Having a Home Base

It’s five in the afternoon on June 26.  Any other day, Celebration Park would be sparsely populated, with just a few kids playing in the water garden while their parents consider joining them.  Even though it is approaching evening, it’s just too hot.

But today is June 26, the Saturday before Independence Day, and the park’s name seems more fitting.  You can barely see the perfectly groomed emerald grass for all the blankets spread across the field that has suddenly become a concert venue.  On the stage that was constructed this morning in the shelter of darkness, a seventies cover band, La Freak, sings songs that are barely recognizable to anyone under forty.

At the edge of the crowd, where the blankets thin out enough to provide a walking path, the makings of a carnival begin.  Bounce houses and mini rides have appeared overnight. Right along side them are massive signs for corn dogs, ice cream and corn on the cob.  It is like a taste of the state fair just popped up in the middle of town.

We have at least two hours to kill before the headlining band makes an appearance.  From our blanket near the center of the red, white, and blue sporting patriots, my best friend Laura, her sister Alyssa, and I entertain ourselves by observing everyone’s ‘interesting’ outfits.  Designer clad, bleach blonde, Polo wearing families intermingle with overweight women in bikinis showing off for their pot bellied husbands.  It is the perfect mix of red neck hicks and east coast WASPs.

“I want cotton candy,” Alyssa declares.  The children on the next blanket are wrestling a little to close to my feet for comfort, so I quickly agree that leaving is the best idea.  Hoping my napping mother won’t wake before we return, we wipe the sweat of every exposed body part and attempt to navigate the maze that has built up around us.

Away from the cozy family blankets we are suddenly surrounded by the teenagers that  overrun the city on a daily basis.  Only usually it isn’t this obvious.  They are at every turn.  Girls in short shorts and tight tops with too much make up on eyeing the jerseyed football players who are trying to look as if they don’t enjoy being at such a family friendly event. Nearly all of them are mainstream, decked out in American Eagle or Abercrombie and Fitch, carrying Coach purses, or wearing Allen Eagles t-shirts.  There are a few rebels, wearing black despite the heat, with neon colored hair and facial piercings. But they are so few and far between they too get lost in the crowd.

Waiting for Fire Works by Sheri Vasinda

And without fail, every few feet we recognize someone.

“She goes to my church,” Laura points out a girl I’ve never seen before.

“Oh, that girl is in my history class,” Alyssa comments.

And then as always, Laura or I inevitably mutter, “He was in band,” since one fifth of the high school made up our six hundred person marching band.  This seems like the only town event the band doesn’t participate in.  Which is probably good because there would be no where for them to stand.

After waiting in a line of at least twenty people for a four dollar bag of cotton candy, we all decide the romping children are more desirable than an outdoor replica of the high school halls we thought we had escaped.  The sun is dipping close to the roofs of the houses that line the park as we weave back to our spot, losing Alyssa along the way to the teenagers.

Just as we settle back onto our picnic blankets, The Comadores take the stage and my mom hops up, clapping and jumping in place.  Pumping her arms, motioning for us to join her, she breaks into song with the band as we just stare.  We shake our heads and grin.  Laura and I are not here for the band.  We are here for the fireworks.

No Fourth of July celebration is complete without fireworks.  So each year, the Saturday before the Fourth, Allen sets off the largest fireworks display in North Texas.  As soon as The Comadores finish singing Brick House, we are given five minutes to get where we want to be.  Five minutes before all lights are turned out and we are plunged into complete darkness.

A few little screams erupt when the darkness hits, even though we were warned multiple times.  As our eyes attempt to adjust we are just as suddenly blinded.  The boom crack that fills the air every night during the beginning of July is accompanied by bright colors and little drops of fire filling the air.

The dramatics of it all sends a chill down my spine.  Laura laughs at my shiver, seeing as it is completely dark and still ninety degrees outside.  We gaze back up at the sky, intermittently ohhing and ahhing over the fantastic somehow made into an ordinary by the city of Allen.

Largest Fire Works Show in North Texas by Julia Vasinda

The Wonders of Waco

Mark Being an Eagle
Photo by Julia Vasinda

People always think of travel as going somewhere exotic.  But as I wake up before my alarm, again, I push aside my inability to sleep as I remember today I’m going on a trip.  I don’t struggle long with the decision to just go ahead and get up or lie here for a few more minutes.  I force my feet onto the floor and head downstairs to rummage up something for breakfast.

Even though I woke before my alarm, I barely have time to pull on my workout clothes before Laura, my best friend of 15 years, pulls into the driveway to take me to Zumba.  I love Zumba.  But today I hope it goes quickly so I can put distance between me and the drudgery of every day life.

We’re late to Zumba, not that that is a surprise.  And it is not our normal teacher.  This woman is much more stiff than our fluid salsa stepping instructor who always makes us giggle with her super sexy moves.  This woman causes class to drag, or maybe it is the anticipation.  Although I’m sweating like a pig (as usual) by the time we leave, I almost wish I skipped the strained class.

“I’ll see you in an hour,” I call over my shoulder as I step out of Laura’s car.

“Some of us need longer to do our hair!” she responds as I slam the door and shrug before hurrying up to the shower.  We have to leave in an hour if we want to get to Waco before two, even though one-thirty was the original meeting time.

A thrill of excitement shivers down my spine.  I love going new places.  Well, I’ve been to Waco before, but just stopped there to eat on my way to places like Austin and San Antonio.

