There comes a time for many people when they find themselves having to go through their parent’s things. Back in 2008 my dad passed away. The other day I revisited a toiletry bag of his, filled with a bunch of oddities.
I came into possession of this toiletry bag after my mom died some 10 months following my dad. It was in a box of old photographs and negatives I am now trying to digitize.
I vaguely remember opening the bag years ago, but as it is a new year and there is some purging going on, it was time to throw away the little, red toiletry bag.
But first, what really was in this thing?
Oldness Lives Here
Opening it up brought the expected smell of oldness. There were some pictures of girls my dad must have known in high school, a picture of some strange dude, my dad’s dog tags from The Korean War, I’m assuming his Army Infantry buttons, dice, a power tape measure, comb, and some mementos from his visits to Chicago. I know St. Peter’s Church is still in Chicago, but the Oh Henry Ballroom, which eventually became the Willowbrook Ballroom, burned down in 2016.
Little Glass Tubes of Danger?
But then I saw them, these little, glass tubes, about two inches long, filled with liquid. The tips had different colors.
My thoughts became sinister.
Why, in his toiletry bag that seemed to have things from his travels including his time in the United States Army, would my dad have some little vials of liquid? They seemed too small to be vials of illicit drugs, you know, like the ones you see in the movies, but maybe they were like, antique one-hitters of the drug world?
Now my thoughts shifted to his Army days.
Did the Army do some weird, human experimentation by testing some crazy performance concoctions on him, and did my dad smuggle some home when he got out? Maybe they were tiny vials of nitroglycerin, and I really shouldn’t be shaking them? That would be weird since my dad was a radio-man in the war, stationed in Germany, but what the heck, my mind was heading down all kinds of weird paths.
Goodness, gracious, what was my dad up to?
Google searches for “little vials of liquid Korean War” didn’t turn up anything that looked like the tubes. I even tried taking pictures of them and using the Google “image search” feature to get a result, but that led to nothing but big ol’ test tubes.
Bing Defeats Google
I was then thinking that maybe I should just throw them away. I didn’t want the FBI or some secret, government agency at my door, but then, somehow, I ended up searching capillary tubes. Suddenly there it was on the Bing search side, a picture of similar looking vials that included a little, cardboard tube looking thing.
The caption? Perfume nips. These are also known as perfume points. That’s what they were.
What a let down.
Yup, had I looked at more of the items in the bag prior to my deep dive into thoughts of the underworld and secret human experimentation carried out by the Army, and put together two parts of a tube that were in the toiletry bag, I might have noticed “PM – An Exceptionally Fine Whiskey” on one side of the completed tube, and on the other side “Perfume Points.”
Sadly the little, glass tubes were filled with perfume.
As I read more about it, in years gone by, perfume samples would come in little, glass tubes that you would break open use (yea, that seems safe). At times companies would make promotional items with the perfume points, and while the tie-in with PM Whiskey didn’t really make sense, I guess it was sort of the norm of the day.
It seems that all that was in my dad’s toiletry bag was a bunch of mementos. No great treasure, no sinister story involving my dad, little glass tubes, and human experimentation, but the question still remains: What was my dad up to? I mean, why did he keep a promotional tube of perfume points in his toiletry bag all those years?
And if you were wondering, yes, I cracked open one of the tubes. Some of the perfume spilled on my fingers, and I fear the smell of “vintage,” very bad smelling perfume, may linger with me for days.
Andy Note: This is a long story. Our vacation was ten days, and it might take that long for you to read this novella. Feel free to jump around, just look at the pictures, or go ahead and grab a sangria or three, a plate of “Jamón ibérico,” that’s Iberican ham to you English reading folks, and follow our journey of eating our way through Spain, and not running with bulls.
It’s funny how a song, a taste, or a smell can bring back a memory, and on a recent excursion to Spain a smell, well, that was a memory I had never thought I would experience again. It occurred in Pamplona, for the running of the bulls, but we’ll get to that part of the story later.
We left our humble abode in Chicago, had a quick layover in Munich, Germany, took a short flight to Bilbao, Spain, and all I could think as we were making our way through Bilbao airport was that this place would be perfect for some kind of zombie apocalypse movie. One of the window panes looked like a cart had rammed into it, you had to go to the special holding area if you were an international passenger, and then it was to the catacombs to secure your rental car.
Rental car secure, no zombies, it was on to San Sebastián!
Just Like the Amazing Race, but With Technology!
Here’s a helpful hint when it comes to travel in Spain: Get a car with navigation and ignore Google Maps.
In preparation for our travels I recommended to my wife that she print out directions. She obliged, and there we were, in our rental car, in a land of a different language, armed with written directions. I was supposed to navigate, I looked at the printed word, and said, “Let’s see if this car navigation works.”
We got the directions plugged in, the map looked similar, and on to San Sebastián we went. Happily the nice lady in the dashboard knew exactly where she was going. She was able to do simple things like direct us to stay on the main road instead of exiting the highway, going through the exit roundabout, and then re-entering the same main road. Yes, somehow Google decided we should exit at every exit, go around in a circle, and get back on the highway.
My wife, bless her soul, was able to pay attention to the driving while my head was on a swivel looking at the scenery, shirking my navigation duties at times, and happily she safely got us to our hotel in San Sebastián, the Hotel Arrizul Congress. It was a quaint place, we were early, so they stored our luggage and directed us to the parking garage where, at the third sub-basement, I felt safe if the zombie apocalypse that would begin in Bilbao ever made it to San Sebastian.
Time to Explore!
Here’s another helpful hint when it comes to travel in Spain: Ask the hotel staff where to go.
We had done some prep work for our travels, the normal Trip Advisor and Rick Steves stuff, but nothing turned out more helpful than asking the people who live there where you should end up. When we asked as the front desk of the hotel what we should head off to see, the nice lady pulled out a map and pointed out the shopping area, the “Old Town” area, and then nicely circled the “this is where the locals eat” area, with a grin hinting, “You should go here.”
And so we did. First stop was Ramuntxo Berri, a little restaurant where our first Sangria of the trip was consumed and a nice round of tapas. As we still had a few hours before our room would be ready we found a gelato shop and then…
Would You Look at That, and Those!
This only being my second trip to Europe, and my first near a beach area, the quick recollection that Europeans aren’t nearly hung up on nudity as Americans are took hold. Yup, as I saw the first one it occurred to me that my little feller hasn’t seen the sun since I ran out of the house, naked, when I was about five years old. There was that first one, then another, and another. Alrighty then, guess I should get used to seeing “that” at the beach. And then there were “those,” as yes, sunning one’s self with whatever amount, or lack of clothing you desire, is perfectly acceptable.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like the beach was just full of naked folks, but for me, the generic American, it was a little shocking. It also made me wonder why we are so hung up on nakedness. No one there seemed to care, so why should I?
Beach time over we found this little “train” that would take us around
San Sebastián, got the generic guided tour of the city, and finally found ourselves back at the hotel for check in.
When in San Sebastian… Pinxtos!
Settled in and unpacked, it was time for the tradition of San Sebastián, pintxos. Pintxos are kind of like appetizers just sitting there on a bar for you to partake in. Generally they are smaller than an order of tapas, kind of a “one bite” kind of thing.
This time we ignored the suggestion of our hotel staff and made it over to Old Town, I mean, we did need to see more than just where the locals ate, and Old Town is a neat area of San Sebastián.
There was one recommendation that came up consistently for pintxos, Gandarias. We made our way across the river, got ourselves in the door, and proceeded to stand there like first-time tourists, not really knowing what to do, nor how we were supposed to order these things.
“We’re new. What do we do here with the pintxos?” The bartender looked at us like we were the dumbest people on earth. “I give you plate. You put pintxos on plate. You give me plate. I tell you how much. You pay. I give you plate back.”
So we did. We put pintxos on our plate. We gave the bartender our plates (and ordered some Sangria), he told us how much, we paid, and he gave us our plates back along with our drinks.
Gandarias’ pintxos were pretty darn tasty I must say, but we didn’t want to fill up in one place so we decided to try a different method to find good pintxos around Old Town – We wandered around, looked inside places, and asked for a plate, put some on a plate, handed the plate to the bartender, to gave us a price, we paid, and he gave us our plate back.
This was mostly a mistake.
While Gandarias was a great pintxos spot, we should have checked out more online reviews before checking out other places. Yea, we hit a couple of other bars, both came up way short of Gandarias in the pintxos department, so we decided more of a dinner was in order. Where to go? Back to the local’s area, and this time Bodega Donostiarra.
After a short wait a table opened up, we perused the menu with our Google Translate app (Yea, we were the dummies who didn’t ask for the English menu), and settled on Merluza a la brasa, also known as grilled hake, as well as Tortilla recién hecha de patata, also known as the potato omelet. Oh yea, don’t forget dessert, the Copa Bodega, the Bodega special dessert (foam custard with biscuits and cream ice cream).
While we didn’t make it to any of the three star Michelin restaurants in San Sebastián, nor any of the one star Michelin restaurants for that matter, damn, Bodega Donostiarra served some tasty fare! No wacky molecular gastronomy, and don’t get me wrong I am a lover of molecular gastronomy, but this was just a completely satisfying meal, with frantic service, leaving one with a full-bellied walk home.
We’re Doing It Wrong
It was too short a stay in San Sebastián, only about 24 hours allotted on this leg, but we needed some sustenance prior to our drive to Pamplona. Where to go? Let’s not risk it, let’s get back to Bodega Donostiarra.
Taking some table spots outside we perused the English menu this time, and like most Americans I suppose, ordered way too much food. There was a giant plate of ham as well as Huevos a la brasa (pisto, patata, jamón, chorizo y huevos), that’s grilled eggs with ratatouille, potatoes, ham and chorizo.
Then we looked around.
With the place being mostly locals, yup, most everyone else there had a small plate of ham, maybe some cheese, and a glass of wine. Many of them were in groups, chit-chatting away instead of stuffing their faces, and even the older lady, who sat by herself, only had a little plate of ham, a piece of bread, and a glass of wine.
The other thing? They all looked healthy.
I looked at my wife, as I sat there with an over-stuffed belly and food left on the plate, and whispered to her, “We’re doing it wrong. Look at all of them. They have tiny portions, a glass of wine, and seem to be enjoying life. Here I am, wasting food, and hoping my belt makes it through this trip.”
Yea, I’m thinking for lunch I should take a little bottle of wine with some ham and cheese. I’m not sure if the company would go for that, but you know what, I would probably be happier, chit-chattier, and just enjoy the rest of my day a lot better.
Oh well, I took my belly full of food, my wife and it was time for Pamplona!
Some Recon and Eating in an Empty Restaurant
It would have been nice to stay another day or two in San Sebastián, but we had some driving to do in order to get to our next stop, Pamplona.
Once again the nice lady in the dashboard was dead-on with the directions, and the nice lady sitting next to me did a great job negotiating the “at the roundabout take the second right,” “at the roundabout take the second right,” “at the roundabout take the second right.” Yes, roundabout after roundabout after roundabout eventually led us to our hotel. We got settled, changed into our white outfits with red bandana, and it was time to scope out where our balcony for the running of the bulls was so that the next morning we wouldn’t be late.
Our hotel was about a 25 minute walk to the old part of town where the bulls run and, as we walked, the guide books weren’t lying, everyone was dressed in white with red bandanas.
I mean darn near everyone.
Getting closer to town the crowds grew larger, and then, suddenly, it was just a sea of people, in appropriate attire, although many an outfit had now turned pink from being drenched in Sangria from the partying going on.
The amount of this partying was completely insane, or so I thought, and all I could really think was “Holy shit! This is crazy!” I also thought that next time I need to show up sans camera gear and just be there completely for the fun!
