CategoriesTastes

The Pig & Pickle: Five Things to Know

 Pig & Pickle
A fine creaton at the Pig & Pickle

Since the late months of 2012, people have been yapping about a place in south Scottsdale called Pig & Pickle. If you’re already been there, read this post and nod your head in agreement. If you haven’t been there, read this and realize why you’re missing out. And get down there – it’s just one of the best dining options in Scottsdale.

It’s not a barbecue joint.

For some reason, people hear the name and think it’s a cheap-tablecloth-and-pulled-pork sort of place. Nope. You’ll find entrees like mussels, hanger steak and braised duck leg. Sure, Pig & Pickle serves burgers, too. But you won’t feel out-of-place if you wear a shirt with a collar.

Don’t try to get it your way.

The P & P menu says “Requests for substitutions will be politely declined.” Under most circumstances, I consider restaurants that refuse substitutions a case study in doucheology. Notice that I said "most." The Pig & Pickle crew has a vision – take a chance, even on ingredients you don’t like. They will surprise you (as they did me, when I ordered something that had the dreaded blue cheese in it). Drop a few of your habits and pick up a few new ones.

Pig & Pickle will change the way you eat.

Before we started dining at the Pig & Pickle, my wife and I never considered pickling anything ourselves. Now she cranks out kimchi, and I’ve even pickled berries in a sweet vinegar/cinnamon bath. And she once ordered trout, which the server delivered skin-side-up and blackened. Knowing the way the chefs roll, she figured they wanted her to eat the skin. After one bite, we were sold. Now, when I make trout at home, I blacken the skin and eat it.

Need good food, late?

Phoenix shuts down too early. Quality food is hard to find as the clock ticks past 10 p.m. Pig & Pickle has you covered until 2 a.m. every day.

One of the servers is nicknamed "Science Rocket".

This tells you what kind of people you’re dealing with. I insist that good nickname is the sign of a good working environment. Better yet, one of the chefs whipped up an improvised astronaut costume for him on Halloween. These are my kind of people.

 

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CategoriesAdventuresBlogging/Writing

Slow Travel Movement – The Truth Path or BS?

Slow Travel Movement
The symbol of the Slow Travel Movement?
I have a message for the Slow Travel Movement and the douchier-than-thou characters who comprise its most-extreme adherents: Worry about how you travel and bring your egos back down from Mt. Olympus.

Some of us can’t travel slow (By "some of us", I nostly mean Americans. Yes, those of us from the alleged capital of the First World. Those of us who have no legally mandated time off. Even Iran has four legally mandated weeks of time off.).

Some of us enjoy fast-paced travel. Flying is part of the fun, for example. I like planning some major must-see points, and letting fate fill in the rest.

I love the logistics. I love the randomness. I love the rock-starrish, live-out-of-a-backpack pace.

So the Slow Travel Movement isn’t for me. I wouldn’t mind slowing down -- gazing into my navel, contemplating locals at work while I watch.

I just hope that, when I get the chance to travel slow, I don’t write stuff like this bit from a Huffington Post (a site that publishes 50 banal, Captain Obvious travel articles for every one decent nugget) article;

Slow Travel Movement
Some of us like to keep a faster pace when we travel.
The more granular you go, the bigger the universe. The meander is the beeline of poets, and we are all poets in some stage of reduction, unwinding the path, like a mountain trail to a spring. And the more we see the more we realize we have yet to see, the paradox of plenty.

Ha ha ha ha ha! That’s rich. Such overwrought, self-important blather. “We are all poets”!

No. I’m not. I’m a guy who needs to unwind and recharge through seeing something new. I could do that as part of the Slow Travel Movement -- or as part of my Warp Speed Travel Movement.

Travel however the hell you please. Fast Travel Movement, Slow Travel Movement – just as long as you’re not part of the No Travel Movement.

However you travel, remember that travel is like music: There’s a genre for us all, and there are so many way to travel because you’re all different. You’re all individuals.

And there’s no reason you can’t enjoy your travel style without being a preachy jackass to those who find what they seek in a different way.

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CategoriesBlogging/Writing

Why I Turn Down Guest Blogging Offers

Every week, I get several requests for people who want to do guest blogging for my site. I turn down nearly every single one of them. It’s been close to a year since I let someone guest blog here, aside from someone I sought out for a cool Halloween-related post.

Let me tell you why. If you’re into guest blogging, take notes!

