Sunday, October 10, 2010

Random Thoughts for a Sunday night

Random habits:

Taking not-hot showers. Phrasing is very specific there since "cold showers" tend to be associated with something different...I've simply decided to take colder showers. I've been starting the water warmish and lowering it throughout the shower. After accidentally taking a shower just before working outside for 2 hours at getting leaves in my hair, I took another shower and decided to save my skin some moisture by taking a less-heat-drying shower in slightly chillier water. I don't dislike the colder water and my skin's feeling great and I'm sure it saves energy heating water, which is always nice.

Reading voraciously. Anything lying about. Since my parents are pack-rats who have a very strange and varied book collection, it's hard to stay away. Who can avoid classics such as "UFO: The Complete Sightings" and "The Herbal Companion: The Essential Guide to Using Herbs for Your Health and Well-Being", not forgetting the ever popular reproduction of Carl Jung's Red Book with the a copy of the original German book page-by-page in a convenient 18" x 24" hardcover. Also, since I love the movie The Count of Monte Cristo I decided to start reading the book in the Penguin Classics version translated by Robin Bass. Since everything is in English these days, we tend to forget the importance the translator has in a novel, and I sampled a few before deciding on this version. Amazon's option to "Look Inside" and read the first few pages was very useful for this.

Other hobbies - figuring out where to meet cute children who like science more than me. Seriously, I'm jealous of this kid who knows more about the solar system than I do, and that's from someone who recognized Saturn and it's 4 moons through a very low-powered telescope. All I need know is an impressionable young mind to mold, and mauahahahaha.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

What's travelling, really?

So, i started this blog as a travel blog. And I was feeling that I shouldn't write in it when I'm at home, because that would violate some sort of internal agreement, which is that this is for traveling. But I've been thinking recently. Thinking about how this isn't really home for me. This is home. It's always been my home. But as a recent college graduate living with my parents, I need to separate this place from the security I've had these past 21 years. If I'm going to move on, which seems to be a problem right now, I need to stop thinking of this as my home. I'm simply traveling again. I hope I do find a home, and this will probably be my base for a while, but it's time for me to start base jumping. I can leap out, and leave my knicknacks and all this stuff I have accumulated which really means nothing behind. And leap.
Which reminds me of my current song obsession. It reminds me of leaping because it was featured in a recent TV show in a skydiving sequence. It's time to get busy actively searching out what I want to do. No more listlessly thinking I could be a photographer or jewelry maker while in actuality simply watching every video in the entirety of hulu and DVR. Time to travel

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Paris


So...there's lots about the past 4 days in Grindelwald I haven't mentioned. And among the trips to the Junfraujoch, the rodelbahn, and endless verses of "The Hills Are Alive" running through my head, there were some amazing sights and hikes. New acquaintances, and delicious breakfasts. And an upgrade to the best suite in the hotel. But with only a hardline connection and mom trying to Six Sigma her life before her subscription expires (plus her new facebook connections) it's hard to find the time and the internet.
Anyways, we arrived in Paris after a 2 hour flight from Zurich and a two hour wait in the AirFrance baggage claim. Maybe not two hours, but since it's Bastille Day, a national holiday, the stewardess informed us baggage claim..."could take a while". On the plus side, the dreary rain as we touched down started clearing up almost immediately upon arrival. We told the guy sitting next to us on the plane (a sweet French man who recommended an ice cream shop, and a spot to watch the fireworks tonight) that we had brought the sunshine and it would clear up soon, and it certainly did. Now the sun is shining and the sky is blue. Hopefully by tonight everything will be dry and we can have a great celebratory Bastille Day! Anyways, we're both starving, and the only things I've seen yet are shots of monuments from our taxi. You know you picked a good hotel when you have to drive by all the great sights to get there - The Champs Elysee & Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, Musee d'Orsay, the Louvre, the Tuileries, and the Place de Concourd where the Bastille Day celebration is all set up. We're in the 6th Arrondesment, right between St. Germain and the Seine. So of course dinner tonight needs to be at - Le Deux Magots, mom's favorite restaurant in the city, and right down the street from our hotel. We're staying at a sweet little hotel - De I'Academie Saint Germain, and although it looks worn and is small, it's a beautifully decorated place. With antique fixtures, beautiful vanity and desks, and a surprisingly big bathroom, which is a BIG plus.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Grindelwald

