Lisbon from last Thursday through Monday morning to hang with Lisa on her recent business trip. When she had gone previously it was bad timing for me to join her. I had a new job and was busy with new work. This time I was 9 months into the job and felt settled enough to go.
Leave Wednesday night on Air France going ATL to CDG to LIS. As is tradition, I had pre-flight drink and food at Ecco in the international terminal. On the flight, I watched the first half of Game of Thrones season 5. Since the plane was full of high school kids headed to Paris I should have felt skeevy watching the wildly uncensored scenes but hey, they need to be prepared for Europe's libertine attitude towards nudity. Sadly, the Air France flight back didn't have the same selections so I didn't get to finish it.
After landing, security was quick since no flights outside of Europe enter Lisbon. 15 minute ride to the hotel and a shower before walking into the city proper. Go go go!
I'm on my own until early evening. First stop is Museu Calouste Gulbenkian where they have a collection spanning five millennia that includes Egyptian sculpture, Greek pottery, Chinese ceramics, Persian printing and weaving, and all forms of European art. Basically, my complete art history textbook excluding the 20th century. Notable were some of the Medieval carved miniature panels of scenes from the life of Christ, and the large-scale European landscape paintings from the 1800s. Many names I didn't recognize, and sadly I also didn't follow my lesson from the Uffizi in Florence and buy a guide... or at least write down the names. Maybe next trip!
Front of the museum with a wacky bird.
After a couple of hours, travel was kicking in and I started to pass-out-standing-up while looking at the later works. Left to walk the museum grounds then head back. Espresso and an odd-yet-delicious pastry--a light, sweet bread with gelled candies in it--at O Pao Nosso (Our Bread), then back to the hotel. Our hotel, the Lisbon Marriott, is a ~30 min walk north of the museum via the pedestrian unfriendly Avenida dos Combatentes. I decide to walk the opposite side of the street and soon ran out of sidewalk. 28-hours awake and running across six lanes of traffic is how my vacation didn't end.
Shadow selfie with some of the city's beloved graffiti.
Shower, zone out, and then reunite with Lisa, Alicia, Dan, and Rodney at the hotel bar. Taxi to the Baixa neighborhood (pronounced BI-shah, "Low", cf. "bass") to wander the shops and grab drinks and snacks at Cafe Nicola. More walking and we end up having dinner on the patio at Cafe Lisboa. They're situated next to a plaza where, IIRC, the symphony performs. We didn't get to a symphony concert but maybe next trip! Hotel then SLEEP.
My food porn at Cafe Lisboa is empty plates.
A week or so before I left for Lisbon, my cell phone contract expired. I impluse-abandoned many years with Verizon based on an Ars Technica article and went with Google's Project Fi. Nexus 5X with Marshmallow at $20/month + $10/GB including international calling and data. Perfect. One great feature is the admittedly-creepy Google Timeline that integrates GPS with map locations and photos you've taken. A long time in one spot probably means you stopped there. This makes remembering restaurants and such so much easier.
Where'd little Billy go all day?
Lisa and the gang had to work a lot more than expected, so Dan and I were on our own much of the day. It was decided that we'd tackle The Metro, so we walked to the Jardim Zoologico station and hopped a ride to Baixa-Chiado station. Five or so museums were mapped out, but we ended up at the Chiado National Museum of Contemporary Art. This is highly recommended. They have two locations, one was mostly closed for renovations and the other had an amazing selection of Portuguese art from the 1970s to the 1990s across many different styles.
Basically, the modern history I missed at the Gulbenkian on the first day I made up for here. After getting our modern art on, we headed towards St. George Castle to eventually meet up with the workers once they get free of their shackles. Stop for drinks and charcuterie at Le Petite Cafe on Largo Sao Martinho (excellent), then further up the hill to find whatever patio the paycheck slaves ended up at.
Enhance! Rodney, Alicia, and Lisa spotted.
We got to the castle and the line consisted of possibly the entire population of Lisbon. Maybe next trip! Plan B was to just walk around the exterior neighborhoods on the hill and take in the view. Odd area at the entrance to the castle had several large 3D sign letters spelling out random words. KOSMOS and VICTORIA were there with WINU and AM and a couple others that were--I found out later--part of an art installation called LIGHTCRAFT BELMONTE. These particular pieces were from Stefan Kornacki's "Things to Come (Inscription project)". From the catalog:
... years ago [these] were urban signs, topping buildings in the People's Republic of Poland. The irony is that, since these old symbols of innovation and progress were outdone by time ... they reappear now in the urban scape as absurd utterations. ... These 'signs' come from past. But we can look at them also as signs of the future, ruins, of all and any civilizations. Things to come.
This very much expresses the experience viewing them. It was a reference to intentionality that seemed to span multiple, defunct ages. Atlanta needs more urban installations like this.
Messages from the past (or future?!?) and an old apartment building nearby. KOSMOS!!1!
Next stop was lunch at Chapito a mesa: allegedly the 7th best patio in the world. So, of course, I got no pics but I did have many drinks and delicious food. In fact, as much as I love the new phone and service, its battery just cannot survive a full day of mapping and photos and web browsing: no photos after 7 PM. We continued the evening in the heart of the tourist area and browsed several different kiosk-filled streets. The great success for me was: (1) a bottle of 2007 Porto Reccua LBV and (2) a large link of smoky black sausage. The second item--it was assured to me by the butcher--was sealed so that I could get it back to the states without anyone noticing. I did, but only after wrapping it in several layers of plastic bags (which did not eliminate the smoky sausage smell), shoving it in the bag with my workout clothes (still smoky), and spraying down the whole kit with my Polo Black cologne (success). The flight home ended at the Hartsfield Jackson International Luggage Carousel. Immediately after I texted Dan, who was still in passport control, that I'd wait for him, several agricultural dogs started circling the room. Me + poker face exited quickly and now I'm happily ensconced at home with port and sausage!
More wanderings in the neighborhood: Museu da Cerveja where Rodney bough a set of glasses shaped like bottles, Trobadores Taberna Medieval where all things Renfest were happening. We had seen a couple of bars that had traditional Fado music, but needed reservations to get in. Plans were to go Saturday, but that fell through. Maybe next trip! Finally back to the hotel for late-night drinks at the bar.
Saturday! The good news: Lisa didn't have to go into work. The bad news: Lisa had food poisoning and, though the weather had been perfect thus far, the day turned cloudy and cold. No matter. Dan and I missed each other at the hotel breakfast somehow, then got a late start at Belem Tower for pics (another absurdly long line kept us out, maybe next trip!), and the Museu do Combatente. The museum had presentations for Portugal's role in WWII (less interesting) and for their colonial uprisings in Africa (very interesting). Apparently, Portugal defied the UN resolution on self-determination of colonies and did not allow it's territories to become independent. Rebellions broke out in Angola, Portuguese Guinea, and Mozambique starting in 1961 and continuing until 1974. Spoilers: those countries are free now. I knew Portugal had an empire hundreds of years ago, but never really considered its demise. Interesting history.
Protect the city, oh great Belem Tower!
We saw the changing of the guards at Aos Combatentes do Ultramar (Overseas Combatants).
Next stop was supposed to be the Jeronimos Monastery, but we passed by the Museu Colecao Berardo and decided that free admission to contemporary art trumps monks. The museum is in a complex that also has a symphony hall (performing John Adams' 2006 opera A Flowering Tree on the 6th) a theater and a couple of restaurants. In the museum proper we walked through a small installation of Nicolas Paris works called Four variations on nothing or talking about that which has no name, and twelve-or-so rooms of contemporary art from the 1960s to the 1990s. The Paris works were humorous and thoughtful and hard to describe. Tiny, delicate pieces that continued in variated forms. Cut paper; rocks; wires glass and plants. The larger show had some very major works and really nice pieces of minimalist sculpture. None of the pics turned out though! Very late lunch at the East West Pizza Sushi Cafe in the museum complex then Uber back to the hotel to meet up with the gang.
