29 October 2009

Kicking Off NOLA

We're on our way to NOLA!

It's been a whirlwind month of travel which was originally slated to
end with this trip...but the addition of a work trip extended that a
bit. Nevertheless, the trip to yosemite kicked off the later half of
the month in a most excellent way.

There have been a few hiccups on this journey; the overhead bins
filled way before we even got on our first flights, which meant we all
had to check our bags. Then, more tragically, upon arriving in Atlanta
and sidling up to the bar, we were told they don't serve booze until
9am. 9am?! Ridiculous.

We're now getting set for take off into NOLA. I am hoping this large
man in front of me does not lean his seat back any further (he's
already almost in my lap).

Next stop...cafe du monde. Giddy up.

25 October 2009


Some people go through their whole life without seeing true beauty. When I see things like this, I feel so lucky to live in a place where these things are so close, it's almost easy to take them for granted. Almost.

But, when you see something like this, taken in Yosemite, you realize how small we all are in this great world. And it just takes your breath away.

20 October 2009

Cultural Differences

While in Sweden, my friend P, her husband and I got in a conversation about shoes. Yes, I know, talking about shoes isn't that particularly uncommon, or specific to a culture, but that's not really what we were discussing.

In Sweden, when you walk into someone's home, you take off your shoes at the door. If you don't, and you walk around the house with shoes on, you are being rude. In most homes into which I have entered in the US, you generally don't have to take your shoes off, and, in fact, when you do, it is a sign of making yourself comfortable, which may be more familiar than the person merits. (this, of course isn't always the case, I do know people here that ask you to take off your shoes...but, as the episode of SATC showed -- when Carrie had to take off her shoes and then her Manolos got stolen, prompting her to make a single person registry with just one item -- it isn't all that common).

It's interesting how entrenched these customs become, and how hard it can be to break them. P spoke of a fellow Swedish exchange student who really didn't like her experience. She said one of the habits she couldn't break, or adapt to, was the shoe issue. She would always take off her shoes when entering homes (P was an exchange student in Massachusetts). And people felt that was really strange, which I can understand. If someone I didn't really know took off her shoes the first time she was in my home, I may feel a little strange about it! Like, who are you?!

And, if I had gone to anyone's homes other than my friends, I think I would have felt uncomfortable with no shoes on. I can't exactly pinpoint why, but perhaps because it would feel rude to me, even though it would have been rude NOT to have my shoes on.

I think it would definitely change the way you dress to visit friends. I wouldn't be able to wear half of my pants, which are too long unless I have high heels on, for instance. And you'd always have to make sure your socks matched and had no holes (which, of course, mine always do and never have!). And, importantly, that your tootsies always look their best!

Thanks again to all my hosts throughout my trip! The Q family, Stina & Pele, and the Alms. Mwuah!

18 October 2009

Getting Home

I've been home for a few days now, and have yet to readjust to the time change.

I mean, this is ridiculous!

The first night I was home, it was easy getting to sleep and staying asleep for close to 10 hours. This is about double the amount of sleep that I usually get, so I was pleasantly surprised! The next night...bed early again, but up at around 4.30 or 5am. Which, that was fine since I was able to roll out of bed and go for a run.

But the last two nights, it's been up at around 3.30a, and completely unable to fall back asleep. Which means by around 2pm, at work, I am totally fading. I wasn't even gone that long! Shouldn't this be over by now?

Methinks yes.

10 October 2009

Sleeping In

Today was the first day I actually slept in at all throughout the
entire vacation. It was nice, and set a super mellow tone to the day.

We ate "breakfast" around 11.30. Then headed out to see Malmo. We
actually ended up at a non-Ikea furniture store that had some awesome
stuff! Then saw this new building called "turning torso," I guess
because it looks like a body turning.

It was cold and we were tired, so after grocery shopping, did a car
tour of downtown rather than walk around. Soon it was back home to eat
and drink.

I swear, I have eaten more these past two days than I have over the
whole last week. I need a lot of exercise to work it off, especially
since it's been a lot of cheese!

There was a big Denmark-Sweden soccer game tonight (actually in
Copenhagen, we saw a lot of attendees coming into town yesterday), so
I watched that. About halfway through my friend realized I was
watching the Danish station instead of Swedish, and wondered how I
couldn't tell the difference? It all sounds the same to me!

Tomorrow it'll be up to Stockholm for the last day of my trip. It's
all gone by so fast!

Arriving in Copenhagen

Thanks so much everyone for the birthday wishes!

