Monday, December 26, 2005

Merry Christmas

It was 70 degrees outside on Christmas day where I am. This is still very strange to me. Christmas is supposed to be filled with snow, or at least be cold. I'm not supposed to be spending the entirety of Christmas day walking around in jeans and a tank top. But, it was a lovely Christmas nonetheless. My mom like the presents I got her in Berkeley and the books. I got some shirts from NY & Co., Millions (the movie), a very nice personalized travel alarm clock with a picture inside it of me and my mom when I was very tiny, a 1.0gb card for my camera (which I don't really need so it's going back to Costco today) and some money to buy some boots (which I really do need). We had to wait until almost 11am to open presents because Jake slept in and then decided that Christmas morning, while everyone is waiting to open presents, is the morning he's gonna get a shower. Whatever! He liked the present I got him in Seattle.

Other than that, my time in SoCal has been very nice and relaxing and uneventful. We spent a lot of time chilling out. I did some errands last week while my mom was still working. We ate some wonderful sushi and enjoyed the excellent company of Katie, one of my mom's friends from work. We picked up Jake very late at the airport and then discovered that Manny's El Loco taco shop is either 24/7 or open really late. We've had several wonderful dinners at home, including one which I got to cook. Last night we had a traditional Christmas dinner including a roasted chicken, mashed sweet potatoes, corn, stuffing (yuck), cranberry sauce (double yuck) and rolls.

I really enjoy spending time with my mom, but there's only so much SoCal I can stand. The traffic and all, there's just too many people for my liking. I'm looking forward to heading to Florida tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Berkeley, berkeley berkeley

I am on the train on the way down to Pasadena. It's really good when you become friends with the conductors on the trains and they tell you that the San Joaquins train is a much faster way to get down to LA area than the Coast Starlight. Then it's even better when the nice conductor finds you the schedule for that train and you find out that one of the busses that goes off from Bakersfield goes straight to Pasadena, which is about a million times better than getting into LA's Union Station. I should get right into downtown Pasadena at 6:30pm as opposed to LA at 9pm.

But, that's not what this post is about... This post is about my lovely weekend in Berkeley with my great friend Gil. After my train being 4 hours late on Friday, I got to Gil's place rather hungry, so we headed out to Naan n' Curry. It provided a very tasty Indian meal for my dinner. Gil only stole a little of my food because he had eaten earlier. I was eating my dinner around 10pm, so I didn't blame him. I would've eaten earlier if I could have, but there was nothing to eat on the train. They didn't have any dinner food to prepare because they weren't supposed to be running at dinner time. Well, the Indian food was very tasty, I had my favorite standard, Palak Paneer. For those of you that don't know about Indian food, that's spinach cooked with spices and a lovely Indian cheese called paneer. This particular dish wasn't very spicy, I think because they saw a white girl and told the kitchen to keep the spices down. I only say this because Balaji later told us that when he eats there the food is painfully spicy because he's Indian and they think he wants it crazy spicy.

After dinner we walked backed to Gil's place and looked at my pictures and played around on the internet and talked. It was really nice to just chill with Gil again. It's been so long since I've seen him. His house is very nice. There is a common type of house in Berkeley with wood siding and a very nice 50's feel to it, that's the type his is. His roommates all seem really great. The location is nice too, it's close to the college and nice places to hang out and eat and such without being too noisy. His little neighborhood is quiet. Because they are one roommate short at the moment I had a room to stay in all to myself. There was a bed in it because the house manager (the son of the owners) had had visitors stay in that room a few months ago. So, it was a pretty sweet deal for me.

Saturday morning we woke up early, around 8:30am, and headed downtown to meet Balaji at the Asian Art Museum. It's a very cool museum, full of amazing pieces and interesting bits of history. We ended up doing a 45 minute tour with a docent. She was this cute little tiny woman, but she was very knowledgable and easy to follow. She gave us little tidbits about certain items and gave us an overview of the museum and how things are connected. It was a lot of information that you really couldn't gather from walking around on your own. I've never gotten a guided tour of any museums, so it was interesting. So, now I've seen some kind of museum in just about every city I've been to.

It was a very rainy, gloomy day on Saturday, so after the museum we headed to North Beach to a find a cafe. We got to North Beach and I think Gil was looking for a specific cafe, but he couldn't quite remember where it was, so we were walking around in the rain getting cold and soaked. We thankfully gave up quickly on finding the specific cafe and just looked for the closest one. Well, I looked across the street and saw Caffe Greco. Well, as Sarah will know, we of course HAD TO go there. It turned out to be a great choice anyway. I had a pretty good cafe mocha and I think Gil and Balaji enjoyed their latte's, but the best part was the snacks we got. I got a slice of Brasiliana cake and Gil got Tiramisu. My cake was chocolate and espresso icing and then it must have been soaked in some kind of liquor, cause it definitely had that taste. It was excellent. Gil's tiramisu was also excellent. Balaji didn't get anything, but tried some of ours. Then we left there and made our way down to City Lights bookstore. That is a cool bookstore, however, I could've easily spent hundreds there. But, I restrained myself and didn't spend anything. I just wrote down every book that I saw that I wanted and later created a Barnes & Wish List. Although, one book that I KNOW I saw there doesn't seem to exist outside of that bookstore. It's called The Founding of Language and it looked like a really interesting book on the study of how language developed in the first place. When I went to type it into Barnes & it didn't come up. So, I tried, nothing, and then Google, still nothing. I tried the author's name, Guy Deutsche, and also failed. So, if anyone can find anything on this book, I'd be very curious to know about where you found it. I think I'm just going to have to ask Gil to go back to City Lights and pick it up for me if I can't find it anywhere else. It was just terribly strange not to be able to find it online. And the funniest part is that I had shown Gil the book, so he knew I wasn't imagining the book. He was perplexed by its inexistence on the net as well.

