Broken Cars and Bent Teeth

So right before Thanksgiving we had a girl’s week in Vieques, Puerto Rico. It was our second trip out there, and let me tell you, the planes keep getting smaller! This one held about 8 people!

Little plane to Vieques from Puerto Rico

Little plane to Vieques from Puerto Rico

There was, of course, a beautiful view flying over Puerto Rico. Very pleasant 20 minute ride, so long as I managed to get some shots without the propeller in them!

View from the plane.

View from the plane.

Our first stop was for the rental car. We picked it up, went to the market, and dropped our stuff of at Casa Verde. Next stop: chili cook-off! Mom had read about it in some blog, and we figured, why the heck not? Plus with a sunset like this, you can’t say no!

Sunset from Vieques.

Sunset from Vieques.

So, we headed down to Esperanza to eat some chili. There were a few losers, and a whole bunch of winners…especially our tummies! After eating our fill we decided to head back home. As we’re driving down main street I can’t figure out why the radio won’t start. The problem? Dead alternator. That’s right, the car ended up stalling right in the middle of the street. We had all left our phones at home. Mom left the car contract at home. We were stuck in the middle of a narrow street, and of course a school bus comes. Not full of children, just a school bus at about 730 pm. The problem was solved by a handful of locals, who decided to jump start the car by removing the battery from one of theirs, and using it to ‘kiss’ our battery. That’s right folks, jump cables are for wussies on Vieques! We managed to get home via a taxi, but the next day had quite a hard time dealing with ‘island time response’ (slow) to our lack of car rental, and our desire to get to the beach. Plus, without a ‘real’ address, it was difficult communicating where we were staying…”turn right at the gas station, then left at the fork with the sleeping dog. If you’ve passed the horse you’ve gone too far!”.

It all worked out in the end though, and we were able to enjoy the rest of our trip, including horseback riding!

Sarah Riding a horse.

Sarah Riding a horse.

We also took a bike tour. That was almost as eventful as the car breakdown, since one of the tour guides decided to ride over a pile of horse poop, slipped, fell, and had his shoulder dislocate. And these guys are in charge? We explored the abandoned sugar mills, which was super cool, and headed home via the bunkers.

Mom, Sarah, and Me, in the sugar mill ruins.

Mom, Sarah, and Me, in the sugar mill ruins.

Sarah and I were riding ahead and our remaining guide decided to hold up to wait for Mom. Good thing she did. Next thing you know Mom hit the deck, bouncing off the ground using her tooth as a spring. Luckily, no serious injuries, but her tooth was bent in for a few hours, and she had some scrapes and bruises. Never a dull moment!

I had to head back early to complete some school work, but I hear Sarah and Mom had some more quality beach time, and got to go to the best restaurant in town. I bet they were just waiting for me to leave…those lucky ducks! I guess we’ll just have to go back again so I can get a chance to enjoy some more Island hospitality!

Phishing in Saratoga

Last weekend I got to escape the hot hot heat in NYC and chill out in Saratoga Springs. I went up for the Phish show, and stayed for the air conditioning. The show was a lot of fun. I had only been to a New Year’s Eve show previously, so it was cool to see how a ‘normal’ show differed. It was also cool to see how a ‘country’ show differs from a ‘city’ show. I liked the show, it was definitely more mellow. I think my two favorite parts were the cover of Psycho Killer and when Jon Fishman came out for some vocals, partially because he almost tripped over the amp while he was running around the stage.

Phish show at SPAC

It was a really long show, so we slept in till the ungodly hour of 9 am the next day. Sleeping in is totally different now than when I lived in Saratoga when I was a college student. The day was kind of gray, so Lindsay and I walked around Saratoga Spa State Park while her hubby Brian went for a run. We found one of the natural springs in the park that acts as a geyser, spouting out water constantly. I think it is the only active geyser in the US west of the Mississippi. The water is really rich in minerals so there’s a large carbonate/sulfur mound built up around it. We did not go to the more wall-like structure, because we did not know it existed until after we left the area. Well, I visited it in college on a field trip, but forgot about it.

Active geyser in Saratoga Spa State Park.