I left Amsterdam in Thursday night, and I found two very strange
things about the airport...ok, maybe 3. First, it is somewhat
difficult to find the check in counters. They have numbers instead of
just saying find X airline here. Being half asleep probably didn't
help. Then, the El Al counter was pretty protected, with armed guards
(huge guns) checking your purpose before they let you through (and
chasing people down if you cut through the area). Finally, the
boarding process for my plane...you went into the gate area, then sat
there, then it was a free-for-all when they opened the door and we
could walk to the plane. Strange.

I arrived in Copenhagen at around 11.30 and, when I went to get my
luggage, found it soaking wet. Something I had purchased broke in the
bag, and was leaking out all over the place. Lesson learned: I guess
those vacuum bags do not keep liquid IN (but, they are awesome at
keeping liquid out...none of my clothes were wet)! It was a bit
embarassing to leak all over the airport and metro, but oh well!

Friday morning was bright and sunny, which I also took to mean it was
warm, too. I was wrong. It was chilly!! I set off to meet my friends
at the train station. On my way there, I saw a group of about 22 year
old guys, beers in hand, cruising down the street. It was about
10.30am. I guess this is common in Copenhagen:-).

My friends both arrived and we headed out to sightsee and find drinks.
Copenhagen is a beautiful city...lots of old architecture mixed with
newer businesses. It has a great pedestrian shopping street, and
canals intercut throughout the city. We tried to find some traditional
Danish food...it's not easy when you don't eat fish!!

We ended our day with a canal tour and evening at Tivoli, an old
amusement park smack in the middle of the city. It was all done up for
Halloween and really cool! There are also bars all over the
park...something we don't see much at home.

After dinner it was off to the train to head back to Stina's. It was
so crowded, people pushing like on the 1 California through Chinatown.
Not pleasant. We found out later the crowd had just come from a green
day concert.

Just a few more days til i head home. I'm having a terrific time, but
am definitely starting to miss my own bed!!

08 October 2009

Last Day in the 'Dam

Despite being up until very late last night (and, when I wrote the blog, I was at least 8 beers in...and many of them were very strong beers), I was up around 8 this morning to get my day started and myself over to the Anne Frank House. And...it wasn't raining! In fact, the sun was shining and it was kind of warm, too.

I hadn't originally planned on going there, but an old coworker told me it was one of the highlights of her recent trip here, so I thought I would check it out. It was pretty amazing...I haven't read the book in a long time, but I remember a lot about it. Seeing what I read about in person is pretty amazing. It was actually much bigger than I thought (I thought it had been like a studio), but it was still very small for 8 people. So sad seeing what they, along with many others, had to go through.

After that, I met up with the Qs to hit the beer store. They serve a lot of Belgian beers here, and each one has its own glass. The glasses are very cool, and I wanted to get a couple. So we went there for a little shopping, then rode around to a few other places before settling down for lunch. It has been really awesome of the both of them to spend so much time with me!

We headed home and I was ready for a nap, but could not spend my last day here napping. I had to spend more time with the bike before we parted ways. Seriously, I am going to miss that thing (when we were talking about what time I needed to leave to get to the airport, Stacie said...we need to budget some time for me to wrestle you off the bike...hee!). So I just rode around by the museums and then through their neighborhood. It was such a nice day here, and such a fantastic bike ride.

Back at the homestead I had to wrestle all my stuff back in the suitcase and extra bag I'm borrowing. My room looked like a tornado ran through it (no surprise, I know). I am really not looking forward to lugging that stuff on the tram and train. Ugh.

Amsterdam has been way more awesome than I thought it would be. It is so comfortable here; I felt less like a tourist and more like a local. This is in huge part thanks to the Qs, who have been so hospitable and made my time here even more fun. Thanks!!

Tonight I head off to Copenhagen, and will meet up with my friends in the early afternoon for a fun weekend. I can't wait!

07 October 2009

Get Lost

Today I had the best of intentions to ride the bike to Haarlam. It is about 24km outside of Amsterdam, or about 15 miles, and I thought, wow, what a great experience.

It was a little drizzly when I left, but no big deal. I set out on my way on the bike I have grown to love (I will post a pic later, but it is tricked out with a nice crate basket AND a kid seat in case I want to take anyone with me). I was doing well, following the correct path, then I got to Westerpark. I followed the signs...until they stopped. I think I took a wrong turn somewhere, and ended up riding around for quite some time with no clue as to where I was supposed to be. The skies were turning dark, and I thought it'd be a good idea just to turn around and go to the train station.

