Saturday, December 3, 2011

World's Largest Puzzle and Thanksgiving 2011

2011 Thanksgiving had people traveling to us, rather than us traveling!

Wednesday night was epic-we put together the 24,000 piece puzzle that I have been putting together over the last year.  I put it together as 4 puzzles of 6,000 pieces each and this was when it got  put together into one piece.

We started Thursday with our local Turkey trot-we walked rapidly through downtown on the lovely slightly foggy morning.  Then we came back and cooked our little hearts out so that we could eat until our bellies were not so little.  Here are a couple highlights-stuffing in the pumpkin, fully dressed tofurkey, and the pie table!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Brief visit to Crete, in Opera format

I saw Idomeneo, a Mozart opera, that takes place in Crete, at the San Jose opera this fall season.  The staging was fantastic-they had gotten some extra money and it showed.  They used Minoan art to inspire the set design.  See the bull vaulting fresco for a great example. Now, I still want to visit actual Crete, but this was a nice way to get a taste.

Work trip to Europe October 2011, second half

No photos since this was so work focused.

Lazy weekend in Budapest.  Dinner at Nobu (yes, that Nobu-he has 20 restaurants around the world) with the sake tasting menu.  All the fish is amazing, but OMG the wagu beef cubes-like butter!    Wine tasting with friends.  12 Hungarian wines, 6 white, 6 red, tasted by 13 people, basically a bottle a person except for the post-tasting bottles, call it a bottle and a half.  Now I definitely need the next day to be lazy and recover.  Ate a chocolate covered cottage cheese stick.  It was a firm cottage cheese, not the liquidy stuff on salad bars, almost a mozzarella stick, but with the hint of sour-surprisingly good for something with such a bad description.

Trip to Sweden!  As we land in Stockholm, it is damp and grey, the same as Budapest.  But the Arlanda airport makes me want to move to Sweden.  Hardwood floors, all glass windows, clean, organized, and welcoming.  The drive to the outskirts also feels friendly to me because it looks just like the best of the midwest, rolling hills, cut away rocks, evergreens and birch.

Our transportation for the evening is a cruise ship!  We hop onto the Gabriella and sail into the Baltic Sea.  For the first hour or so we are going out past the shore and it is incredibly picturesque.  Cute homes along a well manicured shore-all propped up with stone walls, green grasses and trees all over the place.  On the cruise there is of course the buffet-but we are cleverer than that, we opt for NOT the buffet so that we don’t overeat. So clever…we order an appetizer each and a main entre to share.  And since we are sharing we go a little extragavant and order the seafood platter, with lobster…except there is confusion and we get the platter for two-oh well, the best laid plans!  The first part of the journey is relatively choppy and we fall asleep to the rocking of the boat.  In the morning though it is completely calm and I spend a little time on our balcony watching the little waves.  There are 2 other cruise ships, 3 non cruise ships and an oil drilling rig-spiffy!  Pulling into the port of Helsinki was much faster, it is right on the sea edge and the view is more rugged-little islands run right into the water.

In the port of Helsinki we spend a few hours in the lobby of the Grand Mariner hotel for a little coffee and internet access.  The countryside is lovely and green, but we are barely here and then off to Sweden again by more conventional plane-Molndal outside of Goteburg.

By train from Goteburg to Copenhagen-it is worth an extra $20 to get the first class seats where there are fewer people and it is quiet.  4 hours of green countryside….I nap!  The best part is the bridge over the water to Denmark-a whole line of the windmills we have been seeing, but in the water.  There is a capsizing boat-oh no!  but then the guy in a nearby seat says it has been there for awhile.

Copenhagen-hotel on the doorstep of the train station and Tivoli.  Tivoli is decorated for Halloween and there is a line to pay and go in, so we don’t and instead walk along the pedestrian walkway to the habor.  Lovely theater building overlooking the water.  Wander around the area looking for a wine bar or Italian restaurant but they are not quite right until we find THE spot.  It is clear it is the place to be-it is a busy oasis in a quiet desert!  Mojito and a cider, mussels and a burger.  M has been putting up with my American-style eating, so I practice being European and eat it all with a knife and fork-it is impossible to get a bite of everything at once, but I must admit it is neater. 

Manchester-all these tiny little roads with no shoulder to speak of, no visibility because of all the high green hedges and just a bit disconcerting to be on the wrong side of the road.  But the pub food is good-sweet potato fries!

Off to a little vacation after the worldwind work travel!

Work trip to Europe October 2011, first half

I've been in Europe with a coworker M for two weeks and was able to visit quite a few new-to-me places.

Non-stop SFO to Frankfurt, I realize that I have been flying Singapore Air recently, and standard economy is…less good…wow is that seat in front of me close!  But our row of five has two empty seats-bonus!  I get my vegetarian meal super quick and am falling asleep before most others are finished eating.  Quick flight to Catania airport in Sicily, but we arrive late and the luggage is slow and I have missed all the shuttles-most expensive cab ride ever.  But when I arrive M and I get dinner.  The beachside restaurant is barely open-we are the only ones there.  But they let us order pizza and prosseco which we eat by candlelight while listening to the waves-nice!

