Saturday, August 30, 2008

There's no place like home

I never really stopped to admire what a beautiful area I grew up in, but now when I return to central PA I have a whole new appreciation. There is an amazing creek that cuts right through the area and lush green, mountains everywhere. On this trip home, in between seeing family, friends, meeting the new babies, and LOTS, and LOTS, and LOTS of shopping (have to take advantage of that exchange rate), I really took time to enjoy the scenary.
Here are some photos of my Gram and Dad in his impressive garden, my college friends Kim and J.A. in Pine Creek where we celebrated JA's 30th birthday, and my newest cousin, Max Joseph.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Gay Pride Parade

You haven't lived until you have seen syncronized dancing, drag queens, and tons and tons of amazing abs that the female race will never be able to touch, floating down the Amsterdam canals in the name of gay pride! It was 2 1/2 hours of pure wild entertainment....

Friday, August 1, 2008

Warsaw (Poland) & Vienna (Austria)

My first trip to Poland was short (only one night), but sweet. I had my friend Jim along to introduce me to our Polish partners and show me around the lovely city of Warsaw. Arriving at the hotel, we were surprised to find a bunch of media waiting with cameras at the front entrance. Sadly they weren’t for us, apparently there were covering some Polish football league meeting going on in our hotel so it wasn’t very exciting anyway. We had a nice lunch with our partners at a strawberry themed restaurant where I had my first taste of an authentic Polish pierogie, this one filled with goat cheese though, not cheddar, potato, & onion like I’m used to, but it was delicious! We spent the rest of the afternoon strolling about old town, 85% of which was completely destroyed in WWII and painstakingly restored to it’s original form, and ended the day with a hearty dinner at a very rustic and traditional restaurant, U. Fukiera (oh the puns we came up with!).
After our business was complete in Warsaw we flew to Vienna for a weekend of tourist leisure. To my delight, we found that our hotel was located smack in the middle of a shopping street --- we later learned that there are over 7,580 shops there! The first day we just meandered about and admired all the amazing baroque, classical architecture of the city and the beautiful statues like the one here of Mozart (many classical composers were Austrian-born and lived in Vienna, so music and the arts are a very big deal here). Just after passing by the Burgkapelle chapel where the Vienna Boys Choir sing, we stopped for some famous Viennese coffee and desserts– I had the schococcino, chocolate espresso with whipped cream and an amazingly tasty apple strudel. For dinner that night we went to one of the cities oldest wine taverns and had some very delicious weiner schnitzel….breaded pork, for those of you with their minds in the gutter.
Saturday we primarily spent our day at the Belvedere Palace, exploring the 18th century former residence and all the amazing artworks there, such famous pieces like The Kiss by the Austrian artist Gustav Klimt and religious pieces from as far back as 1400!!!!
That evening we brought out our finest and went to a symphony at the Schonbrun Palace. I never considered myself much of a classical music fan, but first thing after my return from Vienna I was on my iTunes downloading Mozart & Strauss! The concert was incredible and the Orchestra as well as the accompanying Opera singers and Ballet dancers were phenomenal. I really loved every minute of the event and being surrounded by a majestic palace made the experience all the more memorable.
We ended our trip to this beautiful city with a leisurely breakfast at the Hotel Sacher. We had kept reading about the infamous Sachertorte, a chocolate cake made with apricot marmalade, so we had to try it before leaving town……….thankfully I only had a bite size portion because I didn't like it at all and couldn’t even eat the one bite. Despite finishing on a “sour” note, I still very much enjoyed this city and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in gaining a new appreciation for culture and the arts.


Maybe it was the few rare hours of European sunshine I got to enjoy, or maybe it the familiarity of being in an English speaking country with a Starbuck’s on every corner, but I absolutely loved London the second time around. After settling into my perfect hotel –in a quaint, old building right on Hyde Park – I set off for the purpose of my visit, to celebrate the 30th birthday of an old (no pun intended) travel friend. I didn’t know anyone besides Renee, but all her friends, mostly Australian like her, were extremely friendly and welcoming. The social vibe in this city is just fantastic! It is just like you see in movies, groups of friends and/or acquaintances constantly getting together for fun activities, dinners, or nights on the town. The party ended when the pub shut down at midnight, and we all went our respective ways home shortly thereafter.
I did some site seeing with Renee on Saturday -- the Tower of London the location of Anne Boylen’s execution, VERY COOL! -- and then met up with another friend, Phil (Steven's cousin), and the group that I went skiing in Colorado with this past January for drinks that evening.
Sunday I strolled down Bayswater Rd., had a look at the art market of over 250 artists displaying their works, and took a brief stroll in the park. The Tube system was under construction so I used the iconic double-deck red buses to get around and I really couldn’t have been happier with the experience. On the route I went past all the major sites like Westminster Abbey, Parliament, Big Ben, and the London Eye. Even though I had seen it all before, I was still awe-struck by the size and beauty of these historic landmarks. I was disappointed to find that the Shakespeare’s Globe Theater wasn’t open for tours due to a performance, but I took my lemons and made some really tasty lemonade by spending the rest of my day shopping. The night was topped off with a relaxing outdoor pub dinner in the extremely quiet, mellow river area of the Hammersmith neighborhood.
My final 2 days were spent mostly in meetings, but I did manage one more fun outing to see Hairspray in the famous West End theater district with Renee. It was truly one of the best, possibly THE best, musical I have seen. It was just the high note (pun intended this time) to close out this fabulous weekend!