Long table with various contraptions by Nicolas Paris.
We zoned out at the hotel a little, back to the hotel bar, then dinner at the hotel restaurant with all except Sick Lisa. Pretty exhausted.
Last day so Lisa and I head out for fun in the sun. She's stir crazy from her Day of the Dead so walking is in order. Walk to the Metro--second and last trip on my 3-day pass did not make it a fiscally sound purchase--then down to Praca do Comercio and some pics of King Jose the 1st.
The king and his lazy, lazy subjects.
Another shadow selfie with Pac Man.
Walk the coast and stop for drinks at Monte Mar restaurant on our way to a complex of bohemian galleries and restaurants called LX Factory. Walking and getting lost on the way ate up time, so many of the shops were closed there. Lunch at the wonderful A Praca where I had maybe my most Portuguese meal: cod fish cake. Delicious.
Lisa tags an LX Factory building with graffiti and plots a SmartCar Getaway.
We should have taken the trolly back to Baixa but instead just taxied. Maybe next trip! Once back in the hood, we queued in the first and only line during our entire time in Lisbon: the Santa Justa Lift. Completely worth it for the view that we got.
It was cold, thrilling, and the exit several stories up at the top took us to the coolest neighborhood in the city: Bairro Alto (high neighborhood, cf. alto vs. baixa, high vs. low). Just as LX Factory was like the Goat Farm or L5P in Atlanta, Bairro Alto was like Soho in NYC. So many great, small restaurants and wine bars, we first stopped at Wine & Pisco in the middle of a small plaza where we had wine and I had a shot of pisco. Pisco is basically Perivian grappa and it will blind you just as easily as grappa. Drink. With. Care. Further wandering brought us to The Old Pharmacy which had an excellent wine selection and an equally excellent soundtrack playing The Rolling Stones performed a la lounge music. We made it back to the hotel around 9? or so and I hung until 11?? so I could get up at 3! to leave at 4!! for a 6 AM flight. No surprises and the sausage made it home (phrasing). Return movies were newly viewed The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 (3/5) plus previously viewed Trainwreck (4/5) and Star Wars: The Force Awakens (4/5). Home; jog in the perfect weather; grab a calzone from Vinny's.
Off to Prague to meet Lisa and Danice and Theresa after their week in Croatia. First international travel alone in, ever? Oddly nervous. While weighing my luggage at home, I found out I weighed twenty pounds less than a few months ago. Weird, if true. This trip should change that.
Atlanta to Paris to Prague. Ended up going through a different security area and am not sure how. Being alone sets you on different routes for even the simplest choices. Lunch at Ecco: Gruner Veltliner and chicken panini. Read: "Charlie Hebdo and the previous question" (brilliant examination of racism, heroics, and humor), "Love songs, RIP" (rap is killing the love song), "The happiness industry" (uninspired rant against policies that nudge people into better behavior). The Charlie Hebdo article pointed me to the hilarious/informative site Understanding Charlie Hebdo cartoons. And, of course, sitting next to French travellers waiting for the flight to CDG. Gate F12 Paris; gate F14 Knoxville.
On the flight, sat next to Roberta From Tampa and, as I leafed through my Czech language book, we realized our destinations were the same. Her friend's daughter is in cinema school in Prague and she planned to stay a few days then meet her husband in Bologna. She's Italian with absolutely no accent.
Watched: Jupiter Ascending (all it had to offer was spectacle, so an airplane screen was the worst possible option), Project Almanac (childish, avoid unless you have a desire to see Piedmont Park), and Episodes (recommended by a coworker, good).
Follow the crowd off the plane to the only possible destinations: ATM and luggage. English signs everywhere, yet airports are confusing in their base genetics. Eventually made my way to the bus stop and was given 24Kč by a Kind Stranger to get a train ticket since I only had large bills. After several false starts I eventually joined the last people remaining. No ticket needed, it appears to be only circling the airport. Rats. Finally, it ended up at an entrance to the underground Metro. Success!
Drop the bags early at Hotel Josef with Filipe who had an awesome Gant watch that I Simply Cannot Find Available Anywhere. Snack and coffee at cafe Opapa waiting for room 114. Unpack, sleep, shower.
Dobre rano, Hotel Josef!
Girl-free until tomorrow night, so today is museum day. First stop: as 20 minute walk to Veletrzny Palac at The National Gallery. Started on the 4th floor and went down. Czech art from the 1850s on, then European art from the same time, then late 1900s and 2000s Czech art. Czech cubist artists would quote Picasso, Cezanne, impressionism to the point of plagiarism. I was kindof shocked. Beautiful late-romantic large-scale canvases. Very good 60s and 70s minimalism and the there was good balance in the present-day styles, presented with "what's next?" uncertainty. I recognized very few of the artists throughout the exhibits. Big mistake not taking notes. Rushed through the Kokoschka exhibit due to tiredness and I'm not that big of a fan.
Leaving Veletrzny as Roberta and her friend Sue were entering. Ha!
Light-filled atrium at Veletrzny Palac. Unrelated, but equally awesome, Mr. HotDog (coming soon).
Next: back near the hotel to the Convent of St. Agnes of Bohemia. Hard to find even with GPS and Google Maps. There are no two streets that are parallel. The current show is Medieval Art in Bohemia and Central Europe. Painting and sculpture from 1350s to 1450s with notable transitions to the international style. Nice complement to the moderns at Veletrzny.
Late afternoon and time for drinks and mussels from Nadeem at the bar at Chez Marcel. One of the many times I'd get a bonjour instead of a dobre den.
Brain reset and got a recommendation for a local kavernu for beer and Czech food. Ended up at VKolkovně ("v" is "in" and I'd see it sometimes with street names or locations; usually street signs will start with "U" which is short for "ulice"/"street"). Sausages in gravy with onions and peppers and a basket of heavy bread and Pilsner Urquell. Manhattans after at the bar at Tretter's. Minor people-watching and reading as I wind down (The Vorrh by Brian Catling).
Late start and finally get out at ~10. The nap did nothing! Coffee at Opapas (again). They serve coffee with a small shot glass of water. Not sure if Viennese or Czech tradition. The morning itinerary is walk around the old city squares. I see: Church of Our Lady Before Týn and Prague Astronomical Clock. I avoided tours since I wasn't sure what the girls would want to see. My mistake because I never got to go to the top of the clock tower. Wandered old neighborhoods randomly and saw many cool things that I would never be able to find again because of the aforementioned non-parallel street chaos. There were several instances of "oh, I was here before!" later in the week.
Church tower: stack it to heaven, I say!
Approaching the old city square.
Lunch at La Veranda (bonjour!). This was included in a list of recommendations the hotel concierge provided when I emailed them before the trip. I actually made reservations just because. French. Sauteed calamari, pea risotto with scallops, limoncello ice and espresso. Very nice wine recommendation. Even the nicest restaurants are so inexpensive here.
Jog. The weather is perfect and continues that way throughout the week. The hotel provides a jogging map with three routes. Neat! I take it and promptly get lost on the first turn. Again, non-parallel streets. I get back on track and wend across bridges and through parks and through the city. It's a nicely joggable city. I'd been worried since Lisa S. went for a jog in Rome and said it was unpleasant. Prague reminds me of Florence for its mix of age modernity and its narrow streets. Lisa S. had a good jogging experience there.
Back and clean up and then drinks and reading at Vino di Vino (ciao!). Picked up bottle to take home to Atlanta (yes, we eventually drank it in the hotel). Amazing wine cellar.
