Tuesday, August 16, 2016

paris in the summer

It'd been a few years since we took off for a few months in Europe, and we decided it was time. We immediately knew we wanted to do Paris again, as it is one of our favorite places in the world. But as always, we spent a few days in New York on our way there.

Stopping to enjoy Central Park (and catch some Pokemon) while waiting for our flight.

For this trip we found an apartment in the Latin Quarter of Paris. Last time we were in Paris we stayed in the Marais, which was really nice, but this is much more centrally located, with the river only a block away. From the map before we left, we could tell we were in the heart of the city, but on arrival we saw just how true that was. Out one of our windows we look at the Pantheon and if we had a window on the other side, we'd look directly at Notre Dame. The place is on the seventh floor, so we also get a daily stair climbing workout. If Andrew pops out to grab one beer, he really earns it by the time he makes it back up to our place.

One thing we love about Paris is the history around every corner. At this apartment, we are right across the street from the Saint Severin church. It was built in the 1300s on the site of the hermitage of the 12th century saint named Severin. He is known for helping Christianity spread through what wold become the French region, because during his time, France was still ruled by barbarian kings.

View out our window of the Pantheon and Saint Severin Churnch

Our first few days in Paris were overcast and rainy, but it didn't stop us from our customary dinner on the Seine every night--we just had to be better prepared.

When the rain wasn't too bad an umbrella was fine...

but when the rain got worse, we had to retreat under a tree.

The street our place is on in the Latin Quarter. A lot of university students live here, and it's also very touristy, so there's a lot going on.

The Olympics are going on while we're here, so if we want to watch any of the events, we have to head out to the bars and find one showing them. Luckily we found a nice little Irish pub right on the Seine that has good beer and lots of TVs. The first thing we watched was the Men's Cycling Road Race, and it didn't let us down. With multiple crashes and a two-way sprint for the finish line, it was well worth the trip.

Watching the Olympic Men's Road Race with not your normal view out the pub windows.

Our dinner view from a riverside picnic one night.

Sunset on the Seine.

A view of the backside of Notre Dame while walking home from dinner on the river.

We took a night off from the river and ate at the Luxembourg Gardens just a few blocks from our place, where Maggie could go for a jog before we ate.

On the first Sunday of every month, the museums are free all around Paris. So, our first Sunday, we headed out for a day at the Musee d'Orsay and the Pompidou. We'd been to both of the museums before, but you can never get enough Van Gogh and Monet at the d'Orsay, and it's always nice to see what they're calling modern art these days at the Pomidou.

The outside of the Musee d'Orsay

View of the Sacre Coeur from the inside of the d'Orsay.

Panoramic view of Paris from the Pomidou (Click to enlarge).

One Paris landmark our place isn't as close to is the Eiffel Tower, so one night we decided to rent Velibs (public bicycles) and take our dinner down there. It's a nice ride along the river and only takes twenty minutes or so.

While we're eating by the river we usually just picnic, but we have a lot of fondue restaurants around us in the Latin Quarter, so we decided to give one a go. It was enough cheese to kill even a Wisconsiner, but we slowly made our way through it and went home with an expanding waist line.

Our Fondue and the many things to dip in it.

Maggie found a Flea Market on the outskirts of the main city that she wanted to go to. We could have taken a subway to get there, but Velibs sounded like more fun. It was about a half an hour ride, but through a part of Paris we had never been to.

After the market, we saw we were close to one of the largest parks in Paris, Bois de Vincennes, so we decided to ride the bikes down to it and check it out.

Maggie on her Velib.

Some of the antique wares being sold at the Flea Market.

The lake at Bois de Vincennes

We didn't buy much at the flea market, but we did find this little guy and named him Petit Napoleon. 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

life's better on a boat

Andrew grew up sailing with his parents on a boat they kept in northern New Mexico. But then the rain stopped falling and ten years later, there wasn't much sailing to be done out here in the desert, so Andrew's parents joined a few clubs that allow you to show up and take a boat from any of their harbors around the world.

