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Posts Tagged ‘England’

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 you visit England, it’s good to have a goal. Maybe you want to get a glimpse of the Queen. Maybe you want to eat a heaping plate of bubble and squeak. Maybe you want to frolic in the fountains of Trafalger Square. Maybe you simply want to get rapped in the cakehole by a bobby brandishing a truncheon after a ruck with a pack of hooligans who have lost the plot. Whatever the goal, make it count. Make it your own.

My goal was to have cream tea. Simple. Elegant. Sophisticated. I failed (sort of). Let’s find out why.

After soaking up the British culture in Newport Pagnell for a week doing work, I hopped on a train to London. The plan: spend a few days, see some places I hadn’t been to, eat some proper British food and down a pint or three.

The first full day was to meet up with friends and explore Hampstead in North London.

Fenton House – after a late lunch off the high street of Hampstead, we peeked into a historic house (turned museum) with a large garden and orchid. The owner had collected harpsichords and clavichords like they were going out of style. Actually they were, because do you even know what a harpsichord is?

The house was also full of paintings and other such things that accumulate in old houses over hundreds of years. A small deck on the top floor overlooked downtown London. The garden and orchid were quite nice for a stroll. Cream tea sightings = 0.

Hampstead Heath – you could call it a massive park full of rolling fields of grass and shrubbery, clear lakes, and walking paths lined with weeping willows. Or you could call it heath. Either way, after cavorting on an oddly fallen tree and using the heathland as my stage for a Julie Andrews (a la The Sound of Music) impression, we spied a singular looking mansion in the distance. Luring us. Beckoning us. Tea or not to tea.

Kenwood House & Estate – a set location for the movie Notting Hill (which is not that impressive unless you like Hugh Grant), this gigantic house is surrounded by more idyllic lawns, pathways and lakes.

The house itself boasts an imperial number of paintings and other things snobby, rich people revel in. Such as ballrooms and candlesticks and beauties in gowns and beasts in ruffled suits. After wandering about the museum part aimlessly; maybe perusing the china and baubles, gazing at the portraits of stuffy, unamused people and admiring the art with snobby aloofness; one could be tempted to visit the garden café on the ground level. Maybe something teaish or creamish will be on offer.

Walking along the outside, you soon come to a stone gateway and stairs. The sign on the inside of the gateway says ‘Flask Walk’. My kind of place. You take the stairs down and then walk to the café and the large, spacious outdoor seating areas. This place must have cream tea. It’s gonna happen!

The café boasted a British line-up of options. I darted between the various refrigerated displays…seeking, searching. I spied a scone and suddenly stopped. Cut in half with jam and some light, frothy cream (not clotted) inside. Arrggghhhh! So close, but not proper cream tea at all! I bought one anyway, cursing under my breath. I ate it but my quest was in shambles. Time to move on.

Rose Hill – it was time to head over for some evening activities and our lengthy walk passed through Rose Hill, with a nice view of the London Zoo and other things. As the evening dusk began to settle, we continued our quest to…

Camden Town – where we learned upon arrival at the first bar that Amy Winehouse was dead. Her house was mere blocks away. We could have walked over. But that just seemed way too depressing, so we headed over to Hawley Arms Pub, where she was a regular, and had a number of pints that totaled more than one. Some may have been in her honor.

Tea requiem – other things happened in London, that’s another story, but my quest for cream tea did come full circle, in a surprising way. As I was waiting in Heathrow Airport to board my flight home to DC, the customer service desk announced my name. I walked up and they proceeded to upgrade me to FIRST CLASS for FREE. Yes, read that again. Because that’s how I roll. With a cheesy grin on my face, I tested all the various doodads and whatchamacallits and entertainment options that make up the 5% of the plane my lavish seat occupied. Then shortly after take off, the flight attendant brought me…wait for it…CREAM TEA! Warm scones, strawberry jam, clotted cream and a spot of tea.

The End

Happy harpsichord

A Fenton rose by any other name...