Throughout the trip, Lisa and I had been using an IM account via Trillian to talk. Alternately, she and the girls used WhatsApp to chat when they went their separate ways. The world needs a unified IM protocol. Anyway, at VdV she messaged that she was in the room. After meeting up for drinks at the hotel bar we wandered around the city and ended up for dinner at an Italian restaurant (ciao!). Completely forget the name. I had roasted pork knee with mustards (traditional Czech), Lisa grilled pork with hot peppers and mushrooms. The knee was a complex combination of bones and fat an very, very tender meat. Drinks at Tretter's (again).
Crossing the Charles Bridge to get to Prague Castle.
Looking down at the small people from on castle high.
Detail of the solid silver tomb of John of Nepomuk inside the cathedral.
After castle, met back up with Danice and Theresa and stopped at V Laznich traditional Czech restaurant after we saw pretzels hanging on wooden stands at each table. Neat. Had sausage and potato pancakes. Then further wandering in the area to see Lennon Wall filled with graffiti with both peaceful and trolling, war sentiments, and the Memorial to the Victims of Communism.
Dinner at the Michelin Starred Alcron. Four courses with wine pairings. Excellent. At the end of the evening the chef created an elaborate food painting for newlyweds at their table.
Meet Theresa and Danice at Cafe Louvre. Their tour guide Marcus had given them a 2 hour tour in the morning, so he joined us for a late breakfast. Vienna sausages and horseradish. Although very knowledgeable about the city, Marcus answered a question of greater importance: the cartoon character we had been seeing all over the city is the lovable Czech mole Krtek! The rest of the day involved walking around the Nove Mesto area to see the Dancing House and the Church of St. Cyril and Methodius and Upside Down St. Wenceslas (first Czerny of the trip).
Cross the city to visit the National Monument in Vitkov to see the gigantic sculpture of Jan Zizska on a horse. Met Samuel on the way who gave us directions. He moved from St. Louis to teach English a year and a half ago and is now drawing caricatures. Fun fact: you don't need to know Czech to teach English there. Photos and drinks at the top floor cafe. Off in the distance, Babies Climbing the Radio Tower (second Czerny).
Communists really know how to build a monument!
No selfie-stick necessary.
Return walk stopped at U Medvidku for X33 beer and bought a bottle to take home (drank it with Matt and Tedra and Bill at Meehan's after Mad Max the Sunday after our return). Stopped at the small Cafe Bar Archa U Prokupku: calimari and my first Staropramen ("old spring/fountain") beer. Hanging Freud (third Czerny of the trip).
FInally, the reason for this whole trip: Smetana's Ma Vlast performed by NDR Philharmonic at Municipal House. Champagne beforehand with what seemed like every nationality on Earth represented. Languages everywhere. People dressed from jeans to tuxedos, we were casually in between. The hall itself was more ornate than pictures suggested. Excellent concert and the first time I had heard the cycle in it's entirety. Perfect.
Nearing the end of the trip, so Danice and Theresa split off for independent studies. Lisa and I went to Chez Marcel (again) for dinner. Hanger steak and gratin potatoes for monsieur, rabbit confit for madame.
Who's a swank traveler? You are!
Nina our tour guide for the day picked us up early for a day trip to the fantastical city of Cesky Krumlov. Nina grew up in communist Czechoslovakia and experienced it turn into the democratic Czech Republic, so she had many stories of the social change. During the 2-1/2 hour drive, she regaled us with history and such. My only notes:
3 regions: Siletia - north west, industrial; Moravia - south east, agricultural, wine country; Bohemia - central and western (and what else?).
Drove past Archduke Ferdinand's castle. It was renovated for his wife Sophie who was not a noble, so the other nobles looked down on her. He was very traveled and educated, and so made it the most modern castle of Europe. Plumbing, electricity, the works. Nina was worried if we visited that we'd be upset by the many animals from his hunting trips mounted on the walls. She seemed very apologetic about it.
Later, she told us about Ruslan and Ludmila from Ukrainian history. Theirs is a well known love story that I knew from some Russian opera but neither of us could remember at the time (it was an opera by Glinka).
No CGI required.
Josef Vachal and Egon Schiele exhibits at the Egon Schiele Center. Excellent museum. Needed two hours and we had 20 minutes.
Open Vino di Vino bottle back at the room.
Last day rush rush rush. Jewish synagogue and cemetery. Late breakfast at the Kafka Snob Cafe: croque monsieur. Museum of medieval torture instruments at one end of the Charles Bridge. Across the bridge for beers with Lisa at Hergetova Cihelna near the Franz Kafka Museum. Piss sculpture (fourth Czerny?) in front, sadly w/out working piss.
Kafka Museum. Grew up in Prague, worked as an insurance adjuster. Overbearing father and combative family cook. Four canceled engagements. Thanks Max Brod! On the Amsterdam layover back home, I purchased four paperbacks to binge-read in the coming months (Schocken, 1998 editions).
Residual obsession from Prague arrived: set of books by their favorite son, K. The next few months will be weird. pic.twitter.com/8Iysff5zmk— Scott D. Strader (@sstrader) May 20, 2015
Is anyone else paranoid right now?
Drinks at Malestranského (mala strana, small side) Hostince (inn). Baroque concert for organ and soprano at St. Nicholas church. Amazing acoustics. [ updated 5 Jul 2015 ] Flyer for the concert: front and back. Final dinner at Paris Cafe near the hotel.
Taxi with Lisa to the airport in the early AM. Separate flights, mine was Prague to Amsterdam to Atlanta. Watched: Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee (w/ Kramer, very good), Taken 3 (entertaining enough), Leviathan (beautiful, depressing film with cinematography that needed to be seen on a good screen. Deals with ideas of a corrupt government and a complicitly corrupt church, echoed by Pussy Riot's closing statement. One scene has PR on the TV in the background), Louis CK (his younger daughter thinks she's always dreaming). Home and laundry and a jog to sweat out the exhaustion and flight and Marta.
Italy April 2014 with the wife, brother, and sis-in-law! Part 1 here. Part 2...
Florence was my favorite spot in all of our Italianate travels, but in big city form, our time there was a dizzy mishmash of events. Our first full day: we walked through the Piazza della Repubblica then to the Palazzo Vecchio, the town hall built in the late middle ages.
Best art of the trip was in Uffizi Gallery. We spent two hours just on the second (?) floor through maybe 10-or-so rooms. I was completely geeked out over seeing the iconic art live and in person. Another trip should be taken to visit this museum again even if just to re-look at everything I had already looked at since every painting had such a high Look Quotient. In the entrance of the museum, I bought the small official guide and am grateful to have it now for memories and as a quick art history review.
One of the oddest experiences came during and after lunch. We were in the Piazzo della Repubblica, I think, at one of the outside restaurants when a couple of guys sat at the table next to us. After a few minutes, one left and while the other was eating a bird landed on the empty seat and started pecking around for crumbs and such. From this, we started a conversation as he had heard we were Americans. His name was Gianni and his friend, Franco, soon returned. (Franky and Johnny? Really?!) Franco was the more gregarious of the two and told us of their (1) leather shop nearby, (2) winery they just started, and (3) his ancestry dating back to Dante Alighieri. They invited us to the shop, David 2, for wine and the soft-sell. Their wine's label had--and I am not making this up--a picture of Michaelangelo's David with Franco's face superimposed. I don't know what I was expecting, but that seems normal now. Their two hottie sales girls would chat in Russian, then Italian, then English as they buzzed around getting us drinks and jackets and pimp-like fur coats to try on. After dropping the price to 1/3 of a wildly overpriced initial offer, I eventually bought a leather jacket (perfect for on the Vespa!) and Lisa ordered one from a display piece. (Sadly, she has not yet received it, so we're hoping we don't have to fight too hard to get it or get a chargeback.) We also walked out with a few bottles of Franco/David wine, gratis.