We left Montreux yesterday afternoon and headed to Grindelwald with a small lunch. It's only right to have sausage, cheese, and fresh bread on the train rides in Switzerland, and in typical McLean style, a nice bottle of wine. The train system in Switzerland is amazing. Trains arrive and leave exactly on time which means that when planning our trip, the ticket machine automatically sets us up for 6 minutes transfer times, and we will definitely make it because there are no delays. Along the trip we had gorgeous views of Swiss lakes, chateaus with flowery backyards, and of course, the Eiger. The snow-capped Eiger is an impressive view, and with its looming peaks, it's definitely calling us to Grindelwald.
The hotel Sunstar Grindelwald upgraded us to the Eiger Suite, which means we have an amazing view of the mountains and the entire countryside. Our room is very spacious, and I slept with the windows open and a view of the Alps last night. While the wine here seems to be less than spectacular, the food is amazing. For starter we had nettle cream soup, and a salad with dried vegetable slices and flowers on top. For entree we had truffle risotto with ham and crostini. It was delicious, especially the flower salad.
This morning, the food was just as delicious, with multiple buffet options. In typical Swiss style, they had muesli and yogurt with extras like apricot and fresh plum-like fruits. There was also fresh watermelon (this seems to be everywhere, is there a watermelon farm in Europe I don't know about?) and an entire array of homemade jams; my favorite was cherry with eucalyptus - surprisingly different and almost minty tasting. There was also apricot juice, and an open bottle of champagne. No time this morning to try out apricot-mimosas, but maybe tomorrow! The plan is hiking this afternoon, and then an exploration of the spa area downstairs. They have an outdoor Finnish sauna, and a naked co-ed roman therme, which is a little strange of a concept to me. I'll have to feel that one out.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Spain WON!

First off, the important stuff - Spain won the semi-finals against Germany! All bets were against them, but I guess Paul the Psychic Octopus was right again! He apparently has a perfect record. Does this news make it to the states, or is it a Europe thing? It's all over the TVs here, strangely enough. The great thing about being in Europe during the world cup - when someone wins, the streets fill with cars racing by, flying flags out the windows, screaming and honking car horns to share their mirth. They really do know how to celebrate here, wholeheartedly and sharing it with everyone around. Except the large population of Germany supporters in Montreux. There were large quiet areas along the waterfront, disappointed fans one can assume.


The spa at the palace here is pretty typical - whirlpool, sauna, steam room. But the real treat is the outdoor grassy area. Meant for tanning and lounging about, when the tents of Jazz Festival aren't there, you would have only a wrought iron fence and five feet separating loungers from the icy blue waters.
We went to see Regina Spektor tonight, at the jazz fest. She was the opener and I was psyched to see her in concert. Unfortunately, she must have just found out someone passed away, because she kept thanking the audience for helping her with his passing, and cried throughout. At one point she said how much he was looking forward to playing the festival, and broke down. It was heart wrenching, but sad as a performance.
Between sets, I wandered down to the waterfront where a long line of tents offers food, jewelry, dancing, and gorgeous views of the watery sunset from simple wooden tables. I watched the match for a few minutes, but the night was so inviting, we had to head down the tents and explore the wares. After a delicious chai tea and a beautiful 620CHF carnelian necklace I have to avoid we headed back for some more music. Ben Harper & Relentless 7 - the main group - was very fun. He had some nice upbeat songs, and a beautiful voice for the slower songs. In all, it was a great performance, and I walked out of it with some fun purple jazz festival sunglasses.
Even then, hours after the end of the match, Spain supporters were still beeping down the street, and men at the outside restaurant of our hotel were still openly celebrating with food and drink. This is Spain's first time in the final. ever. Which is both surprising and exciting. I can't wait for the final. I will definitely be wearing my jersey. Even the man who sold it to me said it was a good idea to get it before they played Germany because they would be eliminated. Anyone know any good sports bars in the Swiss Alps?

Montreux. AKA Heaven.



Just arrived in Montreux after a morning traveling. We are staying in the Montreux Palace and although my room was supposed to be on the less expensive mountain side, we were both upgraded and I now have a panoramic view of Lake Geneva (Lake LĂ©man to the French) and one of the iconic yellow awnings the hotel sports. This is a very nice hotel. By far the nicest we've stayed in so far, easily evidenced by the sweeping view of the lake and the picturesque French Alps. Not to mention the welcome apricots and chocolates waiting in the room. And a true bellhop, which is something many hotels lack these days. All in all, it's a good day, relaxing here in paradise. Sunny skies, icy blue water in a color that is only really made by glaciers melting, and foggy French mountains in the distance. The Swiss really can do everything well.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Valencia and Barcelona


