Thursday, December 27, 2012

Oh Christmas Tree, I'm sorry about Petra

I know, I've been a terrible blogger this month. First, we were on vacation in Phuket, Thailand (yes, I'll get to those posts soon!) Then the holidays craziness at work - why does every project that's been behind schedule since July suddenly have to be finished by "year end"? Anyway, back to the blog and a little bit about our Christmas season this year.

For whatever reason, this year has felt much more Christmas-y than last. Not sure if it's because we're a bit more settled and notice more, if there really were more Christmas type things this year or something else, but I was glad of it.

We put up our pathetic fake tree and decorated the house a bit in early December. Real trees are actually available for a few places (like the new Ace Hardware) but they are horribly expensive and just seem ... well ... wrong. Instead, I brought a pine air freshener back from our trip home in September and hung it amongst the fake branches. It lasted all of 2 hours.

Petra and Rogue really like the tree this year as you'll see in the photos. And for my Aunt Kathie, I have bad news. Petra also seemed to take a liking to the snowman you gave us a few years ago - too much of a liking (may he rest in peace, or pieces I guess).

We both worked on Christmas day as it's not a public holiday here, of course. It was a quiet day with probably less than half the staff in the office, which was kind of nice. I brought in some cookies and everyone was in a pretty cheerful mood so not too bad. We missed ALL of you, of course. Living overseas is most of the time a really good gig, but Christmas time is tough and we both get a little homesick. Luckily Skype, email and Facebook keep us from staying homesick for too long.

Wishing all of you a very Merry Christmas and a safe and prosperous New Year!!

 This is the 'before photo of my cute little snowman table.
 This white table runner HAD cute tassels at either end. Let's just say, they no longer exist! (But don't worry, Kim, we got them before Petra ingested any of the strings.)
 She looks like a little Christmas angel, doesn't she? Don't believe it for a second!
 This is what she was doing 2 minutes after the last photo was taken. And see that blue gift under the tree behind her? Yeah, the next morning, the wrapping was off and scattered around the living room!
 She looks like another little Christmas angel, but I love how the flash is making her eyes glow psycho green.
The CSI evidence of the crime. Poor frosty. Our cleaning lady found it like this and said to us about the cats later that evening. "The big one is nice, but that little one ..."

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Athens Adventure: Markets

The last morning of our trip, we were supposed to take a Segway tour around the Acropolis area, but the tour company forgot to put us on the schedule, so we had to find something else to do. We decided to go back to the market area we had seen the day before and take a closer looks around. That meant we also got to try out the Athens metro, which was built for the 2004 Olympics.

On the way to the metro, we stopped by the Temple of Zeus. Really cool place in the middle of the city. Kinda weird to see such ancient ruins and then a sky scraper or apartment building in the background.
I thought the lighting was cool on this one. The day was a bit overcast, but a little sun started to peek through.
Some of the detail of the sculpture - can't even imagine how amazing it must have looked in its day.
This ancient village was uncovered as they were digging the tunnels for the metro system for the 2004 Olympics. Yes, that's the street right there!
The meat market. Crazy place with lots of yelling and screaming and meat. I wanted to walk through, but Brian wasn't so keen.
 Spice market.
 Another view of the meat market.
 Cute little church right in the middle of a busy market area.
This is part of the metro - even the metro is a museum in Athens!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Athens Adventure: City Bus Tour

After the Acropolis, we decided to take one of those hop on/hop off bus tours to get a taste of the rest of the city.  You get a set of headphones and they narrate the trip so you get a few tidbits of information and an easy way to get from one to the next tourist spot. Here are the highlights.

 Parliament or the Courthouse or some government building.
The Guard uniforms. These "skirts" have 500 pleats in them representing ... can't remember, but they have to hand iron their uniforms. Wearing these uniforms is considered a great honor. Let's just say Greek men are a brave lot.
 This is the first Olympic stadium. The track looks really small.
I know it's poor taste, but I had to - it cracked me up. And no, we didn't use it.
Beautiful sculpture outside the Olympic stadium.
 Another view of the Acropolis and Parthenon.
Christmas! We passed two huge Christmas stores, which was pretty fun to see. Didn't go in, but had a look from the bus.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Athens Adventure: The Acropolis

The highlight of our Athens trip was, of course, the Acropolis and the Parthenon. It's such an interesting piece of history and culture. For those of you who don't know and had to look it up on Wikipedia like I did, the Acropolis of Athens in an ancient citadel located on a high rocky outcrop above the city of Athens and containing the remains of several ancient buildings, the most famous being the Parthenon. The Parthenon is a temple dedicated to the patron goddess of Athens, Athena. The companion greek myth is that Poseidon and Athena battled for control of Athens and Athena won the battle by giving the city an Olive tree. It was then named Athens and temples and other dedications can be found all over the city.

But enough history and legend - let's see the photos!!
This photo is for Kevin who complains that we're never in any of our photos (you now understand why!) We took this at at breakfast from the rooftop restaurant of our hotel. What a view for breakfast!
On the way up to the Parthenon area. This is a theater of some kind and it  looked like they were trying to restore parts with even possible plans of using it in the future.
 If you're able to zoom in a bit on this photo, the columns in the front left corner are gorgeous sculptures of goddesses. These are replicas, but they are slowly cleaning the originals with laser technology in the Acropolis museum.
Front view of the Parthenon. If you go, start at the Acropolis museum to see the model of what they believe it looked like complete and whole, then come here and you can really imagine the architecture and details of the sculpture.

