The Other Part of Travel: Restroom Experiences

When you’re traveling, you have to use the restroom.  The restroom at your hotel, at the restaurant after a long lunch, at the friendly bar you just dominated the main social circle at, when walking the street markets, you name the scenario, when travelling, and you probably will need to use the restroom at some point.

It’s a common experience that relates all of us together.  But I have to tell, I’m convinced the list of common experience is becoming smaller.  And now the restroom is under attack.

And no, this isn’t about genitals, or a person’s “toolbox,” (whatever that reference is NOW being used for), or gender, or names, pronouns, God, your convictions, or anything else that conjures up a thunder storm of emotions.  No, this is more basic than that.

I recently was on a shopping trip, and decided to eat lunch while I was out.  I was buying hygiene and cleaning supplies, and knew I was going to pick up some power tools afterwards, but thought, “hey, what the heck, I’ll eat lunch in the middle, because, ‘Merica……or whatever.”

So, I got to the restaurant (which I will protect by not naming, because this isn’t their fault) and needed to use the restroom.  It was full, for a while.  Ok, I’ll wait.  Because, what else can you do?  That went on for an eternity, and that’s a whole other situation.  But after patience, I got my moment of relief.

I use the stalls, because of weirdos I’ll discuss later.

I sat down for my business, and after a minute some person walked in.  Who knows who they were?  I don’t want to assume.

They went to a urinal and did whatever they were doing.  And honestly, I’m not sure I want to know exactly, nor can I assume in this particular situation.  This restaurant has music they play throughout their establishment.  And that includes the restrooms.  And they play music that tends to be popular, because that’s their marketing strategy – being popular.

A song came on, and I had to ask a millennial (at a much later time, and NOT in a restroom), it was Little Toy Guns by Carrie Underwood.  I don’t know Carrie Underwood’s music.  I’ve heard the name over a dozen times in my life, but I don’t know anything about her, other than she sings country music.  I may experience some bias in this element of the story – because I don’t like country music.  My understanding of the music is it that it originates from folk music hailing from Northern Europe, and that it became “Americanized” through bluegrass and Appalachian heritage, and fast forward to today, and it’s been…….well, it’s been.  I don’t have a taste for the music, I don’t understand the joy people get out of it.  To me, it’s like someone speaking Prussian……it’s no longer viable.  Alas, I digress.

This song came on, and the, whatever, at the urinal started humming the song.  Ok, that’s weird.  No one does that in a restroom.  At least not where I come from.  But to make matters worse, they began singing the song, loud and proud.

It’s already uncomfortable when someone starts humming a tune in a restroom, but to go full-on karaoke, like its last call, and you’re vying for a free drink…..I don’t know what else to say about it, other than it’s far and away from anything decent.  Singing in a men’s restroom?  Singing a country song in a men’s restroom?  A song, sung by a women?

“What in the hell is going on?!?!?!?” Is all I could think as this was happening.

Here I was, trying to finish my business, and this person just takes over the air with their singing.  And for those who are weirdly wondering, it was not good.

I’ve sung in the shower, the bathtub, on the way to work in my car, in my office while working late.  I’ve even sung at a few company parties.  I have not sung in a public restroom.  I’m quite proud of that record.  It’s one of the many things I stand behind when it comes to my record as a human being.

Now, you might be wondering, “Well gee Matt, if that’s the worst thing you’ve ever experienced in a restroom, what are you complaining about?”

I’m not complaining, I’m merely pointing out how weird it gets when you’re out traveling.  And frankly, just being in public in general – because this incident reminded me of a very weird restroom incident when I was in college.

I went to Central Washington University.  There I said it, I’m not protecting them in this incident, but it also wasn’t their fault either.  I used to work in their BOD office, which is an abbreviation for Board of Directors.  For the uninitiated, it’s a panel of students who are voted into specific roles that serve the student body as a whole.  I was a staffer in the office, and we had a restroom below our office.  Clearly, spending time in the office often meant you may be spending some time in that restroom.

I went into said restroom one unassuming sunny April day.  I used a urinal.  There was a person in one of the stalls.  They were in the ADA install in fact.  Lots of room to roam, and boy did they use. They were in there before I was in the restroom, so I figured they’d be on their way without me ever seeing them.  Like I said, it was an unassuming day.

But, that just wasn’t going to happen, no matter how much I assumed.  As I got to the urinal, I could hear them marching around in the stall.  I was in the Army.  When I say marching, I mean it.  This was very dedicate, purpose-driven marching in the stall.  They were serious about getting from point A, to point four feet away, and back again.

