The numbering scheme motivating this blog has become increasingly irrelevant, as I've more or less settled down (when, initially, the plan was that I'd be here for about three years before bouncing off to my next assignment). Rather than continuing to imply that this thing is about to end, I'll instead focus my numbering my days in relation to the current adventure (and we're always doing SOMETHING).
That said, today is Day 3 in Paris! AND I WENT TO THE LOUVRE.
...i have so much more to say about today, but I WENT TO THE LOOOOOOUUUUUVVVVRREEE.
I have taken copious pictures, as you'll see in a second. All the art. So much color, so many different techniques, so many classics, so many wonderful surprises, and exactly one creepy as hell mummy.
After this, we walked through the Tuileries Garden, which has, I swear to you, the squarest trees I have ever seen. This led us to the Musée de l'Orangerie, which contained absolutely massive paintings by no less than Monet.
We decamped to the hotel, where we ordered a nice lunch from room service. I napped (again... I've been ill; while I'm definitely getting better, I was still pretty fatigued after all of this), and then we got cleaned up and went up to the VERY TOP of the Eiffel Tower for a champagne toast! While the weather didn't cooperate (it was really cloudy, so our view on the top level was occluded), we both took a moment to reflect what we were experiencing. It was a beautiful little moment.
We also thwarted all pickpockets again, which we considered a solid victory!
We came back to have a drink at Le Bar, which is French for "the bar", which is the bar in our hotel. It's a bar. It is, I admit, a really NICE bar, though. We took lots of photos, which normally one does not do in a bar.
Finally, we retired to the room, and are just about to snuggle down for a nice night. The Eiffel Tower is still lit up. Life is really pretty great.
Tomorrow, ADVENTURE!! :)
Day 05 - Married for Five Days: I battle a cold on my honeymoon, and Kris and I enjoy Paris
I had a rough time on the flight over from California, and spent most of the night coughing and generally feeling terrible. Kris and I had gone to bed around 8:30 local time, so we were up and at 'em at around... 4 a.m. We did open the blinds to watch Paris come awake, which was a pretty amazing thing to see. Our hotel room has a RIDICULOUSLY great view of the Eiffel Tower. We eventually ordered breakfast, and were delighted to discover that this was included in our stay; had it not been, it's 140 Euros for the two of us. That's $159.26, according to the internet! Now, to the hotel's credit, they brought us a TON of food. We determined that we could have easily finished off just one breakfast between us.
...Then we took a nap.
Okay, look: I'm in full-blown flu mode, and that sucks, so sleeping after eating a big breakfast was really the right idea. PLUS, it didn't actually violate our itinerary; our first excursion into Paris wasn't scheduled until noon.
At noon, we got dressed and sashayed right over to the Eiffel Tower. People have warned us about pickpockets, and we're so paranoid about it that it's slightly annoying, but I figure this just makes it that much harder for us to be victimized. We were specifically told about a scam that is pulled by American girls on the bridge (or at least, girls with American accents) where they ask if you speak English. If you affirm that you do, they engage you in conversation and present you with a clipboard, and then their friends take all of your credit cards and passports. Walking to the Tower, this ACTUALLY HAPPENED, but we were prepared, and stoically ignored them. And we lost nothing! It was so great not being pickpocketed.
We queued up for lunch, because we're in Europe, where you queue for things rather than getting in line. We had reserved a table at Jules Verne, which is on the second deck of the Eiffel Tower, at about 153m above the ground. It's a VERY nice place to eat, with astonishingly glorious views of Paris. I had a duck foie gras appetizer, which was a bit like trying to enjoy an entire stick of butter. It was GOOD... but there was a LOT of it. For the main course, I had a deboned saddle of lamb, with a rich roasted lamb jus with chickpeas. Dessert was a pear in chocolate sauce with whipped cream and slivered almonds. They also brought us homemade truffles, macarons, and marshmallows with a "mystery flavor" (I guessed kiwi, the woman at the table next to us guessed mango; it turned out to be passionfruit).
What I'm saying is, we're eating VERY well.
