Monday, August 20, 2007

Dublin, again

Originally uploaded by cornasdf
Not even back a week before I shipped off again. This time to Dublin for an install. The install was on Monday so I headed out Sunday to get a bit of Dublin sight seeing in. Last time I was here I saw the temple bar and the Guinness brewery. Turns out, I am not sure what else to see in Dublin. By the time I got in and settled it was too late to do the bus tour. It was a nice day though so I just wandered Dublin for a couple of hours in the sun. Even Dublin gives me more sun than London. I went to see the Book of Kells, which is some old manuscript. Seems a bit dull but it was a really old, ornate manuscript. Saw some book making techniques of olden days. There was a ‘long hall’ at the end with lots of very old books. That in itself wasn’t that interesting but in there they had a bunch of recruitment posters from WWI. One of the most interesting was a dialog about how this was the generation would be defined by what you did during the war, be a man and have a good answer.

Got the install done the next day but didn’t have any time to do anything fun. Having a Guinness in the airport and finally catching up on my blogging (I wrote a bunch last night too).

Vibing: Sophomore Year

Magic Bus
Originally uploaded by cornasdf
We headed out to Vibes in a pair of matching Zip Cars. Apparently, this is a much better deal than renting from Avis or similar. Noted for next time. Vibes this year was in a large park on the ocean in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Much different than my first vibes in Mariasville which was in a very rural setting, this one was basically in the projects. The park itself was very nice but it wasn’t the nicest neighborhood around it. It’s ok, we didn’t ever leave the grounds and there were no problems that I heard of. The locals must have thought us quite crazy, especially Friday. They could sit there in their warm apartments and watch all these idiots (us) huddle in the cold rain. It did cross my mind to go knocking on doors at one point on Friday and see if I could watch some tv and get a warm shower.

Thursday was nice, lines to get in weren’t too bad and we caught a bit of good music. The thing didn’t really start until Friday. Friday, as I mentioned, was rough. It was cold and rainy. We tried to brave the weather and watch some music for a bit but it was pretty brutal. Even our shelter wasn’t keeping us dry. We ended up retreating to Marks large tent and playing risk for most of the day. As Matt put it, “if I didn’t have it on good authority that it would be nicer tomorrow, I would have to pack it in.” The weather did have it as clearing up on Saturday and it was right. It actually cleared up just as Karena showed up on Friday night. Just in time for PFunk.

Well, almost in time for P Funk. We got to the field, set up our area and I headed into the crowd to start dancing. I think George saw me coming b/c as I went out there, he stopped playing. Doh! Luckily, the next band, deep banana blackout was very funkified as well. They were also doing a James Brown tribute show so they played a bunch of JB covers. Sweet. The weekend has turned around.

Saturday started off exactly opposite Friday. Just as Friday was cold and dreary, Saturday was beautiful. Sunday too. I spent the rest of the weekend dancing, hacking and throwing a Frisbee around. Carmel brought her hoops again so their was always a party of people hoping around our group. Really made for a great weekend.

Driving back, Matt and I got into the wine (Carmel was driving). Then when we got back, Carmel could join and it got to be a bit messy. I caught a cab to my Newark hotel around 1am and was out again at 6 for my flight. All this made my flight a bit less productive than I hoped but it was still a winning weekend.

London weather held true as usual. This is the third trip in a row I have returned from Beautiful sunny weather to London only to find I need a jacket and umbrella for days. Ugh, this is killing me.

NY in August: The interim weekend

Originally uploaded by cornasdf
Having been freed from work by various fuckups and incompetence, I had a free weekend. For Saturday, I headed up to the catskills. We took the dog swimming in some beaver pond which was hugely refreshing. It made me realize how much I miss the wilderness.

The next day was skydiving. A work colleague was having a bachelor party that involved jumping out of a plane. This was something I was very keen on doing for years but had largely forgotten about. This seemed like a good opportunity but I was still unsure. The tipping point was when Mason, another work colleague and veteran of 1000s of jumps, said, “if you do this, you will smile about it for a week”. Ok, how can I resist.

The whole episode took maybe 20 minutes in the plane and 10 minutes in the air. It was great fun but not a new hobby. The most amazing part, for me, was that initial feeling of leaving the airplane. You are high enough that it isn’t so much a heights thing but watching the plane, your lifeline, speeding away from you was curious. The freefall lasted about 20 or so seconds and then we floated down for another 10 minutes or so. Slide on your ass in for the landing and you are done.

And since we had to drive out to East Stroudsburg, PA for it, we even got cheese steaks (or pizza steaks in my case).

Meet the Andrasiks

Originally uploaded by cornasdf
Just some quick ones now.
Headed up to Seneca falls NY to see two great people get married. I drove up and got stuck in terrible traffic so I missed the initial boat cruise. This driving stuff is for the birds. On the way up, I decided I had to find another way back.

I beat the boat party coming back by only about 1 hour. Another big plus to the weekend is that J was going to be there. We met up briefly that night but none of us had a lot of energy, and Jeremy and Michele were pretty lit by this point.

One amusing anecdote of the evening came when Michele’s brother and friends ran into some ignorant hick who started mouthing off. It eventually degenerated into the hick saying take your ‘dominican bitch’ and get out of here. The, I think amusing, rejoinder was “hey, we’re niggers, at least get your racial slurs right”. The guy didn’t really know what to make of that and the confrontation was broken off shortly thereafter.

The wedding was great. Hot but close enough to the water not to be too bad. Sunny, no rain. Fun party through the night and everything I saw was great. It didn’t surprise me that the Andrasiks have some cool friends. At some point, somebody gave me a hat.

Stayed up all night and wasn’t feeling great after my 2 hours of sleep. The day before I had purchased a plane ticket back from Syracuse. I could have done train but I thought I would be going on the wine tour and wanted to leave later. I arrived at the airport hoping to catch an earlier flight. Turning the car back in, I got a nasty surprise. They doubled the rate on me b/c I wasn’t returning to the same location. So much for Avis being flexible. Since I had already bought the plane tix, there wasn’t much I could say. I returned the car and went to the air line. No way to get me on another flight. Slumming. I checked my bags for my flight and headed to the gate anyway. Pulled up a piece of floor and got some sleep.

I was awoken a few hours later to the news that my flight was cancelled. Apparently it rained a bit and cancelled all flights. Sweet. After talking to the airline about options (we can get you out on Tuesday), I headed back to avis to see if I could get a car. I met up with a couple guys and they had just rented a car and were driving back to the city. Long story short, I ended up paying an extra $200 to drive my same car back to ny. At least the other guy drove.

The wedding was still worth it.

Exit... Stage serbia (part deux)

WuTang at Exit
Originally uploaded by cornasdf
Got up the next day for our tour with our landlord Alexandra. Her friend couldn’t make it but she came to show us around. I was still a bit suspicious as to what we were really doing but it turns out, she was just really nice. She mentioned going to France by herself and how it was hard to meet people. In order to spare us that feeling, she took it upon herself to show us around.

We toured around Novi Sad and Alexandra pointed out the major sites. Most interesting though, was talking to her. I couldn’t determine whether she was having trouble with her English or she was just uninterested in what we had to say. We would try to respond to her and at least half the time she would cut in and start talking about something else. She was involved in the artist scene in Novi Sad but it sounded like she was more of an organizer than an artist. We did get an interesting view of the rest of Europe from her. She thought that the locals were unfriendly compared to the rest of Europe. Well, compared to western EU. She mentioned that the Croatians were ‘evil’ with an unsettlingly casual racism. She didn’t like ‘hippies’ as she called most of the festival goers but she was into tarot and seemed to appreciate the hippy ideals if not the hippies themselves. Despite these odd points, she was nice enough to take us on a locals tour of the area, showed us the outside of here house and her dogs and spent the afternoon hanging out. That definitely seems friendlier than most of the other Europeans I have met. We parted ways to go to the festival and she mentioned that her friend would want to meet us so we set up to meet the next day.

We headed back for a nap before the show and then headed in for the night.

Lauryn Hill was first up on the main stage. In what was apparently her modus operandi this summer, she fucked up the whole stage. She didn’t come on until nearly 2 hours too late. As I hear it, she wasn’t even there. I hear rumors of her in other shows this summer refusing to play because some of the backstage staff had the audacity to talk to her and other such nonsense. When do you cross that line as a performer and become completely divorced from reality?

Basement Jaxx apologized for coming on so late with something like “.. we would like to apologize, the previous performer held up, nah, the reason we are on is b/c we have been waiting 2 hours for Lauryn Hill. We are sorry and here we go.”

Basement Jaxx had a good show. I didn’t realize he had become a band. He used to be a DJ. The first half of his show was a full on show with him basically being drums and keyboard (from the dj booth). The show lost some momentum in the middle when he switched over to his classic DJ stuff.

We wandered a bit and saw some other shows before heading back to see Snoop Dogg. The main stage was way to small to hold the crowd and we were forever away. Ever since he split with Dre, Snoop just ain’t Snoop so we didn’t even stay for the whole show.

