Spanish Christmas

January 30th, 2010 by matt

Ok, January’s not over yet, so I can still talk about Christmas. I’ve not been in the US for the past three Christmas’, so I try to find something interesting to do each time. The first time, I ‘chose’ to have a horrible flu and spend the holiday in a feverish bundle on Dina and Adrian’s couch. Not something I would recommend. 🙂 The following year, Carolyn had made the move over and we decided to rent a place for a long weekend in Paris and do the whole market-shopping, homemade Christmas meal in a foreign country. It was such fun, we thought we’d try it again. However, in order to make sure it wasn’t the same-old-same-old, we added a couple of changes. We went to Madrid this time and Carolyn’s parents made the trip across the Atlantic.

Before I start showing pictures, let me say that one of the reasons we love doing this is we basically drop into town and try to figure out how to shop for some sort of epic kind of meal, without ever having been in that neighbourhood before. The internet truly helps with this, but so much of it is hit-or-miss. For example, we learned that grocery stores in Madrid are horrible. They literally sell the worst of the food you can think of. The bread is like wonderbread, they didn’t have butter (I’m not making this up).

So how does one eat in Spain? The markets. In Paris and London, you tend to go to the markets if you want produce, meat, dairy and bread. This can also be picked up at the grocery stores, but it is possible to do much of the shopping at a market if you choose so. You have options but the basics you might go to a grocery store. In Spain, at least in Fuencarral (where we were staying), they had the Barcelo Market. It’d had recently been moved into a modern space which consisted of 3 or 4 kind of pods with stalls in each. Thanks to this market, we managed to pick up just about everything we needed. Which was good because we arrived on Christmas Eve and we had about 1 hour to find everything before the city shut for festivities.

Anyway, after writing this, I realize I’m making generalities about a city that I don’t know that well. So allow me to call this an observation about a slice of Madrid. I did not go into any of the Corte Ingles (a large department store) that dot the city and Carolyn says that they do groceries as well.

So, after dropping into Madrid and performing a surgical strike on the market, it was time to settle in for the holiday. Jim and Linda were scheduled to arrive in the late morning on Christmas Day. We decided to have a variation on the Spanish Tortilla as our Christmas Eve meal.


After dinner, we wandered around Madrid. We learned the hard way last year not to expect a whole lot of life or open restaurants at any point over Christmas (we had Chinese food last year for Christmas Eve dinner because Paris was dead). As we walked the almost deserted streets of Madrid, we would run into other tourists asking if the Metro was running of if we knew of open places for food. It was all quite eerie — Madrid is a bustling city, but on Christmas eve, it was absolutely dead. Observe the Plaza Mayor at about 10:30pm:


Beautiful lights and only like 10 other people around. Loved it!

After a wander around Madrid, we tucked in for the night so we could prepare to cook a feast to welcome Linda and Jim to Spain. The menu consisted of homemade ravioli (with a ricotta and spinach filling), roast rack of lamb, some vegetables and homemade strawberry shortcake. Here’s the prep for it:


Of course, there was wine too :). Now cooking in a place you’d never seen before until the night before can always be tricky (this place had no measuring cups which is never happy when making a cake), but it turned out nicely:


(The sauce was store-bought and wasn’t the best. But everything else was tasty goodness). Overall, it was a lovely time. Good food, good company, the apartment was beautiful. I’ll leave this post with a the happy family eating and our Christmas “Tree” surrounded with presents:



Food and Drink in Belgium

September 17th, 2009 by matt

Since Carolyn did such an admirable job summing up our visual fun in Belgium, it’s my turn to sum up what we consumed whilst we were there. Belgium is known for good eats and an amazing array of beers. For a country of its size, they have hundreds of beers made there. Ignoring the swill that comes out of Inbev (yes, a Belgian company that managed to buy Anheuser-Busch), they have some very good beers and all of them have their own special glass to drink out of. I’ll just sum up a few of the more interesting ones we had (we managed to sample over 20 different beers in our weekend there, so I won’t bore you with the details).


Der Garre is a small, old bar in the center of Bruges. They have contracted out with a brewer to make their house beer. Bruges is touristy, and this place had plenty of them, but they claim the locals come just for this beer. I can understand why. It is high in alcohol (12%), but the alcohol doesn’t overwhelm it. So it has a refreshing taste as well. And it’s nice to have a little cheese with it as well. The bar was friendly and bustling both times we went.


