Friday, April 24, 2009

This internet connection chafes at my soul.

I'm taking a break from my workday since I skipped going to breakfast, and saw that my internet connection was at a 'very good' level, which it is NEVER at. It wavers between disappearing and hovering at low, reconnecting itself so frequently that downloading anything, even a short song from itunes, is a practice in patience and not throwing my laptop against a wall. Well, as I type this, it has quickly switched to 'very low'...apparently the wireless has mood swings. Maybe it has seasonal affective disorder and the dust storm is making it feel down. All I need to do is get it a bright light and sit it down in front of that light for 20 minutes a day. Maybe then it will be consistent enough for me to get a post written.

All silly hypotheticals aside, I did want to take advantage of its 'very good' reading and get some random thoughts out a.k.a. letting you know I'm still alive. And thats not to imply that I think you all still think of me as in this dangerous warzone or anything. Rather, I'm sure many of you suspect I may have started toying with extreme sports and heavy drug usage if only to give me something to do besides counting the many ways in which I could be bored to death here. How do people do this for their lifetime? HOW? I am immersed in this constant battle of security vs. happiness, and while I think it is really hard to be happy without feeling secure (I'm talking financially, roof-over-your-head sort of secure), it is probably not that hard to feel secure and not feel happy. I'm surrounded by people who live it every day, in my humble opinion. And I used to believe that all I needed was to be secure in my finances in order to be happy. That is not to say that I've completely changed my mind or that I am unhappy. But I really don't think I could call my life here a happy one. It is a settled one, a routine one, heck, even a content one. But happy? I don't want to attach such a great word to how I live. Small things make me happy, such as the birthday card I got from Elise yesterday, very appropriate by the way. Or when I treat myself to a diet coke or ice cream bar from the DFAC. Or talking on the phone to various family members and not getting interrupted by the early arrival of Flo or Dave. But these are really small things in very long days. And I'm not claiming I lived a life of sheer happiness while in the States, but at least those stretches of bliss were a bit longer and more under my control.

Wow, this is so not where I thought this post would take me. Free thought and all that. Basically, I am doing fine here, but dreaming of the day when I can drive for no reason, play board games, eat a cupcake (they don't have them here, and lets face it, cake is NOT the same), call one of you up for no reason except to talk about a weird commercial I just saw, have a steady internet connection, have a day off, sleep in and not feel guilty, eat beef that doesn't make my stomach churn later, work with people who are only 10 years older than me, own a dog, go to the, I can't wait.

Some random thoughts for you inspired by an interview with crazy ole' Matthew McHOTehey:

-I have about 10 books sharing my bed with me. It doesn't take more than the minimal effort to get up and put these on a shelf, but I haven't done that yet. Why? I have no clue.

-I love InStyle magazine (where the MM interview was) even though I can't afford their "budget buys" (seriously? A 200$ purse is a budget saver? Really?) and I naturally feel hideous next to the celebrity they are focusing on. But they are just so accessible to the average fashion lover (hear that Vogue? Your ad's may be pretty, but come on, most of us do not work in fashion), their layout is very asthetically pleasing (calling you out again Vogue), they have a great feature where they talk about planning the perfect theme party, and I just like the stuff they choose to feature.

-That latest Harry Potter trailer is CRAMAZING!!! I am trying to recall if any of the other movies trailers brought out such excitement for me, and I'm fairly positive they didn't. Maybe its because this book is the one I have the least problem with them toying around with. Maybe its because this is the first movie being released that isn't overshadowed by the fact that we STILL don't know how it ends. Maybe its all the great marketing and the well-made trailers. I don't know, but I get chills when I see the trailer and I cannot wait to be seated in an air-conditioned theatre with my big diet coke, my snuck-in goodies, and some family members around me watching this thing.

-I got approved for my R&R, which sadly does not involve a visit home, but wonderfully does involve two weeks in Greece. As Greece has been my numero uno foreign destination dream for some time now, my excitement is palpable. We are thinking of doing a couple of days in Athens, hop over to Mykonos for two days, then Paros for two days, then Santorini for a week, and then back to Athens for our last couple of days. I will probably get skin cancer for the amount of time I plan to spend sitting on a beach there. And I'm okay with that.

-Hugh Jackman twitters...I'm following him now...maybe this will one day lead to us meeting, I don't know. A girl can dream.

-Finished Watership Down. It is as good as Em and Joe say it is, so check it out folks. It took me a long while to get into it (in that I kept putting it down to watch Jon Stewart or to read a magazine or other book), but once I did, it was fantastic. Hoping that when I attempt the LOTR series, it will be a similar experience.

