July 21, 2014

The best alternative to staying at Disney World

If you've never been to Disney World, I would bet a lot of money that you're planning to go.  Even if you've been before, I'd be willing to bet (not as much money) that you're planning on going back.

It's no secret that people freakin' love Disney World, and it's also no secret that it's freakin' expensive to go.  While many people stay on Disney property for all the conveniences of being a stone's throw from their favorite rides, there are plenty more that stay elsewhere for the sake of saving a bit of money.  I can't blame them.  I'm a cheapskate, myself.  If you fall into the latter category, I have just the place for you to stay:

Winter Garden, Florida.

Never heard of it?  I'm not surprised.  I had never heard of it until my cousin and her husband moved there.  Not that I was especially up-to-date on my Florida geography since I'm not a huge fan of the state as a whole.  But the town is only about a 30 minute drive from the heart of Disney, it's ridiculously adorable, and there is not a single touristy thing about it.  It's awesome.

Now, my cousin and her hubby have lived in Winter Garden for a few years, but I didn't really get to absorb all the charm of this little town until my last visit, where I actually stayed in a fantastic bed and breakfast smack in the center of town.  The family converged on the town for a surprise party for my cousin, so we all had to lay low and stay, well, anywhere but her house.  On previous trips to the town, my cousin and I would just hole up in their house catching up, doing something along the lines of drinking PBR and watching Top Gun in our pajamas (which is a glorious thing to do with your weekend, actually).

Actually staying downtown gave me a chance to really experience the life and flavor of this town.  It's completely different from Disney.  It's completely different from the beach towns and cities.  Being in Winter Garden almost felt like going back in time.   The whole place has an old-fashioned, casual feel.  And on the third Saturday of every month, downtown holds an event called Cruz-N-Cars.  People from all over God-knows-where converge on the downtown strip and show off their classic cars.  Oldies music is blasted from somewhere.  People bring out their camp chairs and just sit on the street enjoying the cars, talking to passers-by, and simply relax.  It's fantastic.  And if you don't like old cars and good music and chilling outside, you are a terrorist.


I don't even care about cars, but this is still cool.
Downtown Winter Garden even has solid food choices.  Good luck finding awesome food anywhere inside Disney except for Epcot.  Thai Blossom Restaurant rocks.  If you're in a pizza mood, Winter Garden Pizza is delicious.  And Moon Cricket Grille is a standard but solid place to enjoy a few beers.

Did I mention that there's a great multi-use trail that also cuts right through downtown?  Yeah, they have that, too.  And a really nice bike shop tucked among all the great food joints in case you're on two wheels get a flat.  Of course, you'll have to brave the oppressive Florida heat and humidity to make use of the trail.  And really, that's one of the main reasons I hate the whole dadgum state.  But at least they have wintertime going for them.

So where is there to stay in this oasis from Disneymania? Well, there's only one hotel downtown, but you won't need another one, because this one is fabulous.  It's the Historic Edgewater Hotel, and it's really more of a bed and breakfast.  The building is beautiful, they have a fascinating old hand-operated elevator, the rooms are charming and cozy, and they even make you a hot breakfast made to order.

I swear, this town really is worth the small commute to and from Disney World.  It's a great place to relax and regroup before diving into the crowds, lines, and expense of the theme parks.  And if you disagree, I'll be happy to pay up that money I wagered.  Which was none, actually, but never mind that.

May 21, 2014

Learn more about NYC by eating

If you look up "hangry" online, you will probably find a picture of me.  Hunger and I do not get along well.  So when my friend Marissa suggested taking a food tour of the Lower East Side in Manhattan two weekends ago, I was all for it.  God, I love food.

The tour was offered by the Tenement Museum, also conveniently located on the Lower East Side.  And despite already having a bagel and a donut earlier in the morning, I was ready to shove more food into my gullet.

We ended up being 15 minutes late because the subway is smarter than we are.  But as soon as we rolled up, we were escorted to our tour group, given a hearty welcome, and promised bottled water at the next stop. I hadn't even eaten anything yet, but I was already happy.

What I didn't realize about the tour was that it's purpose is to give a glimpse into the history of the Lower East Side through the foods that have been made and consumed there through the years.  We ate pretzels from a German saloon as our guide told us about the German settlers in New York.  We ate pickled pineapple from a Jewish pickle vendor and learned about the demise of food carts and old time propaganda claiming that pickles were terribly unhealthy.  We scored hot-right-out-of-the-oven bialys from a Polish bakery - something I'd never even heard of.  And we ate green tea flavored pastries from a bakery owned by the daughter of Chinese immigrants who wanted to fuse French baking with traditional Chinese flavors (and she has definitely succeeded).  


After it was over, I felt both educated and sufficiently not hungry.  The tour gave great insight into various cultures and the history of New York that I doubt you'll ever get in a classroom.  But exploring history and culture through food makes so much sense - it's one thing that is a central part of every human being's life.  I'd never thought of that until I got to stuff my face on this tour.