We strolled the streets through seas of people, and found our balcony spot secure in the path we would take the next morning. There were tents of souvenirs, an area where you could sample food from the across all of Spain, and people of every age enjoying themselves.
We walked around much of Pamplona eventually finding ourselves back at our hotel, and discovered a nice restaurant right across the street that was just opening. We had the place to ourselves for about half an hour until the local folks began to arrive for dinner.
All of the walking was tiring, but it did allow us to witness that the San Fermin festival wasn’t just going on in the old part of town. All across the city there were little parties happening in the myriad of parks along the way. It was nice seeing everyone just enjoying themselves, partying it up, but nothing would prepare me for the sights and smells of what was to come the next day.
A Smell Takes Me Back
Getting up the next day at a crazy hour, we had to be at the door to our balcony around 6:30AM, they were going to let us in at 7AM, and the bull running was at 8AM. As we strolled back into town the revelers who were partying the night before, and who didn’t care about the running of the bulls, were stumbling and bumbling their way back to their sleeping accommodations.
It was like the walking dead. I remember that style of walk, and I was about the age of the people we walked past on the street when I had partaken in that same walk. Part of me wished I was that age again.
But then “it” arrived. That “smell.”
The memory of the aftermath of many a fraternity party from my younger days permeated the air as the smell of liquor, sweat, vomit, and who knows what other bodily functions began to penetrate my nostrils. If the aroma didn’t bring back such great memories it probably would be enough to make me want to vomit at times, but there I was, smiling, knowing the level of partying that must have been going on the night before.
It was awesome.
Our travel to the balcony area let us meet a few other couples who were there to see the running of the bulls. They were drawn to us by our certainty of where we were going as well as our conversing in English. All were amazed at the level of drunkenness, smell, and filth.
Again, to me, it was awesome!
What level of drunkenness you may ask? The easiest answer is the recollection of a dude with a half-full bottle of Jack Daniels. Yes, Jack in Spain. Wandering around he was a pretty happy dude, but then he saw it, in a pile of garbage destined for the trucks – A half-full bottle of Coca-Cola. My man dug right into the garbage pile, pulled out the bottle of Coke, and an ecstatic look of glee filled his face as he now had mixer.
As much fun as he was having, that was a level I had never seen.
Drunk folks were everywhere, and the cleanup of the streets prior to the running of the bulls is fairly crazy, and one must be on your toes, sometimes literally. It stars with dudes with brooms pushing the garbage into piles, then the collecting of said garbage into large containers, then it was pass number one of the street sweeper.
Enter the water truck with a dude holding what might as well have been a fire hose, hosing down the streets. He didn’t care the direction he was spraying, and if you were in the way you would be a mess of street filth and water. While he was finishing up here came the street sweepers again, more hosing down, more street sweepers, and repeat until the streets were clean.
Five Seconds of Summer. Okay, Maybe Eleven Seconds
Dodging drunks, street sweepers, and gross water spray, it was finally time to get to our balcony, just off a family’s living room, and secure some watching. A nice little spread of breakfast sweets, hot chocolate, coffee, etc., was there for our bellies, and people jockeyed for position.
One of the folks in the group, Marianne, spotted her husband, John, who, I suppose, decided mere weeks earlier that he was in the best shape of his life, or he just decided he would run, and she was slightly nervous. A band went by, the ambulances were in position, the medics had a pow wow, the police did one final clearing of the streets so the dude with the leaf blower could dry off the street, and finally the runners were allowed back to take their positions in the street below.
8:00 AM came, the rocket signified the bulls were set free to run, and it was time to peer down the street.
Finally the crowd erupted, the bulls appeared, I was snapping pictures all along, and just like that the bulls came, the bulls were below, and the bulls were gone.
Eleven seconds. Yup, from my first picture of the bulls, to them rounding dead-man’s curve, it took eleven seconds.
A lone steer came through, after the main bulls vacated, and it was time to assess the carnage. Across the street two people were being attended to. One dude looked to have a scrape on his forehead while another looked to have busted up the back of his head. Me, I started flipping through my pictures, and was almost horrified.
In the shot lie a person, with red all around their head, as the bulls ran right past. “Oh my God, it looks like their brains are all over the street!” I looked closer, still slightly horrified, but then looked at some of the other photos in the series.
Turns out said person was a female, with dark red hair. Luckily a follow-up picture showed her on her side, with hair flying all around. Phew!
The Best Damn Churros, Period.
An experience of a lifetime over for us, the bulls were finishing their journey, and it was time to be off to find some churros. Yes, maybe that sounds weird, but rumored to be in Pamplona is the best churro place in the world, Churreria The Mañueta
Down a street there was already a line for a place with two subtle signs, “Churreria” and “Roscas Especiales.” Yup, that’s all you get when trying to find the churro shop.
We got there rather quickly, thank God, because the line isn’t the fastest, and it grew quickly. The anticipation swelled as we got closer, and there it was, this place with a slightly updated purchasing area, but if you peer into the kitchen area, damn, it looks like it is back from the 1800’s, complete with fire stocked oil pots. About the only thing that looked modern in the kitchen area was the churro dough extruder that they used to put the dough in the oil.
We stood in line, were offered a sample from Mr. Mustache, and took our bag of goodness out of the stench of old town. One should not eat these churros around the smell of booze and pee. Finding a spot with clean air, I will happily say, right now, we devoured the best, damn, churros in the world.
They were completely worth the wait.
All Those Drives Back Home Were For a Reason. Who Knew?
With bellies full of churros it was time for a drive that reminded me of years ago when I had to drive from Chicago, Illinois, to Lorain, Ohio, to visit my folks. Yup, it was time to depart Pamplona and head for Barcelona!
The drive time would be about 5 hours, the same as my drive home used to be, and there were toll booths, yes toll booths, complete with tickets you secure at the first booth, and utilize at the later booth. There were flatlands, which reminded me of the farmland of Indiana, and at times there were rolling hills, actually quite scenic, that had me recollect the change in elevations that occurred as one traveled across Ohio to the East. I saw stone material companies in Spain, and while sure, they were destroying mountains, Illinois had the quarry companies where you can see giant holes in the ground, created by man. About the only differences were some actual mountain-looking areas in Spain, and deserted towns that look like remnants from the middle ages.
My wife found it boring, but it took me back and the only thing missing in Spain was a shed with a smiley face on it to brighten my day!
We Need Some Grub!
Barcelona was the final stop on our tour of Spain as my wife had some work to do, but we got there early enough to have some fun! I successfully navigated the streets of Barcelona, thank God it was a Sunday, and we returned our rental car both with the satisfaction of having driven in a foreign land.
We made our way to our lodging spot, and while now secure in our little bed and breakfast, it occurred to us that all we really had so far, this day, were some pastries at breakfast, the world’s best churros, and some trail mix and dried apples. What we needed was a good meal and some gelato.
As luck would have it we were able to get an outside table at Cervesería Catalana who served us up a tasty mix of tapas and yummy Sangria. The bonus? On our way to the restaurant we spotted Emilia Cremeria, a gelato shop. We opted out of deserts at Catalana as we now had gelato on our minds, and Emilia satisfied our need for something cold, creamy, and tasty. It was finally time for bed!
It Rarely Rains in Barcelona
With one of our free days to explore Barcelona, this day was supposed to be all about Antoni Gaudí. The morning we had booked a tour at Whoville, I mean the Park Güell, planned to walk about the city for spell and get some lunch, and then head to the Sagrada Familia where the sun was supposed to be streaming through the stained glass windows.
The skies were kind of dark, but every weather app I had mentioned a smattering of showers and then mostly clearing. Even when we lined up for our tour the guide mentioned that it rarely rains in Barcelona, and upon further research Wikipedia mentions there might be two days of rain in July.
I believe both of those days were packed into this Monday.
The tour was nice enough, although it would have been better with blue skies and sun, but we got to learn how Gaudi was really ahead of the times when it came to conservation and the environment. We also learned of his disdain for corners, thus all edges were rounded. He designed some of the most comfortable, hard benches, complete with their own drainage system, he created a giant rain barrel that filtered the water for the plants and fountains, and had a great vision for a city of nature that most no-one at the time wanted.
The tour was over, and it would have been nice to stay, but, alas, we probably should have used Spanish weather apps because those United States’ versions we had turned out to be completely wrong. Yup, the downpours that would continue throughout the day began. It was time to exit “Whoville” and head to someplace indoors, someplace we could eat, and that someplace ended up being at a location with some fine Sangria in an area called La Boqueria, just off La Rambla.
I Had What Phil Had
As luck would have it, a few days before our trip to Spain, TV dude Phil Rosenthal was on a podcast I listen to, Noah Kagan Presents. Now I knew of Phil Rosenthal from his days of being the man behind “Everybody Loves Raymond,” but little did I know he had this food show, first on PBS as “I’ll Have What Phil’s Having,” and now on Netflix as “Somebody Feed Phil.” During the podcast Phil mentioned that the archives list every restaurant he visited for the shows. I was curious, any chance he went to Barcelona?
While most of the restaurants from the show were already booked (Dang it, Phil, why couldn’t you have been on Noah’s podcast about three month’s earlier), we took a shot at finding El Quim de La Boqueria, one of the shop restaurants at La Boqueria.
We arrived before they opened (who opens for “breakfast” at Noon?), and people were already sitting on the few stools surrounding the place, even before the metal shutters were opened. My wife and I secured our spot and waited.
With the show being a few years old, would they still have it, 2 fried eggs with baby squid?
We ended up with the eggs, slow-cooked pork rib, and some of the best Sangria we had while in Spain.
Sure, we ate too much, but we didn’t care as it was worth it. Thanks Phil for the recommendation!
Like Home, Then Better Than “Like Home”
Still with some time to kill, and worried about the weather, my wife, who loves me very much, and knows I love her very much, and also knows I love beer, suggested we hit a couple of places with beer. CocoVail Beer Hall is the perfect spot for Americans who want to feel as if they were back in America, but for a better selection of beers from all over, I suggest Bier CaB. I had beer from Spain, even one from the good old U. S. of A, but I was just worried that, with my propensity towards darker, high alcohol content beers, I might be too tipsy for God. Why? After the beer joints the next stop was La Sagrada Familia.
This Is What The Alan Parsons Project Was Singing About?
After seeing the cathedral, I agree – It may never be finished, at least not it the vision Gaudi had.
In any case, making our way to La Sagrada Familia, I had one concern, namely hoping that the next burst of rain would hold off until we made our way through the line to the entrance which was outside. Luckily we made it inside, complete with our recorded, guided tour, and it was time to see one of the most impressive feats of architecture I have witnessed.
The thing is Gaudi started his vision of the church back in the 1880’s, and for me the most spectacular part was the area that was completed when he was alive, before modern machinery, cranes, lifts, etc, The Nativity Facade. It is a wondrous wall of stonework dedicated to the birth of Christ. There was Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, and a soldier throwing a baby, depicting the story of the Massacre of the Innocents from the book of Matthew in the bible. Weirdly wonderful.
As the weather was crappy, there would be no cramped elevator rides into the spires, but that was okay because just wandering around the church, seeing the immenseness, and viewing the impeccable detail, was fascinating as it was.
Of man-made buildings, it will probably stand out as one of the greatest things I have ever seen.
Hello Michelin Man, Carles Abellan!
With our stay in the city complete it was time to change accommodations to a location on the beach, and finally some nice weather!
