Thursday, 30 September 2010

AFD before the "girls" weekend...

Family,

And a good evening to you from across the Pond after another GREAT DAY in the Mother Country. Okay, so first off - ANNOUNCEMENT - After tonight, there will be no blog until Monday evening. Why, you ask? Because Team Taylor is headin' off the the land of Hamlett, Carlsberg, and all the whale you can eat- COPENHAGEN, BABY!!!!! And before ANYONE starts in on me (especially the Big Cat) - it is Friday evening to Sunday, meaning that it is NOT a vacation (just a getaway :-)). It's a girls weekend because I'm sharing a room with Muffin Puffin, Sam Stone (that's right - the female Jason Bourne - I hope she doesn't kill us in our sleep), and Yazz. Honestly, if I survive this Estrogenfest, I will be a lucky boy...but then again, if I survived 6 of 'em in the Lakes District, it can't be that tough, right (insert smug female chuckle here)?

The Land's End Challenge continued behind schedule today (I think it's officially in yellow status), as Taylor logged only a 5K on the treadmill. That being said, I did it in 24 FLAT, BABY!!!! The next goal is to break the 24 barrier, and so 23:45 is the next goal in my sights. The foot is still feeling great (knock on wood), and my legs are definitely getting some acceleration back in them. I am hoping for a return to half marathons in 2011!!!

Work was good - UNCONDITIONAL GO FOR THE MEASURE TOLLGATE, BABY!!!! Who's down with AOC? Yeah, YOU KNOW ME!!!!! If you don't work for the Bank -sorry - that was just one of those things I had to throw out there for the likes of Shogun, Hitman, Big Cat, Des-X, and OSC. Livin' the dream...

Perfect Pumpkin is grinding out laps as I type this, and I'm about to make myself some dinner and pack. It will be an AFD tonight, which is good because STOP #1 on Saturday is the Carlsberg Brewery (quite possibly the best lager in the world...)! We can't WAIT!

Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat Monday - GREAT WEEKEND TO ALL! Fizzy - get to feeling better. :-)

Love,

Sam and Jenny

All the Federalis say...that there's nothin' like a half price Margarita...

Family,

And a good evening to you from across the Pond after another GREAT DAY in the Mother Country. First off – HAPPY BIRTHDAY KJ!!!!!!!!!! I hope that it’s a BLAST. We’ll see you in about 12 weeks time, at which point we’ll celebrate properly.

So today was another great day. Sammy woke up exhausted, and so the “Land’s End Challenge” was NOT my finest effort. In fact, I only logged 17 KM (30 min on the bike), so I’m well off last week’s pace. I am going to try and brick tomorrow, but I just had to take it easy today. However, my “light workout” didn’t stop me from CRUSHING A BIRLEY BREAKFAST SANDWICH in the morning with a Pret coffee (try as it may, it’s still not Starbucks).

The highlight of the evening was a trek into Covent Garden. JT and I met at the Salisbury for a pint (I am on a MAJOR Heine kick right now – I think it’s a subliminal jealously for Des-X, Rooster, and Padre, 3 of my fellow donkeys who are about to go on a rainbow tour of the continent for work) before making the 3 minute walk (in the rain – YEP – WINTER’S HERE!!!) to the planned dinner spot for the evening. Jamie’s Italian. There we met our man J-Wade, who was SOAKED TO THE BONE (nothing like dousing a new suit in 14,000 gallons of water).

Jamie’s had a wait, so we popped next door for…wait for it…wait for it – CANTINA LAREDO MEXICANA, BABY!!!!!!!! OH YEAH!!!!!!! This place was THE JAM, and best of all – IT WAS HALF PRICE MARGARITA NIGHT!!!!! Rebecca (his gal) joined us a bit late, at which point we commenced with DECIMATING buckets of chips, gallons of queso dip, jugs of fresh guac, and all the warm salsa you could get your hands on. Mom – I’ll go ahead and say it again so that it can further haunt your dreams: It was all SO GUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUD (peppy cheekies!!!!). Seriously – my carne asada covered in bacon wrapped shrimp was pretty much life changing.

It was GREAT to catch up with them, and we hung out until about 11:30, at which point we went our separate ways. That was where the mini-trauma of the night occurred, as, after a year of DUTIFUL, UNWAVERING commitment to my safety, security, and dryness, Sammy’s $5 Target umbrella CRASHED. Granted, it still “kind of” opens, but it’s better days have passed, and I fear it may never again set foot on American soil. Oh well, to quote/paraphrase the Gladiator’s of old: “Hail, Umbrella! You, who are about to die, are saluted.”

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

Love,

Sam and Jenny

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

A moment's peace before the fray begins again...

Family,

And a good evening to you from across the Pond after another GREAT DAY in the Mother Country. First off - HAPPY BIRTHDAY, T-BONE!!!! That's right, folks - everyone's favorite half-kiwi hits the big 3-2 today. T-bone - here's to celebrating it next year with the Cowtown HALF marathon (no way I'm doin' the full, dude - I'm too old for that).

The Land's End Challenge ratcheted up further today, with Sammy logging 30 km on the bike. Tomorrow I'll do a brick (bike and run), or at least that's the plan. That being said, I will definitely need to get some sleep tonight to rest these legs.

On the literature front, Sammy crossed off Book 3 in the "The Wicked Years" by finishing "A Lion Among Men." This installment was better than "Son of a Witch," but it still wasn't anywhere close to "Wicked." Honestly, that first installment is still in the best 10 books I've ever read. Mitchiner - should you be reading this, I can give this one 2 thumbs up. This one possesses the same style as his other books - brilliantly written, deep character development, interesting connections, humbling commentary on human (or Animal) existence, and a deliciously rich plot. It was sooooo Maguire, in fact, that halfway before I was done with the book I had decided that he very well might be my favorite author (sorry Hemingway). Granted, no one can write video game style novels like Matthew Reilly (which is why he's still the most fun to read), but Maguire possesses an ability to present life in its truest, most exposed form, the result of which always has a chilling effect on me. Consequently, I have to say that, at present, he's the best in the business.

Other than that, not a whole lot to report. As I type this, Muffin Puffin is grinding out laps in the pool. As for me, it's time to jump into my dinner, which will DEFINITELY include some "chili heatwave" Doritos. And SPEAKING OF - The Hairless Wonder has just informed me that there's a new flavor of Doritos - CHEESEBURGER!!!! How can anyone say that is NOT the greatest thing EVER? HELLLLOOOOOOO HARRIS TEETER when I return - that's all I'm sayin'...

Lastly, in a nerdy bit of information - there is a new financial services product called Thomson Reuters Eikon. They've just released an ad campaign showing how their products can help pretty much everyone in the financial services industry, from portfolio managers to Fx traders to financial analysts. My favorite is Fx sales, because it was shot in Canary Wharf and shows MY EXACT WALK INTO WORK. I am a loser, I know - but it's still pretty cool. :-) Should you want to devote 30 seconds of your life to finding out how I get from the Tube to Starbucks (the office is just past that), go to Youtube and search on "Thomson Reuters Eikon Fx Sales."

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

Love,

Sam and Jenny

Monday, 27 September 2010

FINALLY back to even - Wrapping Budapest...

Family,

And a good evening to you from across the Pond after another GREAT DAY in the Mother Country. The Land’s End Challenge ratcheted up another level today, with Sam logging 12.5 KM’s (7.8 miles) in 1:04:49. It was a great route, as it took me over both the Tower Bridge and London Bridge – what a view! Throw in an AFD for good measure, and you've got a picture of health on this fine Monday.

Okay, so tonight, I FINALLY get all caught up and back to even by presenting Budapest – the rest of the story…

Saturday: Wandering around with Anita…

So Team Taylor popped up quasi-early this day for one of the “must do’s” on our list – the Pest walking tour. These tours (Buda and Pest alternate days) are FREE with your travel card, and I am happy to confirm that they were GREAT – 2.5 hours of laughs, information, insight, and fresh air.

Prior to leaving the hotel, however, we stopped by the front desk to ask them for a recommendation for dinner. The conversation went something like this:

Sammy: “Excuse me. We want a really good, Hungarian meal tonight. Where would you recommend?”

New Dude at Counter (NDAC): “Ahhh, I don’t know. What kind of food do you want?”

Sammy: “Just hearty, traditional, Hungarian. Somewhere near here that’s not too expensive.”

NDAC: “Ahhh, I don’t know. There are lots of restaurants here.”

Sammy: “Yes – is there one you like?”

NDAC: “No.” (Full stop – he ACTUALLY SAID NO)

Sammy: “Any that the hotel recommends?”

NDAC: “No.”

Sammy: (DETERMINED TO GET HIM TO NAME A PLACE, EVEN IF IT’S McDONALD’S) “Can you think of a single place you’ve heard of that tourists have enjoyed eating here?”

NDAC: “I suggest you wander the big streets. There are lots of places there.”

Seriously? SERIOUSLY? VERY helpful…

We arrived the meeting point with about 20 minutes to spare, and so we visited our own personal Nirvana – COFFEE HEAVEN. There, amidst the sounds of baristas hard at work, I had a white chocolate and coconut mocha whilst JT had a Hazelnut chocolate mocha. Dare I say it – SO GUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUD. But honestly, I almost went into a sugar coma 20 minutes later.

Our guide Anita (who was a HOOT) met us outside the visitor center, and from there we had a GREAT tour, walking past important buildings, monuments, and parks all over the Pest side. Some of the highlights included the Opera House and Andrassy Avenue (the only avenue in Pest), where we learned of the many festivals taking place that weekend. It was funny – we walked past the street festival at ~10:40 and they were STILL SETTING UP. Let’s just say that folks don’t get in any big hurry in Hungary – the day starts when it starts – NOT BEFORE.

