Category Archives: travel

Shoes and pants for travel

To say that I am not particularly fashionable would be an understatement.  My wardrobe isn’t small, but the section that I wear on a regular basis is.  While I joke with colleagues about how bland and uniform-like most suits are for people in our particular line of work, there’s a certain relief in knowing that there’s a uniform of sorts for days with meetings and for business casual.

But I am always keeping an eye out for clothes that travel well, are easy to mix and match, and are wash and wearable.

A few days before leaving for Portugal, I stopped by REI, looking for a pair of shoes.  They didn’t have exactly what I wanted: the particular style had been on clearance and sold out.  But I ended up buying a pair of Merrells and a pair of Mammut pants off the clearance sale rack.

The Merrells are as excellent as Merrells usually are:  the black Dassie shoe worked with pants and casual skirts and wore well for walking miles on cobblestones.  The Mammut pants wound up being better than I anticipated for traveling.  They are made of lightweight material that dries quickly when rained upon, didn’t feel binding even after 12+ hours of wear, were easily cleaned, etc.

Highly recommend both…although it looks like the pants aren’t available any longer.

Still…if you don’t want to wear sneakers as you travel but still need good support and sturdy shoes for walking, Merrell might be a brand to try.  And I’m definitely going to keep an eye out for more Mammut on the sale rack.

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Note to self

Next time, permit more time for wine tasting. Two port caves per day is really my limit, but there are so many, and I won’t have time to try them all. 😍

Also: this fascinated me. Up close, it’s a bunch of mangled car parts stuck on the corner of a building for no apparent reason. A few yards away, it is clearly an Art Installation…maybe one with a message I don’t really get. But still, it’s ingenious.


And then there is this installation across from a hipster-y coffee place. Those are car tires sticking out of or affixed to the building.


(Where I had a pastry and a latte. Yum.)

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2016 – year in review

Reading:

I read 33 books or novellas in 2016; that doesn’t count the books I picked up and put back down or returned to the library unread or unfinished, since I may circle back to some of those at some point.  The two best fiction reads were Lois McMaster Bujold’s Penric novellas. Best nonfiction was Rebecca Traister’s All the Single Ladies.  Biggest disappointment was Bujold’s Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen.

Also, I read an excellent original hockey fic on AO3. I really like the writer’s voice and style…but the typos and punctuation abuse make my brain hurt.

I started Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine on 12/31 but have not finished it yet; I think it’ll be one of my favorite reads when it comes time to tally up 2017.

Watched:

  • Fox’s Pitch series (please be renewed?)
  • The Crown
  • GBBO
  • Star Wars (mostly liked it, love General Organa)
  • Jason Bourne (meh)
  • Ghostbusters (loved it)
  • Star Trek (meh)
  • Love & Friendship (loved it)

Theater, Museums, Music:

  • Jan 9 – The Critic and the Real Inspector
  • March 5 – Othello
  • March 26 – 1984
  • May 21 – The Taming of the Shrew
  • Oct 29 – Romeo and Juliet
  • Dec 3 – The Secret Garden
  • The Menil
  • The National Aviary
  • Fort Pitt Museum
  • The Andy Warhol Museum
  • The Frick – the carriages and cars in the garage are amazing, as is the house
  • The Heinz History Center, multiple visits – Toys Exhibit, Pixburgh exhibit, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, glass industry.  The exhibit on slavery is excellent and awful.  As a white person, it was ugly and shame-inducing to walk through.  I cannot imagine how painful it would be for a POC, or even tell whether it would be cathartic or just rage-inducing.
  • ROM (loved the Chihuly exhibit)
  • Casa Loma
  • Bata Shoe Museum
  • AGO
  • Textile Museum
  • Gardiner Museum of Ceramics (loved)
  • Smithsonian National Gallery of Art
  • Garth Brooks & Tricia Yearwood concert (wow, not much music this year)

Sports:

Okay, this category, now that I look at it, is a little excessive.  Sorry, not sorry.  Also, I’m sure I went to at least one more baseball game, but I can’t find the ticket stub or a note on my planner, so.

