Homer's Travels: March 2011

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Camino De Santiago: March Update

This month I received my official Credencial del Peregrino (Pilgrim Credential).  I ordered it from the American Pilgrims on the Camino.  The credential is free but I followed my order with a donation.

The credential is a seven page fanfold with my information, a pilgrim's prayer, a small map of the European Caminos, and fifty-six boxes where you can get stamps along the way.  The credential is required to get into albergues (pilgrim hostels).  I may have to pick up another credential when I get to St Jean Pied de Port.  I'm a little concerned that I will become stamp happy.  You are supposed to receive a stamp for each stage of your walk and are required to get two stamps per day for the last 100 km (~62 miles).  This would translate into a minimum of forty-five stamps, but, as I said, I can see myself becoming stamp happy.

Also this month I finalized my travel plans for getting there.  I purchased train tickets from Madrid, Spain to Hendaye, France, Hendaye to Bayonne, and Bayonne to St Jean Pied de Port.  I also made a reservation in a hotel less than 65 m (71 yards) from the pilgrims office.  The hotel has been run by the same family for over a hundred years.  The toughest thing to buy were the Madrid to Hendaye tickets.  The site kept rejecting my credit cards.  After trying  multiple times on multiple days, the payment finally went through on day four.  To make things a little more interesting, the next day the credit card I'd used stopped working.

I called the card company.  Turns out the card had a fraud alert put on it because of the purchase in Spain.  I found this out three days after the ticket purchase when I called them.  Why didn't the credit card fraud department contact me?  They had the wrong phone number and email address.  The number they had was our old California number.  The weird thing is that when I log onto my credit card account web page, the email and phone number listed there are correct and up to date.  You would think that the fraud department would have the most up to date information and you would be wrong.  A case of the left hand not even knowing that the right hand exists.

Talking money, I was talking to my Mom about my Camino preparations and the topic of ATM cards came up.  I'd forgotten that my ATM was also a VISA card.  I'd already opened a VISA account with a card that did not charge international transaction fees so I really didn't need a second VISA card.  I was also leery about having a second credit card that could be stolen/lost.  While I would only be libel for $50 if my ATM card were used as a credit card, I didn't want to be libel for anything.  I fixed this by going to the bank, enduring the look of "Why would you want such a thing?" that I got from the teller, and getting a plain vanilla, non-debit, ATM card.  Now if I lose it it will be useless without the PIN.

Back in February I wondered what to do with my spare time in Madrid.  I think I've got it figured out.  For around €17.50 (~ $24.50) you can buy a ticket on two open air buses that run two loop around Modern and Historic Madrid.  You can get on and off as many times you want, the loops intersect so you can switch buses, each loop lasts about 80 minutes, and both loops combined hit 37 spots.  A bus passes each stop every 20 minutes.  I plan to take the metro from the airport to where I catch the historical bus and ride it around getting off at interesting places to take pictures.  (I could have had my bus ticket mailed to me but the shipping charges, €21, more than doubles the price of the ticket.)  I also made reservations at the Botin restaurant, the oldest restaurant in the world, which opened in 1725.  They say it can be touristy but the food is good and ... I'm a tourist.

Finally I bought a few more things for the Camino including a neck wallet (not waterproof like a wanted but it will have to do), toiletries, a water proof journal, and other small items I will need.  One thing I bought was a thumb drive with a write protect switch.  It will be loaded with copies of my documents and a portable version of the Chrome browser, an anti-virus scanner, and an image viewer.  The write-protect switch should protect me from the viruses that will inevitable be found on public computers (my thumbdrive came home from Jordan with four viruses/trojans).

Monday, March 28, 2011

Curling And C.R.I.

The question (i.e. answer) to Saturday's Mystery Jeopardy Answer is:

Name seven things that have to do with curling.

Curling Stone or Rock - 44 lbs of solid granite
Why am I asking about curling, you ask?  Friday and Saturday the Wife and I, along with the Matron of Honor, Best Man, ER, and ST (the members of Team Arnold), participated in a Curling Tournament (a bonspiel) in Sioux City, IA.  The tournament, the result of a suggestion made by the Wife during the 2010 Winter Olympics (Though the idea may pre-date the Olympics, I can't remember), was set up by my brother-in-law TE and consisted of sixteen novice teams of four to six.  It turned out to be crazy fun.

