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Archive for February, 2006

Apres vacation

Tuesday, February 28th, 2006

We slept in Saturday, unpacked and ran errands. We had beer battered shrimp and potato crusted fish (both frozen, didn’t feel like really cooking), then went to see eddie from ohio at the Rams Head in Annapolis. The drive there and back wasn’t that great due to the wind, but the show was worth it. They were on, and a lot of fun. Plus, we had the best seats in the house (I was quick on the click when they were announced).

Sunday I made strawberry waffles (at Jill’s request) and the wafflemaker gave up the ghost (finished the waffles, though). Jill ran some errands while I started on the huge vacation blog entry (my apologies to the LJ folks), then I cooked a pizza (Freschetta has wheat crusts now) while Jill made a salad. Afterwards, she went to work while I finished up the blog entry – took about 9 hours start to finish.

Weird being back at work, but I’m in the middle of a project and fell right back into the routine. Tonight Jill’s at work, I had canned chowder for dinner. Started an eBay auction for an extra pair of Queen + Paul Rodgers tix next week. Jill doesn’t like floor seats, but they were the first that came up, so I snagged ’em. A friend had expressed interest but didn’t follow through, so I’m selling them off.

See what happens when I leave? Good stuff!

Monday, February 27th, 2006

Awesome Lost/Weird Al parody

Bill Maher’s back!

Jon Stewart’s still funny

Europe 2006

Sunday, February 26th, 2006

February 10th

We dropped our dog off at the kennel, got a taxi to the airport around 3. I’d been up all night the night before and that turned out to be a good thing, as I napped on and off throughout our three flights. First flight was to Paris on a redeye on Air France. First mistake was asking for a beer on the flight (no extra charge for them). They had Kronenberg 1664 on the menu, so I thought I’d get that. Nope, Milwaukee’s Best for me. Hadn’t had one of those since college, but it tasted just like I remembered. I passed on the meal as I’d had a calzone in the airport (tried Jill’s pasta, was ok), and went back to sleep.

February 11th

Our flight arrived in Paris at 6AM, plenty of time to catch our 7:50 flight to Barcelona. Jill had her first French experience buying a cup of coffee (she’d exchanged cash for Euros at Dulles). I’d bought the tix last May on a deal that was $300 for a flight to France, and an extra $50 got a flight to any of their European destinations. Good deal, and the resort club we belong to had given us a week’s vacation at any RCI property (we could use the yearly points we get from the resort club to book there as well). We had decided that if we were going to visit Europe in winter, than the best place to stay for a week was an island in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Spain. So once we got to Barcelona, we had to wait four hours for one of two daily flights there on Air Berlin (fine airline, cheapest way there, weirdest thing was the announcements were in German and Spanish). We camped out in the terminal and read, Jill got a snack – Pringles and Coke Light (what they call Diet Coke in Europe).

When we got to Mallorca, we collected our bags and went to rent a car, where I got a rude awakening. I thought I could just rent a car at the airport and we’d be on our merry way. What I hadn’t considered was that nearly every car offered (and we went to 5 of the 8 car rental places) was a manual transmission, and neither of us know how to drive stick. So we were stuck with the luxury cars. One place wanted to rent us a Land Rover. We ended up at Hasso, where we rented a Mercedes A180 for 280€ for a week, which included complete coverage, a wise decision as we found out later (it’s recommended in general because of the different ways their insurance works), not tax though (an extra 45€). We got the car and were soon on our way after I stopped at an ATM for cash.

I’d printed out a nice Mapquest set of directions, which was useless since we couldn’t find any route numbers. Instead, we followed the directions from the resort, which basically told us to follow signs for Santanyi, then Cala D’Or. And it was just that simple, besides not being able to figure out the speed limit at first (120 kph freeway, 100 kph other roads). We got into Cala D’Or fine, and arrived at the Cala de Mar resort just after 5PM. We checked in, dropped our luggage off, and went shopping at the supermarket next door. We’d gotten a foodpack (with eggs, butter, milk and bread) in the room in case we got there too late (especially with most stores closed on Sunday), but we had time to shop. I’m sure grocery shopping and cooking on vacation is the last thing on some people’s minds, but I enjoy cooking, and we’d have another week without a full kitchen. We bought tortellini (fresh and dried), bolognese and carbonara sauce (both from Knorr’s), bacon wrapped dates, Coke light, yogurt, chorizo, and beer. Jill didn’t get a good chance to look at the beer, as I bought 6 packs of San Miguel (a popular local), and Kaliber (from Guiness). Cool, I thought – a Spanish Guiness! The fact that it had Sin written on it didn’t matter ’til we got back to the apartment, and Jill told me it meant the beer was nonalcoholic. Oops. We used the jacuzzi, then I made the fresh tortellini with the bolognese sauce and the chorizo for dinner and had some beer. That was it, we hit the sack around 8PM as we were totally wiped out.

