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Posts Tagged ‘Vineyards’

Welcome to the beginning of another annual Christmas letter. This is like the fifth in a row. Sorry about that. There is still time to avoid any unnecessary reading of said letter. Point your curser to the ‘X’ button above, click it firmly and then go do something productive.

Still here? Hmmm, your choice…so take a load off, get comfortable (although I encourage you to leave your clothes on unless you have a webcam), grab some coffee (or tea if you’re British or confused), put on your reading glasses, and let the year 2010 flash briefly before your eyes.

I’ve decided this time you need to feel real emotion while reading this letter. I’ve set my sights as high as possible, so I’ve picked boredom. It’s the best chance you have at any intense and meaningful emotion. This letter has been treated accordingly. Wit? Excised. Rollercoasters of adventure? Simplified. Flourishes of indelible insight? Clarified. Word choice? Focused. Overall length? Increased. If you do not feel real, abject and soul-crushing boredom, then I have failed you. I apologize in advance.

Boring or more boring, let’s crack open this nut of a year and pick at the contents until we find something worth chewing on. Spit out the shell, we don’t need you choking while you wallow in boredom.

Cities – I found myself, as Alice in Wonderland might have, in many strange and mysterious rabbit holes throughout 2010. A cornucopia of cities had the pleasure of my presence. Such metropolitans as: Amsterdam, Nairobi, New York, Johannesburg, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Cape Town, Medellin, Taganga, Las Vegas, Tijuana, Tacoma and Portland. What went down in all these cities? Remember, this is the boring letter, so you may never know.

Snow – 2010 saw record snowfall in the D.C. area. As the locals affectionately dubbed it, Snowmageddon came in February and snowed the city under 20 inches (amounts may vary) of pristine, white snow (colors may vary). It was good enough for snowball fights, snowmen, tackle football in the snow, shutting down the city for days, overdressing for trips to the local pub, and the trapped, frustrated feeling one gets when your car completely disappears. Luckily I don’t own a car. Hahahahaha. I also went skiing in the powdery snow of Pacific Northwest.

Water – I spent an unhealthy amount of time in water in 2010. Whether it was taking hot showers after playing in the snow, spelunking through a maze of caves carved by a tributary of the Rio Claro, scuba diving with sting rays along the reefs of northern Colombia, river rafting down the Rio Claro, sailing the Potomac and Anacostia rivers, boating through Milwaukee via the canals and river, taking the river taxi down the Chicago river, wading in cool streams while hiking, taking cold showers, riding swiftly through the vast Amsterdam canal system, watching the Christmas light/water fountain/musical spectacle (Los Alumbrados) in Medellin, or singing in the Pacific Northwest rain (off-key), I was moist about 22.44%* of the year.

Air – I also spent my fair share of time in the air. Whether it was paragliding (parapente) over Medellin, flying all over the world in 34 flight segments (e.g. 34 take offs and 34 landings), extracting my head from the clouds on numerous occasions, or simply gulping down my share of the atmosphere, I was high about 30.76%* of the year.

Giraffes – Minding my own business, while jogging near the retreat center we were staying at in Kenya, I found myself surrounded by 14 wild giraffes. They were all looking at me expectantly. What was my next move? Run? Hide? So I simply sat down and watched them cross the road. Boring. I was not kicked in the head (by them at least) nor battered by a swinging neck (witty comment excised). The next day we went on a safari to Nairobi National Park and saw many more giraffes, including two practically on top of our van. Eventually they bolted when our allotment of photo ops was exhausted.

Meat – I am not a vegetarian, but I can appreciate eating less meat overall should you so desire. However, if you do have the opportunity to travel to exotic places, you should by no means limit what you are willing to try. Many cultures are meat obsessed and I found myself in the thick of such obsession. Whether it’s the epic bandeja paisa dish in Colombia (including sausages, ground beef, and the not-to-be-missed chicharrón), an all-you-can-eat bonanza at the Nairobi restaurant Carnivore (including ostrich and alligator), sancocho (a soup with vast chunks of meat displacing all else), chicken mole in Mexico, burgers of all shapes and sizes (including the In N Out burger animal-style), fish soup on the beaches of Taganga, foot-long hot dogs during a baseball game, a blue crab feast on the Eastern Shore (Chesapeake Bay), bratwurst in Milwaukee, Italian beef sandwiches in Chicago (fully dunked in beef gravy), street tacos, and much else, I failed to convert to a vegetarian.

