Friday, October 29, 2010

Copenhagen...long name, short day.

I like when you pull into Copenhagen (you know, on your boat...) - there's a big warehouse and one the side, painted in green, it says "cOPENhagen."  This is definitely a city that is open for business - primarily, the tourist business. 

This might have been the first time on the cruise that I felt crowded by other groups - the road along the main square was jam packed with tour buses bringing groups in from cruise ships.  Well, I suppose they could have come from other places too...but this late in the cruise, I started forgetting there were other modes of travel.

Here's something funny.  For those of you who haven't been cruising - the docks are usually segregated - so that all the cruise ships dock in one area.  This makes it easier to process the incoming passengers and provides a TARGET for vendors to lay out their goods. 

Generally as you disembark the ship, you see the start of of which always involves the side of the ship, a can of white paint and a roller.  Literally - every stop, the paint comes out and any marks from the previous docking are quickly erased, lest anyone think there was rubbing.
Typically (meaning every time I've ever seen it), the painting takes place on the side of the ship that is actually against the dock. Ergo, the painter can stand on the dock and paint.

On this day, we were parked end to end with a ship on which someone apparently lost a bet, was drunk or had a really poor idea.  As we were eating breakfast on our back deck, a rope appeared through an access window. 

Then a person.  And a life preserver.

Then a paint can and roller were ferried down...

Have you ever tried painting the side of a house while sitting on a swing?  Or maybe mopping a floor while standing on a skateboard?

Fail.  Every time this poor guy tried to use his roller, he pushed himself away from the ship.  There was no rolling, just swinging.  Yes, if it had worked, we'd all have been impressed.  Instead we went for a third cup of coffee to watch the show. 

What I like about Copenhagen is the main square - where four palaces sit facing each other.  The Queen lives in one, her son in another, etc..  I like that they all live right there among the people (well, the people probably have smaller homes). 

I also like the royal guards - and would like to offer up a spot in front of my house for any that want to move to a nice southern climate (we'll discuss uniform options ~ wool might not be ideal during the summer months.  Also, I'd like one of those shiny black bags you carry for my own use. No need to bring extra Duke Blue pants).

Another thing I like about Copenhagen is, well, they have an Ice Bar. Because we had already visited the Ice Bar in Stockholm ~ we considered ourselves connoisseurs of chilled vodka.

No need to instruct us on how to wear the poncho (no frozen fingers this time AND we all wore sensible shoes for below freezing drinking).

While the rest of our group was oohing and aahing at the Ice Sights...we were belly up to the cold bar making our selections. 

Fortunately, my father didn't force me into a life of crime at this stop as there were no menus available for stealing.  (Once I get my imported guard, the Stockhom IceBar menu will be safe, too.)

And finally - the environment.  Copenhagen is considered one of the most environmentally friendly cities, with over a third of its citizens commuting by bike to work.  The inner harbor is clean enough to swim in - although I'm guessing there is only about two days a year that it'd be warm enough for my tender toes.

And everywhere you look ~ windmill city.  As far as you can see.  They produce something like 20% of the energy used ~ and I was a bit surprised at the folks in our group that scoffed at that number, mumbling about how that was hardly worth the expense of installing them.  Really? 

Our day in Copenhagen was a short one - just enough time to skirt the major stops, drop Dad back off on the ship, do some quick shopping and get back on board for sail away. 

Generally we try to be on the top deck to watch the ship pull back into the passing lane ~ perhaps we should have brought our jackets this time...then again...look at those cute little folks. 

Wait, did we just invent the Ship Snugglee??

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Game, Set...wait, what?

Sorry, another break from the trip.  I know, you thought we were heading to Copenhagen - and we'll get there soon. I promise.  But you know sometimes, I have to do bloggerpy.  Take a few minutes...get something off my mind.  Share it with my cyber friends. 

And assume you'll all take my side.

As you may or may not know, in my head, I am a semi-professional tennis player.  This means matches or practices several days a week - some of which actually leave me on the winning side.  Most of which leave me wondering why I'm not faster, stronger, better. 

Last night - a league match in the city league. The format is three mixed doubles courts.  Now, I don't mean to brag, but my team is on the top of the rankings this year.  That doesn't mean we've won all of our matches, but still enough to be able to look down and wave at the other teams from the numero uno position.

Our group arrived at the courts, got warmed up...and the other team...seemed to be lacking.  To be specific - they only had one man and one woman...which, if you do the match, means they were two courts short at go-time.

