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Archive for the ‘Travel Adventures’ Category

The Eiffel Tower still lights up the sky, just maybe earlier than before. There are still throngs of tourists in the streets and still the city looks somewhat emptier. The french bureaucracy is still unbelievably slow, yet the queues of people are actually moving. It’s over! Something changed, seemingly overnight. Summer has officially ended, and fall has gracefully unnoticed entered the scene… It’s time…

 

2011. Act Three.

A yellow curtain is covering the ground. Here and there red spots grab your attention as if the Summer has cried bloody tears when leaving. The sound of wind echoes in the tiny Paris streets. Suddenly there is a fresh crispness to the air. The sun is still shining but it is not hot enough for my breezy summer dresses, even though it’s just September and the memories of soft sand, sea waves and sunshine still warm my body. There’s this contagious surge of energy as people roll back into town and get back to their French lives with a baguette, bottle of wine and some cheese under their arm.

And this is what autumn in France is all about… well, to be honest all seasons in France are pretty much about… Wine! Along with the warm pallette of colours, autumn brings the annual wine harvest in the thousands of small and big wineries around France. So its’s time to celebrate and there are all kinds of festivals and events created to praise Dionysus in Paris.

Autumn = Wine

Wine season is officially open in the first days of September with a Wine Festival or Foire des Vins all over France. From discounts in grocery stores to small degustations and full-on fairs, wine is being poured all around me and I just can’t refuse a sip of this elixir of life (it’s good for the heart you know). My favorite from all these events though, was a small town fair near Paris that combined both sins of my palate – wine and cheese. Antony  is a quaint suburb just 10 minutes south of Paris by train and  this year celebrated the 25th anniversary of  La Foire aux Fromages et aux Vins (or simply said cheese and wine festival). In the Saint Santurin quartier reigns excitement every year in early September and local and visiting merchants get ready for a true celebration. Little stalls, embellished their finest with photos and maps of the respective regions they represent welcome visitors all day for a weekend. aAong with the tastebuds, there is delight for the eyes too. Saturday night, the sky of the square town hall is illuminated with thousands of lights and music echoes from the walls of the church to turn the night into a wine ephemereal.

2011 ‘s festival was organized under the Swiss flag and many merchants would gladly allow you to discover and rediscover the 10 Swiss cheeses that have made their trip to Antony. You’ve probably tasted Emmentaler or Gruyere, but have you tasted Vacherin Fribourg or Sbrinz?  Also on the menu: the famous fondue half and half, based on Swiss Gruyère and Vacherin Fribourg, and plates of charcuterie. Then there are all the other specialties of other regions like Aligot – a delicious mix of puree and melted cheese Tome Fraîche… yummmm! And to appreciate them, just take a sip of the estate wines Kursner, considered the best Swiss wines, with a range of white wines, rosés and reds. Swiss or French, wine is all around and a glass is just a hand’s reach away. Loire valley, Burgogne or Bordeaux, I was eager try a sip from all the little wineries and chateaus until my cheeks got a healthy rosy nuance…

And this was just the beginning of September. During the second weekend in October, Fête Des Vendanges de Montmartre celebrates  the harvesting of the grapes from the vineyards in Montmartre, with a parade, long walks trough the vineyards and multiple tastings. Beaujolais Nouveau Festival makes its annual appearance in November and this young wine comes at the strike of midnight on the third Thursday of the month. Throughout France, everyone heads out to their local café, resto or wine store to celebrate the newest wine offerings, leaving behind any wine snobbery about new vintages, and just enjoying the new wines for what they are and well into the night. Then Le Grand Tasting is held end of November at the prestigious Carrousel du Louvre at the Louvre Museum where you can try a tasting from 200 stalls, featuring over 1,500 different wines and champagnes… oh, dear me…

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Head slightly bent backwards, the eyes fixed on the bright sky, and shivers covering my whole body. Completely mesmerized, I can’t even produce a single sigh… I feel it all – the colours, the sounds, the power of the moment.

Le Grand Feu de Saint Cloud –  a fairytail in the sky!

