Thursday, February 16, 2012

More wine!

Last night I volunteered a wine tasting event last night at l’Alliance Française de Chicago. I was asked if I would help translate for the sommelier because he didn’t speak English very well. It was a disaster. I don’t know any technical wine terms in English. And I definitely don’t know them in French. I did a lot of shoulder shrugging and mostly guessed (most of the time wrong, as one of the attendees was happy to point out) what he was saying.

Although no one blamed me, and both the event organizer and sommelier were grateful that I tried, I felt frustrated and dumb. Wine is supposed to be fun! Fun is not standing in front of 15 people stumbling through translating the éraflage, sulfitage, and levurage steps of the vinification process. I think the people who paid for the event had fun though, and that’s what really matters.

And this is the perfect opportunity to talk about the last fun experience I had with wine.

As a loyal blog reader, you may have read my down-in-the-dumps post about when I first arrived in Australia. It was anti-climatic to travel all the way to Melbourne and not be totally blown away by it, and I didn’t know anyone there either. So I decided for my last day in Melbourne, I’d take a wine tour in the Yarra Valley.

And it turned out to be the best day I had in Australia!

Paul, the tour company owner, runs Winebus Winery Tours on the side of his full-time. He’s just a dude who loves and knows a lot about wine. The other 10 people on the tour were middle aged couples from Australia, New Zealand, and one from Amsterdam. We started at the (French!) Moët Champagne vineyard, where I sampled a yummy sparkling Pinot Noir and started making friends.

Throughout the day, as I got to know the other people on the tour (and as we sampled more and more wine together), I began to think Australia wasn’t so dull after all. I felt very welcomed by the group. I was the youngest and the only person doing the tour solo, and I was one of the few who had never been to Australia before. These people thought it was SO COOL that I was 25 years old and had pinched my pennies to come to Australia just because. Everyone took me under their winey wings to offer a recommendations about what I should see or do on my travels — and to make sure I had a space at the bar for the next tasting.

When we sat down for lunch at one of the wineries, a fly decided to drown in my water glass. The server was going to get me a new glass, but instead I just picked it out and said I didn’t mind a little extra protein. The group thought it was hysterical. They made jokes about me eating flies the rest of the tour. And when I decided not to order the cheese platter because it was for two people, two of the couples who had already ordered insisted that I sample every type of cheese on theirs. Lunching in a vineyard, sipping on wine and eating cheese with my new BFFs... it was pretty great. When the bus dropped me off at the end of the day, I was sleepy and happy. I cheerfully said goodbye to everyone. I’ll never see them again, but I’ll always remember having a blast with them!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Letter Writing Campaign

My aunt is the master of writing letters to companies for various reasons. She's written letters to Rainbow Sandals because one flip flop was hurting her foot, the Metra suburban commuter train system because the doors did not have Braille instructions (she's not blind, but thought that it might be challenging for a blind person to understand you have to push a particular button to open the doors between the cars), and the director of The Bourne Supremacy because the movie gave her a headache.

Though we laugh a little bit about her tedancy to write a letter about the most randomest of things, she usually gets what she wants; a new pair of sandals, Braille on the doors, and I'm not sure what from the The Bourne Supremacy director.

Recently I decided to write the following emails to the following companies for the following things:

- Bell Sports, Inc. because my front bike light, though very bright and functional, kept falling off my handlebars
- Master Lock because my gym lock ceased to open
- Joe's Jeans because their stupid jeans are really terrible and continue to turn my hands blue after several washes and the leg seams are all wonky
- Direct Loans because their Kwik Pay system is fudged up and also because of this non-proofread letter they sent me and probably millions of other people:
Your request to change the bank account from which your monthly payments are automatically debited through KwikPay® has been processed. Your first automatic payment from the new bank account will be deducted on 199.58 in the amount of $03/14/12.
Bell Sports, Inc. and Master Lock sent me the same products to replace my defective ones. Good job guys. Joe's Jeans and Direct Loans ignored me. You lose.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

#16 Baggage

I'm coming back to the 30 Days of Indie Travel Challenge on BootsnAll. Prompt #16: BAGGAGE. Mental baggage can weigh us down as much as physical baggage when we travel. How do you travel lightly – either emotionally or physically?

Hrm... how do I travel lightly? I think I travel mediumly. I make pretty detailed lists that include how many pairs of socks and the number of pens I'm planning to bring. Then I can cross things off once they goes in the suitcase so I can have peace of mind that it's packed.