  • Feb 22 – Coyotes @ Caps
  • Feb 27 – Jets @ Penguins
  • March 11-14 – Indian Wells for the BNP Paribas tournament, love this venue.
  • March 18 – Predators @ Caps
  • March 28 – Blue Jackets @ Caps
  • April 7 – Penguins @ Caps (makeup game for blizzard), WIN!
  • April 16 – Game 2 of the 1st round of the playoffs – NYR @ Penguins, loss
  • April 23 – Game 5 of the 1st round – NYR @Penguins, won the series
  • April 28 – Game 1 of the 2nd round – Penguins @ Caps, lost in OT.
  • May 4 – Game 4 of the 2nd round – Caps @ Penguins (OT win!)
  • May 13 – Game 1 of the ECF – TBL @ Penguins – ouch, lost, Letang got boarded (and knocked out) right in front of me.  It was ugly.
  • June 1 – Game 2 of the SCF – Sharks & Penguins, OT win.  The Goal (actually all the goals) was right in front of me!
  • June 5 – NYY @ Orioles
  • Sept 14 – pre-tournament SWE-EUR
  • Sept 17-29 – World Cup of Hockey tournament; 16 games.  So. Much. Hockey.
  • October 15 – Ducks @ Penguins (win!)
  • Nov 8 – Sharks @ Caps (Sharks win!)
  • Nov 16 – Penguins @ Caps (ugly, ugly loss)
  • Nov 19 – Penguins @ Buffalo (SO loss, man, Flower was so good in the 3rd and OT).
  • Nov 20 – NWHL Pride @ Beauts (posted thoughts/opinions about this over on tumblr)
  • Dec 30 – Three Rivers Classic (consolation game and championship game)
  • Dec 31 – Canadiens at Penguins (OT win!)

Travel:

  • Houston
  • Pittsburgh
  • Buffalo
  • Beach
  • Toronto

Goals/plans for 2017:

  • Drop the Caps tickets, use the money to visit other teams’ arenas
  • Go to at least two more NWHL games this season
  • Go to either Italy, Portugal, or Spain on vacation (in February, maybe?)
  • Read 40 books
  • Make myself post more regularly
  • Find a tutor or conversational group to refresh/relearn the Russian I’ve mostly forgotten

