Sunday, April 23, 2017

Frankfurt ComiCon

SO many people were dressed up, but no, no photos of them. I'm not one to ask strangers for their photo.  How many Negans and Deadpools can one ComiCon hold?

Look it up.

We saw Podrick signing autographs.

Look it up.

There were little sets all over with costumed folks setting the scene and inviting people for photos, like the Governor's room with his heads in fish tanks, and a spot for the various storm troopers to collect with a Star Wars hall behind them. It was fun to watch people take their poses.

We'll probably go next year :)

Back to all odds.

Wish Nicholas a happy 17th birthday :)

Nicholas is 17, Jonathon is 15, Rebecca is 19, and Katherine is 21. Kinda nuts.

Monday, April 17, 2017

A weekend in South Africa

Most of the places Ian travels to aren't hot spots of awesomeness. Most are middle of the road, some are kind of "challenging," but there are a couple that are pretty neat.  Copenhagen, yes.  And I was lucky to accompany him to Johannesburg.  It's kind of a once-in-a-lifetime thing because chances are pretty good we won't get down that way for a tour.  And just like our fantastic trip to Moscow when the Gormans were there, we were lucky to have the Hales in Pretoria for our time in South Africa. (and Dan in Stuttgart when we went through, and Rebecca in Copenhagen, and the Woodards in Munich...) Hotel living is fine but it's really fun when you have some friends showing you around.

The Hales live in a house on the side of a hill that overlooks a conservation park.  When they're lucky, they see wild animals from their gazebo.  And 15 minutes away is a safari park. (They spend their vacations in safari parks all over, one of their latest trips was to Botswana).

Part of the park is sectioned off for their lions, who were all doing a very cat thing. Sleeping. The park has 2 males and 4 females, broken into 2 rotating groups of 3 for 5 days inside the small enclosure and 5 days in the broad sweeping open area.

Welcome to Jurassic Park.

She's so pretty.

In the main park there are no tall animals due to lighting strikes (bunches of trees are charcoal, keep the giraffes out of there!), but plenty of zebras, ostriches, eland (big antelope), and even some rhinos and medium cats.  The cats there, as expected, were never seen.  Not with those tall grasses and it being the middle of the day.  We did track down a rhino which was very cool and we'd not found it unless someone pointed us in the right direction and it started moving in the shade of a tree.

Dark blob under tree = Rhino
The safari, as undersold as it was by Jason, was very awesome.  I know it doesn't rank with open jeep trips in massive parks following herds of elephants, but for a quick trip down the road on a weekend visit to South Africa.... Fantastic.

They took us to dinner at Crawdaddy's, showed us the Voortrekker Monument, found a Starbucks so I could get a Pretoria mug, and let us stay overnight in their home (thanks Noah!). We promised the Hales we'd visit while they were in SA and they took great care of us.  Thank you!

Wait, let me back up.  The Voortrekker Monument. Wow. I have to say I'm amazed it hasn't been torched and torn down brick by brick.  The history of Dutch (and British) advancement into South Africa is one that mirrors almost down to the tale of the colonizer advancement into north America. Covered wagons, indigenous peoples, backstabbing, sorties, guns vs spears.  And it's all told in a huge relief carved into the walls of the monument.  The Dutch are civilized.  The natives are barbaric. It was really awful.  The museum in the basement was interesting in a "hey, we have these identical things back in the States." I'm glad I went, I'd never go back.

Back in Johannesburg, Ian had some work, but we also had a day off so we got a tour guide through the hotel and went out for a day.  From the Apartheid Museum to the South Western Township (SoWeTo... Soweto), we spent all day out and about with our guide, Shepherd.  I think the most eye-opening part was realizing that the architects of apartheid learned from the processes, and mistakes, of the Nazis and other oppressive regimes.  Their design was brilliant and horrifying.

Stones in the garden plots outside Mandela's home.

Awesome birds wandering around.

Soweto matchbox home.
Bear with me, I know you know all this already, but I learned a lot (which is the point after all).  After reading Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, I was more aware of how much I didn't (and still don't) know about SA history.  Everyone knows that Mandela was released from prison in 1990, was elected president in 1994, and died in 2013. He was in prison for 27 years for conspiracy and sabotage against the existing government. Apartheid ended between 1990-1993, but of course, like in our own history, that doesn't mean that racism went out the window and everyone lives happily together in a grand world of middle-class abundance.  Far from it.  One of Mandela's promises was that houses would be built and given to all those who needed one - the matchbox homes... two rooms with electricity and water. The promise has still not been fulfilled. Part of our tour was visiting the home of a man who still lives in a shack.  His mother still lives in a shack.  She has been on the list to receive a home for 30 years.  Now with his own family, he is on the list as well, much further down. If there's anything that drives home white privileged American, it's visiting a man in his home made of random boards and corrugated plastic and metal sheets. Like my time in Antananarivo (and Lomé and Chennai and...) seeing this level of poverty is nothing new to me, but...

Black Madonna of Soweto
And then there was the visit to the Catholic Church where in June 1976, a Soweto student uprising led to children and teenagers converging on the only place that was open to them after police began shooting.  In the mayhem in the streets, one particular child became the touchstone for the movement. Hector Pieterson was shot and killed, along with hundreds of others. What were they marching against?  The language taught in the classroom. It's a convoluted tale and best read elsewhere, like here.

And our last stop was at the former home of Nelson and Winnie Mandela.  Mandela was married 3 times, the middle one was Winnie who still lives in Soweto, but elsewhere.  It was an interesting glimpse into where Nelson Mandela became the statesman.

