Salt Lake City, UT

The last time I was in Salt Lake City, I must have been 12 or 13 years old. My father took us there on vacation, I don’t remember much about that vacation other than swimming in the Salt Lake. We went to a touristy beach area, which seemed a bit desolate, probably because the day felt sort of gloomy.

I remember the weather being warm despite the sky being overcast. The water wasn’t necessarily warm, but swim-able. We could walk distances from shore and the water never came above our waists. Brittany taught me how to make a flotation device out of my shirt by tying the bottom and sleeves in knots and holding the neckline tight, trapping a small pillow of air inside (if, in case, I was stranded overboard and needed this survival tip in the future one day).

We played at the edge of the lake as preteens do. I cupped water in my hands and brought it up to my face. My father told me the only living organism able to survive in the lake is a certain type of brine shrimp, because the water is so salty, nothing else is able to thrive as they do. When I looked closely, I saw them, little red creatures swimming – literally – in the palm of my hands! Brine shrimp are interesting lil buggars; I believe they’re the same creature dubbed as “sea-monkeys,” but if you’ve never seen one, they’ve got a flexible spine, thin as a line, with a feather-like body, the entire being no larger than a grain of rice.

And that was the extent of my memory of Salt Lake City. Until last weekend.

I happened to be in town for a music festival, which allowed us to do some exploring during the day, since the show was during night (feel free to read about my festival escapade)! The only fact I remember about Utah from American history class in high school is the state is majority Mormon, since that’s where all the Mormons migrated (for a reason I can’t remember, but historical enough to end up in high school history textbooks, I guess).

jFaull travel tip #11: Using rideshare allows you brief periods of time with locals to get the inside scoop of the land, while getting where you need to go.

One of my bestfriends, Malyks, and I met in Salt Lake, our planes landing within five minutes of each other. We didn’t rent a car, so we took Uber everywhere, which I almost prefer. JFaull travel tip #11: Using rideshare allows you brief periods of time with locals to get the inside scoop of the land, while getting where you need to go (find my first 10 silly travel tips here). Why is this ideal for traveling? You get answers to causal questions, or The Know on local secrets and hidden gems, without having to spend too much time with strangers. Using rideshare is private transportation and better-than-traditional-travel-research bundled in one.

One of our first Uber drivers suggested hiking since there are loads of trails on the surrounding mountains. I looked out the backseat window to the hills on the edge of town. I speculated the low lying mountains would require an hour or 2 to summit (at my current fitness level haha). Unfortunately, Malyks and I were prepared for the festival, not to hike; thus, didn’t pack any sort of workout attire.

Another Uber driver suggested we visit the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, which has a fine dining buffet on the 10th floor and a 360 view of the city. I absolutely love restaurants on top floors and who doesn’t appreciate a good view?! However, the restaurant opened at 5:00 pm, the same time as the festival grounds. We decided The Roof would be top of our list the next time we were in town.

Speaking of restaurants, I believe it was the same Uber driver who also told us about Lion House Pantry. The story goes something like this: Brigham Young was a famous guy (Mormon, no doubt), who also happened to be the governor of Utah. He had a lot of wives and a lot of children and they all cooked and ate in the same place. This place was known as The Cafeteria. So, this is sort of a historical landmark, which had been preserved, and is now – ironically – a restaurant for the public! I found this to be so incredibly fascinating that I was actually really bummed we didn’t have a chance to eat there. If you wanna check it out, you can visit their website here.

Now, I know you’re wondering, if I didn’t do any of the things I just mentioned, what the fuck did i do? LOL. Let me tell you. We did visit Temple Square, gorgeous place really. There’s a temple in the middle of town that’s beautifully detailed, surrounded by an open garden. We weren’t the only ones. There were countless families there, dressed in their best, taking photos in groups and in couples, because each family was celebrating a wedding.

After walking around Temple Square with our jaws dragging along the ground from witnessing the beauty, we went to the Saturday Market downtown, which was quite impressive. Vendors were selling almost everything imaginable: jewelry, knives, art, honey, trinkets, you know, the usual commodities you see at street fairs. We bought essential oils, homemade lip balms and lotions. There was a stand with peach samples, we couldn’t resist. The sliver of peach we tasted was so sweet and juicy, we picked out 2 for breakfast the following day.

