Posts Tagged ‘Travel’


// May 24th, 2011 // No Comments » // Cool Stuff, Music, Performances, Press, Travel

I’m sitting in our hotel in Manizales, finishing some delicious café con leche, & savoring the last few moments of our time in Colombia. What a whirlwind the beginning of this tour this has been! Since we left San Francisco a week ago, the Ramblers have taken six flights & are about to catch our seventh & eigth this afternoon to Bogota & Quito! Using planes so much for travel has been nice in that it allows us to visit many more cities & schools than we’d otherwise be able to, but it’s been harder for Brendan, who couples an astonishing amount of obscure technical & trivia knowledge about plane models with a mild fear of flying.

Ramblers being silly

Before we take off for Ecuador, I wanted to give you all some highlights of our amazing week in Colombia.


We began our journey in Bucaramanga, where we were met by our effervescent cultural co-ordinater from Bi-National Center, Juliana. We hit the ground running with a workshop at the Escuela Normal Superior with two big classes of enthusiastic (and energetic!) students. We worked off some of that energy by having them jump, walk, run, swim, drive, & ride around the verbs of motion in Old Joe Clark, & then learned some interesting noises for animals in both Colombia & the United States during Old MacDonald. I especially liked learning about the Chiguiro! Also, I’m always excited for the opportunity to showcase my super-realistic chicken sound, cultivated over many afternoons of serious practice as a child. In between the classes, we were offered a refreshing carbonated beverage called Malta that looked for all the world like cola, but tasted like a dead ringer for the milk in your bowl post-Lucky Charms. Brendan, Matt, Jordan, I were reminded of our time in Russia at the end of the class when all the kids rushed us for autographs & facebook contact info.

Jordan strikes a teacherly pose...

Jordan strikes a teacherly pose...

We were delighted to discover that the venue for our first public concert was the stunning Casa del Libro Total Museum & were well-received by the audience there. Our program ranged from rousing songs about Union scabbers (“Casey Jones”), to ballads about the hardships of growing up in poverty in the Appalachian Mountains (Ola Bella Reed’s “I’ve Endured” & Gillian Welch’s “Red Clay Halo”), to songs about the railroad (“John Henry”) and the range (“Home on the Range”) and heartache (“East Virginia”), to silly children’s songs (“The Fox”), and examples of “contemporary American folk music” when Brendan, Jordan, & I each take a turn playing original compositions. I also like to throw in a traditional Irish song called “The Blackbird,” which provides a good opportunity to introduce the idea of The United States as a nation of immigrants & talk about the relationship between some of the traditional music in America & that of the British Isles.

sound check at the museum

One of the main ideas behind this project is that, in addition to being a fun way for ESL students to learn through music, we feel that traditional American folk music is a terrific way to share another side of American culture that is perhaps not very well represented by our most pervasive cultural exports (Hollywood films, pop music, MTV, etc). The United States is a vast & complex nation filled with many different people with rich & varied heritage. The stories told in Folk songs are stories about real people, ordinary people, about hardship & joy & suffering & history, & we are as excited about sharing these narratives of American culture with other parts of the world as we are about learning more about the lives & history of our hosts & the students & teachers we encounter.

Matt & Gillian ramble through the streets of Bucaramanga

One of the ways that we like to explore new cultures is through food! Brendan in particular has made it his mission to taste every local specialty cuisine he encounters, which is how we came to sit around a small plastic table, contemplating a bag of fried ants. The ants were much larger than any I’d ever seen – each abdomen section about the size of a small pea – and (I can personally report) are crunchy, salty, & not altogether unpleasant save for the disturbingly tangible legs, which got stuck between my teeth.


After two wonderful, busy days that ended too soon, we packed our bags once again & caught a flight back to Bogota & then to Pereira (interesting fact: we will pass through the Bogota airport three times on this trip without ever actually seeing the capital city itself! Guess that means we’ll have to come back soon for a proper visit). Next update: Pereira!

revisiting a favorite Russian card game


// May 14th, 2011 // No Comments » // Cool Stuff, Music, News

The Kickstarter campaign raised over $14,000 for The Hinter Haus.

