How to Visit Greece on a Budget (and other ways to fail when you try)

Well, friends – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again –  no adventure is any good without a little misadventure, and based on that standard, this trip was one for the books.

This Grecian dream first became a reality when I was enjoying one of my favorite pastimes during a lunch break – looking up flights ok Kayak – and I noticed dirt cheap flights out of DC to Athens. I immediately called Bryant three times, causing him to step out of a meeting because he was afraid it was an “emergency” (it was), and we ended up booking the tickets after taking a few days to think about it.

I should now mention that these cheap tickets were with Russian airline Aeroflot, and that our layovers were in Moscow. When we bought the flights, we had a 2 hour layover on the way there, making our travel time about 14 hours (great for US to Greece). On the way back, however, we had a 17 hour layover in Moscow. We were actually really excited about this, thinking we’d be able to see some of Moscow – the Kremlin, Mummy Lenin, etc. – a city we’d likely never visit again.

Let’s start from here.

STEP 1: Buy cheap flights through Vayama with seemingly terrible layovers in the wrong name.

About a month after we booked,  I realized I’d booked the flight in my maiden name, then sent my passport off to be renewed in my married name. This is a big, bad problem…it’s not easy to change your name without paying tons of fees. Just ask Adam West.

After realizing that, our flight from Moscow to Athens was cancelled,  making our layover 11 hours instead of 2.

We then realized that Vayama, the online booking agent we used by Kayak’s recommendation, was completely useless in helping us navigate these changes, and I spent hours on the phone over the period of a month getting a different answer from every person I talked to. Cheers! Don’t use Vayama. Ever.

About a month before the trip, I was finally sent confirmation that I could get on the plane – which was a little nerve wracking.

STEP 2: Make the most of a long layover.

I always imagined Russia to look very bleak and grey, and maybe that’s still true for Moscow proper, but I was surprised how green and forested the outskirts of Moscow were from the air. It was actually quite lovely. The airport (SVO) was also nice. We complained about our cancelled flight and resulting layover at the Aeroflot desk, and 10 minutes later we were following a tall, blonde speed walker who handed us off to a mustached lady who let us to a charter bus. A whole charter bus for four of us…

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We drove right across the runway to a security gate and were taken to a nearby hotel, where we checked in, were escorted to a floor with a security guard, and left to rest. I keep referring to this as “house arrest” because the security guard was there to keep us IN, not to keep others OUT. But the room was simple and clean and we slept a full eight hours and were given a free meal before being escorted back to our charter bus, this time full of foreigners like us.

STEP 3: Accidentally book the best hotel/hotel room Athens has to offer.

Upon arriving in Athens from Moscow, we caught the very last train of the night from the airport into town. A sudden concern for our own well-being after sitting on a airplane for so long inspired us to carry our luggage up six flights of stairs instead of taking the teeny refrigerator-sized elevator up. When we finally threw our stuff down in the room we were ready. to. crash.

UNTIL…we realized we had a private balcony with this view:

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Hmmmm wat? I booked this hotel thinking it was barely not a hostel, but it was actually the greatest. The Acropolis is a sight to see, especially lit up at night, just looming 512′ over the rest of the town. Bryant and I jumped up and down on the balcony, before heading to the rooftop garden to enjoy the view. Heading to Athens anytime soon? I can’t recommend A for Athens enough.

STEP 4: Only spend one day in Athens.

Once the sun rose on our beautiful view, you could see the abundance of graffiti and trash that covers Athens. I wonder what Athens would look like had spray paint not been invented? Hard to say. We headed to the Acropolis first thing after breakfast on the rooftop garden of our hotel, as we’d heard it gets very crowded in the early afternoon.

People have been building and destroying things on the Acropolis since the FIFTH CENTURY B.C. – let that sit for a minute. The views from the top of the ‘crop (TM) were beautiful – Athens just seems to go on forever.

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We arrived thinking we’d be able to take a self-guided tour but were surprised that few artifacts/structures had so much as a plaque telling what we were looking at. I left feeling like a failure who needed to take a class in Greek history, or at least watch a documentary. I imagined Plato giving me a chastising glance at my lack of historical appreciation for what I was seeing. But then things started to look like this:

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So we got the heck outta dodge.

