Thursday, December 07, 2006
Monday night, my Paris friend Vero and I went to a Chinese restaurant from the Shang Dong (sp?) area of China. It was excellent, quite possibly the best Chinese meal I have had. It was in the 13th district but that is about all I know. Not sure if I will be able to find it again. I ate myself (nearly) sick and then we stayed up way too late in discussion. One of the French traits I admire is the interest in conversation for the sake of conversation and expanding your mind.
Tuesday night I went to a restaurant that, while it would have been acceptable to good in England, was really disappointing in france. Ahh well, can’t win em all.
Spent Weds working in the hotel bar, Christmas shopping and wandering around Paris. The Christmas market in Montparnasse was quite nice. I tried to go to the La Fayette Market as I was told that there was a sight to see there. Something akin to the windows on 5th ave as far as I could tell. When I got there, however, it was basically a Macy’s. Not where I wanted to do any of my Christmas shopping, I forgot about the windows and continued on my way. Through this whole day, I forgot my camera. So no pictures of Paris or the (suitably picturesque) Champs Elysses and Arc de Triumph all lit up for Christmas.
It wasn’t “tourist season” so I couldn’t do one of the things I had wanted to. They have some Euromast thing, I am assuming it is similar to a Space Needle. This one, though, you can repel out of. Unfortunately, it is only open during the summer. Alas…
I did sleep on a boat though. I booked into the Clipper Hotel which was a house boat. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I booked it. I arrived at the side of the canal and climbed down a sketchy iron ladder to get on this house boat. Entering, I was in somebody’s living room. There were 3 medium dogs and a (rather bratty) kid. “Mom” was a young woman, younger than me, I believe, who checked me in. She was courteous, though not friendly. While she was dealing with one of the boy’s little temper tantrums, I admired his art and school papers posted around the house. Very homey feel. I had booked out a double room for myself and ended up with a small twin bunk bed with a port-hole window. Though it was cramped and some what an odd scene, I was boyishly excited to be sleeping on a boat.
After getting settled in, I headed out to see what Rotterdam (or Ro-Town, as the cool kids call it) had to offer.
I was in a good mood heading out and Ro-Town didn’t disappoint. I stopped in a small bar to get my bearings and was treated to an excellent beer (Belgian, I believe). Wandered towards the ‘hip’ area. Most of the shops and what not were closed down but I did find a pool spot. Randomly, the bartender at this pool place gave me a quick history of some of the battles in the civil war. He was apparently writing a book on the US Civil War. Go figure. We chatted for a while and I went up to shoot pool.
The pool table was excellent. The dutch really care about their games (probably why I like them). The table looked old and the felt was worn. After playing a couple of shots though, you could see, or rather feel, that this was a quality table. I shot for a couple of hours and decided to see what else I could find.
I wandered a bit, got dinner at some bar, and pretty much covered all of the downtown areas of Rotterdam. A far cry from some of the larger cities where there is a bar or café every couple of feet, Rotterdam has a select set of establishments that stay open. After wandering around a bit, I found a casino that was playing the new Bond film. Pretty good actually.
Wandering back to my boat, I was a bit worried about navigating that ladder in the wet, dark, slightly intoxicated state. I was very surprised to find that I the 6 or so hours I had been gone, the water level rose about 8 feet. I had to step up to get into the boat. Ocean tides and what not. Since Rotterdam is mostly under sea level and protected by a series of dikes, I didn’t think the tides would affect them. I suppose they could be ‘man made’ for some purpose. Flushing the system perhaps?
Anyway, I checked out the next day and saw that I was staying right next to the cube houses. Some fancy housing experiment, they are basically cubes standing on one corner. It seems like a pretty inefficient way to build a house. Some 20% of the space is un usable due to the slanting walls. Ahh well, progress.
I went to the local art museum and saw a Magritte exhibit. Really good, quite a few things that I would hang on my wall.
After that, I went and found a café near the train station to pass the time until my train left. This place had a pinball game that I got to playing. This was another example of high quality games as it was much better built than most pinball games I have played. Real carved figures inside, lots of mechanics and less flashing lights. The flippers had a very analogue feel.
Wandering around, I realized that New York was founded by the dutch and both towns had something in common. I couldn’t quite place my finger on it, but there is something there. Maybe just a feeling.
Well, they say Amsterdam to play, Rotterdam to work, and the Hague to live. I guess the Hague is my next destination.
Sunday, November 26, 2006
Flew out butt ass early on Thursday morn. Had purchased a return train ticket to the airport but apparently the return is only good if you are return the same day. What the hell point is that? Ahh well. The flight was really easy. Wizzair is probably the nicest value carrier I have been on out here. It reminds me a bit of Jet Blue (but no TVs).
The hotel was a bit less central than I would have preferred. I took a lastminute.com deal. In retrospect, the deal was pretty bogus. I could have done much better having just bought a flight and hotel. Ahh well, it was clean and the goulash was very good.
After I checked in to the hotel, I gathered a bunch of brochures and started leafing through my options. One of the guided tours offered a free pickup. I figured this would be a good way to get into town and maybe I would meet some people. I went down to make reservations through the hotel and got some lunch. I had searched and asked around for a Thanksgiving dinner in Budapest but I was entirely unsuccessful. Instead I had goulash and the only turkey thing on the menu, Turkey Kiev. The goulash was excellent. The turkey kiev, well, I guess I have been spoiled by Anne’s chicken kiev, this didn’t hold a candle to hers. Finished up and the tour guy picked me up.
The tour was a bit more intimate than I had expected. Basically, it was me, an older woman from California and an older couple from Greece in the guide’s minivan. Ahh well, the guide was obviously a student of history and he took us to the major spots.
The Magyars are still very concerned about losing most of their population in 1920 (Magyar being the local name for what we call Hungary). According to the guide and most of the little blurbs I read, they lost 70% of their land and population under the Treaty of Trianon. As far as I can tell, after WW1 the state was a battle ground between various influences. The communists took power but lost a war to Romania. This led to the treaty in which they lost so much of their state.
I think part of the reason this is so prevalent in the Magyaran psyche is that they were in something of a Golden age in the 19th century. WWI was the start of a very rough period for Magyar. As the guide put it, they “had the money and interest to build art into their structures”. This is seen in the many, many great ornate buildings around Budapest. After WWII they were under the Soviet influence and that also shows heavily. From the general feeling of fear of the police to the break up of many of the great old houses in to apartments to the Soviet looking transportation and buildings, the legacy of communism is still very present. The first free elections were held in Hungary in 1990 over a state that was declared independent as of late 1989. They recently (2004) joined the EU.
One lament of Hungary is the trend to bring all the EU states under the EU Union. As one local argued, they were well on their way to that in the 19th century w/ a few states holding vast amounts of land, Hungary being one of them. This was at the height of their power but the trend then was to small independent states. Now as it trends back towards unionization, Hungary is beaten down from the communist era and is not playing from the position of power they once had.
One of the interesting things on the tour was a castle that was built in 1896 for the 1000 year anniversary of the founding of Hungary. The castle was built in three styles to pay respect to the three major architectural styles, gothic, baroque and Romanesque (I think). The interesting thing was that they originally built it out of paper and wood as it was only expected to only stand for the 1 anniversary year. It was so popular though, that they later rebuilt it out of stone.
Also remarkable, was just how many public statues they had. Most EU cities have a bunch but they had a lot even for EU standards. What makes this even more impressive, is that after the fall of communism, they took all the communist statues to a park outside of the city. I didn’t make it out to the park but even w/o the communist statues, there were great figures around every corner.
The tour left us in downtown Pest (pronounced Pesht, town is actually two villages across the river from each other, Buda and Pest). The last thing the tour guide pointed out was the First McDonalds in the eastern block. I went in but couldn’t bring myself to eat anything out of a McDonalds when there was local food to be had. This was also the first McD’s I have seen w/ a McCafe attached. A somewhat separate area that is laid out like a coffee shop, apparently Ronald is trying to take on the Starbucks crowd.
