Tuesday, 25 May 2010

The return of hope can be spelled with 3 letters: N-H-S...


And a GREAT evening to you from across the Pond after another GREAT DAY in the Mother Country. Okay, first off, let's give props where props are due - Steve Markham, day in and day out you've changed your profile picture (love some Anchorman, by the way). This is an impressive display and commitment to the readership faithful's entertainment - full marks. Dinger - I'm callin' you out. You were the prototype, but you've since gone soft. Time to step up or look like Chris Paul during the last NBA season. Just sayin'...

So to recap on two days with momma in the Mother Country, let's start with Monday...

Monday: And so begins the love affair with socialized healthcare...

So a little backstory here - Mum's knee has been hurting for about a month now, but I wasn't aware until Sunday how bad the pain was. Granted, she's a warrior, but the pain and the sheer amount of walking in Europe was proving too be a lot for her knee. Given that, we decided to avail of the UK medical system and see if we could do something for her.
After waking at 9:15, we had a quick brekkie at Pont's cafe (total donkey behavior from them this past time - I will NOT be back) before rolling over to a walk-in clinic. The fee was supposed to be 50 quid, but the nurse came to the waiting room and told us that she couldn't help us and that we should go down the street to University College Hospital (UCH). And so began what can only be described as a wonderful experience with free healthcare.

We rocked up to the Emergency Room, where I parked mom in the waiting room and supplied her information. 20 minutes later she was in triage. 1 hour later she had a consultation with a doctor. And 10 minutes after that, she was walking out the door without dropping a cent - hellllllloooooooooo Obamacare!!!!!

And the best part - the doctor told her that she couldn't give her a cortizone shot, but she could give her pain medication. When mom told the doc that she was allergic to codeine, the doctor simply said, "Oh, well we'll just give you morphine then." That's right - MORPHINE. I mean, these cats don't play.

Granted, I did have to pay for the prescription. The going rate of 30 capsules of MORPHINE in the UK? SEVEN POUNDS. That's right - $10 USD will buy you all the narcotic you need for a spin around the continent. I mean, let's face it, she can use it all before Amsterdam - she should feel no pain there...JUST KIDDING, MOMMA!

We brought her home after that and let her rest before I went for a run (5th day straight!) in the park. After that, we rolled over to La Tasca, where we KILLED some food. We are talking TEN TAPAS good here. It was AWESOME. All in all, this was a GREAT day, and best of all, mum was feeling better. I gotta tell you - we were concerned on Sunday. However, after the meds, another day of sunshine, and some rest, we were in a MUCH better place. Truthfully, we felt that hope was restored and that mom could complete the journey.

Tuesday: A pile of rocks and a pair of pints...
So today was another great day. Due to straining my ankle a bit from running, I took today off. Mum, however, was feeling GREAT and rolled over to Baker Street just before 8 AM to catch her tour bus for the day. Destination? Stonehenge and Bath. All in all, mum had a great day - check her out on the Salisbury plains! She even got in a Sally Lunn Bun (Steve and Sara - that's a shout out to you guys)!
For me, it was a busy but VERY productive day. After work, I popped over to All Bar One with 3 of the work peeps to have a farewell drink before bidding them adieu. It's the last time I'll see Rob and Carolyn (in a work capacity, at least), and so we wanted to grab a final drink to celebrate surviving the project and even enjoying the ride. Kat was there as well, but I'll see her tomorrow. :-) As for Lord - sorry, brother! Next time I'll keep the BB out and handy...

Dinner tonight was The Real Greek, which was AWESOME. We ate about 14,000 times our body weight in food, and I loved EVERY SECOND OF IT. Add in a glass of white wine and having my girls with me, and you have a recipe for a GREAT night.
Also, WARNING: There will be NO BLOG for the next 6 days. The next post will be Tuesday, 1 June. Why? Because the Taylors are going to ROME, BABY!!!!! VENI, VEDI, VECCI!!!! Bring on the gelatto!

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

Sam and Jenny (and Mum)

Monday, 24 May 2010

Plan B is for Beer...

And a good morning to you from across the Pond on this sunny Monday in the Mother Country. We've got another gorgeous day brewing! And as I'm off today to tool around the city with mum, I thought I'd get a blog entry done whilst she showered.

So when we left you yesterday, we were en route to Borough Market. The journey was smooth and life was good until we actually arrived at London Bridge and walked into the market square, only to discover THE MARKET DOESN'T RUN ON SUNDAY. I had pinned 14,000 calories worth of dreams to this, so it was quite heart-breaking.

That being said, to quote my esteemed uncle and talented musician Benny Wilson: "Plan B is for Beer (kudos to Jenny for making this our toast)." We walked back to the Barrow Boy & Banker (yep - same spot we watched the Grand National), where we tucked in to some proper British food. JT and I rolled through pies, while mom took down some fish and chips. And for the record - that Honeydew is Jenny's. I went with a Chiswick - a mistake I will NOT make again.

After that we walked across London Bridge, reveling in the heat and getting a glimpse of the Tower Bridge, St. Paul's, and the Wharf. We then saw the Monument to the Great Fire (CP and Cat - you've opened up a whole new world to us on that one!) before rolling over to Tower Hill and seeing the Tower of London. More importantly, we got some great shots of the Tower Bridge - talk about a PERFECT day for photos!

We then headed home for a bit, where Muffin got a swim in and I managed a run. WOW - talk about warm out there! However, it felt really good to pound the pavement a final time, so I was very happy about that.

We then got out for dinner at Zizzi, where we had a FABULOUS table by the door which let plenty of air in. We ate like kings, and I am more fired up about meals in Italy now than EVER before. And speaking of eating, it's breakfast time here, so I'm gonna hop off, get my shower, and get going.
Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!


Sam and Jenny

Sunday, 23 May 2010

A PERFECT sunny day...for shopping with the girls...


And a good morning to you on a PERFECT, sunny Sunday in the Mother Country. At least, it looks that way from out our window, as Muffin and I did NOT get out of bed this morning to run. Granted, we pulled off 3 straight days of running, but based on the food consumption from last night, I am once again behind schedule.

So yesterday was awesome. We started at the Prince Regent at 11 AM, where we treated mum to her first Full English Breakfast. Dude, let me tell you, after that run, I absolutely KILLED some food. It was SO GUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUD (peppy cheekies). Also, Yazz, we got a photo of your (not so) secret admirer - we now know his name is Louis...
After that, we came home for a bit so momma could rest her knee before heading out for the featured activity of the afternoon - shopping (sorry, Hitman, not for me...). Prior to heading out, mom rested for a bit while JT and I rolled over to Regent Park for a wander along the river and the athletic fields. It was crazy - the fields were RAMMED with people. IT FINALLY FEELS LIKE SUMMER!!!!
So we wandered around for about an hour before coming home, where we picked up mom and rolled over to Oxford Street, where mom and JT began their assault on ZARA and H & M. We spent an hour at each place, breaking up the shopping with 2 pints at Pontefract Castle (um, you know what we had). And whilst my wallet is now lighter (though just barely - my Muffin can sniff out a deal!), I must confess that I had an absolute BLAST. And best of all - JT looks HOT in her new clothes!

