Thursday, November 20, 2008

Tell Me More About My Mountains

Whenever someone compliments my co-worker Wayne, his responding catch phrases is, "Tell me more about my eyes." At lunch, some people from France mistook us for Americans and when we said we were from Canada, they got all happy and started telling us about how they loved Canada. Wayne responded with, "Tell me more about my mountains." I don't know if our sense of humour translates well.

Today was a bit of a blur. More talks and then the conference wrapped up at 4:30 pm. We gathered a group together and went to a German restaurant for dinner. We all ordered the schnitzel. You gotta do it at least once every trip to Germany.

The plan was to once again hit the hotel lobby bar. According to the 2:30, 3:30, 4:30 am bed time pattern established the previous nights, we should have stayed until 5:30, except my taxi was leaving at 4:00 am, so I already knew that wasn't going to happen. I tried my best but only made it to 9:00 pm. I got a few hours of sleep then headed back to Canada. Land of mountains. And very little kirsch, thank goodness.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Summit Begins

The conference officially begins! A lot of us are already looking rough. I'm not sure if it was wise for Ralph to drink kirsch until 3:30 am and then do the opening speech without notes, but it's all good.

I was given a stack of ribbons to hand out for people to stick on their badges, with sayings like "I read your email", "Slacker" and "I could be president". Since I got first pick, I chose the sole "Worship Me" ribbon. Very useful for waving in someone's face if they won't bend to your will.

I ran into Gilles from Switzerland in the afternoon. He knows my weakness for all things sugar, and brought me Läderach chocolate. Sorry girls, but he may have bumped you out as my new best friend. That chocolate was sooooo good. Brings tears of joy to your eyes.

After a full day of talks, the official party kicked off at 6:00 pm. At 8:00 pm, the second official party kicked off. This one only had beer, which I don't drink, so I thankfully had an alcohol break. Especially lucky since the party continued until about 2:00 am. At party #2, I got into a deep discussion with Adrian from France. We decided he needed to visit Canada and should therefore host the "STP Summit Symposia Week Supreme" in Ottawa during Winterlude, where he would be the sole participant and most of the time would be spent skating and sightseeing. We pitched this several times to Oisin, the leader of the STP project, to obtain funding, but so far nothing is confirmed.

Since 8 hours of partying wasn't quite enough, we went back to the hotel lobby bar. They were actually closed but the servers tonight/this morning were female and we had enough men to convince them to reopen.

4:30 am bed time. So tired. Many, many conference participants were not looking good by the end of the night.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Kirsch Stikes Again

Today is the pre-conference symposia day. (Yesterday was sort of a pre-pre-conference day.) My cold is doing much better so I think the threat of laryngitis has passed. I went to a marketing symposium in the morning and finally met some people that I've been emailing with for years, but had never met in person before. Lunch was very busy catching up with people from all over the world that I only get to see once or twice a year.

My work held a special dinner for sponsors in the evening at the Braurei Rosenknecht. They serve a traditional German meal where your meal choice is meat or no meat. I recommend the meat. Mmm... German meat. I made sure to pace the wine as inevitably we end up at the hotel lobby bar.

So back at the hotel, I knew I was in trouble when the kirsch came out again. As one of 2 women among a sea of men, I luckily had the waiter on my side. When he brought out shots for everyone, I tried to turn mine down but he whispered to me that mine was water. I smelled it, and it really was water. I started doing shots in one chug, keeping up with the boys. Just like Marion in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Last Ark. Only my co-worker Wayne figured out what was going on. Because he was sober.

Bed time 3:30 am.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Ludwigsburg Street Gang

The Nestor Hotel puts on a really good breakfast buffet, but I managed to refrain from eating doughnuts as a meal. Lucky Charms are scarce in Europe, so bullet #2 dodged.

I had the morning free so Ralph and I ran some errands like going to the bank machine and buying water. We found a grocery store and bought 24 litres! Ralph is due to have surgery on his arm next week so I couldn't shirk carrying my share either. 12 litres for several blocks was a workout. My shoulders are still sore.

We had a meeting in the afternoon, followed by a reception. Bring on the German wine! Then my co-worker Wayne and I collected 21 of our closest friends and tried to find a restaurant that would take us. With a lot of us in Eclipse jackets, we looked like a roving street gang... of software developers. Eike from Berlin sweet talked us in to an Italian restaurant and they made one giant table for us. At the end of the meal my credit card was once again declined, no doubt for "my security" because the purchase wasn't made within a 5 km radius of my home address. Good thing I made that bank run in the morning.

Drinks continued in the hotel lobby bar. 2:30 am bed time.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Auerbach Castle

This morning, some more Canadians arrived in Germany - Dave, Ed and Larry - so Ralph and Susan took all of us out together to see Auerbach Castle. Before looking around, we stopped for lunch at the castle's restaurant. Instead of food, Ralph ordered beer and kirsch shots for those that were still jetlagged. With 1 day of wisdom under my belt, I turned down the kirsch and stuck to apfelsaftschorle (apple juice and mineral water).