This is Carolyn in the bar of the De Halve Maan Brewery, the last remaining brewery in Bruges. Right after WWII, there were over 30 of them. We’ve been on a few brewery tours and each one tries to make it a little interesting. As this place had been brewing beer for 150 years, the process has been modernized and requires less space. So, while they have a big building for brewing, they only really need part of it to brew the beer. As a result, they’ve kept the old bits around as a view into the past of brewing and show you around it. It was very interesting to see the way things have changed. People need not crawl around closed fermenters cleaning beer out of it while getting drunk on beer fumes. De Halve Maan make three beers, Brugse Zot blond and brown and Straffe Hendrick. We had all three at one point and they were all lovely. We liked the glasses so much, we bought two to bring home.


In Belgium, there’s a beer store called brewmania where you can buy a beer and drink it on site. The owner was a friendly, knowlegable and chatty guy who was happy to help find recommendations for us. This happens to be his house beer. The glass is an interesting combo of a typical Belgian beer glass but the stem is a handle, to keep the beer from getting warm by you touching it with your hand.


There are 7 monasteries in Belgium that still make beer. They’re trappist ales. Among them, Westvleren is the hardest to find. They only make exactly the amount they need support themselves for the year and avoid labels and other marketing. As a result, their beer is a bit rare and not cheap. It doesn’t help that they make very good beer that has won awards. Beermania had some, so I had to splurge and have a bottle. It lived up to expectations.


Now onto food. Belgium is a lovely place to eat. It’s even better if you like meat and fries. There are fries everywhere. We ate more than our share of them. The dish above is a local dish called Waterzooi which is a stew of chicken, veg and a cream-based sauce. It was delicious. I also ate way too much steak while I was here. Carolyn avoided that for more fish based dishes. We definitely ate well overall, although there was the occasional meal that wasn’t perfect. The lunch in the picture above was excellent.

Bank Holiday in Belgium

September 16th, 2009 by carolyn

The last weekend in August is August Bank Holiday in England (and much of Europe, I think).  It marks the end of the 6 week school summer vacation and is the last public holiday until Christmas.  We decided to take advantage of the three day weekend to hop the Eurostar under the Channel and head to Belgium.  The Eurostar terminal is at St. Pancreas station – just a 15 minute bus ride from our flat.


We took the 7 am train from London and arrived in Brussels at 10 am (even with a one hour time change).  Our plan for the weekend was to head to Brugge, the capital of West Flanders and a canal based UNESCO World Heritage site, and enjoy some Belgium chocolate, frites and beer.  We stayed at the Bauhaus Hostel just outside the main city centre and after dropping off our bags headed out to explore.

Here is the belfry in the city centre, we climbed all 366 steps to the top:


Here is a view from the top:

We explored through lots of cobblestone streets, toured a brewery and an old beguinage and enjoyed some good fish stew, steak, frites and belgium waffles.  We even rented bikes and journeyed a few kilometers out of town to Damme.


On Monday we got up early to catch the bus to DeHaan, a town on the coast of the North Sea.  We got to town about 9 am so the beach was pretty quiet.  We had it to ourselves for a little bit and then the crowds started to come out.  So we headed back to Brussels where we would spend our last night before catching the 7 am train back to London – just in time to get to work for 9 on Tuesday.

Here is a picture from the beach:


We only had one evening to explore Brussels but it seems like an exciting city with tons of amazing architecture – old and new.  Like this Art Nouveau building:


I’ll leave it to Matt to fill you in a bit more on the food and beer we enjoyed in Belgium.

Edinburgh Photo Dump

May 27th, 2009 by matt

Well, it’s been a bit of a blog drought. I’ve got plenty to write about, but I need to get off my lazy ass and write. Alas, this entry won’t be much more lively. This past weekend, we took a road trip up to Scotland with our main destination being Edinburgh. It was a lovely weekend and a great way to see the country. It’ll be added to the list of things that require a proper write-up. In the meantime, I’m taking the boring photo dump route. Here be a link to all our photos from our trip to Edinburgh:


Photos From Greece

April 27th, 2009 by matt

Well, in an attempt to not lose the blogging momentum, I’ve been back from Greece for less than 24 hours and here I am writing! This will just be a photo dump with a few select photos. In a nutshell, Greece was amazing. Relaxing, beautiful and fun. That sums it up nicely. I’ll have to post multiple things to get it all in since we spent time on 4 islands and Athens. Busy busy. Anyhoo, you can now see all our unedited Greek photos.