Thank you all so much for supporting independent music & the dreams of one little harpist/singer-songwriter.

I am so full of gratitude for each & every one of the 179 incredibly generous backers who pledged to bring this project into the world. Feeling very infinite & small tonight. What an amazing journey this has been!

Tomorrow morning, I catch an early plane bound for Bogota, marking the start of another adventure as I tour with the ESL Folk Project through Colombia, Peru, & Ecuador. Keep an eye on my blog for updates from my travels abroad. I’ll be posting more updates through Kickstarter to keep my backers abreast of the album’s progress over the next few months. I think that by the end of all this, we will have created together something very fine indeed.

But for now, it’s time to finally exhale. And perhaps have a glass of wine on the front door steps. And maybe write a new song.

With love,


West Coast Adventures

// May 14th, 2011 // No Comments » // Cool Stuff, Music, News, Performances, Press, Travel

It’s a cloudy, early morning in San Francisco, and I’m sitting in the kitchen with the day’s first cup of coffee, listening to a quiet house.

morning run by the golden gate bridge

morning run by the golden gate bridge

I’ve been staying with some friends in Outer Richmond this past week to rehearse with the ESL Folk Project in preparation for our tour in South America. I met Matt, Brendan, & Jordan last summer in Tomsk where we began our first tour, bringing a special program using American Folk music as a cultural supplement for students learning English in Russia. The U.S. State Department loved the project so much, they decided to fund us again for a month-long tour in Colombia, Peru, & Ecuador. It’s the first time that we’ve all been together since Ufa last summer & the reunion has been sweet indeed. Tomorrow morning we’ll catch an early flight to Bogata the adventure begins! We expect to be doing some blogging updates from the road, but I don’t know how regular our internet access will be, so I wanted to write a little post sharing some of the highlights of my past couple weeks in California.

Oh, hey there, Hollywood...

Oh, hey there, Hollywood

I flew to Los Angeles on April 29th to visit my dear friend Rosy, who had generously offered to host a house concert for me. We spent the weekend cooking & then celebrated May Day with music, a feast featuring dishes from all the countries I’ll be visiting on the ESL Folk tour, & over a hundred guests.

That there's 70lbs of onions. I cried.

That there's 70lbs of onions. I cried.

On Monday, fellow Fellow Ted & I visited the Caltech campus to talk about our recent experiences as Thomas J. Watson Fellows on a panel for prospective applicants. Here’s hoping one of their many intriguing proposal ideas gets funded next year! We drove down to San Diego & spent a couple days learning ridiculous covers on harp & guitar, playing them for dear distant friends on Skype, & sampling the finest fish taco stands in the city. Ted also treated me with a breakfast of matzo brie, which is kind of like Jewish French toast (and totally delicious).

Ted! You made Matzo Brie!

Ted! You made Matzo Brie!

I took the train up from SD back to LA (and, as always when traveling public transit with my harp, talked to lots of curious strangers) & then caught a rideshare to San Francisco with a woman who managed to fit me, my harp (in flight crate), & a young australian woman fresh from the airport into her Prius! I was dropped off in the Lower Pacific Heights neighborhood just in time to play another house concert for a super fun audience featuring a surprising number of AmeriCorps volunteers. By midnight, I’d made my weary way to Outer Richmond where the ESL Folk Project has been living & rehearsing this past week.

Brendan, Matt, & Jordan

We’ve been working hard, logging several 9 hour days of solid rehearsal, learning lots of new material & lesson plans for the students we are *super* excited to meet in Peru, Colombia, & Ecuador. This time around, the U.S. State Department is organizing several large public concerts in addition to our schedule with the schools, so we’ve put together an entirely new program! Some of my favorites to learn have been John Henry, Red Clay Halo, Old Joe Clark, In the Pines, & Casey Jones.

lots of lyrics-learning...