Wandered through shopping district that could have been in any town in the western world. Foot Locker and Versace. Pfft. Got dinner at a weird piano bar w/ more good Goulash and similar looking foods.
Next day started w/ wandering through a random street market and finding a large market building. A huge building, probably an old train station was a large farmers market. Upstairs was some more good golashy stuff. I wanted to buy some random liquors for presents but I didn’t know what any of the local liquors were.
To rectify this ignorance, I stopped at a small bar down a side street and decided to do a tour. Inicum is a non sweetened version of jaeger. It was nearly drinkable but just not quite. Palinka is basically the Hungarian version of Grappa though it can be made out of various fruits. The rumor is that it is better when it is homemade. It would have to be. Like grappa, it is basically drinking ethanol. Of the set of local liquors only Humberto (or similar) was drinkable. That was basically a schnapps. The next thing I saw was Absynthe. I ordered a round and took advantage of the handy internet terminal to look up more info on it.
As far as I can tell, the active ingredient in absinthe (other than alcohol) is thujone. This is the compound that is found in the wormwood and is generally thought to be the “good part”. There is some debate on this. EU law currently allows up to 25mg/kg of thujone in beverages containing a certain level of alcohol. The older stuff was once thought to have as much as 360 mg/kg but more recent tests have shown the levels to be as low as 4-6mg/kg. Apparently gas chromatography tests give falsely high readings as other chemicals appear to be thujone. An interesting thing to note is that, according to the wiki, there is no evidence that thujone causes hallucinations. Epilepsy, yes, hallucinations, no.
I wandered back to Buda over the Chain Bridge (the first bridge joining the two towns) and stopped at the famous Gellert Baths. There has been a recorded history in this area since AD 86 when the Romans built a town on the site of an earlier Celtic settlement. This town, Aquinicum, was famous for its mineral spas and the tradition still exists today. There are many spas in Hungary, according to my guide of the day before; it isn’t possible to be anywhere in Hungary without being w/I 40-50km from a spa. This bath house was segregated men from women. I had brought a bathing suit so I didn’t need to avail myself of the loin clothes that they provided. Most of the locals seemed to just use them. It was really just a cloth to hang in front w/ a string to tie it around your waist. Think of a bunch of large eastern European men lounging in a couple of large house sized pools. Set this in a large tiled cave and you are getting close. The water wasn’t nearly as hot as I thought it would be. 36 deg C and 38 deg C in the two pools. Apparently there is a coed swimming pool but I didn’t see it. One guy was in their reading (good book too, the new Hobb). I could see myself spending some time in there reading. Sitting by myself wasn’t too entertaining after the first couple of minutes.
The steam room was something else. What a steam room should be. Super intense, so thick w/ steam you couldn’t see more than a couple of feet. Just the right touch of that mentholated smell to clear your sinuses. I could only take a few minutes of it. My hair was hot, nearly burning to the touch. Those steam rooms in the gyms I have been to are as man made snow to this Rockies powder. Same idea just not done nearly as well.
To complete the experience, I got a massage. 30 mins for 3500 florint (about 17 bucks). Again, this was a bit odd. A bunch of naked men being rubbed down all over a hall. A large-gutted Hungarian guy was my masseuse. I hadn’t had a Hungarian massage before. Not bad. He even through in the chiropractic next break that I have been needing. I could get used to cheap good massages. I assume I could find a more relaxing setting.
Stopped at the hotel afterwards to drop of some Christmas purchases and get ready to hit the town for the night. I’ll just lay down for a second. I woke up a couple hours later w/ all motivation to go hit the town drained out of me. Meh, I’ll try the nightlife some other time.
Next day, I planned to go to the art museum and then find a café to do some writing. The subway here is no more reliable on weekends than anywhere else apparently. They kicked us all off halfway to my destination. Apparently this is the 3rd oldest subway line in the world behind London and New York. I wandered around the Oktogon neighborhood a bit as it looked a bit more like a locals shopping area. I couldn’t find anything that resembled a coffee shop. This brought about two firsts for me. One was that I actually wanted to find a starbucks. The second was that this was the first country I have been in that didn’t have a starbucks. Figures.
Made it to the art museum for the Carvaggio exhibit. The exhibit was really good. About half of the rest of the museum was good. The other half was Jesus art or art that’s only redeeming value is it is about the bible. Completely uninteresting to me. I don’t mind Bible art (especially some of the non Jesus tales) but the art has to be interesting as well as being about the Bible. One unfortunate thing was that they were setting up for a big party/production in a couple of rooms which looked to have the renaissance art that I like. Ahh well, still a nice time.
Stopped at the Széchenyi Medicinal Bath to see the local bathing experience. Unfortunately, I was running low on florint and they only took cards for the entrance. I squeezed out enough for a towel and a rental suit (no loin cloths here) but I couldn’t afford a safe. I had my laptop, all my electronics and my passport w/ me. I locked them in a mini locker thing but I had trouble relaxing. This bath would have been much nicer. For one it is coed. They also had chess sets set up that people could play in the baths. I hung out near an unused one hoping to get a game but the first people that came to play were a couple. Not a whole lot of English going on around here. I looked into getting a massage but there was not availability for another half hour and I was twitching too much about my passport to relax. Ahh well… I could see this being a good thing for groups of friends to hit the baths on their way out for the night or after a day of play. Kind of like having mini beaches w/ good facilities everywhere.
Went to try to figure out the “Replacement” bus service and ran into two American girls volunteering w/ (different villages of) gypsies through their church. They were on their way to a Christmas bazaar thing so I joined up w/ them and we found a great little Christmas village w/ traditional bands playing and many craft stalls. Mmmm and hot mulled wine. We wandered around for awhile and I got a bunch more Christmas shopping done.
Afterwards, they went back to their hosts for dinner and I found some more good Hungarian food. The food is really good here. A bit salty sometimes but in general excellent. A lot of stews w/ hot paprika tastes and good bread. Yummm….
Plane was leaving at 6am the next morn which meant getting up at 4 so I headed back to the hotel after a fairly successful Central EU trip. I think I want to explore this Eastern block more. I gotta look into Transylvania next. Wizzair goes there…
What better excuse to get my ass to Wales than to join a gathering of the Jones Clan? A lady from work dropped a newspaper article on my desk some weeks before explaining that they were holding the Jones, Jones, Jones Extravaganza. A gathering of Jones’s from around the globe in an attempt to beat a Swiss record held by a group of Norbergs. They managed to gather 583 Norbergs for a festival a couple years ago. This created and set the Guinness record for the largest gathering of people with the same last name. Well, the Norbergs’ time had come; no longer could we sit idly by watching them bask in their record holding glory. Or something….
After kicking around the idea for a couple months, I realized that Wales was only a two hour train ride. Well shit, I have gone to Poughkeepsie for less. I caught a 3pm train through the English countryside. The trains really are a nice way to travel. It was a very pleasant, easy ride to Cardiff through rolling green hills.
After checking into a very cool, modern Novotel, I caught a cab to the Millennium Center for the show. It was pretty easy to meet people, easy opener being, “So, you’re a Jones, huh?” I met a lady who was even a Jones2. A Jones who had married a Jones. I ended up hanging out w/ a couple of guys, Evan, a Tennessean going to school in Glasgow and Collin, a local Cardiffian. Odd as this may sound, it was nice to have somebody understand some of the annoyances of being a Jones. We all gathered around and starting bitching about the various pop culture references, “I’m Jonesing for something”, “Mr. Jones and me”, etc… Also odd, as Evan put it, was that “looking around for girls here feels almost incestuous.”
We had assigned seating for the show so we made our way to our seats. The show was presented by Jones’s and all the performers were Jones’s. At least 50-70% of the show was in Welsh (the rest in English). That was actually pretty annoying. They made a big deal about how many Jones’s from here or there, farthest away was probably New Zealand. The most spoken language there was definitely English. Really, who out side of Wales speaks that funking guttural Welsh? It seemed a bit odd to invite people from around the world and then snub them by speaking a local language. Ahh well… the performances were fine, nobody I had heard of (until the last one but more on that later). Mostly classical though they through in some comedy routines (in welsh) and a long skit w/ some trio, apparently from a popular TV show. I got the impression that this was the Bunker’s of wales. The mood was fun though and a good time was had by all.
