Archive for the ‘travel’ Category
Our little mini-trip to NYC was a blast. We got a hotel in midtown for $100/night on priceline and spent our two days wandering around, seeing sites, visiting clare, and (most of all) eating. A few highlights:
Momofuku Noodle Bar. Shitake buns, hanger steak with polenta, and the best ramen I’ve ever had.
And Peter Luger Steakhouse in Brooklyn. Slice of bacon = $3, and wow. Was probably 1/2 inch thick before they threw it on the grill. Hamburger = $9, best I’ve ever eaten. Steak for one = $40, definitely in my top 5 ever. (They only serve porterhouse, which is great, but I’m more of a ribeye guy if I’ve got the choice).
Les and I left this morning for a mini work trip/vacationlet to DC and NYC. I can’t actually remember the last time I was in DC, but it might have been on that first road trip I took with Leslie in 2002. Anyway, I’m ecstatic to get a few days out of the office. We were greeted on landing by some nice rain, thunder, and lightning that I miss so much in the bay area. Tomorrow we’re striking out into the heart of DC for some quick museuming, then I’ll be taking myself on a (potentially damp) walking tour of all the major monuments and memorials while Leslie does the work that prompted this trip. Then on Monday we leave for NYC… can’t wait!
I’m currently sitting in my parents’ condo in Tabernash, Colorado. We got here via train–crazy, right? Yesterday we were on the slopes in Winter Park, and today we’re busy researching the best way to construct snow sculptures. My life has been a haze of relaxed euphoria since I filed my dissertation. It turns out just working a full-time job is much easier than being a grad student–and they send me paychecks every now and then.
Anyway, Leslie just got done posting pictures of our holiday adventures so far. You can find them in the usual place:
We’re still mid-trip, but there are some pictures posted from our road trip on gallery. We’ve had a great time, mostly because instead of being fussy in the car on 12-hour stretches, Sous just does this:
Let’s discuss a number of awesome things, some sarcastically and some earnestly. In an awesome meeting this week with my advisors, we decided that my schedule for finishing my dissertation was too aggressive to get all the necessary results in and text reviewed, so my graduation slipped by a month! Awesome! Leslie put together an awesome invitation to this year’s camping trip to Utica reservoir:
How could you not go? Looks too awesome to miss. Also assuredly awesome is our upcoming road trip out to Colorado with the pup. You would not believe how many motels will let you bring your dog right in the room with you.
You’re probably thinking that there are too many awesome things in the world for you to keep track of all of them in your head, and you’re right. That’s why God created Awesome Overload as an authoritative source on awesomeness. Don’t miss it… they need submissions!
We just returned yesterday from a five-day mini-vacation to Austin. Leslie had to be there for work shortly after a trip to Boston, so instead of flying all the way back, she arrived a few days early and I joined her. We got in on a Thursday, rendezvoused with the Hall clan at Lisa and Eric’s place (Leslie’s parents were kind enough to drive down for a couple of nights), then crashed at my parents’ place.
Friday we kicked off with a shopping trip to Central Market for dinner supplies. That place stands up to any grocery store the Bay Area has to offer. The choices are broad, the atmosphere is pleasant, and it’s uncrowded (so take that, Berkeley Bowl!). I guess Austin probably couldn’t beat a Berkeley or SF farmer’s market for freshness, but there was plenty of trucked in Cali produce that I’d be happy to settle for. After stopping back at the house to make the guacamole and start the chicken brining, we embarked on a fantasy house-shopping tour of neighborhoods in Austin.
It was a blast–there are lots of areas near central Austin I’d just never visited before, and the parts I had have changed quite a bit. We’re pretty convinced that if we move back, we’d like a place in the “core” of the city, which to us means roughly in the box drawn by Mopac on the West, 45th on the North, I35 on the East, and Oltorf on the South. Of course, we also explored east of 35, which is developing fast. I don’t have the Austin geography chops to name all the neighborhoods we looked at, but we liked a lot of what we saw. There are plenty of houses all over this area in the 2-bedroom-cottage style we’d probably be looking at, though in parts there is an additional 3-story house tacked on the back of them. It will be a deep rabbit hole to explore when the time comes.