Our guides were fantastic, and so was the food.  In fact, I was so enamored with the pickled pineapple that I went online and ordered myself an entire gallon of it.  I highly recommend this tour if you find yourself in New York, and I'm pretty darn happy that Marissa discovered it.


And now I will wait for my tub of pineapple to arrive. I'm getting hungry.

May 20, 2014

Announcing the contest winners!

Thank you to everyone that entered the caption contest to win an Embrace Sleep Collar! You people are pretty dadgum funny.  I've had myself a good ol' time reading all the entries that you submitted and a tough time picking a winner and a runner-up. And for once, I'm not going to ramble - I'll get straight to the point:

The winner and recipient of an Embrace Sleep Collar and a Good Night Eye Shade is Veronika from Washington, D.C.  Congratulations!

Maybe I should have taken the Voudon Priestess seriously when she said "Your ass is grass"


And the runner-up is Pierce from San Francisco. Congratulations to you, too!

That's the last time I take THAT shortcut...


I'd also like to give a shout-out of thanks to Designs in Progress that make both the Embrace Sleep Collar and the Good Night Eye Shade.  Congratulations again to the winners, and thank you to everyone that sent in captions.  I have been thoroughly entertained.

May 16, 2014

Washington Deluxe should show Megabus how it's done

Ah, New York City.  So many things to see, and so many ways to get there.  There are probably thousands of planes, trains, and buses that I can choose from to ferry my butt up there from DC.

But planes are expensive, often delayed, and require getting somewhat naked in order to get there.  Nope.

Trains are comfortable and not usually subject to delays, but they're still expensive.  Nope.

Buses are cheap.  So am I.  We have a winner.

And that's how Chris and I found ourselves suffering through a ridiculous ride on Megabus this past December.  We swore that was our first and last trip with Megabus.  I did not forget this declaration as I made plans to go to New York last weekend to hang out with a friend.  After checking rates and schedules with some other, generally less crappy bus companies, I settled on Washington Deluxe.

Let's just say that Megabus could learn a thing or 20 from Washington Deluxe about how to run their operation.  Buses were on time.  Employees were not only competent and informative, but (gasp!) friendly.  Electrical outlets actually worked.  Wi-fi actually worked.  People with reservations actually got seats.  I could understand the driver when he spoke.  I kind of wanted to hug him.

There were some other definite pluses to taking Washington Deluxe:

  • They went directly from DC to Manhattan and vice versa.  They did not pass Go. They did not collect $200.  They did not pick up people in other cities (or stop in another city just to leave people stranded because they can't figure out how a reservation system is supposed to work).  
  • The buses are normal, garden variety sized buses that hold about 50 people.  No double deckers.  Fewer people meant less chaos and confusion and faster loading and unloading.  This was fabulous.
  • Some of their scheduled trips also offer a drop-off and pick-up in Brooklyn.  Since I was staying in Brooklyn, this was also pretty darn fabulous.
The only minor negative was some cramped leg room on the bus up to New York.  But I'm tall, and that's just something that happens in some group seating situations.  I allowed my limbs to spill out into the aisle.  Problem kind of solved.

I have to admit, it was a relief to realize that not all bus companies run a sh*t show like Megabus.  I mean, if I'm only paying $50 for a ride to and from New York, I'm not going to be that picky.  I can barely fill up my gas tank for that amount of money.  I don't expect to be served club soda and peanuts or sit in a cushy nap-inducing seat.  But if you're going to run a business of any sort, you have to do right by people.  And I'm happy to report that Washington Deluxe does just that.

May 5, 2014

Win an Embrace Sleep Collar!

FREE STUFF.

Oh hello, I have your attention now, I see.

I've talked about the Embrace Sleep Collar before, and it's one of my favorite travel doo-dads.  If I know I'm going to need to sleep while in transit on any trip, I have to have this thing.  If you're curious about it, well, here's your chance to win one!

Embrace Sleep Collar

All you have to do is submit a caption about the picture below:

YOUR CAPTION HERE

HOW TO ENTER


  • Tweet your caption entry to my twitter handle, @TheIncNomad and/or use the hashtag #TINContest.
  • All entries must be received by 11:59 pm on Monday, May 12, 2014.  

That's all you have to do.  You don't have to sign up for any newsletters, buy anything funky, or donate bone marrow. Just get creative and tweet me your best.  I have high expectations of you people.

OTHER GOOD INFO


  • One winner and one runner-up will be chosen.
  • The winner will receive one Embrace Sleep Collar.  And, hey-o, the winner gets to choose the color!
  • The runner-up will receive one Good Night Eye Shade. Runner-up gets to choose among the colors black, black, and black.
  • Everyone else receives eternal glory from your entry in the Twitterverse.
  • The winner and runner-up will be notified via Twitter.