Dinner that night was Ozer, where we had a GREAT Merlot and rolled through some delicious food (stuffed peppers for this cat - DELISH). We then had a wander back home, where we passed out around 12:30 (after watching "Swordfish" :-)).

We're now getting ready to go. Next stop - BOROUGH MARKET, BABY!!!!!!

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


Sam and Jenny

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Catch-up Blog #5 and (Finally!) back to even: MOMMA ARRIVES!!!!!!

And a GREAT Saturday morning to you from across the Pond on a terrific, sunny morning in the mother country. We ran this morning! Yes, fresh off having about 57 people tell me how much weight I'd gained and that I'd clearly been a recipient of at least 4 "Heathrow Injections," I am on a new kick to burn as many calories as humanly possible before returning back home.
And so, for the recap that will (FINALLY) bring us even with today, I present to you: "The Beginnings of Mum's European Adventure."
Wednesday: Airport Rendevous
So I made it to the airport with no trouble and was THRILLED to see that everything was still on time. I was honestly less concerned about my flight than mum's (she had 2 connections, the first in CLT), but luckily the flight from Knoxville arrived 5 minutes early. Consequently, I was there to pick up the first "papparazzi" photo of her arrival!
As fate would have it, we were both on the D Concourse (she was heading up to Philly first), so we headed up that way, secured a Diet Coke, and then put mom on her flight up to the City of Brotherly Love (and CRAP airport food). And seriously, while I'm here - US Air is now CHARGING to pick your seat - $5 a head. Really? REALLY? I mean, if you were DonkeyAir or DoorknobJet then maybe I could see it, but REALLY? THE LARGEST US DOMESTIC CARRIER CHARGING FOR SEATS? The word....would be....DONKEY TRASH.

But mom got away safely, and I then headed over to D10 to board my flight, which, I am happy to report, was perhaps THE BEST flight I've ever had overnight. I had 2 glasses of Merlot, a GREAT Port (Carter's, these cats DEFINITELY knew the Bishop of Norwich), and even a Vodka & tonic. I think I'm starting to get the hang of mixing and pacing...hey - it's an art, not a science. And best of all, I even got about 3 hours of sleep!

So we rolled into the UK on time and cleared customs no problem. Knowing that I was a few hours ahead of mom's arrival, I went for a jog (that's right, a JOG - I told you, you're all in my head now). I logged about 30 minutes, FINALLY getting out to Regent's Park and getting to the top of Primrose Hill. MAN, am I out of shape. I haven't huffed and puffed that hard since doing the mile in high school. Oh well, gotta start somewhere.

Mom rolled in about 1, and she was TIRED. I have a GREAT photo of her stepping off the elevator, but as both mom and Jenny have veto privileges on the blog, that image is not allowed to see the light of day. Instead, we got mom some Pret (Sophie - just go ahead and picture me butchering the pronunciation) and I then put mom to bed, where she slept for 2.5 hours (Hitman - she LOVES THE MATTRESS PAD).

After closing down the work day, we rolled over to St. Christopher's Place, where MUFFIN PUFFIN MET US!!!!! RE-U-NI-TED, and it feels, so guuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuud...

We had some GREAT pasta and a glass of wine (not mom, of course :-)) before heading back home and making an early night of it. I was PASSED OUT by 9:30 and snoring in about 30 seconds. I always enjoy that first sleep after the Transatlantic flight - stuff of legends.

Friday: Mom - meet Indian food. Indian food - meet Mom. You kids play nice...

So both JT and I were in the Wharf on Friday, and it was a very productive day at work. The early highlight was the 2.5 miles on the treadmill. Short, I know, but it was a) an 8 minute mile pace, and b) the FIRST TIME I'VE RUN ON CONSECUTIVE DAYS SINCE APRIL OF 2009. The sad part was saying goodbye to Carolina. That's right, folks, after a year of working together, the Venezuelan Fireball is rolling off my project and taking a month's vacation. We did get a photo on her camera, so I'll have to add that to the blog once she sends it to me. We'll miss you, gal. Thanks again for everything!!!

JT and I then braved the 16,000 degree Tube ride home, where mum was already dressed and waiting. In fact, in her infinite real estate wisdom, she's found a "Househunters" equivalent in the UK - CLASSIC!
The weather was AMAZING, the sun was shining, Puffin had new clothes from Primark (tops for 1.50 GBP! THAT'S MY GIRL!!!!), and we felt it crucial that mom experience an essential component of the Taylor Friday - drinks at a pub. And so we rolled to the Mason's Arms, where we were disappointed to find both Timmy Taylor AND Deuchar's off. WHAT THE !#@$#@$!!!!

Given that I was in no mood for Spitfire, we rolled over to the Marylebone, where we had some Sagres (water for mum) and stood outside, enjoying the sun and basking in the surprise of having my mom here! It's really crazy, and I LOVE showing her my hood.

Then, ready for food, we rolled over to the Taylor staple - The Rajdoot, baby!!! OH, YEAH!!! And sure enough, I am VERY pleased to report that mom now LOVES Indian food! Pooh, you've got a new cuisine you can try next time! Mom went for the Passanda, which was AMAZING. We also threw in some Saag Panir and Onion Banjee's, as well as our usual foolishness (no one tried my Vindaloo). Mom did try lime pickle, and that about put her over the top. Consequently, we kept her away from my dish.

We then headed home and had a GREAT evening relaxing, listening to music, and chatting about everything and nothing.

And so, here we are at 9:50 AM on Saturday morning, 3.6 miles already in the books and about to wake mom from her slumber. But before I leave, I must say CONGRATS to my (GENIUS) cousin Bryan West and his fiancee Nicole Paraggio, as TODAY IS THEIR WEDDING DAY!!!!! Congrats, guys - SO HAPPY FOR YOU!!!!
Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!
Sam and Jenny

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Catch-up Blog #4: Adventures from the Ash Cloud...


And a good evening to you from…wait for it…wait for it…ACROSS THE POND!!!! That’s right – my dear friends in the Civil Aviation Authority and at US Airways were determined to get me back to my muffin puffin and home in time for mum’s visit! And so, here I am, currently typing away on the Gatwick Express.

Okay, so today’s blog will recount the adventures due to the Ash Cloud, meaning my time in CLT from Sunday afternoon until Wednesday. Tomorrow’s blog will feature today and Friday, at which point I’ll be caught up. A word of warning in advance to the Readership faithful – the next couple of weeks could be patchy blogging due to lots of visitors and some travel (insert Tom Price and Christine Weber saying “What else is new?” right here).

Sunday: On time…on time…on…oh, wait…

So when I last left you, my mum, dad, and I had spent a FANTASTIC Sunday afternoon hanging out, and mom dropped me at the airport just after 4 PM. I checked in no problem, cleared security, and rolled to the lounge. For the record – EVEN AT 5:15 PM THE FLIGHT WAS LISTED AS ON TIME. At 5:30, however, just before I was planning to back up, I thought I’d check a final time and confirm. Sure enough – the flight had been delayed until 7:55.