Fenton House Garden

Apple Orchid

 

London, there it is

Heath 2

Hampstead Heath

That looks like some heath over there

Oops, it fell down

Take a walk on the wild side

Not Cream Tea

View from Rose Hill

Camden Town

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God Save the Queen (Revived)

Update: I spent another week in Newport Pagnell in July and had a chance to take a few photos to replace the ones I lost. I added them below, so enjoy!

With church bells pealing away to the tune of ‘My Country, ‘Tis of Thee’ (or more precisely ‘God Save the Queen’ since the same tune – different words – is England’s national anthem), I strolled through the small village of Newport Pagnell in the borough of Milton Keynes, England. Along the way, I spied a grand church with an ancient graveyard. I spied a peaceful river surrounded by walking paths and weeping willows. I spied curry and Thai food. I spied pubs. And I spied random things. Let’s take a look*, shall we?

Bells of Peter & Paul Parish Church (http://www.newportpagnellbells.co.uk/home) – someone decided that the peals of normal church bells were not sufficient in tiny Newport Pagnell. So in comes a variety of melodies on the hour to entice the common folk to greater things. ‘God Save the Queen’ was the gift the bells gave us during our stay.

 

Parish Church

 

 

 

River Ouzel – two small rivers oozing together, with walking paths, rows of weeping willows, a cemetary and a park all bookending the proceedings. Peaceful.

Duck, duck, goose

 

Weeping willows

 

Aston Martin – back in the 1950’s, Newport Pagnell was the heart of Aston Martin. Its factory, on Tickford Street, churned out all Aston Martin cars until they moved recently. Sadly, I didn’t get to drive a DB5.

Tickford Bridge – built in 1810, it is the only iron bridge left in Britain still carrying main road traffic. While crossing, pause just long enough to take in the silhouette of the Church at sunset.

Graveyard – ancient and moss-covered with the traditional flat front, round top head stones you might see in an old Frankenstein movie.

 

 

 

Indian food – there are by various accounts, around 5-6 Indian restaurants in this small village. That’s a lot of curry and vindaloo. The place we chose to ingest naan was in the middle of an immigration incident. By this, I mean there were six fully riot-gear suited and armed immigration officers in the dining area, concentrating on huge piles of paper and forms, while the owner stood by sweating and pacing. We witnessed no actual arrests. And after all that fuss, the food was just average.

Frog & Nightgown pub – I’m sure the stories behind names of British pubs are rooted in something akin to humor and history, but this name is a classic. What level of drunkenness does it take to visualize a frog with a nightcap and nightgown? Oh wait, you could just look at their sign. This pub is conveniently located within the hotel we stayed at (The Swan Revived). We failed to step lively for the boisterously crowded Pub Quiz night, but did have a more sedate pint on another quiet night.

Frog & Nightgown Pub

 

Of frogs and pints

 

Mini-roundabouts – such a cute white circle, slightly raised, in a normal intersection that acts as the main traffic control system of the downtown streets. I can’t imagine this working too well in the USA.

Such a cute roundabout

 

Newport Pagnell High Street

 

Random stairway to…nowhere – (photo here*) this piece of architectural genius can only be seen to be believed. After a rather unfortunate remodeling venture (one assumes), there remains a small 3 step, carpeted staircase about 1-1/2 feet wide that leads into the wall behind. You could stand in it if you were so inclined. I wasn’t.

Let's hire this architect

 

The Cannon pub – (photo here*) with old school locals welcoming visitors and grinning into their pints, you probably can’t get more British than this. As you sipped your warm, frothy pint the game was to stop staring longingly at the paintings of epic sea battles of British ships of the line, cannons blazing, adorning its back walls. Proper pub, this.

 

* Author’s Note: I dropped my laptop, and as hopes and hard drives were crushed, I lost all the photos I took of this trip. So you get words only, whether you like it or not. Although, I did find some photos on Flickr that can assuage some of the pain.

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(Originally sent via email January 2, 2008)

I trust you had a fantastic year and are just about ready to wrestle this new year, 2008, into submission. I simply ask that you keep your New Year’s resolutions child-friendly. Forget it, no one ever listens anyway.