Then we popped down to the cab stand and caught a taxi to the Musee D'Orsay. The museum was GREAT, but I did take issue with the Art Nouveau exhibit, which had exactly zero pieces of Alphonse Mucha, who is my favorite artist, and the father of Art Nouveau!! Outrageous! The bits they did have were amazing, though, and I got to see paintings by Monet, Manet (interestingly, he's closer to Sargent than Monet), Van Gogh, Seurat, Renoir; paintings and sculpture by Degas; and sculpture by Rodin. Rodin's "Gates of Hell" is clearly a guy having a LOT of fun with horrifying imagery. "LET'S PUT ANOTHER CREEPY BABY DEMON WALKING OUT OF THE WALL".
We walked the length and breadth of the entire museum, which is in an old train station, and it was just great from beginning to end.
Tomorrow, ADVENTURE!! :)
As I've mentioned, the naming conventions in and around Lake Tahoe can sometimes leave something to be desired, but one of the nicest names is Heavenly, which has these wonderful gondolas which carry you up into the mountains. Sadly, we discovered that they were not operating on Monday morning, so instead we bopped around the Heavenly compound, investigating little shops here and there. We decided to do lunch at the Driftwood Cafe. This turned out to be a good decision, as just then it began to pour down with rain.
I love it when it rains in California. First of all, we're in the middle of a four-year drought, so every raindrop is welcome. Secondly, Kris loves the rain, so I like seeing the smile on her face when the clouds darken. We experienced a lot of different kinds of precipitation on this adventure, and enjoyed nearly all of it. We had a nice little lunch as we waited for the storm to pass.
Pass it did, and we considered what to do with the rest of our day. We decided to drive up to the Emerald Bay overlook. This is a cliff high up in the Sierras that allows you to look down into the lake. There, on an island in the lake, is a castle. Of all things. It's tiny, though, because you're very high.
It's actually also very tiny. It's technically called "The Tea House", and is a miniature castle that was used by the inhabitants of the nearby estate as... well, as a tea house. The nearby estate, now the property of the great state of California, is located on the nearby shore, and is called "VIKINGSHOLM".
Which is a pretty awesome name.
At the Vikingsholm overlook, I chased a chipmunk around and over all of the rocks. "Don't fall off the mountain, dear," said Kris, as I hopped up onto rocks that were, admittedly, pretty close to the edge of a gigantic cliff. The chipmunk and I were friends by the time we left.
And now, for a quick Public Service Announcement: Remember, you should never ever feed wildlife. I did not feed the chipmunk. I just chased him around with my camera.
Note that there is no shot of a chipmunk here. Make of that what you will.
Tomorrow, ADVENTURE!! :)
On Sunday morning, we got up and made our way across the state line into the booming metropolis of Stateline, NV. This town is so-named because... well, because it's right on the state line, I imagine. Either that, or it was named for one of the town's founders who was coincidentally named Stateline, which seems unlikely, but would have been fitting for a man founding a town as close to a state line as this one is.
Er... anyway, as soon as we crossed over into Nevada, we were immediately besieged with an urge to gamble all of our money away. Actually, we gambled not at all, but we did visit Harrah's and enjoy their fabulous brunch buffet. As you may or may not be aware, I'm getting married in just a few short months, and I also recently turned 40 (...wait. 41. Jeez!). This combination of things has caused me to reexamine my attitudes towards both my physical health and my diet. I now work out six days a week, and I eat very sensible, healthy meals every day. Our typical dinner is chicken, brown rice, and salad, and we eat that nearly every night (I cook the chicken in different seasonings to keep it from being too boring). This combination of hard work and diet has caused me to lose... okay, actually, I haven't lost a single pound, but I have moved quite a lot of the weight from my waist into other places, as muscle weighs more than fat. So that's great! Sticking to good healthy eating is really the key, here.
Harrah's buffet blew all of THAT out of the water.
I can't recall every single thing that I ate, but I went back for fourths. My desert was an apple crumble covered in about a cup of butterscotch. They just let you put on as much as you want, and, well, I wanted a lot. I apologize for nothing.
The thing with the buffet is that it's on the top floor of the tallest building on top of a mountain. We had really amazing views of the surrounding forests (and, yes, other casinos). It was a really good way to take it all in.
