31 August 2007

Bavaria Photos

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I've put up the album for the Bavaria region, which includes Salzburg, Austria, and Berchtesgadin and Fuessen, Germany. We are smiling and laughing so much in going over these photos and remembering the trip. We spent the last week in the UK, and Poland, Austria, and Germany feel like ages ago.

Notice there are lots of photos of me eating. We both actually lost some weight, despite all the cheeses and sausages and desserts.

We're home!

We're home! We're tired, and feeling a little flu-like. But we're happy to be back with the cats. And I'll be working on pictures this weekend. So far, I've put up the Poland album. I'll work on blog posts this weekend, too. Jetlag. Sleepiness. Hot furry cats. Many distractions at this time.

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(Clicking on the image will take you to the album on flickr.)

18 August 2007

Greetings from a sleazy train station in Poland

We just spent a wonderful 3 days with my cousins in Zakopane where everything is lovely and now we are seeing the flip side to bucolic country life while in Katowice waiting for our train to Salzburg. (We tipped the bus driver 10 zloty to drive us the few extra blocks between the bus and train stations so we wouldn't have to walk it in the dark.) We have time to kill and zloty to spend so here we are on the internet. The keys stick and all the commands are in Polish, so this may not be my most inspired post.

No pictures uploaded at this time. We don't want to open our bags and pull out the camera and cords here. We'll get some up soon. The mountain landscapes in Zakopane are breath-taking.

We hiked for 5 hours in Tatra Nat'l Park yesterday. The Tatras are part of the Carpathian mountains. It was incredible. We've also eaten the local delicacy--smoked cheese. Fresh from the cart one day, then as an appetizer the next, fried with cranberry sauce. I ate some mandatory kielbasa. Mike has had pierogi and ribs drenched with saurkraut.

We've had some international foibles. I accidentally used a men's room (they use circles and triangles on the doors; I was jetlagged and maybe a little drunk and I didn't process the symbols). Mike opened a sugar packet all over himself, thinking it was a wetnap.

We love Zakopane and would buy a house there tomorrow if we could.

13 August 2007

Auf wiedersehen!


We're on vacation now!

I'm so happy to end the moratorium on grocery shopping. We've been eating down the fridge contents to empty it out as much as possible before we go. I was officially sick of this policy Sunday afternoon when I made hot dog quesadillas for lunch.

(Image from Not by Camel.)

12 August 2007

Playing tourist

We are in a weird inbetween state where we've lived here for a year, so we're not tourists but we'd never claim to be locals either. And we won't live here long enough to ever be considered locals. Someone stopped me on the street the other day to ask where the nearest Togo's was and I had to think for a second, "What city am I in?" and "What's a Togo's?" (we move around a lot, and from coast-to-coast; and Togo's is a mediocre sandwich shop chain that I haven't been able to eat at for about 5 years now) before I could answer that I didn't know. I drew a complete blank and could not think of a single sandwich shop, let alone specifically a Togo's, in town. I know how to get to the library, Peet's, and Target. What else do I need to know in any town?

Anyway, today we went searching for unique NorCal gifts to bring to my cousins in Poland. It's apparently very important for them to drop everything to make a houseguest feel welcome, as long as the houseguest brings presents. Fair enough. But other than wine, I was drawing a complete blank as to where one goes to buy California things. I put myself into tourist mode and came up with the Ferry Building in San Francisco.

On a Saturday morning that was probably one of the worst ideas I've ever had. At first it didn't seem so bad. Even though I got a little motion sick on BART, getting aboveground into the cool air made me feel better. We bought sweet Vietnamese coffees and had a short pleasant walk. Then we entered Crowded City. I had a headache and I was annoyed by everybody. For some reason I get afflicted like that every time I enter the Ferry Building. It was farmers' market day there, so extra people were milling around. There were lines for the bathroom, lines for the ATM. I was reminded that I don't like being a tourist in San Francisco. I don't like going anywhere crowded in San Francisco. I had a plan though and I was going to stick to it.

My plan didn't really work out. I bought one thing off of the list of ideas I had. We ended up BARTting back home to Walnut Creek and buying the rest of the stuff there. I'm glad I did get that one thing in the city (can't say what it is yet, in case my cousins read this!), because it's something I really like and I hope my cousins will too. But it was hours before my headache subsided.

And I got motion sick on the BART ride home, too. I never know when it's going to hit me. Doesn't bode well for all the train travel we have coming up in the next few weeks though, does it?

08 August 2007

Not Quite the Not Ready for Prime Time Puppets

We saw Avenue Q last night at the Orpheum in San Francisco. I wasn't exactly disappointed because I tried not to have too-high expectations. I like puppets and I was hoping for a few laughs, and that's what I got. It was enjoyable, but I did not find it as hilarious as everyone else in the audience. It was like we were there for Avenue Q Fan Club Night, and everyone else had seen the play a million times or new someone in the play or associated with the play. There was lots of pre-laughter for upcoming jokes that turned out to be not that funny. I just got the feeling there were lots of inside jokes and we weren't part of the club.

