essentialsaltes: (great)
Dr. Pookie and I travelled out to Anza Borrego Desert State Park to see the superbloom of desert wildflowers, much like our 2005 trip to Death Valley (q.v. (and photos)). Our original plans to drive out there involved the 91, but as it turns out, they were blocking the brand-new FastTrak (grrr) lanes and it was causing all sorts of havoc. Fortunately traffic was light and we went down the 405 and then cut inland on the Ortega Highway, which turned out to be scenic and twisty in all the best ways. We took a quick stop to take a nice photo as the highway dumps you over a ridge overlooking Lake Elsinore.

Click on through )

DC

Feb. 12th, 2017 05:58 pm
essentialsaltes: (poo-bush)
I went for a quick business trip to Washington DC.

Pictures here.

The flight out was pretty rocky. Coming in for landing at Dallas, the lady next to me had her airsickness bag out. It was a near thing, but we made it through together. Alas, my bag was so frightened, it stayed in Dallas. But it was coaxed onto the next flight so it arrived at my hotel at midnight. So much for getting an early night to help with the time change.

The business stuff was successful, and (as the photos show) I had some time to walk around the national mall before heading back to the airport. I was surprised there were no protestors at the White House. Just a small gaggle of tourists.

On the flight back, I couldn't help but notice the guy next to me with his e-reader set to blind-bat text size, especially when the screen read:

"aggressively sharpened on the whetstone of her sex"

Which reminds me... there was some commercial for something quoting Dylan Thomas - "Do not go gentle into that good night". Seems to me James Bond uncharacteristically missed an opportunity for a witticism in The Man with the Golden Gun.

Santa Paula

Jan. 8th, 2017 05:28 pm
essentialsaltes: (yellowstone Falls)
Photos from a quick, last-minute trip out to Santa Paula.

We didn't quite make it to the Punch Bowls before we got too hungry, but we enjoyed hiking up Santa Paula Canyon. The recent rains made a few parts slow going and mucky, but not too bad. The hike starts out along the side of Thomas Aquinas College, with lovely views of the campus... generally obscured by temporary trailers set up on the periphery of the campus. Then it takes you around oil fields, and alongside avocado farms, where they are deadly serious about avocado poaching.

Had a fine lunch at Los Arcos, where I made use of my legal right to use the women's bathroom if I so identify (and possibly also because they were redoing the tile in the men's). A little vintage/thrift shopping, where Dr. Pookie found a nice water lily-patterned bit of uranium glass. And then back down the freeways to home.
essentialsaltes: (islam)
All the photos (250)

The 86 best photos (in quasi-reverse chronological order)




We were on the Norwegian Jewel, going in and out of Seattle, with Dr. Pookie's twin and her family. Just as an aside, we found the ship experience not as nice as our previous big-ship cruises on Celebrity and the ill-fated Costa Concordia. I don't know if it was a difference between American and European-based cruises, or Norwegian vs these other lines, but particularly the food was a let-down this time. On the previous ships, there were set dining-times in the main dining room, and one would be seated with other parties. A few of the nights were formal, requiring jacket and tie, but generally dressing up to some extent was expected. If you couldn't handle this, you could always hit the buffet in your speedos. Dinners would be 5 course affairs with a sommelier - every day a different menu. On Jewel, there were no set mealtimes, and only the French restaurant and the rear dining hall required collared shirts at dinner. 3 course meals. No sommelier. The restaurants had largely the same menu each night, though a few items cycled through. There was also a lot more nickel and diming. There were 'specialty' restaurants that cost extra money -- we had a package that got us 4 visits to these -- but even then, certain menu items (lobster, etc.) had an additional surcharge. The specialty restaurants were all pretty good, but on the whole, the food was a disappointment in comparison to our other experiences. Everything else about the ship and cruise was A-Okay and much more like the others.

So anyway... )
essentialsaltes: (agent)
here they be

Dr. Pookie's photos, including lots of food pics, are here.
essentialsaltes: (agent)
This time, Munich.

I think the most German thing I saw was on the flight out of LAX. As we board, a gentleman comes down the aisle, stops a row or two behind me and says to the guy in the window seat, "You are in the Wrong seat." A straightforward declarative sentence. I can imagine an American saying 'you are in my seat' but much more likely some awkward verbal prologue.

Anyway, my coworker and I had some time to sightsee on Monday, so we visited the Asamkirche, City Hall (and its animated clock), climbed the 299 steps at the Old Peter church, the Frauenkirche, and on into the English Garden.

But I think the highlight was the royal Wittelsbach Residence (home to the kings of Bavaria) and its treasury of crown jewels and other treasures.

One night, a client took us out for a tour of the Allianz Arena, ending with a fine dinner up at the skybox level.

All the photos.
essentialsaltes: (perill of Breakdancing)
First off, hard drive went kaput, taking most of my photos with it. Veratrine has hers up, and there's still a slim chance I'll be able to recover mine.

We arrived in Mexico City Sunday afternoon. My first attempt to get money from an ATM was declined, but Becca's bank was less fussy. We taxied to the hotel, the Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico, which is right on the main square, the Zócalo. The hotel is an Art Nouveau treasure with an enormous Tiffany glass ceiling, and ironwork elevators. Originally it was a department store, the Centro Mercado, but the initials worked well for Ciudad de Mexico when it was converted to a hotel in preparation for the 68 Olympics. Much of this we learned from Freddy the porter, who led us to our room. We had a gorgeous room with windows overlooking the square itself opposite the National Palace. Although the President no longer lives there, he dropped by for a visit -- On Monday, they hung red swags from the balcony, there was twice as much security as usual (which is usually a lot) and a couple dozen black SUVs arrived. Apparently, he and the president of South Korea had a summit meeting there.
Read more... )
essentialsaltes: (arkham)
All the photos (and a couple videos)

I flew up Thursday to Portland for the 20th anniversary fest. Got set up in my hotel, and then ventured out for food and haircare products. I was happily surprised to find that you can still buy brilliantine. The Thursday night VIP party was held at a speakeasy, Circa 33, and we were encouraged to dress Thirties' style. I didn't really go for period authentic, but tuxedos are pretty timeless, and the brilliantined hair added some vintage flair. Great venue & good drinks. I spent some effort flipping the dipswitch from introvert to extrovert, and managed fairly well at mingling with people I knew and people I didn't. A sazerac and some ciders also helps to lower the shields, so that pretty soon, I'm embracing Charlie Stross and Jeff Combs.