We spent the rest of the afternoon on an outdoor patio of a cute bar called Lake Effect. We sipped sophisticated cocktails and caught up on life. See, Malyks recently moved out of state and there’s so much to converse about, as we’ve been getting used to this time apart, growing older, and adjusting to the transitions in our lives. It’s an interesting feeling, the one where your close friends are no longer is close vicinities and accepting that, as we age, we separate physically, as our lives lead us in different directions, down roads alone or with the company of significant others.

Sunday morning we took our time packing up, preparing for our separation and departure. Malyks was flying back to Colorado and I was flying back to Cali, it felt like our last supper. We headed to Gracie’s to get a drink (or 3) and some food. Gracie’s is a dope joint, with a second floor balcony, to soak up some vitamin D and booze. I suppose we ended up dining roof top, didn’t we?

I know there are other cool spots in Salt Lake City we didn’t have a chance to hit, but with the brief period of time we had, I’m stoked we saw what we did! I’ll have to make another trip out there to experience the rest the city has to offer.

What awesome or unique things have you done in Salt Lake City, UT?

Das Energi 2018

The lighting cracks in front of us, bright, like an instant picture, vivid white. In a flash, the bolt disappears and the sky is grey. The clouds are gradually getting darker as we chug along a four lane freeway due west to The Saltair. White sand and sparse tall grass line the exit toward the lake as the shuttle crawls amongst the other vehicles. The driver hears muffling on his radio and sticks the receiver up to his ear.

“They’re evacuating the grounds due to the storm,” he repeats back to us.

This is how Das Engeri, Day 1 begins…

Das Energi, Salt Lake City, UT.

We’re enroute to the festival grounds for 2 days of killer line up. We’re ready for DJs and dance floors, but the only thing I hadn’t planned for is Utah weather…We’re on the shoulder waiting for the rain to pass, and, as luck would have it, we get news they’re letting eager ravers back in!

Let me back up, I don’t necessarily consider myself a “raver,” but I do enjoy the scene (my favorite 2-day I’ve attended is Countdown 2016). I go to more music festivals than raves, but have never written about them, so this will be a new experience. PSA: this isn’t a critique per se, but more of a causal account of the weekend. Wanna know more about Das Energi 2018?! Read on

After the venue is re-opened, the first frustration is getting in. The VIP line doesn’t have as many staff as General Admission and is taking a little longer. Luckily, they’re letting in as many people as fast as they can and security isn’t too strict. The main entrance leads you into Synergy Station, one out of the three stages on the festival grounds and the only one indoors.

Synergy Station is a rectangular venue with the stage at one end, the dance floor in the middle, and a balcony going all the way around, acting as the VIP Lounge and bar. Upon entering, I immediately recognize that the VIP perks promoted on the website don’t match up to what I had envisioned. Although we receive VIP merch (Das Energi branded fan and fanny pack), there isn’t lush seating upstairs, nor VIP bathroom indoors (the VIP Lounge outdoors had an isolated group of porta-potties).

The only food on the entire festival grounds is on the bottom floor of Synergy Station. Side note: a majority of the festivals I attend are in California and I’m accustomed to multiple vendors of varying cuisines. I am stunned to discover the food is simply stadium food: burgers, hot dogs, fries, etc. (second side note: bring tampons because they charge a dollar if you need one. Yes, they sell tampons and Advil at the concession stand).

In all fairness, this is Salt Lake City, not San Francisco – this festival ticket (even at VIP) is less expensive than tickets back home.

To be completely honest, I shouldn’t have been surprised because Utah is just different than Cali (like how I tried buying a bottle of duty-free gin at the airport and wasn’t allowed because I had just landed – they only sell alcohol duty-free if you’re leaving – “Utah State Law” the clerk said).

Next to the concessions is a merchandise display and I ask the woman if I can buy the jersey, who tells me I can’t because it’s a display and points me to outside. I don’t make it to the merchandise tent on Day 1, when I return on Day 2, they’re already sold out of the jersey! I end up back at the display booth and ask for the jersey, the same woman remembers me from the day before, and let’s me try it on. It just so happens to be my birthday and, I swear, it’s that birthday luck that the jersey fits perfectly. The not-for-sale, display jersey is the last of it’s kind and now on my back. Oi oi Happy Birthday to me.

