Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Vacation Reading

Tomorrow David and I are heading to Florida. Perhaps I mentioned how utterly exhausting our trip to Spain was and how while we were still there I was desperately imagining white sand, a beach chair, some sort alcoholic beverage beside me, and a book.

This little long-long weekend getaway is our answer to this.

This leaves me wondering...what book should I take?

There are two books I am currently reading. David and I are both working our way through the Harry Potter series (he for the first time, me for the second). I could easily finish "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix", but it's quite large and a library book to boot and if it were left behind someplace I would be angry.

I am also about halfway through "The Year of Endless Sorrows" by Adam Rapp. I picked this up at the Guthrie gift shop when we were there for a play (Rapp is a playwright as well). It's about a guy from Minnesota who moves to New York, gets work at a publishing company, has acute knee pain, and is working on a novel about a guy with acute knee pain. And in the novel he is writing, the knee is an alien or something weird like that. I'll admit...I got sucked into Harry Potter and haven't touched the book for months.

Part of the problem is that I read ahead...flipped forward to the last chapter and sort of skimmed. I do this with most books I read...even Harry Potter and I've read it. I know how it ends! So, I read ahead a bit and the book actually ends on a rather depressing note. What did I expect? It is called "The Year of Endless Sorrows." That being said, it is also humorous without trying too hard, full of characters that have character, and...and...this is why I don't write book reviews. I don't know what to say. But I picked this up in the store, read a few pages, and had to buy it. He creates a world where you can feel what these characters are feeling. You can see these guys in their crummy apartment, feel the main characters boredom at his job, his sense of hopelessness and longing for his typewriter. That...and there is a conversation between the main character and his mom that had me laughing out loud.

I also grabbed "Brave New World" out of the backroom. A classic...I should read it. And it is pretty compact and would fit easily in my purse. I can see on the inside cover that this book once belonged to my mom's friend and step-dad's first wife, Rose. Her phone number and address are in there...332 Clark. And she obviously owned this before she was married because it is her maiden name written inside. Rose had beautiful handwriting. Every now and then I'll grab a book from my mom and step-dad's house and once in a while there will be notes in the margin in Rose's handwriting. I find this sort of comforting.

Another book I recently purchased is "Literature from the Axis of Evil: Writing from Iran, Iraq, North Korea and other enemy nations". Apparently, these other enemy nations include Cuba, Sudan, Syria, and Libya. Would this book create any suspicious looks going through security? It is a "Words Without Borders" anthology...the goal of which is to humanize the individuals in countries the United States has deemed enemy nations.

I also have a book called "Nocturnes" which is a collection of short stories by Kazuo Ishiguro. I like his writing, although all I have ever read by him is "Never Let Me Go" which about half-way through I wanted to throw against a wall. That is of those books that once you realize what is going on, you are too sucked in to put it down...yet you almost wish you had never picked it up.

On my Kindle I've got "Bottom of the 33rd" which is about an incredibly long minor league baseball game. I love it. It isn't just about a game...it's about all the people involved, from the umpire, to the pitcher, to the owner, to the kid making hot dogs. I've also got "The Warmth of Other Suns" about the migration of African Americans to the north in the first part of the last century; "Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World" which has something to do with money; and a book called "Cooking Solves Everything" by Mark Bittman that I don't even remember buying. Oh yes...and how can I forget? "The Works of P.G. Wodehouse"...this one was free. I'd finally see enough references to P.G. Wodehouse and how witty he was that I figured I should just read something by him.

I also considered "Catcher in the Rye" which I've read about three times. Believe it or not, I used to carry around a copy of this in college. During finals week, when I was in the library all the time, I would read a chapter or two as a break. Other people thought this was weird.

If I had a copy, I would probably take "To Kill a Mockingbird" because I read it in high school and I am curious about how it would read differently to me 20 years later.

So, that's it. Now you've got somewhat of an idea of the sorts of things on my reading list. Most likely, I'll pick up some crummy mystery novel that I can leave behind in the airport lobby and never miss. What do you think I should read while I am on vacation?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Happy New Year!

