Monthly Archives: July 2012

Heading West


After repeated consultations with the Texan members of my family, I became convinced it was a better idea to head North, further into Texas before driving west instead of driving the most direct way into New Mexico so on Sunday we packed up JJ again and drove north, stopping around mid-afternoon in San Antonio.  I had been there several times due to my family there but Molly had not and we both felt that a trip through Texas was incomplete without visiting the Alamo.  We parked in a lot downtown and walked over to the complex and took the appropriate pictures and walked around a bit.  Then we decided to check out the river walk, although we didn’t stay long because of the heat.  I bought a sno-cone on the way back to the car but could only finish half of it because there was so much sugar.

Initially, we were planning on making it all the way to Lubbock but we got out of Corpus late so we booked a motel in Abilene instead.  We stopped for dinner in a town called Mason at the Willow Creek Café and were pleased with the food there.  The motel was clean but not super nice, and we took our time making plans on Monday morning.  We passed many wind turbines and ranches on the way to New Mexico.  We drove first to Roswell expecting a cute town with a lot of alien paraphernalia.  Instead we found a not so cute town with a lot of paraphernalia.   We had lunch at a place called El Toro Bravo, which had really decent Mexican food for a hole in the wall place.  Then we went to the International UFO museum for kicks.  It was much lower budget than I expected with printouts framed similarly to my high school photo projects.  It was interesting, however, to read about the Roswell story and to see some of the crazy dioramas they had set up.  I must admit, it was easy for me to believe that the US government was hiding something from the people of Roswell back then, although my first guess would not be “aliens”.

We took a few photos and came to the conclusion that there was really no reason for us to stay in Roswell and it was only about 5pm so we decided to keep driving towards Santa Fe, where we were hoping to spend some time Tuesday.  I found a campground called “Black Canyon” that was only about 7 miles outside Santa Fe.  We made it there just as it was getting dark to find that it was pleasantly cool so we threw on some sweatshirts before pitching the enormous tent in our slot.  We paid $10 at the self pay station, because I am always a fan of giving my money to the national park service, then went into town to find a grocery store.  We found a whole foods and bought stuff for tomato-mozzarella sandwiches and some yogurts for breakfast. 

On Tuesday I woke up feeling completely out of it.  Even though I loved Santa Fe I think it was my only truly cranky day on the trip so far.  We first stopped and drank some coffee at Burro Alley Café and then walked around to several cute shops, most of which were way to classy for our price range.  There was also a cathedral at the edge of the square and a market set up along one edge where many people were selling various jewelry and crafts.  I found Santa Fe completely charming, although I have mixed feelings about the “adobe” looking buildings.  Some of them are beautiful, but others look too much like fake sand castles.  I bought a turquoise and sterling ring from a women at the bazaar and we ate fajitas from a street vendor.  We fed a few more coins into the parking meter and walked into a shopping plaza that had beautiful Mexican embroidered stuff.  I bought a top of white linen with multi-color embroidery.  I felt kind of extravagant buying two souvenirs from the same place, but neither were expensive.  Then we loaded up the car to check out the cliff dwellings and Bandolier national monument.  By the time we drove the 40minutes out there the sky in that direction was navy blue and lightning was striking in the distance.  We decided that hiking out there in a thunderstorm was a bit to adventurous for us and headed back south instead.  We drove through some really rural country time and had to stop several times for roadwork before stopping for the night in Alamogordo near the White Sands National Monument.  We stopped for dinner and booked a motel.  It was kind of an ugly town with a beautiful view of the mountains. 

The next morning we headed to the White Sands to see the museum and take a short hike.  It was really interesting to learn how the enormous hills were formed from gypsum.  It is also one of the most interesting examples of adaptation in the US because it contains many of the same animals as the surrounding areas, but these have adapted to a much lighter color to camouflage in the white sand.  We decided on taking a nature walk that was expected to take about an hour because we didn’t know how we would fare in the heat.  It was a nice walk with several panels explaining different aspects of the habitat.  We then loaded up in JJ to drive out to Tucson to visit Tom.  He is a good friend of my mothers and came with her to visit me in Budapest.  He worked in DC but had moved to Tucson since his retirement and his place was really awesome with a gorgeous patio with a view of the surrounding mountains.  He called me during the drive to ask if we were okay with going to his neighbors for dinner, since apparently she owed him one, and I am really glad we agreed. 