And it was not just me, approximately 20 000 more people just could not take their eyes off the burning sky at that very moment.  A truly amazing experience, Le Grand Feu de Saint Cloud is the largest fireworks display in Europe which managed to keep me utterly speechless for two hours… and that’s usually not easy.

The show started with a short lecture and display of the different types of fireworks – there were flames, fountains, burnings, Bengals, gusts, fire rhythms and percussion; in general a wide variety of colours and shapes with their different names in French, which even if I did remember could hardly translate. People all around were getting settled on their picnic blankets with a bottle of wine here and there and a pillow or a significat other for keeping it comfortable.  A small warning was also issued in the form of a little big fire (petit grand feu) to just show us what was coming… and then it was time…

With a blast the real big fire started,  sending an explosion of colours to light the sky. Coming from all around there were pink and green and blue and gold sparkles falling down, while different energizing and patriotic sounding french marches accompanied the continuous multitude of fireworks. Then silence. The music stopped to give way to the real sound of the fireworks and  make the spectators feel the explosion deep inside. Some more lyrical music music followed with the romantic colours  illuminating the sky of Saint-Cloud setting the mood for the perfect kiss. A constant slight breeze cleared the sky from the smoke and made sure that all my thoughts are blown away from my head. My body at the top of its senses, my hairs straight up in the air…  wait, I thought I shaved my legs

My heart stopped for a second when a familiar sound filled the air and sent me back in time with a smile on my face. Prodigy echoed in the sky to completely electrify the atmosphere along with the increasing intensity of the blasts just before… The big bang!… as the Earth did millions years ago (or billions, I’m not clear on the exact timing) the sky exploded in tiny little colourful pieces that were then falling all around me. No photo can be even close to capturing the magic of the moment; no video can transcend the feeling…The grand finale! http://www.vimeo.com/28885320

…and then the sky was all black again and the silence was deafening…

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Sex, beer and meat: one of MIT’s largest parties and grandest traditions. What more could you ask for anyways? The Debauchery of Steer Roast Continues for its 46th year- food, drink, mud wrestling, pornography, interesting people, and a variety of recreational drugs…

This year’s roast took place under clear skies and the watchful eyes of what seemed like every Campus Police officer employed by the Institute. But even the police presence, wristbanding policy, or other newly implemented Institute party requirements  could not detract significantly from the atmosphere. Senior House has sponsored a Steer Roast every spring since 1964 in its courtyard, and even though the administration certainly tries to, it cannot stop the hundreds of students and institute alumni from coming together for this annual bacchanal.


But let’s start at the beginning… Friday 5pm and the Senior Haus courtyard is full of people waiting to let hell loose this weekend. Piercings, mohawks, cross-dressers, a few nakeds and a range of exotic costumes, including an impressive fairy outfit and a variety of degrees of leather… But mostly the assembled crowd has a regular-MIT look with that special intellectual-deranged feel that characterizes the east end of campus. The mainstream college kids from the west side had not penetrated these walls.

It’s time. Large quantities of flammable liquid are poured on the pit to the sound of “The Ride of the Valkyries” echoing from the walls of the old five story building and then a great roar of approval… the totemic flaming toilet paper* roll was launched from the roof of the dorm down on its path over the heads of the crowd. It reaches its destination, sending up a huge ball of fire engulfing the meat and the flame burns high for a minute or so before 10 people jump on it with fire extinguishers to put hell back into chains**. The sacred Senior House Sport Death flag – “Only Life Can Kill You” spelling out the teeth of its skull – is unfurled on the wall. The house motto Sport Death, means roughly: “do not settle for mediocracy; live life in extremes”, and Steer Roast embodies the practical expression of this philosophy involving intoxication, wild parties, ear-splitting music, and polymorphous sexual activity.

The rest of this Friday afternoon is dominated by mud wrestling and mud wrestling is dominated by nudity. For years the fight in the mud pit would start with the annual battle between the housemasters Henry and Cynthia Jenkins who now retired were watching this freak show from the sidelines. Some started without clothing, while others were gradually disrobed during the course of their matches. During later fights the two hyper-testosteronated announcers focused exclusively on clothing loss as a measure of victory in any match involving a woman. There was choreography and there was pure rage with one or both of the participants flying out of the rink. There were also somersaults and some quite sexual encounters in the mud with way too many body parts revealed.