Charlie/Mike/Jeff

Met lots of other good people there. Dick Lupoff and his wife -- discovered we were both Raiders fans. Leeman Kessler, [livejournal.com profile] princeofcairo, a gaggle of other attendees. And plenty of friends that I generally only get to see at the fest: Glancy, Gwen, Andrew, Andrew & Linda, Gwen & Brian (who had some particularly kind things to say), and ...

The party was really a high point. It was a great venue, and everyone was relaxed -- just a bunch of fascinating people with a common interest being people together.

... )

Ojai

Aug. 9th, 2015 12:37 pm
essentialsaltes: (space invader)
We made a snap decision to take a road-trip. We started off in San Marino, hitting an estate sale where Dr. Pookie picked up more uranium glass.

Then out to Ojai.

The Post Office:

Ojai Post Office

There is a ladder to the tower, but the door is locked. A sign says you climb at your own risk.

We had a nice lunch at Suzanne's Cuisine. Possibly inspired by the recent potato chip tasting at work, I opted for the Reuben sandwich (my least unfavorite of the four flavors).

The Museum has some historical doodads and taxidermed animals. One thing that caught my eye was a jug of Pixo Cola concentrate from the Pixie Flavor Base Co.

Pixo Cola

The address on the jug is on Vernon, less than ten blocks from our house. Sadly, the only thing I can learn about the Pixie Flavor Base Co is that it got in trouble with the FDA in 1943 for adulterating/mislabelling orangeade concentrate. "On October 5, 1943, no claimant having appeared, judgment of condemnation was entered and the product was ordered destroyed or delivered to some charitable institution."

But there was also a temporary exhibit of items from Sergio Aragones' personal comics collection. Not of his own work, but the work of others, much of it signed personally to him. Aragones is now a local resident, and actually next Saturday (and again on Sep 19) you can tour the exhibit with him for a mere $25.

I was impressed by it, but I'm sure my comic book fan friends probably would have gone bananas.

Bob Kane

autograph/sketch books

We stopped at Bart's Books, which is a local institution. Didn't buy anything, but it's got a lot of stuff packed into a crazy space. A house that's been eaten by a bookstore. Books on the exterior walls just stay there, and you're advised to drop coins in a slot to pay for them after hours.

Bart's Books

We did a wine tasting and an olive oil tasting, and came away with bottles of both. And then pointed the car home. PCH was probably not a good choice on a summer beach day, but it was made worse by an accident that shut things down for a bit. Still more interesting than either the 101 or going back the way we came.
essentialsaltes: (cocktail)
Travelogue:
Part I - mainly Paris
Part II - mainly Brittany
Part III - Carcassonne, Paris and home

Photos:
Travel Photos (470 + a handful of videos)
Best-of Travel Photos (reverse order (and with vids first of all))
Food Photos (no overlap with Travel Photos)
essentialsaltes: (column)
Alas, the French train system has finally let us down. Something slowed down our train on the way to Bordeaux, and we slowed to a crawl and paused for a time, and then crawled slowly toward our destination. Can't make a 20 minute connection when your train is 39 minutes late.

We crammed into the information desk line (with lots of other travellers) and finally got to the counter and received our new tickets and instructions. Bordeaux to Toulouse and Toulouse to Carcassonne. With a 10 minute connection in Toulouse. There was still a half hour before the next train, but at least we had a new plan, and it wasn't like waiting hours for the next train.

But then of course we get to the new train, and the cars have no electricity. A minor annoyance is that the seat numbers are all electronic (for some reason) I mean why!?! The seats can't really change from day to day, and even if they did you couldn't change the numbers, because they match the existing seat layout. But a greater annoyance was that the AC was not on, and had not been on. Did I mention that France has been pretty hot this whole time? Although Mont Saint Michel was 'cool' (high 70s) from being out in the sea, everywhere else has been 80s and 90s, and it's supposed to be high 90s in Caracassonne, and it is expected to hit 100 the day we return to Paris (last I checked). After the unlit numbers and the AC, the last remaining strange obstacle was the pigeon on the car, but a civic minded fellow passenger caught the pigeon and released it outside.

Of course, above and beyond the numbers, the AC, and the pigeon, the very last thing is that the train is late leaving Bordeaux. They're estimating 10 mintues late. We'll see if you can make a 10 minute connection when you're ten minutes late.

I'm beginning to think I should not have worn my CityRace t-shirt.


And yes, you can't make your 10 minute connection when the train actually leaves 20 minutes late. (I think there is no such thing as making up lost time on French trains. Their speed is set for every section of track and that's it and that's all.)

So in Toulouse, we're back in the information kiosk trying to get to Carcassonne. The next train is too late for our dinner reservations, but grudgingly the attendant allows that the Lyon train will stop there, but we will have to pay a supplement because of blahblahblah. Whatever, Jacques. Back to the platforms and onto train number 4 of the day. Dr. Pookie has started a countdown to the reservation time at the restaurant. She's been looking forward to this meal, and nothing will stop her. Not French trains, not 95 degree heat, not a husband who suggests that it is fashionable to be a little late to restaurant reservations.

The train travels through some very pretty countryside...

Grapes

...and drops us off in an hour or so in Carcassonne. Dr. Pookie calls 57 minutes.

