Archive for the ‘Travels – I Has Them’ Category

Germany, Part 5.

Friday, January 30th, 2015

Before I get to the Saga of Sadness known as Our Trip to Prague, let me tell you about a neat thing in Europe. Here it is: pretty much anywhere you can go, a dog can go. That includes food procurement facilities, like restaurants and cafes. One evening we went to an authentic German restaurant. It was a big farmhouse once but is now converted and because we got there so early we ended having our own room. I ate elk on a bed of local mushrooms with red cabbage and almond-crusted potato croquettes. So effing delicious.

hausamsee-interior hausamsee-sign hausamsee-elktips

And, because this is Germany and it was around Christmastime, there were chocolates decorating the table. Germans must never be more than ten feet from chocolate at any given time. It’s in their constitution.

hausamsee-table

Anyway, we were in our own private room all by our lonesomes when Neenernator’s mother wanted to go to the bathroom. She opened the door to walk down the hall and – WOOOOMPH!! – loudest bark ever greets her. She slammed the door shut and was like, “I’ll pee when I get home.” Turns out under the table of another family having dinner there was a half-Malamute, half-German Shepherd monster-dog chillin’. I made a point to say howdy as I was leaving. The direwolf growled at me. It’s quite a culture shock going to a restaurant and seeing a giant horse-beast hanging out under the table. But if they’re okay with it, I’m okay with it.

Also, so important! A day before we left, the sun came out! The sun. I had not seen the sun in a week. I walked outside and greeted like someone who had spent the last five years in a bunker preparing for the apocalypse. Suuuuuuuuuuuuuun. I took my camera out and got some decent pics of Neenernator’s backyard.

First, here’s the window seat looking out onto the small lake in the back. Every single other day the view was this (boo):

germany-rain

But this one day it was this (yay!):

house-interior

And outside was this (whee!)

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I was so delighted by the faint warm fiery ball in the sky I took pictures of everything. Here is a bucket of moles ornaments.

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Here is the neighbor’s tree through their window.

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Here’s Neenernator’s awesome grandma waving at the dumb tourist (me).

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Here’s the fake egret the jerkface neighbors across the way have stuck in their lawn. It’s there because if an egret sees it, it will not come to this lake. One egret per water body. I said I would happily go over there and steal it but Neenernator’s mother said, “Don’t do that, they’ll know it was me.”

house-fake-egret

Okay, onto the trip to Prague. Neenernator and I decided to go to Prague for two days at the end of the Germany trip because, like me, Neenernator loves bones. Lots and lots of bones. The Ossuary of Sedlec is in Prague and it’s got 40,000 dead people decorating the space so that was a no-brainer. We thought it would be super-funsies to take the overnight train. When I was in Africa as a child I used to adore sleeping on the train. That would be great! Here’s what happened: you know how everybody says that no matter Germany’s flaws, at least the trains always run on time? That is a LIE. Neenernator booked us a train from Bremen to Dortmund. We then had 35 minutes to catch an all-night train from Dortmund to Prague. Easy, right? Except our train from Bremen to Dortmund was an hour late, meaning we missed our connection. We intended to be in Prague by 10:00 a.m. and the next all-nighter train got us into Prague at 3:00 in the afternoon, basically killing a whole day. By the way, I’m compressing hours and hours of drama here. Neenernator arguing with the attendant in the various train stations, us hopping into a cab in an attempt to drive down the Autobahn at 200 kilometers an hour to make the train (that did not work), us sitting forlornly on the freezing outdoor train platform for a million years at 11:30 at night, etc. It was the opposite of a good time. Here is Neenernator posing with all our luggage.

train-station-sadness

One thing on the platform I did like: they have a map of the train and there’s a string down the map so you know what car will be directly in front of you when the train pulls in. So if you have seats in car 3, you can figure out where car 3 will be. Anticipating. It’s a plus. Metro-North, take note.

train-station-car-alignment

Eventually we made it to Dortmund at about 1:00 in the morning. I fell asleep mournfully. At 4:30 a.m. (for those of you bad at math, that would be a lovely 3.5 hours night’s sleep) Neenernator woke me up. “Hey,” she said, her laptop illuminating her face. “Why don’t we fly to Prague? There’s a flight out of Frankfurt that gets us there at 11:00 a.m. You okay with that?” “Hell yeah I’m okay with that,” I said. “Great,” Neenernator said. “Get up. We need to catch the 5:00 a.m. train to the Frankfurt Airport. Let’s go.” We grabbed our luggage and dragged it down the streets to the main train station where we went to the Frankfurt Airport. While we were on the train Neenernator bought the plane tickets using her phone and that is why she is my hero. My adult approach to this travel debacle would be to slump to the ground and cry, but not Neenernator. She keeps cool in all situations. Hero forever. We got to the airport with about a half-hour to spare. They had already started boarding. It’s important for you to know that the Frankfurt Airport is HUGE. It’s a major European hub. We arrived at the bottom of this weird plant-shaped map where the train tracks are.

Frankfurt-Airport-Map

And where was our flight leaving from? That is correct, B20. At the exact opposite end of this building the size of a village. And it’s a ziggy-zaggy building meaning we went on, no joke, over ten escalators with all that luggage. And Neenernator was pregnant. The whole thing was a nightmare.

We finally arrived at Security, sweaty and exhausted and punchy where it is made abundantly clear that we packed anticipating train travel, not plane travel. Meaning all manner of beverages were in our backpacks and random nail clipper-like items were shoved into pockets, etc. It didn’t help that our security guy was a total douche. I had purchased a large ocean jasper stone that I had hastily put into my handbag and this security guard decided this was an ideal time to hassle me about this rock. “Are you intending to use this as a weapon?” he asked (douchily). I said, “Yes. On you. Right now. Enough already. I’m going to miss my flight*.” Thankfully he realized I was not a threat and we made it to our plane just in time where we had the delightful opportunity to stand on the tarmac in the rain during boarding. How this looks was how I felt.

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But we made it. We made it, guys! And I got the opportunity to take a two-hour nap on the plane. Such a glorious glorious nap. Before I fell asleep I caught a glimpse of the seat in front of me and realized this dope pun.

airplane-budweiser

All you beer aficionados, please note: This is not regular Budweiser. That would not fly in the capital of beers, Prague. This is a special Budweiser that is brewed in the outskirts of Prague because we are talking about a people who drink absinthe with hemp seeds in it. They will not tolerate the yellowish seltzer we call beer in this country. You don’t even hallucinate with our stuff!

Next post: Prague Prague Prague.

 

*That is 100% true, what I said to him. I said it loudly and aggressively. It is a miracle I didn’t get detained.

Germany, Part 4.

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

Before we continue on with my German Christmas, let’s look at some things I came across while driving in the countryside with Neenernator.

Trees! They line all the roads. They’re big. And old. It’s pretty awesome.

trees-on-the-side-of-the-road

Look children, look at this remnant from the past. This is a movie rental store. See, you go here where a monk is standing behind the counter. Then you rent a DVD and he scribes on a piece of parchment with his quill which movie has been tooken out. At some point Gutenberg will show up and show the monk how to use a printing press but it hasn’t happened yet, so he still quillin’. You watch it at home and then when you’re done watching it you bring it back. This particular video store doesn’t even an after-hours slot, you actually have to come back when the store is open to give the movies back. The monk needs to be in attendance! A slot is too advanced!* Neenernator told me that TV is Germany is lame-o, therefore people rent movies. Not gonna lie, it was really fun. It made me feel like I was back in college.

video-store

Various barns around the area. Many of them have biblical sayings over the door. Neenernator has a barn on her property and she’s an atheist, so we decided that we should paint a saying over her big barn doors in that blackletter calligraphy but instead of being from the Bible it would say, “Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons because you are crunchy and taste good with ketchup.”

