California – Day 2

We did Alcatraz today. Awesome tour. It may be one of the most cliche things to do in San Francisco, but I think it’s a good thing to do. After that we had lunch at Pier 39 and walked around. Nothing too exciting. We stopped at a shop on the pier where you pick an oyster out of a barrel and they get a pearl out of it for you. Jess got one and had it mounted on a ring. It felt like a total scam, but it was fun. The woman even gave us an extra pearl because we told her we are on a trip for our anniversary. Very nice Asian women worked there. I got Steelers underwear for game day at an NFL shop. It sounds weird, I know, but it’s actually very exciting for me.

Had dinner at an Italian place where the food was excellent, but the service was horrible. We probably sat for 25 minutes waiting for our plates to be cleared. We had a bottle of wine to get through to pass the time, though.

Sorry, but today just wasn’t as exciting.

Except for when Jess blew up the hotel hair dryer, and clogged the toilet. Although the toilet wasn’t her fault. It was just a coincidence, but a funny one. A repair guy was here for about 30 minutes trying to fix it. We’re fine now.

I believe this negates me being wrong earlier in the trip. The score is now 0-0. Jess loses two points because of destruction of property, etc.

London: Changing of the Guard, British Museum and football

Yesterday we started with the changing of the guard. It doesn’t officially start until 11:30, but we were there early — maybe 10 o’clock, to get a good spot. It was actually cold yesterday, so we stood freezing for half an hour and then the ceremony started. There were a lot of people — they only do it every other day in the winter. As we were standing, some Brits wandered into the crowd and wondered aloud what what going on. I thought only Americans stood around with other people not quite knowing what they were waiting for. When we first arrived, we had a spot right on the fence on the left hand side. I had the bright idea to move back towards the fountain, so that we could see the whole width of the palace. If we had stayed there, he would have gotten some good video. Oops.

In the front of the palace there’s a circle fountain and a statue of Queen Victoria. There are three gates to the palace. The old guard lines up at one gate, and a pipe band comes through that gate. Then, on the other side, the new guard and a marching band march in. Then two guys stand at the center and exchange keys.

Next, the band forms a horseshoe and played several tunes — a march a burlesque-ish one and something else… then at the end, the old guard and the piped and the band all march out.

I’d say, you don’t go to London to see the changing of the guard, but when in London, it is something to see.

Then we had lunch at some pub. Any pub. They’re all the same. They have the exact same menu. The same.

The next stop, and the last stop, really, was the British Museum. The best thing there was the

Rosetta stone. So amazing.

There were a lot of very cool, very old, things. And we were allowed to take video and photos of everything. Everything (can you do that at the Smithsonian?). Things from the very start of civilization. There were so many people from all over the world there. When I thought about it, it made sense. There were relics from Egypt, Persia, Asia, Africa…Things that aren’t in their “home” countries, so people have to travel to see them.

The very, very last thing we did was to go to a bar and watch the Steelers game. Yes, that’s right. We watched the Steelers. Brendan packed his shirt and his hat and everything. We met another fan or two — some Americans and a British Pats fan. He was nice. A bit shy and a little odd, but nice.


On the plane now. Since it’s January, they switched up the movies a little. The guy in front of me is ruining my viewing experience. He keeps throwing himself backwards and pulling the seat up and just being a fidgety pain in my ass. I was a little disappointed to find out that i (heart) huckabees was showing on US to London flights and not the other way around, but there was a problem with one they were meant to be showing (Alfie) so we’re getting to watch it. (Garden State, too, but my TV doesn’t like it.) I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about huckabees, but I like it. I like it a lot. I’m watching it for a second time.

London: New Year’s Eve and Day


We are totally exhausted. It’s only 17:23 and both of us could certainly fall asleep right now. We’ve been walking a lot the past few days.

DSCF0172Yesterday, we started at St. Paul’s. After we saw the crypt and the church, we climbed almost 600 steps to the top of the dome. My legs still burn.

The views were worth it,


I forgot my little schedule, so we missed going to the National Gallery at Trafalgar Square as I had planned. After St. Paul’s we went to Covent Garden for shopping (20-quid for a pair of fab pants at Monsoon) and wandering in Soho and the West End/Picadilly. We ate at an organic grocery store with a disorganized staff. It was crazy. No one was in any hurry. The food was good, though.