It was at this point that I remember Jenny saying, “They might close British airspace at 1 AM BST.” Doing my gorilla math, that equated to – you guessed it – 8 PM CLT time. Sure enough – 1 hour later we get the announcement.

So I make a mad dash for the check-in counter, only to be told that I have to pick up my bags first in the event they can re-book me. The conversation was something like this:

Sam: “You definitely won’t get me there tonight.”

Lady with no concept of flight schedules (LWNCOFS): “You don’t know that.”

Sam: “I’m certain. You only have 2 flights to London, and the other one is in Philly but I can’t get there in time.”

LWNCOFS: “You don’t know that, sir.”

Sam: “Actually, I do know that – I just saw the board and the flight to Philly is gone.”

LWNCOFS: “You need to gt your bag sir.”

Sam: “And I WILL – AFTER I get rebooked.”

LWNCOFS: “They can’t help you without a bag – they can’t book you on a flight tonight without your bag.”

Sam (exasperation and determination working in lockstep): “That’s GREAT news for me – BECAUSE I’M NOT GOING ANYWHERE BUT WILD WINGS TONIGHT.”

Because I was Envoy, I got on a flight for Wednesday. It’s a good thing, as economy was totally full until Friday. Determined to make my bonus time in the QC count, I promptly called Fizz (who didn’t answer) and then made my way into town, getting some Fat Tire and a burger at Fox & Hound whilst watching some NHL.

All was well and I tucked in for sleep that night, only to be woken up at 1:15 AM but Fizzy. You see, due to a combination of Black-eyed Peas, steaks, and booze, Lizzie wasn’t in a completely coherent state of mind and thought I’d just called her. To her credit – she was trying to rescue me from the airport, so that’s Liz! Boom-boom-pow forever!

Monday: Surprise! I’m back in the office…

So the work day went well. In truth, it was great, as all of my meetings were with US cats. More to the point - dinner that night was STELLAR.

Since Hitman was leaving on Tuesday morning for 3 weeks vacation, we all hit Cedar Street for a few pints (3 magic hats for this guy) before going our separate ways. Most went to the house. I, however, went to Wild Wings for some Red Sox and hoops. Oh, and wings and Fat Tire – SHOCKING, I know.

So there I am, tucked into my frosty mug and my Red, Hot, & Bleu wings, when this guy across the bar starts talking about how Ohio is the greatest state in the union and how there is no university like Ohio State in ALL respects. He’s a nice enough guy, proud of his alma mater and all, and we’re getting on fine, when this other cat rolls up. He too is from Ohio, but he HATES EVERYTHING ABOUT THE STATE AND THE UNIVERSITY. An absolutely HILARIOUS battle of wits then kicks off, and I can’t help but stick around for the fireworks. All the same, 3 beers, 8 wings, and a basket of buff chips later, I decide it’s time to retire. However, since it’s only 9 PM, I realize there is really only one thing left to do – GO TO ANOTHER BAR.

And so there sits Sammy, alone in Champions, working on another pint of Fat Tire and an order of cheese fries for dessert. Hey – I’m carbo-loading. Not sure for what, exactly, but it’s good to know the fuel will be there once I find it.

It should be noted that I passed OUT at 10:30 but woke up at 4:08 AM like a shot and could NOT get back to sleep. I’m pretty sure that’s my body in rebellion. Can’t say I blame it.

Tuesday: FINALLY – back to the streets…

So the work day was again good – nothing exciting to report there. The big news, however, was that, for the first time since October, Sammy FINALLY RAN OUTSIDE!!!! It was a PERFECT Charlotte day – blue skies, puffy clouds, light breeze, little traffic, and I logged 35 minutes on the streets. It wasn’t pretty and I was tired when it was over, but the foot felt great and I was THRILLED.

That evening I met Senora Bulkeley, Velvet, Old School (CHECK OUT THAT PINK SHIRT!!!!), and Ash for a drink at Champions and then dinner at Black Finn (GUUUUUUUUUUUUD burger). However, I have a bone to pick with Black Finn. They advertise all burgers “cooked to your specification,” but when I said Medium Rare, his response was “all we can do is medium well.” I mean, I guess those two temperatures have the word “medium” in common, but that’s about it…

Also, Black Finn’s “tap plumbing” was having a problem, and so they had NO DRAFT BEER. That is akin to inserting a dagger into my heart and twisting. But hey, I guess I needed one more Corona before heading back to the Mother Country.

We had a night cap at Wild Wings (I don’t think I have to tell you what pint I had) before calling it a night, and I was PASSED OUT at 10 PM.

Wednesday: The hairless wonder with chopsticks – an image I NEVER thought I’d see

So the news from Wednesday – THERE IS NOW AN ALL YOU CAN EAT SUSHI BAR IN UPTOWN!!!!!!! And more shocking was the man who led me there – TOM PRICE. Honestly, it broke my heart that I didn’t have my camera with me, as I NEVER IN MY LIFE thought I would EVER see Tom Price eating sushi, yet lightning struck twice within a week. I am in a small state of shock still as I type this. And P.S. – that place is GUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUD. And in case anyone’s scoring – I took down 3 plates. Really, once this whole “expat payroll guy” thing ends, I think I might try to get on the Fine Living Network in a combination show of “Three Sheets” and “Man vs. Food.” After all, we know I can eat a who habanero…

I got to the airport about 4:30, but that’s where I’ll stop for today. After all, the arrival at the airport brings a different set of stories, all intertwined with mum’s visit.

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


Sam (who will soon be FINALLY reunited with Muffin Puffin!) and Jenny

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Catch-up Blog #3: A Rare and Perfect Moment - A weekend with mom and dad...


And a good evening to you from (trying to be) sunny Charlotte. 5 hours and counting until the flight!!!! So far - still on time!!!! Also, big news for the Taylor Resort in Marylebone, as MOMMA ARRIVES TOMORROW! If all goes well, I'll actually see her in the airport later this afternoon. And on that note, it's time for recap blog #3, giving you the play-by-play of the weekend with my fam.

Friday: Now THAT is how steak is done

Friday was a great day in the office, and I rolled out of there a bit early to have a few pints with my buddy John Ogas (that’s right, the Pai Gow king – who just took the new Aria casino for BANK, baby). When we parted ways, I headed uptown and chilled out until…MOMMA ARRIVED!!!!

And so began a GREAT weekend. For starters, we rolled immediately to Firebirds, which is home to pretty much the BEST STEAK ON THE PLANET. Seriously, I DESTROYED this meal.

Picture a delicious salad, warm bread, hot butter, and a rare plus fillet covered in port soaked mushrooms and topped with bleu cheese. Yeah, if chicken wings aren’t served in Heaven, I’m gonna bet this is.

I also tried OMB Copper (local brewery) – NOT impressed. Honestly, it pretty much just tasted like calories – I don’t know how else to describe it.

That night we chatted well into the evening before PASSING out and sleeping until 8:45 on Saturday.

Saturday: The family that gambles together...

