|While I haven't posted about them yet, we've actually been taking some long walks in the outlying areas of London this summer. This Saturday we had great weather, so we headed to Oxford to do a walk along several of the canals and to check out the colleges.|
This walk wasn't as scenic as our last which was through a river valley, but it was level and we had great weather so I am not complaining too much.
The collection was a hodge-podge of fossils, stuffed animals (including a dodo!), and other samples. It was a very classical idea of what a musuem should be.
Further back, one reaches the ethnographic collection which I can only describe as straight out of Indiana Jones. It's a jumble of glass-fronted cabinets in one huge, dimly lit hall, with tiny passages winding between them. The cabinets have loose themes (models of housing, animal representations) and are jam packed with samples from many different regions. It's an amazing thing to see, though sadly none of my photos came out due to the light.
We were there a touch too late to tour any of the interiors of the colleges or the main church, so we ended up grabbing tea and heading out. All in all, a lovely day trip.
|Update: Mary pointed out that I neglected to record our adventure coming home. We got to the Oxford station just in time to catch one back to London, and then had it stop repeatedly due to a door sensor. We went one stop and then the conductor made a hard to hear announcement that caused everyone to exit the train. This was a rare case where following the herd was a good idea, as we ended up on a faster (and actually running) train home. Also, we got to have this conversation over text (we were seated separately after the train swap):|
Bill: There is a woman on this train with a guitar painted on her face that totally looks like a cartoon penis.
Mary: Next to you?
Bill: On your 11:00
Mary: Ha ha
Mary: Oh yes I see it
Bill: Boy is she going to feel silly when she looks in the mirror.
Mary: The guy looks like he has one too.
Bill: He's blocked by the seat.
Mary: Or a bandage
Mary: Over his eye
Mary: I am trying not to stare
Bill: Hers is a painting, his is a penis face tattoo
Mary: Nope it's painted.
Bill: Why would he paint a bandage on?
Monday, May 5, 2014
Sunday, April 27, 2014
We choose Seville in Spain, since it's a very Catholic country and we figured it'd be a sight to see. It did not disappoint.
Nowhere is the tile more the focus than at the Plaza de Espana. This was the site of a worlds fair for Spanish-speaking nations years ago, and it has been maintained as a tourist site and park since.
The main building has a series of alcoves with tiled displays of each of the regions of Spain. We saw many people getting their pictures taken near the alcove of the region they hailed from, which was a lot of fun.
In these, devout locals dress in robes and funny hats and take over the streets. The processions happen throughout the week, with the main focus being Thursday night through Saturday, and at their peak run from midday until two or three in the morning.
There can be up to sixteen hundred people in each group, and with narrow streets they stretch for miles.
There is a brochure handed out which gives rough times and locations for each of the groups, but as it was in Spanish and used some local names for locations, we mostly winged it when on the hunt.
Once coming home from dinner we managed to get to a three-block area surrounded on all sides by parades. A bit disconcerting, but still a cool experience.
We read that they had done DNA testing to verify it was him, and Mary and I immediately asked each other "Who did they compare it to?" It turns out that he has surviving heirs all these years later, living in Puerto Rico and Spain. Who knew?
I've really only recently encountered much Islamic art, but I find it completely enchanting. One of the tenets is a representation of God's infiniteness in complex geometric patterns, which I find both aesteticly and intellectually pleasing. It is both a gorgeous pattern to the eye and a representation of God as math and order.
The entire public space of the palace is decorated elaborately, and I have literally hundreds of pictures of its floors walls and ceilings.
Our guidebook had a few suggestions for slightly more authentic shows, so we went for it. It's a very cool thing to see, very soulful and at turns mournful and aggressive. We quite enjoyed it. Our book also suggested a few bars we could go to late at night to see spontaneous flamenco break out, but we really don't think that's a thing.
Oh, bullfighting. Bullfighting is in many ways an integral part of the area's culture, if a controversial one. I actually feel somewhat ambivalent about it -- I can see how it's cruel and unfair to the animals, but on the other hand I know full well where my steak comes from and have no problem with that. Is bullfighting that much more cruel than raising cattle for food?|
We didn't go to a match, but we did go to the museum at the arena. While the event sprung from a similar tradition to jousting, the arena reminded us a lot of the Colosseum in Rome. The museum was informative and well laid out, but I don't think it resolved my feelings on the sport.
We also enjoyed the tapas again, especially a place we went on the last night. It was a bit dauntingly filled with people who actually knew Spanish, but we managed to order and consume some great food. We also witnessed the waitress and a patron singing together, which made us think that we may have been wrong about that spontaneous Flamenco thing.
|Overall it was a fantastic trip, full of experiences that felt very unique to the place. As always when visiting a locale like this I came away with a renewed desire to live in a place with casual attitude and indoor/outdoor living. And, as always happens, I immediately walked myself through all the impracticalities of that as a life for us. Oh well, we'll always have Seville.|
Sunday, April 13, 2014
We were struck when we arrived by how super modern the airport and train station were and even had a sit-down dinner to try to embrace the cafe culture of the city. Unlike in Munich, we managed to find the hotel without any hi jinks, though we did have to walk around the block to find the entrance.