We have a little time before the conference gets going so we hang out at the beach.  This is my first ‘European’ beach experience.  Basically there are lines of deck chairs for the folks staying at the hotel.  The women love bikinis, and love to lie with the straps off to avoid tan lines.  It feels very eighties to me, aren’t we all about sunblock now?  The beach is not sand but little rocks making the waves sound lovely.  I visit the water briefly, but the rocks are not super comfortable and the temperature is between northern and southern California-nice, but not long term nice.

We visit Taoromina, touristy seaside town on the hill.  First stop is the Wunderbar, to drink Campari and orange while overlooking the ocean on one side and the tourists on the plaza on the other. Classic Italian waiters charm their way into our photo.

Wander the town, eat gelato.  Visit the Greek theater, but it closed 5 minutes ago-eat gelato to console ourselves.  Visit the public gardens just in time for sunset.  The plant variety is almost exactly that of northern California-fancy that since they have a similar Mediterranean climate ;)  

One more drink at a little cafĂ© before heading back to dinner at the hotel.  The beach restaurant is closed for a private party so we are in the fancy restaurant, and in the middle of my anchovy appetizer (fresh, not salty) we see the fireworks from their party-festive.

One more set of drinks and snacks at the more casual beach bar before the conference begins. 

The best thing about my hotel room is that it has an ocean view and I sleep with the balcony door open to listen to the ocean while sleeping.  In the mornings I often saw the cruise ship of the day, and sometimes at breakfast a horde of folks due to be on the cruise ship later that day.  During the week we encountered more memorable waiters.  At O’Neils the head waiter had a penchant for singing as he dashed back and forth and as he set you plate in front of you ‘and especial for you’.  I even try a whole local fish-lovely.

Within the conference we get an afternoon tour of Mt. Etna.  So, imagine you have a major tourist destination.  It is so impressive that 50 bus loads of tourists come every day.  Obviously you think-lets make the buses drive through the narrow ancient streets that have 4 consecutive 90 degree turns. Obviously!  I understand, it can be difficult to build a new road in hilly ancient towns, but if ever you are going to do it, 50 buses per day sounds like the time!  The Mt. Etna tour itself if fun, but not thrilling as we do not get to go near any molten lava.  After the easy stroll around the edge of the accessible crater I join the folks who want to climb to the top of the nearby, less accessible crater.  Ugg, worse than a stair-climber, but a view that can't be beat!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Essen Game Fair 2011 Day 4, the purchasing

We have put off most of our purchasing till the end so that we don't end up having to ship stuff home :)  But there is interesting stuff happening again and we get in a fair number of games as well.

The interesting
You  are curating a dinosaur exhibit for a museum and have to dig up the different bones and gems and put them together.  Interesting because the publisher is a game component company, and the game was the winner of a competition to use a given set of pieces.  Cute, but not worthy of space.

Monster fall-winner of a prize this year.  A way to trick your child into practicing manual dexterity!  Under a time limit, push as many monsters into the center pit by co-operating with the other player(s).  If you knock him over on the way to the pit you have to start over, so it takes some care.  You can see that it is compelling.  In the photo below mom and dad got tired of junior knocking over the monsters and took over by themselves...really!

Ghost Blitz!  Would have bought this in a heartbeat but they were sold out.  Contains 5 pieces and a deck of cards.  The five pieces, a white ghost, a blue book, a red chair, a green bottle and a gray mouse.  Each card has a picture of two of the items, the mouse on the book.  But something about the color is wrong-a green mouse on the blue book.  You have to be the first to grab the blue book.  But there are trickier cards too-a green mouse on a white book means you grab the red chair-get it?!?

Puerto Rico, special edition-contains bigger barrels, metal coins and an expansion that includes new art (nice), nobles and a jewelry store.  Too heavy, and we may not need the expansion....

The international Carcasonne championship, see how everyone has a country flag.

The game playing

Carre (Amigo)-Stack a nice tower with your given set of pieces-no holes allowed!  Roll the dice to determine which size piece you can place or take off your opponents tower!  More interesting than at first glance, but probably only medium replay value, not sure more players add anything, so it could be a good go-to for 2 people.  I have to say Amigo has a great set up here-plenty of tables and nice folks to explain the rules. I like coming back to their 'booth'.

Let's Take a Hike-I was attracted to this on Day 1 because of the artwork which reminds me of Mary Blair of  It's a Small World fame.  Our photo is not very good for the art, see this entry at Board Game Geek or the artist, Troy Cummings, site.  A new theme-how exciting!  This is a risk tolerance game-draw and play cards to prepare yourself to take a hike (water bottle, tent, socks, etc.).  When hiking, turn back when you think you can get the most points.  If you encounter a bad thing, you will  loose all your points, but if you can outlast everyone else, you can make it big!  Basic underlying strategy as Diamante, but with added complexity.  We played with a British couple and the men tied.  I love this and bought multiple copies.