Spent the next day in the park throwing a Frisbee around and reading. Met up with Alexandra and her friend Marianne. We chatted a bit, her friend was more interested in the ‘mainstream’ culture and seemed a bit more open minded. Alexandra told our fortunes with playing cards but she didn’t have her books so she couldn’t read all the cards. I think she got mine backwards and told my past instead.

We made our way into the concert to see WuTang. The sound wasn’t so good and by this time we were pretty low energy. 4 days of this was beginning to get to us. Sunday night was the night for the locals though, complete with fireworks.. Most of the foreigners had left so the mix was much different on this night. We finished off our drink tokens and wandered. Found a cool café at the Happy Novi Sad stage.

We headed back around 2 to try to get some sleep before our early departure the next day. It was a bit tough, the locals were really partying. We had two competing brass bands on either side of us with the locals hooting and hollering. In a way the hooting reminded me of a Mexican fiesta.

We roused ourselves around 7 am to find a cab. The locals were just starting to leave, they do know how to party. We were getting a cab to the bus station but we had some extra dirhams and decided to have the guy take us all the way to Belgrade. Nice countryside. One more adventure on the books.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Exit... Stage serbia

3 dimensional stages
Originally uploaded by cornasdf
When we heard the Beastie Boys were touring Europe this year, Dan, a buddy from work, and I had to go see them. Where was a question. It was narrowed down to Denmark or Serbia. Dan was sold on Serbia after his research so we decided on the Exit Festival. Started 7 years ago as a student protest against Slobodan Milosevic. The first few years each had a real themes and messages. MTV took it over a few years ago and now there is no longer a specific message. But in any case, a fortress on the Danube doesn’t sound like a bad place to watch a show. I had no idea, how great of a venue it would be.

The flight from London got us to Belgrade just before midnight. We caught a cab to the Hotel Royal. A bit run down but it had a 24 hour restaurant, bar, and shop. We stopped at the bar for a beer. 100 dinars, about 1.75 each. It also had a hot line in the bathroom. There was a bright red phone in the bathroom. Just in case I needed to call in a nuclear strike from the toilet.

Next morning we headed over to the train station. There were plenty of other Exit Fest types. Enough that when the train pulled into the station people started jumping on before it even stopped. They needn’t have bothered, there was plenty of room. It was the first time I had to jump on a moving train though.

When we finally got to Novi Sad, we encountered a huge unorganized queue to get into the campgrounds. It was all Brits too, I thought they were supposed to be good at queuing. It is one of their national prides but I guess when in Serbia all that goes to hell. Other than having to muscle your way through crowd to get close enough to be in the 10 people they let in at a time. All told the line took about an hour to get through the camping line. Unlike other festivals I have been to, well, THE other festival I have been to, there was no organization in the camping area. Just a large field and tents 15 and 20 deep.

We eventually found a spot a little off the beaten path and set up. I recently bought a new tent, backpack, sleeping bag, etc. I ended up getting some all in one kit. It is pretty decent, on the lower end of the quality gear.

Once we were set up, we headed to the beach. They had a DJ set up and all the brits were out sunning. One annoying thing was that they had some funny money setup for the drinks. You had to buy tokens to get beer, different ones for water, others for wine, energy drinks, sodas, etc. Ugh, annoying especially since later in the camp they weren’t accepting the tokens (despite all the signs that said you couldn’t use cash). In the festival, they only ever took tokens. After having a beer on the beach though, it was really starting to feel like vacation.

We decided to head over to the festival to get our tickets squared away. The fortress was straight across the Danube, not far as the crow flies. As I walk, however, it is a bit far to be going over to the bridge and back. We started hatching a plan to find a room closer to the festival.

After sitting through another queue, we went into the festival grounds. Nothing was going on yet so we just wandered around and got the lay of the land. The main stage area was a bit small but other than that, the grounds were great. 13 large stages with 29 discreet areas. The 3D effect was great. There were places you could be at one stage and see one or two others in the background. For the sound all they did was turn it up really loud. If you were at any of the stages, the sound was all encompassing.

After a tour of the grounds, we went back into town to look for a room. I asked a cop that was standing on the side if the sign behind him said room for rent. He was super nice and ended up going out of his way to ask around for a room for us. He made some calls and comes back and tells us somebody will be there in 20 minutes. Well, since we are at the bar, we might as well celebrate. Tequila shots are only 80 cents you say? Well serve em up. While we drank we met some of the locals, All told the locals were extremely nice.

Eventually our cop friend had to leave but he came up to us and told us that the guy would be there in 10 minutes. His English wasn’t great but he conveyed that the guy ‘looks like Jesus, long brown hair, blue eyes’. Had an awkward moment when I tried to go to the bathroom. Somebody pointed me towards an archway and told me to go downstairs. I went down and found a small underground bar. I was waiting in line for the bathroom when an older Serbian woman comes up and starts berating me for bringing my beer in there. “We don’t serve beer in plastic glasses”. Now, I see her point but I had to go to the bathroom and I was close to the front of the line so I couldn’t leave either. Her English wasn’t great so I had a time trying to talk her down, offering to buy a drink (but after I went to the bathroom) etc. She seemed to calm down and all was ok. Randomly, a girl came up later and mentioned she had seen the whole thing and complemented me on how I handled it. All of this did mean that I had to buy another shot of tequila after I went to the bathroom. This day is getting messy.

Eventually Jesus showed up, I was waiting to pay for a round of drinks so Dan went off to deal with it. We ended up paying 12000 dinar (about 25/per person/per night) to be about 100 feet from the entrance to the festival. The room was private but the bathroom was down the hall. The Ritz, it ain’t. There was a constant leak in the bathroom so it was always covered in water. The beds were basically just little foam futon things. All that said, it was a private room and bathroom 100 feet from the festival. Score.

Since we were running out of time, we decided not to go back to the camp. We headed back to the festival. They gave us crap about coming in saying we had already been there that day (earlier when we took a look around) but we argued it through. That would have sucked. But it didn’t so we headed over to see Robert Plant. His show was sweet. The lack of dinner is starting to get to me. After his show, we went wandering around the show. Of course we completely forgot that we wanted to see Prodigy and Groove Armada. Ahh well, we bounced around and eventually made it back to our room.

I was feeling the love in the morning. Gotta stay away from that tequila. We eventually made it out for some breakfast and then over to the camp to get our stuff. After we moved, it was time for food again. We asked one of the vendors just outside our door where to get a real meal. He mentioned a few places in town but nothing close. We resigned ourselves to heading back over the bridge but decided to check the place on the water on the off chance that they had food. Turns out to be a great meal, no idea why the guy didn’t mention it.

After dinner it was nap time. We were just getting ready to head out to the show that evening when there was a knock on the door. The owner of the room, an attractive Serbian girl, came in and gave us a 15 minute history of Serbia. She set up to meet the next day for a more in depth tour. Odd, at this point I am still worrying about ulterior motives. Ahh well, problem for tomorrow, back to the show.

We were much more ready for the show tonight. We started with a cool Serbian ska band on the Fusion stage. The next band on that stage was also good, Defence, a Bosnian reggae band. Not looking at him, you would think he sounds like an old rasta with dreads. Looking at him you see a balding white accountant guy. Odd, but the sound was good.

More wandering, we he headed over and caught CSS, a brazilian band that we saw in the 02 festival in LDN. They are good with a fun presence. Next was the Beasties. This is why we came. We had worked our way up pretty close by the time they started. This was a bit of a problem b/c there were a bunch of big as Serbians basically moshing. I am getting to old for this shit. We moved back a bit and had a much better show.

We wrapped it up around 3am, feeling much better for having played teetotaler. I added another mattress that was leaning against the wall to my bed and made it much more comfortable. Feeling nice and human again.

Mmm French Riviera... (pt 2)

Exotic Garden in Eze
Originally uploaded by cornasdf
We woke tooo early the next day and set out to explore Menton. Looking for breakfast we wandered down to the café from the day before, La Cigalle. They had fantastic almond croissant, everything was pretty good at this place.

After breakfast we walked down to the beach and I tried to get a little sun in an attempt to cure some honkeytude. The beach didn’t seem nearly as rough. Eventually we found some random sculpture garden in an open park. After wandering through the sculptures, we headed to find a post office and then to the tourist info bureau. With no particular next destination, we decided to head to the exotica gardens which were next to the palace of PAIN, who wouldn’t want to go to a place called the palace of pain? OK, I guess I am thinking in the wrong language.

Our path to the palace of pain took us through a pedestrian shopping area. One nice thing about it was that there were no international chain stores that I recognized. Many of the shopping areas in these cities (Vienna, most recently) all look the same. Same stores, same chains that you would see on 5th ave or Broadway.

Given the Jones luck, when we got to the gardens, it was closed for lunch. Doh! Ahh well, nothing to do, we walked back through town taking the high route which afforded some great views. We made our way back to the pedestrian area for some lunch before packing up and leaving Menton.