The festival then continues into the night with strippers, gambling and music, or so it used to. Two years ago we were enjoying performances of local strippers in the basement followed by DJs all night long but those are now probably victims of budget cuts. Or it is just that there are certain Senior House residents who are more talented in both art forms and are showing their skills for free. Another extinct tradition are the beloved kegs hidden in certain bathrooms to quench the thirst of the partygoers, but even though they are not around any more, definitely no one suffers much. Free cold beer is abundant if you know where to find it, and if a room door says “Stay Away” be sure to enter. This year there was also spiced chocolate goodness everywhere, with quite of a kick so if you are a candy monster like me, you might wanna be careful. People everywhere were having fun, swapping stories and laughing with and without gas or cookies being involved…

Access to the inside of the dorm is supposed to be restricted because of the perks in there, but anyone chaperoned by a resident or alum can actually get in to explore this unique place. Definitely a dorm like no other – the multiple murals painted in the hallways range from a Pokemon orgy through random flames, brains and creepy faces that stare at you from the walls, and curtains of beer cans are hanging from the ceiling. Especially for Steer Roast all the public spaces and lounges are transformed and make you feel like you are tripping on mushrooms. In past years there was a playground with swings and slides, a room filled to the ceiling with balloons, and this year’s special – an isolation box surrounded by Christmas trees. Of course, every year there is also a casino room to get your gambling fix at the poker tables, while the Bulgarian suite is always the ultimate party space with lasers, spotlights, a smoke machine and loud electronic music till the early morning.

During the Roast, about a dozen bands play from 8pm until 2am both nights and provide the soundtrack to the entire weekend. Ranging from death metal to hip hop, jazz to experimental performance pieces, the music is as eclectic as Senior house, which has a tradition of embracing alternative and underground musical styles. The lineup this year certainly reveals this with Earthquake Party, KC Quility, Truman Peyote, Mamarazzi, Have Nots and the Willowz playing through Friday night. Mamarazzi, whose sax player was rocking a costume of a cosmic panda, were definitely my favorite this Roast with a groovy funky sound that made the crowd move. As they describe it themselves, their music “like a ripe grapefruit, is that just-right combination of unlikely elements: tart funk, acidic groove, and nectar of ancient lullaby”. The set on Saturday started with Bodega Girls and Gentleman Hall, after which Das Racist gathered quite a crowd of local fans, followed by Class Actress and Big Digits who closed the night with an amazing set…

There are legends surrounding the lineup that pass through the ages, and especially whenever the music sucks, stories begin to fly about bands that have played roast, including white zombie and nirvana.  Nirvana played at Senior House in 1989 and is rumored to have been paid in LSD.  Although the details have been garbled over the years, the legend of Nirvana perpetuates the alternative, subversive, anti- establishment attitude that is integral to the house culture. It serves to remind the younger residents of what senior house used to be and what it can be.

The namesake of Steer Roast is, of course, the actual barbeque, or the several hundred pounds of meat (an entire cow) being grilled at the enormous bonfire in the middle of the courtyard. It takes about 17-18 hours for the meat to be ready, and legends reveal that the meat is best just after it is removed from the spit at 10am on Saturday – still warm, juicy and a delight to eat. Unfortunately this experience is esoteric, as the only people awake at 10.30am on Saturday morning of Roast are those that stayed awake all night (a rare breed past dawn), and those that are required for duties at that hour of morning (which I always somehow managed to avoid).

