Friday, August 31, 2007

Celebrity Sighting!

Guess who we saw yesterday? Just guess!

Tony Parker and Eva Longoria.

Cool, huh?

We´re in Alicante, Spain, and the hotel next to us is housing a bunch of basketball players for a European tournament. On Wednesday, we watched a bunch of the Spain players leave the hotel amid crowds of fans. That day, Spain played France, and Spain won.

(I bet you´re thinking that my command of Spanish must be amazing if I learned all that. There were two giant buses outside that hotel with "EuroBasket2007" painted on the side, and one had a big sign in the windshield that said "EspaƱa" and the other said "Francia." Not hard to figure out.)

Thursday, I glanced at the local paper and was able to figure out that Spain won, and saw that Tony Parker was playing for France.

Fastforward past our leisurely breakfast, our 7 hours on the beach, and our 3 hour stroll around Alicante which included tapas for dinner in a gorgeous courtyard. We were heading back to our hotel, and I glanced up at that neighboring hotel. There was Eva, and she was looking at Tony chatting with someone. Tony turned, took Eva´s hand, and they started heading straight by us. I, speechless and grinning like an idiot, snapped a picture, and JT managed "good luck this season!"

I have 2 minutes left on this computer, so have to cut short. Unbelievable picture to come. (That´s a joke. My camera was on night mode; it´s one big blur.)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Yellow Fever

KT and I spent our Monday holiday renewing ties with our local favorite football team Cambridge United (Yel-low, Yel-low, goes the the chant). After almost being dropped into a lower league last season, United has had a blazing start to the new season winning 3 of its first 4 games and getting a tie in the 4th. Monday's game started poorly for the team, as they looked disorganized--perhaps because they were missing 2 key players. The opponents scored a goal just before the half and the fans were unhappy as the teams walked off at the break. But United came out with more intensity and as time ticked way, desperation set in. Then, GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL--after several good chances, United finally headed in the ball with just a few minutes left to tie the game. The whistle blew a few minutes later and United's undefeated season continue. They stand at the top of their league! More updates as the season progresses--jt

A United player celebrates his last-minute goal

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Trip report: Copenhagen, Denmark

First off, this is where Denmark is, and what it looks like:

JT was attending a meeting in Nyborg (pronounced New-borg) for the entire week. I joined him on Wednesday night, mostly so I could go on a conference-organized outing to a castle on Thursday. The outing, with 10 Wives of Scientists, was to Egeskov Castle, built in the 1550s.

The grounds were beautiful, as was the castle. It has been preserved as kept by its 20th century owner, who was a big hunter and fancied hanging dead animals on the wall. The owner was also a memorabilia collector; in one room, standing with three suits of armor, was a mannequin wearing the Superman costume used during flight scenes of the original Superman movie.

That trip was also supposed to include a tour to other castles around Fyn, the name of the island Nyborg and Egeskov is on. We didn't so much have a tour guide as we had a bus driver. "This a very old castle," he'd announce. He also took us to see the largest rock in Denmark, deposited by the glaciers. Weren't we lucky? I did see other castles/estates, though -- this one, that one, and another one.

I did have a traditional Danish lunch on that trip: a koldt bord (cold table, literally) spread of food.
Pictured: cheese and grapes; asparagus and shrimp; cold cod; cheese and cured ham; pate with artichoke and pickled onion; marinated tomatoes.

The next day, JT's meeting wrapped up mid-morning and we headed into Copenhagen (90 minutes on the train). We checked into our hotel, and had a good giggle over the shower in the bathroom. The Danes aren't prone to extremes, and they seem to not build any more than is needed. Why would you need any more in a bathroom than a showerhead on the wall and a drain in the floor?

That wooden panel on my right was on hinges -- it folds flat against the wall when not being used for the shower. What kind of youth hostel were we staying at, you ask? A 3-star hotel that cost more than US$200 a night. For that, you get just what you need.

Our first priority was some lunch. We went to Ida Davidsen's, which was lauded in our guidebook as The Place To Go for the traditional Danish smorrebrod, or open-faced sandwich. Actually, every guidebook about Copenhagen must recommend the same because we were surrounded by tourists with guidebooks. It was fine -- we had a nice chat with the manager, and a good/interesting lunch to boot.

John's sandwich is on the left -- chicken salad, bacon, and potato; mine was smoked eel with spinach and mushrooms. Mmm.

After lunch, we wandered around a bit, coming across Marmokirken (the Marble Church) and Amalienborg Slot, where the royal family lives. Next was a boat tour of Copenhagen, which was incredible and is most certainly the best way to see Copenhagen. (Even if you don't check out the rest of the pictures, you gotta see the Royal Yacht.) We ended the evening with a stroll through the streets and dinner sitting outdoors at an Italian restaurant.