Last night, I went to the the "Travelers Circles" program sponsored by the MN Council of Hosteling International. My friend Jon coordinates some of these programs and I volunteered to go and talk about Spain. I was so nervous! I was sure this would be a group of very well-traveled people (I was right about that) and that I would not be interesting enough, or have beautiful enough pictures to give an adequate presentation (I was wrong).

I had so much fun speaking with them, and everyone was so friendly. Many people afterwards complimented me on my presentation and my pictures. One woman was so sweet and told me how much she enjoyed my energy and how I wouldn't have even needed photos - just listening to me was enough. It was a wonderful evening. I would love to go back to hear some other presentations or even present again. Those of you that know me well know that I really enjoy public speaking, so this was right up my alley.

So, where will David and I go next? Well, we've been throwing around some ideas. One thing we would love to do is a bicycle tour through Vietnam. In the last week I've been particularly intrigued by Fiji. I really would love to do a beach vacation soon. Spain was so exhausting and when we got back I immediately wanted to plan a trip to a beach someplace. We've been having sort of a dinner club with the group from Spain and last week when we got together we broached the topic of the next trip. It probably won't be a European vacation...maybe South America or Southeast Asia.

What have David and I been up to lately? We've set some goals for the new year. The most significant is to eat out less. We ate out a lot in 2010 and 2011. We did the math. We were consistent though...only a $15 difference in dining out expenses between the two years. This decision is really twofold: it is healthier to eat at home. We'll have more control over what goes into the food and the quality of the ingredients we use. I've been reading A LOT of cooking blogs lately and also blogs about "real food" and I'm excited to make this change. I've also been having a lot of fun cooking again. I have more cookbooks than you can shake a stick at and they have been sadly neglected the last few years. 

The other reason is financial. Obviously, eating out is expensive. I do financial literacy presentations for college students, and I often talk about spending priorities and deciding what is important to you. And I always used the example of eating out...and how this was something I really enjoyed (because I DO!) and that this was something that I prioritized over other sorts of things. I still love to eat out, but we are limiting how often we do it and focusing more on our dinner group with friends and really making eating out an event. At the end of November, we will compare our dining out expenses for the year to those of 2011. With the difference, we're going to take a trip someplace between Christmas and New Years! Travel is edging out dining in the priorities category!

I'll keep you posted on our progress throughout the year. Hopefully I'll also find the time to blog a little about some of the yummy food we are making at home.

David will be doing some more triathlons this summer. I will not. I'll be focusing on just running.

I'm trying to read more and I'll try to tell you a little bit about what I am reading.

And I do still knit. I've got a sock almost done...it has been so long since I knit socks I need to pull out my Vogue knitting book and get a refresher on the Kitchener stitch.

That's all for now folks. I hope to make it here to post a bit more frequently in the future. 




Saturday, February 11, 2012

And finally, the trip ends...

We left Spain on a Tuesday. We had to get up bright and early to get to the airport. Kym, Kyle, Alan, Erin, David, and I were all on the same flight. Lea and Amit were on a later flight, and Kelly an even later one. The six of us were up pretty early, putting all the beds and mattresses back in their proper places, as quietly as possible so the others could continue snoozing.

Sigh. It was sad to leave. It is always hard to see a vacation come to an end. This one was particularly so because I felt there were so many things I still wanted to see. We didn't get nearly enough time in Barcelona or Madrid. I didn't see the bull ring in Sevilla. I wish we'd eaten more tapas. And seen more Flamenco. And we didn't get to see the market in Barcelona. So many things left undone.

But, it was time to go. Fortunately, getting to the airport was relatively quick and painless. Sure, my backpack weighed about a million pounds, what with the wine and olive oil inside. But, we had a very short walk to the Metro and then we were on our way.

The Madrid-Barajas airport is really, really huge. I think we were flying Continental. After we got off the Metro, we actually had to walk a ways to get into the airport proper. Then it was the never ending walk to find out check-in counter. I'll put it to you this way - we had to go to counter 437 or something. We started down by number 1. I'm not kidding - I think it was at least a quarter-mile walk, maybe a half-mile, past an never-ending array of airlines. Some with just one little counter, like Qatar Air. Some counters had a line stretching as far as you could see of people waiting to check in. I thought we would walk forever...this on no breakfast and no coffee. By the time we got to the Continental counter, I was soaked in sweat and pretty grumpy. There was a decent sized line there so I just threw everything on the ground and started sort of kicking it along with my feet.

