Monday, December 30, 2013

She said, "Wait, are you serious?"

 
Then she said yes.

On Saturday, I had planned a special date night for Sara.  All Sara knew was to wear comfortable shoes.  We started the night by walking to a near-by bar for a fancy cocktail.  We then continued on our evening for an early dinner at Zaytinya, a small-plates restaurant that I had wanted to try for quite a few years.  At dinner, which was delicious, I gave Sara part of her Christmas present, which was a copy of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and two tickets to see the production performed that night at Ford's Theatre. 

Throughout the evening and the play, I was so nervous.  My hand kept reaching into the pocket where the ring was hidden to make sure I hadn't lost it.  I didn't feel I could concentrate on anything because my mind just wandered back to what I wanted to say and how I wanted to propose.  After the show, we both stopped at the bathroom and while I waited for her to come out from the ladies room my heart beat out of my chest.  My pulse raced.  In the gift shop, I found a Christmas ornament with Ford's Theatre and 2013 on one side and A Christmas Carol on the other side and just had to purchase it (all the ornaments on our Christmas tree come from vacations or have special meaning).  As I paced nervously around the lobby waiting, I saw Sara, she smiled, and my heart melted.  She suggested we take a picture outside and I readily agreed.


We took a couple of selfies with the theatre sign behind us and then I spotted a couple walking down the street.  I asked them loudly to take a picture, then quietly told them I was about to propose and asked them to film it.  As Sara tossed her hair to get ready for the picture, I kissed her on the cheek and then dropped down to one knee.  Sara saw me and said, "What are you doing?" and then gasped.  I mumbled through something - anything I had pre-planned flew out my of head in my nervousness - and asked her if she would marry me.  She responded, "Wait, are you serious?"  When I told her I was she said yes and we hugged and kissed.  I put the ring on her finger (I started to put it on the wrong hand at first) and we embraced once again.  My legs shook from excitement and happiness. 

Captured from the video

We stayed outside the theatre for a half hour.  A couple of women in a car yelled out the window, asking if we just got engaged.  When we responded that we had, they cheered for us and honked the car horn.  We called our parents (who already knew - I asked Sara's mom for her blessing a few days earlier) and Sara's sister.  Apparently, Kristin and Kathy had spent the whole day texting each other, wondering what was taking me so long.  We decided to walk over to RFD - the bar where we had our first date - for a few drinks to end the night. 


 
 
I am so happy and excited.  We have no idea when or where we will get married or whether Sara will move to Germany or what will happen over the next two years.  But, I have found the woman I want to share the rest of my life and all of these crazy adventures with.  I am so excited and can't wait until I get to wake up every morning next to her.  I love her and she loves me.


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Christmas Markets

One of the true joys of Germany is the holiday Christmas market.  For five months, I heard people whisper about the wonderful Christmas markets.  They were absolutely right, the Christmas markets are fantastic.  The best part about the Christmas markets isn't the shopping or the Gluhwein (hot spiced wine) or even the Feuerzangenbowle (literally "fire tongue bowl").  The food's great and there are even some rides.  No, the best part is just the general atmosphere.  Friends chatting with friends, lovers walking together holding hands, co-workers sneaking out of work early for a couple mugs of gluhwein.  The Christmas cheer permeating the market.
Small but picturesque Christmas Market in Eberheim

Eberheim

Christmas pyramid in Wiesbaden

Nativity Scene in Wiesbaden (I thought it odd that the baby Jesus was already there.  In Italy, the baby Jesus doesn't appear until Christmas Day).

Skating Rink in Wiesbaden

Christmas pyramid in Heidelberg

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Remember the Alamo (even if it's a bit disappointing)