The next day, we rented bicycles from our hotel and set out to go a little farther and wider than you would on foot. I'm not sure we achieved that, but we sure did have a good time. After riding for a short time, it threatened to rain. So I pulled into the nearest castle, Rosenborg, which was built as a country home in the early 1600s. (Of course now it's smack in the middle of the city.) Its primary occupant was Christian IV, king of Denmark for the first half of the 17th century.

Rosenborg is also where the Crown Jewels and Royal Regalia are on display. Very cool.

We wandered back into Copenhagen Proper to catch the tail end of an Italian market in front of Thorvaldsens Museum. The museum happened to be free that day, so we did the 10-minute walk through. (It houses most of the works by the famous Danish artist ... Thorvaldsen.) Review: It's fine, but we were glad it was free.

After that, we headed west, with a drive-by of Carlsberg Brewery. The Carlsberg empire is apparent everywhere, but we didn't make it a priority to learn much about it. We wandered through a neighborhood and park called Frederiksberg (which has another castle), and then made our way to a park on the north side of the city, where the Copenhagen Opera was putting on a free concert of music from their upcoming season. Naturally, it started to rain about 15 minutes after we got there. We stuck it out for about an hour, though, and had a good time.

We meandered back through some more Copenhagen history, the Nyboder houses and the citadel Kastellet, and had dinner at Nyhavn.

Sunday, we took in another museum offering free admission that day: the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek. This museum was built by Carl Jacobsen (part of the Carlsberg empire) to house his classical art collection. In general, I don't usually like museums that show an art collector's collection, since they tend to be pretty random. This one was very nice, though, and we spent a couple of hours taking in both ancient and contemporary sculpture.

We then set out to take in two last sights, Vor Frue Kirke (the Church of Our Lady, pictured below), which, for you royalty buffs, is where Crown Prince Frederik married Mary Donaldson in 2004, and Rundetarn, the observatory tower built in the 1640s.

We spent the rest of our afternoon at Copenhagen's central amusement park, Tivoli. Disneyland it's not, but we had a great time. We had a great time overall, in fact, and convinced ourselves that we can do a medium-sized European city in 2 1/2 days. Maybe not comprehensively, but certainly as an overview and at a moderate pace.

N.B.: In case you haven't picked up on it already, the photo album for the trip is here. And since it wouldn't be a trip without pictures of cows, here are many photos of cows that are part of Copenhagen's Cow Parade.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

We ate ... what?

One of the big delicacies in Denmark is herring -- usually marinated or pickled. Here's one of two herring plates I had while we were in Denmark:

This particular plate came with a pile of buttered rye bread. So, I ate the herring on on buttered rye bread. Sooo delicious. My favorite was the one with the white onions and dill.

I got another herring sampler on our last day in Copenhagen. Before the herring arrived, JT and I were enjoying two Carlsbergs, another Danish delicacy, and picking at the breadbasket. JT cracked open what one would assume was butter, spread it on a roll, and took a bite. I noticed him wrinkle his nose, put down the roll, and pick up the container of "butter."

"Do you know what this is?" he asked, handing the container to me. It was greyish white, greasy, and the texture of butter. It tasted funny -- not bad, but not very good, either. I had no idea what it could be -- and come in a container with bread.

Shortly after, the waiter brought my herring. "You know what to do?" he asked. "Aside from eat it?" I asked. He pointed at one of the pieces. "This one, you eat with this sauce. This one, you eat plain. This one, you break the raw egg yolk on top," he said, pointing to the three pieces of herring.

He continued: "You eat it on the bread. Take the bread, spread on the butter, or ... this (pointing to the mystery container) --" I stopped him. "What is that?" I asked. "I don't know the word in English," he said. "It's ... it's ... if you eat too much it makes you very fat." He grabbed his gut to illustrate.

We looked at the container again.



Lard, in fact. Apparently, you spread lard on your rye bread, top it with a piece of pickled fish, and enjoy.

I ate my herring plain, sans raw egg yolk and gratuitous fat.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

What's did Ice-T just say?

We will soon post more about our fun trip to Denmark, but I thought I would just share one quick list of the American shows I saw on Danish TV during my week there: Simpsons, MacGyver, David Letterman Show, John Stewart Show, Rambo, 24, Battlestar Galatica, House, Shark, Law & Order--all 3 versions (Ice-T speaking dubbed Danish is a hoot!), Bones, Dawson Creek, Larry Sanders Show, Without a Trace, Stargate, CSI--all 3 versions.

About 70% were in English with Danish subtitles, while the rest were dubbed in Danish. Oddly, I saw some Simpsons episodes dubbed, others subtitled.

Then there was the Danish version of Survivor.

For those not familiar with the Danish language, it's tough to learn. One Dane at my meeting said Danish and Dutch are "diseases of the throat"!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Six Months

This week marked 6 months in Cambridge for us. In some ways, it feels like we've been here for 6 weeks.