The lovely town of Mykonos. In the summer, this place is a mob-scene, but show up a couple weeks early and it’s quite wonderful.


The Caldera, volcanic center and town of Santorini. Yes, the white on the tops of those cliffs is a town and the houses all mostly white and blue. Love this photo. Much more on Santorini to come.


The Temple of Hephaestus in Athens. Not as big as it’s neighbour, the Parthanon that sits atop the acropolis, but it’s more intact. It was a joy to come upon this in the Ancient Greek Market (aka. the Agora).

A quick synopsis of life

April 14th, 2009 by matt

Yikes! I think that’s a record for longest gap between posts. It’s been a busy busy month and change. Allow me to give you a recap with details later. I’m not guaranteeing too much for the next 10 days as we’re going to Greece in 3 days, but here’s a little to whet your appetite. Since I last posted, we’ve gone skiing in the Alps, enjoyed a nice visit with Carolyn’s parents, taken a cycling trip in Richmond Park, played games, hung out with friends, sung in choirs (for the first time in 4 years), travelled southeast England, celebrated my birthday. For now, let’s start with some evidence of a trip to the Alps:

Behold the Matterhorn as viewed from our hotel in Zermatt. Tres cool. And, since we were in the area:


Proof that not only did I ski, but I did some of it in a blizzard. And we ate lunch in an old farm house on the side of the mountain. Alas, the camera fogged up, so the only picture in there looks like a silly 1970s yuppie picture, but that’ll all come soon enough. So sorry for being so neglectful. I promise tons of fun to follow!

Trapsing through Northern Italy

February 16th, 2009 by matt

Last week, I made a work trip to Milan. Once I was done with the work part, I stuck around and Carolyn flew down and we had a Valentines weekend together in Italy. Allow me share with you our weekend. If you’d like to see all the photos we’ve taken, here’s a document dump. And if you’d like to see a larger version of any photos below, just click on the photo.

We decided to see about some pretty areas around Milan and settled on Lake Como. It’s a pretty Y-shaped glacial lake nestled up against the Alps. In the summer, it’s a very popular tourist destination and place for the rich and famous to buy villas and show off their wealth. In the winter, it isn’t dead, but it’s not quite the hot spot it is when the weather is warm. To get there requires a train trip, so I’d be remiss not to show you the train shed in the massive, monumental train station. It’s an obvious product of fascist bravado, but it kind of works:


Como is the main town, but you can take a boat up the lake and check out the cute villages that dot the coast line. Check out how nice the lake and surrounding area is:


Note the beautiful alps in the background. Not too shabby.

We took a tour of Torno, one of the cuter villages along the lake. It’s got wonderful winding streets and curves in various directions, affording wonderful spots to sit and soak in the scenario. This is the local church:


We headed back to Como on another boat and wandered the town, eventually having some tasty pizza with a view overlooking the lake and mountains. Then we took a funicular (which is a train that is pulled up a mountain by a bigass cable) to Brunate, a town overlooking Como, where we froze our asses off but got to see this:


(definitely click on this one to see a bigger picture. Nice panorama!)

We had a hotel room in Milan, so we needed to say good bye to Como at some point. Now, this being Valentines Day, you’d think a nice meal was in the cards. While we’d had a lovely meal the night before, I’d also come down with a nasty cold and, by Saturday night, I was a wreck. So we improvised:


A Valentine’s meal fit for a sick man and his wonderful wife.

Our second day, we decided to do some sightseeing in Milan before we had to jet back to London for work. Now, the biggest monument is the Duomo. Take a look and you’ll understand why:


It’s a gigantic, wonderful Gothic church with amazing ornamental work all over the facade. You’re able to climb up to the roof and check out the views as well as the art work up close.


It really is an amazing church. In all my travels to Italy, I’d not yet been to Milan, but I’d been waiting for a long time to see this church in person. It was worth it.

