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.

First Full Day

No problems or issues today. Everything went smooth checking out of the first hotel, getting to San Francisco, and checking into the hotel here.

Lots of walking today. Chinatown, shopping, and doing 300 steps to the top of Telegraph Hill, when we could have cut over halfway up it. It was suggested, but shot down. I believe the quote was, “I want to do all of the steps.” She was stopping after almost every flight. It was pretty sad. We made it up to the top, to the tower, and the view was awesome. You could see the whole city, Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, etc. from up there. Good stuff.

Went to Haight/Ashbury later in the afternoon to walk around and to get dinner. The absolute center of the counter-culture in the ’60s, and now there is a Gap store right at the corner of the famous intersection. Terrible. The whole area is nothing like you would think it would be. It’s filled with “vintage” stores and smoke shops and boutiques. Nothing like I would have imagined. You did see the occasional middle-aged hippie strolling the street. There was a pretty cool music store called Amoeba that we spent some time in. We had dinner at a nice little place on Haight and sat in a little courtyard area in the back. We shared a pitcher of sangria. Good thing we were taking the bus there and back. Great dinner, but expensive.

We came back to the hotel, rested for a minute and got our long sleeves on. It’s freaking cold here. Then we found an Irish bar down the street a bit.

Now here’s the funny part.

A band of middle-aged guys is setting up while we’re drinking our first round. The drummer is wearing a black button-down shirt with yellow flames on it. He’s got one of the most complete drum sets I’ve ever seen. He has 5 cymbals set up on the set. Cow bells. Everything. He’s the type of drummer that you would think would wear a Zildjian hat or shirt. The guitarist is just about a couple of years away from becoming the Cryptkeeper, and the bass player (who we thought was the roadie at first) wore a black button-down shirt with some blue flames on it, a black t-shirt with a blue pacman ghost on it, along with a blue fret-less bass. It was completely 80s. Jessica said they would be a new wave cover band. I disagreed. I figured with the flames and the type of instruments they had, it had to be 80s hard rock or metal. Jess was right. It was absolutely hilarious. They started out with Counting Blue Cars, then went to I Ran, then to Don’t You Forget About Me. Then we had to leave. It was getting late, and we have another full day tomorrow. It’s just that these guys were dressed absolutely and completely wrong for the music that they were playing. They shape of the instruments they were playing were priceless as well. Very sharp edges, all 80s-metal-like. Awesome. We didn’t stick around to see if they rocked out any more, but figure that the middle-aged rock we saw tonight is the highlight of the trip so far.

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.

London: room and packing in sights

The room is reminescent of our first night in Zurich. The suitcase needs to be standing up if we’re both going to be walking and/or moving about. The heat in here is cranking, too. We’ve got no control — it’s either on or off. They’ve been sending someone to turn it off for 10 minutes now. That’s service. It’s a bed, a toilet, a shower and a roof. It’s all we need. What do you expect for $70 a night. We packed in a whole lot of stuff today. The plan* was a little disrupted when we got in at about 7 and we couldn’t get into the room. There was a place for us to store our bags and have a quick change. Then we were off.

Took the tube all over. First to Westminster Abbey where we beat the majority of the crowds — there was just a small line, er, queue… No photos allowed inside, though.

DSCF0009We took some around Parliament and Big Ben

DSCF0020and then we walked across the Thames to the Eye.
DSCF0026We were way early for our noon reservation, so we grabbed some food and got our tickets printed… and got in line early. No big deal. Don’t imagine it would be unless there were lots of crowds.

So we went around in little pods — they don’t stop them unless there is someone with a wheelchair or something — so you board and disembark while they are very slowly moving. It takes half an hour to go all the way around. After that it was off to lunch.

DSCF0089I didn’t have us “slotted”* to start through the Tower of London until 2:00 — so we had plenty of time to have a good lunch, wait in a slow line for tickets and walk and walk and walk. We saw the jewels, and the White Tower. Good stuff.

Then, since we had loads of time, we took the Tube to Knightsbridge, headed into Zara (odd that I’ve been to the store in Montreal and London, but not in Georgetown) and got a cute dark emerald/hunter knit turtleneck.

DSCF0092And then it was across the street to Harrod’s. What a zoo. It was completely insane. couldn’t stay in there for terribly long. And now, we’re in the room until about seven when we’re going to dinner. Going to try and stay up until nine or so. I got a few hours of sleep on the plane. Bren didn’t get any… Tomorrow’s plan is for St. Paul’s, Buckingham Palace, Covent Garden and Trafalgar Square.

*We don’t normally plan much of our trips. We just go with the flow and do what we feel like, when we feel like it, and take it pretty easy. But since this time we had a little time and so much we wanted to do, plus it was a holiday weekend; I had to make sure we knew what was open when, so that we could see everything.

Montreal: Olympic Park and Botanical Gardens

Olympic Park and the Botanical Gardens were really great.

We took a ride up the tower where we have a great view of the entire island.

I liked the Chinese and the Japanese gardens more than I expected to.

And then we went to an Expos game. It was a lot of fun, and a good game to boot — the Expos won in 12 innings. I’ll feel a little bit bad for the fans here — few as they are — if the team leaves. The stadium is most definitely OLD, but the seats are good noisemakers. Also, they served beer the entire game!

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.


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.