Wineries – Whether it was a day trip to four wineries in Northern Virginia, or a day trip to three wineries in the Stellenbosch region of South Africa (near Cape Town), I kept my sipping muscles busy with a (word deleted) of epic wine tastings and cheese offerings. I cannot express how beautiful and relaxing it is to explore the countryside and wineries. So I won’t.

Breweries – In my lifelong quest to consume the adult-friendly liquid of hops, barley, water and yeast, I toured and loitered in many breweries in 2010. Whether it was the Heineken Brouwery Experience (Amsterdam), Miller Brewing Company (Milwaukee), Brooklyn Brewery (New York), Goose Island Brewing Company (Chicago), Sprecher Brewery (Milwaukee) for a beer/cheese pairing, or any of the other half dozen or so brewpubs I acquainted myself with, 2010 was a banner year for beer. Much like all previous years ever, dating back to 1994.

Flag Football – I started playing flag football in Washington, D.C. as part of a University of Washington Alumni team, along with alumni from 51 other universities. Our coach quit three days before our first weekend of play, so I opened my mouth to ask ‘now what?’ and became the ‘point of contact’ for our games. This of course morphed into me as the new ‘coach’ for the whole season. Word of advice: Don’t ask questions. Luckily this was the UW’s expansion season, so hopefully I can be acquitted of our less than stellar season.

Road trips – Whether it was driving down to Tijuana, Mexico from LA; or driving around Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota; or taking a detour down to Portland, Oregon while in Washington state; or taking the bus from D.C. to New York a couple times; or being a back-seat driver along the coast of South Africa, I spent loads of time in vehicles listening to music, taking in the sights, or getting tickets for not seeing that stupid toll booth.

Bicycles – I haven’t been on a bike in awhile, but in 2010 Washington, D.C. started a Capital Ride Share program that lets you use bikes from dozens of stations around the city. I have taken full advantage of these Radio Flyer Wagon Red, 3-speed, adjustable seat bikes. If you almost get run-over by a red blur while crossing the street, it wasn’t me. I would have definitely (word deleted) you. I also rented a bicycle for a day in Amsterdam. I zipped along the bike lanes and cobble streets, past the medieval style buildings and canals, until my (word clarified to ‘seat’) asked for a break. Then I rode some more.

Hammocks – After liberally slipping uninvited into multiple hammocks in 2010, I finally bought my very own. (You can too: www.colorcloudhammocks.com. If you say ‘Jeremy sent you’ nothing will happen.) I spent at least 5.14%* of my time being lazy in one.

Cape of Good Hope, South Africa – If you’re interested in the wildlife or the scenery, a road trip down the coast of South Africa is not to be missed. If you want nature, you can visit the beach filled with jackass penguins braying like donkeys and mating, you can narrowly avoid running over the ballistic baboons, or you can scamper up the cliffs of the Cape while avoiding stepping on the fuzzy rock hyraxes. You can also expect stunning vistas, (phrase deleted), lighthouses at the end of the world, and sand between your toes.

Lollapalooza (Chicago) – Surprisingly, this is the first time I made to it this annual music festival. I should have gone to one way back in the 1990’s when it first started. Oh well. This new incarnation restarted about 6 years ago and the 2010 version saw over 150 bands playing over three days. I went to two of the days. My main goal was to see Soundgarden – and they rocked! I also saw such bands as Green Day, Phoenix, The National, Mumford & Sons, and many more.

