Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Operating at 58.5%.........


And a good evening to you from the Queen City. Today was a GREAT day, capped off by a wonderful evening with some great friends. For starters, I had lunch today with my in-laws – the Tacy Family! I met them at my hotel at 11:15, determined to get a GREAT rasher burger at Ri-Ra. And so we walked across the street with me talking this establishment up as though it were a Gordon Ramsey joint, only to show up and find a BIKE LOCK on the door, just below a sign that says “Closed for Renovation.” NICE…

So instead, we rolled over to Phil’s Deli, where I had a SERIOUS American portion of Philly Cheese steak and fries (as well as some sweet tea – YEAH, BABY!!!!). It was so great to catch up with them, and we had a really nice visit. And by the way – Happy Birthday Jan!!!! Enjoy Disney World (although my fingers burn in agony as I type that…).

In the evening, I went to the Price Compound (not in Waco – NOT Branch Dividian), where we had the staple of the Taylor family diet – the Buffalo Wing Pizza from Hawthorne’s. For the record, Melissa referred to this as the “Redneck Pizza selection,” stating that chicken has NO PLACE on a pizza. We summarily beat her with a rubber hose and fed her only brussel sprouts the entire night.

So for those of you who don’t know, every couple of months during out time in CLT, a group of 12 always tried to get together for Hawthorne’s pizza nights. This encapsulates 4 couples and 4 children, and we ALWAYS have a blast.

We had a couple of illnesses in the group tonight, and with Jenny in London, we only had 7 of the 12 present – hence, we were only operating around 58.5% (or so – dude, I’m a history major – cut me some slack…).

We had a blast, chatting about life, eating great pizza, and drinking Landshark Lager – So guuuuuuuuuuud. I then had GC drop me off at home, and I’m now preparing to sack out (as LA Tech continues to POUND the Rainbow Warriors of Hawai’i).

That’s all the news that’s fit to print with one exception – Uncle Ken – I’m still cheering for you, brother. Thanks for a GREAT run.

Chat tomorrow!


Sam and (my travel agent) Jenny

Introducing…the Sultan of Pai-Gow…John Ogas!!!!!!!!!!!!


And a good evening to you from the Queen City. Okay, again – apologies for no blog last night. However, internet was down in my room, and I couldn’t post (even after calling tech support and giving them EVERY SEQUENCE OF NUMBERS KNOWN TO MAN). Consequently, you’re getting a pair of them this evening, starting with yesterday’s recap.

After work, I hit an old haunt – Cedar St. Tavern. Whilst there, I hung out with a good buddy (and former cube mate) – John Ogas. This guy is something of legend in the Taylor family, as he’s the man who taught Jenny and I how to play Pai-Gow (and in this very location, no less)!!!

John is a great guy, and a RABID Vegas fanatic. A few key points on Brother Ogas:

1. He’s made 30+ trips to Vegas (and I’m thinking 31 or 32 will be with Team Taylor).

2. He’s a blackjack and Pai-Gow machine.

3. He’s worked for the Panthers for the last 8 years – how cool is that?

4. He managed to sit beside me for almost a year without requesting a) a transfer or b) hazard pay. That alone should earn him a silver star in corporate America.
5. He is my link to all "Sin Stock" investing tips - most notably MGM (back to sell, baby!) and LVS (60% growth incoming!!!).

Kevin “Big Cat” Woest joined us for a few as well, and we had a good time chatting about life, liberty, and the pursuit of SuperBowls. After that, it was off to Wild Wings, where Brother Woest and I contemplated the meaning of life whilst drinking some Fat Tire and eating a RIDICULOUS amount of wings (hey man, it was “Buy 8-Get 8 Free”…who can argue with that?”). I will say that, if I can make a recommendation, “Cherynobl” and “Jamaican Jerk” eaten in tandem 4 seconds after coming out of the over is NOT a good combination.

I passed out at 10 PM that night, waking up like a SHOT at 2 AM, where I laid awake until about 3:30. Yeah…my body has NO CLUE what time zone it’s in.

Okay – that’s all the news that’s fit to print. Chat tomorrow!


Sam (somewhere in Cyberspace) Jenny

Monday, 28 September 2009

Back in the Queen City, Baby!!!!!!!!!!!!


And a good evening to you (again) from the Queen City after a VERY long but fantastic day. As I type this, it's 3:30 AM UK time, and I am BUSHED. However, I wanted to drop a quick note to tell everyone that I've arrived.

When I landed, I took a taxi to the Marriott - Center City (Uptown). I gotta tell ya - it feels weird to be back (but oh so good). I spent 8 hours on the plane reading Book 4 of Twilight, and I am now 600 pages in! I'm only 160 pages from the close...and Edward's STILL SO HOT...

Whe landed 10 minutes early, only to learn that the Immigration officers weren't ready for us and weren't at their stations. Consequently, we were stuck on the plane for another 20 minutes or so before they let us go. However, we rolled through without incident, and reached uptown around 3 PM.

Upon check-in, I got to see CUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUZ - Megan! We chatted for a bit, and she took care of her cousin (btw - the fridge is AWESOME). We didn't get to chat much since she was working, but it was great to chat for at least 10 minutes or so.

After that , I went for a run (3 miles - dude - you forget how HOT AND HUMID this city is!) before showering and heading to Enso, a new Asian Bistro in the Epicentre. There I met the gang I work with for dinner, where I hate some GREAT sushi (so guuuuuuuud peppy cheekies). 3 rolls and 4 kirin later, I was a chubby bunny - just in time for some...wait for it...wait for it...FAT TIRE AT WILD WINGS, BABY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So I cuaght my first NFL football game of the year (currently the Panthers are winning 7-3 vs. the Cowboys, halfway through the third), and it's now time to sack out.

Sorry this one's so short, but I am BEAT and have to have a functioning brain tomorrow.

That's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!


Sam and (from the continent I started on) Jenny

Bonjour from the City of Lights!!!!!!!


And a good evening to you from…well, actually…right here in sunny Charlotte!!!! That’s right, I’m HOME!!!! However, that will be a separate blog, as I want to give the C-L-T the respect it deserves. Instead, let’s focus on the weekend that just passed – mine and Jenny’s AMAZING 35 hour whirlwind tour of Paris – the City of Lights.

First off, we didn’t get in bed Friday night until MIDNIGHT, which made for an EARLY start for me and JT. Dude – I was DRAGGING when we woke up at FOUR IN THE MORNING…yeah, no cup of coffee could save me (although the Nero Mocha with a ham and cheese Panini gave a valiant effort). We got to St. Pancras International, got the stamp in our passport, and then crossed off another of life’s to-dos: we rode the Eurostar.

Okay, first things first – the Eurostar terminal is AWESOME, and the ease of getting on that train and getting settled is WONDERFUL.: assigned seats, plenty of room, and a smooth ride. However, it was NOT the most comfortable for sleeping, and I tried in vain for 2.5 hours before hearing the announcement: Boujour a Garde du Nord (Paris North Train Station).

And so, at 9:47, we were off and on our way. First stop was to pick up the “Paris Visite” ticket, which basically enables you to ride all the metros, trams, trains, buses, and even their version of the Donkey Light Rail (Matt – that’s for you – I said “Donkey Light Rail” about a million times this weekend, and oddly enough Muffin Puffin NEVER found it amusing), called the RER.

Next up was our uber-posh hotel, covered courtesy of some leftover Hilton points. This place was SWANK, and you could tell they weren’t used to cats just rolling in wearing “Life is Good” shirts with nothing but backpacks. All the same, 10 minutes later we were out the door for our first tourist attraction – The Arch de Triumphe.

So yeah, now’s a good time to mention that I don’t really SPEAK French. Actually, I can’t really pronounce or spell it either. That being said, pumpkin and I were valiant and did manage to string together a few phrases, courtesy of the Terrier herself, Sophie Dusoraux. Soph – some of my more classic moments I can tell you in person.

The most important French word I learned? Pression. What does it mean? Why, it’s means “ON DRAFT, BABY!!!!” Key phrase that I will take with me to all French speaking countries in the future: “Grimbergen au Pression? Oui, oui, merci!!!”

So the Arch was amazing – honestly, bigger than I remembered. Walking around it brought back tons of memories from the time that mom and I visited Paris together, and it was really wonderful to stand at the Arch and look at all the streets streaming away from it, with the Obelisk of Place de Concorde on one end and the Grand Arch (oddly enough, perhaps my favorite thing in Paris) at the other.

