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I’m in the basement of a Seattle friend’s house. I should be in bed. I mean, technically, I am in bed, clicking away on my laptop before I finally shut down for the night. But I had to jot down this quick thought, while it was still a thought.

I’m up in Seattle for a couple days of travel-related meetups – I went to two of them tonight, and the third is tomorrow night. Every single person at each meetup is someone I’ve met online, and they’re all travelers. One is here in Seattle after two days in Portland, which was the first stop on what’s going to be a long-term trip. She departs for Asia in a little over a week and isn’t planning to come back for at least six months. Another pair from tonight’s meetup are 18 days away from their own departure date, and they’re off on a multi-year adventure.

The rest of the crew is made up of a bunch of travel lovers with whom, it turns out, I have a fabulous time with. Yes, we share an interest in travel, and that’s definitely good for a conversation starter, but it’s more than that. These are excellent human beings with whom I’m proud to be associated and humbled to spend time with.

And now my thought.
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I love to travel. I also love coming home.

I’m fond of saying how lucky I am that I live in a beautiful part of the world, and I still love being reminded just how lucky I am. Thankfully, the Pacific Northwest – especially in the summer – has a brilliant way of doing that regularly. On a recent trip to Central Oregon, I had more than one occasion where I was unable to stop gasping at how gorgeous my surroundings were.

On one of those occasions, I had just come around a corner on the trail by Sparks Lake with the South Sister in the background. This is what I saw:

South Sister & Sparks Lake

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my alma mater colors outside the reunion

I’ve been flipping through my high school yearbooks lately.

I dug them off their shelf the day I got back from my 20-year reunion, and paging through the pictures and messages – for the first time in perhaps 15 years – is helping my brain put the faces I saw at the reunion together with the names I remember from graduation.

Why didn’t I do this – let’s call it research – before my reunion? Why only after? Probably for the same reason I wasn’t entirely certain going to the reunion was a good idea: I wasn’t eager to relive those years.

If you’d asked me any time in the past two decades what high school was like for me, I’d have had a pretty definitive answer for you. I’d have said I hated high school, that I had a very small circle of close friends, that I was a social misfit who didn’t really have a place in the school I attended. I wasn’t one of the popular crowd, I wasn’t top of the class, I wasn’t stand-out in anything enough to be memorable.

I skipped my 10-year reunion (even though I live a 1.5-hour drive away) using the logic I’ve heard countless people use before and since – I was in touch with everyone I wanted to be in touch with from high school already (a grand total of two people). I had similar qualms as I made the 1.5-hour drive to my 20th reunion. I had even convinced myself that most of my classmates wouldn’t even remember me.

What was I doing?, I kept thinking. Why, if I didn’t fit in back then, did I think I’d fit in now? Why, if I hated high school so much, would I want to revisit it?

I walked into the bar on the first night of the reunion, relieved to notice they had a registration table set up with nametags, and was immediately enveloped in a bear hug by a guy I hadn’t had time to even look at before he hugged me. “Jessica Spiegel, ladies and gentlemen,” I heard him say. When he pulled back, I saw that it was someone I’d known since third grade, when I first moved to Oregon. He had been a loveable punk kid, a trouble-maker with a sweet side, and someone I hadn’t been close to. In the bar at our 20th reunion, he not only recognized me, he was happy to see me. I was dumbfounded.

At that moment, I realized I’d been approaching the whole reunion thing all wrong. It wasn’t about reliving the past, it was about living in the present with people who shared history with you. And that was it.
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Are You Obsessed?

I’m going to try an experiment here.

I’ve been mulling over something in my head for a few weeks – has it been months? – now, and it’s something I’d like to have a conversation about. Something, at least, that I’d like to hear from others about before I go spouting off on the subject.

I know, right? Kooky.

Anyway, here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to ask a question here, and if you’ve got something to contribute to the conversation, let me know. You can leave a comment below, or, if you’d like to send something longer you can send me an email – jessica (at) bootsnall (dot) com with the subject line “I’m Obsessed.” Why? You’ll see in a minute. And you should also know that any response you leave in the comments or send me via email may well end up in whatever I write. There you are, fair warning.

And now, for my question.


Have you ever been obsessed with a place for a really long time without actually setting foot in that place? I’m talking ten, 20 years or more? If so, have you finally visited that place after your long obsession? What was it like? Did it live up to expectations or was it disappointing? And if you haven’t visited the place, are you afraid to, just in case it might be disappointing?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Before I’d even emerged from the metro station, I knew I was going the wrong way. That old idea of having a 50-50 shot of getting it right had again, like it often seems to, backfired on me.