We drag our bags outside hoping to find a taxi. There's a stand, and people waiting, but no taxis. Let's give it a few minutes. At 51 minutes, and no signs of change, we go to plan B. I take a photo of the map of town; Dr. Pookie draws a crude map, and off we go towing our suitcases through the pedestrian streets. At 43 minutes we cross a plaza and can see the street that will take us to the street we want. At 37 minutes we arrive at the hotel. Dr. Pookie calls 33 minutes as we enter the door, and we change into slightly fancier clothes.

28 minutes, she calls, as she leads me back out of the hotel and across the old bridge over the river toward the old part of town. Now it's still a billion degrees outside, and our restaurant is in the old castle part of town, so that means we have to scale the hill and get inside the walled inner city.

21 minutes, she gasps breathlessly as we halfway scale the hill. 18 minutes, we tread upon the incline to the gates. 12 minutes, as we enter the outer and inner gates. 6 minutes, as we navigate the medieval streets. 2 minutes, as we sight the old basilica that adjoins the plaza in which the restaurant is located.

"ZERO!! WE HAVE RESERVATIONS FOR EXACTLY RIGHT NOW", a slightly shiny and fetchingly bedewed Dr. Pookie exults, dragging a sweat-drenched Mr. Dr. Pookie into the Michelin-starred restaurant. They seat us in a corner of the terrace as far away from everyone else as possible. I don't blame them.

But after a Campari and soda and a half liter of water, and a little time on the breezy and fortunately shaded terrace, I'm largely dry and composed again, and can focus on the business at hand -- some world-class food. We are greeted with a tiny beaker of vichyssoise, a tiny soup spoon with a dollop of blended peas with a delicious sprig of ham embedded in it, and a little cube of sheep's cheese with a tiny cherry. The soup was only so so, but the other elements were miniscule delights.

Then an amuse-bouche of a cube of garlic-infused potato resting on truffle sauce arrived to also help get the party started. I think sommeliers are trained to praise any selection made by a guest, but right or wrong I was happy with my choice of a Mourvedre grown in the region. Dr. Pookie opted for the seasonal menu based on carrots and potatoes, while I ordered a la carte. My starter was some lightly fried vegetables with truffle slices and tiny croutons with truffle sauce. A wide variety of veggies in the dish: artichoke heart, asparagus, freakish baby beet, carrot, onion, mushrooms... I don't remember Dr. Pookie's, but you can bet it had carrots and potatoes in it.

I didn't have a fish course, but she had Artic char with the tiniest carrot bits and tater tots you ever saw.

For the main course, I had something that was sort of a fancy variation on the tournedos de Rossini I had in New Orleans, but they had gone further with fancying it up. It arrived as a perfect cylinder, like an impossibly perfect filet, but it was actually three layers. Meat cake! The bottom was a disk of filet. The middle layer was shredded filet meat in a rich dark sauce, and the top layer was a ring of filet, with a plug of foie gras filling the punched out middle. I really enjoyed it a lot. The foie gras had a more appealing texture, to me, than what I'd had in New Orleans, which was too runny/fatty. But the sauce is what really made the dish so good in the shredded meat. The solid parts of steak were perfectly good, but because they were thin, it was hard to appreciate them as steak, and I'm not sure whether it even mattered that I asked for it medium. Still I did enjoy it quite a lot.

For dessert I had the strawberry tart, and it was really quite impressive. About ten different ingredients all put together into a little merry-go-round. Tart base with strawberry creme, and another cookie, and a layer of strawberry slices, and a punched out disk of white chocolate with little creme poofs topped with sort of a strawberry fruit jelly. Pretty fantastic.

To aid in digestion, I had a chartreuse. Lovely herbal fragrance, it's almost as fun to inhale as drink. La Barbican did a great job of wiping away the terrors of travel that had plagued us for most of the day.

The setting of the Barbican is also fantastic, being on the terrace behind the Hotel de la Cite. The setting sun gave vibrant hues to the building and the neighboring castle. Like in Rennes, as the light faded, swallows came out to eat the early evening bugs. At first in singles and twos, soon there were little groups and temporary swarms of swallows swishing and swooshing through the air above, silhouetted darkly against the sunset sky, making their occasional war-cheeps.

After dinner, we strolled (much more sedately) back down the hill toward the hotel. The moon was bright, as was the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter.

I had intended our stay in Carcassonne to be a slower paced stay, and we may go slower still. The thought of getting on a train, even a short one to Nimes, now seems foolhardy. So we'll spend a couple days in town before returning to Paris.

Carcassonne near sunset

The next morning, we slept in, and then set off into the city. Warm, but not yet hot, there was a strong wind that has kept up most of the day so far. We stopped for a bite for breakfast, and then ran into the square where a farmers market was open.

Market, Carcassonne

We checked out the produce, and bought some apricot preserves to take back home. We stopped briefly at the train station to get our tickets to Paris squared away. We will keep our fingers crossed, but we have decent tickets all set.

Near the train station, a canal flows through the town, and there are tour boats there. We were at a convenient time, so we took a 1.5 hour cruise through a couple of locks and back. The views had been perhaps overestimated, but it was still a fine way to spend a little time. The Midi canal actually runs quite a ways, connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. Like Carcassonne itself, the canal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Midi Canal

On our return, we managed to find our way around to the cemetery behind the train station, and walked around a bit soaking up the gothic atmosphere and blazing sun. By then, it was really getting warm, and rather than fight it out and tramp all over in the heat, we declared a siesta. We got some sandwiches from a shop, and a bottle of cider from the supermarche, and headed back for the hotel to wait out the hottest part of the day, before venturing forth again.

That was nice lunch break, and afterwards, we strolled about the old city, taking the other route into the Aude Gate, which is steeper, but possibly shorter than the walk around to the Narbonne gate. Most of the sites (and even the shops) were closed for the day, but it was still nice to walk through the streets, especially since most of the tourists had vanished.

