Masters and Masterpieces: Our Final Day in Florence

Becoming Art at Uffizi

Knowing it was our last day in Florence was not a pleasant thought to wake up to. Our first activity of the day wasn’t especially exciting either, but it was required, so off we went to the Red Cross COVID testing center. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a part of me hoping we’d all be positive and have to stay another 10 days. Alas, we were all COVID-free and reality was barreling towards us like a high speed European train.

After our tests, we were famished so we stopped for some pizza on our way to our next destination. There’s something I can’t believe no one talks about, so I’m going to talk about it. Italian restaurants do not, I repeat, do not cut their pizzas before they serve them to you. I can’t even tell you how confused we were the first time they put whole, uncut pizzas in front of us and walked away. We all just kind of sat there for a second, looking at our plates and waiting for the waiter to come back with a pizza cutter, until we realized we were on our own. Now at the end of our trip, however, we were seasoned and experienced Italian pizza-eaters, so we hacked away at our pies with a knife and fork, and hit the cobblestone streets for our last day of Florentine touristing.

The Basilica of Santa Croce is an ornate building similar to the Duomo in its use of pink and green marble, and is as filled with history as anyplace else in Florence. In fact, it’s what’s, or who’s, inside the basilica that sets it apart. Buried inside Santa Croce are celebrities so big they only need one name, like Madonna or Prince. But these celebrities are a bit more old school: Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli.

For some reason, this was the only place that we had difficulty getting into. There were two obstacles. First, Carey was told she had to cover her shoulders. Apparently the god that supposedly created us doesn’t like shoulders. Or legs. Or really any skin on a woman’s body. They were passing out mesh wraps to all women in shorts, as well, which I found bizarre considering the wraps were see-through. Maybe God likes a peepshow, who knows. The second obstacle was that Carey had received the Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine, which only required one dose and wasn’t used in Europe, so the man checking cards was very confused. Language was a challenge in this particular instance, but we were eventually able to convey the information to someone who understood, wrap a shawl around Carey’s shoulders, and walk our heathen selves into the basilica.

We’d grown accustomed to the decadence and grandeur of the churches we’d seen, and the Basilica of Santa Croce is no exception. A cavernous building filled with intricate stone and woodwork, priceless statues and paintings, ornate stained glass windows, and ledger stones covering the floors to commemorate the deceased parishioners buried beneath. But it wasn’t the parishioners under our feet that got this history nerd crying for the billionth time in Europe, it was who was interred along the walls.

The first I came to was Machiavelli. Arguably something of a douche, and certainly not my favorite, so I continued on. No tears, I got this. Next up was Michelangelo. GOAT alert! There lied one of the most magnificent talents in human history. Masterpiece after masterpiece, he filled our world with beauty, and I felt privileged to pay my respects. Shit, I don’t got this. Finally I reached the burial place of Galileo Galilei, Father of Astronomy and nemesis of the Catholic Church. There was no more holding back the tears, so I settled for not ugly-crying. Galileo was brilliant, curious, and filled with a courage none of us can even comprehend. He stood on the shoulders of other brilliant minds of antiquity, and allowed future brilliance to stand on his. All I could do as I stood there was choke out a broken, “Thank you,” and try to pull my nerdy-ass self together.

We walked outside to the courtyard and heard some rather eerie music coming from inside another room within the Santa Croce complex. We parted thick curtains covering the doorway, and when we got inside I wondered why there hadn’t been a sign above the entry saying, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here,” cause we had just walked into Dante’s Nine Circles of Hell (such a lost opportunity). The room was dark, and on every wall were moving pictures, all weird scenes of humans in anguish, as freaky-ass chanting played through hidden speakers. Were I obsessed with Dante the way I’m obsessed with the Medici, I may have enjoyed the experience. But it was hot and stuffy, and I quickly went back outside to the fresh air.

There was one more highlight hidden inside Santa Croce. In the Refectory, hanging on a mechanical pulley system so it can be lifted quickly in the event of a flood, is Vasari’s massive painting, The Last Supper. No, this is not Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting by the same name which hangs in Milan, but a masterpiece none the less and, though I’m a big da Vinci fan, I may like Vasari’s version better.

Next, we headed to the Uffizi Gallery, our last museum of the trip. It was a somewhat cloudy day, and we arrived at the Uffizi with time to spare before our scheduled entry, so we sat on the steps in the courtyard, people watching and debating whether or not to purchase a painting from one of the sidewalk artists selling their work. After a few minutes, the clouds began to cry (for once, it wasn’t me) and we were in a downpour. It was the first rain of the entire trip, and given how hot it had been, it was quite welcome.

The Uffizi occupies a huge, gorgeous building right on the Arno River. There are statues, busts, paintings, tapestries; seemingly something amazing around every corner. We walked the hall lined with busts of Roman rulers, saw works by da Vinci, Vasari, Rembrandt, so many Botticellis, and countless others. I gushed over Medici portraits, Carey high-fived ancient statues, both girls posed as art in places that had none, and we even saw a window imprint in a stairwell, left there in the 90’s by the detonation of a mafia bomb, but there were two particular pieces in this gallery that I was on a mission to see.

When I walked into the rooms where they were displayed the usual teary-eyed Steph was back. There they were! The Birth of Venus and Primavera, Simonetta Vespucci looking radiant as a goddess, just as Botticelli intended. They were bigger than I’d imagined, and just so magnificent. I stared at them, studied them, wiped away the tears, snapped endless photos, and finally relented and moved on, but not before swinging by the gift shop to pick up some prints. Sure, you can get Botticelli prints anywhere, but where better than the museum the originals call home?

When we left the Uffizi we headed back to the flat to begin the ultra-depressing task of packing. We had one more day in Europe, but it was our last day in Florence. As we walked, I was trying to mentally soak it all in. The narrow, cobblestone streets, the centuries old buildings, the smell of the leather shops and trattorias as we passed by. I wanted to engrave every detail into my mind. The entire trip had been incredible, and despite my swollen ankles and sore feet, I didn’t want it to end.

We enjoyed a long, leisurely dinner that evening, free from coked-up, singing waiters. The night was beautiful and warm, and the waiter immediately fell in love with Liv and brought us a round of Prosecco on the house. Our meal was delicious, we ordered more wine, and were questioning whether we had room for our dessert when the waiter complimented Olivia’s perfume and promised a free surprise if she indeed finished her dessert. She was stuffed, but she’s no quitter, so she joined the Clean Plate Club, and the waiter brought us a round of limoncello, also on the house. The perfect end to a magical time in this Renaissance wonderland.