The opposite entrance of Synergy Station opens to Energi Field, the main stage outdoor stage, where headliners play on the left and an upbeat crowd dances on the grass to the right. Beyond the stage is the Flats, which are closed on Day 1 due to the storm. On Day 2, entrance to the venue is much more seamless (although security does a more thorough check of your bags), but the Flats are open!

There, you can find the outdoor VIP lounge, bar, art, and vendors. The 3D light sculptures are absolutely amazing! They shine bright in the darkness, beautiful in an array of colors, shapes and sizes. More photo opportunities exist with the inflatable rainbow light arch and light up Das Energi letters. The Flats also feature local vendors selling trinkets, clothing and accessories. Beyond the art and vendors, you can dance your way over to the third stage.

By far, the Galactic Flats is my favorite stage! It’s a walk from the other stages, through Salt Lake sand, well worth it. Lesser known DJs jam to a smaller crowd, we’re all just vibing to the funk, but when the beat drops, the pillars surrounding the stage in a full circle billow with enormous flames, hitting the rhythm and keeping the half-naked ravers warm.

All stages are lit. Day 1: Whatsonot and Joyryde kill their sets and the venue stays open till 3 am because of the closure earlier, so Dillion Francis and Kaskade can close the night! Chris Lake is an amazing start for Day 2, but I fall in love with Rezz’s set. Deadmau5 is chill, but I enjoy the Snails and Nghtmre back-to back set much more, as they keep the crowd jumping with their trap.

Overall, The Great Saltair is a really unique venue to host a festival. The proximity of the stages is ideal and this year’s line up is top notch. Raves aren’t for everyone, but if you can get down to this music, definitely check the line up for next year. If you’re a Utah local, I highly recommend hitting up Das Energi!

Quarter Life Reflection

It’s August 17, 2018 and I’m driving to the airport, Salt Lake City bound. I’m off on another trip to celebrate my birthday, reflecting on my 24th year of life, looking forward to turning 25. When I was younger, I used to think about what my life would be like when I was “all grown up.” The strange thing is, I would fantasize life at 35 to 50, sometime when I was old, wise, established. It’s funny how as you age your perception of old changes, when 35 doesn’t seem so old anymore, when you’re 10 years away from being established, wise, old.

I’m alarmed I’m turning 25 because I never imagined I would ever hit my “mid-20s.” Life moves so quickly that I couldn’t picture my life at 25 because I was so engrossed in being 24, 23, 22, or so on. As your teen years pass, quick as they may, you stumble into this really influential period of life. It’s this era of your twenties, when even a single year exposes you to quantum experiences, and decisions you make now have the ability to define your immediate future, or the rest of your life. You’re changed in leaps and bounds, exponentially…until you hit your mid-30s or 40s; then, life seems to settle down.

I felt like my 20s proposed a choice: I conform and live as I was raised or how I think society would accept me…or I choose who I will be for the rest of this life, free of predisposition and fear of judgement.

This is the threshold between who you used to be and who you choose to become.

That’s a pretty big decision to make. It took half of my 20s to figure this out. What’s even more alarming is: the older I get, the more unpredictable life seems to be. I thought I’d age, and things would become clearer, when, in fact, I feel as if navigating life has become increasingly more difficult.

This doesn’t necessarily mean I’m afraid to age. Actually, I’m rather fond of growing years older, because with each passing year, I am a better version of me than my previous self. What I’ve been through changed me in ways I wouldn’t even want to predict, not knowing is half the fun of living. This uncertainty is exciting, refreshing, enlightening. What I am most certain of is life’s infinite uncertainty.

the only constant is change

The older I get, the more I understand the only constant is change. We’re in a constant state of change. We’re constantly trying, failing, learning, experiencing, transforming. I don’t know who said it but I wish I could give credit to whomever once quoted “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” If one thing dawned on me during this quarter life reflection, it would be that.

I am celebrating life at a quarter century. I’m looking forward to my half century reflection. I hope we all make it to 100!

Anchorage, AL

Seaplane

Brittany and I procrastinate. A lot. But, trust me, no matter if you procrastinate as much as we do, you can still plan a killer vacation by following a simple process!