CONTEST RULES

  • Contest open to legal residents of the continental U.S. only.  Sorry, no international entries.  And my apologies to Alaska and Hawaii.
  • Unlimited entries allowed.  Put your creative caps on.
  • Any entries deemed inappropriate by The Inconsistent Nomad will be automatically disqualified.  I mean, I like snarkiness and four-letter words and all, but if your entry is nothing but a string of curse words, it's getting tossed. 
  • By entering this contest, you agree to have your first name and geographical location (city, state) published on The Inconsistent Nomad. 
  • The winner and runner up must agree to give a valid mailing address to The Inconsistent Nomad.  And if you're entering, I already have your Twitter handle - booyah.  Contact information will not be shared with anyone outside of The Inconsistent Nomad and Designs in Progress (manufacturer of Sleep Collar and Good Night Eye Shade).  We just want to send you your swag!
  • No purchase necessary, void where prohibited, yada yada yada.

I'd like to give a big thank you to the guys at Designs in Progress for working with me on this.  I'm really looking forward to seeing what you all come up with.  Happy captioning, and good luck!


May 1, 2014

Highlights of the American Odyssey Relay Race

Now that I've learned and shared with you what I'll do differently for my next relay race, I thought I'd relive some of my favorite parts of racing for 30.25 hours straight - and some photographic evidence.

  • Eating anything I wanted because I'm RUNNING.
  • Having the best excuse ever to use my mustache flask.
  • Drawing mustaches and other things that shall not be named on our van (too bad the rain washed it all off just 30 minutes later).
  • Enjoying the gorgeous rural countryside - fields, cows, and civil war battlefields.  Not too shabby, although sometimes the smells weren't fabulous.
  • Running at 3:30 am in pitch darkness (except for the safety lights of a couple of runners ahead of me and the occasional car headlights) from Maryland into West Virginia.  The stars were absolutely brilliant. So were my bunny ears.
  • Beer after the 3:30 am run.
  • Seeing a waning crescent moon appear just before sunrise over an open field while everyone else slept (except our wonderful driver, Liz). 
  • A cup of piping hot black coffee at 8am after a 2-hour snooze inside the van.  And Thin Mints for breakfast.
  • Hanging out at transitions along the gorgeous C&O Canal.
  • Running along the C&O Canal just outside of DC while wearing bunny ears (yes, still) and getting bewildered looks from other runners and bikers.
  • Seeing the rest of the awesome Stash Mob team at the finish line and crossing it together.  
Our way-too-with-it team captains have already registered the team for next year's race.  This gives me plenty of time to plan for fabulous costumes and headgear for next time. I can't wait.

April 28, 2014

Lessons learned from my first relay race

Thanks to all the amazing people on the Stash Mob team that I ran with this weekend, I am officially a relay race fan.  After running 13.2 miles, getting around 3 hours of sleep, wearing lots of pink, and eating lots of junk food, I feel fabulous.  A good long shower afterward and a few hours in compression socks helped a lot, though.  I was a tad funky after running three times and spending 30 hours in a van with 5 other people.


I felt fairly prepared for my first relay experience, but one can only prepare so much without experience.  I really hope to do one of these again in the future (and hopefully with the same people), so these are the top 10 things that I'll do differently next time:

1.  Bring more beer.  You can never have too much.
2.  Bring less non-running clothing.  I only need one outfit to sleep in and wear in between race legs.  If it's not drenched in sweat, it's good enough.
3.  Bring more bourbon.  After running a leg that is cold and/or wet, bourbon will warm up your insides quite quickly. Also, it's delicious.
4.  Bring a hydration pack, like this one.  My last leg was hot with very little shade, and I ended up borrowing one from one of our fearless team captains (thank goodness they were prepared for things like this). There are no water stops (or toilets, for that matter) on the legs. If you're thirsty or have to poop, well, good luck with that.
5. Don't bring heavy costume hats.  I brought a fabulous fuzzy pink Viking helmet, and it was too warm to wear it.  I hate seeing a good Viking helmet go to waste.
6.  Don't wear my "Show me your boobs" trucker hat inside a church.  Oops.
7.  Bring instant coffee to drink before each leg.  A caffeine boost really makes a difference in my energy level, and it would have been really nice to have when I started my second leg around 3:30 am.  I know I could drink a Red Bull or a 5 Hour Energy, but that stuff is disgusting.  I'd rather run groggy than guzzle that swill.
8.  Leave the camera at home.  I thought I'd want to take some more serious pictures, but digging my camera out of one of my bags was too much of a pain in the ass.  I always had my phone by my side, so laziness won that battle.
9. Bring a spare pair of running shoes.  It started pouring a few hours into the race, and I had visions of having to run in muddy, soaked shoes the entire time.  I didn't have to run in rain and mud, but a couple of our team members did.
10.  Train.  I was very lucky to be asked to take someone's place on the team at the last minute, so training wasn't much of an option this time around. But I have every intention of doing it again - only faster.

All in all, everything was fine, I didn't royally screw anything up, and our team captains were impressively prepared with everything we might need that we didn't have for ourselves, including everything from mustache bracelets to Gatorade.  Because you never really know when you'll have a mustache bracelet emergency.

Our fearless and colorful captains