Old Men of the Forest-meaning orangutans :)  Trees, money and transportation good, deforestation bad.  From your given hand, play cards that determine if you get to pick up cards that will win you victory points.  Play your hand poorly and you will only end up with deforestation.  This will suffer with folks prone to analysis paralysis, but interesting enough that we pick it up.  Also reminiscent of Slide 5-a theme on top of a concept, but it could be any theme.

Alba Longa-you have to decide what to do with your limited number of people twice a year.  In the spring, build temples (needed for victory), make money, fight (target the player in the lead), or bring in a bonus harvest.  Then again in the fall but you also need to harvest and a bigger harvest means more people (also needed for victory).  A little fiddly, but quicker than most of these types.  Didn't love it enough to take up space in the bag.  

Ablaze (Mayfair)-As the fire grows you place your firefighters to make a fire break.  Area control game, but no backsies, when you place it you are done, making it nice and quick.  Strategy is where and when to place the pawns.  There are a couple extra versions with just a few added tiles.  We only played as two and I suspect it could be more interesting with four.  Not worthy of space in the bag, especially as it can be purchased in the states.  Sue wins!

Tobago-where on the island is the treasure?  You get to figure it out by placing clues that limit the possibilities, on the largest mountain chain, with a view of the ocean.  It is Clue in reverse.  This is super stylish and new-it will be purchased later :)  We didn't get to finish because it is practically the end of the day, and people are purchasing the demo copies for super cheap and we get approached by 2 different people for ours, no worries, we got the gist.

The purchasing
Final count, 23 items purchases, but most are tiny or flat, many are card games, and only 4 large boxes!

Will we be coming back?  For sure!  This was AWESOME!

Essen Game Fair 2011 Day 3

As promised the weekend is more crowded.  As it turns out this is a good day for people watching.  There is a whole other feel to the RPG room-soldiers, elves, dark elves, medieval folks and anime characters are common. Some are here for the costume/talent contest.

This is also a big day for competitions. Speed chess where the two players have one minute to complete ALL their turns, as in the whole game takes two minutes, if they use all the time.  Okay you say.  Then you read the note that says these same two guys will be doing this ALL DAY with only 3 breaks.  When we saw them after lunch they had already played some 250 games.

Also a Rubick's cube competition.

And Gemblo.
And yet the craziest thing was running into an old coworker that I haven't seen for over a year.  She now lives in Germany and in this giant convention we just happened to walk past each other-small world!

We did get in a couple of games though.  First Trias from Doris and Frank.  We love Doris and Frank!  Trias is dinosaurs on Pangea, which then breaks apart and you want your dinosaurs to rule the larger islands.  It has some strategy points that will take more playing.  So we buy it and some other games...and a t-shirt....we really like Doris and Frank :)

We randomly try Paperclip Railways.  Indeed paperclips form your rail line.  The guy got his idea from String Railways, which was very popular last year, but this is a more detailed game.  It may be a better game than the feeling we got because our game suffered from one player whose English was not good and took LONG turns.  Usually it is the non-Germans speakers can be at a slight disadvantage if the game is not printed in English, but this developer was British.  This seems to me to lack replay value as the most interesting parts are the clever names but it really loses for us as the box is large and our suitcases are not infinite.  But I do love the flexibility of paperclips as rails.

That is it for us today-people watching is more tiring than game playing!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Essen Game Fair 2011

So we planned to go to the Essen game fair because we knew it is the biggest game convention in the world for strategy board games.  Most people haven’t played these, much less heard of them, even though they keep threatening to break out in the states.  You can even buy Settles of Catan (Spiel de Jahr, Game of the Year 1998) at Target.  If you like these type of games, you probably are in a dedicated group or get together with specific people to play them or you maybe even go to GenCon.  So the idea of going to the biggest convention in the world was appealing. .

We arrive on the afternoon of day 1 and decide first to just walk around the edges to get a feel for it.  Turns out it is a large convention hall with more than 10 large rooms and each room has 30-50 exhibitors.  It took us 2 hours to walk the rooms without stopping to play or buy.  Wow.  Just wow.  The exhibitors range from a single guy with a table or two where he will teach you his game, to the main distributors with 40 tables, all filled with people playing their games, like Quirkle or 7 Wonders, which won prizes this year.  There is a room for comics, a room for miniatures and RPGs, a whole room for games for children, and some booths that sell related stuff.  Everything else is games-selling games and playing games and doing business deals about games.  Lots and lots and lots of people playing games.  I walked around full of *SQUEE* because of all the people who were here just to play games.  Special deals mean everyone buys a years worth of games at once and almost everyone is carrying around bags of purchased games.  The truly prepared have hand carts…seriously.  We stop for a snack and chat with a guy who has finished shopping and is leaving , he says, this is just Thursday, wait until the weekend when it is so packed you can’t move through the aisles.  OMG  This is awesome!  We buy a couple of small items that the game makers only sell at the fair, the Settlers card for 7 Wonders, the Carcassone card for Dominion, all super cute. 

