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Archive for April 2007

Ok, So I Procrastinate…

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As is well documented by the fact that I've only finished half of the journals from my vacation six weeks after returning, I tend to procrastinate.  A zebra can't change its stripes…

…Anyway.  I got all up-to-date with Flickr tonight, uploading photos I had on my computer and camera from all the way back to last summer.  Here are some links for you:

The San Francisco Zoo

The Rosicrucian Museum

Around the Bay (updated with Highland Games, Tech Museum, Japantown)

Projects (so far knitting and cooking)

Enjoy!

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Written by Sarah Levantine

April 24, 2007 at 11:33 pm

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Travelog – Jeudi, 8 Mars

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Thursday was our last day in France. Jon and I packed up and headed out to find some breakfast. We went to the Brioche Dorée, a chain cafe that had a lot of yummy pastries and sandwiches.  We ate, then bought a couple of sandwiches for the train ride (we were fully aware it was going to be a really long day), checked out, and went to Carrie's flat to pick up the clothes we had left to dry, said our goodbyes, and started the walk back down to the train station.

We arrived at the station with plenty of time to spare, waited patiently for the platform to be announced (I had run out of yarn on the scarf and started on a pair of socks), boarded the train, and got to Marseilles without incident.  After that, we waited patiently for the platform to be announced, boarded the train, and got to Nice with a couple of hours to wait for the next train (an overnighter to Venice).  It actually wasn't that quick; by the time we got into Nice, it was already dark outside (I think it was around 7pm).  We did get a few glimpses of the Riviera lifestyle on the train from Marseilles to Nice, in hillside villas and docks full of yachts.

We stored our suitcases in giant lockers, headed out into town and found a nice Italian restaurant.  Dinner was quite tasty, but we wanted to get back to the train station so we could relax.  We paid the tab, and headed back with 45 minutes left.

Back at the train station, something curious showed up on the departure board – instead of a platform number, there was an icon of a bus next to our train.  Here is the point where crunching to learn French in two weeks breaks down a little – for the next 30 minutes, we were wandering around the station, trying to find someone who could tell us what the heck the bus meant.  Eventually I found an employee who knew a little English, and figured that around the corner, there was a bus we needed to be on in order to get to Venice.  We walked around the side of the building, and there was one charter bus loading people.  The driver spoke very little English, but when I said “Is this the train to Venice?” he said “Yes,” so I took him at his word, and we boarded.

At this point, I was still assuming that we were getting on a shuttle to some nearby station, where we would catch the train at the time on the ticket.  20 minutes later, though, we were still sitting on the nearly-full bus, and they were still loading people on.  Here is where I started to freak out.  We didn't leave until five minutes after the departure time on our ticket, so on our quiet drive through the streets of Nice, I sat with my mind racing – what would we do if we missed our train?  We didn't have anywhere to stay; we'd have to buy another train ticket; since our stay in Venice was so short, it might even affect our trip to Munich.  On top of this, we had moved from driving through the city streets to driving up secluded hills.  Now I was sure we weren't on a shuttle, but I was second-guessing the driver telling me that this was the correct bus – they hadn't checked our tickets or passports or anything when we boarded.  Was he some kind of crazy serial killer, taking us up away from civilization where no one would hear us scream?  I am telling you, I don't usually get freaked out – this was a very new sensation for me, actually being scared on this bus.

I sat like this for the next hour.  Jon was also stressed, but about halfway through, he figured out what was happening – the bus was actually taking us through the mountains and into Italy.  What he said made sense, but I was already too far on the road to insanity from the day of travel and the added stress of not knowing what the hell was going on.  Was there no train at all?  Were they going to keep us on this bus all night, until we ended up in Venice the next day?

Finally, we pulled into a station in a town near Torino, and our train was waiting there for us.  We found our sleeping car, I lamented at how it wasn't as nice as the sleeping car I had been on on my first trip to Europe, then got over it (I think Jon was really annoyed at my worrying and whining by this point).  We took some OTC sleeping pills so we could get some rest.  I took the top bunk, and released all the stress from the evening by crying myself to sleep.

I don't know how those crappy sleeping pills make any money – they really don't work.  I was awake on and off throughout the whole night, feeling the train rock back and forth as we wove through the mountains.  Next time, it'll be all prescription, baby.

Written by Sarah Levantine

April 24, 2007 at 12:02 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Travelog – Mercredi, 7 Mars

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Jon and I slept in again, then spent the day walking around to some of the sights we hadn't seen yet.  We saw the cathédrale Saint-Pierre, which had a facade too large for me to photograph (they do an okay job here, but even then you don't get the sense of scale that comes from just standing in front of it).  I went to take some photographs of the interior, but walking into that immense building, I just couldn't bring myself to.  This was a place of worship, beyond most churches that I had seen.  I've been inside churches and cathedrals where they tell you not to take pictures, and ones where people are snapping away, but this was different.  It was not a tourist attraction.  Anyway, we marvelled at the height of the ceilings and the many altars that were set up, then moved on.

