Sunday, September 30, 2007

Back in the USA part 2

Made it home to Detroit, Michigan and had a nice day yesterday that included a trip with my mom and sister to the new Riverwalk next to the Renaissance Center--it was very impressive though the river is still very much divorced from citylife, unlike small European towns like Cambridge or even London. But it made me happy to see the baby steps Detroit is taking to make the river more accessible.--jt

Friday, September 28, 2007

Back in the USA

Sunrise at the White House

As my wife tries to get herself arrested in Barcelona, I'm in Washington DC for work. It's weird being back because I am starting to see things in DC as slightly off.
--the jogger to cyclist ratio. DC is full of people jogging in t-shirts and gym shorts, while in Cambridge people are on all sorts of bikes
--clean, cheap subway. Yes, cheap--a normal London tube fare, if paid in cash, is 4 pounds, almost 8 dollars. If you have the Oyster card (like DC's SmartTrip card), it's only around 1.5 pounds, but that's still $3 for a short trip, about half the price of a Metro ride within DC
--a clean city. DC just seems cleaner than most European cities, which aren't so much dirtier as older, I guess.

It is fun being back and seeing friends. I am even enjoying my old commute since I'm staying at our condo with my niece--I hopped on the bus down Connecticut Ave, which dropped me off in front of the White House, a short walk from the office. I have also used my week here to 1)watch TV on TIVO again (how do I survive without it?!) 2)eat my favorite pizza, 3)try the new Ben & Jerry's Cinnanon Buns flavor (mmm) 4)watch lots of American football, 5)devour BBQ and 6)simply enjoy my old Cleveland Park neighborhood. All that said, I'm surprisingly ready to get back to my European adventure.--jt

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Cover Girls of ECCO

We're at a conference called -- you'll never guess -- ECCO. We decided to ditch a really boring reception. On the way out, we noticed that the giant letters at the entrance to the exhibit hall were left unattended. In about 23 seconds, we dropped the barriers, set up the camera, and took this picture.

It's possible wine was involved.

We shared our photo with a colleague the next day. Later on, he brought us this:

What makes it even funnier is that our friend STOLE the sign. Off the letters.

Much work is getting done. Really.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Exciting afternoon in Lisbon!

We're in Lisbon, Portugal this week. Here's where we spent the afternoon:

Oh, did I mention it's a work trip? And that we're both covering the same meeting (on research integrity, should you care)? The meeting ended early this afternoon and we both had work to do, so we took advantage of our momentum and the swing arm on the desk in our hotel room and made ourselves a little remote office. We did do some sightseeing on Sunday and might get some more in tomorrow. I know many of you have no sympathy for us when we get to travel to exciting cities, but it really is hard. It's hard to have fun knowing there's work piling up, and it's hard to sit and work knowing there's a fun city out there to see. So you end up doing both poorly and still come home with work to do, a list of things you didn't see, and a suitcase full of dirty underwear.
Speaking of, this is a 17-day trip for me. Do you pack 17 pairs of underwear? (No, is my answer, as there will be a washer at my next destination.) I go from here to Barcelona. JT goes back home, then turns around and goes to Washington, then Detroit. So the DC Editors will hit 3 conferences in 4 countries (I'm including the UK as a country, not Detroit) and 2 continents all within 2 1/2 weeks. Meanwhile, our house is in the care of a colleague who's attending two conferences of his own in Cambridge, which is great, and it's always fun to clean a house for company while preparing for 17 days of travel. (Yes, I'm being a smidge sarcastic, but it is also insanely satisfying to finally do all the dusting, etc., that I've been meaning to do.)
Alright, we've both turned in our stories, so it's off to find some fado. Hopefully I'll know what the heck that is by my next report.
Aside: Have I ever mentioned that when I post in foreign countries, I have to negotiate Blogger in the local language? I'm about to hit a button that says "publicar mensagem." We're learning that even if you don't know a language, context counts for a lot.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Trip Report: Alicante, Spain

The vacation days had been on the books for months. We meant them for England's Lake District. But then the rains came. And it rained. And rained and rained. And soon leaving England for a few days sounded better and better.

The criteria were these: A short(ish) flight. Close to the airport. A pretty place, but not a place with lots of important places one should see. Warm. Sunny. Warm. Hot, even.

