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Posts Tagged ‘Cyprus’

Happy Holidays. I hope you had a (insert hyperbole here) year. Wait, you say, isn’t the time to give season greetings past?!?! It’s well into 2013 and we have better things to do.

To that I say, this letter has been strategically timed to arrive at the exact moment you least want it but most need it. This has nothing to do with procrastination nor laziness on my part. All part of the plan. Enough pleasantries.

Seven years ago (2006) the first Christmas letter snuck under your tree (mistletoe?) and regaled all that would listen with a smug, self-centered yet snarky update of my year. The holiday greeting card equivalent of fruitcake. No one wants it, but everyone keeps looking at it wondering who will be the first to take a bite. The subsequent four years didn’t get any better. If anything, I baked a fruitier cake with each passing year. Last year I took a sabbatical (approved word for lazy). This year will be different. It has to be. Fruitcake goes bad eventually.

Let’s journey together and reminisce about (a robust) 2012. I alphabetized this letter so it would be easier to skip ahead to letter Z and get back to your regularly scheduled program. I added some color to make the blurbs more festive. They need it.

Arch – As in the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. I attended an extravagant wedding in Biehle, Missouri (1-1/2 hours south of St. Louis). The wedding combined both Catholic and Hindu traditions into one unique (but long!) ceremony. Then a bottomless bar and food at the family ‘house’ (with two lakes, woods, a tree fort, a tractor museum, a train for kids and a ‘gazebo’ – read: small house overlooking a lake) made for a fine reception. Oh and I did go to the top of the Gateway Arch on the way to the airport.

Bangkok – I keep finding myself here. What to do? Ascend to the rooftop bars and restaurants (Sirocco, Above 11, Long Table and more) for breathtaking city views, food and drink? Okay. Cruise on the Chao Praya river, gliding past Wat Arun, the Grand Palace and more temples while feasting buffet-style, snapping blurry photos and dancing? Check. A foot massage? Why not. Eat the delicious and spicy food – whether on the street or in a restaurant? Yeah. Hit the Chatuchak Weekend Market and get lost among the 5,000 stalls and shops? Sure. Try a VIP movie experience of Argo? You’re welcome, Ben. Hoist pints of Singha and Chang beers? Done. And done.

Cabins – A cabin needs a name. I gravitated to an assortment of cabins this year. Whether it overlooked the Columbia River Gorge (The Cabin in Mosier), or nestled two miles into the woods of Northern Virginia (Myron Glaser Cabin), or was replete with Christmas tree and decorations only minutes drive from Washington’s White Pass Ski Resort (Mountain Mist Chalet), or kept the Northern California summer nights and frogs at bay (Manzanita Cabin), I was there.

DerechoLike a low blow to the groin, the storm known as a derecho hit Washington, D.C. in June with furious determination. Not even Hurricane Sandy matched its destructive force (I speak only of DC). Crazy winds. Downed trees. Crushed cars. Flying trash cans. That type of day.

Extra Innings – For those in the know (by now…maybe you?), I am questing to see a baseball game in every Major League ballpark. Marlins Park (Miami), Citi Field (New York), O.2 Coliseum (Oakland) and AT&T Park (San Francisco) all claimed my cash and attention this year. Only nine stadiums left.

FireflyDover, Delaware gave us the first annual Firefly Music Festival in July. With headliners like Jack White, The Killers and The Black Keys, this had a fierce cacophony of rock and roll that a seven nation army couldn’t hold back. Three days of bands, beer, food and camping. And after a short respite to the beach to re-charge, more bands and beer.

Goals (Random) – I was bored one day. Hard to imagine, but so. I concocted a plan to do a new ‘random goal’ each month. I went 5-2 (success/failure) in the seven months I did it. Then the ideas dried up and I woke as if from a dream…with a tattoo of a wiener dog on my ankle. Or was that just a real wiener dog nosing my ankle to go outside and stop messing around? See the Goals.

Halloumi – Enter any restaurant in Cyprus and chances are you will find fried cheese (halloumi) on the menu. Order it. That’s the best advice I can give you. Besides gorging on cheese, I explored the beaches of Larnaca and Limassol and wandered the city of Nicosia with the help of a local. I avoided crossing into the Turkish side of the country because I feared there would be no halloumi.

Infiltrator – Let’s call my sister an ‘infiltrator’ after visiting DC for the first time in May. I made her ride the Capital Bikeshare bikes all over the city and tag along to two softball games. We visited many places and other things happened. It ended well. She survived to tell the tale. I hope.