The first step is to lock down dates & book airfare. Not gunna lie, it seems like planning family vacations is the hardest with everyone’s schedules. My advice is to never underestimate the time it’ll take to agree on travel dates LOL. When booking airfare, (my sister’s favorite tool is the Hopper app; mine is Skyscanner) we aim for the cheapest non-stop flights. (Side note: there aren’t any non-stop flights going from SFBA to Alaska, so I determined flights by departure and arrival times that were best suitable. Which also sucked, my options were limited, I had a three hour layover in Sea-Tac and landed at 2 am in Alaska).

Second, accommodations can be secured. Most of what we wanted to do and see was in downtown Anchorage so we looked closest to city’s center (side note: I originally wanted to stay in a B&B for a home-y, family experience, but most were booked up since it was the week of 4th of July. So, I expanded my search to hotels, and eventually reserved a vacation rental through TripAdvisor, although Airbnb seems to be most popular these days. I also use Homeaway, which is most similar to Airbnb, sometimes the cost is cheaper).

After these steps are complete, the actual planning can begin! We start by mapping out an itinerary. This important when you’re traveling with people who have different interests. Any tool can be used to jot thoughts down, but my sister and I use Google Sheets for easy access and sharing between the two of us, before sending it to the ‘rents. We included a number of activities and suggested days when each would work best. Some activities on the spreadsheet are bound to get kicked off and replaced by cooler things (we didn’t make it to a baseball game, dry dog sled, or various other tours).

Note: Traveling with family can be interesting (to say the least). I personally believe that an itinerary with gaps between long activities is best. This allows down-time to rest (and get some personal-fucken-space) for a brief period before you tackle the next endeavor! Admit it, travel is exhausting – even when it’s supposed to be vacation. Sit back, relax, and take a damn chill pill.

The actives we decided on did not disappoint!

Anchorage has a number of street markets on the weekends. Sunday morning we went to the market downtown and shopped around. There were loads of vendors selling what street faires do: dip seasoning packets, souvenir socks, parkas, backpacks, knife sets, kids toys, jewels and gems, canvas paintings, engarlened prints. I bought locally sourced Chaga mushroom, which is a “superfood,” high in antioxidants and a host of other vitamins and minerals. Fireweed is a popular type of flower in Alaska, I sipped fireweed lemonade and shared a salmon quesadilla with the fam. That afternoon we went to the Anchorage Museum. Brittany was most excited for the Smithsonian floor, which had loads of amazing artifacts from different Inuit tribes across the state. By the time dinner rolled around, we were on a tram, being pulled up the face of a mountaintop, to the Alyeska Seven Glaciers Restaurant. Almost as breathtaking as the view, is the delicious baked alyeska dessert, which they set on fire at your table.

Monday we woke early to get on a train to Whittier. They ask that you arrive an hour early at the train station, which was a fraction of the size of the one back home, with a small cafe and a good-sized souvenir shop. The train ride was 2.5 hours north, toward Prince William Sound, where we boarded a ship, for lunch and sightseeing. Yes, salmon chowder, with a side glimpse of orcas swimming on our left. We saw sea otters floating around the sound and floated beside glaciers to watch them capsize up close. Yet, I gotta say, my favorite part was watching the chef pull glacier ice out of the water with a giant fishing net. They took the chunk of glacier to the bar, broke it up, and served cocktails; I ordered a marg with ancient ice. When the train dropped us off back in Anchorage, we went to a downtown bar, Bernie’s Bungalow, for beer, pizza, tuna poke, and nachos.

Tuesday I made breakfast for the family in honor of my father’s birthday. We took a seaplane over glaciers and across tundra and plains. This, by far, was my most favorite activity, because I’ve never felt so small flying over mountains. I never felt so isolated, so in-the-middle-of-nowhere, so insignificant on a planet that is so extraordinary. Experiences like that, where you’re in a small jet plane that seats four, plus the pilot, landing on a freezing cold lake of melted glacial water, murky with glacial silt, to have a picnic miles from anything remotely close to civilization, that change your perspective of the world, really blow your mind. (Side note: if you’re prone to motion sickness, do not eat before / during the seaplane ride. I yakked as soon as we landed back in Anchorage). That afternoon, Brittany and I hiked O’Malley Peak, which I wrote a post on. The ‘rents went shopping while we were on the side of a mountain, and we all reconvened for supper at a nice Italian restaurant.