Next up was Eze, but before we get there, a quick product placement. My latest cannot live without app is gmaps with a GPS tie in. mmmm great toys. Built into my phone (BB8800) the new gmaps takes advantage of the phones GPS (which the last version didn’t). This let me say, take me to eze, and actually get there. I really like that I can pull up a satellite image of exactly where I am at any point. Just need to get it to real time now. B)

Anyway, Eze. Eze is a fortress castle on the top of a hill. It was actually very cool. You can just imagine living there, hundreds of years ago in a completely different world. At the very top of the fortress was an exotic garden with some more great statues. Another captivating view of the rocky countryside and the Mediterranean sea. Apparently there is a walk from the fortress down to the see called Nietze’s walk (as he used to walk it often). We started down the path a bit just to see what it was before heading out. Inside the fortress is a very expensive hotel. I don’t really play cars anymore but even I couldn’t help noticing the valet area with the Porche next to the Ferrari next to the Lamborghini behind the Bently.

As it got late, we packed back into the car and headed to Villefranche. After checking into our home for the next few days we wandered through the old town and eventually found a restaurant on the beach. As in, the tables were in the sand. Sweet. As the sun went down the bay lit up with the reflection from town. Double sweet.

Next morning we headed to Nice to drop of the car at the airport and then wandered through Nice for a couple of hours. I got some more sun and Anne took pictures ‘for Bobby’ to prove we had actually been to a topless beach in the Riviera.

After lunch in Nice, we headed to Monte Carlo for the afternoon. Heh, I like the sound of that. Anyway, Monte Carlo was nice. We tried to hit the casino but they wanted some 10 euro. Basically to keep wanderers like us out, I would guess. The casino itself was extremely gaudy. I generally like buildings with lots of decorations and statues and what not but this thing was ridiculous.

After wandering through Monte Carlo for a while we came across some horse show or something down by the piers. (I did notice all the boats are registered in the Grand Caymans. There is a whole other world of that kind of money out there.)

We caught a bus back to Villefranche and I ran out of steam. I passed out cold for the trip. I made it out for dinner but then I was done, I headed back to the hotel while Pop and Anne explored some more.

We got up the next day for our last day in the Riviera, so sad. We assembled a picnic from the local markets and had a picnic on the hotel terrace. (With olives falling off the trees all around us.)

The big attraction in Villefranche is the citadel. This structure holds true to its name. An imposing structure with tall walls and a heavy gate, I would hate to have to storm the citadel. Inside were a couple of interesting artist showrooms. Reminiscent of the Eze castle, with the small cubby-like little rooms.

Eventually, it was time to go. I judged the time a bit wrong and ended up getting to the airport but it was a good thing I did. I knew I might be in trouble when the entire top screen of departures were either cancelled or delayed. Not a good sign. There were 3 flights going back to London that night from my terminal. My flight, the stansted flight, was the first one but the Luton flight got a gate first, then the Gatwick flight got a gate. Still no gate for Stansted. I went and asked just in time. Apparently there is an easyjet policy to only allow 2 transfers per flight. When I got to the Luton gate and asked they told me that my flight was already 2 hours delayed. I and one other guy managed to get on the Luton flight (The other guy that made it on the flight mentioned that he lived in London and had a weekend house in Nice, nice.) The annoying thing about the EasyJet policy was that there were empty seats on the plane to Luton. My original flight was eventually cancelled and many people were still stranded there the next day when Pop and Anne came through. I guess they have some excuse as that was the day somebody drove a flaming jeep into the Glasgow airport. IN any case, I finally made it back to the wrong airport way after the last train.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Mmm French Riviera... (pt 1)

Ventimiglia Moon
Originally uploaded by cornasdf
I had to cut work a bit early on Wednesday to head out to the French Riviera to meet my parents. Hustled through the airport and caught the flight. It was actually a very easy flight. I passed out just after sitting down. I woke just in time to see a great view of the Nice coast line and us banking to catch the runway. The runway is on a peninsula jutting out into the water. These seemed a bit odd as we were coming in but I realized the pilot has to be just as precise on land.

By the time I got in, there was no cheap way to get to nice so I caught a cab to the hotel. The cabby was very nice which turned out to be a recurring theme in this part of france. Much different than Austria, the people down here are very friendly. He mentioned that he hoped I didn’t come to Nice to meet any French people, but I would meet plenty of Brits. I was staying at the Hotel de la Mer. The location was fantastic. On the edge of old town a block or two from the sea. There was a great fountain and park just in front. The rooms were, well the rooms were French. Many of the hotels I have stayed in in France and especially Paris are pretty run down. It was clean enough but small and run down. The closet was missing the doors and I hardly fit in the toilet area. Clean but not nice.

I wandered around the old town a bit that night. Very romantic area. The beach wasn’t sandy but was made up of nearly fist sized stones. The waves would crash in and make a great sound when they pulled back. I tried to record it but it came out more or less sounding like static. Not much of a swimming beach. I watched one girl struggle to get out. The incline at the edge of the beach was quite steep and every time she would get near it, the undertow would throw her around. Her friends just stood there and laughed at her before eventually helping her out of the water. She had a lot of clothes on and I think alcohol may have been involved.

Woke in the morning and wandered to the flower market to look for breakfast. I didn’t really feel like sitting so I bought some cheese/meat/bread thing I found. Before I could make it out of the market though, I saw some really good looking sandwiches. I decided I could have the bread thing later and got the sandwich as well. It ended up being tuna, egg, lettuce, tomato and some good bread. Yum, I ate breakfast sitting on the edge of the beach.

I realized I was in the Riviera, this may be a topless beach. I didn’t notice anybody topless at first. As I wandered down the beach the first topless woman I saw was 60 and weighed at least 200 lbs. That seemed to be a reoccurring theme for about half my walk, only old topless ladies. I was wondering if it had gone out of fashion. As I wandered more I began to see fitter women topless, which is always nice. I did see some uncomfortably young girls topless as well. This was a bit disconcerting until I realized that the only reason I am noticing any of this is my prude American attitudes. Can’t overcome those entirely but it minimizes them to realize the root of these thoughts.

After the beach I headed back to the hotel to meet Pop and Anne. I was a bit early but I sad near the fountain and read my book. There was no padding or anywhere comfortable to sit so I found a perch in a low windowsill and read for a while. 12 came and past and I had to get up and stretch a couple times. Just as I was realizing I couldn’t sit there any longer, they showed up and all was well but it was a case of wishing for modern communications.

We headed out of Nice towards Menton. Drove through Monaco on the way (but didn’t get a stamp). Menton is supposed to be the locals version of Nice. Not as ritzy but simpler and more for families. We found our hotel, checked in and headed out on the town. First stop was towards La Cigale to try the tart du citron, a specialty in the area. On the way, we passed a patisserie that was selling them as well so we got one to have something to compare. It was quite good but when we found la Cigale and tried theirs, there was no comparison. Yum.

After the tart, we caught a quick train over the Italian border to Ventimiglia. It was a short trip, less than 15 minutes but it had a very different feel from France. No border crossing here either. We wandered down to the water had a snack, had a wander and had dinner. We headed back to the train station and saw that we had missed the 8:30 train. The next train wasn’t until 11:30. Ok, oh well, nothing to do. We wandered back to the beach. It worked out b/c we found the one restaurant that I had read about San Guiseppe. We should have eaten here. Our meal was ok but somewhat disappointing to have as our Italian meal. The San Guiseppe had great looking food. We had some dessert and café one the water and watched the moon come up.

When we headed back to the train station, we saw that our train was the last train out of town until 4am then next morning. We also noticed that our line said ‘sopresso’ and we didn’t have a track number. Hmmm what does that mean? Nobody around to ask but google tells us that this means ‘cancelled’. Sweet. Luckily we found a taxi and got to say ‘Take me to France’. Not so bad, it costs us 35 euro. No Italian stamp either. When we mentioned this at the Tourist info the next day he shrugged and said the must have been on strike. The general feel in the area is that the train is faster but completely unreliable.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Vienna: √

Originally uploaded by cornasdf
After an whirlwind few days with Pop and Anne visiting I was really tired heading to Austria. They arrived on Tuesday night and between work we managed to see A Merchant in Venice and Spamalot (both fantatstic and the Merchant was at the Globe theater no less). We wandered London, went to a couple museums, a Taste of London thing and I even snuck in a date in there.

Out the door Sunday morn to catch the 7 am train to Heathrow. I had to go to Vienna for a client install so I figured I would take the opportunity to see Vienna. The flight was delayed as per usual, I don’t think I have been on a flight in some time that wasn’t delayed. (I type this as I sit in the Nice airport looking at half the flights on the board with status of delayed and a quarter cancelled. The final quarter, including mine for now, have no status yet).