Day 2, we go in with the plan to play some new games, but not anything specific.  The subway is a crush, guess we all thought to get there early.  Even getting off the train is a stampede as people are actually running up the stairs to the convention hall.  So, how do you play a game if you don’t know anything about it?  Demo teams are all around to teach the games to newbies because almost everyone comes to play games they haven’t played before, but might buy.  If there is something you want to play, just lurk till a group is done because almost all the tables are continuously full.  If you want more players, just invite passing folks who show a bit of an interest.  In 8 hours we got in 10 games, only one was something we already love (7 Wonders) and one extension of a series (Ticket to Ride Asia).  We played some by ourselves, with other folks who knew the game (the Ali-Baba German game club had matching shirts) and with other newbies.  

Whew!  And then after dinner with some friends we went to their hotel lobby to play more games.  The whole lobby was filled with groups of people doing this till 1am.  And I'm told that when it gets too crowded at the convention, it will be the same for the rest of the weekend.  THIS IS AWESOME!

Details of the games we played-probably not too interesting to read :)

Infinite City:  Tiles represent buildings that you play and control.  Area control with special effects on the tiles. Not as good as hoped, a little to fiddly.

The City (Amigo):  Cards represent buildings where players have their own cites, not interacting with other cities.  Engine building for money and points, short (big plus), flexible number of players-we should buy this.

Rio d'Oro (Amigo):  Best board design-build a bridge using the box itself.  Also best representation at the game fair as they have a live action version for people to play.  Collect gold from one side of the bridge and carry to your base camp on the other.  But the bridge is dangerous!  A little light, but it gets tougher as you go.  Interesting twist of choosing your level of risk via green/yellow/red die.  We should buy this.

Atlantis:  Run away from Atlantis as it is sinking and try to grab valuables on the way.  But the sinking means you have to spend the valuables to cross the wet parts.  Great mechanic that makes it harder as it goes.  I love that our 'game shepard' teaching us was like 12.  Sue dominated :)  We should buy this.

Walnut Grove:  Agricola light!  Faster than Agricola (plus) and set with a western theme.  Sue dominated.  We should buy this, but the English version is sold out.

7 Wonders:  Which own and love this, but I wanted to play it with other random folks.  The half of the table that had played beat the half that were newbies....

Ticket to Ride, Asia:  A Classic for us, but the new board has some nice additions and a team version.  We got crushed by one of the group who joined us, but Erik put the hurt on everyone by playing all the yeti routes.  We should buy this.

Mord in Arosa (Italian):  Totally new mechanic to me.  Build a 7 story tower, toss in cubes, 'investigate' the levels to find the cubes.  You are supposed to listen to where the cubes fall.  Sue dominated :)  It was so cute I like it, not sure of the replay value.

Logan Stones:  Rock paper scissors, but with a little memory and strategy put on top of it.  Very nice game components.  We bought this one as a gift for a Logan in our life :)

Innovation:  Card game where you are trying to dominate the ages/technologies.   The theme did not hold up as well as expected, end game took too long, but it might be worth some replays to check it out further...

So you can see the problem-too many good things to buy, not enough luggage space!  We will aim to only buy those games that will not get distributed in the US.  Off to day 3!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Weekend near/in Sacramento Aug 2011

The whole reason to go up to Sacramento on this weekend was to do a mini Tri-for-Fun.  The race was actually out at Rancho Seco Park, so we stayed in Galt, a nice enough town, though it reminds me of Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.  Delicate Flower and I have signed up for a couple of races and this is the first, meant to kick our butts a little and do a race early in the season. We signed up because the  TfF is a mini-sized triathlon, but one where people aren't so competitive.  Although it turns out that many of the folks were quite competitive, but the distance is still shorter.  It is actually kind of a nice set-up, this group tbf has a bunch of races at a bunch of distances, in a bunch of places.  So they are well run and quite popular.  Now, I am not crazy/fit/motivated enough to actually do a triathlon, even this short distance one, but they have a run-bike-run version, and DF and I were a team so neither of us had to do the whole thing.

We can argue about whose bright idea it was, but we are in it together!  In retrospect, it turned out astonishing well-neither of us completed our training plans, we both changed our morning routine by eating a larger, more greasy breakfast than usual (thanks hotel buffet breakfast!), DF's back had gone out a bit, and it was way  hotter than what I usually train at...and yet....we didn't come in last, we were faster than we expected we would be, and we felt almost non-broken afterwards!  It is true that we were last in our division, female relay teams, but there were only two teams in the division!  The first place finisher was 1:30, last was 2:36 and we were 2:24.  So yes, room for improvement, but I was seriously worried they would be taking down the finish line before we crossed and that was not at all the case.

The really odd thing was we did not realize that this lake used to be for the cooling all of the race was in view of the following...