You Lie Your Ass Off

Nearly every guest blogging pitch starts with flattery and, often, an  entreaty about why the writer is interest in guest blogging on my site. These are from actual pitches:

  • Your blog “wanderingjustin.com“is by far the most interesting I have come across in the recent past, hands down!

  • I am keeping an eye on your blog since long and found your content very unique and informative. I guess you are working hard enough to get such an awesome content.

  • I am a freelance writer looking to gain more experience and boost my portfolio by contributing to blogs and sites such as yours, http://wanderingjustin.com/  . I loved the articles on your site and would love to be able to contribute some of my work!

Now, when I run across a blog I like, I comment. I give some love. It might even be worth a tweet or a Facebook post. If I don’t recognize the name, I doubt that I’m getting the truth in all the flattery. And notice how two of these look like form letters? That’s an extra sincerity points deduction.

Here another funny one: Sometimes, people sign their emails with names that don’t match their byline. That’s a "dishonest guest blogger" red flag, right there, it surely is.

You Want Me to Lie, Too

A for-real example, and hardly the only one of its kind:

I am working on the SEO campaign for a travel agency, and I’m interested in finding out if there is any possibility of having a sponsored post on your site http://wanderingjustin.com/. I can provide the content, but the live article can’t be labelled as ‘sponsored / guest post’ or marked in any way that indicates that it was paid for.

No. No. No. Nyet. Nein. Dishonest. Unethical. Wrong.

You’re Guest Blogging to Build Links

Businesses hire people who do "guest blogging." The idea: Offer "free" content in exchange for links back to the companies who foot the bill for their efforts. So you’re not really interested in building your reputation as a writer or boosting your portfolio. You’re just building links – and worse yet, treating me like a rube who doesn’t know what you’re up to. There are many bloggers out there who are green enough to foot the bills for hosting and maintaining their sites -- and will still let you take advantage of them. I’m not one of them. Jog on.

You Don’t Show Your Work

When I apply for a job, whether full-time or freelance, my prospective employer/client wants to see what I can do. I even say on my site that anyone interested in guest blogging needs to show some work. I can’t believe that people get even this simple step wrong.

You DID Show Your Work, And It’s Awful

If someone links to their work, I’ll read it. And often regret the misspent minutes of my life. So much guest blogging is generic to the point of depressing ("Have you ever thought of a holiday in beautiful Cypress? This post will tell you all about why it’s one of the most enchanting destinations in the world" -- bleh!).

Your Pitch is Weak

I admire people who speak and write multiple languages. People who can’t master one earn my ire. Guest blogging pitches are often petri dishes for passive voice, run-on sentences, tortured punctuation and so, so many other writing problems. Quality is most important.

Or maybe you asked what I want them to write about. If I have to think of a topic for you, I’m better off writing the post myself.

Why I Hate Being Like This

This all makes me mistrust every guest blogging offer I receive. They’re guilty until proven innocent. Guest bloggers like Rutger, who wrote this super guest post about SCUBA diving, deserve better from me. Quit spoiling it for them.

 

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CategoriesTravel

Iceland Soccer – Why I Want Them to Beat Croatia

People love underdogs like the Iceland soccer team. Hours ago, they wrapped up a scoreless draw against Croatia at its Laugardalsvöllur national football stadium. Even before the result, Iceland soccer has been getting all sorts of great press.

If you’ve looked through this blog at all, you’ll know already that I love Iceland. And part of that love started with Iceland soccer fans. On our first day in Iceland, Sarah and did what we always do in a new destination: We walked. Our ambling took us to the Laugardalslaug public pools – a complex of geothermally heated pools where we wound up relaxing for hours.

After we had our fill of relaxation, we resumed our wandering. Just a few minutes from the pools, we found the Laugardalsvöllur. We noticed a crowd of people, including a long-haired, bearded guy with his face painted blue and white. He carried a staff. He seemed just like the person who could tell us what’s going on.

Iceland Soccer
The friendly Stjarnan faithful get rowdy.

It turned out that kick-off of a Premier League match between Stjarnan and Fram was about to kick off – this is the high point of Iceland soccer in domestic leagues. The Face-Painted One (named Ragnar) gave us a free ticket. I bought one more, and Sarah and I enjoyed 90 minutes of fun soccer action. OK, it wasn’t exactly the UEFA Champions League. But it was still a ton of fun, made better by the fans. The Stjarnan fans banged drums, blew trumpets and sang throughout the match. And the Fram stadiums were perfectly gracious to the noisy interlopers in their home stadium (which the team shares with the national team).