Basilica of Carcassonne

Checking around the nooks and crannies, we found a way to get down to a grassy area beneath the 'drawbridge' connecting the medieval town to the actual chateau. There was a garden down there with flowers and vegetables.

Garden

We had spent some part of the day idly looking over the menu of the restaurants in town, and eventually drifted over to the Jardin de Carcasses, which seemed to have a nice menu, and the spot was a lovely outdoor plaza. The food was quite good, and for the first and probably only time in France, we had swift and speedy service from beginning to end. I had a Banyuls as an aperitif, which appeared on a few menus hereabouts. It was a sweet port (basically correct from what Wikipedia tells me); I enjoyed it, but I might have chosen differently if I had it to do over again. My starter was a salad with tomatoes and some toasts with a spread and folded ham on top. It was all quite delicious. Then a butcher's cut of beef with some pomme frites. The beef was a bit tough, but otherwise quite good. Dr. Pookie's cassoulet was adorned with a savory looking duck-leg. All washed down with a cheap pichet of white wine. And creme brulee for dessert. It too was fantastic, with a crackly top and a custardy insides.

In the morning we returned to the medieval city to see a few of the things that were closed yesterday. The cemetery is much like the one above the train station, except that it has much better views, being right next to the walls of the city and the Narbonne Gate.

Untitled

Inside, we toured the Basilica of St. Nazaire and St. Celse, and had the place almost to ourselves. With origins from the 6th century, the present building was completed in the 13th century. Some nice gothic elements and stained glass, and a neat pulpit, but not much of the insides was of great interest, apart perhaps from a statue of Jean d'Arc.

Pulpit

The chateau tour is well worth a visit. You don't have free reign, but you get to see a lot of it, and they have restored some interesting bits of the defensive technology, namely the wooden gallery (hoarding) that overhung the base of the ramparts. Crossbowmen could guard from far away through the stone ramparts, but a slotted hole in the floor of the wooden gallery allowed you to shoot anyone who had gotten to the base of the wall. In time of war, they would have been covered in wet animal skins to protect against the enemies setting fire to it.

The wooden gallery

The chateau also holds some statues and architectural pieces saved from previously demolished churches or other relics found in the area, including crusader era sarcophagi, and even older Roman relics.

headstones

After touring the castle, you can also climb the ramparts and walk along them from the castle to the Narbonne gate, about halfway around the entire upper city. Some elements of the wall date back to Roman times.

We're enjoying our slower paced visit to Carcassonne, and looked at shops, and arranged for another canal tour in the afternoon, picked up lunch fixings and headed back to the hotel for a siesta, even though its only supposed to be 89 today. Paris was supposed to be 103 today. But it'll only be 95 when we return there tomorrow.

I don't know that I've mention the wind, but today and yesterday there has been a very strong gusty wind from the sea that is strong enough that I'm glad my boonie hat has its chinstrap. Sandwich and champagne for lunch, and then to our new boat trip.

Lunch was nice, but you really shouldn't trust the 5 euro champagne you can get at the train station... I think it gave me a headache that lasted the rest of the day. The second boat trip was nice, going the opposite direction along the canal from the previous one. This one went a bit further, and also seemed to get out of the city faster. There were woods on either side of the canal, although the large trees lining the canal had been planted by the canal builders in Napoleonic times. We traveled through a nice green lane and passed through a lock before returning. The boat made a stop at a maison that offered drinks and snacks, and you could take a little stroll. The house really only caters to the canal trade, and it was pretty remote from anything else, or at least that's how it seemed.

Canal

Back in town, we worked up our courage for one last climb up the hill, to have dinner at Dame Carcas, named after the apocryphal eponymous pig owner. Dr. Pookie ordered a hypocras to start with, and graciously shared a few sips of this reputed aphrodisiac with me. The taste was something like port with mulling spice and Unterberg, served cold. After, we had a bottle of the house rose, which was fine, but nothing special.

I started with the Assiette Roma, a tomato salad with ham, mozzarella, olives, and a drizzle of pesto. It was very tasty. Dr. Pookie had a baked chevre salad. My pork filets were okay, and Dr. Pookie wrestled with her tiny lamb chops. Neither of us thought much of the little pot of ratatouille, but the potatoes were very nice indeed. For afters, she had the cheese plate, while I opted for raspberry and lemon sorbet, with a little mixed fruit and sauce and cream. It was a really splendid end to a nice meal on a hot day.

The next morning we checked out and struggled off to the train station, where again the French train system is trying to hex us. We had a 17 minute connection in Narbonne. And the train was not at the station when it was supposed to leave. I've been thinking of a new gameshow, sort of like Name That Tune, where you say how many notes you need to identify the song. This game would be Make That Connection, where you bid on how many minutes you need at the train station. Ultimately the train left 15 minutes late, which whittled down our connection time to 2 minutes. Fortunately, the engineer made the shortest possible stop at the one station in between, and we actually had about 5 minutes to get to the next train. This was just enough, though it was a bit trying since our assigned car was far down the track. But now we're on it, and on our way to Paris. We've scouted out the next hotel, and providentially it is quite close to the train station (Gare du Lyon) where we arrive in Paris.

The Marceau Bastille hotel was a pretty short walk from the train station. After a short rest, we ventured forth again into the Metro and the greater city. We had looked up potential brocantes, or pop up flea markets, and found one today outside the Bourse. Exiting the Bourse Metro station it was right in front of us, which was pretty convenient. Dr. Pookie has had a mad plan to add to her uranium glass collection with a French souvenir, and sure enough, we found a pitcher with 6 glasses for a pretty bargain at 15 euros. Now we just have to get them all home in 7 pieces, and no more.