When I got to the airport, I decided to take the CAT shuttle to the center of town and find a cab there. I went to a cabbie and showed him my reservation and he refused to take me. Through the language barrier, I managed to decipher that the hotel was too close for him to bother. Just on the other side of the train station apparently. Unfortunately, that didn’t really help me. I went to the other side of the station and wandered around for a while until I found a Hilton. I went inside and asked them and they directed me. Turns out my hotel was down the road a bit and then back down an alley in the middle of a big block of buildings. Alley has some of the wrong connotation I suppose. It was a really nice alley. There were cafes and museums and such down the alley. The hotel was so far back from the road that I realized later that night, that I could hear absolutely no noises. This was a bit weird for me actually. Even the country has noises.

After check in, I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. The town was mostly closed (par for Europe on a Sunday). I caught a cab down to the museum area. It was a beautiful sunny day. Not London sunny but actually sunny. I wandered around the palace and museum area and snapped some pics. Didn’t really feel like paying to wander their museums so I wandered around behind the museums in some shopping district until I found a microbrewery. 7 Stern Brau. It was actually a really good find. I had dinner there and the dinner was good. I like Austrian food. Sautéed meats and noodles covered in cheese for the most part. The good thing about this place was the beer. Everything I had was excellent but the Hemp beer and the heiferweizen were the ones that stand out in my mind.

After a couple beers, I wandered back to the hotel. Stopped at a cinema to see if the movies were in English. The only one in English was shrek 3 and not at a useful time. Ahh well, back to the hotel to pass out for many hours.

Work was fine, they managed to get the install through in one day. And we only wasted about half of the day. Not bad for a bank, especially compared to certain French type countries.

The plane back was late and I didn’t get back home until pretty late. This was Monday night by this point and I fly out to Nice on Weds night. Better get some work done in between.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Using Powershell to move from iTunes to Windows Media Player (WMP11)

Update Oct 2011: If this helps, you may also be interested in Exporting songs in Windows Media Player by star rating.

This is only for the techies but this is what I spent my day on. I have been annoyed w/ iTunes for awhile now and since I finally killed my iPod it is time to try WMP again. I also wanted to play w/ powershell (which rulez) and this seemed like a good task.

This is a simple powershell script to take all of your music in your itunes library and import them into the WMP library. I deved this on vista x64, no idea if it works elsewhere. I don't see why it wouldn't. I also bring across the rating, which was frankly the point of this whole project. Everything else I was looking for seemed to be in the mp3 tags. If you want playcounts and similar, you can modify the script slightly to add the extra attributes. The logic is very simple, if we find something in a few days that needs to be added, it should be simple to fix (or at least, wipe and push new)

--snip: begin iTunes-WMP.ps1
#get itunes
$itunes=new-object -com itunes.application
$iTunesTracks = $itunes.LibraryPlaylist.Tracks

#get WMP
$wmp = New-object -COM WMPlayer.OCX
$WMPLibrary= $wmp.mediaCollection

#set vars
$rated = 0
$processed = 0
$added = 0
$1star = 0
$2star = 0
$3star = 0
$4star = 0
$5star = 0
$defstar = 0
$ctr = 0

#loop through tracks

foreach ( $ITSong in $iTunesTracks){
if ($ITSong.Location){
#add to WMP library
$newWMPTrack = $WMPLibrary.add($ITSong.Location)

#set rating
if ($ITSong.Rating) {

switch ($ITSong.Rating) {
"20" {
$newWMPTrack.setItemInfo("UserRating", 1)
"40" {
$newWMPTrack.setItemInfo("UserRating", 25)
"60" {
$newWMPTrack.setItemInfo("UserRating", 50)
"80" {
$newWMPTrack.setItemInfo("UserRating", 75)
"100" {
$newWMPTrack.setItemInfo("UserRating", 99)
default {
#so I have something to query for random nums
$newWMPTrack = 42

#so I have something to watch
if ($ctr%500 -eq 0) { Write-Host $ctr}

if ($ctr%50 -eq 0) { Write-Host -NoNewline $ctr "... "}


#output results
Write-Host "Processed: " $processed
Write-Host "Rated: " $rated
Write-Host "Added: " $added
Write-Host "1: " $1star
Write-Host "2: " $2star
Write-Host "3: " $3star
Write-Host "4: " $4star
Write-Host "5: " $5star
Write-Host "def: " $defstar

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Castles in the Sand

Castles in the Sand
Originally uploaded by cornasdf.
I slept most of the ride to Essaouira. I woke periodically to take in the scenery. I was mostly woken by some little shit with a drum toy, aren’t there parents here? How is this acceptable? The landscape was semi arid and, as I mentioned in the last installment, similar to NM. The bus was nearly an express with just a few stops for people and an ‘intermission’ stop (at the Kasbah, no rocking for us though). It still took about 3.5 hours before we crested a hill looking down into the surf town of Essaouira.

There are a couple of rumors about Essaouira. One is that Hendrix’s song ‘Castles in the Sand’ is written about a rock formation just off the beach. Apparently, Hendrix and other of his contemporaries liked to hang out here. Hendrix bought a hotel at some point. There is some debate as to whether the song is really about this rock but the rock does look like a castle melting into the sand. I guess I could investigate but I am going to prefer to believe the rumors for now.

We got off the bus at the station to the familiar clamor of people vying for your money. This wasn’t really any worse than any non affluent town but we were still a bit bruised from Marrakech. We looked into passage back to Marrakech for the next day and found a 5pm bus to be the best option. We bought tickets and started out towards the beach.

Not wanting to deal with the taxis, we decided to try to walk to the beach. Of course, the bus station wasn’t on the map we had so we were pretty much guessing the direction. Judging from the seagulls, we were pretty sure the ocean was just over this large defensive wall. What we weren’t sure of was whether the city was north or south of us. We spied an opening in the wall and headed back to look down the beach in an attempt to see what we could find. The smell got worse and worse as we went farther back. This quickly developed into the worst smell I have ever ever ever smelled. I disregarded it at first and pushed on to get to the edge of the abandoned building so I could peer down the beach. 3 children were playing in this building and this smell. They came up to us asking for dirhams. One of the boys had an oozing hole in his head. Between them grabbing on me and the stench, I realized it was time to go. I was dizzy from the nasal assault. Indeed, for at least an hour, my nasal passages felt burnt out and for hours the memory of the smell would return. I felt like it had invaded me. Later in the day, when we passed the fish market, I realized that the root of the smell was rotten fish. I don’t know if there was a big dump of fish guts back there or what but it was rough.

We kept wandering into a gradually more and more crowded areas. It definitely seemed we were going the right way. We decided to stop at a hotel and ask how much so we had some idea of what we were getting into. The riad owner was quite nice. Of course, at this point, we had no idea that he was actually nice, just another smiling Moroccan offering something. The room was pretty cheap, had a bathroom and had a beautiful rooftop terrace with a view of the beach. We decided to just park there and be done with it.

After dropping our stuff, we headed out to the beach. The beach was nice, wide slope of sand though there was some garbage around. Lots of people around, playing futbol and relaxing. There were even some women in bathing suits. Must be tourists.

We walked the length of the beach, maybe a mile. Our destination was toward the castles in the sand, seemed as good of a destination as any. We passed the windsurfers and kite surfers. That kite surfing looks fun. We passed a camel stand, I assume they were there offering rides but they didn’t press us after we said no the first couple times. There were probably 20 camels and horses hanging out. They were well out of the main beach area, a destination unto themselves I guess. As we approached the castles, we realized that they were protected by a moat. An inlet of ocean water formed an effective river around the closest land to the rock formations. I had thought to ford it but it was actually a bit bigger than I initially thought and proved to be an effective deterrent.

We wandered back down the beach. This town was pretty nice. Had we not been bruised by Marrakech, this would be a very nice place.

Back to the hotel for a bit of rejuvenation before we headed out to see the sunset. I had hoped to find a place to eat dinner and see the sunset. We found one rooftop bar that was pretty nice but super expensive. Drinks were over 10$USD. It was quite a nice vibe up there though. I was ready to bite the bullet and eat there but apparently they only bring food up to the first two floors, not the terrace. Go figure. At least they had olives that were good. They may have been the first good olives I have ever had actually. We wandered on, past the fish market with its myriad of seagulls swarming above. This is when I realized the root of The Smell. They had a junior version hanging around the fish market but it was far less overwhelming. More of a Karate Kid to the other area’s Bruce Lee of smells.

We ended up watching the sunset from a square on the water which was quite beautiful. After wards, we tried to walk down the beach to th e surfer bar but it was closed when we got there. Doh!

Back up to ‘town’, we found a really nice restaurant off a small square. Decent prices, good food, a very nice place. I took a card, if I manage to find it, I will post recommendations about the restaurant and the hotel. Finally had some couscous. Also had a taster’s choice of yummy nut/honey/pastry things. Various types of baklava basically but with different nuts. Yum.

Didn’t find much in the way of night life in the town so we just headed back to the hotel and hit the sack.

Awoke the next morn and wandered down to the beach for breakfast. We found that the café we had lunch at the day before seemed to be the only thing open. No breakfast (or any cooked food) until 12 though. Ahh well, we had some teas and juices and pain au chocolat to hold us over. I dig the berber whiskey, but I like mint in general.

We ended up passing most of the day sitting on the beach watching the activity and talking/debating. Tough life, I know.