Friday night we cooked dinner for my parents and Leslie’s parents, which was fun. Saturday we went out to explore the Hill Country, stopping by Pedernales Falls, a winery (not great), and then we met up with my parents in Johnson City for the “wildflower festival,” the highlight of which was the Kettle corn and $2.50 pints of Fireman’s #4, an excellent local beer. That night we ate at a great Japanese place, Uchi. We saw the chef on Iron Chef America and couldn’t resist making a reservation. I hit a party later that night at an old friend’s house with a bunch of old HS friends… it was quite a trip.
Leslie’s job responsibilities kicked in on Sunday afternoon, so we struck out in the morning after a great brunch with my parents at East Side Cafe. We took a stroll around campus (the Master Plan of covering all of central Austin with red-tile roofs continues apace), and then we explored downtown near the river, which is awash in new development. The skyline has changed substantially in the last 3 years, and I think there are several more sky-scrapers going up now. The new city hall looks cool, and Palmer Auditorium has been knocked down and tastefully redone.
Monday I amused myself, grabbing a Don Juan breakfast taco from Juan in a Million for a late breakfast, then mooched the AC at various bookstores. Here’s the taco, for those who don’t know of its glory (it took three supplementary tortillas for me to finish):
Finally, I returned to Yoga Yoga for an Ashtanga class with my old teacher, who, bless her soul, still remembers me. Exhausted, I bought a classy dinner of 32 oz fresh squeezed OJ, a smoked turkey leg, and a spinach salad from the nearby second location of Central Market and retired with Leslie. Overall, the trip kicked ass. I don’t see any real competitors to Austin at this point for our Adult Landing Pad. The timing of our return? Well, who knows. But first, I do need to finish at Berkeley, so BACK TO WORK.
I’ve just arrived in San Antonio, the second stop on this last trip of the fall. We had a kick-ass time in Ann Arbor. We kicked things off on Friday with a comprehensive walking tour of campus, done in two parts. First, we did central campus, dropped Karen off (sadly, she had to labor feverishly all day to finish a post-doc application), then hit one of Ann Arbor’s 14,000 small markets to pick up some pasture-raised Amish chicken to go with the locally grown vegetables that Ali and Karen had recently bought from “their” farmer. We dropped by the house to give the chicken a luxurious brine bath and hit north campus, where they sequester the engineers.
Ali’s department has a new building, which is made almost entirely of glass and 70″ plasma televisions. Outside, we terrorized passing students with Ali’s $12 remote-controlled airplane, then drove to a mall and bought a matching set of iPhones.
What? Hell yes, we did. Like global warming melting our arctic north, the allure of the glistening Jesus phone has been gently but irreversibly eroding my resistance, which finally collapsed after Leslie played with and was mildly amused by Ali’s iPhone. We marched dutifully into two years shackled to the “new AT&T,” a moniker which to me is an almost too honest acknowledgment of their past and present hegemonies. But, in truth, the phone does more or less represent the second coming, as evidenced by the sparkle in Leslie’s eyes the first time she checked email in the car and the religious epiphany that accompanies checking in for your flight while drinking hot mulled cider next to an idyllic stream littered with autumn’s gilded leaves. So yeah, they are fun.
That evening, we roasted the chicken, some summer squash, and pan fried a metric ton of Brussels sprouts. Michael Pollan would have be proud. We chased that with beers at the nearby Arbor Brewing Company, then hit the sack.
The next day I slept into the double digits for the first time in years, then hit the climbing gym with Ali whilst the ladies toured Kerrytown. In the afternoon we visited a cider mill, then ate another obscenely delicious meal at Pacific Rim (Karen got the scallops, which I thought were the standout in a crowd of excellent entrees). At home we played some silly card games, watched Ratatouille finally (for me, the movie was a bit of a let down except for this one part where there was a crepe being flipped–the physical accuracy of it was astounding!), then turned in. We awoke this morning and rushed to have breakfast before arriving at the airport an hour early, despite our explicit knowledge that daylight savings was ending.
And now I’m in San Antonio at the historic Menger Hotel, looking “forward” to a week of conferencing the hell out of geometric design.
Leslie and I are headed out today to Ann Arbor to visit Ali and Karen–we’ve got all sorts of fun activities planned, which no doubt will yield a nice crop of pictures. This caps off what hopefully will be my busiest TA week as well; I have been trying to get everyone ready to finish their last project and spent a whole night grading midterms. But there are no more projects for them/me to do, and no more tests until the final.
