Saturday, November 6, 2010

Bob Dylan

Alive and still kicking, his concert in Columbus this week was really good. A nice mix of older and newer songs. Bob even bopped around a bit and he seemed to be enjoying himself. The first time I saw Bob Dylan, around 15 years ago, he barely moved around at all and looked to be on deaths doorstep. It is good to see he has got his groove back.

In the pictures, Bob is in the white hat on the left.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Water Tower - Cape May, New Jersey


2010 Columbus Marathon


This weekend I volunteered at the Columbus Marathon. Attracting 15,000 runners, this is one of the largest marathons in the country. The weather was perfect and many people showed up just to cheer on the runners.

Marathons are interesting events to work because you never really know what sorts of injuries you may face. There are always a few falls resulting in cuts and scrapes. Sometimes there are heart attacks - we had two of those this year. Detroit Marathon had three runners die on the course last year. At the finish line some of the runners collapse and need to be assisted. There is a quiet room set up with cots and IV lines all set up. We didn't have anything too serious that we personally dealt with, which is just fine with me.

POTD - Heron on the Scioto River




Picture of the Day - Heron on the Scioto River

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Columbus Italian Festival

This weekend was the Columbus Italian Festival, going strong for 30+ years. This is a fun festival with great food and music. It takes place in a small neighborhood called the Italian Village close to downtown Columbus. The neighborhood is centered around the 112 year old St. John the Baptist Cathedral.
A highlight of the fesital is the parade down High Street. The parade is one of the best in the city in size and participation. Some of my favorite parts of the parade include:

The Knights of Columbus, leading up the parade
The Marching Bands!


The Oven for the World's Largest Meatball (more on that later)

Police and Fire

The Hare Krishnas

The food was great. There were all the foods you might expect at an Italian Festival, including Pizza, Calzones, Canolli, Italian Ice, and Pasta. Did I sample? You bet.



One notable feature of the Festival was an attempt to break the world record for the largest Meatball. The record is held by a German town for a meatball in the 740 pound range. To beat this record, a custom made cooker and over were built. Over 1200 pounds of sirloin were added to cups of salt, pepper, and garlic powder. This giant cooked for three days awaiting the glory of the weight in. Once the temperature in the middle reached 160 degrees, it was ready. Guiness was on hand to certify the results. Unfortunately, they fell short of the the projected 850 pounds. The final tally was 655.5 pounds, enough to beat the North American record. Best of luck next year!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Trdelnik

While wandering the streets of Prague I made a wonderful discovery. There is a pastry that is only made in that part of the world available in little shops in narrow alleys. It is called the "Trdelnik" though sometimes it is also called the "Trdlo".
The Trdelnik is made by rolling flat a strip of sweet dough. The dough is then wrapped around a wooden or metal stick known as the Trdlo. The stick with the dough is rolled in sugar, cinnamon, perhaps even nuts. It is then set above an open flame to rotate and slowly cook. The dough is evenly cooked because all sides are heated during the rotation. The sugar melts and gets carmelized.

Once done, the Trdelnik is perhaps rolled once again in sugar for good measure, then slid off the stick. It is then ready for eating, all at a price of around 50 CZK or $2.50.

Trdelniks come from the town of Skalica, Slovakia. They are still made over an open wood fire there, in the traditional old fashion.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Pub, Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic

The Pub is the sort of place that could never exist where there are strong liquor laws. The basic concept is that it is a bar where you compete to see what table can drink the most beer. If it sounds dangerous, it is because it is.

At the center of every table is a beer tap with a computer controller. Before drawing a beer, you enter your number and the computer keeps track of how many liters you have had. This is aggregated by table and projected on the wall. It gets pretty roudy, with each table trying to outdrink the other tables.

When I was there we were in serious competition with a table full of Germans and a table full of Czech teenagers. Hard competition and we would have lost if we stayed long. The teens started strong but then slowed down. The Germans started strong and just kept drinking more and more. It was obvious they were going to come out on top. Unless of course another group showed up to challenge them.

So there you are drinking to compete with these other tables when tables from other cities start appearing. The Pub is a chain and there are locations throughout the Czech Republic. So, you not only compete with the people in the city you are in, but also with tables of drinkers throughout the country.

Sadly, the last time I was at the Pub they no longer served food and it appeared that the beer tanks had been removed. It looks like the location in Karlovy Vary is going our of business. Just as well, I made our team look bad anyway with my measly totals.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Salt Cave, Birdie Hotel, Pardubice, CZ

Every once in a while when I am traveling for business, I run into something really unique. Sometimes funny, sometimes confusing, sometimes just a great picture. Last week I was staying in the Birdie Hotel in Pardubice, Czech Republic. It is a small place with about 20 rooms, a decent restaurant, and a golf theme. Odd, considering that there is no golf club in the area that I saw. There is something very unique about the Birdie though. It has a Salt Cave.
The Salt Cave is a man-made room with salt encrusted on every surface. Some strategically hung strings of Christmas lights complete the atmosphere. Apparently it is pretty popular. So popular that I never got in to see it since there was always someone in treatment. I stole these pictures from the hotel web site.
You may be asking, what exactly do you do with a salt cave. Good question. You are supposed to sit inside on the lawn chairs for a 45 minute treatment. The idea is that it is healthful like sitting near the ocean. It is supposed to be good for your skin and lungs.

