Monthly Archives: January 2015

Europe 2014 – Paris Part II

Our second day of Paris was full of sightseeing – I knew our plan to see Notre Dame, Versailles, and Sainte Chapelle in one day was pretty ambitious, and that we’d need serious fuel to get us through the day ahead. Around the corner from our hotel was a delicious bakery and a Starbucks, so those were our first stops that morning – 2 pain au chocolates and a croissant from la boulangerie and a tall latte from the ‘bucks set us up for success. (And don’t think I can’t hear you gasping, Starbucks in a foreign country? How utterly American of you! I know. It kind of crushed my soul too, but after reading in a reputable source that Parisian coffee is awful – with some exceptions – I opted to swallow my pride in favor nearby, palatable caffeine.)

Fortified with sugar and caffeine, we took the metro to the Châtelet stop and walked across the bridge to the Île de la Cité, the island in the Seine river that is the heart of Paris. We stopped to view the statue of Charlemagne the Great, and then joined the mass of tourists waiting in line to enter the Cathedral.

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Why we left DC

My husband and I packed up our Washington, DC apartment on December 20, 2014. We spent Christmas with my family in Florida, and then made the long drive from FL to Denver just after the start of the new year. I realize my blog name – Slightly North of Home – doesn’t really apply any more, but I figure it’s too late to switch it over to Slightly West of Home. I haven’t really discussed the factors that led to the cross-country move, so I’ll interrupt my series of posts on our Europe 2014 trip (to Iceland, London, Paris, and Normandy) to fill you in.

About 6 months ago, Adam and I started to get the sense that we’d had enough of DC. I’d been in the city for almost 3 years, and he’d lived there for a full 2. Don’t get me wrong, the things that I loved about DC when I first moved still applied. Almost limitless free museums, events, and concerts. A great and ever expanding food scene. Incredible memorials that tugged at my patriotic heartstrings. Located on the East Coast, close to my family in North Carolina and a short plane ride from my parents in Florida. We had decent jobs and great friends there. We knew our way around; it was easy to navigate (it’s a grid system, people). We had found a Crossfit gym liked, with trainers we adored; our apartment was well-located and not crazy expensive (as far as DC apartments go).

But then, there was the traffic. Rush hour that lasts from 4 – 8; construction or road closings or just people traveling that means highways are jammed even on weekends. Protests for this, that, or the other that shut down major arteries through the city and make getting home from work a general nightmare. Even the metro system isn’t a reliable answer; lines grind to a halt almost daily due to technical malfunctions, trains are late and jammed with people. There’s a never-ending list of escalator and elevator closures, making getting off the metro another exercise in frustration.

There was the cost. Even our not-crazy-expensive apartment was well over $2100 for 800 square feet of space. To ride the metro during “peak times” aka to get to and from work, basically the only time you’d want to ride the metro in the first place, was a minimum of $2.70. Add on more money if you transferred lines or left the boundaries of DC proper. Some mornings, it would cost me $5 one way just to get to work. I wouldn’t complain if the metro operated efficiently, but see the above paragraph. Paying $10 a day to be inconveniently transported to and from work seems a little ridiculous.

Adding to the high cost of living are various forms of taxation imposed on residents. In addition to sales tax (which is, surprisingly, a fairly reasonable 5.75%), DC collects 10% on “prepared food”, which encompasses any meal served from a restaurant (even if it’s to-go) as well as any alcohol sold for consumption on site. I know it’s primarily aimed at collecting tourist dollars, but it makes eating out way expensive for residents too. Then there’s the “state” income tax. DC uses marginal tax rates (just like the federal government), and anyone making above $40k is in the 8.5% tax bracket. ($40k does not get you far in DC, so most people paying taxes in the District are thrown into that bracket.) The top income tax bracket has a rate of 8.95% which is the highest on the East Coast by far.

There are several other frustrating aspects of paying income tax to the District of Columbia (such as the very obvious and blatant marriage tax penalty – that, by the way, is not imposed on same-sex couples, even if the couple is legally married in DC) that could possibly, probably be overlooked, under normal circumstances. Like if the DC government wasn’t rife with crooks and coke addicts. Or if those were the most ridiculous tax rules enforced.