Friday night we had a four hour orientation with an hour of instruction and three hours of practice time.  Curlers from a Fremont, NE curling club gave a brief power point presentation of the terminology, rules, and methods used during curling.  The presentation was of perfect length.  The curler giving the presentation knew the audience very well - a group of amateurs out to have fun.  She taught us the rules but told us that we could be flexible in enforcing them.

After the presentation we had time on the ice.  I never imagined that the curling lane was so long - 146 feet long. I figured the stones would be heavy, 44 lbs of solid granite, but I underestimated just how hard you had to shove those things to get them to the other end.  It didn't take long to get the general hang of throwing the stones but getting them to go the distance ... that was another story.  Nobody's stone delivering form were very good.  Everyone tended to fall over once they released the stone and few people practiced the art of sweeping, but we all got the gist of what we were supposed to do.  Here is a news article, with a video, of the curling practice (I'm in the grey and black coat, jeans, and brown shoes at 1:23).

On Saturday the tournament started at 8:00 AM.  Out first game (which consists of several ends, similar to innings in baseball) started at 11:00 AM so we slept in, had a good breakfast, and got to the rink a half hour or so before our first match.  Each game lasted three ends (a 'real' curling game usually lasts 10 ends).  We tied out first game (1-1), lost out second (0-2), and lost our third (1-3).

The players were varied - city workers, judges, and fun people like us.  There was a costume contest which was fun.  One team wore jackets with "Duh, Winning" on the back.  There were the mandatory cross dressing body builders.  We all had red flannel shirts, not very original but, we compensated by being the only group with a cheer - the chorus of the Schnitzelbank.  Everyone was there to have fun and were very sporting.  We all shook hands after meets and things were very pleasant.

The third game ended with a little bit of excitement of the unwelcome kind.  The Wife, after falling over during her practice throws, decided to be a sweeper.  In regular play everyone sweeps and throws.  This tournament was a little more relaxed.  During the last end of our third game the Wife was heading to sweep one of our stones when her feet went out from under her and she land flat on her back.  Her head bounced off the ice and she didn't move for awhile.  A couple of players, an EMT and an emergency room nurse, checked her out and helped her off the court.  After we finished the end, they suggested I take her to a hospital.  (Ohhhh ... that's why we had to sign those waivers!)

We were worried she might have had a concussion but, after the doctor examined her, she was given a clean bill of health and some meds to stop the pounding headache and nausea she was suffering from.  We went back to the rink and then back to the hotel where after a quick fast food lunch, the Wife took a needed nap.  We all went out later that night for some good food, conversation, and drink ... though not for the Wife as she was not to drink while on the meds.

On Sunday we all came down for breakfast, all suffering from Curling Related Injures (CRI).  We all had bruises on our knees (The Matron of Honor won the bruise award in Team Arnold) and sore muscles.  I discovered muscles I didn't know I had and a few I'd forgotten about like my back.  Despite the sore muscles and CRIs we all agree that we had a great time.  We all have a greater appreciation for the great sport of curling.  Next year I need to get ready with some deep knee bends to strengthen the knees and thighs.

P.S.  In all the hubbub I never got the final standings of the tournament though I suspect we were at the bottom.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Mystery In The Form Of A Jeopardy Answer

House, Rock/Stone, Hog, Mate, Skip, Bonspiel, and Broom/Brush

What is the question?

I will reveal the question on Monday.  No fair using Google or any other search engines.

P.S. I suspect Just a Girl and GeekHiker will know the answer right away.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Book: Stieg Larsson's "The Girl With Who Played With Fire"

Last year I read Stieg Larsson's "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo".  I liked it.  I liked it enough to check out it's sequel,"The Girl Who Played with Fire", from the library and give it a read.

The book starts up about a year after the first.  Like the first book it starts very slow for me.  We learn that Lisbeth Salander has used the money she stole in the previous book, stole from a villain, to travel the world for a year.  When she returns to Sweden things go from bad to worse when she is accused of murder.  The murder involves Michael Blomkvist, the other main character of the first book.