Anita dropped us at the Pest Food Hall, where Team Taylor tackled these AMAZING strudels. I went for the dill cheese curd, whilst Puffin killed an apple strudel. And since that just wasn’t enough, we then went to a GREAT little café for lunch, where we gorged on goulash, sausage, and all the dumplings and cheese you can handle.

It was then across the Libertine Bridge and into Buda, where we made the 20 minute hike (STRAIGHT UP, for the record) to the Citadel. This spot, the location for 1 of only 2 Soviet memorials still in Budapest, is the highest point in the area and yields AMAZING views of both sides of the city (as well as the Danube and Margaret Island in the middle. We spent quite a bit of time up here, sitting on the benches and enjoying the sunshine. I mean, come on – look at that view!!!!

We then walked down (which was like coming off K2 – YIKES) to street level, where we had nice views of Buda Palace (now an art museum) and the Buda side, as well as gorgeous views across the water to Parliament (from this angle, it looked SO MUCH like Britain’s Parliament). We chose that as our crossing spot, and consequently we crossed off another to-do of the city’s Top 10 – walking across the Chain Bridge. It’s a very cool walk that affords pedestrians GREAT views of the Castle district (on the Buda side), including glimpses of St. Mattias Church, resplendent with all of its Hungarian tiles on the roof, Buda Palace, and Fisherman’s Bastion.

Upon crossing the river, we wandered down by Parliament, stopping at the memorial to the 20,000 Jews who were shot and dumped in the Danube during World War II. The site is marked by 62 pairs of shoes, and it’s a very haunting piece of work.

After that, we wandered first through a arts and crafts street festival (which was less than stellar, but there was a guy WEARING OUT a guitar – Dave Matthews/Tim Reynolds style (Ditty – that was for you). We left there pretty quick, wandering over to Andrassy Avenue and into the second festival. Before tackling the festival, however, we ducked into this CUTE little side street, where we chilled at Café Pausa for the last Hungarian beer on the list – Saproni. And whilst it was okay, it was a DEFINITE confirmation that, while Hungarians can cook food with the best of them, their booze has a LOOOOOONG way to go…

The second festival, we later found out, celebrated the opening of the Opera season. This shindig was definitely cooler (I mean, not Bulls Gap Street Dance, cool, but honestly, what is? Miller – speaking of, you should see the Tazewell Street Dance – now THAT is life changing).

We saw some RANDOM stuff along this wander, including:

1. A dude sitting in a bathtub and petting women’s heads at they bent down to take photos
2. Posters for the new production of “Mephistopholes,” complete with a naked dude COVERED IN BLOOD – riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight…
3. This CRAZY 10 minute dance montage about (JT and I assumed) violence against women. The movements were fairly violent, but the music and the strength these cats exhibited was just OUT OF CONTROL – Cirque du Soleil style.

The highlight of that festival was this set of 6 UBER bon bon’s that JT found. Seriously – each on of these took 14 months of our life, and they were each about the size of a walnut. Inside they were filled with fruit, peanut butter, Nutella, chocolate, and all kinds of rich goodness that should be illegal except in Heaven – WOW. I could eat another 45 of them right now. We actually ate 2 that night, saving the next 4 for brekkie on Sunday (who needs Wheaties? This is how we roooooooll…).

We had to walk about 56 miles for dinner that night, but we ended up with another GREAT meal. Again, whilst the wine was less than stellar (we tried red this time), the entrees were JUST DELISH. We then rolled home, where we passed out after another PERFECT DAY.

Sunday: The Beauty of Buda - courtesy of Anita (yes, the same one)...

We popped up the same time as Saturday, finished packing, and then left our luggage with the hotel (different dude than the cat who a) didn’t order my taxi or b) couldn’t think of a SINGLE restaurant in Budapest worth eating at). We then caught the #16 bus to the Buda side and hopped off at the Castle District. There we popped in for a coffee at Café Miro, where we paid about 39,000 bucks for a coffee the size of my thumb nail. Oh well, it happens…

Anita was once again our guide, and she was GREAT. We saw the Castle District (also a UNESCO World Heritage Site), and the weather was good again (a few slight showers, but that ended quick). Granted, a lot of what we saw we’d walked through on Saturday. However, it was GREAT to get a little exercise, get some of the history, and see it all again.

It was actually an interesting day, as it was the ONE DAY all year that government buildings were open to the public. That meant that the President’s House, the National Archives, lots of galleries, you name it – all were FREE! Granted, we didn’t get a chance to take advantage of it (we had to catch a flight), but it was still cool to see.

After the tour (we actually ducked out early – we’re starting to make a habit of that – I BLAME YOU, ARMENA!!!), we rolled back to the Pest side, where we did a little shopping before hopping a taxi back to the airport. After that, it was an easy ride to the airport, where we caught our flight (more or less) on time and got back at a reasonable hour (for a change).

So that’s it – you now know Budapest. As I said before, you really need 4 days to do this city justice, and you could absolutely spend 5 if you wanted to do a day trip. I can confirm that Team Taylor will DEFINITELY go back, and more to the point – it now has a firm spot in the “Top 5 places in Europe you must visit before you die” list. How’s THAT for praise?

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

Love,

Sam and Jenny

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Visiting Britain's thrill capital - Thorpe Park...

Family,

And a good evening to you from across the Pond after another GREAT DAY in the Mother Country. First off, I should warn you - I am sitting here typing this whilst feeling as though I've been shot out of a canon, attacked by a serial killer, pummeled by a polar bear, and hurdled into orbit without a spacesuit. Why, dare you ask, is my head still spinning as though I was born without equilibrium? Well, because today Team Taylor rolled with the Australian Invasion up to Britain's Premier Amusement Park and Thrill Capital - THORPE PARK, BABY!!!!
So back story here - up until a month ago, we didn't know that this place existed. At dinner one weekend, Yazz and Sam (that's right - Sam Stone, the Jason Bourne of London) mentioned a 50% off deal at this place until 7 October. After having looked at the rides, it sounded good to us, and so we put a date in the calendar.
The day started great - we were up early (7:15), but the ride to Waterloo was smooth, at which point Team Taylor did the unthinkable - ORDERED McDONALD'S FOR THE SECOND TIME IN A WEEK!!!! That's right - the Starbucks coffee wasn't enough -we also needed a) a Sausage, egg, and cheese McMuffin for, well, for Muffin Puffin, and b) TWO bacon, egg, and cheese bagels for Sammy. Chhhhhuuuuuuubby buuuuuuuunny!!!!! But, in my defense, they were both SO GUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUD (cheekies = peppy).
The ride to the park was easy, but the funniest part was the station where you get off. What city, pray tell, houses Britain's thrill capital? STAINES. That's right - STAINES. And best of all, when you got off, there was a food stall called "Staines Munch." Really? REALLY? I mean, it would have been funnier had it been Skidz munch, but that was all that could have possibly topped it (and besides - I miss Skidz from back in Morristown - I could sure go for one of those pizzas whilst playing Rygar right about now...).
Anyhoo, we were in line before 10 and got into the park about 10:15. We had been warned that the lines were crazy, but honestly, given the time of year, I didn't believe it. BIG MISTAKE, as the lines were MENTAL.
We rode the colossus first (the only ride on earth with a quadruple corkscrew), and it was very cool. After that, we tried to find a shorter line, only to see hour waits all OVER the place. The exception, however, was the "SAW Live Action Horror Maze." Consequently, 15 minutes later we were standing in a queue wrapped in fake razor wire, my hands on some dude shoulders (MANDATED - for the record), walking into a pitch black room filled with nothing but screaming. And whilst it was freaky, it was NOTHING compared to a) Scarowinds or b) the mullets that you see at Scarowinds.
And speaking of good people watching - HOLY MOLY!!!! Let's just say that the MUTANTS came out to play today, and the humans we encountered were OF EPIC PROPORTIONS. I have now seen more nasty make-out sessions, more blush, and more bra straps that double as tube tops than I EVER want to see again in my LIFE. Particularly frightening was this chain smoker wearing elastic shorts and a flower in her hair who sported AT LEAST A POUND OF BLUSH on both sides of her face - WOW.
The highlights of the day were a) Saw - the Ride (which was CRAZY - there was a drop that was MORE than straight down - WICKED) and b) the Stealth - a ride that starts off by going from 0-80 mph in less than 2 seconds and hits 4.86 G's - it was INTENSE.
The queues were a bit crazy, and we only got in 6 rides in 7 hours. That being said, we had an absolute BLAST (even if Yazz and Sam had to return their ice cold chicken sandwiches only to find out that the gal making them NEVER TURNED ON THE STOVE TO HEAT THEM) - hellllooooooooooo salmonella (Price - it was pretty much the scariest moment of my life).
We had Sunday dinner at - where else - THE DOOT, BABY!!!!! I mean, let's face it - we were the picture of health today: Mickey D's, fries in the park, and enough Indian to kill a small horse. I KNOW what healthy is...
And now we're back at home before 9, where Muffin Puffin has just stepped out of the shower and I'm about to hit the sack. It was a BLAST today, but we have realized that we're not kids anymore, and roller coasters are a bit rougher on us than they used to be (especially in the wind and rain). Does this mean we're getting old?
Yazz and Sam - the countdown is on! 5 days until Carlsbergville!!!! Can't wait!!!!
Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. I'll wrap Budapest when we chat tomorrow. For now, I must rest before week 2 of the Land's End Challenge!
Love,
Sam and Jenny

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Part 1: Budapest: 3 days, 2 cities 1 AMAZING trip...

Family,

And a good evening you again from across the Pond for the special edition of "Travel with the Taylors." Okay, as promised, here's the recap of Budapest, a city that can ABSOLUTELY endorse as one of the BEST places to visit in the whole of Europe, and perhaps the continent's best kept secret.