Dad met us Saturday, and we immediately made a bee-line for the GREATEST brekkie place on earth – the Original Pancake House. I opted for Bacon and Eggs (which comes, of course, with 3 pancakes), and I even added a side of Bacon. And when mom threw a couple of her slices my way, I pretty much consumed an entire pig. Seriously – 9 stripes of country bacon – how does life get any better?

But it did get better, as we had a VERY successful shopping run at Target. We then went to the featured event of the afternoon – the procurement of new eyeglasses and prescription sunnies. Two hours later, I had 3 new pairs of glasses, Oakley’s on my face, and lots of money FLYING out of my wallet. But no complaints – I love ‘em!

We then rolled back uptown, where we had a few pints at Strike City (Mom had a diet coke, of course J) before rolling down 77 to find a hotel for Dad. We got lucky and found a Super 8, and we walked in just in time to catch the Preakness! And so there we were – mom, dad, and son – drawing numbers, better fivers, and yelling at the tv for the horses we’d drawn. It might sound kind of silly to some – to me, it was nothing less than an absolutely perfect moment.

Dinner that night was (FINALLY) Mexican! We rocked up to Azteca, where I absolutely SLAUGHTERED some arroz con pollo and wolfed down THREE BASKETS of chips. We tackled some queso dip as well – this guy was happy as a clam. We then rolled home and passed out.

Sunday: A slice of Heaven in the heart of Charlotte

Sunday was great. Since we were all up early, we actually went BACK to OPH, where I did a rinse-repeat (minus the side of bacon this time) of Saturday. MAN, was it good. Not wanted to leave each other on such a perfect day, we rolled over to the old condo, where we sat on the porch of the clubhouse and just chatted for a couple of hours. It was, in no uncertain terms, absolutely perfect.

The reality is that I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ll have for the rest of my life where I’ll just be able to sit and relax with mom and dad on such a perfect day. We laughed, we joked, we remembered – I just can’t tell you what it meant to me. These trips home always bring so many emotions so close to the surface, and you really have to focus to keep it from overwhelming you. I told myself over and over “remember this moment – remember everything about it.” And while that’s impossible, I think I’ll keep the memory of a perfect Sunday in the shade of the village pub with me for a long, long time to come.

We even got to see Kristi Lenahan (our neighbor) and her (TOO CUTE) dogs, Barney and Bentley. They really might be the cutest critters on earth.

After that, dad said goodbye and mom and I rolled over to the South Park mall for some last minute shopping. After that, the hour was upon us, and we rolled over to the airport, where mom dropped me off. And while I knew that I would see her in 3 short days, it was still hard to say bye. The same for you, dad. I love you so much – I’m already lookin’ forward to the races next April.

And so closed a truly perfect weekend in Charlotte – 2 days of perfect weather in a city that I love now more than ever, surrounded by the 2 people who made me who I am and whom I love so, so very much.

Okay, that’s all the news that’s fit to print. Fingers crossed for the flight! Chat tomorrow!


Sam and Jenny

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Catch-up Blog #2: Livin' the Dream in the QC...


And a good evening to you from the Queen City in night 3 of my exile. Okay, as part of the continued efforts to fill in the gaps left by last week’s lack of blogging, I present to you catch-up blog #2, covering Monday through Thursday in CLT – presented by Bank of America.

Monday: Where the @#$# is the Ash Cloud now?

So I woke up on Monday just a scant 6 hours after going to bed. It was a cool start to the morning, as there was a private car waiting at the flat to pick me up (apparently, it’s now included in the cost of the flight – I just thought it was REALLY sweet).

80 minutes later, I rock up to the counter at Gatwick to be told, “I’m sorry Mr. Taylor – due to the Ash Cloud, the flight has just been delayed by 3 hours. Whilst not the greatest news ever, I thought, “no worries, I can go to the lounge and get some work done whilst getting some free brekkie.” That opinion changed, however, when I showed up to find that, due to a change in management in the lounge, THERE ARE NO LONGER US PLUGS ANYWHERE. Given that my battery has the longevity of a neutrino in the Hadron Collider, I didn’t get much done during that nice 5 hour stint.

To add to the jokes, I asked for (and received) my eggs benedict. When I asked for another, the conversation went like this:

Happy Sammy: “Can I please have another eggs benedict?”

(Clearly New to the English Language) Server: “I sorry – it gone.”

Confused Sammy: “What do you mean it’s gone.”

Server: “Is out.”

Agitated Sammy: “Define out.”

Server: “Is no more of the egg.”

Grumpy Sammy: “So you have a made to order breakfast buffet and you have run out of eggs at 8:07 AM.”

Server: (just nods)

Sammy: (just shakes head)

Things were compounded when we got to the gate and found we were delayed a FURTHER 2 hours and COULDN’T LEAVE THE GATE. However, we eventually got on and departed (5.5 hours late), and we had to fly over GREENLAND to get home. Regardless, 9 hours and 15 minutes later, I was on the ground in the Queen City.

Monday dinner was Fat Tire and Wild wings with Brother Bill and Big Cat – it was just SO AWESOME to have two items I’ve been craving for MONTHS – good times.

Tuesday: Meet Tom Price – the Hairless Wonder

So Tuesday was a PieTown lunch (hellooooooooooooooo Bacon & Egg pizza) and a VERY productive day at work. At the end of the day, I met Tom for a ride in my dream car (that would be the Nisson Xterra in case anyone’s scoring at home) and went to Hawthorne’s (also known as all that is right and good with the Queen City).

There we had another LoanSolutions reunion, complete with everyone but muffin puffin. GC, Melissa, Mandy, Tom (YES - THE TOM - he's the skinny dude in the back), Stacey, Tripp, and 4 rug rats of varying screams, tears, and messes. Upon further reflection, it’s too bad JT didn’t accompany me to CLT, as that dinner alone could have bought me 5 free years of birth control.

Seriously – we had an absolute BLAST. I tried Blue Point ale, which was quite tasty. Also, I had the Chicken Bacon Ranch pizza, which was EVEN BETTER than I remember. The boys hung out for a 3rd pint before calling it a night, and I even made it over to Ri-Ra before bed to knock down a few more pints of Fat Tire with Big Cat before calling it a night.

Wednesday: The Merciful absence of Bravehearts

After a big day on Wednesday, the team rolled over to Ri-Ra, where we took down a few Fat Tires (MAN, I forgot how good this stuff was on draft) before rolling over to the featured event of the evening – WILD WINGS, BABY!!!!! Honestly, I think those Red, Hot, and Bleu chicken wings really might be the manna from Heaven mentioned in the Bible – those things are pretty much the greatest food on earth – I could go for 600 more right now.

We hung out there for quite a while, but mercifully it wasn’t too late of a night. I say mercifully because, due to Hitman flying home and Grimshaw gallivanting in Monaco for the Grand Prix, Sammy had an EARLY start to Thursday.

Thursday: A long day…and MORE hot wings

So this day started at 6:30 AM with a conference call (one that did NOT go the way I wanted it to, for the record). The day was SUPER busy, and I didn’t actually get out of the office until about 8:05 that evening. However, I did get some lunch with Tom (sorry Mandy – I made him do it!), and MAN was it good. I had feared that I was not going to get sushi on this trip, but Price (who has historically HATED sushi) proved to be an unlikely hero. Can someone say Fusebox?