We walked around the old town the rest of the day, through a bunch of flea markets and shops and the National Gardens. I bought a new purse and Bryant fell down some stairs and spilled his coffee all over himself. All in a day’s work. We got some gyros for two euro and watched the sun go down on a Greek rap battle from our hotel balcony.

If you’re a regular gal like me and are spending a week in Greece, not an aimless backpacker with an affinity for Greek history, don’t spend more than a day in Athens. We enjoyed our day, but I don’t know what we would’ve done with another one.

STEP 4: Ryanair to Santorini

When heading to Santorini, Ryanair, one of the dirt cheap airlines in Europe (I once flew across Spain for 12 euro), is the way to go. Flights from Athens to Santorini are only about 45 minutes and only marginally more expensive than a ferry, which will take you 5-8 hours. Ferries are a great option for getting from island to island, but fly from the mainland to Santorini.

STEP 5: Pick your village

I consulted Santorini Dave to determine that Oia was our place. You should too: http://santorinidave.com/

STEP 6: Air BnB

I am a huge fan of Air B&B, and it’s gotten so popular you can find a place pretty much anywhere these days. Air B&B is a website that allows anyone to rent a shared room, private room, or whole place out to travelers. I’ve had several great experiences with this service, and you get a lot more bang for your buck than you would at a hotel. We stayed at an incredible villa in Oia, the “postcard” town on the island. If you’ve seen the pictures of whitewashed houses stacked on top of each other, they were probably taken in Oia. We stayed at the Villa Marina, and it was perfect. So perfect, in fact, that there were constant crowds at the entry gate to our place trying to take pictures.

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STEP 8: Splurge wisely

Here’s how we ate well and had a blast without spending tons of money:

FOOD: We packed quite a few snacks in our backpacks (cheddar bunnies, cliff bars, etc.) so we wouldn’t feel the need to buy snacks in the airport or on the island. We also went grocery shopping on our first day and bought some basic items so we didn’t have to eat out each meal. Instead of splurging on every meal, we ate a lot affordable and delicious crepes and splurged on a few meals here and there. Our BEST meal on the island (maybe our best meal ever?) was at Roka, our second-best at  The Red Bicycle, and we also paid an outrageous price for some fresh-as-it-gets scorpion fish at Katina. Our favorite breakfast/dessert place was Melenio Café – unreal fruit and yogurt parfaits and good coffee for breakfast, endless amazing desserts for after dinner.

FUN: Renting four-wheelers is a must – you can drive them all over the island and spend days exploring the other villages and beaches. Take these (sort of) trusty steeds to the lighthouse for some spectacular views, to Perissa to drive along the beach, and park in Fira to explore.

One thing to note about Santorini is that it’s not a “beach” place – there are several beaches, but they aren’t what you’d expect. The Red beach and White beach can barely be called beaches (my humble opinion), and the black beach (Perissa) is pretty great except for the fact that the sand is black and will blister your feet – flip flops are a must! If I were you and you were me, we’d spend a day at Perissa and skip the others. Amoudi Bay in Oia is the best place for swimming, but is more like what we’d call a swimming hole in the states. All rocks, platforms/cliffs/rocks to jump off of, etc. The water is gorgeous and crystal clear, but very chilly even into June when we went.

Here’s Bryant doing a gainer at Amoudi Bay. He lived.

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Our big fun splurge was a sunset catamaran cruise that included snorkeling, dinner, and a stop at the hot springs (skip these, they are lukewarm at best and will ruin your bathing suit). That was easily one of my favorite days, and I’d recommend it to anyone visiting the island. There are many companies offering this type of cruise for similar prices.

Our catamaran captain Ilia. Best friends.
Our catamaran captain Ilia. Best friends.

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Finally, I’ll end this post with the donkey rides. You may have seen movies that were set in Greece, and seen people gracefully ride a donkey sidesaddle to their quaint accommodation. This is a lie.