February 12th

13 and a half hours, besides being some kind of personal record for me, was enough to feel human again. I fried some eggs and tried the bacon wrapped dates. Not bad, but nothing I really wanted again. Jill got another hour, then got up around noon. We got on the road as we wanted to hit one of the markets first thing. They have a daily market in a different city each day. Sunday’s was in Felanitx and the closest to Cala D’Or, about 25 minutes away. We got there and parked on the street, then walked to the market. A number of streets were closed and vendors had tables on them, but we were interested in the food, which was in a building in the center of town. We checked out the various vendors inside, then made our purchases. From one, we got tomatoes, peppers, garlic, onions, and artichokes. From another, clementines, pears, and strawberries, and a third lettuce, spinach, and parsley (which we thought was cilantro). From the cheese lady, a tasty goat cheese, a brie like one, and another creamy one. From the dried meat guy, more chorizo and spiced ham, and from the butcher, a half kilo of chicken breast. They didn’t have any chicken breast ready, so the lady pulled a whole chicken out of the freezer (mostly plucked), and chopped it up and sliced the breast for us. On the way out, we stopped at the supermarket (which kept market hours and was closing) for olive oil, crushed nuts, and water (I’m usually ok with tap water, but the water in our apartment had a salt tang to it that was just too much. We also got churros from the stand at the edge of the market.

We drove back to Cala de Mar and put the groceries away. Our apartment was nice and spacious, four separate rooms for the kitchen, living room, bedroom, and bathroom. The terrace was good as well, with two sun chairs it was nice to sit outside (especially with the sun shining and high in the 60s. That afternoon we played mini golf (9 holes in the courtyard) with Stuart, the entertainment director, and a dad and his two girls. It was fun, then we went to the bar. They were offering free cocktails at 6:30, so we couldn’t miss that. It was our first meeting with Dean, Debbie, and Anna, who ran the bar. Now I knew Cala de Mar was owned by an English company, but what I didn’t know is that the staff and most of the guests were English as well. The bar had much of a pub feel to it, and we always felt comfortable there, so we visited often (yeah, I’m sure that’s the reason). I had a White Russian and Jill had a Blue Lagoon, but we didn’t stay too long as we were getting hungry. Pasta again for dinner, the carbonara sauce this time, but we also had the fresh sauteed spinach. We read for a while after that, then went to sleep (I’m going to do a separate blog entry on what I read this trip later).

February 13th

11 hours of sleep – but again I needed it. Scrambled eggs with cheese and chorizo for breakfast, then reading outside. We went to the supermarket again, to my surprise. I wanted to make my chicken with pasta and pesto, as well as a hollandaise sauce, and was missing a couple things. We’d picked up parsley at the market the day before, thinking it was cilantro (our problem not smelling it), but it turned out cilantro was not a common thing. So I picked up a prepackaged basil pesto at the supermarket, as well as more beer and ingredients for the hollandaise sauce. I marinated the chicken and continued reading. We played pool for a break, then I cooked the chicken and pasta and made the pesto, we also had a salad Jill made.

That night we went to the bar as they had an Elvis impersonator named Ian. Actually, his first set was other covers (including donning a mask and doing “Phantom Of The Opera”, then changing into a jumpsuit and shades. He was decent, I’m just not a big fan of covers acts, but we had a good time. We also had a pitcher of sangria at the bar.

February 14th

10 hours of sleep – this was a trend that went throughout our trip. I rarely sleep that much, even on the weekends, but I felt well rested during our stay. I made an omelette and Jill had a yogurt, then we got going. We’d been told there was a decent restaurant in the marina, so went to take a look at it. But we chose to go south, which was wrong, as we ended up in Porto Petro, the next town over. Still, they had a nice marina, and a couple restaurants, so we kept them in mind. We got on one of the bigger roads, and went north to Porto Cristo. We got to Cuevas del Drach around 2:45, and went to the cafe to wait for the tour. Jill got a donut and coffee, and I had a San Miguel. We were used to birds like pigeons begging, but a peacock begging was pretty unusual (link to pictures at end).

The tour started at 3:30, and went slowly, both due to the size of the group and the fact that our guide repeated everything in Spanish, French, German, and English. The caves were much like any other underground cave, with many interesting stalagtites and stalagmites. The big difference about this particular cave was it has one of the biggest subterranean lakes in the world, nearly 600 feet long. When we got there, we found out our group wasn’t that large, as the section of rock we were led to at the bottom had seats we filled barely a quarter of. After we were seated, the lights went out, and then a lighted boat glided in, carrying musicians (keyboard player and three string musicians), who played a concert. Afterwards, we chose to take the boat over to the exit. As Jill told me, a nice romantic beginning for a Valentine’s Day. After a stop at the gift shop for postcards (no camera use in the caves), we made our way into Porto Cristo, where we walked around the shops and Jill bought some pearl earrings. We looked around the restaurants and didn’t see anything that caught our eyes, so headed back.

