Friday, February 25, 2011

{This Moment}

{This Moment}

A Friday ritual inspired by Amanda Soule & many others.
Please feel free to share a link to your own moment in the comments.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Life List Accomplished: No. 35, Sleep in an RV

I hope you guys all enjoyed hearing about our New Years trip to Europe.  Hopefully we'll be back on a more normal blogging schedule now.  Thanks for all your comments on our trip - we really had a wonderful time!

Me in front of our room at Lucky Lake.
When I was growing up, my next-door neighbor had the coolest house and yard.  I still think it's about the greatest place ever (coincidentally, I still live next door to it, so that probably helps), and I'll explain one day why it's more than just "the grass is always greener."  Perhaps then, it's because her parents had a VW camper in their backyard that I always wanted to sleep in an RV.  She and her family are fairly outdoorsy, and so sleeping in a car (which is really what RV-ing is) seemed as natural as the es-cargo roof topper they had on their station wagon.  And also, what could be cooler than a car that has a bed?  Nothing, that's what.

So on the life list it went.  And then, in 2007, I was able to cross it off when Roger and I met up in Amsterdam.  Going for a popular holiday weekend, all the hostels we could find in the central city were booked up, so we spent our first night with a friend studying there, and the last two nights at the Lucky Lake hostel and campgrounds, about a half-hour outside the city center in Abcoude, NL.  It was pretty inaccessible without a car or bike, (and now that the bus we used a few times seems to have stopped running there, it's probably even more inaccessible).  They did have a shuttle, but we were SO cheap then at the 2 euro it cost us each way seemed really extravagant.
Roger says, "No pictures." I say, "How often do you get to stay in an RV?"
But, it was also really charming.  It had a sculpture of a blue elephant right outside our door, and friendly (if probably stoned) staff.  And, anything it lacked was instantly made up by the fact that the "rooms" were actually a caravan of RVsYes, you heard me.  It was amazing.  I loved how neatly everything tucked away in the tiny room, and how enclosed everything felt, both in the RV and in the circular caravan.  Comforting.

Would I ever stay there again?  No, probably not.  I think if I visit Amsterdam again, we'll stay in a real hotel in the center of the city.  I seem to be moving ever further away from my days of broke-college-travel, so much so that I actually looked into going to a fancy all-inclusive in Mexico recently.  The shared shower, squeeky beds, and long distance from city-center means it isn't really for me anymore.  But, did it help me a achieve a life goal?  Yes, yes it did.  And for that, I'll always be grateful for Lucky Lake.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

La Vie En Rose: New Year in Europe

Friday, January 7, 2011 - Milan, Italy

Before we knew it, the end of our vacation had arrived. We woke up early on Friday to enjoy breakfast at the hotel, which was pretty extensive as far as continental breakfast goes, and get an early start on walking to Brand New Gallery. We'd heard that Via Farini was the new up-and-coming gallery section of Milan. Having walked a large section of it in the rain, and arriving at a very closed Brand New Gallery, we have determined that this is a lie. That, or "up-and-coming" means "no where near up yet." Oh, rainy Milan. You were so harsh.

We walked ever further to the Castello Sforzesco, a 14th century castle that now hosts a variety of Italian art pieces and artifacts. Roger was extremely happy to see the Rondanini Pietà, Michelangelo's last sculpture, and I loved seeing a room designed by Leonardo Da Vinci, with a ceiling covered in paintings of trees, and the coolest devil automaton from a 16th century wunderkammer. We wandered slowly around the several museums housed in the castle, knowing (from our brief forays between buildings) just how cold it was outside. I don't think I've ever been so happy to look at paintings.

Eventually, we did have to leave, though. We wandered briefly through another arts district, Brera, which had lovely cobblestone streets and some interesting shops, back to the Duomo area to get my mother her souvenir of choice, a magnet. Exhausted, cold, and soaked, we headed back to the hotel to rest and dry off for a while, picking up some fun Italian treats at a grocery store on the way. The break at the hotel was much needed, and I'm so glad we stayed in a nicer place for our last few days on the vacation.