First, the donkeys are mules, and the rides are only available from Amoudi Bay up to a residential area in Oia. It’s strictly a touristy thing. The day before we took our mule ride, we watched from our balcony as a mule spooked and took off up the hill with a girl as she screamed “STOP” over and over in the most blood-curdling voice I’ve ever heard. I think she will be scarred for life.

But, since we are decent horseback riders and it was only 5 euro, we decided to do it anyway. It was hilariously miserable – our mules jostled each other like a group of preteen boys trying to win a three-legged race all the way up the hill, dragging our legs on rocks and running into each other the entire time. The pinnacle of suffering came when another mule turned the corner in front of me, stopped, and pooped DIRECTLY on my thigh. DIRECTLY ON THERE. I think my face in the photo below just says it all. Bryant and I will probably laugh about this experience fifty years from now. It was terrible and everyone should do it.

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If you made it through all 1,882 words of this – I commend you.

 

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6 Steps to Cultivate Community

When our Bible Study group cracked Acts 2 last Tuesday, it didn’t take us long to dive deep into conversation about “community” – what is it? How do we cultivate it? What does it look like at this stage of life?

Acts 2:42-47 paints a beautiful picture of community that the early church modeled. They were devoted to one another; committed to learning and praying and breaking bread together. They “shared everything they had.”

It’s no secret that cultural and technological changes have drastically changed the way we interact with one another. Moreover, my husband and I live in a city where it takes around 30 minutes to get anywhere – double that with rush hour traffic. This alone makes it difficult to have commitments on weeknights, and when you add in work and travel schedules, it becomes clear that having good community is not a passive process.

Here are six simple ideas we try to embrace…

Continue reading at: http://blogsbychristianwomen.com/2015/06/6-steps-cultivate-community/

How We Rest

When getting to know people, one of my favorite questions to ask is, “What is your favorite place on earth?” When I try to answer this question myself, I tend to think of moments in time rather than locations – rounding Camps Bay in an open-top bus as the sun sets; waking up on June 23rd to hop a plane to Mexico; driving country roads with my Dad in his convertible and blasting the instrumental version of Eleanor Rigby – I savor these memories with tenderness and joy. But a specific place?
If you were to ask my husband the question, “What is your favorite place?” he’d respond “EDISTO BEACH” loudly, and with conviction. He’s been making memories at a family house on the sound side of this quiet island since he was a kid, and his enthusiasm for everything about it is unmatched. We took last Friday off and headed south for the long weekend, and one of the friends who joined us happens to be a talented photographer – thanks Sarah Pascutti for the images!

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Seeing my husband’s unbridled joy at sitting on the dock for hours in ratty shorts and a straw hat, catching blue crabs and “living off the land”, made me thoughtful about the rest that he needs, and how rest looks different for each of us.

I used to think of rest as the antithesis of work –  doing nothing. So I’d do my best to have a restful “lazy day” by laying on the couch and watching TV. At the end of a day like this, instead of feeling refreshed and whole, I’d be stir crazy and on the brink of an identity crisis.  I realize that some of you may be thinking my dream is to spend a Saturday on the couch, and that is ok. I enjoy inactivity in short spurts, but I’ve had to realize that long periods of inactivity do not rejuvenate me.

Rest, rather than being the antithesis of work, is about freedom. As Tim Keller puts it,

God liberated his people when they were slaves in Egypt, and in Deuteronomy 5:12–15, God ties the Sabbath to freedom from slavery. Anyone who overworks is really a slave. Anyone who cannot rest from work is a slave—to a need for success, to a materialistic culture, to exploitative employers, to parental expectations, or to all of the above. These slave masters will abuse you if you are not disciplined in the practice of Sabbath rest. Sabbath is a declaration of freedom.

Bryant’s demeanor while we were at Edisto is the best example of rest as a “declaration of freedom” that I can think of. Those who have visited that island with him know that he is free there – enthusiastic, energetic, and, at the end of the day, exhausted. He comes alive and brings the rest of us along with him. As our friend Hannah put it, “I wish we could just bottle (this version of Bryant) up!”