Was it really only less than three years, and countless countries, ago that travel really caught my attention?  It seems like it’s always been part of my life.  It almost feels like oxygen.  A need.  That first trip to Spain was like meeting your soul mate, or finding your calling.  It made the world stop and accelerate at the same time.

I don’t remember half the things we did.  But I recall the attempts to walk down cobblestoned streets in heels after my first run in with alcohol.  Climbing in turrets of actual castles, wondering if I was ever going to see anything besides the butt of the person in front of me ever again.  Going to a club that used to be an actual palace.  Oh, and I guess learning absolutely everything there is to know about every place possible.

Hook, line, and sinker.  I was done for.  Next thing you know, I’m signing up for three semesters of study abroad.  After just one week!  Talk about life decisions.

It is like I suddenly saw this whole new world.  There aren’t just other continents to explore, although I’m certainly set on that, there are so many things I’ve never seen miles from home!

Enter Waco.  A city consisting of Baylor University and to the unknowing eye, not much else.  Since it is the closest thing to a halfway point we could find between Dallas and Austin and where Laura and I would be meeting up with my college buddy, Mark, we were determined to find more to do.  Because who wants to drive two hours to go to a mall.  And on top of that, who wants to go to a mall when there are way cooler places just waiting to be discovered.

Although the Dr Pepper Museum is not exactly the Palacio de Oriente and Cameron Park Zoo not the same experience as the Toledo’s countryside, the now familiar excitement fills my stomach.

The $3.00 student discounted entry fee gets us into the Dr Pepper Museum, where we quickly discover a scavenger hunt that leads us room to room.  Mark loudly shouts the answers, and we continually seem to be in every families’ way. Conversation flows between my group and the others around us in line as we pay almost as much for a Dr Pepper mixed right before our eyes as we did to get in the museum.

Still sipping our drinks we get back in our cars to head to the Cameron Park Zoo.  None of us had even been aware this oasis existed, surrounded by a normal neighborhood.  After forking over a significant amount for what we assumed would be a quick trip with glimpses at a few local animals in caged habitats, we hurried down the path leading towards those cages.

As the first few animals come into view, we break into a trot, and lean excitedly over the wooden fence separating us from the cage.  Mark immediately starts to mimic the birds, in sound and stance, and I pull out my camera.  We spend the next few hours running excitedly between the exhibits, received by disapproving looks from the parents who usher their children away from us.

Exhausted from the hours in the beaming Texas sun Laura, Mark and I decide it is only right to enjoy a hearty dinner at Texas Roadhouse.  I relax into the faux leather seats, feeling them pull at my sweat sticky skin and take pleasure in the relief of scratching my travel itch.

But by the time I being driving home, the itch is back.  My eyes gaze longingly at each exit sign we pass, though they should be gazing at the road.  As we come up on the exit for Italy, TX, a smile spreads across my face.

“Let’s do an ‘around the world’ trip in Texas….”

Laura just laughs and rolls her eyes.

I love travel

To me, traveling is everything.  Anything besides travel is secondary. But it’s those secondary events that make traveling so worthwhile.

Although I live in the best place on earth, Texas, traveling manages to remain my favorite activity.  As much as I love Texas, I love pretty much every new place I visit as well.  I mean, you always need a home base.

So what do I love about traveling?

I love the actual act of traveling. Whether it’s in on a bike between vineyards, a car between cities, on a plane between continents, or floating on a boat from Italy to Greece with EuroAdventures.  It’s the feeling of moving towards a new adventure.  The feel of just moving between where I’ve been and where I’m going.

Then, there are the new experiences when you finally get to the destination.

The best experience: the food.  I eagerly await the food in every new country.  I feel the same anticipation whether it’s food from Australia, where most travelers’ don’t give the cuisine a second thought or in Italy, a country many people go to only for the indescribable flavors.  And every time I come back to Texas I am immediately ready to get back the best of the best, Tex-Mex.

So what experience could be as good as food?  Well, parties rank pretty high on my list.  Everyone, everywhere loves to party.  Visiting the  most popular parties in the entire world is my favorite way to pass the time.  After sitting down to a desirable dinner, of course.  Who can resist a quick trip to Oktoberfest or partying on a beach in celebration of Australia day?

As much as I love the food and the parties, they are nothing without considering the relationships I form. Relationships tend to be the most critical element of my travels. I’ve met my best friends, my worst roommates, some people I’ll never see again but can’t forget.  These people give me the best stories and make each moment worth every trial it took to get there.

This is what gets me, these are the reasons I travel.  These are the reasons I live.

And it doesn’t hurt that it gives me something to write about!

Tex-Mex Madness

Texas is the best place on Earth.  Not just the best state, the best place ever.

The main reason I love my home state is the same reason I love any place I travel. The food.  No matter what kind of food you’re craving, Texas has something to offer.  But my personal favorite is the Mexican food, or should I say Tex-Mex.

For anyone who’s been to Mexico, you are missing out on what is only a few miles north.  The Tex-Mex cuisine creates the most tantalizing tastes that will ever touch your tongue.  This specialized zest is captured by combining about five ingredients and tons of spices into an endless variety of dishes. Whether its tacos, fajitas, or the scrumptious chicken quesadillas shown above, you can find it in Texas.

I search high and low for good Tex-Mex in each country I visit, but nothing has come close to the food I grew up with. Chuy’s, Mexi-Go, On the Border, Chipotle offer some of the best Tex-Mex in Texas. Or if you happen to be in London and need a fix, stop by the Texas Embassy.

But if you’re just traveling around the United States the best part is you don’t need a passport to get it.