But being the kind and gentle team that we are, we agreed to go ahead and start Court One until the rest of our opponents arrived.  Court One was my court - with my partner Matt.  Courts Two and Three...never showed.  Meaning an automatic win for our team.  Meaning Court One didn't matter, but we played anyway.

Way too much background information...but long story short...Matt and I played a great first set and got bamboozled in the second set when the guy on the other side decided to show his real skill set.  And we lost the tie breaker.  It was torturous.  Let's call them Elmer and Gigi. 

Side Note:  Elmer had the most annoying yokelly laugh I've ever heard.  Wanted to scream out many times, "For the LOVE...stop!"  But I didn't. 

Still, I was a bit surprised to get an email from my captain today with a 'heads up' that our opponents had reported me to the league for poor conduct on the court.  Come again?  I mean, I know I was frustrated.  I know I'd commented once (or thrice) that there was no way Elmer was a 3.0 player.  (That's a ranking...this league combines a 3.5 woman with a 3.0 man). 

But nothing that should have provoked an email to the league.


Not thinking anything of it - I zipped an email over to the league coordinator to find out the deal, thinking Elmer didn't like the suggestion that he was sandbagging. 

And then it came to me.  From my captain.  THE email complaint. 

Now down here in the south, we have a goes like this..."blah, blah, blah - I nearly FELL OUT."  This means you are so stunned/shocked/surprised/offended/etc. that, well, you nearly fall out.  I don't know what you fall out of - I just know how it feels when you nearly fall out. 

And when I read this email - I very nearly no-doubt-about-it almost fell out.

I will now share said email...sans my thoughts.  Which will come later.

From: Gigi (remember, this is a fake name...I do have some class...)

Sent: Tuesday, October 26, 2010 9:53 PM
To: (the league coordinator - copied to captain and, of course, Elmer).
Subject: IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT COURT CONDUCT  (really, all caps?)

As league coordinator for RATL, you need to be aware of inappropriate conduct occurring during the 6.5 mixed league (she didn't put a period at the end of that sentence.  I hate bad punctuation)

This evening our team, Nothing But Net, played against Random Aces. I played with my husband Elmer against a guy name Matt, his partner was Jill. Her behavior was nothing short of appalling and unacceptable. She was exceedingly rude, throwing her racket, returning balls before serve by smashing them across the court. She complained about everything, including my husband’s playing level. We’ve all seen rude and obnoxious players out there, if need be, I give you several more examples of her character.

However, she SERIOUSLY crossed a line in the second set. My husband hit a great overhead, she looked at him and said “you’re a jackass”. This is absolutely unacceptable. She eventually lost so much control of her emotions, that she threw match point by purposely hitting it out. Her partner Matt did not appreciate this.

I hope that this style of play is considered extremely rude and unacceptable by the people running the league, and that necessary measures will be taken.

~ Gigi

Have you nearly fallen out?  Yeah, I just nearly did again when I reread that. 
In the interest of full disclosure - early in my tennis career, I had a bit of a temper.  But I took great strides in toning it down and.  I admit, I probably wasn't that much fun to play with five years ago.  But - that girl's done gone.  Yeah, I still sometimes feel maybe not awesome about my on court attitude...but this?  Hell's no.
So let me counterpoint:
* I didn’t throw my racket on the court once. Often when I am walking back to the benches, I toss my racket on the bench. You can see this at any practice or match. It’s not an angry toss or a slam – it’s just a toss on the bench. I know most people treat their rackets like gold, I’m not one of them.  It's why I don't spend $200 on my rackets.

* I did send a ball back to Gigi one time when she wasn’t looking ~ which I said sorry for. Wasn’t smashing them back – although I generally bounce them on my side of the court first. I’ve played other ladies that do this too – maybe it was new to her.  Either way, the balls have to get from one side to the other, and a light tap generally doesn't do the trick.  And PS - you're on a tennis court...balls tend to fly around.

* I did complain a lot.  About myself.  To myself – including calling myself many things, such as ‘moron,’ ‘idiot,’ and, yes, ‘jackass’. This was because of my ability to constantly hit the ball straight to Elmer instead of around him. I talk on the courts - to myself.  It's just how I roll.  And it's legal last I checked.
* The only time I was specifically upset with Elmer was when he nailed my partner with an overhead – after nearly hitting him several times.

* I never lost control of my emotions – no tears, screaming, stomping – I'm guessing if I had any one of the players on the courts next to us would have noticed.  They did not.