But then, just when we thought DC couldn’t get any more ridiculous, an idiot named Phil Mendelson decided it would be a good idea to extend the DC sales tax to include all “wellness services” – specifically, gyms. You read that right –  the DC city council voted to tax fitness. In a state that saw insurance premiums rise by 11% from 2014 – 2015, you are now penalized for living a healthier lifestyle. (Don’t worry, though – hair cuts and spa services are still exempt!) As soon as that law passed, we knew we had to get out.

I understand that, on paper, it sounds pretty silly that we uprooted our lives to avoid spending a few extra dollars on a gym membership, but it’s not about the money for us – it’s about the principals involved. Since moving to Colorado, we’ve joined 3 separate fitness facilities – a Crossfit gym, a rock climbing gym, and a racquetball gym. I’ll probably also join a yoga studio. We’re going skiing next weekend, and hiking the weekend after that. None of those services are subject to sales tax. In a nation where two-thirds of adults are obese, I refuse to believe that gym tax is the right option, and I want nothing to do with a state that imposes one.

Europe 2014 – Paris Part I

Early in the morning, we boarded a train from London’s St. Pancras International station and a few hours later, arrived at Paris’s Gare du Nord. From Gare du Nord, we made our way to our hotel, located southeast of Luxembourg Gardens. By the time we checked into our hotel and freshened up, it was time for lunch. Because we were staying in a very residential area away from the tourist hubbub, we decided that wandering the area and looking at menus was our best option. We didn’t have far to go, as there was a very enticing cafe only a block away from our hotel. It was clearly a local place, with daily specialties scrawled on a chalkboard and very little in the way of English translations.

Luckily for us, most of the waiters seemed to speak enough English that we were able to order lunch and wine without any hassle whatsoever. Adam ordered some heavenly casserole concoction of cheese, ham, potatoes, and enough cream to kill a cat, while I ordered a salad, which sounds healthy, but only because you don’t know that it came with cheese, bacon, and potatoes cooked in duck fat. If I could get that kind of salad in America, I’d be ordering a lot more of them, let me tell you! After an amazing first meal in Paris, we walked towards the Eiffel Tower through Luxembourg Gardens. There were statues, and fountains, and a former palace built by a Medici princess.

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Europe 2014 – London Part III

On our third and final day in London, we were again blessed with great weather – sunny and almost warm enough to walk around without a coat. We headed to St. Paul’s Cathedral, which was designed by Christopher Wren and built during the 17th century. Due to the fairly high cost (16.50 GBP) and Adam’s relative indifference to church interiors, we decided not to go inside.

Millennium Bridge

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Road trip to Denver

This blog post is coming to you from a not particularly fancy but pretty adequate Extended Stay America hotel room in the lovely city of Denver, Colorado.

Over the past 5 days, we’ve slowly made our way north – driving from Central Florida (think Disney World), where we spent Christmas with my family, through Georgia, Tennessee, and Indiana, then west – from St. Louis, through Kansas City, Topeka, and finally, at last, to Denver. We went relatively slowly, dividing a 27 hour drive into more manageable chucks. We stopped in some really cool towns, ate good food, listened Serial podcasts, and managed not to kill each other or wreck our new car.

I always feel like long road trips sound way more exciting than they actually are, especially when you’re driving through the Midwest; there isn’t a lot to see except fields and silos and the occasional water tower. However, this was a road trip borne out of necessity (the only practical way to get a car from one side of the country to the other is to drive it there), and now that we’re no longer spending 4+ hours in a car every day, I can look back over the trip and say that it’s been relatively enjoyable. Here are a few iPhone photos of our journey.

Fog

The morning of our departure from Florida, the fog was unreal. You can’t really tell, but that’s a lake behind that tree.

From FL, our first stop was Fayetteville, GA, to stay with my aunt and uncle. Not only did they graciously host us, they took us to the nearby town of Senoia for dinner at Zac Brown’s Southern Ground Social Club. Turns out, Senoia is where much of Seasons 3 & 4 of The Walking Dead is filmed. I don’t watch the show, but my husband is obsessed, so of course we had to return the next morning during daylight hours to walk around.