Eventually, it was time for the official tally from the Guinness folk. We had to top 583 to make the good book. Finally tally… drum roll… 1222. Take THAT, Norberg!! I guess I have to get the book this year as I am in it and I assume the rest of the gathering will as well. Which makes this a great record for the Guinness folk. We will see how long our reign lasts. We just have to keep the Chinese from organizing (India too).
The final performer was Grace Jones. All I can say is Wow, she has issues. The hall darkened (did I mention that it was a REALLY beautiful hall?). Out of the dark, we were treated to a full stereo experience. Random “whooshing” out of the right speaker, then random “whooshing” out of the left speakers. Wash, rinse, repeat for a couple of minutes. This would be amazing in the year or two after we invented stereo sound. The lights finally game up to Grace sitting on some big stairs thing. She started ‘singing’ (for generous values of the word sing) some song. Think of bad 80s experimental pop (I know, I know, bad and 80s might be redundant). It only took about a minute before she lifted her dress and started shaking her ass at the audience. I think we were supposed to be impressed. She did it so often as to make me think that this is the whole point of her performance, to get up and shake her ass at the crowd. Don’t get me wrong, for 50 (or whatever) she has a nice ass. As it was, it was more disturbing than erotic. A strange way to end an otherwise family friendly, light hearted evening.
After the show, I met up Evan and Collin and we wandered over to the pier for a couple of drinks before calling it a night.
I had planned to take the train back to London later in the evening which gave me the day to explore Cardiff. The Castle and St. Faggins were the planned agendas. First stop, train station to put my bag into a locker. At the Extravaganza, I had heard word of a big match the next day between Wales and Australia. Feeling very American, I had to ask what kind of match, football? No, rugby. Any tickets left, that could be fun? No, definitely not. Ok, then, I put it out of my mind. Of course, the train station didn’t have lockers. Whew, I feel safer. Leaving the station though, I noticed two things. One was that though we were still many hours before the match, there were swarms, nay, hordes of people in jerseys. Mostly Welsh red and white but a good 30% or so in the green/yellow Aussie colors. Second was the complex array of gates that had been erected for some large scale crowd control. Uh-oh. Do I really want to make that nice relaxing ride through the English farm land in a train packed with drunk rugby fans? 3 guesses and the first 2 don’t count. Talking to a cop, I figure out my last train I can catch is the 3:45. After that, the drunken hordes descend. As the cop put it, “They are alright. It shouldn’t be a problem but if you have the option, you should probably leave”. (emphasis his)
Fair enough, still time for the castle but maybe not for the St. Faggins village. The village sounded cool, old time houses from medieval times to present in some sort of Colonial Williamsburg type thing. But it was a half hour outside of town and I didn’t think I had the time. Castle it is.
The Cardiff Castle was pretty cool. I didn’t have the right timing for the clock tower tour but I did get the standard tour and the grounds pass. First stop was a wander through their little World War museum. Not too much interesting for me. More for locals who had somebody in the wars. There were uniforms, medals, enrollment lists, etc… I did get a kick out of a Russian Maxim gun. There was an inscription on this and some of the other weapons detailing who captured it and when. Valiant moments of bravery all, I am sure. The reason I liked this one though was the name of the captor, “D” Coy of the 1st Battalion Welsh Army. I hear “D” Coy does some good work.
Wandered into the Castle proper next. Apparently there has been a defensive structure here since 1081. Originally it was just a mound of earth w/ timber defenses. Expanded in the 12th century into a twelve sided shell keep by Robert, Earl of Gloucester, it served as last line of defense for the royal family. It also served as a prison for Robert, Duke of Normandy. Despite being the stronghold that it was, it was raided in 1134 and the Earl and his family were abducted. Reinforced in the 13th century, it again fell in 1404 when the moat proved no defense against Owain Glynder.
This was the first “real” castle I had been in. You could see the successive additions of extra defenses over the years. And it had a real live moat. Not sure if anything lived in there though. It was probably pretty nasty considering that it wasn’t all that big and the ‘privy’ was just a hole in the tower that had a shaft down to the moat (w/ big bars in it, in case the thought of climbing up the shithole wasn’t enough of a deterrent.)
In the larger wall around the inner castle was the living quarters, church, etc… The tour covered these. One of the coolest parts was the rooftop garden. One of the lords, after traveling to the Middle East, brought back the idea of the rooftop garden. It was quite nice and brought me back to much of the fantasy I have read, most specifically the Queen’s garden in the Hobb series. The fountain in the garden cost as much as a school. Gotta have priorities.
There were many interesting rooms. Each redone in the 19th or 20th century as “what we think it looked like”. The lords of the manors had traveled far and wide and brought many treasures and ideas back from around the globe. One interesting room was the nursery, where they had commissioned an American to paint 15 or 20 great murals depicting scenes from various fairy tales. Hansel and Grettle, Rapunzel, the Invisible Prince, etc… Also in this room was a portrait of one of the royal families. In this family, the young prince was disguised as a little girl. Apparently, young boys had a much higher mortality rate than young girls (or is that a lower mortality rate? Whichever one means more little boys died). To “fix” this, they would disguise their young boys as girls until they were 5 or so. I am guessing no one kept empirical numbers on the effectiveness of this treatment.
The streets were even more packed in red by the time I got out. Everybody was now making their way to the game. Turns out the bus stop to catch the bus to St. Faggins was inside the area that has been sectioned off for the rugby crowd. Ahh well, maybe another time. I made my way through the crowd and caught a leisurely train ride back to London. Returned w/ plenty of time to watch the fireworks. Apparently they are celebrating Guy Hawkes who tried to blow up parliament. Go Figure….
This weekend was a trip to Chapel Hill to hang out w/ the guys. Art and I flew down to meet w/ Tim and Anna who live in Chapel Hill while Tim goes to school. To get down there we had to fly. I just threw my toiletry kit in my backpack. The kit is a clear plastic bag. Apparently, only Ziplock brand clear plastic bags are acceptable so they threw away all of my toiletries. I could have put them in my pockets and walked through the security checkpoints. As per usual in our continued ruining of America, this measure makes us no safer what so ever but makes ignorant people think we are “doing something”. Ugh, when was that last time we made a decision that made sense.
Tim picked us up at the airport and took us to our hotel. We stayed at the “Home of sports”, otherwise known as Holiday Inn. They had bats for door handles in the lobby and little icons of different balls on each of the doors. We were in Soccer section. Ooohh sporty.
We spent the next day wandering around Chapel Hill and saw Tim’s school. Since we are all old men now, we needed a nap after all that activity. Around 6, Jay showed up followed shortly by Stryker. It’s like a reunion! We went over to Tim’s and BBQed for a couple of hours before we walked into Charlotte and found the bars.
The bar was basically empty when we got there but it started to fill up as we hung out. Art was in his professor jacket and was mistaken for a German TA by a cute coed. Turns out her German was pretty weak though as Stryker started saying some very uncouth things in German. She smiled and agreed. I guess she didn’t pay too much attention in class. Next fun drunken Carolina moment was when a random drunk Guatemalan telling us he hated racism but whites were usually OK. I started explaining the racism inherent in that statement but didn’t get too far.
We headed to the next bar to shoot some pool before being kicked out by the 2am bar closing. We found an oh so healthy late night food spot (staffed w/ what seemed to be a permanent detachment of 2 of North Carolina’s finest). Got my first shot of real NC pulled pork bbq. Mmm baby.