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It’s very windy in this area so there are those industrial windmills all over the place. However, in addition, there are old cutey-patootie windmills! I saw one from a distance in Bremen.

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But Neenernator, being the consummate host, found me a windmill I could walk right up to. And hug, which is precisely what I did. They had taken the fins off the mill for the season but I was still delighted. I hugged a windmill, y’all!

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So, the day before Christmas after we had explored most of the villages in the area of Ottersberg we went to the gigantic shopping mall called Dodenhof to wander around and allow me to see what a gigantic German shopping mall looks like. It’s pretty great. It’s like the best qualities of Ikea combined with Restoration Hardware and Trader Joe’s and a million other stores. You know how you occasionally hear about people living in a Wal-Mart for a month or whatever? I don’t know if I would do that, but I sure as hell would live in Dodenhof for an extended period of time.

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The entrance we went in (there are a ton of entrances because this place is the size of Lichtenstein) was the furniture department where Neenernator and I were greeted by some of the most awesomely garish living room set-ups I have ever seen in my life. I have a very limited knowledge of Germans and their interior designing tastes, but based on the living rooms I’ve seen they tend to go sensible, well-made and in neutral colors. I didn’t want to make assumptions based on the three German houses I’ve been in so I turned to Neenernator and said, “Who… buys these?” She was flummoxed. She said, “No Germans I know.”

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On top of being wildly vibrant, these couches were huge, like room-sized beds. Neenernator insisted I sit on a side chair. You’ll note that I look uncomfortable like a perched bird and that is because the chair was six inches wide so only about one half of one butt cheek fits on the seat part. Seriously, though, never mind the Germans – who on this planet buys these things? It’s uncomfortable, expensive, hard to clean, etc.

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We eventually ambled out of the furniture section into the light fixture section (I wanted many, many things but thankfully our plugs are different here in the U.S. so I could buy nothing). Then next part we entered was the grocery section. It was enormous, the size of a supermarket here. They sold all of the items you can imagine, but this being Europe they also sold alcohol. Remember the feurzengenbowles from the first German vacation post? Dodenhof had a kit so you can make them at home. Neenernator got one. There’s a little metal clamp you attach to the side of the mug to hold the cone of brown sugar that you set on fire and pour the wine and rum over. It’s hardcore.

dodenhof-feuerzangelbowle

Outside the grocery store there was a full-size Lego Santa with reindeer that some kids were posing on.

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And a forest tableau populated by Steiff animals, one of which was a large huggable cuddly wild boar, about three feet long and two feet tall. I wanted him, but Neenernator pointed out that it was probably $1,000 so maybe not. I took pictures of him, though.

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On the top floor, that was the piece de resistance – the food court. It was glorious. As you enter all you see is the gelato counter. They ain’t playin’ at the gelato counter.

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Then, off to the side was the actual food area and that’s all well and good, but beyond that was the dessert bar. The magical, magical dessert bar.

dodenhof-desserts

You see that? That there’s Jello. And in the middle, that’s the most wondrous substance in existence. Custard. You may think that’s the light from the ceiling illuminating the custard, but I prefer to think it is a halo bequeathed by the Lord on a dessert item plucked directly from the Garden of Eden.

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I got myself a dinner, a basic, no-frills dinner. A basic, no-frills dinner was THE BIGGEST HOT DOG EVER, some curry sauce, french fries and a salad. Neenernator got a salad and a kiwi juice. It was meat-licious meal.

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The next day was Christmas Eve which is the day that Germans open their presents. Neenernator’s family is not even the slightest bit religious so we had a lovely secular day. We went to see Frozen in German, the sing-a-long edition. I warned everyone repeatedly beforehand that I would be singing along in English. I did, doing complete hand gestures to accompany the emotions. I can now say I know what “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” in German sounds like (it sounds like this).

When Frozen was over, we returned to the homestead to wait for lasagna. I watched German television. It was a game show where Irish musicians played bagpipes, fifes and drums and then contestants guessed if they were wearing underpants beneath their kilts. After filling up on lasagna (bechamel sauce instead of ricotta, OMG) we made our way over to the tree to open presents. We had to roll two die and whoever rolled the highest number got to open their present. It’s a good technique, keeps things moving. We needed to keep things moving because there were a ton of presents.

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Post-present-opening we had more food because why not? I don’t have gout quite yet, let’s go out with inflamed toes. It was dessert – baked apples, cored, with melted gingerbread cookies in the middle. I haven’t been to many Christmas dinners but I think I can say this was a great one. Mellow, pleasant, lots of deliciousness and chatting and general friendliness. Good stuff.

The next day, Christmas Day, we went to the spa. If this sounds like no big deal, you don’t understand the magnitude of this. We went, as a family, to the spa for five hours. We brought towels and books and slippers and drinks, it was a massive undertaking. The spa we went to, Oase Spa, was in a built originally as a waterpark under a giant glass dome but all the screaming children’s voices reverberated off the hard surfaces and the dome and it was achingly loud. So, because it had all the pipes and whatnot, they changed it to a quiet peaceful spa. Where everyone is naked all the time. I’ll repeat that: where both men and women wander around with no garments covering their components. I can now say, between Burning Man and this, I have seen all the penii and scrotaa and boobery that I ever need see. I have a wonderful range of knowledge about them now, I’m good for the rest of my existence.

oase

When we arrived we picked out lawn chairs on the second level and Neenernator showed me around. There’s indoor sections, there’s outdoor sections, it covers a lot of terrain. Because Neenernator is “with child” she could only go in the most temperate of saunas and steamrooms and thank God for that because I did not want to experience the extreme rooms. The cooler ones were pretty hot, thanks ever so much. Here’s where germaphobes and people with social anxiety will need to close their eyes for a while: there are signs with the pour schedules and they say things like, “11:00 a.m. in Himalayan Salt Room. Cedarwood pour and gong. 12:30 in Nordic Sauna. Wildberry scrub.” We went to the Himalayan Salt Room for the Cedarwood pour and gong (whatever the hell that was) and slowly I realized that everyone was showing up for this. Meaning small portions of my naked sweating self was up against other people’s naked sweating selfs. It could not be avoided. Luckily I totally do not care, but a typical American would have burst into flames. BTW, the Cedarwood Pour involved pouring cedarwood-scented water over the coals and then fanning the yummy steam over our faces and bodies with a giant fan, and the Gong was… a gong. That was rung several times, I imagine to increase the soothing nature of the activity.

Post-sauna you are encouraged to sit quietly in a normal temperature and recover for about forty-five minutes while drinking a ton of water. I brought a book and Neernernator snuck a photo of me with her phone. Don’t worry, I’m wearing a robe.