My being somewhat of a food snob, the fact that the hotel had a restaurant, La Barra de Carles Abellan, with a Michelin Star rated chef made me slightly giddy. A phone call was made, a dude answered the phone, and my request for a reservation for two for that evening was met with hesitation. He said, “Can you make 7:30?”, and in my head I’m thinking, “I’m an old American. Dude you can seat me at 4PM, and I’d be happy.” Rather than replying with what was in my head, I answered, “That would be great! See you then!”
The restaurant is laid out with a variety of cooking areas. In the center of the counter area where we were seated is the grilling location where the meats are cooked over lump charcoal. Every now and then, especially when stoked, a spray of sparks darted around the area. It was fun, like being at a backyard barbecue! Along the wall is another food prep area, by the windows you find the bartender, and on two, giant TV’s you can watch the magic happening in the kitchen. Yes, from the time your food order gets printed in the kitchen to the plates arriving at your table, you can see the staff scurry around preparing your meal.
The wait staff was fantastically helpful explaining the variety of food choices. We skipped going right for a cocktail, instead having some of the chef’s blended wine creations at the beginning of our meal.
I had never slurped oysters before, so I figured this was probably a great place where I wouldn’t be grossed out by an oyster, and the Tsukiji Oyster was fantastic. The Galacian Cockles, La Barra Style were tasty, and the Grilled Stuffed Squid with Spicy Egg Yolk had no rubbery texture at all.
Damn, those tapas were fantastic, but some main dishes were also in order. The server recommended the “Great Wall” Red Mullet. I had never had mullet before, it was cooked to perfection and had the cutest, little mushrooms in the salad “base” of the dish. Entertainment was also on tap as we were watching our Garlic Shrimp Rice being prepared on the giant TV’s, and as one of the staff almost messed it up we could see Chef redirect him the correct way of preparing the dish.
People pay extra to have seats in the “kitchen,” but this experience came without the added expense!
While my wife was finishing the best Sangria she had on the trip, and I was working on my “El Estibador,” a cocktail that somehow incorporated IPA beer syrup, there was no way we were skipping dessert. Upon the slightly odd recommendation, we skipped my normal “dive right into anything chocolate,” and went with the Brie Cake with Melanosporum Truffle. Sure, Melanosporum is a fancy word for black truffle, Périgord truffle or French black truffle, and the thought of just “brie” seemed weird, but this was one of the best desserts I’ve had.
Relaxing with full bellies, it was fun watching Chef Abellan train what appeared to be a newer staff. He directed some of the servers how to stand with pride, he explained some of the finer points of adding spices to the dishes, and was doing what he could to whip everyone into shape. Very personable, we chit-chatted with the Chef a bit, before heading back to our room to rest for the next day.
Have Fun Stormin’ the Castle!
The next day found us with a morning and afternoon to kill. We killed most of the morning sleeping, grabbed a late breakfast, and watched a toddler pee on a tree. It was quite exciting. We needed, however, something to do for the afternoon.
My wife did some searching for things to do, and a short cab ride later we were in the funicular, going up a mountain to a fortress that at one time protected Barcelona.
The castle was pretty much what you would expect a castle to be. The first version was built in 1640 as a military fortress, after a few upheavals it was destroyed and the new version was built, and whereas it was supposed to be a fortress, history says that for the most part it ended up a prison and place to torture folks. There was what used to probably be a moat, a drawbridge, and giant doors to protect the castle.
Inside was now fitted with museum rooms, but for me the most exciting thing, and I don’t know why, was getting to the top of the castle and going into the guard towers in the corners.
Located about an hour outside of Barcelona, the easiest way to get to the top of the mountain is this thing called a rack railway which, to me, seemed kind of like an elevated train from Chicago carved into the side of a mountain. Our bus dropped us off at the station and a short ride later our tour guide let us know about some of the history of Montserrat. She explained the various times it was conquered, and why, if you toured the stations of the cross, some statues were missing noses while other statues were just missing.
With the guide letting us roam on our own, the first destination was to head into the very ornate Basilica of Montserrat and see “Our Lady of Montserrat.” It’s a small statue of the Madonna and Child, and is one of the few, original, Black Madonnas.
The statue is just over three feet tall, so it’s really kind of tiny, and as the story goes, to protect the statue, it was hidden in a cave and became darker in color due to the candle smoke from visitors to the cave.
We saw the statue and then headed outside to tour the stations of the cross where we saw the broken noses and really, kind of odd, replacement “statues.” An extra hour or two to check out Montserrat would have been nice, but it was time for a late lunch, and then we got to take the scary bus ride down the mountain.
Why Didn’t I Google Map “Sangria” Earlier
With our trip beginning to wind down, my wife and I both wanted a last, decent Sangria. The normal bars in the W Barcelona didn’t serve the greatest Sangria, so I searched the Google Maps for “Sangria.” What popped up a short walk down the beach? “BarCeloneta Sangria Bar.”
I said, “Honey, it’s a sangria bar. We should go there!”, and what we discovered was this cute, little vegan restaurant.
Tucked away down a street in “Barceloneta,” all I know is maybe it was a good thing we didn’t find it earlier, although I also was kind of sad, because similar to the La Barra sangria, their sangria was wonderful. They had six different version with alcohol and two non-alcohol versions of sangria, and even though I’m not vegan, their menu looked yummy.
I had the “Denise,” my wife had the “Venus,” we shared a plate of great tasting tapas, and sadly had to be on our way.
Planes, A Train, A Bus, and An Automobile
While we hated to leave, it was time to head back home. Barcelona airport treated us well although I still don’t understand the magnets and statues of things pooping. My experience in Germany is still just in airports as we had our layover in Frankfort and got to take a fun train ride between terminals, and an uneventful flight to Chicago left with no train, it’s still being fixed, so we got a bus between terminals to get us back to our car.
There was joy in the house as Milo, our little bundle of doggy joy, realized it was us who had come in the door. He yelped, spun around, yelped some more, jumped up, spun around some more, and finally we felt at home.
A wonderful adventure had come to a close, and now it was time to plan for the next one. Anyone up for some Kokkinisto, or maybe rēwena, or maybe tsukemono pickles. Who knows where we’ll end up!
It started with an email to business dude and podcaster, Noah Kagan, “I like a great donut, and wondered if you know any awesome bakery or breakfast spots where we can start our tours of the Austin area?”
He nicely replied how he wasn’t a donut guy, but Voodoo Donuts was “famous on 6th Street”. I thought, “Who doesn’t like a good donut?”, but to each their own I suppose. I kept reading, “… for diners hit up a greasy mexican one like ciscos or joe’s bakery. either will serve ya dirty.”
The quest was on!
Austin in February?
Who goes to Austin in February, anyway? It wasn’t supposed to be that way. My wife and I had planned to visit about six months earlier, but a bum knee caused a cancellation of plans. A knee was bummed, and we were bummed as Austin was one of those places we just wanted to visit. You know, you hear good things and want to experience good things, so we wanted good things in Austin.
As the season of fall came to Chicago, and the dreadful thoughts of winter began, discussions turned to a long weekend getaway that would be needed for some rejuvenation from the seasonal affective disorder that was sure to arrive. Maybe the Caribbean? How about the Florida Keys?
What about Austin?
The weather might not be perfect, but it sure will be better than the cold depths of hell Chicago will probably be experiencing in the middle of winter.
Austin it was!
Turns out it was the perfect weekend to be in Austin. Austin would have a record high temperature 91 degrees, and Chicago would just be escaping from a polar vortex with -22 degree temperatures and wind chills of -50. Sweet!
A Quick Note
This story is mostly about food. Austin has a boatload of other stuff to do, and while we did eat a lot over the course of our visit, we did enjoy other aspects of Austin, eventually got the courage to ride one of those scooter things, and relaxed. Those things are stories for another time, let’s get to the food!
Lunch, and It Turns Out, Dinner
Arriving on a Wednesday, by the time we checked into the hotel we were hungry and tired. The tricky part was that it was already past lunch and on the way to dinner time. Not wanting to drive anywhere, my wife and I ventured across Lady Bird Lake to the downtown area, settling on the first place we could find, 2nd Bar and Kitchen.
It wasn’t the fanciest of meals as we shared the black truffle pommes frites, Avocado Fundido, and Short Rib & Mushroom Cheesesteak. The truffle fries were not too greasy, which is nice, watch out for the jalapeño peppers on the cheesesteak, they’ll sneak up on you, but the star of this show was the Avocado Fundido, a tasty queso you won’t want to pass on.
2nd Bar and Kitchen was a nice, first step on a culinary journey for the next five days!
Long Walk. Wrong Shoes.
Who decides they should walk 3/4 of a mile following a good meal to visit The Texas Capitol in shoes that aren’t really made for 3/4 of a mile of walking? My wife and I. Yup, the capitol building beckoned us, seductively sitting there at the end of Congress Street, and at the time it didn’t seem that far away. The weather was nice, what the heck, let’s walk!
God bless my wife, and I suppose I’ve subtly noticed this before, but her concern for cleanliness truly came through as, while we were coming upon the capitol, she noticed the wooden shutters on all of the windows. She smartly commented wondering who cleans them, and what thickness of dust must be on said shutters.
I am happy to report that as we did our own tour of the building, the senate chambers had the cleaner of the shutters when compared to the representatives side, however, my wife was impressed that they were both much cleaner than she expected. Congratulations Texas, your tax dollars are being put to good use, at least in terms of clean shutters.
It was a neat visit, complete with a fountain that looked like a little boy playing with, well, what little boys might play with, but suddenly the realization we had to walk another 3/4 plus mile back to the hotel came upon us.
Being older folks, the thought of using the scooters frightened us, so we hoofed it back to 6th street, walked the wrong direction on 6th to the normal looking bar life instead of the more fun looking bar life (Head east young man!), and we both gave up. It was time for an Uber.
An Uber driver with a Dodge Charger arrived, and he was nice enough but failed to realize that the Charger back seat is nearly unlivable if you have giant bags of snacks hanging on the rear of the front seats. With our knees pressed into our chests as to try not to crush his offering of snacks, he got us back to our hotel where I proceeded to somehow fall asleep from exhaustion. My day was done, much to the surprise of my wife.
The Best Breakfast of the Trip
With a busy day ahead of us I convinced my wife that my guy Noah wouldn’t steer us wrong on food, so we drove to Cisco’s.
Holy crap was this a great idea!
Rolling up on the corner of East 6th and Comal, a blue building with a mural of cowgirls with plant life covering their private parts greeted us on one side of the building while flying pigs and a mariachi band greeted us on the other.
Inside was the kind of place I had hoped for, and exactly what Noah described, a classic diner that will “serve ya dirty.” In my world that really means “is no frills and has some awesome food.”
Sitting at the counter where we could watch the cooking magic happen, I opted for the Huevos Rancheros because, well, the menu mentioned “The man who made Huevos Rancheros famous.” My wife chose the Potato / Egg Taco and the Migas Taco. My Huevos Rancheros were yummy, but after trying my wife’s choices, I now understood the joy of a breakfast taco.
Let me simply say that breakfast at Cisco’s was a treat. From the food to the atmosphere, both of us, upon reflection of our trip, wished we had revisited Cisco’s for another breakfast.
Moon. Hills. Dam. Beer.
An upcoming afternoon of travel required some caffeine, so why not try something different, something Austin, and something recommended by my sister-in-law. That something ended up being Summer Moon Wood-Fired Coffee, made with this other something called Moon Milk. I ended up with a Wintermoon, described as, “Our signature iced latte blended with Moon Milk: seven secret ingredients to bring you sweet, creamy goodness!”
It was creamy, the coffee was tasty, and it was goodness. It is a tad sweet, so if you want it toned down a bit go for the “half” version of the Wintermoon (iced latte) or the Summermoon (hot latte).