I suggested to K that we pop down to the gambling hall, as we've never really done that, and, after all, it's just right there. She said that she did not care for the cigarette smoke, which always made her feel sick. We decided we'd check it out, but we would both reserve the right to bail if it was unpleasant.
Okay, full disclosure: I smoked cigarettes for years. I started in the Navy, and I quit a couple of years ago. It was a stupid thing to do, and a huge waste of money, and terrible for my respiratory health, and no one should smoke ever.
That said, I personally don't really mind cigarette smoke. Usually.
The density of the nicotine smoke, from both cigarettes and cigars, was so insanely thick that we both immediately started gagging. That, combined with the unusually warm temperature inside the casino, made us decide that we'd rather do ANYTHING ELSE than stay there, so we bailed back out to the crisp clean outdoors. Fresh air has never tasted so good! We spent not one dime gambling, and instead opted to look around and sightsee before snuggling down in our hotel room.
We did have chicken and brown rice and salad for dinner.
Tomorrow, ADVENTURE!! :)
Penguinians! I hope all is well with you! Today Kris and I drove up to Tahoe, to start a MUCH needed vacation. When we go to Tahoe, we stay at the not-at-all-imaginatively-named Lake Tahoe Vacation Resort. Seriously, that's the name they came up with. I know not every place can be, you know, the CalNeva, but come on, I'm not sure you're really trying.
Anyway, we both have been grinding hard at work, and so getting a break was very welcome. On our way up, we stopped for lunch at Selland's Market-Cafe in El Dorado Hills. Selland's is owned by the same people who own and operate Ella and The Kitchen. If you have not yet been to The Kitchen, you absolutely have to go. It's an experience. I know that a lot of restaurants claim to be "an experience", but The Kitchen completely delivers. We went a few months ago (I know! There are adventures you have missed! I feel terrible about that, but I'm back at it!!), and it was almost overwhelming how involved it was. Two thumbs up!
With that pedigree behind it, we figured that the Selland's Market-Cafe would be pretty good, and we were not disappointed. We had a nice lunch, and then a leisurely drive up the mountain. We crest the summit at 7000 feet above sea level, and the entire drive is just wonderful. One cannot help but be reminded of the Disney nature movies of years past as one passes the stately sentinel pines and majestic snow-capped mountains (yep, even in May!). As is our custom, we swung by the grocery store and picked up nummy food, which we could cook up ourselves later in the comfort of our kitchen at the resort. The kitchen is really very well stocked with utensils and flatware, and even a lot of basic kitchen tools. They also thoughtfully include a dishwasher and dish soap, so cleanup is really pretty simple. Then we sat back and relaxed, which is some of the best adventuring there is!
Tomorrow, ADVENTURE!! :)
October 15, 2015 - Remember, kids: nothing is more terrifying than a Willem Defoe mask.
We're gearing up for Halloween, and K already has the house decorated with autumn leaves, the headless horseman, and even a spooky house that produces a creepy fog effect. I've been spending the lion's share of my free time lifting heavy things (I'm finally gettin' in shape... now that, you know, I'm FORTY), and also writing video game computer code. It's a fun little hobby, and I make a little more progress every day with it.
I'm aware that I need to post loads and loads of pictures from our recent trip to IRELAND, but honestly there is just so much stuff to go through, and work has been a bit of a bear since we got back. The pictures, and the posts, are coming soon, and I look forward to sharing them with you!
In recent history, and perhaps most importantly...
We got officially engaged!!!! :)
I did it right, and I've asked just to make sure: I got down on one knee, and asked her to marry me, and she said yes! We're still working out details (I'm told that the planning will take about a year...), but mostly we're just very happy together, and we want that to keep on going for the rest of our lives. :)
Here's a nice picture of the ring, if you haven't already seen it:
Her folks took us out for a nice celebration dinner, and we've obviously been making plans and whatnot. To answer the most popularly asked questions: no, we don't have a date yet; and yes, our honeymoon will, in fact, be in Paris!! :)
I'll keep you posted!
Tomorrow, ADVENTURE!! :)
The next morning we were up bright and early for our Wild Wicklow Tour!