Once again, I give you exactly what you didn’t want, another biased, self-absorbed Christmas Letter (albeit now after the fact). You can run, you can hide, but why bother? Like a scab, you just have to pick at it. Since you probably have a ridiculously short attention span and more interesting things to do, I have used bold letters and words a 5th grader can follow (no research went into this claim). So here it is, a graphic, untamed sampling of my experience that was the year 2007. No minors allowed.

Butterfly Farm (Georgetown, Malaysia)
Hot and steamy… this is not the opening of a romance novel, it is simply the environment butterflies like to pupate, grow and burst forth from their cocoons. They seem to be quite happy flitting about their flower gardens, babbling brooks and koi ponds, that is until a net flashes from below and they find themselves pinned behind a framed pane of glass in your plastic shopping bag. You just had to ruin it, didn’t you? A writhing pit of large, obsidian scorpions stabbing each other with mammoth stingers is also a good way to enjoy the wonders of nature.

Northern Virginia Wineries (USA)
On two occasions I spent the day touring wineries and quaffing the various offerings. My pretentious wine awards go to:

  • Best winery name: Naked Mountain
  • Best hot tub wine: Moonrise (from Gadino Cellars)
  • Best use of fake guns and fake beards: Civil War Re-enactment (at Gray Ghost winery)
  • Best T-shirt slogan: Drink Naked (from Naked Mountain)
  • Best wine: Mediterranean Cellars’ Sweet Lucia
  • Best documentary: My thrilling, timeless expose of an inchworm’s quest for the meaning of life (42)
  • Best view: Rolling farmlands – everywhere
  • Best Sommelier: Me

Top Songs
The best songs I heard this year…..drum roll please…….. “Bubbly” by Colbie Caillet, “Starts With One” by Shiny Toy Guns, “Time” by Chantal Kreviazuk, “LDN” by Lily Allen, “Love Song” by Sara Bareilles, “Sugar, We’re Goin Down” by Fall Out Boy, and “Champagne From a Straw” by Andrea Corr. If you haven’t heard any of these songs, hmmmmmm – why do I even bother

Cliffs of Bandiagara (Mali)
Intertwined within a dusty, heat drenched cliff face, village ruins (former home of the Dogon people) overlook a tree-scattered landscape that almost touches the Sahara Desert. Climbing up and around narrow paths, ladders, random paintings and dark rooms passing off as homes, you finally reach the town meeting place, a narrow, cave-like hollow that one cannot stand in – so one cannot jump up in anger during the tumultuous town meetings.  No women allowed. Why didn’t corporate America think of this? (well, the first part)

McMenamins Kennedy School (Portland, Oregon, USA)
McMenamins has a tendency to convert old buildings, theaters, schools, frankly whatever they can get their hands on, into brewpubs serving their various beers on tap. The Kennedy School just so happened to have been an elementary school early in its existence. Now it is a busy brewery, restaurant, theater, hotel, art gallery, pub and whatever else they managed to cram into the former classrooms and locker rooms (yes the showers still work). The only thing that’s missing right now is me.

European Champions League Match (London, England)
In an epic match between football clubs from England and Portugal, titan Chelsea (England) took on FC Porto (Portugal) at Stamford Bridge in London. The stadium was electric with blue and fans hoarsely and enthusiastically singing “Blue Flag” and “Blue is the Colour” as Chelsea handed Porto a devastating 2-1 defeat to advance to the Champions league semi-finals against Liverpool. Me, I just tried not to provoke any hooligans. Go Chelsea

Pet Photo Contest (Capital Hill, Washington, D.C.)
My wiener dog became famous for one month during Capital Hill’s Hill Rag annual Pet Photo Contest. He didn’t win anything, but he was pictured under the “Best of the Rest” section, looking so cute carrying an oversized bone. At least I didn’t dress him up in a stupid costume! Those people should get acquainted with the inside of a padded room. You know who you are.

Facebook.com (website)
Oh man, last year I got on MySpace and this year I added Facebook to my repertoire of extreme time-wasting activities. I’ve “superpoked” so many people that I think the police are looking for me.