With my caffeine need satisfied, it was time for wandering aimlessly through the countryside. We found a place called Buda, a town called Dripping Springs, and made our way to Lakeway, which I kept calling “Lake-Away” for some reason. Why the driving tour? To see the Austin countryside, and a dam, of course.
Okay, it wasn’t really to see a dam, but to see the results of a dam, namely Lake Travis.
It was a warm day but overcast, so the impression of Lake Travis didn’t have the impact I thought it might, but what did impact me was the amount of hilliness that was prevalent in our drive. Winding roads, hills, and scenic views abounded. I don’t know why I found it weird, I suppose mostly because when us northerners think of Texas we imagine flat, oil fields and sprawling cattle ranches, but the area south and west of Austin is anything but flat, it’s downright beautifully scenic.
Needing a little grub before our big dinner that night, we found ourselves at Oasis Texas, a complex of shops and restaurants situated on Lake Travis. Much of the complex was shut down for the winter season, but happily Oasis Texas Brewing Company was open. It was happy hour, I had a beer that paid homage to the Chicago White Sox announcer Hawk Harrelson, a barrel-aged wee heavy beer right up my alley called “He Gone!” The chicken slider was very salty, but the wagyu slider hit the spot.
I could see why Oasis Texas is considered “The Sunset Capital of Texas,” situated above Lake Travis with what is probably a spectacular sunset view, but there would be no sunset for us as the cloudy skies and our fancy dinner reservations had us back down hilly roads to downtown for some freshening up before dinner.
Why Did Dessert Have to Let Me Down?
It being Valentine’s Day, and both my wife and I liking fancy dining, we found ourselves at Olamaie, a house converted to an acclaimed restaurant, and ready for a food experience and biscuits. I say, “and biscuits” as Olamaie is known for their biscuits, so much so that the biscuits have their own spot on the Olamaie web site, with special ordering for just biscuits. These must be some pretty darn special biscuits. Time would tell.
Their Valentine’s Day menu was of the prix fix variety, offering various choices of an appetizer starter, main course, and dessert.
We both had the Gulf White Shrimp & Jefferson Red Rice as the starter, with a large helping of shrimp and my first taste of red rice. Things were off to a great start.
With the main course my wife opted for the snapper, while I enjoyed a perfectly prepared beef tenderloin. The sauce wasn’t overpowering, you could almost cut the beef with a fork, and snapper was nicely done as well.
Yay for part two!
Many a time my wife and I will skip dessert at a restaurant because, unless a restaurant is known for it’s dessert, things will fall apart. For this dinner our dessert was part of the price, so angel food cake was the choice for my wife, and as I am a chocolate lover, the dark chocolate cake made its way to my table setting.
Yes, the Olamaie magic shell on top of the cake was fun, but maybe too magical as you really needed more than a spoon to crack it open. The black cherry ice cream was a complete necessity as the cake was a dry disappointment, and for once a chocolate dessert let me down. Maybe it was the anticipation that it should have been wonderful and wasn’t, and even my wife’s angel food cake was, as she put it, just okay.
What a bummer because the rest of dinner was up there with the best of them, and yes, the biscuits are that good to warrant their own spot on the web site.
No Food, but What Would An Austin Trip Be Without Music?
Austin is known for its music scene, and when my wife and I planned this trip we wanted to experience some of it. Little did we know that we would see a little band of musicians on a street corner in an unplanned music event, but on the planned side we bought tickets for Bob Schneider at The Moody Theater, home of Austin City Limits Live.
While I do try to stay on top of the music scene, I had never heard of Bob Schneider, nor the Moonlight Orchestra who was with him. That didn’t deter us as we did some listening to his music online and said, “Sure, he sounds like a good time. And heck, he’s playing the famous Moody Theater on Valentine’s Day. How bad can it be?”
It wasn’t bad at all even if it was a night of music I really didn’t know, short of a few covers like Barry Manilow’s, “Mandy” in tribute to the TV show “The Bachelor.”
The show was fun, included sing-a-longs, and introduced me to a musician now in rotation on my music playlists.
Decent Coffee. Skip the Taco.
Jo’s Coffee on Congress was another recommendation to us by someone who had been to Austin, and looking at their menu showed they also served breakfast tacos. They do a decent marketing ploy as on their menu it states, “We offer house made tacos daily starting at 7AM until they’re gone.”
“Damn, those must be some in-demand tacos. I hope they don’t sell out by the time we get there.” Sadly, it wouldn’t have been so bad if they did sell out because there was no comparison in Jo’s Coffee breakfast taco to the likes of the fantastic Cisco’s taco the morning before.
I opted for their “Iced Turbo” latte which kind of reminded me of the Summer Moon coffee in terms of sweetness from the day before. It was tasty, and would have been more tasty with a better taco.
Also a great marketing ploy on their part, they join in the “You have to take a picture at their mural” craze with their “i love you so much.” painted on the side of their building. Yup, a picture was in order.
Let’s Skip the Driving and Get some BBQ?
Another day of aimless driving took us north to the town of Georgetown where both my wife and I kind of agreed, “What the heck are we doing driving around aimlessly? Let’s get some barbecue.”
Heading back to downtown the choices were many, but we quickly realized that Terry Black’s BBQ was within walking distance from where we were staying, and with a record high temperature on its way to Austin, we should really enjoy the weather and the path by Lady Bird Lake.
A brief walk in the summer-like air found us in a line that took about 30 minutes, impeded mostly by tourists who couldn’t seem to make up their minds at the buffet of sides. As both my wife and I really don’t like the buffet concept, watching too many people with not so great hygiene scoop gobs of mac and cheese, potato salad, and green beans, we should have bypassed most people in line and headed right for the meat counter. We waited patiently, however, analyzed the menu, and settled on no sides, just meat by the pound with a mix of pork ribs, beef ribs (I always forget how big a beef rib is as most of Illinois barbecue just offers pork ribs), and brisket.
Most people will comment that there really isn’t any bad barbecue in Austin, and while we didn’t try a lot of it, I will say that Terry Black’s BBQ was pretty damn good. Well seasoned, not too spicy, and juicy as you would expect, we were glad we skipped the sides and stuck with just the meat. I remember making the mistake of filling up with salad and sides at a Brazilian style restaurant once, and not having room in my belly for the meat, so I didn’t want to make that mistake again. Do yourself a favor, and unless you really must have mac-n-cheese or beans, skip the sides – you are at a barbecue place for barbecue. Enjoy.
Hold the Salt, Pass the Ice Cream
After two days of consuming more salt than our bodies have probably had in years, my wife and I needed something that wouldn’t cause our blood pressure to reach new heights. Okay, maybe a bowl of ramen wouldn’t really solve that problem, but luckily Ramen Tatsu-Ya on S. Lamar had a line around the building so we wandered around and found ourselves at Mandala Kitchen and Bar, a Vietnamese & Thai restaurant at this nice little restaurant/entertainment complex on S. Lamar.
With the rest of my family hauling their way from Houston to visit us in Austin later that evening, we didn’t want to over-eat as there would be more food later, so we opted for their spring rolls with tofu and some chicken pad thai.
Wow, that hit the spot. The spring rolls were fresh and crisp, like you want a spring roll to be, and the tofu wasn’t mushy. The pad thai had perfectly prepared noodles, and we both agreed it was some of the best pad thai we have had in a while.
Actually, our initial thought for a little less salt began with a desire for ice cream, and as luck would have it, right around the corner from Mandala was an ice cream shop called “Lick Honest Ice Creams.”
While yes, they do have some fairly normal ice cream flavors, Lick is really about mixing up tastes to create unique ice cream. I mean, when was the last time you opted for a scoop of Lemon Poppy Seed or Roasted Beets and Fresh Mint ice cream? I stayed relatively safe in my choices with a scoop of Dark Chocolate, Olive Oil & Sea Salt, paired with Hill Country Honey with Vanilla Bean, and after the last taste, was happy with my choice, as well as happy that I didn’t need a gallon of water to balance out the salt.
Let’s Skip Dinner and Get Right to Breakfast
With my family’s late arrival, we opted to just hang out at the hotel, grab some grub and a few drinks, and catch up after not having seen each other for three years. The food was, well, hotel food, so let’s move right on to breakfast the next day.
As I mentioned earlier, a second breakfast recommendation was Joe’s Bakery, and I must say that Joe’s did not disappoint. We appeared to have timed it perfectly as Joe’s was able to accommodate our party of eight, and everyone proceeded to dive in. Migas plates, breakfast tacos, and Chicharrone filled the area, and when it was noticed that a lot of patrons were buying this cake with pink icing, we asked our server,
“What is that cake with the pink icing everyone is buying?” She nicely replied, “Pink cake.”
My family was impressed I knew of a good breakfast spot (Thanks, Noah!), so I was the star of the day, and if you want a solid piece of cake with pink icing, may I recommend the pink cake!
Ping Pong and Beer
The bummer part of the morning and afternoon with my family was not that I had to spend the morning and afternoon with my family, but rather the fact that as opposed to the day before, with a high of 91 degrees, the weather folks seemed to have no clue as to how to forecast the weather as three days earlier they said Saturday would be in the mid-70’s, but suddenly it was a day mostly in the 50’s, with a decent breeze, and no sun. So much for all the outdoor fun we were planning.
Alas, to entertain ourselves until our fancy dinner that evening, it was decided that for a little bit we would try to hit each other with ping pong balls at Spin Austin to work off our breakfast, and then, since Jester King Brewery is really a better place for the outdoors, or so I’m told, we found ourselves at Austin Beerworks for some cold ones and an eight person game of Yahtzee.
The beer was tasty as I went for the beer flight with a holder that looks like a giant set of brass knuckles, and of course I stuck with the higher ABV stuff, with the likes of Gold Fist which is a Belgian strong golden ale, the Fire Eagle, because who doesn’t like a solid IPA, and Moon Shovel, a double IPA, wasn’t too shabby, either. Happily I wasn’t driving!
It was kind of a bummer about the weather, but hey, I kicked everyone’s ass in Yahtzee as I got Yahtzee not once, but twice. Yay, me!
A Food Quantity With a Good Vibe
When it was decided we were going to Austin, and it was further decided that my family was coming up from Houston, there was a lot of discussion about a restaurant that was up to the fancy standards of my wife and I, yet with a menu that would satisfy family members who aren’t so adventurous when it comes to their dining choices.
Nicole was our server, and she was very concerned with our vibe, while all of us were concerned with how much to order. Encouraging sharing, and not sure how large the portions were, Nicole suggested we decide on our Snacky Bit and Toasts before we decided on our Wood Grill, Vegetables, and Specialties choices.
The nice thing about having eight people and a lazy-susan in the middle of our round table meant that we could share a lot of the menu choices rather than settling on one thing. After deciding on Snacky Bits of the Fried Shrimp and Burrata, with Toasts of Crab & Avocado and Pastrami Salmon, Nicole guided our group through the perfect amounts of Pork Ribs, Hanger Steak, and a Whole Branzino off of the Wood Grill option, paired with Grilled Broccoli, Sticky Brussells Sprouts and Frites, a.k.a. french fries to most of us.
You would think that might be enough, but adding the Chicken Thighs and Bucatini, which is a fantastic duck and pork ragu with pecorino and pasta, turned out to be the perfect amount of food vibe.
Nicole seemed pleased with our choices.
The food proved just different enough to keep my family hesitant yet intrigued, and I was happy to introduce branzino to the group, which everyone thought was fantastic.
Unlike Olamaie where dessert fell flat, Launderette did not disappoint anyone in the group. The Chocolate Dirt Cake, an Apple Streusel Tart, Hibiscus Poached Pears, and some ice creams were enjoyed by all.