Of course part of the fun of a race is to go someplace else and see the sights!  After the race we went into Sacramento to have an amazing lunch at Cafe Rolle.  It has made it onto at least one of the Food Network spots, and there is good reason.  Of course the food is fantastic-desserts, pate, salads and sandwiches...we ate them all.  Bread.  People always talk about good crusty bread and I always thought I knew because I have eaten a lot of crusty breads.  But my breads somehow have too much crust.  This bread you can actually bite into without the whole thing cracking up, sharding, and cutting into your mouth.  Darn, now I am ruined.  And the atmosphere is not to be missed.  It was an all French staff and they were busy busy busy...and super happy about serving you at the same time.  They are adorable.  Go eat here.  I dug in so quickly I forgot to even take photos, but he has some on his web site and it looked exactly like it.

Then we went to see the capitol building.  This is something that I think everyone should do-doesn't everyone have to go in like 4th grade?  I didn't grow up here and I have felt bad that I have not been to see it yet.  Much of it is pretty standard, but there are a couple items of note.  The assembly color is green, while the senate color is red but they have similar patterns.  It is a lot of the color, very loud, not sure I could work here.  Then in the rotunda, there is both green and red, and then shades of red, meaning pink.  It is weird, but whatever!   They were showing an exhibit on WWI.  Some of the poster propaganda was hard-core.  You must buy bonds to support the war effort!  The message is pushed by a lot of bloody knives and sub-human Germans.  Fear is not just for the 21st century.  Turns out that California sent most of the engineers-even back in the day CA was an engineering haven.  But then they have letters...these basically made us bawl and we had to leave before running out of tissues.

The best part of the capitol is the exhibit of the counties.  Each county gets large display case to show themselves off.  The huge difference in approaches in interesting and we graded them.  If you just make a big poster, F-. If you try to use technology, like a rotating billboard or computer screen, and it is broken, F (LA county I'm speaking to you!).  If you rely only on history, even if you have some photos, C (Santa Clara county, really, nothing past 1880?).  If you go with some representative art, even if it is from the children, B (good job Napa).  Any time you add in a useful calendar of events, or a map with common highways, you go up a grade (nice job Alameda).  But the only way to get an A is to do a full on diorama.  Who doesn't love a diorama! Dioramas with waterfalls, kayakers, hay bales, whatever-woo hoo!  Very fun to look at-very nice job Glenn, Siskiyou and Inyo!

So then we go off to a movie...cause we are really tired of moving around.  And we end up in the sad downtown mall which is nothing at all special...except for one store that is not a store, but a display. For a guy named Steve who is trying to collect enough elephants to beat the current world record holder.  This was amazing and completely whackadoodle.  There were hundreds-cards, posters, stuffed, carved, inflated, tiny, huge, flat, oversized....just everything!  I thought I would be able to track down an online presence easily, but all I can find is someone who got actual photos from inside and with Steve.  I love that there are passionate people in the world!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Sunnyvale Baylands park

'The Women's sports clothing store Title Nine sponsored a race.  And since it was close to home I signed up with my friend DF.  Now, given the name of the store, it should not come as a surprise that the race was 9 kilometers.  But did I somehow spaced on that and have been remembering it as a 5K.  So I have a little unanticipated soreness (even though we only ran 205 of the way).  But we got a great swag bag-an actual reuseable bag, Peet's coffee, and this neat-o necklace!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Birthday weekend in Disneyland

Yes, I am a big enough fan that we spent my birthday weekend in Disneyland!

We got a jump start when we arrived at the airport to find our flight delayed but hustled ourselves onto the flight that was just leaving-nice!  Clever E- booked us a park view room in the Grand Californian, my favorite for visiting California Adventure.  There are perks to the birthday visit-special photos of Disney characters, a lovely big bunch of balloons, a washcloth birthday cake, and a personalized Happy Birthday pin.  The thing about the birthday pin is that any cast member that sees it, then wishes you a Happy Birthday.  I knew this and didn't think it was a big deal and so put on my pin on my actual birthday....and it turned out to be more touching than expected.  Because really, these are people you don't know, and in fact you know they are being paid to say Happy Birthday.  And yet every single one of the wishes felt sincere.  Because in fact it is not EVERY single employee, it is many, but they all clearly took the time and meant it.  My favorite was the guy in the candy shop in Critter Country.  There he is behind the window making tray after tray of 3 marshmallows on a stick, which is the basis for 15 different versions of 'Tigger Tails'.  And I go to watch, at some point he looks up and points at my button and mouths Happy Birthday with a really big smile.  I say thank you...and go off and buy a Tigger Tail (a version with sugar-sprinkled, chocolate-coated carmel-covered marshmallows which took 2 days for the 2 of us to eat!!).