T
he castle is at the top of a really big hill, but unfortunately it was really foggy so we couldn't get any decent photos of the view. We looked around the castle a bit then headed off down the walking path to the bottom of the hill. The kirsch hit poor Larry a bit hard, so we had to stay vigilant to make sure he didn't go off the edge. I was scouting for geocaches on the hike down, but we didn't get close enough to hunt for any.

At the bottom, we stopped for apple pie and hot chocolate in Zwingenberg, and discussed whether the town could build it's tourism by promoting itself as "swing-enberg". Note to the locals - start buying stock in pleather corsets and furry handcuffs now, before the boom hits.

After a break at the apartment watching Ralph's favourite movie, Lucky Number Slevin, we headed out to dinner. It was even more amazing than yesterday. We went to a restaurant that specializes in wild game. Since wild boar is in season, we all ordered it in various forms. Mine was cooked like mini steak medallions - awesome! I should have a pun here. How about, sup-boar-b.

Meetings for the conference start tomorrow, so Ralph drove us all to Ludwigsburg to get settled at the
Nestor Hotel. I think it was about an hour's drive, but I'm not sure because I fell asleep in the car. This year, my room got upgraded so I've got a shower AND bathtub. Score!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

German Sightseeing - Finally!

I have a conference in Germany this coming week. My co-worker Ralph and his wife Susan who live in Germany generously offered to show me some sights over the weekend, so I flew in a few days early. I didn't get much sleep overnight on the plane - friggin' economy - but I did finally see The Dark Knight at least.

I landed in Frankfurt and Ralph drove me to his apartment in Zwingenberg. What's the first thing I do? I open my suitcase, which hits some plants on a nearby table and knocks over a really tall cactus. I go to stand it up again and it's completely snapped off. It's always nice to greet your hosts by breaking something that took years to grow within the first 5 minutes of your visit. Step 2, yell "I broke your plaaaa-aaaant!" Susan says she can replant the broken piece into a new cactus , but the guilt will likely haunt me forever.

Susan had to run some errands for her company so we went to Darmstadt and I got to meet Ralph's daughter, Angela. We all did a little bit of shopping together and they took me to see the Waldspirale. It's a crazy apartment building built by the artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser, where the lines of the building are wavy. It has over 1,000 windows where none of them are the same and the doors all have different handles. Plus the rooms only have rounded corners.

Susan had to get back to Zwingenberg to do some work so I took Ralph to find his first geocache. Luckily I had him with me to translate the original clues in German as Google translate did not do them justice at all. Roughly, the instructions were to find the sign that scares you and turn your back on it in disgust. Ralph says the woman on the sign is the daughter of an important winemaker in the area who declared her the "German Wine Queen". A highly competitive title-awarding process similar to the "Miss ENSIS" contest. Too bad I wasn't traveling with my tiara. This time.

Next we went to Lorsch and saw the King's Hall and Abbey, which is a UNESCO Heritage Site, and the museum centre across the street. We also stopped at a café

After picking up Susan we headed to Poststuben for dinner. I had an excellent dinner of goose and crème brûlée. Ralph knew the chef and told him that his crème brûlée didn't make my top 3 when he came to visit our table. Embarrassing! Too bad there wasn't a cactus around for me to break in half while I was at it. I was also introduced to the terrible wonder known as kirsch. It's a cherry brandy, served as a shot, that's very strong. It tastes like burning, rather than sweet. I couldn't finish it.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Four Years!

It was 3 days early, but Kevin is busy with curling, so we celebrated our 4th anniversary yesterday. We went to Bekta. Dinner was great, but I have to admit I was expecting more from the #1 Ottawa restaurant. Namely, I has hoping the crème brûlée would make my top 5 list. They did write Happy Anniversary in chocolate on the plate, which made me optimistic, but the crust wasn’t crusty enough. The server also said Happy Anniversary about 7 times with too much staring eye contact, so that was a bit creepy.

To cap off the weekend, I caught a cold from Kevin. I should have laryngitis just in time for the next work conference. I’m continuing the tradition.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Spamalot

Kevin and I went to see the musical Spamalot, which won the Tony for Best Musical in 2005 and is based on Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I'm not a super huge Monty Python fan, although I do keep a stuffed rabbit with big pointy teeth on my desk at work. The show definitely had some good moments. The French Taunter was my favourite character and I liked The Song That Goes Like This - definite wedding song contender.

The printed program has a fake intro for a Finnish musical, Dik Od Triaanenen Fol, which takes place entirely in a sauna and features the East Finland Moose Ballet. The description included for Finland describes it as, "Mostly flat but with some raised bits. ...And don't believe anyone who says you can't get tomatoes here. Of course you can. And bags to put them in."

This one wouldn't make my top 10 on Broadway, but definitely worth seeing if it comes through your city. After all, you don't get to see a 45 lb. prop cow catapulted every day.

Monday, November 3, 2008

New Condo for Jen

Superb pancake breakfast this morning. Since Jen is fancy, she didn’t have any regular flour and ended up using a combo of 3 flours she had in the cupboard. It was the first time I ever had coconut flour. Fancy!

The morning was extra exciting because Jen bought a condo! We went to look at one final place with her agent before she settled on a property she had seen earlier in the week. We went to the Heartland Cafe so she could sign the offer. We shared a piece of carrot cake there and I had my first London Fog (Earl Grey tea, steamed milk and vanilla syrup in a latte-like frothy concoction). Not quite as exciting as buying a condo, but good none the less.