From there we Metroed again to the Arc de Triomphe. We got some views of it, and then took the underground walkway (trying to cross the traffic circle around it is certain death) to get right under it. For a few euroes you can climb up to the top, but we wimped out and settled for the ground view.

Arc de Triomphe

The Champs Elysees leads off from the Arc, so we walked along it for some ways past the expensive shops, and the extremely gauche A&F. Although it wasn't 103 like yesterday, it was still pretty warm, so we zipped back to the hotel for a siesta, and then walked out to the Île Saint-Louis for dinner. The waiter was a bit lacking in communication and listening skiils, but we managed to salvage a meal out of it all. Charcouterie and choucroute made for a lot of sausage, but it was mostly pretty good stuff and the sauerkraut was mild and tasty. A chilled gamay washed it all down. And now we're winding down our last evening, and have our plans for getting to CDG in the morning.

The train from the Gare du Nord to CDG was the nerd train. There were a lot of people on the train and they clearly were not going to the airport. Cosplayers, furries, a guy with his nose in a manga the whole trip, a guy in a French gamergeek t-shirt. The stop before the airport was the Parc du Exposition, so there must have been something going on there [Ah, now I see it was the JAPAN EXPO.]. Not just the obvious weirdoes, but most of the train got off there. Finally, we made it into the horrible CF that is Charles de Gaulle. Long walks everywhere and too many people to dodge. The line at Air Tahiti to check in wasn't too bad, and we learned we would have the safest possible flight, since France's award-winning national MMA team will be on board. I'm not sure where they found Frenchman that big. Loaded up and in the sky, I've already tasted some indifferent beef and mashed potatoes and look forward to getting home.

So far the big excitement on the flight has been one of those calls for 'Is there a doctor on board? A passenger has a medical problem'. Oh then a French guy was yelling at a little kid next to him, and then the parents had to get up and start yelling, and then someone else got involved. And so on... Dr. Pookie and I had dialed all but the last digit of summon a flight attendant. Of course there is only one digit to that, but still. Anyway, down safe, and back home.
essentialsaltes: (cocktail)
The views from the train from Paris were quite pleasant. It's not long until you are entirely out of the city, and from then on it's lots of farmland, and some forested areas. A few towns here and there. The TGV also lives up to its name. At one point we were alongside a highway, and we were passing cars like they were standing still. Not bullet train fast, but probably well over 100. I figger the average speed must have been at least 87 mph.

In Rennes, we had a little trouble finding the street (on a map) where the hotel was, and the information guy at the train station made a gallic pfft about it, but the taxi driver knew his business. We dropped off our bags at the hotel and went back to the train station, or rather the adjoining bus station and got our tickets for Mont Saint Michel. While waiting for the bus, we fortunately just had time to go to the train ticket office at the train station and get our tickets for the next two days squared away. I thought our coming voyage to Carcassonne might be trying, but it's not too bad (ominous foreshadowing). Just three trains. And fortunately the first part of that voyage will be similar to tomorrow, so we will know some of the ropes (of course, we should have remembered the biggest lesson from Italy - if you have a train ticket and can stamp it, get it stamped).

The bus ride to Mont Saint Michel was about an hour and fairly enjoyable. More farmland and trees and a few quaint villages here and there. A bit more hilly in this region. Then near the end, you can spot MSM sticking up on the horizon like a little ornament.

First Glimpse of Mont Saint Michel, from the bus

And it gets bigger and bigger. The bus only gets you so far, but then a free shuttle takes you down to the end of the causeway connecting MSM to the mainland (nowadays).

MSM

A few more steps and you're on the semi-island, and entering the fortified gates. I had been forewarned by the guidebook, so it wasn't too terrible a shock to see that the lower parts of MSM, although probably almost as old and historic as the Abbey, is entirely filled with tacky gift shops and semi-fake private museums. Oh, there are also some restaurants, but the overall impression is of gift shops, especially when the street is about ten feet wide, and there are storefronts on both sides, and tourists of all nations gawk at the stuff on display, holding up traffic. We hiked up toward the top as fast as we could, and admired the views from the middle areas, and then on up into the abbey.

This was one of the better visits and (self-guided) tours we've been on. The little English guide was actually inormative and helpful, unlike the information from the freaking Louvre. You get to see lots of rooms of the abbey from the main church to eating areas and the room where supplies could be brought up from down below on a sled with rollers drawn up on a rope pulled by a wheel in which a monk or two had to walk to turn the mechanism.



The stained glass had relatively pale colors, but the patterns were varied and interesting. An unexpectedlyy nice little flower garden was tucked inside as well. We scrambled all over the top of the Mont and then headed back down.

We stopped at one of the restaurants and had a little lunch, and cooled off with a bottle of cider from Normandy. It was tart and dry. Quite good, but definitely a slightly different animal from most of the hard ciders in the US. I think I've mentioned cooling off with beer or cider several times -- that's because it's been pretty hot here in France, record-breaking hot at times. This was the coolest day, and it was still pretty warm.

Shuttle to the bus back to Rennes, and then we walked a bit around the town and saw a few things: the carousel outside the Opera House, the cathedral.

Carousel & Opera House, Rennes

And ultimately we got to a little piazza (or whatever it is in France) with numerous cafes with their tables and chairs out on the cobbles. We ate at the Boeuf au Balcon, which had mainly a variety of steaks. Dr Pookie had the flank steak with the chef's butter, and I had a faux filet (aka sirloin) with pepper sauce. A red bordeaux and some water and we had a fine meal. Becca had salt butter caramel and chocolate ice cream for dessert, while I settled for Calvados.

Just enough time to sleep and wake up and back to the train station. First from Rennes to Redon, there was a nice spot along the ride, where a river with a little cover of fog was alongside the trainline, complete with a white heron startled by the train into taking off. We had an hour to kill in Redon, and wandered over to what's left of their cathedral. At some point a fire had destroyed one of its towers and part of the main body of the church. So as it stands now, there is one disconnected tower (complete with bells ringing the time) and a somewhat truncated church.