*Star Tours Spoiler Alert*
This is out first visit since the new Star Tours opened so of course we have to go....but we also know how incredibly popular it will be since it opened less than a month ago!  We decide to use our Magic Morning time on both Saturday and Sunday to see it as many times as possible.  That turns out to be a FANTASTIC plan, each day we made it on 3 times in the hour!  So, in case you haven't heard, they have a mix and max function for the Star Tours.  You start with 1of 2 different intros, a visit to 1 of 3 different planets, have 1 of 2 different transitions, and get 1 of 3 different endings.  In our 6 visits we got to see each of the different segments, and I won't detail it all for you, but you may get to see Yoda, Princess Leia, Darth Vader, Cornel Akbar, Storm Troopers, and you may get to visit the wookie planet, the Death Star, Coruscant, Hoth, Jar-Jar Binks on his planet, and pod-racing.  So obviously all of this is cool-a really nice mix of the old and the new movies and variable stories (collect them all!).  But the really brilliant part, is that they now pick a member of the audience, who gets involved with the plot!  And the universe being what it is...I got picked on my birthday-yeah me!

We did an especially impressive job of maximizing ride time-I always like to tailor the trip to the groups interests and E- and I are all about riding our favorite rides with as little wait time as possible!  We strategize with FastPasses and timing options and probably walk back and forth more than the average visitor...but it is well worth it!  In addition to the many small rides, we rode Indiana Jones twice, Space Mountain twice, the Matterhorn and Splash Mountain all on Saturday. We also like to do some of the odd rides that we don't often visit.  Innoventions-meh.  The Davy Crockett canoes-the guides seem to be in training for the Jungle Cruise-awesome!  The other people in the canoe will most likely not know how to paddle, so you kind of want to just turn around and explain...just follow me, don't try to think!  Addition of pirates to Tom Sawyer Island?  Simple execution, but a nice touch.  And of course Star Tours 6 times!!

The Ariel ride is new since we were here last.  It's nice, but I somehow feel that it is lacking a little bit of soul...but maybe that grows on you.  They finally took down the Power Tower-and I never even rode it-nothing lost there!  The Toy Story ride is so much fun and I'm not sure why because it is really just a video game.  But everyone loves it and it is one of the few that we wait in line for.  We ride California Screamin' 3 times during the day-this is my favorite in the whole place, it is just such a perfect coaster!  

Of course we don't ONLY ride the rides here.  When we arrive on Friday we ride the rafting ride first, but then we hang out at the pool with lovely drinks.  We eat a turkey leg and ear of buttered corn.  Saturday night we have our super nice dinner at the Napa Rose.  We also exit the hotel through one of the very plain stair sets at the end of a boring hallway to discover that it is an exit that bypasses much of the downtown pathways to arrive at the park entrance-bonus! We also check out the night time street show Electronica.  The street entertainers get to wear cool glowing costumes and play frisbee, which is cool.  But LaserMan 3D is awesome!  LaserMan is a mime in a future outfit, with lasers, which sounds lame.  But when you see it, it is so well done that you may not realize it is a mime until it is too late and you have already enjoyed the show :0

Best Birthday Ever!!

Friday, August 26, 2011

SFMOMA Stein exhibit August 2011

Krista and I took in some culture by going to the SFMOMA's exhibit of art owned by the Stein's.  First I got to see her new lab-shiny!  Then we got slightly lost around Market Street (par for the course if I am going somewhere even slightly new-ish).  But we made it in and spent a good hour viewing the works that the Stein family (Gertrude being the most famous) collected, mainly Picasso and Matisse.  The collection is beautifully curated-they took family photos of the different apartments that the Steins lived in showing the art on the walls, and then placed those works in the room.  It flows chronologically as well so you get to see the artists changing.

Remembering what I learned from Tufte, I consciously did not read the introductions and looked first, or exclusively, at the art.  What I found is that I really liked Matisse and I prefer the sketches to the paintings.  Many of the sketches are quickly drawn-a family portrait on the back of a postcard, the happy dancing barbarians at the close of note (Hey Gertrude, How about I come over and we look at the Gaugins and then have lunch?  Picasso).

And the Picasso chicken sketch.

And the painting of the statue of the painting :)

For dinner we went around the corner to The Grove Cafe Yerba Buena.  Yummy comfort food, but modernized (chicken pot pie and mac and cheese), nice salads and drinks, and fun/funky atmosphere (medieval hunting lodge with lots of seating?).  I would totally go here again, though it sounds like it can get stupid busy and then there will be issues.

Nice evening out!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

New York weekend June 2011, day 2

We take the opportunity to sleep in a little and when we get up we join the masses having brunch at the Galaxy Diner.  We get a little bit of everything-waffles, omelets, eggs Benedict, pastrami sandwich and mimosas!  I'm always amazed at how everyone manages to get all the plates and bowls and glasses onto the teeny tiny little cafe tables...but we manage and are well fueled for the day.