I stared at Brunelleschi’s Dome for hours that evening, as if I could somehow bring a piece of it with me if I stared long enough. Our time in Florence, and in Europe as a whole, had been absolutely incredible. In the morning we would pick up our rental car and hit the roads of the rolling Tuscan hills, but first one last sleep in the city I’d fallen head over heels for. Come back next week to read about the final day of our epic European Ladycation! Until then, stay chill and keep hiking, my friends!

Iconic Art and Clumsy Come-Ons: Our Second Day in Florence

Brunelleschi's Dome at the Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore

Waking up in Florence, seeing the Duomo the moment I opened my eyes, could simply never get old. I could’ve lived happily in our little Florentine apartment forever. While the girls were getting prettied up for the day, I enjoyed a cigarette on the balcony and took a moment to just appreciate where I was. The moment, however, was brief, cause we had a centuries old murder scene, and a very tall, quiet, naked man to see!

My last post mentioned the Pazzi Conspiracy, which I said I’d explain, so let’s go back to April 26th, 1478 for this week’s edition of Steph’s History-Nerd Porn. The Medici were the most powerful banking family in Italy. Their primary rival, the Pazzi family, were sick of their second place status, and hatched a plot to essentially execute a hostile takeover through corporate assassination and a coup d’etat all mixed into one. Everything had to happen simultaneously and flawlessly, they had to kill both Medici brothers and seize control of the government all at once or they’d be totally screwed. So, with the blessing of the Pope, while some of them were readying an attack against the Florentine government, the rest were attending mass in the cathedral alongside the Medici. When the priest raised the host, the assassins pulled daggers, concealed in their tunics, and attacked. Lorenzo received a gash to his neck but was able to escape to the sacristy without mortal wounds. His brother, Giuliano, wasn’t so lucky. He was stabbed multiple times, including once in the head, and bled to death on the cathedral floor. They had only gotten half. The Pazzi takeover of the government hadn’t been successful, either. They were totally screwed. The entire city rose up against the conspirators. All said and done, more than 80 people were executed for some level of participation in the plot (but not the Pope, which is total bullshit).

One of the things I most wanted to do on this trip was to walk into the Duomo sanctuary and actually be standing in the place where it all went down. However, this was one of those times my frugality trumped my dream and led to nothing but regret. Entrance to the Duomo is free, but tickets are sold to climb the dome stairs, view the museum, etc. Since our time and funds were limited, I decided not to buy tickets and just explore the sanctuary/murder scene. Such a rookie move I’m embarrassed to even type it. We got there early, thinking we’d be at the front of the line when they opened. 45 minutes before they opened their doors the line was already wrapped halfway around the building. We didn’t have enough time to wait in the line and make our scheduled entry at the museum, so I never got to fulfill that particular fantasy, and that alone all but guarantees I will go back to Florence.

The Galleria dell’Accademia, our second stop of the day, is a hugely popular museum and it’s solely due to one particular piece housed within: Michelangelo’s Statue of David (you didn’t think we were going to see an actual naked man, did you? Dirty girl!). We slowly made our way inside, and as soon as we entered the marble hallway, there he was. Bigger than I’d imagined, casually gazing off into the distance, David was towering over everyone and damn, he was beautiful!

The closer we got the more detailed he became. Everyone talks about his hands, and as I stood there staring up at them I knew why. It was almost hard to believe they weren’t real. I half expected to see a finger twitch as I studied him. The talent it took to create something so realistic, so detailed and flawless, so massive, out of a single slab of rock, is almost unfathomable. David took my breath away. Of course, beyond the artistic appreciation, we also had a fantastic time giggling at his package like children.

It became clear as we explored the rest of the building that David was the singular draw to the Galleria dell’Accademia (as well as several lesser known Michelangelos). The rest was small, almost exclusively religious in nature, and not particularly to our taste. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves anyway, the girls re-enacting some of the sculptures to hilarious effect, and me puzzling over a painting of a disturbingly aggressive baby Jesus.

When we left the museum it was already lunchtime and we were starving. We stopped at Pizza Napoli 1955, a charming and delicious little trattoria, and were escorted to a table by a very enthusiastic young waiter. He seemed really eager, and a little anxious, and it didn’t take long to figure out why. As he was giving us our place settings, he looked at Olivia and said he was very “excited” to serve her and told her, “You have beautiful eyes, beautiful eyes,” and then he dropped her silverware. Nervous and embarrassed, he quickly picked everything up, said something else about Liv’s beauty, and ran away. It was the clumsiest, most hilarious come-on I’ve ever seen. Liv was totally embarrassed, but also hella flattered, and when we left, the adorable little waiter gave her a, “Ciao, bella!” Between that and Carey getting hit on at the Eiffel Tower, the girls decided they were destined to score European husbands.

Our next stop was the Museo Galileo, an entire museum dedicated to the Father of Astronomy. While the museum has a great many things, the sole reason I wanted to go was rooted in my obsession with history and generally negative opinion of the Catholic Church.

In the early 17th Century, Europe was under the thumb of the Catholic Church which, at the time, was little more than a massive, well organized boys’ club teeming with greedy, corrupt, power-hungry men as eager to violate their vow of poverty as their vow of celibacy. So, when Galileo looked up at the sky through his new telescope (which he built by figuring out the principle behind telescopes from Holland, then building one 10 times more powerful) he discovered that Copernicus was right. The sun is stationary, with the planets in orbit around it, and the Bible was wrong! The Church completely lost its shit. It took another 20 years, but Galileo was ultimately tried and found guilty of heresy by the Inquisition and sentenced to house arrest in perpetuity. It wasn’t until an “investigation” in 1984 that the Catholic Church finally admitted Galileo was wrongfully convicted.

The Grand Duke of Tuscany, Ferdinando II de Medici took him in, where he lived under their protection until his death in 1642. While the Galilei family was interred in the Basilica of Santa Croce sanctuary, Galileo was initially buried in a smaller chapel attached to the Basilica, his family fearing retribution from the Church if they honored their supposedly dishonorable relative. But a century later, followers with enough clout and money were able to have his body moved into the Basilica sanctuary and commission a beautiful monument to mark his place of rest. In the process of moving him, however, things got a little weird. The movers decided to also remove three of his fingers, a tooth and a vertebrae before placing him in his new, fancy resting place.