I’ll be heading straight from Ann Arbor to San Antonio for another conference. This one is more math-oriented, but it looks like a good crowd and at least this time I’ll have Jonathan to introduce me to people. I can’t remember the last time I was in SA. I’ll have to find some good BBQ and Mexican.
And, it’s November all of a sudden. Wow. We’ll be staying put this year for Thanksgiving, cooking for ourselves and hopefully for a few friends too. We’re going to try brining the turkey, which if the roast chicken we’ve been making is any indicator should be delish.
It’s 6:11am here, and Leslie’s in the shower. The place is spotless, the better to recover the full security deposit. The last thing to get packed, of course, is the wireless router, but the time has come to snip our internet umbilical. Just 22 hours of travel stand between us and sweet, sweet home. What a summer it’s been. We’ll see you all soon.
We just got back from what’s scheduled to be our list sub-trip, Prague. We gave our selves three days to see the city, which doesn’t seem like much, I guess. After the first day, which was dominated by a 4-hour walking tour of all the famous sights, we had trouble filling day two (maybe just because of our aching feet), and after a thwarted attempt to see the Simpsons movie (oops! only in Czech) and go to a “climbing bar” (oops! closed and replaced by trendy hotel), we gave up and retired to the Hostel. We took it easy on day three, but did revisit the castle more thoroughly than we had on the walking tour, and we glanced at (but did not enter, because we’re cheap) Kafka’s house on the castle grounds.
Next we endured 6 hours in a compartment of a train with every manner of family–first two people our age with a two year old son who was not happy about traveling on a train for 6 hours, and then a family of four with a 6-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son. These compartments are not big (in 2nd class) and you all face each other, knees interacting, trying to be polite, but really what I wanted to do was toss the squirming children out the window by the end of it (I didn’t; that sort of thing is also illegal in Germany).
So now it’s Tuesday, we’ve got just shy of three weeks left here, and with no more trips it’s time to dig in and figure out what else Berlin has to offer. Michael will come join us a week before we leave, which should be awesome, as he starts his second 10-week tour in Dresden.
We should have some Prague pics up soon.
Yep, we’re still here. We went to Amesterdam last weekend, and posted the few pics we took there on the ol’ gallery. We just happened to be there the same weekend that Ali was meeting up with Karen to head on to their awesome-sounding trip to Italy, so we grabbed some dinner with them. Ali had his nice new camera with him, and got some great shots of what is really a beautiful and perfectly functioning little city.
We’ve been catching our breath back here a bit, and I’ve been working on the camera-ready version the mesh-improvement paper I wrote with Jonathan, which was finally accepted to the International Meshing Roundtable. So I guess I’ve got a trip to Seattle coming in October.
Next week we’re heading to Prague, and then we’ll have just a couple more left before we pack up. It’s amazing, the slowness and quickness of the way time passes over here.
Leslie busted out with posting and commenting many pics from our sub-journey to Barcelona. Check them out..
German beer is great. Everything you’ve heard is true. But there are some aspects of it that I wasn’t expecting that I think are worth sharing.
The sponsorship issue. When you go to any reasonable bar in the US, you can expect to find 4-10 beers on tap, usually representing a pretty good variety. Some American pilsner megabrew, probably some imported British macrobrew (Guinness, Harp, etc) a local macrobrew (usually Anchor Steam around SF), and if you’re lucky, 1-6 local microbrews. Going to fancier beer bars results in more numerous and esoteric options.
In Germany, practically every bar is ‘sponsored’ by one of a few major macrobrews: Erdinger, Berliner, Paulaner, etc. This means (as far as I can tell) the bar gets free umbrellas, signs, maybe some furniture, glasses, tap equipment at a reduced rate. Think of the old convenience stores around the US with giant coke-logo with tiny text underneath with the store name. The result of this sponsorship is that for some period of time–years, it seems–the bar is obligated to serve beers only from this brewery. So, at most bars, you can get one (usually quite good) variety of beer, probably a pilsener and maybe also a Hefewiessen, but that’s it. You specify the type of beer, and the brewery is determined by the sponsorship. You want another kind of beer? Switch your bar.
There are a few Irish pubs around that operate in the US-style, and so you can get several types of German beer there. Also, we’ve found two actual breweries, who tend to be independent and serve not only the house brews but several selections from local macrobrews.