Nearby, through an ornate 19th century version of a mall (man, they were far more attractive places back then) we came upon La Scala, which is one the pre-emminent hotspots for opera, particularly the late Romantic opera of folks like Verdi and Puccini. Now, we came up signs showing we’d missed a concert in the hall by about 30 minutes and pondered trying to just poke our heads in when a nice surprise happened. Two men were replacing the posters outside the opera house for the next show. These are some pretty high quality poster style ads and they were just throwing them out when they replaced them. The got to the one near us and handed it to us instead of throwing it out. A nice memento of our time there!

We finished our time in Milan before an excrutiatingly inefficient trip back to the airport by walking along a district southwest of the Duomo that is centered along a nice canal. It’s not Venice, but it’s pretty.


We found a lovely place for a nice lunch there. I managed to get paparedelle with wild boar sauce. Always a favourite of mine! Alas, it meant it was time to head out. A short time, but fun for the whole family (except for Chewy who was stuck in London! 🙂 ).

A Parental Visit!

January 27th, 2009 by matt



While I was in the midst of my massive change in life (that being living in another country, among other pretty big things), my parents were (and still are) in the middle of a new phase of life. For the first time since the 1970s (or, in my dad’s case, kind of ever), they left the East Coast life and gradually made their way west. First, they made a stop off in Michigan to spend a year living in Michigan, but have made their new roots in a beautiful place in Arizona. Soon, my dad will be retired and it truly begins. But they’ve been a busy couple. And, at the end of the summer, Carolyn and I had the pleasure of their company in London. I always enjoy visitors because, while the tourist stuff is fun, living in a city allows me to find some of the more interesting places to visit. So, they got to see an honest to goodness London neighbourhood, eat at some lesser known, but tasty places and take some day trips of their own choosing. We then decided a weekend trip somewhere new to all of us would be fun and we picked Dublin, having never been to Ireland. Allow me to provide a little writeup below. Selected pictures will come tomorrow.

Now, Ireland is a beautiful country and Dublin is a wonderful city. I feel like it would be a terrific place to live. As a tourist destination, it’s perfect to take in for a day. And that’s how we did it. We used it as a homebase with a lovely hotel right in the center and then took a couple of excellent day trips.  We arrived at night and the natural thing to do was to find a pub. We did well at one right around the corner and, naturally, had ourselves some Guinness. A quick comment on Guinness. In the days before the US had their own little selection of microbrews and beers of some quality, Guinness was what there was to drink if you didn’t want cheap, shitty American lager. So, even if it is just another mass-produced product, it holds a place in my heart, beer lover that I am. So, to be drinking it in it’s “hometown” was a nice little moment. And the pub we first got it in was a lovely one. Busy and full of young professionals in the front, but a nice quiet place for us to chat and enjoy ourselves in the back.

The following morning, we set out to see what Dublin was all about. It’s obviously full of rich history, but much of it had been destoryed over the centuries. So we found a wonderful way to relive it on a walking tour. Carolyn introduced me to these. They tend to be quirky walks through historic parts of cities with people who really know their stuff. Ours was an engaging grad student of history and she knew the history of the city and Ireland in general very well. In the course of our walk, we went right up through modern Ireland and saw things like the location where Bloody Sunday took place as well as the ornate former City Hall. Twas a good step back in time.

Lunch was, of course, in a pub. We found a classy old pub with good hearty food. Now, I know it’s a stereotype, but the Irish seem to like their potatoes. Maybe at home, the do nothing but eat, ummm, tofu, but no matter where we ate, every dish came with potatoes. In fact, I had one or two dishes where it specified potatoes and came with not only those potatoes but some mashed potatoes just to make sure you didn’t miss any potatoes. Potatoes.

But I digress. After an excellent lunch, we made the obligatory pilgrimage to the Guinness brewery. My thoughts on it would best be left to another post, but I went in expecting a pretty corporate tourist attraction and I wasn’t disppointed. But the glimpses of an old brewery and the birthplace of Guinness (and a pint with a 360 degree view of Dublin was nice).

After a good Italian (really) dinner, we had booked a car to drive out to the nearby areas of Dublin. We had a bit of trouble with manual transmission and the car rental place. About 20 miles after picking up the car, it kind of died. The transmission just stopped working. On a hill. At a blind turn. Well, we called the rental place, they came and picked up the shit car and provided us with a second car. My mom did fine for the next leg of our trip, which took us to the Wicklow Mountains. This is a splendid range of mountains south of Dublin and it is dotted with wonderful mountain views and some cute villages Glendalough. It’s a former place for hard core monks to live out their whole vision of austerity for god. But the location is stunning and is full of wonderul walks along a lake as well as some impressive medieval architecture that housed the monks churches. This includes an amazing bell tower that just seems perfectly constructed. Well worth the visit.