Wednesday was 4th of July and Anchorage hosts a parade in celebration every year. Two blocks into the parade, I found an information booth to ask where the alcohol booths were, to find out this truly was a family event and alcohol was not being sold on in the perimeter. Which was fine. I settled for a chocolate berry milkshake. After the parade ended, we took a bus tour around the town, stopping at significant places, and did the same on a guided walking tour. Later that night Brittany and I went back to Bernie’s Bungalow, which you can read more about here.

Thursday we packed up, said goodbye to our vacation rental, drove downtown to hit up a few souvenir shops on our way out, and headed for the airport…

jFaull’s Simple Steps to Planning Family Vacations:

1) Begin planning as soon as you can (even if that means procrastinating anyways)
2) Lock down travel dates everyone agrees upon
3) Book airfare based on your preferences (i.e. price, departure/arrival times, etc.)
4) Secure accommodations (i.e. hotel, hostel, B&B, vacation rentals etc.)
5) Discuss activity options
6) Discuss cuisine options
7) Finalize an iteriteray
8) Pack chill pills
9) Leave bar crawling for the last night
10) Have fun!

50 / 50

I got my haircut this morning. I’m at work and my sister texts me saying me she just cut bangs! I was thinking how funny, we’re twins. As a precursor, we’re actually not twins. In fact, we’re 22 months apart. Brittany is nearly 2 years older than me (but nearly 2 inches shorter than me).

Us being [nearly] twins reminded me of our last night in Alaska. Brittany and I didn’t want to wait for the midnight firework show in celebration of 4th of July. You know, summer in Alaska, the sun rises at 3 am and sets at 11:30 pm, which means it’s too light out to see fireworks until much later. What did we do instead? Do what we do best & mosey on over to a local watering hole to P-A-R-T-WHY? ‘Cause we gotta.

There we were at Bernie’s Bungalow, sippin’ whiskey sodas at the end of a large patio table. As the bar filled up, a few friendly locals found a seat next to us. Mike is a short, tan Asian man that works for the army. He was based in Alaska for some time and, when he was finished with his tour, came back to live in Anchorage. As for the young ladies he was with, they were all nurses: one graduated from a college in Michigan, the other from Wisconsin, and the last was visiting both of them. We talked about their time in Anchorage, how they decided to settle down here, and that’s how we discovered their relation to each other.

Mike turns to me and asks “so, how do you two know each other?” He was obviously referring to my sister, who couldn’t answer, as she had just left to take a piss. I get this question more often than you’d think.

“Believe it or not, we’re sisters,” I replied. Like clockwork, he fires off the next question –

“Who’s older?” In which I reply with my favorite come back –

“Take a guess.” It’s a tricky question. Whenever I ask people to guess, they always think I’m older (because I’m taller). WRONG.

Mike guessed wrong. Then he went on to say that he didn’t think we looked related, but now that I’ve pointed it out, he can see the resemblance. I assured him he wasn’t alone. The only response Brittany and I repeatedly get about our relation is that 1) we look nothing alike or 2) we could be twins. It’s either-or, there’s never a stance in the middle. For anyone. Brittany returns to the table and I explain to her that Mike and I were just chatting about how he didn’t believe we were sisters.

“Oh, 50/50,” Brittany says, “people either think we’re twins or not related at all”

I rested my case.

The sun dipped below the horizon and dusk was getting a shade darker. Fireworks exploded in the distance and we could see the sparks from where we sat on the patio outdoors. The locals finished their drinks and invited us to hop to another bar; so, we oblige, of course. The rest of the night turns into somewhat of a blur, but I remember Mike walking Brittany and I back to our vacation rental. He wanted some alone time with my sister but I could tell she didn’t want to be left with some local and I sure as hell wasn’t going to leave her. I couldn’t find any nice words to let him off easy; frankly, I didn’t really care.