Tower, Redon

Back to the train station where we duly punched our tickets, and now we're halfway to Nantes.

Alas, there was great sadness at the start of our visit to Nantes. Our real reason for going was that I had reserved a seat on the mechanical Elephant! But the train schedule did not work out well for us. To cut a long sad story short, we found ourselves sadly walking the last few feet toward the Parc des Chantiers only to hear the triumphant roar of the elephant on its strut around the area.



Nevertheless, it was almost as fun (I tell myself) to walk around the elephant as it made its way around, spraying water from its trunk and bellowing from time to time.



The best moment was when some joggers came by and danced about in front of the elephant demanding to be sprayed... and they got their wish, and waved, and jogged on their way, cooled by an elephant-fresh hosing.

Nearby was a Carousel of Marine Life built by the same crazy people, and in fact, the carousel is one of the embarkation points for the elephant, on its slow meander about the area. We had missed the elephant, but the rest of the animals of L'ile exhibit made up for it. They have some ambititious plans to build a huge mechanical tree with mechatronic birds and insects with places to ride them, and in the exhibit they show off some full and near full size maquettes that are largely functional, and pull people from the audience to help demonstrate them. A flying bird, a giant walking ant, an inchworm.

Return

Seriously, the obishawns and steampunks of the world should click through and look at all of the photos and videos I shot.

One of the neatest things about these was how much the rider could interact with them, even if only for show. The ant moved under wheeled power, but the four people riding it could move all its legs and head and mandibles. They also had a funny plane mockup, with fans and smoke machines and foam machines to provide some atmosphere for the hapless pilot. There was also a brief view of their workshop, where we were sworn to secrecy (and no pictures) and have an idea of some things coming from the shop. You exit along a sample of one fo the tree branches with pantings and trees helping to make it green. Below is the cafe, and we had a quick sandwich and bag of chips and some beer to keeep us going.

Walking at a more moderate pace, back toward the city, we folowed along the Loire river and came to the memorial of the slave trade. The pavement has hundreds of glass bricks each with the name of a Nantes-registered ship that was involved in the slave trade laid in. A central monument cited the UN statement on human rights with the word freedom in all (okay, at least 100) languages of the world.

A bit further on, we ran into a little Sunday flea market, not much different (but much smaller than) the Rose Bowl Swap Meet. Toys, books, magazines. Dr. Pookie hoped for uranium glass, but we didn't
see any, with the possible exception of an oil lamp base which would have been hard to transport.

Through the town, we saw the major chateau in town, and nearby is the tourist office, where we got great information on things we might do. Ultimately we opted for some time on the Erde, another smaller river. You could rent little electric boats and go off on your own. Pretty soon, you're outside the main town, and there are trees lining both sides, with occasional canalboats and houseboats.

Glittery

A fair number of water birds. Ducks, herons, swans, and a weird looking duck - maybe a coot? Our little boat had a weak battery, because we were outpaced by the other boats, but we did our best, puttering about. It was nice and quiet and cool on the river with a good breeze. Some odd local fellow has his own strange pastime, running his motorboat up and down the river, accompanying himself with a RC speedboat tricked out like the PT109. He passed us once, and luckily, we passed him again and managed to get a picture.

This guy zipped along keeping his RC boat company

Some of the larger craft going through put off a pretty big wake for our little boat, but steering into it kept us afloat, even if we got an excitingly jouncy ride for a bit. Another amusement on the ride was seeing one of the exhausted canoers getting a tow back to the rental house. We bid our boat goodbye, and walked back into the center of town where we had a look at the cathedral. There was a service going on inside, and signs enjoined us not to visit during that, so we obeyed. The tour group behind us was not as polite.

From there, a quick camel stop to drink more beer (or panaché in Dr. Pookie's case, a mix of beer and lemon soda).

We poked our head inside the chateau and took a few pictures, but we didn't have time or inclination to explore more. A short walk took us to the Jardin des Plantes, which had a fountain and lots of plantings, birds and a turtle or two. They had some topiaries based on a the works of an author of children's books. We weren't much interested, since it doesn't mean much if you haven't read the story, but one was evocative, and particularly so for us. It's a bird collapsed in exhaustion (it would appear) with a topiary piece of wheelie-bag luggage next to it.

Topiary, Jardin des Plantes

Perhaps it is no coincidence that that end of the garden is very close to the train station, where we headed next, and are currently on board a train headed back to Rennes, where we have plans to eat dinner at Gepetto's pizza, which was next door to the steak place we ate at last night.

As it turned out, Gepetto's was not open on Sunday, because of God. But fortunately the same area had another italian/pizza place, and the menu looked good enough, so we got our pizza anyway. La Lupa had a number of pizzas on offer. I opted for the Esmeralda, with andouille, onion, tomato and potato! The andouille was not what you would get in the US, where it is a spicy hot dog. This was more like pressed something with a chewy rind of something. [Wikipedia now informs me that "In France, particularly Brittany, the traditional ingredients of andouille are primarily pig chitterlings, tripe, onions, wine, and seasoning. It is generally grey in colour and has a distinctive odor." Well, yum.] The rind texture was a little off putting, but it was still good. The pizza as a whole was excellent, and they had some great pepper oil to drizle over everything. Dr. Pookie had the Luigi, with mushrooms, bacon, and egg. The egg was a very softboiled little yolk pouch that she almost succeeded in removing without breaking, flooding the pizza pan. Yolk flood aside, she seemed pretty happy. We had a bottle of Italian rosé, and it was a nice relaxed meal. The guy at the next table was making very Gallic noises from time to time when he laughed, sort of a throatclearing. I was glad he was just finishing up his meal.