The feast begins at 2pm; groggy-eyed partiers stumble into the courtyard and line up for their breakfast.  Standard barbeque food lines the tables including cornbread, salad, vegetarian lasagna and cobbler, and even though some refuse to eat the meat, claiming the preparation process leaves much to be desired, for me, eating the steer is part of the ritual. Tables fill the courtyard and freshmen squeeze alongside alumni that are upwards of forty years their senior and their kids. A short skit, written and produced by the current residents, accompany the feast, featuring the essential players in the house culture that year. There is also an awards ceremony for most obnoxious freshmen, senior and alumni as well as virgin killer, accompanied by dozens of corncobs pelted at the recipient. After the feast, the leftovers remain in the first floor kitchen to be ravaged by late night munchies.

The theme of food continues into the final event of the weekend, the champagne breakfast on Sunday morning.  This event brings together the most intense of partiers, the folks that have stayed awake all night and are desperate for sustenance before collapsing for the rest of the day. The survivors are few however, but there are always enthusiasts trying to avoid hangover through continuous consumption… doesn’t work!

From the pit lighting until the champagne breakfast forty hours later, alumni return to their old halls and suites , sit back and relax with the current residents, swapping stories, drinking and smoking….and remembering once again that Only Life Can Kill You!


Legends:
*The toilet paper used is essential.  MIT once purchased toilet paper from the same company as the army, and many have recounted dreadful experiences of that toilet paper.  Suffice to say that the government eventually ended their contract with the company due to the unpleasant quality of the paper, and MIT followed suit shortly after.  In 2001, the very last roll of this paper was sent down the wire to light the pit and since then, the house has used the generic Scott brand toilet paper.
**An infamous pit lighting legend occurred in 1998.  The pit was not properly secured and the gasoline used for ignition leaked into the courtyard and the sewer.  When the toilet paper reached the pit, the uncontained gasoline carried the flame into the sewer and exploded causing the manhole cover in the center of the courtyard to soar over fifty feet in the air.

after Bodega Girls and Mamarazzi, Das Racist gathered quite a crowd of local fans, followed by Class Actress and Big Digits who closed the night with an amazing set.

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Traveling – places, people, experiences, all unforgettable. The happy warm days just wake up in me an even stronger desire to do more and there are so many opportunities around the corner. But where did it all start?! …I have to pay tribute to the greatest adventure in my life that unlocked that hunger to see and feel everything…

On August 26th 2007 I boarded a ship in Ensenada, Mexico on a journey to circumnavigate the world.

THE WORLD IS A FASCINATING PLACE…

In 100 days, I…

Sailed from Mexico to Honolulu aboard MV Explorer
Explored the island of Oahu
Enjoyed swimming at Waikiki Beach,

Dove from the Waimea Bay Cliff at the North Shore

Sailed to Yokohama, Japan in 10 days

Took the captain hat touring the Bridge

Drank a beer atop Japan’s tallest building
Survived Tokyo’s nightlife and train system
Picked sushi from a conveyor belt
Saw geishas in Gion, Kyoto

Sampled sake in a sake brewery in Kobe
Sailed from Kobe bay to Qingdao, China
Toured Tsing Tao Brewery

Did an exchange program at Peking University
Carved my name on the Great Wall of China
Visited the Imperial Garden and Temple of Heaven
Saw the Olympic Stadium, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City
Took ‘Star Ferry’ across Hong Kong Harbor
Sailed to Ho Chi Minh/Saygon
Ate pho…
Took motorbikes as taxis
Participated in a Cao Dai ceremony

Crawled through the Cu Chi Tunnels

Shot a Kalashnikov

Toured Angkor Wat at dawn

Played hack with local kids in Cambodia

Received a bracelet “you are my eye” from a local girl

Had a crazy tuk-tuk ride to Siem Reap

Visited a floating village on the Mekong Delta

Sailed by Singapore en route to Thailand
Took a bath with an elephant in Pattaya
Got real Thai massage

Sailed down the Chao Praya river

Saw a lot of Buddhas in Bangkok

Rode the sky train

Strolled around the Grand Palace

Sailed through Bay of Bengal to Chennai, India

Got lost in Madras on a rickshaw

Saw the Red Fort and the India Gate in Delhi

Got stuck on a train between Delhi and Agra for 6 hours
Fascinated at the Taj Mahal during sunrise