When the rain had abated a bit, we headed back out for dinner at Da Maruzella, a really, really good little restaurant just a quick walk from our hotel. When we arrived, it was very crowded, but we gave them my name (turns out Maffei is easier for Italians to understand than Arnold. Who would have thought?), and only had a 15 minute or so wait. We ordered a carafe of the house red wine, which was good, and started our meal with a prosciutto and arugula pizza, which was, um, amazing. And, by all means, big enough to fill both of us up. We continued our way through a delicious risotto Milanese and fluffy gnocchi, splitting everything between us. The meal was the perfect ending to a really lovely trip, filled with shared food, wine, and love. I could not have been happier.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

La Vie En Rose: New Year in Europe

Thursday, January 6, 2011 - Milan, Italy

After being lucky enough to get a room early in our nice, clean hotel, the Marconi Hotel, we decided to rest from our sleeper-car experience and sleep for a few hours before facing the cold and gray weather of Milan. We finally made it out in the early afternoon, and headed over to the Duomo di Milano. On the way, we stopped along the Quadrilatero d’Oro and window-shopped for a while. I think by the time we made it to Milan, we were exhausted of vacationing, because window-shopping in the cold, even for Prada, was just making us both cranky. We meandered briefly through the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, which was gorgeous but packed, over to the Duomo, which was also gorgeous but packed. Interestingly enough, there was a Tiffany Christmas Shoppe opened up outside of it, shaped like a Tiffany box and, presumably, filled with little trinkets to buy your loved ones. (Quickly googling the shop now led to the discovery that the tree under which that Tiffany box stands is the most expensive Christmas tree in Europe ever, at $450k to produce. What a vacation for Christmas!)

We stopped for a late lunch at a really good, really filling pizza place near the Duomo, and I wish I could remember what it was called. After some more wandering around, we headed to the Palazzo Marina, where earlier, we had noticed a short line waiting for a Titian show. Roger took a course on Titian in college, and even though he'd promised that the entire first day in Milan would be completely void of art (we couldn't get tickets to see the Last Supper, the only art I really want to see there), since it was closing that day and I knew how badly he wanted to see it, we waited on the now substantially longer line, and stood the full hour to get into the show. When we finally made it into the room, we waited on another line, this time entertained by a video morphing the women from Titian's paintings into each other. It was actually pretty interesting to me, since I really like women in art. We waited patiently, and turned the corner to discover the show. And by show, I mean, one painting. Donna allo Specchio, the woman with a mirror, which was being returned to Italy for the Christmas holiday. We received a lovely little talk about the painting from one of the tour guides, and even though it was in Italian, which neither of us speak, I could tell it was interesting. Then, we looked at the painting for approximately two minutes. It was fine, but really? I'm not so into the Renaissance, and given my already deep resentment for art, I could probably have done without waiting on line for an hour to see it, especially considering how many Titians we'd already seen in the Louvre. But, it makes for a cute story, and was sort of emblematic of our stay in Milan.

Needless to say, we headed back to our hotel for the evening, grabbing gelato at Bianco Latte on the way. I'm no gelato connoisseur, and I've never really had bad gelato, but this was really, really good. They have a variety of different flavors, along with other desserts and some light meals. The whole place is really open and bright, and the counter-staff (we didn't sit down) was incredibly friendly. It's on the way to the central station, and out a bit from the center of Milan, but it's a nice walk over and definitely worth it, I think.

We headed back to the hotel, fully intent on going back out for a late dinner, but once we lay down in the ultra comfortable bed and started watching TV (there were three English channels and one French!), it became clear that I wasn't planning on going anywhere. Also, we had reached that point in the trip, the saturation point, the moment that almost inevitably happens when we are traveling - the time to buy American fast-food. I'm not proud of it, and I try as hard as I can to avoid it, but when Roger said, "I want a big mac. I will walk in the rain to get one while you wait here in the warm hotel," I couldn't say no. So, we split a big mac, fries and a coke. And it was exactly what we needed.

