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Sunset and horses

Save travels my friends.

-CrookedFlight


A presidential meeting in Little Rock, Arkansas

History? Politics? I could pass. But I’m so glad I didn’t while in Little Rock, especially when I checked out the William J. Clinton Presidential Center. It stands gleaming on the banks of the Arkansas River and provides a beautiful place to learn more about this democratic president and his rise to become leader of the free world. Not to mention, the upper floor is actually where Clinton and his family stay when he’s back in his home state, as it’s a cozy apartment just for Bill.

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Oh hey there. Along the walls are photos from Bill’s political campaign, starting from the very beginning as governor of Arkansas all the way to the White House.

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Ever want to see what the White House presidential office might have looked like in the 90s? This is it. You can take a peek into the replica and see it all up close.

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Details throughout the building are extraordinary. It’s how I would imagine areas of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. There are rows and rows of books full of Clinton’s itineraries and everything is covered with the seal of presidential approval. Screens show clips of his most accomplished moments.

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Obviously there’s saxophones! A whole hallway is dedicated to gifts given by international governments for holidays and celebrations. Some of the highlights included a pearl encrusted Taj Mahal and a gorgeous glass sculpture made by famous artist Dale Chihuly.  I especially loved the depictions of Bill himself created by artists from all over the world. Hillary and Chelsea (and the cat, Socks) too!

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Little Rock deserves a visit in itself – but once you’re there, don’t miss the chance to check out this top-notch library for a little new knowledge and a lot of fun.


Bonus Video- The Hello Kitty Suite at the Hai-Lai: Taiwan

I was going to keep this under wraps, but I couldn’t help sharing the ridiculous walk-through of the Hello Kitty Suite in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, previously mentioned in Hello Kitty Vs. Barbie – An All Out Brawl. I was hot and delirious from all the pink, but it still gives you a good look into this crazy world!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BRDKBRm_asc

Feel free to check out the other great travel videos that are starting to pop up on the CrookedFlight YouTube page too.


Hello Kitty Vs. Barbie – An All Out Brawl

Me? I just don’t DO pink. And purple I tend to avoid all together. So when rumors started flying around that there was a suite in the Grand Hai-Lai Hotel in Kaohsiung that was completely dripping in Hello Kitty paraphernalia, I wanted to run for the hills. In the next breath, everyone was twittering about the pink-bombed Barbie Cafe too we might see in Taipei later, all of which was enough to make me question my life choices about traveling for a living.

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But when in Rome! Ready to embrace by inner squealing, girly side, I took a peek at the suite. While I opted for a standard, modern room in the Hai Lai, this really was something to see. I couldn’t resist turning the pink CD player on to complete the feel as I poked around the themed dressers, tea sets, sitting areas and even toilet with Kello Kitty signature. Guests who book this room have a million special options for activities, including access to hello Kitty bikes, a cute pink car and breakfast with the feline herself. I also spied in the elevator a Hello Kitty-themed wedding, but then I blacked out from all the kawaii and didn’t get a chance to see the details.

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After getting so hyped up in all that is cats, I spied in a local 7-11 an actual wine flavored with lychee, dyed pink and emblazoned with Hello Kitty on the front. Of course, a bottle had to be bought for the upcoming high-speed train ride back to Taipei. Tasted a little bit like college, but it was enjoyed for the novelty nonetheless.

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To start off our crazy night in Taipei, we clinked glasses at the Barbie Cafe downtown. The full effect wasn’t quite felt, due to us rushing in right before close, but we still navigated the menu covered in the blonde icon and ordered a few neon-colored beverages and desserts. While I waited, I took in the ambiance of pink glitter covered walls, framed Barbie doll installations, girl power pop music and a very sad looking male bartender. But why not immerse yourself in something like this at least once, if not just for the very reason that Barbie has been an icon for decades that transcends generations. Don’t order the French macarons though, because I think they’re frozen and were served hard as a rock.