Then we walked up to the Victoria pool to check it out. Had it been a sunnier day we were planning on hanging out there, but the $8 admission fee was too high on this cloudy day. It’s neat to see the classic design of the pool.

Victoria Pool, Saratoga Spa State Park

Next stop was lunch at Ben and Leah’s to hang out with them and their new daughter, Eliza. We had some delicious sandwiches from Roma’s and some quality time with the bay-bay. Since she’s too young to hold her head up, much less a golf club, they decided to sit out our afternoon game of mini-golf. It was one of the better courses I’ve played on (that’s not saying much since I rarely go mini-golfing, but it had some cool Saratoga-themed obstacles), and I pulled off a second place finish, wooo!

Murphy’s Golf, home to one of the oldest driving ranges in the country (and an awesome mini-golf course)!

He wishes he was at Victoria Pool today instead of lying around at hole #2.

Aaaand they’re off!

We all made it to the winner’s circle!

After that we met up with the Nathan’s for a little afternoon ice cream snack at the Dairy Haus. I had a vanilla soft-serve with butterscotch dip. Way better than at Carvel!

Mmmm. Dairy Haus.

After that it was dinner at Chez McNamara and out for a few drinks on Caroline Street. We had some fancy cocktails and then one last drink at Gaffney’s for old time’s sake. Right before we headed home we couldn’t resist (or maybe I demanded) stopping into Esperantos for doughboys and pizza with blue cheese dressing.

Caroline Street…where I spent far too much time senior year.

One of the many painted horses in Saratoga Springs. Jazz themed.

Fancy drinks.

Classic beer at Gaffney’s.

It was a nice weekend welcoming the new generation and reminiscing about the good old days.

Street Art in Paris and Marseille

Everyone knows how much I like street art. There wasn’t really any in the Morocco Medina, so I don’t have any representative Moroccan street art. Boo. The only one I saw depicted a dog barking ferociously at a person, kind of Bart Simpson style.

In Marseille, France we saw a few stencils, and we saw one big long wall mural. There were different components and I liked how it worked together stylistically.

Marseille, France.

Marseille, France.

Marseille, France.

Marseille, France.

Marseille, France

Mural detail, Marseille, France.

Mural detail, Marseille, France.

Mural detail, Marseille, France.

Mural detail, Marseille, France.

Paris, France had the most diverse art. There were some stencils, and a lot of the wheat paste type, some typical graffiti as well. Since I’m such a fan of ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’ I was excited to see pieces that looked like they were done by Space Invader.

Paris, France.

Paris, France.

Paris, France.

Paris, France.

Paris, France.

Paris, France.

Paris, France.

Paris, France.

Paris, France.

Paris, France.

Paris, France.

Paris, France.

Paris, France. (Invader?)

Paris, France. (Invader?)

The trip was pretty good all in all. I really enjoyed different aspects of each place. They were all so different, but somehow managed to come together on this trip. I guess now all that’s left is planning the next trip…I’m thinking I need to add the Asian continent to my list, and am taking suggestions…

Late for a Date with Royalty

While planning this trip I knew I wanted to visit some kind of palace. The Moroccan Palace was amazing, but I still needed my French fix. After extensive research I settled on Fountainebleau, an old estate of the royals, like Louis VII, and was later taken over by Napoleon after the revolution. It was supposed to be like Versaille (which I love, if you remember), but less touristy! I actually think that there were more people than when I went to Versaille, but hey, who’s counting.

Chateau from the front gate.

Front door.

On the front door. I think.

We got there late though, because I was super lazy and slow. It might have been all the wine and champagne that was consumed the prior evening. We got to Fountainebleau and decided food was essential. By the time we made it back to the Chateau it was 4:00. The Chateau closes at 5. It takes 2 hours to make it through the regular interior. Uh oh! As a concession to us latecomers admission is half priced, so at least we had that going for us. Unfortunately even if we wanted to try to speed walk through the Chateau to see it all they are shutting it down so you physically can’t get to all the regularly open areas after 4:00.

I like these Chateaus because I love seeing the furniture and interiors and all the Liberace-esque decorations.

Glass covered chandelier in one of the stairways.

So many boobs. A gift meant to represent fertility, I presume.

Huge fireplace.

Ceiling detail.