* And on the last point, Matt and I both were just plain done – I did hit the ball out on purpose (not at anyone, just up and over and long) per the two second conversation between Matt and I prior to the point to that started with "Should I just end it?" and finished with "Please do.”

The annoying thing?  Now I'm obsessed with replaying the match in my head - not remembering my kick ass shots...but trying to locate the point in the match where Gigi evidently left our court and went to play with Charlie Sheen then came back and confused me for him.

And as a follow up, I had a nice chat with the Director of Tennis for the city. Who was super nice and open to the idea that there just might be two sides to this story.  Like Gigi had a story - and I missed the whole thing. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

And we have a winner...Visby, Sweden

If you are lucky enough (like me) to take trips that include multiple pre-organized seems that there is always one stop that you:
A) Aren't real thrilled about and
B) Absolutely fall in love with. 

Two years ago, on a trip from Istanbul to Venice - I fell in love with Montenegro.  A place that I knew nothing about, other than it was a big word on the trip itinerary.  It was amazing and beautiful and fresh and full of people thrilled with their success in their break from Yugoslavia.

This year?  Visby, Sweden gets the prize.

Now, there may be a few reasons for Visby's ability to take the top spot that have nothing to do with the actual town.  For instance, Visby was our first stop after our 20 hour marathon in Moscow (yes, the marathon in Moscow gets longer each time I speak of it). 

It was also our first stop after our unplanned recovery day following our 23 hour marathon in Moscow.  It was also the first stop after we missed our stop in Tallin due to poor weather.  In case you've lost count, that means we had to spend TWO days in a row ship bound during which my father and I did NOT win the miniature golf tournament.

It was also the first time we'd seen sunshine in days.  It was the first time in a week we could wear next to nothing (not true, but the sunshine made it feel like there was hope for the future).

So, where the heck is this place, right?  It's in the Baltic Sea, on an island called Gotland off the southeast coast of Sweden.  And yes, it's part of Sweden.  It's like how Hawaii is ours.  Even though it's nowhere near us.  Well, near me, anyway.

Have I mentioned how much I loved a walled city?  Well, I get giddy just thinking about them.  My favorite to date is Carcassonne, France.  You can practically feel the history seeping from the stone walls as you pass through. 

We'd set off on our tour sort of ho-hum about the day - and then, "Hold the phone! Is that a walled city???"  Ding, ding, ding!  Walled cities were built for protection.  They are maintained solely to make me jealous of the people who now live there.  I often wonder how my HOA would feel if I threw up a stone wall around my townhouse.  And should I include my neighbor within the wall since we do share a duplex?

We toured the city - begged for some shopping time and moved on to discover another treasure of Visby.

Man Caves.  On Crack.

Turns out you can rent these cute little fishing cottages for about $100k a year.  Each cottage is only one room (with that one room) and is spitting distance to the Baltic Sea. 

My guess is that not many women would sign up for a hideaway to be used in the dead of winter for collecting fish from the freezing sea. 

At least I know one that wouldn't.  Although I do like their little net wondering how my HOA would feel if I installed some large branches into my yard on which to dry my sheets and blankets.

Across town, we visited an old med-evil church.  This would have been a 'typical' old church visit...had our guide not asked if he could sing a song or two...

You know that awkward feeling where you just know someone's about to make a total fool of themselves?  Where you don't want to make eye contact or even breathe because you're too afraid you might start laughing? 

The church grew silent and I tried to hide under a bench to protect our guide's feelings. 

And then he started belting out these amazing hymns.  The acoustics were fantastic, the songs jaw-dropping.  Okay, so I guess I called that one wrong. 

But it wasn't the walled portion of Visby that was my favorite. Or the  beautiful old church. Or the quaint fishing village.  Or the amazing views of the Baltic Sea. 

Nope, it wasn't until our last stop that I made the decision to move here as soon as possible (well, only for the summer months...the rest of the year gets chilly from what I hear).  What drew me in was the Stavra Cheese Factory.

I love cheese.  I love cows.  And here I found a place where they co-exist.  Yes, the cows produce the milk not fifty feet away from where it is made into cheese.

This place even had automatic milkers because they believe that a cow should be able to decide when she wants her udders vacuumed.  Yeah - the COW decides. 

(For those who don't believe it can be done..."The milking unit comprises a milking machine, a teat position sensor, a robotic arm for automatic teat-cup application and removal, and a gate system for controlling cow traffic.")