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Neenernator had booked me a massage, something with hot foam and I’m down for whatever so off I went with her mother for our tandem hot foam massages. First we got all nekkid and laid down on our personal marble tables, like Cold Stone Creamery but warm. Then the nice masseuse lady assigned to me scrubbed my entire body with a mitten made of cat hair. (It felt like cat hair. It looked like cat hair. Tell me different.) Following the scrubbing the masseuse did something interesting: she filled a nylon bag the size of a pillowcase, similar to the kind rice is sold in, with hot water and soap. Then she waved it in the air several times and squoze the hot foam created all over me. She did this over and over until I was completely covered. Lemme tell you something. Here, lean in, this is important. It feels amazing to be covered in hot foam. Seriously. So so good. You know what doesn’t feel so good? When the nice masseuse lady reaches through the foam and attempts to rip your body apart like bread to feed the ducks. At one point she put all her weight on her elbow which she dug into my spine and dragged down the length of my back. I thought she was trying to fracture a rib. The whole next day I felt like I had been hit across the back with a stool in a bar fight. It was brutal. I think my hands were shaking because at one point she asked if I was alright. I was honest with her, “I’m… fine, I’m no hero, I can handle this, I can’t hide that it hurts o much.” “Well,” she responded matter-of-factly, “At least you know you have muscles now.” When she had massaged me completely from head to toe (she washed my hair so she could massage my scalp), the masseuse told me to sit up, put one hand on my heart and the other on my stomach and then she threw a bucket of cold water on me. I would have imagined I would have screamed or something but… nope. It felt jarring but okay. I think my body was so grateful she was no longer acting like there was a dinosaur buried in my flesh and she was a paleontologist with a shovel that it didn’t care cold water was being chucked at me. After that she gave me a glass of apple tea and sent me back to my lawn chair to chill out for another hour or so. Now the sun was setting so they turned on these lovely interior lights. Neenernator snuck a shot of that too. She’s a good friend.

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We went to one final sauna (it was packed, they gave us honey to smear on ourselves and then blasted us in the face with steam), we returned home looking like shiny pink piggies. The Oase really took it out of us so hey, let’s have another feast! This time it was fondue. I made myself useful peeling vegetables and setting the table and all that, and then we all settled in to eat three different kinds of meat that had been boiled in oil.

christmas-fondue

After filling up on delicious meats (and three different dipping sauces!) Neenernator and I packed because we were going to catch an overnight train to Prague. I say “was going to” because we did not, and I will delve into that joyous bullhorse in the next entry.

 

* It wasn’t really a monk, it was a middle-aged lady with an unfortunate bleach job, but it’s such a blast from the past I felt the need to go all 1100 A.D. on it.

Germany, Part 3.

Saturday, January 17th, 2015

Verden! It’s pronounced “Fairden” and it is where Neenernator went to high school. She went there to meet up and chat with her old high school English teacher, so Neenernator’s mom took me around to see the sights of this small country town while Neenernator was meetin’ and chattin’.

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We walked around in the center of town where this photo was taken as well as some of the side streets that had old buildings with no right angles. Saggy, charming buildings.

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There was a sculpture in town of some horses and I guess there’s a guerilla knitting group in town because there was socks for the hoofies!

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They had a big ole church and anyone who knows me knows I love me some big ole church, so we went there.

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It was really interesting on the inside. The whole interior was painted but instead of being polychrome and covered with patterns it was all white with a rich burnt orange ceiling. Nothing else. It gave a strong sense of height and freshness to the place. I think they had performed a nativity play the night before because when we came in they were breaking it down.

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Please note that the Christmas tree is sparse, branchwise. This was a big trend I noticed. In America the Christmas trees need to be full and bushy so they can hold up ornaments made of iron and bronze or whatever dense weighty material they’re constructed out of. In Europe the most common decoration is ribbon tied into bows or creatively folded straw, so the trees can look like Christian Bale in The Machinist and still work just fine.

In a hallway off to the side were some super-ancient ladies. I hope the sculptors were not being true to life back in 900 A.D. because these women are… strong-looking. And mad. One’s boobs were all over the place. They are not pretty ladies. But they were in excellent condition and it was cool to see them.

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After checking out the church Neenernator’s mom and I sauntered over (in the rain, always rain) to the high school Neenernator went to. I was unaware that she went to Hogwarts.

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Seriously, Hogwarts. Here’s the entrance hall and the stairwell.

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Here’s their auditorium.

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Here’s the hallway filled with local taxidermied beasties.

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Here’s the courtyard where the peacocks live in the non-winter season (not making that up).

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We ran into the janitor and he was straight out of a book about gnomes or goblins. He complemented the oldey-timey magical quality of the school perfectly.

After Verden we went to a town Neenernator called Fischerhuder (Fisherman’s Hood). Neenernator warned me the town would be picturesque but I was not prepared. It was adorable. I wanted to snuggle with the buildings and the trees.

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Many of the houses were topped with these crossed horse-head carvings. I loved them. Very Norse.

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I also liked whoever planted this hedge, alternating the yellow-green and blue-green.

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The first building we came across was the local church. It’s a very old, very small church and I guess in the 1600s and 1700s there was a graveyard that got knocked down due to weather or war, so the wall around the church was partially made of the headstones.

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Some particularly weird-looking angels.

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Some particularly Mozart-looking angels.

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Any ones that were different heights were scattered around on the church property.

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After went into a antiques store where I bought a porcelain dish featuring a small child taking his friend the insect for a walk (I tried to find a picture of it online, I could not so I will take a photo and post it at some point in the near future) we checked out the Watermill. There was a little stream that went through town and it powered the local mill which had been turned into a restaurant since milling is not the thing it once was.

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Oh boy! Tradition AND charm! Can’t wait.

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Here we go!

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Aaaaaand there it is.

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See that stain on the side of the building? That’s where the water wheel WOULD HAVE attached if there had been a DAMN WATER WHEEL there (*cough* false advertising *cough*). Shame on you, Watermill. You may be traditional, but you are not charming. There. I said it. I say harsh things when you rob me of the joy of a water wheel. Also they were closed for the season which compounded my sadness.

However, not all was lost! Another facility was open! It was post-lunch so all they were serving was tea and cake, but tea and cake is awesome so we went with that. This is one of the many times in my life where I wished I spoke another language well enough to read the signs and understand them. See that sign?

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If you know German, you would know that it says “Doll Cafe and Restaurant.” Doll Cafe, otherwise known as Nightmare Fuel Establishment. Neenernator isn’t scared of anything so she had no problem, but as soon as we walked in I knew that I would spend most of my time in there staring intently at the tablecloth.

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Oh, this doesn’t look so bad. It’s quaint and inviting.

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Those cakes look amazing OH NO DON’T TURN AROUND

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THEY’RE ALL FACING ME WITH THEIR DEAD DOLL EYES

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PLEASE DON’T SIT US NEXT TO THE SCARECROW great we’re sitting next to the scarecrow.

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They brought us menus and proceeded to read every damn word on that menu so I wouldn’t have to look up and be in my own personal version of a 1980s horror flick. The slices of cake were enormous so they recommended that we get half of one kind and half of another kind. Then they brought us our tea and cake and it was presented so beautifully I almost forgot to freak out.

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Neenernator got a blackberry cake and a yogurt and fruit cake. I got a citrus cake and a gooseberry cake. Oh my God. The citrus cake was wonderful, but the gooseberry cake… it was exquisite. I’m not exaggerating. It was so light I thought it would defy gravity and float away. I’m get a wee bit drooly right now thinking of it. So yummers.

I also noticed the art nouveau light fixtures. I thought they were abstract swirlies and nothing more, but Neenernator pointed out that little gnomes are struggling with inside-out umbrellas on the side. That made me like the lights even more.