In the past year, we did a few sailing trips, the first being to San Diego Bay. Just the bay? you say. Yup, just the bay. There is no more exciting place to sail than San Diego Bay. You're out there on the water with sailboats, motorboats, aircraft carriers, battleships, submarines, pirate ships--you name it, they got it.

Andrew inspecting the boat.

The marina.

Andrew's mom checking the rigging.

Maggie taking the wheel in the wind.

Another great thing about San Diego Bay is cellphone service.

Sea lions just chillin.

We stayed on the boat in the Marina, so every night we'd look for a micro-brew / restaurant to go to. The second night we ended up in Hillcrest and found the best one ever. If you take a good look at the names of their beers and realize that Hillcrest is known as the gay neighborhood, you'll get all the puns--and they were great beers to boot.

A little later in the year, we went on a week long sailing trip the the British Virgin Islands (BVIs).  On our way we had a one night layover in Puerto Rico that ended coinciding with the arrival of a hurricane that shut down the whole city and caused our flight to be delayed an extra day. We weathered the storm in a hotel a few blocks off the beach (probably not the best idea). It hit us while we slept, but with no severe consequences.

Eventually we made it to the BVIs, just a day late. We flew into Tortola and picked up the boat there. We also stocked up on the food and most importantly, the beer. You never feel more like an alcoholic then when you are adding up how much beer you need for five people for a week on vacation. And it was the first time we had been on a catamaran, and we loved the extra space. Catamarans are boats with two hulls attached by a cabin area, instead of the typical single hull boats where the only cabin space is in the one hull. Andrew's parents had one hull, and we got the other to share with Andrew's brother.

The BVIs are one of the best places to sail because all of the island are within eyesight. You feel a lot like a pirate as you make your way between islands during the days and spend the nights taking the dingy to shore to have drinks and eat dinner. As we always do when we sail, even in San Diego, we slept on the boat. It's just not the full boat experience unless you sleep on it.

From Tortola we sailed to Copper Island and celebrated our wedding anniversary there, with a friendly (at least that's how I remembered him) sea turtle swimming around our boat. The next two nights took us to Virgin Gorda and then Jost Van Dyke, with a quick stop Sandy Cay (maybe the most photographed island ever--trust me, you've seen it in commercials). The next night was spent in Frenchman's Cay, where a barracuda spend the whole night under our boat, unnerving Andrew. The final night we found a buoy on Treasure Island, the island believed to have actually been the one written about in the book with the same name.

Copper Island

Frenchman's Cay looking back out at our boat.

Andrew and his Mom having a five o'clock beer.

Andrew and his Mom looking for a buoy for the evening.

Barracuda friend from Frenchman's Cay

Andrew and Maggie on their anniversary in Copper Island, sunburned after a day on the water.

Our boat at Treasure Island.

Snorkeling was more hazardous than usual with a lot of jellyfish about.

Friday, December 26, 2014

egypt, it's where it's at

Something we had talked about doing, but hadn't yet, was the one night layover thing that certain airlines offer. On our way back to the US from Israel, we finally go the chance to do it with a one night layover in Cairo. Neither had ever been there and we really wanted to go. We made sure we'd have enough time to get from Cairo to see the Great Pyramid and the Sphinx--and it was close, but we would just make it.

We got into Egypt around noon, but the whole process of getting one day visas and having to go through customs didn't get us to the hotel and ready to head out until 3. We walked out to the street in front of our hotel and talked to a few cabbies before finding one who was charging what we thought was reasonable for the ride to the pyramids and back. He was a nice guy who ended up telling us a lot about Egypt's current situation and from a local's perspective, why they had their summer revolt.
The traffic was pretty stop and go for a while and we didn't get to the Pyramids until around 4. Once there, we found out that the Pyramid Complex had closed early that day, and was already closed. We were bummed, but what could we do, jump the wall in front of the military patrolling with guns? We took pictures of it from the gate, which luckily wasn't too far away. (And strangely, there wasn't another tourist to be seen. We knew Egypt tourism was down, but there was literally no one there.)