Yes, I did well in the eyes of my family with my food choices on this Saturday.
Secrets Belong on the Menu
The Austin Marathon was taking place the morning of our departure, so trying to get the family to Cisco’s for breakfast seemed like a challenge none of us were up for. Instead, another recommendation we received was to get tacos from Torchy’s.
More like a chain restaurant, I discovered something in my research on Torchy’s and that was that they have secret menu. Go ahead, Google “Torchy’s Secret Menu” and you will find a range of options not on their menu with secret code phrases like “Jack of Clubs,” “Mad Cow,” and “The Matador.”
As I ordered the “Jack of Clubs” (Fried egg, potatoes, black beans, crisp corn tortilla strips, shredded cheese, cilantro, sour cream and Diablo served on a flour tortilla) the guy behind the counter gave me the look of “Yea, you know your Torchy’s.”
The taco was tasty enough, but man, it was no Cisco’s.
Donuts Only a Couple of Blocks Away?
While I had enjoyed a myriad of great recommendations from Noah Kagan and others about food choices, there was still one thing missing on my trip, a good donut. Yes, he mentioned Voodoo Donuts, but I wanted something more Austin. Who else might help? A man named Google Maps!
Knowing we would be at Torchy’s on South Congress, I asked Mr. Maps if there were any donut spots nearby. Sure enough, only a couple of blocks away, was a refurbished airstream travel trailer housing the likes of Gourdough’s Big. Fat. Donuts.
They were big. They were fat. And they were donuts with flavors like Mother Clucker (Fried chicken strip with honey butter), Fat Elvis (Grilled bananas & bacon with peanut butter icing and honey), Baby Rattler (Fudge icing & fudge oreos with a gummy rattlesnake), and my donut of choice, the Flying Pig with bacon and maple syrup icing.
Did I mention these were big, fat donuts? Holy crap! While I could have probably tried to eat my Flying Pig with my hands, I opted for the more dignified method of knife and fork. The maple syrup icing wasn’t too sweet, the bacon was, well, bacon, and the donut, even though gigantic and made in the trailer, wasn’t overcooked nor too doughy.
Mama’s Cake (Yellow cake batter filling with chocolate fudge icing) was enjoyed by my nephew, and for something a little more simple, go for the Naughty & Nice, a donut take on the classic cinnamon toast enjoyed by my wife.
A Belly Full of Goodness
And so, Austin, you treated us well, and served us some wonderful food choices. I must say that the recommendations from a variety of folks aided nicely in our research of places to try, and while there were some items that didn’t live up to our hopes, there really wasn’t anything we tried that seemed like a complete waste of our caloric allotment. Okay, there wasn’t a caloric allotment on this trip, but happily there was enough walking to offset some of the, well, not-so-healthy food choices.
Go to Austin. Hear music. Eat food. You will not be disappointed. Yes, Austin is full of good things.
This article is just my story. I am not offering any medical advice nor trying to tell you what to do if you suffer from an autoimmune disorder. I’m only explaining my journey of being afflicted with what is called Delayed Pressure Urticaria (DPU), the protocols I used to help alleviate the welts, swelling, hives, or “wheals” as the doctors call them, and my recent results following a fasting mimicking diet.
Welts Don’t Look Good on a Beach
I don’t remember the first time I noticed it, but it was at least over 20 years ago. The instance that always stays ingrained in my head was a trip to New Jersey. I had a shoulder bag that was rather heavy for lugging through an airport. The flight landed, all was well, but about six hours there it was, a giant welt in the spot the shoulder bag strap rested on my shoulder. This was not the look to go with when you are heading to the beach.
At the time I didn’t know what was going on and, in typical “guy” fashion, I completely ignored the signs. It also didn’t make sense. Why would I get swelling six hours after doing something physical?
As the years went on things seemed to get worse. I would notice, after doing manual labor, things like using a drill, screwdriver, or saw, always, after about six hours, things would swell. My hands would look like balloons, and to compound the discomfort I would develop a low-grade fever. One particular bad turn was walking on a beach in my bare feet. The day in the sun was great, and it didn’t occur to me the pressure that was on my feet while walking on the sand. Sure enough, six hours later, my feet swelled so much that my shoes wouldn’t fit, the pain to walk was nearly unbearable, and the fever chills hit me like never before.
Thankfully, by then, the internet information was becoming more widespread. After a boatload of searching, probably for something like “swelling and fever six hours after pressure,” there it was: Delayed Pressure Urticaria.
Why Don’t Men Like to See a Doctor?
As things stayed consistent, and I learned to plan for the flare-ups, sure, I could have checked with my doctor, but why would I want to do that? Secondarily, almost to a person commenting on the internet except a lowly few, their doctors, because of the wheals, went right to “allergy” and would prescribe every allergy medicine under the sun. Only a few realized it wasn’t really an allergy but what one might classify as an autoimmune disorder.
Finally, I brought it up to my doctor, and even after my mentioning my research into it being an autoimmune disorder, she completely dismissed me, and said I should try Claritin for three months.
She’s a doctor, and what did I know? I did try her advice, I mean, what the hell, but alas, no changes in any symptoms. There would be a change in my doctor. It was too bad because I really liked that doctor up until then.
I’ll Try Just About Anything
As the years went on, every now and then, I would do internet searches to see if anything new was out there in the world of Delayed Pressure Urticaria. The general consensus, on what I considered the extreme front, mentioned that steroid shots or pills seemed to help, but a myriad of people were taking a more holistic approach. Someone mentioned cinnamon pills helped alleviate the symptoms. In my head I questioned, “They make cinnamon pills?” Sure enough, they there were on the shelf at the store.
Low and behold, with the cinnamon pills things were a little less on the reaction front. I guess cinnamon is supposedly a natural remedy for inflammation. Still not satisfied, I kept looking for answers, and a few months later someone mentioned oregano pills. Again, “They make oregano pills?” Sure enough, there they were on the shelf in the store.
The holistic folks tout oregano for its anti-inflammatory benefits as well as pain relief, and yes, the addition of the oregano pills helped alleviate the debilitating effects of the welts and swelling even more.
What the Heck is a Gut Microbiome?
Still not the greatest of solutions, my DPU had become a little more manageable, and instead of a two day recovery period if I was overly aggressive in my working with tools and solid objects, things were down to about a 24-36 hour period. A few years go by and now tons of stories are starting to creep onto the internet about autoimmune disorders and the gut microbiome. Turns out there is a boatload of bacteria in the gut all trying to keep you healthy, but for many people their microbiome in the gut is completely out of whack.
A lot of this out-of-whackness appears to be linked to diet, overuse of antibiotics, and even not being born vaginally, but, for me, I’m blaming popping antacids like candy back in college, mostly completely unnecessarily, but it was the “thing” to do as we were “stressed.” As I look back my DPU ills started shortly after my college career ended. The damage was done, I was doing nothing in my diet to help it recover, and low and behold my autoimmune system decided that pressure on my skin was a bad thing. Weird.
Safely on the cinnamon and the oregano, I had also found a new doctor and a dermatologist, both of whom knew of the condition, and both said there wasn’t any known “pill” that would solve the problem. My dermatologist said she would keep her eyes open for anything on the horizon, but mostly both were both curious when I would tell them the steps I take to alleviate the issue.
With no great ideas from my doctors, now what was I to do? I know, I’ll take a probiotic! Let’s try to get the gut microbiome back in whack!
I will admit that my diet didn’t change that much, but with the addition of the probiotic the severity of my DPU lessened even more. The recovery period was down to about 12 to 14 hours, and the swelling wasn’t such that I worried about taking off my wedding ring or watch, and if I took a couple of aspirin about 4 hours after I finished whatever manual labor I was doing, I could eliminate the fever and chills and function rather normally, albeit with some swelling and discomfort.
I pretty much accepted that things would be like this the rest of my life.
Podcasts Lead to a Possible DPU Breakthrough for Me?
I listen to a lot of podcasts, mostly in the car on the way to work, and that’s what eventually took me to something called a fasting mimicking diet from Dr. Valter Longo and Prolon. I believe the journey began in 2014 or 2015, hearing a different doctor, Dr. Rhonda Patrick, on TimTim TalkTalk, or rather The Tim Ferriss Show as it is commonly known. During the interview there was a lot of talk about longevity and diet, and my general interest was peaked. I didn’t do much follow-up, mostly just subscribing to her podcast, and as a follower of Tim’s I also found myself subscribed to The Kevin Rose Show as I enjoyed him on Tim’s “Random Show” episodes.
A couple of years of podcasts went by and there were a lot of episodes about the gut microbiome, but things also transitioned to more discussions of fasting. Mind you I tried a juice-only fast a few years earlier and made it to day two before, “I need something to chew!” blew that out of the water, but come mid-2017, Tim Ferriss had Dr. Patrick doing a Q&A episode for his show and some of the answers were about Dr. Longo and his research into fasting.
Then 2018 came, and my interest in the fasting mimicking diet really started to solidify. Kevin Rose interviewed Dr. Longo on his podcast. The good doctor was promoting his book, “The Longevity Diet,” which was nice and swell, but when the talk turned from longevity to research into fasting and its effect on cancer treatment, and more important to me, autoimmune disorders, specifically Multiple Sclerosis (my dad had M.S.), I listened more intently. I ordered the book and in true “me” fashion, I didn’t read it.
Thankfully came a follow-up interview of Dr. Longo by Dr. Patrick on her “Found My Fitness” podcast, and with an episode title of “Dr. Valter Longo on Resetting Autoimmunity and Rejuvenating Systems with Prolonged Fasting & the FMD” it was time to take this seriously. I read the book, I studied the research, I found blog posts of people who had done the fasting mimicking diet, and I decided to try it. In my head I had no expectations of any profound effects on my DPU, especially after one cycle of the diet, but I figured in a worst case I would lose some weight.
Let’s Give the fasting mimicking diet a Shot
I had two choices to try the fasting mimicking diet. One choice was to follow the guide in “The Longevity Diet” and making my own meals. The other was to just purchase the food package from Prolon, a company that developed an all-in-one kit for diet. I knew the value of purchasing the meal plan would be in “here’s what to eat today,” limiting any temptation to cheat. My wife also decided to join me and give it a try. We ordered our food.
The packages arrived and inside were five, small boxes labeled for days one through five, a giant water bottle, instructions, and other information. The diet, each day, varies ever so slightly, and looking at our calendar, my wife and I decided to begin on a Sunday and end on a Thursday. We set it this way so Friday could be the transition day working back to fuller meals on Saturday.
The days are set up with a breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and some side items you can use as an afternoon snack or eat with your meals. You also get some herbal tea, and for days two thru five there is an energy drink . You are instructed that you can mix up the meals during the day, but you should eat all of the food in the box on that day and not swap days, i.e, don’t eat the Day Two Meals on Day Three and Day Three on Day Two, for example.
As far as the food, each day you are given two soups. One soup is microwavable, the other you actually have to cook on a stove. The quinoa soup was rather tasty, the tomato and minestrone not too bad, but I could do with a different vegetable soup. Happily there was only one day with the vegetable soup! You also get meal bars where some days you are allowed two, and some days only one. You will probably really miss the Chocolate Crisp L-Bar so savor it on the days you get it if you try the Prolon route. Some days have some supplements, other days none, some days crackers and some days none, and some days olives and some days none.
Yup, I admit, it seems kind of wacky.
Wackiness aside, you might wonder, “Do you feel like you are starving?”