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After we had our afternoon tea like civilized ladies Neenernator went to the bathroom while I waited outside. When she came outside she was grinning. “I’m so glad you didn’t go to the bathroom in there,” she said. Apparently there’s a guy who greets you as you approach the lavatory:

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And this lovely lady keeps you company in the stall.

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HELL TO THE NO. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.

Germany, Part 2.

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

More Bremen! Finishing up with the Christmas market, there was a booth where a woman dipped your hand in wax, pulled it off, filled it with shredded wax, put a wick through it and – yay! – your hand is a candle. I cannot for the life of me imagine why someone would want this, a waxen version of one of their limbs that they could watch melt, but there’s something for everyone out there I suppose.

wax-hand

In front of one of the rides I mentioned yesterday was the creepiest Santa statue I have seen in a good long time. The combination of the jacked-up beard, the slender hands, the weirdly poochy pants… not a good scene.

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There was a booth selling Christmas decorations and I appreciated the fact that they separated the cool LED lights from the warmer-style lights.

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There was another Christmas decoration booth with a cute version of the Bremen animals in front.

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I saw the real statue at some point in my travels around the town. It’s very sweet.

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Because the weather is so sucky (have I mentioned the suckiness? I feel like I should mention it again) there are wonderful fire stations for you to warm your toesies.

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Many of the booths have tableaus on the top part, often of farm scenes or Christmas stuff. Sometimes random gnomes or snowmen make an appearance.

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There was one that caught my eye and it was certainly distinctive. What precisely is going on with those reindeer and their antlers?

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There’s a big old (seriously, old, like 1400s) sculpture of a fellow named Roland in the center of town. I liked him.

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Moving around the city: To get from the main train station to the market, Neenernator and walked through the former butcher’s district. See this here sign? It says “Bone Breaker Street.” I am not making that up.

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And nearby is a sculpture of a man blowing a horn with his dog and his pigs. Very cheerful and friendly looking pigs, they are. It’s a famous statue so the lighting above mirrors it.

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There was also a beautiful chandelier hung between some buildings. It was a lovely visual touch and added some life to an otherwise pretty dark corner.

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A parked ship. Bremen is a major port town so ships be comin’ and goin’ all the time. All the other ships were modern, but this one was old-timey and charming.

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Speaking of ships, Neenernator took me to her favorite part of the city, the area where the sea captains lived. It’s called The Schnoor and it is so adorable it hurts a little.

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Look, a little walrus above the door to keep the sea captains company!

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Some of the walkways to get from one building to another were tight.

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Super-tight. Shoulder-width. Neenernator is demonstrating for you.

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Gravity has taken its toll on many of the buildings in the cutest way possible. Look at the door and window frames of this tiny shop selling nick-knacks.

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The Schnoor was such a wonderful area to walk around I wanted to get a cup of tea and experience it further. We stopped in a local tea shop and had some fresh hot tea with German rock sugar and listened to the street musicians outside. The tea shop had a great antique cash register.

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There are stairs all over the city and since the landscape is extremely flat, people bicycle places. Neenernator pointed out that on the sides of many stairs is a railing meant for you to slide your bike down. Thoughtful, no?

bicycle-track

The upcoming post will be about a very nice village called Verden that I got to experience in the dripping rain. Get excited.

Germany, Part 1.

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

Christmas in Germany! I was very excited to go with Neenernator to her land of origin and spend a major holiday in a country that basically invented the Christmas we know and love. (Bringing trees inside and putting candles on them? All Germany all the time.) As I said earlier, no Krampus (boo) but also no Zwartepiet (thank Moses and all the Israelites). I noticed pretty soon after arriving that alcohol is everywhere and liberally used. I didn’t understand why until about my third day there. You know how we here in New York have winter and it’s awful but sometimes the snow looks beautiful and then the sun comes out and it’s okay for a bit? They don’t have that in Northern Europe. Freezing rain. Every day. Dark. No sun. No light. Icy rain. Sometimes hail. For months at a time. There were days, and I’m not exaggerating here, when I went sightseeing in nearby villages and I never took my camera of “night” setting for the entirety of the day trip. And when I got home I had to adjust a ton of pics in Photoshop because they all looked like this:

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That is at about 12:30 in the afternoon, people. It’s a grim scene. I too would drink and invade other countries if it was that crappy for half the year. Which then leads to stands on every corner selling this:

drinks

I also was amused by how many different places were selling hot water bottles. I shut up right quick after I realized what a vital and exquisite item they are in this craptastic climate.

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Despite this being The Trip of My Butt Being Perpetually Kind of Damp and Cold I had a wonderful time. Neenernator and her family were so gracious. They took me around and showed me all the things in and around the port city of Bremen. I ate more cake and chocolate then should be legally allowed, I’m surprised my pancreas didn’t tap out halfway through. I cannot thank her family enough for their hospitality.

The first two days I was there we went to Bremen, mainly to check out the Christmas market in the main square. Bremen is an old European city and you know what that means – old European architecture!

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Here is one of the guild houses.

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And here’s the town hall. Note the alternating red and black brick. Nice touch.

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And, of course, there’s a cathedral called a Dom (pronounced “dome”).

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Outside guarding the doors are some fun little critters. I think this one is a griffin killing a snake. And on the other side is a lion biting a something in the neck on top of a shattered man. Not really sure what’s going on there, but I like it.

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The doors were pretty bangin’ as well, especially the door knockers. (See? See what I did there? I will not apologize.) I think the designer was going for lions but it being 1100 A.D. he may have never seen a lion, so the final result is a sheep who ran into the back of a truck and hasn’t been the same since. Good try, though.

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The church inside is polychrome, meaning that it was painted with intricate patterns over the stone.

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There was some neat ironwork that was partial to because, you know, monsters, griffins, dragons, etc. are a soft spot for me.

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And some old stone carvings. I love the dog-faced snake.

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Neenernator took me around the dom to a side door. She informed me that the air under the cathedral was very dry and cool so when they buried people there they didn’t decompose, they just dried out. Which, as you well know, is the magical way mummies are made. At some point they dug these people up and then there they were, looking very dry and dessicated.

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This one was my favorite. Clearly he was a fat man when he was buried, but as he contracted his hands, which had been sitting on his corpulent belly, stayed frozen up in the air.

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And this is a close-up of someone’s fingernails. Seriously, these mummies had no preparation of any kind and they were in pretty great condition.

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Outside the cathedral was some serious Christmas marketry.

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It is so massive that it spills all over the city. Right outside the train station was a blob of market, all blinky and cheerful in the gloomy rain.

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On top of one of the bars there was an animatronic moose. I caught some footage of it singing along with “Jingle Bells.”

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Primarily, like most fairs and markets, there was tons to drink and eat. There was all the beverages I mentioned before (we’ll go into further detail about them shortly) and then there was currywurst (I circled the no-kidding-around mustard dispensers):

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Wild boar wurst:

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Horse wurst:

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Rotating steak:

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Salmon being cooked on wooden planks:

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Pancakes caramelized in butter and sugar, then topped with plum jam:

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Gingerbread hearts:

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Schmaltzkuchen (literally translated to “fat cookies”):

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Smoked eels:

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And chocolates that looked like tools. I bought Cricket a wrench. He said it was delicious.