As we follow multiple investigation threads, the police, Blomkvist, and Salander's, we gradually piece together the sick world of the female sex trade.  As we near the climax this sex trade takes the back seat as we learn how Salander is connected with this dark underworld.

The book ends abruptly but with most of the major loose ends tied up.  There is a lot for Salander to answer to. The theft of the money.  Shooting, tazing, hacking, and other general mayhem will all have to be addressed, in the third book I presume.

I was happy with this book.  My biggest critique would be that it moved way too slow in the first half of the book.  There were a lot of coincidences that sometimes stretched the imagination but I think those are necessary for the story telling and can be forgiven.  What kept me glued to the pages was Lisbeth Salander, a fascinating character.  I look forward to checking out the third book in the series "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest".

Being the slow person that I can be at times I discovered that Stieg Larsson was, in fact, dead.  He died shortly after delivering the three manuscripts of his books.  This is sad on many levels.  It is sad for him.  It is sad for his family.  It is sad for his readers as they will never read more from this author whose first books have shown so much potential.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Happy -217th Birthday, Tiberius

Through a narrow alley, behind a beauty salon, in a small town in Iowa, the future Captain of the USS Enterprise will be born where this stone monument sits.

Happy Birthday James T. Kirk!!!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

East Iowa Roadtrip - Day Three: Galena And The Drive Home

Day three was a driving day mostly.  We slept in before heading back to downtown Galena.  We got there just as the stores were opening up so we had our chance to shop around.  The Wife bought a couple things.  I, as usual, didn't find anything I wanted.

And that was pretty much the last thing we did on our little mini-vacation.  We got back in our car and headed west.  We were going to stop in Dyersville to see the Field of Dreams but ... it was closed.

Our little three day roadtrip was enough.  We didn't see as many odd things as last year's Kansas trip but it was still satisfying to just get out of town for a few days.

Next year ... Missouri.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

East Iowa Roadtrip - Day Two: Angels, Nickels, Archeologists, And Memories

Day two of our east Iowa roadtrip was a full one so please pardon the long post.

First stop was Oakland Cemetery to see the black angel.  There are two black angels in Iowa: the one in Iowa City that we saw on this trip and one in Council Bluffs which we went to see back in July 2009.   This angel is more interesting than the Council Bluffs one.  They say if you kiss the angel you will drop dead.  The Wife suggested that I should really temp fate by putting on my red Star Trek Shirt and giving the angel a kiss.  I decided to play it safe and not kiss those cold black lips.

Our second stop, also in Iowa City, was the largest wooden nickel.  I can't say I'm very impressed with this.  It's just a round sign painted like a nickel.  It's not even authentic having several phrases not on the original buffalo nickel.  I'm not sure I would even call it a wooden nickel because of that.  By the way, if you're wondering where I get all these bizarre places to stop, I get them from Roadside America.

Next stop was the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site and the nearby Herbert Hoover Presidential Library.  This is where I had one of the largest brain farts in a long while.  I walked into the historic site visitor's center and saw the stamp for the national park passports.  I turned to go out to get my passport when I remembered that we decided to drive the Wife's car on this trip instead of mine.  D'OH #1.  The ranger suggested a sticker.  Sure!  He cut me a sticker and I put it in my pocket.  After watching the informative movie and looking at the exhibits we walked over to the presidential library.  Along the way I took out the sticker and realized it was just a large white dot.  Nothing on it.  I couldn't figure out what the ranger had intended by giving me a white sticker.  I think I used the word duffus to describe the ranger.  After we got home I came across the sticker, called him a duffus again, and then had the flash of incite.  I was supposed to stamp the white sticker using the passport stamp.  Then I could put the stamped sticker in my passport.  D'OH #2  Now who's the duffus?  Me!

The library was well put together and informative.  People blame Hoover for making the Great Depression worse but he was a decent man who was just over his head.