After that, it was down the Champs Elysses, where we stopped for a GREAT lunch of…wait for it…wait for it…3 kinds of cheese, 2 glasses of wine, and then a sandwich filled with cheese, topped with cheese, and then with a different cheese melted on top of it. I’ll go ahead and say it because you’re all thinking it – Sam and Jenny won’t use the bathroom for a month (I’m happy to inform you that you’re wrong, but I agree that we’re living dangerously close to the “Goat’s Cheese Threshold.”

After that it was Place de Concorde, complete with an obelisk from the Temple of Luxor. This was a big moment for JT and I, as we’ve now crossed off all 4 obelisks from Luxor (at least I think – need to confirm with the handwritten journal on that one first – it’s written in my hieroglyphics, so that’s appropriate at least).
Next up – Tullerie Gardens, complete with little kids sailing boats in a pond, weird “Jack the Pumpkin King Nightmare Before Christmas” style statues (I couldn’t help but think of the Love, Actually Line: “It’s not funny, it’s art,” as I shook my head”) and the Louvre. We didn’t go in this go around – we’re saving that for the NEXT trip.

We then walked the River Seine for a bit, crossing at Pont Neuf (that’s right – call me Jason Bourne: “Paris. Today. Pont Neuf. You come alone. You face to the west. You take your coat off. If I even suspect someone is with you, I’m gone.”) before going to another highlight of the trip – the Notre Dame.

Okay, there were queues EVERYWHERE, and the ND was NO exception. However, the line did move quickly, and you could wander wherever once you were in side. Again, memories came back as I looked at the two HUGE stained glass windows, one of the Old Testament and one for the New Testament. Also, there was an infant Baptism going on, which was neat to see.

After that, we rolled to Paris’ most famous monument – the Eiffel Tower. However, given that there was a TWO HOUR WAIT TO GET UP, we opted instead to take some great pictures of it, including crossing the river and taking photos. Whilst across the river, we stumbled upon this RANDOM skate park, filled with French thrashers. Muffin – if our kids tell us they want skateboards, I propose we lock them in their rooms – FOREVER. That stuff just LOOKS painful.

Next up was a drink in the footsteps of Earnest Hemingway – Le Duex Magots (Yep, that’s right – the place is called “The 2 Maggots” – catchy). Hemingway was a big drinker here, so I needed this moment. However, since prices have CLEARLY risen since Hemingway’s time, we couldn’t afford to eat there. Instead, we opted for the Tavern du St. Germain, where 3 Grimbergen (au pression, of course) and – you guessed – another cheese tray fed us dinner. Then it was to the hotel, where we absolutely PASSED OUT and slept 10 hours (gotta love those blackout curtains).

The next morning was a WHIRLWIND through Paris. We started the day with some GREAT crepes at the base of the Eiffel Tower. While the line was shorter today, the top floor was closed due to overcrowding. Given that, Perfect Pumpkin and I tackled another of life’s to-do list – we took the steps to the 2nd floor of the Eiffel Tower. I gotta tell ya – my calves are still KILLING me today. That being said, it was worth EVERY STEP. The view from level 2 was SPECTACULAR, perhaps even better than the top because of the haze and smog of the day. And mom, you'll recognize this photo – it’s looking down on the exact spot where you bought me an ice cream cone when we got our first view of the Eiffel Tower 17 years ago (hard to believe, right?).

It really was surreal being on the tower with Jenny. Such amazing views on such a perfect day, there with my wife – it was so truly amazing. What a month September has been!

After that, it was off to Les Invalides, where Napoleon is buried (thanks for the tip, Soph). This place was 8.50 Euro to get in, but I pulled off a great coup by asking (in French, for the record), if I could just buy a ticket for the tomb and not see the rest of the museums. They said no, but since I was standing RIGHT BESIDE THE TOMB when I asked them, I got to look at it for a solid minute while I fumbled through my French. Yes, Yes, Sean, I know – I am one SERIOUSLY cheap bastard.

After that, it was off to the Grand Arch, where we wandered around what JT and I consider the “Parisian Canary Wharf.” Don’t ask me why, but I LOVE the arch – such a cool concept.

After that, it was back to the train station, where JT and I had a final meal of…wanna guess? Wine and cheese, baby!!! And another Croque Monsieur (yep – the ridiculously cheese-filled and smothered sandwich) to wash it down with…I know what healthy is…
Although, it should be noted that, in the spirit of trying new things, I wanted to sample a French beer. Scanning down the menu, there was one beer I didn't recognize - "Monaco." Feeling daring, I ordered it, expecting a nice, light, continental lager. What did I get? I got a beer mixed WITH SPRITZER AND GRENADINE. The waiter told me "Is French Specialty!" I just shook my head. I've never wanted to yell "FREEDOM FRIES" so much in my entire life.

So that’s the trip in a nut shell - can't wait to go back!!!

That’s all the news that’s fit to print. Chat tomorrow (or later tonight if I can get today’s blog in!).


Sam and (from 4,008 miles away) Jenny

P.S. Fiona – in case you’re scoring – I did shave.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Ladies and gentlemen...I present...the PLU!!!!!!!!!

And a good evening to you from across the Pond. Tonight is the first installment of the "traveling Taylor blog," broadcasting live from Chez Mirza in South Kensington (which, incidentally, is an OFF THE CHAIN flat that I'm pretty sure even Tony Blair envies), at the start of the Liz Mirza uber-fantastic-don't look back but 14 bottles of wine are suddenly gone but fret not we're HR-birthday bash weekend! I mean, case in point, check out this PHAT balcony (where you are guaranteed to get a GREAT view of hairy naked man every Friday - the 7:30 show is NOTHING like the 11:30 show...that's all I'm sayin'...).

So, as usual, a great day in the office kicked off the weekend. We rolled out and headed to South Ken, where we stopped for a pint at the "Gloucester Arms" (pint of Pride, please - Jason, don't hate me!), where I met some of Liz's peeps - the PLU.

Okay, working around the table from the left:

1. Annie (aka "Posh") - probably NOT gonna wear those boots this weekend...
2. Rhys - Top Shop's FINEST former employee...
3. Claire (aka "Langers"): recently married - CONGRATS!
4. Fiona (aka "FiFi): a Parisian at heart...
5. Liz (aka "Fizzy): The birthday girl...who will have that boom-boom-pow all weekend...
6. MUFFIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
P.S. Rolly is sitting here RIGHT beside me. She's elusive - you CAN'T get a picture of her. But it's only a matter of time...
We are currently hanging out on the balcony, drinking some vino and finishing some pizza from DeMario's (favorite Italian spot of Princess Di). SO GUUUUUUUUUUUUUUD!!!!
Sorry to be so short, but hairy naked man is back, and I MUST focus! Also, WARNING: NO BLOG TOMORROW (trip to Paris!!!!). However, if you check me in the PM on Sunday, you'll get the highlights of "Rednecks in Paris..."
And, in case anyone is curious, I AM dying in a sea of estrogen, but no complaints...
Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat Sunday (post 500 bouteille du vin rouge - Sophie, aren't you proud? PRET A MANGER!!!!)!
Sam and Jenny

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Witness...the Shogun holding court...


And a good evening to you from across the pond after another GREAT day in London! Today we officially wrapped another integration week – our report out today went GREAT. I am so proud of this gang and what we’ve accomplished. We’re definitely a long way from home, but we’ve certainly turned the dial quite a bit.

The day ended at 7:30, at which point we rolled to an old familiar, “The Bear and Staff,” where I had 3 pints of my fave – Timothy Taylor. After Muffin Puffin showed up, we rolled over to Chinatown, hell bent on hitting one of our two favorite Chinese restaurants. We selected Golden Dynasty, only to find out that it had recently closed and been replaced by a Malaysian joint (the name was Koom Ran or something like that). Before trying out the Malaysian joint, we popped into Fung Sheng (the OTHER fave Chinese joint) to see if any of our peeps had arrived for dinner. True to form, brother Tavares was holding court with some of our gang.

So we bid the Malaysian joint farewell and went into Fung Sheng, where Brother Riegel (aka the Shogun) again held court, ordering everything in Chinese and keeping the beer flowing. It was AWESOME – we had a great time hanging out with the gang, enjoying a much deserved relaxing dinner after a LONG (but VERY productive) week. Since some have requested anonymity, I won't name all the folks around the table. However, I'm happy to report that they are a fun crew (and yes, dinger - that is your second favorite character, Ray Tavares - second only to Gunther - on the left).

After that, it was the walk home, and it’s now time to pass out (since it’s 1 in the morning). Hitman, Shogun, and Don Quixote – enjoy Oktoberfest! Catch you cats next week when I’m in the Queen City!

Okay, that’s all the news that’s fit to print. Chat tomorrow!



Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Dedicated to my loyal followership!!!