After bookfest we went back to Gil's place for dinner and then a party for one of Gil's housemates. Dinner ended up being at Filippo's just down the street from Gil's. It was a very tasty Italian dinner. The guys got port for dessert and I got tiramisu. The tiramisu was good, but not quite the same as the Caffe Greco tiramisu. I had never tried port before, so that was good. The party back at Gil's was funny. It ended up being the typical college party with a lot of drunk people and craziness. I think there were several people there that were friends of friends and were kind of strange. Then I went to go to bed around 3am and someone had pulled the door to my room shut, which locked it and Gil didn't have a key. So, it looked as if all my stuff was going to be locked in there until we could call a locksmith the next day. Then we realized that the roof of the downstairs addition would get us over to the window of the room where my stuff was and we could get in that way. I tried going out on the roof, but you had to climb over a steep pitch with a very small flat strip at the bottom and I'm terrified of heights, so that wasn't going to work well. I probably would have fallen from fear. So, Gil, being the brave hero he is, climbed out there and made his way over and got in and opened up the room. Then we figured out how to hold the bolt unlocked so this couldn't happen again. Well, after all that excitement we were awake again and went downstairs to clean up a bit so that it wasn't too terrible in the morning.

Sunday morning we slept in, of course, and then headed over to the Thai temple for brunch. On the way over there we ended up on a street that Gil had never been on before. Well, on this street was a house that had decorated the exterior with televisions. Yes, I am totally serious, there were probably 20-30 tvs sitting outside this home. They were very well organized, creating a very interesting look. Of course we got pictures and I will post them as soon as possible. So that was pretty cool, even for Gil, to discover this odd little house. We got over to the Thai temple and got our brunch/lunch/whatever you want to call it. OHMIGOSH that was awesome food. If you live anywhere near the bay area, or are ever visiting that area and even sort of like Thai food, you really should make your way to this temple for Sunday brunch. It was so very very yummy. We had yellow curry, pad thai and eggplant and tofu mix. We had all vegetarian, but they also have a non-vegetarian line. However, the non-veg line was mostly pork, so I was a big fan of the vegetarian line. Then we got sticky rice and mango for dessert, which was also very yummy. The next time I'm back in Berkeley I will definitely insist on going back there.

After lunch we went on a very long, but very enjoyable walking tour of downtown Berkeley. I ended up finding some presents for people, which was nice. I even found some cute unexpected presents for people. As we were walking around Gil ended up on the phone with Diane and I saw a Goodwill store, so I headed in there to let him talk for a while. I spent probably a good 20-30 minutes looking through the used books at Goodwill. I found three, two for myself and one for a friend. One for myself is about media and culture and the other is called God Stories and is a collection of short stories that have something to do with God, in one way or another. I've read two so far and they are interesting. I walked out of the Goodwill and Gil had disappeared. I walked around trying to find him in the Goodwill, thinking he'd finished on the phone. Then I walked back out of the store and he was walking down the street. He just wanders around when he's on the phone. We headed back to his place to drop off some things before heading back out to get dinner and then go see Brokeback Mountain. Dinner was burritos at this decent mexican place. They messed up my order though, so that was kind of annoying, but we were cutting it too close to bother with getting it fixed. The movie was amazing. Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger were incredible. Heath Ledger was particularly impressive with his accent. He is from Australia and did a great job of sounding like a Wyoming cowboy. Anne Hathaway was in the movie as Jake Gyllenhaal's character's wife. That was strange. I'm used to seeing her in princess movies geared towards kids age 2-14, not a very adult geared movie. Let's just say she was VERY far from Princess Mia in this movie. She was excellent, which is great. Hopefully this movie will show everyone in Hollywood that she's not just a kids movie princess and she can do more serious roles as well as the princess movies. Michelle Williams plays Heath Ledger's character's wife, who figures out what's going on with her husband very early on, and is also very far removed from her early days as Jen on Dawson's Creek. She and Heath Ledger are actually engaged now and just had a child together, which is pretty cool. Ang Lee said in an interview that the relationship developing was good for both of them during filming.

Monday Gil had to work, so I went wandering around looking for presents for people. I succeeded in my quest and then went back to the house and ordered some books online, for my mom, not for me. After Gil got home we went for dinner, which became a slightly chaotic venture because many places were closed because it was Monday. Stupid Monday restaurant closing thing. We ended up at Isobune, a sushi restaurant in the Rockridge area. The food was very good. On the way back we stopped and picked up some movies, House, M.D. Season 1, Disc 2 and Sense and Sensibility on VHS. Back at the house we didn't get right to watching movies, so we ended up only having time for one or the other, so we watched House. I've GOT to get that on DVD. Maybe I'll ask for that for Christmas from my parents too. We'll see. It's awesome though. Thank you Adam for telling me to watch that show.

So, to finally end this entry, I woke up this morning, got on the very late bus heading to Oakland and then walked through a really sketchy section of Oakland to get to the train station from where the bus dropped me off. I think I have too much stuff with me, cause on the bus my leg started going numb from the pressure of the weight on my legs. It's fine now, but it was very odd. And now I'm on the train, very much looking forward to getting to Pasadena. It'll be so nice to be somewhere where I don't feel obligated to be touristy and do stuff every day. I can just chill at the house with Booker and do nothing. Jake will get to Ontario airport on Thursday, pretty late at night. Then we both leave from Ontario on Tuesday after Xmas, Jake to Philly and me to Florida for New Year's. It looks like Turk, Theresa and I will be going to a Leon Russell and Dave Mason concert on New Year's Eve, which should be cool. We are also going to a King Tut exhibit at one of the local art museums, so Yay for more culture. :)

Friday, December 16, 2005

Late trains are no fun...

AAAAAHHHH!!! Being stuck on the train sucks. We have either not been moving or moving exceptionally slowly for the past 3 hours. We are now on track to be exceptionally late into Sacramento, which may make me late getting into Berkeley, which will make me very sad. The worst part is they aren't even communicating why we are going so slowly and stopping for so long. I just want to get to Berkeley and hang out with Gil. This is terrible. Oh well, this is what I get for traveling by train. I'm going to look through my pictures some more.

