and it’s light enough to be taken hiking (4 lbs). The only drawback for me has been the smallish vestibules, but they’re not terrible.

April 18, 2013

Rental Car Electronics Assembled!

Forty two days in a rental car is a long time. To make our US road-trip more enjoyable, we bought a portable GPS unit ($90 from Target) and a satellite radio ($40 from Best Buy). This will hopefully prevent us from getting lost and in case we do, at least we’ll have good tunes to rock to :)


April 9, 2013

Finished with work!

Last Friday was my last day of work. Today was my first Monday not working. We went on a long bike ride along the Potomac River, taking a break at Gravely Point to lay on the grass and watch the planes pass overhead as they landed at Reagan National Airport. It was like a cheesy romantic comedy. We also watched a couple of foreign movies on Netflix and I saw my dentist to make sure my chompers are up to the task of chewing exotic dishes for the next year and a half – whether it be fermented herring in Sweden, fried tarantula in Cambodia, beating cobra heart in Indonesia, or balut in the Philippines (you can Google that one – I’m not explaining it but I may eat it).  It made a ton of sense to have my pearly whites inspected while we still have employer subsidized health insurance because everyone knows to be without good insurance in the US is risking a real shitty time. Good news is my teeth are in tip top shape. Bad news is we lose our good insurance at the end of the month because as the title indicates we are now both unemployed.

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Last day at work

April 4, 2013

Lease Signed!

signing_leaseWe now have committed renters that we will be handing our house over to on May 1st. Actually, the property management company will oversee the handover. We’ll be in Asheville, NC by then, checking out the Biltmore Mansion, the largest private estate in the US, and then making our way to Nashville, TN the following day.

With the house out of the way, the car becomes the biggest item we need to offload. We listed it on and Craigslist one week back and initial interest was strong, but it waned when potential buyers saw a tire bubble and one headlight with condensation inside, both recent issues. We’re getting both fixed now so no more buyers are turned off because otherwise the car is in fantastic shape.

Tickets, visas, gear, vaccinations, medical and travel insurance, farewell party…all are being arranged as we speak.

Tomorrow is also my last day of work and I have half a dozen things to wrap up. I’m sure I’ll be there late but then I really don’t mind because it’ll mark the beginning of a very long and exciting vacation.