And a good evening to you from across the Pond after another GREAT day in the Smoke. For the record - it's 10 till 1 in the AM, but I am writing this for the likes of Tom Price, C-Web, Dinger, and all those cats who I know will HAMMER me tomorrow if I don't get a blog out for the evening.

In all seriousness, tonight's is short, but mainly because we worked until 8 PM. After that, however, I did make a run to the Cat & Canary, where I had a few Honeydew's (it's FRESH again - YEAH, BABY!!!) and bonded with some of the technology cats (yep, some of the folks you saw last night).

After that, it was off to dinner at Brown's, where Donkapotamus helped expand my waistline by ordering Camembert Cheese for a starter (before my main of prawn and chorizo pasta). Wash it all down with a Pilsner Urquell and an Amstel (regular, mind you - not light), and you've got a recipe for success.

We actually ducked out a bit early to ensure we caught the Tube, only to experience severe delays on the line due to a "passenger action" (code for some donkey WALKING ONTO THE TRACKS IN THE MIDDLE OF THE STATION). However, the matter was eventually resolved, and we got home.

Now we're back, and it's time to hit the sack. Tomorrow's Crispy Aromatic Duck at Fung Sheng! Bring on the Shogun holding court! Viva la gente!

BTW - Congrats to Andrew "Guvnah" Harwood and John "The Helmet" Davies on finishing the Berlin Marathon this weekend - congrats, boys!

That's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!


Sam and Jenny

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Thai, Technology, and Tattoos...


And a good evening to you from across the Pond after a very busy but GREAT day in the Smoke. Dudes, we worked our tails off today, but the dinner conversations were hilarious. The three key takeaways for me from dinner were:

1. Going forward, some of my colleagues would like to be referred to by their “nicknames” vs. their actual names. This is probably because a) some of them like anonymity on the internet and b) I have been known to occasionally threaten to burn people’s houses down if they don’t cooperate with a request in the office, so being labeled as a "known associate" is probably something of a CLM to most folks (CLM=career limiting move).
2. I now know what a “tramp stamp” is.
3. There is NO city in Switzerland promounced "BASEL." I mean seriously - why bother putting the "s" in if you're not going to use it?

After a long day in the office, part of the team headed down to the Cat and Canary (or the C & C as well call it – EVERYBODY DANCE NOW), where we were treated to flat beer, brisk weather, and lively conversation. Seriously, with the passing of the autumnal equinox, the weather and the sunlight are fading fast in the mother country. It was totally dark at 7:20…that will be 5:20 in a month and 4:20 by the end of the year. But hey – that’s why they invented pubs…

Before I go any further, I should apologize to all the faithful for not blogging last night. While I know that some of you aren’t terribly broken up about it, others of you, like Tom Price, will need months of therapy to recover. I think the quote for the day from T-Rowe was “Committed to daily blogging my ASS!” Sorry dude – go cry on your pillow in your polka dot jersey, you sorry “king of the hill.”

In case anyone wants the recap, last night was great as well. We hit La Figa for dinner, where Jenny and I both had the Mushroom Ravioli (shocking, I know). Jenny rolled in late due to “Body Combat,” the UK equivalent of “Athletic Conditioning” (or “Crazy Class” as Mindy and Verona would call it). After that, we had drinks at “The Narrow,” a Gordon Ramsey restaurant that overlooks the river Thames. It was a great night, capped off by the "battle royale" between man and plexiglass...that's all I'm sayin'...

So dinner tonight was at SriNam, a great Thai joint in the wharf. We got a table for 15, and we instantly raise the decibel level in the joint by a magnitude of 3 billion. However, the Singapore glass noodles were tasty, the Kirin was cold, and the apps (namely the “golden bags” and the “fish flavored air”) were excellent.
And since none of these folks have forbidden use of their names, allow me to introduce a few folks (starting on the left):
1. Liz - you know this gal - after all, she's got that Boom-Boom-Pow...
2. Christine (in the back) - she is World Wide Weber, but I think of her as the original stalker who wasted NO TIME hunting me down on the day I didn't blog in Spain last week.
3. Lori Henkel - who's six year old son is always poised to show off his "firepower" before welcoming folks to the "gun show."
4. Kristin Wooten - K-Dub - my favorite Fighting Christian/Phoenix of Elon College/University, soon to be tearing up Paris on vacation.
And then we have our technology clan (from left):
1. Ian H - I'm pretty sure he actually works for Mi-6 but is just hanging with us until his next assignment.
2. Jill Hewitt - "Sticky Fingers" due to a recent incident involving a laptop, a handbag, and a train station in North London.
3. Matt Miller - "King Donkey" - and yes, Marnie, that's water he's sipping on...
4. Scott Dix - "The Professor" - this is a man who will NEVER be caught in the office without a bow tie. In fact, if I ever see a full windsor on that guy, I'm going to freak out.
5. Scott McElroy - "The Pugelist" - known to go toe to toe for 12 rounds with whatever inanimate object lies in his path...
Seriously - now is a good time to tell all my readers that this cast of characters is an absolute pleasure to work with and a GREAT group of people. I am truly blessed to count these cats as both co-workers and friends.

Okay, sorry so short, but I have to be back in the office in 8.5 hours, and I need my beauty sleep.

That’s all the news that’s fit to print. Chat tomorrow!


Sam and Jenny

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Introducing......The Martins!!!!!!!!


And a good evening to you from across the Pond – what a FANTASTIC WEEKEND!!! So today we rolled out of bed around 11 (I am happy to report that I FINALLY believe we’re caught up on sleep – just in time for the arrival of the colonists and an integration week…), got cleaned up, and made our way to London Euston, the train station for journeys north of the city.

Our destination today was to the city of Berkhamsted, home to one of the best folks I’ve ever worked with, her husband, and arguably the cutest baby in the whole of the United Kingdom – I’m speaking, of course, of the Martin family – Debbie, Nick, and little Estella.

What a great visit – I haven’t seen them in over a year (since leaving drinks at the Harp in April of 2008), and it was REALLY great catching up. They have a fantastic place with a great garden and lovely hardwood floors – SO CUTE.

The day got even better when Nick whipped out bottles of…wait for it…wait for it…TIMOTHY TAYLOR LANDLORD ALE, BABY!!!!! That’s right – how could the day get any better?

I'll save you the suspense - it got WAY better when the main course came out – Roast Pork (complete with the rind) with parsnips and cabbage. Dude – this was a life changing meal. We are talking “Roast” with the Carter Clan good – I am still all smiles. Oh, and did I mention the double cream dessert we had (it's what they're toasting in the photo). Yeah, I'm pretty sure they'll serve that in Heaven...

After that we walked along the canal for a bit, stopping by a swing set to give Estella a little outdoor time. After that, we said bye to the Martin’s and hopped back on the train, and we’re now settled in for the night, bottle of Rioja open and books soon to be cracked. Jenny is almost done with Twilight: Book 4, and I am 12.5% of the way into my next venture – “Guns, Germs, and Steel” (yes, I know, AC – but hey, better late than ever). Already I can tell that this one is going to cook with gas – I’m QUITE excited.

Okay, that’s all the news that’s fit to print. Chat tomorrow – BRING ON THE INTEGRATION SESSION!!!!!!


(A very well rested) Sam and Jenny

Saturday, 19 September 2009

A great (even if quick) first full day back in the Smoke...


And a good evening to you from across the Pond after a short (but FANTASTIC) day. Talk about a great one!

So, first and foremost – puffin and I needed sleep. Consequently, when that alarm went off at 10 AM (after a scant 10.5 hours of sleep), we promptly shut it down, rolled over, and went back to bed until 12:30. However, after 13 hours of sleep, I’m happy to report that we felt fit as fiddles and ready for action.

We got out and about around 3 PM (after some coffee and checking email), where we headed to Piccadilly Circus to buy theater tickets. Both of the “discount” ticket booths were out, so they suggested we go directly to the theater. The show of the day? One that I’ve been wanting to see since 2005 when I came to visit Jason Wade and found out how long it’s been a fixture in London’s West End: The Mousetrap.

Okay, some back story here: this is the world’s LONGEST RUNNING PLAY, now in it’s 57th year. In fact, we saw show #23,674. Can you believe that? It’s a murder mystery, and it was QUITE entertaining. And at the end, the cast actually requests that the audience “keep the secret in their hearts” and not divulge the killer.
We really enjoyed it, but we enjoyed Act 2 better than Act 1, simply because we moved to different seats to get away from the dude in front of us whose head was, to quote Mike Myers, "like a pumpkin on a toothpick." We spent the whole first act looking around his cranium to see.