As I told Mike during the intermission, the humor was so obvious. It wasn't particularly witty or clever. It was like, "Let's have puppets talk about porn! Because they're puppets! So we're, like, breaking stereotypes about puppets or something!" If they had gone any edgier with their humor then they might not have won a zillion Tony awards and gained mainstream appeal. Instead, they made characters relatable to a theater-going crowd, like the idealistic English major who has visions of greatness but can't find a job. "Ha, ha, that puppet's just like me and all my friends!" Dare I say that I was too old for this show?

After enjoying the likes of Team America World Police, Crank Yankers, Wonder Showzen, and even Vomiting Kermit on the Conan O'Brien show, I found the Avenue Q peeps to be pretty tame. I guess I've done some hardcore puppet-viewing that's desensitized me. Still, it's not a kids' show. There are plenty of "adult situations."

Performance-wise, the puppetry was very good. The actors really acted through their puppets. And Kelli Sawyer, who played Kate Monster and Lucy, has an amazing singing voice. The craftsmanship of the puppets and sets is what really pulled me through.

07 August 2007

Time to really start preparing for the trip

One week from yesterday we'll be leaving San Francisco, one week from today we'll be landing in Krakow, and one week from tomorrow we'll be venturing out for our first tourist morning in Poland. I checked the weather forecast for Krakow and Zakopane and it looks like it might be chilly and rainy. No worries. I already wrote down my waterproof jacket and warm woolly under-jacket on my list of things to pack.

Weeks ago, after we made all the arrangements with the travel agent, we sort of put the trip on the back burner for a bit. Now it's time to bring it to the front.

We interviewed a pet-sitter to stay with the cats. She loved Grendel and Grendel loved her back. She tried to love Ellie and she remained calm when Ellie tried to bite her. The cats will be cozy at home and having someone pop in every other day to feed and water them is a lot cheaper than boarding them. She's also been a vet's assistant and volunteers for wildlife rescue, so she knows animals well.

I bought a travel backpack and I've been meaning to do a test pack to see how much fits in it, but I haven't gotten around to it yet.

This morning I bought lots of cat food and kitty litter, plus Advantage flea control and a new toy for the cats. I also bought a bunch of small, details-type stuff at Target. I can't decide what to do about shampoo and conditioner. Do I bring full-size bottles of my favorite brand to last me the whole trip? Or do I bring a handful of travel-size bottles and toss and buy new as I go along? I freaked out a little at Target thinking about potentially dingy hotel rooms and sleeping and eating on trains and bought mini-packs of Chlorox wipes, hand sanitizer, and antiseptic wetnaps. I think I tossed some Shout stain-remover cloths in the basket, too. This is all stuff I rarely use at home, let alone travel with. And none of it was on my list except the wetnaps. Rats! I forgot toothpaste. I'll be making at least one more trip to Target once I decide on the shampoo situation, so toothpaste goes on the list for next time.

My next task for the near future is looking up the luggage and checked-baggage restrictions for our airlines. I should probably do that before I test pack.

05 August 2007

I love the smell of fresh blog content in the morning.

I've set up email and RSS subscriptions to this blog, Flaming Tulle (co-written with Vicky of The Mummy Chronicles), and a new blog I'm working on, What I Eat (gluten-free recipes and other food stuff).

That is one convoluted sentence.

Check out the top of the right-hand sidebar on each blog. You'll see links for subscribing via RSS or email. Each blog is a separate email or feed. Choose your preference then click the link to sign up. Emails go out once a day when there's content, bright and early so you can read while you drink your morning coffee.

So, if you hate pesky bookmarks and remembering to check them, then finding that the blogs haven't been updated since the last time you looked, then check out these subscription services. I hope you enjoy them, if you're into that sort of thing.

04 August 2007

The Ten

To the people sitting behind us at the movies last night: Just because you think a movie is stupid doesn't mean you should sit there and talk through it. Get up and leave. The theater was empty, you could have moved to seats other than the ones right behind us and talked to your hearts' content if you really wanted to. Or was our continuous laughter interrupting your misery, so you had to interrupt our enjoyment? Every 5 minutes it was "This is stupid," "What a waste of money," "Again with the slapping," or loud sighs and yawns.

Mike thinks they stuck it out just so they could study us and try to figure out what was so funny about it. They were older, like my parents age or older, and I hate to play the "generational thing" card, but they just didn't get it. I wanted to turn around and say something to them but was afraid I'd miss some subtly hilarious joke in the 10 seconds it might take me to do that.

The movie was The Ten, and as fans of The State, we found it hilarious, like watching the long-lost episodes that they never could have shown on tv. But if you've never heard of Ken Marino, David Wain, The State, or Stella, you may want to familiarize yourself if you think of a $9.50 movie ticket as an investment in happiness. If you don't care about expensive movie ticket prices then by all means, jump right in and see if you like it. (Other movies by these folks include Wet Hot American Summer, Diggers, and The Baxter. Each movie is different though, so they really can't be compared. Just giving examples to see if you've heard of them.)