Jazz (All That)A weekend in New York should include a baseball game, a jazz concert, more live music, bar crawling, and a wander about to see such sights as the Empire State Building, the new 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero, and Central Park. Also, don’t forget to meander the warrens and streets of Chelsea, Brooklyn, SoHo and Midtown. Eat as much as possible. Maybe some Italian? Or Korean? Or Thai? Doesn’t matter, just eat it and enjoy.

Kayaking – For one week I learned how to white water kayak (in the middle of nowhere Northern California). Our river time was on the Klamath River, but the Otter Bar Lodge Kayak School rested next to the Salmon River. After a long day on the river, there was time to snorkel with the grown and fingerling salmon, cliff jump from dizzying heights, eat amazing food, imbibe homemade margaritas and play Settlers of Catan. Then back on the water. No time to rest.

ListsEvery year I make a bunch of lists to commemorate my best in movies, books, sports and music. They are popular with the ‘me’ set. You can read them too, but it’s better if you just get this letter over and do something fun.

Miami – I hopped down to South Beach in Miami for a weekend. Mission: See a baseball game in the Marlins’ new stadium, eat lots of Cuban food and generally make a nuisance of myself. What happens in South Beach, stays in Vegas…oops, that’s not right…let’s just say, I succeeded.

No more! – Is this never-ending Christmas letter finished yet? Nope. Twelve letters in the alphabet to go…brace yourself.

One Day HikeA minor hike done in a single day. Okay, it’s actually 50 kilometers (or 31.1 miles), but who’s complaining? I finished this mostly flat trek in just over 9 hours. Intact. Yet not without pain.

Paris (Gay) – Cue traditional French music…opening scene: an American (me) climbing the Eiffel Tower. Wandering aimlessly in the maze that is the Louvre. Walking about the city, capturing photographic evidence of the Arc de Triomphe and other famous landmarks. Floating gracefully down the Seine river (boat included).  Nibbling $4 macaroons and chewing cheese and butter baguettes. Taking in the bustle and toy sailboats of the Jardin de Luxembourg. Closing scene: a bewildered American in a wine and cheese infused stupor, slumped at a sidewalk café, never to leave. Music fades…

Quad biking – My work has a hard time avoiding the Lukenya Getaway for meetings. It’s secluded, and far outside of the city limits of Nairobi, Kenya. There are actual wild animals roaming around – giraffes, wildebeests, zebras, gazelles and more – that you can see as you jog or walk down the dirt roads nearby. One day we took some quad bikes for a spin in the bush. At least one person (not me) crashed into a tree…

Running – My favorite use of running is to escape a mother bear protecting its cub. My second favorite use is to not run at all. Sadly, I didn’t get to use it for either purpose this year. I did run the Semper Fi 5K and a number of other 5Ks on my own. I also tried running more in general (to my chagrin), often running along the National Mall to the Lincoln Memorial. The beauty of the Mall at night makes it hard to complain. But I will.

Sommelier – I had quite a time gallivanting about for tastings and tours at wineries in California, Washington and Oregon. I toured Napa Valley for the first time, hitting such wineries as: Rutherford Ranch Winery, V. Sattui Winery, Franciscan Oakville Estates and Andretti Winery before hopping on the ferry back to San Francisco. I also hit a few wineries in Washington state near Leavenworth: Wedge Mountain Winery, Cascadia Winery and Icicle Ridge Winery.

Tea (Improper) – In England, I improperly raised my pinky finger while drinking a spot of tea. The Brits gave me a wide berth. Yet when I wasn’t drinking tea, I jaunted about London just before the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee (celebrating 60 years as the Queen!) started. I also spent some time in the (robust) towns of Northampton and Woking, enjoying such places as the Racecourse and the War of the Worlds statue.

UDub (Alumni) – I played three sports with our University of Washington Alumni – DC chapter in the Capital Alumni Network (CAN). Flag football, volleyball and softball. Our flag football team did well, advancing to the third round of the playoffs. Our volleyball team did okay but with our softball team – let’s just say, we had fun. I was also voted to be the ‘Sports Chair’ on our DC Alumni chapter board. We also played volleyball during spring, summer AND fall with the Metro Sports League. I did not receive any varsity letters…sniff.

Victory (Sweet) – The Seattle Seahawks had quite a year. For the first time since I moved to Washington, D.C., I was able to attend more than one game. I saw three games at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. They won all three, including a terrific beat down of the eventual Super Bowl losers, San Francisco 49ers (42-13). I left hoarse, while riding my high horse. 