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September things

According to LibraryThing, September was my best reading month this year — five books! It feels like an accomplishment, when in my reading heyday I read five books or more a week.  Still, it’s an improvement.

~~~

I spent the last two weeks in Toronto, visiting museums, walking all over, and watching All the Hockey.  Literally, I attended sixteen World Cup of Hockey games in 13 days.  Twelve of those games were crammed into six days.  Some of them are a blur, but for some really specific plays, like Nathan MacKinnon’s OT goal; Crosby’s highway robbery of Kucherov and backhand goal; a shift by Malkin behind the net in which he seemed to have the puck on a string; McDavid to Eichel to Matthews; etc.

Non-hockey highlights:

  • the Chihuly exhibit at ROM – I could have happily plopped myself down on one of the beanbag things and stared at ‘Persians’ for hours
  • steamed pork buns at Mashion Bakery, which I found by chance, lured in by the amazing smell despite the sort of sketchy block and very plain exterior
  • people-watching at the St. Lawrence Market on Saturday morning (I chatted with a lovely lady visiting from New Jersey with her church group)
  • Stonemill Bakery’s double almond croissant
  • the Seville orange marzipan pinch at Soma Chocolate
  • my charming seat mates, the family from Woodstock and the dudes in from Banff, and the usher whose predictions were seldom accurate but always entertaining
  • everything about the Bata Shoe Museum and the Gardiner Museum (ceramics)
  • the display of antique snuff bottles at AGO

 

Other observations:  The building going on downtown is striking — there’s so much of it and it’s so beautiful.  I stayed in the St. Lawrence/Distillery neighborhood and walked pretty much everywhere, as far as Spadina and Little Italy.  Lots of green spaces, friendly people.  I noticed a lot of smokers everywhere, almost as much as in Paris, which surprised me.  And the odor of pot was especially prevalent around ACC.

And my streak continues.  Once again in a foreign country (or in any city I’m visiting, even in the US), I was asked for directions.  On multiple occasions.  I do not understand it.  I mean, I was able to answer because they were asking for a specific landmark or street that I knew, but what about my face or posture says, “Hey, she knows where you need to go?”  Because, seriously, I have a horrendous sense of direction.

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Observations from Indian Wells Tennis Garden

 

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The view from the parking lot at IWTG.  Literally.

It has been a few years (3 maybe?) since I’ve gone to the tournament at Indian Wells.  Skipped because moving, then for Paris, and then because I had hockey tickets for a back to back that weekend.  So I missed all of the development that has gone on.  And there has been a lot, thank you, Larry Ellison.

First, Stadium 2 with its restaurants – Nobu, a steak/chops place, and an Italian/brick oven pizza place.  Each morning over the weekend, there would be a line of people to get in, because the seats are all good and the line up was excellent.  [Rafa Nadal and Fernando Verdasco played the Bryan brothers Saturday evening, and you can be sure that people staked out seats WAY earlier that the “no earlier than” start time.  Monfils, Mugaruza, a bunch of other good matches played there.]

Second, the Brita water filter stations at the base of both stadiums – best thing ever, far better than the limited water fountains I’ve seen elsewhere.

Third, the sheer volume of vendors is crazy.  Last time I was there, there was a big awning with a Corona sponsored bar.  Gone is Corona; now Moet et Chandon is in that spot.  Of course, there’s a different beer tent, and a RumChata tent, etc.  And the food vendors are better than average.  Ice cream, iced lattes, deli, seafood, CaliMex, salads, it seemed like you could find anything you wanted.  [Except maybe a ladies t-shirt in a size larger than XS or S.]

Actually, IWTG is the only sporting venue I’ve ever been to where the lines out the men’s bathroom are longer than the lines out the ladies’ bathroom door.  Uniformly.  More often than not, there was no line for the ladies at all.  I don’t know if it’s because the tournament designed the buildings with more stalls for the ladies or what, but I was totally impressed.

I saw some random matches, just because.  This time around, I went out of my way to see Inigo Cervantes, a Spanish player who was completely schooled by Raonic, just because I loved his name.  And Bjorn Fratangelo, who took a set from Djokovic.  Plus Venus and Serena and Andy and Rafa.  So glad to see Juan Martin del Potro back, even if he looked a little rusty against Berdych.

Also, because I’m a dork, I was thrilled that I got to use a line from one of my favorite TV shows ever:  “It’s raining in Indian Wells.”  It did! Followed by a dust storm.

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Huddled on the upper deck of Stadium 1, waiting for the rain and wind to stop so the Venus Williams – Kurumi Nara match could resume.

Actually, the dust was more noticeable than in the past because the wind was so high the whole time.  In fact, it was so cold and windy on Sunday after the first night match that pretty much everyone left…so the scattered fans up in the Loge were invited down courtside to watch Halep’s match, which I appreciated.  Driving back that night, I was confused by the haze in the distance that I could see off other drivers’ headlights; it wasn’t until I hit the highway and saw the dust/sand drifting that I realized what it was.