We found the marina in Cala D’Or, so we parked and walked down. The restaurant which was recommended to us, La Scala, didn’t appeal to Jill, so we kept going. On the other side we found a couple that were interesting. The main problem was Jill wanted paella and I wanted lamb, so we went to Botavara, which had both. Now on every vacation I forget something – this time it was button down shirts, so all I had was t-shirts and a sweatshirt, and we hadn’t gotten any more yet. So at this nice restaurant on Valentine’s day, I was wearing a Rush t-shirt. At least we got there right before they opened, and not too many other people had come by the time we left (although everyone that did come was from our resort). Anyway, Jill got the onion soup to start, then we shared a surf and turf paella (they usually come for a minimum of two people). I had a little, in order to preserve my appetite for a lamb shoulder. Very tender, and we had an excellent pitcher of sangria (made with cava) with the meal. As a treat, they gave us each a glass of Crema Catalana liquer (the Crema Catalana dessert is an ancestor of Creme Brulee), and it was delicious and smooth. Afterwards, we went back to the bar at Cala de Mar and had dessert there after a while, apple pie for me and chocolate cake for Jill (neither that great), as well as some more drinks, staying until close.

February 15th

Huevos rancheros for breakfast (yes, I like eggs), then a day of sunning and reading. We also played some pool and mini golf, and figured out how to use the tiny washer in the kitchen to clean our clothes, then hung them out to dry. Then we took a walk to the sea, which we hadn’t done yet. There was no beach, only cliffs, but we took beers out and chatted while we watched the sea. I made my hollandaise sauce for dinner, then steamed the artichokes and made eggs benedict. That night they had another cover act at the bar, this time an R&B/soul guy who was pretty good. He liked going out in the audience and making people sing, finally roped Jill into coming up and singing “I’ll Be There” with him near the end (she was pretty good, no matter what she says). We managed to close down the place again, the bar staff was always fun to hang out with. And Anna answered one thing I was curious about – when they started pulling a pint, they’d bounce the glass up and down. She told me their tradition was to make sure beer had a head on it, so different than the way I learned to pour one.

February 16th

No time for breakfast as we woke up later than planned and wanted to go to the market in Inca. It was pretty far, over an hour, but in addition to the market, Inca was known for its leather, which had Jill drooling. First stop was shirts for me. After we’d made it halfway through the market without any luck, we went into the Spring boutique store on the Obispo Llompart, where we found two shirts for me for around 50€. Of course, not five minutes afterwards, we found another shirt for me in the market for only 5€. Oh well. We wanted a break, and Jill decided a Chinese buffet sounded fine, so we stopped at the Restaurant Chino Hong-Kong for lunch. Mostly familiar dishes, was pretty good, but soon it was back to shopping, not the market, but the leather stores. Jill picked up a leather wallet at Heitorn on Avda Colon, but the object of her desire was the big store at the roundabout at the start of town, Antony’s Inca. She soon found a nice leather jacket for 320€ (which included tailoring), and I found some leather shoes for 80€. I couldn’t decide between brown and black, so Jill told me she’d buy whatever I didn’t, so that was an easy decision. We decided to leave town before we bought anything else.

We had a CD player in the car, but the only CDs I’d brought were learning French CDs, so we mostly listened to the radio – 107.3 was the only station the radio in the apartment could pick up (107.3 will always be Q107 to me), and Europa FM (91.2). Both were good, playing an eclectic selection of English and Spanish music. Weirdest thing was noticing Bangles’ “Manic Monday” being played at least four times. How did that get heavy rotation? Once back at Cala de Mar, I had to buy a plug adapter for my converter. The one I had couldn’t get in past their rounded sockets to get power, so I got an English adapter and used it that way. Not a big deal, as the adapter was 2€, and then I could recharge my phone and toothbrush.

We had dinner at the bar that night, it was only 15€ for a three course meal. We both started with shrimp in garlic and chili oil, spicy and tasty. Jill had a a hankering for beef stroganoff, and I had the fish with lemon and capers. Not too bad. We both had the cheesecake for dessert, which was a wise choice, as it was very good. Later, we experimented with drinks (Bailey’s and Kahlua always work well together), before calling it a night.

February 17th

I woke up early and actually read for a little while before waking Jill up and finishing packing. We left around 12:30, got to the airport around 1:15. That was when we discovered that the complete car insurance was a good thing, as someone had swiped our rear wiper at some point. That was the only bad thing about the car (other than no cruise control), as we both really enjoyed driving it. We got our boarding passes, and waited for our flight, which was about 30 minutes late leaving because it arrived late (our only delay of the entire trip). The flight was uneventful, we got to Barcelona, got our luggage, and got a taxi to the hotel, fare was about 20€. We stayed at the
Hilton Diagonal Mar Barcelona (with resort club points), which had the nicest rooms of just about any hotel I’ve stayed in. Pretty new, and a nice view – main was of the city, but could see the ocean through the side. Also had a 28-inch Philips plasma TV, and a plate of sugar cookies awaiting us (I liked the Vova Polish music video channel).