Thursday: Where do I buy the Nike Shoes? (T-Rowe - that was for you, brother)
So we left work and rolled to Gatwick, where JT and I met outside of Malev's air's check-in desk. This is Hungary's official carrier, and it was voted "Best Eastern European Airline of 2009." Personally, that's kind of like winning the award for fattest person in a Miss America pageant, as it's not like the competition is all that fierce. All the same, we hopped on board for the start of our adventure.

The flight was good, but we got our first indicator that booze in Hungary was going to be less than stellar when th wine they gave us was practically translucent. This would have been fine by itself, but the cheese sandwich they gave us with it solidified my opinion that Malev air did NOT face British Airways or Luftansa style competition in the former Eastern Bloc. All the same, we arrived about 45 minutes late and were fine and dandy - at least until we wandered out to meet our taxi driver...

We had pre-booked a taxi with our hotel, but homeboy was NOT present. More to the point, despite 3 phone calls, 1 email, and 30 minutes of waiting, he STILL had not shown up. We had been told that, once booked, we would DEFINITELY owe the fee. However, as I was madder than a wet Hornet (props to Alice Ann for that one), we stormed out, got a taxi, and rolled to the hotel. When I told the front desk that the guy never showed, it went like this:

Dude at counter (Dac): "Yes, there are taxis at airport."
Sammy: "Yep - a bunch of 'em. But not the one we ordered. I want to ensure it's not on our bill."
Dac: "You just call us, we make taxi."

Sammy: "Okay, but you didn't make one when we landed. So no charge, right?"
Dac: "You tell us and we will book."

Sammy: "Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight."

Consequently we rolled up stairs and PASSED OUT. Despite the hiccups, we were in Budapest, with 2.5 days of immortality in front of us. I am happy to report that, after those initial speed bumps, it was ALLLLLLLLL good.

Friday: Pest - all you need for a perfect day...

So we woke up to rain, but we wandered out into Pest with high spirits (note - Budapest is divided into 2 cities - Buda and Pest (clever, huh) - and we were staying on the Pest side. They are joined by 7 bridges and were incorporated together in 1867 to form one of the "twin capitals of the Hauptsburg Empire - Vienna was the other). We walked through the "fancy shopping district," somewhat surprised to find that we were the only cats out and about. Realizing that the world wakes up late in Pest, we went and had brekkie at this GREAT little spot called Fresco's (the omelet was so guuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuud).
We then caught the tram up to Parliament (the world's 3rd largest, for the record), where we learned that we'd just missed the noon tour of the building. However, upon discovering that there was a 2 PM tour, we hopped back on the tram and rolled down to the Cathedral of Pest - St. Stephen's. In a word - WOW.
Now I think it goes without saying that Team Taylor has visited A LOT of churches during our time in Europe. However, this one is WAY up there. 55 kinds of marble (54 of which were from Hungary - the white marble was from Italy), gorgeous frescoes, amazing lighting, and plenty of history made this church a MUST SEE for anyone who visits Budapest. Dedicated to St. Stephen, the first king of Hungary and the man responsible for converting (meaning slaughtering anyone who disagreed) the nation to Christianity, his right hand is STILL ON DISPLAY in a side chapel (but you have to pay $1 to see it lit up - CLASSIC). He ruled from 1000 to 1038, and apparently he and his gal Gisela were a fearsome pair (just like JT and I...).
After visiting the church, we rolled back to Parliament, where we joined a (rather chaotic) tour through the capital. It was GORGEOUS and DEFINITELY worth the visit, but we did feel a bit like cattle being driven along the Sante Fe Trail. The tour was in 2 languages, which helped us because whatever I missed during the English presentation I was usually able to catch during the German bit. If nothing else - it was good practic (Frau would have been so proud). The highlight was the old seating chamber and the crown jewels, including the scepter from the 10th century (from Egypt) and the original and only) crown in Hungarian history (all 55 kings wore it).
After that, we wandered into City Park (stopping at the ENORMOUS Heroes Square) before dropping in for the highlight of the day - THE THERMAL SPAS, BABY!!!!! So we roll in, pay our money ($15 each - CHEEEEEEEEAP), and are given a cabin to change into bathing suits. Only then does it occur to us that we DON'T GET TOWELS AS PART OF THE ENTRY FEE. However, I have a t-shirt, and I ain't skeered. Instead, we roll out barefoot and in our suits into the indoor spas, soaking and pruning almost instantly.
This place was AWESOME, complete with 15 pools and a sauna that got up to 70 Celsius! That's about 150 or so Fahrenheit - OUT OF CONTROL. The classic moment, however, was when, after searching (clearly not very hard), we concluded there was no outdoor pool. I went to the frigidarium to cool off, and someone asked Jenny (in another hot tub) where the outdoor pool was. When she said, "Oh, there isn't one," he looked at her as though she were from Mars. Sure enough, his friend comes back and says, "Follow me." 30 seconds later, we are staring at an outdoor pool THE SIZE OF PANTHERS STADIUM. I mean...come on...
It was AWESOME. There was this central jet area that pushed you around like a lazy river on acid. Seriously, the space was built for about 10 people, and we had about 7,000 in there. More than once I was actually rocked OUT of the whirlpool, where I almost always collided with some huge German dude with loads of back hair wearing nothing but a Speedo 14 sizes too small. GOOD TIMES!!!!
The other cool thing was the chess boards. There were boards set up where folks could just sit and soak, playing chess whilst drinking their beers and relaxing in the water. All in all, it was an AMAZING WAY to spend 3 hours. We had so much fun, in fact, that we almost got locked in, as we didn't get out of the water until we had 8 minutes to spare.
Having no towel to dry off, resorted to option B - steal about 10,000 paper towels from the bathroom. You could tell the staff was less than pleased, but hey - it helped to get rid of us quicker, so they didn't complain.
Dinner that night was in the Jewish Quarter (where we saw the largest Synagogue in Europe and second largest in the WORLD), where we had an AMAZING meal. They advertised live music, which was basically a dude sitting by a Casio keyboard singing music from Dirty Dancing ("she's like the wind, in my dreams..."). The music was okay, but the food was AWESOME. I had "Dream of Harem Ladies," which was roasted chicken stuffed with cheese and fried banana rolled in flour and then fried again before being stuffed into potatoes covered with cheese - SO GUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUD (peeeeeeeeeepy cheekies). JT had paprika chicken, also off the chain.
What was NOT off the chain, however, was the local liquor - palinke. Knockout had warned me about this stuff (her quote was "It's like drinking petrol"), and she was NOT kidding. We got the plumb flavor - I actually wanted to rename it to "post-apocalyptic charred whale flavor." YUCK...
After the great meal, we wandered home, where we passed out after another GREAT DAY recorded in the books.
Okay, I know that's not all, but hey - I've gotta keep something for the coming days! That's enough news fit for print - chat tomorrow!
Love,
Sam and Jenny

The quick Friday and Saturday rundown (Budapest to follow)...

Family,


And a good evening to you from across the Pond after another GREAT DAY in the Mother Country. The plan is to break tonight's blog into 2 pieces - the Friday/Saturday recap and then the Budapest recap. We'll start with all that's transpired since I last left you, at which point I was chowing down on Chili Heatwave Doritos and herb spiced cheese after Midnight (good thing I'm not a Gremlin.


So Friday was a great day, complete with the breafast of Champions: THE BIRLEY BACON & EGG BLOOMER. I gotta tell ya - the egg is now runny, the mayo flows freely, and this sandwich eating experience has become transcendental. Seriously - I had it twice this week (which equates to a week of my life gone due to artery clogging), and they were the best 2 sandwiches I've ever had there.


The Land's End Challenge ended on solid ground this week, with Taylor logging 27Km in 46:30, meaning that I covered 100Km or week 1. And whilst that is great and I am pleased, it doesn't take a mathematician to calculate that I am operating at exactly HALF of what I need to be clocking in a week to complete the challenge on time. At this rate, it will take me TEN WEEKS to complete the journey. Oh well, perhaps I'll integrate the "3 Peaks Challenge" or the "Row the Channel" challenge into the mix. After all, Rugby Union tickets are on the line here!


The evening was an absolute BLAST, as Muffin and I met up with Grimshaw, Kat, and Fiona (as well as their fellows) for drinks at De Hems Dutch cafe (which serves, oddly enough, primarily Belgian Beer). I ordered us a pair of Mardesous 8 pints, which, upon delivery from the bar keep, I realized IMMEDIATELY to be a mistake. Instead of the blond goodness that we were expecting (which, upon further review and memory, was the Mardesous SIX), we were served two pints of DARK BROWN brew that smelled EVERY BIT as caloric as they tasted. For the record, I didn't get through mine, but Muffin Puffin powered through (ANIMAL!!!!).


After a few drinks there, we rolled into Chinatown, where the gang followed me to Kum Tang (Hitman - this is the Malaysian spot beside Fung Sheng). I had been talking this place up ALL WEEK, and I was ITCHIN' for some pork belly. Well, in CLASSIC Taylor fashion, we rock up to find that it is NOW called the HONG KONG BUFFET. That's right, folks - Kum Tang was SHUT DOWN. You see what happens when Transition packs up and leaves? Honestly, I can't believe that the Cat & Canary is still functioning...SERENITY NOW!!!


Personally, I wasn't worried (although this did echo the time I tried to reserve bowling for my project team the day of and found out they were booked out), as we had Feng Sheng to fall back on next door. So we walk in (I mean, hey - after Fizzy stood up and sang Def Leppard, Wild Card put chop sticks in his mouth to act like a walrus and Hitman told the wait staff that their prawn crackers tasted like shit, I KNEW they would remember and LOVE me...) and ask for a table for 8 (keep in mind the place is PACKED). The guy nods and says, "No problem - one second." Consequently, I give the gang the thumbs up and await the host's return. He comes back 1 minute later, and here's the conversation:


Mao Tse-tung's Cousin (MTC): "I sorry, sir. Is no way."