Yesterday we left Valencia for Barcelona. The morning was spent visiting the Cathedral of Valencia, where a cup claiming to be the Holy Grail resides. The significance of this cup is that the Catholic church actually recognizes its existence, and it has been used as the official cup of numerous popes, as well as being used in many ceremonies by many more. This one is so special mainly because of its extensive history which has been well documented. This grail can be tracked back to the right times in the right places, and when it changed hands, it has been recorded (as opposed to a hostile takeover of treasuries which probably would not record items very extensively). The church also has a beautiful cupula which was covered with a false facade for centuries until recently a beautiful painting of angels playing various instruments was discovered underneath a false ceiling, and the restoration of these paintings leaves a breathless blue sky with spectacularly garbed angels with different musical specialties (including a portable organ).
After the cathedral (which incidentally is called such for the cathedra - the chair or throne of a bishop which is often located behind the main altar), we had a quick lunch of paella, duck, and fresh fruit. The paella was traditional Paella Valenciana, which includes rabbit and chicken. I hate to admit this because it spells the end of Thumper from Bambi, but rabbit is delicious. Much tastier than chicken. And it's not even a close comparison. I guess that could be a good things since I imagine rabbit is pretty sustainable (high reproduction rate and all), but it's harder when you imagine how cute rabbits are, and then you see a face on your plate instead of just bones and meat. Well we are a society of disconnection from our food. And I guess if I want to continue to eat rabbit, I should learn to deal with the cute little face popping up in the back of my mind if I bite into a leg of bunny.
The trip from Valencia to Barcelona was rather short, and after checking into our hotel in the early evening, we went up to the rooftop bar for a bite to eat. The food was fantastic - barbecued lamb skewers (I'm on a roll with the cute animals) with vegetables, and the best mojito of my life. The bartender up there really knew how to muddle, and there had to be an entire mint plant in my glass, as well as most of a lime. It was perfectly balanced, and you can never go wrong with a little more mint in a mojito.
We called it a night relatively early (about midnight) so that we could get a full day exploring Barcelona in the morning. We started with Park Guell, which is an amazing experience. The way Antonio Gaudi designed things is unlike any traditional designer I've seen before. Art Nouveau was just becoming popular when he studied architecture, but I can't imagine any of his ideas came from school. He must have been born with the shapes of his designs in his head. Bursting forth like Athena from Zeus. And each of his works, though surely from the same visionary, is surely distinguishable for particular style or colors.
After a quick trip to the beautiful and fruitful Barcelona market, we stopped by the Casa Ballo, a house designed by Gaudi for a wealthy textile industrialist, is crazy. He used techniques never before conceived of, but which were used in the Rationalist architecture movement 30 years later. He used a color gradiation in the light tunnel to keep the level of light throughout constant. He created air flow and filtration through slats in the walls, and he used a type of arch which minimizes the material needed to build it, but still maintains its strength. The walls of Gaudi buildings are almost always curved, with nary a straight line or corner in sight. Apparently his inspiration comes from nature - and in this house the ocean - and it shows. The blues, purples, lilacs, and ceruleans of glass windows around the building change with time of day and the light streaming through, creating a whimsical underwater paradise. And the curved ceiling and walls contribute to the ethereal quality.
Of course, a visit to Barcelona and a tour of Gaudi would not be complete without a trip to the Sagrada Familia. We were told it wasn't worth the long lines and steep entry price to go inside the cathedral - especially since it's still under construction (apparently it's normal for them to take at least 100 years for completion) - but we did walk around the perimeter, and the outside at least is in the same whimsical, unique vein.
We then headed back to the hotel for a late dinner, and having been inspired by the delicious lamb the night before, we ordered 3 barbecue skewers. This time, although the flavoring was spot on, dad and I got very fatty and chewy pieces of lamb. It was difficult and disgusting to eat, and impossible to cut through. Dad went up and told our waiter that the lamb was so bad, he couldn't even cut through it. The waiter nodded understanding - even with his limited understanding of English - and said he would bring out two more. About 5 minuted later we got 2 more...knives! He thought that the problem was the knife, so he had brought us two more serrated butter knives instead of replacement dinners, which my father had been trying to obliquely request. Unfortunately, we didn't realize this until after the grill had closed, and we inspected the two silverware pieces the water had brought us, cleanly wrapped in a napkin - two knifes. While we were disappointed in the dinner, he clearly tried to understand our request, but simply came up with the wrong response. Haha. So off to bed, rising early tomorrow for the flight to GENEVA.

Oh, and I finally got my jersey for La Furia Roja, and I decided on David Villa, because number 7 is always lucky, plus he's been doing pretty well! I guess I have to wear it tomorrow, since there's a distinct possibility Germany will trounce Spain. Is it bad I hope Spain wins mainly because that means I get to wear my jersey again? I guess there are worse reasons.