Music – Not usually one to intentionally send you away, but I put together some boring music lists on my blog:  A 2010 Music Retrospective

Movies – Might as well stay away to look at the list of best movies too: 11 Best Movies of 2010 (and 5 worst)

Baseball – My quest to see a game in all Major League baseball stadiums continued in earnest. I visited five new stadiums with no fanfare. Chicago (Cubs and White Sox), Milwaukee, Minneapolis and New York (Yankees) all failed to roll-out the red carpet for me. I also got no love as I watched the Washington Nationals play a bunch of times, including the Major League debut of rookie pitching sensation, Stephen Strasburg. He destroyed the competition with a record 14 strikeouts. Then he got injured later in the season, had surgery, and is out for all of 2011. Sad. The nachos at Nationals stadium, however, were not sad.

Television – Plenty of good TV shows in 2010. Fringe had a great year. Dexter ruled. Community got funnier then anything else. And The Daily Show and The Colbert Report brought us wit and an insane Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in D.C. attended by 249,999 people + me. 

Books – The best books I read were: The Lost City of Z by David Grann and The Passage by Justin Cronin.

Medellin, Colombia – I managed to storm Colombia twice in 2010. Once for a wedding where I acted surprised as the best man and once for the (phrase deleted). I spent most of my time in Medellin, avoiding drug cartels and the FARC. Aside from visiting Pablo Escobar’s hacienda (three hours away), sauntering around the city and shopping malls, climbing El Peñol, giving wedding speeches, being lazy in hammocks, eating all the food feverishly, playing as part of an impromptu band, and other things you might have read about above, I dare say I should really go back soon.

This is the end of the Christmas letter. Did it make you long to watch paint dry? Did it drop you into a deep pit of boredom? You’re welcome.

* Figure painstakingly calculated by picking a random number and typing it.

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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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(Originally sent via email on December 24, 2006)

Merry Christmas! I trust you had a good year.

Some of you may have fallen off my keen radar, as I’ve often been remiss in keeping up with email. Some of you may be new to this venerated list of annual happenings. Either way, fret not my friends! I wish to give your mind a spellbinding journey into the sublime world that I have been traveling this past year (yeah right). Sit back, strap in, secure your valuables, position the barf bag and get ready for the ride.

What have I been doing, eating, smoking in 2006? Read on for the highlights:

Sabang Beach, Philippines
A boat is the only way to get there. The only way to get off the boat is to get wet. The only way to get to the nearby village is to stroll along the beach, avoiding the surf. The only reason to go is to scuba dive, laze about the beach and eat mangos.

Mamma Mia! (Musical in Baltimore, Maryland, USA)
This is an example of how the entire musical oeuvre of ABBA can be transformed into a singing, dancing musical about the Greek Islands, long-lost love, and getting married simply as an excuse to sing ABBA songs. They pulled it off like dancing queens.

Jimmy Buffett (Concert in Virginia, USA)
Parrotheads rejoice! Jimmy’s fans are as crazy and strange as ever. Cars transformed into volcanoes, sandboxes and gigantic umbrellas washed up on the parking lot, shark hats, shark cars, shark stickers, surf boards, tropical shirts, sandals, parrots and pot. Lots and lots of pot (I merely assume – how else can you explain the rest?). And then Jimmy did oblige us a bit of music to sing along to.

Scuba Diving
I took a class, spent money, read the manual, spent money, got some basic gear (fins, mask, snorkel), got in a public pool (after hateful kids made toilet), spent money, passed a written exam and a pool skills test, went to the Cayman Islands, spent money, did nine dives from a boat, completed the skills test, saw an octopus and a dead shark, watched in disbelief as our boat almost got swamped and other people’s expensive stuff vanished into the sea and then got certified as an Advanced Scuba Diver! It only ends because I ran out of money.

Great Ocean Road (Victoria, Australia)
Scenic. Vast. Impressive. Windy. Twelve Apostles. Koalas. Surfboarders. (Actually, do you really need me to continue? The name says everything you need to know.)