At the same time, they began grunting.  I don’t know how else to explain it.  It wasn’t the type of grunting you may have heard in public restrooms.  It was grunting that was in-sync with their turns in the stall while they marched.

Then I saw their fist pumping in the air, above the walls of the stall, out of the peripheral vision in my left eye.  I admit, I was getting nervous.  I just wanted to get out of there as fast as I could.

I cut off my business, affixed my jeans, and made my way to the sink to wash my hands.

As I did that, the person began making shouting noises with those grunts.  It was like they were trying to talk, but couldn’t get their vocal chords to work.  This was getting completely insane.

I turned on the sink, and at that moment the stall door came full swing open, slamming into the adjoining wall.

The person continued to fist pump, but with the intensity of a Lion eating Hyena for breakfast, after fasting for a week.  They stood about 5’7’’, had on flip-flops, shorts that cut off above the knees, a t-shirt, black rimmed glasses, and short dark brown hair.  They appeared to weigh above 300 pounds.

I began washing my hands, hoping that avoiding eye contact would avoid any interactions.  Because there is no way I’m talking in the restroom, let alone to this walking YouTube clip.

They started shouting “I’m the champion!  I’m the champion! I’m the champion!” and ran out of the stall, straight for the door, while another person walked in.

Thankfully, I was able to finish washing hands without an actual interruption, like having to fight a person off their medication.

The person that walked in asked me “What was that about?”

I simply said I had no idea, that I was just washing my hands – as if I needed to justify that I had no involvement with the aspiring professional wrestler who was working on their ring intro.

And still, this is just the surface of some the weirdest moments I’ve witnessed – in public restrooms.

These are bizarre behaviors to say the least, but to acknowledge it publicly, I hope to do more good than to cause a lot of gawking.  Looking at it from the outside, I would probably be laughing.  Don’t feel guilty if you did.

I decided to share this because I am working on a confessions project, the working title is Confessions of a Nation.  If you have confessions like this, or of something completely different, send them my way at:

I ask for as many details as you can remember, and I will turn your confession into a short story, filing in whatever may be missing from the confession in terms of story elements, with fictionalized details.  These confessions remain anonymous, and the added story elements give it an extra layer of anonymity.

What happens if I write your confession into a story?  You’ll get a free copy of the book if you desire.  You may also breathe sweet relief.  I know I am after getting this restroom business out of my head.

Coming Tomorrow:’The Other Part of Travel’

If you read my blog, I spend some time posting travel pieces.  I usually focus on quirky bars and restaurants, the general surroundings, and fun things to do.  It’s usually vacation oriented, so why wouldn’t it be about indulging?

But, one of the things I leave out are the weird interactions, happenings, and even incidents, where I am an unwilling victim, or an unknowing witness to something utterly insane.  Let’s face it, the world has gotten strange.  Really strange.  Astronomically strange.  It’s unhealthy, that’s how strange it is to be out in public.  And not just certain people.  For everyone.

Everyone seems to be working hard to make things over-complicated, unfathomable, unthinkable, overt, and above all, unreasonable.  Perhaps it’s in the rush to be a part of the next killer meme.  Or to get a video to go viral, add subscribers to whatever nonsense channels they have, so they can claim an income they aren’t getting, in hopes of scoring that income elsewhere.

Or it could be that insanity goes unchecked in our ever-benevolent society.  At any rate, I feel like trying out some story telling from the back pages of my travel journal.

I’ll be posting the first one tomorrow, and we’ll see how it goes.

Travel: Delaware Beaches

It’s been awhile since I’ve written a travel article.  These tend to get a lot of new traffic to my page, so I try not to inundate my site with them.  Though I have quite a few stories of stories to tell yet, let’s talk about the most underappreciated beaches in the US, the Delaware Coast.

A quick lay of the land: the three main beaches are Rehoboth Beach, Dewey Beach, and Bethany Beach.  There are some smaller beaches as well, and we’ll talk about that at the end of the article.

The first thing to understand is that Delaware beaches are underappreciated – not undiscovered.  When you go, you’ll find a lot of the standard fare you would find in most any beach oriented economies.  Chain hotels, high-end seafood restaurants, both franchised or independent offerings, bars galore, and trinket shops.

Yes, the boardwalks here are like most anywhere, except maybe not as cluttered with commerce, and not as jam-packed with beach goers, but I assure you it’s busy.