Whirlyball – A weekend trip to Toronto to honor the dearly departed from bachelorhood (also known as a stag party in Canadian parlance) saw four rousing rounds of whirlyball (like lacrosse but on bumper cars – look it up), Japanese izakaya and a jovial amount of adult beverages. Back to whirlyball…my team won all four rounds!

XenophileI travel a fair bit (if you skipped to end of this letter, just take my word for it) and mostly I enjoy it. Here are some stats from 2012: Countries visited = 6. US states visited = 9. Flight segments =35. Airports =21. Time away from home – 2-1/2 months (roughly). Cavity searches = 0.

YosemiteCar camping is all the rage. Just don’t do it in Yosemite National Park. The Park Rangers will find you. And shine the bright light of reality in your face. And then boot you from the park. After spending a night in my car (outside the park), I persisted the next morning and hiked the High Sierra Loop Trail, where I took magical photos of Vernal and Nevada falls, as well as Half Dome, Liberty Cap and anything else that got in my way. Magical in the robustest sense of the word. 

ZymurgyI don’t always drink beer, but when I do I prefer…wait a second…I do always drink beer! Except when at a winery. Or in Paris. This year I enjoyed many types of beer at many places. For example, at the first Living Social Beer Fest in DC. All you can drink in three hours from twenty-five breweries (each offering 2-3 selections). I also visited the following breweries: Deschutes (OR), Lost Coast (CA), 21st Amendment (CA), Triple Rock (CA) and Magnolia (CA). Burp.

End transmission.

Bonus: My Favorite Blog Posts of the Year (so you can re-read them, of course)

  1. Paris in Photos and Other Moveable Feasts 
  2. Yosemite National Park Survival Tips
  3. Keep on Food Truckin’
  4. 25 for May: Firsts (In Hindsight)
  5. D.C., Which Photographs Well
  6. Reflections, and Other Reasons Mom Washed Out My Mouth With Soap

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Whenever I eat while traveling (a daily occurrence), I feel like I should take photos of the various foods I try.

Why? Well, when I see travel and foodie shows that flaunt their delicious and mouth-watering images like its some kind of food porn, I want to join them.

Yet, despite this, I am always somewhat embarrassed to take the actual photos. I look around to make sure no one is watching (and judging me). Some people are shameless and snap those tasty shots without thought. But not me, I always try for sly and avoid eye contact with anyone in my vicinity at all cost. The flash always gives me away.

Here is a sampling of some of my poor quality, badly lit, guiltily taken food photos over the years that represent categories of sustenance that will surely cause a heart attack. I also threw in some beer and wine shots. Because I can.

I am not responsible for any salivating or queasiness that may result.

Squid ink pasta in Venice

A lunch repast in rural Mali

Mofongo in the Dominican Republic

Okonomiyaki in Japan

Sliders in Washington, D.C.

Cocoa beans in Zanzibar

El Presidente in Dominican Republic

Fish amok in Cambodia

Enjoying a ballgame

Camping with a freeze dried ice cream sandwich

In N Out burger and fries in LA - animal style!

Lots of wine in South Africa

Chicken mole in Mexico

A Jucy Lucy in Minneapolis

Red wine in Northern Virginia

Fuju in Tokyo

Frites drowning in mayonnaise in Amsterdam

Zingerman sandwich in Ann Arbor

Kobe beef in Kobe

Cheese and beer in Seattle

Nasty fruit in Cyprus

Wedding cake in Washington, D.C. (yes, it is)

Ostrich meat balls in Kenya

Bandeja paisa in Colombia

Goose Island beer in Chicago

Burp.

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Let’s be clear, this letter is all about me, me, me. There’s no need to deny it or pretend otherwise. This is my chance to brag about what I’ve done, what I know, and how awesome I truly am. It’s where I yell “LOOK MA!” as I hit that bulging hornet’s nest with a big stick. In other words, I speak before I think. And I never expect to get stung.

But since this is after all, the season of giving, I’m willing to cut you in on my conceit. At least once a year, I’m willing to take the focus slightly off me, and give you some attention as well. I’m sure you deserve it. So if you send me your ‘me, me, me’ letters, I will read them (as far as you know). I’m also willing to go a step further and thank you for your attention now, even if, deservedly, it lasts but briefly. So, I am humbled by those that read every word of this letter, grateful to those that skim through it (looking for juicy parts), and wholly forgiving of those that press delete before opening it (even though they won’t know it). Let’s get started.