It was a GREAT meal and a fantabulous walk home. After all, when the sun is shining and the temperature is above 80, who on earth can complain. Can I just say again how TERRIFIC it was to feel hot and actually sweat?

The evening was great as well, as I got to hang out with GC and Channing over at a) Live After 5 and then at b) wait for it…wait for it…WILD WINGS AGAIN, BABY!!!!! And yes, my desert (after 25 wings) was another batch of 8 Red, Hot, and Bleu wings. CHUUUUUUUUUBBYYYYYYYY BUUUNNNNNYYYY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Okay, that’s all the news that’s fit to print from the work week. I’ll be back tomorrow with the recap of Friday and the weekend with the fam!


Sam and Jenny

Monday, 17 May 2010

Catch Up Blog #1: Paris: City of Lights, City of Love…City where you leave your wife at dinner with total strangers…


And a GREAT EVENING to you from (still less than sunny) CHARLOTTE. As promised, tonight's entry will cover the Paris weekend. And so, without further ado, I present to you another round of Taylor adventures (and mis-adventures) in Paris.

Saturday: Guided Tour, Total Relaxation, and Death by Liquid Bread

The alarm clock went off early (4:20 AM) on Saturday morning, but we were actually okay given that we’d hit the sack around 10 PM on Friday (this was, of course, after Lord and Brother Morgan had “bullied” Muffin and I into having drinks at C & C (the shame of it!). But we were good – just 3 pints and then a glass of wine at dinner. Anymore, that’s practically an AFD…

We walked to King’s Cross – St. Pancras, where we caught the 6:22 Eurostar to Paris. I just can’t believe HOW EASY that trip is. JT and I dozed a bit, and 2 hours and 15 minutes later, we we arrived into Gare du Nord and stepped outside to a BEAUTIFUL day. IT WAS WARM!!!!!

So this day was just simply PERFECT (with one sliiiiiiiight hiccup at the end, but we’ll get to that soon enough). Tracing the route JT toured with her family back in December, Perfect Pumpkin was my tour guide through the city, and MAN did we have fun.

First stop on the tour was Sacre Coeur. Coming into this, my only memory of Sacre Coeur was that it was a beautiful building on a hilltop. I remembered what at the time looked to be about 4 billion stairs, and at the base of it a port-o-john where mom, Sandra, Mrs. Carlyle, and I scrambled to find change for entry because mom was sick (Sorry, mom – some things you never forget).
Can I just say WOW – what an AMAZING church. Gorgeous stained glass, a REMARKABLE view from the front of the Cathedral, and simply BEAUTIFUL little chapels within the church. This was SUCH a treat, and we spent a good 30 minutes roaming around.

We then rolled over to Montmarte (Q – you would have been so proud), where we saw the artists’ square (mom – this is another memory from that trip – I will always remember that square and thinking “So this is what every city in Europe must be like”). It was beautiful, and we found another, very pretty church to visit, complete with what I’ve nicknamed the “Robin Hood” alcove, which was this magnificent little area that felt like something out of the Crusades.
The afternoon was a PERFECT stroll throughout new neighborhoods for me, and every turn was prettier than the one before it. We strolled past gorgeous squares, cute little buildings, and quaint parks, all in bloom and filled with trees, flowers, and Parisians knocking back beer, bread, and cheese. We even walked past a film crew on a side street. However, since we didn’t see Julie Binochet, we kept moving…

The next stop was lunch, and MAN was it good. JT took me to the same place she’d hit in December, and 30 minutes later I was eating a Croque Monsieur covered in ham, tomato, cheddar, and goat’s cheese. Honestly, it was GREAT. HOLY MOLY!!!! Price, if you thought I was “dunloppin’” before this weekend (which I was), wait until you see me on Tuesday. CHUUUUBBBBBYYYYYY BUNNYYYYYYY!!!!!! (Sam forgot to mention the escargot we tried.) :) That face says it all.
After consuming 42,318 calories in the form of a croquet monsieur, JT and I made our way to the Opera House. Now, for those theater fans out there, it should be noted that this is no less than the one and only Opera House featured in Gaston Leroux’s novel, “The Phantom of the Opera.” And can I just say – MAN, that place is EXTRA awesome.

We did have a scare, however, as at first we thought the entire front of the building was covered in scaffolding. However, I’m happy to report that we did see the front, and it was simply beautiful.

The afternoon was spent visiting several different churches before taking the LONG march to our hotel – Le Meridien Montparnasse. The hotel was nice – just well south of the river and a MUCH longer walk than we expected. However, by 6 PM, we were out the door and destined for the featured destination of the evening – Rue Moufftard.

So back story – this is the street with the famous bar where KJ, Muffin, and Sara & Steve went in for “1 drink” and then came out 7 hours later. It’s also the bar where Jenny told me she only did 2 shots, yet we have photos of her doing 3. QUALITY. It was to this place, the Mecca of Parisian beer drinkers, that we sauntered into, determined to have “2 drinks” before dinner. I should have seen this as one of those moments where “those who cannot remember their history are destined to repeat it.” Details…

So we started with two rather stout beers (Delirium Tremens and La Chouffe – yes, the one with the roaming gnome), and a gal came and asked if she could share our booth. Hearing me say yes in English, she breathed a sigh of relief and sat down. Sure enough, we’d met two great Londoners named Blair and Ah-lai, and they were a hoot. We were having so much fun that we ordered another beer…and another. Then they asked us to dinner with them. Now, at this point, I was still okay. However, when the host said it would be 45 minutes and they offered to go BACK to that bar for 1 more, I should have backed it in. However, drawn by the pull of Belgian liquid bread, I was soon back in the fray and staring at beer #4.

There is another wrinkle here – in December, the gang had met a bartender who had played football (our football) at Arizona State. And when we walked back into the bar, he was there. I had worn my Arizona State shirt just for this moment, and I walked over to the bar, pointed at my shirt, and threw up a pair of pitchforks. Two minutes later, we were drinking shots with Tabasco. I mean, I think I should have realized I was in trouble – just look at this photo of me and my new lifelong buddy.

The problem came when we rolled back to dinner, as I simply COULD NOT SIT NOW. I walked outside 3 times, but it was obvious I was still on the way up vs. coming back down. Consequently, as I stared at some French Onion Soup that I know I was not going to eat, I said, “Folks, it’s been nice meeting you, and I am sorry, but I need to go home.” Then I looked at my beautiful wife and said, “Pumpkin, I’ll see you at the house.” Two minutes later, I was out the door in the rain without a map, destined for my hotel.

An hour later, wet and sober, I found our place and passed out. My amazing wife rolled in around 12:30, complete with my leftovers wrapped up and in hand! The classic moment was when they said to her,” I’m sure you’re so worried.” JT’s response: “Not really – he does this.”

We woke up the next morning and SCARFED down the leftovers – nothing better than a cold pork chop at 11 AM along with some cold (but GUUUUUUUUUUUD) cheese.