We sat out on Tom’s patio drinking beers for a while, then went over to Cindy’s around 6:30.  She was an incredibly charming Scottish woman with another gorgeous home.  She was incredibly fun and we enjoyed sitting around with her and another friend Chris for the evening.  It was great to see that Tom had such good friends in Tucson.  Cindy served us black cherry martinis and a jalapeno-cheese dip, followed by veal marsala with snap peas, and chocolate lava cake.  The food was amazing and we drank some red wine to go with it and talked a lot about traveling and various other things.  According to Tom we got off easily because they skipped the usual post-dinner tequila tasting that night.  We had a really great time and were glad to have met Cindy and Chris.

Tom was slightly worried when we slept in so late on Thursday (he got up at 5:20, we slept until 9:30) but road tripping is more exhausting than I had expected.  We had some berries, granola, and yogurt for breakfast and then went for a swim in his pool.  It was really lovely and he had a floating lounge chair that was incredibly comfortable.  I was tempted to stay in the pool all day, but we had to get to San Diego so we left around noon.  The scenery driving into California was really interesting.  We saw one area with sand dunes like the Sahara, one with large mounds of rocks and a few with typical desert landscape.  We also got stopped by the border control a few times (because there were check points not because we were suspicious) which surprised us.  We had a hard time answering questions the first time because they asked us where we had come from and where we were going which are kind of loaded questions with us.

Currently we are hanging out in San Diego and heading to LA tomorrow.  We will spend most of Monday at Yosemite national park and head to Las Vegas on Tuesday and then the Grand Canyon.  I will try to post again when we hit Vegas, but we won’t have internet much before then.


Johnson Family Reunion

I feel like I need to preface this post by explaining some things about my family.  If you know me, you probably know that my moms family is kind of big.  My mom has five brothers and sisters, and I have 10 cousins before adding any significant others, cousin’s babies, or various hangers on.  My family is also pretty diverse.  The majority of them live in Texas, but some of us are also from as far North as New Jersey or Detroit.  The main thing we have in common is being slightly crazy, so family reunions have always been interesting.  I am told from the media that reuniting with my extended family is something I should dread, but I always find myself looking forward to our reunions as events to catch up and tell stories and laugh a lot because my family is ridiculous.  To make things even better, my grandparents do not live in some boring retirement community, but instead retired to Corpus Christi, TX meaning lots of delicious sea food and beach time.  If you don’t believe me here is proof:


Taken Friday night at sunset from a dolphin cruise.  Anyway, here is the details.

We arrived in Corpus Christi for my family reunion around 8:30 Thursday evening.  By the time we were an hour away, my sister had already called with drink orders so we stopped at the corner liquor store on the way in.  Most of the “adults”(term loosely used for the parents generation) were at my Grandmothers so the cousins who were around sat in one of the Suites sharing drinks and teasing each other relentlessly as is the Johnson way.  Later when the parents returned a large group sat around near the pool and I went to bed around midnight.

Friday we went up to my cousin Holly’s room for coffee and pastries and I was delighted to finally meet her 9month(ish?) old daughter who is all smiles and bows.  My mom and I went over to my grandma’s and she stayed with my gramps so that I could take grandma down to the beach where everyone was congregating. Four generations of Johnsons on the beach.  I hung out there for most of the afternoon until around 4.  The water was incredibly warm and we played in the waves like when we were kids.  After showering and napping for a bit ten of us loaded up two cars to go on a dolphin cruise out of Port Aransas.  The cruise took an hour and a half.  We saw some dolphins but were equally entertained by the kids on the cruise, a pair of dogs, and taking photos in the sunset.  By the time we finished it was 8:30 and we went to meet a few more people for dinner at a bar/restaurant called Scuttlebutts.  The food was pretty good and they had lots of beer on tap although we had to wait 40minutes or so for a table.  The major dent in the experience was a kind of terrible guy on guitar who rapped and sang “teenage mutant ninja turtles”.  There was no escape because when we returned to the pool, somehow the group out there had adopted a nineteen year old kid who insisted on performing.  I had to have some respect for his lack of stage fright, but he didn’t actually know the words to most of the songs he sang and when security came to ask us to keep it down I was kind of relieved.