So essentially, we went to Alicante, Spain, because EasyJet flies there, it's not too far away, and it's sunny and hot.


Alicante is a Mediterranean port city. It's an area that's been settled for 7000 years and is perhaps most famous for the castillo Santa Barbara, a giant castle on top of a giant hill.

A castle that we did not go to. So, that should give you some idea of the pace of our trip. (We tried to go to the castle, but the elevators to the top were either broken or simply closed because it's Europe and it's the end of August and things close and, well, that's that. We could have walked or taken a taxi to the top. But the beach called.)

We did see other pretty things, though, like the catedral de San Nicolas and the iglesia de Santa Maria. The town also has pretty streets and courtyards, and at night, those courtyards and walkways come alive with outdoor diners and people out for an evening stroll. We visited the local market, too, which is definitely heavily used. If you're amazed that Cambridge can support its 6 or 8 butcher shops, then you should see the 40 to 50 butchers at the market. Amazing.

I should explain that scheduling is very different in Spain. You might have heard this but thought, "nah, it can't be that different." It is. Stores really do open for a few hours in the morning, say, 10-2, then close for the afternoon and reopen from, say, 5-9 or 10. Restaurants open for dinner a 8 at the earliest – we saw some that didn't open until 9. Ten p.m. or so is about average for dinner time. It suited me fine, of course, and JT even adjusted fairly quickly.

Strolling and chatting seem to be national pastimes in Alicante. Market stalls line the Explanada, a long tiled promenade lined with palm trees. Those stalls, which the tour books tell you sell arts and crafts but what really appeared to be standard fare "goods" such as wallets and purses and sundresses and keyrings, stay open until midnight or later. There's your spray-paint artist, characteriture artist, and beachscape artist, too. Toward the middle of the Explanada and toward the evening, dozens of well-dressed senior citizens show up to sit in chairs that mysteriously appear seemingly for them so they can sit and chat. It's like dozens of Spanish versions of my Grandpa Ralph.

The other thing was that it was "the end of the summer" so the hotels and beaches weren't that crowded and the streets at times were even deserted. It made for a relaxing few days.

The Beach
Alicante wasn't built up around its beach. It's a nice beach, and our hotel was right on it. We spent our first two days on the beach there, and had a lovely time.

But by the third day we thought we'd take the little tram to a beach we'd heard about, the 7-km long playa de San Juan. First, though, JT thought we should check out El Campello, the town at the end of the tram line. It turned out to be a great move. We clicked with El Campello. I'm not sure I can even tell you why, other than perhaps the pace and the layout was more amenable to a relaxing weekend at the beach. This town IS built up along its beach, meaning its promenade, lined with restaurants, bars, hotels, and shops, is right on the water. We spent the afternoon into the evening in El Campello, and liked it so much we decided to spend the next day there, too. Besides, we got to see the entire length of San Juan beach anyway, as the tram line runs right along it. It was pretty with next to nothing around it, which is great if you like that sort of thing.

El Campello on a late Saturday afternoon.

Another note about the beaches: The sunbathing is done topless. You become immune to this after a while, especially since the whole experience becomes one big lesson in the long-term effects of gravity. Every once in a while, a young, attractive woman who's surely Spanish will walk by topless and will snap your mind back to the fact that everyone around you is half-naked. But then you're almost grateful to see her because she deserves to be topless, unlike the more prevalent, most likely German and British women who invade these beaches each summer. Gravity has not been kind to them.

The Food
I have managed to lose almost a stone (look it up) since moving here, but I won't step on a scale now because I'm sure I put it all back on in Spain. And, I'm OK with that. Mmmm. Part of the problem was that our hotel had this amazing spread for breakfast. This is what my plate (ummm, the first plate, anyway) looked like for five days in a row:

The quiche looking thing is tortilla, or an omlette of sorts. More like a frittata, really. Most of the recipes have you fry the potatoes in oil first, but there's one that has you roast the potatoes. It's so simple, so delicious. The others are various sausages and ham or ham-like products – which we enjoyed often throughout our trip. Those latter two are truly amazing. I think my favorite meal was a pizza with dried, cured ham, marinated wild mushrooms, and arugula. Oh my stars, it was delicious. Another highlight was my ensalada murciana, which was the most enjoyable use of fresh green pepper I've ever tasted. (recipe recipe recipe) (The recipes don't call for green peppers, but trust me, dice some up fine and toss. Mmm.) (Oh, and the recipes are in Spanish.)