Rest at the hotel, drinks at the rooftop bar where I left to return to a record store (Data Records 93) we passed earlier in the day where I found a copy of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (lost to the college moving gods). I thought I'd remembered where the shop was, but ended up at a different record store (Rock Bottom Records)! Even better, they had multiple copies of various pressings to choose from. They also had an original black cover From Genesis to Revelation, their first album, for $350 Euro! Having purchased many reprints, I'd never seen an original before. Neat. The Asian lady running the shop, I think, spoke no English so we communicated in more fractured Italian. Dinner and wanderings, then end of evening drinks at The Cocktail Bar, of course.
Breakfast at Cafe Giocosa in Roberto Cavalli where we completely disrupted the espresso and pastry ordering process. Cue eye-rolls. Back to the hotel and prep for the drive to Rome via Sienna care of driving direction from the lady at the front desk. As she promised, it was much easier getting out of town although the highways there were frequently hobbled to one lane by construction. Sienna is a beautiful old town and definitely part of our Next Italian Excursion. Lucky parking spot (the. city. was. Packed.) and walk to Enoteca Italiano in Fortezza Medicea for a wine tasting. Wines were: Nebbiolo d'Alba (leggiero), Primativo (frutta), Brunello di Montalcino (pesante), and Nero d'Avola (leggiero).
The server at the Enoteca recommended we try the Dievole winery around 30 minutes north of Sienna. The view during drive was unreal in its Italian-ness and I think we all sprouted Luigi-style mustaches by our arrival at Dievole. Because it was either mid-week or off-season or both, we were the only ones there and had the full attention of the guide. I always feel like a poor student in such a situation. Did we have good questions? Were we appropriately impressed at the correct facts? We ended with the grappa. I had tried this once before just to see what it was like and, after my vision was restored, decided it wasn't for me. Still, I had to give a second chance to some from the land of grappa and was pleasantly surprised. I'll maybe try a higher-end label again someday. Other wines were: Rosato, Chianti classico (80% sangiovese), Broccato, Novecento (bottle purchased), and Simone.
Drive to Rome! This is the end of our driving fun in Italy. We dropped the car off at a somewhat seedy-looking rental garage just inside Rome (although, I doubt my judgment of what is and is not seedy in a large, foreign city; in the rental booth, an Indian guy was watching what appeared to be a trashy Indian telenovela) and taxied to the Fabio Massimo Design Hotel. It's in an office building with a puzzling entrance, although maybe we were just tired and confused as was par for the trip. Again, very nice rooms and great location. Dinner at a nearby restaurant (?) and chats with the British couple at the table next to us. She works in real estate so Bob and her talked shop. A little brash and as insults about Germany peppered her conversation, the apparently German couple nearby stiffened. What's the equivalent of Fox News watchers in the UK?
Thursday was Vatican museum day. Our wonderful tour guide Angela, aka Shelly Duvall, handed out little hand-held radio things with ear-pieces and we tuned in to her mic. Neat. Distance was maybe 20 meters, but Radio Angela would go off the air suddenly if we were moving between stone rooms. If Milan Cathedral was a mega-church, I have no idea what the Vatican would be. It was a world of architecture and art and alcoves and expanse. Wonderful to see the Michaelangelo et al.'s Sistine Chapel live-and-in-person. Again: take an art history course before you go to Italy. My classes were decades ago but added much to the looking.
Angela was very knowledgeable in both history and art, but I did have one observation she missed. On the ceiling of one room was a painting, Tommaso Laureti's "The Triumph of Religion", of a crucifix hovering over a broken statue of (what was obviously) Mercury. I pointed this out, but Angela insisted the statue simply represented pagan religion in general and no god in particular. I was certain it was a visual pun on "killing the messenger" and my stubborn research paid off, via "The Vatican Collections: The Papacy and Art":
Tommaso Laureti's The Triumph of Religion, on the ceiling of the Sala di Costantino in the Stanze of Raphael, in the Papal Palace (fig. 42). The painting depicts an antique statue of the god Mercury lying broken on the ground, at the base of the triumphant cross of Christ.
Vindicated! Still, you could look at the artwork there for years and never absorb it all. Not as interesting to me as Uffizi, but still engaging.
Notes are fewer from this point on. After walking to the highly recommended Pizzarium (oh no: it's take out only!) we instead had lunch at La Scaletta. Various combinations of Bresaola, arugula, Parmesan, cheeses, pizza. Some more walking around (?) hotel (?) then one of our best meals of the trip at a place oddly named Tastevin. This really was a high point. After, we walked back to Piazza del Popolo across the Tyber, through what might have been a scary area of town (skate punks!), and learned that Rome is not a late night city. Nothing open, so we close out Rosetti with bottles of wine, olives, and potato chips.
Metro to the Colosseum was soooo easy possibly because their Metro is as limited as our MARTA: only two lines! Beautiful collapse and decay all around. Nice walk nearby to smaller ruins. Outside alcoves with amazing art barred off. A small church with enormous art. Actors dressed as gladiators. For some reason, the day presented many questions: How old is the Colosseum (built in 70-80 CE)? Pantheon (built in 126 CE)? What is the Jubilee (every 50 years you're cleared of sin!)? Who makes Smart Cars (Daimler)?
Pantheon was as-or-more intimidating in scale than sections of the Vatican. People. Actually. Made. These. Things. Lunch outside at Il Miraggio near Trevi where we finally got pizza (!) with grilled vegetables (!!). Then to a very classy part of town to San Marco for drinks, fancy beer La Rossa Forte. We took over the hotel dining room for pre-dinner snacks of bread, cheese, and meat, purchased from a local grocery store and butcher shop. Dinner around the corner at the very modern Osteria Centouno. Back to the hotel.
Ride to airport. Stopover at Amsterdam, "Baby's on Fire" guitar solo playing in the airport! KLM to Atlanta watched Korean time-travel flick 11:00 A.M. (3/5), We Are The Millers (3/5), and Frozen (3/5). Home to a broken washing machine. ¯\(ツ)/¯
Italy April 2014 with the wife, brother, and sis-in-law! Part 1 (and part 2)...
Started in the ATL terminal E, headed to JFK then Milan, with beers at the Belgian Beer Cafe. Exotic! Mechanical problems with the plane front loaded our vacation with a 3 hour delay, so we continued to bar hop at One Flew South. More Exotic!! Good wine and scallops for me. A risky gambit before an international flight, but it paid off. JFK was a confusing mess with no signs where to go. We eventually wandered outside, down a street of construction, and then into a different building to the correct terminal. It was a more foreign and confusing experience than all of Italy. Blech.
We hit Milan a little before noon. Minor difficulties getting the car started (derp) before heading into the city for lunch. Four people, our luggage fit perfectly and was hidden away; Google Maps on my phone guided us towards Milan Cathedral near the Arco della Pace. Once parked, a random lady on the street attempted to help us during our first of many foreign confusions: how to pay for parking?!? Foreign travels allow you to revel in feeling stupid. Once payment was accomplished, lunch at some university cafe that, for our first meal, was a miss. Although the food was unimpressive, the cathedral was stunning in its architectural representation of a Renaissance mega-church. It was also the first of many examples during the trip of X-tian-inspired horror vacui. So many finials!
After wandering about the cathedral, we (eventually) reunited with our car and headed towards Santa Margherita and the coast. If we weren't so tired from the flight, we would have stopped for pictures along the way or even detoured to Turin. This was the first in a checklist of items for our Next Italian Excursion. Once in Santa Margherita, we checked in at the amazing Grand Hotel Miramare, rested, wandered, drank wine outside at a cafe as night approached, and finally ended up at La Paranza for our first official meal. Back to the hotel for drinks at the bar where I think we kept them open longer than they wanted. Insert, I imagine, exasperated Italian eye-roll.
Perfect weather the evening before continued through the morning and stayed the entire week we were in Italy. I did breakfast at the hotel to read and prepare for our walk to Portofino. The hotel had a xeroxed in-house newspaper to keep us jet-setters caught up with the world. Even though there were only 10 or 15 articles from around the globe, a Georgia politician still made it in with some sort of homophobic or pro-gun mania. Sigh.