Ancient greek cat - actually there were quite a few up here and all very healthy and well fed. Clearly the greek workers restoring the Parthenon has a soft spot for these kitties.
A view of some of the restoration in progress. We're a bit torn - it would be cool to have it restored and really see what it must have looked like, but then it's not the real thing, is it? Maybe they'll restore only half of it so we get the best of both worlds.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Athens Adventure: The Funky Gourmet

SPOILER ALERT! If you've stumbled upon this blog searching for The Funky Gourmet and have reservations, stop reading so as not to spoil the surprise. Come back after your dinner and see if you had the same experience we did.

After the museum, we went back to the hotel and had a little nap before dinner. I had researched The Funky Gourmet online and it got rave reviews for being interesting and yummy. It was both in spades. Join me for a pictorial walk through our dinner ...

We started with 'cocktails' which were booze infused fruits perched on a cube of blue ice. And they tasted just like the cocktail they represented. From left to right are mojito, appletini, mai tai. Mmmmmm.
This dish consisted of 3 different preparations of Mastik, which is a local fruit, I think. The waitress started with a spritzer bottle of the fragrance and then set down this piece of wood. The yellow bits were a kind of appetizer I guess you would say - they exploded in your mouth. And the green bits you can just see on the right edge of the wood were a kind of jelly that you ate with your finger. It was our least favorite dish, but that's relative meaning it was just excellent instead of amazing.
This artistic creation was stuffed zucchini and one of our favorites. The tower was a fried zucchini chip. Sooo good.
This was my favorite dish. The bottom 'plate' was a sealed bag with cold water and seashells, which kept the clam shell second plate cool. The dish was scallops with tapioca and a ginger ale foam - sounds weird, right? It was perfect - simply amazing.
  This course was 'just' a garden salad - yeah, probably the best one I've ever eaten. Each vegetable was perfectly cut and placed on the plate. You almost hated to disrupt it and eat it ... almost. And they had a cute little watering can to pour the dressing on top. Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera ready in time for that.
Believe it or not, this is a greek salad. It's a bowl of little ice crystals, but when you taste it, it's exactly a greek salad - cucumber, tomatoe, olive and onion. Really unique. 
 Oh, and did I mention every course was paired with a glass of sparkling, wine or beer? We were happy we had a nap before dinner AND that we didn't have to be up early the next morning!
This was the best presented course. It was steak tartar (raw hamburger) and they served it on this 'grill' at the table and then poured liquid nitrogen into the pan to make it 'steam'. The whole thing is served cold, but looks like you've got a smoking grill on your table. Really cool. And really yummy too!
 The next course was 'just a burger', but oh my God what a burger. Wish it had been bigger.
This is a traditional Greek dish called souvlaki. Think of it as Greek comfort food. It was lamb, rice, tomato and cheese served in a cute little crock pot. Delicious! And despite the deceptively small looking portions, we were getting full.
Our palate cleanser, which was a lemon gel spread on the leaf and then what was kind of like lemon pulp that you see in the photo. We were instructed to put the whole leaf in our mouth and suck off the lemon gel ... but not to eat the leaf. It was good and very interesting.
And then it was on to the desserts (yes, plural!) This was another Greek specialty, I think called Kourambiedes, but I could be wrong about that. Whatever it was, it was good.
Chocolate upon chocolate in this one. All different textures and oh so good. It satisfied my chocoholic tastes, that's for sure. And just look at the artistry - I wonder how long it takes them to get each dish just right?
Despite being a chocoholic, this was my favorite dessert. They called it a berry basket and it came in a paper bag as if you bought it at the fruit market. There were mini chocolate chip cookies, raspberry macaroons, a white chocolate dipped berry sorbet and a black or blueberry jelly. The perfect ending to all the rich food that had come before.
A really fun and really yummy experience. Definitely in my top 5 meals of all time! And now, I need to get snack - this post has made me hungry!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Athens Adventure: The Acropolis Museum

Another public holiday meant another trip abroad for the Stolls. This time, it was a 3-day weekend in Athens and our first stop was the new Acropolis museum. A very nice museum and it gives you a good introduction and orientation of the Acropolis and Parthenon as well as some of the other ruins in the area. A good place to start our weekend adventure.
 We couldn't take any photos once inside, which is a shame as it's a really cool museum. Here is the main entrance. The museum is built over an active excavation site so you walk on a glass floor to see the ruins below. Eventually the area underneath will be open for visitors as well.

The museum was literally just around the corner from our hotel, so an easy walk and a really nice start to our trip.

Friday, November 30, 2012

China Adventure: The Great Wall via Beijing Sideways

Last and, in my opinion, the best post about our China Adventure. At the advice of some friends, we booked a tour with Beijing Sideways to take us to the Great Wall of China. There are other cheaper options, but none as cool and none that allow you to hike the Great Wall alone.

Beijing Sideways is different because ... you travel by motorcycle sidecar!
It was a little chilly so they had these really thick warm lined military coats and mittens for us to wear in the car. The shield on the helmets helped too.

Our first stop was a lovely Buddhist temple where we had a short hike (to get us prepared our guide, Theo, told us) and a stop for coffee and snacks.

Another 30 minutes or so and we were at a remote section of the wall. Which, incidentally had signs saying "no trespassing". We assume Beijing sideways has negotiated some kind of an arrangement. :)
And then we were hiking on the Great Wall of China. AMAZING! This thing is soooo long and sooo steep, it's hard to imagine it being built and guarded full time. We hiked for a while and then stopped at one of the towers for lunch, which our guide had carried up with him. Wine, cheese, chicken, fruit and even cake for dessert. And through it all, the never ending view of the wall. It was a beautiful day too, which made it even more special.

Yep, it was as steep as this photo looks in places. Luckily, we were hiking up and this is a shot from the top. Our route down wasn't quite so scary.

An amazing day!