My trip to the US concluded with a Thanksgiving celebration in Sara's hometown of San Antonio.  I had met Sara's mom and sister before, but only briefly.  So this trip was a chance to get to know them better and also for our families to meet, as my family also came in to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Some of the highlights (in no particular order)
  • Mexican food - oh my god, the food was so good.  I had Mexican three different times, including breakfast tacos (didn't even know this existed).  Delicious.
  • Discovering the source of some of Sara's habits.  I don't think I went more than a few hours without realizing that some random habit of Sara's comes from her Mom or sister.  The list making.  The 1,001 options on where to eat.  Lots of little things.
  • A bunch of us signed up for the 5k Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning so we could eat without guilt all day.  More importantly, Shelley and I were both racing and I really wanted to beat her.  We started together and she took off out of the gate, sprinting ahead.  I kept her in my sights and worked over the next two miles to catch up.  As we passed the second mile marker, I caught up and we ran neck and neck for the next mile.  I would go ahead 10 feet and she would catch up, then she would surge ahead and I would keep pace.  With about 500 meters to go, I sprinted for the finish and didn't stop until I crossed the finish line, beating her by about 6 seconds.  My parents met us at the finish line (having missed seeing us finish by just seconds).  Shelley and I both set personal records.
  • Thanksgiving food.  Mmmmmm.
  • That Alabama-Auburn game.
  • Sara's aunt and uncle's house. This house was amazing.  Especially the man cave which featured a projection TV that, I swear, rivaled the screen in Jerryworld in Dallas.
  • Gambling on Thanksgiving.  Sara's family does a football pool for the Cowboys and my Dad managed to win both the halftime pot and the final pot in the Cowboys game.  Then Sara, Shelley, and my Dad all won some other games.  The Caniglia/Kusiak clan fleeced everyone else at the party.
  • Meeting the rest of Sara's family.  I got to meet Sara's dad, which was important to me.  I really enjoyed meeting her extended family as well.  Lots of fun people.
  • Watching football with my family - even though Nebraska lost, it was great to watch the game with my family.
  • The riverwalk - seriously cool place with tons of restaurants lining the shallow canal.  We took a boat taxi down the river and it was just awesome.  We also ate the best nachos ever while watching Auburn stun Alabama.
  • I should say the Alamo, but I was pretty disappointed in the historic monument.  It was small, dingy, crowded and not really worth all the fuss.













Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Penn State game

One of the highlights of my recently completed vacation was a trip to State College, PA to see my Huskers play the Penn State Nittany Lions.  I've always wanted to go to a game in State College, but it is incredibly hard to do.  State College is in the middle of nowhere.  Actually, it is about two hours away from the middle of nowhere.  It's a four hour drive from DC and after hanging out with some of Sara's friends, we didn't leave DC until after 10.  We pulled into town and found the house where we were renting an apartment and were immediately greeted by this.  Clearly, we were in enemy territory.

The next morning, we went out to eat breakfast at a popular place called, "The Original Waffle Shop."  Once again, practically everything and everyone was covered in navy blue and white.  I've been to a number of Nebraska away games and I have never seen so little red.  All of the Penn State fans were beyond friendly and courteous.  After brunch, we walked down to the tailgating area and sought out friendly faces.
We wandered around and found a few Husker tailgates, but the highlight of tailgating (and perhaps the highlight of the whole damn trip) was witnessing my very first game of "Stump."  Stump is a ridiculous and ridiculously awesome game.  All the players stand around a sawed off tree stump, passing around a hammer.  On his turn, the player tosses the hammer in the air, catches it, and attempts to hammer one of his opponents nails.  More tosses are awarded if the player tosses the hammer under his leg (2) or behind his back (3).  A player loses when his nail is hammered all the way into the stump.  Mysteriously, there are no drinking penalties involved.  It's not a drinking game.  What astounds me about this non-drinking game is how much preparation it requires.  Most drinking games involve some solo cups, a table, a deck of cards or perhaps some ping pong balls.  This game requires (a) a tree stump, (b) a hammer, and (c) numerous nails.  Seriously, this is why I love America.  (Also, the guy tossing the hammer in the picture was wearing a Penn State honors college sweatshirt.)  I miss college.

The game was freezing cold.  We never warmed up the entire game.  It snowed off and on.  The game itself was a back and forth affair, with Nebraska prevailing in overtime.  My favorite part of the game came in the third quarter.  Penn State scored a TD following a Nebraska fumble to take the lead.  As the television broadcast went into commercial, the snow picked up and began to swirl around the stadium.  They began to play Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" and the raucous crowd sang along and shook the stadium.  The snow continued to swirl, the crowd chanted the final, "Bah, bah, bah" and Penn State kicked off to Kenny Bell standing on the 1- yard line.  Kenny Bell, Sara and my favorite player, then proceeded to run the kick off back 99 yards, hurdling the kicker and silencing the crowd.  The snow stopped.  The magic was over.  But those were a fun three minutes.