Now, amid all this beauty, I would like to come back to driving. Being the child of someone, parents tend to be a little freaked out by their kids driving. Now imagine yourself a parent and your child has just taken the steering wheel of a car on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. And, this is the first time your child has ever driven on that side of the road. Well, that was my driving experience in Dublin. My mom was, umm, ok about it. After a few initial freak outs. Actually, what made it all better was that I was proving more adept at using the manual transmission cars in Ireland as our second car started having issues and we kind of needed to get back to Dublin and I was the only one who could find the sweet spot on the clutch that didn’t cause a horrible burning smell. 🙂

Anyway, we had one more day in Dublin and were debating whether or not to dump the shitty rental car or just drive it into the ground. We smartly chose the latter one (no more talk of the car, it got us to the airport and around the area of north of Dublin without a problem. Obviously due to my excellent driving!). This allowed us to go north and see some evidence of life in the neolithic era in Ireland. That would be Knowth and Newgrange.

Apparently, 3000 years ago, the folks living in the British Isles (among other places), practiced a particular rite of burials. The created earthen mounds where the dead would be placed for a period of time. These burial mounds (well, the entrance to the chambers) tended to face towards the east and were perfectly situated to have the sun enter the chamber directly on the winter solstice (now celebrated as Christmas — cooincidence? Hmmm). Well, there are two particularly big ones about 30 miles north of Dublin. So we piled in the car and made the trip up to take in these two impressive sites.

Now, these are not just big piles of dirt. They were elaborated constructed of massive stones, some of which came from hundreds of miles away and have managed to survive 3000 years. Not only that, but they have found other purposes over the years. The medieval folks around Knowth liked the artificial hill it created because then they could live atop them and, if people came from around the countryside to committ unspeakable acts and destory their lives, they built escape tunnels into the mounds. In Newgrange, the entrance to the burial chamber was discovered and left open for years, which allowed Victorian tourists to go in and leave their mark in the form of graffiti. So in the middle of this 3000 year old place of death, you look to your left and there’s “John Smith, 1865” carved into the rock.

The large paving stones along the bottoms of the mounds had a variety of patterns carved into them that are believe to signify various parts of nature. And the fact that the burial chamber was situated facing east to see the sun rise fit into the naturalist beliefs of the time. In Newgrange, they have a raffle for 20 people to witness the winter solstice in the burial chamber. For those unlucky people who can’t do that, they simulate it while you stand in the chamber. It’s quite powerful.

Among the interesting things about Knowth and Newgrange is the fact that, while people tend visit both, they were excavated and studied by different people. The archeologist at Knowth has done less interpretation and left things unknown when he had no concrete evidence for it. At Newgrange, they attempted to recreate what it might have looked like 3000 years ago. So, while they both found these gleaming white stones that came from very far away, at Knowth, they are left as possibly paving stones, while in Newgrange, they create something of a protective/decorative wall around the mound. There’s a lot unknown about these things and it’s nice to see a variety of opinions about them.

Anyway, after some more exploring of the countryside, we had to make our way back to the airport to return to London. My parents had a few more fun days in town and then they returned to their life in Arizona. It was a pleasure to have them visit and share Ireland with them.

Shortly, I’ll post what I’ve described above in picture form.

Summer in Brighton

August 5th, 2008 by matt

Now, I’ve spent a decent amount of time in Brighton, mooching off Dina and Adrian, trashing their place and generally making myself as unwelcome as possible. But, each time I go, there’s generally always some fun experience or time to be had. Amazingly enough, I didn’t go down there last year during the “summer” at all. It probably didn’t help that last summer was literally three months of cold and rain. But I was also working many many hours or in the US for a couple of reasons. Well, this summer has been quite pleasant and our friends Gerry and Ben had never seen Brighton while living in England for three years. To top it off, it was Dina’s birthday which seemed like the perfect time to go down, see Brighton and celebrate Dina being a year older.