Things we're now used to:
-paying extra for a sandwich or coffee if it's for "eat in" versus "take away"
-calling "carry out" "take away"
-pulling a giant cord to turn the light on in the bathroom because some electrical code prohibits switches within a certain number of feet of a sink/tub/shower (no electrical outlets either)
-most shops (including the mall we live next to) close between 5 and 6
-not having a car
-the newspapers -- plentiful, and more than a person can read in a day and still do one's job
-plentiful British quiz shows (not that we understand everything, mind you ...)

Things we're still not used to:
-the %^&*ing washing machine/dryer (worthy of a separate post at some point)
-having 1 choice for salsa, and it's in the tiniest jar you've ever seen
-no grape jam/jelly in all of Europe
-figuring out the right time to say "cheers" (it's roughly the equivalent of "thanks", but whenever I use it I get strange looks)
-eggs aren't refrigerated (but they say on the box, "refrigerate after purchase" - ?)
-Scottish accents

The next 6 months have the potential to be difficult as we descend into winter. However, we've been warned. With all the quiz shows and newspapers, maybe we'll just stay in for the worst months.


Monday, August 6, 2007

"You alright?"

I'm amused by this bit of British English. Two friends run into each other in the mall. "Hiya! You alright?" one will say. "Oh, hi! Haven't seen you in a while!" It's almost like the equivalent of "What's up?" -- an even more informal "How are you?" without bothering with the pleasantries of answering how you actually are. I half-grin whenever I hear this conversation repeated. It's all run together -- "Yewallwrite?" It's such a funny greeting -- even declarative. As if you could be anything other than alright.

This weekend was the first time I was confronted with this greeting. I knocked on my neighbor's door, to be greeted by the 18-year-old daughter. "Oh!" she says. "You alright?" Before I could get my bearings of what she actually meant, I wondered if my hair was on fire, or if my skin had suddenly turned purple. Perhaps she was worried our house was on fire. I felt the need to put her at ease. "Oh, I'm fine! There's not a problem! I just, um ..." Right. She was just saying hello, I suddeny realized. Oh, bollocks. "Um, is your dad here?"

I mean, I did need something, or else I wouldn't have knocked on the door. It wasn't really a matter of being alright or not alright. It's just that we were dropping a wardrobe out our bedroom window, and I needed help catching it.
I think the reason the British never leave their villages and their homes is because they can't get the furniture out. We tried to get this particular piece down the stairs every which way. No way, not without taking out the 40+ screws. So, we threw it out the window, the window, the second story window, with a heave and a ho, and a hi and a ho ... (oh. am I the only one who knows that song?) We had to take the legs off the dining room table to fit it in the front door. Our couch just barely made it in. Our neighbors have a grand piano. They brought that in through a neighbor's yard on the next street over, then inched it along the 8-foot brick fence and in through the back double-doors. Can't picture it? Neither can I, and I'm looking right at where they must have pulled off this feat.
Anyway, the wardrobe came out through the window without a hitch and is now residing in the sunroom awaiting a new owner. Oh, and we're alright.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Meaty salads

Tell me if you can picture your Sunday paper running these recipes:

Ham hock and pea salad
Cold ox tongue with baby beets
Hot kiln smoked salmon and cucumber salad
Roast chicken salad with liver stuffing

I'm only tempted by the ham hock and salmon ones. Then again, I could just eat ham or smoked salmon. Mmm.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Worth more than 600 sheep

Last Sunday, as KT sped off on her bike to her 4th day at the Folk Festival, I made the decision to have my own solo adventure, a long bike ride to Anglesey Abbey, a former priory turned country house that had been donated to the National Trust a few decades ago. We had just got our National Trust membership cards so visiting was free and some exercise on a beautiful sunny day seemed just the prescription after all the food and drink at the festival the day before. It was a pleasant, largely traffic-free trip of slightly over an hour to the house thanks to one of the National Cycle Network trails. The house was impressive--I sped through it because I know KT will want to do a real tour--and well worth the 600 sheep it reportedly cost. But the 98 acre grounds were amazing, especially on such a nice day.

There was a working flour mill, several formal gardens (rose, dahlia and herbaceous--you gardeners know this better than I) and just tons of space to stroll or sit and have a picnic. I and KT will definitely return (Here's an album more pictures, including a placard showing all the flowers/herbs in one of the gardens. I was using my phone to take pictures but the text is still readable for the gardeners out there if you zoom in). On the way home, I dared to take a side road to a small village and paid for it by coming upon several steep (for Cambridge) hills that exhausted me--I also was going into the wind. So of course I had to stop at the riverside pub in the village to have a pint of beer and regain my strength before gliding home. All told, I think I covered just under 20 miles on the bike. That's not quite the London-Cambridge 50 mile trek but it's a start.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Diamond Duck

Do they have cricket player trading cards?