Sammy: (bewildered) "You mean you don't have space?"


MTC: "No sir. Is no way."


Sammy: "Okay, no worries. How long is the wait?"


MTC: "Is no chance sir. All tables full."


Sammy: "Yep - got that part. HOW LONG IS THE WAIT."


MTC: "Is very long, sir."


Sammy: "BALLPARK IT."


MTC: "Is all night, sir. Is impossible."


Sammy: "The wait is ALL NIGHT?"


MTC: "Yes, sir." (waves his little red book as he dreams of the Forbidden Palace)


Despondent, I give the gang the news. However, all was not lost, as Lovely Lynda came through in the clutch and got us into a place called "London Chinatown" (yep - their advertising team was clearly AWESOME). There we proceeded to KILL food, including ducks, scallops, shrimp, beef, and chicken. The gang had a great time, and every seemed to get on well.


The quote from the night (courtesy of Fiona's fiancee Tom when speaking to me - whom he'd just met 2 hours before): "Well, the project is a mess right now because our company needs to stop recruiting and hiring bloody History majors who don't know anything and can't DO anything." Fiona starts chuckling, at which point Tom says, "Oh @#$# it, you were a History major, weren't you?" The girls then begin cackling uncontrollably, but Tom and I carry on as boys do. T-Rowe, it was akin to the famous "At Last" comment...PRICELESS. And the photo isn't great, but when your camera's viewfinder no longer works, what can you really expect?


We then popped over to the Imperial for a nightcap, where we chatted until about 11:30 or so before each couple headed out. We got home about midnight, at which point Team Taylor PASSED OUT.


We slept over THIRTEEN HOURS last night, finally getting out of bed about 1:30 or so. We had some coffee, ate some British raspberries the size of our heads, and then Sammy went to buzz his head. After that, it was over to Oxford Street, where Sammy did THE UNTHINKABLE - I SHOPPED AT GAP!!!!! Back story here - Sammy is OUT of jeans. He's down to 1 pair, and there's a ventilation hole ripped in the side of it where he tried to run up a down escalator in Vegas and fell FACE FIRST (CLASSIC feat of coordination there). Knowing that it's getting colder and that he can't go into a single "respectible" establishment without a proper pair of trousers, he agreed to make the march to Oxford Street.


Honestly, I am used to buying Wrangler's, where you just pick your size and go. However, at Gap, there 14,963 different TYPES of jeans (skinny, authentic, boot, skinny boot, original, slim, authentic skinny, loose, easy, etc. - really? REALLY?), and you have to look through all of them to find a pair that:


1. Is NOT button fly


2. Will not crush your giggleberries


3. Actually has legs wide enough so that men can get into them (vs. transvestites - lady boys would LOVE this place)


4. Doesn't already have rips in them (destructed is the style...riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight)


5. Is something you could wear back at home without getting your ass kicked


Luckily, after a lot of tries, we found 2 pairs. And now, Sammy is a new man. :-)


Dinner was La Tasca, where JT and I CRUSHED our meals. It was SUPER GOOD, and, as always, Perfect Pumpkin came through in the clutch with a coupon, thereby saving us TONS o' cash.

We're now back at the flat, where Team Taylor is getting ready to Skype with Team Tacy before PASSING OUT and calling it a night. After all - tomorrow's a BIG day out. To find out why, however, you'll have to stay tuned.

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

Love,

Sam and Jenny

Thursday, 23 September 2010

All the World's a Stage...

Family,

And a good evening to you from across the Pond after another GREAT DAY in the Mother Country. Can you believe that the week is almost over? It has absolutely FLOWN by, and I can't believe that it's already Thursday evening as I type this. That being said, another EXTRA AWESOME day is in the books.

On day 4 of the Land's End Challenge, Taylor went conservative. Knowing that, realistically, there is NO WAY I can cover that kind of ground over the next 4 weeks, I decided to do a time trial 5K. I wanted to run outside, but given that it was raining (yep, it's official - fall's here) steadily, I opted for the comfort of the treadmill as well. Luckily I still had enough juice in my i-Pod to carry me along, and I turned in a 24:10 for the 5K. All in all, I was pleased! That gives me 73KM's for the week (only 897 to go...AWESOME).

Lunch was a treat, as I followed the esteemed wisdom of the Hitman and made my way to Tortilla for a large burrito. Look ou Moe's and Qdoba (sorry T-Rowe) - this place is SO GUUUUUUUUUUUUUUD (peppy cheekies). Let me just tell you - that burrito never stood a chance. Poor guy didn't even see what hit him...
The featured event of the night was another London to-do for Team Taylor, and something that we've been talking about since we arrived in the Smoke - A SHOW AT THE GLOBE THEATER!!! I gotta tell ya - I was just going to check it off the list, but it was WAY more than just another tick in the box.
The funniest moment of the evening was actually on the walk to the theater. I was sitting outside the Anchor Pub (don't worry, mum - I wasn't drinking - it was an AFD today) waiting for Muffin Puffin when a couple walked past (she was in heels on COBBLESTONES and he was clearly trying to impress). So they stop right in front of me as though they've just remembered something and the guy says, "Where's Scooby?" He lets out a WEAK whistle and then says begins calling for Scooby. I mean seriously, how could you NOT be thinking "Scooby Scooby Doo - where are you?" at this point...

Well, they turn around and walk back a bit, and then suddenly Scooby rounds the corner. At this point I am invested, and I simply have to see Scooby. As it turns out, Scooby is SPUDS McKENZIE with a full on camoflauge jacket - we are talking HARD CORE. I mean, the jacket has to wait more than the dog!
Anyhoo, Scooby is clearly very friendly, and he's walking up to everyone for some love. He approaches me as well, and as I reach down to pet him, he stops SIX INCHES from my shoe, hikes up his leg, and PROCEEDS TO PISS A RIVER (I didn't know so much fluid could actually be in a dog that size!). Needless to say - I did NOT bet Scooby. I just hope he keeps solving mysteries...

As for the Globe - WOW - talk about spectacular. We saw "The Merry Wives of Windsor," and it was HILARIOUS. The show was a BRILLIANT mixture of fabulous activing, terrific staging, music, and a lot of the elements traditionally used in Elizabethan theater. Additionally, we saw it the way I had ALWAYS wanted to - standing open air in "the yard." Hey man - when you can get the tix for 5 quid, you CANNOT argue.

The show had us in stitches the entire time (even when it started to rain during the first act - let's hope I don't get sick again), and one of the neatest moments was when, near the end, you could actually hear the bells from St. Paul's Cathedral across the river chiming 10 PM.

Oh, and I forgot to mention that, before you go in, there are TONS of food stalls available only to patrons. We got this REDONKULOUS chili - it too was guuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuud. And speaking of, it's about time to get into the Doritos, as I didn't really have din din (there's a new flavor over here called "Chili Heatwave," and it ROCKS THE PARTY).

On the walk home, we had a GREAT view of St. Paul's lit up across the water, thereby serving as a PERFECT end to a PERFECT London evening.

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

Love,

Sam and Jenny

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

WOW - What a week! And it's only halfway over...

Family,

And a good evening to you from cross the pond after another GREAT DAY in the Mother Country. Okay, so first off, announcement (and don't worry - we're not going back on vacation) - the Budapest highlights will be in the Saturday night blog. Why, you ask? Because this has been a CRAZY week, and we've had so much going on that I would be remiss if I didn't tackle some of it now!

Monday: Meet the Wild Wallaby and the Pool Shark!!!!!!

So Monday was GREAT. For starters, we'd arrived back in London at a decent hour, which meant that we actually got some sleep and had a chance to get some rest before the start of the week (novel concept, I know...). The work day was good as well, as Sammy entered a new phase into his physical conditioning (that's right - my body is a temple...a Buddhist temple) - the Land's End Challenge. And for the record, I'm pretty sure I'm gonna regret signing up.

Our gym is currently holding a couple of endurance challenges, all if which are to be completed on equipment in the gym or outside along approved trails. There are myriad options - 3 Peaks challenge (you walk on the treadmill on an incline), cycle to Brighton (on the stationary), row across the channel (on the Concept-2), etc. Sammy, however, has chosen to tackle the big dog - the Land's End Challenge. And what, praytell, is the Land's End Challenge. I have FIVE WEEKS to cover 970 kilometers on the bike or running. Granted, I will admit - it's practically impossible. However, a pair of rugby tickets are on the line, and I want to see how much ground I can cover. I ended up logging 27 km on Monday in 46 minutes. It felt good, and I felt good in the knowledge that I only had 943 "clicks" to go...

The evening was a true highlight, as the Taylor clan had special visitors from the Lonestar state (deep in the heaaaaaaaaaaaaaart of Texas) - Henry and Jenny Robinson!!!! Also known as the Pool Shark and the Wild Wallaby (because, well, she's a kiwi and he's never shot a game of pool in his life - unless you're playing for money), these folks are T-bone's parents. We had a BLAST!

The arrived about 6 PM, and we chatted for a bit before nipping to the Marylebone for a pint (I needed my Sagres) and then to - where else - THE DOOT, BABY!!!! Their youngest (Kyle) had just married an Indian gal, so we knew they would love it! Consequently, we ordered up a ton of food and crushed plate after plate.

The visit was quick, but MAN did we have a blast. We sacked out about midnight or so, which is why there was no blog on Monday night (see Fizzy and Hairless - I TOLD YOU I had a good reason).

Tuesday: A quiet night in...

Tuesday was quiet and uneventful, but no complaints here. Actually, in truth, I have PLENTY OF COMPLAINTS about Tuesday. The day started great - we got to chat with Henry and Jenny for an hour before they left for the airport (Tommy Lee Jones was on their flight, btw). It continued great, as I got my Starbucks coffee and prepared for a day of working at home. Only then did my PC decide to tell me that it didn't like the idea of working from home that day. Consequently, after 30 VERY frustrating minutes, I packed it in and rolled to the office.