One of those fingers, notably the middle finger, was said to be on display at the Museo Galileo in Florence, and I was not about to pass up the opportunity to see the Father of Modern Science and Astronomy flipping the bird at the Catholic Church for all eternity.

We paid the admission fee and began roaming the floors of the museum in search of Galileo’s severed fingers. One by one we descended from the top back to the bottom floor with no sign of them. That’s when we did another Google search and discovered that the fingers had been moved. Again. I never thought I would be so upset about not seeing severed finger bones.

Luckily, our next stop lifted my spirits: The Medici Chapels at the Basilica of San Lorenzo, tomb of the Medici! There are two main chambers where the Medici family are interred. One, a more lavishly adorned room with colored marble and intricate decorations where later Medici were laid to rest. The other a more simple, older room, containing the remains of earlier Medici, including my two favorites: Lorenzo Il Magnifico, and Giuliano Il Sexy, with monuments carved by Michelangelo. If you’ve been reading this European series, I bet you can guess what I did as I stood before the graves of Lorenzo and Giuliano (if you guessed cry like a little bitch baby, you are correct!).

After we’d paid our respects we walked back to our apartment, stopping to pick up some desserts on our way. We had an early dinner that evening and ended up perusing the UberEats McDonald’s menu for late night snacks, yet again. The “Smarties McFlurry,” “My Selection Chicken Pepper,” and ” Le Ricche Fries Cheddar,” sounded too alluring for the girls to pass up.

Ordering European McDonald’s can be quite entertaining. The “Smarties McFlurry” did not, in fact, contain Smarties and was actually an M&M McFlurry. The My Selection Chicken Pepper was nothing to write home about, and the Le Ricche Fries were just fries with a squirt of cheddar and, inexplicably, a little wooden spoon at the bottom. We laughed harder than I ever expected a McDonald’s order to warrant. It was so memorable, in fact, that Carey still has a screenshot of the digital receipt.

With bellies full of pasta, wine, and whatever the hell McDonald’s puts in their food we finally went to bed. In the morning we’d wake up early to head to the Red Cross COVID testing site in preparation for our flight back across the pond to America, which was approaching faster than we’d have liked. I hope you’ll come back to read about our last couple days in Europe as our epic Ladycation comes to an end. In the meantime, stay chill and keep hiking, my friends!

Flirting with the Finer Things: Getting Posh in Paris

If there’s one word I’d use to describe Paris, it’s posh. The fashion capital of the world, a city dripping with gold and luxury, Paris is a place for the average Joe to flirt with the finer things. The finest restaurants, designers, hotels, wines–everything is fancier in Paris. While we were traveling on a budget, I still wanted us to have the full Parisian experience, so I worked some of that finery into our itinerary.

First up was a history-nerd stop at the Musee de l’Armee. The Museum houses a massive collection of military memorabilia, including the remains of Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon’s fancy-ass casket is inside an enormous marble rotunda, with the skeletal remains of his horse suspended above it. Quite the pretentious digs to spend eternity in, but I think that was the point.

Next up was the Musee d’Orsay, which wound up being my favorite museum of the trip. Renoir, Monet, Van Gogh, Degas; their collection contains some of the finest pieces by the finest artists to ever have lived. Carey was moved to giddiness by Van Gogh’s Stary Night Over the Rhine, Olivia fell madly in love with Renoir, and the Monets literally made me cry. Seeing them up close, the color, the texture, the detail, was awe-inspiring. When we came to Van Gogh’s self portrait that was likely his last piece before committing suicide, we were all overcome with emotion. None of us are “art people,” but the extensive, stunning collection at the Musee d’Orsay certainly made us understand why some people are.

The downside to traveling with me is that I’m the pickiest eater you’ll ever meet (until you meet my oldest son), so finding a restaurant with something I’ll eat can be challenging. That was especially true in France, where the food isn’t at all to my taste. I wanted the girls to be able to experience French cuisine, but I also didn’t want to gag my way through every meal. Luckily, European restaurants have their menus posted outside, so we were able to read them before deciding whether or not to go in. We quickly found an adorable bistro with authentic French food and the most American thing in the world: hamburger and fries. Sold!

The main event in Paris is undoubtedly the Eiffel Tower, and we planned to do it right. You can probably guess how excited we were on the way there, all dressed up and ready to spoil ourselves from the top of the world. Once again, we were blown away by the enormity of the monument. We knew she was tall, but damn, it’s a long way to the top of Paris’ most famous landmark. Even the footprint of the tower was bigger than I expected.

We’d opted for the premium ticket option (highly recommend) that allowed us access to all three levels via elevator. We stopped first at the 2nd level with its viewing deck large enough to allow people space to maneuver around each other without too much crowding. We meandered all the way around, taking in the view and posing for what turned out to be laughably awful pictures by their overpriced photographers, before continuing to the top floor.

I’m claustrophobic and afraid of heights so I was concerned that the elevator ride would be similar to the one I took to the top of the St. Louis Arch (a tiny, cramped, egg-shaped capsule where I very nearly hyperventilated). The elevator wasn’t as small as I’d expected, but it was made of glass, which means watching the city fall farther and farther away the higher you ascend, so I was grateful I’d taken a Xanax on our way there. Once we got to the top I did alright, though I didn’t spend much time standing near the railing.

The view from the top of the Eiffel Tower is spectacular. The top viewing platform is significantly smaller than the lower levels (obviously), and it was a bit crowded (which weirdly made me feel safer), but there’s champagne, so. . . Is it ridiculously expensive? Of course. Was it worth it? Hell yes! A champagne toast atop the Eiffel Tower is the epitome of fancy! We sipped our champagne as we wandered around the platform, getting a full 360 degree view over the city. We saw Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur, even the mini Statue of Liberty on the River Seine. At one point my daughter said, “I’m so freaking happy right now!” and my heart swelled till I thought it would burst. This was why I wanted to bring my daughter to Paris. In that moment I knew we were both checking something off our bucket lists.