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Now, drinks. My goodness. One that Neenernator insisted I try was feuerzangenbowle. It’s wine poured over a stick of sugar rotating over a fire. I think rum is involved as well. It was very dark, but I circled the area where the fire/sugar stick was.

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And there was a man who I was convinced was a weird librarian monk in a previous life and he was selling his own interesting liquors and wines. These two (and there were about twenty-five) are mango-ginger liquor and walnut-cognac.

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What’s kind of great about Germany and most of the world that isn’t America is that people take personal responsibility for things. For example, everyone is drinking, right? And since this is a fair of sorts, there are rides where things move quickly. But there are no guard rails. There is nothing stopping you from walking right up to the moving parts of the ride at any time. And surprisingly, no one gets their arm ripped out of the socket because maybe they’re just not as stupid. Or litigious. Whatever the reason, it was nice to see.

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I took video footage of two rides, actually standing on the side where one could just place one’s hand on the rapidly spinning cars if one wanted. In the first one you can hear Neenernator gleefully say exactly the same thing I wrote above.

http://youtu.be/YpeprI7rOF0

http://youtu.be/De2nsZ4t68s

Next post: further forays in the German countryside.

I’m back from Germany! Quickest recap ever: It was rainy.

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015

I have returned from my Christmas jaunt to Germany and I am now sorting through my not-too-many-but-still-a-lot pile of pictures. I shall be a-postin’ in the next few days, so get ready for that. I am sad to say that I did not see anything Krampus-related. In Germany and Austria and Switzerland, St. Nicholas is accompanied in a sleigh by a demon-lookin’ fella named Krampus. If you’ve been a good little girl or boy, St. Nick gives you a present, but if you’ve been bad Krampus hits you with a switch. If you’ve been REALLY bad, Krampus may put you in a basket on his back and take you away forever. Here are some vintage Krampus ads.

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And some great modern takes on the legend of Krampus.

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But there was no Krampus because I was in the North and I suppose he’s not popular there. Or perhaps parents are realizing that scaring the ever-loving bejesus out of their children is not the most efficient way to keep them in line. I’m not sure, but there was no Krampus. Boo.

Despite the absence of devilish Santa associates, it was a terrific trip. I ate and napped and saw churches and had a generally lovely time. I shall delve into the details shortly, so get excited for rain-smeared photos, because they are comin’.

 

Germany for Christmas.

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

As you may have deduced from the title, I am going to Germany for my Christmas break from work. I shall return on the 29th (hopefully) awash in cool pictures. Until then, have a lovely holiday season and we shall reconvene when I return.

I left no things, in San Francisco (because I packed carefully the night before).

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

My friend and former co-worker Ness moved back to her homeland of California to become a police officer and after seven months of grueling training (seriously, she got pepper-sprayed and tear-gassed on the same day which is insane) she graduated and I decided to go and show support because I’m proud of her and hey, free cake. So off I went to the San Francisco Police Academy Graduation.

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I arrived the night before the graduation so I had plenty of time to pet Ness’ cat, Gizzy. If we’re telling truths here, I may miss Gizzy more than Ness. I wore a nightgown given to me by my neighbor that had a Gizzy-like cat on it and posed for several pictures while hoisting her in the air like a prize-winning ham. Gizzbeast was pretty okay with it (because she’s AWESOME). She clearly wasn’t too put out because she spent the rest of the evening punching me in the face with her face and purring.

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Before we get into the graduation itself, let us discuss the flight to California. Fellow travelers: we are, for all intents and purposes, trapped in an airless tube for which there is no escape but death. Can you pretend to be a person for, like, five hours? Five hours, that’s all I’m asking. On my flight there was a man, a morbidly obese extremely hairy man who was wearing a muscle shirt where the sleeves were so stretched out his hirsute nips were hanging out said sleeve-holes. THIS WAS HIS IDEA OF PUBLIC ATTIRE. In addition a woman brought a hot fresh full-size pizza on the flight for her family to enjoy which made the entire plane smell like pepperoni. I know I use the wise teachings of Patton Oswalt often on this blog, but he has the insights we often look for in a prophet or guru and this is no exception. Listen to this link and feel my pain.

http://www.tubechop.com/watch/3593326

The next morning when I got up Ness was already gone and her aunt (also a cop) was going to come by and pick me up later and take me where the graduation was being held. We swung by a Krispie Kreme to get doughnuts (the appropriate food for a police academy event)(Ness’ aunt the cop bought them so it’s not offensive) and stood in line outside the Scottish Rite Masonic Center. Hoo boy. Do you look for Illuminati symbols in things? Well, look no further because here they all are, designed in a lovely 1960s style with mosaics.

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Finally we got into the main hall and settled ourselves down in the third row which gave me a chance to be confused about the murals. From what I can gather they are important figures to the Masons, all I know is on my left was a figure labeled “Venerable Master” next to “Zarathustra.” I found this page trying to gather more information. It’s not really helping to clarify anything.

http://www.scottishritecalifornia.org/orient_of_california.htm

So… they build houses but they’re also secretive and community-oriented? I don’t get clubs.

While everyone was getting seated the loudspeakers was playing patriotic music, which is fine except that the only place I’ve ever heard the songs they were playing is in Assassins, a musical about all the failed and successful attempts to assassinate various American presidents. I realized I was singing out loud along with all of the tunes about how I prevented Roosevelt’s murder and creeping everyone around me out. I should not be allowed to leave the house sometimes. Listen to this chunk of song:

http://www.tubechop.com/watch/3534901

and this chunk:

http://www.tubechop.com/watch/3534911

to hear what I probably should not have been gleefully crooning so close to the San Francisco Chief of Police.

There were a ton of seats set up on the stage and off to the side was a plaque with glittery things all around it. When I got up closer I could see that it was a carpeted display with the graduates’ shields on it.

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Ness’ was at the bottom, number 844.

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The important people went up on the stage and it began with color guard coming in. Another reason to add to the enormous pile of why I can’t be a cop: all the pomp. It took forever for the color guardians to put their flags in the damn stand. They had to march and bark instructions and I have zero patience for that. PUT THE FLAG IN THE STAND. TODAY. I’M GETTIN’ OLD OVER HERE.

After that the graduates came in and the clergyman was invited to say a prayer. I want everyone to know how well-behaved I was at this point. He was an elderly Asian man and he spoke extemporaneously which may have not been the best choice for him. He rambled so damn bad, it was all over the place and it was long. I started getting the giggles in the middle part (about four years into his prayer). He totally reminded me of Oogway from Kung Fu Panda but with less of a cohesive thought flow.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nq8loZlpa_8

Then various politicians and police-people gave speeches, including the city supervisor for District 8 (Harvey Milk’s original district) a 6’7″ man named Scott Weiner who I renamed The Jewish Jack Skellington:

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Finally the class president got up to speak. A tall woman named Mikayla Connell got up and as soon as she opened her mouth to speak I realized that she was MtoF transgender. And then she told her story. She was 45. She tried to join the police force right after college 23 years ago and was rejected. She joined the military (wow) and then became a lawyer (damn). About ten years ago she transitioned to female and after sitting behind a desk Mikayla realized she still really wanted to be a cop so she applied again and not only did she make it in this time, she was class president, the oldest person in her class and the first MtoF transgender person the San Francisco Police has ever had. Not enough? There were five awards given that night and Mikayla won two of them. Two. Out of five. This woman is my hero. She let nothing get in the way of her dreams. Ever. I wish I had one half of the strength of spirit Mikayla has. (And her speech was terrific, I wish I could get a copy of it.)

