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


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


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

Leaving bar #3 (of 4) at 3 am

Shelley and Shana

A few weeks ago, after sitting empty for a few months (hint, hint family and friends), my guest room finally got some use.  Ironically, my first two guests (besides Sara) decided to come at the same time.  My A-100 classmate Shana visited for a few days from the Middle East, while Shelley stayed for a week.  They both arrived on Saturday and that evening we went out for dinner and some local Apfel wine.  Locals consider it a delicacy, but I haven't really developed the taste for it yet.

On Sunday, we ate brunch along the Main waterfront and then went over to Mainz for the day.  We got lucky in that they had a festival going on, so many of the stores and most of the restaurants were over.  Mainz has a cool cathedral and is home to the Gutenberg museum (I think he is from there).  Sunday evening, I had to work an election event across the river in Wiesbaden (nothing like changing into a suit in a parking garage!), so Shelley and Shana hung out downtown drinking wine while I worked the event (pretty cool event - lots of fun).  On Monday, the girls explored Frankfurt while I worked and that night we went out for a fantastic dinner of tapas, before Shana left on Tuesday.
This is like the only picture I have from Shana's visit

Shelley and I had a really good week.  We went for an eight mile run together as part of my marathon training (she is training for a long distance relay race).  We cooked some dinners at home.  On Friday night, we went back to Wiesbaden for a festival Shelley had heard about on the radio.  There, we heard a free concert by Mike and the Mechanics.  While I didn't recognize the name, I recognized a number of the songs, including "All I Need is a Miracle" and "The Living Years."  Turns out that "Mike" was one of the members of Genesis and this was his quite successful side project.  Throw in Flammenkuchen, bratwurst, and gelato and it was a great night.

Saturday, we went out for my longest run for marathon training - 20 miles.  Shelley planned to run part of it with me and then take the U-bahn back home, but she ended up sticking it out and running the whole thing.  I actually had a fantastic run.  I ran around a 10:30 - 11:00 min/mile pace, which is my goal for the race and I felt good.  Admittedly, I also liked outpacing Shelley for much of the run.  She said that she kept going mostly because if I could do it, she could do it.  Apparently, sibling rivalry still lives into our 30s.
Halfway through our 8 mile run
After the run on Saturday, we hung out for a bit at the Consulate Oktoberfest.  Shelley got to meet some of my co-workers.  Saturday night, we went to my very first Bundesliga game to see Eintracht Frankfurt take on Hamburg.  The game was very exciting with Frankfurt leading 1-0 and 2-1, but ultimately ending in a tie when Hamburg scored late goals in each half.  I will definitely be going back to another game.
The stadium has a room, but is still open air (it was cold)

Everyone holds up their scarves during the singing of a song before the game.
On Sunday, Shelley and I went with a friend of mine to Stuttgart for Oktoberfest.  While Munich's fest fills with drunken tourists, Stuttgart's fest fills with drunken Germans.  We really had a good time and ate fabulous food, drank awesome beer, and rode one of the awesome rides.  I was surprised at home much of a family festival it was, particularly the Midway portion with all of the rides.  Essentially, it is a really awesome state fair with fewer livestock (though we saw some pigs), slightly better rides, and awesome beer tents.  All of your carnival games, foods, and rides are there.  Parents dutifully chase kids high on sugar and teenagers race from ride to ride with their friends.  The beer tents were everything you'd expect from a stereotypical movie.  Germans (and plenty of other nationalities) sit at long benches with large liters of beer.  Most people wear dirndels and lederhosen (or at least the traditional checkered shirts).  Most of the tables in the tents (which are really more like huge banquet halls than tents in the traditional sense) are reserved, but we were able to find places in both places we went into.  The live band played traditional German songs that everyone seemed to know.  College kids and adults alike danced on top of the benches.  I definitely want to go to Munich next year, but I'll definitely be reserving a big table to go with a large group of friends.  So, if you want to go next year, let me know soon.
One of two Ferris Wheels

Shelley and I drinking our liters of beer

In the beer hall

Crazy hats seem to be a tradition at Oktoberfest

These heart cookies are typically given to a girlfriend; I bought one to give to Sara,
but Bailey got it off the table and ate it before I could send it to her.