Delaware beaches are unique in some aspects however.  In all my travels, I’ve never seen beachfront in the US that was commercialized, but at the same time relatively left untouched.  Of the roughly 25 miles of beachfront that Delaware has, there is only one boardwalk structure that I’ve seen that stretches through the beach, and that one does not go out into the water.  It seems like most everywhere else a walking pier is an inevitability, but not in Delaware.

Some of you may not like that, others will rejoice in the minimalist approach.  I think Delaware has made me appreciate the latter.

Rehoboth is probably the most populated of the beaches, but it’s hard to tell – most beaches in Delaware have official populations under 500, but at any one time there’s tens of thousands of people present in the off-season (winter months), and six or seven times that in-season.

If you’re looking for dinner during the week, or brunch on the weekend (a Delaware tradition) and you’re in Rehoboth, look no further than the Blue Moon Café – they have live performances for brunch, and their menu is ‘what’s what’ of mid-Atlantic sea fare.  And the drinks are spot on too, if you’re into that sort of thing!

During the day, popcorn fans will have new haunt.  Fisher’s Popcorn started as a family popcorn stand in Ocean City, Maryland – a short drive from the Delaware beaches.  But since they opened in 1937, they’ve expanded, and now are all over the mid-Atlantic beach scene, and very prominent in Delaware.

The Blue Hen, Henlopen City Oyster House, and Grotto Pizza are also excellent restaurants in Rehoboth to frequent.  Be sure to hit up Dogfish Head Brewings as well, located at 320 Rehoboth Avenue.  Their beer has been a standard along much of the east coast and beyond for quite a while now, and there’s good reason for that.  And no time along the boardwalk would be complete without a stop at Thrasher’s Fries.  They have Old Bay flavored fries, for those that like that sort of thing.  But they have  many more, and I’ll stick with any of those.

Just south is Dewey Beach, which has several B&B and vacation rentals that capture the Victorian-era architecture and furniture that was popular at the time of the beaches were settled formally.

Aside from that, Fifer’s Farm Market Café offers the tradition of farm to table menu that is so rarely seen on beaches.

If you’re looking to stay with a younger crowd, I suggest The Surf Club Oceanfront Hotel, and if you’re looking to relax more, the Bay Resort offers inlet waterfront with similar amenities.

The Starboard, located at DE 1 and Salisbury St is well known for their Bloody Mary’s….it seems catering to hangovers here is a theme.

While Rehoboth is not at all different from the rest of the landscape, you start to notice as you travel south through Dewey that the character and culture changes up from the typical tourist “fast paced” business sector, to calmer people, brighter skies, and hotter sand.  While it’s difficult to capture what these beaches must been like when they first became a community – sometime in late 1800’s – it does feel like a sliver of that old culture can be found somewhere around Rodney Avenue.  But I do reserve that for the beach front exclusively – businesses here have taken to more updated trends and desires of consumers.

(Writer’s Secret Spot: Nalu Hawaiian Surf Bar, 1808 Coastal Highway – because you can never go wrong with Guava-glazed ribs and Summer Watermelon salad!)

I know I haven’t described the beaches very much up to this point, and for good reason.  I wanted to use this point in time to back fill.  Call it a cheap trick.

The beaches in Delaware are special for me, not for any usual reason.  I’ve traveled a lot of the country by vehicle.  There’s only a handful of States I haven’t spent time in at this point, so while I have blind spots, I feel I have a lot of experience I can draw upon to relate one area of the country to another.

One of the things that really draws me into these beaches is the massive amount of sunlight, sky activity, and ocean activity they deliver to the human eye.  When you go, pause, take in the scenery these beaches have to offer.  While the summer certainly has its crowds, they are not overpowering to the point that you couldn’t isolate your mind and observe.

There’s a grand sense of peace on this section of our country.  The view is like a snow globe, all encompassing, round, but past any sense of limitations your eyes may provide.  The view here is remarkable, much like the “Big Sky Country” of Eastern Montana and Western North Dakota.

The sand generally stays warm to hot, so I recommend footwear of some sort, though you’ll be barefoot before you know it.

As you continue south on the Coastal Highway, you’ll immediately exit Dewey Beach and drive over Seashore State Park – which is an eco-habitat and beach of tremendous value.  Kudos to the State officials that found a way to protect its most sensitive portion of beach, while still providing direct travel for residents and tourists.  Coin Beach sits that far southeast of this State park, garnering the name for all the people with metal detectors that have found coins and other valuable metals at the spot for many years.

The Indian River Marina sits on the southwest corner, where numerous fishing charters work from.  Just north of the marina is the Burton Island Trailhead, which also has a kayak launch point.  From this portion of the park you can discover the countless inlet waters of Rehoboth and Indian River Bays.