Explored Fatehpur Sikhri

Was told I look Indian

Received bindi as a present from a local 14yr old buy

Creeped people out as a gypsy for Halloween in the ocean

Took anti-pirate measures while sailing through the Gulf of Eden

Cheered at the Sea Olympics passing through the Suez Canal
Met two local guys who guide us around Alexandria, Egypt

Read a book in the Alexandria Library
Rode camels to the Pyramids in Giza at sunrise

Got stuck in the dunes on a Jeep safari

Experienced the Pyramids Sound and Light Show

Rode a local minibus (маршрутка) to Cairo
Took boat cruise on Nile River
Crashed a friend’s room at Hilton Cairo and ate his breakfast

Saw an unwrapped mummy in the Egyptian museum

Haggled at the Khan El-Khalili bazaar

Enjoyed the view from the Mohammed Ali Citadel

Was told I look Egyptian

Learned to count in Arabic

Scuba dove over Lighthouse in Alexandria

Smoked hashish with scuba instructors
Sailed past Greek Islands to Turkey
Explored Istanbul – only city on 2 continents

Watched football in a local bar in Taksim

Met a Turkish TV star and talked to him in German

Danced to live music in a gypsy bar

Had a fight with a taxi driver who tried to cheat us
Smoked too much hookah and drank raki

Experienced a Sufi Dervish ceremony

Listened to a Turkish metal band

Felt at home, as I looked Turkish of course

Sneaked banitsa on the ship and ate it with lutenitsa

Sailed under Greece en route to Dubrovnik, Croatia

Explored the old city and walls of Dubrovnik
Conquered the Dalmatian coast by rental car

Slept in that car for 3 days with2 more people

Bought tangerines from road stalls

Visited a winery and almost got caught by the dean

Got stopped for speeding for the first time

Smiled my way out of a fine in broken Croatian

Ate cevapcici and lots of burek

Ate Thanksgiving on ship, next to Rock of Gibraltar

Sailed under Italy en route to Cadiz, Spain

Experienced England for the first time in Gibraltar

Drank wine in a tea room that turns bar
Ate tapas and drank sangria in Seville
Cut my hair

Was mistaken for Spanish

Stayed in a 14th century convent

Saw a flamenco show

Met Moroccan students and watched Constantine in French

Climbed to the top of the Seville Cathedral to take in the city
Sailed on ship to Miami, Florida USA in 12 days

Dressed up for the Ambassadors Ball
Fell out of shower due to rough seas
Took final exams, wrote papers, chilled at the pool

Wore hats and sweaters in 90 degrees for life boat drills

Saw many gorgeous sunsets and sunrises
Said good-bye to new best friends…

WOKE UP FROM MY DREAM ON DEC. 7th,
and continue to process what I just did…

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800 days ago I started the greatest adventure in my life till now. On August 26th 2007 I boarded a ship in Ensenada, Mexico on a journey to circumnavigate the world.

THE WORLD IS A FASCINATING PLACE…

In 100 days, I…

Sailed from Mexico to Honolulu aboard MV Explorer
Explored the island of Oahu
Enjoyed swimming at Waikiki Beach,

Dove from the Waimea Bay Cliff at the North Shore

Sailed to Yokohama, Japan in 10 days

Took the captain hat touring the Bridge

Drank a beer on top of Japan’s tallest building in Yokohama
Survived Tokyo’s nightlife and the train system
Picked sushi from a conveyor belt
Saw geishas in Gion, Kyoto

Sampled sake in a sake brewery in Kobe
Sailed from Kobe bay to Qingdao, China
Toured Tsing Tao Brewery

Did an exchange program at Peking University
Climbed the Great Wall of China in platform sandals
Visited the Imperial Garden and the Temple of Heaven
Saw the Olympic Stadium, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City
Took ‘Star Ferry’ across Hong Kong Harbor
Sailed to Ho Chi Minh/Saygon
Ate pho…
Took motorbikes as taxis
Participated in a Cao Dai ceremony