Beginning our day on the coast, we followed a narrow road with small groups of other walkers and joggers enjoying the views of ocean and villas. Outside of Portofino, three or four classic sports cars appeared as a tour bus was coming in the opposite direction. Apparently, the swells rent them and tool around the coast. Take-away from Italian traffic: no one ever gets in a wreck and (except for one incident where Italian swearing made an appearance) no one ever gets angry (ok, the one incident was directed at us when we went into the wrong lane of a toll booth and had to back out). First stop: drinks at Sottocoperta and people-watching in the piazza, a little wandering around, then lunch at La Stella after I negotiated a table via my fractured Italian and the host's much-less-fractured English.
For a couple of months prior to the trip, I studied Italian since I greatly regretted not learning the local language before our trips to Thailand and the Dominican Republic. (We were shamed considerably in the DR during one excursion when a French girl chatted both with us and with the locals. I never felt more the ugly American.) My language studies process included audio lessons and Duolingo. The audio I did every morning on my drive to work using some inexpensive CDs by Global Access, uploaded to Amazon for streaming over my phone. Inexpensive = old = many references to using "travelers' checks"! The effort, though not perfect, helped considerably. My biggest mistake was not getting more deeply into food and meals. All said, I will never again not study the local lingo.
Evening was a cab ride into Rapallo for dinner at Ristorante Pizzeria Bella Napoli. First stop (noticing a pattern?): wandering and drinks and people-watching at Caravaggio Cafe. Every place you go gives you bread and olives and other snacks, so it was difficult not to fill up before dinner. At the restaurant, Giovanni helped us through the menu and brought us some amazing wines. We struggled with a conversation about his love of barbecue and taught him that there's more than one type of barbecue. He was delighted. After dinner was limoncello, gratis, though I'm not sure he expected us to finish the entire bottle. We overstayed our welcome (again, more Italian eye-rolling) and seconds after we walked out the front door the entire staff exited and headed home. Giuseppe cabbed us back to Santa Margherita and then kept us occupied another half hour outside the hotel as he told us of his many, many side businesses.
[ updated 5 Jun 2014 ]
Morning before leaving, I jogged ~10K from Santa Margherita to Portofino and back. On the way back, there's a path away from the road and up the hill that cuts through woods and neighborhoods and a small waterfall. Beautiful! I wanted to jog in Florence and Rome but didn't get to, so this was perfect. My sis-in-law jogged in those cities: she said that Florence was nice especially along the river but that Rome wasn't very jog-friendly.
Next day! Drive to La Spezia where we took a train to Monterosso with the intention of walking several of the cities of Cinque Terre. Navigating the highways with Google Maps was generally easy--our generation is spoiled, the next is going to be worse--but one wrong turn onto the Italian highways can mean you're stuck for the next several kilometers before you find an exit, and that exit will not allow you to turn around until you're another several kilometers off the highway. Hypothetically. And, hypothetically, the town you will finally be able to turn around in will be called Recco. (Recco's Law, noun - the adage that the simplest task, when done in a foreign country, will take up to three times as long as normal to accomplish.) After this, we were very careful with directions.
Finding and navigating the train station was an experience and after we missed the first train by seconds we eventually hopped onto our Trenitalia car with the other ill timed tourists. Why doesn't the US have an elaborate train system?! We were quickly spotted by a "local" "artist" who tried to sell us some Cinque Terre landscapes and--I kid you not--oil drawing of sad clowns. We, respectfully, demurred. Once in Monterosso, and confirming what Lisa overheard from other travelers, we learned that the walking route was washed out by flooding in 2011, so it ended up being Uno Terre for us. Second item for the Next Italian Excursion. Still, delicious food and wine (and so much bread!) at Cantina di Miky. We did not have the local specialty of sardines, and I have regret.
Next stop: Florence and the Hotel Cavour!
As we entered old Florence, we realized that (1) roads are very narrow, (2) they are filled with people, and (3) GPS drops immediately, leaving you unsure where the hell you are on the map. We drove the maze of one way streets and piazzas that looked-like-you-shouldn't-be-driving-in-them-but-you-really-should and finally found our way to the hotel. It probably only took five minutes but it felt like we were constantly on the edge of something horrible happening. It did not. Once we found the hotel, we could only park on the street illegally 1/2 a block down. Multiple attempts to back up 40 feet to the hotel were blocked by bicycles, cars, and delivery trucks timed perfectly to thwart us. The attempt was abandoned and a hotel driver finally came to rescue us. We would, happily, not join car with Florentine streets again until leaving.
The hotel's rooftop bar has a view of Florence that was worth the entire trip to Italy. We hung out for drinks, too many delicious bar snacks (really?!), and then went to dinner at Paoli. Much like everything in Florence, Paoli is built inside of ancient architecture and stonework and arches. We were immersed in a mix of Renaissance and modern and ended the evening in the modern at a newly-opened joint called The Cocktail Bar. Jazz and craft cocktails. This became our home for the remaining, too few, evenings in Fiorenza.
My first visit to Austin the beginning of Dec for a wedding (not mine). Took Thursday and Friday beforehand in order to soak up all that is, according to everyone I spoke with there, the only city in Texas a liberal would want to visit. My people indeed run a very nice burg. Thursday night was swank, 3-course dinner night at Congress. Post bar-hopping plans were cancelled due to too much good food. No matter. The next morning was donut breakfast at Gourdough's then a walk through the Barton Creek Greenbelt. The internet speaks of great swimming holes but, even though it was too cold for swimming, the creek was bone-dry. I learned later from a local at the wedding that the drought of the last two years hit the Greenbelt hard. Still, it was a nice, alien, southwest landscape to walk through.
Continue to post-hike drinks at Trudy's (no food, still full from Congress and donuts) then on to the entertainment of the trip: a Doug Loves Movies podcast recording at the Alamo Drafthouse. Buy the podcast and you'll probably hear Lisa cackling at one point in the background! Sadly, they weren't doing their Trapped in the Closet Sing-Along while we were in town :-(. Wander the strip and people-watch until time for our second swank locale of the trip: drinks at Midnight Cowboy Modeling and Oriental Massage. Thanks to the name on the apartment buzzer that gets you into the bar, I now know who Harry Craddock is. More wanderings, eatings at a pizzeria, and drinkings to finish our undirected tour of Austin. On to the wedding.
We checkout of The Driskill in downtown Austin and drive to the Barton Creek Resort a few miles out. Beautiful, but to quote Al Czervik
Golf courses and cemeteries are the biggest wasters of prime real estate. The wedding proper was at a ranch a few miles away and it was the pinnacle of swank for the trip. Among the appetizers offered before the wedding were a whole pig on a spit. I got to speak to many fascinating guests including a lawyer for Texas teachers unions. Usually, I attract rabid conservatives (one of the gay guests we were chatting with declared me at first sight as Mr. Conservative, so I guess I give off a vibe), so it was nice to be immersed in a gaggle of liberals.
Sunday brunch with our only live music of the trip (I know, I know), a visit to Waterloo Records where I got a replacement copy of Tales from Topographic Oceans, then home.
Genesis tribute-band extraordinaire, The Musical Box, performed for the last time ever the seminal concept album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. As much as Einstein on the Beach--seen live in London at the beginning of 2012--this was an iconic work for me growing up. I'd always heard of TMB and their faithful interpretations, but never made the effort. With the range of music, costumes, and sets, this was a stunning show. Memorable: "The Lamia" where the singer was hidden within a glowing cloth tube for the entirety of the song; pulling off the metrically manic solos for "In The Cage" and "Riding the Scree"; "Cuckoo Cocoon" where the singer lies on stage with his head towards the audience during his flute solo. More than any concert, I'm sad I'll never see it again.