Maggie over the Nile River in Cairo 
View from the locked gate

A cat guarding the Sphinx--whose original head is thought to have been a cat.

Andrew finding high ground to peer over the wall into the Great Pyramid Complex

Maggie posing with the Great Pyramid

As the taxi driver told us, the fairly new wall around the Pyramid complex is a good example of why the people of Egypt are so upset. The government built the wall around the Pyramids so they could control who could gives tours and when they are allowed in. While to Americans this may make sense, to the hundreds, if not thousands, of Egyptian families who have been making money off Pyramid tourism for generations, this is creating a barrier for making a living.

We saw this with a family we met while walking around the Pyramid wall. We were just wandering around (we were still the only tourists in the entire area) when a lady came out of her house and started chatting with us, and invited us into her house for tea. There we sat on the floor in the one small room where it appeared the whole family lived and slept (there were six of them there at the time) and met the whole family. The oldest son spoke English, so he was the translator, and we told them about ourselves, how we had been traveling for awhile and were now going home. The woman told us that her husband's family had been living in Cairo for hundreds of years and that they used to be able make money giving tours of the Pyramids whenever they wanted, but now because of the wall and the permits, they have had to try to find new ways to make money off the tourist trade, but with many families in the same boat, it is harder to do. This combined with the huge decrease of tourism has made the times harder.

Everyone we met in Egypt told us, and wanted us to relay to everyone we knew, that Egypt is not dangerous and no one should be afraid to travel there. It is really is true. (Or at least, it definitely seemed to be at the time--this was mid-2014.) To us, it seemed like there is no better time to go to Egypt. The tourist infrastructure is there, but with fewer tourists. The people couldn't be nicer and really want tourists to come back to their country. So if you are thinking of going to Egypt sometime in your life, now is a great time. We couldn't speak more highly of what we saw of the country.

Maggie with the family we met, in their house

Andrew hanging with the Egyptian Justin Bieber

Saturday, December 20, 2014

dead sea

We had heard good things about the Dead Sea, so it was a place we wanted to go. It would have been a really hard day trip, so we planned to stay there overnight. When looking online, we found that there was a place to camp right on the beach, so with Andrew's bag full of pillows, blankets, food and water, we jumped on a bus. We went through Jerusalem a different way than we had before, which took us right up against the wall separating Israel from the West Bank.

It was a few hour bus trip that took us through one of the most desolate parts of the world - and it lived up to it. There was nothing once you reached the Dead Sea, it made New Mexico look lush. While we were skirting the Dead Sea towards the major city on the Israel side, we went right past Masada. We had no idea we were even going to be close and hadn't alloted enought time to go there - a regret we still have.

When we were finally dropped off in Ein Bokek, we didn't really know where we were going, so we just headed to the beach. Once we arrived there, we found small covered area with tents set up right on the shores of the Dead Sea. We knew we were in the right place. We claimed an area and stripped down to our swim shorts and got in.

It was as buoyant as we heard. You felt like a cork trying to touch the bottom--it would shoot you back up to the surface. And you do not want to get any of that water in your eyes. It's like pouring salt directly into them - not comfortable.

Maggie covered in Dead Sea mud

Andrew floating on the surface

While hanging out on the shore, we befriended a gay couple from Moscow. One of the guys was from New York and the other was a native Moscowian. They were really nice and we talked a lot about Russia and what it was like being a gay couple there. We found out that these guys only knew of two gay bars in Moscow and they rotate to keep from being shut down.