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Which experience won in this explosion of cute? Hello Kitty I particularly liked, in small doses, as a child, but the Barbie Cafe involved booze. I did recover later with the found Hello Kitty wine though, so rule that all out. In retrospect, staying in the all-pink, all-the-time room would have been crazy and memorable. But sampling treats with Barbie was…a delight in itself. I’ll take the diplomatic route and call it a tie. if you find yourself in this part of the world, don’t forget to swing by the Hai Lai in Kaohsuing and the Barbie Cafe in Taipei!


One crazy night in Taipei, Taiwan

Every single trip taken should include at least one evening where you forget the rules and throw caution to the wind.

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Taipei, the absolutely batshit crazy capital city of Taiwan, is the perfect breeding ground for such an evening. We hopped into a cab corralled for us by The Regent Hotel, which brought us just in time to the Barbie Cafe. This needs a post in itself, so check back soon for that. After our fill of all things pink, it was time for the nitty gritty.

We had a tip about a speakeasy in Taipei that could not be missed, but was often missed due to it’s secrecy. We were dropped off at an address and spent a large amount of time entering buildings, leaving, asking directions and being blown off by coffee drinkers. But, determined to get in on this, we kept trying until we did eventually succeed, most after putting ears to the wall and being driven mad by the sound of martini shakers on the other side – so close, yet so far.

That is guerilla reporting at it’s finest. I debated putting up the other video that offers the solution to our dilemma, and I think I am going to keep it all to myself. So if you ever do stumble upon Ounce you’ll have to suffer just like I did.

Anyways once the adorable Swiss 20-year-old sadly told us we’d have to wait an hour to get in, we wandered down to Trio for a pre-game drink to our speakeasy experience. That turned into a couple of drinks and some complimentary shots from the very welcoming tender who struggled through his alright English just to bemuse us.

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Heading back to Ounce (I’ll give you a hint – it IS inside that coffee shop, you aren’t lost!) I slipped into a barstool and watched, fascinated, as Frenchie the mixologist burned a barrel wood chunk under a glass to create a smoky base flavor for a drink he was making. The others were shaking and swirling like their lives depended on it, adding to a serious, yet lively environment.

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Aaron is in charge these days at Ounce and is constantly putting on the ritz. A Charlestown, Massachusetts transplant, Aaron has trained under some greats in Boston and brings his own flair to Taipei through a bartender exchange program. He mostly sources the extensive selection from his loyal clients who bring liquor from all over the planet for the bar, which is a genius business plan. Alongside his trusty French counterpart, Aaron says all of his drinks are made with “clean sugars, fresh ingredients and love”.

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Nosh: Really anywhere that doesn’t look completely sketchy. The bartenders over at Ounce took us to have some Taiwanese street food about 10 minutes from their establishment, complete with steamy dumplings, egg pancake rolls and hot sauce. We sat in plastic chairs and waxed poetic over how hard chopsticks can be after a few fruity cocktails then made our way to the next bar. Ask a local where the best stands are or simply follow your nose.

Crash: Those who like old school accommodations can book a room at the classic Howard Hotel. It has your pool, your lounge, cozy rooms and a killer breakfast buffet with fresh watermelon juice. The Regent is near all the action and quite the classy establishment – with upper floors that have amazing views of the city below. Downstairs is a connected high-end shopping center as well. Backpackers should pull up a bunk at Homey Hostel Downtown, right near the train station

Imbibe: We had only three and a half seconds in the city, but managed to have our hotel write down the Chinese address of Ounce. While waiting for a spot in the tiny bar, we strolled right around the corner to Trio. They offer cocktails as well and a comfortable vibe.

Get crazy: You are in luck, because Taipei is the land of five dollar taxis, or less! So use that cheap thrill to get adventurous and explore every corner of the urban sprawl. It’s an extra dollar late-night, but well worth a safe ride home.