We are running something like 4+ hours late. Normally it wouldn't bother me, but I REALLY want to get to Berkeley. BAH!!

Later Note: I am now in Berkeley posting these entries (today's and yesterday's) from Gil's house. I am so glad I'm here. We just went out for lovely Indian food and now we are planning the weekend. It sounds like we are meeting up with Balaji at the Asian Art Museum.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Chicago to Berkeley train travel

We are now traveling along the Colorado River between Granby, CO on our way to Glenwood Springs. It is an awe inspiring view. I have seen several bald eagles and a small pack of elk. I'm hoping to see some more elk along the way and be able to get some pictures of them. I have once again upgraded to a sleeper car, this time for a mere $242 for two nights. So, I am enjoying the view from my very own room.

I slept incredibly well Tuesday night on the Heavenly bed at the W Hotel. It's an unbelievably comfortable mattress. The shower in the hotel room was also really nice. I packed up and left around 11:30am and made my way over to Union Station. I found a locker there (for a ridiculous $4 per hour) and went and got some lunch. Since the locker was so expensive I got my stuff out after the first hour was up and just went down to the gate to wait to board the train. They kept reminding us of Amtrak's baggage policy, but not enforcing it. It's pretty funny. I saw a woman get on at another station with 5 carry on bags. The policy is two pieces of luggage and then a briefcase/purse/backpack type bag. Technically I've managed to fall within the policy so far. No one has hassled me anyway. I figure they probably only hassle people if the train is really full. Our train is pretty empty. I had no problem upgrading and had my choice of rooms. The meal times are fairly empty. Last night for dinner they took reservations but ended up announcing “come as you please, there's plenty of space” when dinner time actually came. I had eaten a good size lunch, so I didn't want a full dinner. I just ended up having a cup-o-noodles from the snack car. I waited until after dinner time to upgrade, so the upgrade was about $30 cheaper than if I'd upgraded before dinner time.

The Superliner roomettes are not as nice, in my opinion, as the Viewliner roomettes. The Viewliner is a single level train car, like the one I rode in from Florida to DC. The Superliner is a two level train car. Most of the rooms are on the second floor and you walk between cars on the second floor. The Viewliner roomettes have a toilet and sink in the room, which is strange, but also more convenient. The Superliner roomettes don't have a toilet or a sink. Their upper bunks are also smaller and right underneath the air vent, which really stinks. I hate air blowing on me. So, as much as I like sleeping up high, I think I'm going to have to sleep on the lower bunk tonight.

Last night I watched Red Eye in the lounge car. Rachel McAdams was pretty good in that. The villain, who also played the Scarecrow in Batman Begins, is SUPER CREEPY. That guy just has the creepiest eyes. He is so good at playing this terribly strange frightening character. The actor's name is Cillian Murphy. I only know this because there is a one page article about him in the latest Vogue, which I picked up in Chicago because it's the thickest magazine that actually has moderately interesting articles in it. This one has an article about the recent surge in food, particularly peanut, allergies among children. After Red Eye I requested my upgrade and then waited until we go to Omaha, NE to move my stuff. It's a lot easier to move your luggage outside of the train than through the train. I thought about watching one of my own movies after that, but realized I was very tired and just went to bed. Didn't sleep very well because of the air blowing on me and the tracks being pretty rough through Nebraska and into Colorado, but it was better than sleeping in coach.

Now I'm just watching the beautiful landscape and taking lots of pictures. I've got probably 200+ pictures to sort through tonight so that I can try and do some uploading once I get to Berkeley. I'm sure you are all growing very impatient with the lack of new pictures. I'm sorry! It's just that there are so many good ones and it takes so long to upload them. The landscape out here is just so gorgeous.

Country music makes the perfect background music to traveling through western Colorado towards Utah. Okay, I'm sure if you really don't like country music it wouldn't quite work, but being as musically diverse as me, country music is lovely. I've got my computer going and I had it on shuffle through my whole library. November Rain is not the best background music, it's too depressing. Then a Lonestar song came on and it made more sense with the landscape. :) I now have a soundtrack to Colorado. It is getting towards sunset now and the mountains are getting bathed in the most beautiful orange glow. This continent is so amazing. The variety of landscape and homes and weather I've seen in the past three weeks is awesome.

Oh, also, earlier when I was eating lunch we saw the abandoned cars from a former train derailment on the side of the tracks on one side and down in the river on the other side. It gave me pause, but I feel pretty safe. It was a freight train, not an Amtrak train, so that's a plus. Also, I've heard that the freight trains will often have far too many cars and go too fast. We've kept a very reasonable pace so far on this trip.

For quite a way the train follows along Route 70 in Colorado. It's an interesting highway. Many parts of it through the steep valleys are two level because they couldn't fit it safely side by side. A guy on one of the other trains I was on told me it was the most expensive highway ever built.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The W Hotel... or my favorite hotel ever.

Okay, so the train trip ended with two obnoxious little children (okay, really they were close to my age, but acting like children) getting on the train in Fargo, ND mostly drunk already, continuing to drink and talking loudly enough to manage to keep me awake from 2:30am until they finally decided to shut up at 6:00am. I know that's a terrible run on sentence, but they just were terrible run on North Dakotans. Seriously, every sentence out of their mouths made me desperate for Sarah sitting next to me to make snarky comments about them. They were terrible.

But, I managed to get off the train in Chicago without throwing either one of them out a window. Minnesota is a lovely state, as is Wisconsin, but there's not much really spectacular to talk about. I met some nice people, including a nice Amish or Mennonite couple from Hanover, PA. I didn't get a chance to ask them what religion or group they exactly were from, but they did say that they drove part of the way on their vacation, so obviously they are not strict Amish who can't drive cars. They were reading a book called "House Calls and Hitching Posts: Stories from Dr. Elton Lehman's Career Among the Amish". It looks like a very interesting book. It must be interesting to read someone else's perspective of your own culture.