We started the day at the Luxembourg Gardens, this BEAUTIFUL stretch of grass and manicured lawns near our hotel. It was beautiful, and it probably would have been prettier if I hadn’t LOST MY GLASSES IN MY DRUNKEN STUPOR. Oh well, I wanted a new pair anyway…I just didn’t want to spend the money.

We sat in lounge chairs in the gardens for about an hour, and honestly – it was the most relaxed I’d ever been in my life. It was just PERFECT. I gotta tell you – Sam Taylor now vs. Sam Taylor on Go Live are 2 different people. I am SO MUCH more relaxed right now, and starting to feel more and more like me.
We continued the relaxation by eating a BOATLOAD of Fondue (back on Moufftard, for the record), before wandering along the streets, looking at all the monuments and even catching an AMAZING view of the Notre Dame. We also saw the Deportation Memorial, yet another sombering monument to those who suffered and perished as part of the Nazi regime.

We ended the day with a few more churches (including the Pantheon) and 2 more glasses of wine (one at the station) before an easy train ride back to London. Then it was packing and lights out, as I had a cab in SEVEN HOURS.

Okay, that’s Paris in a nutshell and DEFINITELY all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!


Sam and Jenny

Sunday, 16 May 2010

GROUNDED in the Queen City...


And a good evening to you from...well, still from (less than) sunny Charlotte. So it's official - Sam Taylor is the latest victim of Mt. Piss Me Off (kudos to hitman for that one). That's right, this evening, after a FANTABULOUS week and weekend, yours truly was sitting in the departure lounge when the following announcement reverberated through the halls and my bones:

"Ladies and gentlemen, for those of you aboard Flight 732 with service to London's Gatwick airport, the flight has been canceled. Please proceed directly to the East Check-in counter to be rebooked."

And so began the MAD DASH outside security, where I was the 4th person in line. Only when I got the front of the line did one of the ladies say, "Where's your bag?" I responded with my usual polite, Southern gentleman nature: "I don't have a damn clue, lady. Why?" The lady then told me that she couldn't rebook me without my bag on the pre-tense that "you don't know you won't get out tonight." Well, considering the ENTIRE NATION I AM FLYING TO IS UNDER A VOLCANIC ASH CLOUD, I don't like my chances of getting there. Luckily, I got through to the ticket counter, but I'm now in the QC until WEDNESDAY EVENING. That basically means that mum and I will be flying on the same day (Amazing Race style) to see who gets to my flat first.

MUFFIN PUFFIN, I MISS YOU!!!!!! I didn't call because I figured you were passed out already, as it was on time until 10:30 PM BST. Oh well, so it goes. This just means I'll have to drink some more Fat Tire in your honor!

So here's the deal - I owe you cats some blogs, and I'm gonna make good on my delivery promise. And whilst I won't have photos until Thursday (at the earliest), here's how it's gonna roll:

Monday - Paris Blog

Tuesday - Week in CLT blog (through Thursday evening)

Wednesday - Weekend with the Fam blog (I'll have to post it before I fly - KNOCK ON WOOD)


Hopefully that will get me back in everyone's good graces.

Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Here's hoping I can find a TV where the Yankees are getting thrashed or the College World Series is on. Chat tomorrow!


(A very lonely) Sam and (a soon to be frumpy) Jenny

Thursday, 13 May 2010

I know, I know....I SUCK. NEW BLOGS ARE COMING!!!


And a good afternoon to you from sunny Charlotte. Okay, so putting it bluntly, I AM PATHETIC AND KNOW IT BECAUSE I HAVEN'T BLOGGED IN ALMOST A WEEK. However, it's been an INSANE week in the Queen City, and so I've fallen delinquent. The bad news is that it won't get better this week - this will be the last post until Monday, 17 May. The good news is that, when I do post, I promise several GREAT moments for you, including:

1. How to abandon your wife with total strangers in Paris and walk home in the rain without a map

2. An introduction to The Hairless Wonder - Tom Price

3. Reunion with "Old School Cool"

4. Why even Sun Devils at heart are part of the family

5. How many calories can be consumed in a week basis (divided by food and Fat Tire)

So again, I really am sorry that I've been off the grid. However, I promise I'll make it up to you!


Sam (and Jenny)

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Because, really, who needs an AFD...


And a good evening to you from across the Pond after another GREAT DAY in the Mother Country! Okay, so I realize that, due to the Krakow update, I actually owe you cats an update on both Tuesday and Wednesday as well as this evening. The theme of all 3 nights is a familiar one - BEER.

Tuesday: Reunion with the Great White North

So Tuesday started well - I logged a 5K on the treadmill, which felt almost effortless considering that a) I'd slept about 68 hours over the last 4 days and b) I had enough fuel in the form of pasta and bread to run to Scotland.

The work day was good, and I got out of there at a decent hour to go hang with Sister Irene Hozjan, one of the HR Managers from Canada. Irene and I worked together last year (and Jan of this year) on the Canada Implementation, so we spent about 2 hours at (yep - you guessed it) the Music Factory catching up and hanging with her Aussie mate Michelle.

After that, I rolled home, where I FINALLY had a salad - all that green, all those vitamins...it was almost overwhelming!!!!

Wednesday: Becuase 5:30 on a Wednesday is the PERFECT time for drinks, right?
So this day started with a lie-in until about 7:30. Why did Sammy not go to the gym, you ask? Remember the evening with the red wine where I look like I'd been stabbed? Yeah...so I just now got around to dry-cleaning those pants (and they look GREAT, for the record), and I had to pick them up en route to work because a) I had a presentation, and b) THEY ARE THE ONLY DRESS PANTS I OWN (insert Hitman head shake here).

The place opened at 8 AM, and the owner looked at me funny as he crossed the street, noticing this dude in a tie and jeans waiting outside his store. I'm pretty sure I'm the only guy who's EVER queued to pick up dry-cleaning, but hey - that's how I roll.

The work day was great - the presentation went really well, and we got out at a decent hour for some celebratory drinks with the girls. It was a blast - we actually did NOT go to the C & C, but instead hit the Fine Line for pints of Leffe and some vino. Whilst there, Puffin took a great photo, forever captioned as: "Sam's Angels."
Dinner that night was GBK, where we SLAUGHTERED some Bleu Cheese burgers and had a final bottle of vino, courtesy of Kat. We then headed out and passed out around 11:30.

Thursday: Are you ready for the Revolution?

So today started great - I logged 4 miles on the treadmill with no pain. This means the time has come. That's right, folks - next week Sammy will run outside for the first time since November. I can't WAIT. Of course, the last time I ran outside in Charlotte was when I actually BROKE my foot, so fingers crossed we don't have a repeat there...

Lunch was a blast. We hit Wahaca to celebrate Carolyn's birthday - check out the gang in action! Hitman - no "pork in a parcel" dishes were ordered - you and K-Dub were truly missed. However, that tequila sure was tasty....juuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuust kidding. The highlight was our being seated at the "Aztec" table - we got the "elevated booth" in the restaurant, which I'd never sat in before and was very cool.