It was a tense afternoon, waiting to hear back on the condo so we went for a patio drink at the James Joyce Pub and then it was off to the airport. I insisted on taking a few pictures before leaving so I'd have some from the weekend, but we were laughing too hard.

Once my standby seat was confirmed, we still had some time, so we went to the mall to try and get Jen a bathing suit for her Palm Springs vacation next week. She doesn’t own 1 bathing suit! I’ve downsized to 5. It’s a travel essential. You never know when a hot tub party will break out. A rule as important as having audition pieces prepared at all times in case I’m ever “discovered”. Dance audition: Tapping to All that Jazz. Piano audition: Chopin waltz. Vocal audition: Oops I Did it Again. My vocals are the weakest link. Clearly, it’s what has prevented my solo career from taking off.

Jen was happy that the mall we ended up in didn’t have a Swimco and the Bay only had maybe 10 sad and oddly-sized suits, so she didn’t have to try anything on for me. This is why I buy off the Internet. One time I racked up a pretty big bathing suit bill from Victoria’s Secret. When the charges didn’t show up after a few weeks, I called back to make sure the transaction went through. They read the number back to me and it was wrong, but because the charge had gone through, they said there was nothing they could do. I would have liked to see the guy that had a $300 Victoria’s Secret charge on his credit card try to explain to his wife that it was some kind of mistake.

I had an uneventful flight home and found out the next day that Jen got her condo. Congratulations! I’m expecting photos Jen! I picture you in the new condo, with Jazz hands. Wearing a new bathing suit.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Calgary Girl Time

In the morning, Jen, Dani and I went for brunch to Diner Deluxe: sourdough French toast with berry crumble for dessert. We shared dessert so the calories didn't count. We got there just in time because the lineup was out the door by the time we left.

Jen and I went shopping for the day but the only thing I bought was a green scarf. And a Diet Pepsi. Fructose corn syrup goodness.

We were supposed to make dinner for some of Jen’s friends, Nathan and Derek, but they had to cancel because they found a bed bug in the house and didn’t want to risk contaminating anyone else. Sounds bizarre, but it’s true! Poor Nathan stayed at some infected hotel in Edmonton and has been steam cleaning everything in the house for weeks.

We ended up going for sushi at Sushi Kawa instead. I forced Jen and Dani to have sake strawberry margaritas with me. The evening ended with Sex and the City DVDs and wine. And tickle fights in our jammies, of course.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween in Calgary

I had a 1 day turn around in Ottawa, then off to Calgary for the weekend! I abandoned Kevin so he had to give the Halloween candy out alone. Apparently we only got 16 kids so we have 32 boxes of Smarties to eat. Probably 30, when discounting my preemptive eating before Halloween.

Jen and Dani picked me up from the airport and it was already getting a bit late, so we decided to stay in. I brought a set of tiger ears and a sequined sailor hat in case there would be Halloween festivities, but no pictures were taken. Reluctance due probably to our last makeover/picture session debacle.

We had a simple dinner of popcorn, except with Himalayan sea salt. Jen’s friends accuse her of being fancy because she owns things like Himalayan salt, organic shampoo and a trunk of makeup. There’s nothing wrong with owning a trunk of makeup, people! I need at least 26 MAC eye shadows to choose from, to properly paint my mood on my face in the morning. Okay, I admit only 23 are MAC and the other 3 are drugstore brand. *Gasp!* Standard routine: toner, moisturizer, foundation, eyebrow shadow, 3 eyeshadows, 2 eyeliners, mascara, bronzer, 3 types of concealer, blush, powder and lipstick. Mascara base and sparkle topcoat are optional. All with the end goal of looking like you’re not wearing makeup at all. Darn you beauty industry! Why must your packaging be so shiny with promises of texturizing and highlighting?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Attention Idots!

Do you ever wonder what's wrong with the idiots in front of you at the airport that seem to have no clue how the whole flying thing works? Today, I was one of the idiots.

Digression: Using the word idiots always reminds me a letter we received from a customer when I was working at one of the call centres. He was really angry and started off the letter with huge block letters, "Attention Idots!" Yep, he misspelled idiots. Awesome.

So I partially blame waking up at 4:30 in the morning to get to the airport, but still. First, I did self-check in and left my passport on the scanner. I realized within about 5 minutes and went running back and of course, some nice Canadian in line had seen it and held it for me. Then as my bags are going through the x-ray at security they call for a bag check. I was thinking, "What the?", until realizing I packed a bottle of wine that the hotel gave me in my suitcase. They said I could go back and check my bag but I didn't want to risk losing any valuable documents again. Plus the wine was free and I had tried it at the hotel, so meh.

I'm surprised I didn't start discussing bombs or terrorism in a loud voice while boarding.

You'd think this would make me more sympathetic to other stupid travelers ahead of me in the future, but I predict no change. Idots.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Tastes Like Burning

Still no sign of Kevin's camera. Hence, no pictures for the blog.

I've had Lucky Charms 3 mornings in a row. Sugar... impairing... brain function.