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The shields were given, closing statements were made and we were done! Ness is now a cop! I took an atrocious selfie of us but you can appreciate how happy both of us are.

shaking-hands-with-officials terrible-selfie

There was a reception in an adjacent hall and I’m sure most people were excited to see their friends and family members but I was totally focused on the 1960s murals of trees on the wall. I was wandering around taking closeups for research purposes; I definitely asked a police academy student who was serving cake to move out of the way so I could take a better photo. In my defense, the paintings were awesome. Very “It’s A Small World After All” ish.

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Her family and I went out for a celebratory dinner which included a cake specially made for Ness decorated with icing versions of a gun, handcuffs, a baton and a radio.

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Luckily Ness got Saturday and Sunday off (some of the graduates had to show up for duty the next morning at 6:00 a.m. which is awful) so we could travel around San Francisco. Saturday we went down to Fisherman’s Wharf and walked around there in matching t-shirts because even though Ness lives in San Fran, if you’re going to be a tourist do it right or don’t do it at all.

She drove into the city and we were led into the city proper by a tour of people on Segways, which was adorable and dorky.

segways

Ness took me through the Tenderloin area which is famous for being a bit rough-and-tumble and sho’ nuff as we were passing through a 20-something man was peeing into the street. Not like, behind a car or anything. No, he was doing his best impression of the Manneken Pis into the street, arc of pee glinting in the sunlight. It made the experience very authentic for me. Thank you, Peeing Man. I hope whatever drug you enjoy gives you much pleasure, as much pleasure as watching you urinate gave me.

We went to Lombard Street which in case you don’t know is the super-wiggly street. It allowed us some beautiful views of the city.

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Everyone else was looking at the view but I kept getting distracted by the stunning flowers and plants. Ness could not have cared less if she tried. I think I yelled at her at one point. “YOU DO NOT APPRECIATE YOUR FOLIAGE!”

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We ended up down at the edge of the water where we saw the sea lions basking.

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We saw that there were antique fire trucks that had been turned into tour buses and I decided that when I came back I would ride on one.

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I took pictures of the phenomenal flower baskets on the street corners while Ness rolled her eyes. “YOU DO NOT APPRECIATE YOUR FOLIAGE!”

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And we posed in front of a big metal crab structure that had succulents planted in its body area. I love how it looks like the crab is attacking us. Also note the matching shirts.

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My favorite thing that day was the aquarium. It’s a small aquarium but it’s a not-for-profit that helps maintain the health of the bay area so I was delighted to support them and see some fishies in the process. I got to pet some rays (yay!) and a sea cucumber which I had never touched (slimy! squishy! yay!):

sea-cucumber

but the coolest part was by far the shark tank. You walked through a tunnel in the middle of the tank and it had some really cool sea creatures in it. In addition to having rays (I love rays) it had a shark that looked like a leopard and a shark with barbs down its back. I called that the toothback shark. I don’t know what its real name is, but toothback shark is perfectly descriptive. The toothback shark looked like it was swimming around 400 million years ago and decided, “Yeah, I think I got this exactly how I want this. I’m done with evolving. I’m good.” And that’s how he’s been, completely unchanged since forever.

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I made a little animated gif so you can appreciate the awesomeness in motion. I could have stayed in that tunnel all day.

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The next day Ness took me sight-seeing to places of interest in her life. We went to the Police Academy where she trained:

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And the top of the hill they would make her run where people were taking pictures of the view. I found that extremely funny due to the fact that we were surrounded by cloud and you couldn’t see anything but people were taking pictures regardless.

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I guess I drank the tourist Kool-Aid because shortly after I had to take a picture myself. Damn you, FOMO! Damn you straight to hell!

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We drove past her high school where I found mirth in this sign:

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And we spent the afternoon at a Zucchini Festival.

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It was only vaguely related to zucchinis in any way. It was predominantly the fried-bad-things-for-you festival.

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If it could be fried, chances are it was there.

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There was also a booth entirely comprised of inflatable aliens:

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Some kind of hamster-ball-in-water thing that the kids were loving:

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And a person selling spinny rainbow garden decorations. I couldn’t stop looking at them. So many colors… and spinning… I was mesmerized.

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rainbow-spinnies

On a stage off to the side were various acts performing throughout the day and when we got there it was a pretty damn good Elvis impersonator. He was great. Many women thought so as well. I am not joking, they were lined up at the stage swooning. It was intense.

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There were people selling all manner of items – jewelry and useful home appliances, all kinds of things. I bought The Moomins some local honey made with bee pollen. One of the booths was to help shelter animals so I totally donated to that. There was a dog at that booth and people were putting dollar bills in its collar like it was a stripper, which I found amusing. I put it in the jar myself. Keeping it classy here, people.

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Of course I spent most of my time in the petting zoo hanging with the goats. There was an enormous paddock with dwarf goats hanging out and you could feed them. I took a photo of this couple who were just sitting with a stranger goat. It was looking at the woman’s iPhone like it was helping her pick out photos. I loved it.

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There was a super-pregnant little lady goat. I made sure she got most of my food.

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And in one corner of the giant park was… a small table with zucchinis on them. There are the zucchinis for the Zucchini Festival. Look at them. There they are.

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Shortly after that I got on a plane and took the red-eye back to work. I will go back at some point and hang out with Ness again. (And Gizzy. Who are we kidding, almost entirely to see Gizzy.)

I went to Disney’s Realm of Thaumaturgy! Part 2 of 2.

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

Parades! I love parades. For a lazy person such as myself they are a thing of beauty. YOU sit still, and THEY walk past you. I always feel like a debauched Roman lord when I watch a parade. “Yes, yes, go by with your instruments and dancers and entertain me en route. I shall sit here and wave if so inclined.” Since the Disney people have all the money ever in the world they put on a helluva parade, I can tell you. The first one I saw was the 3:00 Festival of Fantasy parade. I got there early and staked out a good spot on the curb. First the Grand Marshalls went by. It was a family and a newlywed couple riding in an oldey-timey car.

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And then there were dancers with Belle and the Beast behind them. I have to say, the picking of the floats and what’s on them got weirder and more arbitrary as they went on, almost as if the parade organizers had walked into an enormous warehouse and cobbled together floats from pre-existing bits of other floats. You’ll see what I mean. So first, Beauty and the Beast.

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On the same float was Cinderella, the sisters from Frozen and the two main characters from The Princess and The Frog.

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Following that was an elaborate float for Tangled, the Rapunzel movie. Which doesn’t make any sense. Tangled came out four years ago and earned $600 million. Frozen came out last year and brought in 1.2 BILLION. People are obsessed with it. I hear that damn “Let It Go” song everywhere I go (really, Korean Grocery Store? Twice? Is that necessary?). Frozen is just a part of a float shared by four movies and Tangled gets its own entire float. And to make a float for Frozen is easy as hell. It’s all about snow and ice which is nice and non-specific. Take a pre-existing float, paint it blue with snowflakes, hang icicles from every horizontal surface and have it blow powdery stuff that resembles snow. I mean, I’m not implying that any float Disney would build would be easy, but that is infinitely less complicated than most.