The weather could not have been more perfect. The sun was shining and it was actually kind of hot. I even managed to get a sunburn (although that now only seems to take about 5 minutes of sunshine). And, this being the coast, we decided to take a little tour along the water. Weather permitting, there was to be a paddle around Brighton Pier on Sunday, and Saturday they had a little festival in advance. We wandered around the festival, seeing some beach cars and playing with some toys. This brought us to the West Pier. Brighton, for many years had two piers. The West pier eventually closed and fell into disuse. The council was debating for a while what to do with it, rather than letting it remain in ruins, until 2003. At that point, someone apparently set fire to it and the thing was burned beyond any reasonable repair. Here’s what it looks like today:


I hope they do something with it. Even in it’s current form, it’s still pretty cool looking but could use some tender loving care. Let’s compare it to the other pier, which is still in use. It’s full of arcade games and even has amusement park rides. It’s a great big festival:


Quite a bit different, no? Well, the weather on the land was lovely, but the English Channel was anything but calm:


Check out them waves and the lovely city behind it. We eventually got a little tired after about a 2.5 walk along the water and exploring the crazy beach scenes and the crowds of people enjoying a summer day along the coast. We needed a little bit of a pick-us-up. So we hit a local coffee shop with some pretty cool art painted on coffee sacks:


Once we were properly caffeinated, it was time to stop being tourists and celebrate Dina’s years of life. However, I’ll skip ahead to the following day for now and focus on the celebrating later. On Sunday, since it wasn’t nearly as nice out, we decided to soak in some cultute. The Brighton Pavilion is the iconic center of the city. When George IV was still a decadent prince, he set himself up down in Brighton to flee his creditors. In a truly modest style, he had the following built on top of the original “farmhouse” he was initially living in:


The main part of the palace has been restored to its original decadence. On both ends of it, are the magnificent music room and banquet room. They really do blow your mind. They achieve it by having a very low, almost claustrophobic entry hallway which opens into each of these enormous rooms. The banquet room has a 2-ton chandelier hanging from the center. Photos aren’t allowed in there so we (or rather Ben, who took all these lovely photos) couldn’t capture it on film. It was very impressive.

Next up: fancy vegetarian dinner and dancing!

The Rhine River Valley — Day Two

April 5th, 2008 by matt

So we awoke nice and early for our second day of traveling the Rhine River valley. Unlike the previous day where we covered little ground but saw a great deal. Today, we needed to get some miles under our belt while seeing a lot. And only had until 4pm to get to the Frankfurt airport.

Our first major stop was Loreley, a large rock jutting up above the river that provides a wonderful scenic viewpoint of the area. It’s about a 400 ft climb and we decided to get some exercise. We get to the top, slightly winded to find there’s a road on the back side of it and a tour bus of people hanging around. That’s always a fun feeling. Here we worked hard to get our scenic spot and these people just sat around. Well, here’s what it looks like from atop Loreley:


Note the ginormous ship. The Rhine still gets used for a lot of shipping. This picture doesn’t show it, but along the right bank of the river in this direction, there are two castles: Burg Katz and Burg Maus. That’s right, cat and mouse. They were built by a local duke and archbishop as ways to make each other look cooler and more powerful than the other. Katz won.

We were now in castle country. We made it a goal to check out a castle that hadn’t fallen into ruins and one that had. Our choice for the former was Marksburg. It was one of the few castles that wasn’t bombed during WWII and, as a result was still well preserved after 800 years. Alas, we were hoping to do a self-guided tour of sorts, especially since time was short and we found the only way in was a guided tour, only in German, that would take an hour. So we took in the beauty of its exterior and headed onward.

We made it to the top of the area, Koblenz and made a bit of a U-turn to check out the left bank. Our first stop was a town called Boppard, which is a very nicely preserved old town. We managed to catch the beautiful main church as services were getting out:


It was a really nice town, sitting right on the river with lots of wonderful old buildings that reminded me of what I picture towns up in the Alps. And it segued into our successful tour of a castle ruin in the next town over, St Goar. This was Burg Rheinfels and used to be the largest castle in the region. Unlike Marksburg, this place was self-guided and encouraged exploration of the ruins. Some parts of it had well groomed paths among the ruins while others were crumbling staircases that led into completely unlit rooms and corridors. As someone who likes to scramble around and explore things like this, I was having a blast. It was a sprawling complex of rooms and fortifications and on many levels that you check out. Really nicely laid out.