The Wicklow Mountains, as I'm sure you are aware, are the wild rolling mountains just south of Dublin. They are what you think of, honestly, when you think of Ireland. They are the hills where so many of the scenes of Braveheart were filmed. Oh, were you not aware that Braveheart was largely filmed in Ireland? Don't you fret, little friend, someone will mention it to you at least every other sentence if you are anywhere near where actual filming occurred.
The tour was on a large tour bus (which, being Irish, they all referred to as a "coach"). It was quite comfy, and I didn't feel cramped at all, which is important, because being cramped while on vacation is just stupid. We first stopped off at the docks of Dublin, and I ran out onto the rocks, and K took a picture of me out there, holding my sketchbook as always:
We all boarded the coach again, and then--
"HANG ON A TICK!" I hear you shouting. "Why is every picture you're posting a picture of YOU? Where are all the pictures you took of Kris??"
Well, the fact is, I took a LOT of pictures, and, indeed, a lot of pictures of Kris, as she is stunningly beautiful. However, my phone took it upon itself to purge quite a lot of the pictures I took, so my photos won't show up until we get to the Ring of Kerry, which is still some days away. Until then, you're stuck with pictures of me, so suck it up, soldier.
Right, so up we went to into the hills. First, though, we passed Bono's house. It had a great huge gate inscribed with lyrics from U2 songs. We couldn't see inside, as he had also built great huge walls.
Our tour guide was very nice, and very knowledgeable about the area, which is what you want in a tour guide, honestly. The roads in Ireland, by the way, are usually one lane in each direction, and roughly 1.5 cars wide in total. When passing a car going the other way, then, both drivers will slam their car to the left (they drive on the wrong side) so that no one is brutally killed in a high-speed head-on collision. Helpfully, just next to the roads throughout Ireland there are large stone walls or thick, heavy trees, so one is constantly scraping up the side of one's rental car. In this case, the coach was getting all scraped up, so I cared a lot less, but it was nonetheless unnerving being on roads that tiny in something that big.
Eventually, though, we were actually up in the Wicklow mountains proper.
It was unbelievable. You could step to the edge of the thick heather covering the ground, and look out over rolling hills and mountains stretching for as far as the eye could see.
Truly, some of the most beautiful country I have ever beheld personally. It was an amazing day.
Oh, hey, look, there's a picture of us!
After lunch, we went up to Glendelough (pronounced GLENdylock), which is not only beautiful, but also is the site of an ancient town center, filled with buildings made of both mortared and unmortared stone. Pretty amazing stuff.
To cap off our long trek, we each enjoyed a shot of Scotch, which was the best, smoothest, most...
...no, it tasted the way gasoline smells, as all Scotch does. I just don't get it, I guess. I'm okay with that, though!
We retired to our hotel, and enjoyed a low-key dinner, tea, and slept like dead things. It was a really long day, but tremendously beautiful throughout.
This is a good vacation.
Tomorrow, ADVENTURE!! :)
Friday was spent seeing the museums and beautiful architecture of Dublin. We were both a little tired, owing to The Troubles... No, wait, that's something else.
Anyway, we really enjoyed seeing the museums, with such a grand rich history. A lot of the pieces are very local ("this sword was found just over there", "this book was found under that big tree outside", etc etc), and while I've seen that sort of thing back home, it is a bit different when it goes back so many centuries.
My favorite piece was the Tara Brooch, shown here:
It dates back to 700 AD, and is really a phenomenal piece of stabby jewelry. In the upper right, you can see a gold triangle, and within that triangle is a tiny, tiny Celtic dragon, which is just amazingly detailed. I spent some time grabbing a sketch of it, and K took a picture of me drawing it, which I share with you now, for no better reason than it's a neat picture:
SEE?? Isn't that a neat picture?!
I will say that in Ireland, they have bogs, and apparently sometimes people will inadvertently find their way into those bogs, and they will inadvertently die, and then years later some bog wanderer will find their largely mummified remains, and then some guy will put these remains in a museum, and then you will have the opportunity to look at their dead body in some detail, apparently so that you have the opportunity to remark, "That is a well-preserved dead person!"