Luckily, an airline employee let us know we could use the self-check in where there was no line, so I dragged my bags over there and we were able to get checked in and get rid of the super heavy bags pretty quickly. Happiness! Of course, this was not without its glitches. When Kyle swiped his passport, it asked him if he was "Javier Germikulitchtenstein" or something like that. But, eventually we were on our way.

I did have a little aggravation when we went through security. Apparently, my Kindle needed to be removed from my bag. The security lady started talking to me in Spanish and I kindly told her I didn't speak Spanish. So, she told me she needed to know what was in my bag. So I showed her, and she started speaking to me in Spanish again. Lady! I just told you I don't speak Spanish. I had to put all my stuff through the machine again. Sigh.

But, finally we were through and we found a little cafeteria/deli with some breakfast sandwiches and coffee. David and I were able to use up the last of our Euros. I also saw a guy try to put his sandwich, paper wrapper and all, in the toaster. Ooops!

Once we got to the area where our gate was, we could not leave and wander around the airport. We were trapped with only a duty free shop and some vending machines to keep us occupied. And the duty free shop was sort of lame. I just wanted some snacks - not a box of chocolates or a bottle of rum. Sigh.

I don't remember much of the flight from Madrid to JFK in New York. I watched movies. We had some lunch. I read some. We had a snack. When we got off the plan, we walked through first class...oh my gosh. It looked so nice...seats that go back to horizontal, little bags of complimentary toiletries. That is the way to fly to Europe.

JFK is the worst airport ever. We had an incredibly long walk to our gate. It was crowded. The bathrooms were gross. The bright spot was a voicemail from my sister stating she wanted her voice to be the first I heard when I arrived home. I still have that voicemail saved. Unfortunately, she was beaten to the punch by the massage salon I go to.

The flight to Minneapolis was the worst. Ugh. There is nothing like knowing you have a four hour flight ahead of you and there isn't an exciting new country you've never been to waiting for you at the end. Don't get me wrong; I was excited to be home. But...ugh.

When we arrived back in Mpls we discovered that somewhere between customs in New York and the baggage carousel in Mpls, Kyle's back-pack had been completely destroyed by the airline. I think all these months later he is still trying to get that resolved. It appeared as though it had spent considerable time being dragged on the tarmac behind a fast moving vehicle, resulting in a broken wine bottle and now useless backpack.

Thank goodness my bag was okay and our wine was safe. David and I headed to the light rail station and shared a train with some guy who was obviously visiting from out of town. He spent the entire time talking loudly on the phone to his wife about making sure the kids get to bed a a decent time. I wished we were still in Spain so I would not have had to understand his innane conversation. Then we had a really awful bus ride on a bus that was much more crowded than would have expected at that time of night. Next time, I want someone to pick me up at the airport!

And then we were home! Home sweet home...our own bed, our own kitchen, our own TiVo waiting with our favorite programs! Yay!

And that my friends, is the end of the trip!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Monday, continued yet again!

Surely, you are thinking to yourself....nay, you are muttering under your breath, "seriously, Michelle. Finish up with the trip already." And...you'd have a good point. And, I got to use the words "nay" and "mutter" in the same sentence. Clearly, I'm sort of losing my mind.

There won't be any pictures with this post. This will be where I finish up writing about Monday in Madrid, which I have mentioned before was one of my most favorite days on our Spain trip. Madrid is just an amazing city. Knowing what I know about life, I'm sure I'll be back there someday. Because life is good and lovely. And I'm an optimist.

So, after my little shopping trip, I tried to take a little nap. As I recall, this wasn't too terribly successful. I don't know if I've mentioned this, but the bed in the apartment in Madrid was very noisy. The slightest movement set off a series of squeaks and groans that would only be rivaled by the ominous noises made by carnival rides. I was also rather excited about our evening plans with Kym and Kyle and this kept me up as well. And, it was the middle of the day and not very dark. Overall, bad napping experience.