Ironically, the more physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted I am, the harder it is for me to do the things that actually make me feel rested. As mentioned above, long periods of mindless inactivity do not make me feel free, and do not make me come alive. They make me feel like a slave to laziness, to indifference, to next episode playing in 12 seconds… It’s less about turning off my brain, and more about feeding my soul the right things.

For me, as someone who does not “downshift casually”, rest is an act of will – something that I have to prepare for and then intentionally carry out.

Most people mistakenly believe that all you have to do to stop working is not work. The inventors of the Sabbath understood that it was a much more complicated undertaking…The rules did not exist to torture the faithful. They were meant to communicate the insight that interrupting the ceaseless round of striving requires a surprisingly strenuous act of will, one that has to be bolstered by habit as well as by social sanction (Tim Keller).

Prayer is rest. Reading is rest. Writing is rest. Taking a canoe trip across the lake with Bryant is rest.  Quiet conversation with soul-friends is rest. Taking a walk with my Mom is rest. Meditating (I’m terrible at this) is rest. Even exercise can be rest. This is how God restores my soul, grounds me, and reminds me of his goodness in the Psalm 23 sense:

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.

Day 1 in the Wyld Wyld West

Day one of the Hutchins family western adventure began with a very rainy drive to Asheville, NC to catch our connecting flight in Atlanta. Mom and Dad were kind enough to drive and drop our happy trio at the tiny airport and we walked in feeling really confident. Jeff had never flown and Papaw hadn’t flown since 1960, so although it wasn’t his first rodeo, its pretty safe to say a lot has changed in the 53 years since he last boarded a plane. Thankfully, airport security at a place like Asheville’s small airport is a great opportunity to ease yourself into a healthy relationship with the TSA. We arrived an hour before our flight, which by my standards and past experience is incredibly early, so I sat outside and ate a burrito while Papaw and Jeff went through security alone JUST IN CASE it took longer than expected. Here’s a picture that is a pretty great reflection of everyone’s mood right before we boarded our one hour flight to Atlanta.

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The one-hour flight was uneventful and after taking the tram and walking “a country mile” to get to our next gate, we each had separate and delicious dinners and waited out our two-hour layover without much action. The flight to Las Vegas was, again, uneventful other than Papaw getting a crick in his neck from looking out the window too much and all of us feeling like fools when we realized Vegas was on Pacific time, not Mountain time, meaning our flight still had one hour left after we’d gotten all packed up and situated for arrival. Our landing into Vegas was a little rough and we were met with at the gate with all kinds of lights, fanfare, and posters of what appeared to be shirtless firefighters everywhere. We passed a group of slot machines and I said “Ooh let’s all put a quarter in one!”, which was met with disapproving looks from my two companions. This is now my second time to Vegas without dropping a penny in the gambling game, which either makes me a really good person or a really strange person, or neither, since the first time I was twelve and this time I’m with my grandfather.

Our first night, we stayed right off the main strip at a La Quinta and crashed as soon as we got there. We woke up this morning at 6 but it felt like 9, grabbed some continental breakfast, and stopped at the grocery store so we could buy snacks. Jeff bought a cooler for not one, not two, but TWELVE Diet Dr. Peppers (evidence below). Keep in mind that it’s only 24 hours until our next flight, so that’s one Dr. Pepper every two hours. Which is impressive.

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We stopped first at Hoover Dam, where we parked and walked across the top and took plenty of pictures. I’m amazed that something so colossal could be built right in the middle of flowing water. Kudos to engineers and river diversion. Afterwards, we continued on to the Grand Canyon, narrowly avoiding two collisions with other cars who failed to check their blind spot. I tried to convince Papaw and Jeff that they liked jerky so we could stop at one of those seedy jerky outlets in the middle of the desert and we could try some weird food (i.e. armadillo jerky), but no one took the bait, so we forged on.

We finally made it to the south rim of the Grand Canyon and it was certainly more breathtaking than I remember. We thought we’d missed the rain, but it came back…

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I’d argue that the canyon has to be more beautiful with a cloudy sky because it makes the view even more interesting. With clouds, certain sections of the space are shadowed and the sun shines through to highlight others, making the whole picture sort of ominous and magnificent.