Crawled through the Cu Chi Tunnels

Toured Angkor Wat in Cambodia at dawn

Played hack with local kids

Received a bracelet “you are my eye” from a local girl

Had a crazy tuk-tuk ride to Siem Reap

Visited a floating village on the Mekong Delta

Sailed by Singapore en route to Thailand
Took a bath atop an elephant with it at Pattaya
Got real Thai massage

Sailed down the Chao Praya river

Saw a lot of Buddhas in Bangkok – emerald, reclining, golden

Rode the sky train

Strolled around the Grand Palace

Sailed through Bay of Bengal to Chennai, India

Got lost in Chennai/Madras on a rickshaw

Saw the Red Fort and the India Gate in Delhi

Got stuck on a train between Delhi and Agra for 2 hours
Fascinated at the Taj Mahal during sunrise

Explored Fatehpur Sikhri

Was told I look Indian

Received bindi as a present from a local 14yr old buy

Creeped people out as a gypsy for Halloween in the ocean

Took anti-pirate measures while sailing through the Gulf of Eden

Cheered at the Sea Olympics passing through the Suez Canal
Met two local guys who guide us around Alexandria, Egypt

Read a book in the Alexandria Library
Rode camels by Pyramids in Giza at sunrise

Got stuck in the dunes on a Jeep safari

Experienced the Pyramids Sound and Light Show

Rode a local minibus (маршрутка) to Cairo
Took boat cruise on Nile River
Crashed a friend’s room at Hilton Cairo and ate his breakfast

Saw an unwrapped mummy in the Egyptian museum

Haggled at the Khan El-Khalili bazaar

Enjoyed the view of the city from the Mohammed Ali Citadel

Was told I look Egyptian

Learned to count in Arabic

Scuba dove over Lighthouse in Alexandria

Smoked hashish with scuba instructors and named their dog Panda
Sailed past Greek Islands to Turkey
Explored Istanbul – only city on 2 continents

Watched football in a local bar in Taxim

Met a Turkish TV star and talked to him in German

Danced to live music in a gypsy bar

Had a fight with a taxi driver who tried to cheat us
Smoked too much hookah and drank raki

Experienced a Sufi Dervish ceremony

Listened to a Turkish metal band

Felt at home, as I looked Turkish of course

Sneaked banitsa on the ship and ate it with lutenitsa

Sailed under Greece en route to Dubrovnik, Croatia

Explored the old city and walls of Dubrovnik
Conquered the Dalmatian coast by rental car

Slept in that car for three days with two more people

Bought tangerines from road booths

Visited a winery and almost got caught by the dean

Got stopped for speeding for the first time

Smiled my way out of a fine in broken Serbo-Croatian

Ate cevapcici and lots of burek

Ate Thanksgiving on ship, next to Rock of Gibraltar

Sailed under Italy en route to Cadiz, Spain

Experienced England for the first time in Gibraltar

Drank wine in a tea room that turns bar
Ate tapas and drank sangria in Seville
Cut my hair

Was mistaken for Spanish

Stayed in a 14th century convent

Saw a flamenco show

Met a few Moroccans students and watched Constantine in French

Climbed to the top of the Seville Cathedral to take in the city
Sailed on ship to Miami, Florida USA in 12 days

Dressed up for the Ambassadors Ball
Fell out of shower due to rough seas
Took final exams, wrote papers, chilled at the pool

Wore hats and sweaters in 90 degree temps for life boat drills

Saw many gorgeous sunsets and sunrises
Said good-bye to new best friends…

WOKE UP FROM MY DREAM ON DEC. 7th,
and continue to process what I just did…

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So, what do you do if you are in Fort Lauderdale for less then a day… Go to the beach and cry that you don’t have more time! Well, almost…

I arrived at the Hollywood International Airport in perfect 80s weather and hurried  to the city known as the Venice of America because of its expansive and intricate canal system. I checked in at the Courtyard Marriott right at the Fort Lauderdale beach but wasted no time in my amazing room and rushed to park my bottom on the warm sand. It was breezy and sunny, and it felt like heaven compared to the rainy and bonefreezing Boston… Girl Talk playing from my ipod, people surfing, cruise ships leaving the port, hot guys strolling around me, and the sun… I almost cried I didn’t have more time…