So, the Tangled float. Loved it. Men were riding giant swinging axes:

rapunzel-swinging

And on the back was an animatronic goat chewing its cud and turning its head from side to side. He was my favorite.

rapunzel-goat

Right behind that was The Little Mermaid float which was unbelievable. Each float was preceded by dancing people in costumes and the ones for The Little Mermaid looked like they came directly from Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (a movie about Australian drag queens). I loved these costumes.

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And then the float itself. Wowsers. Everything on it moved – the fish doing conga lines, the starfish, the guy at top, Sebastian. The rear of the float blew bubbles. I was so impressed.

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After that came the Peter Pan float which I was not too blown away by, but I’ve never seen the movie so I imagine it was more impactful to someone who has reference. Loved the glittery rainbow though. I want that in my house. Riding behind Tinkerbell was a huge mechanized crocodile making a loud ticking noise. I thought that was due to faulty construction, but Snorth informed me when I got home that the crocodile swallows a clock in the movie and it’s supposed to tick. Good to know.

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I saw the float coming up next and was like, why is the girl from Brave riding a giant plaid cannon? I was wrong. She’s riding a giant plaid BAGPIPE. New goal in life: ride a giant plaid bagpipe. But not while wearing a full-length crushed velvet dress and twenty pound wig in 90-degree weather. Skip that part. Keep the riding-the-bagpipe part only.

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Then there was the Sleeping Beauty float. Wisely, since the movie with Angelina Jolie just came into theaters, the focus was on Maleficent. I didn’t even see the woman dressed at Sleeping Beauty walk by. It was led by the three fairies. Here’s something I can’t figure out. They were wearing hoop skirts and gliding along on some kind of wheeled platform hidden under their skirts, but you could see their hands, so how did they control it? Was it like a Segway and they used their feet? Or was it being remote-controlled by someone off-site? If you know the answer to this I would greatly appreciate it. Chasing the fairies were men dressed like extras from a Cirque du Soleil production walking on stilts and flapping big purple wings.

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The Maleficient float was actually a giant fire-breathing dragon. It looked like something directly from Burning Man. You could see the man controlling it (he’s sitting in the neck area) and there were all these visible cogs and cranks. It definitely was a (pleasant) departure from the other, more polished floats.

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Here’s where things start to get weird. The Pinocchio float comes by with the bubble ribbon dancers. Okay. Haven’t seen that film in over twenty years so maybe bubbles and ribbons play a big role.

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The finish to the parade is Mickey and Minnie being led by the Katy Perry Dancers! That’s what I called them anyway.

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Seriously. Look at these pictures of Katy Perry. Its spot-on.

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The Mouse Couple was riding on a float covered in the ballet-dancing hippos from Fantasia. But no other references to Fantasia, just the hippos (and maybe an ostrich from the same scene). This was the float that felt especially like “Quick, make a float for Mickey! Hippos! Great! That’ll work!”

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Since I figured I would most likely never return to the Magic Kingdom I wanted to stick around for the Electric Parade and the fireworks, but I didn’t know what to do with myself for most of the day. I went to Belle’s castle and did the interactive tour which was clearly meant for little kids, but I tried to not resemble a creeper as much as is possible when you’re in the midst of a group of five-year-olds alone with no children in tow. I stood in line for what I thought was a boat ride through Ariel the mermaid’s cave dwelling but it ended up being for pictures with Ariel, so I quickly snuck out of there, but not before getting some pics of the glass nudibranch light fixtures.

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I eventually wandered back in Adventureland and opted to go to The Enchanted Tiki Room. Holy Moses. If you have ever wondered what it would be like to live in the 1960s, fret no more, it can be achieved in The Enchanted Tiki Room. The second it ended I walked back around to the front to go again. The second time around I imagined myself holding a sweaty glass filled with Midori and pineapple juice and dressed like a character in Mad Men. It totally worked. It really does transport you. I highly recommend it but a warning: this was the least culturally-sensitive thing I saw while I was there. I flinched numerous times during the experience. Just something to be aware of. RAY. CIST.

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As I sauntered back through Frontierland to get to Main Street where the Electric Parade happened, I saw the moochie egret again. It was like four hours later and he was still there, moochin’.

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The Electric Parade was super-cool. Not only did I feel like a Roman emperor, because of all the cool lights I felt like a futuristic Roman emperor. The kids around me went absolutely crazy, screaming and pointing and dancing wildly. Normally I’m quite the curmudgeon and I would have been all GET OFF MY LAWN about it, but it was so sweet to see and this is their special place, not mine, so I let them accidentally kick and step on my fingers. This was the only remotely good picture I got because darkness and movement is not my camera’s strong suit, but there are a million and one videos of the actual parade for you to watch on youtube if you want to see the whole thing.

electric-parade1

The fireworks were meh. I realized that they can’t have a fourth of July-style show every night, but I left about five minutes in and headed back to the hotel. I craved the embrace of air conditioning. I feel like I got a sense of the place. If I go back to Orlando I will go to Epcot or the Kennedy Space Center. Momma needs more mental stimulation in her theme parks.

Other cool stuff I saw at the Magic Kingdom:

A lampworked clear glass model of Cinderella’s castle.

glass-castle

Gaston’s restaurant. I sing bits of Gaston’s song from Beauty and the Beast all the time (“I USE ANTLERS IN ALL OF MY DECORATING!!!”) and it made me happy to see he had a restaurant. (Also, “AND EV’RY LAST INCH OF ME’S COVERED WITH HAIR!!!”)

gastons

The mosaics in Cinderella’s castle telling her story. They are spectacular.

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The Crystal Pavilion in Frontierland. It was an expensive eating establishment so I didn’t go in, but it looked gorgeous from the outside.

crystal-pavillion crystal-pavillion-roof

And of course, I saw two beasties and got very excited. One, a lizard with a red flap on his chin. He waved it at me.

lizard

And a big white ibis that was walking around the waterways.

ibis1

I went to Disney’s Realm of Thaumaturgy! Part 1 of 2.

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

Oh lordy, my last few weeks of work was the complete absence of awesome. I didn’t walk into my apartment before 12:05 at night any night this past week, Saturday and Sunday included. I was miserable and exhausted. Then I was told I would have to fly to Florida with the team to build the pitch deck for them. The meeting would be in Orlando. Now, a bunch of years back I had to fly to a conference in Orlando that I was told was on or adjacent to the Disney property and I got to see not a damn thing while I was there. I blogged about my regret. I would not allow this to occur again. So when it was brought to my attention that I had to go on this epic journey, I quietly informed my boss that I had never been to Disney World and gosh, the meeting ends at 11:00 a.m. and did I have to fly back immediately or could I maybe perhaps kinda sorta stick around all day and then fly home on the red-eye? And I made this face. My boss, who is a lovely and kind mistress, not only agreed to let me stay, she got me an additional night in the hotel so I could fly back Tuesday morning. Seriously, she’s a good woman. Then I had a meeting with my co-workers to discuss which theme park I should go to. It was agreed that I would be best-suited for Epcot (SCIENCE!), but since it was my first time there I insisted that I go to Disney’s original creation. I promptly got a ticket for one day of revelry at the Magic Kingdom ($105.00) and suddenly I wasn’t so sad about my poopy work schedule. The meeting happened, it went great, everyone else got on their planes and I went back to the room to change from tasteful meeting garb into the only white t-shirt I own and get my camera. First, let me start with the fact that we stayed in a hotel that was part of the airport. You might think that would be awful. You would be wrong. The airport/hotel was a beautiful atrium with palm trees and fountains.