The Cheatham's first holiday bash in their Decatur digs; my first holiday party with my current company; A Christmas Carol at Shakespeare Tavern; our (usually) annual holiday dinner with friends, this year at The Optimist; our soon-to-be annual holiday dinner with Bob&Lisa, this year at no246 in Decatur; annual holiday party at The Barry's. Special weekend in Blackberry Farm as a gift from the mom-in-law with the Foley family. Cold days in the mountains with fireplaces, amazing food, nano-brewery tour, and a failed attempt at our first geocaching foray. Finally, a visit to the Atlanta Botanical Gardens--my first--with Lisa and Theresa for their garden lights display.
This is the first weekend in a long time that we're doing nothing.
Last year's and this year's Peachtree Road Race numbers:
[ updated 24 Jul 2013 ]
Found the pics from online:
Had a personal best with 55:18 this year and so have gotten cocky enough to sign up for a half marathon in Asheville, NC Sept 15th. It will be my last run with the 2+ year-old Vibrams. They've held up very well, but it's time for a new pair!
Lisa & I somewhere doing something stupid:
Fish at One Eared Stag for my b-day and some wine after more seafood at Lure Midtown for my sis-in-law's b-day a few days later:
Second annual trip to St. George Island with my bro and his wife's relatives all last week. We brought the last bottle of wine, Clos Pegase, that remained from a Napa trip we all went on 13 (?) years ago. Just really, really, good. Crazy crab shell from the beach:
Ah, the cruelty of Nature! etc. etc.
London last weekend for the Barbican Center's production of Einstein on the Beach. Planned a couple of months prior.
Before we get on our flight, we realize that the tickets are to Gatwick instead of Heathrow. Derp. The change was pretty harmless, and we just had to pay a little extra for an express train in. Slept maybe 30 minutes on the flight. In London proper, we passed by Battersea Power Station. Because it's used on the cover of Pink Floyd's Animals, this was actually a scheduled destination for Sunday. Instead, I snapped a pic from the Monday morning train ride on our return to Gatwick.
Check in at The Metropolitan across from Hyde Park. Quite posh. We scored an amazing deal at Hotwire (but made up for the savings by closing every evening at the hotel bar). Late breakfast at The Breakfast Club; an excellent bohemian restaurant that gave me beans with my breakfast. Beans?! Our first hint of foreignness in a city that felt at first like New York. After was our shopping trip around Carnaby Street which has a bunch of hipster/Mod clothing shops. Lisa spotted a shop called The Face (Mod slang for the coolest of the cool kids) down a side street. Jacket purchased there with matching shirt from a Ben Sherman down the street. Hour 26 of our first day and my EotB outfit was achieved!
Just watched The Who's Quadrophenia on YouTube to relive all that was the Mods. Brilliant!
Prepping for our trip, Verizon told me that my new phone (HTC Rezound) wouldn't work in the UK, so I got a temporary HTC Incredible 2 for Internet and photos. Sadly, it had no SD card to store said photos, so I had to grab one at the local Vodaphone shop. Vodaphone?!? More foreignness! Vodaphone guys get the honor of IMAG0001:
Next stop: London Eye, delicious street vendor ice cream, general walking and gawking, plus our first pub of the trip: The Camel and Artichoke. A perfect little neighborhood spot that quickly filled up with end-of-the-work-week locals and presented us with our first pub questions: How do we tip the bartender? What are all these beers I've never heard of? And why do they all taste flat? More foreign madness.
Top of the world! Battersea is visible right above the British flag.
All of this walking wiped us out, so a 60-minute power nap brought me up to 90 minutes of sleep by hour 30 of our first day. Dinner was French cuisine at a two-star Michelin restaurant The Square; a short walk from our hotel and still in the Mayfair district proper. The three-course meal was insinuated with what seemed like dozens of amuse-bouches. The portions were appropriately small and the flavor was subtle and varied. We have never done wrong with French restaurants and this was the pinnacle. Walk back to the hotel with closing drinks at the bar where the more acrobatic bartender spun a bottle upside down in the palm of his hand. In bed at hour 36 of our first day, right well exhausted.
This is the day. Everything revolves around Einstein on the Beach.
First, a trip out of Mayfair and up Audley Street towards the Sherlock Holmes Museum, prompted by my interest that started seven (!) years ago. Breakfast of pastry and coffee at The Richoux on the way. The museum was three floors of miscellany and wax figures of major characters.
Left: Trying but not buying. Right: Sherlock's violin!
Nearby was our second pub of the trip: The Volunteer. Glasses were replaced with plastic in anticipation of a contentious football match later in the day. After drinks, a quick walk to The Beatles Museum a few doors down then the underground to a walk through Green Park and Buckingham Palace.
Change of the guards, change of key.
Taxi to Barbican via Fleet Street for pre-concert late lunch early dinner at Vinoteca. I had mussels and Lisa had their special of the day: hot dogs. Walk to Barbican, pick up tickets at will call, find our seats.
EotB opens with the female "leads" simultaneously reciting a different block of text, sometimes intersecting with homophones or bouncing with accidental call and response, overtop a choir singing numerals to the meter. Prior to the official start, they sat on stage intoning their parts without choir. My heart was racing for the moment and when the choir started, starting the opera, my throat constricted with the feeling that I could hardly believe where I was. 5:30 PM to 9:50 PM. At around three hours in, I finally looked at my watch and decided that an intermission wasn't necessary. There were too many moments that were genuinely unique and varied to express without the mundane "you had to be there." Music, dance, and theater. I have little sense of the meaning of the opera, but the beauty and humor and structural brilliance were enough. I may go again this fall in Brooklyn; I recommend you do too.
After was our third pub of the trip: Two Brewers just up the street from Barbican. We chatted with the owner, his wife, and the bartender after the owner playfully mocked my mod, mod Carnaby jacket. They were, perhaps, the friendliest people we met during our entire London trip, and we'll definitely go out of our way to return during our next London trip. Underground back to the, now very packed, hotel bar and final drinks. The bar was filled with young Euro-punks, flashy dressers, and families (?!?). Female DJ was awesome.
The Tate Modern is obviously a product of the same architect that did Battersea. Good omen. Inside was enormous. The Hirst show contained a stunning collection of every style that he's worked in, beginning with a reproduction of his first gallery show (although, that was the weakest piece). Photography was not allowed because--I'll safely assume--Hirst is a manic businessman when it comes to marketing his art. The most stunning pieces were The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (i.e. the shark piece), A Thousand Years, and Black Sun. A Thousand Years consists of two glass boxes. One contains a smaller white box in which flies hatch from maggots. The other contains a decomposing cow's head which the flies fed on. Above it, a bug zapper. Oddly, the the boxes appeared to be sealed directly against the wood floor of the museum so that the head bled and rotted on the same floor the visitors walked across. We were safely separated from the cycle, yet a shared surface transported us into the piece. The tactile aspect was more moving than expected. Black Sun is a 12-foot circle six-or-so inches deep, jarringly black with an undulating texture. It is made from layers of dead flies. The concept is disgusting, but the result is beautiful (much more so than its images suggest). For the Love of God was impressive but, much like the Mona Lisa, difficult to separate image from icon. The most humorous pieces were his hundreds of "facsimile pills" which were replications of actual pills, to scale.
After was a walk next door to tour the Globe Theatre. No chance for a guided tour, but we walked through the museum and discovered that an American actor championed the effort to rebuild the theater. After walking the Tate and the Globe, we were ready for our first meal of the day at around 4 PM. We ended up at our fourth pub of the trip: The Ring in Southwark (pronounced SUTH-erk, you tosser). Nothing remarkable, but I had the cottage pie and now have ambitions to make it at home. At one point, the music playing was Carol King's "I Feel the Earth Move"; lyrics used prominently in EotB.