-Lost has been awesome (spoiler alert for the 2 people out there who don't watch this show)
...who knew that this season would have Sawyer becoming my second favorite character (ain't no one gonna oust Sayid from that spot, no matter how many children he shoots) and Juliet in the top 5? And Hurley's reference to Back to the Future? HILARZ!!! And so along my train of thought when it comes to time travel.

-Ordered 4 swimsuits from various places online in preparations for above stated R&R. Why so many? Well, I don't have one and I also don't have a handy mall nearby, so I need options and plan to return the other 3 when I try them all on. Sounds painful and I think it will be painful...all that shipping.

-Kyle has a pug puppy named Hugo and I am totes jealous/happy for him and his puppy. I really, really, want a dog, and I will admit to spending free time looking at for the future focus of my adoration. I don't even know if I will be able to own a dog next year, but I still look.

-No one seems to understand my fear of sea snakes here. I think they need to watch that part of Planet Earth where they are en masse, and where my fear truly started, only to be heightened by Lonesome Dove, when a guy falls into a nest of water moccasins and dies. Snakes that can go from land to water? WORST THING EVER!!! And did anyone read the story about the pythons that escaped from baggage and were on a commercial flight from Australia (or somewhere close by)? Apparently it isn't just a bad movie starring Samuel L, it is a horrific reality.

-I really like oatmeal...especially when I put strawberry jam and some french vanilla creamer in it. Give it a try, your taste buds will thank you.

Okay, I could keep going, but I have been absent from work far too long...have a great weekend!!

Oh, and Happy Birthday Sarah dear!!! I hope it is amazing and that your fish cooperate and that you eat lots of good food and have a great time. LOVE you lots, sarah-bearah.

Friday, April 10, 2009

A smidge of my European trip...

Well, I believe most stories that have no real center are told better in person, so forgive me if I just post a few European pictures with some comments on them. My trip was a story without a center. Some amusing anecdotes, a lot of random observations, a bit of gushing, and some lessons learned. I'll give one of each before I start some pictures, and then if you want to hear more, you shall when we see each other again.

Amusing anecdote: Kyle and I had quite the easy time in London. We figured out the tube system immediately (by we, I mean Kyle, and I caught on by day three), we fit in pretty well, we enjoyed London for what London is (a tough contender for my new favorite city of all be fair, I'll have to visit Chicago again and see if it holds up), we had it all under control. Feeling a bit arrogant at the ease we took to European life, we eagerly anticipated Paris and the challenges we would conquer there. We figured with our combined charm (once again, I mean Kyle's charm), his french abilities (he can pronounce things right, I can't), and a positive attitude, we wouldn't encounter any of that french rudeness we had heard about. Well, about an hour into Paris, at our first outside cafe, Kyle ordered us a couple of sodas and an appetizer to share in what I thought was really good french. That is, until the waiter walked away and mocked us as soon as he left, not attempting to lower his voice, probably assuming our french was so bad we wouldn't even understand when we were being insulted. We were able to laugh at our conceit at the idea of even trying to fit in there, and just accepted we would stick out like sore thumbs during the Paris portion of our trip. And we did. And Parisians/the French are as arrogant and distinct as I had heard and dismissed. I love them for that alone. And love them even more for their love of cinema and carb's.

Random observations:
-Europeans LOVE bicycles and hate helmets. Or maybe don't even know bike helmets exist. I think I saw one person in London wearing a bike helmet, and that was it. To be fair, I was most terrified for bicyclists in London than any other city, so good thing I saw the helmet there.
-Chocolate is better in Europe. I didn't even get any fancy, chocolatier chocolate. I'm talking average candy bars at a convenience store...its just better.
-Amsterdam had the best t.v. for a lazy American looking for an escape from culture. They had both BBC's (which meant wonderfully entertaining quiz shows in the evening), MTV, CNN, ESPN, and a couple other channels that had random episodes of shows like Suddenly Susan, which I had to take a picture of to show that in some parts of the world, this show is still relevant.
-London had the best subways, hands down. They had the most convenient seating (read: they didn't force you to bump knees with strangers), they had the clearest connections/maps, so clear, they were instinctual, they DIDN'T smell like urine, and they love them some escalators, which is wonderful for the walk-heavy tourist or the person carting their heavy luggage to the train station. Oh, and they have this pleasant voiced british lady saying as you got off "Mind the Gap", which I loved so much I got the super touristy t-shirt that says that same thing.
-Cathedrals are cold. I think I've already gone on about this, but I feel it needs to be mentioned again. I mean, dang. I get that they are historic and all that, but invest in some space heaters or something. Jeez.
-Peeps in Amsterdam love them some french fries, so I love the peeps in Amsterdam. It doesn't take a genius to figure out why quick, convenient, fried food is so popular, so I'll just enjoy the fringe benefits.
-There are TONS of beggars in Paris. And shifty characters looking to scam you in Amsterdam. And lots of street musicians in Austria.