Battlestar Galactica (TV show on DVD)
If you’ve never watched this show, you need to take a long hard look at yourself. You may have your reasons not to. Yet your reasons are lame. Trust me. The show is timely and engaging and so much more than the original TV series or anything before it. Stop being lame.

Wine Tour (Virginia, USA)
A group of us did a little jaunt around scenic Virginia to sample vintages from the local wineries. We managed to have tastings at three: Three Foxes Vineyard, Rappahannock Cellars and Oasis Vineyard. The first priority was to drink (in quick, non-stop sips), yet surprisingly you gain a bit of wisdom about wine along the way. Alas, the wine ensures no wisdom is retained. Burp.

Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
You already know the city slogan, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”, so don’t ask questions.

Bill Bryson (Author)
Simply for the book “A Short History of Nearly Everything” is sufficient reason to list him, but I also had the pleasure to read “In a Sunburned Country” and “I’m a Stranger Here Myself”. He’s a travel writer mostly, but “A short history” makes learning seem fun! He also can make you laugh out loud.

Kangaroos (Brisbane, Queensland, Australia)
These guys look ready to fight! However, I won them over with my charming wit (or because I was their source of some nasty food pellet thingies that they seemed to love. Actually, one wasn’t too impressed so I put some on his belly to which he defiantly fell asleep to.). Also, emus are mean and ugly!

No More Car
Got rid of my car (was crumpled like a used pop can). Now walk and skip and whistle to work.

Sting Ray City (Grand Cayman Island, Cayman Islands)
Stingrays suck! No I mean literally, they suck. They don’t have teeth so they catch their prey with a powerful suction mouth. My arm discovered the joys and wonders of this process. They also like to swim all over you (well, if you tease them with squid chunks, what do you expect?).

Shakira (Concert in Washington, D.C., USA)
I think simply to ogle all the Latin girls in attendance is sufficient reason to list this. Plus she’s hot and her hips don’t lie. And did I mention the Latin girls?

World Cup Fever (Washington, D.C., USA)
Yes, soccer (err…football) is not America’s sport (not even in the top 6 or 7), but it was still fun to go to various bars around DC and catch the action. Some fans are fanatics (that means you Brazil) and some are just plain exuberant (viva Italia). Got myself on a TV newscast by waving tiny Italian and US flags during the USA vs. Ghana game. It sucks that the US did nothing, but the ride was worth it.

Danube River Cruise (Budapest, Hungary)
Budapest is actually two cities, Buda and Pest, separated only by the Danube River. Taking a wine and buffet cruise at night is one great way to experience both halves of Budapest. The other ways involve exploring during the day (riding the Funicular!) and cavorting at local clubs until all your compatriots have exhausted themselves drinking and dancing. Hypothetically
speaking.

MySpace.com (website)
I was pressured to get onto MySpace so I did it kicking and screaming. Check out my space and then sign up so you can be my friend. Or not.

Charles Bridge (Prague, Czech Republic)
Prague in general was a fantastic place to walk around, but the Charles Bridge (or ‘Karlùv most’ if you’re Czech) gets a special mention for the view of the Prague Castle (Pražský hrad) (one of the world’s biggest) as it crosses the Vltava River. If that means nothing to you then book a ticket and get off the computer!

Harper’s Ferry (West Virginia, USA)
Located at the convergence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers where the US states of Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia are poking each other like siblings is Harper’s Ferry, a historical town of some significance way back in the day when history actually mattered and people cared to know about it. Whew, whatever, I hiked around the town and the surrounding ridges and tried to avoid the idiotic and vocal KKK rally, the police perimeter and equally vocal protesters. Hatred is not pretty. Harper’s Ferry is.

DC Movie Club
A group of us see a movie each month. We take turns choosing which one. Then we pontificate about the movie afterwards in ways that would make most film critics blush. The best selections this year: Thank You For Smoking, Little Miss Sunshine and The Departed.

Guinness Storehouse (Dublin, Ireland)
Aaah, to see how the fine brew of Guinness is made and then wind your way to the top of the storehouse with a 360 view of Dublin while enjoying a complimentary pint. Yes, you should do that.