It was a pretty incredible start to our first day in Iceland. And it makes me root for a victory in the return leg in Croatia. Nothing against Croatia, but my personal connection to Iceland makes me favor them. If they win, they will be the first Icelandic soccer team to play in the World Cup. That will be an incredible achievement for a nation of just more than 300,000 residents.

I even have an Iceland soccer shirt in my closet, and I wear it often. But here’s the truth: I really wanted to find a Stjarnan shirt, but came up empty. I’d still like a Stjarnan shirt, but I’m glad to have the national team shirt now … you can bet I’ll wear it whether they win or lose to Croatia.

  • Iceland secures 0-0 draw vs Croatia in playoff
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CategoriesTravel

How I Found Good Flight Deals to Vietnam

787 Dreamliner flight deals to Vietnam
A United Dreamliner will be our ride back from Shanghai.

I haven’t said much about my latest upcoming trip. So here’s the news: This time, we’re headed to Vietnam. It will be our first time in Southeast Asia.

Sarah and I had some intense conversations about our possible destinations – Vietnam and the southern part of Australia. The good flight deals to Vietnam swayed us (tickets came to about $1,200 US each from Phoenix to Ho Chi Minh City, and then from Hanoi back to Phoenix).

So, how did I score such good flight deals to Vietnam?

I logged into all my existing frequent flier accounts to see whether they offered flights to the cities I wanted. Being based in the United States, my air mile accounts are with U.S.-based airlines -- none of which thrills me for intercontinental travel. But some share airline alliances with my favorite carriers like Asiana Airlines.

flight deals to Vietnam.
Our travels will give us a look at Vietnam Airlines.

The options from Asiana Airlines were challenging. The layover was tight for the flight to Incheon, South Korea, that would connect to a flight to Ho Chi Minh City. It was also on an Airbus A330, which I don’t much like (see my review of Scandinavian Airlines).

The price I got while logged into my account with a fellow Star Alliance airline didn’t impress me.

Working My Flight Options

I usually avoid airline aggregators like Orbitz. I booked on one once, and didn’t have a great experience. But they’re great for finding other airline options you might not normally consider.

Here’s where I struck gold: I plugged my preferred dates into a Google search. I got a bunch of good flight deals to Vietnam cheaper than I could find logged into my frequent flier accounts.

flight deals to Vietnam
One of the reasons I worked to find good flight deals to Vietnam – the caves!

Here’s what I came up with: Phoenix to San Jose – from there, we take a All Nippon Airways Boeing 787 to Tokyo Narita, where we connect to via an Air Japan 767 to Ho Chi Minh City. I’m very interested in the first outbound flights since ANA is a SKYTRAX 5-Star airline: The last 5-star airline I flew was Asiana, which is still the airline to beat in my book. On the way back, we have a Vietnam Airlines flight to Shanghai, where we have a United Airlines 787 back to Los Angeles and then on to Phoenix.

Good Flight Deals to Vietnam – and Easy Booking

The booking link for my flights took me straight to the United Airlines website, where having my account made short, easy work of the process. That means no sweating over frequent flier points – and the booking info goes straight to my smartphone. There, I can access it through the United Airlines app.

flight deals to Vietnam
We’re also hoping to find some tasty food in Vietnam.

Should anything cause us to miss a flight, booking from an airline’s website has – in my experience – also made getting back on-course run quite a bit smoother.

Expect some honest reviews from the economy class after this is all over. We’ll have a lot of flying to do (including two trans-Pacific Boeing 787 Dreamliner flights), and I consider it a big part of the fun.

And yes, watch for some first-hand accounts of caving, hiking and exotic food-eating in Vietnam, too!

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CategoriesFitnessTravel

Running Abroad – Our Travel Tradition

Running Abroad
Finishing a half-marathon at the top of the world.

I’m late to the starting line. I’m cold. I’m disoriented from a trip that started yesterday – kind of – in Phoenix and left me 220 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

The pack for the Midnight Sun Run 10K left without me moments ago. I have the road through Tromsø, Norway, all to myself. This is my initial glimpse into the country, a barometer of its personality.

I’m the first to say that I’m not really a runner. I’ve coaxed myself through several half-marathons, plus sundry shorter races. Yet 10K races have become my way of tapping into the countries I visit. This is my third race abroad; they each leave me with a medal – and plenty of thoughts.

Running Abroad: Travel Tradition for the Active

One morning in New Zealand, I slept in while my wife, Sarah, went for a run. Her path intersected with a local race. She didn’t have a number plate or a timing chip, but she followed its route for awhile. And she decided on our new travel tradition – we’re going to race wherever we travel.