After the show, we met Matt (the King Donkey) and Mark (the Eagle Scout) for pints at the Porterhouse (Dean – you know you’re jealous!). We had a Porterhouse Red and an Hersbrucker Pilsner (look what Germany has done to us), along with some GREAT food. I LOVE that place.

After that, we strolled into the Empire Casino (Price – don’t give up on my soul just yet…), where we sat at the Video Roulette for a bit. I played 5 minutes and got CLEANED OUT. JT and Matt, however, broke even and played for an hour. However, this wasn’t the big news from the Empire.

Come to find out, the World Series of Poker – Europe was underway. This is one of the early play-in rounds, but it was still cool to watch all the players in action, see all the chips, and watch folks playing under the lights.
On the way out, I noticed that the feature table was in the center of the casino, and I told Jenny and Matt that I just wanted to see if anyone famous was playing. Come to find out – Chris “Jesus” Ferguson was at the feature table! We were about 3 feet from him (as you can tell by the photo - he's the guy in the black hat who, well, looks like Jesus), and we watched 8 or so hands. He only played once, and he took the pot (whilst the dude who folded tried to goad Jesus into admitting that he’d bluffed). When we left, his chip stack was about 4 THOUSAND TIMES HIGHER THAN EVERYONE ELSE’S.

The walk home took us back through Piccadilly Circus, where there was a break-dancing troop showing off their moves. It was pretty cool – I felt like I was on the set of “So You Think You Can Dance.”

Now we’re back at home, and it’s time to PASS OUT. I realize I’ve only been awake about 10.5 hours, but Spain left this guy pretty shattered, and with the Americans coming over tonight, I better have my game face on for tomorrow.

Okay – that’s all the news that’s fit to print. Chat tomorrow!


Sam and Jenny

Friday, 18 September 2009

Back with my Muffin Puffin!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And a good evening to you from SUNNY LONDON!!!! That’s right – I’m back! Man, does it feel good to be back in the Mother Country. And best of all…I’m back with my muffin puffin!!! I’m so happy to be home!

Today was a great day – we had 3 uber-productive hours in Mad City, grabbed a bit of lunch (gracias por la comida, Natalia!), and then rolled to the airport. Our flight was on IberiAir, which leaves from Terminal 4 in Madrid’s Barajas airport. The interesting thing is that Terminals 1, 2, and 3 are all together (5 minutes apart walking) and are fairly convenient to the city. Terminal 4, however, is in PORTUGAL.

Seriously – I’ve taken flights to Cairo that are shorter than the cab ride over. And the best part? Once you get there, you then have a tram that takes you to the far gates (followed by a Bus to get you onto the runway). Yeah – you have a 3:30 PM flight? I recommend you start heading to the airport at 7 AM the day BEFORE…

So we got on the plane (Book 3 of Twilight in hand), and all looked good for a 3:35 departure. However, at 3:45, people are still getting on the plane. At 3:58, Captain Antonio Alvarez de la Vega gets on the mike to tell us that, due to security reasons, we need to wait on 3 more passengers. All I can think is, “Wow – those guys we’re waiting for HAVE to be the air marshals. So much for being under cover.”

However, 35 minutes later, who gets on? Schwarzenegger? No. Stallone? No. Bruce Willis? No. Instead of Mi-6, I get some dude in a Soccer jersey, his wife (a lot of yelling and screaming), and some dude that has seen more than a little Mary Jane in his life.

So the plane gets on the runway, only to have another random dude decide he needs to make 1 more phone call. The female flight attendant walks over to him (we’re turning for takeoff at this point) and politely asks him to turn off the phone. When he refuses, the male flight attendant marches over, GRABS THE PHONE FROM THE GUY, and stalks off with it. AWESOME.

After that, it was a peaceful flight, and neither customs nor the ride home were problematic. And then, suddenly, I WAS HOME WITH MY ANGEL BEAR!!! So we hit a local Thai joint (The Lotus Thai) that was EXCELLENT and will definitely be visited again.

On an unrelated note – I managed an AFD today. Tomorrow will hopefully be light, but you never know if the weather’s nice. And speaking of tomorrow – GO VOLS – SMASH THE GATORS.

And in case anyone’s scoring – I just finished Book 3 of Twilight – only Breaking Dawn to go. The drama builds!!!

Okay, that’s all the news that’s fit to print. Chat tomorrow!


Sam (now back with) and Jenny

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Disculpame!!!! Lo siento por no escribiendo anoche!!!


And a good evening to you from across the Pond. First off – APOLOGIES FOR NO BLOG LAST NIGHT!!!! C-Web – put the Voodoo doll down and slowly step away.

Seriously – I got in at 2 AM last night, and I just didn’t have it in me. And what a perfect lead-in to a description of last night’s festivities…

So the day was another good one, even if incredibly busy. I must say that this go-around I’ve felt more comfortable speaking Spanish than ever before. I’m able to answer when people ask for directions, I can talk to the cab drivers, I’m understanding 85-90% of the meetings, and I am finally starting to make sense of conversations around me. All in all, I’m very happy. The flip side of that is that, at the end of the day, my brain feels like someone just dropped a 5 billion ton sledgehammer on top of it. Oh well, you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs…

So last night we went to Vina P, a GREAT place in Plaza Santa Anna. I ate an ENTIRE PLATE OF HAM (that’s right, Price – I will be King of the Polka Dotted Hills – sponsored by CarreFour – very soon), as well as about 4,000 pieces of asparagus drowned in mayonnaise, garlic, and salt. Add in a bottle of Rioja, 5 Cruzcampos (my fave beer in Espana), and Merluza (a fish) prepared in Basque style (lemon, garlic, and sauce), and you have a recipe for success. Include vanilla ice cream filled with chocolate and caramel, and you are livin’ the dream. But then…it got better.

Ladies and gentlemen – last night I had perhaps THE BEST meal I’ve ever had in Spain. The reason? Pan-seared steak, cooked 1 second on each side and then served almost totally rare (whilst covered in Rock Salt). Folks, this was CHANGE YOUR LIFE GOOD. I mean, I might not see 40 now, but what a way to go out…

After dinner, we had drinks at the Terrace, a rooftop bar overlooking Santa Anna. It was a great chance to hang out with the project team, relaxing and getting the chance to know each other better.

Today we were in Las Rozas, a suburb of Madrid, where we’ve got another office. After another long (but productive) day, we rolled back to the hotel, where Matt and I got another 4-4.5 miles in (same loop twice in Retiro Park) and burned calories before hitting up an Italian joint to consume a La Figa-esque meal (but not as good, for the record). We capped the night off by walking into an alley that Marilyn Manson wouldn’t venture down, finding a Scotch-Irish pub (kilts all OVER the walls), and drinking Czech pilsner. All in all, another great night.

Tomorrow it’s back to London, and I CAN’T WAIT TO SEE MY MUFFIN PUFFIN AGAIN!!!!!!!!!!! I LOVE YOU ANGEL BEAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Okay, that’s all the news that’s fit to print. Chat tomorrow from the Mother Country!


Sam and Jenny

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Newson Meets Chompers - Parts 1 ,2, and 3...


And a good evening to you from Mad City after another GREAT day. Okay, two big things to cover, especially since it’s 12:20 and we’ve got another full day tomorrow.

First item – I ran for 45 minutes today! Matt and I ran about 4-4.5 miles around Retiro Park, and it felt GREAT. I had absolutely NO pain, and we honestly rolled pretty good. For me it was great, because I’d always wanted to run around that park but had never actually had the chance to make a few loops and jog past the Alfonso memorial and pool. So all in all, a GREAT day. Marnie, Lily, and Grace – don’t be mad at me if I return your husband/dad in slightly rougher shape. He’s in training, for crying out loud!!!

But the biggest part of the evening – tonight we went for dinner in Plaza Mayor (or, as Catherine would say, the “Mayor’s Plaza”), where had some pretty classic experiences. Let me see if I can recount them all:

1. We sat at a table and waited 15 minutes in a wind storm akin to Hurricane Andrew before we were served.

2. When the waiter arrived, he was summarily dismissed by another waiter. Problem was that the second waiter couldn’t speak Spanish (or English) – only some form of gypsy that we still have yet to name.

3. As soon as we sat down, this cat with a XYLEPHONE showed up 2 inches from out table and played some crap from “The Love Boat” for about 10 minutes before he finally stopped and begged for a tip. Rice – I SO wanted to tell him “Don’t eat yellow snow,” but I assumed the translation just wouldn’t work.