We tried to see if the concierge could get us dinner reservations at Talaia Mar, but she was unsuccessful. By the time we gave up, it was 8PM and we were hungry, so we went across the street to the mall there and checked out the tapas places, settling on Canas Y Tapas, a chain tapas place (but I think all of them were). Chain or not, the food was good (and inexpensive, total was 38€). We had a selection of Iberian ham and cheese, grilled asparagus, cod croquettes, ham croquettes, fries with garlic mayonnaise, mushroom toast, and steak and brie toast. Jill had a glass of house white, and I had a pint of San Miguel. Hit the spot, and we discussed our plans for the next day.

When we got back to the hotel, we had the concierge see if dinner reservations were available for El Raco de Can Fabes, but they were fully booked (not such bad thing, as it would have taken an effort to get out there and back). So we went to the hotel bar, where I discovered they had Jameson’s, so I had a Jameson’s with a splash of Coke light and Jill had a coffee (served with sugar cookies). We made a list of choices and gave them to the concierge – miraculously, our first choice was available (there was a huge convention that week, but we never noticed it affect anything we were interested in). It was late, so we went to bed – besides, my drink was 9€!

February 18th

Our only full day in Barcelona, so we made the most of it. The subway was a block and a half away, we got on it, transferred lines, and got out at Liceu on Las Ramblas, the famous street there. We went to a couple of stores mentioned in my guidebook, but didn’t find anything interesting. We were planning on getting lunch at one tapas place, but didn’t like the look of it, went to the second which had an outside and waited for 10 minutes without being served, finally going to Taller de Tapas in Plata Sant Josep Oriol. Third time was the charm, as it was excellent. We had egg with chorizo and fries, spinach with chickpeas, fried artichoke slices, grilled asparagus, salad, calamari, and tomato bread. I had a pint of San Miguel, and Jill had a glass of house white. Next, we went to the Museu de l’Erotica (Jill was curious), then went up to the Placa de Catalunya. Along the way, Jill found a nice pin in a tobacco shop and bought it – too late I saw they had an airplane sized bottle of Crema Catalana and didn’t want to get in line again.

We were waiting for Dulcinea to open, a cafe Jill really wanted to try for their churros and hot chocolate, but we went by at 4:45 when the guidebook said they opened at 4:30 and were closed. We went to a nearby cafe that said they had the best ice cream in Barcelona, but Jill wasn’t interested in staying after she found out they were out of churros. Luckily, we tried going by Dulcinea, and they’d just opened (at 5). Good thing, as they quickly filled up. The hot chocolate is so thick it’s like melted chocolate, a small cup is plenty (I had milk). After we left, we went back to the cafe in the Plata del Pi and I had a chocolate ice cream cone – very rich and quite good. We caught the subway at the same stop and made our way back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. We’d made reservations at Jean Luc Figueras for dinner at 8, and left around 7 so we could get there on the subway.

We got to the restaurant (in an old townhouse) just before 8 and they seated us promptly. We decided not to get the tasting menu, and ordered off the menu. We wanted to get a cava that was dry, and the sommelier recommended the Gran Juvé y Camps, so we got that – very nice. A server came by and asked us to pick a loaf of bread, then sliced us pieces off them throughout our meal. Next came a couple of pre dinner tastes – a shot of red pepper soup (served in a shot glass, natch) and a piece of raw tuna on a kebab stick served with a small amount of fondue to dip it in. Both were very good and whetted our appetite. For starters, I had a scallop & Iberian ham “sandwiches” (actually little fried wrappers around them), and Jill had a pork chin risotto. The fancy part was her risotto came with black truffle, grated in front of us (and the server whisking every crumb he’d got into the dish). I had a bit of it, and even not being a mushroom fan thought it was tasty. Our entrees were Galician beef filet for me (with a side of the smoothest and best mashed potatoes ever), and breaded pigeon for Jill, both very tender and exquisite. Jill had a coconut milk rice pudding and I had a chocolate mousse. We were stuffed and eventually wobbled out and took a cab back to the hotel. Fairly pricey meal (240€) but not the most expensive on the trip.

February 19th

We had planned to get a cab to the airport, but neither of us had enough for fare, and the nearby ATM wasn’t accepting our cards. The driver said that was fine, we could get money at the airport. Of course that was the day my bank had the systems down, so I had to go to a currency exchanger and change some $20s for the fare. Jill was able to get money after we got boarding passes, so we were fine after that. Jill picked up a couple bottles of cava in the airport, as well as a bottle of Crema Catalana (it made a big impression on us). We had lunch there (empanadas were so-so, but the spanish omelette sandwich was good), and the flight was decent. Once we landed, we went to get tickets for the train (cab fare to Paris is 50-60€). The machine to get tickets didn’t have English instructions and didn’t seem to take my credit cards, so I stood in line to get them from a clerk. The trains left every 15 minutes, and we were at Gare du Nord within 30 minutes. We got a taxi from there to the Hilton Arc de Triomphe. Yes, we stayed at the Paris Hilton – didn’t see her, though. Most expensive and smallest of anywhere we stayed – 290€ a night, again using resort club points.