You know how they say "Happy Wife, Happy Life"...well, over there it's "Happy Teats, Happy Cheese."  or maybe it's "Happy Swiss, Happy T..." oh, never mind.

Anyway - Visby, Sweden is now on the list of diamonds in the rough.  If I can figure out a way to combine a week or two in Visby, Montenegro and Positano...I'm on it!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Trip Break. Holy Sheet!

You were probably expecting to arrive in Visby, Sweden today.  BUT...change of blog itinerary today - I'll get back to the trip next week.

I have much more pressing issues to discuss. 

Let's go back in time a few years.  Or, decades really.  Back to when I was butta-yute.  And I had finally graduated from college and was taking a giant step to being on my own.  There I was, at the Valley Forge Shopping Center (back when it barely a strip mall) buying my very first mattress. 

I remember it like it was yesterday - walking into a dreamland full of beds of every size, color, firmness and price.  A store in which I was encouraged to take a load off and rest.  

Buying your first bed is a big deal.  It's one of the first 'big' expenses as a young adult - and also one of the many things you have zero idea on how to buy.

I think my shopping experience went something like this:
Lay down, roll over, stand up...okay...

Lay down, roll over, stand difference...

Lay down, roll over, stand up...HOLY CRAP, how much is it??

Lay down, roll over, stand up...find the clearance beds.

I eventually ended up with the bed that I'll be retiring as of October 30th.  Yes, that's right, I said it.  I've had the same mattress for twenty years.  Back in the day - you bought a mattress knowing that it would last that long.  Walk into any furniture store today and the new rule follows a ten year max on mattress life.  How sad.

Anyway - last week, I bought a new bed set...arriving to my second floor in just 16 days.  (Before you ask, the delivery is taking FOREVER because evidently every one in the WORLD beat me to the Columbus Day Sales and will, therefore, be sleeping soundly long before me).

Breaking News:  I'm giving up my Full Size Bed.  I've promoted myself to a Queen Size.  I had to be talked into it - a lot.  I mean, it's just me and my dog.  And cat, sometimes.  And I already have all the bedding for a Full. 

But the prices and the newness and the grown-up feeling of moving out of a cot...yeah, I finally crumbled for the bigger size.

Which sent my brain up to a new level of obsession. 

It's been a week since I laid out my Macy's card for the bed.

I now spend 23 hours per day obsessing about the necessary accessories.  What kind of sheets?  What color comforter?  What kind of bed skirt?  Can I find something that will match my curtains (tan), bed frame (iron painted green), and the quilt my mom made me (multi-color)? 

I've been to Bed, Bath & Beyond, Sears, Macy's, Target, Walmart, Ollie's and Homegoods.

I dream of bed-in-a-bags, pillow shams and thread counts.

And then when you start talking out loud about such things...well, the advice is endless.

To be perfectly honest, I don't know that I've ever flopped down on a bed and thought, "Holy BeJeezuz - is that 600 Thread Count I'm feeling?" 

Yes, I know - if you are a convert to high thread counts, you would dare not sleep on anything less.  Certainly not the 225's that come in your standard bed sets. 

I'm just not sure I'm ready to take that step.  I mean, I just got the bigger bed (I think this is like The Secret, right?  I got a bigger bed, so a husband will magically show up?). 

I've already decided to take the weekend off from thinking about matching this with that, comfort level, durability, etc..  I might, MIGHT start the discovery process of what's under my current bed. 

I'm relatively sure I haven't looked under there since I moved in - and when I took a sneak peak last night, I found one pink flip flop, a dog toy and an empty Diet Coke bottle (I have no idea where the other pink flip flop is, the dog was thrilled and who knows about the bottle).

My other decision?  Screw Thread Count.  If I find something I love in a 350 - I'm going for it.  After spending a week straight trying to find the right color tan in the right size and prize range...yeah, I'm out. 

And you know what?  I'm guessing if I like the color, style and continuity of color - I'll sleep just fine.

40,000 thread count or not.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

If it can go wrong...well, we'll smile anyway.

This picture summarizes most of our day in Moscow.  Well, maybe all of it.  First, the fact that we are carrying umbrellas is a clear indication of a very rainy day.  Second, the fact that my mother is doing a poor, poor imitation of the Morton's Salt Girl is a clear indication of a very windy day.

Remember:  Rain + Wind = Sideways Rain.  So essentially, Moscow was exactly how I pictured it....very gray.

We started this day at the CRACK of dawn as we had to catch an hour long flight from St. Petersburg Airport to Moscow at 7am or something stupid like that.