Next Up: Our last day in Europe for some time!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Weekend Wanderings: Derangement of the Senses

We had a completely unplanned weekend, and it turned out to be just what I needed. I had originally hoped to go to our friend Dave's film festival in upstate New York, and as a result, told my cousin I couldn't go with her to a David Garrett concert. When it turned out that Roger couldn't take off for the weekend, I assumed it would be another workaweekend. Luckily, our exceedingly energetic and talented friend, Kevin Carter, was running his monthly reading and burlesque series, Derangement of the Senses, in Chinatown on Friday night. Roger, in the city for a preview of the African Art Museum, met me at my office, and we walked the 40 or so blocks to Vanessa's Dumplings without coats. It was warm, it was sunny, it made me almost miss living in the city. Almost. We hung out in the Sarah Roosevelt Park watching some kids play soccer until the bar opened and Derangement of the Senses began. My favorite reading was by Cassie J. Schneider, about the experience of picking up a hitchhiker in the deep south, but the whole show was enjoyable, as expected.

I don't know if I mentioned this before, but Roger's car is permanently out-of-commission, and until we have a better idea of what we're doing next year, we've decided to share my car (after that, I may buy my version of a sensible car- a Subaru). I don't drive much, so it hasn't been too big of a problem, but on Saturday morning, we had our first experience of both needing the car at the same time. He ended up going to work early, dropping me off to get a haircut on the way. I went shorter than I've been in nearly 3 years, but I was really sick of knotted hair and split ends. I think I'll probably let it grow out again, but for now, I'm glad it's a little easier to manage. Returning home, I watched three episodes of Bathroom Crashers (I get really, really addicted to TV, which is why I don't have one in my house), before getting it together enough to tidy up my own house a little. (Recent addition to my bathroom: two bathmats and a towel. No, seriously. I found both in the attic.) I went to pick Roger up from work, and we met my family, Liz, and Liz's uncle Sonny for dinner at Fratelli II. I'd never eaten there before, and it's been here forever, so it was nice to try, and much fancier and more crowded than I expected. J.J. came over after and I fell asleep on the couch before he left. Of course.

Sunday was equally quiet, with the removal of some Christmas decorations, now that the snow has finally abated somewhat. Some writing, a little laundry, more cleaning, and before I knew it, the weekend was over. They really move too quickly, don't they?

Friday, February 18, 2011

{This Moment}

{This Moment}

A Friday ritual inspired by Amanda Soule & many others.
Please feel free to share a link to your own moment in the comments.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Weekend Wanderings: Work-a-Weekend

This was a work-a-weekend, but in between all the work, there were some really lovely moments of fun and relaxation, which made the whole thing feel worthwhile. Friday, when Roger met me at the train station, we'd planned to just go back to my house, but after a ton of arguing, we started fighting, and I realized that with the terrible week we'd both just had, it was time to pull out the big guns - going out to dinner. So I drove straight past my house to our favorite diner and we talked out a few issues and had a really good meal, complete with a divine strawberry milkshake. I'm convinced there's nothing a good talk, combined with a strawberry milkshake, can't solve. We went back to my house and, after watching a few episodes of our favorite sitcoms, I fell fast asleep at approximately 10pm. Did I mention it was a rough week? Yeah. I needed that sleep.

Saturday I woke up almost ready to go. I spent the day researching on Egypt for an interview that evening, and working on a marketing pamphlet for my mother's hospital, along with binge-eating three enormous slices of Sicilian pizza. [This is something I want to address in my next Gratituesday. I've been having some food issues for the past few weeks, and I think they're worth delving into.] I went and ran the interview for the Egypt article, which went well. I work for a hyper-local newspaper, and so of course this had to have a hyper-local slant, but it's still the first current-events article I've ever written, so I think that's something worth mentioning. In another life, far away, I'm some sort of foreign correspondent. That life is just as good as this one. After that, the much needed break - cooking dinner for my best friend. She requested "anything but salmon," which was going to be my big Valentine's Day meal, but I consulted my food bible and made a really wonderful, healthy meal to balance out the pizza: peanut butter kale over brown rice. It's pretty easy, and while I won't repeat the recipe here (go buy the book! - maybe I should hook up one of those amazon bookstore links...), but basically, you cook kale and garlic in olive oil, peanut butter and broth in a sauce pan, stirring in chopped tomatoes at the last second. It's amazing, and so fast, and as I've said before, Mark Bittman is changing the way I look at cooking, and getting me on step closer to my goal of learning to cook. I also made red velvet cupcakes, which Shelby kindly helped frost, and of which we each ate about four. After, we headed over to Desert Sun and met her parents for drinks. They're always a riot, and it was nice to be able to spend more time with her, since we only see each other on occasion now.