Walking along the street behind the cathedral, we passed a garden, which turned out to be Montpellier's Jardin des Plantes.  Being March, there wasn't much in the way of flowering plants, but we still saw some cool stuff.

Eventually, it started to sprinkle…

…and we headed back to the hotel.  We packed up our dirty clothes, and went over to Carrie's to hang out and do the laundry before leaving town.

Apparently, there were three big football (soccer) games going on, so we avoided the pub until after things had calmed down.  I had my knitting with me, and worked on a scarf while we watched TV on the computer.  We saw a few episodes of Friends, Rock Academy (a.k.a. School of Rock), and Click.  Carrie also made dinner again, this time a quick pasta toss with artichoke hearts and other yummy ingredients.  (I'm so proud of how domestic she's become!)  Over time, the clothes moved from the washer in the flat to the dryer at the laundromat downstairs, but something was wrong.  After an hour in the dryers, and all of the change we could find, many of the clothes, most importantly ALL OF MY PANTS, were still wet.  We set up the clothes on a drying rack and went down to the pub (Carrie let me borrow a pair of jeans).

By the time we got down to O'Carolan's, the games were over and there were just a handful of sports fans hanging around.  Here's a funny thing:  in America, pretty universally, the official drink of any given sport is beer.  In France, it's also beer – except they put SYRUP in it.  It's like a beer Italian Soda.  They have cider there, but apparently that's not wimpy enough.  Anyway, we enjoyed our Beamish Reds and had a laugh over it.

Written by Sarah Levantine

April 23, 2007 at 11:12 pm

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Travelog – Mardi, 6 Mars

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The one day we planned to be outside in Montpellier became the day that we didn't want to be there. It was wet and gloomy all day. Our outdoor picnic turned out to be an indoor picnic at Neal and Carrie's flat. He had picked up several different kinds of specialty cheese and some bread that morning (I guess it's all special in France). We ate cheese and drank wine for lunch, then headed back down to the Musée Fabre.  By this time, having adjusted to the local French schedule, it was already mid-afternoon.

We didn't make it all the way through the museum before closing time, but didn't mind much.  The paintings and sculptures, while nice, weren't the type that really capture my imagination.  Carrie and her friends looked bored out of their minds.  We all parted ways for a couple of hours, then met back at the flat for homemade dinner.

Carrie made cream of broccoli soup, green salad, and baked potatoes.  Yum!  We ate, then spent the evening going through Neal's catalog of trivia questions (he runs a weekly pub quiz at his bar).  As expected, Jon knew just about everything (I helped out in a few places).

We didn't do much on account of the weather, but given that it was the only really rainy day on the trip, I'd say we were lucky.

Written by Sarah Levantine

April 23, 2007 at 10:49 pm

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Travelog – Lundi, 5 Mars

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Since we had been unable to sleep past 7am so far on the trip, we had planned to spend the morning walking around the town while we waited for Carrie and Neal to wake up (they live on the bartender's schedule, and don't get up until around noon). Instead, we SLEPT IN!! Wooo! We were ready to go by the time Carrie and Neal called.

The four of us had crepes for lunch on the Place de la Comédie, under blue skies. We experienced the first of many meals with the stereotypical European customer service (or lack thereof), which I came to appreciate. Unlike the American method of pushing customers through their meal to get more people in, throughout our trip, I realized that the European waiters weren't being rude. They were leaving us to enjoy our meal. This, of course, is a problem if you're in a hurry. Most people in Europe, when they eat at restaurants, are not in a hurry, and can easily spend hours on one meal. I love that.

After paying the bill, we walked down to the Jardin du Champ de Mars, where we waited for some of Carrie's visiting friends to join us.

Once they arrived, we went up to the Musée Fabre, only to find that it was closed. Apparently, everything in France that isn't closed on Sundays is closed on Mondays (if not both). We made plans to come back the next day. Instead, we continued down the Champ de Mars to the Corum, a building with a rooftop view of the entire city. We couldn't have asked for a better day.

After the Corum, we walked down to this hotel that had several models of the city of Montpellier – past, present and future. The models were incredibly detailed, but still just models inside of a hotel, so after picking out things like Carrie's flat and the local cathedral, we continued on our journey.

Our next stop was Le Château d'eau, the head of the old aqueduct that served water to the city.  It afforded more great views of the city.  We studied a statue of some famous guy on a horse to try and figure out the famous mistake made by the sculptor (no stirrups! – smartypants Jon figured it out first).

It was getting late in the afternoon, and after all that walking, we were pretty tired.  Carrie, Neal, Jon and I hit up a wine shop to find something special for tomorrow's planned picnic before visiting the museum again.  We asked for a dry, full-bodied red, the shop owner figured out that we were American, and said something like “Let me find you the oaky wines.  All Americans want the oak-aged wines.”  I suppose it's true, but I am always up for something new.  There were no official tastings, so we didn't really spend time there (and ended up buying no wine on the trip – travesty!), but we did persuade the shop owner to pour us samples from one good bottle.  It helped that Neal is fluent, and that we were all excited to learn more about French wine.  When we finished up there, we went back to the hotel for a nap before dinner.