Candles and chandeliers, oh my!

The library. It was off limits.

Bedrooms are cool too.

The Queen’s bedroom.

King’s bedroom.

King’s office. With camp-style bed, in case he worked too late and he got too tired to walk to his bedroom. Right next door…

In this house I think they really liked playing musical chairs. Lots of rooms were set up for it.

A musical chair room.

Another musical chair room.

Throne room. Can double as an additional musical chairs room.

There was a beautiful chapel in the château where the walking tour ends.

Backside of the chapel.

Ceiling detail (in the chapel I believe).

There are 3 gardens on the estate. They’re open until 6, so we had some extra time to walk around before we were given the boot. We walked around the English-style garden, the other two are French. The difference is the French ones are heavily manicured and the English one is a bit wilder.

Chateau from the garden.

Stream running through the garden.

Chateau from the garden, across the pond. With floating gazebo. Not the best shot, but you get the idea.

Duckies in the garden.

It was a good day, it was just too bad that we were so late! Also, it was kind of drizzly all day, but that wasn’t too bad. It was the worst weather of the trip, but we were on trains or inside the estate most of the day so it didn’t really matter. I can’t wait to see more estates in the future (or even come back to Fountainebleau).

Holy Stained Glass

As mentioned previously, I love visiting churches because they’re so fancy and they’re free! Leave it to Randy to find one of the few cathedrals you have to pay to get into. I’ll get to that later though. Randy created a list of places he wanted to see, and a bunch of the churches on his list were clustered together, and fairly close to Jeremy’s house. So, after a hot chocolate break after The Cluny we mapped out a route and headed out to find the churches. The only problem? It was 6 o’clock. Right around the time most churches close! It was not looking good for us!

We first went to Saint Julien le Pauvre, one of the older churches in Paris. They were only open for a concert at this time of day, but said they were normally open from 9-6. We ended up going back Monday morning around 10 and found the gates closed and locked! We tried one more time after we visited the Sainte Chapelle, and it was still closed! Boo. Now we have a reason to return to Paris.

Saint Julien le Pauvre.

Saint Julien le Pauvre.

Saint Julien le Pauvre.

Our next stop was walking by Notre Dame. It’s one of my favorites, but the line kept us out. It wasn’t excessive, we just had other sites we’d rather see. We managed to get some nice pictures though. Couldn’t miss the shots of the Charlemagne statue either, considering we’re related and all…

Notre Dame is a popular one!

Charlemagne outside of Notre Dame.

Next stop, Sainte Chapelle. This was the church we had to pay to get into. It’s located in the Palace of Justice, so you have to go through security, and then you pay to enter the chapel. We went on a Monday morning around 1030 and waited 45 minutes or so. Let me tell you it is totally worth it. I loved the tile floor. The animals that it depicts are so whimsical, and reminded me of Morocco in concept, although not style. The showstopper is of course the stained glass of the chapel. The windows are under restoration, but the majority are still visible. They rise about 40 feet (total estimation) above your head. It’s breathtaking.

Sainte Chapelle stained glass. That looks like 40 feet, right?

Slightly closer look at the stained glass in the Sainte Chapelle.

This might help with the scale of the chapel.

Stained glass in the Sainte Chapelle.

Ceiling and top of stained glass, Sainte Chapelle.

Saint in the Sainte Chapelle.

Floor detail in the Sainte Chapelle.

The final church we went to in Paris was Saint Gervais et Saint Protais. Its a large Italian style church. It was the only church we made it into, and they had a service going on. We stayed for a few minutes and watch the incense guy wave his ball and chain down the aisle (those are technical terms, right?), and then we headed out. It was a pretty cool little visit.

Saint Gervais et Saint Protais.

Saint Gervais et Saint Protais.

The Loofah and George Clooney

Randy likes to use some mnemonic devices with the French words. Now try to figure out what the title means.

When we got back to Paris from Marrakech we weren’t sure what to do. I suggested perhaps we go see the Louvre (hint hint for the title), because we were going to go meet Jeremy in a few hours, and that way we wouldn’t get overwhelmed by the vastness of the museum. I am quite susceptible to museum head…you know, the technical term that describes how you feel when you’ve been at the museum too long. Your ears start buzzing and your eyes glaze over because you’re brain is overstimulated.