Between idyllic beaches, and calm inlets, the Delaware coast has a lot to offer people up for their own adventures.

Continuing south you’ll wind up in Bethany Beach.  The first few miles are all privately owned homes.

After that you reach the city core, and like its sister cities, Bethany has local restaurants that deliver.  Mango’s serves Caribbean style fare, but don’t expect jerk chicken that’s authentic to Jamaica.  It’s still well done.

Sunshine Crepes offers the French breakfast you’re always searching for.  Bethany Blues BBQ might be the most interactive of all.  Aside from their standard menu, they have event nights, like Bourbon & Barbecue, and Barbecue Class.  Who could go wrong pairing grilled meats with bourbon?  And the class says it all, you walk in for dinner that you’re going to learn how to prepare.  That’s probably not your typical beach weekend event, right?  Bethany has a bustling downtown core, but leaves most of the rest for private residents, though the beaches are open to all.  That’s just fine by me, people invested in the community are what make any place worth visiting in the first place.

Bethany Beach offers several public parking lots along the boardwalk, but beware they are all relatively small and fill up quick.  Don’t be surprised if by 8:00 A.M. they are already full, and you’re stuck walking from your hotel.

Speaking of which, if you are looking for accommodations in Bethany Beach, I suggest The Addy Sea.  It’s a B&B, preserved from 1902, and kept in excellent condition.  And did I mention it’s located right on the beach?  See, I’m solving your parking woes already!

Marriott has a Residence Inn on the beach too, so if you’re more of the hotel type, there are options.

Continuing south even further puts you into South Bethany and York Beaches – these are not beaches advertised to the public, and generally are difficult to access in any succinct manner if you are not a home owner, but they are very lovely if you can get to them.  There is a strip mall in this section of beach, back on the Coastal Highway.  In it is one of the finest sushi restaurants you can find on the Eastern Seaboard, Misaki.  It is quaint, traditional, and very delicious!

The next stop is Fenwick Island, but as you travel south yet again on the Coastal Highway, you’ll notice a concrete tower on the left side of the road with blue and yellow sign in front of it.  This is an observation tower that was built during World War II, and there’s a community organization that wants to make it part of the tourist fodder in the area.  You can find them at Restore The Tower. They in fact are restoring multiple towers in the area, to include building a new one to mark a previous tower that was either taken down or destroyed.

As you continue down the highway, you’ll think you’ve seen all you can of the Delaware Beaches, and out of nowhere you’ll come across Fenwick Island.

The first thing you’ll see is Fenwick Island State Park, and its large parking lots on the left side of the highway.  Then the community will begin to unfold in front of you.

Just Hooked is a locally sourced seafood restaurant you’ll see first, followed by Jimmy’s Kitchen the next block down, which is as eclectic as anything else in Fenwick Island.  The difference between this place the other three locations is that there’s a lot of unique personality in Fenwick.

Sea Shell City is a gift shop specializing in sea shell items, but on their second floor is the Shipwreck Museum, which boasts many items that have drifted onto the shores from ships that were lost at sea.

If you’re tired of restaurants at this point, and want to get your own meals cooking, check out Bahama’s Crabshack & Seafood Market – you’ll be cracking crab legs in no time!

Of course, what trip the beach would be complete without a trip the ice cream shop?  Kohr Brothers frozen custard is just a block away from the State line with Maryland.  Across the street from Kohr’s to the west, and behind Viking Mini-Golf & Go-Carts is The Island Creamery.

And after all that travel, you’ve probably earned a triple scoop.

Lewes is a city directly north of where we started in Rehoboth, and it does get included in the tourist literature if you research the Delaware Beaches.  I didn’t include it because I didn’t go there, and it’s not really on the beach.  It has a coast line on the Delaware Bay, and specifically right next to Cape Henlopen State Park.  And that park marks the true Delaware coastline along the Atlantic.

If you’re looking to do something a little different, check out the Delaware Beaches.  They have quite a bit going on without taking up too much of your attention.  You’re there for the beach after all.



Travel Information:

Closest International Airport: BWI – Baltimore (Reagan National is probably easier to travel from and to however, as it sets you up for direct access onto Highway 50.)  Philadelphia is also a viable option.

How to get there:  If you use BWI or DCA (Reagan) follow the highway signs to get onto Highway 50, and drive straight through Salisbury to the coast.  This will place you north of Ocean City, Maryland.  From there turn north on Coastal Highway, which will quickly place you in Fenwick Island.