And for the main event of the evening, it was drinks and dinner with Yazz (HISSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS)! I rolled up to Bank about 7:15 and rolled over to a CUTE area of the City (city = financial district) called Leadenhall Market, where I met Yazz and Muffin Puffin at the Lamb Tavern. We split a bottle of vino there before meeting Yazz's roommate Sam (aka Sam #1).

Needing food, we then rolled over to Pizza Express, where I again took down the Calabrese, the HOTTEST AND SPICIEST PIZZA ON THE PLANET. Holy @!#$# that thing cooked my insides, but it was guuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuud. During our time there, we had 3 GREAT moments.

1. Yazz bashing Spanish men at the top of her lungs (in a small restaurant, no less) for having "long arms and short legs, making them NOT attractive, before having one of the waitresses walk over and say: "So you know, your waiter is Spanish." CLASSIC...and stunned silence.
2. Yazz being pissed about the photo to your right because her arm looks like a "pig's trotter" (that would be hog's leg to us American folks).

3. Yazz watching a guy walk his bicycle down a flight of stairs with the seat between his legs before announcing to me (translation - blasting her opinion to the restaurant): "Does that guy realize what will happen to his balls if he falls down the stairs?" Note: A second biker then came down the spiral staircase, but Yazz was lost somewhere in the ladies room (believe me - I can't make this stuff up).

We're now back watching election results, and it's time to pass out.
Okay that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!

Sam and Jenny

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Krakow: White Spirits and a Wander through Polska...


And a good evening to you from across the Pond after another GREAT DAY in the Mother Country. First off - I KNOW THE IDENTITY OF THE "12TH FOLLOWER" OF THE BLOG - STEVE MARKHAM!!!! It has to be you, dude - Alvin the Alligator was the tipping point. Full marks for such a spectacular cloak & dagger display.

Secondly, as promised - here's the recap of the Taylor visit to the country of the Warsaw pact and, more specifically, the home of Europe's 4th largest central square - ladies and gentlemen, I present to you: 60 hours in Krakow (I know, I know - I can't help but think it as well: "Where do I buy the Nike shoes?").

Friday: En route to the Eastern Bloc

So this day was a busy one at work, but the highlight was on the treadmill in the AM - I LOGGED 5 MILES, BABY!!!!!! That's right, after a hiatus of more than a year, Sammy FINALLY logged an 8K - talk about a good feeling! Granted, the feeling of my fat rolls shaking for 40+ minutes was less than pleasant, but hey, as Dickens once said: "A man must take the fat with the lean." Of course, in my case it's more fat than lean, but details...

So the trip to the airport was easy, and we cleared security with plenty of time to spare. Given that, we wanted to sit down for a proper meal (translation: we needed grease since we were still HURTING from Thursday night). Lucky for us, there was a "Giraffe" (a "world burger joint for happy life and love" - yeah, I can't make this shit up) in Terminal 1. 20 minutes later, JT and I were drinking South African wine and eating lamb burgers the size of our heads - AWESOME. I can't WAIT to hit another one of these restaurants somewhere in the city.

The flight to Warsaw was easy, and I tried my first Polish beer on the flight: Zwytiec. Now is a good time to bring up what, I expect, is an obvious point: POLISH IS A GYPSY LANGUAGE. Do NOT try to comprehend, listen to, or speak this language, as it will leave your voice box on the floor bleeding. All I could think the entire time I was there was "I will look upon your treasures, gypsy - do not hex me." I know, I know...all class.

We had to connect in Warsaw, which is, quite possibly, the single most STERILE AIRPORT ON EARTH. Miller - I know that the "Sing is clean," but this place was a scene from "1984." Let's just hope the city has a little more pep. That being said, it was better than the domestic terminal of Krakow, which is A CORRUGATED STEEL WAREHOUSE WITH A SINGLE CONVEYOR BELT AND PICTURES ON THE WALL OLDER THAN TOP GUN. Seriously - I could have been in a bar in Mongolia in 1970 - it was that out of date.

Fortunes turned quickly, however, as 10 minutes later we had a private driver (in a Mercedes, no less) ferrying us to our hotel (the 5-star Sheraton, for the record...which I got practically for free due to the package...I mean - were you expecting anything else?), which was in the shadow of Krakow's most famous monument - Wawel Hill. This spot (where they just buried the Polish President) is a MASSIVE complex of castles, squares, embattlements, and towers - it is, quite possibly, the most impressive castle complex I've ever seen.

We passed out that night and slept LIKE THE DEAD. With first pay out the door, I could feel the relaxation seeping into my bones.

Saturday: The Word of the Day was weddings...and vodka
We woke at 9 AM, thanks to the alarm. Honestly, we could have slept until Tuesday, but we knew this was our 1 day to journey forth into the old town. Consequently we showered, drank some coffee (courtesy of Muffin!), and headed out the door.

Saturday was GREAT for so many reasons. For starters, after having such a stressful month, it was GREAT to just wander around with no schedule, looking at AMAZING architecture and just being with JT. We hadn't really had much alone time over the past month, so it was great simply being together and taking in this new experience.

Our day started walking down some old, cobblestone streets, which took us past the home of Pope John Paul II (there were monuments and statues to this cat EVERYWHERE). Then, starving, we rolled into a place called City Lunch Cafe (original name, I know), where we had THE BEST GNOCCHI IN THE HISTORY OF MANKIND. I mean, seriously, there is NO BETTER MUSTARD CREAM SAUCE ON EARTH. I also tried an Ojocim beer, which wasn't bad.

We then rolled up to Wawel Hill, the castle complex above our hotel. We didn't go in any of the exhibits (and not because I'm cheap, damn it!), but we did wander around the complex, taking photos and doing some GREAT people watching. We then embarked on the key event of any Polish vacation - visiting churches.

Okay, so there is no other way to say this - the Poles are the SINGLE MOST RELIGIOUS NATION WE'VE EVER BEEN TO. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but it sure makes it difficult if you want to visit a church. Case in point - we went to EIGHT (that's right, count 'em - EIGHT) different churches on Saturday, and here's how it went down:
1. 6 were having weddings
2. 1 was having a Baptism

3. 1 was having a service (at 3 in the afternoon?)

4. We went back to two of the churches that were having weddings, only to find THEY WERE HAVING A SERVICE (I mean, are they ever free to just wander around?"

5. We walked into one via the wrong entrance, and I literally walked right into a guy at confession in the front of the church whilst the service was going on - yes, I am that guy

The low point of our church visitation was when I was admiring the architecture and looking around whilst failing to notice the poles on the sidewalk set up to keep cars away. Consequently, the twig and giggleberries went FULL STEAM into a steel rod. Let's just say I wasn't a big fan of Polish civil engineering at that moment.

We did rebound, however, and rolled into the MASSIVE central square (100m x 100m apparently), where we sat down on a GORGEOUS sunny day at a bar with Tyskie umbrellas (indicative of the type of beer on draft). However, when the waiter came by, the conversation was something like this:
Waiter: "AFGDAEWGREAGRAHYREGR." (While I have no proof, I'm pretty sure that's Polish for hello)

Sammy: "Divab Tyskie prosta." (That's Polish - no really it is - for 2 Tyskie beers, please)

Waiter: "English?" (clearly he didn't like my accent)
Sammy: "2 Tyskie, please"

Waiter: "We ran out of Tyskie Yesterday." (Sammy is not pleased. After all, this is a BAR, and they only have ONE BEER ON DRAFT).