I have to say that there was only one day when I really felt hungry. Maybe it was the fact there was actually food to chew, or I had a greater curiosity with the end result, but getting through the five days wasn’t really that tough. The toughest day was actually day six, the “transition back to normal food” day, as there are lots of horror stories of blow-outs, if you get my drift, hiccups, or all around discomfort if you decide to just chow down coming off of a fast. You are instructed to ease back into food. For us we opted for lighter meals during the transition day, with a dinner of fish.
The Gloves Come Off
With the fasting mimicking diet behind me, as well as a few pounds, I was curious if there was actually a change in my DPU. Oh yea, I forgot to mention that during the diet I stopped taking the probiotic, oregano, and cinnamon supplements, only starting the probiotic again after the diet was over.
Back to results…
There was only one way to find if there was any effect of the diet on my DPU, but I didn’t want to go completely crazy by remodeling our basement. I started slow, just with mowing the lawn without gloves. That might sound silly, but for our lawn we have a riding lawnmower, and I found out, early on, that if I didn’t use gloves my hands would swell. It wouldn’t be horrible, but there was always swelling, so for the years we have lived in our home, whenever I mowed the lawn, gloves were on.
This time the gloves were off.
The lawn was mowed, and I waited for the swelling.
The Swelling Never Came.
I was shocked. Not even a bit of swelling occurred which I usually gauge by the ease with which I can take off my wedding ring. “This has got to be an anomaly, right. Maybe I was being as gentle as I could with my hands while mowing the lawn.”
I realized that while I had no swelling on this completely, unscientific test, I would need to do something more aggressive, something I couldn’t “fudge” by being gentle, and see the results.
Thankfully the following weekend presented the next opportunity. Yes, the lawn needed to be mowed again, but what the hell, let’s do a boatload of weed-wacking and edging around the house. I mowed the lawn, and when I was done with the lawn I grabbed the weed-wacker and proceeded to wack the weeds all around the house. Yay! Then I went even crazier and decided to edge around the sidewalk and driveway. Finally, about four hours later, my work was done, and it was all accomplished with no gloves.
It was now time to expect the worst. A little over a month earlier I had done some yard work, and even while wearing gloves there was swelling. This time the work was much more intense, much more stressful on my hands, and I did it without gloves. I showered and expected that, about five hours later, I would begin to get the chills with the low-grade fever, I would have to make sure I took off my wedding ring so the swelling wouldn’t grow around it, and my watch would have to come off as I wouldn’t be able to slip it over my balloon-looking hands.
The end of the afternoon came, and nothing was happening. The evening came and my hands were still normal and there was no sign of fever. I went to bed, and it was like I didn’t do any yard work at all.
“Holy crap, did this fasting mimicking diet cure my Delayed Pressure Urticaria?”
I still didn’t believe it.
The Testing Continues
The next weekend came, and I said to myself, “Self, the weather is crazy hot outside. Let’s tackle a boatload of inside, house projects!”
So I did.
There was an extra-vigorous bathroom cleaning (Not that I normally do a crappy bathroom cleaning, but this time there was some floor scrubbing on my hands and knees, and an extra-deep cleaning of the whirlpool tub), vacuuming, and the topper was some drywall repair. Again, any one of these had the ability to cause swelling of my hands, and this time also of my feet as there was a lot of bare feet walking around the house action going on, but put all three together and about five hours after I was done I should be decimated.
Nothing happened. Five hours, six hours, seven hours, eight hours later and there was no swelling of my hands nor feet, and no fever. I felt fine, albeit a little sore in some muscles from using them more than normal, but there were no DPU affects.
As I write this I am still shocked.
A Case Study of One Continues
I will say that I have no scientific confirmation it was the fasting mimicking diet that eliminated my DPU syndrome. Maybe I went into remission at the same time, maybe the years of probiotics finally cleaned up my guy at the same time I started the diet, or maybe there was a different diet change that affected me. I don’t know. What I do know is that prior to starting the FMD I had all of the classic symptoms of Delayed Pressure Urticaria, and after completing the FMD, in three “tests,” there was nothing. Not a swollen hand, not a welt, not a slight fever, no symptoms whatsoever.
Now what? Well, my intention is to complete another round of the FMD in the hopes of compounding the seeming healthy effects of the diet, and maybe follow that by remodeling the basement. Okay, maybe not remodel the basement, but at least continue testing my physical limits, doing the things that used to cause the discomfort. There will also be adjusting of my diet to be a little more healthy while keeping my gut microbiome intact.
My journey will continue, hopefully, with a wonderful healthspan without delayed pressure urticaria. Only time will tell.
For those of you reading this who suffer from delayed pressure urticaria, wondering what might help, fasting mimicking diet testing aside, I will say that my protocol of daily supplements including oregano, cinnamon, and a probiotic, along with, on exertion days, taking aspirin about 4 hours of after I was done “beating up my body” helped immensely. The DPU was, for all intents and purposes, manageable, and recovery down to hours from days. The FMD, though, has given me hope that maybe, just maybe, my body has given me a reset to normalcy.
As a person who has suffered with Delayed Pressure Urticaria for nearly the majority of my life, I welcome every glimmer of hope in reducing the difficulties of the syndrome. Most of the things i have tried helped a little bit, and maybe it was the FMD, maybe it wasn’t, but only time will tell if there was something in my life that, at least temporarily, freed me from the debilitating effects of DPU. If you are a person with DPU reading this, and you have other health issues, you really need to check with your physician to see if you are healthy enough to try a fasting mimicking diet. Other than having Delayed Pressure Urticaria, I was a fairly healthy person, with decent blood tests, and not horribly over or under weight. With that I wasn’t that concerned about exacerbating any other conditions by doing the five day “fasting.” I would also say that if your doctor completely dismisses the thought of the diet as a joke, you may want to find a new doctor.
My last advice is this: If you suffer from a disorder that seems completely wacky and random keep searching for answers, and be open to wacky and random, within reason, all the while doing your own research because your doctor may not.
One search led me to cinnamon pills, another led me to realizing I needed a different doctor, while a different search had me realize you can take oregano as a supplement. Searching helped me find stories of the gut microbiome and its connection to autoimmune issues, and then searching helped me find Dr. Valter Longo and his fasting mimicking diet. For a month now, as I write this, I have been Delayed Pressure Urticaria free, and even if it stays away, or it someday comes back, I will always wonder about it, and maybe do another search.
It began with wanting to see the fires from hell. It ended with God. It began Oct 14, 2017. It ended May 19, 2018. It began with feeling like a fat loser at age 50. It ended with swearing while visiting St. Peter’s Basilica, and feeling like, well, I swore while visiting the Vatican.
Italy or Hawaii? First up, Hawaii.
Back in mid 2017 my wife and I wanted to take a vacation, and October seemed like a good time to work it into our schedule. Since we met there were two destinations on our immediate vacation list, Italy and Hawaii. She had been to Italy previously and knew October might not be the best of times to go, but it seemed like a great time for Hawaii. The flights were booked, Airbnbs were secured, and there were four months to get in better shape, especially for a vacation destination that exudes “cool things await those who hike, or at least walk a lot.”
Me, I had one goal, to see the lava flows of Kilauea Volcano on the Big Island.
Back then Kilauea Volcano was fairly quiet and lava flows were hit or miss. This is in contrast to the explosiveness of today, with the lava fissures in Leilani Estates and the action at Overlook crater at the Kīlauea summit. Thinking back, maybe things were too quiet at the volcano when we visited. In any case, as we arrived one thing was certain, I didn’t get in good enough shape to have any chance to make it to where lava might be flowing.
The signs that were posted, I joked, all read, “Andy, you will die if you pass.” It was about a 10 mile hike, you should take at least 3 quarts of water, and you should have food and even flashlights. It was also hot on the day we visited, about 85 degrees. As much as I wanted to get pictures of lava flowing I knew I wasn’t in shape to do it. I tried to make myself feel better as a ranger mentioned there didn’t appear to be any visible lava flow that day, but in my heart I knew I really couldn’t make that hike because, well, I was still a fat loser.
With Hawaii behind us, my wife was immediately in “Let’s go to Italy next year!” mode. I was in. I mean, Italian food and gelato everywhere. Sure, I’m Polish, but I love me some good pasta!
In the back of my head, though, was the Hawaii failure.
Initially it wasn’t that big a deal. I knew there would be a lot of walking in Italy, but nothing seemed completely out of reach for my fat self, that was until I learned of the cupola at St. Peter’s Basilica.
The cupola at St. Peter’s Basilica is, simply put, the outside of the top of the big dome. From the cupola you can get the greatest views of Rome, but to get to the cupola you have to climb stairs, a lot of stairs, 551 stairs from the bottom to the top. As taking pictures is one of the things I do, I wanted the best pictures, and to possibly get them I knew where I had to be, I needed to be at the cupo, St. Peter’s cupola, the hottest spot west of the Piazza.
My wife is the one who mentioned the cupola to me, and the stairs. She also mentioned that there is an elevator to get to a terrace level that can give you a nice view, and a wonderful view inside the dome, but that elevator didn’t go all the way to the top. Sure, you can cut the stairs down to 320 by taking the elevator, but, if I was going to do this, I wanted the complete experience.
I now had a goal.
How, though, was I going to get this fat loser into any kind of shape to climb 551 stairs?
There was some preliminary weight loss as the year began, some extra time on a treadmill, but walking flat on a treadmill wouldn’t really be any preparation. Also, where was I going to find stairs to train on? Sure, I could join a gym with a stair-master, but I really don’t like going to the gym. It occurred to me, “We have stairs! Why don’t I train at home?”
At home we have two little flights of stairs, a total of 14 stairs. For shits and giggles I decided to see how many flights I could easily do, and there it was, four flights of stairs. “Crap, that’s only like 56 stairs.” I was curious, however, if it were possible to add one additional flight of stairs every day.
The plan was hatched. I even made a chart. I was going to use our stairs to train for the big day. I would start with four flights of stairs, and every day I would add one flight. By starting on March 14th, if I stuck with this plan of adding one flight of stairs a day, by the time we would leave for our trip I would be able to climb upwards of 896 stairs. I wanted to be over-trained, and I also didn’t know what the effect of walking up and down stairs did (I only counted the stairs going up), versus climbing stairs continually up as I would have to do at the cupola.
Every day I did my flights of stairs, at least for most of the days. I even decided, as my legs became stronger, to actually add two flights to the daily total, giving some extra training every day just in case there was a chance I couldn’t do the stairs for a day or two.
A clogged bathtub drain.
My training was going great, I was up to 602 stairs, and some bathroom cleaning was going on about 3 1/2 weeks before our trip. Our bathtub drain was getting a little slow, so hey, why not use one of those yellow “get the hair out” thingies. I’m leaning over the edge of the tub, pushing and pulling this “unclog your drain” gadget, when suddenly a sharp pain hit my right ribcage. The good news is I cleared the drain, but the bad news was that I was fairly certain I just gave myself a rib injury.
I didn’t think anything was broken, but my ribs were sore, sore enough to effect my ability to take full breaths, which in turn, I was certain, was going to effect my stamina to climb 551 stairs. I was not happy. Worse yet, I was worried that although I wouldn’t be as fat, I would be a loser again at another goal.
This was not good because I did not want to be a loser.
I took a few days off of my training, resting my ribs, but worried my legs would quickly lose their stamina. A training set was done a few days later, I made 47 flights at 658 stairs, but it was hard. There were a few more days off of training but, come the beginning of May, decided I needed to figure out a way to kick the training back in gear. I made it a couple of days, but my ribs were still sore. How the heck was I going to pull this off?
