Thursday, April 14, 2011

City Review: Atlanta

City: Atlanta, GA
Geographical Location: Southeastern USA
Population: 420,003 (city); 3.49 million (urban); 5.29 million (metro)
Size: 132.4 square miles (city); 1,963 sq mi (urban); 8,376 sq mi (metro)
Climate: humid subtropical
My Time There: I joined my boyfriend on a business trip there for 4 days in early January 2011.

Weather: 3 out of 10. Winters are mild; I was there in early January and it was in the 50s - pretty excellent. However, they don't call it Hotlanta for nothing. From what I hear, summers are terrible, probably worse than in DC. Hot and humid - no good.

Food: 6 out of 10. We definitely found some delicious stuff, though it was almost exclusively American places, with a Southern cooking focus.

Walkability: 2 out of 10. There are sidewalks (in mostly good repair) but it will only be you and sort of sketchy people on them, except for a few touristy areas. Nobody walks around - I was walking and I did not feel safe in some places in mid-day.

Bikeability: 2 out of 10. No bike lanes that I saw, and no people on bikes either.

Public Transportation: 6 out of 10. The metro system, MARTA, will take you to many places in the city and there appeared to be a decent bus system. However, we were questioned about feeling safe on MARTA (which we did) so apparently there is a stereotype that it is unsafe.

Vegetarian-friendly: 4 out of 10. has quite a few listings for Atlanta veg places; however, none of them are in the downtown area - all in the burbs. There were veg options at some of the places we went.

Beauty: 3 out of 10. From what I saw, it was not that easy on the eyes.

Museums, Etc.: 5 out of 10. There are a number of museums, though they all cost money. The Georgia Aquarium is top notch. The World of Coke is cheesy, but fun for the tasting you can do.

Cool Shops: Downtown area: 0 out of 10. Little Five Points: 8 out of 10. There was nothing cool downtown, but Little Five Points was awesome, chock full of interesting stuff.

Free Stuff to Do: 0 out of 10. I really found basically nothing to do for free there.

Great Outdoors: 2 out of 10. There were a few parks, but nothing really close by in the way of hikes, that I know of.

Cleanliness: 3 out of 10. The downtown area, at least, was not particularly clean.

People: 3 out of 10. I know one nice guy who lives there, but people on the street were weird or sort of hostile.

Cost of Living: $ out of $$$$. Food was cheap (even the fancy places weren't too bad), and a quick Craigslist search just revealed that I could be living in a 4 bedroom home with what I pay for rent in DC.

Tourist Congestion: 3 out of 5. Apparently tourists come to Atlanta. I'm not really sure why.

Safety: 2 out of 5. I did not feel particularly safe anywhere in Atlanta (a little better in Little Five Points). The guy I know who lives there says every apartment parking lot has to be locked up tight. Not great.

Overall Thoughts: I was not enamored of Atlanta. In fact, I didn't like it. It was sort of dirty, and nobody walked around. It's easy to drive around in - traffic in the downtown seemed pretty light even during 'rush hour'. However, that's not what I want out of a city.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

City Review: Dunedin

City: Dunedin, New Zealand
Geographical Location: Otago Region, South Island
Population: 116,600 in the city proper; 124,800 in the territorial region
Size: 98.5 square miles (city), 1279.5 square miles (territorial region)
Climate: temperate
My Time There: Five months of living and studying at the University of Otago (June - November 2008).

Weather: 6 out of 10. Winters are cold (and there is pretty much no central heating) but it rarely snows or gets below freezing. It rains a lot in the winter. It does get warm (and fairly hot in the summer, I'm told). It really does embody that NZ slogan of '4 seasons in a day', though.

Food: 6 out of 10. Yummy Asian options. Good burger joints. Nothing in the way of good Mexican (but it's NZ, what can you expect?). Fabulous Saturday farmers' market at the train station (year round, as far as I could tell).

Walkability: 8 out of 10. Plenty of good sidewalks, and I never felt unsafe walking around anywhere from the Octagon north (even by myself at 3 am).

Bikeability: 6 out of 10. There were plenty of people biking but I didn't see any bike lanes. Center City and the Uni area is pretty flat, but if you went outside of that you'd be dealing with some major hills.