Yesterday was a really productive marketing meeting, then catching up on emails for the rest of the day. I went to Obi Sushi for dinner with my co-worker Wayne and it was pretty bad. The sushi, not Wayne's company. It was the type of place where for spicy rolls, they just squirt a pile of Frank's Red Hot Sauce on top. Heartburn, why must thou plague me so? It would be better if I said it in Japanese, so I could stay on theme. 胸焼け、なぜあなたは私を苦しめる必要がありますか? How did we live before Google translate? Although it probably actually says, "I'm a North American idiot that shouldn't eat so much horrible junk food." After a quick stop at one of the conference parties back at the hotel, it was off to bed.

Today, I was supposed to help my co-worker Denis with website testing but there was a bunch of snow in Ottawa so his flight was cancelled. Picture of Ottawa provided by Kevin. With his non-lost camera.

In the evening there was a sponsor party followed by a dessert party, hosted by my work. We had
s'mores! And cookies, cheesecake, other cake, and more cake My poor stomach. One more drink in the lobby bar with all the die hards, and I was done.

Monday, October 27, 2008

No Restin' in Reston

I was up early today to check on one of our meeting rooms and I got to have breakfast with the only other person up as early as me - Rich, one of our members from Connecticut. There was a hot breakfast, but also a kickin' selection of breakfast cereals, including Lucky Charms. I gave up buying sugary cereals this year and I forgot how much I missed marshmallows with my morning tea. You know it's a quality cereal when your leftover milk is green.

After a conference call and another meeting during the day, we had a party in the evening. I got to meet some really nice people including Jill from New Jersey who was so similar to me it was a bit eerie. I also got the latest kid updates and baby pictures from all the regulars. My boss Ian got a new Flip video camera and had people do short interviews with him in the hall. The best parts are when the people talking start waving their arms and you can see the beer in their hand.

Post-party I went to dinner at Jackson's with Ian, co-worker Wayne, fellow marketer Melinda from New York and new friend Matt from North Carolina. The waiter started ID'ing people, but I had ordered iced tea and missed out on the ego boost. He claimed he would have ID'ed me, but I'll never know for sure.

Downsides to the evening: horrible heartburn from too much greasy food and I lost Kevin's small digital camera somewhere (the old one at least, but I still feel horrible).

Sunday, October 26, 2008

White House Disappointment

This week I'm in Reston, VA, which is right outside Washington D.C., for a conference. I came in half a day early so I could take some pictures outside the White House and around the National Mall. Turns out the Marine Corps Marathon is today so all the roads in that area are closed off. Thwarted! I wandered around the shops in the area instead and had lunch at Jacksons - beet salad, lychee cocktail and lemon meringue pie. The lunch of champions.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Hiddily Ho Neighbourinos!

Today the time came to put away summer sandals and get out the winter shoes. Boo! I've had a pair of basic black shoes for years that I wear so often there are holes in the bottom. Every year I vow to buy new shoes but I hate shoe shopping so much, especially when combined with the resulting blisters, that I end up putting it off. When I went to unpack the old shoes this time, they were gone! I threw them out last spring to force myself to buy new ones. I tricked myself! Darn you, self!

Our newest neighbours, Amy & Andrew, that moved in across the street last December had us over for dinner this evening. They also invited our second newest neighbours, Erwin & Maia. We got a tour of their house, including a bathroom that's as bad our black and green tiled monstrosity. But theirs has wood panelling! Luckily, that's just one room in their basement and the rest of the house is very nice.
Amy has ties to Bekta, the #1 restaurant in Ottawa, and her cooking didn't disappoint. Squash soup, salad, pork (credit to Andrew for the meat preparation), vegetables, apple pie...! Drink highlights included white wine with cassis to start and an iced apple wine from PEI for dessert. Good thing getting home was just a short stumble away.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Terror at Saunders Farm

Our friends Tricia and Bogdan (Bogcia) joined us for a night out to haunting season at Saunders Farm. We started with the Barn of Terror. The most terrifying part was the horrendous line-up. There definitely were some scary moments, but I cowered behind the people in front of us, which gave advance warning of people jumping out with various weapons.

I was disappointed that the corn maze was closed in the evening, so our ticket couldn't get us in to that part. We were also falsely promised turnip bowling. There was a corn cannon and apple slingshot, but they cost extra. I prefer to whip vegetables at things from my yard for free. Without waiting in line. Also, the kettle corn was pre-made in bags, not fresh.

On to the Field of Screams. After waiting for about 20 minutes, one of the farm workers asked the line to shift over into another area and we got bumped back a bit. This woman behind us started complaining that people had cut her and started picking a fight with Tricia, even though we had been even farther ahead of her before. Oooooo, scary! Once in, a guy on the paths got us pretty good when he jumped up from behind a fence. Mostly it was just awkward with people making scary noises in your face while you laughed and laughed.

Snack time! Beaver Tails and hot chocolate. Kevin took the obligatory "Lynn with all her candy and pastry" photo.

Finally, the pièce de résistance, the Haunted Hayride. Sans hay. That lineup was huge. They tried to entertain while you waited by having some guy twirling fire. We encouraged children to chant, "Eat it!" [as in the fire] to him. The hayride had some good effects: falling billboard, explosion sound effects, guy in hockey mask chasing with chainsaw and spinning tunnel, to name a few.