After the game, we walked downtown to do a bit of bar hopping.  I, however, was still a bit jet lagged and kept nodding off into my beer.  Sadly, I had no second wind, no rally within me.  We called it an early night and took a cab back (best $6 I've ever spent to not walk back in that cold).  The next day, we woke up late and went for lunch downtown, before driving out of the middle of nowhere and back into civilization.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Middle School Reunions, IKEA, and ice skating

I'm back in the US for two weeks and having a pretty good time so far.  Landed Tuesday night and Sara picked me up from the airport.  We went for dinner at this awesome Indian restaurant that she has been telling me about for 10 months (Rasika for those in DC).  The food was really fantastic - I've really started to get into Indian food.  It's delicious and I wish it hadn't taken me 30 years to discover it.
 On Wednesday, I had a middle school nerd reunion scheduled.  When I was in 8th grade, a group of five of us took our core classes at the high school in the morning before returning to the middle school for the afternoon.  Out of the five of us, we have three law school grads, one on his way to law school/grad school, and the last one has at least a master's degree.  Anyway, through facebook, I realized that four of the five of us lived in/close to DC, so we organized a reunion.  Unfortunately, Corinne had to cancel to go a job interview, but I saw Katie for the first time in fifteen years.

Yesterday, I spent the day putting together two IKEA dressers for Sara and supervising a handyman who came to do some repairs on her house.  Then last night, she surprised me with date night.  We started off with a dinner at a Lebanese restaurant - yummy - and then followed that up with ice skating.  I haven't been skating for probably 5+ years.  We were both pretty awkward at first, but got more comfortable on the ice as we made our way around the rink.  The cutest part of the night were these two middle eastern girls (2 and 4 years old) who were skating for the first time in their life.  Their mother didn't know how to skate, so Sara and I helped take them around the ice.  (The rink has these little penguins, which children can use to hold on to when they learn to skate).  It was fun to see the girls go from scared to more and more confident.  By the time we left, the girls were skating on their own with the penguins.  Between Sara and I, we only fell one time (not saying who fell, but s/he had to buy the hot chocolate afterwards).

So far, a pretty good trip.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Brussels

In celebration of the one year anniversary of our first date and in conjunction with my marathon, Sara came out to Frankfurt for ten glorious days. It was fantastic to have her out here.  With the exception of Monday, where I was recovering from the marathon, we both worked the whole week.  It was really awesome to see how our 'normal' life might look together here.  Granted, this week our normal life was much busier than normal, but it still foreshadowed our future.  I liked what I saw.

The capstone to the week was a trip to Brussels.  I had been there once before for a few days a decade ago, but didn't remember much other than good food and good beer.  We got there late Friday and went to dinner after checking into our hotel.  We both had delicious mussels at this quirky restaurant where the maître d both serenaded the customers in a dozen languages and his adorable French-speaking granddaughter brought bread to the table.

The next day, we made our way around town seeing most of the sites. Brussels is both really awesome and fairly tame at the same time.  I would never send anyone to Brussels if they come to Europe only once or twice, but I would not object to returning myself for another short trip.  On the one hand, the tourist sites are nice enough, but nothing spectacular.  On the other hand, the restaurants, bars, shops and people watching are all fairly top-notch.

Unfortunately, by late Saturday afternoon, Sara and I both started to feel a bit under the weather.  We crashed back at the hotel and then didn't leave again until it was time to check out on Sunday morning.  The downside to this, besides feeling yucky, was not getting to eat out again in Brussels.  The upside was watching the Nebraska-Northwestern game on Sara's computer and screaming my head off at 1 a.m. when Nebraska won on a hail Mary.



Lots of cute quirky stores in Brussels

Awesome lectern



Lots of neon signs near the Grand Place









Friday, November 1, 2013

BMW Frankfurt Marathon

Only July 23, 2012, I posted on Facebook

 "went running for the first time today (quite possibly the first time ever)... plan to make this a regular thing."

I remember the run that day.  I weighed 285 lbs.  I had just downloaded a "Run 5K" app on my iPod (best $2.99 I have ever spent).  The program called on me to run for 45 seconds.  I struggled.  The weather was scorching hot - mid 90s.  I sweated profusely.  I wore a XXL pair of basketball shorts, my everyday tennis shoes, and an old football t-shirt.  In a fortunate stroke of luck, I discovered the nearby Mount Vernon Trail on that first day.  I listened to the album Some Nights by Fun. on my iPod and laughed as the lyrics gained new meaning.  (Sample lyrics - "It gets better", "Carry On, Carry On", "Put one foot in front of the other").  I came home proud of myself and determined to go out running again.

Four hundred and sixty-one days later, I completed the Frankfurt marathon.