On Saturday we didn’t make it down to the beach, and instead I spent a while updating my blog and then we started planning our trip west.  We booked a place in Las Vegas and came up with a theoretical route.  We decided to head north in Texas and then West through New Mexico and southern Arizona with the objective of making it to California so we can spend some time there before heading to Vegas.  In the afternoon we climbed into JJ with Alison and went to Snoopy’s Pier for some fish sandwiches.  Alison wanted to find some cheesy souvenir type things so we stopped at a couple beach shops.  I bought a greyish fedora because I thought a hat might be a good idea in the desert.  I look kind of like a hippy hipster in it, but such is life. 

When we returned it was time to shower and change for the big reunion party.  My aunt Amy had designed t-shirts with a logo of waves and birds so we could all match in the photos. We took a lot of photos and joked around ate some delicious brisket my Uncle Harold made.  I made friend with my four-year-old second cousin and had fun play fighting with him.  I kept trying to tell him that he couldn’t win because my arms are so much longer than his. He was a fun addition, even though we could not bribe him to say “Oh Balls” to his mother no matter what we offered.  As it got late, the cousins were prevailed upon to clean the kitchen and my oldest cousins went through an album pointing out the embarrassing photos of each of us from when we were kids.  Around 9 we took the party back to the hotel because the grandparents were tired, although they seemed really happy.  I went for a swim and towards the end of the night we set off some fireworks on the beach. 


Welcome to Texas

ImageOkay, well this story doesn’t begin in Texas.  But Texas was kind of a landmark for us.  We have officially driven over 2000miles (more like 2300), Molly had never been to Texas, and it is the first state we hit that I hadn’t driven into before.  Texas just feels like hey, you are actually getting somewhere.  

So Sunday we hung out in Nashville.  We went to brunch at the Tavern with Alex and my Senior year roommate (also Alex…confusing sometimes).  I caught up with them and Molly heard some of her first stories about “Amelia in College”and we had 2 for 1 mimosas.  Then we got in JJ and headed for the Country Music Hall of fame.  Three years in Nashville and I hadn’t been.  JJs check engine light came on while we were driving down Broadway….great…so I checked the fluids/gas cap to see if it was something obvious, then we went into the museum.  It turned out to be really quite interesting.  I was especially fascinated by the earliest years of country music because the development of it is closely intertwined with American history.  And there were a lot of really outrageous costumes and fancy guitars on display.  

We were pretty tired afterwards so we went to Bongo Java near Belmont to get some coffee and enjoyed “hipster-watching”, an activity much like people watching but at places where hipsters hang out and I called my father about the car.  We decided to take it into a shop in Nashville before hitting the road the next day.  Molly and I bought some groceries for dinner and breakfast and spent the evening hanging out at Alex’s apartment watching bad tv.  

We got up at 7 to get going and took JJ into a shop I had used before.  They were super nice.  They checked it out and told us that JJ’s light turned on because the engine was running cold at the time.  Only time in my life a car mechanic has advised me NOT to fix a problem.  I called my father (since JJ is his car) and decided that was the thing to do.  Diesels are fine if they run a bit cold they just get worse gas milage. And it would be easier to fix it later if it continued to be a problem.  Five days later and the light hasn’t come back on so hopefully it will be okay. 

After that we drove south to New Orleans. We got to Gootee’s at like 5.  She took us out for happy hour at some place called Monkey Hill, then we picked up her friend Ferf before going to the High Hat for dinner.  We both had red beans and rice with fried chicken and both were kind of perfect.  We went out for another beer before heading home kind of early.  The next day Emily showed us around a bit taking us to a place called Yo Mamma’s for lunch where we had epic hamburgers.  Then Molly had never had a Hurricane so we took some touristy photos and went to Pat O’Briens for drinks on the patio.  I had a rainstorm instead and we headed back to Gootee’s so we could get on the road to Mobile. 