airport1 airport3

Allow me to introduce you to the joy of staying in an airport hotel. When I was leaving I had a morning flight. I am not a morning person. I woke up an hour and a half before my flight was scheduled to leave, got dressed, collected my bags, went downstairs and checked into Delta because the Delta counter was across from the elevators. That’s it. There’s no “We gotta leave early because what if there’s an accident on the highway and traffic and etc.” It simplifies the whole process. I am a convert now. Back to Magic Kingdom. I changed my shirt, got my camera and happily went over to the concierge’s desk. “I want to go to the Magic Kingdom now please,” I said. “Great,” the concierge said. “Where did you park your car?” “I flew here. I don’t have a car,” I responded. “Well,” he said, “You can take mass transit which will cost about $75 each way (!) or you can rent a car for about $40.” I have never rented a car. I have stood next to Cricket while he has rented cars and ridden in said cars, but I have never done it on my own. I’m an adult, I can handle this, I thought to myself. I shall rent a car and drive to Disney World. So I did. I rented a jaunty red compact Toyota with absolutely no pick-up which made me the least-favorite driver every time I merged onto a highway. I got to Disney World and then once I was on the property I drove and drove and drove until I got to the Magic Kingdom parking lot. I was then presented with the choice of parking in Heroes or Villains. I was like are you kidding me? I’m parking in Hades or Ursula, no discussion. I got there and was directed to park in… Zurg. Who the eff is Zurg? I want to park in not-Zurg! But Jafar was full and there was no Hades or Ursula options, so Zurg it was.

parking-lot1 parking-lot2

I took the tram from the parking lot to what I thought was the gate. I was incorrect. I now had to take a monorail to get to the actual park. I felt like this was my Waiting for Godot. I would travel trying to get to the Magic Kingdom and never arrive. But eventually I did arrive, got off the monorail and was immediately hit in the face with the smell of jalapeños. Which seemed profoundly odd to me. That seems like a weird choice of odor to greet your visitors with. In front of me was Main Street and “When You Wish Upon A Star” was playing which caused me to feel feelings and I’m not gonna lie, I got choked up. Caught a little childhood memory in my throat there.

entrance1 entrance2 castle1

I’m not a big amusement park ride aficionado, so I planned to walk around the sections of the kingdom (Main Street, Frontierland, Liberty Square, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland and Adventureland) and see the architecture and the surrounding design elements. I loved the attention to detail. Not only was the exterior of Main Street well-done, a great amount of care was put into the interior elements of all the buildings.

main-street  main-street-interior

There was a brass band playing in the middle of the road and their jazzy rendition of “Under the Sea” is fantastic.

http://youtu.be/Pjq1SHETs2A

I realized shortly after arrival I did not have sunblock and I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but Orlando is located directly under the surface of the sun. It’s a hot swampland and I was going to roast if I didn’t do something soon. I zipped into a gift shop (one of several thousand billion I saw on the premises that day) and purchased the hat with the biggest brim. Then I wore it all day. If you happened to see me at any point, this is what I looked like.

goofy-headshot

Here’s the best part: anywhere else in the world I would be mocked for sporting such an idiotic headwear, but I was by far one of the least-silly-looking people walking around. There were people wearing the pointy wizard’s hat that Mickey rocks in Fantasia, for crying out loud. I was at the mild end of the spectrum. After I examined all the buildings on Main Street I found myself in Frontierland which is a hodge-podge of the Wild West and a bit of N’Awlins and some other stuff, it’s definitely America in the 1800s, but the precise location is vague. There’s a fully functional Louisiana steam paddleboat on a river, people. But if you know anything about me you will not be surprised to find out that my favorite thing in Frontierland was… an egret trying to mooch food from visitors. This guy was fearless. I walked right up to him. He did not care.

egret1 egret2

After I sauntered through Frontierland I entered Tomorrowland. I think this is my favorite of the kingdoms because it featured several of my most cherished Disney/Pixar characters.

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And all the windows were hexagons. My favorite polygon. If the future is all about hexagonal windows, I’m in.

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And is that a Shakespeare pun? Delightful.

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I was starving by this point so I decided to get some lunch. That was a mistake. In Tomorrowland was a hot dog stand and I got the special. It seemed harmless enough and the girl who worked behind the counter could not have been nicer (from Rochester, NY, just moved there, fresh out of college). I got a hot dog with bacon, lettuce, tomato and a splash of ranch dressing on it. For like seven bucks. And it was… not great. Not bad, but elementary-school cafeteria-level cuisine. About an hour after that I walked past a stand selling chocolate-covered frozen bananas and as an homage to the show Arrested Development I got a banana. That, too, was expensive and sucky. I spoke to people when I got back and it was the consensus that the fancy restaurants where it costs about forty dollars per person and you need a reservation to get in are good, but the street vendors leave much to be desired. I had no intention of waiting for a fancy meal, but I saw families bringing in their own food and drink and I think that was a smart way to go. If they let you bring in sandwiches and juice, you should do that. Spend your money on a handheld fan that squirts water simultaneously, or a lighty-uppy spinny pointless thing for night-time (I wanted one but I restrained myself).

Since I’m not a big fan of rides (I tend to get motion-sickness and no one enjoys that) I was told to go on “It’s A Small World” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” and to visit Belle’s castle. I walked past “Pirates” and saw this:

wait-time

And proceeded to keep right on walking. Did I mention it was a 90-degree muggy sunny pit of despair that day? I was not going to stand in line for over an hour for a ride that was two minutes long. That’s the benefit of not being a fan of any of this – if there was a line for something, I just shrugged and went to something else. It’s all the same to me. Luckily it was only a 35-minute wait to get onto a boat for “Small World” and a large portion of the waiting was done in an air-conditioned area. If you were worried that “Small World” had changed in any way since the last time you rode on it, rest assured it has not.

its-a-small-world1 its-a-small-world2

I got my own row in the the boat and watched the animatronic ethnically-one-note children sing the song and shimmy and wiggle and while the PC part of me was like, “I’m a wee bit uncomfortable,” the theater-tech part of me was enjoying the hell out of it. If I hadn’t had to wait thirty-five minutes I would have gone on it again. Disney is known for being not particularly sensitive to the many cultures of people of this world, and the best part of the park to truly appreciate this complete disregard is in Adventureland. Or, as I liked to call it, “Ehhhh, just put all the brown people over here. African, Indigenous Australian, Native Alaskan – who cares. And throw some themes of cannibalism in there too, it’s not quite offensive enough.”

adventureland-sign

Now I’m at a bit of an disadvantage here because I grew up with an art historian mother who collects sub-Saharan African art. That means I know exactly what it looks like, which meant I knew exactly when the Disney people screwed it up. For example there was a store called “Zanzibar” (an island off of the coast of Tanzania) where they were selling items from South Africa (nope, look at a map), including ostrich eggs that had Costa-Rican frogs painted on them (really?) and what appeared to be Guatemalan bracelets (I give up). It was here in Adventureland that I figured out why every so often I would get a massive whiff of jalepeño. There are phenomenal plants and gardens all over the park:

jalapeno-foliage foliage

And one of the plants decided it was mating season. In the process it got all musky and libidinous and the scent it was putting out was very green-peppery and chlorophilly. If anyone hears about a creepy woman walking completely alone through the park sniffing various plants while wearing a Goofy hat, that’s me.

Next: the rest of my day-long excursion.