Eventually, we decided to head back to the hotel and see if the advertised massage was available. With such short notice, and we had already checked out of the room, we couldn’t get that one. He did find a friend to help me though. It was like 200 dirhams (25$) for a 1+ hour massage. I was initially skeptical but he mentioned that it was a traditional hamman massage and the price wasn’t too daunting. I decided to give it a shot. Unfortunately, I have forgotten my guide’s name, I should have written this earlier.

I left everything valuable with zach in the riad and went down the alleys with this guy. He spoke a bit of English but conversation was strained. He led me through back alleys to the hamman. It wasn’t the most direct route to the destination but it was the local route, avoiding the main shopping roads. Reminded me a bit of getting around in Taos.

The hamman episode was quite an experience. We entered a small door that I would never have called out as special, except perhaps by traffic. Inside is a dimly lit basement/tiled cave. We walked in to the first room and there were a couple men sitting around minding stacks of buckets. Really they just seemed to be hanging around there as my guide did all the work. We went into the next room which as a fully tiled room with a bench around. This was the changing area. Absolutely no nudity. It was all men at this point. Apparently, the women do this ritual in the nude but men wear shorts. Even when changing into the shorts, you wrap a towel around your waist and change under it.

After changing we went through a small wooden door. The door was weighted to close by hanging a half full plastic bottle on a string above the door. When pushed open the bottle would move with the door but its weight would force the door shut. Simple but effective.

Immediately beyond the door was another tiled room. Some light filtered into the dim room through an obscured window. Having read a bit about the hammans, there is supposed to be a cold, hot and very hot area (or cold, tepid, and warm in the bad ones). I assumed this was one of the cold or warm rooms, it turns out it was both with different water sources. We ducked through a low archway into the next room.

This room was darker, having an even smaller dirtied window above us at ground level. The wall and floors were tiled. In one corner there was a small fountain with a pool of water below. This was the very hot area. The water was a little cooler than a hot bath, pleasant and hot but not burning. There were pairs of locals washing each other. Some would just wash each others backs but some would wash each other fully. Still absolutely no nudity, you washed yourself under the shorts.

My guide pointed to one end of the small room. He poured a bucket of hot water down on the floor and directed me to lay there. This part was definitely not for anyone squeamish about cleanliness. I ended up laying on my stomach on the ancient floor with my forehead pressed against the tiles. He produced a rough sponge from his wash bag and proceeded to scrub me down. Having a bit of sunburn, this was a painful. After the exfoliation, he gave me a massage. I can only thing of this as a manly massage. Painful at times, very deep, lots of stretching me in different ways. It seemed very much a warrior’s massage. Quite good, laying on the floor, as uncomfortable as it is, does allow for more mobility than a massage table.

After the massage, we got up and went to the warm end of the other room. This was just for normal washing. My guide washed me down with a bit more massage in the warm water. When I asked him about his soaps and lotions later, he was very proud to point out that they had no perfumes. I got the feeling that this was very important to him. Thinking about it, I believe I read that it is hard to make a soap that doesn’t stink without masking the smell in perfumes. After all was said and done, we rinsed with the cold water to bring our core temperatures down.

We headed out, changed, and made our way back to the hotel. Quite an experience, I think I should make it a goal to try different massage styles around the world.

I found Zach at the riad. We gathered our stuff and headed for the bus station. The bus stopped at the Kasbah. I got off this time and wandered into the shop. I guess my French accent is getting better. The shop keep came up and said “bonjour’. “bonjour, ca va?” I replied. He responded he was good and asked me how I was, “comme si, comme sa” (so so) I replied. Then he took off into French and I had admit I was lost. With French being a primary language here, I was pretty happy to get that far. He of course, smoothly switched to English but didn’t really hassle me after I said I was just browsing.

Neither Zach nor I could really face the idea of going back to old city so we hopped off the bus at the stop before, in new city Marrakech. We found a modern hotel for about $50US/night. We dropped our stuff and went out to find some dinner. This was a whole new Marrakech. This was a modern city with a North African twist. About a billion times nicer than old city, we sat outside and ate dinner on a large street. I tried the camel (tastes like beef) while we watched the locals stream by. My god, there are a lot of beautiful women there.

I realize, in hindsight, that our main mistake was staying in old city. With how obnoxious the airport was, and after heading directly into the obnoxiousness of the Medina, I didn’t get there was a ‘not shitty’ part of Marrakech. Had we stayed in the new city and visited the old city as a tourist attraction, it would have been much nicer.

We weren’t through yet. We thought our flight left at 10 but it turned out to be 10:50 so got to the airport nearly 3 hours before our flight was due to depart. It was a good thing though. This part was even more unorganized than coming in. As soon as our flight started check in, we jumped in line. We were pretty close to the front of the massive queue that formed as they leisurely checked us into the flight. After waiting through that queue, there was a queue to get into the customs area, and then a huge queue in customs. We had to fill out the same stupid landing card and sit there while he typed everything in and didn’t ask any questions. By this point, we are getting worried about missing our flight. Even with the 3 hours in the airport, we barely made it through customs before boarding time. After customs, I was worried about getting through security. I was carrying a big water bottle and I had an ‘illegal’ bottle of sun screen in my bag (we had paid 10$ for the small bottle, I was going to wait until they made me throw it away). I would have dumped the water but saw no garbage cans to do such. As customs was only trickling people through, security had no line. I was scrambling to put my phone and camera and stuff in my bag for the x-rays but the guy waved me off and motioned me through the metal detector. I, of course, set off the alarm but he quickly patted my chest once in a mimicry of a search and waved me through.

I ended up having 5 minutes to run through the duty free. I picked up some weird fig liquor. It is Marrakech in a bottle. When you take a sip, it tastes terrible, then there is a part that isn’t so bad, kind of good even, and then it tastes terrible again. Marrakech in a bottle.

Once we finally got on the plane, we were delayed for an hour because there were 129 people on board and they only expected 128 or something. We all had to be rechecked for boarding passes. Eventually the airport manager guy came on and started yelling at the crew saying that 128 + a baby is a stupid distinction, the count is 129 now get out of my airport.

And you would think the travels would be over then. Coming into Luton, we were getting really low and there was still no runway below us. The pilot actually had to give a big boost of engine just before we touched down to catch the edge of the runway. Then the bus to the train station had a driver with a primadonna moment when he started telling people he wasn’t moving until more people used the luggage racks. Ahh well, eventually, we made it home. Coming back to the first world was my birthday present and it was a good one.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

"I just want out"

Lost in the souks
Originally uploaded by cornasdf.
Ooh my god it’s funking early. In order to catch our 7am flight, we had to get up and out of the house by about 4:30am. Of course, we got to bed early, just after midnight. Ahh well, slept on the flight. Nothing fancy at this airport, we stepped out onto the tarmac and wandered over to the customs lines. The lines were terribly unorganized and it took us at least an hour to get through. The annoying thing was that after all that time, they didn’t even ask any questions. I guess they used the time to enter the data from your landing card into the system. Why that needs to be done in real time, I have no idea.

We found the one working atm in the airport. There was a ‘helpful’ local standing over it and ‘helping’. A bit sketchy but we needed the dirhams. Once through that hurdle, we went out to the taxis. After a short argument over price, which we lost, we settled on 150 dirhams. This is only about 20 bucks but it is still far more than we should have paid and really set the stage when he took us down the road and then pulled over to argue for more money.

The driving was crazy, as it is in most 3rd world countries. This guy was passing on both sides and forcing oncoming traffic out of the way. His English, which seemed fine when we were bargaining for money, was curiously degraded when we asked about town. In any case, he got us to the square and directed us down an alley to, ostensibly, our hotel. Completely wrong directions though.

I had other directions from a friend at work and we found our way to a small riad just south of Fna Square, Hotel Nissam. For 200 dirhams (25$) we got two beds and a wash basin in a quiet riad courtyard. The riads are really nice in Morocco. They seem to be a tranquil oasis in the midst of the bustle and assault of the city.

We dropped our stuff off and headed to the Fna square. There were monkey handlers and snake charmers and all sorts of interesting things in the square. We found a café overlooking the square and stopped for lunch.

We decided to head out to Essaouira for a day trip the next day. It was either that or the mountains and maybe the dessert. Both sounded nice but we chose the beach. The bus to the beach was supposed to leave from Bab Aganou. We went looking for this through the winding alleys that made up the Medina (old city). Keeping a sense of direction was quite difficult in the winding alleys. There was traffic of all sorts, from donkeys to motorbikes to cars. Stray cats everywhere.

Eventually, we found the wall between the new and old city. We were trying to determine which way to go when we met Ali. He explained a couple of the options to get to the beach and took us to the various desks at the bus station, etc… After we squared away our Essaouira tickets, he offered to take us around ‘the real Marrakech’. Well, not so much offered as started taking us. I asked him how much he wanted and he said ‘what ever it’s worth to you’.