We got to the room and unpacked. They had macaroons which were tasty, especially the pistachio ones (reminds me of marzipan). We wanted to eat somewhere close, so we went looking for Les Gourmets Des Ternes, which was supposed to be nearby. It was raining by the time we went out, and we never found that place. Instead, we found Brasserie La Lorraine, who didn’t appear to mind our bedraggled look. Jill got the fixed price menu, and had salad, steak frites, and a creme brulée. I had the cream of mussels soup and the rack of lamb (with roasted garlic cloves accompaning it). The soup hit the spot as I was cold and wet, and the lamb was very good. I even had some of Jill’s creme brulée, and was surprised that I liked it (I haven’t when I had it before). Jill was a little disappointed in the steak, but loved the fries. I also smuggled one of our pieces of bread out (had meant to do two pieces, but lost one on the floor).

February 20th

We’d asked about the weather, and it was rainy and cloudy the next two days, possibly sunny on the 22nd and 23rd, so we decided to do museums the first two days. We took the subway (we were on line 2) to the Charles De Gaulle station and got off to get passes. We needed pictures for the Carte Orange pass and took some in the little photo booth there. Turned out we could have done it later, as you assemble the pass yourself. That done, we got back on the subway and got off at the Louvre Museum. We knew from reading the guidebook to enter from the subway, and that was great, as there was no line to purchase tickets, and we were in in no time. Both of us were mostly interested in the greatest hits, so we went south to the Denon gallery and up the stairs (past an intriguing storage area) to Winged Victory. We wandered through the Apollo Gallery to see the Crown Jewels, then headed back down the Italian wing, ending up at the Mona Lisa. We saw some other Da Vinci paintings (but no notebooks) on the way downstairs to see the Venus de Milo, then headed out.

We decided to head north and have lunch at Au Pied de Cochon (no reservations necessary if you show up at 2:30). Known for their onion soup and pig’s feet, we had the house specialities (Jill the soup, me the pig), and Jill also had the escargot (served sizzling in their shells). The pig’s feet were very fatty served with bernaise sauce, but were pretty decent. Jill’s snails were good as well, drenched in garlic and olive oil. We had a good time seeing some of the odd phrases in my phrasebook (we never did get a chance to try out “You’re just using me for sex” or “I don’t mind watching, but I’d rather not join in”). After lunch we went shopping, making our way back towards the Seine, then west towards the hotel. We picked up umbrellas at a souvenir stand, then black currant wine for Jill, and a beer (Blonde des 3 Pays, basically a 40oz) for me. Jill was cold and picked up a scarf at a souvenir stand, then realized it was cheap and scratchy and picked up a cashmere one barely a minute later. We looked for somewhere to get food, but couldn’t find any, and got on the subway at Concord. We got off at Charles De Gaulle (our transfer point) to have alook around the Arc de Triomphe and found the Publicis drugstore, got sushi for Jill, a club sandwich for me, as well as some grapes, Coke light, a cookie and a beignet. We took the subway back to the hotel, then hung out. I started making an outline of what we’d done on our trip, then read, while Jill read and worked on her needlework. We had dinner around 9, then made a wish list of restaurants to try.

February 21st

We asked the concierge to try and make some dinner reservations for us over the next couple nights, then headed off. We took the subway and train to the Orsay Museum. We were hungry, so we went down the street to the Evangelista Cafe where Jill had the croque monsieur and I had the croque madame, both with fries. We also split crepes with sugar, then Jill had a coffee (very cramped in the cafe). Next, we returned to the museum. No way around the line, took about 20 minutes to get inside. We wandered up the left side, into the Monet and Manet rooms, until we hit the back and took the escalators up to the top, and through the impressionists collection. Jill likes Monet, Manet, Degas, and Renoir, so we exmained all their works, also checking out Toulose-Lautrec. When we got back down to the middle level, we saw some of the furniture, as well as some of the sculpture (one, I thought, summed up our relationship). I really enjoyed the Rodin sculptures, particularly the Gates Of Hell. We were tired from walking after that, so we went back to the hotel. Jill went out to do a bit of shopping, brought back some wine and beer for us to try. That night, the concierge had managed to get us reservations at our first choice restaurant, Restaurant Plaza Athénée, a Michelin three star place (our first – if we’d gotten in at El Raco de Can Fabes they’re also a three star) also known as the home of Alain Ducasse (and #17 on the list of World’s Top 50 Restaurants 2005, which frankly I’d like to try some more of). We took a cab there so Jill could dress to the nines.

Anyway, I was wearing a new short and my new shoes, but I was underdressed – they fetched me a jacket so I could be allowed in (although we commented how a woman at a table near us was let in with acid washed jeans – sexism is terrible). We were the second party seated and they gave us a nice seat on the side. The room is sumptuous, I especially enjoyed the exploded chandelier affect. Interestingly, this was the first restaurant on our trip where they didn’t have any English in the menu or any alternate menus, so we were left to puzzle through until our waiter helped us out. It looked like the only way to really enjoy the seafood (house specialty) was to do the tasting menu, so we did. Jill asked the sommelier for a wine similar to a pinot gris, and he pointed her to the Marcel Deiss Schoenenberg 1997, surely one of the finest wines I’ve enjoyed. They first gave us a taste, which reminded us of a phyllo dough spinach pastry. The bread was good; I liked the pressed butter we got for the bread.