Just about to start the race


The marathon was a tale of two halves.  The first half went very well.  I ran naturally at a good pace - about 10:00-10:30 min/mile.  There were tons of people cheering us on downtown.  I saw Sara several times on the course, along with a few other friends.  I felt good.  I had no doubt I could finish the race.  The twenty minutes of rain felt refreshing rather than depressing.  The scenery was pretty.  My music was good.  I ran the entire first half of the marathon without stopping or walking.
Still smiling at the beginning of the race
Then the second half of the race happened.  Around mile 15, we crossed the bridge back to the north side of the Main river.  I remember running with the wind at my back - feeling tired but still good.  Then everything just started to fall apart.  The IT band on my right leg tightened up causing me to begin to have knee pain in my right knee.  Then, my feet became sore (possibly from me changing my gait to try to alleviate the knee pain).  At mile 17, I told myself I would run 2 miles, then walk .2 miles.  By mile 19, I wanted to run 1 mile and then walk .1.  By mile 20, I hoped to run 1 km at a time and couldn't even do that.  Every step hurt.  I stopped to stretch every 500 meters.  My running speed was barely more than a fast walk.  I dropped from a 10:30 min/mile pace in the first half of the race to 15 or 16 min/mile pace during the last half.  The 4 hour 59 minute pace runners - trained runners who run at a steady for a specific finish time - passed me by as I hobbled along.  I had no chance of keeping up and my goal of finishing in under five hours disappeared.


I wanted to quit.  I really, really wanted to just stop.  But I thought about how disappointed my friends and family would be; how disappointed I'd be in myself.  I chanted the slogan that everyone used in my support video over and over.  "Run, Al, Run.  Run, Al, Run.  Run, Al, Run.  Run, Al, Run."  At mile 23, as we returned to downtown Frankfurt, I saw Sara again.  I practically started crying as I ran towards her for a big hug.  She whispered words of encouragement and I knew again that I could do it.  Those last 3 miles were a struggle - I think it took me close to an hour to finish those final 5 kilometers.

BUT...I did it.  As I turned the final corner and saw the "hammering man" in front of the Messe, I summoned my last bits of strength and endurance and "ran" to the end.  The finish line is actually inside the convention center with a red carpet, music, an MC calling out the names of the finishers and family and friends cheering on their loved ones.  As I entered the hall, I could hear Sara cheering and picked her out of the crowd in the bright lights.  I pushed through as hard as I could, arms raised above my head.  I was done.

video



I'd like to think of this smile as "relief"

Running itself is a solitary exercise.  Each day, you are out there by yourself.  Pushing yourself to run further or faster than the day before.  But the running community is a family.  I have had so much support over the last 461 days, that I cannot begin to express my gratitude to those who helped me accomplish this goal.  Notentirely,  an online blogger I have never actually met who first told me about couch to 5K.  All of those who ran my first 5k, the Dead Man's Run, with me.  Manish and the Crystal City Crew for suggesting the crazy idea of running a 10 miler.  All my facebook friends who gave me running tips and encouraging words.  My family, who all probably thought I was crazy, but kept encouraging me anyway.  Sara, whose presence and love kept me going more than she'll ever really understand.  Friends who began to seek out my advice about running and telling me their running stories.  Frankfurt, for being kind of boring this summer, pushing me to do something.



Random moments from the race:
  • Around mile 3, I witnessed a collapsed runner receiving CPR from paramedics.  Completely freaked me out.  Not that I thought I was at risk for a medical issue.  I couldn't imagine putting in all the effort to prepare for the race only to have it end tragically.  Reminded me of the tragedy of the Boston Marathon bombings.
  • Germans are not very creative or enthusiastic race supporters.  There were tons of people watching the marathon, but they weren't very loud.  There were almost no signs.  American races are full of fun and supportive signs and they really help pass the miles.  I missed having those here.
  • Speaking of signs.  After the race, a German apporached Sara and asked her how many "Al Caniglia:  You're Amazing" signs she had made.  He appeared astonished when she said it was just the one because he had seen here 5 or 6 different times on the race.  Another runner came up to her during the race and told her that SHE was amazing for getting around the marathon so much.  That guy was right, she was amazing and her support really helped me finish the race.
  • At my lowest point, I seriously thought about quitting the race, but I had no idea how I would get home from where I was.  I eventually decided if I had to keep walking, I might as well stay in the race.
  • I had some trouble with my GPS watch.  It couldn't connect to the satellite at the beginning of the race due to all of the skyscrapers.  It also ran out of battery about mile 23 or so - probably because I had already been running for almost 5 hours.
  • About 2 km from the end, a very old man - at least 80 years old - shuffled past me easily.  On the day, two 80+ year old men and one 75+ year old woman beat me in the marathon.
  • In addition to the regular marathon, there was also a marathon relay.  Teams of four could combine to cover the 26.2 miles.  The relay teams started about 10 minutes behind us, so there was constantly a stream of relay team members passing us by.  Nothing was more frustrating than seeing a fresh relay runner jog easily past you on mile 20.
  • People keep asking if I plan to run another marathon.  To make sure that I did not make this dumb mistake again, I made a video during the last three miles to remind myself how much I hurt.
video

Friday, October 18, 2013

Run, Al, Run

If you were doubting whether I had the most awesome girlfriend, ever, then doubt no more.  For the one year anniversary of our first date and in preparation for next weekend's marathon, she reached out to my family and friends across the globe to send me video message of encouragement.