Ali said he had a craft fair that only happened once a week that he would show us. Somewhere ‘only the locals knew’. Alright, whatever, supposedly violent crime in low in this city and we had nothing better to do. He took us to a beautiful riad deep in the twisting streets the medina. It was really quite nice. Then he took us to a small shop where we met a berber merchant. Apparently they are part of some collective, this is where the street vendors buy their wares, this song, that dance. The merchant was a likeable sort and he brought us out some ‘berber whiskey’ (mint tea). After the tea, we browsed his shop and ended up buying a few things. The haggling was all done on paper and was very ritualized. He knew exactly what he was doing though and extracted a bit more money than we meant to spend. At one point, we realized that Ali was doing drugs in the bathroom. My guess is he just brings people to this guy in return for a couple hits. Not sure what it would be, maybe opium?

When we were finished and feeling a little ‘taken’, we stepped outside to find Ali waiting for us (with newly bleeding gums). He walked us about 50 ft down the street and said that we could get back to the square if we just took the first left. We gave him a bit of money and he hemmed and hawed. We ended up giving him about 120 dirhams (15$). Looking back at the scam later, it was too much. Especially since his directions to the square were nothing even approaching adequate.

Thoroughly lost in the souks, we wandered around trying to find the square. At one point a little kid mentioned he knew where the square was and took off in one direction. We told him not to bother but him and a multiplying number of kids kept going with us. Not 50 yards and 2 turns down the alley he mentions that the square is just down there, right and then right. With that he puts his hand out. We gave him a coin or two and that just pissed him off. I was a bit worried at this point b/c he had assembled a not small posse of little shits. We pointed out that we didn’t ask for his help. By this point I was getting fucking annoyed and sick of the town in general. We pushed our way out of that but by this point we were annoyed with the whole situation.

While wandering through alley after alley of crap for sale, I saw an exchange that about summed it up. One of the vendors spotted a middleaged, overweight woman. “Can I help you? Would you like to sit?” he asks. Her reply was a pitiful sounding “I just want get out” (of the souks I am sure). “Let me call my friends, they will help” came the reply. I have no doubt that they would take her 3 or 4 turns, get some money and she would be as lost as she was when she started.

After having to fight off plenty of people who wanted to ‘help’, we eventually found our way out. As an aside, I think this is what annoyed me most about Marrakech. I like travel as an opportunity to meet people from different places and see how we view the world differently. In a place like this, everybody is smiling and helpful and absolutely on the con. And if they happened not to be, you wouldn’t know it bc damn it sure seems like everybody is trying to wheedle money out by any means necessary. There was absolutely no feel of camaraderie or interest in anything other than what they could extract. It reminded me of the feeling some people have of stealing from large corporations and how it isn’t stealing. The whole thing made me wonder why I bothered coming there at all. In retrospect, I realize that we should have stayed out of the center of town. Coming from the airport (annoying), to the old town (annoying), I didn’t realize there was not-old town. I think it would have been fine as a thing to see for a couple of hours. As an enveloping situation, it was just a pain in the ass. It was definitely the most obnoxious tourist trap I have found.

When we finally found the square. It was more bustling that before. There was even a guy selling human teeth. We headed through the square and back to the riad to regroup. The riad was a welcome bit of tranquility.

When we headed back out for dinner, we were immediately accosted by merchants of various types. We found a restaurant on Bab Agnou and ate some dinner. Next door was a riad with a massage. Hmmm… massage sounds good. I signed up for one and the guy was very good. Feeling a bit better after the massage, I headed back to the riad to find Zach.

We headed over to the one place nearby to get a beer. The Hotel Grand Tazi. Being a Islamic culture, drinking is frowned upon. Apparently there are a few bars but they are considered, well I guess sinful and only prostitutes or johns would go there. The only other place to get drinks are in hotels.

After a couple of drinks, we finally felt a bit relaxed. We headed back to the square which was still hopping. There were lots of interesting things to look at but anywhere you looked would cause a guy to come over and follow you trying to get you to come into his store or restaurant. Even as I munched on a kebab I had bought, the restaurant vendors wouldn’t take the hint after the first 5 ‘no’s. Even stopping at a drum circle, it wasn’t 30 seconds before somebody was there asking for money. When we told him no, he started shooing us away so we couldn’t stand there. Eventually, we gave up and headed back to the riad.

We were up early the next morning to catch the 8am bus out of town. Not that we were exactly sorry to leave Marrakech. The bus station was a marvel of chaos. Buses bumping people out of the way when they wouldn’t move out of the way fast enough. There were some people in uniforms or with clipboards that looked official trying to direct things. There were at least 4 times as many guys in plain clothes either standing around or doing some directing of their own. A couple of buses started to leave with people running up along side, throwing their luggage on the bus and then running to get in the open door.

This was our first glimpse of the new city. It looks much nicer. There are still big piles of garbage but at least they are generally within 20 ft or so of actual garbage cans.

The bus driver drove like a madman, passing other buses and a sundry vehicles. We rocketed through a terrain that reminding me of a poorer NM. Lots of adobe looking building and shepherds. With one stopover, the bus took a good 3.5 hours to get to Essaouira.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Hiking the Cinque Terra

Riomaggiore Sunset
Originally uploaded by cornasdf.
Next up, we hopped a train to Cinque Terra. CT was remembered as a favorite from my 98 backpacking tour. You never know if things will be as good as you remember them but this one is a winner. It has changed a bit, and I have changed a lot, but this place is one of my favorites.

Train is a great way to travel. As air travel has gotten so obnoxious, it makes train seem great in comparison. No body cavity searches, customs is generally easy, center of town to center of town. For anything less than about a 75 minute flight, it is generally quicker too. Anyway, the train through the Italian countryside was great. Even better after the two older Turkish couples sharing our cabin left. Not that there was anything wrong with them, they were pleasant enough. We chatted a bit and they were on their way to take a Mediterranean cruise. But once they left we had the cabin to ourselves and could stretch out.

We hit La Spezia with a bit of extra time so we stopped across the street from the small train station for a glass of wine. They brought out some apertifos that looked like green olives with the stem. Inside were a bunch of soft seeds the size of bbs. Odd and I still have no idea what they were.

We caught a quick train back up the line to our destination. We started talking to a group of traveling girls and almost didn’t make it off the train. I thought we were stopped in a tunnel out side of a station until Zach pointed out that there were people walking by the train. Luckily we managed to dash off the train before the doors closed.

The train leaves you looking at the Mediterranean in Rio Maggiore. This is the smallest of the 5 villages of Cinque Terra. I guess these were fishing villages, the land around is also good for some grapes but mainly citrus and spices. Apparently, until about 100 years ago, the only way to get from town to town was this hike from village to village. All the towns are perched on the cliffs at the edge of the water with steep narrow pathways to get around the town. We wandered up the central path to find the guy with our reservations.

Last time I came to CT, I just wandered to the bar and asked for a room. I think that still works for most times. During Easter though, the place was pretty packed and I didn’t risk it. We found the booking guy and he started to lead the way up to our place. This place ended up being at the very top of the hill. We just kept going and going. He mentioned there was a shortcut but that it was too early in the season, he wasn’t in good enough shape to go that way yet. As we approached the place, he pointed out a 90yr old man that still manages to get up there (it’s not like there were any escalators anywhere). OK, I guess I can suck it up. We had a single room in a 4 room house with 2 shared bathrooms. Not so bad, our room had a commanding view of Rio Maggiore and we could see the sea through the trees.

We headed down the shortcut which was basically a small stone alleyway/staircase that went all the way down to town. When I was first here, I had the best pizza in the world at this place so I wanted to return. The place was called Gigi’s or similar and the pizza was pretty damn good. I have traveled a bit more and met some other good pizzas. This is still in the top tier though. I also had a side of some pesto pasta that was delicious. What really topped the meal though was the Tiramisu. Wow, that was the best tiramisu ever. We contemplated ordering a second round.

After an excellent meal, we wandered to the water (which pretty much completed our tour of town). We stopped at the bar but we were tired and ready to hit the sack to be up for the hike the next day. Besides, I wasn’t sure it would be trivial to find our way back up the hill.

We caught the train to Monterosso at around 10 or so. I prefer to do the Cinque Terra hike from Monterosso to Rio Maggiore. This is mainly b/c the hard legs are between Monterosso and Vernazza and Vernazza and Corniglia. I like to get the harder stuff done first. The first leg is the hardest and the second leg is the most varied. If you only have time for one leg, definitely make it Vernazza to Corniglia. One thing that has changed since my first trip was that it is now a National Park. As far as I can tell this means that they charge you for the hike now. There was also a lot more people on the hikes.

Even so, the hike is amazing. The trail is a couple hundred feet up from the water, which you can see on your right. It winds through small farms of grapes, citrus, and herbs. Most of the path is dirt there are plenty of places to fall you your, well, at least marked unfortune. Many of the worst places do have handrails and whatnot. Even with all the people, the hike was stunning.