Once we’d finished our champagne, we decided it was time for more cocktails, so we headed back down to take some pictures and call another Uber. A Mercedes arrived to pick us up, which was fabulously appropriate given our destination was one of the swankiest, most luxurious joints in town: Bar Hemingway at The Hotel Ritz. In the early to mid 20th Century the Hotel Ritz was home to icons like Coco Chanel and Ernest Hemingway. The Nazis actually took over the hotel during their occupation of Paris in WWII, and the bartender (and several members of the hotel staff) became a spy to help the French Resistance. When Paris was liberated by Allied Forces Ernest Hemingway was the first American in the city (after essentially stealing a military vehicle), saying he was on his way to “liberate the cellar at the Hotel Ritz!” He did just that, then went on a multi-day bender to celebrate. The bar is now named in his honor, and it’s what I was most excited for in Paris.

We rolled up in our fancy ride and were greeted by the doorman with a posh-sounding, “Bonjour, mademoiselles,” before he graciously directed us to Bar Hemingway, which was on the other side of the hotel. We were in awe as we gawked at the Versaci gowns, Cartier jewelry, and MacCallan Scotch on display along the luxurious hallways, and I had a keen sense of not belonging, like they’d kick us out if they saw I was wearing Old Navy pants. In my head I kept hearing, “So this is how the other half lives.”

Bar Hemingway itself is small and intimate, paneled in dark wood, with plush leather benches, and walls covered in Hemingway memorabilia and books. We were escorted to a tiny table, and provided with cucumber water and little bowls of chips, nuts, and olives. To give you an idea of how swanky it is, their signature drink is a Ritz Sidecar, which is made with cognac from the 19th Century, and costs almost $2000. I couldn’t even afford to lick the damn glass, much less fathom the kind of wealth required to think nothing of spending that much on a single cocktail. Throwing down $45 per drink was hard enough, and took weeks of saving to accomplish. But when the cocktails arrived with fresh-cut white roses, and tasted absolutely divine, it was entirely worth it! Elegant, refined and classy, just like I’d planned our evening to be.

We savored each sip, and were having way too much fun to leave, so we decided to order a second cocktail. It was about half way through drink number two (three if you count the earlier glass of champagne) when the strength of the drinks, and the fact that we hadn’t eaten a meal since lunch became apparent. We were beginning to go from classy and refined to boisterous and goofy.

We thought we’d spend 45 minutes to an hour at Bar Hemingway. We ended up staying for three hours, six bowls of chips, and a friendly conversation with the rich, honeymooning couple from Manhattan at a nearby table. The entire experience was exceptional, and when another Mercedes arrived to take us back to our AirBnb it was the perfect end to our night of fanciness.

We needed dinner when we got back to Suresnes so we decided to order some more McDonald’s, which felt strangely comforting after a night of unusual finery. There’s just nothing more average-American than a burger and fries from Mickey D’s. However, I’d be remiss to not mention that their “Chicken Big Tasty” was neither big nor tasty, and the “Croque McDo” ought to be re-named the Croque McDon’t. If there’s one thing America does better than France it’s fast food, though I’m not sure that’s something we should necessarily take pride in.

We watched the Eiffel Tower’s Twinkle Show again before bed, and, like each night of our trip, we were exhausted and fell soundly asleep within moments of our heads hitting our pillows. Our posh day in Paris had been pure magic, and we still had more finery to come. Stop by next week to read about our next day in Paris, complete with a fancy-schmancy dinner cruise on the River Seine. In the meantime, stay chill and keep hiking, my friends.

Seattle, The Last Hurrah: The Night Kevin Thought He Was Getting Lucky

Leaving Mount Rainier National Park was bittersweet. Though our bodies were fatigued from all our wilderness adventures, we’d loved every minute of it, and knowing our Ladycation was coming to an end was a little depressing.

Despite Lindsey’s blisters, the hike down the mountain went pretty quickly. All downhill this time, it took half as long as going up. And, as an added bonus, the view was improved by two incredibly sexy man-hikers we came upon, who were on their way up the mountain. We chatted with them for a couple minutes, and after what ended up being some very odd flirting that started to feel a little weird, we decided to move on. Sexiness only gets you so far, gentlemen. We continued on our way, made it to the car, and drove back to civilization.IMG_3856

We stopped at a little burger joint in Ashford, just outside the park for lunch, where we devoured our food before driving back to Seattle where we had a hotel room for our last night in Washington. Once we got checked in, our first order of business was to shower. Nothing beats that first shower after days in the wilderness. After we’d gotten clean and fresh it was time to get fancy and go out on the town. Lindsey and I’s ladycations are such a good representation of who we are: strong, beautiful, and active; dirty, natural, real, and sassy; occasionally fancy.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a lot more social when I’m on vacation than I am when I’m at home. I just like people more when I’m on vacay. A perfect example of this would be a trip I recently made to the gas station to get a pack of smokes. That’s all I wanted. I didn’t want to leave my house at all, but addiction’s a bitch, so I put my big girl pants on and got in the car. Once I got there an old, toothless, drunk woman in front of me in line wouldn’t stop talking. I assume it was a misguided attempt to seem sober (something she most definitely was not), but I really just wanted to get my smokes without having any actual human interaction.

This dirty, old, hot mess of a woman was talking the cashier’s ear off about her mother who’d died of brain cancer (9 years ago). “They gave her 2 months, she lived 2 years—and I mean she was up and walkin’ around, ya know? She was good. Those doctors don’t know anything.” I felt so bad for the cashier, who looked like she was in her own personal hell, but all I wanted to do was pay for my smokes and go home. Instead, this lady kept looking back at me while she talked, like she wanted to let me in on their conversation. No thanks, hard pass. I did everything I could to ignore her, including staring at the candy bars (I don’t even like candy bars) like I was trying to eat them with my eyes. I would’ve bought the whole damn rack of ’em to keep from talking to that broad.IMG_3861

Had I been on vacation, however, I would’ve had a much different reaction. Generally, I’m in a better mood when I’m traveling. If a stranger tries to talk to me while I’m in a new city, I jump at the chance. It’s a part of the experience. I should probably try to live everyday that way, but Cleveland. . .