In our spare time, we’ve managed to share several delicious meals (Jordan’s a wizard with a cast iron skillet) & visit the Sutro Baths, a 19th Century swimming facility that now lies in ruins on the Pacific Coast, not far from the house where we’ve been staying. When not making a hootenanny in the living room with the guys, I’ve also been learning cover song requests from a kickstarter campaign for my next solo album, locking myself in the (acoustically pleasing & quiet) bathroom to make iMovie recordings, & posting them on YouTube. One of the covers, a version of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind Theme on harp, was picked up by the online gaming community & went viral, making this one of the most viewed bathrooms in San Francisco! Big love & thanks to,,, The Elder Scrolls facebook & twitter feeds,, & thousands of individuals for spreading the video like wildfire. I stayed up late last night learning the Ultima Online Theme (which was one of the earliest follow-up requests from & posted it on YouTube this morning as a gesture of my deep gratitude for the outpouring of support that’s come from the gaming community over the past few days.

over 42,000 people have seen this bathroom!

We’ve already started getting some press coverage in South America, like this article: Ramblin’ Across the Andes.. Time to get back to packing – looking forward to sharing our stories from the road!

Much love,

sorry, Pickles, you can't come...

P.S. My next concerts in the U.S. will be on Monday, June 13th at the Rockwood Music Hall in NYC & Saturday, June 18th at the Tin Angel in Philadelphia. The Tin Angel shows have been selling out, so if you’re interested in coming, be sure to reserve your tickets in advance!

Counting the Places I’ve Laid My Head: 2010 in Numbers

// January 14th, 2011 // No Comments » // Cool Stuff, News, Travel

2010 was an immense year for me on many fronts, marking both the bulk of my Watson Fellowship experience as well as my first national tour. I’ve been struggling with how best to approach a year-end retrospective. Since most of my blog posts tend to be longwinded affairs and because January is supposed to be about both fresh starts and self-reflection, I’ve decided to examine the year 2010 in numbers, maps, and graphs. Mind you, I’ve never worked so hard to suck at anything in my life in quite the same way as Calculus, so this has been a bold undertaking. My rules in arriving at the figures below were that a location only counts if I spent at least one night there. Places I passed through in transit do not count. Enjoy!

Here’s a nifty google map marking the stops on my journey:

Travels in 2010
(You can view a larger version of this map with all the cities listed & twitter excerpts narrating each location!)

I thought it’d be fun to break down all that travel by modes of transport. The mile estimates, especially in terms car travel, err on the modest end of the spectrum. I actually put 16,000 miles on my car during the three months of the North American tour, but for the purposes of this blog post I was only calculating direct distances between cities. I didn’t feel that I could accurately track the miles I logged by autorickshaw in India, so, sadly, the long, hot, stinky, noisy, fume-filled hours I spent squashed under my harp & fearing for my imminent demise in those three-wheeled, two-stroke wonders of modern transport are not included.

miles traveled in various modes of transport. Notably, most of those bus miles were logged in Indonesia.

miles traveled in various modes of transport. Notably, most of those bus miles were logged in Indonesia.

While my carbon-guilt is great for having flown over 13,000 miles, I was slightly mollified to learn that I actually logged MORE miles by public transport (those 600+ miles spent on boats & ferry’s really sealed the deal). The grand total for miles travelled in 2010? 39,155

Other Facts & Figures

Continents Visited: 3
Countries Visited: 9
Cities Visited: 79
U.S. States Visited: 28
Languages Spoken (mostly very badly): 8
Currencies Held: 8
Hospital Visits: 2 (one for rabies post-exposure treatment in Indonesia, the other for a mystery virus in India)
Passports Stolen: 2
Consular Interventions on My Behalf: 1 (Thanks for getting me out of Russia, Wilma!)
Human-sized Hampster Balls oggled in Tyumen: 1

Now, I know this is a far cry from the wizardry of an OkCupid Trends post, but cut me some slack, okay? I was a Comparative Literature major! That said, if there are other calculations you’d like me to try and approximate, I’m open to giving it all of my XKCD-loving spirit.

Happy New Year!