Each town has its own character and you can pick some of that as the trail winds through the town. We stopped in the middle town, Corniglia. Unfortunately, there was just too many people. We sat at a restaurant for a bit but got no service so we left once our initial exhaustion had worn off. We stopped at a pizza spot, selling slices and such. I assumed it would be quick and grabbed a soda out of the fridge and opened it b/c I was thirsty. The damn line to get food turned out to be nearly an hour. The pizza was good when I finally got it but it was just too crowded.

The next 2 legs are much easier though there are a considerable number of stairs coming out of Corniglia. Manarossa to Rio Maggiore is known as the ‘Lovers Walk’. We stopped for a drink at a café near Rio Maggiore. Tried a local Limoncello. Meh. Nice place though. Great view.

We headed back into town and up the hill to the room. I passed out for a bit and Zach headed into town. After a pleasant nap, I headed down to bar centrale and found Zach. On the way in from the walk, we found a bar/café on the far side of the train station that looked like it may have an ocean view. We stopped there for sunset. Had some munchies that were just excellent. The tomatoes must be local, they were fantastic. Met a couple that was recommending Vernazza’s square for nightlife. Wine bars around a big square. It did sound nice, maybe next time.

We went back to our new favorite restaurant, Gigi’s. We weren’t really hungry, we just wanted more tiramisu. We weren’t as early this time and had to wait to get a table. It wasn’t so bad, we spent the time chatting with random travelers. I had the same pasta from last night (though I ordered the lasagna). It was still great. I was realizing that I was pretty full from the last meal still. Unfortunately, they were out of tiramisu. We had some fantastic chocolate thing in its place but it was no tiramisu. Doh!

Thoroughly stuffed, we headed up the hill and passed out.

After a nice breakfast of crepes and cappuccino at the Bar Centrale, we caught a train to La Spezia. This place was a madhouse. All the trains to Milan were sold out. Our next best bet was to take a train to Genova and hope to connect from there. The train was absolutely packed, standing room only for a few stops. Then we hit Monte Rossa and everybody got off to go to the beach. That is one big plus about Monte Rossa is they have the nice beach. Once we got seats, it was a beautiful train ride up the Mediterranean coast to Genoa. Found a connecting train in Genova that left in about an hour so we wandered and found some food. I wanted one more pasta meal but it wasn’t to be before we left italy. It left me hankering for pasta for weeks. We trained to milano and then bussed to the airport. Flew to London, caught the Stansted Express back to London. Too late for the tube so we walked towards the bus and by some miracle found a taxi near Liverpool st station. When we finally got back we had be traveling for some 14 hours. Ahh well, it was worth it.

Quickstep through Milan

Originally uploaded by cornasdf.

We hit Milan pretty late. Caught the bus from the airport to the central station and then a taxi to the hotel, the ABC Hotel. The location was good and central, the hotel itself looked pretty sketchy from the outside (just a small sign in a row of industrial looking buildings). When you finally wind your way through the buildings to the hotel though, it was pretty nice. Breakfast served in a nice little bar area with a great patio/terrace type thing.

It was late and we were hungry so we headed out looking for food. There was a ‘sinese’ place across the street but we decided to pass that up. Turned out to be a bad idea as every where else was closed. Even the Chinese when we went back was closing. After we wandered for a while we found a nice hotel and asked them. They directed us to Navigli. This worked out b/c I had heard of Navigli and wanted to go there. This is supposed to be a happening nightlife spot and a good spot for apertifos.

We did find our way there but everything was closed there as well. We found one restaurant that would sell us some pre made sandwiches. Nothing without meat though. I bought one but zach had to pass them up. That left, I am ashamed to say it, McDonalds. What else would you want to eat in italy but Micky-Ds? They aren’t kidding about the difference in sizes though; the medium coke I got was maybe 12 ozs.

Woke the next morning and enjoyed the hotel breakfast in the garden terrace. It was a very nice spot and a great way to start the day.

Our first stop was the Duomo. This thing was amazing. There are a few pictures but they cannot capture how vast and beautiful the building really is. It is one of the things that I feel my life is richer for having seen. It is amazing what people will do for their gods.

We tried to find the Bellini gallery but ended up wandering around lost for an hour or two. Milan is the economic center of Italy. The joke being that it is the only place any body does any work in Italy.

We eventually found the big castle park thing (If I had internet access I would look up the name but I don’t). We ate a surprisingly good sandwich from a vendor outside the castle. We headed in and wandered through a couple museums that they had inside. Saw a great, well preserved mummy among other things. There was a half finished Micheangelo statue that was really interesting as well. Only one leg was fully finished, the rest of the statue was roughly sketched out. You could see gross details such the nose and eye sockets but it was still very rough stone. Great to see into the artistic process like that.

After we felt cultured enough, we decided to head back to Navigli for some apertifos. The first place we found didn’t have any so, after a drink, we ended up wandering again. We did find a great pastry on the way. We eventually found a nice bar on the side of a canal well away from Navigli. Turns out, there were doing apertifos too. They had a spread of good food from small bruchetta types to pasta to kebabs to salads and more. All of it was pretty good too. Buy a drink and get free apertifos from 5 to 9. A fella could get used to this.

Wandering around that day and sitting there that evening, I realized why Italy was forced to pass that model law. If you hadn’t heard, they passed a law saying that models had to be at least a certain weight. It is still a pretty low weight, IIRC it is 105lbs or something. When I heard of this, I thought it was kinda dumb. But seeing how many women in Italy were so, so thin trying to emulate these models, I begin to see the need for such a statement.

We eventually wandered on to a hip spot near on the way to our hotel. It is a shell of a bombed out church that has been made into a city park with restaurants and bars all around it. We stopped at one of the bars and met some localish types. (They were half brit but had been in italy for a long time). They were lawyer types and liked to argue so we spent a bit of time in discussion. They did talk us out of stopping in Genoa on the way to Cinque Terra though.

Eventually, we headed back to the hotel. Milan was quite nice. I don’t think you need much more than a day and a night to see what you need to see though.

We woke the next morn and had a breakfast in the garden again. We had realized we had no pics of the Duomo from the outside so we headed up to get some on our way out. One thing I hadn’t noticed the day before was the 100 ft skeleton laying outside in the square. Not sure what the deal was about that, it was basically human but had a pointy nose. Quite odd.

We rushed to the train station but just missed the train. Another leaves in 2 hours so we got tickets for that one. About this time we realized we had lost a hat and book so we headed back towards the duomo. Most likely place was the café we had stopped in, so we went there. Luck was with us and we found our stuff. Now we were back at the duomo with an hour or so to kill so we wandered through some major shopping center. Milan is a shopping mecca. These were all 5th ave type posh shops.

Zach had missed the hotel breakfast so we went looking for food. Everything in the shopping center was too posh. We ended up seeing down some side street a huge line of people waiting in line for some pizza type shop. I wasn’t even hungry but I had to see what the fuss was about. It was Panzerotti, which is more or less a folded pizza, similar to a calzone. I had a spicy Italian sausage and it was excellent.

We headed back to the train station and wandered through some gem/stone shop. Some great carvings there. They knew it too, many were thousands of euros. Eventually our time came and we hopped the train to La Spezia.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Also, good pics

Originally uploaded by cornasdf.
Also, i couldn't decide what to get rid of so I posted most of the pics we took. I am creating a new set that will have a couple of hte best pics from each adventure. Right now (b/c I still have no internet access at home) we only have this one, but there are a bunch more coming.

It's coming

Originally uploaded by cornasdf.
Hey all,
sorry, sorry. I have a bunch of news, but I haven't had a chance to get it out. I have moved and such, this pic is about 100 yards from my house. I have notes on the italy trip and will get them out. We are off to marrakesh this weekend so I will have more from that.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Back to the Nederlands

Originally uploaded by cornasdf.
That was a very short week. I got back late Tuesday. Work all day and night weds. I had to; I had a concert to go to on Thursday. Priorities and all.

The concert was the Decemberists. A recent softer rock band out of Portland. A buddy from work mentioned he had bought tickets. “I have heard of them!” was my basic thought, sure I will go. The open band was a bit odd. Lavender Dying or similar. A girl dressed more or less as a fairy, dancing more or less like a fairy. She did have a good voice but she seemed like she should have been in a B fantasy flick.

The Decemberists were quite good. The lead singer had a good, witty, stage presence. A lot of songs about historical American wars, revolutionary and civil. Go figure.

Friday night I caught an evening flight to Rotterdam. For the second time in a week, they didn’t take my ticket on the way to the airport, w00t, trip gets cheaper. After an easy 40 minute flight (which I passed out on, I am very tired at this point), I landed in the Netherlands. Breezed through customs and caught a bus to the central train station.

Stupid ticket machine wouldn’t take any form of payment I could give it so I didn’t manage to get a ticket. My train was in 2 minutes. I tried the ticket line but there were 6 people in front of me. I ran to platform 9 but missed the train by no more than 10 seconds. Slummin. Ah well, that was the express but there is a local that leaves in 20 minutes. The last train that goes to the Haag. I headed back towards the ticket counters but there were a bunch of guard types closing down the entrance. I wasn’t sure I would be able to get back in if I left to get a ticket. OK, no ticket, have to catch the last train. I guess I can always play the ignorant American if it comes down to it.