We were pretty cold by the end so we went to Bogcia's house with a pizza and watched Run Fatboy Run with drinks. Excellent, especially considering David Schwimmer directed it.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Overeating in Abundance

Kevin and I drove to Toronto for the Thanksgiving long weekend. Saturday was mostly spent preparing food, but we went out to dinner at Kelsey's with my brother in the evening. I had a terrible drink called a Frost Bite: mandarin and lime blended with tequila and chili flakes. It was neither spicy nor tart. Not recommended. Mike also had a really bad Caesar salad. But of course, we pretended to the server that everything was great. You can only expect so much at Kelsey's to begin with so why try to squeeze blood out of a stone?

Sunday, we got sent on an errand to Yorkdale Mall. Why was I not previously informed of this mall? They had a bunch of stores I didn't know were available in Canada: Bath & Body Works, Pottery Barn, Williams-Sonoma. I also had time to stop in at Bebe and H&M. I didn't buy anything, but I'm coming back. With more money.

Sunday night was the big Thanksgiving dinner - 18 people! I tried to eat a normal portion and ended up only feeling uncomfortable, rather than horribly sick. My only regret is not eating less proper dinner in lieu of more pumpkin pie. Kevin mocked everyone who took smaller pieces of pie and had a full piece of apple and pumpkin. Thus, opting for the horribly sick option.

Kevin's nieces brought the bunnies vegetable tarts. They were huge (at least for bunnies) and left grease stains on the packaging. Spuckler
ate a normal portion and left the rest for later. Savvy ate the whole thing as fast as he could without stopping. Savouring just interferes with his busy day.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Drinking, Travel and Disease Mix Well

To thank our neighbours Amy and Andrew for collecting our mail while we were in Italy, we had them over for drinks. Between the four of us, we drank a bottle of Prosecco (well Kevin actually opted out and just had a beer) and a bottle of DD Leobard strawberry wine that my parents brought from Winnipeg the last time they visited Ottawa. That's some high quality drinking!

Amy and Andrew (Amdrew perhaps?) have some great travel stories as they put all their stuff in storage for a year to travel the world before moving back to Ottawa from Toronto. They've recommended Portugal and India as future options for us. They too base travel destinations around the quality of desserts available.

Andrew is a photographer and writes reviews of photography equipment. Amy is a cook, but she also acts when she can. Her latest gig is for medical and pharmacy exams. She's given a disease and symptoms and has to act as a patient for students to make diagnoses on their tests. She's bound by a confidentiality agreement, so she couldn't tell us what disease she was. I guess diabetes. And insist on pronouncing it like Wilford Brimley from the commercials - die-a-beet-ess.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Pool Champion of the Office

For team building, our office had a pool tournament and beers this afternoon at Dooley's. We were grouped in partners and as marketing meddler, I assigned names to all the teams. I collaborated with my teammate Matt for our name: Winning Everything Renders Our Colleagues Kooky (WE ROCK). I was less generous with the others, such as Beauty and the Beast and Team Hazardous When Drinking Wine. We did get to pick our own individual nicknames as well. I chose Scratchy Lynn, which prompted my co-worker Denis to suggest, "Try washing".

Unlike our last bowling outing where I awarded gag prizes from the Dollar Store and had a huge, ghetto, green and gold bowling trophy that I bought on eBay for the ultimate winner, we had prizes of actual value this time - a $50 Amazon gift certificate to each member of the winning team.
Good thing Denis was running the show!

So guess where I placed. No, guess again. No, again. No, first! Matt and I had the brilliant strategy of sucking, while the other team cleared the table then scratched on the 8 ball because all of our balls were blocking their way. Our failure strategy failed to fail! Excellent (with tented fingers).

Thursday, September 25, 2008

There's No Place Like Home

After an extremely long day, we're home safe in Ottawa. Between the tram, train, plane and drive from Montreal to Ottawa, it was about a 20-hour journey.

In leg 2, the train we planned to catch was canceled, so we had to wait for the next one. The wait wasn't too bad, but because it was the train to the airport, the next one was insanely packed with double the people and tons of accompanying luggage. We knew in advance we'd be separated so we shoved our way on and we each found a spot in different cars where we wouldn't be trampled. I was standing in the aisle and was afraid to take my backpack off in case I couldn't hoist it back on again. There wasn't anywhere to put it down anyways. I was like a 3 Stooges one-woman show. I'd try to move over to let people by and I'd whack people sitting down in the head with my backpack. I saw them giving their friends the "what the hell" look to each other. Eventually I got a seat, thank goodness.

Our flight was also delayed by about an hour and a half, first because the machine wouldn't read the boarding passes. Apparently looking at the passes manually rather than scanning bar codes was too much to handle, so better to wait an hour for a repairman. Then the ovens for heating meals weren't working. The ovens never did get fixed so we got a plain sandwich for lunch. With a sandwich for a snack. No free lemoncello.

When we got home I weighed my backpack because I thought I was super awesome for carrying it the entire trip without collapsing under the weight of my beauty products. Only 30 pounds! I thought it was at least 40. This means I'm only semi-awesome.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Bada ba boopee!