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We saw some lightning in the distance and ended up getting drenched before we made it back to the car – not ideal, but part of the adventure. As I write this, we’re back in Williams, AZ, elevation of 6,770 feet, AKA not ideal for jogging. I learned this lesson the hard way about two hours ago.

Tomorrow we take on the Las Vegas strip before flying to Salt Lake City and beyondddddd……..pray for us.

Beautiful timing.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” – Ecclesiastes 3:11

My internship with International Justice Mission finished up on Wednesday with the end of the first annual Northstar conference in Atlanta, GA. The conference was initiated by IJM’s Student Mobilization team for the purpose of equipping college student leaders with an interest the work of justice/the modern-day abolition movement. During our last evening session, I was sitting next to Gary Haugen (IJM founder) as Louie Giglio took the stage and began publicly thanking Gary for his faithfulness in IJM for the past sixteen years. I just sat there, glancing back and forth from Gary to Louie and having this weird out-of-body experience, thinking to myself, “HOW did I get here?”

What’s true is that there is no explanation for the things I’ve done, the opportunities I’ve been afforded, and the things I’ve experienced other than the gift of God’s grace. Let me say that again – it is by God’s grace that I’ve ever done anything noteworthy. When I look back on my life and trace God’s hand throughout it, it is so clear that I’ve had little to do with anything.

I had nothing to do with so many of the things that have made me who I am. I had nothing to do with the fact that I was born into a loving, whole home and raised by parents who love Jesus and love each other really well. It had nothing to do with me that I was given the opportunity to be educated. It had nothing to do with me that my parents taught me the importance of hard work and helped me believe in my abilities. I’ve just tried to do the best I can and squeeze a lot out of live as God directs my steps. Sometimes I do that with a pure heart, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I’ve run from what he wants for me and doors have slammed in my face. Sometimes I really screw things up and forget the purpose for which I was created, and try to make life about achievement.

I like this quote from Dallas Willard:

“Christlikeness of the inner being is not a merely human attainment, of course. It is, finally, a gift of grace. Nevertheless, well-informed human effort is indispensable. Spiritual formation in Christ is not a passive process. Grace does not make us passive. Divine grace is God acting in our life to accomplish what we cannot do on our own. It informs our being and actions and makes them effective in the wisdom and power of God. Hence, grace is not opposed to effort (in actions) but to earning (an attitude).

Paul the Apostle, who perhaps understood grace as none other, remarks on his own efforts for Christ: “By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.” (2 Cor. 15:10) The supernatural outcome that accompanies grace-full action stands out.”

I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to be perfect. Until a few years ago, I felt pretty good about getting what I want and doing things myself without ever really, truly understanding my need for God. That’s a problem for many reasons, but especially when it comes to grace. You see – we need grace, and without it, we’re doomed to a life of never meeting the expectations we set for ourselves. But we can’t rest in grace until we realize we need it.

God wanted to show me some things about His grace this summer. He wanted to show me that walking with Jesus is different from working for Jesus. So he put me in a community of people who valued intimacy with the Lord over worldly success, over popularity, and over charm. He put me in a community of people who live as if what they believe is actually true; people who are desperate for God because they’ve put themselves in positions where they are sure to fail unless God shows up. People who were exercising faith, not just struggling to have faith –  “Great faith, like great strength in general, is revealed by the ease of its workings. Most of what we think we see as the struggle OF faith is really the struggle to act as IF we had faith when in fact we do not.” (Willard)

God chose to put me in such a community, and he chose to do it in the world’s most powerful city. Have you ever been around people like that? In case you’re doubting that they exist, here’s some of them:

God used these people to sharpen me in the Proverbs 27 iron-sharpens-iron kind of way. My friend Laura taught me the incredible value in having a friend who is willing to gently call you out on the junk in your life and won’t let you justify your way out of it. My friend Katrina taught me a lot about thoughtful question asking and active listening as a way to draw people out. My friend Kevin was an amazing example of someone who knows how to have A LOT of fun while still taking intentional time to think through and reflect on (and write out) things that God places on our hearts. My friend Hannah taught me a lot about the value in being vulnerable and real and asking yourself hard questions. My friend Michael taught me a lot about being intentional with people and seeing how “inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on…” (Hebrews 10:24-25). My friend Nathaniel taught me a lot about what a kind, solid, wise man looks like and was a great example of humility and integrity. My friend Ellen made me better by being one of the most genuine, authentic people I’ve ever known.