2009 was a year. Profound. But what type of year was it?

Was it an up year? Or a down year?

Was it a smack you in the face year? Was it a lay quietly in your snuggie in front of the TV year? Was it a throw down your top and drive off into the sunset year?

Did it make you laugh? Did you make you cry? Did it make you sing karaoke against your will? Did it throw caution to the wind? Did it excel in every way?

Who cares. 2009 was what it was. Don’t over think it. Let’s pause here to look at a few of the non-required highlights.

Breweries – Let’s all shout an ode to beer, the joyous liquid. In my questionable wisdom, I made a point to check out a barrel-full of beer making places. In Maryland, the District of Columbia, Ohio, Michigan and Washington. The real question is, why am I writing this drivel instead of sitting at the local brewpub? Hmmm, this letter may end up shorter than usual…see ya!

London, England – Okay, I’m still here. You lucked out. I’ve been to London a number of times over the past few years, but this was the first time I’ve stayed on the East side, in the Shoreditch district. Nearby is Brick Lane, with its overabundance of tasty Bengali Indian cuisine and curry restaurants. Conveniently, the 2nd Annual Stag & Dagger music festival thumped on the first night we arrived. 100 bands in 20 venues, all within spitting distance of the hotel. Of course, we also had to lay waste to messy shwarmas and salt beef bagels (liberally slathered in sinus clearing mustard) sold in the late night walk-up stands. And we drank caipirinha from fishbowls for good measure. Somehow we also managed to visit the Westminster Abbey and Winston Churchill’s Cabinet War Room (the underground command bunkers during World War II).

Baseball – In my quest to see a baseball game in every Major League stadium, I added three new stadiums in 2009, in Cincinnati, Detroit and Cleveland. Each stadium had its own charm (like gigantic tiger statues in Comerica Park). In two of the games my team, the Seattle Mariners, lost badly. Crap. The M’s lone highlight was Ken Griffey, Jr jacking a solo homerun. Also on the agenda was watching the ground crew making the field playable after a rain delay, feasting on hot dogs, and other impressive things. Next year…maybe a visit to Chicago?

Leavenworth (Washington state, USA) – It’s a small Bavarian village on the other side of the Cascades. A good place to enjoy Oktoberfest, a bit of bratwurst, the fall foliage, and visit a few vineyards and wine tasting rooms.

Books – Instead of this letter, please read “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” by Stieg Larsson and “Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell.

Paphos, Cyprus – First, rent a car in Larnaca. Second, learn to drive on the wrong (left) side of the road. Third, enjoy. We took a leisurely drive from Larnaca to Paphos, through a few quaint villages along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. We sat on the waterfront and enjoyed a lunch infused with seafood and beer. Then we drove around with no particular destination and no goal. Scenic and refreshing.

Icicle Ridge Winery – Not to be outdone by its sudsier cousin (our good friend beer), I also managed to raise my pinky finger during tastings at 13 different wineries in Northern Virginia and Washington state. Yes, that’s right. I may now qualify as something of an expert wino, even though I retained none of the possible knowledge that I could have attained. Icicle Ridge Winery (WA) was the best of the lot, with a free tasting (11 wines!) and a great setting. Also good were Village Winery and Vineyards (VA) and Chrysalis Vineyards (VA).

Music – I rocked out to a load of concerts (18), listened to a few dozen new albums and used my airline miles to buy a new iPod Touch to keep them all at my fingertips. Of the concerts, I enjoyed Green Day and Chris Cornell. The Barack Obama inauguration concert with a ‘yes we can’ variety of artists on the National Mall was also worth noting. Garth Brooks played three songs and proved why he is still a great entertainer. Of the albums, I enjoyed the Yeah Yeah Yeahs ‘It’s Blitz! and Pearl Jam ‘Backspacer’.

Road Trip (Ohio and Michigan, USA) – Traveling a hefty 2,197 miles through the states of Ohio and Michigan, with your wiener dog as a co-pilot, while blaring CDs over and over, is a fine way to spend a week or so. I managed to attend some ball games, nosh good food, sip some beer, take in a few sights and generally make a nuisance of myself. Especially interesting were slipping about the University of Michigan campus, gaining potential music knowledge at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (none retained), and sifting sand between my toes along the shore of Lake Michigan.