This was my second trip to Paris in the space of a month, only this time I didn’t have the comforting bubble of friends around me, fellow study abroad students who’d been to Paris before. This time I was in the enviable position of staying with my father’s French cousins – cousins who had an enormous parquet-floored apartment just down the street from the Arc de Triomphe. I was being very well taken care of, but was fighting a fear of the unknown that was keeping me in their gorgeous apartment and away from the city outside.

When I’d visited Paris earlier in my trip, I had happily followed my friends around, only vaguely paying attention as they surveyed the metro map to plan a travel route. I sort of understood how to read the map, but I hadn’t put that to the test. When I returned to Paris to stay with my cousins, I was by myself. My friends had set off, armed with Eurail passes, to spend the two-week break between our semesters in Nottingham seeing Europe. I had chosen to spend that two-week break with relatives in Zurich and Paris – and even as I sat in my cousins’ apartment, nervous about going out alone, I didn’t regret that choice. It was just going to take a polite bit of mothering from my cousin Françoise to get me out of my shell.

One morning before she left to work at one of her new quiche shops that had just opened across town, Françoise said to me, “Why don’t you come by the shop for lunch? I can feed you there.” It was settled. I couldn’t disappoint Françoise, so I told her I’d meet her at the shop. She drew a speck on my Paris map that I was to aim for, and then she was gone.

I’m not exaggerating when I say it took me all morning to work up the gumption to walk out the door of that apartment.
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You don’t have to take my word for it that Portland is full of great places to eat. Many of my favorite eateries have been written up in national news outlets, but I still want to make sure you know about them so you understand why I go on and on and on about them when you talk to me.

There’s a Google map at the bottom of this post with markers for all the places I mention below, so you can see where they are in the city.

  • Pok Pok – This is my favorite Thai place in a city full of Thai places, but you won’t find pad thai on the menu. Pok Pok is more of an homage to Thai street food, and an order of Ike’s Vietnamese chicken wings is a must. The cocktails are also spectacular (try the ones made with the drinking vinegars for a special treat). There’s often an annoyingly long wait here, but if you’ve got a group of 5+ you can make reservations (highly recommended for dinner, especially on weekends), and you can now get a drink and an order of Ike’s wings at the Whiskey Soda Lounge across the street while you wait.
  • Ken’s Artisan Pizza – My favorite pizza outside of Italy is made by the husband right in my own kitchen, but a very close second is any pizza made at Ken’s Artisan Pizza. The big wood oven and attention to detail make the dough perfectly chewy inside and crisp outside, and a limited menu of toppings means you’re getting the best stuff available. Ken’s doesn’t take reservations, so plan on a wait (especially on weekends) – if you spot open seats at the bar, however, grab them. You’ll get the same dinner menu at the bar and you’ll typically have much less of a wait.
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I often say that I love talking about Italy when I’m writing on the Italy travel guide – but in reality, I’m writing about Italy there. I do love talking about the country, however, whenever I get a chance to. Which is why I’m so excited about a new project a couple of friends and I started last week – it’s an all-Italy podcast.

Sara Rosso of Ms. Adventures in Italy, Michelle Fabio of Bleeding Espresso, and I recorded our first episode of Eye On Italy last Monday, and although we know we’ve got some room for improvement we’re also pleased with the results of that first effort. At a selfish level, it’s a fun opportunity for the three of us to chat in real-time once a week – but having the podcast will also be a forum for us to discuss all kinds of Italy-related topics.
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The husband made this dish the other night in a fit of reminiscing, and when I mentioned on Twitter that it was the most addictive pasta dish ever I got no less than four requests for the recipe. So, I figured I should put it online.

I think it’s safe to say that this dish not only inspired the husband to love cooking, but also started the love affair I now have with Italian food. I am not a cook – I don’t like experimenting in the kitchen and I’m easily flustered by too many things on the stove at once – but this dish just looked so simple to make that we tried it the same day we saw it as part of a promotional show on our local PBS station. As I learned later, the simplicity of this recipe is completely indicative of how easy Italian cooking is. What’s more, we’ve made it even simpler than the original recipe, too, so there’s really no excuse to not make it at least once a week.

Which is why it’s insane that we always forget about it.
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