First course was crawfish slices with caviar on top, served with a broth (seafood?) in a shot glass (it’s the in thing this year). Next was scallops with a coconut curry sauce. Third was my favorite – lobster with a mashed potato tower (this… means something) and a truffle sauce (and two delicate potato chips in the lobster). Fourth was chicken with a foie gras cream sauce and potato and carrot medallions, then they grated truffles on top of the chicken (also very good). Finally we had chicken dumplings in a broth with truffle strips and parsley, chives, and fennel. The cheese course was next; Jill had chevre, roquefort, and camembert and I had chevre, conté, stilton, and goat cheeses. They also gave us olive bread with it. We were getting fairly full – so of course they brought us three desserts. The first was a “pre-dessert” according to the waiter, with mini sugar tarts, beignets with orange-grapefruit marmalade, and macaroons (the remains of which are in the picture taken of us). The real dessert followed: I had the pears and chocolate (a pear mountain surrounding liquid chocolate, and a chocolate box with pears inside, plus ice cream) and Jill had the strawberry (a parfait plus a shortcake). Finally they brought us a box of chocolates. To give ourselves a little time to digest, we had drinks – coffee for Jill and Jameson’s and Coke light for me. They also gave us parting gifts: a loaf of bread, and wrapped candy (we chose from a cart).

Then, of course, the bill. Total with tip? 800€. Yeah, it is was pricey, and it was stuffy, but it was worth it to do at least once. It was also nice to get home and read in the Rough Guide:Paris is the perfect place to blow out on the meal of a lifetime. Top rated is Alain Ducasse at the Plaza Athénée hotel, considered one of the best restaurants in Europe. The first-ever chef to have been awarded six Michelin stars (shared between two restaurants), Alain Ducasse swept like a tidal wave through the world of French cuisine in the early 1990s and hasn’t looked back.

February 22nd

It was the earliest I’d gotten up on the trip: 10AM (we went straight back after the meal and collapsed). We got going and hopped the subway to Montmartre. As we headed up the streets, we decided to get food at the Kazoo Cafe. I had the crepe complete (ham, cheese, and egg) while Jill had the pizza four seasons (ham, olive, tomato, and artichoke), plus fries. Decent food, then we kept going. We took the funicular to the top of Montmartre, then went into the Basilica of the Sacré Cœur. After touring and praying, we headed back.

We took the subway to Charles De Gaulle and started walking down the Champs-Elysées. After a while, we decided to split up and do our shopping. Jill went to department store, while I naturally went to the music and book stores (FNAC and Virgin). I made a pretty good haul, but realized I’d missed a couple and vowed to go out the next day. When Jill got back I opened the wine she’d gotten and we read some. We’d made more reservations, this time at Au Trou Gascon. Thankfully this one was nowhere near as expensive, and in fact I’d chosen it because the guidebook gave it three stars while its prices were close to La Lorraine where we’d eaten the first night. We took the subway there – it took quite a while.

It was a small place, but filled up quickly. We tried the house cocktail, La Gascon, as an aperitif, a flute of champagne mixed with a liquer and a prune at the bottom. the also gave us a small plate of olives and a taste of goose pate with small pieces of bread. The regular bread was also good. Jill chose Côtes du Roussillon, La Coulée 2002, Domaine Olivier Pithon which had a very buttery aftertaste and went well with both our meals. Jill couldn’t find a starter she wanted (half of them had foie gras, which she’s not fond of). I had the foie gras paste pie, which was pretty good (I like the blueberries and cherries on the side, they added a nice tartness). She had the goose leg with a scalloped potato pancake for the entree, while I had the lamb with mashed potatoes (olives were mixed into the potatoes, a combination that would never have occurred to me, but it was good). I wasn’t hungry enough for the cheese course, but Jill had a soft cheese mountain with nuts and honey drizzled on it. For dessert, she had a pistachio cream cake with pineapple (very fine), and I had a strudel with toffee ice cream (and prunes?). We took it slow and she had a glass of port wine from 1989, while I tried a glass of cognac (cognac des epics). A very fine meal (and less than half the cost of the previous night). We took a cab back and saw the Eiffel Tower sparkly with lights. We were out of water (the tap water hadn’t been agreeing with Jill), and we had to get some from room service (ironically cheaper than using some from the minibar).