The fourth stop of the morning was in LeClaire, Iowa.  For those who watch American Pickers on the History Channel this should be familiar.  This is the location of their store, Antique Archeology.  It was a little hard to find as the place was tucked back on an alley behind a filling station.  None of the pickers (Mike, Frank, or Danielle) were there, of course, but it was fun walking through their office and seeing a lot of stuff that they had picked on the show including the pig head and Laurel & Hardy heads.  (Pictures are here.)  We bought t-shirts.  As we were leaving some old guy was asking the cashier girl if he could see her tattoos.  She patiently explained to the gentleman that, despite having tattoos, she was not Danielle.  I wonder how many times a day she has to say that.

We ate lunch at a cut off your tie place called Sneaky Petes before walking through the nearby Buffalo Bill museum.  Buffalo Bill was born in LeClaire though most of his life was spent out west in Nebraska and Wyoming.  The museum was ... underwhelming.  There was only a small section about Buffalo Bill.  The rest of the place was more about local history and local inventors (The guy who invented the airplane black box was born here) .  The one high spot, sort of, was the Lone Star wood hull paddle boat in a large enclosed dry dock facility next to the museum.  It was over a hundred years old and was in the process of being restored.  It reminded us of the Meriwether Lewis in Brownsville.

The fifth stop of the day was the county museum in Maquoketa, Iowa.  This museum is home of the two-butted Lamb and the two-headed calf.  This museum was more interesting that the Buffalo Bill museum though not by much.  We walked through it fairly quickly because the Wife and I aren't really museum people.  I know if I read all the descriptions and plaques I would probably learn quite a bit but I just don't have the patience.

Both of the museums, the Buffalo Bill and the Maquoketa, were run by little old ladies that asked the same thing as we left "Done already?"  They were both very sweet.  The one in Maquoketa, after hearing where we were going suggested we eat at the Kalmes Restaurant which brings us to ...

The next four stops were trips down memory lane for the Wife.  First it was Bellevue where she had her first teaching job.  We just did a drive through here.  Things have changed a lot since she was there 20+ years ago.  Next it was St Donatus where we stopped at the Kalmes Restaurant where one of her former students, a Kalmes, works.  She remembered the Wife and they talked for a while.  Turns out several of the teachers that the Wife worked with are still teaching in Bellevue.  We left with a cooler full of homemade sausage.  This was followed by a stop at Paul's Big Game Tavern in Dubuque where the Wife had a beer for old time's sake.  Pauls is decorated with hunting trophies and is a nice neighborhood bar ... according to the Wife.  The last stop on memory lane was Mulgrew's in East Dubuque.  The wife had a beer and a chili dog ... for old time's sake.  East Dubuque is in Illinois and the bars close an hour later there.  When she was in college it was: close down Paul's then cross the river and close down Mulgrew's.  We also tried to buy one of their ceramic chili dog banks.  I broke her old one - fell off the fridge while I was cleaning.  Unfortunately the mold for the original bank was destroyed in a fire so no joy there.

We ended the day in Galena, IL which, like East Dubuque, is technically not in East Iowa but it's close.  We found a hotel and then headed to the downtown area.  Galena has a very interesting downtown.  It has a nice downtown with old buildings full of character, trendy shops, and great restaurants.  I think it's one of our favorite towns along with Cambria, CA and Stillwater, MN.  We will be returning here for sure.

The stores  were closed when we got downtown but restaurants were just starting to get busy and we had a hearty meal at the Log Cabin Greek Steakhouse.  We're not sure what was so Greek about it.  They did serve Greek salads and occasionally yelled 'OPAAAAA' but that was about it.  Our steaks were delicious though, Greek or not.

The highlight of the day for me was our Antique Archeology visit.  The Wife's highlight was reminiscing at her old haunts.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

East Iowa Roadtrip - Day One: Amana, Riverside, and Kolona

Last year we started a new tradition.  During the Wife's spring break we pick a state and do a roadtrip visiting all sorts or weird stuff.  Our first state was Kansas where we visited balls of twine, hairballs, folk art, and the gates of Hell.  This year we continued the tradition and headed for eastern Iowa.  Since we've lived a good chunk of years in central and western Iowa, we limited our roadtrip to Eastern Iowa.