4. Nancy ordered a drink that she was thrilled about, only to be told that the restaurant had NO cocktails of any kind.

5. When Nancy said, “But it’s on the menu,” the waiter replied (in some form of Gypsy – Borat style): “Yeah, but this menu isn’t really from this restaurant.” It made me concerned when we actually ordered food.


6. Halfway through the meal, this Chinese gal bellied up to Kevin and BEGGED him to buy a fake, neon flower from her. When he never responded, she started tapping her ear and saying something in a blend of Chinese and Spanish. It was at this moment that I realized her teeth were straight up vampire. I named her “Mao Tse de la Vega.” Matt named her simply “Chompers.”

7. This gal came back 20 minutes later, speaking only to Kevin, stalking him like white on rice in a paper plate in a snow storm. It was hilarious.

8. 2 hours later, we were in Fatigas del Querer (Jenny – this is the FIRST PLACE you and I ever had a drink in Spain when we moved there April 21, 2007), and who walks in? CHOMPERS, BABY!!!!!! Honestly, she saw Kevin, and it was like the Ying and Yang uniting once again. I tried to say something, but I was laughing so hard that my knees almost buckled, and I just horse cackled. Chompers was just holding up three fingers and tapping her ear, smiling at Kevin the whole time. It was priceless.

And now I’m back in the hotel, ready to fire off a few emails (C-Web – you are on my list) before hitting the sack. Tomorrow is another big one, so I need to get my beauty sleep!

That’s all the news that’s fit to print. Chat tomorrow!


Sam & (the sexiest gal on earth whom he’s missing terribly!) Jenny

Monday, 14 September 2009

JT - Back at the local - MAGISTER!!!!


And a good evening to you from the Iberian Peninsula after another GREAT day in Europe! Today was a fantastic day in the office – I got a chance to practice my Spanish and even present! And for all the nay-sayers out there, I am happy to admit that there were more than a few times I had to finish a sentence in English, but on the whole, I was very pleased. However, toward the end, I could tell that my brain was starting to hurt.

After work, I caught a cab back to the hotel, where I ran a 5K on the treadmill!!! We are talking ZERO pain! I was so excited. While I ran, I caught the replay of Kim Clijsters beating the other gal (had to be Polish, but that name was IMPRESSIVE) at the final of the US Open. That definitely helped to pass the time. Dad, it pains me to admit it, and this by NO MEANS suggests I condone the same treatment and advice for Pattie Ruth, but it does appear that all I really needed to do was “Gut divorce it” (knock on wood). Tomorrow, if I get out in time, I really would like to hit the park and see how I fare on uneven ground. Also, JT and I want to look into some 5K’s in London now that I’m feeling better and that she’s joined a gym. She actually did something called “Cardio Body Attack” at the local gym tonight. Are you sore muffin puffin?

After showering, I met Kevin, Kunal, and Nancy (the King Donkey Matt Miller has still not arrived due to flight delays) in the lobby, and I took them to mine and Jenny’s favorite place in Santa Anna – MAGISTER!!!! This place has SUCH good food, is a fun atmosphere, and best of all…wait for it…wait for it…GERMAN STYLE BEER BREWED ON SITE!!! Muffin – you’ll be happy to know that I threw back 3 Rubia’s in your honor. SO GOOOOOOOOOOOD (Peppy Cheekies!!!), as well as some of our usual fare.

Now I’m back in the room, getting ready to check some email and call it a night. Oh, and I should mention that, after sawing through some SERIOUS horror fiction (The Exorcist, Red Dragon, and Hannibal, in that order), I am now back to the sexiest vampire on earth – Edward Cullen. I’m about 2/3 of the way through Eclipse (Book 3), and it’s still very entertaining! Yeah, I know, I know…SHUT IT UNC BOYS.

Okay, that’s all the news that’s fit to print. Chat tomorrow!


Sam (and by extension) Jenny

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Viva Espana!!!


And a good evening to you from across the Pond! Greetings from Espana, where I’m currently settled into the Westin Palace in Madrid (or Mad City, as they say here). This hotel is beautiful (I’ll take some pics to post this weekend, but the next 5 days will be sans photos, as I’m gonna have to blog off my work PC), and the location is unbeatable. It’s on the same street as the office, and it’s wedged between the Prado and the Thyssen art museums (with the other big one – Reina Sofia – just down the street. It’s also right beside Retiro Park, where I MIGHT try to go for a jog.

There’s good news on that front – I ran for 20 minutes without stopping on Friday! I ran 3 times last week and biked once, and I had virtually ZERO foot pain the entire time. I’m still going to make an appointment when I go home, but it honestly appears that, the faster I run, the more it’s like an “actual stride” and therefore hurts little to none. So fingers crossed! Miller – we might have to give it a dance at some point this week.

Last night was a BLAST. After the blog, Dann and Karin taught us a new card game – Hand and Foot. Bob and Jan – prepare yourselves! This is going to give “Oh Hell!” a run for it’s money as to the most played game come Christmas week. And don’t worry pumpkin – I promise we’ll be on the same team next time. No more peeking from me!

For those of you who don’t know the game (as I didn’t until last night) – it’s HILARIOUS. Point swings are in the thousands, it’s played with 4 decks, the red 3’s are worth NEGATIVE 1 thousand points…it’s GREAT. Every couple who comes to visit us – this is now on your itinerary. Consider this fair notice.

Today was a great (even if short) day with Dann, Karin, and Muffin Puffin. We hit this new placed called Hummus Brothers, and it was AMAZING. Hummus is used as the base of the dish, and then they fill it with chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, and other spices. You talk about QUALITY – I was a HUGE fan.

After that, Dann and Karin introduced us to Clark’s (a shoe manufacturer), and we’re now FANS FOR LIFE! Jenny got a cute leather purse (so I’ve now finally made good on her 3 year anniversary present), and we saw some really nice (and comfy) shoes that were recently priced. Yeah, I know, it doesn’t sound exciting. However, I might actually buy some “cool, smart casual” sneakers for a change (not that the Brooks and Saucony’s don’t currently rock the party that rocks the piñata).

After that it was off to Paddington Station, where I said buy to everyone and hopped the Heathrow Express to the airport. Honestly, it’s ALWAYS tough to leave Jenny, but this was the worst episode ever. I did NOT want to get on that train. But I’ll be home soon!

Okay, tomorrow starts two weeks worth of meetings, most of which this week will be largely in Spanish. My brain will hurt by the time I get on that plane Friday! Time to get a quick bite to eat and then hit the sack.

Okay, that’s all the news that’s fit to print. Or, as I should say in Espana: “Esta todas las noticias y annuncios que estan disponible para imprimir”. Hablamos manana!


(A very lonely) Sam and Jenny

Saturday, 12 September 2009

12,000 calories later...we're back at home...and STILL eating...


And a good evening to you from across the Pond on perhaps the prettiest Saturday we’ve had to date! Talk about perfect – 80 degrees, TONS of sun, and barely a cloud in the sky. I hope this trend continues!
So today we rolled out of bed around 9 AM and got cleaned up before rolling out of bed around 11 AM. We hit Ponti’s café (a little Italian joint), where we got some GREAT breakfast sandwiches (I went for mushroom, Swiss cheese, bacon, and GREAT bread) and ate them in route to the British Museum.

At the British Museum, I subjected the De La Rosa clan to my standard 90 minute tour, hitting the usual highlights (Dad and Co – you’ll remember this well):

1. Rosetta Stone

2. Elgin Marbles

3. Gate of Sargon I

4. Masoleum of Halikarnassos

5. Moai of Easter Island

6. Lewis Chessmen

7. Necronomicon

8. Cleopatra’s mummy

After that, they experienced their first Tube ride, rolling from Tottenham Court Road to St. Paul’s, where we showed them the London Stock Exchange, Temple Bar, Paternoster Square, and Jenny’s old office. From there, we walked to a long awaited (and long overdue) destination: Borough Market!

Okay, so for those of you who’ve never been there, Borough Market is the food market in London, and it’s AWESOME!!!! All over, you’ve got samples of food and fresh produce, cheese, meats, and breads, and the prices are honestly great (and negotiable – Dad, you’re be so proud of me – even if I didn’t tell them I was a teacher and wanted both the educator and the convention guest discount).

Today was a GREAT day to visit, as there were samples everywhere (lots of cheese, vinegars, breads, you name it). We picked up some cheese and “Mexican-spiced – no clue what that means” cashews, and they also let us sample white chocolate covered coconut squares and strawberry and white chocolate covered raspberries (off the chain!).

We also picked up some vino (in a plastic bottle because, well, we’re ALL CLASS) to sip on whilst we walk around.