The High Line
E- and I visited The High Line the last time we were here and were super impressed, and now we hear that the next section has opened so want to visit it again, plus Mars has never been.  The only downside is that it is almost raining.  We've got some rain ponchos (thanks little apartment!) and it is not down-pouring, just kind of spitting rain once in awhile.  Clearly it has not stopped the rest of New York from going outdoors as the place is busy busy busy.  There is my favorite piece of art from last time-A Bell for Every Minute, but also a new one, Digital Empathy.  Especially if you have played Portal, I would recommend that you drink from some of the water fountains :)  Or check out the info about the art on The High Line page.

Rainbow City
So, this is pretty much impossible to explain.  Experimental play space?  Our experience was different than the happy pictures on the was damp and cold and no where near grass...but still wacky and oddball.  The best thing was they had food trucks!  Korean tacos!

Spicy rice cakes with cotija cheese (texture of octopus, which is a good thing?)

And fresh dumplings!

So really, how could we not be happy!

ET Modern
This is another favorite stop of ours.  If you care at all about the presentation of information you must read Tufte, even better go to one of his lecture series.  But he is also an artist and a visit to his gallery on Saturday, when he is often there to give tours is a nice treat.  He was in fact there and we did a whole tour with him where he talked about some themes that were familiar to me from his last tour-the play of light on surfaces, movement of the sculpture, whimsy, and using 'mistakes'.  But he also brought up something new to me-observe/interact with with the art before reading about it.  Once you have read/understood a thought, it can't be undone and it will be that much harder to let your mind follow the piece down a path of its own choosing.  I am totally a reader of information in museums, so this advice really spoke to me!  There is a new set of art he has been working on-the circus parade-very whimsical with the play of negative space and movement.  This is also the trip where I am enchanted with the small tong birds sculpture-last time there were only large ones, but the smaller size is just right!

Intrepid Sea, Air and Space museum
My favorite museum pieces are in situ, or when as much of the piece as possible is in the exhibit-the temple of Dendur in the Met, the Ara Pacis in Rome, or the Titan missile museum.  It doesn't get any bigger than the Intrepid, a decommissioned aircraft carrier, complete with aircraft, space exhibits and a nuclear submarine.  As it is docked at an actual pier, we got to see a cruise liner leaving port-something we will do one day, but with irony!  We only spent a few hours on the Intrepid, but managed to see almost everything, though at a rapid pace.  The submarine tour is a must-do if for no other reason than to get the tiniest feel for the living conditions that are pretty much the same today.  Serious respect for those who are willing to get crammed into a tiny metal canister with 40 others and live underwater.  I mean really, that's nuts to even think about!  There is currently a lego replica of the Intrepid-that is pretty amazing.  We didn't give quite enough time to the far end of the main exhibit hall which has all the hands on stuff.  You can lie on the submarine bunks, sit in a space capsule, and mess about with a bunch of science-type exhibits.  Ah next time!

After a quick nap and change into our evening clothes we leave a little early and check out Times Square.  Which is large and filled with tourists standing around.  I like that it is a pedestrian walkway/destination, but we don't need anything more than a look and we are off to the theater.  Before this weekend I had heard of Tom Stoppard, and then if someone said Rosencrantz and Guilderstern Are Dead  I would say, oh yeah, I've seen that, but that was pretty much it.  Seeing Arcadia however, has made me a fan.  It is for the same reason I like Sondheim, interesting characters in a slightly complicated plot.  No spoilers, because you will have more fun if you see it fresh.  I will point out the only pitfall of the complicated plot-sometimes the people in the seats next to you are too dumb to figure it out and have to comment on their confusion-annoying!!

5 Napkin burger
After the play we stopped for dinner at this place we have been eyeing, because what a great name (and is recommended by the apartment owner)!  It starts off a little noisy, but as we are pretty much the last seating of the night it turns pleasant and we have a lovely round of food and drinks.

We finish the evening with champagne at the bar across the way (we were the only ones there and as they try hard to drum up business they gave us a free round of peach-cello just before leaving) and crash off to bed.

One final classic New York treat before heading off to the airport-H&H bagels because the actual storefront is within walking distance of the apartment.  How cool is that!

We <heart> NYC

New York Weekend June 2011, day 1

Ah!  What happened to the summer!  I had excellent intentions of staying up to date as I went on trips...but somehow that fell apart.  Oh well, now is a good time to catch up!  On this trip we went out to NYC and met up with another couple, Mars, specifically to see The Tom Stoppard play, Arcadia, on Broadway, but we managed to work in quite a few other treats as well.

Late flight
I love to take the red-eye on trips to the east coast and this one was no exception.  It was a great plan, E- and I were going to meet Mars' plane within an hour of their landing and off we go....except bad thunderstorms made our flights late late late!  Mars made it work and got on a better flight!  Us, not so much.   We checked out some of our options, but I was surprised there were so few...until I realized that JetBlue flies out of the international terminal at SFO, meaning all the other options were in the other terminal.  We decided to suck up the 4 hour delay and just arrive late morning.  Luckily Mars was flexible and met with our week-end landlord. Another place through AirBnB, though this was an otherwise empty apartment instead of staying with folks.  It turned out to be really great.  Every place has some issues, but it was more than made up for by location location location!  This was a theater trip and we were within walking distance-super nice at the end of the evening-we will do this again.