We managed to find The Louvre fairly easily from Jeremy’s apartment; it was just a quick 15 minute walk (I was determined to keep up the walking trend we’ve had on this trip). Well, let me tell you, the Louvre is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G! For whatever reason I’ve never been in any of my previous trips. I’ve usually been across the river, and I feared the ginormous collection of artwork that the museum contains. I mean, just walking around outside can become a whole day affair! The architecture was so beautiful and ornate, it even made Randy speechless!

The Louvre and the pyramid.

Close-up on the pyramid. Weather wasn’t too shabby…

Inside the Galleria of the Louvre.

Since it was a Friday evening around 5 when we got there (it’s open ’till 9:45 on Fridays) we only had about a 10 minute wait through security and into the belly of the beast. While we waited to get our ticket from the automated machine (just like at American movie theaters) an older woman gave the people in line in front of us her 2 tickets and said she couldn’t use them anymore but someone should enjoy them. We were so close to a free entry!

We went in and spent a lot of time in the Greek and Roman sculpture section, and decided to try to find some of the works of note. They were doing an exhibit on Cesar which Randy was pretty excited about. After that we went to find the Code of Hammurabi, King of Babylon; Winged Victory; Venus de Milo; and of course, since we happened to be in the neighborhood, the Mona Lisa. There were crowds around the more well known pieces, but nothing incredibly frustrating or unmanageable. The biggest crowd was at Mona Lisa, but you could make your way to the front in about 3 minutes, 1 if you were feeling especially pushy. I took lots of pictures of sculptures, but not really any of the paintings. I guess you’ll just have to take my word that we saw the Mona Lisa!

Woof! Man’s best friend.

Egyptian lion. Roar!

A boy and his duck. Quaaaack!

Modern art installations throughout Napoleon III’s apartments.

Winged Victory

Just to point something out, our lack of a crowd was probably directly attributed to the time of our visit. We wanted to pick up something at the gift shop Monday morning before we left. We got there about 930a. The line was circling the courtyard. At least a 1/1.5 hour wait to get in and then probably some more time to buy tickets. No telling what the wait for the popular exhibits would have been. Good idea to think about wait time before you plan your visit.

The other museum we hit up was The Cluny (There’s your other title hint!). I wanted to go here because it houses unicorn tapestries! Just like at The Cloisters! How exciting! It’s pretty similar to The Cloisters museum, with a medieval building housing medieval works. It’s the National Museum of the Middle Ages, so that all makes sense. The tapestries were all I could have hoped for, and the other stuff was pretty cool too.

So many Unicorns!

A girl and her Unicorn.

poor monkey!

Stained glass at the Cluny.

Pretty staircase.

These were two great museums to hit up, and I think we did them in a smart way. We didn’t let the huge one overwhelm us, and we chose a smaller museum for the other choice. I beat the museum head!

Shop ’till you Drop

Mosque at sunset.

The Mosque at twilight.

Horses lined up as far as the eye can see.

Blue shed.

Nap time. He wants to do a remake of ‘Office Space’ 

Marrakech is so vibrant and full of life. The first and last days we’ve done some shopping in the souks in the medina, and boy is it a challenge. Haggling is such a rush, although I’m definitely not that good at it. When they refuse a price I’m happy I’ve stood my ground, but when they agree to a price relatively fast (still takes a good 10 minutes) I’m worried that I’ve just been had! There’s no winning…unless you call spending far too much money and creating live-long memories as winning! Regardless, I’m very happy with my purchases, and will always remember this trip fondly whenever I look at and use them.

I got a wallet that I’m positive I overpaid for as my first purchase. I’m not a complete rookie (thanks Chichicastenango, Guatemala) at haggling and markets, but I kept trying to buy the first thing I saw instead of shopping around for better quality and/or prices. For the wallet, the guy threw in another pink leather pouch type thing at the last minute, a big hint that I’d just been had (they rarely throw in something for free). The wallet has already broken, but the pouch is actually coming in handy as an iPod holder. Go figure.