Public Transportation: 5 out of 10. There's just the bus, and it is hard to figure out. I had problems with it... I walked everywhere, though.

Vegetarian-friendly: 5 out of 10. Many places had meat-free items but there were few whole restaurants that were veg.

Beauty: City center: 7 out of 10, Areas around the city: 10 out of 10. Some lovely old architecture and a wonderful botanic gardens were gorgeous. Down in the uni flats, not so much. But you don't have to go far to get to some of the most amazing views I've seen.

Museums: 5 out of 10. There weren't that many museums but most of them were free or cheap.

Cool Shops: 6 out of 10. Plenty of opshops (that's a thrift store) but that's about it.

Free Stuff to Do: 4 out of 10. There were some things... but a lot of stuff cost a little money.

Great Outdoors: 9 out of 10. There were the botanic gardens and several hikes within walking distance, and if you had a car there are tons of hikes you can drive to.

Cleanliness: 3 out of 10. Especially on a Friday morning, it could be pretty gross - beer bottles everywhere... I would never walk around barefoot. I did find the ubiquitous graffiti rather charming.

People: 4 out of 10. I found nice people in Dunedin but on first glance most Uni students are standoffish, if not hostile. I didn't meet many other folks but the ones I did were rather nice.

Cost of Living: $$ out of $$$$. Quick TradeMe search revealed some 2 bedrooms in the city center for the equivalent of $1300/month USD. Food is also not too bad, though it always looked expensive due to exchange rates...

Tourist Congestion: 1 out of 5. Now, I wasn't there in the summer but it's not really a tourist destination as much as a lot of other NZ cities, so I can't imagine it's bad at all. If we're talking drunk uni student congestion, that is pretty high...

Safety: 5 out of 5. Like I mentioned earlier, I really never felt unsafe in Dunedin. A major plus.

Overall Thoughts: I absolutely loved Dunedin when I lived there for 5 months, but I don't think I'd want to live there again. It was a great base for travel but the sheer amount of drunk people you see was sort of overwhelming. It's pretty, but it's dirty. I'm sure there's better spots to call home in NZ.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

City Reviewing

Recently, I was thinking how I love to review everything and how there is a whole category of things I have totally neglected: cities. I travel a decent amount, and expect to travel more soon. There are many cities I have been to, and it would be cool to keep good track of what I liked and didn't like about them. That way when I am older and ready to choose where to move to, I can easily remember 'ah, yes, it's that one for sure!' assuming I move to a city. But I'll probably always want to be within a day's drive or so to some big city.

I've been trying to decide how to work it, what categories to use, and what numbers I should assign. So here I'm going to sort of do an example one with my home city.

City: Washington, DC
Geographical Location: Mid-Atlantic, East Coast, USA
Population: 600,000 in the city proper; 5.4 million in the metro area
Size: 68.3 square miles
Climate: humid subtropical
My Time There: I have lived here, in the Columbia Heights neighborhood, since December 2009, and will probably be moving away in July or August.

Weather: 4 out of 10. DC weather is fairly nice in the spring and fall, and winters are generally mild (not this winter, though). However, the summer is ungodly hot and humid and barely tolerable. Also, the weather fluctuates a huge amount, and it rains with some frequency.

Food: 7 out of 10. We've got some great food. Lots of delicious American, Italian, Asian offerings in the city proper. Not much in the way of good Mexican food in DC, though. There are several great farmers' markets, and a couple (Dupont, Eastern Market) are even year-round.

Walkability: 8 out of 10. Good sidewalks, feels safe, lots of people walking around at all hours. Sort of unusual to find a closed sidewalk.

Bikeability: 9 out of 10. There are lots of bike lanes and more are getting added all the time. That doesn't mean that cars (cabs, especially) will honor the sanctity of the bike lane, though... Slightly hilly, but not too bad. The awesome new bikeshare system makes this an even better place to bike.

Public Transportation: 9 out of 10. You can get almost anywhere you want to go in the city by metro, and many places in the suburbs, too. Buses cover a lot of spots that aren't so metro accessible. Metro is easy to navigate, but the buses are actually pretty difficult to figure out (it took me nearly a year of living here to figure out even the buses in my neighborhood).

Vegetarian-friendly: 7 out of 10. My neighborhood is great for this, and there are a lot of veg places in the city.