Toddled back to the hotel, a good night's sleep, and here we are on a train again. We've already come from Rennes to Redon, and have just boarded an express (but not TGV) for Bordeaux. From Bordeaux, I think we have a TGV to Carcassonne, our next stop.
essentialsaltes: (cartouche)
This is the first trip that, instead of a paper journal, I took my iPad mini along, so my travelogue will be that much more timely in boring you. Simultaneously, I'm working on the photos, so this is a work in progress, as I add links, photos, and links to photos.

Quick review of the bluetooth keyboard for the iPad, from Anker: The tiny keys are sort of a must since it fits the mini, but the lack of a ' key really cramps my style. To get a ' you have to do a weird function button-o. Mainly I'd reach out for the ' and get a return instead. Made a lot of typoes, and it requires a firm surface to type on to press the keys down firmly enough. As a tiny keyboard of necessity, it's not bad, but not something I'd ever use by choice.

Read more... )
essentialsaltes: (cocktail)
Headed out Sunday for Pittcon. New Orleans this year, which is always fun. All the pictures here.

Arrived in the afternoon, and had time for a short walk with a couple colleagues around the town.

Bourbon Street remains classier than ever, complete with topless-but-for-paint/latex women.
Read more... )
Next year, Atlanta.
essentialsaltes: (whiskey Tango but no Foxtrot)
Last weekend, I flew out to Florida for my cousin's wedding. Whirlwind tour, had a great time.

Photos from the trip.
essentialsaltes: (rawk)
Yes, I survived the Snowpocalypse, and made it back to the best place lack-of-gods made.

But rather than slump into a puddle -- that's what Sunday's for! -- Saturday was pretty full. We started off with an estate sale, where the decedent was a bit of a hoarder, but had a particular fondness and knowledge of glass. I spotted a uranium glass juicer in one of the photos from the estate agent, and since Dr. Pookie is an aficionado of uranium glass (aka vaseline glass), we went down there. We found quite a trove of uranium glass pieces, and walked away with quite a haul.



Later, we went to the Day on Broadway (having been tipped off by colleency). The idea was that several old movie palaces were open to the public, and we went to gawk at them (and a few other things in the neighborhood). All photos here

Hard to ignore the Eastern Columbia Building, which was close to the registration desk.

Eastern Columbia Building (1930)

After registering, we headed off to Cole's for a French Dip and a drink. We poked our nose into the Bradbury Building, and then on to the theaters.

It's hard (in the photo) to appreciate how huge the ceiling of the Million Dollar Theater (1918!) is:

Untitled

And what can one say about its strange tutelary spirit?

Untitled

The Los Angeles Theater was a real revelation, with its crystal 'fountain'

"Fountain" of Crystal (with (dry) water fountain/pool below)

and ridiculous foyer

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The mostly gutted Globe provided contrast with the others, which were generally much more restored.

Not so sumptuous entryway, apart from the gilt wooden moldings.

The Orpheum is pretty amazing, and the duffer at the organ was showing off its capabilities

The gent was showing off various sound effects from the organ

The place is huuuuuuuuge

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Later, Dr. Pookie took me out to Pizzeria Mozza. The fried cauliflower was much browner than at Bucato, but still good. The dipping sauce was good, but not as amazing as the fresh dressing and herbs of Bucato. Some fine bread and prosciutto as well, before the main course -- The pizza with "Bacon, Salami, Fennel Sausage, Guanciale [aka pork cheek 'bacon'], Tomato & Mozzarella". Yes, it was meat heavy, but it was glorious. We pride ourselves on our homemade pizza, but this was even better. By a lot. For dessert, some little scoops of blood orange sorbet (extremely yum), chocolate rum gelato (gorgeous, but possibly(?) too rich) and 'olive oil' gelato: mild olive oil gelato coated in olive oil and salt. A very neat taste, but not as engrossing as the other two.
essentialsaltes: (Cocktail)
I travelled out to Florida for the ceremonies. LAX to Nashville to Orlando. I think I spent more time waiting in line for my rental car than for the flight from Nashville. The wait was exacerbated Planes, Trains, and Automobiles-style. First someone comes back to complain about the bill. One of the three clerks disappears. Another person jumps the line to say that they left their jacket in the rental. The line went from slow moving to glacial. But I persevered, and then spent another 10 minutes figuring out how to turn on the headlights. Stupid American cars.

Zipped up the Turnpike and got installed in the hotel.

Next morning, our caravan got a police escort to take us to the Florida National Cemetery. I rode along with Danny and his girlfriend, Meghan. Their car was the analogue of the little kids' table. We were all held to a rigid schedule, but everything was done smartly with military precision. Many thanks to the Marine honor guard who conducted the ceremony. I teared up a little as they folded up and presented the flag to Grandma. It was a little curious that, as others fired the salute volleys, the Marine with the flag displayed and then inserted shell casings into the flag. For some reason I wondered if they were actually spent casings or not. Flag in her lap, Grandma said her last goodbyes.

Untitled

I scored a ride in the limo on the way back to where Grandma and Grandpa lived. There was a little lunch, and then the celebration of his life. Rick was the first of the family to speak, and he noted that from a document they found in the safe, Grandpa had been planning this event since 1962. He didn't want to be lying in a casket. He didn't want mourners in black. He wanted nothing more than a single spray of flowers and a photograph. And the people he loved. Last and most important, it shouldn't cost more than $250. We may have fudged that last part. But prices have changed since 1962.

Dad spoke as well. Barb didn't feel up to it. I didn't really feel up to it either, but I rose to speak. I wanted to honor Grandpa's peculiar sense of humor. He had a particular brand of grandpa humor. Deadpan, so you might not notice it. If you were lucky, he would wink to let you know he was pulling your leg. To be honest, he often would needle you with his humor. A little sarcastic, a little acerbic, a little caustic. Maybe more than a little. I had to explain to Veratrine, that he teased her not because he didn't like her, but because he did.