We had dinner reservations at The Pink Door, and figured we’d just play it by ear after that. We arrived at the restaurant in an Uber whose driver dropped us off right by the door, despite there not being an actual street there, but an alley that was strictly for, and crawling with pedestrians. We certainly know how to make an entrance. After ordering a cocktail at the bar, we were seated on their outdoor patio. Although we were disappointed that we didn’t get to see the burlesque show, the food, atmosphere and service were perfecto.IMG_3869

Lindsey had heard from some friends about a bar at Pike Place Market, nearby the restaurant, so we walked over to check it out. Il Bistro is an easy-to-miss spot right outside the entrance to the market, sort of underneath it. It has a hip, almost speakeasy feel to it. Though they serve food, which we were told is fantastic, we arrived too late to order, and were still full from dinner anyway. We just wanted to get our drink on.

Once we sat at the bar the cute, young bartender came over for our drink orders. He was tall, sexy, and gave off a hip vibe that befit the establishment he was slinging drinks for. He just seemed to somehow go with the place. He was charming and gracious, no doubt because he knows that flirting is the best way to elicit tips from drunk women. I told him to make me something sweet, that I liked strawberry, and I have no idea what he made me, or what was in it, but it was freaking delicious, and very strong. He’s like the Walter White of bartenders: an artist.IMG_3877

There were all sorts of people in the bar. Because we were on vacation, and also because we were drunk by this point, we started chatting up the people around us. Lindsey was talking music with a guy in a baseball cap with a flat rim, and I got to know the couple next to me, Dirk and Andrew. We chatted and laughed and drank for hours with our new friends; Dapper Dan, smooth as hell, moving behind the bar like some sort of bartending ballerina (minus the tights). Lindsey wanted her drink carbonated and voila, Dan made it so. It felt like we were at the center of the activity, like our vibes were drawing people to us. We were having a fabulous time.IMG_3892

I noticed an attractive man sitting alone at a table near the bar. He was well dressed, in his late 30’s, with dark, salt and pepper hair, and a beard. We made eye contact a few times before I went over and sat down at his table. I’m not sure if he wanted that or not, but I’d had enough of Dan’s cocktails to not particularly care. I had become the drunk old woman in the gas station. Those in glass houses. . .

I introduced myself. He said his name was Kevin, that he’d just gotten off work, and wanted to have a nightcap before heading home. When I asked him what he did for a living and he told me he was a wine sommelier I decided meeting him was fate. I love wine, he knows wine. Destiny.IMG_3874

I chatted with Kevin for a while while Lindsey chatted with some of the other bar patrons until the bar was closing, and it looked like our night had to end. But we were still enjoying ourselves so we decided to simply move the party elsewhere.

We’d heard from one of the people in the bar about the Great Gum Wall of Seattle that was literally right around the corner. How I’d not read about it during my research is a mystery. Obviously we had to see it, so Kevin walked us there and Lindsey and I each added a piece of gum to the collection. At the time, we found it hysterically entertaining (in Cleveland I would’ve simply found it disgusting).IMG_3915

We’d planned on taking an Uber back to the hotel, but Kevin offered to give us a ride, and we were more than happy to take him up on it. I’m not 100% sure what Kevin’s expectations were, but going back to a hotel with two drunk women. . . I can guess. And although this guy was totally sexy, and my occasional irrational optimism causes me never to travel without condoms, once we got to the hotel, it just seemed weird.

Neither Lindsey or myself had any interest in getting nekkid, we were only interested in going to sleep. We hung out for maybe half an hour. We talked a little bit and smoked some weed, but without the noise and energy of the bar (and with our buzz fading), we were sort of ready to just go to bed. Being in that hotel room, staring at the empty beds, may potentially have put Kevin in the mood to get freaky, but we were looking at the beds like, I want to be so up in you. . . Alone.

Poor Kevin. He probably thought he was about to have a threesome, but ended up going home without so much as a peek at our boobs to put in his spank bank. Sorry not sorry, Kev, but thanks for the ride home and for being a gentleman. Despite his probable disappointment, it was a great memory to take home from our last night in Washington.

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you’ll come back again next week for LadycationSunday when Lindsey and I’s adventure concludes. Hint: It has a happy ending.

Follow Ladycations to stay up to date on my latest trips, tips, and tales. Stay chill and keep hiking, my friends!


Las Vegas Shenanigans: A Family Affair

Las Vegas Strip from the airplane window

Not all of my vacations are Ladycations. I’m all about travel of any kind; an equal opportunity traveler, if you will. One of the most fun “Othercations” I took was when my step-sister, Sara, got married. She and her fiancé, Samson, had just moved to Las Vegas and were to be wed at Mandalay Bay. I was goin’ to Vegas, baby.IMG_3511

I’d never really had a desire to go to Las Vegas, to be honest. I get anxious in crowds, I don’t like noise and chaos, I don’t gamble; it just didn’t seem like my kinda place. And going there with my three teenage children? It gave me heartburn just thinking about it. But I wasn’t going to miss Sara’s wedding, and a vacation is a vacation, so off we went.

I flew to Minnesota with my daughter when she was one year old. It was one of the worst experiences of my life. Flying with kids is a lot easier when they’re teenagers. For one thing, teenagers don’t poop themselves mid-flight. They also don’t scream bloody murder, and thrash around like they’re possessed by demons. So apart from my sixteen year old son being a bit nervous on take off, the flight was a breeze.IMG_3533

It was 8:30 when we landed, which was 11:30 Cleveland time, so the kids were beat. Once we got checked into the hotel, they went right to bed. I wasn’t anywhere near tired, however, so my dad and I headed down to the casino and met up with my brother, Chris, and our other step-sister, Anna. While my dad and Anna were ready to call it a night, my brother and I, as usual, were not.

landline phone in las vegas
Chris talking on a random phone in the Cosmopolitan

We hit The Strip, where our first order of business was finding a big slushie drink. I was in Vegas, I wanted a giant margarita in my hand immediately. We walked from our hotel, the Excalibur, through New York New York and MGM Grand, to the Cosmopolitan. Everywhere we went, we played a few slots, and ordered a drink. Every time the ladies came around to get our drink order, my brother asked if they had the Macallan, his favorite scotch, on the freebie list. And every time he asked, they said “no.” Sadness.