February 23rd

I was up somewhat early, so I did the remainder of my shopping. Mostly CDs, I picked up ones with special editions with extra tracks (Coldplay, Robert Plant), or just ones that aren’t available in the US (Heather Nova, Robbie Williams, Roger Taylor), as well as my new souvenir tradition: a copy of Good Omens in the local language (plus I liked the cover). When I got back to the hotel, Jill was ready so we got going. First stop: Eiffel Tower. We took the elevator to the second landing, went out and looked around. While it had looked like it would clear up in the morning, now it was cloudy and cold enough flurries were coming, so we didn’t stay up too long. We went down and walked down the Champ de Mars, then over to the Rue Cler, a pedestrian only street with a lot of typical stops. We stopped in the Cafe de Marche for lunch, I had the fried duck with potatoes and salad and an Edelweiss beer and Jill had the chicken with potatoes and salad and the house white. Afterwards, Jill picked up some gifts at the La Mere de Famille choclatier, then we caught the subway to Notre Dame. We went inside and looked around, then canceled any thought of ice cream as it was just too cold, went and found the subway station on the island, then went back to the hotel.

We read for a while, then headed to our last touristy destination, the Arc de Triomphe. Jill tried but couldn’t take the stairs (vertigo), so we took the elevator up. I’d hoped he’d be up there when the Eiffel Tower had it’s light show, but no luck. Took some pictures, then back down the way we came. The only thing I wanted to do was have some more crepes. We’d spotted a place when we were in the area before as having crepes, but though it was written on the window, wasn’t on their menu. We walked down Wagram, ending up at Ternes where we’d eaten at La Lorraine. We found La Mascotte almost next to La Lorraine. I had the andouilette sausage (kind of like a sausage where the meat hasn’t been ground – not terrible, but I doubt it’ll be back for a repeat performance), while Jill had pasta with pork and a creamy mustard sauce. For dessert, I had my crepes with grand marnier (lit on fire, of course) while Jill had an apple crumble (no cinnamon made it taste very different).

February 24th

An early rise at 6AM, out the door and in a cab before 7, at the airport before 8. We checked in and went to our gate. Jill got the last thing she wanted: a pastry with chocolate, while I spied something I wanted: Jameson’s Gold on sale and duty free. The boarding was fun, as I got singled out for a search (first time that’s happened in a while), but we left soon. The flight was a lot longer without sleeping, but I read some more while Jill watched “Walk The Line”, then after the meal we both watched “The Corpse Bride”. We were both ready to get off by the time we landed. In the shuttle over to customs, though, I ran into Bev, a coworker from Telispark who’d been on the flight, and we caught up and compared notes. We got our luggage and a cab home, and were happy to relax for a bit. We picked up the dog, then I went and got some groceries. I made some steaks and Jill made salad, and we were asleep before 11.

Pictures

Conclusions
Pros
Guidebooks (Frommer’s seems as if it was written in my voice): Frommer’s Paris &
Frommer’s Barcelona.
Swiss Army Knife: indispensable for opening wine, slicing bread, and cutting loose thread.
English speaking concierges: would never have gotten reservations otherwise.

Cons
Credit cards in Europe can’t add tips, so you have to have enough cash.
We didn’t realize for quite a while you have to ask for a check in a restaurant or you’ll never get it.
Not quite healed ankle – couldn’t do as much walking as I’d normally do.

Tired now

Friday, February 24th, 2006

Started and ended the vacation the same way – with a lack of sleep. We got up around midnight EST, 6AM in Paris. Too fried to blog today, and tomorrow we go to see eddie from ohio in Annapolis, so maybe I’ll start the epic retelling on Sunday.

Wish you were here

Thursday, February 16th, 2006

Our last day in Cala D’or today – tomorrow off to Barcelona. Having a very good time, but not going to do a full write up until we get back. Weather is warm and sunny, unlike we hear it is back home (we also hear it’s unwise to sneak up on the VP, but that’s another story).

Random observations:
Most heard song: Bangles’ Manic Monday
Sin is bad – since it means nonalcoholic, which I wish we’d known before we left the supermarket
Having a car on Mallorca is good – just got back from visiting the market (and shopping) in Inca, and that was our third excursion.

May write from Barcelona, but we’ll only be there for two days.

Where does the time go?

Friday, February 10th, 2006

I knew this was going to be a difficult week with trying to leave Friday afternoon without taking vacation, but I was unprepared for how unprepared I’d actually be. I think I’m mostly ready, but I’ve built up quite a sleep deficit, and I’ve never been good at sleeping on planes. Oh well, time for sleep when we get there. Not to mention I still have to find some things that are hidden in the basement – after I back up my PC, of course.

Pat McGee Band: history and review

Wednesday, February 8th, 2006

Pat McGee Band & Friends: That was the bill, and it was already rumored some old school would be brought. Some history first:

Pat McGee’s first CD was him alone (with some help from eddie from ohio). He formed his band about 10 years ago, consisting of Al Walsh (guitar/vocals), Jonathan Williams (keyboard/vocals), John Small (bass), Chris Williams (drums) and Chardy McEwan (percussion). I first caught them in 1999 in Herndon at Friday Night Live and was smitten. Pat had great songs, and the harmony vocals of Al and Jonathan intertwined with his voice to great effect. Al left the group in 2001 and was replaced on guitar by Brian Fechino, who while a more aggressive and talented player, didn’t sing and left the group with only Jonathan doing backing vocals, which didn’t have the same magic. Jonathan started disappearing, occaionally replaced by Michael Ghegan (ex Fighting Gravity). While mostly known for his saxophone skills, Michael was a good keyboard player and singer as well.