The good news was that I managed to log a 10K in 48:07!!! That's about 7:45 a mile!!! It was a perfect day, and it felt GREAT. All in all, I was thrilled. Plus, the quiet night in allowed for a) a salad for din din, b) an AFD, and c) a chance to wrap Croatia AND do some more vacation planning (Big Cat - look surprised).

All the same, we still didn't hit the sack until about midnight, at which point I laid awake for 2 hours. There is good news in my sleep of late, however. Normally, I get up every hour on the hour to pee (yep - you're welcome for that). Lately, however, I've been sleeping like the dead, barely waking up. The good news is that I feel rested. The bad news is that I have had some FREAKY dreams lately, and I've actually woken myself up 3 times in the month of September calling out (only once did it approach scream status, and it should be noted that Jenny has slept through 2 of these incidents. I really hope the kids take after her...). Clearly French benefits harmonization is taking a heavier toll than I realize...

Wednesday: Chelsea, Chelsea, Chelsea!!!!

So the Land's End Challenge entered day 3 today fueled by a Birley bacon and egg bloomer (Hitman - no cheese for me - I have decided that it is no longer a necessary part of breakfast). I logged 31km, and I FINALLY finished the Millennium Trilogy. And whilst I don't think that it's the best trilogy I've ever read, I really did enjoy them and would recommend them. That being said, it is REALLY twisted in places, so don't wander into it if you're looking for "light summer reading."

The evening yielded a VERY unexpected surprise - TICKETS TO A CHELSEA MATCH!!!! So if you go back to last night's blog, you'll remember a reference to a fella named Mark from Tampa that we met during our day trip to Vis. Well, as fate would have it, he is currently in London doing some work, and he asked if we wanted to go to a Chelsea match (Carling Cup, 3rd round). For the record, he had expressed a desire to catch the Sunday premiership match, but I told him he didn't have a chance. However, the boy scored a ticket for FACE VALUE!!!! So when he said we could get tickets for tonight's game, I abandoned all preconceived notions and took the District Line to Fulham Broadway, site of Stamford Bridge and Chelsea FC.

Granted, we did have to haggle, but the tickets that started at 50 quid ended up at 25 with just 10 minutes until kickoff. The scalper approach in the UK is CLASSIC. Basically you get the following phrases thrown at you by ALL of them:

1. "This ain't a charity, mate."

2. "I got kids to feed, too, yeah?"

3. "Do you think I like bein' out here and sellin' these for a fiver?"

4. "You won't be able to find 3 seats together in that place for all the money in the world. If you do find it, let me know. I'll get you a medal." (For the record, we actually got the three together for 5 above face literally TEN MINUTES after seeing that guy. As we walked back past him, he asked, "Did you get 'em?" When we said yes and gave him the price, he couldn't stop chuckling).

So bottom line, the unthinkable had just happened - WE HAD TICKETS TO STAMFORD BRIDGE!!!! Granted, the haggling did mean that we missed the first 13 minutes of the match (and Chelsea's first goal). You see, due to football being a sport of "thugs and hooligans," you have to enter the stadium one at a time through a metal gate that is, well, like entering San Quinten. Seriously - it was MASS HUMANITY trying to get in, and you have to proceed ONE AT A TIME. All the same, once we got in, it was AWESOME!!!!!

Truth be told, Jenny and I didn't even have "see a Chelsea match" on our to-do list prior to going home, as we'd always heard that tickets were impossible to score. Consequently, not only was this a surprise, it was a REAL TREAT. We saw SIX GOALS, experienced the GREAT atmosphere of 41,000+ Blues fans singing and chanting in unison, and got a chance to sit in one of the temples of football. Granted, the Blues did lose 4-3 in a shocker to Newcastle United, but we got to see John Terry on the pitch, which is something that I will ALWAYS remember.

After that we caught a pint at Brogan's Irish Pub before bonding with 47 BILLION of our closest fans and hopping the tube. There we said goodbye to Mark and then walked home, where I'm now blogging at 12:15 AM and eating cheese filled with herbs (SO GUUUUUUUUUUUUUD - peppy cheekies).

Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Land's End Day 4 tomorrow - lookout treadmill! Chat tomorrow!

Love,

Sam and Jenny

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

And so we FINALLY bring it home - wrapping Croatia (Part 6)...

Family,

And a good evening to you from across the Pond after another GREAT DAY in the Mother Country. So first off - apologies (especially to Fizzy and the Hairless Wonder) for no blog last night. I will just say that it was a very fun night and I didn't want to miss a second of it by blogging. Fret not, however, as I will catch you up on the events of the week. For tonight, however, I will assume the task that I have put off for far too long - WRAPPING CROATIA. And so, once more to the breach, dear friends!

Saturday - VIS: THE BEST day of the trip

So Team Taylor popped up at 8 again and made our way down to the Old Town Harbor. I must confess that I was a little worried that the day trip was not going. However, we were pleasantly surprised to find our boy chillin' down by the dock beside our boat! Consequently, we hopped aboard the SS Minnow (actually, it was a decent sized boat) and headed out for our 8th destination in 8 days - VIS.

The ride out to Vis was 1 hour and 45 minutes, but we had a stopover en route - the Green Cave. Yazz had told us about this place and said that we should DEFINITELY NOT miss it, and she was NOT wrong. We had 20 minutes in the cave, but there was only one way it - OPEN WATER, BABY.

Please keep 2 things in mind. 1. The water is NOT warm. 2. My wife is from Florida. I'll let you sum up that equation, but suffice it to say that the captain's announcement that "you have 20 minutes to swim" did NOT make her jump for joy. However, knowing that this was a once in a lifetime experience and that she would regret it if she didn't jump, my Perfect Pumpkin counted down from 3, squealed, and jumped into that water like the Navy SEAL I know she was in a previous life. I mean, come on - check out perfect pumpkin in the water!

The caves were REALLY cool. The current was strong, but the water was reasonably warm. I actually dove into the water, which looks dangerous because it's crystal clear but actually is no risk because the waters about 30 feet deep (you can really see STRAIGHT DONW).

We puttered around for 20 minutes, swimming inside the cave (which did have green tints due to the way the light hit the water and the algae in the cave). And whilst this was fun, it was NOTHING compared to the Blue Cave. In a word - WOW.

After we left the green cave, we puttered along to another island off the coast of Vis - home of the Blue Cave. When we rocked up, we noticed all these TINY boats that looked as though they'd helped at Dunkirk. I remember thinking to myself, "Why on earth are those boats so battered?" I also had the thought, "Is that driver over 90? Me thinks YES." And THAT, folks, was the start of a GREAT adventure.

So here's the deal with the Blue Cave - there is a hole in the side of the island below the water (15 meters down) that lets in sunlight. Because of the water content, it only reflects blue. Since you truly are in darkness except for the underwater light, it is CRAZY awesome. But if you think THAT is cool, you should try getting INTO the cave.

The entrance to the cave is TINY - we are talking probably 3 feet high. And even better, there are waves CRASHING against the opening, and at regular intervals the cave disappears. In case you're still in suspense, I'll tell you - the only way you get in is by LAYING DOWN IN THE BOAT WHILST THE OLD MAN IN THE SEA DRIVES THE DINGHY LIKE A BATTERING RAM THROUGH THE HOLE. And the craziest part? HE MISSED THE FIRST TIME.

That's right - WHAM! Our boat gets ROCKED against the cliff. However, Old Man River does NOT slow down. Instead, he doubles the throttle and sends us rocketing through the hole with only the words "HEAD DOWN!" as a warning that we are about a millisecond from being chum. It was AWESOME. And the reward was a view that NO picture can do justice.

And dad - on the ride back to the boat I pulled off one of my best coups EVER - I think you would be so proud. As we got back onto the dock, I noticed that they had a final load of passengers (just a few). I grabbed Jenny and walked back over to the boat and asked the guy if we could go again. He looks at me, then the boat, then says something in Croatia to Moses' grandfather (aka the skipper) before waving me on. Consequently, we got to go a second time for FREE!!! WINNER WINNER CHICKEN DINNER!!!!

After that, it was back on the boat for an AMAZING lunch of all the Tuna you could eat. And let me tell you - A THIRD OF THE OCEAN DIED TO FEED ME THAT DAY. It was SO GUUUUUUUUUUUUUUD (peppy cheekies). And best of all, we had a GREAT lunch crew to sit with (well, except for this Canadian dude who announced to us that British Beer sucks and is like water compared to Canadian brew. Really? REALLY? Muise - you simply HAVE to learn to better control your people). We met Lloyd and Karina, two Kiwis living at Oxford, where she was getting her Ph.D. and he was a FELLOW. His best line of the day, "Well, I figured that, if I was working at Oxford, I might as well get a Master's whilst there." Oh YEAH!!! Cause who doesn't do that? Hell, I picked up 16 or 17 of 'em the last time I passed through...

Also, we met Mark and Jess from TAMPA, FLORIDA. That's right - HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY REPRESENT! We had a GREAT time hanging with them, so much so that we exchanged numbers and also shared the table on the long cruise back to Hvar.

The last stop of the day was the island of Vis itself, which was off limits to foreigners until 1970. The beach there was BEAUTIFUL, and so we did some swimming, got some sun, had a brew, and then had some GREAT gelatto before departure. It was GREAT.

Dinner that night was at a place called Bonaca, where JT and I tried the specialty dish - SHARK GRILLED AND MARINATED IN VEGETABLES AND SPICES. SO GUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUD!!!!!!!! Seriously - one would have been enough, but OH, NO - not for Team Taylor. We rolled BIG TIME and each got one, which we DECIMATED. But MAN, were we stuffed when we finished. All the same, we had a rooftop view on a lovely night, so we had NO complaints.