We bought some cheese and figs before strolling over to the beer wharf, where we ordered bread with our drinks (I went for the Stigl – TASTY!) and then consumed about 85% of our cheese (along with some chorizo). That sent us back into the Market, where we bought MORE cheese, bread, olives stuffed with garlic, and some cherry tomatoes (“Have a BOWL of tomatoes, HAVE A BOWL!!!!!”). We then wandered home along the river (including going over the Wibbly, Wobbly Walkway) and home along Fleet Street and Strand.

After catching the Bakerloo line home, we picked up some vino and brewskis (Leffe, baby!), and we’re now sitting at home chillin’, preparing to eat some pasta (oh yeah, we bought that at the market as well) and have (still more) cheese. I mean, when you can’t buy “all you can eat fondue in Switzerland,” this IS a close second.

Okay, so it’s time for some drinking, eating, and learning a new card game (hand and foot – played with FOUR decks!).

That’s all the news that’s fit to print. GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO VOLS, BABY!!!!! Smash those Bruins!!!! And of course, GO HEELS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Even if this is the embarrassing part where I say I don’t know who the Heels are playing (CP – as well as the rest of the “Granville 6” – don’t yell at me – you know I love my alma mater!).

Chat tomorrow (from Madrid – so there could be a week’s picture hiatus, so you know)!


Sam and Jenny

P.S. Miller – Tuesday. You. Me. Athletico Madrid. Donkeys. It’s happening.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Introducing....Team De La Rosa!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


And a good evening to you from across the Pond on this fabulous Friday. Today was a GREAT day! We had some vacation to start, we got a lot accomplished, Jenny had a great first week at work, and we’ve got Friends in town!

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you………..Karin and Dann (yep - 2 n's) De La Rosa! Karin used to be Jenny’s manager many moons ago. They are spending a month in Europe bouncing around, and (lucky for us) one of their stops was the Smoke!

Last night we chatted till about 1, drinking Cobra and…oh, how it pains me to say it…..Bulmer’s Pear Cider (Karin only, for the record). It was great to see them and catch up – we’re looking forward to a fun weekend!
So tonight we started at the local, where we met a seriously CRAZY CAT - Ryan, the ex-Marine who was born in 1 of 17 Cold Wars (he changed his birth date about 20 times). In the end, I think we confirmed he was born in 1948 during the British section of the Korean War (I didn't ask questions because I thought he might snap my neck with his thumb or drown me in ink from 1 of his 64 tatoos).
He preceded to hit on Jenny and Karin for about 20 minutes while Dann and I tried to translate what the hell this guy was saying (seriously - it was NOT English). He then tried to convince Dann and I to visit Bangkok (without our wives - his quote - "it will be more fun that way..." - WOW).
After that (and Karin trying Scrumpy's for the first time), we went down to St. Christopher's Place, where we had a GREAT meal at Sofra (we got free wine since we had to wait for a table!). And now we're back at the flat, sipping on Kronie's and chatting about life. Another great day!
Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Sorry so short, but I want to hang out with our peeps! Chat tomorrow!

Sam and Jenny

Thursday, 10 September 2009

We are...we are...the Guardians of the Oracle...


And a good evening to you from across the Pond. Okay, so it’s not as exciting as the “Globo-gym Purple Cobras”, but the subject line is the best I’ve got (and besides, at Globo Gym - we're better than you...and we KNOW IT!!!). No more Germany stories tonight, but it was another great day (both at work and beyond).

Apologies in advance for being brief, but we’ve got company (surprise! They came in early – you’ll have to wait tomorrow for pictures and a proper introduction!), and I’m anxious to chat to our first guests!

So tonight, after a great day at work, I rolled to “The Loose Cannon,” where I attended my first “pub quiz night” of our expat engagement. Talk about an absolute hoot!
This place was great - set underneath the Cannon Street Bridge. It was a cavernous space, and I arrived to a rowdy crowd in a space set with about 20 tables.
So we roll in there, Jenny introduces me to the gang, and then the following revelations occur to me:

1. There is an open bar – and I mean OPEN. For 4 hours. No AFD today!

2. There is a waitress (which you NEVER have in the UK – EVER). You still don't tip, so EVEN BETTER.

3. There’s even a buffet (even if it’s a burger that’s been cooked from now until Rapture). Seriously - picture well done and then cook it another 6 hours and then put in a sauna for 14 weeks - THAT'S how cooked it was. And let's be clear - by buffet, we mean fries (which they call chips), uber-cooked burgers, and some cold spring rolls (filled with corn, I think...).

2 minutes later, I’m on my first pint with cats I don’t know. 5 minutes later, I’m getting my TEETH KICKED IN at a round of trivia I KNOW NOTHING ABOUT (shops outside of a certain Tube Stop in London, in case you’re curious), but I’m knee-deep into a Kroenenburg, so I’m not terribly upset.
Long story short - we didn't win, but we didn't win the "Wooden Spoon Award" (dead last) either, which was an achievement.
The categories tonight:
1. Shops beside the office where Jenny works (and I've NEVER seen or been to).
2. Bank of America and Merrill Lynch History (none of which is relevant to Americans or can be found in the museum).
3. "Famous" people (all Brits that's you've NEVER heard of, and then...wait for it...wait for it...BARRY OBAMA - Sean and Ray - he said to tell you guys hello and that he just bought a) a John Deere for mowing and b) a can of white paint. It's close - I promise...
Okay, so a little bit about the photo. This is Jenny’s old Finance Team from our time here in 2007. I met them all once, which basically meant that I had to be reintroduced to all of them. And for the record, they said they couldn’t tell a difference between mine and Jenny’s accent. That’s right, dad – they ALSO think I’m citified…

So the guy on the far left is Steve – he’s the only guy that actually works in the building which served as the source of all the questions.

Beside him is Adriana – she was quiet as a church mouse until the Formula-1 question came up, at which point she suddenly became the font of all knowledge. She’s Brazilian, and apparently the dude in question was as well. All I could think to myself was “Matt Kenseth could kick that guy’s as$$.”

The gal at the end of the table is Bev – no, sh’e not an Mi-6 assassin – she just didn’t want to be in the photo.

Then you’ve got Bob – he ROLLED through the picture piece and some of the sports stuff – full marks. Tom – now’s a good time to tell you that I MISSED who won this year’s Tour de France. And did you know there is a POLKA DOT JERSEY? Really? REALLY?

Then, of course, there is all that is right and good with the world – my muffin puffin – who served as the scribe for the team.
It was a blast, and we left there to meet our guests (who I'm still not introducing...yes, I know I'm evil...let the drama build until tomorrow).
Okay, sorry so short, but it's 12:30 and I've GOT to go to bed (don't worry, work family, I'll be just as productive as I always am...please keep the jokes to a minimum...).
That's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!
Sam and Jenny

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

And finally - the third installment of the trip...


And a good evening to you from across the Pond after another fantastic day in the Mother Country. Okay – time to wrap up the trip with Round III of the Taylor vacation recap.

Disclaimer: Tom Price has asked me to inform you all that tonight’s blog is brought to you by Plavix – the wonder drug that cleans out arteries when you are spineless and don’t have the willpower to ever eat a fruit or vegetable during your ENTIRE vacation – pick some up today!

We now return to our regularly scheduled program - already in progress...

Day 9: So today went for the “Golden Round Trip,” which basically entails selling body parts to pay for a wonderful day out in Lucerne. After getting the usual Pretzel covered in cheese, salami, and cream cheese (that’s right folks – you can just call me the European Richard Simmons), we hopped aboard a ship for a 90 minute cruise on Lake Lucerne. Yes, that's right Kim, Sean, Ray, Shogun, and Megs, I was ON A BOAT!!!! I hope that, at this time, you weren't at Kinko's makin' copies...

The day was beautiful, and we had seats on the outside, meaning that we could watch as the pre-Alps and the “real” Alps sailed by in the distance. We made a few stops at small harbor villages, admiring the mountains and the scenery the whole time. All in all, I knew that we were in for a perfect day…

Next up was the arrival at Alpnachstad, where we boarded (apparently) the world’s steepest cog railway. T-bone – didn’t Royal Gorge say the EXACT same thing? Hmmmmm – all the same, I’m gonna side with these guys, as we tackled 27-48% grades for 30 minutes before making it to the top of Lucerne – Mt. Pilatus.

As I referenced earlier, the day was still GORGEOUS. The Lake fading into the distance as we ascend, rocky cliffs all around, and even shaggy cows with their cow bells clanging on all sides (Dinger – we STILL need more Cow Bell – and an update…). As we continued the climb, I was at peace. And that’s when I first felt the chilly alpine air and noticed a faint sliver of cloud on our right hand side.