I picked Brittany up by the waist and started running across the street, screaming “see you later!” (With the most obvious fact that he would never see us again slapping him across the face behind me). As soon as I crossed the empty street, I accidentally dropped Brittany in the gravel shoulder before I fell on top of her. When we got up to brush ourselves off, Mike had already disappeared. We silently crept into our temporary home and forgot to hydrate before we passed out.

I woke up with a dry mouth and tongue, parched af. I looked down at the pile of clothes next to my bedside and picked up my shirt, reaching into the front pocket for my ID, debit card and Brittany’s credit card. The pocket was empty. I frantically fell out of bed, propped the door open on my way out of the house and into the street. As suspected, all three plastic cards were in the dirt next to the road where we both ate shit the night before.

We’re [nearly] twins, but being sisters is just as swell. Whether we look alike or not, Brittany and I appreciate the same vacation spots and have the same taste in beer. We socialize in similar ways, we have identical mannerisms. We both get into shit with locals and find unconventional ways out. We even unknowingly cut our hair around the same time.

2018 Alameda Art & Wine Festival

Four distinct bridges provide the only entrance to Alameda. For those who aren’t familiar, Alameda is a small island in the bay, a stone’s throw from Oakland. Aside from the main drag, which spans a few modest blocks, the town is mainly suburbia and apparently has the most elementary schools per capita in the entire U.S. (don’t quote me on that, it was an observation). For the most part, Alameda is a sleepy town, to raise your kids, to retire, to slow down from the stress of city life.

This past weekend was the 2018 Alameda Art & Wine Festival! I’ve been to a handful of Art & Wine fests in The Bay, and let me tell you, Alameda is one of my favorites. Why? Art & Wine festivals in South Bay don’t come close to the quantity of vendors in Alameda. Don’t get me wrong, South Bay hosts a number of festivals I enjoy to no end, but the Art & Wine ones aren’t lit like Alameda.

Alameda closes a good 5 or so blocks downtown to host the event. Every other block has a mini stage with cover bands or other live music. Not only do they have a plethora of vendors, but I praise the quality and diversity of the arts. The streets are lined with pop up tents, each small business owner with a different vibe, a creative set-up, a unique niche. We sip wine and wander through booths with painted wood portraits and matted prints, sift through racks of tye dye shirts and spandex pants that flare out at the bottoms,laugh at ourselves in the mirror as we try on masks. There are booths selling honey, hand crafted jewelry, crystals, wind chimes, toe rings, knives, corn nuts, dip mixes, bonsais, gourmet vinegar and olive oil.

I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of kombucha. I’m not even sure I can tell you what it is. I think it has probiotics (I’m not really sure what those are either) but people say they’re good for you. I drink Kombucha occasionally and I know on the bottle it warns of 1-2% alcohol content; yet, at the art & wine festival, we taste-test alcoholic kombucha ranging from 5-7% with the purpose of getting drunk (!) in flavors like pomegranate chai, ginger lime, and lemongrass. Another booth we pass checks our IDs and hands us shots of alcoholic coconut water (Skyjuice is a new company selling canned cocktails of flavored coconut water and vodka). I’m not sure where this get-drunk-on-“health-foods” thing came from, but I’m all for it. This must be my generation finding harmonious balance. Other generations love to hate millennials but you have to admit this is kind of genius…

There is a vendor selling “Hawaiian Ecosystems,” which are small bowls or vases filled with water and a flower. If you look closely, you can see the tiny shrimp that apparently live in these habitats without having to be fed. My friends and I spend a little longer at a booth selling taxidermy butterflies, some in quite elaborate patterns for display on a wall; sale price: $2500. We take our time picking out this butterfly for my sister.

One of my favorite aspects of art & wine festivals is the food! Among steaming grills coated with chicken skewers and bacon wrapped sausages, there are kettle corn stands, chocolate dipped ice cream booths, and a deep dish or thin crust pizza tent. Vendors sell gyros, roasted corn, mango sticks and curly fries. I buy lumpia (philipino egg rolls) to snack on as we stand in line for the main seafood vendor. Ironically, my friends and I order the same thing as last year; two lobster sliders each and an order of BBQ oysters, that come with three shells to split between us evenly. Delicious, as usual. All I can say about that is we are truly creature of habit.

Are there any art & wine festivals coming up near you?