I set out merrily on my way...the skies turned a little more but yet they did not open...until I was about 5 minutes out from the station, when they decided not only to open, but to cry big, nasty, non-stop tears. I arrived to the station soaking wet, with no idea where to park the bike, and unable to see because the rain had drained all the hair products into my face.

Eventually I found the place to park (they have a bike parking structure that rivals many of the car structures we have in the states), and got my ticket to Haarlam. The rain let up, and I was on my way...except, when I arrive in Haarlam, it was again pouring, and my umbrella was out the house. Oops.

The little town is pretty cool. I walked for a few minutes to the central market square and was greeted by one of the more massive churches I have ever seen. It was absolutely lovely. I was lucky that the rain subsided the entire time I was there, so I got to walk around, check out the museums and shops in relative dryness.

Upon arriving back in Amsterdam, however, the rain started again. ARGH! I did manage to get to the flowermarket, which was one place I wanted to visit.

I got back home right before Stacie Q arrived home with the kiddoes. I must say...these little ones crack me up. They are super smart and just so chatty. I was with them as they made some cookies, talking about how the raisins made the cookie dough look like boobies (such boys). We got to play for a little while before they went to bed and the babysitter came so Stacie, Tony & I could go to dinner.

Dinner...wow. One of the best meals I have eaten while traveling. We had the most delicious steak from a place called Loetje in AMS. Lots of beer, salad, and frijtes as well. But the steak...the steak! I think it was doused in lots of butter, which...delish. After that Stacie headed home and Tony & I went to a Belgium beer bar to have a few more. And, I got the pleasure of having one of the best beers ever.

Brewed by monks, this beer is available in very limited quantity. In order to buy, you have to call in your order, and then show up within a half hour of a designated time. The bottles are unmarked except for the cap. And...it is so.good.

We then headed home to watch a little more baseball. The Qs have been such awesome hosts...they make me not want to leave this place (which, doesn't help when I already feel so at home in this city)!

Tomorrow is my last day here...I am hoping to get up early enough for the Anne Frank House (it is getting close to 4am now...yikes) and to do a little shopping. Wish me luck!

06 October 2009

Still Raining...

So it's still raining here in AMS. But that's ok, because today I moved in with the Qs and got the use of my very own bike. So I feel oh so very Dutch!

I had a very local-type day today. Went shopping with the Qs (Tony doesn't have to go into work until later in the day), then went to pick up the kids from school. After that, I meant to go to the Anne Frank House...but instead my bike mysteriously took me to the Heineken Experience! OOps.

That was pretty fun...I learned all about the Heinies and got to taste a few. They taste better here, not sure why, but they do. I am getting pretty spoiled here with beer; Tony has quite a collection and I don't think we can get most of it in the states. Darn!

I'm getting pretty good at navigating the streets on the bike (which has both a kid's seat AND a front basket that is the perfect size for Luca); I think I may have to take it with me.

Rain Rain go Away

I have never heard anyone snore like the guy in the room next to me. I
could hear him through the wall and despite the earplugs I was
wearing. There is someone else in his room...I have no idea how s/he
is getting any sleep.

At any rate, day 3 here was rather quiet, cold, and rainy. I set out
for the Van Gogh museum once I got myself together. It has some really
great pieces, but was way too crowded. I like getting close to Van
Goghs because you can really see the movement and texture of his
paintings...unfortunately, to do that yesterday meant climbing through
a bunch of older folks on am excursion from their cruise. Which
meant...they don't move.

After that I just walked around and got completely lost. I am not
quite sure where I was...I think the Jordaan neighborhood. I
eventually found my way back to the old Center and realized how
flippin cold it was. And if it's this cold here, it'll be colder up
north. It was time to invest in a new jacket.

I of course found a store with a sale, and got a coat that will also
serve me well when I get home. I decided to keep shopping, and netted
a new pair of shoes as well as a new dress. Hooray!

The cold drove me back to my hotel where I could pump up the heat and
take a nap. It was so cozy, I was not looking forward to heading back
out in the cold and what then was a steady downpour. I did, though,
and after quite a walk settled on an English pub for dinner...then
later met up with my new friend at a bar near my hotel for a few
drinks. We watched cricket, I think, which may be the weirdest game

I'm hoping to catch at least some of the upcoming baseball playoffs.
There are a few bars here with ESPN America, which seems to broadcast
other networks' telecasts.

04 October 2009

Things I've Learned So Far

Last night, after narrowly avoiding (in my eyes) being hit by a car,
my friend Tony informed me that if a car hits a bike in Amsterdam, no
matter what, it's the car's fault.