This was followed by another cloud. Which was followed by a slightly larger one. Which was then followed by A COMPLETE AND TOTAL WHITE OUT LIKE SOMETHING FROM A STEPHEN KING NOVEL THAT WAS NOT ON THE RADAR WHEN WE STARTED THE MORNING’S JOURNEY. In other words, we were TOTALLY socked in.

What did we see from 7000 feet, ringed by the Alps on all sides? Well, first there was the trick of FINDING my wife. Here she is staggering out of the mist, either like an Angel descending from Heaven or the fisherman dude from “I Know What You Did Last Summer.”

And from the summit – here is the view that tells the WHOLE story. Actually, not the WHOLE story, because it was also raining and bloody FREEZING up there. But at least we saw the world’s longest Alpine horn (RIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIICOLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!!) and some Alpine Sheep (ours are cooler in the states – bigger horns) before turning back for home.

On the way down, we rode a cable car that broke through the fog to reveal a gorgeous day. And whilst we didn’t get the great views we wanted at the summit, the views from here were spectacular. Best of all, we got to ride Switzerland’s longest summer toboggan run (that enough qualifying superlatives for you?). Dude – this was AWESOME – we rolled down this thing and had a blast. 2 instructions were given: Speed up…and slow down (we did a lot more of the former). This was WELL WORTH 8 francs.

We then decided to be adventurous in the sunshine and walk down to the next hamlet before catching the final leg of the cable car. The journey started out nice…for about 12 steps. At that point, we descended like Banshees into the pits of Hell. I mean, for crying out loud, the Eiger isn’t this steep. My legs are STILL sore from the drop.

And best of all, about 100 feet further, the trail splits THREE WAYS WITH NO SIGN. Is anyone around? Nope. Are there any markings? Of course not! You’re getting back to nature – why would you want a guide?

45 minutes later we are still walking straight down (after 2 dead ends into some Blair Witch Project buildings) along a BIKE PATH with NO view of the cable car. And then, just when I had given up, we saw a sign that said “Wanderweg” (pathway). 2 minutes later, there were more signs than slot machines in Vegas. Swiss tourism board – ya might want to work on that one…unless you’re just trying to feed critters in the Alps with tourists.

Once back in Lucerne, it was back to the Rathaus for some more Rathaus Pilsner and then over to another Italian joint before calling it a night. A GREAT DAY!

Day 10: Today we wandered around Lucerne for the final time, stopping again at the Lion Monument and doing some shopping before taking a final few (like 600) photos. It was a cloudless day, and we didn’t want to leave! However, Zurich beckoned, and so we hopped a 2:10 train for Switzerland’s center of commerce.

Zurich is a very big city, and there really wasn’t much to do. We hit a few churches, wandered down past the water, and even into a festival that felt like Rosenheim (I got excited and instantly started singing “Sweet Caroline,” but I quit abruptly when everyone else was silent and rocking out to “Saxophone Attack”).

The highlight, however, was going to the Zurich Observatory and having a drink at the Jules Verne Bar, where we had the CHOICE table and a great view of the city. That night we followed a local’s advice and went to Johanniter, where I had a GREAT dinner of hash browns, bacon, tons of cheese, and fried eggs. Yes, I realize that might sound like breakfast to you. But I’m European now – that’s how we roll (Rice – for the record – it was good, but it still wasn’t the Rice casserole).

Day 11: We had planned to have a nice “sit down” brekkie this day, but the cost of $30 a person for coffee and bread just didn’t sit right with us. The fallback? Send muffin puffin into the local grocery store, have her buy 2 wheels of cheese and two packages of sausage, and then wash it all down with a huge pretzel roll whilst sitting with coffee at Starbucks – the result was a pair of smiling (and stuffed) tourists and a HUGE cost savings.
Then it was off to the airport and back to London, where we had curries and Cobras to celebrate the return to the mother country.

Okay, that’s the trip in a nut shell. Tomorrow will be back to normal stuff (I’m sure you’re thrilled, C-Web). If it’s any consolation, I’ll be in Madrid next week, and there should be some GREAT stories that come out of that.

That’s all the news that’s fit to print. Chat tomorrow!

Sam and Jenny

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Continuing the March Through our Vacation...


And a good evening to you from across the Pond after another GREAT day in the Mother Country. Okay, so I promised you guys the next section of the trip in tonight’s blog, so let’s get to it:

Day 5: We got up early this morning, had the usual cup of coffee and pretzel smothered in enough cheese to kill a small horse, and then caught an early train to Berchtesgaden. There we spent a few hours wandering around the old city before joining with our tour to cross off another of my life’s to-do’s: Hitler’s Eagle's Nest.

Folks randomly joining me from a search on Google for “Wicked Good Eagle’s Nest Tours,” allow me to HIGHLY endorse David and Christine Harper. Married 20 years, they’ve been running this tour the entire time. The tour was 4 hours, and it DID NOT DISAPPOINT. We drove through Obersalzburg (the Nazi stronghold below the Eagles Nest), seeing sights like the remains of the Platterhof Hotel (where Hitler composed Mein Kampf) and the hill where the US flag was raised on 5 April 1945. We toured the “secret” Nazi bunkers where Hitler and company had planned to go underground and finish the war. And then, at the end, on a cloudless day overlooking the Alps, the Konigsee (local glacial lake), and the city of Salzburg, we arrived at the Eagle's Nest.

It was built as a “tea room” for Hitler and as a 50th birthday present. However, because he was AFRAID OF HEIGHTS, he only visited this spot 14 times. Considering that the current cost of the land and materials is $140 Million USD, that basically equates to a $10 million dollar cup of tea. Personally, I’m just glad he sunk his money here vs. into a Manhattan project or the NY bomber…

After that, we caught a bus to Salzburg, where we had dinner (aka about 40 pounds of pork, sausage, and beer) under the light of a full moon below the shadows of the largest preserved fortress in Central Europe. All in all, this was a GREAT DAY.

Day 6: Today we encountered our first real jackass of the trip – Gunter. Unfortunately, Gunter was also our tour guide for the day. He basically chewed us out (in poor English) for drinking coffee in his van when he came to pick us up, and then he blew a gasket when I refused to throw mine away after he’d “let” me drink it for another 30 seconds. My response back to him when he threw his arms up at me probably didn’t help, but the damage was done…

So today we toured he Berchtesgaden Salt Mines. Yep, that’s right, we toured SALT MINES. But seriously, it was hilarious. We got to go down “salt slides,” sailed on a mirror lake, dressed in ridiculous gear, and rode what can only be described as a “Disney style ride” to and from the mines. It was fun.

The rest of the time with Gunter, however, was donkey trash. He made us stop for lunch for an hour (NOT on the trip plan) BACK in Berchtesgaden and ended up leaving us with a lot of time sitting around before asking for tips from us at the end. Rice – I contemplated giving him your tip of “Don’t eat yellow snow,” but instead I just visualized the muffler in his van falling off on the way home. Mom – I know you’re so proud…

We spent the rest of that day touring the old city, going through churches and the catacombs before finally going to the Fortress at the top of the city. The views from here were ABSOLUTELY spectacular, and we spent hours just looking out over the (rather large) city of Salzburg. We then went on a RIDICULOUS journey through time and space in search of a working monastery that happened to double as a working brewery – the Augustiner Brau.

Seriously – I no longer have to take the Trans-Siberian railway now because we basically WALKED TO MONGOLIA TO FIND THIS PLACE. We actually left the city of Salzburg on the walk, arriving in the metropolis of Mulln (that’s right – no vowel at the end).

This place, however, DID NOT DISAPPOINT. It’s a self service place, and so you grab a mug, pay for a liter, and then 10 seconds later you’re drinking the aqua vitae that the monks brewed earlier that day. Top it off with a 2 POUND PORK KNUCKLE for 12 Euro, and you’ve got yourself a life changing experience. Another GREAT day in the books.

Day 7: So I woke up excited about this day – a train ride through the Alps! I could just picture me sitting beside Jason Bourne, looking out at the snow covered Alps on all sides and plotting Coughlin’s demise while Noa Vossa tracked us down. Well let me spoil this one for you – I’d rather you shoot me in the face than put me back on that train. Key points:

1. This isn’t some romantic cruise. You are wedged into a compartment with NO AIR and 6 seats.

2. Odds are the dude beside you did NOT bathe. In our case, homeboy had most likely NEVER seen soap.

3. Nobody talks on this train – you sit there in silence, trying not to throw up from the combination of heat, dehydration, and motion on the train. If I hadn’t had my all-healing Volunteer “Power T” shirt on, I might not have made it out alive.