I could go on and on, but I’m leaving in an hour and a half for Las Vegas, so this post will have to be continued at a later date, or on a later plane.

To end, I’m so thankful that God put me in D.C. this summer, that he surrounded me with the most amazing community I’ve ever witnessed, and drug me through some challenging stuff this summer. I am thankful that he closed other doors, that he didn’t let me come last summer, and that he didn’t let me breeze by just going through the motions of life. This summer I was built up in faith, surrounded by people whose lives demonstrated God’s love, and who will have an influence on my life for many years. And on top of all that, I learned something about my career and what jobs I might be good at…which hilariously seems so secondary. He certainly made this summer beautiful and immeasurably more than I could have asked or imagined.

SF to Reno!

Written on 1/15

I would like to start this blog by saying that my mother, the most organized and put-together woman on earth, went out with a bang in San Francisco by almost missing her flight home. We were sitting in the bed in our pajamas about 9PM last Monday (we love the nightlife) talking about going to the Farmer’s Market before leaving the next day. Dad called Mom to hear about our day, and then said, “Wait, aren’t you supposed to be home tomorrow morning?”  So mom double-checked her e-mail and we freaked out upon realizing that her flight was supposed to leave in two hours.

She threw her stuff together, got dressed, and repeated, “I cannot believe I did this…” as I called a cab for her. She ended up making her flight so I feel comfortable saying that it was hilarious.

I did a little exploring by myself the next morning before catching a (free – thanks Uber!) cab to the Greyhound station at about 3:00. After a brief incident involving my iPhone, a homeless man, and the security guard that I had thankfully befriended, I was on my way to Reno. Greyhound is not exactly the most luxurious mode of transportation, but it was certainly the cheapest at just $15.

I wondered if I would feel safe, but our bus driver was such a large and sassy lady that I was confident she could kill a man without even pausing to pump the brakes. I read for about an hour until it started getting dark, then my neighbor and I turned on the overhead reading lights so we could keep reading. Apparently sassy bus driver didn’t like lights, because she said, “TURN THEM LIGHTS OFF,” which we obeyed without question. My iPhone was dead, so I ended up just sitting there for about 4 hours since I can’t sleep on a bus/plane/train/anything but a bed. I didn’t mind too much, though – after 8 or 9 days of constant movement it was nice to reflect and be still a while.

My (accidental) quest to rescue old people in their peril continued in Sacramento. We had a 15-minute rest stop and I was standing next to the sink in the bathroom to charge my phone, minding my own business. A very old and tiny Chinese lady came out of a stall, tripped over her backpack, and was sailing face-first for the corner of the sink when I caught her in my arms and stood her back up. She didn’t speak English very well, but she said “Ohhhhh you help me!” and had me help her with her backpack and make sure the straps were un-twisted. She then proceeded to try and exit the bathroom via the handicap stall. When this did not work, she looked at me quizzically and said, “Outside?” and I pointed her in the right direction.

We finally made it to Reno a little after 9:00PM. Hailey, one of my dearest friends from my semester abroad in Spain, picked me up at the station. It was so wonderful to see her after a year of trying to dream up a reunion! I spent barely any time in Reno, but I don’t have much good to say about the “biggest little city on Earth” or whatever it’s called. Hailey and I headed straight to Lake Tahoe; Incline Village to be exact.

To be continued!

Atlanta to San Francisco: A weird day in the best way.

I am working on a big blog about Passion but I just need to chronicle the events of today. Most days are an adventure, and today was a travel day so it was an extra-special adventure.