Our first stop were the Amana Colonies.  Both the Wife and I had this impression that the Amana Colonies were Amish.  No.  They may have been amish at one time but now they are just tourist-ish.  The Colonies, consisting is the small towns of Amana, East Amana, High Amana, West Amana, South Amana, and Homestead, are quaint little towns with a German flair.  We stopped at the visitor's center, picked up a map, and went walking down the main street of Amana.  After having a good German lunch of a Reuben for the Wife and Chicken Schnitzel sandwich for me, we started looking in the stores along the main drag.   We were a little disappointed.  Most of the things for sale would be what I call 'antiques made yesterday' and after a couple places we grew tired of it all.  We walked through the wool mill making the Wife itch, got back in our car, drove through the other five towns (without stopping) and headed to our next destination.  Except for the good food and some old wooden bobbins the Wife found in one antique store, the Amana colonies were a let down.

The second stop of the day was Riverside Iowa.  That name should be familiar for the geeks out there and the picture above is a big clue.  Riverside is the future birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk.  We stopped at the museum/gift shop that was closed but, after seeing activity and talking with the owner, we were able to go in.  The museum was in the process of moving to a larger space and things were a mess but we walked around looking at the Star Trek memorabilia while the owner tried his best to talk our ear off.  He was a very nice and enthusiastic Star Trek promoter.  I decided to buy a cool t-shirt while there and I asked the Wife which color I should buy.  She said red.  As I was paying for the shirt the owner questioned the Wife's choice of color.  For those who don't know the significance of red shirts in Star Trek you should read this.

We continued on to see the marker where Capt. Kirk will be born.  It's located behind a yellow hair salon.  You have to walk down a short alleyway to get to it.  I'll post a picture of the marker next week for reasons that will be obvious ... next week.

Our last stop of the day was the town of Kalona.  Kalona is a proper Amish community.  Our friend HE had told us to visit a store called Stringtown Grocery when we went there.  It took us a while to find the place as it was outside of the town proper.  We headed out on dirt roads where we passed horses and buggies, houses with laundry drying on the line - houses of large families - and boys and girls, mysteriously all the same ages, walking home from school (They reminded me of the strange little boy we talked to in Willow Creek).  It felt like we'd traveled back in time.  I didn't take any pictures as I felt like I would be turning these people into caricatures.  I still have issues with taking pictures of people.  I feel like I'm intruding.

Stringtown Grocery is just that, a grocery store.  All items are in plastic bags with hand written or stamped labels.  The Wife drooled over the bulk spices.  I listened to two elderly Amish women talking German I suppose - didn't quite sound German to me.  The place felt like something from the last century ... which it probably is.  Definitely not Wal-Mart.

We ended the day in a hotel in Coralville outside of Iowa City.  The highlight of the day, which we thought would be Amana, turned out to be Riverside.  Leave it to us to have our spirits lifted by a trekker holy site.   We are such fans of the quirky.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

This Week ...

This past week was another week.  Not a special week.  Not a bad week.  Just a week.  For the past seven days there were two highlights.

The first was a 10.86 mile walk I did on Thursday.  The weather was perfect - cool with lots of sun.  My walk took me to a few places I'd driven past without giving a second glance.  I stopped at an old grotto next to an assisted living complex.  I was led there by my GPS ... a geocache was supposed to be hidden in the 130 - 140 year old stone structure sandwiched between the buildings of a former mental hospital.  The stone seems volcanic which begs the question, where did the stone come from?  I am not aware of any volcanic structures near here but, then, I'm not a geologist.  I went inside and looked around in the dark.  There are dirty windows in the grotto but they do very little to illuminate the nooks, crannies, and corners of the place.  I felt like I was walking over someone's grave ... and they were getting grumpy.  I was unable to locate the cache so I'll have to go back with a flashlight.

Another passed but not visited place was the Mount Vernon Estate & Gardens park.  The gardens are modeled after George Washington's Mt. Vernon.  I was led here by another geocache, "Mt Vernon Micro", which I managed to find.  The gardens were a little bleak this late in the winter but you could tell that they were taken care of.  I will have to come by once everything is green.

The only excitement during the walk was when I was walking in a residential area.  I heard a dog yelp and I saw a small Scotty-like dog rolling on the road behind an SUV.  The driver of the SUV stopped, got out of the car and ran after the dog.  I assumed he was doing the right thing and checking to see if the dog was okay.  The driver caught up with the dog which, by the way, seemed quite healthy, and pick it up.  This seemed weird to me until he got back in the SUV with the dog.  The dog was his and it had apparently jumped/fell out the window of the moving SUV.