We'd heard that Dead Sea mud was good for the skin. We thought that we'd just be able to find mud on the Dead Sea shore and cover ourselves in it. But as we found out, the Dead Sea - at least where we were - had no mud. It was just a sandy / salty mix that you would not want to rub all over yourself. Because of this, we had to go to the mall by the beach and buy packets of Dead Sea mud, while in sight of the Dead Sea. With mud in hand, we head back down to the beach and smeared it all over ourselves. It was definitely not normal mud. It was super greasy and almost clay like. You are supposed to let it dry on you, then take a dip in the water to wash it off. As it's drying you start to feel a little bit like Han Solo getting stuck in Carbonite. Once you get in the water you really have to scrub to get it off to, but when you emerge, your skin feels silky smooth.

As the sun began to set over Jordan, we set up our sleeping arrangements, which was a tarp with a blanket and two pillows - so pretty much the Ritz. The plan was the same as it was in Taiwan when we were sleeping in the airport: enough wine and you can sleep anywhere.

Dead Sea at dusk

Our hotel for the night

It was not quite as nice of a night sleep as it had been in the airport in Taiwan. Andrew was attacked by a swarm of biting Dead Sea flies and in the middle of the night, a group of Arab women showed up and went into the Dead Sea, burkas and all. The Arab women then sang songs for many hours while soaking, which means we didn't sleep much.

The next morning, we made our coffee and headed right into the Dead Sea for a morning dip. It was so buoyant that we could just sit in it and drink our coffee.

Morning coffee

Thursday, December 18, 2014

anniversary in jaffa

Our anniversary is not a day for working, but for celebrating. So we headed out early in the morning and rented two bikes. It was our first experience with the Tel Aviv bike rental system, and it looked similar to the others we'd used (like Velibs in Paris), but as we found out later in the day, not so.
Like many things in Tel Aviv, the bike rental was a little more expensive than in other cities, so we planed on making half an hour hops from place to place, and return the bikes while we hung out. Our first hop was to breakfast closer to the beach on Ben Yehuda St. We ate on the patio of a nice little cafe and had a traditional Israeli breakfast, which involves many little things (which ended up being a food theme for the day, without us even planing it).

Our Anniversary Breakfast

After breakfast, we rented two more bikes and rode to Jaffa. We hadn't gone there yet and even though it's a different city, Tel Aviv and Jaffa are as close as conjoined twins. Jaffa is actually a much older city than Tel Aviv, with a history stretching back three millennia, and is mentioned in both the old and new testaments.

They have a rustic shopping district that we decided to find ourselves an anniversary present in. We had been talking about getting a Mezuzah as a souvenir from Israel and realized there was no better time. So we spent a while perusing the selections and made a decision. From there we made our way to the Jaffa Port to met up with Andrew's friend at his work.

When we got to Jaffa Port, the difference between all other cities' rental bikes and Tel Aviv's rental bikes became apparent to us. There is a special lock you must fully engage to return the bike. Well, one of the first bikes we returned before we went to breakfast must not have been 'fully' engaged, because we received an email telling us that it still hadn't been returned and we've been getting charged since. We didn't have phones, only wifi. We searched Jaffa Port for a wifi connection and finding one, went to the rental bike's website and began a labored process that ended with us finding out that it was a mixup on their side, and we would not be charged.

With that settled, we met up with Andrew's friend and got a tour of the news station he works at.

Jaffa Port

Jaffa's Lighthouse

Bird Buddy

Andrew and his friend at his friend's work in Tel Aviv

After the tour we went back to Jaffa Port for some drinks and dinner. While there, we were consumed by a orange stick wielding mob. It was some new Tae Bo thing were you could do dances and workouts with the orange sticks. There were enthusiastic instructors teaching everyone how to use them--how could we resist?

After some exercise, it was on to dinner at The Old Man and The Sea, a famous Jaffa restaurant. Like breakfast, it was many small things they piled onto your table until there was no room for anything else. And as soon as you finished something, they would take it and fill that gap on the table with something new. It's a place to come to hungry to, because you could eat yourself silly.

Orange Stick Workout

Hanging at the Port
Eating at The Old Man and the Sea
Maggie being angelic as always