I tried a few days rest, a few days training, and yet my ribs still hurt, especially towards the end of my set when I was having to take larger breaths to supply my body with the oxygen it needed. This “adding one flight of stairs a day” seemed like a good idea early on, but with sore ribs it proved to be a chore.
Then came a true test. It was one week before our visit to The Vatican, I was up to 854 stairs in my training at home, the up and down of the flights of stairs, and my ribs were still sore. Suddenly an opportunity came to climb to the eighth floor of a building, a total of about 300 stairs. Should be a piece of cake, right? Well, I made it, my ribs were killing me, I was totally out of breath because I couldn’t really breathe, and now I was simply thinking, “I can barely do 300 stairs with these ribs. How in the hell am I going to do 551?” I almost wanted to cry.
I decided my last course of training had to be lack of training. If I wanted to climb these stairs to the cupola I needed to be able to breathe, and even though my stair tracker had a few days left of training to go, I needed to rest my ribs. No more stairs, no more exertion, I decided I would try to limit things, get to Italy, and see what would happen.
The day arrived. It was a beautiful Saturday in Rome, and we made our way to The Vatican. I hadn’t really done any exercise for a week, my ribs were feeling pretty good, or at least not sore, but another test was first, our tour. Yes, before even attempting the stairs we booked a tour of The Vatican so we could beat the crowds. What was I thinking? I had 551 stairs to try to climb, and here I am on a three hour tour, walking around The Vatican Museum, standing in the Sistine Chapel, and walking, low and behold, up and down stairs.
I will say the tour was great, interesting, and informative, but with every step and every stair all I could think was how I was using up the energy I was going to need to climb to the cupola. Did I overtrain enough? Isn’t this tour over yet? Not another flight of stairs that aren’t part of my cupola stairs! Ugh!
Finally the tour was over. Holy crap, I had already walked about three miles according to my Apple Watch, but the time had come. My ribs felt fine, I made my way to the line to the cupola, and there was the sign, “Andy, you will die if you pass.” Okay, it was a warning that there were two ways up, all stairs or you can cheat with the elevator for part of the way. If you intended to try to get to the cupola there were still a lot of stairs, but another sign was a little more direct, “Warning! Individuals with serious heart or circulatory conditions or with major physical disabilities are not advised to walk up to the cupola (551 steps). The strain may have very dangerous consequences to your health.”
I have to admit there was part of me, with the decision between elevator or all stairs in front of me, to chicken out and take the elevator, but I said, “You can do this. This is what you trained for. Suck it up, save the two euros, and get walking!”
So I did. I paid my eight euros, got my ticket, and proceeded to begin the climb.
That’s Not So Bad
The first batch of 231 stairs wasn’t that bad. While circular, they tended to be larger stairs, decent in width, with some ledge style stairs where you actually take a few steps between stairs at times. In fact this batch is kind of a tease. I’m all like, “La de da! This is a piece of cake!”
I emerge from the first batch at the terrace, some construction is going on, but there it is, the real entrance to the journey to the top of the dome. As you enter you are first treated to a view most never see because they either don’t want to pay for that first batch of stairs, or the elevator for that matter.
You get a view of the inside of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, from up high. It is a stunning perspective of the basilica, looking down on the vastness of the church, and looking around at the grandioseness of the dome itself. Beautiful mosaics adorn the walls, and for this the few euros is just about worth the expense, even if you don’t want the outside view that awaits up the rest of the stairs.
Welcome to the Funhouse
Me, though, I wanted that outside view, but you don’t get that view without what can almost be described as a funhouse of a climb to get you to the top.
First off the stairs have now become narrow as you are essentially climbing in an area between the walls of the inside of the dome and the walls of the exterior of the dome. It’s also fun because the stairs will slope one direction while the walls are sloping in the opposite direction, giving you a walk that has you tilted in various angles.
Then there are the spiral staircases. Spiral staircases seem to be here, there, and just when you think there aren’t any more, bam, more spiral staircases. I’m climbing, some young, punk kids, and I only call them “punk” because they are in shape and running up the stairs like it’s a jog in the park, catch up to me so I let them pass, I catch up to someone who looks in decent shape but is fairly winded, and we both stop for about 20-30 seconds in a little alcove out of the way of others who want to pass.
I have no concept of how many stairs are left because, well, I didn’t count them as I was climbing, but I hoped I was fairly close. You see, during my training, as I was getting to the end, whenever I had four flights of stairs left I said a mental “You were able to do four flights of stairs when you started this training. Finish this!”, and for most of the balance of the upper portion I kept telling myself, “There can’t be more than four flights left!”
Here’s the thing, as you are climbing the funhouse stairs in the actual dome, there is a spot towards the end where you suddenly get to some metal staircases. They are normal, you are happy, but ahead marks what you will think is the worst spiral staircase of them all. Climb, hold on to the rope, because there is one, and like me, you will emerge, and maybe you might say…
“Holy shit, I made it!”
Yes, I dropped the s-bomb at the top of St. Peter’s Basilica.
It was a feeling of complete elation! I did it! Should I see if Pope Francis would hear my confession? At least it wasn’t an f-bomb!
I was also overwhelmed, and I really wasn’t sure what to do next. Do I Snapchat my view, text my wife, take pictures, shoot video? So, at first, I just tried to soak it in, which was kind of tough because the cupola was packed. Sure, this 51 year old schlub made it, was ecstatic that he made it, but there were plenty of folks up at the top like,”What, that wasn’t so bad?” I didn’t care, though, because for me it was it was a little bit of redemption for not making it to the lava, or even trying, that day in Hawaii.
Here’s the thing, though, I enjoyed the view, took a selfie, took the proverbial pictures, I didn’t text my wife because I was saving money on our phone plan, but then it was time to go.
What Goes Up Must Come Down
All of the stories I read, and videos I saw of climbing to the cupola mentioned the challenge of going up, but none of them talked about going down. I will say that as kind of freaky it was going up all of the spiral staircases, going down actually was worse. Why? Going up you can kind of see where you are placing your feet, but going down was more like lower foot, feel for the step, hope you are on enough of the step to hold you until the next step, and continue. Oh, and there are no handrails to hold, just a wall and the center post, both of which are there mostly to maintain your balance and lean against as opposed to grab.
After navigating the super-tight, spiral staircases, things get more weird as the trip down is also one of the best thigh workouts, or will put the most stress you have ever felt on your quads and knees ever, as most of the steps are pitched down. Picture walking down a giant hill, one step at a time if the hill were steps.
On the way down the stop on the terrace level is nice, and you can get a nice view of where you were at the top of the cupola. There is a gift shop, which sadly doesn’t have any t-shirts “I walked to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica!” There’s a little cafe and views of the backside of statues where, if you look closely enough, you will see how they keep the birds from landing on the statues.
Finally, you are heading down the last batch of stairs, and there it is, the exit, depositing you into the basilica where you can head back to the altar, look up, and point, “I was way up there!”
I found my wife where she said she would meet me. I hugged her, and my eyes welled up with tears. I could tell she was proud of me because she hugged me back, even though I was a sweaty, stair climber.
I had done it. After tormenting myself since our vacation to Hawaii and feeling like a fat loser, there I was, a chubby winner at age 51. Now I just needed to find the Pope and confess my swearing, and plan a future trip for a new goal. I hear Australia has a big bridge you can climb!
I heard a cheerful “Happy New Year” said by someone, I’ll call them “Kate,” talking on the phone yesterday. As I’m typing this, “Yesterday” was January 9th, and I thought to myself “Isn’t it a little late to be wishing someone that their new year should be happy?”
It just seemed too late.
So many thoughts started running through my head. First there was, “I wonder how the person on the other side reacted?” Then I wondered, “Were they caught off-guard because we were almost ten days into the new year, and they no longer see happiness on the horizon?” “Did they reply with the same giddiness as the person dispatching the happy wishes?”
Maybe I had it wrong and it wasn’t Kate sending the greeting, but it was the person on the other side of the line who perpetrated the good tidings for the new year. Maybe this actually perked up “Kate.”
I wondered how I might have responded. I think I would have been, “Oh, yea, Happy New Year.” Then I would have found it weird during the rest of our phone call that the person wished the new year be happy this late into the new year.
As my mind does, now I wondered how long “Kate” might continue her New Year’s greeting. Will it be a few more days, maybe a few weeks, maybe only to people she hasn’t talked to in the New Year yet, resulting in a “Happy New Year” sometime in February?
I also wondered how long into the year it was appropriate to say, “Happy New Year!”
I did what I always do when I need an answer, I headed to the internet. It was just as confusing, at least in the first few stories. Why? There was a lot of discussion that a few days into January is as long as you should say it, others gave you to the 14th, but the best was an article in Metro, some British internet magazine. It decided that a “party and wedding etiquette expert” was the supreme authority for the answer. This expert mentions that “Wishing someone Happy New Year after a week into January can be unwanted and insincere.” Damn, that seems harsh.
So there you have it. One week. That’s as long as you are allowed to say, “Happy New Year,” a party and wedding etiquette expert says so.
More Chances to Wish “Happy New Year!”
Here is the good news: If you just can’t help yourself from wishing people a year of glee, well, you do have few more chances where you can get away with confusing the crap out of people. You have “Happy Orthodox New Year!” coming up for you on January 14th. Be ready, though, to explain the difference between the Julian and Gregorian calendars. The big one, though, is “Happy Chinese New Year!”, coming February 16th, here in 2018. As an added bonus, instead of just a boring “Happy New Year!” you get to get all animal loving with a hardy, “Happy Year of the Dog!”
So you’re going to Hawaii? Ever since we met my wife and I wanted to visit the Paradise of the Pacific, and in October we were finally able to pull off the trip. We asked people for things to do, things to see, read the Hawaii guidebooks (these were awesomely helpful), and for this blog I wanted to share many of the things we experienced, hopefully giving you ideas if you ever make it to the Big Island or Kauai.
I’m a little torn, though. Why? There is the part of me that wants to do a full-blown blog post about our vacation to Hawaii. The dilemma? A full-blown post would be pages, and pages, and pages, long. Okay, really not pages, unless you printed it out, but you would just keep scrolling, and scrolling, and probably give up around Day 3. We were there for 12 days. You would miss a lot.
So, the question came to me, “How do I shorten this thing? Would people rather read things, or see things?” Duh, seeing is easier, isn’t it?
My solution? A mostly picture blog post. Pictures are easy. You can look and keep on scrolling. Intermixed with the pictures will be interludes and links to all things Hawaii, or at least all things our Hawaii trip.
It was a travel day. We took off in daylight, arrived in the dark, and settled into our Airbnb place. I found it weird that the rental just uses a normal, manual lock-box, and I also wondered, but doubted, if they ever changed the code. Part of me wants to fly back just to see if the code is the same.
Day 2 – Let’s Drive!
We had one goal while in Hawaii and that was not to be like a monk seal and lay on the beach all day. Don’t get me wrong, we had beach time planned, but we wanted to see things, visit things, and eat fun food. We jumped right into it on Day 2 by planning a trip down the west coast of the Big Island down to South Point.
Day 3 – The Beach is Hard
Having traveled the highway and byway of the west side of the Big Island we needed a day of rest. What better way to rest than at one of the best ranked beaches in the world, Hapuna Beach. The weather was perfect at the beach, but this was also the beginning of learning that the beach is hard. Well, laying on the beach is easy, but it was a long walk from the parking lot to the beach, and worse yet, uphill going back to the car. Sadly our sunset at a different beach, Anaeho’onalu Beach, wasn’t that great, but dinner at Roy’s Waikoloa Bar & Grill was a great way to wrap up our west side of the island trip!
Day 4 – Rain?