When we got to Terica’s she took us on a tour of Mobile, showing us all of her favorite places and updating us on her life.  We went back to her place to get ready for her birthday dinner then drove over to an oyster shack called Wentzel’s where I met more of her friends and her sister.  I had shrimp and grits for dinner and Molly had a sausage Po boy.  Then we went to her favorite hang out spot “OK Bicycle Shop” which also had a lot of beer on tap and hand made margaritas where we had another drink before returning to her house to meet some more friends of hers.  Molly and I excused ourselves and went to bed around 1am even though they were still up chatting.  We got up at 7 again to face our longest day of driving yet, through Louisiana and into Texas for 11 hours.  Woo driving.

We drove all the way to Austin by about 7 where we met up with my cousins Reid and Kalyn and a couple of Reid’s friends.  We met Max the puppy, who was solidly one of the cutest puppies ever.  Molly started plotting to steal him but decided against it because she liked the owners.  We had beers and pizza at a place called the Hangar lounge where we tried a bunch of local beers and Molly learned that she really likes Shiner Blonde.  Convenient because it is available all over Texas.  Next we went to the Ginger Man and had a few more beers including Pyramid Apricot which was very delicious.  

On Thursday my cousin Reid (whom we were staying with) sent me a long list of good things to do in Austin and we picked what looked most agreeable.  We had breakfast tacos at Torchy’s tacos and the best queso of my life.  Seriously though, breakfast tacos are kind of my favorite.  Then we went to Mayfield Park to spend some time outside for the first time in like a week.  They had really cool peacocks, but we decided against trying to make them fluff their tails.  Apparently they only do that when they feel threatened (?) or trying to mate.  No such luck.  We walked around the nature trails for about an hour.  Next we went to the Bob Bullock Texas State Museum which wasn’t entirely what we expected.  We expected it to be more ridiculous and like TEXAS HELL YEAH but it was mostly a history museum.  Still really interesting though because Molly and I are well educated on Colonial history, but early Texas history is something entirely different.  Around 4 we hopped in the car to head down to the coast for the Johnson family reunion.  So far so good, but I am going to leave that experience for a later post.



I feel that a trip like this requires a certain mindset. I am having a hard time with it.  Every time we get in the car so far, my mind goes to what we need to do next.  It is a ridiculous way to think on a trip where, in reality, we don’t NEED to do anything.  The idea is to be driven by what we WANT to do.  I am not sure why that is so hard for me, I didn’t feel like I had to try to let go when travelling in Europe.  But at the same time, this trip is different.  For one, I am back in charge.  Weird but almost every time I went somewhere outside of Budapest, someone else was calling the shots.  Who knew it would take having to make my own decisions to realize how much I hate to decide (or maybe everyone who has known me has noticed).  Anyway, something to work on.  Doing what we want.

            I guess it doesn’t help, but it has kind of been a quest so far this trip.  12 hours of driving in two days.  Better than the 10 hour direct trip I am used to making, but still kind of tiring.  We finally got on the road around 10am Friday after saying goodbye and gaining advice from every single one of our parents.  JJ the Jetta was packed full with four weeks of everything we could imagine we could possibly need.  We drove for a couple of hours before stopping for lunch in Harrisonburg.  We stopped at Chik-fil-a because I had been craving it since returning home from Europe to find it completely packed even though it was relatively early in the lunch gap.  It turns out that July 13th is “Cow Appreciation Day” so there were lots of people with their small children dressed up like cows.  Apparently a drawn on white t-shirt and a pair of ears earns you a free meal.  Too bad we didn’t get the memo early enough to come prepared…

            The rest of the drive to Asheville was uneventful, and we got to the campground just after 6.  We picked a site pretty far in and set to work pitching our tent before dark.  The campground was right on the French Broad River and was relatively small and compact.  Our tent was not.  Molly borrowed it from her aunt who seems to have some strange need to sleep around a dozen people in one place while camping.  It was far too big to fit on our two tarps and could zip into three rooms.  It took us a while to assemble it, so we drank a beer meanwhile.  The rainfly was the hardest because the Molly hadn’t put it on in the practice run and we weren’t entirely sure how to attach it to the tent. 