Television
For the naysayers, television is great. If you fail to watch some of the shows currently on (or on DVD), you have only yourself to blame. Frankly most are better than any movies you care to name. Great right now: The Office (US version), Lost, The Shield, Arrested Development (alas, gone!), 24, Veronica Mars, Entourage, plus I already mentioned Battlestar Galactica. It’s so easy to catch up on DVD, it’s almost a crime to deny yourself.

Beer
Since I did a bit of globetrotting this year (13 countries by my count), why not spend most of that time imbibing beer in all its majestic forms? From the ever tasty Guinness in Dublin to the refreshing Pilser Urquell in Prague to unpronounceable Zywiec in Warsaw to the meatless Wieselburger in Vienna to Carlsberg and Tuborg in Copenhagen to San Miguel in the Philippines to Foster’s in Melbourne to Dreher in Budapest to everything in Berlin to Super  Bock in Lisbon to Singha in Bangkok and finally Stella Artois, Sierra Nevada and Dogfish 90 Minute IPA at Brickskellers right in my own backyard of DC (which has the largest selection of beer in the US), I managed to have it all. Well maybe not all, but there’s always next year.

Ice Bar (Warsaw, Poland)
Everything is made of ice! The tables, the bar, the shot glasses, the chairs, the sculptures. The bartenders are on the warm side though. They keep the temperature at a brisk -8 Celsius and give everyone a stylish Eskimo parka. Complete body shut down happens after 30 minutes of exposure or two strawberry vodka shots.

Chicago, Illinois, USA
In trying to think what specifically I should tell about Chicago, nothing really came to mind. Then I realized it was the whole thing combined, the L train, the neighborhoods, the bars, the deep-dish pizza, the restaurants, the view from the John Hancock Building and Wrigley Field (from the outside). Next time I’ll get on the inside.

Good Books
“Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell” by Susanna Clarke and “Wicked” by Gregory Maguire.

iPod (Music)
I got myself a 60GB, video iPod then uploaded all my 350 + CDs to it. Then I scoured iTunes for even more music! Then I listened to it all until my ears bled. I spent more time doing this then almost any other single activity (except maybe one, which shall remain nameless). The five songs I listened to most: “Breakaway” by Kelly Clarkson, “Everything I’m Not” by the Veronicas, “Cessie La Pluie” by Anggun, “Caraluna” by Bacilos and “Old Town” by the Corrs. Also download: “Over My Head (Cable Car) by The Fray.

Pena Palace (Sintra, Portugal)
After spending the morning in Cascais, a coastal town, I took a last-minute bus to Sintra. Upon arrival, the tourist info lady warned me not to walk up the hill to the castles (too far), a few cars stopped to see if I needed a ride (or to see if I was crazy), the bus to the top whisked by every 20 minutes yet had I done any of those things this would just end up as another one of countless sightseeing trips. How fantastic to be walking along a winding, uphill country road for 30 minutes with the palaces and mansions of Sintra visible distantly through every gap in the trees, only to come around the corner and have an imposing 9th century Moorish castle looming overhead. All the better for not even knowing it was there until that very moment! Then I hiked the rest of the way up to the strangely yellow, red and blue Pena Palace, the workings of severe human eccentricity. Once it started to rain, I took a different path down to the Old Towne. With a few large trees and eventually a doorway of a church I managed to be only mildly damp and not disappointed.

Alas, the list has come to an end. Maybe you can hold out until next year, but in case you can’t or you don’t have anything better to do, have a peek at some photos.

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(Orginally posted July 15, 2007)

With hints of sunshine and overtones of summer, a tour group of rich complexity set forth on the 7th day of July. This array of sommeliers journeyed to sample a flavorful and intense set of wines at vineyards of  distinction in the rolling farms of Virginia. The day had the potential to unfold beautifully.