If you’re coming out of Philadelphia, head south on Interstate 95 and take Highway 322 across the Delaware River.  Take the Highway 55 interchange south, and continue south as it turns into Highway 47 through Erma, New Jersey.  When you reach Cold Spring, turn right and head into the Cape May-Lewes Ferry Dock.  This ferry ride will take you across Delaware Bay, into Lewes, and from there you can make your to Rehoboth Beach first, and head south.

Have a great time!



Travel: Oklahoma City, America’s Best Weekend Getaway Secret

I’ve been to Oklahoma City twice in my life.  Both times didn’t disappoint.

The fact is, this place is way too cool, and has way too much going on, and yet, when you think of weekend getaways, when was the last time that Oklahoma City came up?  I’m willing to bet that if you’re from Oklahoma, or Western Arkansas, you didn’t think of OKC once.

That’s a shame, because aside from an massive amount of US history, covering many time periods, all located in around the greater OKC area, there is plenty to do for both families, and young adults, without bumping into each other.  How many places in the US can host both audiences, and claim that?

First, I’m going to talk about food.  I shared some of the offerings with my private circle, but I have to tell you, even a whole album on Instagram isn’t going to do justice for the food in OKC.

OKC has a plethora of Italian cuisine.  You’ll find plenty of offerings, whether it’s Stella in the north end (1201 N Walker), Patrono (305 N Walker) which is closer to downtown, or Zio’s in Bricktown (12 E California), there are plenty of options to get your pasta on.  Italians have had a long history in OKC, though understated, much like the city itself.

When I go to OKC, I pass by all those great offerings, and go straight to the barbecue.  Look, you can talk about Texas, Kansas City, Memphis, Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and all that is great.  None of it compares to Oklahoma Barbecue.

Oklahoma barbecue goes all the way to the Trail of Tears, when Choctaw and Cherokee Natives that were marched from Alabama and Tennessee came to the area now known as the Osage Reservation.  They brought with them “hogfires” which is quiet similar to the Hawaiian tradition of roasting a whole pig on open flame.

As cattle ranching took full hold in Texas, and the meat markets in Kansas City, Omaha, Chicago, and Eastern Wisconsin, cattle needed places to overnight, and coincidentally Oklahoma served as a great location to feed cattle on their way north.  Eventually the idea of ranching took hold Oklahoma, and soon beef cuts were incorporated into Oklahoma’s fine tradition of hog cooking.  As the 20th century roared, so did the style of Oklahoma barbecue.   An emphasis on wood that produced fragrant smoke, less reliance on sauce (a Texas trait), but definitely the type of sauce ingredients you’d find in Kansas City.  Oklahoma also incorporates Bologna Sausage into their repertoire, which you won’t anywhere else in the barbecue ecosystem.

They serve green onion, cut at the root, to neutralize the smokey flavor the meat leaves behind, because Oklahoma barbecue carries smoke with it.  It’s not over the top, nor does it dry out the meat like heavy smoke can sometimes do.

My favorite places when it comes to this delicious cuisine, Blu’s BBQ and Burgers (612 N Robinson), Earl’s Rib Palace in Bricktown (216 Johnny Bench Drive), and Bedlam BBQ (610 NE 50th Street).

I won’t go heavy into the menus, because the real experience is figuring things out for yourself, but I will tell you can’t go wrong at any of these places, but to give you a heads up, yes the ribs at Earl’s are too good to be true.  And Blu’s offers a side called a Haystack.  You’d be crazy to pass it up.  Bedlam has a side called green rice….you’d also be crazy not to order it.

When you visit OKC, make sure to visit Bricktown.  It’s a former warehouse district, turned entertainment mecca.  Plenty of local acts, even The Flaming Lips make appearances from time to time, and are immortalized in Bricktown by the aptly named “Flaming Lips Alley.”  For my money, I like to hang out at Mojo’s Blues Bar, nestled at the west end of the alley, near the back end of Bricktown’s canal and riverwalk, which features a water taxi, with corresponding history spoken from the driver/tour guide.  If you go to Mojo’s, be sure to bring cash, to tip all the bands performing, and keep your drink orders simple.

Outside of the bars, and there are plenty of them, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ AAA affiliate, the Oklahoma City Dodgers play in Bricktown at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.  It’s tops in AAA ballparks, and is certainly built to standards you would associate with major league parks, minus the capacity.  That said, you could take a family of six, eating in the stands and still keep the bill below 200 bucks at the end of the night.