Fish (Key Largo, Florida)
In the Florida Keys, I saw fish from all angles, inside and out. First, we went to the Fishhouse, a busy little restaurant that served great Mahi-Mahi stuffed with blue crabmeat. Fried Conch, although it sounds interesting, is just not. Then I did four (scuba) dives off French Reef and played with the inquisitive lobsters and tried to tickle the clown fish (apparently they don’t find that very funny – false advertising!)

Planet Earth (DVD)
This 11-part epic mini-series exhibits our little planet through breathtaking cinematography and stunning, never before captured live action. Wait, do I sound like I’m writing the back of the DVD jacket? Crap, well, if you want to see lions kill an elephant, or crystal caves that are off-limits to preserve their beauty (except the film crew and only for this series), or a desperate polar bear try to kill an elephant seal bull (not a good idea really), or the lovely ecosystem that lives in a pile of bat guano the size of your house, then this is the DVD for you.

U.S. and A
Over the last few years, I’ve been traveling to quite of range of countries. This year, I actually took some time to poke around my home country a bit. So I had a look see of Boston (no tea party but plenty of Harvard talent), Atlanta (home of the Braves), the Florida Keys (where else can you get key lime pie on-a-stick?), St. Petersburg (it’s silly to expect much), New York (those damn Yankees want how much for a ticket?), Seattle (still sore from too much sports and coffee), Portland (good for drowning oneself in beer) and Miami (South Beach!).

Canadian Rocky Mountains (Alberta, Canada)
If only to stroll the picturesque Banff in minus 13 (Celsius) weather, to sip hot cocoa at Banff Springs Hotel or to ski much too fast down the Lake Louise ski slopes. Or to be overwhelmed by the imposing blue mountains as the sun begins its descent. Or to spy a bald eagle at dusk making short work of a frozen deer. Or to…but I digress.

Beaches and Tsunamis (Dar es Salaam, Tanzania)
Outside our hotel, south of Dar es Salaam, was a beach granting uninhibited access to the Indian Ocean. With just a 20-minute boat ride, you could land on a small island and stroll up from the cobalt blue water and small patches of coral and park yourself in the sand. Or you can wait out a tsunami warning after an 8.2 earthquake rocked Indonesia. Sadly, it petered out and didn’t wash us all away. Though harder to write about when dead, it probably makes for a more interesting story.

Top Books
The best books I read this year….”The Road” by Cormac McCarthy, “Manhunt: The 12 Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer” by James L. Swanson, “Heat: How to Stop the Planet From Burning” by George Monbiot, “Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die” by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, and  “Guns, Germs and Steel” by Jared Diamond.

Spice Farm (Zanzibar)
If you want to know where nutmeg, cinnamon, peppercorn, cocoa beans, lanolin, vanilla and other spices come from, then your next adventure should be a trek through a spice farm. Smell, taste, touch and guess what each plant grows. Then eat all manner of fruit until the juices can’t help but drip from your chin. If you also want some guy to make hats, ties, bags and jewelry out of banana leaves (you heard me), then my work here is done.

Blogging
Yikes, I started a blog this year. Noooooo! Although it is the last thing the world needs, I feel compelled to infect the unsuspecting masses with my unnecessarily lazy prose. Dark, disturbing and beyond redemption, it can only get worse. Read more: (Myspace link removed – A Random Journey is now my blog which you are on…)

Top Movies
Some of the best movies I saw this year, even if they weren’t all released this year were….”Pan’s Labyrinth”, “The Lives of Others”, “Superbad”, “American Gangster”, and “No Country for Old Men”.

Wicked (Musical in Baltimore, Maryland, USA)
As you may not know, the Wicked Witch of the West was actually good, just misunderstood. This is a great bit of revisionist history about the classic tale ‘The Wizard of Oz” set to music. Green is good!

Flowering Balconies (Cartagena, Colombia)
Ahh, perchance to stroll aimlessly about the walled city of Cartagena de Indias, spying the spectacular hanging flowers exploding from balconies, plazas, and gardens only to be tempered by the pulsating colors and architecture of the myriad of edifices densely packed into narrow cobblestone streets. (Would you rather I wrote it in Spanish?) You can gaze out onto the Caribbean watching (hoping) for pirate ships to attack the impregnable Castillo de San Felipe. Wishful thinking, once they built that sucker, no one ever took the city or made off with boatloads of booty again.
 