Next morning, we got a great breakfast. I had biscuits and gravy as I head through all the requisite southern foods. Gotta love the sweet tea being everywhere. After breakfast, we dropped Anna off as we headed to a gun range for some shootin. We printed out the Gun Safety quizzes and did them in the car on the way to the range. When we got there, he just wrote in the correct answers for anything we didn’t have correct. With the “safety briefing” out of the way, he asked for our licenses and gave us guns. Shot through a few rounds of various Glocks the 9mm, 40 and 45. Then we went back in for the Uzi. As casual as he was about handing us handguns, this one he actually came in and guided us through. Fun but expensive considering a clip lasted approximately 12 seconds. Mmmm deadly…. As we were leaving we got the low down on the gun market from one of the locals (who was buying rifle for his son that was nearly as tall as the kid, I might add). Apparently, you cannot buy any automatic weapon made after 1986. Anything before that is fair game w/ the correct permits. Not sure if there was a new technology introduced or it is another arbitrary limit that we decided on.
After we finished that, we finished out Raleigh by meeting stryker for a beer before heading back to get Anna and go get some real BBQ. Finished out our southern necessities w/ pulled pork, pulled chicken, smoked pork, fried okra, mac and cheese, etc… It was all fantastic and we topped it off w/ dessert before we had to roll ourselves out the door. Finished the evening playing cards and shooting the shit.
Next morning was time to leave. We headed towards the airport to find breakfast in strip mall city. “Strip malls as far as the eye can see” as someone put in and they weren’t kidding. As Tim put it, people got tired of walking from store to store in the mall so they made ones that you can drive to each store. We tried to go to Bob Evans for breakfast but ended up w/ a huge wait. Anna had the telling explanation w/ “Church just finished and you’re in a red state”.
All in all, a great visit. Always good to see old friends.
Saturday, October 14, 2006
Heh, yup it was Iron Maiden…. Let me back up.
Flew in to NY on Saturday, to a Sinatra singing pilot. NY is still the right place for me. Pop and Anne came up and we went to a really cool Bodies exhibit. Lots of interesting stats that I have already forgotten. The last one that stuck in my mind was that you urinate an average of 12000 gallons, or about the size of a small pool, over your lifetime. I will never look at Aunt Joy’s pool in quite the same way. Some other ones were the size of your lungs. Incidentally, our lungs have gotten an upgrade. When I was about 13 I read an article that said the surface area of your lungs was the size of a tennis court. Now we have been upgraded to half a football field. Another interesting one was that we have 60000 miles of blood vessels in our body. Maybe Pop and/or Anne can chime in w/ more interesting facts. In any case, it was quite amazing seeing the body dissected in various ways. At the end I even got a chance to hold a real brain, a liver, and a femur.
Worked all week and went out each night. Thought I would have a quiet Friday night but started getting down on myself about staying in on a Friday night in NYC. Mustered up the energy to hit the pool bar on the corner. Met a few nice people and played some good games of pool. I tend to look for fun shots now and managed to hit a bank then hit the 8 and a masse into the 8. The bank was a lot of fun but the masse 8 made my night. B(
Enter Iron Maiden. As the details became clear, they had played continental arena earlier and then showed up at the bar I was at. There was a bunch of people fighting for autographs and such. They went straight back to the VIP area but the steady stream of old time rockers was amusement for the night. Turns out one of the guys I was playing pool w/ works w/ Page 6. Page 6 is the gossip column for the NY Post. The NY Post is only generously called a news rag. Besides my opinion of him dropping precipitously as he explained his sitting outside for hours waiting for a celebrity or being “assigned” to hook up w/ one of the Bush girls (and narrowly failing), his opinion of the power of his credentials was completely dashed as he was quickly negged by the VIP bouncer. Ehh, don’t even like Iron Maiden, but it is always fun to see the random celeb.
Stayed out till two before I called it, gotta rest up for the pub crawl tomorrow.
Sunday, September 24, 2006
So, I went to this debate and I was wondering what some of you thought about it.
The Economist Debate: 'We must embrace nuclear power to solve global warming'
I tend to prefer nuclear power. I think it is the most viable alternative we currently have. What do you guys think?
Checked in to the hotel. I had done a bunch of searching to pick a hotel next the office I was supposed to be going to. I ended up w/ a Holiday inn. Looked at a bunch of more local hotels but as far as I could tell, the local hotels tended to be “quaint”. Put another way, maybe….small and run down. But I am learning that is just a Paris hotel. They seem to all be pretty shoddy (shy of the Ritz). They had some euronet for internet access. I have seen the network in other cities. It seems to be a single sign on for many big cities. I don’t travel enough to subscribe though and the single day access is too expensive.
The hotel was just around the corner from the business offices but it really didn’t matter b/c I wasn’t working in the business office. The office I was working at was changed to the outskirts of town. Luckily, I was also on a train line that went right there so my commute was manageable. The paris metro was pretty good. The trains were plentiful and I like the countries w/ the timetables on the platform (x mins to next train, etc). They don’t have any concept of the express train and it closes though, I suppose they only have single tracks. Another annoyance was the tickets. I bought some 10 pack and it came as 10 individual tickets about the size of a couple of postage stamps. Not only were 10 individual stamps annoying to keep in your pocket but they kept failing on me. When you give the stall your ticket, it returns it so the first time a ticket read as bad, I figured I had already used. The next time I was pretty sure and by the third time I was positive that the ticket was bad. Finally, I went to the booth clerk to see if I could communicate my point. I needn’t have worried. I saw a couple other people exchange out their tickets in the same way. It seems to be pretty common. Indeed, I had a 30% failure rate. How is this acceptable? The tickets are marketed towards tourists, locals use monthly passes. So, secondary revenue stream for them I guess. Grr…
This is feeling a bit like a rant, Paris actually was pretty nice overall but there are quite a few things that stuck in my craw, so to speak. I am really glad I don’t keep my money in a French bank. I was there for maybe 2 hours of effective work. They seemed to think it would take 3 days. They were right. 80% of the time was me and 2-3 of their employees waiting for another part of the bank to call us back. We didn’t to anything until 3:30 – 4 pm the second day I was there. Thinking about it, many people explained to me that a good night out in France is going to a café and arguing about things. I can totally see the allure in that. But when I don’t speak the language and we have work to do… I drank more coffee in that week (good café too) than I had in the previous 2 months. All day we sat and drank coffee. An in, “We can’t work on that part b/c we need a server guy. I called his desk, didn’t get him… Let’s sit for an hour and debate (en francais) about how hard it will be to get anything in done in the bank.” If there was ever a business case for Active Directory it was this bank. Getting anything done was so difficult b/c they are only half using MS technologies and many of the simple tasks are very difficult. I really just wanted to get the damn thing in, I had plenty of other work I could be getting through.
One of those other things was the pop quiz at work. They called it budget. I had 24 hours to put it together. It could have been worse. I sat outside a café in Bastille and found some stolen internet access and finished the budget. It was actually a nice pleasant evening.
The French food ##(*$&(#*& rocks. What is it about even the basic French food that makes you want to chew more slowly? Savor each layer. I had a couple of fairly simple meals that were just great. One misadventure was the escargot. I realized I hadn’t had the snails before. I got some pot of snails and mushrooms and sauces. The sauces were great. The snails reminded me of eating dirt. A very earthy flavor, shall we say. Meh, still better than oysters.
After working T-Thurs and barely getting the damn thing in, I took Friday off and stayed the weekend in paris. (Did I mention they told me the last day that they were just going to erase it next week?) Audrey, a girl from the bank, had mentioned that the Louvre is mostly empty at night. Friday night is not the empty night. The Louvre is one of the top art collections in the world. All of these pieces have been studied in depth. What better way to bring that knowledge to the people than the audiotour. Don’t get the audio tour in the Louvre. Maybe 30% of the collection even has audio snippets posted. Only a very few of the pieces I was interested in had the tour. Of course the mona lisa has it, some of the good stuff did. Not all of the good stuff and none of the secondary stuff that looked interesting had an audio entry. Still, lots of cool stuff. I like the classical sculptures myself. And I did see the code of Hammurabi which was pretty cool.
During this tour, I stopped and did a meeting w/ some of the CP guys for the budget. After spending half an hour talking out a storage solution I got off the phone feeling good. A thought started to occur to me, one that crystallized over the next few days. Work is one of the most interesting and fulfilling things I am doing right now. Is that great or totally pathetic. Jury is still out on that one.