Sunday was a long day filled with writing and work, but Roger and I had a brief break for lunch together, and then I went with my parents for dinner at an Italian restaurant in town. They were having some Valentine's Day specials, and my mother ordered a lobster ravioli with champagne sauce. It was heart-shaped and dyed red, so I thought it was worth sharing. Then, there was more writing and some baking of sugar cookies for my office. My co-workers are really lovely about sharing foods, and so I thought it would be nice to bring in something for them, since the food always sits in front of my cubicle, giving me prime-access. Now, to start another week!

*Sorry all these pictures have been from my phone. I haven't been carrying my camera around like I should.
**Also, Lauren, Sarah, Trisha and I (and hopefully Mary!) have been posting our daily outfits on Twitter everyday, so that's why there is a picture of myself here. I've said it before, but I'm so grateful to have found a community of fun, interesting, and kind women on here. I don't think I would ever have been brave enough to do something like this even six months ago, so thanks to everyone who has helped me to come out of my shell a little. I appreciate you all more than you know.

Friday, February 11, 2011

{This Moment}

{This Moment}

A Friday ritual inspired by Amanda Soule & many others.
Please feel free to share a link to your own moment in the comments.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

La Vie En Rose: New Year in Europe

Wednesday, January 5, 2011 - Dijon, France to Milan, Italy

On Wednesday morning, we enjoyed our final breakfast of chocolate muesli and packed our bags. When James arrived back from teaching, the four of us grabbed a train to Dijon, world-famous city of mustard and the fast-train. The train passed through vineyards and countryside, and we arrived in Dijon after about an hour. We checked our bags at the train station (unfortunately, the bag check is only available until 5pm, which was inconvenient, since our train left at 11pm), and quickly headed into the main city, a quick walk from the station.

Our first stop was the Maille gift store. Maille, a Dijon mustard maker since 1747, has a variety of types available in grocery stores, so if you're looking to buy a jar of plain mustard, you should check there first; it will be much cheaper. The store is definitely worth a look if you're in Dijon, though, because they have a variety of different types that aren't available in groceries, and also a tasting and refilling station. I love refilling things (see the milk machine), and I love ceramic jars with corks, so this was quite appealing to me. We tried a few different types, including a cassis mustard and a chocolate one. When I was a little girl, I hated mustard. Now, I like it a lot, and so this was a fun little excursion.

We left Maille and followed the Owl Trail, a little walking path that leads you from spot to spot in the city. It begins at La Chouette, a small owl carved into the corner of the Notre Dame cathedral. Apparently, it's good luck if you rub the owl with your left hand. I used my right (because it wouldn't be me if I'd done it right), but it was actually really lovely to touch such a small, smooth thing. I am into that sort of thing - legends, tactile & interactive things, small & smooth animals. It felt right. I know that sounds strange, but it did.

We continued on to the Musee Beaux-Arts de Dijon, which is a nice little museum in an old state building. We went mainly to see "the mourners," tiny sculptures around the bottom of two tombs that are ceaselessly hunched over in sadness. They were, unfortunately, on loan, but there was a really amazing painting of them (meta-portrait!) there, along with a lovely Orientalist painting of a half-naked woman in a kimono and some very smooth animal sculptures. Admission is free, and it's definitely worth a visit.

After that, it was already time to pick up our bags, so James and Roger went to do that while Emily and I shopped a little and tried to pick a restaurant. They had to take the last train back to Tournus at around 8pm, so we had to find a place that was open early. This is no small task in a city where almost no one opens their doors for dinner until 7pm. We wandered forever, had some awful drinks at a strange and truly empty bar, and then wandered some more, all while James and Roger carried our enormous bags around. They are such troopers. We ended up at a French diner of sorts, L'Imprimerie Concorde, which had the most amazing decor ever, made up of books and printer's blocks and lettering. Yeah, I'm a geek about that sort of thing, but it was beyond cool. The food was also fine, though nothing incredible.