It turned out not to be necessary, there was no conductor or anything to bother me. According to my man on the ground in the Haag (Lat), I was supposed to get off at Spoor. Unfortunately, none of the stops were called Spoor. Turns out that is another name for Den Haag HS. At least the train conductor said it over the loudspeaker. I got off and was heartened to find Lat after an easy couple of blocks walk.

We hit the hostel to drop my stuff. Small room, small bathroom but clean and safe. Not the ritz by any means but not bad for a family traveling on a budget. They were very strict about quiet times and such. I had to give them a license in order to get a key that would let me in after 10pm and we had to renew it daily.

We headed out and walked to the central area in about 10 minutes. Stopped at a little Turkish? Lebanese? Place for dinner as most everything else was closed. Den Haag closes early I guess, after dinner we couldn’t find anywhere open.

Slept in a bit the next morn and didn’t really get moving until early afternoon. What to do, what to do? We were split between the Escher museum and the beach. Swayed to the beach by the testimony of some local that Lat met, “It is everything the Dutch love about Holland”. How can we miss that? Also, the tram to that takes us past the Peace Palace and other land marks. Since it was raining, this seemed to be the best way to see Den Haag sights and not get pneumonia.

The beach was like a slightly modern version of the boardwalks on the Jersey shore. They did a very nice job of having a nice, clean, wide open beach area right next to the tourist boardwalk, with its restaurants and entertainment. Near each other but still separated by the railing, each was done well.

We wandered around the beach for a bit and got some grub. Not much to say about Dutch food actually. Lots of fried tubes of indeterminate edible substances. Most of the ones I have tried are pretty good but they don’t exactly seem healthy.

Hit a couple bars and what not in the evening, nothing too notable. Every now and then I would still get a hit of New York City similarity. Or I guess it was the Dutch roots of NY that caught my attention. This town does close early though, come 1:30 everything was closed.

Woke the next morn and decided to just head back and spend the day in Rotterdam. A really easy, 20 minutes train ride from the Haag gets us to Rotterdam and a short cab gets us to Lat’s hotel. We dropped our stuff and headed out towards the EuroMast. In the summer you can rappel from this thing but that was closed for now. It is still a destination and it was close so we headed that way.

The walk to the Euromast took us through a nice little park, very idealic place. The Euromast was on the other end of the park and we went up top. It reminded me a bit of the space needle in Seattle, especially as it was pretty grey and overcast. We had a small meal with a great view in the restaurant. We tried to wander around and find a place I had found last time I was in Rotterdam (with the good pool tables) but my memory was a bit shot and we went exactly the wrong way. It started to rain too so we kind of just ducked in the first pub we saw.

I doubt I will really get the chance to live out there but Rotterdam may be the only burb I could consider living in. A burb in that Amsterdam is the main attraction but it is also easy and close by train that living in Rotterdam could offer enough to do day to day. When you want something more, you can always just hop a train to Amsterdam. Never thought I could consider living in a burb, but these ones are different.

Before we knew it, it was time for my flight so I headed over and caught an easy flight back to London and got ready for a really busy week.

Off Piste in the Alps

Originally uploaded by cornasdf.
Trying to leave at 3:30pm on Friday turned out to be a bit harder than I had thought. Still on the phone as I walked to the train station and again on the phone on the train, I eventually got things more or less finished.

After some luggage concerns (the bags can only be 15k on ryan air. That’s like 30lbs) we eventually got checked in. In the line for security, I got a message from Lat, a buddy meeting us from the Philippines. After receiving some bad advice from a couple people, including the hotel concierge, he was at the wrong airport in Brussels. With no way to get to the right one in time, he was going to miss his flight. Doh!

The plane was of course late, Ryan air boasts a 85% time rate but according to our anecdotal experience, it is more like 15% on time.

We got into salzberg and rented a car at the airport. A 45 minute drive into Germany and back into Austria got us to Pension Thistle. The pension was really nice. It was newly redone by a nice Scottish couple that took it over that fall. The apt was more or less a 2 bedroom apt. A double bedroom downstairs and a dorm-style, 4 twins in a big bedroom on the second floor. There was also a kitchen, living room, balcony, etc. A nice place. There was a mythical 7 km run from the slopes to our flat but there wasn’t enough snow on it so it was closed. For 30 euro each a night, it was a sweet spot.

Got up the next morning and headed down to salzberg to get Lat. He ended up taking the trains through the night. 2 mistaken connections and 10 trains later, he showed up in Salzberg at 9am or so. I cruised down to pick him up. Problem was, I saw no signs for the train station as I was approaching Salzberg. Airport, bus station north and south, but no train station. Got completely lost in Salzberg and had a impromptu tour of the city. Seems like a nice place. Eventually found the place, but by the time I did, I was lost enough not to know how to get back out either. After a few twists and turns we made it and started back up the mountain. The valley was quite scenic and it was a pleasant drive.

We picked up our ski gear and I was pleased to see it was decent quality. Front loading boots, parabolic skis. I haven’t been on many other mountains in the last few years but I was surprised to see how parabolics have taken over. There wasn’t even a choice.

Another cool thing they had was an RFID ski pass. I guess this is pretty common now, the ski jacket I had borrowed from a workmate had a little arm pocket made more or less for this. Just stick the pass in your clothes on your left side. When you get to the lift, there is a turnstile with a reader that ‘sees’ the card, I assume validates it, and lets you through.

We hit the slopes to meet the boarder crew by about 2:30. The mountain is huge. A road up the middle of the valley connects 3 towns with ski slopes on either side. There are at least 5 or 6 different peaks. 3 of the lifts were closed which left us with only 52 lifts we could explore. 52! The snow was about half of what they average. Lots of snowmaking. Some ice but in general not to bad. It has been a long time but I think the snow was pretty comparable to Taos having a not so great year.

After a couple of hours of skiing, we tried to catch the gondola at a midway stop. I wanted to go back up for a last run. When we got on though, I realized it was going down. I tried to hop off and they wouldn’t let me. I guess I am riding down. Turns out to be a good thing. The boarders had to hike through some grassy slopes at the bottom of the hill.

We went out in the first of the 3 towns, Saalbach. The male/female ratio could use some work here. It was roughly 6:1, men to women. Plus, the crowd seems much older here. Mostly 50s or older I would say.

We broke off from the boarders in search of moguls in the morning. Couldn’t find much but we did find some nice areas.

My biggest pet peeve with the damn snow boarders is that they plow the moguls. Multiple times I saw a wide slope with a couple of smaller moguls in one area of the slope. Invariably, a snow boarder would go over there and since he can’t really do moguls on a board, just slide down the hill sideways and plow them down. Fucker! Use the rest of the slope but don’t ruin that part for the rest of us.

We aren’t in the best of shape so we cut out a bit early. Went out that night to the next town, Hinterglemm. The age on this crowd was better and we found a much better club (the London pub, go figure). Still a bad ratio but it was down to about 3 or 4 men per woman.

I was expecting some Seattle friends, Jeremy and Michele to show up the next day. Thought they were going to be here fairly early so I kept checking my phone all day. Due to another unfortunate series of trains, they didn’t show until 5 or 6.

We found some ‘off piste’ skiing that was definitely the best snow on the mountain. Only a couple people had even been on the run before us so while we didn’t get first tracks, it was definitely fresh tracks. Probably a bit more than a foot of powder covered this run (at the top, there were some grassy patches at the bottom). The powder was a bit heavy but the run was just great. We did it twice, found a couple of jumps, the snow was deep enough for easy landings. Halfway through the second pass though, my body stopped cooperating fully. I would say “turn!” and most of my body would say “cool, we’re turning” but my left leg would say “Fark off, I’m tired” and down I would go. After that one, I cruised down and met up with lat who was at the base in Saalbach.

Ate a bit of food for lunch and hit the wall. I was sooooo tired. Could hardly keep my head up. We headed back to the lodge in the early afternoon to take it easy. I thought I was doing pretty well, conditioning-wise until then but that powder kicked my ass.

Jeremy and Michele finally showed up around 5:30. We went up the mtn and got them set up for night skiing ( I couldn’t stand the thought of getting my skis back on). We headed up some 200 meters straight up the slope to a ski bar. This party was pretty good but I just had no energy for it. Plus they were still playing après-ski which can be fun as a kitschy song now and again but it basically sux if that is all they are playing.

Everybody was pretty beat by this point. I realized this may be the first time I have ever skied more than one day in a row. We gathered for a large meal and then stayed up somewhat late chatting.

Lat and I decided to skip the last day of skiing and instead we went exploring. We found a nice little town with a hardware store to get rope and got some breakfast. Got massages, took the gear back, etc. Just took it easy. The boarders came down the mtn, we packed and hid the road back to salzberg around 6.

Of course it started to snow more or less as we left the mountain but oh well, I think the trip was pretty successful. I highly recommend skiing in the alps.