It was worth it, however, when we rolled into the city that will forever live as a postcard in my dreams: Lucerne. WOW – everywhere you look is just beautiful. The old city, the wooden bridges, the water tower, the clear water, the swans, the mountains – all culminate in a PERFECT way to end the trip.

This night, JT and I had to have fondue. And we got it all right, in the form of ALL YOU CAN EAT SWISS CHEESE. While I can’t confirm, I’m thinking we ate around 4 pounds of cheese (that’s right – FOUR POUNDS – YOU CAN’T RUN FROM THIS PARAGON OF FITNESS, BABY). What did we dip with, you ask? Why, nothing more than UNLIMITED POTATOES AND BREAD. Yes, we currently have more carbs in our system than in the entire region of Tuscany.

Day 8: We walked the old city today, crossing off another of life’s to-do’s: The Lion of Lucerne. I have wanted to see this thing for 14 years (since I’ve known about its existence), and it was simply beautiful. Seeing it in the rain was appropriate, as the sadness conveyed is heavy and profound, and I was so glad to find it left its mark on me as a monument that lived up to its billing.

That evening we hit the Rathaus Brewery on the water, where we had a GREAT view of the Chapel Bridge and the Water Tower. This was the best beer we had on the trip – so good that we went BACK the next night.

Now, in a less than exotic evening, we skipped “traditional Swiss fare” and opted for Italian. Why you ask? BECAUSE SWITZERLAND IS REDONKULOUSLY EXPENSIVE. Like Iceland, we were well behaved with the booze because, well, we didn’t have any choice and I didn’t want to sell our condo back home upon our return. Pizza, side salads, and 2 beers at the Swiss version of Pizza Hut? Try 80 bucks, brother. Yeah…exactly.

Okay, I’ll give you guys the final leg tomorrow, but for now it’s time to sign off. That’s definitely all the news that’s fit to print – Chat tomorrow!


Sam and Jenny

P.S. Jenny had her first day of work with her new group today – she liked it! Good news all around!

Monday, 7 September 2009

Nachdem eine Reise durch Deutschland...WE'RE BACK!!!!


We’re back!!!!! And a good evening to you from across the Pond. I hope that everyone is doing well and having a FANTASTIC Labor Day weekend. Today found us back at home after 11 days on the road in the continent, and I have to tell you – WHAT AN AMAZING TIME WE HAD.

Okay, I figure the best way to do this without the entire readership getting bored and running off is to break it into chunks, so today we’ll cover the Munich leg of the trip. And so, without further ado:

First off, Rice – you were 100% spot on – Bavaria is pretty much my vision of Heaven. Perfect weather, friendly people, great food, and FANTASTIC BEER. For those of you have visited (or lived there before in the case of the Shogun) Bavaria, I’m sure you’ll agree. For those of you that don’t know, here are some of the key points:

1. There are 6 breweries in Munich – yes, that is DEADLY.

2. Food in Munich is exactly what you think of when you think of Germany – 47 different kinds of sausages and a meatloaf that is…well, a huge hunk of meat in the shape of a loaf of bread (leberkase….ummmmmm…).

3. There are beer gardens EVERYWHERE, and you just belly up to a table and start chatting with the cats beside and in front of you (and don’t worry, they all speak English).

4. The Glockenspiel “performance” is like ten minutes long. By the time it’s over, your neck is BROKEN from looking up.

Okay, let’s start with (a messy) day one. We caught a 4:45 taxi for the airport, and we were on the ground in Munich by 10. After checking into the hotel, we followed brother Riegel’s advice and hit the Viktualenmarkt, which is basically their open food market. After some leberkase with sweet mustard and bratwurst (and beer, of course), we wandered to one of the most famous (and touristy) spots in Munich – the Hofbrau Haus. There we jammed with the band and hung out with our new local friend Edmund, who proudly told us that “the Smithsonian in DC has nothing on the Deutches Museum.” Well, I’ll tell you one damn thing the Deutches Museum has that the Smithsonian doesn’t – an EIGHTEEN EURO PRICE TAG. Thanks, but I’ll stick to the dinosaur bones I can see for free.

After 2 liters of Hof brau (3 so far for the day), we went to the Englischer Gardens and the Chinese Tower, which is apparently the second largest park in the world. There, we walked through the naked meadow (that’s right – as in NO CLOTHES), where I saw some images I won’t be able to carve from my memory even with a cranial saw. The key point to note here – THERE ARE NO FEMALE SUPERMODELS IN THE NAKED MEADOW – ONLY A TON OF DUDES WHO LOVE THE FACT THAT THEY CAN BE NAKED WITHOUT BEING THROWN IN JAIL WHERE OTHER PEOPLE WILL PROBABLY LIKE TO SEE THEM NAKED. Let’s just say I thought about stripping down myself because I knew the “spare tire” would NOT have been the least attractive feature there.

At the Chinese Tower, I went to get MORE BEER and came back to find this dude hitting on Jenny. When I sat down (thereby confirming she WASN’T LYING ABOUT HAVING A HUSBAND), the dude didn’t go away but preceded to talk to us for another 20 minutes. Classic. The Germans claim to be very tolerant – good thing I was as well.

By the time we’d left the gardens, we’d had 5 liters of beer. That’s right – picture a 2 liter Diet Coke, and fill it with strong beer. We’d had two and a half of those when we decided to walk home in a new city without a map. The result? We showed up BACK AT OUR TABLE AN HOUR LATER and had to take a cab home. As we neared our hotel, the cabbie said, “I know a great brewery where you can get good food and beer.” Five minutes later, we were at the Augustiner Brau, where we had another liter of beer and more sausage. Yeah, we slept pretty good that night…

The next day found us up early (believe it or not) and out to BMW World. This place was great – I got to drive a simulator 4 wheel drive in snow in the Bavarian Alps, sit on some of the motor cycles, and see tons of really, really expensive cars.
It was “delivery day,” where folks from the states fly over to Munich and pick up their cars. They then have 14 days to drive around Europe, at which point they leave their cars at the nearest airport, fly home, and then have the car shipped to them. Yeah, it’s a pretty sweet deal.

After that, we toured the Olympic Village, site of the 1972 Summer Games. The Highlights included walking onto the pitch where the 1974 World Cup was played and seeing the pool where Mark Spitz won 7 Gold Medals (now a public pool for 3 Euros a day). It was a really¸ really neat tour.

Throw in a crepe and a visit to the Olympic tower to view the city, and you have a recipe for success. We hit the Lowenbrau Brewery that night and then had dinner under the Glockenspiel in Marianplatz. All in all, another GREAT day.

The next day saw the two extremes of German history. We started at Dachau. I think Brother Riegel summed it up best when he said “A sobering memorial to some of the darkest days of humanity’s history.” Not much else to add to that – I’m really glad I went, and I hope to never go back.

What followed, however, will definitely be a repeat at some point in our lives. On the Shogun’s suggestion, JT and I hopped a train with the locals and found our way to Rosenheim, Germany, site of “Herbstfest” and the second biggest beer fest in Deutschland. Gang, this was AWESOME – talk about a truly hilarious time. First we hit up the Auer Brau tent, where Jenny made some new friends. And Sean & Ray, you’ll be happy to know that the old Macguyver looking dude thinks that Obama is a “great man who will fix all.” I’m not sure what “all” entails, but he was too happy for me to harsh his mellow. However, I did get his address to ask about your respective fences and lawns. I’ll let you know when I get a response...

After the Auer Brau tent, we rolled over to the Flotzinger Brau tent, where we found a much younger (and rowdier) crowd. These cats knew how to party, and they knew the words to EVERY song that the massive band played. I will say that, at one point, they played Sweet Caroline, and I was clearly the ONLY CAT IN THE JOINT that had ever heard it. Carolina people (both North and South) – it was a disappointment to be the only person in a tent of 5 thousand saying “Bum-Bum-Bum-Good times never seems so good-SO GOOD-SO GOOD-SO GOOD!” But such is life…

The next day was back into the city, where we saw the Glockenspiel go, went up the Frauenkirche, went into Peterkirche (kirche=church), ate at the Viktualenmarkt again, hit the garden again (even more naked dudes this time – I will never recover), saw the surfers on the Isa River (you have to see it to believe it), hit the Hofbrau Haus, and finally had dinner at the Lowenbrau Keller before rolling home to pack and sleep.

I’ll give you the next 4 days (and maybe even the rest of the trip) tomorrow, but I figure you’ve had enough for tonight.

So that’s DEFINITELY all the news that’s fit to print. Chat tomorrow! It’s great to be home! Bring on the payroll implementation (and new job for muffin puffin)!


Sam and Jenny