Of course, Seattle’s prized franchise, the Seattle Supersonics now play in OKC under the alias Oklahoma Thunder.  If the NBA interests you, that is downtown, several blocks north of Bricktown.  But I’ll be frank, I liked OKC better before they brought the NBA to town.  I could say I’m bias because I don’t care for the NBA, but that’s not the issue.  The issue is the endless road construction projects that are found every few blocks, to redirect traffic, to widen lanes, all to accommodate the arena.  It makes for a drag, but in the end, it’s progress, and progress always has a toll.

A mere six miles south of downtown is the Cherokee Heritage Center, which is the proverbial end to the Trail of Tears, where the iconic statue by James Fraser, The End of the  Trail sits for all to see, and reflect on the results of greed and ignorance.

Equally as sad, and more intense in the present is back downtown, across the street from Blu’s BBQ & Burgers.  The Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum (620 N Harvey).  The ebb and flow of manicured beauty, and remnants of destruction is too much for my soul when I visit.  Every time I visit OKC, I visit this large chapter in our history, and I wouldn’t be telling the whole truth if I didn’t mention that I cry.  I can’t stop crying when I walk into the courtyard, where the north side of the Alfred P. Murrah building once stood.  I take in the inscription along the large concrete pillar entryways, showing the time explosion started, and the time build finally collapsed, a mere two minutes after the bomb went off.  I cry at the sight of the pretty tile art provided by children through the world, all informed by adults of the terrible day.  But mostly I cry at the site of the bronze chairs that are all neatly organized.  There are large chairs for adults, and small chairs that represent are most grime realizations, the brutal, horrific death of 19 children and infants.

I was a middle-school aged teen when the bombing happened, and the weight of that day didn’t reach me until many years later.  But forever more, whenever I visit the memorial, I cry at the sight of all those tiny chairs.

I can’t say this is the note I want to end on, as it’s never good to end a travel piece on such a raw, sour note.  But in the case of OKC it works.  The bombing was and is egregious.  But it did help bring the city together, something that had long disappeared prior to that awful day.  I have to tell you, if you’re looking for a weekend getaway with your friends, or a new place to take the family, you have to go to Oklahoma City.  It may not have the kinds of things that you associate with a vacation, but it has lots of new things, and historic things worth your time.

Oklahoma.  It’s not typical, it’s anything but.  I wonder if they’ll buy the tagline?

Travel: August in Puerto Rico

I consider myself lucky because I get to do a fair bit of travelling in my new lifestyle.  Something my former career wouldn’t allow for on the regular basis I now indulge.

And with that new found flexibility, I find myself frequenting a certain region….the Caribbean!

Ah yes, there’s truly nothing better than being in a hot and sunny locale with strong drinks and good books.  Laying on the beach, without a care in the world.  If you think your therapist does a good job working through your issues, try five days in Caribbean during the non-peak season, and you’ll accomplish a year’s worth of couch time.

At any rate, I’ve frequented foreign islands in the past, but this time I thought I would go where my driver’s license allows, and in this case, I chose Puerto Rico.

What a fantastic island!  I stayed in the Santurce area, which is the far north coast of San Juan.  Directly to the west is Old San Juan, and if you’re looking for that traditional Latin-Caribbean landscape, it’s the place to go!

If you don’t know, Puerto Rico is a fish fan’s paradise.  They have ample charters available, all geared towards grabbing those large red snappers, dolphin-fish (Mahi Mahi for those scared to use the word “dolphin”), and many other delicious seafood that swarms the region.

Be advised, that while much of the Caribbean has calm waves and water for miles around, Puerto Rico does not.  In fact, Puerto Rico has some very well-known surf spots on the island, that attract those in the know.  The waves are not what I would call difficult, but they are definitely different from what you may be used to in Caribbean.

That said, if you are into fishing, this kind of wave activity can be helpful in certain circumstances.  For one, it means that schools of fish, particularly tuna, will be moving in and out, and constantly fighting for position due to the water.  This means that their tired, and not always aware of their travel path, meaning that you can grab some big steals when you would normally be waiting out the calm.

At the same time, if you’re a beach goer, and you have children, you’re going to need to be cautious about where they are in relation to you.  These, though I said not difficult to contend with, are indeed strong, and they can move you without you realizing it.  Especially for kids that aren’t high school age, this can become a deadly scenario without any frame of reference.

If the quality of fishing I briefly described caught your attention, the food in Puerto Rico is as well.

Puerto Rico has their own bread, Pan de Agua, that has a sweet quality to it.  But it’s not so sweet that you would automatically label it as such.  After having ‘Pan’ with three or four of my meals, I have serious questions about all this white and wheat bread I was being given throughout the years.