Still no hot water in the shower this morning. I used my credit card at a pay phone to call the hotel people to complain. Visa found the 30 cent charge suspicious and canceled my card. For my protection, of course.

It's our last day in Italy so we decided to shop seeing as we won't have to lug our backpacks around much longer. We debated buying a Pope hat, or if they would even sell one to us, but found out they're unbelievably expensive. So that problem solved itself. We took a picture in the window to give the illusion that I'm wearing one instead. We also passed by the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps one last time. Our bad luck continued when we went to buy tram tickets for tomorrow and the machine ripped us off and charged us for an extra ticket. Bada ba boopee! I think Italy is trying to tell us to go home.

At dinner, I have one last spaghetti and clams meal (#5). Usually there are street performers out during dinner but they stay in the middle of the square. There was a crazy woman on the loose tonight that kept standing right next to diners and "singing" opera. It was actually more like a one-note screech that she would hold for an unbelievably long time. And then expect people to give her money. She didn't do it to us, which was disappointing because I was totally in the mood to use my gypsy punch on someone.

Back at the hotel, we have hot water again but the toilet is still leaking. Counting down the hours.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

When Back in Rome

The up side of getting barged in on yesterday is the hotel gave us free breakfast. Sadly, no lemoncello was available.

We ran into our Irish friends at the train station but they were headed north. Once on the train, we sat with a family from Australia. I think they were desperate to talk to people that spoke English. Their daughter was named Zara and she was wearing a shirt from the Zara store that had the name across the front. We thought it was just a coincidence and that’s why they bought it, but they actually named her after the store. The mother said the last time they were in Italy they went to this really cool clothing store in Milan and they liked the name, so that's how they picked it for their daughter. I didn't have the heart to tell her it's a lower-end chain that has stores everywhere including Calgary, New York, Toronto and 3 that we saw in Rome. Still better than Amanda Hugginkiss, I suppose.


Back at Costaguti Palace in Rome, we really started to miss home. The hotel woman showed up over an hour late this time with no apology or explanation. We needed to eat so we didn't stick around long. When we came back later in the evening we found out that the toilet was now leaking and there was no hot water. We went to bed angry.

Monday, September 22, 2008

San Marino

This morning, the woman working at the front desk of our hotel, Acasamia, was showing someone around and didn’t realize our room was occupied. Luckily, we were already awake and dressed, and we had warning with key fumbling noises at the door, but she was totally embarrassed when she whipped the door open on us. The unwelcome surprise may have been an omen for the day ahead.


Aside from the beach, the real reason we came to Rimini was so we could go to San Marino for the day. It’s off-season right now so 2 buses come to a stop outside the train station each hour, and that’s it. This bus trip was a true nightmare. We got to the bus station about 15 minutes ahead and the buses were already pretty much full. It seemed like people with some type of ticket were still being allowed on, but everyone else got turned away. We decided to try our luck on the bus an hour later. In the mean time we asked at the tourist office and the ticket office about getting tickets, and were told you buy them on the bus. So we planted ourselves at the curb so we’d be at the front of the line for the next one.


Well the next bus comes and the crowd starts crushing forward. We figure we’re at the front, so we should be okay. As we go to get on, the guy tells us we need tickets! Turns out about 5 minutes before the bus, some old lady comes wandering down the street, lays out her gear on the garbage can and starts selling tickets. She yells stuff so you know she’s there. In Italian. So everyone at the back of the line sees her and figures out what’s going on, but if you’ve waited an hour at the front and only speak English, you’re screwed. There were quite a few of us that missed 2 sets of buses, so the public outrage began. Eventually the ticket lady got on her phone and called for another bus, so we only had to wait about 20 minutes rather than the full hour. We met some very nice Irish people during the riot. They said they resorted to hair pulling to keep people from cutting them in line. It was a real Amazing Race experience.


Happily, San Marino was totally worth it. San Marino was the 3rd country on this vacation as it's a republic separate from Italy. It was founded in 301 by Marinus, a Christian fleeing religious persecution by the Roman Emperor. San Marino is the oldest constitutional republic in the world with the world's oldest written constitution, from 1600. It's at the top of the Apennine Mountains. I knew about it because they used to hold a Formula 1 race nearby at Imola.


There are 3 towers still standing on the cliffs. We kept taking pictures of the awesome view only to spiral up higher to an even better spot and have to do it all over again. We saw the towers, basilica and the main palace guarded by colourful military guys called the Guard of the Rock, learning for free as we went. I bought a second purse and found some Ferrari series San Marino stamps for my brother. He wanted something Ferrari from Italy that was cheap, but anything with their brand is super expensive. Ugly screened t-shirts are often €80 and toys are at least €60. It only gets worse if you want something nice or useful. Although I was tempted, I refrained from buying a cane that had a built-in bicycle bell and booze holder. I'll have to come back at retirement age.


We didn’t want to press our luck by taking the last bus and getting stuck hotel-less in San Marino, so we only stayed a few hours. This gave us some time to walk downtown Rimini and view more assorted historical sites.