There was some further wandering around the city, resting at the hotel and packing, then a long walk through Middle Eastern neighborhoods to dinner at our fifth and final pub: The Windsor Castle in Marleybone. Thai food! Hotel bar, early morning express train, and arrival home at 6 PM Monday night. Plans to return next year during The Proms.
Some crazy bird graffiti from Cabbagetown:
The weekend of the 15th was our second, tri-yearly cabin trip with friends. This visit took us to Morganton, GA with all members of the prior craziness plus new pals Eric and Perla and Mike. It was mostly decadent, as expected, but Sat morning I had a good run around the mountain where a gang of three dogs decided to join me in an impromptu pack. Girl Talk was, perhaps, overplayed. Sat nite ended late with a packed hot tub.
The weekend of the 22nd was our 3rd annual Crescent City Classic trip to New Orleans. Due to the voodoo calculus that put Easter three weeks later than normal--making NOLA three weeks hotter than normal--our asses were quickly kicked by the 10k.
Some crazy bird graffiti from New Orleans:
Last weekend (the 30th) was the Xth annual Inman Park Festival at Dan and Alicia's. At the festival proper, Lisa bought me several prints of robots and rabbits (separately) from Mr. Hooper, and I bought her a painting warning of the evils of sunbathing from R. Land. To the frame shop!
We went to Thailand for ~two weeks from Sunday 9 January through Saturday 22 January with Friendly Planet's Taste of Thailand package. Our friends Liz and Matt took the same trip a year or so ago and it sold out before we could join the fun so when Liz reminded us that they were offering it again, we pounced.
Two weekends ago, we went to New Orleans to meet up with Kevin and Chad and run the 31st annual Crescent City Classic 10k. For two weeks prior, I'd been slowly getting back to jogging with no ill effects from my herniated disc. The jog we did in Key West last September was enjoyable but left me somewhat debilitated the next few days. I didn't have any issues after the NOLA run, so I suspect the Key West problems were from hours of walking around. Noted. Our times were unimpressive--Lisa then me then Chad, 1:03 then 1:05 then 1:08?--but it was one of the easiest, most enjoyable routes I've been on. It was flat throughout with the course going through the Quarter, then an old neighborhood, and finally to City Park. Definitely will be a repeat event.
Other NOLA activities included drinking (wha?!?) and some of the best dining in a while. Plus, all the restaurants were new to us. Cochon's (Pig's?) Friday night (Lisa & I took a nap, overslept, and met them there 1/2 hour late), Jacques Imo's Saturday night (beautiful evening with a cozy table in the front window), and Elizabeth's to eat Praline Bacon for Sunday brunch (unfortunately, my Irish coffee had a couple of dead fruit flies at the bottom. blech!). Somewhere in there was lunch at Parasol's (a building touting absolutely no right angles) where we had our ears raped by the Loudest Girl In the World, wearing the most appropriate t-shirt in the world, stating simply: I am New Orleans. Also acquired were two necklaces purchased for the nieces from vendors in the Quarter. Afterwards was drinks at the famous Johnny White's.
Last weekend was Allison and Matt's wedding in Santa Rosa, FL with Shelby and Robert. Four days of fun in the sun, except the sun kinda kept hidden. No matter. On the drive down, I discovered the Holy of Holies: a sode never before seen by civilized society. I give to you, Dr. Wham!
Diet Dr. Wham. This magic elixir gave us the energy to shop for an absurd amount of food and drink when we arrived Friday. Very nice wine store (Sandestin Wine World?) with one of those fancy, robotic wine tasting machines: you purchase a card to use at the machine and it dispenses a tasting of your choice. We had big plans to return... but never did. Rest, then rehearsal dinner BBQ at the top floor of a neat-o, 3-story beach hour w/ elevator.
Saturday was beach and wedding. I started off with a jog--more nice, flat terrain. Beach was cool-then-cold and windy with the dreaded red flag (high hazard!) out. Then back to the condo and hanging out in the hot tub. It was wet, but did not make me sweat. The wedding was in a glen under a huge, moss-covered oak with the reception in a nearby tent. Perfect evening. We eventually made a quick jaunt (after getting lost) to some bar in Seaside, then back to the condo.
Post morning jog, much of Sunday was relaxing and watching crazy movies since the weather went gray. Oddest experience: everything we chatted about on the drive down appeared in some form or another later in the weekend via movies or Trivial Pursuit trivia questions. Weird. Best of the bunch: Roadhouse (!), The Fifth Element (natch), The Matrix (realizing how horrible (minus Monica Bellucci) the others were), and mostfuckingawesomeofall Zombie Strippers with--and I was quite astounded about this--an unexpectedly gorgeous Jenna Jameson. I would say that it takes zombies to stop her from looking like a skank, but even the womens were enraptured. Dinner at Stinky's was uncharacteristically fresh and unfried. Very good experience.
It was good to return on Monday and live the life of a four-day work-week.
[ updated 11 May 2009 ]
Too cheap to purchase the fotos from MarathonFoto.com so here're the screen caps:
Back from California.
Instead of a trip to Italy (flights too expensive), Lisa & I went to CA to celebrate her 40th trading Chianti for Zinfandel. The itinerary took us from San Francisco to a few days in Sonoma, then travelling down the PCH making two day stops each in Carmel and Santa Barbara and finally ending up in LA to visit the sister-in-law-in-law and family. Lisa gets all the credit for one of the best-planned vacations yet, and I recommend anyone take the same or similar route. References were the Lonely Planet Napa & Sonoma Wine Country and California Highway 1 guides.
(Our ticket number at Fresh to Order the night before leaving. Coincidence?!?)
On the flight over, I sat next to an FBI agent who was reading Fiasco. He was returning to his home office in San Francisco to check in and attend a friend's wedding in Santa Barbara. We had a nice talk and he gave us a few good recommendations for Carmel. Our rental car was a convertible PT Cruiser. Lisa had hoped for a Mustang, but the luggage and purchased wine would've never fit, so we were lucky.
This was probably the most culinary trip we've ever taken, with excellent meals to be had from start to LA. Our arrival dinner in San Francisco was at 9:45 Friday night at The Slanted Door near The Embarcadero. Expensive, hip, Asian, yet very good. We split appetizers and uncharacteristicly laid low on the wine in order to mitigate the time zone. Breakfast the next morning was at Sears Fine Food. Unless you want to do some heavy-duty breakfast eatin', keep your skinny fucking ass away. Lisa had wanted to go on our last SF trip, but the place was under renovation. We wisely returned by accident after a wrong turn and were not disappointed.
This was our second trip to “wine country.” The first was with the brother, sister-in-law, her sister, and her husband eight years back for a few days in Napa. Very fond memories. This trip to Sonoma, we stayed at the Sonoma Valley Inn: free wifi and an inviting pool that we somehow never made time for.
First wine tastings at Sebastiani: their Pinot was, as always, great as were their two dessert wines. Not overly sweet. The Eye of the Swan white pinot noir, a blend of pinot noir and chardonnay, tasted to me like a horrible horrible mistake. The grapes did not blend at all. The servers were friendly and were easy to crack wise with. The first one we had actually lived in Midtown off of Monroe 10 or so years ago. We also saw the preparations for what looked like two weddings on the front grounds. Aww. Gundlach Bundschu had nice wines but we ended up with a less-than-friendly hostess. Although she did have an interesting history: her father worked the winery for 22 years and so she works there now and will probably continue to do so. I can't count how many jobs I've had in my life.
In the evening, we had drinks at the El Dorado Kitchen, a warm modern bar in the El Dorado Hotel off of Sonoma Plaza, and then Lisa's birthday dinner at Girl & the Fig just across the street. The inside is nice, but dining on their patio is a must.
Three wineries close together just east of town: Ravenswood, Buena Vista, and Bartholomew. Ravenswood, of course, is famous for its zinfandels and I definitely fell back in love with them during this visit.