I was not sad at all, though, because I kept winning! We were playing quarter slots. I need my money, I can’t just throw it all in a machine and risk it being gone forever. I’m a single mom, and Mama’s got bills to pay. So when I won $45 on Ellen and Game of Thrones slots, I felt like I’d just won Who Wants to Be A Millionaire. I was in love with Vegas.

red high heel at cosmopolitan
I’m a sucker for a red stiletto

Our next stop was Paris. We sat down at another slot machine and, when the waitress came over, my brother once again asked if they had the Macallan. I don’t think either one of us were prepared when she said, “Sure, and for you?” I blinked, ordered my vodka-cranberry and, when she walked away, my brother and I looked at each other in disbelief. Minds: blown. Paris was most definitely our favorite casino of the night.

We gambled long enough for Chris to drink two Macallans and, when we realized it was almost four in the morning, decided we should probably head back to the hotel. We walked outside and started stumbling down the street; laughing, taking pictures, and talking to random strangers. We’d been going like that for about a half hour before we realized we’d been walking in the wrong direction the whole time. We felt stupid for half a heartbeat or so, and then we just laughed and turned around.IMG_3551

Whenever my brother was out without me he was constantly getting approached by “ladies of the evening.” He flew in the night before we did, and while he was alone and walking the strip that night, a woman approached him. Being the Midwesterner that he is, it took a while before he realized what was happening: this scantily clad, incredibly friendly, young lady walking down the street with him was on the clock. I think it was his, “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore,” moment. It must be easier to get laid in Vegas than in any other city in the world.

ellen degeneres slot machine
Hangin’ out with Ellen. She gave me over $30. Thanks, Ellen!

As we walked we kept passing old men, in expensive suits, with women in their twenties on their arms who were wearing dresses that barely covered their lady bits, heels as high as the slushie drink I was carrying, and more makeup than a Maybelline ad. (Maybe she’s born with it. Maybe it’s prostitution.) So to pass the time on the long walk back, we turned it into a game: Girlfriend or Hooker? If you’ve never played it while walking the Vegas strip late at night, you should try it, it’s pretty entertaining. And not in a “judging their lifestyle choices” sort of way, but more of a, “wow, I hope she’s getting paid a lot for that, this is such an interesting intersection of humanity, and I want to remember that dude’s face for the sketch artist” sort of way.

Despite our accidental detour and stopping to take a million ridiculous pictures, we managed to find our way back to our hotel safe and sound. The kids were snoring when I got back to the room, and I was out before my head hit the pillow. Vegas, as it turns out, is fabulous. . . as long as you’re drunk. Viva Las Vegas!

Rattlesnake Mountain Hike: Teenage Wasteland

Narrowing down our choice for a day hike near Seattle was tough. We only had one day set aside so we had to make it count, and there are so many options. Ultimately I decided on Rattlesnake Mountain so we could get used to hiking at higher elevations, because it had a lake, and because it wasn’t far from Snoqualmie Falls, another stop on our itinerary.

It was only a 40 minute drive, but by the time we’d gotten coffee and breakfast, and stopped at Pike Place Market to peruse the vendors, it was well past noon. The sun was beating down and the temperature had crept into the high 80’s. This was going to be a hot hike.

Rattlesnake Lake
A beautiful day at Rattlesnake Lake.

The lake was a brilliant shade of turquoise; crystal clear and shallow, with the mountain reaching skyward behind it. Standing on that beach in the blazing hot sun and looking out at that lake. . . we couldn’t resist. We ditched our shirts, swapped our hiking boots for water shoes, and waded into the cool, heavenly water. After we were sufficiently refreshed we laced our boots back up and hit the trail.

The trees were towering overhead, providing some much needed shade as we hiked. It wasn’t a secluded area, we passed countless hikers on our way up the trail. Many of them were teenagers which, I’m not gonna lie, I found annoying. I go into “Mom Mode” when kids are around, I feel responsible for them. I will most definitely be the old lady yelling at kids to “get off my lawn.” I’m not begrudging America’s children their right to be there. I actually think it’s awesome that they’re outside instead of sitting in front of the TV. I just prefer other people’s children in smaller, quieter doses and not when I’m getting my nature on. More remote trails are preferred, but it was a lovely hike nonetheless.

The Hike
Hiking up Rattlesnake Mountain.

The view once we made it to the top was beautiful. The lake looked so far away; the brilliance of the blue water on full display from such a distance. It was hard to believe we’d come so far!

Just like the trail, there were quite a few people milling around the observation area when we reached the top; the would-be peace interrupted by the chatter of half a dozen conversations and various teenage shenanigans. We found an empty boulder as removed as we could get from the crowds and sat down to enjoy the view. Despite the throngs of teens, it was nice to sit on top of a mountain, eating a snack, and soaking up the sunshine.

A little squirrel was scurrying around looking for handouts while we were chilling there. He was a ballsy little fella, came right up to people with no trepidation, sniffing thoroughly before moving on when he didn’t find what he was looking for. I got the feeling he knew how to use his cuteness to manipulate people, cause he didn’t look like he’d missed a meal in quite some time.


After another brief dip in the lake once we’d finished our hike, our next stop was Snoqualmie Falls and the Salish Lodge, which were used during the filming of Twin Peaks, a show Lindsey and I were both fans of. We meandered around the viewing area for a while, admiring the falls and making Twin Peaks jokes. We wished we’d had more time to hike around the area, but the sun was setting and we were starving.

We went up to the Lodge for dinner and immediately felt out of place. It was a pretty classy joint, and we were in our dirty, sweaty hiking clothes after trudging up a mountain and frolicking in a lake all day. Awkward, but not so awkward that we chose to go elsewhere.


We got a table at The Attic, their more casual restaurant, and Lindsey ordered a “Dale Cooper.” Named in honor of a character from the show, she said it was the best drink she’d ever had. We were still gushing about how good the homemade chips and dip were when our entrees arrived. I have to say, their pizza may be the best pizza I’ve had in my whole life. Lindsey finished off dinner with a “Damn Fine Coffee,” another reference to Twin Peaks, and we headed back to Seattle, deciding that had been one of the best meals we’d ever eaten.

We immediately slid into the hot tub when we arrived back at Winston House. We were relaxing after smoking a joint when the kid who was renting the room next door came outside. He was young, kind of nerdy, and just stood there looking out at the dark backyard, smoking his bong and pretending he didn’t see us.

He was one of those guys who undoubtedly hadn’t spent much time around girls. It was like even though he wanted to, he didn’t know how to start a conversation, so he just inserted himself into the vicinity, smoked his bong so we knew he was “down,” and waited for us to talk to him.