Sammy: "Do you have more beer?"
Waiter: "Yes. It is a local beer. It is cloudy and fuzzy. It is good." (I'm pretty sure I'm about to drink Winnie the Pooh at this point.)

Sammy: "We'll take 2."

I am happy to report that, in the shadow of the Town Hall tower, sipping those beers (which were good, for the record), life was guuuuuuuuuuuuuud. In fact, I was as relaxed as I'd been in months.

We then walked around for a bit longer before having dinner at Wesele, a traditional Polish restaurant. We started with the (less than traditional) bottle of Malbec (Puma - another one proved itself), but I immediately jumped into the most tradtional of Polish liquids - vodka. So backstory: Owain had told me that Poles were reknown for their "white spirits," and so I figured I'd try a shot. However, given that they were only a quid a shot, I soon developed a love affair with the "essence of the potato."

Whilst having some AMAZING dumplings (JT with Bigos, which were GUUUUUUUUUD), I polished off 4 shots of vodka and half a bottle of wine. When I went to order the 4th shot, the waitress actually said, "Are you planning on trying all of them?" I'm not sure, but I'm pretty sure she was saying, "You are an alcoholic and disgust me - please quit wasting my country's finest export." All I can say is: "That stuff was guuuuuuuuuuuuud." And Carter, so you know - I tried the "exhaling" trick. I think it worked, as I never had a hangover. Then again, eating 14,000 calories and sleeping 12 hours at a clip probably helped.
We went home that night and were passed out around 10:30. Again - NO complaints.
Sunday: The word of the day was somber...and vodka
We popped up early, as we had a tour scheduled for 9:15. The tour of the day was a definite departure from the normal foolish antics of Sam and Jenny, as we were bound for Auschwitz-Birkenau. I have no lie to tell and I have no desire to sugar coat this one - it was a SOBERING experience.
As most of you know, I am an (admittedly amateur) 20th century historian, with a focus on World War II. Consequently, there are some places that I attach particular signifcance to from a historical perspective - KL Auschwitz has always been on of those places. Therefore, going there has always been a desire of mine, even knowing that it would leave me floored, depressed, and shocked in ways hard to imagine. I can tell you now that the reality of it is more than I had expected, and the memory will haunt me a long time.
The piles of shoes. The electric fences. The pictures. The selection ground of Birkenau. The canisters of Cyclon-B. The sheer magnitude of hearing your guide say: "1.1 million people were killed here." I don't know that anyone can ever appreciate hearing a number like that, but I do know that, seeing that place in the damp gray of a Polish morning, you realize mankind's capacity for evil, and you realize a) how blessed you are to live when and where you do, and b) that you have a responsibility to fight tyranny and leave this world (at least) a little better than you found it. I could talk for days about my experience in KL A-B, but, as I told Jenny - I'm not sure my heart could take much more of it. I feel it should be a place every human is required to visit - but it's a place anyone should only ever have to go once.
As you can imagine, I was less than bubbly and boisterous when I arrived back in Krakow. I'd like to lie to you and tell you we went to a CRAZY party in the center of town, but instead we continued down the World War II path - we entered the neighborhood that used to be the Jewish Ghetto of Krakow.
The good news is that now it's a vey vibrant part of the city, and we were soon wandering toward my newest goal - The Mound of Krak (NO JOKE, CAMPERS - THERE REALLY IS A "MOUND OF KRAK."). Apparently, this big ass mound in the middle of the city is the tomb of the founder of Krakow, and I was determined to stand on top of it. That was, of course, until my ass got lost in some random park of Krakow.
So you guys know how this goes:
1. Jenny can read maps.
2. I can't navigate my way out of the bathroom.
3. Jenny politely tries to explain that we are going the wrong way.
4. I, being major Selwyn, explain that she's wrong and that I am the master of the Universe.
5. We find out Jenny is right and I go kick a tree.
6. Rinse. Repeat.

Well, this time was no exception, as JT had to navigate us out of this (rather small - it's pathetic how bad I am at directions, really - Chuck - SHUT IT) park and toward the Mound. When we arrived at the base of the mound, however, a few thoughts occurred to us.
1. We want beer.
2. That's a bigger hill than we expected.
3. Climbing that hill means less time for beer.
Consequently, we turned around and headed back into the city. Tell me that we weren't made for each other.
In a side note, whilst walking back through the Jewish quarter and into town, we came upon another sight that left me quite emotional - Oskar Shindler's Factory. That's right, folks - the original building still exists, and JT captured a great photo of the plaque on the outside of the building.
Needing a pick-me-up, Puffin and I found this GREAT little dive bar just outside the main area of town, and we consequently started tearing through new beers: Tyskie (finally), Stretec, and Werka (all tasty). Then, feeling a good buzz, we rolled into the town square, where we wandered into our dinner destination: Moid Molina (Honey Raspberry).
This place was GUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUD, and we KILLED some food. We also killed 5 different kinds of vodka, leaving a) the wait staff again less than pleased and b) me with a new found appreciation for Polish liquor.
And I'm sure it's NO surprise to you, but we were PASSED OUT by 10:30 PM. This sleep was the stuff of legends.
Monday: Where the @#$@ is the dragon?
So 12 hours of sleep later, the Taylors popped up and wandered back to Wawel Hill. The crowds had died down some, but it was still chaos. En route to the Hill, we'd noticed all these stuffed dragons and postcards with dragons on them, and they were always identified as "Stoli Wawelski." Assuming that meant "Wawel dragon," we set out to find this mythical beast.
We didn't have to look long, as the ticket office had tickets to the "Dragon's Den and Grotto" for 3 slotty (about $1 USD). 10 minutes later, we were descending 48,000 steps into the bowels of the castle, where we emerged in the "dragon's grotto," which is really code for a tiny ass cave with some incandescent bulbs (semi) lighting your way.
We walked and walked (and I got dripped on by something...maybe it was dragon pee), and slowly I am to a realization: "We weren't going to see that damn dragon." Accepting the inevitable, we made our way toward the exit.
Only then, however, did we emerge to the sight of a stone dragon, covered in screaming Slavic children and breathing a propane powered flame. VICTORY!!!! We found it!!!! And yes, it was picture worthy.
We then had a final meal BACK at City Lunch Cafe before catching out ride back to the bomb shelter...I mean airport. We then had 2 easy flights home (nothin' direct from Krakow!) before arriving back at the flat ~10. We then had the super nutritious and uber-romantic meal of:
1. 5 day old leftover crab and shrimp pasta
2. Stale Chutney and Vinegar Chips
3. 2 slices of bread covered in peanut butter and marmite
4. Cheese
5. 1/2 gallon of milk
Hey - if you want to be the man, you gotta beat the man - WOOOOOO!!!! That's all I'm sayin'.

All in all, it was a GREAT trip, and I would recommend it to anyone. The food, the architecture, the people, the vodka - it all adds up to a GREAT time.

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

Sam and Jenny