Sunday - FINALLY: staying in once place

Sunday was GREAT. Simply put, we wanted to do NOTHING except enjoy the beaches and bars of Hvar. We started the day with coffee at the Red Baron Cafe, where we picked the ONE SEAT that was REIGNING DOWN seeds from the coconut trees. It was hilarious, and luckily the one time it reigned down a carpet bombing of seeds was the one time JT got up for the loo, so we're lucky we didn't end up in the ER. After that it was wandering around, getting some food, doing some shopping, exploring the old town, and just relaxing until about 3 or so, when we rolled into one of the "must see" desintations: The Hula Hula Beach Bar.

This place was AWESOME. Seated right on the water, you had an AMAZING view of the bay and the islands. There was a DJ mixing techno, and so we just sat down, ordered a few brewskis, sat in the shade (check out muffin puffin in her stylish new Croatian hat), and watched the world go by. The place was trendy and funky, so we had a blast (cause, well, we're SO trendy and funky - especially with our ripped bodies clad in only bathing suits).

After that, we got a farewell swim in (and made a sandwich) on the water before heading over to Falko, the last bar at the edge of town and the water. This place was GREAT - hammocks to lie in, an unobstructed view of the sunset (I mean check out that shot), and free shots from the guy who ran the place (granted, he ROOKED US later, but hey - it's the cost of doin' business, right?).

Best of all, our new found Floridian friends Mark and Jess came out to meet us, so we spent a solid 2-3 hours just chillin' at Falko before a) getting ripped off and then b) wandering back into Hvar town for dinner. The winner for the final meal was the same as the opening meal - Alga. This time we got the PRIME SEAT overlooking the harbor, where we stared at all the REDONKULOUS yachts moored in the harbor. Seriously, T-bone - remember when we saw Greg Norman's yacht in Auckland? Yeah, picture a sea of those puppies lined up. All I can say is that I'm in the WRONG business, cause some of those fools are makin' BANK.

We had a great final meal, said goodbye to our compatriots, and then hit the head, another PERFECT day in the books.

Monday: Diocletian liked it, I know - but I was NOT impressed...

On Monday we got up around 9 and went to check out of the hotel. This was classic for a few reasons:

1. I'd left the print out of what we owed so we had NO IDEA what the room rate was.

2. When we tried to check out, she quoted us in kuna (local currency) even though we brought euros to pay (as instructed).

3. We then had to find a currency calculator to work out what we owed in euros and then make the exchange using a) her ten words in English and b) our 1 word in Croatian (hvala - "Thank you").

4. (The not funny part) I found the print out as soon as we got home and discovered that we'd overpaid by 20 euros (~$28). Oh well, the view was AMAZING, the location was perfect, and I have no complaints. It was worth that and then some.

We then rolled down to the harbor, where we sat down at the Hvar Yacht Club and camped out for the next THREE AND A HALF HOURS. You see, I will confess that I have a weakness - I am IN LOVE with outdoor furniture (OSC - if Lisa wants to sell some of your "outside" chairs, just give me a holler), and so I LOVED all the funky bars in Croatia with their neat and stylish outdoor seats and cushions. As I had been eyeing this joint since our arrival in Hvar, I decided that, for at least a brief moment, I wanted to sit there and look cool (at least in my own mind). Consequently, we rocked that seat for 3.5 hours, drinking coffee first and then moving onto lunch.
I mean, how cute is muffin puffin?

After that, we caught the 1:45 PM ferry to Split, where we arrived to a port that was LASHING IT DOWN with rain. I mean, this was MONSOON STYLE. Consequently, we didn't see much of Split. That being said, we weren't very impressed with it, so I'm really glad we didn't spend much time there. We could tell it was a great jumping off point, and it's even on the UNESCO World Heritage List (Diocletian's summer palace was there), but it just felt like such a one-day tourist port for folks on cruises. Granted, that didn't stop me from trying on some cheap jeans (because ALL of my jeans have holes in them now). However, I regret to report that, in Europe at least, THE BUTTON FLY IS ALIVE AND WELL. SERIOUSLY? Didn't that @#$# vanish in like, the 3rd grade? SERENITY NOW!!!!!

We caught the shuttle to the airport and arrived at Split "international" at 6:05 PM, 3 hours before our planned flight home. Why, you ask? Because the shuttle to the airport STOPS RUNNING AT 6, even though there are flights until 10. Grrrrrrrrrrreat...

Anyhoo, we rock up and realize that this airport is, without a doubt, THE SMALLEST ON EARTH. Seriously - this place makes Tri-Cities Regional (YES, MATT - that serves Tazewell) look like Dubai International. Why? Because it had EIGHT GATES. That's right - EIGHT. The only restaurant was in front of security, and the sandwich I got was 2 slices of 14 year old bread and a thin slice of salted ham (Puma - can you say salt sandwich on steroids? Yeah, it was kinda like that). Consequently, I was quite happy when the flight took off, ESPECIALLY considering that it was AN HOUR DELAYED.

We knew that vacation was over when the captain said, "From the flight deck, good evening. It's a lovely day here in Croatia, and I sure wish that I could tell you the same about London. However, it's absolutely CHUCKING it down right now. Visibility is nil, it's super windy, and we'll be further delayed because of a massive head wind. Thanks for choosing Easyjet." AWESOME.

Sure enough, we landed 90 minutes late. Sure enough, it was POURING. And sure enough, we were at the ONE GATE where they can't dock you directly to the jetway, meaning that you have to RUN LIKE HELL WITH ALL OF YOUR LUGGAGE across the tarmac. Customs was easy, but we were SCRAMBLING to catch the last train home at 12:30. Had we missed it, we would have had (at least) a 100 quid cab ride home (LESS than a stellar way to end a vacation).

Luckily, we did catch the last train, and we finally made it home at 2 AM. It set us up to be EXHAUSTED all week (which I know sounds like it defeats the whole purpose of vacation), but our batteries were ABSOLUTELY recharged mentally, and that was the most important thing.

And so, there you have it - THE BEST one week trip the Taylors have ever taken. If any of you out there are thinking about Croatia, MOVE IT UP YOUR LIST. It WILL NOT disappoint.

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

Love,

Sam and Jenny

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

This is EXACTLY why I'm glad that Transition is over...

Family,

And a good evening to you from across the Pond after another GREAT DAY in the Mother Country! Okay, so first off - ANNOUNCEMENT - There will be NO BLOG until Monday evening, and even then it WILL NOT be about Croatia (I know, I know...WEAK). Why, you ask? Because tomorrow evening the Taylors are leavin' on a jet plane to...wait for it...wait for it...Budapest, Hungary, baby!!!! Oh yeah! Bring on the Goulash and kings that used to hunt and kill Dracula!

Secondly, apologies for no blog last night. However, that plays into the title of tonight's blog. You see, just like the did during the good ole' Transition era, the Americans are back in town. Granted, there are folks from Singapore, India, and the UK in the mix as well, but the last 2 days have felt VERY MUCH like an Integration session with Transition. Now granted, I've still made it to the gym every day this week (and 8 days in a row, for the record!), logging 27km in 45 minutes on Tuesday and logging 4 miles outside today (in perhaps the STRONGEST HEADWIND I'VE EVER RUN AGAINST). However, no among of gym time can make up for a typical Transition descent onto London restaurants. Consequently, I feel fat as a damn bear...

Tuesday night we had dinner reservations at a swish joint in Canary Wharf (despite the fact that its location is above the 6th floor of a Waitrose - that's a big UK grocery store chain) called Plateau. This place was posh puma, featuring a private elevator to the restaurant and a private room for our shindig (one wall was their wine rack, and it was UBER IMPRESSIVE). There were 14 of us, and so we tucked into some GUUUUUUUUUUUUD grub (and wine for that matter). I went with a goat's cheese and pesto tomato salad, followed by a parsley and barley mushroom risotto (it was an odd shade of green, but I made peace with that), and then coconut creme brulee for dessert (I even went with a decaf coffee to cap the evening). It was all SO DELISH.

We then ended the evening at...well, do I really need to say it? THE CANARY, BABY!!!! There a group of 6 (Wild Card, the Welshman, Oxford, SC, OSC, and Sammy) had a night cap and chatted the evening away until almost 11. Finally, I announced that it was 45 minutes home and that I had a wife (patiently) waiting for me. It's a sign that I'm getting old, as back during Transition days I would have stayed out until later. However, this time I just needed my sleep.

Today was FILLED with food, including SQUARE PIE FOR LUNCH - steak and cheese of course! Dinner was LATE, but after a quick pint at the Canary (Lord - I opted for a Guinness - I thought you'd be proud), we rolled over to Srinam, where the love of Hitman's life showed us to our table (but then snubbed us because he wasn't there to whisper sweet nothings into his...or her ear). Dude - shim says hello...and call shim. We ate a TON, and finally had to pack it in about 10:30, as I had to get home and post a blog for the faithful!

So now it's 11:40, and this guy's gotta hit the bed because, well, he still hasn't packed and has to do that tomorrow. Vacation is here - again...

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

Love,

Sam and Jenny

Monday, 13 September 2010

Stiiiiiiill going...Croatia Part 5...

Family,

And a good evening to you from across the Pond after another GREAT DAY in the Mother Country. And whilst Sammy is now sick and vocally sounds like the fog horn that let's you know when the Golden Gate Bridge is shut down, I'm feeling okay. There's some sinus pressure in there, but hopefully I'll be better tomorrow. And hey, I at least got 45 minutes on the bike (27 km), so that's worth something.
First off - announcement - Happy Birthday, T-Rowe! That's right, folks. Today the hairless wonder officially hits the big "Larry Bird," which means he now has more years on this earth than hairs on his body (I can't take credit for that - that was his). T-Rowe - make sure you drink at least 47 Fat Tires on my behalf tonight.