Beauty: 5 out of 10. There's no coast or mountains to gaze at, but the old buildings down on the mall, and the cherry blossoms in spring, for instance, are quite nice.

Museums: 10 out of 10. DC is full of fabulous, FREE, museums. If you want to see basically any topic covered in a museum you just wander down to the Mall and pick a Smithsonian. There are some other museums that aren't free, and some of those are good as well, though generally at least $14.

Cool Shops: 4 out of 10. I like to look in thrift stores/consignment shops and they are sadly lacking in DC. There is the occasional shop like The Brass Knob, which is basically an antique doorknob store, but there isn't much for me in the way of cool places to go in.

Free Stuff to Do: 9 out of 10. There are the free museums, then also the free monuments. There tend to be a lot of things that happen in the city that are free or quite cheap; DCist is a great guide for that.

Great Outdoors: 5 out of 10. There are some parks, but a lot of them you can't sit in without being bothered by beggars or the smell of urine. We have Rock Creek Park, which has some nice hiking trails but you shouldn't be there if it isn't daytime. You can get to several good hikes in a couple hours by car.

Cleanliness: 5 out of 10. Depends on the part of the city, but generally it is only sort of clean. My part of the city, especially in the winter when they suspend street sweeping, can be pretty dirty indeed.

People: 6 out of 10. There are a lot of friendly people to be found, though many of those are just crazy and/or homeless people that will start talking to you on the street. Generally a good vibe, though, except maybe for angry government employees on the subway.

Cost of Living: $$$ out of $$$$. Rent is high - in Columbia Heights, $1300/month is a good deal for a one bedroom basement apartment. You can find rooms in the $800 range if you're willing to do group housing. Food is not especially expensive, however. It's easy to find cheap dinner under $10 or more pricey stuff is around $15.

Tourist Congestion: 4 out of 5. It definitely depends on what part of the city you're in, but if you're anywhere downtown and it is anywhere near summer, watch out, you are going to be in a mob of escalefters and matching backpacks. September, October, January, and February are relatively peaceful (I should know, I worked in a museum gift shop).

Safety: 3 out of 5. Certainly there are areas of the city that would get a higher score here. But there are places I wouldn't be comfortable walking alone during the day, and even in my neighborhood I limit the amount I walk alone after dark, and try not to be out at all if it's late enough.

Overall Thoughts: I like DC. It's awesomely easy to get around under your own power or by public transport. The whole free museums thing is a major perk. It's big, but not huge, so you don't feel totally lost to anonymity. It's not the prettiest of cities, but it is pretty vegetarian friendly. Probably the worst part about it is the summer. It is really awful. Thanks a lot, founding fathers, for building it on a swamp.

I will almost certainly be updating this with new things I think of. Let me know if you think of something I should add!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Review: Angel the Series

Disclaimer: Slight spoilers ahead

Starring: David Boreanaz, Charisma Carpenter, Alexis Denisof, J. August Richards, Andy Hallett, Amy Acker, Stephanie Romanov, Vincent Kartheiser, James Marsters, Christian Kane, Julie Benz, Mercedes McNabb, Glen Quinn
Created by: Joss Whedon

I have now finished all the Buffyverse shows. I feel a little empty inside. Angel is, for those who crawled out from under a rock, a spinoff of Buffy, in which Angel moves to Los Angeles and has a detective agency.

This show gets off to a slow start. The first season is highly episodic (not to say that there aren't some good ones) and sort of directionless. Season 2 features Angel being highly annoying, though I liked the last couple episodes, because we get Fred! Yay! I really, really liked Season 3. I think that's when the show really gets into its own. It goes into some dark places, though the ending part is sort of dumb in some ways. I also liked Season 4. Season 5 has Spike join the cast, which is awesome, but is not so great in other ways. Finally, the ending is totally unsatisfying.

There is a little too much damsel-in-distress crap at first, but there are some great characters and we get some top-notch character development as well. I love Cordy and Fred, and Wesley, so of course they have terrible fates. Angel was never my favorite character in Buffy, and he isn't always my favorite character in this show either, but I do like him better (at least some of the time). Jeff asked me if Angel was to Buffy as Torchwood is to Doctor Who, and my response is sort of. It is darker. Sure. More adult? Maybe. Sexier? Not really. The plots can be a little more out there, I think. There's good romance, some horror, suspense, etc. There were some pretty bad episodes (like Soul Purpose in Season 5, ugh) but I mostly liked it. Not quite as much as Buffy, but it has its own place in my heart.