Having spent much of our travels this year in nations that were strongly on the wrong side of World War 2 has actually been pretty thought provoking. I know that there are darker times in American history as well, but the fact that the holocaust could happen continues to confound me.
It was a nice climb and afforded good views of the city and of the cool tiles roof of the church (which, naturally, was bombed in World War II and then replaced later.)
All this sightseeing made us hungry, so it was time for another snack, this time pretzel bread rolls. So good.
With all of the churches that we have seen in Europe and England, it always amazes us to see one that feels totally different and new to us.
Lunch was a fun adventure. The place had a display case full of open-face sandwiches consisting of bread rectangles spread with various fillings. You pick out the three or four that strike you and then shoulder your way to a table. We also got a pfif each, which was a small beer served in a cup-sized beer mug. Fun!
We grabbed a refreshing and gigantic glass of wine in the evening, and were still tipsy for dinner, which was at a nice restaurant in the old greenhouse of the Habsburg palace. The highlight was the wine-induced people watching. A man walked in the door early in the meal and was hugged by no fewer than five employees and two patrons. Oh, the time we had, the worlds most hug-able (and second most rub-able!) man and I. At least in the stories I annoyed Mary with.
|And now my Tripadvisor review of sitting in a hotel bathroom in Vienna trying to quietly fix a broken production job at two in the morning: Not recommended.|
Unlike the one in Munich, this one was as focused on volume as it was on historical significance. We generally aren't big ones for bling, but seeing so much of it laid out in one place is pretty striking. It's also the only museum where we could take pictures, sadly.
From the treasury we went through an interesting and long exhibit on Sisi, the tragic wife of Emperor Franz Joseph I. That spilled out into the royal apartments, which were pretty standard-issue as those things go but still a nice display. They seemed to have more of the original furnishings than some others we had seen, so that was cool.
Overall it was a great trip. The city was hugely walkable, we had great weather for our outdoor day, and the cafes delivered both great coffee and great pastries.
Sunday, February 23, 2014
|Last weekend we finally broke the seal on Germany with a trip to Munich.|
Following the exit signs at the Munich station brought us to an elevator straight out of a Michael J Fox movie from the eighties, where he gets separated from his school trip and mistaken for a spy and has romantic hijinks while helping an attractive East German teenager defect. We had a few wrong turns on the way to he hotel but eventually made it.
We also discovered that St George (the patron saint of pretty much everywhere) was probably fake. As his patron-saint-of-everywhere-ness is a running gag between Mary and I, this was a pretty astonishing discovery.
As Mary said, the problem with palaces that model themselves after Versailles is that once you have seen Versailles, they tend to get a little same-y. Do your own thing, palaces! Fight palace peer pressure!
We also did a tower climb, as we are wont to do, and got some great views of the city. The tower was also fairly recently reconstructed, though it still had staircases that really couldn't handle the two-way traffic they were accommodating.
Each of the churches we visited had photos of the bomb damage, which was quite sobering. It's difficult not to think of all the damage to culturally significant works that was done by our side, but on the other hand...Nazis.
Speaking of Nazis, we spent Saturday morning at Dachau. In he interests of keeping this light I won't go into too much on that, other than to say I am very glad we visited. It has a well laid-out museum and several memorials, and was deeply moving and thought provoking. We opted not to take each others' picture by the ovens, unlike one of our co-visitors.
Apparently he always stayed at the same hotel, and since his death, fans have been leaving offerings in the small part out front. It's bizarre, but touching. We did feel a bit bad for the now ignored composer whose statue was commandeered.
At breakfast on our final morning we spotted a waiter carrying a beer on a platter, and watched with great anticipation to see which frat brother or pot-bellied man would get it. We were delighted to see it delivered to a small old German woman reading the paper. Stay awesome, Munich!
Sunday, February 9, 2014
|We have officially lived in London for one year, so it seems like a good time to look back and reflect on some of the plans and questions we had when moving here to see how it's going.|
One of my goals for the trip was to attempt to live British. We often hear of folks moving to another country and then looking for the most American experience they can find there. I wanted to at least attempt to live as the locals do. This has lead to many surprises with gas meters and grocery stores, but I do feel that it has added to the adventure of it all.
We are doing fairly well on this front. I have gotten used to writing my dates backwards and I think that I am very close to a breakthrough on 24-hour time. We know a few common conversions from F to C and back. We know how to pay on a pub. I know how much one stone weighs (14 pounds, for what it's worth.)