Kona, HI doesn’t get a lot of rain, but as the fates would allow our departure day saw the west and north side of the island get just about their month’s worth of the wet stuff on our travel day to the east side of the island. The rain hampered our hope of hiking down the trail at the Pololu Valley Lookout, but our travel around the north of the island, over to Hilo, and down to our “treehouse” in Volcano was just as adventure-filled as our Day 2 adventure along the west coast.
Day 5 – I Don’t Want to Die Today
It was time to see desolation, rebirth, and wonder all in one. It was volcano day and a trip to Volcanoes National Park. The Kilauea crater is mammoth, the Chain of Craters road takes you from lushness to desolation to ocean, and it was while at the ocean that the decision was made not to die on this day.
What do you want to see if you visit a volcano? Lava! The problem? Every sign on this day was saying, “Andy, if you try to go to see the lava you will die.” The hike to the lava was about five miles in and five miles back, in upper 80 degree heat. It was recommended that you take 3 quarts of water per person, snacks, and it would take at least 5 hours. Sure, there is all of that, and plenty of people make the journey, but plenty of people aren’t out of shape, with questionable knees, and did I mention out of shape?
There was the part of me that really wanted to give it a shot, I mean, there are worse ways to die, right? Thankfully, when asked, the ranger said there wasn’t any surface lava flow on this day. So, basically, we would just be taking a long-ass hike that might kill us.
I decided I didn’t want to die, my wife decided she didn’t want to die, so we just enjoyed the scenery on the way back up the crater.
It was also the day that I got over the fear of our rented “treehouse” sliding down the mountain, and we wouldn’t be killed by the Chupacabra who I feared was on vacation from his home in Mexico.
Day 7 – Our Anniversary Sunset at Hertz
Ah, our 7th wedding anniversary and it was “Goodbye, Big Island! Hello, Kauai!”
After a giant pancake and a couple of plane rides we found ourselves in Lihue on the island of Kauai. We were excited for a romantic dinner, a lovely sunset, and getting to our Kauai pad at a reasonable hour.
Little did we know that our experience at Hertz would be just like a Seinfeld episode where they were able to take our reservation, they just weren’t able to hold the reservation. There was that, and the fact that maybe if the one employee would have gotten off of Snapchat and Facebook on her cell phone, and did some work, we would have gotten our car in time to see the sunset at someplace more romantic than the Hertz parking lot.
Day 8 – Sites From the Sky
We had two goals on Day 8. One was to enjoy our helicopter ride, and the second was to see our first sunset at a romantic place on Kauai. One out of two wasn’t bad.
The helicopter ride was awesome and seeing things from the perspective of a helicopter is phenomenal. I had to keep reminding myself at times to stop taking pictures, put down the camera, and just enjoy the beauty.
This was also the day I learned I really like poke thanks to Pono Market, and shave ice (there is no “d” even though you really want to called it “shaved ice”) thanks to Hee Fat.
The helicopter ride filled our morning, wandering Kapaa filled our afternoon, and trying to get reservations at Bar Acuda kept me on my phone as they never answered the phone to take a dinner reservation. With some time to kill before the sunset we drove to the restaurant, I made the reservation for the wrong night, now couldn’t get through on the phone to change the reservation, and their email response mentioned they would get back to me in 1 to 4 days.
We ate somewhere else. I guess business is too good. Good for them.
Now it was time for a romantic sunset near our condo, at the St. Regis in Princeville. Another night on Kauai, another night of a non-sunset as it turns out the view from the St. Regis isn’t that great from fall through spring, with the sun setting behind the mountains. 😕
We would have to try again for our sunset.
Day 9 – Finally a Sunset, and Great Pie.
We didn’t intend to spend the entire day on the south side of Kauai, but dammit, we wanted a sunset! Our initial goal was just to see Waimea Canyon, aka The Grand Canyon of the Pacific, grab some more shave ice, and maybe drive through the Tree Tunnel.
We took the drive up the long road to Waimea Canyon, but the tricky part is the waiting because one minute it might be rainy and cloudy, but sit tight for five or ten minutes and suddenly everything is gorgeously lit by the the sun.
Back down the mountain it was time for Jo Jo’s shave ice, a tree tunnel, a blow hole, and the Kukui’ula Village Shopping Center for their Farmer’s Market with a snack of pie, soup, enchilada, and margarita.
Finally it was time for our awesome, Kauai sunset, complete with monk seals and surfers.
Whew, what an awesome day!
Day 10 – The Beach is Hard, Part II
After the busy-ness of Waimea Canyon we needed a day of rest. It was time to find a spot on the beach. We started at Anina Beach. It stretches for a couple of miles, the water is wonderful, but we found a lot of the beach a little too rocky for our liking. Bummer.
Let’s head to Hanalei!
Sure, parking can be a bitch, but our Guardian Angel of Parking Spots, Aunt Geraldine, found us a good location and it was time to vegetate for the day. Hint: Don’t forget to put sun tan lotion on the tops of your feet! Ouch!
Yea, every now and then a rain cloud would show up, but any shower passed quickly allowing us to watch a completely enjoyable family enjoy the water all day.
We had one more shave ice stop, Wishing Well, which kind of disappointed us as we heard good things about it, but any shave ice is better than no shave ice! Then it was time for dinner and a final cocktail before our departure the next day. Luckily we were treated to a saxophone player, because nothing screams “Hawaiian music” like a saxophone player.
Day 11/12 – Take Me Home, Friendly Skies
Our trip was coming to a close, but we had some time to kill before getting to the airport. What to do? My friend Catherine, in her list of things that are cool on Kauai, mentioned the Himalayan Academy. We sneaked our way onto a tour which was cool as it allowed us to see the Iraivan Temple being constructed, a marvel of craftsmanship. A very peaceful place, and fascinating!
One flight was late, there was sprinting through Honolulu airport like O.J. Simpson in a Hertz commercial, sick people in front of us who brought their own smorgasbord of sub sandwiches, chips other snacks to eat, and then proceeding to fart them all out for the last two hours on our flight from Honolulu to Chicago, an Uber driver who left us standing on the curb, another Uber driver who paid her tolls with actual cash instead of having an iPass, and one really, happy dog to greet us as we walked through the door back home! Phew and pee-yew!
Put the Camera Down
Hawaii is a phenomenal place. If you’re going there I have one recommendation: Get your ass off the resort and visit, hike, relax, and experience. Lastly, this was our experience. It includes most of the things my wife and I did while on the Big Island and Kauai. Oh yea, I have another recommendation, sometimes put the camera down, and just let your mind create memories for your lifetime. There are images a picture can never recreate.
What are four words you don’t want to hear from a person in front of you on an airplane? That’s right, “It might be bronchitis.” Those were the words that the companion of a man, in the row in front of me, said to the flight attendant.
A wonderful vacation to Hawaii had just taken place. Sure, there was a touch of sadness as my wife and I boarded the plane back to Chicago, but as we took our seats, one row behind the exit row, there were three, slightly elderly folks seated in the row in front of us. As one flight attendant questioned the trio if they would be capable of handling the exit door in an emergency, I had my doubts as none of them seemed they would rise to the occasion in well, an emergency. Happily I had my trust in the airplane transporting us safely back to the Windy City without the assistance of the fine folks being needed.
All was well, kind of. People were taking their seats, but then the man of the group in the row in front of us got up, grabbed a bag from the overhead bin, and took out a box of Kleenex. Seemed odd, however, one of the ladies in the group explained to a different flight attendant that the man had been sick, but it should be okay because he was on antibiotics. My ears opened quicker than a present on Christmas morning. “What?” And a look of horror came to my face.
“It might be bronchitis,” the woman continued, mentioning that she didn’t think it was contagious any longer because, well, he was on the antibiotics. I wanted to run to the internet and Google, “How long is bronchitis contagious?” but, by then, I figured if he still was, well, contagious, I, along with most of the plane, were screwed.
Why was everyone screwed? It turns out the folks in front of me liked to have their seating area fairly cold and breezy so by this time the little blower thingies above the seats were wide open and had probably blown enough of the bronchitis into my lungs. Now add the “airplane sickness” domino effect of the little blower things and the infected air flowed back, from row to row, to the rear of the plane. Living in my own shock and horror of my impending sickness, I believe the flight attendant was just as taken aback as she arrived with two masks, one for him, and one for one of the companions, to which I thought, “What about the other woman?” and “What about the rest of the passengers?”
As it turns out, Googling upon my return home, if the dude was still contagious, antibiotic or not, all he had to really do was breath to infect everyone, and breath, chow down, and I believe also fart he did.
So, now I, and all of my fellow passengers on the plane, wait for the sickness.
I hope that someday there will come a day when each airline passenger will have their own, hermetically sealed pod to travel in, but for now that dreaded “airplane sickness” lives on.
Maybe not the bronchitis, but I feel a cough and runny nose coming on. Hopefully it’s just a reaction to the crappy, Illinois air, but, please, future Mr. Bronchy Dudes and Dudettes, please put a mask on before you board the plane. And don’t eat a sub sandwich that will give you gas.
I couldn’t sleep last night. Why? All I kept wondering was what our fortune meant. The little slip of paper read, “Watch your relations with other people carefully are reserved.” As no dreams came to me, and no visions of mindful illumination awakened my senses, I must turn to you, the folks of the Internet, for help. What in the h-e-double hockey sticks does this mean?
Yummy Soup. Tasty Egg Rolls. Fortune Cookie.
It began with a fine bowl of Lu’s Noodle Soup and some egg rolls. Yummy! With the meal complete there it was, the fortune cookie – staple of every meal at a Chinese restaurant. In its little, cellophane wrapper waited riches, knowledge, and of course, our fortune. Riches would come in the form of lucky numbers; Knowledge was coming in a new Chinese word for me to never learn; Most important, however, a wise saying that would lead to good fortune for me and my wife. We would have to share the fortune because the restaurant only gave us one cookie.
I let my wife do the honors, and she noisily opened the cookie, as there is no other way thanks to the wrapper. Her gentle hands proceeded to crack open the cookie, throw the cookie portion away as neither of us really care for the taste of a fortune cookie, and she carefully studied the tiny slip of paper. A look of confusion came upon her face.
Is Milo Going To Eat Us While We Sleep?
I was worried. Did it say something like, “Be careful the pet who wakes you up early as they will one day eat you in your sleep.”, or maybe “The person who loves another will never love himself.” I fearfully asked, “What did it say?” She began to read it to me, “Watch your relations with other people carefully are reserved.” I thought she was having a brain meltdown, that somehow she lost her ability to read or speak, so I snatched the paper of wonder from her hand. “Watch your relations with other people care-fully are reserved.”
“In Bed” Didn’t Help
I even tried adding “in bed” to the saying, as that always makes the fortune even more wise. “Watch your relations with other people care-fully are reserved in bed.” That didn’t help. What does this mean? Was the fact that “carefully” had a hyphen, writtne it as “care-fully” bring further insight?
Oh no! Wise fortune, I do not understand!
No Days for a Quest
I was considering taking my tiny slip of paper on a quest, maybe to the far reaches of China in search of a wise Buddhist Monk. Could he help me learn the true meaning of our fortune? Maybe I should go on one of those silent retreats to clear my mind and discover if the hyphen is the window to our soul.
Sadly, as I’m out of vacation days at work, there will be no quest so I must turn to you, oh wise Internet friends. Hopefully you can shed some light on the meaning of “Watch your relations with other people care-fully are reserved.” While I wait patiently for your interpretation I suppose I’ll just use the lucky number for the next Powerball or Mega Millions drawing. I’m thinking $50 million bucks will help me really not care.
At least, in the end, I know “Hai-zi” means children in Chinese. I will probably never use this knowledge.