On a parallel track, I’ve been following Todd Wright since 1994; his group The Excentrics played great power pop. Matt Micelli was their last guitarist, having joined in 1999. They’d been trying to break through for years, but professional and personal issues had them call a halt in 2002. Todd and Matt continued playing together, and recruited Chris Reardon on bass and vocals to form the Getaway Car in 2003. I love seeing them and catch them fairly often, especially when they play in Herndon or Vienna.

In February 2004, I went to catch the Pat McGee Band at the Birchmere, and was shocked to see Todd Wright on keyboards/guitar/vocals. Getaway Car was doing ok for a local band, but Todd’s got a kid to care for, and with Jonathan officially out of the band and a new CD out, they needed a replacement and Todd had stepped in. In late 2004 John Small left, and Chris Reardon was tapped as his replacement. This meant that the Pat McGee Band finally had two guys on backing vocals, definitely my preferred way of seeing them. Todd’s voice was more of a counterpoint to Pat’s, but they worked well together, and Chris had worked with Todd long enough to fit in.

All good things don’t last, though, and Todd’s beloved dog started having severe health problems. Todd started travelling home every time the band had a break, and this wore on him, eventually making him leave the band in the fall of 2005. Surprisingly, his replacement was a returning Jonathan Williams. And even though Todd left, Chris Reardon remained with the band (which never meant a stop to the Getaway Car – they’d play shows when the Pat McGee Band was on breaks).

Which brings us to last night’s show at the Birchmere. No openers and the band took the stage right at 7:30 with their current lineup and “Must Have Been Love”. Guests during the first set were Todd Wright and Michael Ghegan, highlighted by a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Time -> Breathe”. I was loving it but the second set was even better. Al Walsh showed up, the first time I’d seen him in nearly five years and turned in some great harmonies with Jonathan and Pat, especially on “Passion” and “Haven’t Seen For A While”. And Matt Micelli came up to duel lead guitar with Brian. But the best part was getting all the current and past members up on stage to jam on “Rebecca”, which didn’t finish until Pat and Michael had gone out playing on the tables and back again. The encore consisted of “Eligy For Amy” by just Pat and Jonathan, followed by a sloppy cover of “I Want You To Want Me”.

Definitely my favorite Pat McGee Band show yet – a shame if we don’t ever see that lineup again.

And the winner is:

Monday, February 6th, 2006

Ameriquest (first one, in the hospital). Oh, please, like you haven’t heard the winner of the game. Runners-up? 2nd Ameriquest, MacGyver Mastercard and Sprint’s Benny Hill ringtone.

Let’s backtrack: Thursday I went out for my first and last dim sum at work (some folks really didn’t enjoy it). Between that and leaving early for a Herndon Festival meeting I was down on hours, and I had to work nearly 10 on Friday, so both Jill and I were fried at the end of the day. I was in the mood for hot dogs, and we both had fully loaded ones (with chili and cheese), then Jill went to bed while I surfed and read the paper and some comics.

Saturday we slept in some, then I got up and made myself some egg sandwiches while watching Battlestar Galactica. I took Illa on a long walk then read the paper. Jill got up by 2, then ran some errands. We were doing an Asian based pot luck dinner that evening and she’d volunteered to make pork and shrimp balls (courtesy of Rachel Ray), and she needed ingredients. She finished about when it was time to go a little after 5, so we got the food and Illa, dropped him off at the kennels for his trial run, and headed off to Sterling.

Not as many people as we thought were coming, but we still had a fun evening, not leaving until after 1. Jill worked today (she hadn’t wanted to go because she’d slept so much on Saturday), and I slept ’til noon. I needed to because of the amount of scotch I’d consumed, but I had to get moving so they didn’t charge me for keeping Illa at the Kennels longer than overnight. I tried out his new seatbelt harness, which was a success in that it kept him in place, but a failure in that he chewed more than halfway through the seatbelt.

He was wiped out, and just slept through the afternoon, so I read the paper, then started watching the TV adaption of Robert B. Parker’s Night Passage (with Tom Selleck) while making mini Philly cheesesteaks (guess who I rooted for). Our friends Stuart and Janice were hosting a party, and I made it there right before kickoff. The game was decent, and Stuart helped me to convince Jill to come over after work (she was wiped out) in the third quarter.

She went straight to bed, and I need to head that way myself (got to frontload hours this week).

Jack Bauer commercials

Saturday, February 4th, 2006

Maybe this is how they’ll stop me skipping past the commercials (better than that blatant Acuvue plug in this week’s Smallville):

Episode 1
Episode 2
Episode 3

Stoopid web hosting

Saturday, February 4th, 2006

I WAS going to blog last night, but instead spent two hours trying to figure out why I couldn’t, eventually figured out the MySQL server kept crashing, couldn’t figure out why. Now I’ve exported my database and hey – they just upgraded MySQL and PHP. Nice of them to let me know. If it wasn’t for the fact they’re $3 a month, I’d be gone.