I woke up in Atlanta, GA and my dear friend Laura drove me to the MARTA stop so I could catch a train to the airport. I am pretty proud of myself, because I packed for 15 days in 3 different climates in one backpack and one carry-on suitcase. Shortly after getting on the train, they announced that, “There has been an emergency at the Airport Station and no trains will be running to the airport.” Alright, good, cool. Luckily, I had left with plenty of time to get to the airport, so I hiked my luggage back up to the road and called a cab. The cab I called didn’t come, so I hailed another cab that was passing by. So I hopped in with an old, hard-of-hearing man named Oscar who was blasting Jesus music and had been driving cabs in Atlanta for 34 years. He was 12 hours into a 48 hour shift (is that legal?) and we set on our way. Little did I know, the cab I called was pulling up and the driver saw me get into the other cab. So he followed Oscar and I to the next intersection hanging out the window yelling “Aye yo girl, you got in the wrong cab!” To which Oscar said, “Ohhh he just want all the money,” and I smiled and shrugged like I was confused and had no clue what was happening.

So Oscar and I had a good chat on the way to the airport, we fed a homeless man with some snacks we grouped together, and giggled at other people with road rage. He loves the Falcons, the Braves, and doesn’t like the Hawks because they can only win on the road. It may have been $30 more expensive than my original plan, but the company was much better.

My flight was direct from Atlanta to San Francisco, and I was in the middle seat between Jill from Florida and ? from India/Palo Alto. We were the best of airplane friends and they gave me all kinds of suggestions about where to go around town…so much so that it was on the edge of overwhelming, and ? told me all about his recent engagement and Indian Wedding customs. I slept exactly zero seconds of our 5 hour flight, and spend most of my time trying to read but not being able to hold my eyes open, but not being able to fall asleep. We’ll call it sleep limbo.

I left the terminal to catch the train to the other train (BART) where I was meeting Mom, and as I was approaching the escalator I watched as an older lady about halfway up tripped backwards over her suitcase and started tumbling down. I dropped all my stuff and sprinted up to the Emergency Stop button and helped her up. Many people on/about to board the escalator seemed annoyed that they now had to carry their baggage up a large flight of stairs, but when she said, “Oh, thank you for saving me!” I didn’t feel too self conscious about the glares. She went on her way and I used the courtesy phone to call the non-emergency police line so someone could come turn the escalator back on. What I didn’t realize was that calling the police means you have to give them all your information (?) , so my, “Hey, someone just needs to come turn the escalator back on…” was met with, “Ok, but we’ll need to get some information first.”

Anyways, my mother and I finally reunited and after wandering around in confusion for a little trying to get on the right train into the city. The BART is by far the noisiest/squeakiest mode of public transportation that I’ve ever used and it was also where another incident of good citizenship happened and I helped a lady shove her giant designer suitcases out from under a seat as she panicked/almost missed her stop and lost her son on the platform.

We arrived at our hotel in Downtown San Francisco and the elevator was broken. We were on the third floor, so the man at the front desk said, “Hold on, we’ll get you someone to help with the bags!” Out came a TINY Chinese man – literally 4’11” and at least sixty years old. I didn’t even want him to pick up my bag because I thought he might get squished. I started to protest but he threw on my backpack and hoisted my luggage ONTO his head, and charged up three flights of stairs. I wanted to say, “You’re just like a little Sherpa!” but I wasn’t sure if that was offensive, so instead I just kind of stood their looking stunned.

We “yelped” for some cheap dinner as ? recommended on the plane, and ended up at little hole in the wall Middle Eastern place that reeked of weed (we think it was drifting in from outside). Sound charming? We made friends with the owner at as we were ordering she looked out the window and said, “Showtime.” Apparently from 4-6 in SF, in an effort to speed up after-work traffic, you can’t park anywhere or you’ll get towed + a $500 ticket, or something like that. We satt with her as cars were towed and a clever homeless man took a glance around before picking a parking meter with a paperclip.

The whole day seemed like some kind of weird but definitely scripted reality show. Tomorrow Mom and I are renting bikes and riding all along the Bay and across the Golden Gate bridge. Today was such an adventure and we didn’t even try to do anything fun, so I can’t wait to see what the rest of the week holds.