The beaches are great, except that if you go out in the early morning, say to watch the sunrise (and they are absolutely stunning in PR, I highly recommend this!), you might find that hotel guests and even some locals have strewn trash about from the night before.  And that’s a bit sad.

Surely, travelers are to blame for much of this, but that anyone would ruin a gorgeous beach with trash is just, well, trashy.

That said, much of the employees of the businesses along the beach put in a lot of effort to clean up, and it’s certainly commendable.  I felt like these folks are unsung heroes, and I hope that when you visit, you make sure to thank them for their efforts like I did.

The hospitality of staff here is consistent with what you find in the US, nothing terrible, nothing extraordinary.

There was a bartender at La Concha’s Sunday brunch that lined us up with a lot twists on mimosas that were absolutely delicious!  Even if you’re not a mimosa drinker, try the Soursop version, it’s well worth it.

It’s unfortunate, but Puerto Rico is in massive debt.  One local told me 1.5 trillion, several others said that was a stretch, stating the total was around 72 billion.  What was clear was that with the government beyond broke, not much was getting done, and it was up to private investment to solve the gap.  I hope that doesn’t mean more taxes, because Puerto Rico as a tourist destination is already more spendy than anyone in the industry would like.

Since I left on August 29th, Hurricane Irma hit, and it appears that flooding has caused the bulk of problems faced.  That’s a good thing, in that much of the infrastructure is not in ruin, albeit that roads could become suspect from the water exposure.

What I would say is if you’ve been thinking about going to Puerto Rico, and you’ve been putting it off, come December, when it’s too cold in the contiguous 48, take a trip south and spend some time (and money) in Puerto Rico.  You’ll love the experience, and the people will love to do fair business with you.

Until next time!

Travel Review: The Bahamas in Christmas

So, while most of you were enjoying a snowy Christmas, I bucked the trend and went to 87 degrees and balmy.

You guessed it, The Bahamas.  And before you judge, which you are, it was as awesome as you think, even when you factor in no snow for Christmas.

I went to a Breezes resort, and it was ok to average.  It’s definitely catering to singles.  Which was weird, because there were several “singles” that were with their mothers, trying to pick up other singles.  It’s a brave, weird world we live in.

The weather was absolutely terrific, and exactly what I needed at that point in the year!  And I have to tell you, I’m certain I’ll be doing the exact same thing for Christmas, every time I can afford it!  I’ve had enough snow, ice, cold, and wind, to last my lifetime.  I’d much rather be on the beach.

And the beaches in The Bahamas are where it’s at!  The picture above comes straight from my old phone, so apologies for the quality.  But, what it conveys is how perfect it is during Christmas in the Caribbean.  Peaceful blue water, white sand, and miles of beach to walk and explore.

There are some condemned resorts in the section of Nassau that we were in, that made the place seem like a shanty town.  A custom by the foreign construction workers is to camp out in the building their renovating, so the hurricane-swept vacant towers of a never-opened resort, had towels, clothes, and other odds and ends hanging in the air, with random cooking fire flames sprouting up every now and again.

Buffet breakfasts in the Caribbean resorts are the best meal of the day, they have flanks of smoked salmon, slices of well-aged gouda, and omelettes on demand.  Of course, you’ll eat hearty, and it can catch up to you, in the belly, or while swimming, so even though it’s all-inclusive, watch how much you’re filling up.  People indulge, no matter who they are, and there’s nothing worse than someone having stomach cramps by 10:00 AM in the hot tub, lest it be you.

It doesn’t matter who you are, bring sunscreen.  I can’t stress it enough.  Some people with darker complexions at the resort burned, thinking they were UV ray proof.  Surprise, you’re not!  There’s no shame in using sunscreen anyway.

Also, it turns out there’s a big opening in the real estate market in The Bahamas, and they’re wide open to US investment.  Many of the properties I toured were far more reasonably priced than you can imagine.  What I can say is go check it out for yourself, you’d be surprised how affordable it is, if that’s your interest, and how stable the houses there are, even in the face of a hurricane.

In brief, the next time you’re up for Christmas vacation, consider The Bahamas!

Travel Review: Toronto in Summer

I traveled to Toronto for an extended weekend getaway.  Normally for summer, I like to go to the Caribbean, but I went in the opposite direction because the flights were insanely cheap, and the hotels were willing to throw in so discounts and extras to the point that it would be idiotic to not go.

But I went into it thinking, meh, I’ll go, it’ll be “nice” weather, and it’ll be one of the cheapest vacations I’ll regret.

I can tell you that the phrase “book by it’s cover” is ever present in everything we do.