Once I got to Chicago, I had decided to stay at a real hotel, since I had not slept much the night before and had managed to stay in coach the whole time on this train trip. Well, I had found the Holiday Inn on the internet, very close to Union Station and reasonably priced. Well, obviously from the title of this post I didn't end up there. The woman at the front desk was exceedingly rude and basically treated me with total disrespect and acted as if there was no possible way I could afford a room at their hotel. So, I grabbed a map that showed other hotels in the area and I walked out. The next closest hotel to the station was the W Hotel on Adams Street. I have always heard good things about the W Hotels, so I headed there. The woman at the front desk here at the W was very polite. She made no assumptions about my ability to pay for anything and politely quoted me a price for a room. My heart jumped out of my body for a moment, but I totally kept my cool and handed over my credit card. You really should splurge on yourself every once in a while. As she was putting all my information into the system I told her it was my first time at a W and that I'd heard good things about it and I told her how rude the Holiday Inn desk attendant had been. She put me in the nicest room she could find for what I was paying and reminded me that W Hotels have the Heavenly Bed. Then she sent me up to my room.

After a really wonderful bath I crashed briefly on the bed. Let me tell you, it really is quite heavenly. They aren't kidding. If I have the money some day I may invest in one of these. It's a beautiful thing. So I'm sitting in my room, talking to Sarah on the phone when there's a knock at the door. I'm very confused and remain on the phone with Sarah as I answer the door. It's a room service guy with a tray for me and a card. I'm VERY perplexed at this point. I'm trying to describe the scene to Sarah. The room service guy opens my bottle of wine and then leaves, with me feeling completely awful that I had no cash to tip him. I am seriously completely out of cash at the moment, I desperately need to hit the ATM at Union Station tomorrow before heading out. Anyway, the tray was a half bottle of Fetzer Merlot and a plate of cheese, crackers and fresh fruit. The card said, "To our favorite 'crazy backpacker'; We think you're classy. :) Have a safe trip and let us know if we can do anything else for you! Sincerely, Katrina at the Welcome Desk". HOW FREAKIN AWESOME IS THAT?!?!!!!!

Katrina at the W Hotel in Chicago is my current favorite person. She is awesome. I went downstairs to head out to dinner and thanked her a billion times over. She rocks. And cheese and crackers and fresh fruit are a very tasty combo. They will make a very nice snack as I watch my complimentarily borrowed copy of Jerry McGuire. Yes, I'm a dork, but I've never seen it before, at least not in it's entirety. So, that's what I'm going to go do now, lay in my Heavenly Bed, eat my cheese and crackers and drink my wine. Oh, what a terrible life I lead, I know.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Seattle and such...

I had a great time in Seattle this weekend with Kayur and I am very much looking forward to an opportunity to go back to Seattle. Well, first I guess I should say a bit about Vancouver. The weather there was beautiful and so I walked around for a while. I went to the art museum, which was very nice. Then I met Chris and Angela from the train for lunch. When I went up to the restaurant Ryan the attendant in my sleeper car was sitting there waiting to have lunch with another woman who worked on the train. That was an amusing coincidence. They were spending the night in Vancouver and then VIA was flying them back to Winnipeg the next morning. Lunch with Chris and Angela was pretty good. It was an all-you-can-eat sushi and japanese restaurant, but there wasn't much sushi selection on the all-you-can-eat menu. Then Chris took us on a tour of Vancouver. I got some good pictures and Angela even took a picture of me. Vancouver is a beautiful city. There are all sorts of neat things to do and the mountains are right there. The city has an awesome view. Chris said there are ordinances controlling how high they can build new buildings so that the view is not blocked. Vancouver is building a lot of stuff right now for the Olympics in 2006 or 2008 or whenever. They also have recently built and are still in the process of building a lot of new high rise condos. They are beautiful buildings that probably have amenities I would never dream of, but they also cost A LOT of money. Many of them are right on the waterfront with a view of the mountains, ocean and your very own yacht.

I left Vancouver at 6pm and headed for Seattle. The Cascades train that goes between the two is really nice. I found out that Washington state owns 80% of that train, so they've invested a lot into making it nice. It's a very modern train compared to the other trains that Amtrak runs. There are motion sensor glass doors and outlets at every seat and a nice snack car too. There wasn't much of a view since it was dark the whole way down, but it was a nice trip. We got into Seattle about 45 minutes late, but Kayur was wonderful and came an picked me up. It's nice to know someone with a car. :)

Friday night we just went to a diner for some food and then went back and went to bed. We slept in on Saturday until about 11am, which was very nice given that I didn't get much sleep my last night on the train. Kayur had a lot of school work to do that day, so I headed out on my own. First I did some laundry, which was great to be able to do. Clean clothes are wonderful when you are on a trip like this. Then I headed out looking for food. I didn't end up finding anything exciting, since I wasn't exceptionally hungry. I just had a slice of pizza. I caught the bus downtown and headed to the library. Kayur had sent me there first and I am really glad he did. The Seattle Central Library is this architecturally stunning building and filled with probably hundreds of thousands of books. I could have easily just wandered around there for days, just picking books off the shelf and looking through them. The library had a copy of James Morrow's latest collection of short stories, which I now am desperate to pick up in somewhere along the way. He is my absolute favorite author of all time. He's an amazing writer. The cover of the short story book, which came out in 2004, said that there is another book he wrote that should be released in the US soon and that he's working on another novel. SO EXCITED!!!!!