...I didn't take pictures of the bog people, and I honestly regretted looking at them. However, if you're into looking at bodies of people remarkably well preserved in bogs, Ireland has got you covered. They have a LOT of them. At least one of the bog bodies had been MURDERED, and then dumped in the bog, and they went into great detail about how, if one looked closely, one could see where the skull had been caved in just here, and one could tell that it had been a furious, violent act of MURDER, and one could surmise that the deceased had probably been a criminal, engaged in some nefarious enterprise, or possibly had simply been walking down a country lane when he had been cruelly MURDERED by nefarious types, or or or maybe some large tree had fallen on his head and MURDERED him, as trees are wont to do.
I didn't dig the bog bodies.
So to speak.
Next, we went to the Trinity College Library, mostly to see the Book of Kells. This is a book which had been fished out of a bog (a recurring theme with Irish history, I feel), and which was remarkably well preserved. However, when one goes to actually LOOK at the Book of Kells, one cannot help to be... let's say underwhelmed. It is, I confess, a LARGE book, but at the end of the day, it's a book, and while it is QUITE bookish, and absolutely excels in its ability to be a book, and may well be without peer as books go, it is still a book you are all crowding around trying to get a good look at while the woman I will politely call "she-who-smells-like-a-whale-oil-refinery" is deeply invading your personal space. Great, I've seen the book, I gotta go.
It's a really good book, and you should go see it, but mostly because AFTER you see it, you can see the Trinity College Library itself:
This is a BREATHTAKING library.
I have no words. It's one huge long hall, framed on either side by bookcase after bookcase. It's really an amazing experience. I WANT ONE.
We then paused in our excursions to have lunch, as our blood sugar was getting low, and we were still a bit anxious as we hadn't heard anything about my luggage. I kept ringing the hotel, asking if it had been delivered from the airport yet, and the young man at the desk, every time I called, seemed to understand for the first time that my luggage had been misplaced, and they should expect it to be delivered. Every. Time.
"You lost your what now?"
"My luggage. The airline has said that I could expect that it would be delivered today."
"To... to you. What do you mean 'Where?'?? I asked them to deliver it to the hotel."
"The one you work at. The one where we are staying."
"I don't think we have anything like that, here, sir."
"What do you... what?"
"I'm sorry, let's start again. You lost your what now?"
So that was getting pretty annoying.
In any event, we decided to hit the National Gallery after lunch. As we stopped in, the woman at the front desk said, "Oh, there's no charge. The collection is...quite *truncated* at the moment, I'm afraid."
There were, I believe a total of ten paintings. In the entire building. "Quite truncated", indeed. Apparently, most of the national collection was out on loan, leaving them nothing to display. They did, however, have a talented young artist hard at work in the building at one point:
I got to use crayons and everything!
After a long day, we did finally make it back to the hotel, and in our room we found....
AND they had moved us to a different room, with a much more comfortable bed, AND we ordered a tea service, AND Kris's phone service was finally restored, AND... it was a really, really great day.
This is a good vacation.
Tomorrow, ADVENTURE!! :)
We both managed a few hours of sleep, and arrived Thursday morn at Heathrow, the Most Unpleasant Place in Europe. It cannot be overstated. Blech.
We also discovered that Kris's phone wasn't roaming properly, which was irritating, but we would have to wait to deal with that.
We passed through customs very quickly, and through security very very very slowly, but soon we were on our way and buttoned up in our next flight, which would bring us to the shining shores of Ireland!!
And then British Airways lost my luggage.
On the plus side, we did get our rental car without to much fuss and bother, and it's tiiiiiiiny, which turns out to be a blessing. The locals have a very casual relationship with the lane markings, so being small and nimble is a real advantage! Driving on the left was a little nerve-wracking, but we made it to our hotel without incident. We only nearly died like seven times. Piece of cake.
We checked into our hotel, the Roxford Lodge in Ballsbridge, which is a region of Dublin, near the city center. We had dinner at a nice place called The Chop Shop, stopped into a nearby convenience store for snacks, and finally retired, completely exhausted, into our hotel room...
...which was really uncomfortable. I'll spare you the details, but, tragically, not much sleep was had that first night...
Tomorrow, ADVENTURE!! :)
A small-town southern boy heads out west for the first time. Adventure ensues!!