Spent Saturday wandering around Paris. I had done the major stuff when I was backpacking, I didn’t feel the need to find the Eiffel tower again or the Notre Dame. I really didn’t feel too touristy at all. I wandered around, spent a long time playing Sudoko in a park. Saw “Little miss sunshine” (recommended) on Champs d’elysees. Went over to MontMartre and Pigalle.
Managed to connect w/ Felix’s sister, Veronica on Sunday morning. We found a café on Rue de Roquette and shared a nice breakfast of croissants, cheeses and meats. Yum, how french, good food and conversation.
I couldn’t leave france without a couple of bottles of wine. I picked out 4 bottles at the duty free and managed to leave them on the train. Doh!... Ah well, think how nice it will be for the next person that sits there. I wonder if they will be afraid of them and call out the bomb squad. If they throw those out rather than drink them, the terrorists really have won.
A bunch of extended friends were getting together to go to the last night of Proms. Best I could tell this was an “Opera in the park” kind of thing. A bunch of classical music in a park. One difference was it cost money. Another was Lionel Richie was playing. How does he fit in? What the hell, sounds like fun.
When we got to the park we found a mob. I thought the brits knew how to queue. They are ridiculously proud of their ability to stand in line properly but it wasn’t apparent here. There were a few thousand people massed in front of the entrances to this place. They moved us through pretty quickly though. Despite the big “No chairs” sign, everybody had lawn chairs. They checked backpacks for glass but not shopping bags. Indeed, most people brought wine. They also didn’t scan the barcode on our printed tickets. We could have Xeroxed one ticket and saved 200 bucks.
We were obviously way underprepared w/ our chips and beer. Many people went all out, there were full fancy picnic spreads in effect. I had wanted to go to the farmers market but I was overruled w/ the idea that there would be food vendors. Bad move. The food on site paled in comparison to the spreads that people brought.
Everybody kept remarking that this was such a British thing, so British. At this point, I didn’t see why. It seemed like every other city’s party in the park. Perhaps there were a few more flags in evidence. Actually, there were already a lot of flags. Mostly UK or British flags, a few other EU countries in evidence, even 2 US flags. I got a glimpse of the program and became even more confused. We started off w/ a Madness cover band (Madness did some crappy 80’s songs like “Our House”), moved on to an Amos and Andy type duo and then we were greeted w/ THE Chico. Apparently, Chico won XFactor. This is a Pop Idol type show. More evidence of the British obsession w/ the mildly famous, everybody loved to discuss how he had been a goat herder and even though he was terrible we should show him some support. I was of the opinion that he had gotten a disproportion amount of support given his skill. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be up there.
We finally got to the classical music, but it was short lived. They brought out a star trombonist and she played for 10 or 15 minutes. Then they brought out a soprano, a flautist etc. We pretty much tuned out and chatted amongst ourselves. There was 20 or so of us in the group by this point and it was nice to meet some new people.
Everything was pretty mellow (though there was a lot of drinking going on) until Lionel started. Within the first song, he had everybody on their feet. Maybe he was just more exciting than the classical types preceding him but even songs I normally dislike were fun then. “We are going to play until you all are exhausted …. As long as you get exhausted in 5 songs.”
It was about this time that I saw a public safety official really live up to their name in the best of ways. There were a group of ladies that were quite drunk. In order to make sure they didn’t hurt themselves or anyone else, one of the public safety, cop type people was opening their champagne for them. Hurrah for safety!
The crowd was sad to see lionel leave the stage. They asked for an encore but we had to move on to some horn player until it was time to join up w/ other locations in Britain for a live feed that marked the culmination of proms. This was when it got … well, interesting. Each location seemed to need to out-patriot each other. The flags came out and 10,000 drunk brits (in our location) all started singing national songs and dancing. It was a little freaky as an outsider. Now I see why it was “a very british thing”. In talking w/ some of the locals, they expounded at drunken length, basically saying that this was the one time it was acceptable for the normally reserved Brits to dance like fools and smack anybody they thought was attractive on the ass w/ the flag (how that follows, I am not sure). It was also the only time they felt they could wave the flag and sing to the queen about how they would never be slaves (those were the words) without being cast as racist.
Quite the experience. Fun but creepy in some ways. As Ariel put it, “I never really trust people waving their flags too much”
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Gathering of the vibes is a multiday, camping, jam-band, hippie, music festival. It rocked, err, jammed.
Matt and Carmel picked me up Thursday afternoon and immediately ran into terrible traffic that cost us about 2 hours. Met up w/ another carload of Mark, Karena (sp?), and Margus (sp?) at a convenience store near the venue. Once we found them we headed to “the line”. Now we knew there would be a line but we didn’t know how bad it would be. We lined up at about 9pm. The hold up being that they (the Hell’s Angels were providing security) were searching each car. Mainly for glass. We lined up on the road, got out of the car and started drinking. We would hang out, shoot the shit for 20 mins or so and then the line would move somewhere between 2-10 car lengths. After about an hour and a half, we got off the road and turned into a large field w/ a line of cars snaking back 5 or 6 times up to the search area.
The key to this part was deciding that this was part of the experience and to just have fun. Matt and Carmel are experienced Viber’s and they brought a bunch of hula hoops, glowy things, Frisbees and other toys. We pulled out our toys and continued to play for the next few hours. The best game we found (other than long throw Frisbee for a while), was making beer-amids on top of the car and then seeing who could knock them off. Good thing it was a rental.
Somewhere around 2am we made it to the search area. A quick search later and we were directed to green lot. Our camping spot was the space behind our cars so we really lucked out when the car next to ours told us they were camping elsewhere and could we watch their car. We set up the tents and had a home by about 3am. I had borrowed a tent from Matt and liberated the down comforter and a couple of blankets from the apartment so my little world was looking pretty good.
No reason to stop drinking now, we hung out until about 5 before we turned in. Big problem there is that the direct sunlight made the tent an oven by 8:30. So after a small nap, we were up again.
We wandered through the tent city over to the main staging area to see if we could catch the morning yoga. They had two stages set up on either side of a field about the size of a football field. The yoga was on one of the stages and by the time we got there it was close to done. We wandered around and saw the vendor tents, hippies get capitalism. I had to buy shorts b/c I had managed to forget them. But at least I got a free hat (which I also needed).
After getting breakfast we wandered back to the campsite. We gathered our toys and chairs and whatnot and staked out a spot on the field. We were mostly in the middle b/c what they do at this concert is trade off stages. The bigger bands play on the main stage. When their set was finished, the secondary bands would start up on the second stage. As they finished, the main stage would start up. It was great b/c the music never really stopped. We hung out on the field for most of the day. Carmel’s hula hoops were a big hit w/ the Vibers.
At some point, I went back to the tents to sleep. A couple of hours later, we went back to the field as the sun was setting. That was when Carmel brought out the lighted hoops which were even more of a hit. At some point, Jimmy and Alyssa showed up. They didn’t have nearly the 5 hour wait we had the day before but they were just parking in day parking as we had their tent. By the time the main bands were done though, I was beat and ready for bed. I crawled into bed and had a great nights sleep.
I woke up refreshed and made a round of well received bloody mary’s. It was drizzling out so we started a game of WORLD DOMINATION (Risk). The wine was flowing under our little dry area as we battled it out. I won but it was a bit off as they had been used to only being able to move as many armies as the dice they rolled. It changes the strategy somewhat. After the game some of the group braved the rain and went to the stages. The rest of us decided to stay dry and hung out and played cards and basically drank for the day. We kept thinking the rain would break and we would head out but it just never happened. We missed G Love and Special Sauce which was one of the two bands playing that I actually knew (the other being Burning Spear but they play on Sunday). As it got dark, the rain got harder. We dashed out for a beer run during a break in the rain and found a new area at the top of a hill w/ a bar. “If they had bar stools we probably wouldn’t have come back” as Alyssa put it later.
As the people started dropping off into their tents, the rain just kept getting harder. A couple of us got going on a good politically discussion. We had one pretty conservative guy that was willing to argue it out which is always good.