That was as far as I got before I got choked up. I wish I'd been able to continue to say, "After all, when I was just knee high to a grasshopper, this is the man who ordered frogs' legs and told me that he was eating Kermit. Who does that to a child? Well, Grandpa did. And I'll miss his humor, and I'll miss him."

I'm grateful to Uncle Rick, who whispered 'Good job' or something of the sort to me as I returned to my seat.

After the formal part, there was much talking and reminiscing. Here's Grandma with Paul Fate, who went to high school with Grandma and Grandpa.

Grandma & Paul Fate

Afterwards, we visited with Grandma for a while. At one point, I was bidden to examine some of Grandpa's jewelry and to take a few pieces. I found a pair of cufflinks that were just handsome. I also picked a pin commemorating Grandpa's status as a Life Member of the NRA. I may not be a huge fan of the organization as it is now, but the NRA of 2013 is different from the NRA of 19-- when Grandpa joined it. Grandpa was a coach of a high school shooting team -- back in the days when high school students could take their rifles to school with them. And finally, recognizing that I probably don't have the time left to achieve this myself, I also picked out a pin honoring Grandpa's 65 years as a Mason.

In the evening, the family went to dinner at an Italian place. Dad raised a toast to Grandpa and the family, and the meal was great. I had a very good 'goodbye' with Grandma at the end. Although I could have rushed over in the morning to see her the next day, I think that was the right way to leave things. I saw some of the other family at breakfast, and then drove back to Orlando for my, ultimately successful, ordeal to get back home.
essentialsaltes: (Dead)
Can't sleep, clowns will eat me.

Friday, I showed up for [livejournal.com profile] aaronjv's game of Itras By, scenario by [livejournal.com profile] hagdirt.

It was a phantasmagoria. A blow-by-blow would be more unedifying than even the usual after-the-fact war stories. IB is a communal story telling exercise, and you can't lose with the right crowd, and I think we had a good one. It may not have lived up to the sheer butt-raping insanity of some OctaNe sessions with Jazon_brez, but still good stuff. K gave us enough of a line to hang our chaos on. And A finessed it and made sure everyone had some input.

No doubt it was the absinthe A plied us with, but I was most satisfied with literally belting out the Alabama Song when I was in a bar setting. That wasn't my only contribution, but it may have been the least Mike-like. Which is worth something.

[PS if you only know the song via The Doors, shoot yourself in the head. If you don't know who The Doors are, just hold your breath for a few seconds so your brain dies.]

I had a large gap, and strangely my plan for introvert sociability worked perfectly. I went to get some food, and sat all by my lonesome self in the hotel restaurant. I will say that their short rib sandwich with horseradish mayo is pretty awesome, but it does have slightly too much meat on it. In any event. Aaron showed up and joined me. And then Fei. And then... oh shit, I've forgotten her name, but the nice kiwi lady. And then John. This all happened one person at a time, and I was glad to be the starting nucleus.

But I had to be off to change for the Masquerade Ball. This was an interstitial adventure for the Messina campaign, so I kinda knew I wouldn't be a star, but it was definitely still fun to wander about as an ancient Thomas Alva Edison and interact with the other people there.

I think there was a plotline there that I wasn't actually, well, informed about. But I tried to roll with it as best I could, but it ultimately devolved into gunfire and swordplay. Not Tom's thing at all. That poor Duchess whatever-her-name-was (my hearing has always been bad) took a bullet to the head, and crumpled practically in my arms.

Zipped home and back. Well, not entirely. As I left Saturday, somehow I forgot my flip chart thingy. So I turned back. Having seen how terrible the 405N was, I cleverly (?) went further south to hit the 110 N to the 105W, so I could swoop through the Manchester/La Cienega Offramp to get home. Alas, the reason that the 405N was rotten was that the two-lane nearly a freeway Manchester/La Cienega Offramp was closed. Entirely. Which meant additionally, that all the people who wanted to get off on those two major arteries were trying to get off at La Tijera (as was I, but I settled for zooming out and back in to get off at Sepulveda/Slauson.) In any event, I spent 15 minutes heading toward Wyrd Con, and 45 minutes coming back. So there went my extra time for lunch and beer. I picked up the dingus and headed back down.

Now I rushed my ass and got to the room for Exodus 22:18 with a half hour to spare, and... there was nobody there. I rearranged some tables and chairs, and still nobody. Augh. Fortunately thing picked up rapidly right at game time.

I was flustered a bit, but found my center fairly quickly.

The game went fairly well. Problems with pacing was probably the biggest problem. The conceit is that the players are townsfolk attempting to determine which among them are witches.

It pains me to say it, but I was slightly shocked when a couple players seemed to make it their mission to paint giant targets on their backs.

At the same time, they were portraying a more skeptical, modern view of the witchcraft hysteria. Sadly, though I agree with it through and through, that is the quick path to getting yourself burnt, and so it proved. Or so it would have been, if they had not extemporized a method of self slaughter.

In any event, while they made for good scenes, it also led to a fast, easy resolution, and with many of the townsfolk wondering, "Are we done? We rooted out the obvious witches."

Some flurries of drama and accusations happened thereafter, though leavened with boredom. A number of other good scenes here and there.

At the end, there was some good feedback and criticism all around. Some I agree with, some I disagree with, and some that would probably be very good for a game that was not the game that I wanted to run.

Sleep is finally catching up to me. Not me at my best, not me at my worst. I was satisfied. I think, on the whole, it was certainly not a failure. Well, no, that's too litotes-ish. It was good. But not perfect. But these things never are.
essentialsaltes: (Cocktail)
Been workin' like a dog on this, but finally got the big okay. Big contract (the biggest I've landed solo, I think) from a new client, and I'll be flying to Sweden later this month.

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essentialsaltes: (Default)
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