Okay, I am completely exaggerating the "rather excited" part. It's a good thing Kym and Kyle wanted to go to the Flamenco show, because I think had we been left to our own devices David and I would have done what we do many a night at home - sit on the balcony, drink some wine, eat some cheese, watch the traffic go by. Okay, we don't have a balcony, but I think you get the general idea.

All day, we'd been sort of debating and wishy-washy about whether we wanted to go to this Flamenco show. The bar/club/restaurant had been recommended to me by a co-worker who once lived in Madrid. The show was at 10:30 p.m. (past my bedtime as we all know) and I'd read some Trip Advisor reviews and had heard that we'd be packed in like sardines. We also had to get up early the next day to head to the airport and being the last day of the trip we were kind of tired. But, we had a reservation and Kym and Kyle still wanted to go, so we decided to do it.

We decided to take the subway over to the neighborhood where the flamenco club was located. Our first stop was to find dinner. I have to say, on on way there, I thought the neighborhood seemed a little sketchy. But, we did find a nice place for dinner where we were able to be seated rather quickly. We of course had tapas: Spanish Omelet, some asparagus, some other things I don't remember. The place was pretty crowded, but we managed to get in and out in time to get back to Casa Patas for the show.

Casa Patas has a restaurant in front and the Flamenco Club is at the back. We checked in, got our tickets, and then found our seats, about 5 or 6 rows back. And yes...we were most certainly packed in like sardines. There were very tiny little tables and when you were seated, it was nearly impossible to move around. You got either a free Sangria or glass of wine with the show and you could also order tapas. Mmmm...wine and food. We skipped the tapas. The wine was okay. About what you would expect for a "complimentary" glass.

A few minutes before the show started, I headed to the restroom and when I walked in was quite shocked to see a very, very tall man in there! Eeek! Was I in the wrong place? Nope...apparently the women's restroom is also the dressing room for the dancers.

I've only seen Flamenco once...in Mexico and then it was two women. This show was comprised of a male and female dancer and three guitarists. The show started promptly at 10:30 and wow...it was AMAZING.

First of all...I have to say. The male dancer was freakishly tall and skinny. And when you are looking up at a stage, he looked even more freakishly tall. But he was an amazing dancer, as was his female counterpart. There was so much energy in their dancing and so much emotion in their faces. I don't have any photos or video because you were not supposed to use cameras or recording devices during the show. This did not deter the Japanese businessmen sitting in front of us though. Oddly, they also left at the intermission and never came back.

I really don't see why. It was that good. I was disappointed when it was over.

The first dance was the man and woman together. Flamenco is a very passionate dance. You're probably thinking of castanets, but they were never used in this show. The guitarists would play, clap, sing a little. It was really an excellent show. I couldn't tell how old either dancer was. When they were dancing, they looked so much older, particularly the woman. Her face looked so determined and had so much emotion, she looked to be in her late 30s or early 40s, but when she was not dancing, it was obvious she was much younger.

For the second number, the man came out and danced solo. When he stepped from behind the curtain, we saw that he had changed into a red, velvet suit! The entire crowd reacted....I couldn't tell if it was laughter or more of an "oh my, I'm looking at 6 feet 8 inches of bright red velvet!" Regardless, we were quickly mesmerized by his dancing. The speed at which he moved his feet...amazing.

Later there was a number of just the guitarists and then the woman did a solo number as well. Then they danced together again. The show was over by midnight.

Despite my earlier hesitation about actually wanting to go, I was thrilled afterwards that we had. The show was amazing and I wish we had made more of an effort to see a show in Sevilla as well. Perhaps others from the group would have joined us. I really do recommend going to see Flamenco if you are ever in Spain.

We made our way back through the sketchy neighborhood to the Metro and were back at our little apartment before 1 a.m. We tiptoed around our sleeping friends and then crawled into bed. One last night in Spain. We'd be up bright and early the next day to head to the airport. Sigh.