Railroad tracks TWD

Burned building TWD

Wall TWD

Fake Church TWD

Behind the fake church and the ugly zombie-barrier wall are million dollar homes. Each homeowner gets paid $7,000 for the inconvenience of having to look at the wall and deal with all the filming hoopla. I have no idea how they keep these beautiful houses from showing up in the tv episodes, but that’s the magic of the green screen, I suppose.

After poking around the filming area (there are NO TRESPASSING signs every 2 feet or so – not even exaggerating – but we were able to take pictures from a distance without getting yelled at), we drove the 4-ish hours north to Nashville in search of some hot chicken. One of my friends recommended Hattie B’s, so there we went.

Hattie B's Hot Chicken

Hattie’s has 4 different heat levels, from Southern “no heat” to Shut the Cluck Up “burn notice”. I am a sissy, so I went with Medium (“touch of burn”). Husband has a death wish, so he chose Shut the Cluck Up. You order either white or dark meat, pick your sides, grab a table, and wait for delicious to be delivered to your table.

Hattie B's chicken

The chicken was ahhhmazing – totally worth the wait in line. It was hot and crispy with great flavor. My Medium wasn’t quite spicy enough, but I don’t think I could have handled the Hot, so no complaints from me. Adam, however, said his chicken was “the hottest thing I’ve ever put in my mouth”. This is a picture of him dying from the spice:

Death by hot chicken

After Nashville was St. Louis and a trip to the famous Gateway Arch. Adam bought tickets for us to ride to the top, and I’m glad he didn’t tell me what that involved – specifically, getting in a teeny tiny claustrophobic egg shaped vehicle (seriously, this thing was 4×4 and they jammed 5 full grown adults in there) and slowwwwllllly making our way up 630 feet. It was a really cool experience to be at the top of the Arch, but I don’t expect I’ll ever volunteer to do it again!

St. Louis arch

Top of the Arch

The view down made me woozy.

The view down made me woozy.

After that traumatizing experience, I needed sustenance. I needed BBQ. I needed Vernon’s.

We arrived just after they opened and ordered smoked tofu (for me) and lots of meat (some of which was also for me). Ribs, corned beef, brisket, and pulled pork. Y’all, it was incredible. They smoke their ribs in a sweet/savory glaze which caramelizes into something heavenly over 5 – 6 hours. I don’t always eat meat, but when I do, I want it to be this delicious. Vernon’s hit the spot for sure – if you’re in St. Louis, definitely stop by!

Vernon's

Our next stop was Junction City, Kansas, where we celebrated my birthday dinner (cue I’m so old waahhhhh whine here). In the thriving metropolis of Jnc City, as it is known on highway signs, dining options are limited to fast food, Cracker Barrel, and a Mexican restaurant called La Fiesta. We chose La Fiesta, because it was a celebration, after all. And let me tell you, whoever decorated this place must have recently gone to a great party, because the interior of La Fiesta was wild.

Me with booth

This is me, at our table. As in, this picture was on the seat. And all the booths were decorated like this, with crazy 3D wood carvings of scenes from what I can only assume is a cra-azzzy Mexican party.

Chair and walls IMG_2474

Surprisingly, our food was pretty good. Or as Adam said, “It’s hard to screw up fajitas and queso dip.” Fair enough.

From Junction City, it was a long, boring, bleak, monotonous drive to the Mile High City. Nothing but corn fields for miles and miles and a disturbing number of adult only stores and “spas” with half-naked girls advertising “special services” on the billboards. I can’t imagine who frequents these kind of establishments, but after driving for 2 hours without seeing another car, I kind of understand. Sometimes you just need some human company, no matter how depraved.

While Adam drove, I took a nap with my stuffed dog, known as “Fluffy Puppy”.

Napping

Yesterday, we arrived in Denver in the middle of a snowstorm. Visibility was pretty miserable, driving was stressful, I was tired and cold and hungry. In short, I was ready to head back to Florida where I was complaining about 80 degree temperatures in December.

But then this morning dawned – cold, but sunny. And I woke up to this view from our hotel room.

Downtown Denver Denver MountainsI think I like it here. Denver, will you keep me?