A visit with a touch of learning. We may never go back to SA, but I know this trip will stick with me.

Madagascar (& South Africa)

With Ian's job, he has a team of folks on his team... a group in Frankfurt, one in DC, one in Johannesburg, and one in Bangkok. While he has a set of countries in his portfolio, he also accompanies each of his team members on a trip every year or two to one of the countries in their portfolios. For this trip, it was with his Joburg team member to the island vacation spot of Antananarivo, Madagascar.

Antananrivo gets high marks as a posting.  People seem to love living there, and the Embassy crew seems to get along well. As a vacation spot though, the city is not great. Get out of the city to the rest of the island for ecotourism, beaches, etc. and yes, Madagascar is pretty amazing.

But Ian was working, so I hung out at the hotel on a short street with gates and guards at both ends and a handful of shops in the middle. Had lazy breakfasts. Read a lot. Got a massage. And had plenty of time to relax and do nothing. Looking back, it was a nice break. While there, I admit I was approaching bored.

Then we saw lemurs and the world sparkled again. The nearby Lemur Park is only 45 minutes outside the city.  There are 9 types of lemurs, 6 diurnal and 3 nocturnal.

The countryside is pretty awesome.

The park tour is guided and lasts about an hour. Lemurs are fed several times a day so it's not hard to see them and the park is shaded and relatively small.

We returned to Johannesburg for a few days of both work and vacation. With a weekend to spend, we took the Gautrain to Pretoria to visit some friends from our Amman days.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Blue skies in Copenhagen.

The second day of wandering around Copenhagen was less directed.  What I did accomplish was a haircut and a trip to the Statens museum, their national gallery of art.

My visit with Gerti the hairstylist came from a stroke of luck.  Everywhere else I stopped in was booked for days.  Gerti had a slot open an hour later and was a block from the hotel. We chatted for an hour about Trump, kids, hair, Obama, movies... She showed me photos of Nyhavn when it was being filmed for "The Danish Girl" and her shop had its sign removed and she "became a fish monger." I learned one of her sons is the Danish voice-over for Batman... the regular Batman, and the Lego one... and is currently in South Africa working in the next Tomb Raider movie. A friend of hers stopped by and absolutely had to show me her clothes, clothes she'd made herself. I had a delightful time, and forgot my credit card in the machine on my way out. A block later back at the hotel I noticed and returned, where she was standing with my card.  I recommend Gerti at Nyhavn 6, 1051 København K, Denmark.

Beautiful blue skies.
The rest of the day I really did wander, until Ian was almost done with work, and I wandered to the Statens museum of Kunst.  The State Art Museum. With only an hour to check it out, (my goal had been the Hirschsprung Collection, but it closed an hour earlier), I visited the Danes. The audioguide is free and only covers the main pieces, but it was enough.

A kind of art I'd never seen before, death
stealing a child from its mother.

In the French and "general European" sections down the hall I didn't see much that grabbed me. They do boast a couple Matisse, but even those... not a huge fan.  But the Danes really have something going on, akin to the Dutch and I'm sure that's not a coincidence. There is something remarkable in their story-telling of day-to-day lives that isn't completely judgmental, mythological, or other-worldly. Normal people doing normal things in a brilliantly rendered way.

That evening we had dinner at the home of one of Ian's A100 classmates. Thank you Rebecca!

Saturday was another gorgeous day, and one I was able to spend with Ian wandering the streets.  We followed the noontime marching band to Ameliasborg Palace and watched the changing of the guard, or the moving of the flag, or something (never did figure it out, haven't looked it up), and made our way to the Strøget where we had a delightful lunch outside, people-watching. As it was outside, our waitress told us the house policy was to charge folks immediately for their order.  We had a good chuckle at that, and asked how they managed dessert... in a separate bill? We didn't care one way or the other how they managed their billing, but after that question she asked her manager and came back with the announcement that our bill would come at the end of the meal.  I guess we didn't sound like we were going to make a run for it.

The Strøget is your typical pedestrian tourist trap, if there were cars driving across it and parked through it. Kind of annoying. I brought him to my old haunts (I was there the day before, I can say that), and that's when we saw this place.

Oh yes we did!
I'm not sure if I recommend getting your feet chewed on by fish or not.  I'll admit that my feet came out quite nice, but is it worth the 20 minutes of tingling like they've both fallen asleep? Is it worth knowing that, according to the words on the wall, the fish magic comes from fish spit? Is it worth sticking your feet into water that also has fish droppings? Seriously, these fish have a diet of dead skin on people's smelly feet? Isn't that considered animal cruelty? Glad we did it, don't think we'll ever do it again.

With such lovely weather, and it being a Saturday, the city was teeming with people. We ambled about and returned to the hotel to collect our bags, but not before taking the typical Nyhavn selfie.

The sun ruined it!
And we discovered that on the pier next to our Admiral Hotel (look it up, it's AWESOME), was a sauna and hot tub set up.  My coat smelled like burned sauna fuel (oil? wood? peat? horse hair?) for days afterwards.  And those weren't your average every day hot tubs.  Oh no.

Next time... better than fish, I'm sure.

We'd recommend spending some time in Denmark.  Truly, before I went up I looked on Trip Advisor and wasn't all that impressed. Maybe people just don't rave about it? Are they calm and serene people? But I had a great time and there are things I still would like to see (Kronborg Castle aka the inspiration for Elsinore Castle in Hamlet) and that Hirschsprung Collection, and the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art.

Thank you Denmark for a lovely time with lovely people.