Ten short stories, each one based on a commandment. The stories and characters intertwine, so the lawyer that gets disbarred in Story #3 and is given the suggestion of getting a new job as a tour guide at the nuclear power plant, shows up as that tour guide in a later story. (But the intertwinings aren't as complicated as, say, Pulp Fiction.) All-star cast with some great cameos. They get Winona Ryder to be the central character of the stealing story, which is pretty funny, but unfortunately one of the funniest parts of that story. Overall, some very clever humor surrounded by a lof of silliness. If you like religious satire, then Story #2 is especially for you.

Proceed with caution. I would love for this movie to reach a new audience for these writers and actors because they work hard and are earning their laughs, but they're really not known for mainstream likeability. They've found a niche and are very good at entertaining that niche. Do the fans a favor and if you see this in the theater and hate it, try not to talk through it too much.

03 August 2007

Wedding Revisited


We got our wedding photos today! Just in time to spend the weekend uploading them to flickr and figuring out which ones we want more prints of. (Clicking on the image will make it huge.)

Photo by gumgirl.

02 August 2007

Bicycling: Heidelberg then crossing to Switzerland

July 21. Helen's group bikes from Worms to Heidelberg, arriving there around noon time. Meals at the hostels seem to be getting tiresome--"Desserts are a thing of the past except when we buy our own pastries in a bakery." And I think those lost desserts might include fruit. Although, they did get a lot of hot chocolate at breakfast that morning. I guess not every sweet treat is gone.

Helen and one friend spent the afternoon walking around Heidelberg, along the river and up a "steep, steep hill" to the castle. An American on a bicycle rode up next to them saying "Heil Hitler! Where the hell is the American Express?" mistaking them for Germans before they had the chance to say they weren't. Helen's friend also received a letter from her aunt that day from England. "She said that things were bad & a great deal of tension."

They made it back to the hostel just in time for dinner, which included string beans, apparently a big event. "This is about the first place we have a vegetable in Germany other than potatoes & lettuce."

The next morning the group crossed the border into Switzerland. The scenery didn't change much, but the food situation seems to have improved. Lunch included the usual bread, cheese, and cold meat but also tomatoes, plums, peaches, and pastries. The afternoon ride to the hostel in Maulbronn was tiresome and mostly uphill. Once at the hostel, a swimming pond awaited them, but otherwise some "very crude" accomodations. Straw mattresses and no blankets. But good food, and wine tonight, in a small, quaint town.

July 23. Spent the morning in Maulbronn. They had breakfast at a tavern then decided to look at an old monastary in town. A group had just arrived for an organized tour and Helen and friends got mixed up with that group. The tour guide locked the door behind them so they decided to just follow along.

Then they hit the road for their next destination. An uphill ride, 90 km to Freudenstadt. At the hostel that night, they met up with some young German women. One of them was Hitler Youth and gave Helen's friend her name and address so they could send her some American stamps when they got home. She emphasized that Germany's army was for peace.

The next day's bike ride was mostly downhill, very refreshing after the day before. They met up with some Hitler Boys on bikes, who rode along with them for awhile, and eventually a "contingent of the German army from motor car to motor cycle brigade, tanks, & kitchen." I'm not sure what she means by kitchen. And there's no other mention of riding with these military people. Nothing on the thoughts or impressions of what's going on around them as they take this innocent bike trip. Very matter-of-fact. Anyway, eventually Helen's group stopped for lunch. They lost the "brigade" but later in the day the boys on bicycles met up with them again and they sang German songs.

They stopped at a hostel in Freiburg that night and had spaghetti for dinner.

After all the hills of the last few days, they decide to take a train to the next city, Augsburg.

See all posts of Helen's trip.

"Give a girl a Subaru...

and see what she can do," is what Mike said to me when he came home last night and saw the vast amounts of grocery shopping I had done.

And with all that food, I made a very simple dinner and somehow used nearly every bowl, measuring cup, and utensil we own. It's like a cooking tornado has gone through the kitchen. And what did I make? Fruit salad, tabouli, and grilled veggies.

For awhile I've been thinking I should try making tabouli with quinoa grain instead of wheat and I finally got around to it yesterday. It was amazingly delicious! We gorged ourselves on it and my mouth is watering, thinking ahead to lunchtime today. I used the recipe in Moosewood. I'm not good and deciphering tastes in things, so I need recipes for guidance. Salt? Lemon? Garlic? Something else? Obviously I exchanged the bulgar wheat for quinoa. I steamed it early in the afternoon and by dinner-making time it was cool. I eyeballed the ingredients amounts and added them to taste. Garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, parsely, scallions, mint, tomato--mostly stuff we have on hand regularly.

Mike put veggies on skewers and I brushed them with herbed olive oil (dried herbs de provence and fresh garlic added to the oil about an hour beforehand to steep), then he grilled. Mike heated up some pita for himself, and voila. Fantastic meal. (We ended up not eating the fruit salad last night. It was a good breakfast this morning.)

And the kitchen is still a mess. We ran the dishwasher last night and I really should get up and empty it so it can be refilled with the dishes sitting on the counter. Boo housework. Yay sitting and drinking coffee.

Chapter Six: The Shoemaker: A Tale of Two Cities with Women

For background on the project and to see all the chapters at once, go to the tag A Tale of Two Cities Project . Chapter Six: The Shoemak...