And so, whilst Muffin Puffin grinds out laps in the pool, let's transport you back to Dalmatia, for the next installment of Croatia.

Day 6 - Transport doesn't come any better than this...

So we popped up early (even by normal standards - 6:45) and caught the bus down to the big Terminal. We didn't get a farewell burek, but I was fairly certain that, after 5 straight days of them (including 2 on the Montenegro day), I had enough spare calories to carry me the extra hour required before breakfast.

We stopped at the Terminal office and picked up our tickets for the "Marko Polo" (said to be from the Croatian island of Korcula, for the record), which boarded at 9 but didn't sail until 10. Consequently, we had time to grab a cup of coffee at a local shop prior to boarding.

At 9 AM we hustled on board and were among the first on the ship. Having booked only deck seats, we were keen to grab a spot to stretch out. Luckily the top deck had NOT been claimed yet, and by 9:05 we were sitting in the shade on the top deck, coffee and brekkie in hand. I figured that we'd get some heat for staying there after our coffee was done, but oh no - Team Taylor camped out for SEVEN HOURS in that spot, alternating who got up to look at the scenery. And speaking of scenery, it was just MIND-BLOWING.

The sail was 6 hours long, calling at Korcula before stopping at our ultimate destination, the island of Hvar. Along the way we passed countless islands (there are 1244 of them in Croatia, 67 of which are inhabited - you're welcome for that. Brisson, I'm pretty sure this reminds you of the time you told me you went to Phoenix Park in Dublin and I said "Good call - that's the largest walled park in Europe") on one side and GORGEOUS mountains (all off white) to the other. It really was a STUNNING trip, and the time just flew.

It also gave me a chance to finish an absolute DONKEY TRASH novel called "Londonstani." It was 342 pages, and I can say that there were TWO paragraphs worth reading in the entire thing. That being said, it means that I now have JUST ONE book left in the "brown bag" pile (a book called "The Shack"), and I will finish it. Incidentally, the "brown bag" pile was a stack of books wedged into an old brown paper bag that was sitting on my desk the day I arrived. Slightly curious, I picked up a book called "At Risk" (which was ALSO TERRIBLE, by the way) and started to read. Jenny's worked through the girl one's ("Emily Ever After" and some other stuff), but we're almost done. I actually thought this book would be good. In retrospect, I would rather gargle battery acid than read it again.

We arrived at the island of Hvar just after 3, but it took us 90 minutes to circle the island and come into the car ferry terminal (which means we saw the city we were going to but COULDN'T GET OFF). Even worse, we had to drop SIXTY BUCKS for the 9 mile cab ride from Stari Grad to Hvar town. We were NOT happy, but since taxi's were pretty much the only way to the ferry terminal, we didn't have many options. All the same, I found out later we were rooked out of $20. Normally this would bother me, but since this guy looked like ZZ Top and BLASTED Lynrd Skynrd during the entire drive, I couldn't bring myself to get too upset.

We checked into our room (which had an AMAZING view of the harbor and the old town - GREAT balcony) before heading down to the town center with 1 goal in mind - FIND A REPLACEMENT CAMERA. This, ladies and gentlemen, was an adventure (imagine that).

For starters, we had NO IDEA where to look. It was already 5:30, and the time was ticking. We knew that a GORGEOUS sunset was brewing, and we wanted to capture it. However, after 20 minutes of wandering the old town, we hadn't seen hide nor hair of an electronics store.

Puffin then had the great idea of hitting up the tourism office, who sure enough was able to point us to the ONE photo shop in Hvar - AWESOME - cause that means these prices won't be jacked up at all...
So we roll into the store, and the fella greets us. He's a nice guy, and we tell him we're looking for digital cameras and would like to see what else (other than the THREE CASIOS) he has in stock. He just shakes his head. Apparently Casio is the ONLY DIGITAL CAMERA COMPANY LICENSED TO SELL IN CROATIA. If you want a Canon, hope the boat and go over to Italy.

Jenny did NOT look happy about this, as she had certainly wanted to keep the photography "in the family." And when she saw the price tag (it's about double what you'd get the same model for in the states), she went to a very dark place. At that moment, we weren't on an island in the midst of a second honeymoon - we were in frumpytown, population Jenny. It didn't help that the guy said, "We'll need to delete all of your photos on the memory card as well, but I can back them up onto a CD - just be careful." Consequently, we took a walk.

At the end of the day, we agreed that it was just money and that if even 1 photo was a keeper it was worth the cost. 15 minutes later, we rolled back into the store, Jenny picked the hot pink one (because it's the new black), and I whipped out my credit card. The look on his face told me everything.
Camera Dude (CD): "I am sorry, sir - we only accept cash."

Sammy: "But I'm buying a digital camera. That thing isn't cheap."

CD: "No, it isn't. There is an ATM around the corner."

Sammy: "You really won't take plastic?"

CD: "No, but I will burn your photos while you wait. I won't even charge you." (which, to be fair, was nice of him, as we would have paid whatever...)

So we roll to the ATM only to find that the maximum you can get out for the day is EXACTLY the amount of the camera. And so, writing off that $5 transaction fee (thanks, Bank of America), we get out the $$$ and go back to the store a THIRD time.

However, all's well that ends well, as we got all the pics backed up (and they are now safe and sound on our portable drives, knock on wood), the guy charged the camera so we could take photos of the sunset, and he even threw in these RIDICULOUS umbrella hats. Seriously - these things could only have been crazier if they'd taken a page out of Lady Gaga's wardrobe and wrapped them in raw meat (what WAS that all about anyway? And Fizzy - you know you LOVED it).

New camera in hand, we scampered to do what anyone should do after dropping a small fortune - HAVE A GLASS OF WINE. In our case, a glass wouldn't cut it - we opted for a liter. The chosen restaurant was Alga, and we sat on this AMAZING rooftop terrace, enjoying a GREAT tuna steak and (of course) Black Risotto, baby!!!! We saw an amazing sunset, and Jenny came to realize that she actually loved her new acquisition.

We hit the bed early that night, as we'd booked a day trip for the following morning, and we had to be back down at the harbor by 8:45. All in all, another perfect day in paradise.

Day 7 - This water is supposed to be WARM, right?
So we rolled down to the harbor at 8:45 THRILLED about the planned day trip. We were headed to Vis, an island that Yazz had just RAVED. We didn't think we'd get to go, but we'd noticed the sign before grabbing food at Alga, and so we booked and were REALLY looking forward to it. However, when we showed up 15 minutes before departure, we noticed that our boat wasn't there.

The guy we'd bought the tickets from was there, however, and he explained that the tour had been canceled due to "wind." Seriously? YOU LIVE ON THE OCEAN. I was NOT happy and thought they just hadn't found enough folks to turn a profit. However, as I was later to find out, YOU REALLY DON'T WANT A WINDY DAY FOR THIS TRIP. The guy assured us it was back on for tomorrow and the weather was supposed to be better. Consequently, we wandered over to a cafe by the water and formulated our next plan.

We decided to keep the party going, and so we hopped a water taxi to Pamizana, voted one of the best beaches in Croatia. We knew we were in for a fun day when we got on the boat and sat down across from 3 Longhorns who looked like they'd been shot out of a canon. Come to find out, these jokers had JUST LANDED from Greece, didn't bother booking a room, but instead went to an all night dance club that went until 5:30 AM! They were going to Pamizana just to SLEEP and figure out if their livers were still intact. They seemed like a fun bunch, but they gal beside me was a TOTAL quadruple negative donkey.

Here's pretty much how the convo with her and the Longhorns went:

UBER-LOUD American Masshole Donkey (ULAMD): "Oh, more Americans! Hey, where are you guys from?"
Nice guys from Texas (NGFT): "Texas, ma'am. We're from Texas."

ULAMD: "Well the ma'am was a dead giveaway. I used to want to visit Texas until a certain President. Now I will NEVER go down there."
NGFT: (silence)

Sammy: "Texas is still a pretty great state."
NGFT: "Yes, it is."

ULAMD: "Well, I would never go down there. Not after a certain President." (I really wanted to say? Which one? Hoover? I'm confused...)

Sammy: "Well, you know, they have a lot of other things there." (points at Longhorn ball cap) "There are a couple of solid football teams, I think." (smiles)

ULAMD: "What? There are teams other than the Patriots or the Red Sox? If so, they don't really count." (Really? REALLY? Ray - THESE ARE YOUR PEOPLE.)

ULAMD: (unprompted) "I'm from California. We don't like Texas because you won't invest in solar energy."

NGFT: "I actually work for an energy company."

ULAMD: "But do you only do solar? See, we just do solar in California."

NGFT: "You only do solar?"
ULAMD: "Yes, just solar." (WOW, that's AMAZING! I had NO IDEA everyone was driving an electric car now and that you'd gotten rid of generators after all those black outs! You guys really ARE cutting edge!) "You guys need to save the planet. When there are no fish left in the ocean, you'll wish you'd saved mankind. Chemicals are bad for you."

NGFT: "I think solar is a great concept, but it has to be financially viable for it to be adopted. That's just the way it is."

ULAMD: "It's not about money. It's about saving mankind. You'll see." (Abrupt silence ensues)
She tried to chat with me again, but I flat refused. That's right Hitman and Big Cat - I STONEWALLED A DEMOCRAT. All the same, I still blame you guys for everything...

Anyhoo, we eventually made it to Pamizana (only 20 min by ferry), hopped out, and claimed deck chairs ($8 for a chair for the day!). I then went for a swim and WOOOOOO!!!!!! SHRINKAGE!!!!!!! HOLY MOLY that water was freezing. It was EASILY the coldest water we'd been in, and we did NOT swim that day. That being said, check out the GUN SHOW!!!! FIAH POWAH!!!!!! Anyway, moving on...also, we did get a nice hike around the island and up to a hill (GREAT view of the surrounding islands, Hvar town, and Vis), had a beer at the local tiki bar, and got some sun.
Muffin then used her psychic powers to divine EXACTLY when the boat was coming back, and we literally jumped on with about .0001 seconds to spare. That was nice, and it got us back at a reasonable hour.