The Basketball

We've already told you some of this, but the hotel next to ours was housing the basketball players in town for the Alicante branch of the Eurobasketball 2007 tournament. We also told you about our Tony Parker/Eva Longoria sighting. On our last night there, we ate dinner one table over from them in a near-empty restaurant.

(An aside: Both JT and I had work conference calls the day after we got back. Our celebrity sighting made both of our elevator summaries when we were asked how our vacations were. And both of us had to explain who Tony Parker and Eva Longoria are because the other people on the call didn't know. So, for the uninitiated, Tony Parker is the point guard for the San Antonio Spurs, and Eva Longoria stars on Desperate Housewives and is a repeat covergirl for Maxim.)

As we were led to our table, we shot each other a look as we recognized our fellow diners. We spent the rest of the evening barely talking to each other, as we were able to pretty much completely eavesdrop on Tony, Eva, and their two fellow diners, who may or may not have been Tony's mother and the coach of the French basketball team. What was so striking was how normal they were. They talked about how they didn't know how much or whether to tip waitstaff, hotel staff, etc. They talked about their wedding like two giddy newlyweds, not like two celebrities whose wedding in Paris and reception at a French chateau was covered by every newspaper and tabloid on Earth. Tony talked about how he broke his finger during a game last season, and proudly held up his hand to show his dining companions how it's still out of whack. A fan came over for autographs and a picture, and after he took a picture with his camera, Eva handed the guy her Treo and asked if he'd take a picture of her and Tony with it.

We sat there debating what to do – ask for a picture, ask for an autograph, etc. We decided to ask for an autograph when they got up to leave. Eva slipped out pretty quickly, but we caught Tony, and I got him to sign my Spanish phrase book. (Hey, I didn't go to dinner with a reporter's pad.) We chatted very briefly about San Antonio and told him that our marriage has survived in spite of JT being a Pistons fan. He was very cordial. It was almost sad, then, when they walked out the door of the restaurant, which we could see from where we sat, and we saw the repeated flashes from a photographer's long-lens camera. They are, after all, just very pretty, very famous folks out for a dinner with friends.

Oh, Eva's purse was a conversation piece, too. Eva's purse had a chair of its own right next to her. I'd imagine her purses carry a pricetag that means you don't throw it on the floor or over the back of a chair. I still don't know whether it's a Famous Purse, but just type "Eva Longoria purse" into Google. You will be amazed at how much cyberspace has been devoted to her purses. The purse she was carrying (you see a glimpse in this photo) was far more classy than this one. Hopefully she stopped carrying that one because someone pulled her aside and told her how hideous it was.

Anyway, it was a good time, and we did actually come back to perfect Cambridge weather -- sunny and about 62 degrees. We felt like we had our six days of summer, and it was lovely. Muy bien, even. (Oh, I haven't mentioned language. I used my Spanish, and sometimes even effectively. There's nothing like immersion, and context counts for a lot. My shining moment was asking a storekeeper if she spoke English, her saying no, me asking if there was a grocery store nearby, and me understanding her directions. I was pleased.)

Monday, September 10, 2007

A sporting weekend


This weekend was packed with sports for me (and house cleaning as we prepare for another visitor). On Saturday, I watched England beat Israel in soccer in an important qualifying match for the Euro2008 tournament, England beat the U.S. in the World Cup of rugby--no shame there as England is the defending champion and the U.S. national rugby team is a parttime team! Finally, I watched the Michigan Wolverines get humiliated once again at home--a channel here shows lots of college football. I was too tired to watch the Tigers play baseball at midnight. On Sunday, we experimented with watching the NFL over the internet. There were some glitches but I watched the Packers kick a field goal to win at the end of the game and I saw all of the Lions nerve-racking victory over the Raiders.

But before that on Sunday, I played in my 2nd cricket match. We played a team from a small village about 10 miles from Cambridge and traveled to a cricket field in the town just outside their village. We pitched (bowled) first and quickly got 3 men out, but the they hung around and extended the game. I got to pitch two overs (innings) and did much better than last time--I think I only gave up 2 or 3 runs in my 12 pitches (bowls), which isn't bad for cricket. We finally brought back our good bowlers and closed out their inning with them having 136 runs.