Integrated into two mini-vans and unmarred by pretension, 11 snappy explorers departed the fair estate of District di Columbia. Arriving, with a slight hint of disbelief, the versatile band faced a unique scenario at the first vineyard. As if uncorking a Hungarian oak puncheon, the wayfarers burst from the vans to greet a lingering yet finished winery. With nothing in range to quaff, the gourmands blended together once again and traced a path to the elusive Gray Ghost. Faced with the choice of a mere tasting or the bonus of an intense Civil War Re-enactment, the enthusiasts hunkered down with a spot of cheese and a glass and disdained the remnants of the Confederacy laying siege to the proceedings. Newly fresh with bottles and rumbling bellies, the aficionados set sight on luncheon fare at the Griffin Tavern & Restaurant.

Full-bodied and savoring a refreshing mouth feel, the sojourners left their lunch site, questing for an Italian cellar known in certain circles as Gadino. Crafted from the mind of an expert sommelier and navy man, the cellar boasted a rich assortment of clean and persistent flavors. The fruity and refreshing hot tub wine left many of the fairest sex aflutter.

With just a touch of residual affect, the connoisseurs continued their pilgrimage to seek the rare and reservedly elegant Unicorn. Intensely spicy and fruity, the winery tried to surprise their palettes with a fun new twist. Enduring a nearby raucous crowd and the slight “jammy” flavors that gave way to layers of disinterest, the cynics paired cheese loaf and a $7 bottle and retired to the sundeck to gaze upon a lily padded pond with hints of koi.

Begging for the accompaniment of nature, the devotees spied a delightful inch worm that paired wonderfully with their newly fermented minds.

The ride home started with an intense craving for cream and ice that left the seekers weak until they spied a richly colored stand of cool treats that catered to their palates.

The tour ended with a smooth finish.

For the nutritional content of this blog write to:

No Reply Service, 123 Random St., Nowhere, North Dakota

If we do not respond within 6-12 weeks, this blog is free.

(Author’s note: I do not work for the marketing departments of any of these wineries, although I did stay at a Holiday Inn last night.)

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After the 5th annual running of the DC Movie Club does wine tasting, here (in random order) are a few highlights. These are also reasons you should slide off of your high chair, grab your sippy cup and crawl to Northern Virginia. Now!

Wood fire pizza – sitting outside on the patio of Martella Winery with a fire-breathing wood oven is the ideal way to cook and slightly blacken the crust of your pizza. High marks for effort, but next time they could stand to avoid the frozen variety and make it fresh.

Fire!

Dog friendly wineries – everyone loves dogs, (believe me – you do, or we’ll have words) so what better combination then canines and wines? Seems like a no-brainer. Martella Winery sported a few resident pooches, happy to beg from you and bark at you. Barrel Oak Winery (BOW – get it?) is another such wine purveyor. Grab a dog (preferably yours), grab a table at BOW, do a tasting, eat cheese, and life will be good. The question is, what do the dogs get out of it? A nice place to nap in the grass? Easy access to a dizzying array of doggie butts to sniff? A sly piece of cheese passed under the table? No. They get nothing more than the opportunity to bask in the glow of being in their master’s presence. This concept is about the people, people.

Not a cat nap

Grapes – although many wine grapes are not so good to eat right off the vine (wait, who would have tried that?), they sure do crush, press, ferment and age nicely.

A grape time was had

The act of tasting – one of our wine tastings turned out to be a rapid fire affair with 10 unique wines to sip, swish and spit. Another was just an excuse to smile in wine induced happiness at the wine pourer/hostess. Burp.

Cupid of Wine

Mystery cases – anything could be inside! Risk it! Do it! Buy it! We did. Inside were 11 dusty Mad Dog 20/20s and an open wine cooler rimmed in red lipstick. Well, no. It was much less mysterious. Some chardonnays, a few merlots, this, that, and the other but all were actually legit bottles of wine. Score!

It's a mystery

Cheese plates – cubes, wedges, white, yellow, with or without rinds, soft, hard, with a grape, with a sip of wine, with crackers and bread – you can barely go wrong with a plate full of cheese at your fingertips.