Once we landed in Moscow - we then had a two hour drive from the airport to officially start our tour.  Then we were suddenly standing right smack in the middle of what I think is one of the most historical pictures from my high school years - Red Square across from Lenin's Tomb. 

Sans the tanks, soldiers and missiles trekking across the parade route sending images of the USSR's military punch to the rest of the world.

Signing up for the Moscow Tour meant signing up for a very long day.  You go into it knowing that you'll be dead on your feet by lunchtime and on total auto-pilot by dinner.  You hope that you'll remember to snap enough pictures and ingest enough information to appreciate the day further down the road.

In the beginning, you hope that everyone on the tour makes it back to the ship - we had multiple ship escorts and guides to ensure our we made it from point to point. 

By the end, you have a mental list of folks you now hope do NOT make it back to the ship because you're tired of listening to them bitch and moan about the weather, the length of the tour, the amount of walking on the tour and whatever else they can think of to say out loud. 

First sign of potential trouble:  When our guide (who looked an awful lot like Peter Pan) grouped us up for ten minutes to teach us how to pronounce the Metro Stop we would need to hop off on after our short ride on the Metro.  And yes, we would need to quickly hop on and quickly hop off.

Metro?  Really?  You're going to put 30 or so white bread Americans on a metro in downtown Moscow, expect them to quickly dash through the doors both on and off - oh, and if you messed up and got stuck, just repeat this word that has 42 letters in a totally non-sensical order.

PS:  No pictures on the very steep escalator because it's dangerous. 

The other place in Moscow that can recreate fear from my childhood is the Kremlin.  The place where the Cold War was plotted and maintained.  Today, it still houses the business aspect of running Russia, but in a much friendlier environment.  Well, aside from the tight security going in.

The most beautiful part of 'inside the Kremlin,' I think, is the square of churches.  I guess I never really thought of Russia as a very religious country - I guess growing up, I assumed that anyplace that could instill such fear in the world would not be a place where pews and pulpits could be found.

Definitely wrong.  Within the Kremlin, and within spitting distance of each other, there are four small churches. 

I guess I wasn't paying attention to why there were four - but I'd guess it's because they are so small that there would be no way to fit too many people in any of them. 

We visited a couple of them - always a terrible idea when you are nine or so hours into a long, cold day...yeah, sit us all down in a few churches and update us on the history of the practices.

Our next stop was to the Kremlin Museum - another place where cameras weren't necessary.  Or allowed.  By this point, I was actually becoming thrilled to see "No Photos" signs.  My brain was about fried and trying to focus, snap, focus, snap was really just too much for me. 

So a museum didn't help - but still was pretty wild.  All sorts of Faberge Eggs, jewels, clothing from various royal events and a whole roomful of the various carriages and sleds the Tsars had used. 

From the Kremlin, we moved on to a 'typical' Russian dinner - which basically consisted of vodka and beef stroganoff.  Our goal was to be back at the airport by 9.00pm for an 10.30pm flight - we'd land in St. Petersburg at 11.30pm and be back on the ship by midnight.


Remember this girl? 

The rains came DOWN.  We sat and sat in the Moscow airport.  Here's the difference between our airports and, say, Russian airports. 


In Moscow - there were no check in folks or status boards (well, there were boards, they just don't update them).  So basically, our group is parked on plastic chairs, physically holding our eyes open, with no clue as to when we'd be flying out.

We were hardly worried - yes, the draw bridges around St. Petersburg were all raised from 1.00am to 5.00am which would theoretically mean we wouldn't be able to get to our ship after 1.00am...but still, as long as we took off before 11.30pm, we'd be fine.

So that didn't happen.  What did happen was a very late flight from Moscow to St. Petersburg and an actual bus race from the airport to the draw bridges.  We were well past the 1.00am deadline with only a glimmer of hope in the form of one bridge that was lowered from 2.30am to 2.45am.  If we missed it, we'd be sleeping on the bus.

Finally - we caught a break.  We made the bridge - and as a reward were able to see the line of open drawbridges raised over the Neva River. 

Something that I'd imagine nobody gets to see on a normal visit. 

To really 'get it' - imagine a row of raised bridges for as far as you can see.  You can also imagine me taking that picture if I'd been awake enough to pull out my camera.

Back on the ship - we were served early morning pizza and soda.  Possible the best ever.  Upon crawling into bed, we decided to bail on our second day of touring in St. Petersburg and catch up on some much needed sleep. 

Still.  All worth it.