As we were wandering around we ended up in a spice shop. The medina is mostly artisan crafts but you also find spice, (raw) meat, and vegetable stands scattered throughout. In the spice shops there are jars and jars of spices and the merchant tells you how each one acts as a homeopathic-type remedy. It’s interesting how people use things differently in different parts of the world. In Central America chamomile is used more like a diuretic, but here it’s used to settle your stomach (one place it makes you go, another it makes you stop). I bought a spice blend that is used on chicken and Randy bought some mint because he’s fallen in love with the ubiquitous mint tea (a blend of mint and green tea).

Spice market in the souks.

Spice market in the souks.

I ended up browsing the rest of the day, because, as I mentioned, I tend to buy the first thing I see. I knew I wanted something ceramic, and wasn’t sure what else. We found one store that was just piles of ceramic pieces that were unorganized and dirty. Probably a tactic to make you feel like you are getting a deal, searching through things that other buyers have overlooked. The plates, bowls, cups and everything else had great patterns representing the different tribes of Morocco. They had these cup/mugs that I hadn’t yet seen anywhere else, but I held off. We also happened into a store that sold some pretty cool fossils. Morocco is a great spot for fossils, especially ammonites and trilobites. After discussing things with the shop owner (different quality, and of course many tangents involving the other minerals he sold) I decided to think about what I really wanted. I think another tactic is to overwhelm the shopper so that they don’t know what they want anymore and just start buying things. For example I had one fossil I wanted, and even while we’re discussing prices he keeps putting them in my hands, showing me samples with multiple trilobites, and plates with ammonites, and other things, trying to get me to buy more and more stuff.

A few days later I had to spend the rest of my dirhams, and I thought back to these shops and knew just what I wanted. But how to find the shops again? It’s like a needle in a haystack. I’m not sure how we did it considering the souks are literally a maze of shops (Randy’s sense of direction is much better than mine), but we managed to find both shops! I ended up buying four of the cup/mugs because I hadn’t seen that style anywhere else in Marrakech, and then bought two of the trilobite fossils.

Trilobite fossils. One’s open, one’s closed.

My new cups. Made in Fez. 

I also ended up with a Moroccan shirt and a knockoff Longchamp bag, which is funny to me because I am super anti-knockoff, but when you’re shopping where Puff Daddy, Jacques Chirac, and Jimmy Carter (and many famous European footballers and actors, I saw the photos with the owner, totally legit…) have shopped, you know it’s quality fake stuff.

Our other big experience in the medina was going to the tannery. We weren’t really planning on it, and in fact were trying to leave the medina so we could experience a little bit of normalcy. There were a few roadblocks to this though. As you walk around the medina people are always telling you you’re heading the wrong way, or “it’s closed that way”, or you have to go to someone’s brother’s uncle’s cousin’s shop. So, as we were exploring and heading to an exit (I wanted to find an artisanal ceramic shop to get a better handle on prices before haggling…never ended up finding it) someone asked if we were looking for the tannery. Since we were ‘lost’ (you’re technically almost always lost), we said sure. We ended up touring the tannery, learning about the processes that turn skins into leather. Everyone talks about the smell, but it wasn’t any worse than regular farm smells. They gave us sprigs of mint (the Berber gas mask, anything ‘backwoods’ or ‘lowtech’ is the ‘Berber’ whatever) to combat the smell. The skins get soaked in lime (the acid, not the fruit), then pigeon poop, then the fat is scraped off, then they’re dyed with natural colors (indigo, mint, cherry). It was pretty neat to see. Then we were obligated to go into the leather/carpet store (leather from the tannery into leather good, camel hair is turned into beautiful carpets), where I almost ended up purchasing one. The prices were great for what they were, but I just wasn’t ready to commit to a purchase of that magnitude, and this store was only open once a week. Oh well. They’ll be in White Plains, NY this January, maybe then I’ll be ready to buy. As we left the ‘manager’ of the tannery extorted about 100 dinars off of us…we didn’t have any small change (10 would have been fine, but he wasn’t giving us change). Live and learn.

Tannery

Tannery

Men working in the tannery.

All in all, quite an exhilarating and exhausting experience. You lose track of time, and don’t even realize how tired you are until the shops start closing…around 11! Takes shop ‘till you drop to the next level.