ETA: Anecdotally, the sentiment among fans there regarding Maria Sharapova’s drug ban/violation seemed *much* less forgiving or lenient than what I’ve seen on social media from fans, sponsors, etc. In short, most people seemed really skeptical about extended use of meldonium for a variety of reasons and not particularly sympathetic.  Sorry she’ll be out of the game for some period of time, but not like she deserved a pass for failing the drug test.

ETA #2:  on the tennis kits.  Rafa’s kit looks less turquoise in person than on TV, almost like a baby blue with a hint of grey.  The outfit Bouchard had was weird – the colors were fine but it looked like a babydoll nightie…or a maternity shirt. Serena looked amazing. When did Berdych leave H&M for Adidas? (Whenever it was, it was not soon enough.)  That fluorescent Adidas shirt the men are wearing was tolerable when paired with brown/khaki shorts but awful when worn with red shorts.  The ladies’ version with darker colors that Halep is wearing is not terrible.  

Some less tennis-oriented observations:

  • The price of gas at stations along I-10 covered a span from $2.23 to $2.89, with the highest being more than $1 more than it is where I live and the lowest still being $0.50 more. Is that all state tax?  Ouch, especially given how poor public transportation seems to be locally.
  • I meant to stop at In n Out since some people I know have raved about their burgers. But the only ones I saw were off the highway, at hours when either they weren’t open or I wasn’t hungry.  Next time.
  • The bright green and clearly foreign species of grass cultivated for golf courses and high dollar neighborhoods looks really alien. And confusing, given the long term drought; how is watering lawns a priority?  I passed a billboard that read “Dejalo ir. El marron es el nuevo negro.” [Let it go. Brown is the new black.] Accompanied by a graphic of grass fading from green to brown.  Nice 🙂
  • The longer I live downtown in a city where good and sketchy neighborhoods commingle, the more confusing I find negotiating suburbia to be when I visit.  The number of gated communities was perplexing.
  • Pecan pie from Exquisite Desserts for Pi Day. Yum!
  • Oh, I forgot that See’s stores are a thing in the west.  I did not need to remember. See’s is dangerous for me.

 

 

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*pokes at blog*

I’ve been mostly offline for the summer, in terms of keeping up with reader/bookish blogs. I sort of missed some things about it and sort of didn’t.

I owe Beth all the words about her book, which I loved.

Aside from Beth’s book, I’ve gotten a little reading done this summer:

The Road Beneath My Feet – Frank Turner’s memoir. One one hand, I like the narrative style, as tour dates beginning when he went out on his own.  It’s interesting to read about his life on the road and how he developed his band and touring philosophy, etc.  On the other hand, while he has clearly worked hard to get where he is, he sometimes comes across as cavalier about his opportunities (white, middle class English dude who attended Eton and London School of Economics) even as he occasionally acknowledges his good fortune. Which kind of circles back to my ambivalence about the lyrics/message of “Photosynthesis” about doing what you love vs having a job merely to earn a living.  Also, his editor really should have cut back on the use of “in the event” in the text. Worth reading if you like his music and can find a copy, since I don’t think it’s been published in the US yet.  [FYI, his new album, Positive Songs for Negative People, came out a couple of weeks ago and is pretty good.  Not my favorite, since England Keep My Bones is pretty awesome, but I like Get Better and Love Forty Down.]

Uprooted by Naomi Novik. This needed serious editing. The Eastern European fairy tale/mythology was interesting, but the story was not particularly original otherwise. And if you (like me) are expecting actual dragons a la Temeraire, you will be disappointed.

Magic Shifts by Ilona Andrews. It was okay? I wasn’t all that engaged by the Big Mystery. And the volume of little discontinuities or errors was irritating, but par for all of Andrews’ books. Also, why no commas when using multiple adjectives to modify nouns? Is that a dying part of grammar?

The Kizuna Coast by Sujata Massey. A Rei Shimura Mystery. I thought Massey had left this series behind, and so wasn’t looking for a new book when I ran across this in a display at the library. Set in Japan after the 2011 earthquake. I guessed whodunnit pretty early but not why exactly. It was nice visiting this series again but I found the domestic/relationship piece to be a little cloying, although I’m not sure I can articulate why exactly.  Maybe it felt like the narrator was trying too hard to show how happy/compatible Rei and Michael were?  I don’t know.

Penric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold. LOVED this short story. It’s set in her Chalion world but centuries before The Curse of Chalion. If you haven’t read the three other books and wonder if you’ll like the world, it might be a good place to start.

What else have I done all summer? I feel like I’ve worked a lot mostly, which is weird since summer tends to be slower.  Except it’s also when a lot of people are out on vacation, so even if volume is down, there are fewer people around to deal with things, so… When work and other things were not making me cranky, I went to Chicago for a long weekend. I’m working on a baby blanket for a friend. Hemmed and hawed and then ponied up for a 10 game ticket plan for hockey.  I picked games where I’ll be able to cheer against the Caps – Pens, CBJ, MTL, SJS, Preds, etc. Flirted with the idea of Istanbul for a vacation in November or February until there were more bombings in the tourist areas and gunfire at the consulate; I think maybe that window has closed for now.