I will inevitably pack one outfit I will never wear for whatever reason. I will always bring more notebooks than I will ever need, but can't stop packing so many. What if I RUN OUT OF NOTEBOOKS? That would be the worst. I pack a lot of scarves because they make many outfits versatile. I pack nail polish and a bitty bottle of nail polish remover, because it's nice to feel feminine when you're on the road (and blow dryer/hair straightener/makeup bag are heavy). I like to bring gifts to friends I'm seeing, which usually makes my suitcase lighter on the way back.

(I moved that pancake mix to the front pocket last minute, which ended up being a good decision, because it exploded).

I don't bring books. I don't care how much you love the feel of getting papercuts when you turn the page, books are friggin heavy. My Kindle is great because it's light and can store lots of books, although I'm terrified of leaving it in the seat pocket. Donut pillows are dumb. I've lugged one to and back from my last two international trips, and it was a huge mistake. If you're flying economy for more than a few hours, you're going to mildly uncomfortable. That's just how it goes.

And I wasn't really pro iPad until this last trip. A lot of people have them, even in hostels. Laptops aren't the most portable computers anymore. Both computers and chargers are bulky and heavy. So that's the next travel necessity on my list.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

#15 City

I'm coming back to the 30 Days of Indie Travel Challenge on BootsnAll. Prompt #15: CITY What is your favorite (or least favorite) city and what do you love (or hate) about it?

Traveling is one of my top priorities. It's why I'm a super budgeter and couponer, why I cook at home more than I eat out, and why I don't buy a lot of new clothes. It's why my passport looks like this:

There are lots of cities I've enjoyed visiting and lots more that I intend to get to. But if you know me well, you won't be surprised to learn that my favorite city is Chicago.

I grew up in the suburbs, so my experience of Chicago was pretty limited the annual French class trip to the German Christmas market (I know, it makes no sense). A few years ago, I decided to leave France, grab the cat from my parents', and move to the city proper.

I wanted to be young in a city with energy. I wanted to start my career in a place I already knew I felt comfortable. I knew enough people that I had roomates to live with and wouldn't be completely lonely on the weekends. Okay and yeah, maybe my boyfriend had just moved here.

Compared to other large cities in the U.S., I like Chicago because it's not trying to prove anything to anyone. I'm not here because I'm trying to make it big, write the world's next big novel, or win an agency award for a killer headline. I'm here because I enjoy a reasonable cost of living, can ride my bike everywhere, and grab a few really delicious tacos a few blocks away. I like how social this city is, and I like that I am surrounded by people who are working hard because they love what they do.
Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.
- Carl Sandburg, "Chicago"
I could go on and on, but today's a new day, and Chicago is waiting for me.

In case you were wondering, the cat says she likes it here, too.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

#14 Quote

I'm coming back to the 30 Days of Indie Travel Challenge on BootsnAll. Prompt #14: QUOTE What’s your favorite quote about travel? Why does it stand out to you?

I really like the movie Dead Poet's Society. Cliché maybe, but I will not apologize for that. And while I was on this most recent trip, either traipsing through a river or cave or national park or glacier or something, this quote popped into my head. It's probably because, like the characters in the movie, I left my day-to-day life for a moment to spend time in nature and do something else.

This quote is not about travel, but I think it is why I travel.

The sucking the marrow out of life and discovering how to live blah blah blah is very poetic and all, but my absolute favorite part of it is the "live deliberately" part.

Whatever we have going on every day — jobs to go to, friends to see, meals to be eaten, pets to be taken care of, in my case yoga or French classes to attend — those things become habitual no matter how much we love or enjoy them. Ever thought to yourself "it's already Friday?" or "January is already over?" Sometimes... well oftentimes... I forget to think about why I am doing what I am doing. And then I forget to feel feelings because there's somethng else to do.

Traveling to a new city or country puts me someplace where it is impossible to go through the motions of my day, because I have no schedule or habits tied to the place. My Chicago life is crazy overscheduled, plus there's that stuff that I constantly have to take care of like the laundry, dirty dishes, or sorting through junk mail. Although I can work on living deliberately here, it is tough to bring a deliberate decision-making process to washing clothes or dishes or getting rid of yet another Bon Appetit subscription offer. Those things just need to be done.

But when I am traveling, either a bit lonely in a city that isn't doing much for me or sipping wine with new friends at ukulele concert in a vineyard, I am not thinking about what's next on my to-do list. Maybe I travel to these places to suck out all the marrow of life. But mostly I think I have come to deliberately live these great memories and experiences.