As we prepared to bat, I was placed 5th in the order--probably because Andrew knew I didn't bat last time under embarrassing circumstance. We started quickly scoring runs and they had no really fast bowlers (pitchers) so it quickly became clear we would surpass their run total. I came up to bat with our team having about 122 runs. And I did decently! I survived about 14 pitches before hitting a soft pop-up that they caught in the air, getting me out. I batted a few single runs and even looped a line drive over the infield that ran all the way to the boundary of the field before a player could reach it. That scores 4 runs for your team. The only way to score more in an at bat is to hit the ball out of the field on the fly--like a home run--and that scores 6. So I ended up scoring 5 runs before they got me out. We not much later scored our 137th run, with 5 wickets (outs) to spare (see scorebaord above)--it took us about half as many overs to reach 136 as they did--we took 22 overs to their 44 (an over = 6 pitches, so we took around 130 pitches to score our 137 runs, while they took over 260 to score theirs. All in all, a much better cricket experience than my first match!--jt

The cricket field with a nice castle in the backround

Friday, September 7, 2007

Friday Fish Fry

I grew up eating fish on Friday because I lived in Wisconsin. I have no explanation for that, other than It's What You Do. Of course, in the U.K., you could have fish and chips every day of the week and twice on Sunday. (or Friday.)

(As it happens, fish and chip shops aren't overabundant in Cambridge, and the couple I've sampled are just OK. Pub fish & chips are better.)

Anyway, this was my fish & chip dinner on this fine Friday, also featuring mushy peas. Darn tasty!
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Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Still Undefeated

Last night I got pulled over by the cops...but more on that later (tease).

The more important story is that yesterday Cambridge United continued its winning ways with a hard-fought 1-0 victory at home. It was the first night game KT and I attended and to add to the experience we rode our bikes to the game, stopping off beforehand at an English pub that serves great Thai food. The new home jerseys are finally on sale and they're very attractive except for the big purple "HAART" on the front. Besides being the team's sponsor HAART happens to be the real estate company we rented our house from--and we hate how their name ruins the look of the jersey. Maybe we'll just buy a United scarf.

Oh yea, the cops. Riding home on our bikes, a police car pulled up beside me and chastised me for not having a rear red light (I had one but no bracket to attach it). They let me off with a warning.--jt

p.s. Ow--every muscle in my body hates me. I just played soccer for the first time in over a year. It was just a pickup game for a team that plays in a Sunday league and that might need players. I don't think I'm good enough to qualify. I'm American after all. Ouch--please call a doctor.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Cattle Update

We got home from our little Spanish vacation yesterday (more on that soon). Among the pile of mail was a flier for Cambridge Cattle -- the cows I told you about back in April.

I'll tell you more about what the flier says in a second. First, though, this, from the Web site given on the front of the flier:

"This summer we only had one incidence of a steer being chased by a dog into the river and walking across the Cam to the boathouses. With the help of some of the rowers he walked calmly back over the bridge to rejoin the herd. Apart from this they have had good summer with plenty of grass and many encounters with the public. I hope everybody has enjoyed them as much as I have."

A dog. Chased the steer. Into the river. And rowers walked him back. Over the bridge. I can't stop chuckling about this. I also can't picture it; there are houseboats moored along almost the entire stretch of river where said incident must have taken place. Can you imagine looking out your houseboat window to see a little red cow walking by through the water?

Anyway. The point of the flier: "Now that the grazing season comes to its end and the steers are almost 30 months old, it will be possible to purchase the meat." Order your fillet or sirloin or mince (British word for ground whatever -- beef mince, lamb mince, etc.) now. I grew up in farm country, but I can't bring myself to even think about putting in an order. Seems like the cows should go be in a petting zoo or something, since they grew up in such a public place. Ah well, circle of life, blah blah.

I noticed last week that there were only 6 cows out there, where there used to be 8. Given that the first dates for meat delivery are this weekend, and their aging the meat for 3 weeks, I believe I now know where those two went. And it wasn't into the river. (Chuckle. A dog! Chased! Cow! River!)