Eventually we all are assembled and hanging our in our little place and figure out that if we leave about now, we will be just in time for pizza lunch!  We head of course to Lombardi's Pizza.  On the way we come across The  Evolution store.  We are all science nerds, so we love this stuff (I used to visit Maxilla and Mandible after any visit to the Natural History museum and am pleased that NYC can handle two of these types of stores!).  We resist buying would I carry back that extremely fragile ostrich egg?

So, you are in New York and you want New York pizza...there are many great options (did you hear Jon Stewart rip into Donald Trump?).  But if you can't decide, just start with Lombardi's Pizza.  We learned all about the history of pizza on Scott's Piazza tour a couple of visits ago and it is easy to go back to the first New York pizza.  We managed to arrive at 11:45 and get seated immediately-had a lovely mozzarella and roast pepper appetizer followed by the margarita pizza.  mmm.

We are pleasantly full, but walk past Rice to Riches, which is trying to make rice pudding the next hip and trendy desert.  They are making a good go of it.  The rice pudding is fantastic-innovative flavors and toppings, the servings are generous, the store is fun (see hip commentary bubble) and you can order online.  What's not to love?

Now we are completely stuffed and have to roll down the street to our next stop-the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  I adore the Met,  I could (and have) spent days in it.  But it is better to visit for short periods of time-just being there is weighty on the mind, in a good way, but still, you can only take in so much visual material at a time.  So the biggest problem is how to limit yourself-what do you pick in the time to do?  We start with a bit of a plan and then deviate as need be.  So we started off in ancient Egypt, but then had to find the restrooms and ended up wandering through Asia.  My favorite porcelain horse!  The new Jain exhibit!  Tibetian ritualistic rugs-disturbing flayed people depictions!  Before coming back to Egypt to rest at the Temple of Dendur.

A quick dash through the American Sculpture garden to see the Tiffany glass, wrought iron staircases and giant fireplace mantles on our way to a quick snack. Then knowing that we need to focus, we went to the photography exhibit and on the way discovered that about a million people were in line for the Alexander McQueen exhibit-I'm sure it was interesting, but boy you need some stamina for the crush of people.  The focus of the photography was on night photography and ran the gamut of styles.  My favorite was one of the ocean that you could barely tell was anything at all, no idea why it was so fascinating to me.  The most interesting was taken in Japan back in the day when couples (gay or straight) would go out to parks to get some privacy from the family, but because everyone knew it was happening, the couple could end up with 4 or 5 onlookers.  So the photo is of 5 guys peaking around the bush at the couple on the ground.  We couldn't actually decided if the photo was staged.  This photo also got a lot of attention from the museum goers-voyeurism, how human!  We then indulged in natural beauty by walking across the park past Cleopatra's needle, Belvedere castle, the Shakespeare in the park theater, and the big ball field.  Nap time before going out for the evening.

Cirque du Soliel
When making plans I realized that I had never been to Radio City Music Hall.  Never seen the Rockettes other than the Thanksgiving parade, and I think that is enough.  But it turns out they do other shows in the hall, and in fact this weekend was opening weekend for a new Cirque du Soliel show, Zarkana.  Great!  Sign us up!  So the show was actually a little different than the usual in that they were trying to tell a story.  Our consensus was that it didn't work out all that well, the sound was not good, so it was hard to even understand the story they were trying to tell.  The use of high-tech projections took away from the performers.  And even the parts of the story we understood felt forced.  But it was the opening, maybe they can do some tweaks and improve that part.  On the plus side this was designed to fill Radio City Music Hall specifically, and that is a tall order, mainly well executed. The pre-performance mingling of performers with audience was more than I have ever seen before.   And the acts were top-notch as always. I was most impressed with the hand sand artist.  She 'painted' a pile of sand into pictures, flowing from one to another.  It was so cool and something I'd never seen before!!

street food
We were too full from snacks throughout the day for actual dinner beforehand, but on the way back from the show we ran across irresistible gyros.  The patter was pretty good too, you ask for one and he gets the order and then says, What do you want on the second one?  So you have to be pretty firm to resist, but they were delicious, so it is hard to go wrong.  Home to bed-within walking distance!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Bay to Breakers 2011l

San Francisco Bay as seen from the Embarcadero about 6:30 in the morning.

The San Francisco Bay to Breakers is the best running race around because there are so many people that are not there to race.  Of course there are quite a few amateur runners going for time, but there are also all the folks in costumes and the groups of friends who are just there to walk and chat.  Not to mention the folks who are there to drink their way through the race :)

This year was the 100th running of the race and our 6th or 7th.  It turns out that the race you have depends very much on when you start.  If you start early and run, there is not much out of the ordinary.  The later you start the more drinking, costumes, and non-costumes you see.  We've done them all and the later race is more fun :)

The ocean breakers as seen from the end of the race on the Great Highway, late morning.