After the library I headed to the Bank of America building. They have an observation deck that is supposed to have one of the most amazing views in all of Seattle. However, the stupid place is closed on weekends. How freakin dumb is that? Whatever. From there I went down to the waterfront area. I got some nice pictures from the ferry building. On the way back up into downtown I stopped at a Dr. Martens store, but didn't find anything. However, I did realize that I desperately need some new boots. That may be something I either ask my mom to get me for Christmas, or just get myself. I continued walking around downtown and found Pike Place Market. That is a great place to walk around in Seattle. There are all sorts of interesting stores and vendors. It's also where the famous fish market is. There are guys screaming fish orders and throwing fish around. It's very interesting. I found some presents for people in one of the stores on the lower floors and from an artist who has a booth set up outside. Very exciting. While I was there Kayur called me, so I started making my way back to his place via the bus. I met up with him at school and he showed me around the building where his office is. He has a nice office in a beautiful building that was, at least partially, funded by Paul Allen. From there we stopped back at the house so I could get my laundry out of the dryer. Then we ran over and picked up a ticket for me for Narnia later that night and then we went off to find some quick Thai food. We ate at a place called Thai-ger Room on University Way closed to the University of Washington. The food was EXCELLENT. I got yellow curry with chicken and Kayur got something with tofu and yummy peanut sauce. We also got Thai spring rolls for appetizer. It was all so very delicious. I love Thai food. There's a lot of it in that area and Kayur says a lot of it is very good. It's also very cheap. Our whole dinner, which was so large we got leftovers enough for two more meals, was only $20. Yay for cheap eats. Narnia was a great movie. I'd really like to go see it again on a much larger screen. It'd be great if it was in an IMAX theatre somewhere in Berkeley or LA. It stuck to the movie fairly well. There were some things that they changed that I wasn't real fond of. But, overall it was very well done. After that we went and hung out at a friend of Kayur's house and played Taboo.

Yesterday was good fun. We woke up and got ready and headed out to have brunch at the Seattle Space Needle restaurant. It was $50 each in the end, but the food was great and the view is really nice as well. I had Seared Ahi Tuna appetizer, King Salmon with roasted pear rice and tarragon-pomegranate dressing and Turtle Brownie a la mode. Yummy. From there we went up to the observation deck and took pictures. Then we went over to the Science Fiction museum. That was cool. Very dorky, of course, but I'll happily admit to being a dork. They had some neat bits of science fiction history, including lots of props from the Star Trek series and movies, as well as props from other popular movies. They had one of the aliens that they had used in the movie Aliens. Now I really will absolutely never ever watch that movie. That thing was huge and scary and that movie scares me already and now that I've seen the thing in person, I can't even imagine trying to watch the movie. I'd end up curled up under the couch with my eyes tightly closed and covered.

So, that was the SciFi museum, sponsored and nearly fully funded by Mr. Paul Allen and his wife. They also funded the Experience the Music Project, which is connected to the SciFi museum. That had pretty much used up all the time that Kayur and I had for the day, so we headed for the train station. The train station happens to be conveniently, or inconveniently in my opinion, located right next to Qwest Field where the Seattle Seahawks play football. Of course, unbeknownst to Kayur and I there was a game yesterday. So, we get down there and the streets are blocked off and cops are directing people around where we need to go and there are hundreds of crazy football fans wandering around. Kayur dropped me off and I just walked over to the station. That made more sense than us trying to wind our way back to the station.

That leads us to where I am now, on the train. I've managed to hold out and remain in coach. I'm rationalizing that if I can hold out and stay in coach, I'll stay at the Holiday Inn in Chicago as a treat. It's actually not too bad since it's pretty empty. Not a lot of people traveling through the middle of nowhere by train right now. I have to say though, my childhood dreams of moving to a ranch in Montana have been renewed. I woke up this morning in Whitefish, MT, which seems like a resort town centered probably around skiing and a lake. Since then it's been amazing moutain views and just beautiful landscapes. It's incredible out here. I really want to live somewhere this gorgeous. Just mountains and trees and your own little cabin in the middle of nowhere. We ran along the southern edge of Glacier National Park this morning. I will definitely head back there to do some hiking and camping and what not. So, today during the daylight we will be going through the rest of Montana and we may see a bit of North Dakota while it's still light out, but it looks like most of North Dakota will be in the dark. Then tomorrow daylight will be through Minnesota, Wisconsin and then into Chicago at around 4pm, as long as we stay close to on time. I hope we are on time so that I don't have to walk to the hotel in the dark. Anyway, now I'm hungry, so I'm going to grab some cheap lunch from the snack car.

Sunday, December 11, 2005


I will tell you that I am in Seattle and I am hanging out with my friend Kayur from CMU. I don't have time to write a full update at the moment. I will write something longer when I get on the train tomorrow night and post it later. Hopefully later will be sometime in Chicago, but I'm not sure.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Trans-Canada train trip

I am in Vancouver. The plan was to get here and see what the weather was like and go from there. Well, the weather is gorgeous and I have lunch plans with one of the VIA guys and another passenger, so I'm hanging out in Vancouver until the 6pm Amtrak train to Seattle. Woohoo. So, here is the story of the last three days....

I woke up at 7am Tuesday morning to get ready and get out of the hostel by 8am so that I had plenty of time to catch my 9am train. When I went to check out I found out from the guy at the desk that the other two people staying at the hostel who were going on the same train had left quite a while ago. This worried me slightly so I scurried out to catch the streetcar. The guy at the hostel front desk told me it'd probably be faster to walk than take the streetcar. I figured he just didn't realize how slowly I'd be walking with all my gear. NO, he was right. Flippin' streetcar just dropped me off far from the station and then I had to get a bus and that went this really roundabout way. It would have been TOTALLY faster to walk. BAH!! Whatever, I made it to my train no problem. Got on the train, settled in a little bit and enjoyed the AMAZING view.

I highly recommend this trip to anyone and everyone. Get your butts up to Canada right now and get on the train from Toronto to Vancouver. The views are incredible. Wednesday during the day I saw a wolf out on a frozen lake and then a bit later I saw an otter or beaver hanging out on the ice and then he jumped in the water. It's just indescribably beautiful up there.