            After we had the tent together we decided to go into town to find dinner.  Asheville was packed with people even though it was already sprinkling off and on.  We parked the car in a lot and walked around and eventually settled on the Asheville Bier Garden for dinner, working with the logic that if you can’t be guaranteed good food you should at least go for good beer.  We had some sandwiches and I drank a something Highland Wit.  Molly went for a Kolsch instead, but I drank half of it because she was full.  Both were really delicious and locally made in Asheville.  We discussed checking out another bar type thing because it was only about 10:30, but we were actually really tired.  And it was already raining.  So we headed back to the campground and were in bed not after 11.  It seems kind of like wussing out to be in bed so early on a Saturday, but I felt like even if we went somewhere else we wouldn’t really enjoy it.

            We woke up the next morning to pouring rain.  We found out the gargantuan tent was indeed water proof, although the humidity made it feel like everything was slightly damp and sticky.  We packed up the car and both experienced the joy of packing a wet tent for the first time.  Instead of attempting to cram it back in the bag we put it in a trash bag.  Yay for being well prepared.  Then we drove to Asheville intending to walk around and find a place for some coffee and ended up at a café called “Ello”.  They had good coffee and I had a breakfast sandwich.  Molly had some banana oatmeal, which was also delicious.  By the time we finished eating the parking meter was already running out so we tried to check out the Biltmore, just to drive up and look.  We decided the admission wasn’t worth it (the women at the gift shop claimed it would cost us $64?) so we came straight to Nashville instead.  We had a few torrential downpours on the way and it was still raining when we arrived limiting our ability to entertain ourselves.  We got some Paletas and went to Fido to try to get on the internet.  When my friend Alex got back from New York we met him at his apartment so we could get a pair of keys, then he ran out to go to two separate dinner engagements and Molly and I went to dinner at Jacksons.  We had some buffalo fingers and salads and discussed how birth order has effected our personalities.  Afterward we went downtown to check out Paradise Park and the Stage and were interested to see the abundance of bachelorette parties that had taken over Broadway. Seriously though, I guess it is the time of the year but there were at least 5 at each bar. We headed home pretty late and stayed up a bit chatting with Alex.  It feels really good to be back.

Finding Americana

I am a complete failure as a blogger.  I am pretty sure my last post was in February….can we consider it a case of being “too busy living to write about living”.  Yeah probably not, but I am going to try this again.  At least for a while. 

Anyway, since February I have finished three Semesters of grad school (although 2 of them were extra short).  I have taken three weekend trips, visited eight different countries (Hungary, Austria, Czech Republic, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Greece and Turkey) and been on a six day road tour of the balkans.  I have pretty much seen every square inch of the island of Lesvos, and finally made it back to the states where I suffered possibly the greatest culture shock of all. But can I skip recapping all of that.  Trust me I am regretting not writing about it then but I was actually too busy having the time of my life.  Oh yeah, and “studying” or whatever but my point with this post is to introduce the next chapter of the adventure.

Wanderlust.  Not something I am actually sure that I have, but the best explanation for my lifestyle.  I can’t seem to stay put.  Although I am not sure I love that lifestyle.  Whenever someone asks about my life in Europe I feel like it is crucial to emphasize that it is all twofold.  It has been the best year of my life, but also probably the hardest.  I don’t totally love having to fit my life into two 20kilo suitcases and having to purge my things every time I move on. I don’t love the jetlag and the exhaustion of moving all the time.  and I especially don’t love being constantly separated from so many of the people I love.  I guess that is what inspired me to keep moving for a while this summer.  My program gave me a couple of months off, too short to really do much productive so I decided to take advantage.  My grandparents are turning 80 and we are having a reunion to celebrate so I thought I would turn the trip into a longer one.  Starting Friday, my friend Molly and I are packing up JJ the Jetta and driving west (well south west to be exact).  Over about a month we will traverse the United States all the way to California and back.  

I guess my purpose by returning to blogging is to tell this story.  It seems pretentious, but more than anything I wish I had better documentation of my adventures this year and am hoping this will provide a venue.  Additionally, in case anyone actually reads this it will let you know where Molly and I are, and where we are heading.  My hopes are it may lead us to you on our journey.  

With love and wanderlust,