Gushing moment:
One of my favorite moments of my trip was definitely one of my most blatent tourist moments. Mom had brought along The Sound of Music for us to enjoy on my portable dvd player while we traveled through Austria. Well, we had a 4 hour drive ahead of us from Graz to Salzburg and figured we would just watch it then. But it caught the eye of a few other bus passengers, and through the graciousness of our hosts/bus driver (our dvd didn't work in the foriegn dvd player, so they found their own copy), we were able to view the movie on the t.v.'s above our seats while we enjoyed the drive. And while we were enjoying the movie, we were driving through the most gorgeous scenery ever. I have driven through many places, and have many more to go, but I think I can say without a doubt, the drive to Salzburg is one of the top three most scenic drives ever. It was breathtaking. I'm not even a mountains obsessor like most others, but I may have to convert. SO, if any of you go to Austria, shell out the dough, rent the car, and drive through the countryside for a bit. You won't be able to watch Sound of Music at the same time, but surely you can get your hands on the soundtrack.

Lessons learned: I had to teach myself to not stress over all the things I didn't do. There is simply not enough time to enjoy everything Paris has to offer. The sheer thought of it overwhelms me. I just had to accept I would return and visit other new things. So we didn't stress that Versailles didn't happen, or that we didn't really explore any of the other districts outside of the center ones, or really go shopping in some of the fabulous stores. We did see the Eiffel tour, walked along the Seine, the Champ de Elsyees (I so know I got that one wrong), went to the Louvre, ate lots of bread and cheese. We just enjoyed our time. And it was the same with all the other cities to which we went. No, I didn't see any of the royal residences in London, or get up close to the Big Ben, but I did get to go to the famous street market on Portebello Road in Notting Hill, and I did get to see Billy Elliot in Victoria at the famous Victoria Opera house (I might have that name wrong, it might be the Albert and Victoria Theatre or something), and I ate fish and chips in a pub called The Three Greyhounds in Soho. In Amsterdam, we missed out on the museums, but loved our canal tour and visiting the flower market and eating french fries every day covered in flavored mayonaise. In Austria, we saw a lot in the short amount of time we had, and so I had to be okay with not just sitting for 2 hours on a street cafe in Graz, or going to the opera in Vienna. We did use our free time well there and went to the Belvedere museum and saw the Klimt exhibit, which was completely worth it. It is as breathtaking as it promised to be. And in Munich, I definitely did not get enough time there and I cannot WAIT to return and fully appreciate it. I did get to see their famous Glockenspeil, shop a bit, and finally eat my steak (long story short, it had been 5 months since I had a decent steak, so to have it for my last meal before I left, worth it on so many levels).

Basically, many may focus on what I missed out on, but I'm going to focus on what I got to experience. And it was a heck of a lot.

So, that went a bit longer than I anticipated. I'm way too wordy. I'll try to tone it down when explaining the following pictures.

Picture 1: Kyle in the quintessential symbol of England, a red telephone booth. I think he's going for "Wow, they still have these things on cords!" look.

Picture 2: Me at the Tower of London, posing on the backdrop of the Tower Bridge. This was the farthest we ventured in London, as we mainly stuck to the center area.

Picture 3: I clearly don't need to explain where we are at here...just enjoying the view.
Picture 4: Posing along the banks of the Seine, along which we walked towards the Eiffel tower/Louvre and such. It reeked of urine this close to the river. Clearly, others appreciation of the beauty of Paris was more literal than ours.

Picture 5: This picture just makes me laugh. Walking in Amsterdam, just happened upon these large shoes perfect for posing.

Picture 6: Posing at one tiny part of the enormous flower market. Despite the early spring chill, there were still lots of flowers to be had.

Picture 7: Mom at the summer palace of the Austrian Monarchy. Can't remember how to spell their last names...wikipedia that if you really want to know.

Picture 8: Mom had just eaten baby cow...thought you all should know why she looks so evilly delighted with herself.
Picture 9: Posing in front of one of the Sound of Music landmarks, though without 7 children singing and marching around me, it loses its context. Just trust me.
Picture 10: At a fortress at the top of Salzburg. This view doesn't even begin to do Austria justice...just a small taste of an exceptionally beautiful country.
Picture 11: Mom and I on the last day of traveling, my birthday. Just another gorgeous day in Salzburg. It must be said that it did rain that night, thus further proving the curse that is my birthday and the 28 year record of it raining on that day.

There are tons more pictures, but they are better shown with me giving a running commentary, so if you have an interest, let me know and we'll hang when I come back home.