Once the castle was mostly explored, we made our way to the last town we stopped in, Bacharach. We found a nice place for lunch and one more tasty glass of Riesling. Alas, it was time to take our leave and race back to the airport for our flights home.

The Rhine River Valley — Day One

April 3rd, 2008 by matt

So I managed to get Carolyn to post on the blog. Cool! If you think she should post more, feel free to voice your opinion and maybe she can be convinced. 🙂

As promised, it’s my turn to contribute. I’m going to break it into two parts. Last weekend, we got to spend a lovely, relaxing time in the Rhine River valley. Specifically, we hung out in the part renowned for its Riesling wine. This 60km long stretch of land is an UNESCO heritage site and it’s understandable why. It rolls along with a peaceful, beautiful pace. Every few miles, perched up high, are castles built back when people had pissing contests by building bigger fortresses along the hillside cut by the Rhine river. And at the foot of each castle is a cute German town.

We rented a car to drive into the area. Alas, the map the rental car agency provided was completely useless and we got to see a lot more of the Autobahn due to the fact that the signage is shite and the exits are pretty far apart on the A-3. However, the plus was it allowed me to open up a bit in our top-of-the-line Opal. They can in fact go 100mph. Viva speed limits! Let’s ignore the fact that I was still being passed.

After a little detour, we blindly felt our way to the main road into the right bank of the river and into Eltville. It was a cute town but very dead since it was Saturday afternoon and the quiet season. We had lunch in a place with tasty looking cakes and no English spoken. So we picked blindly on the menu and hoped for the best.

The bulk of this day was spent simply enjoying the entrance to this lovely area. We had gotten some recommendations on some places to see and, as we cruised down the road, we saw a sign for one of them: Schloss Vollrads. It turned out to be a winery with some very good wine. Now, this being Riesling country, we had to partake:


After a glass, we trekked onward to the gateway to it all: Rudesheim (pardon my misspellingingsjks!). The guidebook we have seemed to make this out as kind of a tourist trap. But, it being the slow season, we were able to soak it in. It certainly is touristy, but it’s very nice and friendly and walkable. So we parked our car and looked around.


This is the central square of the town. Those cool ass trees are everywhere. The church was rebuilt after it was bombed in World War II.

Perched above Rudesheim is a gigantic monument erected in honor of the unification of Germany. To get there, you can hike up the smallish mountain or take a chairlift up. Here would be Carolyn on the chairlift:


Look at the church and beautiful blue skies! We had wonderful weather.

Now, I mentioned that this is Riesling country. I’ve never been a white wine fan, but the stuff we had was quite tasty and refreshing. The area is covered in vineyards.


We made our way to the top of the mountain, took in the beauty around us and strolled back down. We still needed to find a hotel. We found a nice hotel where we were the only people staying there. Dinner was a local winery’s restaurant. We both had some absolutely delicious soup and wine as well as very good mains. We ended the night in the (I kid you not) pub on the ground floor of our hotel where I think the local 12 year olds go to drink (at least in the off-season). Then we retired for the night in anticipation of a very early morning so we could hit the castles and sights of the Rhine River valley. That’ll be next!

Hello from London

March 31st, 2008 by carolyn

I thought some of you might be curious about what I (Carolyn) have been up to during my trip to London (while Matt has been at work). While I have been keeping busy getting settled into the apartment and job searching, I have found a fair amount of time to explore the city and do some touristy things too. I am not much of a blogger so I am just going to include a pictorial journey of my last week with some descriptions. 🙂

On St. Patrick’s Day, we celebrated with Guinness and I discovered the joy of half pints.


Last week I went to the Kew Botanical Gardens, on Dina’s recommendation, to see an exhibition of Henry Moore sculptures. I was able to get to the gardens on the London Overground rail system which is about 20 feet from the apartment for just one pound with no transfers! There were over 20 sculptures scattered throughout the gardens and I spent several hours wandering through the plants and art. Here is one sculpture set near the tropical green house.
This past weekend, I went to Germany. I got to explore Frankfurt, Germany a little bit. It is a really interesting city. Frankfurt is the financial center of Germany, extremely modern with tons of skyscrapers, and has an amazing array of museums. It was pretty much entirely rebuilt after the city was devastated by allied bombing during World War II. I spent one day wandering around the reconstructed old city, visiting museums and walking on the riverfront.