Then we made our way to Buckingham Palace. Evidently, the state rooms are only open of tours in August and September, but we did see an exhibit on King George III and Queen Charlotte at the Queen’s Gallery.

After that we did more walking in Picadilly and came across a Waterford store that was haveing a sale on the Lismore patters — so we got 8 claret glasses. Nice. At 30% off, too. Then we came back to the room and decided to try and get a head start on the crowds and head down to Trafalgar Square a little on the early side.

We got lucky and snagged a table at a small Italian Ristorante (where the staff were actually Italian). Afterwards, we went on a quest to find a bar where we could get just one dring. After a lot more walking, we found a random, same as all the others pub, where we had just one drink and then split. It was then to Trafalgar Square to stand and wait for the New Year.

All-in-all, it was completely anti-clamactic. The fireworks were actually on the Thames, but there were hundreds, dare I say thousands, of people at the square watching music videos on two massive screens. Once 11:00 or so rolled around, the coverage on the BBC started. It was no celebration. Instead, it was 40 minutes of tsunami coverage. Granted, a lot of Europeans take vacations to Asia or have family there, but 40 minutes of devastation and death and sad story after sad story was just not fun. I found myself wishing for some Ashlee/Lindsay/Brittney pop princess crap instead!

Then, when the countdown started at Big Ben, the BBC showed the countdown which was projected onto a building. At about 20 seconds, they cut away! Eventually, in the distance, bells rang and people cheered. Um, OK. There could have been some sort of countdown from 10 or something.

And then the fireworks started. The did show those on TW and some of them were visible over the buildings between the square and the waterfront. Since there were so many people there (the Tube was free), Bren and I decided to make our way out — towards any Tube station, anywhere. The coppers were everywhere and they had everyone corralled in — with maybe a few places where we could get through. there were some semi-scary moment were there was a whole lot of pushing, a lot of people, and nowhere to go. But we made it. And after a while, we found ourselves at an Underground station. We managed to be in bed at around 1:30 or 1:45.

This morning it was difficult to get up, but we managed to be out the door before 10:000. Today, we had a quick bite at the local McDonalds. Our price at the hotel didn’t include breakfast. We found that out yesterday morning. The food there was OK, nothing special, and it takes awhile; hence, McDonalds. However, they seem to have a more varied and healthy breakfast menu. I had coffee (which was actually good) and a bagel with jam and Brendan had porridge.

Our first stop was the Tate Modern. They have some good stuff. It wasn’t terribly crowded until after 12:30 as we were leaving. I know Brendan didn’t enjoy it as much as I did, though. They did have this one sort of interactive piece that consisted of a huge cabinet full of things that were found on the banks of the Thames. They were all organized by object and color. There was a drawer full of soda bottle caps, and glass bottles and what not. Everything was meticulously labelled. I wanted to take it home with me. We did end up missing the parade (oops) but weren’t too disappointed.

After the Tate, we went shopping (again) in Kensignton. I got the cutest purse. And it started raining. Today is the first day we’ve had with rain and wind. We made our way from Kensington High Street to Holland Park and onto the edge of Notting Hill to Portabello Road. It was just about closing time for the shops that were open, though. Still, there were loads of people.

After we walked the length of the street it had gotten dark (at only 4:00, 4:15 or so) and we were completely spent, so we found the closest Tube station and came back. We’ll stay close by for dinner and go to bed early. In fact, Brendan is asleep right now.

There isn’t a whole lot on the schedule for tomorrow: St. James’ Park in the morning, changing of the guard at 11:30 and the British Museum, maybe to Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park.

Montreal: A movie, shopping and Old Montreal

First, the movie yesterday was Colombian, not Venezuelan. It was pretty funny. There were even parts where I didn’t need the subtitles. This morning we had to rush to breakfast. The alarm didn’t go off, but luckily, I actually woke up — at 7:25 — just five minutes before we were suppposed to be there. The movie this morning was so sad. The whole thing was so terribly sad. Even Brendan said he wanted to cry for about 3/4 of the movie.

Then we shopped a little. Last night we stopped in Bedo — I want to know if they have any shops in the states – and toda several others. Most noteably, Mexx and Zara. I’m going to have to get myself to the Zara in Georgeton. I fell completely in love with the store.