We had dinner at Marinero, where I killed some more (you guessed it) black risotto, alon with some guuuuuuuuuuuuuud tuna. JT had mussels, but they were less than impressive. However, we did spend the evening chatting with a great little British gal named Kay who told us all about her travels abroad over the past year and pretty much convinced Jenny to leave me and bounce around the globe. It was a great dinner (we chatted with her for about 3 hours), and we left the restaurant about 10:15 to hit the sack. After all, we had another crack at Vis tomorrow!
That, however, is the subject of another blog. :-) That's enough news for a night, so I'll bid farewell. Chat tomorrow!

Love,

Sam and Jenny

Sunday, 12 September 2010

RESURRECTED!!!! And Croatia - Part 4...

Family,
And a good Sunday morning to you from across the Pond after another GREAT DAY in the Mother Country! Yesterday was just perfect. JT and I made a pact to do NOTHING, and I am happy to confirm that we succeeded on all fronts. We had coffee on the balcony for the first time in 11 months, we (meaning Jenny) loaded pictures onto all of our backup drives, we did some vacation research (shocking, I know), we chatted with the Rice clan, I got to chat with Dad, and we both got a run in. After a LONG spell, I think my running has finally turned a corner. IFor starters, t's a very nice feeling when you can actually run easy (meaning you've got 2 gears finally - the one that hurts and the one that doesn't). Secondly, it's an EVEN BETTER feeling when you climb up Primrose Hill in your "easy gear" and find that it's a minute and thirty seconds faster than you've ever done it previously. FINALLY - I think I'm getting back in shape.
And speaking of that - GOOD NEWS!!!! Before I went out for my run I looked at my poor, lonely little i-Pod sitting there, and said, "Let's just give him one last shot for old time's sake." And what happened when I hit the button? I SAW A BLACK APPLE, BABY!!!!! Oh YEAH!!! We're back!!! Now granted, not all the buttons work any more and the battery only lasts about 30 minutes, but hey - NO COMPLAINTS FROM THIS GUY.

One last thing to note - WE WATCHED COLLEGE FOOTBALL YESTERDAY!!!! I found THE GREATEST website in history: channelsurfing.net. Seriously - you can watch ANYTHING, and it's streamed to you just like your in the network for the game. We watched the Noles (KJ - what happened...) from the Tampa affiliate and then the Vols (oh well, it was good for a half) on ESPN. SO COOL!!!!
We also watched "The Bucket List," again (it was on the telly), and I am happy to report that, once again, Team Taylor bawled their eyes out. I mean, I turned on the tube hoping for Die Hard, and they throw THAT at us? Tough draw...
Okay, so back to the continuing saga of the Taylors in the former Yugoslavia. Today we turn our attention to the smallest, most mountainous of the new republics - the little land that is known as Montenegro.
Day 5 - Montenegro - the ONLY way you can (OR NEED) to see it...

So this day dawned EARLY (well, by Taylor standards, at least), but we were up at 6:30, bureks in hand by 7, and in front of the Hilton again (same spot as the day before) for a 7:30 pick-up. Today's trip was to the smallest, least populated, and newest republic of the former Yugoslavia - Montenegro. Covering only 13,000 square miles and having a population of just 670,000, this country is basically 1 big mountain with a couple of teeeeeeny towns along GORGEOUS harbors, bays, and the Adriatic. In short - it was a day of AMAZING scenery...but NOT much else.
We were on one of those massive coaches, and when we got on our guide (whose name I CANNOT pronounce, but it sounded like Katalovarinaichkova - I'll just call her Sally) showed us right away the kind of speaker she would be. Now don't get me wrong - her command of English was WAY better than my command of Croatian, but let me try and give you a flavor (I really wish I could record sound for this thing):
Sally: "Hello, ah, and ah welcooooome, ah, to ah, the buuuuuus, ah. My ah, name ah, is ah, Sally ah, and I am ah your guiiiiiide for ah todehhhhhhh. Ah, we will go to ah, the Montenaneagareo, ah, and there ah, we will ah have ah a looooooovahleeee day ah. Eeeef you ah have ah the question, you make ah to ask ah me, and, maybe I answer. Okay"

Seriously? SERIOUSLY? She spoke constantly for a TWELVE HOUR TOUR, but if you'd removed the "ah's" from her presentation, I think she would have only had 12 minutes of material. The funny part was that she also spoke German, and she didn't miss a BEAT in that language. I was able to get most of it (Frau would be so proud - insert Harv yelling "FRAAAAAAAAUUUUUUU" here), and I could tell that her Deutsch was WAY better than her English. How dare both Sally and Armena not consider American tourists first! SERENITY NOW!!!!!
Anyhoo, I digress. You have to cross the border with Montenegro twice, but that's the weird part - IT'S THE SAME BORDER. The ONLY reason you have to cross it twice is because they wanted to put in a DUTY FREE SHOP between the 2 countries. That's right - I can't make this up. So you get a stamp in your passport that says "Welcome to Montenegro" (the agent actually gets on the bus with the stamp), then you drive ONE KILOMETER, where the only thing you pass is - you guessed it - the Duty Free shop - and then you come to the second checkpoint, where you may or may not get stamped again. Luckily we didn't, but it didn't matter, because NO ONE stamped us on the way out. I mean, you gotta love the security in place...

So Montenegro basically divides into 3 geographies - the bays (of which there are 4), the mountains (which are the highlight), and the coast (which was nice but a mini Dubrovnik at best). To see all this, you spent basically 8.5 of your 12 hour tour in the coach, traveling ~180 miles over the course of the day. However, as there really is NO OTHER WAY to see it, JT and I didn't mind.
The first stop was in the bay region, where we visited the TINY town of Kotor. It was cute, but the 1 hour we were allotted for it was MORE than enough time. However, the views out the coach getting to it were JUST STUNNING. We could have taken 10,000 photographs of the white mountains dropping to the cobalt blue waters - it was just FABULOUS.
After Kotor we tackled the DEFINITE highlight of the day - the drive through the Mountains. The scenery during this was INCREDIBLE - among the prettiest things we've ever seen. JT went crazy with the cheese whiz and took about 4 billion photos. However, as each one was AMAZING, she's going to create a coffee table book called: "Muffin's Guide to Life in the Baltic in a Bus" - pre-order your copy now, as those puppies are gonna go like hot cakes.
After the stunning climb through the mountains, we stopped at "the Village" - yes, M. Night Shamalan style. Seriously - I would NOT call this a "village." This made Whitesburg (or even Tazewell - Matt, that was for you, and PS your alma mater played like DONKEY TRASH yesterday) look like a metropolis. Picture a few corrugated steel buildings, most unpainted and rusting, with a single restaurant. THAT restaurant happened to be where we stopped for lunch, where we tried the local wine. Again, not sure why these cats feel the need to chill red wine to the point that your teeth hurt, but it was NOT good. The sandwich, however, was okay, so no complaints. However, as we left, I couldn't help but notice what looked to be cabins behind the restaurant (Mom and Dad - you would have been proud - I only spotted them because of all my KOA training from our trips out West). As I boarded the bus, I thought to myself, "there is NO WAY ANYONE would rent a cabin up here. That has to be some kind of storage shed."
Sure enough, we get back on the bus for Sally to say the following:
"I ah, am not ah shooooore eeeef ah, youuuu a noteeece eeeet, but ah eeeeen de Veeeeellage, ah, they have ah, theeeee cabins, you can come heeeeeeere to relax for one week ah, or maybe 2 week, ah, it is good ah, and is eco friendly."

HOW THE HELL IS IT ECO FRIENDLY? You have just wasted wood on a series of cabins that people will NEVER stay in, and if they do they'll use TONS OF FUEL leaving every day to go for the water or will trample the fragile alpine landscape that shouldn't be touched by tourist donkeys! I hope the little monsters from "The Village" attack those cabins...
All the same, we were soon down on the coast, where we stopped in the town of Budva. Not much to report about Budva. There was an old town (the 5th or 6th one we'd seen at this point - yep, we got it - it's old), the water was crystal clear, and the backdrop was JUST PHENOMENAL. All the same, when the hour in Budva was done, we weren't too broken hearted.

The coach back was about 2.5 hours, but we did get to drive the bus onto a ferry and cross the bay once, so yet again Team Taylor was ON A BOAT (shortaaaaaaa). We rolled back into the big D about 7:30, marched straight to Mea Culpa Pizza, ordered a pizza to go, had a half pint whilst we waited, and then rolled back to our apartment for the farewell meal. You would think that's the end of the day, but oh, no - there's more.
For starters, the pizza was GREAT, especially eating it open air on our patio with the stars above us and the moon all aglow. But better than that? Wait for it...wait for it...WE HAD DONKEY WINE!!!!! That's right, family, there is a winery in Croatia that has a donkey on its label!!!!! And best of all, it was SOOOOOOOOO GUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUD (peppy cheekies).
The down side of the evening, however, was that, still hobbling from its tragic fall in Rome, the Canon Elph finally gave up the ghost. LITERALLY after the Donkey Wine photo above (perhaps it didn't like what it took to be animal cruelty), the shutter said "lens error" and just DIED. We fiddled with it for another 30 minutes until there was this grinding and popping noise, but we knew it was all over at that point. Consequently, we gave it a kiss, bid it farewell, and then hit the sack, firm in our resolve to find another one when we landed in Hvar.
Okay, I know that you just got another day's update, but hey - we're in no hurry, right? That's enough news to print today. Chat tomorrow!

Love,

Sam and Jenny