Speaking of booty, this is the end of the Christmas Letter. Get back to whatever you were doing before this unwelcome intrusion. Or do something interesting.
 
Bonus Entry!
For anyone just not sure how to handle 2008 yet, let me give you some options. Baseball games at Yankee Stadium (New York Yankees) and Shea Stadium (New York Mets). They are tearing down the stadiums after the 2008 season and I have to go before it happens. Mark your calendars.

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So, you’ve sauntered into the heart of London with a gleam of mischief in your eye and wallet full of pounds. While the sun is in the sky, oh why oh why would I want to be anywhere else? What to do, what to do…here’s a few things…

2nd Annual Stag & Dagger Festival – 100 bands in 20 venues! Oh the humanity! The first night in London we spent checking out some bands and wandering around the East side of the city. The Filthy Dukes at the Vibe Bar kept us entertained for a bit.

Tower of London – after multiple visits to London, the Tower had never made my excursion list. Until now. We had a right jolly Beefeater (a Yeoman Warder of the Tower) give us a tour and clue us in on bits of the sordid history of England. Best story was when Jack Ketch, the executioner, gave James Scott 5 blows with his axe before having to use a carving knife to finish the gruesome beheading. Or the time where two princes went missing in 1483, leaving Richard III as the king. The princes were found 180 years later in a wooden box behind one of the White Tower walls as it was knocked down for renovation. We also saw the Crown Jewels…

Westminster Abbey – pretty much where everyone to ever live in England is buried…even with the copious number of graves and memorials, still a beautiful and reverent place.

O2 Academy Brixton – seems to be the happening spot to see live music in London. We saw The Tings Tings one night in this cavernous and well appointed venue.

Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms – the underground bunker where Winston Churchill and his cabinet planned and executed their World War II plans against the Nazis. Churchill would often go outside and watch the Luftwaffe destroy London with their biltzkrieg.  While smoking his cigar.

 

What to eat and drink…

Caipirihnas in a fishbowl – exactly what it sounds like, with exactly the effect you would expect. Fish not included.

Salt Beef Bagel – late night eating, especially when everything else is closed early on Sunday for the Bank holiday, deserves a stop for salt beef slapped on a bagel with a dollop of nasal cavity burning mustard.

Cream Tea– a spot of tea and a couple scones, with jam and clotted cream on the side. Oiy.

Indian food on Brick Lane– everywhere you walk, hawkers try to entice you into their restaurant. But choices abound. We let a Londoner pick for us.  Try the Balti lamb korma.

 

What not to do…

Tate Modern– ummmm, yes… if you like modern art in all its various motiffs, then this is certainly the place for you. But if you can do without strange movies (Blood and Feathers anyone?) and randomly weird artistic expression, than there is plenty else to do in London.

LDN out

  

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Once again, I’ve found you. There is no escape from this annually joyous attempt at season greetings. Since you likely have no other distractions; give me your full attention and let’s get down to the business at hand…to put the year that was, 2008, into a little perspective.

I know that the number of Christmas letters you’ve already dismissively wadded up and chucked into the wastebasket, along with all that fruitcake and eggnog you’ve gorged yourself on, will affect your reading of this; so I’ve decided to make it easy for you. First, it’s not a letter at all, it’s an email. No extra energy needs to be expended to get rid of it. Second, it has virtually nothing to do with Christmas. Sure, the title gives you that impression, but it’s really just a dirty* laundry list of all the wackiness that was 2008. Third, stop reading this introduction and get to the good stuff below. Fourth, I try to use simple words for simple folk like you. Sure, this means extra effort on my part, but…wait a minute. Forget it, there will be no pandering to the masses. You get what you get, and like it. Fifth, it is not required reading at all, nor should it be confused with anything relevant and timely that could impact your life in a meaningful way. Sixth, seriously, this intro is over. Get on with it.