When the lightening started it was down to me and Jimmy. We were trapped in the worst storm I had been in in a long time. We kept waiting for a break so we wouldn’t get soaked just trying to get in the tent. It finally came but my tent was wet so I just stole my good blanket and slept in the car.
Sunday was the last day of the festival. I decided to go back w/ the first car which was Karena, Mark and Margus. They wanted to see the first band so we packed everything up and reclaimed our spot. We hung out for a while waiting on the band but eventually, they came over the loud speaker and said that the band was not on site and nobody was able to reach them. Ahh well… time to go.
Getting back and packing was a bit tough, I was beat but I managed to get it done w/ only two trips to the office to drop shit off. Caught the early plane and now I am about 1 hour from London.
Quick rant, when the fuck did we take the post office out of the airport? I thought that was what you were supposed to do when you have a pocket knife or something you can’t bring through security. But now, I guess, we are scared of terrorist bombs in mailboxes so we have taken all of that out of the airports. Supposedly for the last year. I dunno if it is just JFK but this is the kind of shit that doesn’t make us any safer but it just makes life more annoying in the name of “safety”.
Final Postscript, I know I owe everybody a call and such. I have been out of touch for a few days now between the woods and flying and my passing out last night as soon as I got home from work. I will speak to you soon.
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
Manhattan is still my home. Nowhere else I have been feels so comforting to come back to. London is nice and all but it is a temporary stop.
btw, as much as I was worried, Clerks 2 was actually quite good. Not quite clerks or dogma but definitely worth watching. We will have to see if it grows or falls w/ multiple viewings.
Thursday, July 20, 2006
The pics show some of it, my camera died pretty quickly so I didn't get a lot of great ones.
Basically, they loaded a bunch of semis w/ dj equipment, a party area and a lot of speakers. There were at least 37 different semis that followed each other up and down the main drag in the park. Everybody picks their favorite sound out of the trucks and follows and dances. Every now and then you pass another semi coming the other way. If the other truck has a sound you like more, follow that truck.
Everybody was having a great time, one of the things they brag about is how few violent incidents there are and I believe it. I did see a few people down w/ medics but it looked like they had done it to themselves.
Anyway, Love Parade kicks ass. Everybody should go. Or come w/ us to the next world party we find, next year.
Berlin is a nice town, it was much nicer w/ a local guide. Didn't make it to the dark restaurant, guess that means I have to go back.
Saturday, July 08, 2006
I really like the nederlands. It even looks nice on the flight in. Schipol is cool and modern. On the cab ride home I was trying to decide if I remembered being in a mercedes before. It was a really nice cab.
Tried to check in and hit a systems are down we can't check you in. At least it was a free drink. More world cup. France won. That game was annoying. Both teams were constantly falling over. The italy game the refs let em play and didn't call the falls. Much better game once the decided to play rather fall over looking for a restart. Hopefully we get the mexican ref so he will let them play out the cup.
When I got the room i was treated to a very nice hotel. Missing the living room of my dublin place this one supplemented with a plasma tv and a automated drapes. They still don't have the interface on the drapes right.
Steamed my jacket, worked like a dog for two days and (hopefully) got most of what I needed to, done
Hopefully I will retire the bb for awhile.
"it's always better on holiday."
Sent from a mobile device. Pls excuse the shorthand.
Thursday, July 06, 2006
Ig came from backpacking. Just in time for Europride. My neighborhood was closed down for a big gay time. Right, Gay as in fun. Well it looked like everybody was having fun. We tooled around there for awhile and then went to watch the England World Cup match. Rather amusing to see 100s of hardcore English fans screaming and Ian dozing in the midst of it. After the game we caught a play in regents park. The Taming of the Shrew. And yes I did have a “Wow, Shakespeare in London” moment.
Sunday was a trip to Camden and Regents park again. We tried to catch a bus to the Tate Museum and ended up at the Tate British rather than the Tate Modern. (Sorry Gwen). It was quite good and we topped the evening off w/ a drink in covenant garden w/ Mathew.
Small scheduling mishap had both Nik and Ig staying w/ me Monday night. Nik got in late so Ian and I hit the Hookah bar across the street to wait for him. Some hummus and vanilla tabac later, Nik showed up and we met up w/ his buddy, David, and Mathew for drinks. The 5 of us ended up on Charlotte st. (heh, new neighborhood and close to mine) for Asian and drinks. Matt left us and we hit a really cheesy hip hop bar for a late drink.
Nik said he was going to head out at like 5 in the morn to try to get Wimbledon tix. I wonder if he made it?
Friday, June 30, 2006
We caught a cab to the hotel and checked in. Went to the elevator and I noted that my room, 601 put me on the top floor. Penthouse, I think jokingly. No Joke. This hotel room is bigger than my apartment. A living room, large bedroom, patio, and a bathroom w/ separate Jacuzzi and shower. Sweet. I steamed my suit in the shower and didn’t even have to iron. Everything’s comin up Milhouse.
The cabby suggested the Temple Bar area. We wandered down there and found a South St. type drinking/bar area. After wandering to the end and not finding the Luigi’s place that was recommended, we went to “Mexico to Rome” Mexican to Italian food. Go figure. Decent food, Irish Mexican is much better than Swiss Mexican.
This was right across from the Temple Bar. I assume this was the namesake of the area so we have to have a pint. Yup the guiness is better here. Smoother w/ a more chocolately after taste. Absolutely Great. While I like Guinness around the world, It is like Buffalo wings or Philly cheesesteaks. The quality is inversely proportional to the distance from the source.
Anyway, the Temple bar was in an entirely touristy area, I doubt there were any locals here. There was an Irish band playing complete w/ fiddler dude. Enjoyable. But work calls, we finish our pints and head back to the hotel.
We finished up the install by noon so we had about 4 hours to kill. Now where in Dublin should we do that. Hmmm, ok if we have to…. We caught a cab to the Guiness brewery.
During the install, the IT guy was mentioning that there were two ways to give direction in Dublin, by pub or by church. As in “Take a right at St. Patricks, when you get to St Michaels, turn left.” Or, “where was that bank?” “Across from The Fox and Hound pub” “Oh ok, got it”. As we drive to the brewery, I see that is no exaggeration for the churches. They are everywhere. And huge. Like St. Patricks in NYC huge. But there are a lot of them. I am always amazed at what people will do for their god.
Another thing I learned. I saw my soft chin, extra jowls on a lot of people. Damn Irish blood. Isn’t it enough I can’t get a tan?
The brewery tour was decent. Better than the Heineken or the Brooklyn tours. I did get to taste some roasted barley. Taste like chocolate/coffee. There were a few things to point out from the brewery.
• On average, one irish pub opens everyday somewhere in the world
• Unamed Dr’s Quote: “I often prescribe Guinness and for the following reasons in chief. A bottle of Guinness put in front of, say, a dispirited, health-greedy convalescent has wonderfully auto-suggestive cheer-producing effect. It looks potent and jolly and when consumed it acts as a stomachic and a whip to the appetite. It makes the patient feel better and eat better and think cheerfully.
• At the time (ed note: unknown time), nursing mothers and patients recovering from illness were prescribed Guinness. Offered to people who had just donated blood, Guinness was a popular alternative to a cup of tea.
We ate in the brewery and checked out the view from the top bar. By then it was time to head to the airport and work started blowing up. Damn Americans, everything starts breaking when they come in.
Whew, It looks like I screwed up my timing, I was supposed to go to Edinborough (sp?) and Amsterdam next week but I am supposed to be in both places on Thursday. Doh. It works out though. I am taking the week before loveparade off and meeting Ian in Amsterdam on Saturday. Looks like work is sending me there on Thurs.
On a side note. I got my place and it is pretty nice. The pile of what I thought were linens turned out to be really ugly drapes so I had no sheets or towels the first night. (damn that shit is expensive out here). I had one day to move in on Tuesday. I definitely needs some stuff but I decent futon in the living room. HINT HINT.
I won’t have internet access for a couple more weeks most likely. Once I do, I will put up an IP phone and send out a NY number. I found out that, while my mobile number works here, it costs an arm and a leg so I am using it sparingly.