When we got back we had some wine in the room before dinner. I ended the day by throwing my plastic purse from Canada in the garbage. The leatheresque paint was starting to chip off.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

From Venice to Rimini

We were disappointed not to have more time in Venice so we woke up extra early and spent a few more hours walking around the streets and taking pictures. It’s pretty easy to get lost in Venice, but there’s always handy street signs to direct you, as evidenced in the photo here.


We had a quick breakfast at our hotel then caught the train to Rimini. We had a train change in Bologna and bought lunch from a vending machine. If you buy a sandwich in Bologna, is it by default, a bologna sandwich? I’ll have a Bologna sandwich… that’s made of peanut butter.


Rimini is a seaside resort town on the east coast of Italy. Wikipedia also tells me the 1989 Mr. Olympia was held there. Fascinating. I thought hanging out at the beach would be a good way to end the vacation, except temperatures have dropped from the 30’s we were getting in Rome to about 17 now. The beach was completely deserted and we were wearing sweaters.


We ended the day with a bad pizza dinner and a stop for fruit and chocolate from the grocery store. We also picked up a bottle of wine. We went high end and bought the €4 bottle. They had bottles for under €2! We drank in the hotel room and watched the only English tv channel, MTV. Quality programming.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Venice

We left Lucca today. There was still some confusion when we tried to pay so we ended up with free parking. I think karma kicked back by screwing us when trying to return the rental car in Florence. Their streets are messed up! They’ll go one way east for 2 blocks and then switch so that they’re one way in west for the next 2 blocks. Fantastic system if you’re into mazes, but not so much if you’re trying to return your franjammerrin’ rental car. I don’t know how Kevin found the garage, but he did. I certainly was no help. Finally car free, we walked to the train station to get to our next stop in Venice.


Venice is so pretty! We're staying at Hotel Dalla Mora which has a great view of the canals from our window. We’re on a mission because we only have one day here and have to soak it all in. We walked the canal then did a self-guided tour on a water ferry. I’m super paranoid of motion sickness and water is always especially bad. To be safe, I took a Gravol and wore my Sea-Bands. Success! No puking! One less tale of public embarrassment to share.


From the ferry stop, we walked to San Marco square. Unfortunately we got in too late to tour the Basilica and clocktower, because they looked awesome. We learned what we could for free then went shopping. Venice has all the cool, high-end stores: Gucci, Pucci, Valentino, Versace – you name it. I did end up fulfilling my mission for an Italian purse. It isn't Prada. The nice thing about the stores here is they have little price cards in the window with their displays. So if you’re not familiar with a store you can see if their stuff is €50 or €500. Beats going in, looking at price tags, then leaving in shame.


After spaghetti and clams #4 for dinner, we got Kevin a take-away beer and I had an orange granita, which really turned out to be a regular slurpee. Although I’m glad I didn’t go for green, because here that’s mint, not lime.


We went back to San Marco square, which is amazing at night. Especially since the crowds of cruise ship tourists have cleared out by the evening. Bands play at all of the patios on the square and you can walk around and enjoy concerts for free. We also went to the Rialto bridge, which is the oldest bridge in Venice that crosses the Grand Canal.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Rained Out in Pisa

Today was the one day the weather really sucked. It rained pretty hard all day. We started with breakfast at the hotel and decided despite the weather, we had to make a day trip to Pisa since we were so close. It was about a 45 minute drive and I think we stayed about 20 minutes. There’s not a lot to see in Pisa other than the “square of miracles” with the Cathedral, Baptistry, monumental cemetery, and the leaning tower. We took pictures, beat away the umbrella vendors and returned to Lucca.


To warm up, we had hot drinks and pastries at Di Sima, the café where Puccini hung out. Very cool! We waited out the rain in our room for a bit and it did clear up.


We walked around and visited Lucca’s amphitheatre and St. Martin's Cathedral, and picked up 2 geocaches. The Cathedral had some interesting history. They had a large crucifix, which legend said was carved by Nicodemus, one of Jesus’ followers. The cross was guided in an unmanned boat to the shores of Italy, then a team of untamed oxen magically pulled the cross to Lucca.


Another good scam was at church San Michele. There’s an angel statue on top of the church with moveable wings. Clergy would go up the back of the church and flap the wings and tell the people it was a miracle. However, there’s clearly a staircase up the back of the building. How did they not see a guy up there working the wings? Even if they corralled everyone to the front during these events, you’d think at some point someone would have said, hey, what’s that staircase back there all about? Stairs to pray closer to God, you say? Yep, that makes sense.


We went back to the hotel and tried to pay so we could leave early in the morning. Unfortunately we ended up talking to a lady who only spoke Italian and really had no interest in helping us understand. She kept talking louder and louder, which we countered with the blank tourist stare. Eventually I looked up “tomorrow” – domani - in our phrase book and she seemed relieved to be rid of us.


For dinner Kevin had wild boar pasta and I had the house specialty, fried chicken with fried vegetables. I don’t know what I was expecting, but when my meal arrived it was just a sea of deep fried. It was good in the moment but I did not feel well afterwards. I had the deep fried sweats for the rest of the night.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Lucca

It was a bit chilly this morning and the streets are too narrow to get any decent sun, so we went to the Campo for breakfast drinks. We were a bit grumpy that the cafés seemed over priced, but then we inexplicably went nuts ordering. I upgraded my tea to a hot chocolate when I saw the waiter bring one piled with whipped cream to someone else, and I got sucked in by a plate of biscotti that they had on display at the counter. With Kevin’s drink, the bill came to €18! That’s $27! But sooo tasty.