Grade: B+

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

LA and Norfolk weekends

The past couple weeks have been travel-heavy, with a 4 day excursion to Los Angeles for a wedding and a 3 day jaunt to Norfolk to visit Suz and Nate (and their pooch, Rice). And this coming weekend we are popping over to Charlottesville to see my brother.

First up, LA. We stayed the night on Thursday (March 24) at Jeff's parents house and they drove us to Dulles in the morning (our flights were 10 minutes apart). I had to go through the body scanner - for the first time. It's not so bad, really. We had time to grab a bagel and then got on the plane. The flight was around 6 hours instead of the usual five due to strong headwinds. I couldn't watch the movies (the first one was the King's Speech, which I want to see) because my headphones made a godawful noise when plugged into the plane. Other than that, uneventful. We landed, then pretty quickly met up with Jeff's parents on the Enterprise shuttle, rented a car, and drove back to get Jeff's brother Kevin who had had flight problems but it all worked out. We stopped at a Coco's for lunch and continued on to be dropped off at our hotel in Huntington Beach, where we took a nap. We hung out until dinner-time, which was at the Macaroni Grill. It was a long dinner (there were 23 people) but quite nice.

Sunset in Huntington Beach

Saturday was the day of the wedding. We found an awesome bagel place. We hung out in Jeff's parents' hotel suite in Irvine for a while and then got prettied up and headed to the Sea Cliff Country Club for the wedding. It was really nice all around. Melissa had an awesome, unusual dress. The ceremony included the whole 'speak now or forever hold your peace' thing which was funny. It was a lot of fun. Jeff and I did some dancing.

the lovely bride and groom

On Sunday we went to meet up with some of Kevin's friends on the Santa Monica pier, after having brunch with Jeff's parents and Patrick and Dana.. It reminded me of a small version of the Ocean City boardwalk. Very colorful. In multiple ways. It was fun to walk around.


Next we found a mall and I got a slice of pizza and then we all got frozen yogurt. We found and checked into our hotel near LAX then met up at another guy's house for some board games. We played We Didn't Playtest This at All, Dixit, and Who Would Win. I liked all of those. We got dinner at a Subway - they had avocados! Oh California. The next day we flew out... after having to grab a last minute different flight due to ours being delayed and almost not making it on the plane... but we got home at around the time we expected, anyway.

On to the Norfolk weekend! We headed down on Friday, April 1 and stopped through Williamsburg to visit the Cheese Shop and the Peanut Shop... mmm. We got to Norfolk around dinner time and went out to Ten Top, which was delicious. We then hung out at Fair Grounds Coffee until it was time to get donuts at Donut Dinette (are you seeing a theme?).

Saturday we headed over to Suz's place of work, Hoffler Creek Wildlife Preserve in Suffolk. We were there to take the Spring Greens Tasting Tour. It was run by this awesome woman named Vicky who took us around the preserve and pointed out edible wild plants, and which ones are medicinal, and which ones are poisonous, and stuff. Then we gathered some and went back and made a salad. The dressing was fresh lemon juice mixed with maple syrup. It was very colorful!

the salad in all its gorgeous goodness

After returning to Norfolk we stopped for bagels at Yorgo's, which has amazing herb cream cheese! Then we looked at a couple of apartments (Suz and Nate are looking for a new place). Later Suz's friend Kristy came over with her adorable baby, and was supposed to go to dinner with us but she had to leave instead. We went to San Antonio Sam's where I got veggie fajitas. We went into Naro Expanded Video after that, which is totally cool, but didn't get any movies. We just chilled and cuddled with the dog and played Blokus.

On Sunday I met my mom at MacArthur Center and then we went out for brunch at Tortilla West, which was really tasty. I got to see her rockin' new Mustang. Then she went back home and we got dessert at The Skinny Dip. We went to another house to look at, this one a mansion. Then Jeff and I headed home, stopping for dinner at a Wawa.

Look for posts on Charlottesville and further adventures upcoming!