From the web site: "The combination of serene music, the sea air, and colored lights amid glittering salt crystals from the Dead Sea, the Black Sea, Pakistan, and Polish Klodawa will do wonders for your body and soul."
"The cave, covering an area of 70 square metres, was created using 40 tons of salt. It is equipped with 17 adjustable French beds, inhalation fountains, and salt-falls. Just 45 minutes, which is the time of one session, has the same beneficial effect as 2-3 days spent at the seaside."

"Salt is more precious than gold, and we are ready to provide you with the conditions you need to relax and restore your vitality for the next day. The unusual place and atmosphere will restore your health, vitality, and mental and bodily condition."

Open every day from 10am to 7pm. They even have a little gift shop selling salt crystals for healthful healing at home.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Two crutches, One leg

About three weeks ago I started having severe pain in my left knee. It was a sharp pain accompanied with some grinding feeling. It all started when I went out for a run and couldn't go more than twenty steps. Knee pain is a fact of life for me, so I mostly ignored it, waiting for it to get better. I stopped running but I still rode my bike to work, walked miles on the weekends to the farmers market and baseball game. I carried on as usual expecting quick recovery.

The problem was that my knee didn't get better, in fact it got worse. I finally agreed to go see me doctor and he immediately sent me for an MRI. A few days later I got the news that my tibia is fractured as well as got only knows what other soft tissue damage. All from running!

The treatment is basically to stay off my leg to let it heal. So, for the time being I have a brace and I am hobbling around on crutches. I have a follow up appointment to see what comes next, but hopefully with care it heals on its own without any more aggressive intervention.

On crutches, I am still doing most of the things I normally would. My boss was nice enough to let me work from home for a few days. Last week I was on vacation, so mostly I sat around and took it easy. We went with my family (parents, sister, brother, their families) to Cape May Point at the southern end of New Jersey. Despite being on crutches, I still got some fishing in and went to the Wildwood boardwalk.

I am thankful to not be in a cast. I am hoping for fast healing since one of my main hobbies is to walk and I am starting to feel cooped up. This coming weekend I am scheduled to go to the Czech Republic for business, a trip that will be much harder on crutches.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Tables Are Turned: Elly goes to Vancouver

This past week, I (Elly) left Mike at home to hold down the fort while I went to a conference in Vancouver. I stayed a few days afterward to see the city. Besides the incredible weather (sunny and mid-70s every day!), there was a lot of interesting things to see. If you have the opportunity, I'd highly recommend a visit.

Convention Center
The conference itself was at the Vancouver Convention Center. Those of you who watched the 2010 Winter Olympics coverage might recognize the pixilated art right outside:

as well as the "outdoor" version of the Olympic torch:

I am pretty sure the larger peak in the background is Grouse Mountain -- home of the "Grouse Grind", where hikers go straight up to the top in a grueling 1.8-mile hike ending in excellent views of the city. Unfortunately, later in the week when I was able to get out of the city, there was too much smoke from forest fires in the north to make a "view" worth the hike. Here you can see the difference between the smoke on Wednesday late afternoon (left) and Thursday mid-day (center and right):













The Convention Center is adjacent to the Vancouver sea airport. All day, you could watch the sea planes take off and land.

video

The inside of the convention center was pretty cool. In addition to various works of art, the walls were constructed to look like piles of wood, so in one direction they were all smooth, but in the other direction looked like slightly staggered ends:



















The convention center itself is also very "green" -- literally with a green grass roof that you can see here if you look very closely in this view from Stanley Park.



Stanley Park
My first excursion was a late-afternoon bike-ride around Stanley Park, which is a huge park on a near-island in the northwest of the city. This was a great adventure, and I would highly recommend bike rental in this very bike-friendly city. If I'd had more time, I might have kept my bike to see some other parts of the city, too.

I first biked the approximately 8 km (5 miles) perimeter of the park (all on a bike path), and then rode around some of the trails that cross the interior of the park. Probably the most-visited attraction here is the Aquarium, which I skipped. Second is probably the display of totem poles:













Most of these date to the mid-to-late 20th century, with the later ones being replicas of older ones. While I feel a bit like a cultural gawker, the art on the poles is positively beautiful. In their original purpose, the poles would be placed in front of family houses (huge affairs that would house large extended families), and would identify the family that lived there -- sort of like a name on the mailbox. The carved figures often represent some even in the lives of ancestors of the current residents, although it seemed that sometimes the person would still be alive when the pole was carved. Before visiting Vancouver, I had assumed that the art on the poles was "sacred" in some sense, and depicted spiritually oriented things. Now, I am left entirely unclear on the matter. There are other pieces of northwest native art that are clearly spiritual (for example the masks used in rituals), but these poles seemed a little more like domestic art to me. As a last note on totem poles, one plaque that I read did note that only those who were allowed to have the information would understand the story depicted in the pole. This explained the often frustrating experience of looking at a pole, and having the description say something like "bear with human figure sitting between ears" -- almost totally uninformative.

