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Posts Tagged ‘Wine tasting’

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

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

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

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

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

Squid ink pasta in Venice

A lunch repast in rural Mali

Mofongo in the Dominican Republic

Okonomiyaki in Japan

Sliders in Washington, D.C.

Cocoa beans in Zanzibar

El Presidente in Dominican Republic

Fish amok in Cambodia

Enjoying a ballgame

Camping with a freeze dried ice cream sandwich

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

Lots of wine in South Africa

Chicken mole in Mexico

A Jucy Lucy in Minneapolis

Red wine in Northern Virginia

Fuju in Tokyo

Frites drowning in mayonnaise in Amsterdam

Zingerman sandwich in Ann Arbor

Kobe beef in Kobe

Cheese and beer in Seattle

Nasty fruit in Cyprus

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

Ostrich meat balls in Kenya

Bandeja paisa in Colombia

Goose Island beer in Chicago

Burp.

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(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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