Then we spent the rest of the afternoon in vieux (old) Montreal. The metro here is very cheap, but also uncomfortable. It saved us a lot of walking, though. First we saw the Basilique Notre-Dame. I expected it to be completely beautiful, and it exceeded my expectations. We also went to the Museum of Archaeology and History and saw the first foundations of the city. And a lot more walking. We’re going to try and find a French restaurant in walking distance tonight. Tomorrow to the Olympic Park, Botanical Gardens and maybe an Expos game. May as well check them out before they come down our way to stay!

Montreal: Walking, walking and walking

Blister on the first day: never good. We did a whole lot of walking today. First it was to the Basilique Cathedrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde which was very beautiful. Then it was down St-Catherine to the cinema to but tickets for the two film festival movies that we wanted to see. [tonight it’s the VenezuelanColombian El Carro and tomorrow moring the Irish Holy Cross — something for each of us].

Next we walked to the McGill campus and then up the “mountain” to the Parc du Mont-Royal, where we got a great view of the city. It was very beautiful, but it was really tiring.

But we weren’t done. Nope. We grabbed some lunch and then went to the Musee des Beaux-Arts de Montreal. They had a little bit of everything. Some of the more modern pieces — a chandelier that was bare, with the crystals neatly on the floor — were better than others — black canvasses. There were also some really interesting decorative arts pieces: charis, tables, vases, teapots etc.

Our room, excuse me, our suite, is so very nice. Down pillows and comforter, a little table (at which I am currently sitting), a sofa, a CD player, whirlpool tub, exposed brick, wood floor, ceramic tile in the bathroom, a kitchen to use with dishes and everything. It’s probably one of the nices places I’ve ever stayed.

Switzerland, Basel Day 3

September 12, 2001

On the way to Basel we try and find castles. They are marked on our map with a little tower. Ruins and churches are also marked. It doesn’t take us long to figure out two important things:

1.Kastell doesn’t mean castle, but fort. Schloss means castle.
2.Brown signs along the highway will take you to historically significant places, just like at home.

We can see all kinds of castles off in the distance, but can never actually find one. We drive in their general direction, me looking at the map and reading signs, Brendan turning in what he figures is the right direction. He’s got a great sense of direction. But it still doesn’t work. So we give up for the time being.

Basel is a weird city; it is old and brand new at the same time.


We stumble across this church (one of many) that is open to the public and take a walk up to the top of the spire. The above picture was taken there. You can stand where the bell would be and look straight up to the tip.

There’s this canal that runs through town, and one can take a boat across. The current is so strong that they have tether lines up so the boats down drift too far. It was sort of cloudy and windy so we didn’t do any crossing.

We did stop in at a museum, the Kunstmuseum to see more Picasso (he lived in Basel for a while), Paul Klee and others.

Basel is right on the border of Germany and France. It was part of our master plan to visit as many countries as we could, just so we could say that we had; I was hoping for passport stamps (we didn’t get any). We drove across the border to France first. The guard didn’t even really stop us, he saw the “CH” (for Switzerland, Schweiz in German) sticker on the back bumper of the car as we slowed down, we started to get out our passports, but as soon as he saw we were American he just waved us through. No big deal. Getting into Canada is harder!

Again, we tried to find castles. All we found were churches, graveyards and ruins. We did see many cute villages with cream colored buildings, tiled rooves, colorful shutters and window boxes. Straight out of a movie.


Then we drove to Germany. (Of course, I could totally have it backwards. We could have done Germany first and then France.) At any rate, we crossed the German/French border with no problem. There was a nice little sign that told us that the back road we were on was not for persons who were carrying goods from one country to another. Those people had to turn around and go back to the national road to cross the border so they could be inspected. Thank you very much Mr. Sign!


We saw this guy in either France or Germany. Who knows. The Herbsmarkt sounds German, but the Ranspach-Le-Haut seems more French.

This sort of thing is typical. The Swiss have four recognized languages, German (the national language), French, Italian and Romanian. We’d walk into a store and the shop keeper would say “Bonjour” then proceed to talk in German. When we would leave they’d say goodbye in French again.


Brendan joined the party on January 2, 2004. He's cool now.

Jessica has never been cool. She is OK with that.

And just so everyone is clear, what we say here is not endorsed by either of our employers.