Toronto was a blast!

For one, don’t let the weather stereotypes fool you, they have real summer in Toronto.  Low 80’s, high UV Index, and enough humidity coming off Lake Ontario to make it reminiscent of a day on the Delaware coast.

For the record, I went in mid-August, in case you decide to plan your own trip.

Toronto has some ‘typical’ tourist attractions, CN Tower, Hockey Hall of Fame, baseball at the Rogers Centre.  But here’s something that Toronto does far better than some US big city counterparts: themed weeks.

A type of festival that is left to certain corners of the US, and New Orleans, the idea of an succinct themed week, at any time of year, seems to be a celebration of yesteryear in the US in the modern era.  Instead, we get one type of event for a weekend, at one location.  The days of multiple businesses and venues getting together to host one, or even two themes that support one another is something “relegated” to small towns for the most part.

Well, based on how Toronto does it, we’re missing out in the US, and I hope at least one person in a community looking to fill a void reads this realizes that they are missing out on serious tourist potential.

Now here’s the great thing about Toronto: they are combining multiple elements to make up a party atmosphere, out on their boardwalk mainly.  That’s right, Toronto has a fantastic boardwalk, meant for biking, walking, running, dogs, oh, and midnight pirate boating….more on that later.

It turns out that combining spicy food, second line bands, and straight funk, you’ve got yourself one of the liveliest street festivals.  Seriously, you missed out!  August 19th to the 21st, the Treme Brass Band (one of my personal favorites!) was beating those drums, and playing the soul out of those horns.  Yuka, a Stax Records-influenced funk band played as well, and all the spicy food, from barbecue to middle eastern.  And it was all very great!

But here’s the best part….while most communities that host themed festivals will host once a year, Toronto does a continued stream of them!  You get about 24 hours of break in between (probably called a “hang-over” day by locals, but you didn’t hear that from me), and then they right back to business, all summer long.

In the days before I got there, they have a Tapas festival, and brought in chefs from all over the world to “compete” by making unique takes on tapas to pair with, you guessed, craft beer.  Look, you may not be a foodie, and you may not like craft beer.  If you show up to a town that has a tapas and craft beer festival going on right outside your hotel lobby, something tells me I find you there, ten times out of ten.

And they had so many different kinds of tapas, it was impossible to try them all, along with all the beer.  But hey, no one’s stopping you from trying!

So we’ve talked tourist stuff, the boardwalk, now let’s talk about the beach……yea, Toronto has a beach.  Prepare yourself.

Toronto Harbour (their spelling, not mine) is created by mainland Toronto, and the Toronto Islands.  Yes, there’s islands out in the water of Lake Ontario, and it’s a beach goers paradise!  When I was there, the locals described the place as three islands, but as I walked around, I found several distinct islands, but some locals don’t refer to all of them.  There’s Centre Island, which maintains the major beach on the island.  There’s the area known as Ward’s Island, which is the far east area of the islands.  There is also a few hundred residents living there, but the Canadian government is working to put that to a halt (so much for freedom!)

There’s Algonquin Island, and then the much smaller islands of Mugg’s, Forestry, Snake, South Chippewa, South, and RCYC.  They all serve island specific activities like forest preservation, wildlife habitation, yacht clubs, and rumor has it, nude beaches…..I was told this goes on at Ward’s Island, but I didn’t check.  I say, enter at your own risk.

What I can tell you is that Toronto has put in a lot of effort to maintain clean beaches, and to create an inviting locale to beach it up!  I was thoroughly impressed.  They have built rock walls into the lake that form a calm atmosphere along the beach, but also have created see-to-the-bottom waters that any Caribbean spot would feel threatened by.

The only thing missing is bars and attendant service.  But, that’s no reason not to go, and there is a small spattering for huts to grab plenty of food, and of course beer.

It’s easy to get to the islands, you purchase a ferry ticket, take the 15 minute ride across the harbor, and you’re there.  An equally timed walk gets you to the lake side of the island, and subsequent beach.  It’s way too awesome to pass up, especially since many tourists don’t consider Canada for summer time!

Back on the mainland, there’s plenty of night excursions to get involved in, like the endless stream of boats that cruise the harbor, encourage terrible singing, and laughs all the while.

Also, you’ll probably meet some really cool Canadians, who aren’t fussy about cheese, or socialism, no matter what Justin Trudeau tries to do.

All in all, Toronto is a fantastic place to vacation, especially in summer.  Don’t short-change yourself, get in on the fun now while you can.  At some point, the rest of the world is going to hear about how cool the Canadian NYC is!