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Travel afterthoughts

I don’t think these are really original points or tips but here are things that I found to be very helpful or useful to have or know while traveling:

1.  Even in spring or early summer, a raincoat is a Must Have; a liner that you can zip in or out is even better.  An umbrella that folds down into the size of a fist is also a Must Have.

2.  Hat and scarf.  It seems like basic common sense, but I can’t tell you how many people I saw with sunburnt faces, wearing newly purchased hats, in Monaco and in Nice.  Although I should add that my internal thermostat may be out of whack: even as people sunbathed on the beach in Nice, I was bundled up in a jacket, scarf, and hat.  When the wind picked up and blew my hat off, I wrapped the scarf around my head. 

3.  Guidebooks — I’ve mentioned before that there are features in different series that I like.  In particular, I like Eyewitness Travel’s laminated, detachable street map.  I didn’t carry the guidebook around, but I did carry the map.  And since it was pretty wet for much of my wandering around Paris, I was glad it never got soggy.  And it came in handy when other tourists asked me for directions.  (I must look really approachable, because I get asked for directions all the time. It happens on every vacation and when I’m at home.  Poor lost people have no idea that I’m a terrible navigator with absolutely no sense of direction, and have to follow maps extremely closely.)

4.   Moleskin travel notebook.  They do small notebooks for certain cities — I’ve used them for London, Madrid, Barcelona, and Paris now, and I’ve seen them for Rome, Milan, and Prague also.  A street map and index is included in the front, just for downtown, which is helpful, and its got conversion tables and space for notes and addresses and planning, along with a little pocket in the back for receipts and the like.  Even though smartphones all have note-taking apps, I like to take notes in the notebook instead.  It’s pretty handy for keeping track of expenses and itineraries and checklists, I found. 

5.  Adapter plugs,USB cords, and internet access.  I used to carry a converter, too, but seldom used it.  Pretty much all the electronics you might carry on vacation – phone, table, laptop – don’t need a converter anyway, just the adaptor.  You can buy a set of adaptors relatively cheaply online, with four or five adapters based on region;  I bought mine years ago at an LLBean outlet.  USB cords…well, in the past, I had to have one cord for my  tablet and one for my iPhone, but converting to an Android phone reduced the number of cords need to one for this trip.  Don’t forget to turn off roaming on your phone; otherwise you can receive a nasty shock in your next wireless bill.  AT&T (my carrier, for better or worse) has a reasonable international roaming plan for internet, texting, and phone.  The texting and phone were worth it, since I used them both.  The internet?  Well, I signed up for it in case I needed it in an emergency, but since wireless access was provided with my lodgings and is available at most cafes and restaurants, it wasn’t absolutely necessary.

6.  Checking in at Charles de Gaulle.  The airline recommended arriving three hours before the flight’s departure time, which I kind of rolled my eyes at.  But between the line to check luggage at the front of the terminal and the trek to the gate and then the security check outside the gate, it took more than 2 1/2 hours; boarding had already begun by the time I got there.   Also, if you are catching a connecting flight at CDG, I’d recommend double-checking terminal assignments and transportation between terminals; getting from Terminal 1 to Terminal 2F took more than an hour between luggage pick up, walking, tram ride, and walking more; that’s before checking in again at the terminal and going through security again. 

7.  Foreign currency.  I don’t carry travelers checks but usually purchase some currency through my bank, and then use my bankcard once I’m traveling; check to see if the bank or your credit card company has a better fee scheme for international charges or usage in advance.  (One had a much lower per usage charge for me, so I used that one rather than the other.)  If you order currency in advance, specify that your order include a portion of small bills and coins.  At train stations (and elsewhere but it was most noticeably a problem for tourists at train stations), the self-service kiosks will take either small bills, coins, or chip and pin cards; most American cards do not work at them, so if you don’t have smaller change, you’ll have to wait in what could be a long line to buy or retrieve your train tickets.  Some train stations may have money changers but most did not seem to when I looked around for them.

8.  Bus and train.  I think many Americans are unaccustomed to bus and train travel.  Mostly we drive or fly, in part because our train network is not great once you are away from the coasts.  Or even just away from the northeast corridor.  But both bus and train travel in Europe generally are much better and more common, I think, with more options that make driving less necessary.  There are still places where renting a car is a more useful alternative, but I think Paris is not one of them.  And a lot of Provence can be seen via train or bus, as well.

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