Neal had made us reservations at his favorite French restaurant in town.  In a word, it was FANTASTIC.  I can't recall exactly the food that everyone ate, I just know that it all tasted great.  We had an appetizer course with aperitifs (kir royale, yum!), and a main course (confit de canard) with a delicious bottle of red.  The atmosphere was almost dungeon-like, with dark stone walls and low red lighting; we were even below street level.  You would expect it to be gloomy, but actually it was very comfortable.  Not that I'd ever want to spend time in a real dungeon.

Written by Sarah Levantine

April 23, 2007 at 9:20 pm

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Happy Belated Easter!

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Ouch.

Magenta is the official color of the arrival of Spring – at least for me. Every year, I forget that I work indoors and for the most part keep my skin covered up, then the one beautiful day when I put on my warm-weather clothes and spend the day outdoors, I forget to put on sunscreen. Magenta is the color of my shoulders right now (thankfully, it's the only place that got anything beyond a slight flush).

Everything else about Easter went fantastically. I had a bunch of friends over for a traditional Easter brunch. The weather turned out beautifully. We ate in the back-backyard (those of you who have been to my house will understand that), complete with sinking chairs. We had an interesting mix of people, many of whom had only met at my other parties, but the company and conversation was great. I made Eggs Benedict and a French Toast Casserole, with some sparkling lemonade and a sparkling cranberry drink. Friends brought champagne, fresh-squeezed orange juice, cheesy potatoes, ham biscuits, petit fours, chocolate cupcakes, and two of the most gourmet fruit salads I've ever seen.

We started eating around 11:30, as soon as the eggs were done, and stayed outside for a good two hours (hence the sunburn). I made everyone take what they brought (so…much…sugar…) when it came time to leave, except for one of the fruit salads – strawberries and grapes in a red wine and balsamic reduction – I could not resist. After a week of my diet new eating habits, eating all this delicious sugar and fat buffet-style almost made me sick.

Once everyone left, Jon and I laid down for a nap. He left around 4:00 to go watch scary movies, I slept pushed Dom off the bed for another hour, then got up and cleaned the kitchen. I love that whenever I have a party, my house is always cleaner after the fact 🙂

Written by Sarah Levantine

April 9, 2007 at 10:53 am

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Travelog – Dimanche, 4 Mars

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Sunday morning we woke up bright and early.  We packed up, and headed downstairs to check out.  Having been through the Underground catastrophe the night before, and not looking forward to any more public transportation shenanigans, we decided to take a taxi straight to the Waterloo station, where we would catch the Eurostar to Paris.

The trip, from getting in the taxi up until we arrived in Paris, was pretty uneventful aside from some creative driving by our taxi driver (you think New York cabbies are nuts?).  Once we arrived in Paris, we had something like one and a half hours to get from the station we arrived at, Gare du Nord, to the station where we needed to catch the TGV, Gare de Lyon.  I had fun trying to speak French with this taxi driver.  By that time, I had learned to say “we visit my sister, she lives in Montpellier.”  That's about it.  He spoke pretty good English, so we were able to communicate on the essentials.

We did happen across this big public demonstration in protest of I-don't-know-what.  Our driver told us that these protests happen all the time in Paris, laughed it off, then drove around it.  He got us from start to finish in about 20 minutes, which was fantastic.  Our travel problems were over (at least for this leg of the trip)!  We got straight on the TGV, and jetted at 300 kph to the south of France.

We arrived in Montpellier around 8:00, and Carrie was waiting for us at the station.  Reunion!  We walked up to check in to our hotel; about a 10 minute walk up a slight hill with bumpy cobblestones along much of it.  Our hotel room was more “quaint” (read: outdated) than the London one, but the bedspread was large enough for both of us and there was an extra twin bed where we could keep all of our stuff.  The bathroom was very nice, except for the typical European feature of the bathtub having no upright shower head.  There was one; it was just mounted low, right above the faucet.  This meant taking showers sitting down, which took a little effort, but was also kinda nice and relaxing.

After we got settled, we went and went looking for some food.  It was Sunday, so naturally, all of the good places were closed.  We found one shop that was open, and got some kebabs (roast turkey meat wrapped with veges and sauce, available all over Europe); armed with food, we walked over to O'Carolan's, the pub that Neal was working at.  We said our hellos, got some beers (Guinness and then Beamish Red), and had a good old time.  Jon and Neal got along famously – probably because they both like beer and music, and they both talk very fast.  It was hard to keep up sometimes 🙂  We stayed until the bar closed, then headed home for the night.  Aah bliss, we had finally beaten the jet lag and were able to sleep in!

Written by Sarah Levantine

April 8, 2007 at 7:20 pm

Posted in Uncategorized