At Buena Vista we tasted and purchased a bottle of their sherry. It, like many wines we ordered, was available only at their winery. Most were worth the purchase; only a few, like Sebastiani's white pinot noir, were better left in limited release. Interestingly, Buena Vista was started by the father of California wines, Agoston Haraszthy. Information on him was to be found in a small museum at the next winery, Bartholomew. Bartholomew was possibly the only one we visited that was completely organic and their wines were 100% varietals with no blends. We were fortunate enough to be pointed to lunch at Cafe Citti in Glen Ellen by our server at Ravenswood. Returning back in town, we finished up the afternoon at the Mayo Family Winery. There, a part-time jazz musician poured and spun tales of wine and music with some Coltrane in the background. The extended stay there knocked us out for the rest of the afternoon. After a “rest” back at the hotel, we went to dinner at Maya. Beware the stuffed jalepenos! They were both the most flavorful and hottest peppers I've ever had. A rare combination. Again, an outstanding meal.
Get up, get out, and we wound our way on back roads to begin our trip on Highway 1. Down through woods and coast and small towns and finally back through San Francisco with a scenic lunch at Cliff House (emphasis on scenery and not lunch). Continue on to our next major stop...
Our hotel was a slight step down (especially since we later found out from one of the locals at a bar that it was the sight of a prostitution ring bust), but what it lacked in charm it made up for in free wifi. Dinner that evening at Grasing's ('gray-zings). I love the freedom of gourmet food and casual dining in these towns.
No wineries! We must pack all of our Carmel-related-stuff in today and save the wineries for our trip out on Wednesday. We started with the Monterey Aquarium, which I have finally come to the conclusion is slightly better than the Georgia Aquarium, fresh in my mind from a recent visit. They had: a diver feeding fish and sharks and monkey-faced eels, a mock wetlands room with sand and reeds and several species of birds, ample plaques with information on the oddities that you're viewing. For me, they really gained points for the extra information. Lunch at Sly McFly's (fried seafood, meatball sammich), fresh-made fudge at a local candy shop, then over to the 17-mile drive to see rich houses around the Pebble Beach Golf Course (meh) and various vistas and fauna on the coast.
Cheese and wine was obtained at The Cheese Shop in town, then we relaxed at the hotel with some internet jazz and a Carmel sunset. Dinner began with drinks at The Carmel Mission Inn, Clint Eastwood's joint, where we enjoyed the 70's radio serenade at the piano bar. As the pianist was noodling around in between songs, me and a local declared in unison “Alan Parsons Project!” (specifically, the opening chord to “I Wouldn't Want to Be Like You”). I'm sure all present were impressed. He then informed us of the illicit history of our hotel.
We went to dinner at Forge in the Forest (both this and the aquarium were recommended by my FBI flight neighbor). Unfortunately, they close oddly early and much of our meal was rushed by a waiter who felt that punctuality at closing time was of utmost importance. The food was only OK but the patio atmosphere was perfect for the weather, which was never not-perfect so that goes without saying. Dinner at The Carmel Mission Inn would have been much better, but I'd still lightly recommend Forge in the Forest. Lightly. We ended the evening on the strip in Monterey for drinks at a local bar where Lisa mistook “Lad's” for “Ladies,” from which we overheard a mocking of her as clever as you'd guess any frat-boy could come up with. I was entertained.
Three excellent wineries on our way out of town. First, Chateau Julien. Although friends had a bad experience, the girl here was very friendly despite having a code in her dose. This was a week of surprising wines for me. I've been off of Zinfandels, Merlots, and Chardonnays for a while yet at many of the wineries these ended up being my favorites. At CJ, it ended up being the Chardonnays. Then San Saba where we spoke with a lady who often visits her mother in Atlanta. She insisted that Atlanta traffic is as bad as LA traffic, but we learned differently. More purchases, this time two unoaked Chardonnays—which had much less, well, oak flavor for lack of a thesaurus. Finally, Bernardus where we enjoyed two blends consisting mostly of Cabernet that they called their Marinas.
On our way to Santa Barbara, we intended to visit Hearst Castle (of rosebud fame) but needed to reserve the tour ahead of time and they were sold out. Their free museum hinted at the opulence and taste of the place. No mention was made of the SLA.
Checked in to the Brisas del Mar hotel in Santa Barbara and relaxed a little before going to dinner at Sage & Onion (recommended in our Lonely Planet guide). This, along with the next evening's meal at Bouchon, rated as some of the best food of the trip.
Similar to Carmel, the wineries in Santa Barbara take you out of town. We drove around 30 minutes to get to Los Olivos (almost running out of gas on the way). All of the tasting rooms are in a short block or two down the main street that basically is Los Olivos—one bragging prominently “as NOT seen in Sideways.” We visited Consilience (the hostess had worked as a paramedic in New Orleans), Longoria Wines, The Tasting Room (where the host, although a character, had some disparaging remarks about Atlanta), and finally Andrew Murray Vineyards. All-in-all an excellent trip. Then to the neighboring town of Solvang to get me some shoes:
And check out a few more wineries. First Lucas & Lewellen, then their sister shop Mandolina where we met some guys who seemed to be Big Shots of some sort. Wine tastings make people chatty. We got back in town and had a light lunch at a recommended dive called La Super-Rica Taqueria where I was quite restive in my new shoes:
Dos Relaxxis! Then a stop at the beach at West Beach to watch the birds and the surf before heading back to the hotel for a quick dip in the pool and hot tub—shamefully the only time we put on swim suits the whole trip. And no, there were no nude beaches. The hot tub cured the pain in my gimpy leg that began on the flight, so I had a short reprieve from my old man syndrome. Shower and dressed to have our next-to-final meal at Bouchon (lamb and venison, both outstanding with a local pinot noir) and our next-to-final drinks out at one of the many and active college bars along the main street in Santa Barbara.
Depression surprisingly doesn't set in on our last real day—with our flight the next morning. After shipping two boxes of wine (a small fraction of the many that we had shipped directly) and one box filled with all of the free glasses from the wineries we visited, we made a quick trip up the tower of the historic courthouse and then had a couple of appetizers at the highly recommended Bogart's Cafe where Nicole was in the weeds but all of the old books and light opera kept us entertained.
Our final trip down the PCH to LA. More surfers than you can shake a surfing stick at. Experience the thrill of LA traffic and after pulling in to the wrong hotel (“oh, we're sorry, we're supposed to be at the Radisson, not the Renaissance...”) we had time to check in, clean up, and text my sister-in-law-in-law for directions to their place. Over the largest take-out burrito I've ever seen (think alien pod), we got caught up with the kids and the life back in LA after a two-year stint in NYC (performing in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) and the massive renovations to their house which made me jealous to live in a bungalow. We talked some geeky talk about bootleg internet radio and I got to see some scenes from DRS that Greg had recorded (maybe see some short, unsanctioned bootlegs on YouTube if they don't get pulled). Along with this little gem:
Here, Greg does is best Crazy Anti-Semite impersonation for an upcoming movie (I'm probably breaking some sort of copyright by posting this). The most uncomfortable part was when he called me Sugartits. On the way back to the hotel that night, although in pain from the freakisly large burrito, we stopped at an In & Out Burger along with the rest of the population of LA:
The trip was only slightly marred by a very post-40 pain in my left leg--appearing first on the plane and then aggravated by a jog in Sonoma to the point that I had to hobble most of the trip. I may try to avoid a doctor's visit, but it would be very unwise. The other mishap involved several days of phone calls and internet connections with the office over unresolved issues. It was one of the most painful times with work in recent memory, and only Monday will reveal what is to come.
Now comes the wait for all of the wine that we ordered. Boxes should start appearing Wednesday or so, so I have until then to purchase more wine shelves. Many more.