Another day, I took a train down to Heidelberg about one hour from Frankfurt. Heidelberg is a beautiful town with a large university, ruins of a historic palace, and tons of students and tourists.

Matt and I had a chance to travel in the Rhine river valley which Matt can tell you all more about tomorrow.

Plastic Shopping Bags?

March 2nd, 2008 by matt

So I’m not always the most environmentally friendly person in the world. Carolyn does a much better job of it than I do. But, I’ve always been confused about how plastic shopping bags suddenly appeared at some point in my youth and became the standard for buying things. I know there’s always some study out there claiming paper bags are worse for the environment overall, but that seems a little suspicious. Anyway, lately, I’ve noticed people have slowly been picking up on a newish trend which is going towards reusable cloth bags. This seems like a nice idea.

Why am I bringing this up? Well, aside from my more environmentally conscious friends, I hadn’t noticed a whole lot of increased use of these bags in the US. In the UK, there’s definitely a nation-wide trend towards cloth bags. The government is sabre-rattling about getting stores to charge for people using plastic bags. I’ve got a cloth bag I try to bring with me all the time so I can use it for shopping. If I don’t always have it, I never seem to have it when I need to go shopping.

Today, I had an interesting experience. I went to a bakery to get something tasty baked goods (there are seemingly tons of them around me) and, instead of just handing me my roll and baguette, the woman behind the counter put them in a free cloth bag. I looked on the bag and the local borough council seems to be sponsoring this giveaway.  That’s a really nice idea. And all the major grocery stores either sell reusable bags or give them away.
On a related note, back in 2002 (yes, 6 years ago) Ireland imposed a €0.15 (later increased to €0.22) tax on any plastic bags which decreased its usage by 90%. That’s impressive. Seems like a smart idea. People aren’t necessarily going to do this on their own initiative and if you leave it to the grocery stores, people bitch to them and they give in. Countries like China and Taiwan and Singapore are apparently putting bans on them outright.
So, my question to my US friends and family: Is this something that is becoming more of an issue in the US? Or is it confined to the damn dirty hippies in the cities and university towns? 🙂

Musee d’Orsay

December 22nd, 2007 by matt

Much of what I previously posted ended up being moments while I was walking around the city. Cold or not, I wanted to use the downtime I had (mostly in darkness 🙂 ) to see a little more of Paris. I did manage to do a little sightseeing in the daytime too, though. I initially thought it would be possible to check out the Louvre, but I ended up working longer on Sunday than expected and figured I’d need a full day to see it. So I went for something a little smaller, but equally as nice, the Musee d’Orsay. It was originally built as a railroad station, but it now houses a great collection of late 19th and early 20th century paintings, sculpture and decorative art. I was impressed. First of all, it uses the space it occupies in an interesting way. Once you go through the absurd security and buy your ticket, you begin in a large hall:


They’ve lined this part with large sculptures from various periods. Off the hall are some smaller galleries to check out. The rest of the museum is laid out chronologically, but it’s hardly linear. You should start by heading up to the fifth floor and working your way through the proto-impressionists and then on to the impressionists themselves, which is what the museum is best known for. It was a good cross-section of artists from that time period and contains a decent number of master works from these artists. In this section, there are also places that provide nice views of Paris as well.
You then travel towards a nice hall (the museum got a big makeover in the 80s incorporating the station into a modern museum nicely) that has artists like Gauguin and Rousseau:


Now, if you wish to see the Naturalists and Symbolist art that came a little after the Impressionists, you go back down to the second floor. However, since the majority of the building is the main hall, there are many sub-floors to explore as well. Once you’re on the second floor, it provides a nice place to sit and soak in the atmosphere amongst the sculptures. That includes this cool bear which sits in view of the Great Clock of the station:


The clock is still working.

Also make sure to walk to the end of the main hall to see the inner workings of the Grand Opera (which I STILL haven’t been into yet) and a cool scale model of the area around the opera house.

Overall, it’s a lovely museum. The collection is excellent and it’s laid out in a meandering way which slows you down and allows you to appreciate the location as well as the art. They’ve kept the element of the old railway station intact so you also get to see a slice of French architectural history as well.