What else?!…Don’t forget to check out the city downtown – a shoppers paradise. Walk down Las Olas Boulevard after the sun sets and check out the small boutiques and specialty shops open late all the way to the city center. Definitely stop by the Shops of Las Olas but still leave time to wander through the piers and the numerous canals and admire the boats of the bold and the beautiful from the area. When the night falls head back to the beach promenade for dinner and drinks by the moonlit waves and really any seafood restaurant you choose will be worth it. Then hit the Elbo Room, a sightseeing attraction itself, being featured in the 1960’s film “Where the Boys Are” which led to the city’s former reputation as a spring break mecca. There you can drink the night away, having fun till the small hours and trying to forget that you have to leave to soon…

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I couldn’t wait… I canceled my attendance at two awesome parties but wouldn’t miss my last chance to go…

ICE  CLIMBING… one more down

It was the last weekend of February and the weather so warm that everything started melting, including the ice patches in the far away corners of New Hampshire. We headed to Kinsman Notch in the White Mountains at 6am to take advantage of the ice columns of frozen waterfalls that were already leaking from all sides. The trip consisted of Ashwin, Tony, Linda and me, all first time climbers and lead by Rick with the help of Scott, both with more than 7 years of experience.

Saturday was snowy all day, but the snow and ice made for a beautiful scene. We pulled over by the forest and got ready with helmets, crampons and harnesses before we headed up to the ice. Rick approved our gear one by one and sent us off to the trail, so I was the first of the group going through the trees, maybe 5 minutes after Scott went ahead. I was hiking alone up the steep hill with trees covered in white and little snowflakes flying around in the utter silence.  I kept going for about half an hour, confused if I was on the right track, until I finally heard a few voices somewhere above me that gave me some strength to continue. The climb up to the ice was so steep that I was already practicing my kicking skills with my plastic boots and using my little ice axe not to slide down the hill.

We all gathered at the foot of the ice wall to go over the climbing skills with Scott, while Rick went around to set up the ropes for top roping. On the side we practiced swinging the axes in the ice which proved a lot harder than it seemed. Finally, Linda was the first to head up the ice, and a bit after Tony attempted climbing a harder ice column a few meters away, as he was the only one with some rock climbing experience.

When my turn finally came to climb up the ice, I was crazily excited and a bit scared as I looked the others struggle before me. I was kicking and swinging, moving slowly up, as this was one of the hardest things I had done. My boot would not stay in the ice or my axe would not even go into it but rebound from the hard surface instead, and I would be me sliding down or just hanging in my harness. The way down was easier, just walking  backwards  perpendicular to the ice and still I would slip and crash into the column. I was so full of energy that I felt no cold. When I was finally down, the group named that column on me, as I was the fastest up and down the ice…so proud…so exhausted…

Ice climbing is definitely not a fast sport, so there was a lot of wait time between our attempts, during which we were struggling to stay warm. Talking about life, eating, drinking (water), and practicing my chicken dance moves with Ashwin kept me sane in the moments I did not feel me extremities or all I felt was pain and wetness… and the snowflakes kept falling…

My last climb was the hardest… I was excited to climb more  but my body screamed NO. It was absolutely vertical glassy column of bluish ice and my axe just refused to dig into it.  Almost halfway up, I had to take a rest so I told Scott who was ballaying me that I would hang for a bit. I let go falling immediately about 10 feet down as there was some free rope somewhere above me that he did not take into account… I wanted to cry for a second… those ten feet took me about 15 minutes to climb…and then again, axe, axe, kick, kick…pull yourself together for another round.