Hiking – I’ve been missing out on hiking over the past few years, mostly because I’d be off traveling or because I’m just flat lazy. So one of my 2009 New Year’s resolutions was to do more day hikes. And lo! I succeeded! I joined the local Capital Hiking Club and managed to trek about Virginia and Pennsylvania. I also did a hike in Washington making about 12 day hikes in all. A majority of the hikes were along portions of the Appalachian Trail that runs from Maine to Georgia. One day I might have to tackle that whole beast.

US Open Cup Championship (soccer) game (Washington, D.C., USA) – The expansion Major League Soccer team, Seattle Sounders FC, enjoyed a fine first year of existence. They played well, made the playoffs, and broke multiple attendance records. Additionally, all US soccer teams at all levels of play participate in an annual domestic tournament called the US Open Cup. The Sounders advanced to the championship game against DC United and pulled out an incredible victory on DC’s home pitch. We came adorned in blue and green to witness an energetic game and proved that US soccer fans can have a bit of passion for the game. Case in point, over 100 Sounders fans traveled all the way from Seattle to attend the game, while singing songs and shouting like only hooligans can. Oy! Now bring on the World Cup!

Shenandoah National Park (Virginia, USA) – Whether is was camping in the rain or hiking among trillium flowers or standing still to escape notice of that bear or swimming underneath freezing waterfalls or pausing dramatically to allow that rattlesnake to get the heck out of my way or scrambling over rock formations to see the incredible view, I spent a good amount of time in Shenandoah National Park. Thought you should know.

Television – Surprisingly there are quite a number of decent new shows to look out for, including Community and FlashForward. Others to either keep watching or start watching at all cost are:  Fringe, Dexter and Lost.

Truck Bed Sledding – If you think that using a black inner tube or a regular sled are the correct ways to careen crazily downhill, then you are wrong. The actual correct way is to find a cast-off truck bed liner in the woods, pull it to the top of a precipitous drop and then on the count of three, have six or so screaming diehards jump in and hold on for dear life. Sanity and medical insurance not included.

Tower of London (London, England) – The Tower is a sprawling fortress bursting with historical intrigue, death and Beefeaters. It consists of 20 total towers, with the largest, the White Tower as the most famous. Our Beefeater gave us a rousing tour of the grounds and told of horrific beheadings, disappearing young princes whose bodies turned up hundreds of years later in the tower wall, wars, and crazy kings. Basically the history of England could almost be summed up within these walls.

Kruger Park (South Africa) – If you like near death lions, lithely trotting leopards, angrily charging elephants, curious rhinos, trapped in your room bats, baby giraffes extending their necks for food, muddy snorting hippopotamus’, racing zebras, suspicious buffaloes, bashful bushbucks and more impalas then you can shake a stick at, then you’d do well to book a three-day safari through Kruger Park. If you like breathtaking sunrises, curious rock formations, sparse forests, post-wildfire plains, high bluffs with views forever, gigantic baobab trees, dusty scrub brush, flowing rivers, darkness illuminated with spotlights, and an occasional camp or lodge in the distance, then drive around in your white 4-wheel drive for hours on end. If none of this appeals you? All the more for me.

peace and merriment to you and yours

View the Wordle version: http://www.wordle.net/show/wrdl/1507817/2009

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Here are some unfortunate food or drink items I recently attempted to ingest. I wouldn’t even subject my dog* to these awful concoctions:

 

Those sambuca shots – pretty self-explanatory.

That dense ‘chocolate coconut cake’ thing at Ebenezer’s coffee shop – okay, it did look good in the display and I didn’t know there was coconut in it.

That chickenesque deli sandwich in South Africa – what was that? Chalk? Sadly, if that was a chicken, it died in vain.

That mummified ground beef from the freezer – surprisingly, taco seasoning mix cancels out all other potential tastes.

Those Obama cookies – did not try them, but just have to ask, why? No, we can’t.

That “cinnamon flavored” whiskey called Fireball – I probably don’t even need to add a wry comment here.

That Mexican food in Truckee, California – the mole sauce might refer to the burrowing kind.

That ‘snack’ on South Africa Airlines – 98.3% bread, 1.6% meat, .1% sauce. 100% trash bin.

That Verizon Center popcorn during a college basketball game – it might have been leftover packing peanuts from my move to DC 5 years ago.

Cyprus fruit of doom
Cyprus fruit of doom

 

That candied fruit in Cyprus – a new way to puke without being sick. People eat this for dessert? They are better people than me…

 

 

 

 

* My dog has discerning tastes, and enjoys an occasional ripe dish of cat poop tartare garnished with blades of grass. Dessert is a small swath of my bed sheet to clean out the colon.

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