Clearly this was going to be a strained interaction that neither Lindsey or myself had any interest in participating in, but we felt obligated to acknowledge him. We said hello and he came over and stood next to the hot tub, staring down at us. He was only giving minimal responses between creepy stares and bong hits (which he never even offered to share—rude) so we were forced with deciding between peppering him with questions like he was a toddler, just to keep the conversation going, or sitting in awkward silence while Young Buffalo Bill leered at us like he was trying to figure out how many lampshades he could make out of our skin. We opted for door number one and ended up having the world’s most painfully boring conversation, during which we learned he was a “gamer,” and was in town for a gamer convention. Hello, Cliché.

The whole thing was starting to feel like the opening scene of a Law and Order SVU episode.

SVU Seattle: Two best friends go on vacation together, looking for fun and adventure. The young, disturbed man with the troubled past and extensive juvey record happens upon them in the hot tub at their [insert AirBnb knock off name here]. Camera shows the women exchange a concerned look when they start to sense danger. Switch to close up of Creepy Perv’s face right before he pulls out a knife. Screen goes black. Women scream. End scene. Next thing you know Mariska Hargitay and Ice T are pulling our chopped up bodies out of Puget Sound and piecing together our last known whereabouts through our social media posts and the GPS in our rental car.

Things were getting weirder by the minute and Lindsey was the first to call it a night. I wasn’t ready to get out of the hot tub, but about 4 seconds alone with the villain from an after school special and I was heading in as well. I’m sure he was a perfectly nice, harmless kid, but there’s a limit to how long I can tolerate being looked at as though being mentally undressed. . . And possibly dismembered. Besides, we had a big day ahead of us: backpacking to Shi Shi Beach, so a good night’s sleep was required.

I’d later decide that between the crowds at Rattlesnake Mountain and The Creeper on the deck, it was my least favorite day of the trip. Then I’d marvel at how fortunate I am to have “being around a few teenagers,” and “being looked at by a weird dude” be the worst things to happen on our entire vacation. Win!

Sleepless In Seattle: Tale of the Two Tired Tourists

By the time we left Winston House for some Seattle tourist stops I’d been up since 3:00pm (Seattle time) the previous day, 27 hours ago. I’m pretty sure the only thing keeping us going was adrenaline and sheer determination. A wise person would’ve called it a night. Call us fools, cause off we went to traipse all over the city.

Nirvana, Kurt Cobain's house in Seattle, Washington
Selfie outside Kurt Cobain’s former home.

Our first stop was the former home of the talented and tormented Nirvana front man, Kurt Cobain. It’s located in an upscale neighborhood, on a tree lined street that twists and turns past mansions with iron gates, and overlooks Puget Sound. The house itself is mostly obscured from view by trees and a tall fence that’s crawling with shrubbery. I can’t imagine living in a house you know will be gawked at by throngs of 90’s grunge fans. Maybe they’re Nirvana groupies.

The garage where Kurt ended his life has since been demolished. Near where it once stood is a memorial of sorts. Up on a hill, next to an old, tall tree, sits a single bench. I remember standing there and thinking that the whole place seemed to capture exactly who Kurt had been. It was picturesque, quiet under the embrace of the tree. The bench was covered in graffiti, poems and notes of sorrow and gratitude, half smoked joints and empty cigarette packs, the remains of burned out candles and long dead flowers. It was beautiful and messy; chaotic, anguished, yet filled with a simple kind of sweetness.

Our next destination was strictly for me and was a total nerd-out moment: the home used for the exterior shots of Meredith Grey’s house in the first season of Grey’s Anatomy. I love that show. And yes, I still watch it, so I was pretty stoked. We didn’t stay long, just long enough to take a couple selfies while I geeked out a bit before moving on in our explorations.

Kerry Park is a popular stop for tourists and is only a few blocks from the Grey’s house. The park is small, more of an observation area with a sculpture than a park, but the view was spectacular. High above the city, the park looks out over downtown and the Space Needle as well as Puget Sound. On clear days, which unfortunately, that day was not, you can even see Mount Rainier in the distance. But, with the smoke coming down from the wildfires burning north of the border in Canada, the entire western half of the state was blanketed in a haze.

We sat down and watched the ferry boats coming in and out of the city, taking some pictures and realizing how extraordinarily tired we were. The sleep deprivation was catching up with us hard and fast.

We needed to get moving so we left for dinner. We thought we’d have enough time to explore the downtown area before heading to the restaurant, and were counting on the walk waking us up a bit. Our reservations were at Matt’s in the Market which is downtown in Pike Place Market. I’d read Pike Place was a must-see when visiting Seattle and Matt’s had received stellar reviews. It was one of two dinner reservations I’d made for our trip, the other being for the final night. Somehow I’d convinced myself that our reservations at Matt’s were at 9:00 when, in fact, that was the time for our other reservation. I didn’t realize that until the restaurant was calling and asking if we were planning to show up for our 7:30 dinner slot.

No longer able to do any exploring, we drove downtown and parked at The Market right around the corner from the restaurant. However, despite the GPS telling us we had arrived, we couldn’t find it to save our lives. There are alleys and buildings on several levels all over the place and we couldn’t figure out which one housed Matt’s. We were feeling all kinds of embarrassed when we called the restaurant to tell them we were lost. The hostess looked out the window and saw us standing there, looking confused, and graciously directed us to their door.

The restaurant is in a renovated warehouse. It had high ceilings and large windows overlooking the market. It smelled incredible when we walked in and we probably would’ve been gushing about it had we not been borderline comatose from exhaustion.

We sat at a table by a window and struggled to make conversation throughout the whole dinner. We tried, but our brains were working so slowly that just absorbing the words the other person was saying was hard, and it didn’t leave any energy for translating the words’ meaning. Our bodies were shutting down and we had to fight just to keep our eyes open. I can’t even imagine what we must’ve looked like to onlookers. A lesbian couple who got in a fight on the way to the restaurant? Dawn of the Dead? Two terminally ill women eating their last meal? Not exactly the life of the party, that’s for sure. I was too tired to even drink.