The problem with good macrobrews. In the US, there are three huge macrobrews: Budwieser, Miller, and Coors. As far as I can tell, the beer from these three tastes more or less identical and is… not too popular among enthusiasts. This is probably because the beer is brewed mostly from rice syrup, not malt (i.e., grain), meaning it would not even be legal to sell it as beer in Germany (here, beer can contain only water, malt, hops, and yeast). Nonetheless, the vast majority of the beer Americans drink is from one of the big three. The result is that anyone looking for something else has to look at smaller breweries… from smaller but still national breweries like Sam Adams all the way down to boutique breweries like Stone that make comparatively minute quantities.
Here in Deutschland, though, the big brews are good. Like, really good. I still haven’t gotten tired of getting half a liter of Paulaner Hefe-Wiessbier or Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse Dunkel or a lighter Krombacher Pils, all for under 3 euros, less than you’d pay for a skimpy pint in the US. But the good macrobrews serve to block the proliferation of microbrews–why bother seeking out and trying a micro when all the beer around you is so decent? Hence, Germany has only a few microbrews, usually operating out of a single brew-pub. We have found a couple of them though, and the beer is quite good. But not really noticeably better than that you can get at any bar, hence the problem. So variety is lacking a bit, but the average quality is so high and the common beer is unfamiliar enough that I don’t really mind.
Strange concoctions. The last, and probably most unexpected, thing I’d like to mention is what they mix beer with and drink like it’s normal. Before we came, we were warned about the Berliner Wiesse weak beer mixed with fruit syrup. Although it’s indigenous, apparently only tourists drink it, which made sense to me, because why would you spoil good beer like that?
What blew me away is what people do drink. Exhibit A: Radler. This is beer mixed with some sweetened citrus, usually lemonade, drunk on hot afternoons or actually whenever if you’re a teenager. This stuff is so popular that you can even get it premixed, bottled in stores. Imagine my surprise when I spotted a classic German brew, Warsteiner, premixed in Lemon and Orange flavors! I’ve tried it… I can’t quite handle sweet+beer, but Leslie says she likes it. Exhibit B: Diesel. This is beer mixed with coke. I drank a whole one of these… it was pretty gross, but seems also to be quite popular (Warsteiner markets this mixture in bottles as well). Leslie has a theory that the younger crowd (drinking age here is 16, and unenforced) use these mixtures as training beers until they are ready for the real thing. Who knows.
Drinking in the streets. The last thing I want to mention is drinking in the streets, which is totally legal here. It takes a while to get used to seeing people just strolling along with a jumbo pilsener in one hand, but then you start to wonder what the big deal is, and why we can’t do this in the US. I have to admit being able to sip a beer while waiting for the laundry to dry at the laundromat made it a much more pleasant experience.
So that’s what’s funny about beer here. We’ve made plans for trips to Barcelona, Amsterdam, and Prague with the first starting next Tuesday, so I’m sure there will be more to share on the travel front soon.
We’ve posted (but not captioned) a few more pics on gallery, including those from the Christopher Street Parade (the city’s big annual gay pride parade). Example:
Yesterday we did the whirlwind tour of Dresden with our tour guide, Michael. It’s really an awesome city–it’s easy to forget that “old” comes in much deeper shades here than in the US. We hit a few museums, reviewed the horror of the firebombing, looked at old things, etc. We did finally also upload our pictures since arrival, all available here. For example, here’s the view out of our flat’s window:
And here’s Michael and I enjoying our modestly sized beers in Dresden yesterday:
And here is an example of the fare available at the street festival:
We got into Dresden yesterday afternoon via the D-Bahn (a fast train system inside Germany and nearby countries). Cousin Michael met us at the platform and we took the tram and walked back to his place. The cool thing about Dresden at the moment is the Bunte Republik Neustadt festival, which as far as I can tell converts the entirety of the Neustadt (“new city”) section of dresden into one continuous party. Still no pics of our own, but here is someone elses to give you a bit of an idea:
You can see some more here. So we walked through some of the setup of the party, dumped our stuff at Michael’s flat, then hit the best biergarten we’ve been to so far by a long shot. It’s one of the three original breweries that have been here for hundreds of years, called Waldschloesschen. We ordered big beers (half a liter) but our waitress goaded Michael and I to upgrade to the 1 liter stein, which turned out to be a great way to kick off the night. The food was awesome… a giant roasted chunk of pig (I think a knuckle?), potatoes, and as always, cabbage. Then we walked through the now-blossoming party, put sick Leslie to bed, then had a couple of more beers out on the street as we looked to meet up with some of Michael’s friends. We did about midnight, and I called it a day and crashed back at his place.