The next Tuscany hotel was La Gemma in Lucca. The old part of Lucca is within a wall, and the wall is so thick the top is used as a bike and walking path. This city was one of our favourites. Once again, we had trouble driving within the wall and this time a police officer yelled at us. Our hotel had a private parking lot, so after checking in, we got it straightened out.

We had a quick lunch of pizza, then rented a tandem bike. We were supposed to give passports in order to rent, but I guess we looked innocent enough and the rental guy trusted us with no i.d. Sucker! We rode the perimeter of Lucca twice on top of the wall. Being good Canadians, we did return the bike and pay our bill. Stealing it seemed like more of a hassle.

For the rest of the day we checked out Via Fillungo – a street with shops and cafés, and the flea market. I tried Italy’s variation on the beaver tail – buccellato. We also walked the wall a bit more.

On the way to dinner, we stopped at opera composer Puccini’s former house. The posted museum hours said it was open but the door was locked. The guidebook said it wasn’t much to see anyway, so I settled for a picture with the Puccini statue.

At dinner, we started with pasta and went with the waiter’s recommendation for the second course – grilled steak. He said it was pretty big so we might want to share it. Thank goodness we did! It was so big it was hanging over the sides of a dinner plate. It really was just average, so it was kind of a weird recommendation since Italy’s not big on steak. We suspect he picked something he thought boring North Americans would want.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

San Gimignano

A lot of churches are starting to look the same at this point. Siena also has a domed cathedral, but you have to pay to go in and look around. Our new tactic is “learning for free” (tried to find a Simpsons clip everywhere for this, but no luck), where you stick your head through the door and absorb as much as you can without physically entering the building, thus avoiding entrance fees.

After Siena’s dome, we headed to San Gimignano for the day. We got over eager about finding a good parking spot and stopped too soon in the wrong town. Luckily they had a map posted outside the parking lot so we realized we were in the wrong place and got back in the car. Five minutes later, San Gimignano!

The town is another walled city that's atop a hill, with 14 medieval towers still standing. The town centre is a Unesco World Heritage Site. Overall, San Gimignano wasn’t our favourite, the low point being having to pay 50 cents each to pee in a non-gender specific bathroom. It wasn’t pretty. Definitely not 50 cents pretty. We bought tickets to tour the town’s main church Collegiata and museum, and they were really overpriced. Maybe we’re just spoiled now after the Vatican. No Michelangelo’s? Pfffft. There was also a “wine museum”, which consisted of one room with a video playing on wine-making. In Italian only. But plenty of space to pay for wine tastings. We did have some excellent grapefruit and melon gelati though.

Since we still had a decent amount of time before dinner, we decided to drive to Montevarchi. Kevin read that they had a Prada outlet. Determined to get an Italian purse, I set out on my mission. Driving there was pretty precarious on winding roads and then we couldn’t even find the outlet! Signs seemed to indicate it was outside Montevarchi, back towards where we came from. Kevin’s not big on purse shopping, so we called it a day.

Back in Siena, we stopped at a little grocery store and bought some fruit and drinks. Drinks being a beer for Kevin and a mini bottle of prosecco for me. With drinks in hand, we set off to the laundromat.

The day ended with spaghetti and clams #3.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Siena

Kevin and I picked up a rental car today to drive out to some towns in Tuscany. We were upgraded to an Alfa Romeo, which thank the powers had built-in GPS. I don't know what we would have done without it as my Google maps proved useless.

The town for today was Siena - a walled city with a huge square in the middle called the Campo, that is a UNESCO World Heritage site. As we found out, walled cities are not meant for driving in. We decided not to kill any tourists today and instead paid for 2 hours of parking and walked our way in to find Hotel La Perla. We wandered lost and couldn't even find the tourist centre. We bought a map at a tobacco shop and still couldn't find the hotel. I eventually started stopping at every friendly store I saw and they'd point us a little bit closer. In the end, we found our hotel - directly across from the shop where we bought our map. 50 steps away. We counted. Note the photo where the hotel and shop are close enough together they're in the same photo. D'oh! The hotel staff pointed us to a good place to move the car and we stayed on foot for the rest of the day.

The Campo, the city's main square, is slanted in like a bowl and is lined with restaurants. Twice a year they hold a huge horse race in the square so the 17 wards of Siena can duke it out to see who's coolest. The square is big, but I have no idea how they cram a horse race and hundreds of people in there. Throw up some old mattresses for protection and post some "enjoy getting trampled at your own risk" signs", I suppose.

We also did a tour up the Mangia Tower. That climb is a workout - 102 metres! The steps are so narrow that they have a light at the bottom indicating when you can go up, because it's too small for people to pass eachother on the stairs.


Dessert (after dinner of course) was excellent tonight. Despite reservations, I went with the server's recommendation of a traditional Siena cake called panforte. The best part was the sweet wine for dipping. It was probably bad form, but I drank the dipping wine afterwards. Tourist! TOURIST!