Which means nothing when you're dead after being hit. I was then told,
by Stacie, Tony's wife, and their friends that I probably shouldn't
follow him if I valued my life. Lesson learned!

I've learned a few more things in my first two days here:
- having a cold at the start of your trip is no fun
- when the Qs tell the babysitter they'll be home at 2am, they mean it!
- cars stop for people. Bikes do not
- English stag party attendees are more obnoxious than American
bachelor party attendees
- men do actually use the whorehouses (I know this is a duh point, but
I actually witnessed a group of men waiting outside for their friend
to finish up...after seeing said friend go in with a prostitute)
- the prostitutes, for the most part, are a little worn. The ones in
the windows have ample bellies on display, many with c-section scars,
and average about 40+. Sad, really.
- white people dredlocks are still standard on young travelers.
- white people dredlocks are still gross
- it is really easy to get lost on the little streets here, but
eventually you'll have walked yourself into a circle and back where
you're supposed to be
- I will leave A'dam at least 3 pairs of shoes richer

Last night I was lucky enough to hang out with the Qs and their
friends to celebrate Stacie's bday. We rode bikes all over (so
awesome), drank lots of beer (well, I did!), ate some terrific
Indonesian food, and I eventually hot "home" about 3am. So...no jet
lag, but being out late means a late start to the next day (or, more
accurately, that day).

I finally rolled out about 11.30ish and just wandered around. This
cold is working it's way out of my system...if it doesn't clear soon
I'm gonna see about antibiotics for a sinus infection. I'm hoping
it'll be gone tomorrow, though. I tried to do one of the free walking
tours that came highly recommended...but the group was too large and I
found the guide obnoxious, so I bailed for a siesta.

I'm hanging out now, getting ready to go to this bar near my hotel to
watch some NFL. I feel that it's only right on a lazy Sunday, even
while on vacation!

03 October 2009

Day 1: Sleep & elephants

After arriving, I headed to Amsterdam proper to find my hotel. The
directions made it sound so easy...just leave the train station, make
a right then left. Leave it to me to get lost!

After about 1/2 hour wandering central Amsterdam, I figured out where
the hell I was and where I needed to go. Upon finding the hotel, I was
greeted with the strong smell of Mary Jane, as well as about a
bazillion steps that I needed to climb to make it to my room. I passed
out promptly after I entered (I am in room #9, though...my lucky

I woke up about 6 hours later, still really stuffed up but feeling a
tad better than when I arrived. I cleaned myself up and headed out.

The central area was about 10x more crowded than when I arrived.
People everywhere. I found one street that reminded me of the main
shopping street in Buenos Aires (calle Florida, I think)...similar
stores, just as crowded.

I found a bar with wireless and parked here for a beer before I head
to the Q's to, as Tone put it, start getting my drink on.

02 October 2009

I've arrived!

I've touched down in Amsterdam!

The travel felt a little long...my first leg was from SFO to Chicago.
I was in a window seat next to an elderly couple (there we A LOT of
older people sitting near me...i think it was a tour group); the man
reminded me of my grandfather. When we took off, he made up a song to
carry us into the air, and the singing/comments came up at different
points in the flight, enough so that his wife needed to shush him. I
thought it was funny.

When we arrived, the taxi to the gate took more than 15 minutes.
Ridiculous, really...and when we arrived, we sat on a hot plane for
another 15 while they waited for someone to drive the skyway out to
us. I had a tight connection and was worried...

With reason! My second flight started boarding before I got off my
first, and it was in a completely different terminal. When I finally
got off the plane, it was a sprint to the next flight. Glad I've been
exercising a lot!

I arrived at the gate just as my group was boarding. Whew! I had the
great fortune of sitting next to a couple who decided to have a tickle
war for the first little while of the flight, and behind a woman who
turned, looked right at me, and tilted her seat back as far as she
could...her head was pretty much in my lap! This was really great for
my legroom...I don't know how people taller than me handle steerage;
I'm short and barely have any room!

I'm off now to find my hotel. Later tonight I'll meet my friends that
live here, the Qs, to celebrate Stacie's bday. I've got a few other
friends in town, too, so will try to hook up with them.

Ready to go...

...well, almost.

My bags are packed, my home is all cleaned up...now I just need to get motivated to move off the couch and get myself all cleaned up! My friend organized a Happy Hour last night for my birthday, and that happy hour turned into several hours, and, well, getting motivated has not been easy!

I can't believe it is almost time to go!