The Taiwanese aboriginal lifestyle

I hear the word aboriginal and I automatically think Australia. But that’s a little naive, because obviously there are ancestral all roots all over the world. We had many things like hiking and food on the itinerary, but I did not think I would also get a glimpse into the world of aboriginal life in Taiwan.

Spanning over 7,000 years, of history the aboriginal people of timeline are a proud and complex society. Roughly 2% of the population today can claim aboriginal roots. Many live in the area of Hulien, specifically near Taroko National Park.

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There are about 14 different tribes in Taiwan, some that only have a few hundred representatives left. One of their most distinctive traditions is facial tattoos. These days the kids don’t often take part, but many older members of the tribe have long lines and blacked out jaws, representing housekeeping achievements for women and enemy slayings for men.

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The food too was some of the best I’ve had in the country. The Lantern Hotel located in Taroko National Park has a working aboriginal restaurant, serving either barbecued pig, lamb or vegetables. The hotel itself has cabins surrounded by mountains, and a few recreated, classic aboriginal homes for guests to take a peek in.

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To learn about the aboriginal livelihood in theory was wonderful but of course I wanted to really get a feel for this type of life. I was told after dinner there would be an opportunity to listen to some live music performed by local aboriginals but I was so dead tired. By practically dragging myself up a few flights of stairs I was delighted to discover two young men on guitars playing a sad and powerful song. It can be amazing how music transcends the spoken word and can evoke emotion in people all over the world no matter what the lyrics say. It was as if I was transported to another place and time through this intense performance. I thought sleep as long as I could but only was able to enjoy a few songs.

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More things to come after I nurse this awful cold and enjoy the last few days here in Taiwan. We’re heading south for more biking today, then venturing back to Taipei via high-speed train!

-CrookedFlight


The top three first impressions of Asia

For the past 48 hours I have been on a complete odyssey in Taiwan. This is my first time in Asia altogether so immediately it was clear that I was on another planet. Obviously, when talking about a place you cannot just generalize the entire continent, that would be silly. But within our first layover in Osaka, Japan, and touchdown in Taipei, I already had some interesting impressions of the area.

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Like a zombie I walked off the plane in Japan after a 12 or 247 hour flight, I’m not sure, sometime in between that. It kind of felt like three weeks but I digress. Anyway, I couldn’t help but realize that everyone spoke exactly like I had heard on TV. I wanted to have a different more worldly impression of the people there but nope, they all just sounded like anime characters. I have also never felt tall in my life, so this was a new thing as well. Everyone seemed to just scurry below my feet and move really quickly to herd us like cattle into the correct lines. Once the chaos was over I found myself inside the lounge for China Airlines and that was a new experience altogether. The very first thing I ate was a triangle of rice of course. But this was no ordinary rice – they did something magical to it that I think involves grilling and teriyaki sauce.

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Now this kind of statement might get me in trouble but I can’t help it. Another three hours later after arriving in Japan we touched down in Taipei. In my defense, things like basic motor skills and depth perception were completely off. So as soon as the automatic doors swung open at the airport the first thing that came to mind was, oh my goodness, this entire country smells like a Chinese food restaurant. I know. I’m so sorry.

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The last unique thing that happened was all of the attention. Thank God I’m not a tall lanky blond like one of my travel companions. That poor thing is getting stopped like a celebrity around every turn. But I didn’t realize I quickly had to learn how to say “How are you” and “Thank you” in Mandarin because people were going to demand I acknowledge them all the time. Not in a pushy way, but more like hey, I want to see if you can understand my cool English skills even though they are limited to one or two words. This is mainly just the teenagers. But it is fun and everyone is very friendly, at least to my face, which really is all that matters when everyone is speaking Chinese.

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Oh and then we got caught in a massive downpour. With thunder and lighting. While standing on a flooded, very tall bridge. So that happened. I may be smiling but I’m whimpering like a small child on the inside for fear of being barbecued. ADVENTURE!

-CrookedFlight


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