That day as much of a physical as a mental exercise of my persistence. So many times I wanted to give up and get back to the safe ground, and screamed down to Rick and Scott  “I can’t do it”…and then reaching the top, I would victoriously touch the end of the rope as if it would make me invincible…

It was already dark on the way down through the forest with snow still slowly falling on our heads…I survived! I did it! That day nothing else mattered…even though I still wish I went to that party…

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Last Day

In just two days I grew to love San Francisco like home, so I felt sad that I had to leave the city so soon. For the last day I had left to see the areas that were right out the door, so I got out early to join the SF Guides tour around Chinatown at 10am. The SF Guides walking tours are a great chance to gain some insight on the area’s history and legends coming straight from the locals, but like anything free, they could be a hit or a miss. I joined a small group of people in Portsmouth Square where San Francisco pretty much started. For a bit I followed around an old lady, listening to her well-rehearsed monologue, but after 20 minutes,  in which we probably moved 100 meters,  I was utterly bored. And then I thought… Forget about it, I am back in China now… and I know how to do that on my own.

Even though Chinatown is tightly hemmed in between downtown and the North Tier area, there is nothing like it nearby and definitely could not compare to the Boston Chinatown. Immigrants from China would move to this part of town, and for all practical reasons continue to leave a Chinese lifestyle with its of the culture, traditions and social norms. The streets are narrow and crowded, full of a riot of Chinese signs and a myriad of small and big shops offering inexpensive but outstanding food.  Trying to stay away from the touristy Grant Street, I was navigating this labyrinth and in one of the little back streets I found a map engraved in the stones that would reveal the back alleys of the whole Chinatown. Just a few steps from it on Ross Alley was the Golden Gate fortune cookie factory and the aroma of freshly made fortune cookies drew me in. As I stepped in, I was confronted by a barrels of fortune cookies of all shape and sizes and I saw those treats being made right in front of me by the agile fingers of a few elderly Asian ladies. Continuing down Stockton St, I saw a little Chinese bakery full only with Asian people, so I knew it must be good – I had the most delicious shrimp and veggie dumplings I have ever tried there.

Walking down the Columbus Avenue, I felt the upscale Russian and Telegraph Hills hovering over me. When I finally hit Broadway, I immediately knew I was already in North Beach with its Italian restaurants and little flags waving around or painted on the flagpoles. Formerly an Italian neighorhood, it still retains tha flavor in its wonderful and authentic restaurants and architecture. I really wanted to get in the beautiful St. Peters and Paul’s church where Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio got married, but instead of a wedding there was a funeral coming out of the beautiful white building, so I headed straight up the Telegraph Hill. I slowly but persistently climbing up the tree-covered and very steep hill trying to get to the 210-foot Coit Tower right on top. I took the time to walk around the lobby of the tower, decorated with depression-era frescoes in the style of Diego Rivera by various artists (some even apprenticed under Rivera), before I took the elevator up those 10 floors. Gazing through the little arched windows at the top, I felt face to face with the downtown buildings, the surrounding neighborhoods and the docks at the bay. Back down on Columbus Ave, I was ready to reward myself with a nice lunch in one of the many Italian bistros, and I stopped at the Cafe DeLucchi for an amazing treat of gravy totes (tater tots smothered with country sausage gravy, cheddar cheese, scallions, poached eggs and sourdough toast)…  highly recommended.

I strolled through North Beach some more making may way to Embarcadero to take a ride on the historic F line serviced by restored old trolleys. The old school streetcar dropped me off downtown for a short shopping spree, before I made it home for the last time in the late afternoon. Only Daniel was around working on his computer, and I felt sad that I had to leave this place. I climbed up to the roof deck for the last time to enjoy the fresh air and one last view of the whole San Francisco before I packed up. Back in the guest room, there were multiple letters waving and shouting thank you from the walls to the newcomers. Writing my own letter to Tyler and the roomies, I thought that maybe next time I visit, my words will greet me from the ceiling… I really hope I come back…

Before I went to the airport I met Ryan for one last drink in the Bay. I did not wanna lug my luggage around so I stopped at the nearest hotel and kindly asked the receptionist to hold my bag for me before I headed to the Gordon Biersch Brewery. As Ryan was still not out of work, I had a headstart with their sampler while enjoying the free internet. The rest is obvious –  recent stories and long memories shared with my fellow SASser over more beer… than last pictures in the warm night under the San Francisco moon and off to the airport….

…. If you are going to… Boston…

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