I ended up upgrading to what they call and Upper Berth. What that is is a bunk bed set up that folds down after they dismantle the seats. Well, the seats become the Lower Berth and then the Upper Berth folds down from the cieling. The upgrade was only $380, which for 3 nights including all food and a shower every day, it was totally worth it. I had a bunk mate named Gilly. She is so very cool. We first met up on Wednesday afternoon when she got back from lunch. We got talking and had a great time all afternoon and evening. She taught me that you get free champagne in the sleeping accomadations. We got a new crew at Winnepeg that day and our new attendant Ryan brought us a lot of champagne. We each got two full glasses of champagne and oj and then he ended up getting a hold of a whole bottle for us later in the day.

It was a great day. It went by really quickly. Gilly and I got off the train in Winnepeg for a while. We got there almost an hour early, so we had an hour and a half to explore a bit. There is a fun market very close to the train station. We went over there and explored and then Gilly bought me an empanada. It was very tasty. mmmmmm....empanada. We got back to the train and settled in for a night of hanging out and talking and listening to music. Gilly is from Yellowknife, which is REALLY FAR up north. It's close to the Arctic circle up north. She says there's practically 24 hour darkness in the deepest parts of winter and 24 hour sunshine in the best parts of summer. She lives in a cabin on a lake. It sounds amazing. I am hoping to get up there next summer. The Folk on the Rocks music festival will be taking place July 14-16, 2006 and Gilly said that it's a great festival. Hopefully I can get up there for that.

Anyway, Gilly was getting off in Edmonton the next morning. We had this grand plan to wake up at 7am and eat some breakfast before Edmonton. No deal. Just as a note, when you are on a train with LOTS and LOTS of old people, there is no time that is early enough to wake up to beat them to breakfast. We got there just after 7am (they only start serving breakfast at 6:30am) and it was packed full and they said there were 15-20 people waiting to get seats. So, no gots on the breakfast. We went down to the Park car and got juice which held us over. I got off the train for a while at Edmonton to hang out with Gilly while she waited for her friend to pick her up. She was spending some time with friends before she left on the bus ride to Yellowknife around midnight.

Back on the train we headed into and through the Canadian Rockies. They just provide even more incredible views. It's really nice to just sit up in the skydome lounge and look out in awe of mother nature. We had an hour or so stop in Jasper, which is a very touristy little ski and adventure trip town. I wandered around a bit and found a small bottle of ice wine at a liquor store. I've been wanting to try ice wine for a very long time, but a full size bottle is $60 or more. The little one was $8, which is much more reasonable. I think I'll try that tonight with Kayur maybe. After Jasper it was just through the mountains on to Vancouver. I got talking to Chris, one of the VIA guys and Angela, a tourist from New Zealand. Chris ended up taking Angela and I on a tour of the train back to the Park car for more champagne. Then Angela and I got dinner, which was lovely, and then headed back to the front lounge car to watch Beyond the Sea. It was a really good movie, but very long. It gave me a whole new perspective on Kevin Spacey. He's an incredible actor and this was a very important project for him. Once the movie was over it was time for bed, to get in as much sleep as I could before getting to Vancouver at 7:50 the next morning.

So, I set my alarm for 6:30am this morning, thinking it would give me almost and hour and a half to shower and get my stuff together before we got to Vancouver. However, the trend of earliness continued and we got to Vancouver an hour early, meaning I had a little over a half hour to get ready. I got out of the shower and ran around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to fit things into spaces and work everything out and go crazy. Ryan helped me off the train with my gear. I found a locker for my backpack and duffel bag at the train station, got my ticket to Seattle and headed out. Now I'm wasting time until the Vancouver Art Gallery opens at 10am. I'm hoping I can wander around there for a little while, take a break for lunch and then go back in without having to pay again. I'm also hoping they have a locker or bag check room for my laptop bag and that I can keep my laptop bag in there all day. We'll see.

So, that's the short version of my train trip. It's just too incredible to fully describe without taking forever. I've already hand written quite a bit in my journal and I'm hoping to do more, perhaps on the four hour trip from Vancouver to Seattle.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Casa Loma

Today is Monday and I'm just basically hanging out at the hostel doing lots of things on the internet that I need to do before I have to go 3 full days without internet access on the train. I'm looking into where the train station in Seattle is relative to the University of Washington. I also had to look into where I might stay in Chicago for the night. It'll either be the youth hostel or the Holiday Inn. Both are close to the train station, it's just a matter of where I feel like staying once I get there. It looks like the youth hostel doesn't have private rooms, so if I feel like sleeping alone I'll go to the Holiday Inn. I'm also working on uploading more photos to Flickr.

Yesterday I went to Casa Loma. It was very easy to get to via the Spadina streetcar and then the University-Spadina subway line. It's an interesting place. This guy Sir Henry Pellatt built it over several many many years, making it ever more extravagant until he ran out of money and ended up basically forfeiting it to the city of Toronto for unpaid taxes. A lot of his possessions had been auctioned off when he started running out of money. However, some of them have made their way back to the castle thanks to generous donations and such. It's a very gaudy Victorian style castle. It's really not my style, but it was interesting. There was some very fun people watching though. The first funny thing that happened was this little boy trying to use one of the display bathrooms in the house. I was walking through taking pictures of Sir Henry's bathroom (the one in the pictures with the crazy shower). These two little boys were walking through with their mother and grandmother. The younger boy must have only been about 2 years old. He saw the bathroom and figured it was okay for him to use, so he just starts pulling his pants down right there. Luckily his mom caught him in time and was like "no, this is not a bathroom you can use". I was giggling a bit at the situation, as were mom and grandmom. Grandmom said I should've taken a picture. I'm not that fast with catching moments that I should be taking pictures of. But, it was very amusing.

More fun people watching came from the actors who were participating in the Alice in Wonderland play at the museum. The Mad Hatter in particular was very cute with the kids. There's a picture of him and some kids in my Flickr pile. The kids were totally enthralled with the fake mouse he had. I didn't exactly catch what he was pretending with the mouse, but it was funny to watch the kids faces when he pulled it out of his pocket.