A half-marathon is barely enough time for Sarah to warm up at home. But during a vacation, that or a 10K is a good distance. We pile the miles on when we travel, taking in multiple hikes that stretch as long as 15 miles. We walk as much as possible in every city. For me, a 10k is a good challenge … especially to keep my time at less than 50 minutes.

Running Abroad
One of these days, I’ll be photogenic in a racing photo.

We got the plan rolling during a trip to Iceland. We found the Miðnæturhlaup, or Midnight Run. It’s a nice cruise through Reykjavik. The course passes a zoo, athletic fields, churches. Best of all, it ends at a city-run geothermally heated pool called Laugardalslaug.

By the time we ran the race, Sarah and I had embraced Iceland’s love for its hot tubs. We saw families and friends lounging in tubs, which they usually followed with an ice cream bar.

The Miðnæturhlaup also reinforces our impression of Icelanders as cool and laid-back, more so than people we encountered in recent trips. They weren’t likely to strike up conversations like Kiwis or Aussies. They wouldn’t tell you all the insider spots to visit, unprompted, like a Costa Rican.

And don’t expect them to "woo-hoo!" like Americans do at passing runners. Sure, running races prompt wacky spectacle in Americans. Some racers revel in outrageous outfits and costumes. The spectators love screaming at passing runners. If you go running abroad in Iceland, you’ll find the inhabitants are are made of cooler stuff. I heard an occasional golf clap, but that’s it. Later, Sarah told me she waved her hands in the air at spectators and gave a yell, which seemed to boggle their minds.

The racers themselves are matter-of-fact. They get on with their run, and save the grins for the pool afterward. When it’s time to run, run. When it’s time to hot tub, get communal.

A Party with a Run in the Middle

I figured out what happened in Iceland: It exported its love for race hooplah to South Korea.

The Hi Seoul races started off with cowboy boot-clad cheerleaders leading the entire pack in warmup stretches. A news camera crew milled about, noticed me, then shot footage of my entire stretching routine.

Running abroad Hi Seoul 10K Run w/Walter!
Happy runners at the Hi Seoul race

And in South Korea, it’s never too early or too bright for fireworks. A brace of rockets whistled into the air, and the boom echoed among the tall buildings. The theme to Star Trek: Voyager followed, and the 10k was underway. So if you want commotion when you’re running abroad, this is your race.

The race passed workaday portions of Seoul, far from the palaces, the souvenir shops of Insadong and the carts selling boiled silkworm larvae. It connected to the Han River, and ended in a public park.

As we ran, spectators yelled "Ite!" I can only guess it means "go" or something like it. The race, the runners, the spectators added up to a lively and outgoing experience. At this point, I had been in South Korea for more than a week. It confirmed my impression that South Korea is happy to see you and wants you to have fun -- even if the population wonders why you’re here instead of in Japan.

At the finish line, I collected my second foreign race medal – plus a technical t-shirt and a can of spicy chicken. Perfect for post-race recovery!

Racing at the Top of the World

The Midnight Sun Run is the first time I’ve ever run a race the day after arrival. The previous races came mid-trip, after we’d had a chance to mingle, to form impressions. We slept through most of our first day here; we woke at 3 p.m., which doesn’t look much different from 3 a.m. at this latitude.

running abroad
Here’s where you can run a 10k race 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

So, what is Tromsø, Norway, all about? As I start reeling in stragglers, I notice lots of revelers in skimpy dresses. A desert dweller like me wonders how they handle the cold.

The cityscape changes from businesses to homes. The residents line the course, cheering the runners as they pass: "Heja, heja, heja!" They wave, they smile, they clap.

The course drops to the shore. Even in June, snow covers many of the surrounding mountains. I forget that I’m even running, that I slept my day away in a tent, that my timing chip might not even work since I started so far behind.

I cross the finish line, get a finishers medal and settle in to wait for Sarah’s half-marathon to start. Her race is a far bigger event, with runners carrying their home countries’ flags – quite a few people are running abroad. The Norwegian spectators cheer the foreign visitors, sometimes throwing out a phrase of Spanish or Italian.

And once again, I experience the connection that brings runners together at races. And I look forward to my next race in a foreign country, wherever that happens to be.

My next adventure running abroad will be the Song Hong 10K in Hanoi, Vietnam.

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Categoriesfeatured

The Worst Things About Living in Scottsdale

A recent tweet by Arizona Central, the online home of The Arizona Republic, got me thinking about the worst things about living in Scottsdale.