When figuring out what all to bring, I made some bold statements about having less stuff and going digital on more things. We did indeed leave our books behind, and have mostly stuck with e-books on the Kindle (though we can't resist Mary Roach's footnotes and silly pictures in physical form.) I have also (mostly) broken my desire to own physical copies of music media, though I will admit to buying a few CDs from particularly beloved artists. Mostly I have embraced Spotify as a good way to listen to music, though there is a part of me that still wants to run out and buy the physical discs from some of the artists I have discovered there.
I had planned to move most of our video watching to streaming, but we've made less progress on that front. Rather than sign up for NetFlix here we went for a local option, though we later found out that Amazon had purchased them. I find that the steaming options are pretty limited, though we do use it when we can (we still get discs for the rest). From hearing friends in the US talk, it seems like limited (legal) options is at least a bit of an issue there as well.
Have less stuff
Overall we had planned to have less stuff here. On some fronts (books, CDs) that has worked out well, on others less so. Some of the items that we thought we could live without (toaster, microwave) we eventually relented on and bought anyway. Some of our American stuff just fundamentally doesn't work here (lamps, our too large sofa) and so more appropriate local solutions were procured (thank goodness for Ikea). It's unclear how much of this will come back to America wit us, so we'll call this one a wash.
We all knew that pretentious kid in school who spent two weeks in England one summer and came back with an affected British accent. While we didn't want to be That Guy, I was curious to what extent we would pick up local slang and sayings. We have acquired more than I expected to, but none of the very prototypical ones.
Both Mary and I have started saying 'proper' when in America we would say 'real' as in, "It's impossible to find proper American bacon in British restaurants." I have started pronouncing 'weekend' the British way (with the stress on 'end' rather than 'week') which I attribute to all the small talk about weekends one does at work; Mary, conversely, works with very few British people which is why she has not picked this up and mocks me for it.
We don't say 'quid' for 'pound', though we do say 'P' instead of 'pence'. While I know when you would use quid since it's almost exactly like using 'buck' for 'dollar', I am so used to saying 'buck' that I just blaze through and use that. I have said 'cheers' exactly once and it still felt very weird (even though I was IMing with a Brit.)
How will the cats do?
After a few days to get over the trauma of the transportation, the cats are completely unaware that anything has changed.
Monday, January 27, 2014
|In theory the main point of our Zurich trip was for Mary to attend her company Christmas party, though in reality we were most looking forward to our alpine adventure.|
Several of Mary's coworkers went into the alps with us, including two who had stayed out until two am the night before. Hardcore considering that we took an eight AM train.
A short bus trip from the train brought us to be base of the mountain, and a short gondola ride to the top.
Having never gone skiing outdoors before, we really had no idea what to expect. The first thing that struck us was that skiing was all about lines. The line for lift tickets. The line for gondola tickets. The line for rentals. Things did move pretty quickly though and we soon realized that it was just a snow themed amusement park. This we could get our minds around.
Having managed to recover from the bad start, we agreed that this is probably a hobby we will stick with, at least casually. We have a year until the next Christmas party, so hopefully by then we will have learned enough to not have anybody fall off the T-bar lift. Baby steps!
Monday, January 20, 2014
|Next weekend Mary and I will be heading to Zurich for her company's Christmas party which places us quite near the alps. We've discussed learning to ski in the past but never quite pulled the trigger, so this seemed like a good tome to do so. That said, it also seems absurd to get to the alps having never put on skis before. Enter the Snow Centre (their spelling, not mine.)|
Sadly we did have some issues getting there as our Google directions assumed that it would take no time to make one of our transit connections. Thanks Google! We ended up taking a cab for a shocking cost and just barely arriving in time for the lesson.
From the outside, the place was unassuming and looked like a slightly upmarket big box store. It reminds most of the old Home Depot Expo stores, which Mary and I actually miss quite a bit. Once inside there were areas for registration, rental equipment, and changing, and then a huge cavernous space with the actual snow. Snow! Indoors!
We were in a group lesson that started with the putting on of skis and built from there. We learned how to walk uphill and stand on an incline, the proper posture and weight distribution, and humility. Both Mary and I felt great relief when someone else was the first to fall, since we knew it was just a matter of time before we each did.
All in all we both had a lot of fun. On the way home we got to discussing who had the most spectacular wipeouts, though I think that I won that contest given that I managed to take out half do a fence. Twice. Same fence; same half; I rest my case.
Thankfully the ride home was drama-less and we actually took a single train the entire way. Thanks again for nothing Google! We are both a bit sore but had a sufficiently fun time that we will probably give it a go this weekend, though the Swiss toddlers zooming down the hill with confidence may cause us to wimp out.
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