At least the day was sunny and warm and the beer was cold and American (someone surprisingly brought Sam Adams).

Yes, the long-anticipated cricket match between my magazine and The Hated Rival (THR) finally happened on Monday. No, I and my colleagues did not pull a stunning upset. We lost 155-96, which is reasonably respectable although THR took it easy on us after a while.

I'll do my best to explain cricket terminology and rules, but the essential thing to understand is each batter gets 1 out and normally keeps batting until they get out. So it's disaster if a batter gets out after a few pitches (bowls is the proper term) and some batters can score 100+ or even 200+ runs. (We had a rule where a batter "retired" once they reached 50 runs--speeds the game and makes sure most people bat). My magazine took the field first and we actually had only 3 guys from the magazine--the rest were friends of Andrew, the head of out office. Plus we had Andrew's son and another player's son, both under 10 I believe!

The cricket field is like a baseball field but with a single running lane in the middle of the field. A batter stands at the "plate"--the place where 3 poles stand up straight and two other poles rest on the 3. These are the wickets (the 3 poles) and the stumps. The pitcher (bowler) throws the ball trying to hit the wickets and knock the stumps off, making an out. The batter must defend the wickets so much of cricket is simply blocking the ball until there's a bad pitch that you can hit hard. Remember if the wickets are hit the batter is done for the day. If the batter does hit the ball, he can choose to run where the bowler pitched from--and a runner at that spot must also run to the home plate. Either the batter or runner can be gotten out if a field throws and hits the wickets at either end. Confused yet?

Well, THR started off with 2 great batters and quickly pile up 70-80 runs before we started to slow them down. Since getting 10 outs, which means a game is over, can take a long time we set a limit on the number of pitches/bowls. By the time, THR ended, it had 155 runs. Many people find cricket boring and I can see why--I perhaps touched the ball in the field maybe 8 times in 2 hours. I almost threw out a runner but the umpire said he was safe. I also made a sad debut as a bowler. Some bowl fast, over 80mph, and some are slow bowlers but make the ball hop and twist--did I forget to mention one throws the ball over hand without bending the elbow and usually bounces the ball once before it reaches the batter. It's an awkward windmilling motion that one does not pick up quickly. In any case, they finally let me pitch after the 8 year old boy did and I'm embarrassed to say he was so much better than I. I didn't get any outs but THR scored few runs while I pitched because I was so wild--it's not easy to throw without bending the elbow!

Here I am trying to bowl--notice the young boy in the field. He was so much better than I!

After the THR batted it was time for tea--well, beer, cake and sandwiches, but it was still oddd to take such a social break in the middle of the game. Suitably refreshed, our side started to get ready to bat, whcih meant putting on padded gloves and leg protectors and a "box"--a cup. The cricket ball is harder than a baseball and it can bowled very fast. One does not want to get hit in the family jewels without some protection. I also put on my Red Wings jersey for good look--one player on THR commented it was "quite a loud top".

Andrew was the first to bat--oh my, it was tragic. THR has some very good, very fast bowlers and on the first pitch, Andrew swung, missed, and watched helplessly as the stumps were smashed off his wickets. He was out with any runs on the first bowl, an embarrassment known as a Golden Duck. He walked off the field so slowly and disgusted. Even sadder, KT just happened to snap a photo at the right moment to capture the event.

Andrew realizes he has a Golden Duck

That set the tone. Nature's first bowler smashed 3 wickets (outs) in his first 6 pitches and those were our best batters. We stopped the bleeding slowly and began to score runs as Nature brought in other bowlers but the outs lept building up. Finally, it was my turn. Our runner got caught so I came on as a runner, not as a batter (both offensive players carry bats because if you run between wickets you might end up at the batting wicket). Right away, our batter smashed the ball through the infield and we were both off running. We both ran to the opposite wicket and back, scoring 2 runs, and I yelled "Hold" to indicate we should stop running--the outfield had gotten to the ball. But the batter thought we could score another run so he kept running and ended up at the same wicket as me. Once I realized that, I had to run to the opposite wicket, but the ball beat me easily and I was out--WITHOUT even getting to bat once. It was even sadder than Andrew--and is known as a Diamond Duck. I trudged off the field in shame as KT looked around asking what happened!

The remaining batters fought valiantly as Andrew and I fumed on the sidelines and drank beer--but we eventually reached out pitch limit and were short by 60 runs. Oh well, Andrew just asked me yesterday if I wanted to play in another match next month. Maybe I'll get to bat thus time!
More cricket pictures here.


Scientific journals measure their influence by a measuremnt called impact factor. When my publication's cricket defeat seemed inevitable, we changed the scorebaord to reflect the 2007 impact factors for each team--we win 31-26!