The food was exquisite. We ordered the cheese platter as an appetizer, and my entree was an expertly prepared filet mignon that practically melted in my mouth. Unfortunately I was too tired to fully appreciate it and couldn’t stop thinking about that hot tub waiting for us back at Winston House. I wanted to savor every bite, but instead found myself scarfing it down in order to be finished and “home” quicker. I just wanted someone to come carry me to the car, drive me home and tuck me in. I felt a little guilty wasting such a delicious meal on someone who could barely taste her food because her taste buds had gone night night.

We didn’t stay in the hot tub for long after we got back. We were afraid we’d pass out in there and drown, so we only stayed in long enough to smoke a little indica and let the water soothe our achy, fatigued bodies. It was the most perfect way imaginable to end our first day of Ladycation. When we did finally crawl into bed that night we were out within seconds of our heads hitting the pillow. We had to rest up for our next adventure: kayaking the San Juan Islands.

Dispensaries and The Winston House: 420 Friendly Seattle

Joints and flower from Dockside Cannabis in Seattle Washington

We made it! There are no words to describe how happy we were to finally have arrived in Seattle. We were already over an hour behind schedule when we landed. We had sights to see and dinner reservations that night, but before heading to our Airbnb to freshen up we had some serious business to attend to: cannabis dispensaries. I’d made a list of places to go while we were in town, the first of which being the closest to the airport. We plugged the address into the GPS and were there in less than 20 minutes.

Being a connoisseur of the devil’s lettuce who doesn’t live in a state with recreational cannabis laws, walking into a dispensary is like walking into a dream. We opened the doors and the aroma washed over us like a green wave, every pore in our bodies could smell it. It’s a little overwhelming, as a newbie, to have so many choices, but once I’d experienced it, going back to clandestine exchanges seems unfathomable and ridiculous.

On our way to our second dispensary stop, Dockside Cannabis, our AirBnb host, Sebastian, was texting with Lindsey. Turns out, he was already going to recommend we go to Dockside, and even had a coupon for us to receive 20% off. A weed coupon?! We didn’t even know that was a thing. Sebastian sent us a picture of the coupon so we could use it when we stopped and we were all set.

There’s a reason both he and the internet recommended Dockside: it’s amazing. Not only is the selection one of the best you’ll find, but the prices are competitive and the staff is both knowledgeable and friendly. We spent over half an hour perusing their selection and asking questions about the various products and strains before making our purchase and heading to our accommodation—where we would learn the quality was also top notch.

Mary Jane
My goodies from Dockside Cannabis.

The Winston House is located in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Seattle. Nestled on quiet, dead end street, the unassuming house is more than it seems when you pull in the driveway. We followed the path around the back of the house to our room’s private entrance off the large deck. The deck, surrounded by grapevines and encompassing a large tree that towers over the property, has a table and chairs and a salt water hot tub that make it the perfect place to unwind after an adventurous day.

We stepped into our room and were utterly delighted. It was well appointed with a king size bed, desk, mini fridge, microwave and large, private bathroom with a luxurious double shower. We were blown away. It was so much more wonderful than we expected!

Once we settled in we went out to the sit on the deck and sample some of the greenery we’d purchased. We sat at the little table next to the hot tub, admiring the grapevines and the property beyond. A little while after we lit up a pre-rolled sativa joint, our host and his friend, Hannah Rose, came outside on the balcony above and greeted us. Sebastian was just as wonderful as we knew he’d be. Gracious and welcoming, full of helpful hints for navigating Seattle and its many attractions, and willing to help make our stay perfect in any way he could.

Hanna Rose was absolutely delightful. She was naturally beautiful, intelligent, free spirited, kinda whimsical, and seemed to emit a bright, positive energy. She was doing yoga stretches and asking us about our plans for the trip while we relaxed in Sebastian’s backyard oasis. She was charming. It was one of those times when we immediately felt a connection, like we were kindred spirits, with this random new person. Obviously, we were high, so that may have been contributing to the experience, but that doesn’t diminish the loveliness of Hannah Rose.

It was a hot August day in Seattle and we were getting pretty sweating. Our new friend had just the solution: a water pitcher dumped down our chests and the backs of our necks. It sounds strange, I know, we had a moment of, “uh, what?” but that cold water trickling down our bodies was invigorating.

Eventually Hanna Rose went back upstairs and left Lindsey and I to contemplate the rest of our evening. We were still sitting at the table when Sebastian came down and went into a small room on the back of the house. He came back out and over to the table to chat. We’d been conversing for a few minutes when he finally looked at me and said, “Sweetie, I’m sorry, I’m totally gay so don’t be embarrassed, but the snap on your dress is undone and your boob is out.” I looked down and confirmed that yes, my boob was, in fact, just hanging out for all the world to see (I mean, it was covered by my bra, but still). I’m one classy broad.

After we all had a good laugh at my wardrobe malfunction we got to talking about what Sebastian was doing in the mystery room. Turns out, he’s an alchemist. Lindsey was ecstatic, that’s right up her alley.

He took us into his workshop to show us what he was working on. It was a small room filled with beakers, hoses, vats and other sciencey stuff. It looked like some crazy, Breaking Bad type of thing, like Jesse Pinkman’s basement. It was actually a lot more innocuous than that: he was extracting the scent from lavender (I think) to be put in essential oils. His extraction process involved using methyl alcohol and the smell was overpowering. It felt like the fumes were seeping into my system through my skin and getting me high(er). I had to step outside for some air pretty quickly. Very cool to see that process in action, though, it was fascinating. We were honored that Sebastian shared it with us. It’s amazing how a boob slip can bring people together.

We freshened up and decided to explore the rest of Sebastian’s place before leaving for dinner. Through the door in our room that connected to the rest of the house we were led to a hallway. There was another guest room and laundry, along with a spiral staircase that led upstairs to the main floor of his home. We walked up the stairs, admiring the stained glass windows, and emerged in the kitchen; a large, open room with an island and separate eating area that opens onto the balcony. To the right was the living room with its vaulted ceilings, wood burning stove, and comfy couches.

Sebastian’s style is eclectic and bohemian. There is so much to look at in his home, from the books to the collection of pipes, bongs and vapes, the art and antiques, the entire place is interesting and fun.

Knowing what an incredible place we had to come back to made going out even better. Sebastian left everything we could’ve needed for our stay, even picking up a case of La Croix for Lindsey. We were so grateful for our time at Winston House. I will definitely stay there again on my next trip to Seattle.