The second highlight of the week was a repeat of the High/Low brow day on Saturday.  We were in Lincoln for the state Poetry Out Loud competition which we followed with a Roller Derby bout.  Unfortunately, unlike out first poetry/derby combination, the outcomes were not so successful.  The Wife's student did not make the top three (They only announce the top three so there is no way to know how close she was).  The student did well and I'm guessing she was in the top five.  Maybe next year.

The Roller Derby didn't end well either.  The Omaha Roller Girls (ORG), after winning their first match of the season, went up against Lincoln's No Coast Derby Girls who had won their first five bouts.  We left part way through the second half of their bout.  At that point there was a 30+ point spread between the teams.  The final score was 62 to 93.  The No Coast defense was awesome and really shut down ORG.

Saturday, despite the losses, was a good day.  We got out of the house for a full eleven hours, they had cookies at the poetry Out Loud competition (always a plus in my book), had a pretty good Italian meal, shopped at a fair trade store, and cheered on our team at an away game.  There is only one way to follow this week - Spring Break and a drive out to East Iowa.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Book: Danial Suarez's "Freedom™"

Last year I read Daniel Suarez's "Daemon". This year I read the sequel "Freedom™".  Like the former, I liked this book.  "Freedom™" takes what you learned in "Daemon" and turned it on it's head.  Heroes become villains, villains become heroes.

The book follows the progression of the software Daemon and the group of followers that fall under it's control.  As the Daemon gains strength you see that it is not the evil force that you once thought it might be.  Meanwhile the forces of good fighting the growth of the Daemon begin to tarnish and you soon see their true nature.  The cringe-worthy torture scene of Loki definitely showed who is evil in this book.

The book is written in the same action technothriller style as the first book and I sometimes found myself shaking as I read particularly energetic passages.  It was hard to put down at times.  An adrenaline rush at times.  This would have garnered the book a solid 4 out of 5 for me but, unfortunately, Suarez interjects descriptions of how the daemon is improving the world that are very preachy.  The daemon forces short supply changes and local manufacturing and food growth.  The Daemon builds solar power generators.  The Daemon fights the agri-conglomerates.  I agreed with everything the Daemon was doing but it was expressed in such a heavy-handed, from-the-pulpit style that I was nearly turned off.  Four of five became three of five.

I guess I would have to still recommend this book though, like the first book, you are required to massively suspend disbelief.  I did.  It held my attention even through the tedious moralizing sections.  I was satisfied with the ending.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Music: James Taylor With Benjamin Taylor At The Orpheum

A couple years ago I lamented about the holes in my memory.  Here's a link to the post.  For those not interested in clicking links, the gist is that I can be forgetful and the most glaring example of this concerns a James Taylor concert I apparently went to with the Wife.  I say apparently because I have zero recollection of that concert.  A complete blank.

The blank has bothered me a bit because, as far as I know, I've never forgotten something as big as a concert.  To fix the situation ... sort of ... we went to see James Taylor again last Tuesday.  I'd hoped seeing and hearing him perform would jog my memory of the first concert ... it did not.  Not even a tiny iota.  Fortunately, two days after the second James Taylor concert, I still remember going.

James Taylor was pretty good.  Instead of having a warm up act he joined forces with his son, Benjamin, to give sort of a joint concert.  They played together for the two and a half hours the concert lasted.  For every two James Taylor songs performed, they did one Benjamin Taylor song.  I'd never heard Benjamin Taylor before (I think?!?) and his stuff was impressive.  It was good enough to temp me to buy some of his stuff.  I'll have to check him out on Amazon.

The Wife and I both enjoyed the concert.  I was worried as I'd gone for a 16.5 mile walk earlier that day and I was a little concerned the mellow guitar strummings of James Taylor, no matter how good he was, would put me to sleep.  I made it though - thank you caffeine.

We have a couple more concerts coming up before I head out to Spain.  I'll be going to see the Decemberists in mid-April and we both will go to a John Mellencamp concert a week and a half later.  Cool stuff.