So cheesy

Oh the beauty! – this cannot be described in any lame blog post. Get out of your seat and immediately go to Northern Virginia and get your wine tasting adventure on. In your haste, I’ll even forgive you for not commenting on this post.

So flowery

It starts here

and ends up in here

BOW wow

DC Movie Club Wine Tastings:

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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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You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here? Such a tough question demands a long-winded response. By here I mean…

Leavenworth – With the dream of doing wine tastings in a slew of wineries, we embarked to this quaint Bavarian village just a couple hour jaunt over the Cascade mountain range in Washington state. Conveniently, Oktoberfest was also in full swing, so the beer options were exponential and the revelers were out in droves. On a typical weekend, this is a nice spot for a day trip with scenery, window shopping, and good eats. We failed at typical and landed instead in the middle of chaos.

Fall foliage – the drive to Leavenworth revealed why Fall is the best time of year. Brilliant colors – reds, yellows, browns, oranges – dotted the landscape in such profusion and vividness, you could barely close your dropped-jaw from the awe of it. Or something like that. I’d show you a picture but I prefer to write a thousand words about it instead.

Silvara Vineyards – after a bit of stop-and-go traffic through downtown Leavenworth and a few miles out-of-town, we arrived at the first winery. It was an unscheduled stop, as this is a brand new place we thought deserved our patronage. We had a brief tasting (just okay), chatted with the owner (friendly) for a few minutes then continued our quest.

Apples – forget Red Delicious, if you want crisp, sweet and sinfully delicious apples, bite down on a Cameo (word up) or a Honeycrisp or savor the juicy Gala. So many varieties are waiting for you to snack on, bake, juice, sauce or hand over to your sinister teacher in exchange for a just passing grade. Even though Washington state grows an unhealthy amount of apples (for one sitting), don’t wait long or someone will eat yours. (Insert Good Will Hunting catchphrase here). We stopped at a roadside fruit stand (well, apple stand really) to stock up on apples and then had our way with apple samples and other good food options being sold from tents next door. At some point there should be more wine around here…

Icicle Ridge Winery – we strolled up towards this fairytalesque locale taking in the sights. Before us stood a stout log house (built like a ski chalet, no less), a good size pond in front, a gazebo overlooking all (too bad it was too cold to stay outside) and a variety of old-fashioned cars and machinery nearby all decorated to the nines with pumpkins and scarecrows and much more. Built by Lou and Judy Wagoner as their home, it was shared with the winery until recently, when they let the winery take over the whole house. The 5000 sq. ft. inside is filled with stuffed animal trophies (niiice bear), a huge stone fireplace and a lofty ceiling. After taking our seats at one of the many huge tables, they started serving the wine tasting. On and on it kept coming. Eleven different varieties…insane pours…and all complimentary. The Huckleberry Riesling and the Three Blondes Gewürztraminer were quite intoxicating. The bottles were a bit pricy to buy, but who cares if you don’t even have to pay for such an insane wine tasting?

Chicken heads and Brat – Oktoberfest has never been for the faint of heart. It’s a fest (parties need not apply) for the stout of constitution and eager of disposition. You gotta be willing chug beer until it flows down your red, tear streaked face. You gotta be willing chow down on bratwursts oozing with sauerkraut until the bile rises from the back of your throat. You gotta be willing to hold back that well-deserved punch to the face of those weirdos over there wearing chicken head hats like its something of a thing. Most of all, you gotta get into the spirit of revelry and debauchery. Since our mission was as the more refined, prim, and proper wine taster, we couldn’t quite walk the line between the two. That’s not to say we didn’t have our beers and our brats and our unthrown punches, we just didn’t have them to the excess required. Burp.

Other wineries – we stumbled into a few other tasting rooms in downtown Leavenworth, but only to keep the buzz alive. Really, at this point, little help was needed. Probably on their own, these would be decent places to go on a normal day, but given our previous predilections, they simply fall into the ‘other’ category.

I like ending on a high note. Out.

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