Hang gliding (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
Let’s get this started off with a bang. You presumably know what hang gliding is. You’ve likely heard about (or been to) Rio. You probably understand the concept of swooping over the tops of high rise hotels. You have it within you to visualize a long, graceful descent onto a white, sandy beach. You are surely capable of wrapping your head around a scene showing a short burst of sprinting with your appointed pilot and glider attached, and a brief, sudden tandem free-fall before catching air and soaring peacefully over every postcard view of Rio you’ve ever seen. Yes? Good job! I’m so proud of you!

The Game of Baseball (Worldwide)
I took in the Japanese version of baseball in Osaka with the Orix Buffaloes playing the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters (sponsored by Nippon Ham). What have they done to our beloved game? Only turned it into an enthusiastic circus of bright colors, silly mascots, and crazy slogans! Case in point, “One heartbeat, close to you”, supposedly will entice you to attend a Buffaloes game. Hmmmm…yes, I see. I also saw home games of the Toronto Blue Jays, the Philadelphia Phillies, and the Washington Nationals. And boy did my heart skip a beat when I discovered $2 Tuesdays in Toronto!

Safari (East Tsavo National Park, Kenya)
Thirty different types of animals participated in my dusty, bouncing, day-long photo shoot. And not a single one smiled. So disappointing. The closest I got to a smile was from six massive lions feasting on succulent buffalo. Oh, and a baby giraffe played coy for the camera until warming up after I offered her the cover of National Geographic. Sucker!

9:30 Club (Northwest, Washington, D.C.)
Definitely the best venue to see a concert in the city (standing room and balconies for 900), I took it upon myself to see all kinds of bands and artists while skipping between the three bars, each with different beer offerings. I witnessed Super Diamond (twice), Sara Bareilles, The Ting Tings, Cut Copy with the Pre-Sets, Hot Chip, Shiny Toy Guns, and Vampire Weekend. Although this may be the first time you’ve heard of some of these, don’t waste this rare opportunity you’ve been granted to expand your horizons. (Hint: iTunes)

Dr. Granville Moore’s (Northeast, Washington, D.C.)
Fancying itself as a Belgium gastro pub, Granville Moore’s dishes fantastic mussels and frites (as seen on the Food Network) and entertains around 60 different Belgium beers before offering them up to eager patrons. This row house turned restaurant is seemingly unfinished on the inside, with exposed dry wall, and flourishes church pews for seats. Not that anyone would notice with a face full of frites and Framboise.

Niagara Falls (Ontario, Canada)
Big and wet. You expected more?

Music
Whatever your taste in music is, remember, this is my list. So when I say that the albums from Sara Bareilles, Vampire Weekend and Coldplay are the ones you should buy (now) and listen to (again, now), then you might want to take heed. Even should you choose to ignore my expert advice, I’ll happily enjoy them without you.

Books
Yes, I read some books, but let’s not dwell on it too much. The two to buy or hold-up the local library for are: “Despite Good Intentions: Why Development Assistance to the Third World Has Failed” by Thomas W. Dichter (the title also acts as a synopsis!) and “The World Without Us” by Alan Weisman (an interesting thought experiment on what would happen to the planet if humans no longer existed – can you guess?).

Movies
Some of the best movies of the year included: “The Dark Knight” (a no-brainer), “Iron Man”, and “The Visitor”.

Food
This world is full of good food and by any means necessary, get these dishes into your salivating piehole as soon as possible! Japanese okonomiyaki (pancakes with plenty of what you like), fugu (poisonous pufferfish), Kobe beef (marbled, mouthwatering meat), Dominican mofongo (puréed plantains with pork), Khmer (Cambodian) fish amok (the name says it all), Brazilian feijoada (sizzling stew with steaming beans, pork and beef), Kenyan ugali (doughy cornmeal), Canadian poutine (frites with fromage and fancy gravy), and British cream tea (tea and scones with clotted cream and jam). Oy!

Cherry blossoms (Kyoto, Japan)
What does strolling along the meditative Philosopher’s path, exploring any of 1,800 temples, jostling through the bustling (bursting?) streets of the Gion district, cramming onto crowded buses, and meandering through countless, breathtaking Japanese gardens all have in common? In early April, you can do none of these things without a pink and white explosion of cherry blossoms (sakura) in every direction. And a vast array of sakura flavored sweets, including the cream puff that explodes pink goo onto your shirt.