Then there was another moment when I went to go check out the Swimming Pool. Sir Henry had this grand plan for an underground swimming pool that was going to be marble and columns and fancy. It never came through cause he ran out of money. But, the room is there with this shell of what could have become a pool. At the moment the museum has a display of a cave in there with knights and a dragon. I'll upload the picture. As you'll see it's very dark in there and there were dragon roaring noises coming from the room. So, I'm walking towards this and there is this little girl (maybe 5/6 years old) standing in the doorway of the room that leads into the room with the swimming pool. She is PETRIFIED to take another step. She is totally terrified to move one more inch. She is explaining to the woman who is already in the room trying to coax her through why she doesn't want to go through. The woman is trying to tell her that it's fake. Then she's trying to say that the knights (which were really just suits of armor) would protect them. A woman who I can only assume was this little girl's mother was sitting next to the doorway with a baby. She apologized to me and I reassured her that no apology was necessary. At that moment the little girl noticed someone was behind her. She asked if I would maybe go in with her and it might help. I said of course I would go in with her and reassured her that indeed her mother and the other woman were right, that it was pretend and nothing would hurt her. Once we were all in there she was completely fascinated with the display. It was so adorable. Then on the way out the other woman with them said "Thank you" to me. I'm not sure if it was thank you for going in with us or thank you for not being annoyed at the kid blocking the way for 5 minutes making up her mind about going in. But, whatever it was, I just said "no problem".

Oh, and I saw a group of Brownies. They have Girl Guides in Canada, which is obviously connected to the Girl Scouts in the States. They reminded me of the troop of Juniors back in PA. I think they would have enjoyed Casa Loma and particularly the Alice in Wonderland characters. Casa Loma also had a Big Comfy Couch show that happened on the hour. There was an actual big comfy couch and a woman playing Luna and someone under the couch working the Molly puppet. It was also cute, but that show is geared towards much younger kids. There was a large crowd though for the shows that happpened while I was in the museum.

I came back from the museum, did some things online that obviously did not include updating, cause I just wasn't feeling very loquacious. Then I went out and got some sushi for dinner and then came back and did laundry. I couldn't find a place to get single use laundry detergent or dryer sheets, so I had to buy full size ones and now I've just donated them to the other guests at the Backpackers. After laundry I just watched tv and went to bed.

Today so far I went and got breakfast and then came back here to work on the computer. There is nothing left in Toronto that I feel like I haven't done. I'm pretty happy just chilling out here today before I leave early tomorrow morning. I'm very very excited about the train trip to Vancouver.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Oh and also...

some pictures. These are just from Detroit and Florida at the moment. I have to get a paid account to put up any more, which I don't feel like bothering with just at this moment.

Body Worlds and South Indian Food...

And of course finally meeting some friends of mine in person. Today I finally met Todd, Sage and Paul in person. We met up at the Ontario Science Centre, which took longer to get to than I had expected. I had to to take the subway and then wait about 10 minutes for a bus and then the bus ride was about 15-20 minutes. But, the Science Centre is definately worth the trip. There's a lot of neat stuff going on and the Body Worlds 2 exhibit was particularly fascinating. Definately recommend that to anyone who has the opportunity to check it out in their city or any other city. The rest of the Science Centre was great too, especially because I had excellent guides. Paul and Sage visit there quite frequently. Sage hung out for a while with us, but headed home when we went into the Body Worlds exhibit. She had already seen it. Paul really wanted to see it a second time and Todd and I had not seen it. After that exchibit we got some lunch and then went around to more of the regular exhibits. I love going around places like that with kids. They just make it so much more fun. Paul had a great time leading Todd and I around and showing us his favorite exhibits.

We left the Science Centre at 5pm, when it closed, and headed out to catch a bus to get to the subway station to head to dinner. I'm not exactly sure where we went as far as streets and stops and what not, but that's okay. Dinner was wonderful. We went to a South Indian restaurant. It was just this tiny little place, but the food was fabulous. I had a Masala Uthapam, which is a pancake sorta thing with tomatoes, peas and chilis cooked into the pancake part and then it was folded around some potato stuff (similar to what's inside a vegetable samosa for those of you that know what a samosa is). My favorite part about South Indian food is the two side dishes of dipping sauce that come on the side. One seems to be a tomato/vegetable based sauce. The other one I haven't a clue what it is, but it's good. Sorry. Anyway, dinner was wonderful and then Todd gave me directions back to the hostel, which were very simple... get off at Spadina and then take the streetcar down the street.

So, to answer Sarah's question from my own perspective, the TTC (Toronto Transportation Commission) is a wonderful system with very clean stations, subway cars, busses and streetcars. It is very easy to navigate and from what I've seen can get you to a lot of places.

Oh and last night I was able to do exactly what I'd wanted. I just hung out at the hostel. I spent the night hanging out with Aussies. :) I met Bear, Erin and some guy who's name I don't remember. They were all Australian. Actually I had met Bear the night before and spent time playing pool and talking with him. It was fun hanging out with them, although sometimes they said things that went whoosh right over my head. But, I asked what they meant and now I know some Australian slang. Bear is really cool. He's got a pretty amazing life. He is a dive instructor in the Bahamas most of the time, spending a week at a time out on a large boat taking people on 4-5 dives a day. He also spends A LOT of time traveling. He was in Toronto for 3 days, then went to Toledo and New York for a few days and then came back to Toronto for another 3 days that turned into 4 when American cancelled his flight. In January he's going to Salt Lake City and Denver to go skiing. In the spring he's going to do a tour of Africa, from Egypt to South Africa. And at some point he'll go back and spend some time in Australia. That just sounds like such an amazing life. It actually sounds like something my friend Bob should be doing. That life would suit him well.

Maybe while I'm on this trip I'll find something I can do that could lead to a life like that. Stints of working and then traveling that alternate in month or two long bits.