Now I’m up, but no one else is, so I figured out how to get the wireless key for the network here and now I have sweet, sweet high-speed bliss. Maybe once Les wakes up I’ll try to get some few first pictures uploaded, assuming we brought the right cable with us.
Today is our third day in Berlin. Things are still pretty insane, so I won’t yet write much. Not even any good pictures to post. The flights were fine; I was lucky and got some sleep on the transatlantic leg (leslie couldn’t get a wink). We arrived, got the key to our cute little flat (and I do mean little… but what would we do with more space, having only three suitcases to live out of?), and started to wander around Mitte (the central district in Berlin) looking for my institute. We eventually, through our first successful foray into German speaking, found it, and I met the very kind staff who installed me in my office and started me through the labyrinth of paperwork that is German bureaucracy. We managed to stay up until almost 8pm on our “new day.”
Yesterday we spent the morning finding a grocery store and allergy medicine (something here gets to both of us), then I went in to the lab, figured out how to buy a train ticket to Dresden for the weekend, then came back and we managed to get a bank account so we could pay for DSL in our flat (that will take two weeks to be installed, so don’t expect to hear to much for us until then), and even got a pair of “handies,” which is what they call cellphones here in a bit of using-english-words-that-english-speakers-don’t action (another example: a tuxedo here is called “ein smoking). We repaired to our home base where leslie cooked up a darn good seared chicken with onions and tomatoes (cooking at home here is basically unheard of, but the kitchen is well-appointed), then got through another 30 minutes of a movie before collapsing.
Today I’m trying to catch up on email and prepare for a talk I’m giving tomorrow afternoon at the institute. I’ll try to get some photos of some kind up soon.
Another big sigh of relief: on Thursday I gave my qualifying exam talk–and passed. The qual at Berkeley is a bit different from most places; it’s basically a proposal of your thesis topic in the form of a two-hour talk given to a committee of four professors, who pepper you with questions throughout, ostensibly to test your knowledge of the area and to confirm that your thesis topic is “good enough.” I’ve spent most of the last two weeks making the slides and otherwise preparing for the talk. Although in theory you can fail your qual (and be kicked out of the Ph.D. program), I’ve never heard of it happening. This is because your advisor really shouldn’t let you take your qual until he knows you’re ready to pass. In reality, the hardest part of the qual is getting four professors to all agree to be in the same place for two hours on your behalf.
Anyway, it went fine, which means my thesis topic (TETS!) has the stamp of approval and I’m officially ABD (all but dissertation). I wish I could say that’s the last loose end for the semester, but I’m currently working on the take-home final for my graduate theory class and optimistically polishing up the SGP paper for it’s final “camera ready” version. We don’t yet know whether it will be accepted (and hence whether a camera ready version will even be necessary), but because the deadline for submitting the camera ready version is right in the middle of my honeymoon, I think I’d rather hedge and do the work now.
Oh yeah… we got an apartment in Germany. It’s smack in the middle of everything, about 15 minutes on foot from WIAS where I’ll be working, and 500 feet from a major transportation hub. Literally the ‘B’ in Berlin:
It was only a matter of time. The newest addition to my console collection, the Wii, was mercilessly chipped this week, allowing me to boot “back-up” games on it as I can with the PS2 and the Xbox. The device that enabled it is called the “wiikey,” and we were able to install it in about 15 minutes with no headaches at all. I’ve been messing around with the new SSX and Trauma Center games, but I’m really looking forward to the new Mario game coming out in a week or so.
This weekend I rounded-out spring break with an overnight trip to Big Basin state park, a bit south of San Jose. I went with Jacob and some of his friends. I was told we would mostly be relaxing, but after we got there and set up camp, we promptly embarked on a 12-mile hike. Hiking is not my favorite activity but I was resigned to give it a shot with the group. It turned out to be tolerable, and there was even a nice waterfall toward the end of it:
Click on the picture to see a few more shots including a lizard and a huge banana slug. We rounded out the night with a fire and some sausages, and drove home early today.
Things will be pretty crazy this month as I work on a paper submission (due the 25th), and then they will just stay crazy until I wake up in Berlin in mid-June, married and probably moved out of Berkeley.