Thanks to everyone.  It really meant a lot.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Two roads diverged

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
- Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

I went out running today and came upon this fork.  I've run past here dozens of times, but this is the first time after the leaves had changed.  I remembered Frost's famous poem, which all 8th graders in Shenandoah had to memorize.  So, I followed Frost's advice and took the road less traveled by (the fork to the left), but it did not make a bit of difference as they both exit at the same place.

I'm two weeks out from the marathon.  I've finished the super long runs and reached the "tapering" stage.  Today, my long run was only 9 miles.  What's that phrase, "The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist"?  Well, I'd say the greatest trick ever played was convincing me that running 9 miles wasn't that far.

More exciting than the marathon - really, a lot more exciting - is that Sara visits in two weeks.  She's coming out here to cheer me on (without her support, I don't think I'd be doing this) and then will stay for a week.  The trip will celebrate our one year anniversary which is on Thursday.  It's hard to believe that it has been a year since our first date at RFD in Chinatown, but it's been a fantastic year.  We both will be working during the week (Sara's firm has an office in Frankfurt and assuming I'm not furloughed by then), but plan to go to Brussels for the weekend.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Vienna

Thursday was national holiday in Germany, celebrating the reunification of East and West Germany every year on October 3. I used comp time to take Friday off and took a four day weekend in Vienna. I stayed with one of my German language classmates, Janet, and had just a fantastic weekend. I really loved Vienna - the center is small and compact and full of historical and cultural sites, lovely cafes, and awesome people watching.

The highlights of the city are the two Hapsburg palaces. The Hofburg Palace lies right smack dab in the middle of the city, just inside the ring where the old Vienna wall stood until the 1800s when the royal leaders realized that the most serious threat to their rule lied from the citizens within the city rather than invaders from outside. They replaced the wall with a wide boulevard, street cars and dozens of gorgeous public parks and buildings. The Hofburg Palace today houses several museums, as well as a number of public offices, including the Chancellor. 


As fantastic as the Hofburg Palace is, and trust me, it is fantastic, the Schönbrunn Palace is even more amazing. The size of it is indescribable. When I worked in Rome, people always noted that you could not really tell how big St. Peters Basilica was because everything else around was just as huge, so it didn't seem so big. In theory, the same idea applies to the Schönbrunn Palace; the buildings and grounds are so big that its vastness starts to hide itself...but just for a moment. Then it just looks big again.

In the Palace itself, you can either do the "Imperial tour" or the expanded "Grand tour." The imperial tour focuses on the rooms decorated and used by the last important Austrian Emperor Franz Josef and his wife Sisi. These two are everywhere in Vienna. This rooms are impressive, grand, ornate, and simply oozing wealth. The mirror-lined and chandelier bedecked grand ballroom glistens and impresses with giant frescoes overhead (although the frescoes themselves don't rate all that well to many of the Italian masters). Yet, somehow, despite all this grandeur, the real highlight of the tour are the Rococo era rooms decorated by Empress Maria Teresa. Parquet floors, inlaid wood walls, Chinese wall coverings. Each room is seriously more impressive than the previous. Finally, the vast grounds - open to the public for 200 years - manage a valiant attempt to make the Palace look normal-sized.


View of roof of St. Stephens

Hotel Sacher - original home of the Sacher Torte


Mozart - selling shitty tickets to random concerts


National Library - part of the Hofburg Palace

No idea why these chairs were there

Hofburg Palace

Part of a 30 meter (100 feet) bronze center piece

Place setting for one

You're not going to want to eat off these dishes - these were used in another room

Art Museum


Tried to sneak a picture of this lady - I think she saw me taking it

Gas station

Opera House

Naschmarkt

Interesting door knockers at flea market

Old cameras at flea market

Schönbrunn Palace

These porcelain stoves were used to heat rooms.
No doors in front as servants stoked fires from behind wall to keep soot our of room. 

The grounds at Schönbrunn Palace

The grounds at Schönbrunn Palace

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Huge

1 am fuel stop - Cheese filled sausage stuffed down a hoagie bun

Leaving bar #3 (of 4) at 3 am