Anyway, no I'm going to go figure out what I want to do tomorrow and then probably go upstairs and read some more. I'm a little worn out from walking around the Science Centre all day.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Oh it's so cold!

Dear Toronto,

I am very sorry, but you have just been pulled from the list of places I would be willing to consider home. I loved you dearly until this morning. The cold front that came in and brought you snow also brought bitter cold and wind. I'm sorry, but I just can't take walking around in that.


That is my note to Toronto after today. The weather was lovely until the cold front and snow last night brought in some awfully cold weather. The wind is the worst part. It just bites into you. It made for a somewhat unpleasant day of walking around. I again decided to walk all over Toronto. I went down to the CN Tower this morning to get my CityPass and as I was walking down I realized that had lied to me and it was a relatively clear day. So, I just went up the tower while I was there. It's really cool up there. The view is amazing. I got some cool pictures, including two pictures of the Global Village Backpackers. After the CN Tower I walked back to the hostel to bundle up some more and grab my hat. Once I was all geared up I headed out to the Art Gallery of Ontario. Before I went in though I had to find some lunch. I found some excellent Tofu Noodle Soup at this place called Sakura. It looked like it might be a chain. Lunch was $5, which was a nice bonus. Then over to AGO. They are doing some construction at the moment, so it's not a very extensive collection. It was still neat. The Catherine the Great exhibition was amazing though. It cost an extra $10 above the admission price, but it was well worth it. I learned a lot that I didn't know about her, including that she was pretty short. But, I think everyone was shorter back in those days.

From the AGO I decided to walk down to the Royal Ontario Museum. This is also being renovated at the moment, but there was still an immense amount of stuff to see. I spent two hours there and didn't really do the place justice. I kind of sped up at the end cause I was starving. I made my way back to Spadina (the street that the hostel is on) and headed down looking for a restaurant along the way. I ended up at Fresh. Totally recommend this place highly. I had a Baby Buddha rice bowl and sweet potato fries for $12.50. Excellent dinner. The Baby Buddha rice bowl was basmati brown rice with mildly spicy thai peanut sauce and tofu and cucumbers and tomatoes. REALLY GOOD, as were the sweet potato fries. Now, after my day of walking around I am tired and want to do nothing but just chill out here at the hostel and drink and then sleep.

Oh, and to answer Sarah's question from the previous post.... I have not tried the public transportation yet. It seems to be fairly extensive and pretty easy to use, but I just haven't tried it yet. I will be using it tomorrow, so I'll let you know.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Oh Canada!!

I am in Toronto. I have finally made it across the Canadian border for the first time in my life. So far, I like Canada a lot. The money takes a little getting used to. There's a lot more coins than in the US. They use $1 and $2 coins. It makes for quite the pocketful of change.

I'm staying at the Global Village Backpackers youth hostel in Toronto. It's a pretty nice place, although they keep the rooms at about 25 degrees Celsius, which is around 77 degrees fahrenheit. That is REALLY warm for me. I like rooms around 60 degrees or less. My bedroom growing up was always really cold in the winter cause I refused to turn on the heat cause it made a clicking sound. Yes, I know, I'm wierd, but the noise woke me up. My mom frequently said "You can see your breath in here, how do you stand it". I was perfectly happy. You can always bundle up more, you can only take off so much. I slept in shorts and a t-shirt last night and barely had a sheet over me and I was roasting.

But, enough complaining. Other than the heat issues it's a great place. They've got free wireless internet, which makes posting really easy. There's a bar inside the hostel and lots of interesting people. It seems that it's summer vacation in Australia, so there's a lot of Aussie's here. I'm actually sharing a room with 3 Aussie girls. They act something like 14, but they are probably late teens/early twenties. Last night I also met two girls from Ireland. It sounded like they were spending several months exploring Canada. But, I couldn't really understand everything they said between their accents and the loud music.

I got into Toronto last night around 6pm (caught that earlier train) and got together with my friend Mike and got sushi. It wasn't very good sushi, but it was more about meeting up with Mike. We actually had never met in person. I know him from working at The Validation Group. I was a junior accountant and he was one of the many field guys. So, we always talked on the phone and emailed, never met in person. Then I got back to the hostel and pretty much crashed.

Woke up this morning around 10:30 and then went wandering aimlessly around Toronto. It was wonderful. The weather was nice, not too cold. I walked all over the place. I got lunch at this great little crepe place. Then I went down to Eaton Centre, the local mall, to look for a phone charger (since I'm an idiot and forgot mine at Turk's place). I got the phone charger and also found a nice inexpensive cable lock for my luggage. It'll make me feel a little better when I'm on the train. I'll be able to lock my stuff to the bars in the luggage storage shelves. It'll just help with my paranoia. :)

Tonight I had the most amazing Italian dinner I've had in a very very long time. I found this restaurant called Piero's on Richmond near John St. (for those of you in or traveling to Toronto). I had Pollo Supremo (chicken parmesan). That was SO GOOD. The sauce was incredible. It was so perfect. Oh, and I got Prosciutto con melone (prosciutto ham on cantelope slices) for appetizer which was also most excellent. Then for desert there was coffee that's got me goin' and tiramisu. Both were tasty. There is a very good chance I will go back to that restaurant before I leave.

And now we have reached the point of the story where we are at the present moment. I'm back at the hostel and surfing the internet and updating and trying to plan the rest of my visit. I'm hoping to go to the Science Centre on Saturday with Todd and family. Todd clued me in to the Toronto CityPass which gets you entry into the CN Tower, Science Centre, Ontario Art Gallery, Art Museum, Zoo and I think a couple other things. It's $47CAD and it's worth something like $97CAD. With the weather, it looks like my best bet for the CN Tower might be Sunday. It's going to be snowing tonight and tomorrow and then mostly cloudy on Saturday. Only partly cloudy on Sunday, then back to snowing on Monday. I leave early Tuesday morning. That's all for now, good night.
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