Will be in touch soon.
We wandered around for a while looking for a brunch spot but everything was closed. I eventually asked at a hotel and we were directed to a swiss chalet about 20mins walk. We wander down there and find it but it doesn’t look as good as a French patisserie across the way. I had an absolutely wonderful meal of assorted meats and cheeses w/ two croissants. They also provided a bunch of various jams and chocolate spreads. Some more fresh OJ made this a really a great way to start the morning.
Our wandering had also brought us to a new part of the city. We wandered around a fairly rundown park w/ a small market and a skatepark for a bit before deciding to head back towards shopping for Kevin. He needed another bag b/c he was checking the knives he bought and didn’t want to check the chocolate. Why he couldn’t carry the chocolate in plastic bag they sold it to him in I was unsure. Wandering through the park I saw perhaps the one thing in the postcards that we had missed in Geneva. Big ass chessboards.
The pieces were plastic and about 2 feet tall. See the pictures for an example of Kevin and Matt playing. A couple of older men came to watch the action. They started shouting out moves (in French) but eventually got bored and went to watch another (presumably more exciting) game. After a terribly long game that came down to 3 pieces (including Kings), Matt was victorious and I got up to play him. At this point Kevin gets mad and decided we aren’t being attentive to his needs and takes off. I guess he just doesn’t like to lose. Ahh well, neither of us feel particularly like chasing him down so Matt and I play a game. I manage to win when I see a way to sneak my queen right up to the king and still be protected. But that would never work unless he moves that one piece to right there. Guess what he does? Heh, it was like drawing that inside straight in poker.
Next to the game is another of those kewl swings from the jazz park. We finally get to play on it and yes it rules. Of course, after 3 or four runs around it Matt and I are tired and have to move on. The kids are lighter and they expend less energy holding themselves against the centrifugal forces (or something). I am sure that is the only reason they can play so much longer.
We tried to hit a museum but were negged b/c we have no cash still (again, not enough atms in this town). “There is one about a 20 minute walk from here” says the cashier at the museum. Neither of us want to go to the museum that badly so we skip it entirely.
We ended up wandering to the “other side” of Lake Geneva. We were able to walk out to the big fountain. From there we spied, on the other side of the lake, a really big diving platform. After chilling for a drink at a café, we head for the hotel to change and go swimming.
We pick up Kevin at the hotel. He doesn’t want to swim but will watch our stuff. Instead of a public beach in Geneva, there is a long concrete pier type thing out to a light house. 2 fr. to get on, the place is packed w/ sunbathers and families. Not obnoxiously packed but plenty of people around. Matt and I make our way to the top of the platform. We later learn the platforms are 3, 5 and 10 meters. Much higher than the cliff from rafting but somehow much less sketchy. A good running start takes me off. The fall was actually a lot farther than I thought, long enough in the air to have second, and third thoughts. Not that there is a whole lot of choice in your next move when you are 30 ft above the water and in mid air. The water isn’t nearly as cold as the river from the day before but still not warm. Exhilarating we will call it.
The clouds started to move in and it got cold, so I didn’t jump back in. I wandered down to the lighthouse and back while Matt tried diving from the shorter platforms.
We head back to towards the hotel and end up stopping to shoot some pool. I ask for a table and the guy is like “aren’t you watching the futbol?” Sure, I will watch while I play? “Are you English?” No, American. “ahhh, I see”. I didn’t realize it was England playing. Isn’t ANG Angola? Ok, I see, French for England. Fine, I still want to play pool.
Stopped at the Lebanese place once more on our way to the train station. Damn that is good. Barely caught the chocolate guy to spend the rest of my francs. I realized later I should have blown my francs on duty free alcool instead of chocolate but oh well. Now I have lots of good chocolate for when you guys come to visit. B)
Airport was a nightmare. Delayed for hours, our flight wasn’t even given a gate until well after it was supposed to leave. Mathew bailed and caught a different flight. Kevin couldn’t do that b/c he had checked his bag (which we had to wait 45 minutes for on the other side as well). Since we were going to the same place I didn’t think I could catch the other flight in good conscience. We had to take a 60 pound cab home. Ouch, there goes another 100 bucks.
Ahh well, Geneva was great but I don’t think I need to go again.
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
We woke early to head out rafting. Kevin decided not to come. Matt and I headed out in search of sandwiches and sunscreen but there was nothing open. Even starbucks wasn’t open at 7:30. One of the hardest things to get used to is how nothing seems to ever be open out here. We finally give up and catch a cab to the rafting meeting site. (ack 6.50 fr just to sit in the cab. Yikes, that is like 5$)
We get to the rafting spot and it is basically just a cargo container parked next to the lake. The guide, David is there. Since we were only two, he strongly recommended something called hydro speeding. Basically, we didn’t have enough people to go rafting. It looked like we were the only people coming. He said he needed some time to get the equipment ready so we wandered looking for breakfast. Still nothing open. We did finally find a little Spanish coffee shop w/ croissants and chocolate croissants out on the table. Mmmmm chocolate croissants… they also sold a couple of Panini type sandwiches. Nothing veggie so matt was out of luck but I picked one up. We even stopped at the Shell station and there was just nothing useful for him for lunch. Aah well, tough being a grass eater. B)
When we got back it looked like David had rustled up a few more players for the day. There was one British guy, Richard, that lived near
Chatting w/ Richard, I looked up and realized we were about to cross the border. I almost always carry my passport on me when I am traveling but I decided that I didn’t want to take it rafting or leave it in the car while rafting so I left it in the hotel. It is too late now as we cross the border into
We cruise through the French countryside for a while. Lots of farms of unknown types. Very pretty countryside. Swing into a French bakery in a small town. I picked up a better sandwich. Mathew asked for a vegetarian option and they first looked at him strange, then repeated “vegetarian” but w/ a French accented sneer and said no.
We continue on and head up a valley that reminds me of a greener version of
Eventually david returns from dropping the car and we get into the water in full wet suits. The water is pretty damn cold. Through the day, each time we “pull over” to the side of the water I realize my hands are just shy of numb. Wouldn’t be doable w/o the wetsuits.
Hydro speeding basically consists of rafting w/ no raft. Instead we each get a helmet, flippers, a life vest and a fancy boogey board. Made of hard foam and about 6 inches thick, it has a space to put your arms inside up to the fore arms. The idea is that you float down the river after this thing and hopefully it hits the rocks instead of you. When you pull yourself up high on it, it covers down to about my hips. Extended it just covers my arms. Apparently faster is when you are extended.
David gives us a short tutorial. Basically, stay as flat as you can, boulders are waiting just below the water to kill your knees, let the water do the work, and then he taught us how to flip ourselves over if we capsize. These things are really hard to control but I figure I would get better at it quickly. (but I never really did get the hang of steering). He showed a few hand gestures. Rock, OK, and paddle hard that way.
Now we were ready to get going, but first we get to do a cliff jump. The “cliff” is really only about 20 ft up but when we get to the top it looks a bit sketchier than I initially thought. First off, we aren’t really at the edge, more like the peak. Second, extending through the area we are to jump through about half way down is a small sapling. David goes first and goes right through the sapling. He planted both feet on it and knocked it out of the way. Great. Matt was up next, then me, then Richard. At my turn, I was more worried about being able to jump far enough to clear the rock we were jumping from than the sapling. Or the landing. I jumped far enough but landed awkwardly in a bit of a sitting position. Heh, this is a bit more wild than your standard American “adventure” day.
David coached us through the first rapid. Go to the left of the big rock. Do this by floating out into the current and letting the river take you around. No problem right? Well, not so much. The river decided to fuck w/ me. I was only a foot or two right of where the front runners passed but it was enough to send me around to the right. After bouncing off the rock I was basically going into the class III rapid feet first. Bad choice. I try to flip around and manage to flip over. The right is a bad way to go and I take a bit of a shot on a rock and swallow a good bit of water by the time I fight my way out. An inauspicious beginning. “I told you to go left”, david says as I try to catch my breath.