The next site along my trip was a replica of the figurehead of the S.S. Empress of Japan. This ship carried goods back and forth from Japan and China between 1891 and 1992, and seems to be a symbol of Vancouver commerce. As you can see from the huge container ships in the harbour, Vancouver is still a huge center of shipping.

My trusty steed with the Lion's gate bridge in the background:



Chinatown



Whenever I visit a city with a Chinatown, I make a point of going. I love Chinese cuisine, and find it fun to browse the nick-knack shops. Vancouver seems to be a bit different from the other Chinatown-cities I've been to. Since it has such a large Asian population, it seems the best Chinese cuisine is not actually located in Chinatown. The meal I had with colleagues at a dim sum restaurant near the convention center far outpaced the fare I had in Chinatown proper. The endless groceries, bakeries and shops were exactly what I expected.

Like many of the communities in Vancouver, Chinatown closes down some streets to vehicular traffic on Friday night for the Night Market. This was much less exciting than I had expected, with the main offerings being cheap imported "stuff". Nevertheless, the city's support of pedestrian areas is fantastic -- I wish Columbus would shut down High Street for the monthly gallery hop. It'd make the experience much more pleasant.

Lynn Canyon

On Thursday morning, the conference ended and I headed north to Lynn Canyon. It was fairly convenient to take a city bus there (although you do need to walk the last km from the bus stop). On a side note, the Vancouver public transit system is highly efficient and friendly. You buy tickets at kiosks or on busses that are good for about 2 hours. Then, on busses, you simply show your valid ticket (transfer) when you get on. For the larger transport (the sky train or sea bus), you just need to be prepared to prove that you paid if you get stopped by a transit authority. The system seemed to work very well. Coming from Columbus, which has a modest at best public transport system, I am often impressed with well-oiled public transport machines.

Anyhow -- I thought Lynn Canyon was known for its suspention bridge:


It is actually known as a natural water park, as you can see from this view from the bridge:


If you look carefully, you can see a gaggle of teenaged boys standing at the bottom of the waterfall, watching as the boy in the blue standing near the top of the waterfall (a little to the left) prepared to jump into the pool below. He eventually got up his nerve, and seemed fine afterward. A little upstream is another jumping pool that is a bit less tall, but just as harrowing, as there's only about a 6 foot square area in which to land safely in the water. You will be dashed on the rocks if you miss. As I saw many rangers walking around, this swimming activity seems to be sanctioned. I did not get in, but may have waded around if I'd been wearing more water-friendly clothes.

Instead, I hiked around the park, and up to a lookout that was too smokey to warrant a photo. However, I was constantly reminded of the different scale of nature in the northwest. I kept catching myself thinking that I'd better hurry to be sure to get out of the woods before nightfall. But, I would think this because the shadows were long and the light dim. Actually, the shadows are long because the trees are HUGE, and the light is dim because the forest is quite dense. No worries -- I was exhaustedly riding the bus back to civilization well before sunset.



Museum of Anthropology at UBC
My last day I took the long trip out to the University of British Columbia to see the Museum of Anthropology. It was well worth the trip. I learned so much about the lives and art of Northwest Native people. One of the things I learned about was the pot-latch, which is a big feast that one family/group hosts for all the other families/groups in the area. It would not be unusual to have more than 100 people at the feast. A bit feast requires a big serving bowl. In the left photo there is a three-bowl "train" with wheels that would have ostensibly been used to serve food. The photo on the right gives you a sense of scale, where the train is on the far right (with some other collosal bowls). However, the plaque says that at least in more modern times, these bowls would not have actually been used to serve food, but instead would have been carried (rolled) around the village as an announcement that the feast is to begin. There are older vessels on this same scale, though, that would have been carved in the form of the "wild woman" (the plaque never said why she was wild), and the part of the bowl that you got served from would indicate your status.


Also food-related, much of the food was steamed by partly filling a wooden box with water, then adding red-hot stones and the food to be cooked. The boxes were built from one plank of wood, which itself was steamed to bend into a box-shape, and then tied to stay in place. They end up looking like the boxes in the photos above, but would not have been decorated. The Northwest people were also master mariners (depending on fish for much of their sustinence). They would build canoes by hollowing out a tree trunk, and then also steaming it until it got soft enough to spread the seating area wider. The examples they had in the museum would probably have held two people on each bench. Here I thought that they needed to find a giant tree.

The museum also has an extensive collection of smaller objects both from the northwest and throughout the rest of the world. If I'd had more time, I could have spent all day there.

I'm not quite sure why, but the museum also houses some contemporary artwork. This includes works by Bill Reid -- probably the most famous "contemporary" Northwest native artist. The centerpiece of the Bill Reid collection is his "The Raven and The First Men". It depicts the legend of the trickster Raven finding the first men inside a clam shell and coaxing them out into the world. That is, the story of creation of the Haida people. This was a very clever (ironic?) commision from Bill Reid, who knew before conceptualizing the piece that it would be displayed on top of the gun turret that was necessarily incorporated into the architecture of the museum. I suppose Bill Reid is also a trickster.