Corcovado (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
Arms wide for a welcoming embrace, the Christ the Redeemer statue (120 feet high) sits atop the mountain of Corcovado, overlooking Rio and its white beaches. Considered one of the ‘new 7 wonders of the world’, the statue commands your full attention from every angle. Then, inevitably, you have to take time to be distracted by the breathtaking view. But, out of the corner of your eye, Christ is still ready to hug you.

Mt. Misen (Miyajima, Japan)
Any sorry attempt on my part to describe the majestic panorama of sights from the high temples of this island mountaintop, overlooking the red, floating torii gate (considered one of Japan’s three most scenic views) and neighboring islands; and the arduous ascent through primeval forests and fiery cherry blossoms to reach it; and the perfect warm instant noodles and crisp Kirin beer bought from the Mom and Pop café at the summit; would only pale in comparison to the real thing. Sorry to disappoint.

London, England
Over repeated trips to England without giving London its proper due, I finally decided to invest a couple of days to really take LDN in again. First lesson: Use the money you theoretically saved on that cheap hotel with a shared bathroom (60 pounds a night) on a Fuller’s London Pride beer and a greasy order of fish and chips. Then go bankrupt. Second lesson: Go see Monty Python’s Spamalot. Third lesson: Take your iPod and stroll around Hyde Park and The Serpentine lake during sunset. Fourth lesson: The village of Greenwich and the Greenwich Mean Time line is acceptable to visit in the rain.

Pub Quiz Nights (Fado Irish Pub, Washington, D.C.)
A rich winter tradition of pencil in hand, sipping from pints of frothy Guinness, nibbling on corned beef and cabbage, writing down answers to random questions, and handing them in after each round – all with the hope of out-dueling the other, lesser teams for cash money – always ended in tears as we failed to live up to our own hype. Next time…

Flight of the Conchords (Television show)
So ridiculously funny, you will surely snort milk out your nose (even if you’re not drinking any!). The title refers to a very low-rent, no gigs, two shlub band from New Zealand, who, along with their manager, get into random misadventures, and then sing about them. As you decipher the lyrics, and nod your head to the beat, keep an extra pair of underwear handy in case a laughing accident ensues.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
I’ve lived on the East Coast now for a few years and only just now made it to Philly. So to make up for lost time, we swaggered into Philly foot loose and fancy free. Philly cheese steaks, a Phillies baseball game (World Series Champs!), Broad Street, pub crawling, cheering on the Kentucky Derby while quaffing mint juleps, and a random Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination exhibit and you’ve got yourself a weekend.

Malindi, Kenya
Whether seasick while deep-sea fishing; enjoying a fine meal at the Old Man and The Sea restaurant (Hemingway did not make an appearance); staying at the quiet and cheap Cloud Nine
hotel (not in any guidebook); cooking fresh fish in banana leaves; strolling the seaweed choked beaches; or watching the resilient sailboats, made by the local boys from cast-off detritus (flip-flops for outriggers and plastic bags for sails anyone?), brave the ocean’s wind and waves; Malindi is a worthy place to unwind and pretend the world really is this small.

Temples of Angkor (Cambodia)
The Khmer empire was pretty busy between 850-1200 AD, building temples like they were going out of style. Then most of these temples were abandoned for hundreds of years and they became part of the encroaching jungle. Angkor Wat is by far the largest and most well-known, but it’s the temples of Ta Prohm and Beng Mealea that are among the most amazing. These have been allowed to stay mostly overgrown and ruined. There is a certain amount of peace and awe one feels when traversing over and around the tangled roots of giant fig strangler trees and the tumbled stones and carvings that once were grand galleries and massive buildings of ancient kings. At least it seems that way, if I do say so myself.

Blog
Can’t wait until next Christmas for another injection of insipid, indelible insights? Keep track of all the random hilarity at:
www.jeremybailey.wordpress.com

 

 

Bonus Question! (Guess correctly for a cool prize!)**

How many countries did I visit this year? (Hint: One paragraph lists them all)

* Clean version
** No, not really

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