We walked James and Emily back to their early train, and started on our journey to Milan. It was long and painful and reminded me (forgive me the dramatics) of Mary and Percy Shelley crossing the Alps. It began with three hour wait in a waiting room filled with crazies. Seriously, an enormous family that was spread out through the entire room that kept beating each other up and screaming, along with a variety of unsavory looking fellows and a janitor. Once we made it on to the track to wait for our train, an elderly man approached us. We worried he was going to mug us and push us onto the tracks, but when he got closer, he just smelled really bad and was really old and kept trying to ask us how to validate his ticket. We finally managed to explain it to him, but not before Roger looked at his ticket and discovered he was in the same sleeping car as we were. Excellent.

He didn't appear to speak any English, and his French was worse than ours, and our fourth carmate (thank God there weren't six of us) was also using French to communicate with us, when it turned out that none of us spoke French as a first language, and we all spoke English much better than French, but some how we still kept speaking in French. Which our Italian speaking ticket-collector took to mean we didn't speak any English, and which led to lots of painfully awkward moments throughout the evening. The car was already set up for sleeping, which means that the beds pull out of the wall. I had no idea how this worked, and realized that during my six-week trip across Europe, all those tickets that cost so much extra because they had "sleepers" weren't lies. We just had no clue how they worked, and slept in our seats with beds resting peacefully above us. FML.

We were off, and when the train stopped for a full hour in the middle of no where, I woke up and was overcome by the horrific smell of urine. You may not know me in real life, but if you do, you know that one of my pet peeves is the smell of urine. It pervades every corner of New York City, and it was suddenly pervading every corner of the car. Along with the worst heat you can imagine. I tried to open the door to the car quietly, but the conductor came along immediately and slammed it, and I suffered in silence until the train started moving again and I could fall back asleep. We eventually made it to Milan, and after a few false starts, walked over to our hotel at around 4am. It was very fancy, and miraculously, they had a room available for us. With the most beautiful, white, soft bed you can imagine.

I hopped in. Roger hopped in. I noticed that smell again. The smell of someone else's urine. "Do I smell homeless?" I asked. "No," said Roger. I persisted. "Are you sure? I think I smell homeless." A sniff. "Oh god! You do! That's disgusting." FML. Again. "It's not that bad, right?" Another sniff. "Kristin, you have to go take a shower." The idea of leaving the amazing bed made me want to cry. "That's not fair! I was just sleeping above him! Why did I have to absorb the smell!? I'm not going!" Then came the demand. "Now. No one is going to change these sheets until tomorrow. We're not sleeping in this smell twice." It's hard to argue with logic like that, and I begrudgingly went into the (world's single greatest) shower to wash away the experience of sleeping in a true sleeping car before finally getting some real rest.

Next Up: Our first full day in Milan!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

La Vie En Rose: New Year in Europe

Tuesday, January 4, 2011: Tournus, France
Another late start on Tuesday proved that Tournus was, at least for James’s guests, a city of sleeping in. James had to wake early for class, and we tried to also, but mostly it didn’t work out, and around ten, James would wander in and see us eating chocolate granola cereal in our pajamas. It was lovely to have the extra sleep.
We all wandered over to a different grocery store for ingredients for that evening’s dinner, and when James went back to teach, Emily, Roger and I wandered around Tournus, checking out some of the little shops and bakeries. Several shops were selling really lovely baskets, and I fell in love with a market basket, but decided I already had too many bags to carry around for the rest of the trip. Also, I am, like, queen of the tote bags and our farmer's market doesn't even open until June. We stopped by a bakery for some bread and macarons, and wandered in and out of shops until we met back up with James at the train station to buy our tickets to Dijon and Milan the next day. A little tip from James that we wish we'd known - buy the 18-25 pass if you're between the ages of 18 and 25, and doing much train travel in France. It's about 50 euros, but it means that all your tickets are 50% off for a year. In the end, we wouldn't have saved tons of money, but any little bit helps, so I wanted to pass that on to you.
For dinner, James made us the most wonderful tartiflette, a delicious mixture of potatoes, reblochon cheese, white wine, cream, and bacon. Once again, we gave the dish time, and it was perfect. With some good beers (yes, the French have beers!) and nice bread, the meal was the wonderful way to celebrate our last night in Tournus. We finished the evening with macarons and seemingly endless games of Hearts by candlelight.

Next Up: Dijon and we make our way to Milan!