I did get a bit better at it. Took a couple of hard shots from rocks to the feet but the flippers were actually good protection. It was a bit like jet moto actually. You really just crashed through the water and tried to get the board inbetween you and the rocks. It was a good bit of fun. I wasn’t letting the river do enough work apparently though b/c I was exhausted by the time we pulled out down the way. At least I had all my equipment, Richard lost one flipper but we managed to recover it and Mathew lost both but recovered one.
We dried off, changed and snacked on our baguettes. Eventually we packed up and headed back. Was holding my breath at the border but we went right through w/ no check. They made the car not three cars ahead of us pull over for a check but they let us through. Whew, not going anywhere w/o that stupid little blue book again.
Kevin met us at the hotel, he had bought a watch and some swiss army knives which means he is going to have to check his luggage. The other thing he wanted to get was chocolate so we grabbed some more Lebanese falafel and headed over to a shop we found at the train station w/ good prices. Kev bought a shitload of chocolate. They say they are open tomorrow so I figure I will just blow the rest of my francs on the way out of town. I did pick up a bar of absinthe filled chocolate though. Yummy.
Kevin went back to drop off his chocolate and matt and I continued to the jazz park. We took up a spot near the cool swing (still no opening, those kids really like this thing). We promptly fell asleep in the park. After a good nap we headed up to “Old town” proper. We wandered through town and found some cool sites.
Stopped for a spaghetti dinner. Just before we left, a hen party showed up (british for bachelorette party) They were loaded. Only a few of them spoke English. They were in high spirits but just sitting down to dinner. We were going to watch the futbol so we made plans to meet them afterwards for clubbing.
Now at this point, I was fucking exhausted from exploring and rafting but there was really no way I could say no to going clubbing w/ a group of 10 local Swiss chicks. Kevin didn’t see it this way and left at halftime to go back to the hotel. I swear I think he just doesn’t like to have fun.
It was at about this point that I fucked up and deleted my first attempt at this write up and all my notes. Luckily I had sent off Thursday’s writeup but I had mostly finished Fridays as well in the park. But I hit the wrong button and it was gone. Stupid piece o crap bb doesn’t use the deleted items bin nor does it even sync the drafts w/ our exchange server so it was completely gone. Aaargh!
Anyway, the game ended and we went back to the spaghetti place. Then Soniettes were just finishing up (the hen was named Sonya, she was dressed as pipi longstocking, or Fifi Grand-something-in-french as they called her). We joined the party and made what small talk we could w/ their limited English and our nonexistent French. We lost a few of the girls when we left the restaurant and we lost a few more before the club but we ended up at the club w/ a small posse.
I would never have found this club. Inside some labyrinthian office maze, the one girl led us to some guys and a velvet rope. 30 francs each gets us in the door w/ two drink tix. Matt and I scrape together our 60 w/ about 2 fr to spare (there are not nearly enough ATMs in this town.)
The club was completely empty when we got there at midnight. I think there were about 5 other people in the whole place. We got a drink and found prime position. After we danced for a while I realized the place was filling up. It was a slightly cheesy club but a varied racial mix and a lot of really hot women. We eventually lost the Soniettes. Matt and I left when the music went way Egyptian on us. By this point my body aches I am so tired. But I am glad I went out, it was a fun night.
Monday, June 26, 2006
We woke around 10 and headed out for croissants and fresh oj for breakfast. Aftrer breakfast we found a nice girl, melanie ewho worked in a tourost info booth. She had a couple of recommendations for us, including a great tip to go to a jazz park for a festival later that evening.
We wanted to see the croix rouge museum. Best way to get there seemed to be to ealk up the side of the lake through the park. While wandering up the park I spied some of those satellite dish whisper communication devices. Yes there is a better name and no I don't care enough to look it up on the blackberry. they have them in front of many science musuems. anyway, niether kev or matt had seen them before so we headed up the hill. Turns out not to be the only science toy. They also have a couple of sundials and other fun science demonstrations in front of a small building. The builkding turns out to be a really great science musuem.
There were a myriad of great old technologiers. Very attainable stuff. Early thermometers and microscopes. The kind of thing that you feel you could have come up with if you lived back in the day. Our tech theses days is so far removed from the casual scientist. Take the blackberry for instance. Nobody would have designed this in their basement. This is not necessarily true of some of the tech in this museum. Add to that a bunch of hands on demos of basic science and it was one of the highlights of the trip.
We continued throught the park and found a botnical garden. At least, that is what the gate said, it didn't look much different than the rest of the park to me.
We sat for a beer and I noticed a new sans alcool (french?) Beer. It was a blond, which I hadn't seen before.
By then, we were quiote close to the Croix Rouge museum (red cross). If I had thought about it, I would have realized that it was going to be depressing. But I hadn't and it was. Add to the basic capacity for humans to do dastasdly things to each other, there as a guest exhibit, the Belfast Maze. This was a photo exhibit about some labryinthian prison complex that housed IRA members uplifting it was not.
After the museum, we decided skip the UN museum and catch a bus back. After some deciphering of the ticket system I decided I needed a 3 franc ticket. This was confirmed by a nice lady waiting at the bus stop. I put in 5 fr and out comes my ticklet but no change. When I remarked on this, the nice lady pointed to a notatiopn on my ticket that I was supposed to go to the trainstation to get my change. Nice racket. I wonder how many people actually go to get there money. Nice little revenue stream for them, I'm sure.
Riding the bus I did a quick email check. Lots of great mail (personal mail is always great) including a message from Lat mentioning that we shouldn't miss the UN museum. Doh!
We made reservations for rafting for saturday. We decided thata 6 hour rnd trip to. Interlaken was just too far and rafting would suffice our adreneline needs.
Stiopped at a bar for the world cup match. I was amused to see that my beer was cheaper than my companions perrier. We were beat after our earlier excursions and decided to head back to the hotlel for a nap.
Afyer some rest we headed down to old town to attempt some shopping but found nothing useful. We wandered back up to our neighborhood and ate mexican for dinner. Very bland mexican. as in, we can't let any spice in the mexican, it might get some taste. Ahh well.
Kevin baled so matt and I wandered a bit. During dinner we kept seeing young kids going down some alley and coming back w/ WKD (think smirnoff ice). I know the drinking age is lower here in general but these kids looked to be 13 yrs old.
We met a few and got the lowdown after one girl threw her shoe at me. Well actually she tried to throw it into her friends pic but it came at us and they freaked out. Turns out they are all duplomats kids (UN EU presence). They all go to a international school out here.
We continued to the park for the jazz fest. Most od the stalls were african. Lots of great looking food too. I begin to wonder if africa is the next asia. Western culture has been enamoured of asian culture for the last 20 odd years. Now that we have integrated that a bit, I am thinking african is the next frontier, but I digress
We found a bit of grass and sat to watch the kids at play. They have this great swing thing. Think of a pole w/ 4 chains coming down from each side. Attached to the end of the chains are a set of handles. Now, instead of being attached to the pole itself, the chaiins arre attached to a rotating top. The effec of all of this is that you get 4 kids each holding a handle and running around the pole. The kids can jump outwards and swing around on the end of the chain. Not unlike when an adult spins a child around by the arms. Nit sure if you can envision that or not but it looked like a lot of fun. We kept waiting for a turn but were afraid we would crush the little ones so never did make it on. It did look a bit dangerous and would probably be suied out of existance in the us.
Another thing I noticed is that the kids have a very long leash. More of the " it takes a village" idea I guess. Kids were running all over the park, out of their parents site. I noticed one exchange where a kid bit the dust and some random guy ppicked them up and brushed them off before he went on his way. Actually, quite a nice site.
When the band finally started up I was plkeasantly surprised that it wasn't jazzy. I went back and forth as to what it was. Evil trip-hop? Hardcore acid jazz? I ended up decidning it was a somewhat less pissed of zach de la roche (rage against the machine) pretending he was tricky playing w/ a white macy gray pretending she was portishead. Quite good. Aloan. Local geneva band. We watched through the concert and headd back yto get some sleep for rafting.
Sent from a mobile device. Pls excuse the shorthand.