The tweet linked to a study about Scottsdale’s neighbor, Tempe, ranking 43rd in a list of the best small cities to live in.

That’s one small tweet, on giant tweet for encapsulating what’s wrong with Scottsdale. Let’s break it down.

worst things about living in Scottsdale
Valley Metro light rail – not allowed in Scottsdale. (Steven Vance)

Still Putting the Brakes on Light Rail
The same tired Scottsdale mouthpieces have managed to keep light rail out of Scottsdale. Everything they say flies in the face of the increasing ridership on the current light rail line. Nobody with any electricity firing between their brain synapses can figure out how light rail will increase traffic congestion and pollution. If anything, Scottsdale should break its back to figure out a way to do light rail better than the current street-grade system. The cost will be worth it in the long run. In the meantime, enjoy the not-at-all convenient trolleys and buses.

worst things about living in Scottsdale
The Poisoned Pen – One of Scottsdale’s all-too-few bookstores. (Wikipedia)

Can I Get a Bookstore?
South Scottsdale has one bookstore – the highly specialized Poisoned Pen. I love the store, but its mystery niche is very narrow. Scottsdale Fashion Square, we have to infer, serves illiterates since there’s not a single bookstore in its cavernous interior. Even the Scottsdale Pavilions, just across the border in the Pima-Maricopa community just east of Pima Road, doesn’t have one anywhere in its footprint. Aside from the Poisoned Pen, all we have is a Barnes & Noble at the 101 and Shea and yet another B&N at Kierland Commons (and no, antique/religious/New Age bookstores don’t count).

Lagging Left Just the Tip
Traffic is one of the worst things about living in Scottsdale. It’s a long, narrow city -- and it seems city officials time the traffic lights to obstruct by any means necessary. It’s rare to catch a break on the lights while doing anything close to the speed limit. And that lagging left turn – Scottsdale clings to it like a helicopter mom clutches a college student. Oh, sure, it can produce all sorts of studies to tell you how great it is. But the proof is in the commute – just take a drive around the city and see if you can maintain your sanity. I dare you – I double-dare you!

worst things about living in Scottsdale
Scottsdale is still bent on preserving its “Most Western Town” persona. (Photo credit: ed 37 ~~)

Fear of a Tall Planet
Scottsdale hates density and loves sprawl. Just let someone propose a tall building, and NIMBYs will crawl out of the woodwork to howl about their mountain views and property values. I’m still dismayed that two tall buildings stand just south of Fashion Square Mall. The only things wrong with those condo towers is they’re ridiculously opulent and expensive -- and there’s not nearly enough of them. They could become great residential/transportation hubs. I admit Tempe fumbled initially in its attempts to get developers to build upward. But it’s recovered, and Scottsdale can learn from its lessons.

What’s Good About Being Western?
Scottsdale loves to call itself the "West’s Most Western Town." I honestly just don’t care about living in a Western town. Why Scottsdale sees this as any sort of virtue in 2013 boggles my mind. Want to set a good goal? Maybe try being the "Southwest’s Most Northwest-Pacific Town." That might imply good public transit, a creative- and tech-heavy economy, a cosmopolitan flavor -- Bottom line, Scottsdale’s Old Guard might care about this slogan, and it’s not even accurate. Look, I know the city’s Botox-and-boob jobs reputation is a slight exaggeration. But it contains elements of truth that don’t square with being the West’s Most Western Town. I’m also embarrassed that Scottsdale and the nearby town of Cave Creek might have a slap-fight in court about this slogan (My take: Scottsdale can’t out-Western Cave Creek on the most-Western day of its existence even if it had an electrified Westernizing machine). This slogan is one worst things about living in Scottsdale. Let Cave Creek have it.

UPDATE: SPRING 2019

Over the past few years, more and more businesses (usually bars) have started using golf carts to ferry people around. It’s good to keep people from behind the wheel if they’ve been drinking too much.

But those golf carts are annoying: loud, smelly, slow. Sometimes, they get into the bike lane, which annoys me as a cyclist. I’d like to see the city take a harder stance on this.

I’m also annoyed by people carping about the scooter and bike shares. They’re not perfect, usually because people who use them are pretty clueless (I’ve seen some epic wipeouts). The biggest complaint about them is that they’re unsightly when not un use — talk about a First World Problem!

But they get cars off the streets. I’m all for that.

What would you add to this list?

I know I’ve really gone off on the worst things about living in Scottsdale. There are actually some things I like, too. In a future post, I’ll tell you all about them. Stand by!

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