Archive for the ‘travel’ Category.

Post-Barry-Roubaix Treats

This weekend Danielle and I traveled out to the Grand Rapids area for my first go at Barry-Roubaix. After a great race and hanging out for a while we headed to get Roxie and then back home, but not before stopping in Ann Arbor at Zingerman’s. Being just off of I-94 we were able to easily stop at both the Bakehouse and Creamery where we picked up a bunch of great baked goods and cheeses. This resulted in tonight’s outstanding snack of a sea salt bagel spread with pimento cheese spread, eaten while sipping a glass of Bell’s Hopslam. We’d also picked up some doughnuts from Zingerman’s Bakehouse; properly fried ones filled with chocolate pudding. A picture of it can be see here, and this may be the best doughnut that I have ever eaten. The filling, dough, and topping were perfect.

As far as the race goes, it was a wonderful time. I probably could have pushed myself a little harder, but during the race I felt good, and finished with a time that I’m content with: 2:21:42 / 15.2 MPH average / 66th our of 92 in my class. My max heart rate was right at the end meaning I probably could have pushed a bit harder, but with an average of 156 I think I was doing okay.

The course was through some really beautiful areas, and the rain the night prior had the dirt roads in tip-top shape. Some of the anticipated sandy bits were a bit of a slog and required dismounting and walking, and there were some serious puddles in a few sections, but it was overall quite fun. The weather was absolutely beautiful, with 60-ish temperatures and overcast skies making me perfectly comfortable in typical summer wear of shorts and a short sleeved jersey, lightweight gloves, and simple socks. A bit of misting rain found its way to us for around 20 minutes of the race, but only the slight visibility degradation was a problem.

The start/finish area was also very well set up and included both some great beer and excellent food. I had some Korean-style pork tacos (with kimchi!) and a really nice chili-pork burrito. There was also a few kegs of Founders beer on hand, with tickets reasonably priced and proceeds going to benefit the WMMBA‘s campaign to build fifty new miles of single track trails in the next five years.

This was a really great race. I’m extremely glad I went.

My Garmin Connect data from it is here, if you’re interested.

Burchfield Time Trial

Early yesterday morning I headed out to Ingham County’s Burchfield Park for the first Burchfield Time Trial. Despite being almost two hours away I figured it’d be a fun time, and it was. The trail was a mixture of Tree Farm-esque twisty single track with lots of roots, more flowing sections through the woods, and lumpy grassy trails through fields. There’s also a couple super-nifty areas that wind right along the banks of the Grand River. Weather started out cold with temperatures in the upper 30s when I arrived at the park, but by the time we started it’d moved up nicely to the mid 40s, and finished around 50. Insulated knickers, a base layer, a short sleeve jersey, toe covers, and medium weight gloves were perfectly comfortable for this, and the only thing I had to change was pushing my sleeves up while out in the sun in a field.

After reading a bit about the trail and getting input from some folks I took my rigid single speed Salsa El Mariachi to the race, and for the most part this was the perfect bike for there. The grass field areas were a bit rough, and lacking the ability to shift gears I was a bit slow on the flat sections, but it was still fun. In the end I placed 15th out of 18 (with 5 DNFs) in Class A, which was the geared or ss, sport or expert class. Had I pushed a little harder and cut only 30 seconds off my time I would have moved up two places.

The awards for the race were also really nice. Each was an 18T cog stuck in a slot cut into a birch log with a finishing place decal applied to the cog, hand-made by one of the people who’d worked on the race. These were a great alternative to the traditional medal.

The photo above was taking near the top of one of the longer hills, a mile or two before the end of the race. Here is another one of me from the same spot, taken slightly before this one. I’m not quite sure who took the photos, but they were posted here on Photobucket under the username DeadTreeRun. I particularly appreciate that they offer the full res photos for download without charge.

Lumberjack 100, NCT, etc.

This past weekend was the Lumberjack 100 (LJ) race up north, and I headed up with Erik, Kristi, Nick, and Marty to both volunteer for the race and watch Nick and Erik finish. We stayed in a nice (and rather remote-feeling) cabin, everything went according to plan, and I was able to get in a bunch of nice riding on both the North Country Trail and at Midland’s City Forest. It was a very nice weekend.

On Thursday after work I headed up north, meeting Erik and Kristi at Shay Station, a very nice coffee shop / restaurant place in Cadillac. We headed to the cabin, met up with Nick and Marty, then had a lazy evening and Friday which mostly involved final bike maintenance, eating good food (thanks, Kristi!), and relaxing. Then, Saturday morning was Lumberjack.

I woke at 4am, as I had to be at the trailhead at 5:30am to work my first volunteer shift in the parking lot. Just after this wrapped up the 337-strong pack of racers passed me (pic · pic) and the race was on, so it was time for me to head to the aid station for the first shift there. This was a great place to be, as it allowed me to see all the leaders come through on their first lap and then help out any of those who stopped and needed assistance. Working at the aid station mostly involved filling up people’s hydration packs and bottles, getting them food, and just generally helping them out if the needed anything. It was quite nice, and something really fun to do as opposed to sitting back in a tent and waiting for people to finish.

After the aid station shift I took a short break, then spent some time handing out patches. Everyone who finishes LJ gets a dated patch commemorating their completion of the race just as the cross the finish line, and this was also a great (albeit slightly hectic) time since I got to see quite a few people I know crossing. After a few hours of this (and being able to give Erik his patch) I turned the job over to someone else and hung out back in the Trail’s Edge team tent. Not long after Nick came across the finish line (pic) for his first LJ finish. That evening we celebrated with beer and bratwurst (Garlic/Kraut and Jalapeno) from The Dublin General Store, but due to the long day (albeit not nearly as long as Nick and Erik’s) I soundly fell asleep pretty early.

The next day after we all packed up and parted ways, and I headed off towards the Timber Creek Trailhead to ride some of the North Country Trail (NCT). Not knowing much about the area in which I was riding I ended up heading north for 45 minutes, then turning back towards the trail head. After reaching the trail head I wanted to ride some more, and a quick look on the map showed a river access not far away, so I headed south down the NCT to the Upper Branch Bridge River Access and spent some time wading around in the water before returning to the car.

This was an absolutely wonderful segment of trail to ride. Very beautiful but with nice rolling hills and great views. I’d really like to do it again, but next time riding straight through from one of the other trail heads. That’d put it at roughly a 40 mile ride, so there’d be a need to stage cars for this.

After leaving the NCT I stopped off at Midland City Forest on the way home, just for a bit more riding. The trail was much drier than the last time I was there and it was a bit more fun to ride, even though I was quite tired and got turned around (read: lost) a few times.

Continue reading ‘Lumberjack 100, NCT, etc.’ »

The Bicycle Shop Saves The Day

This weekend was a Fun Promotions cross country race at Hanson Hills. Since I was going to be up north this weekend anyway for some family business and passing within miles of the race around my class’ start time, I planned on doing it. Unfortunately, while riding the Vasa Pathway the evening before I broke a spoke. Since it was too late to find an open shop to fix it I showed up at the race anyway hoping that the shop providing neutral race support could help me out. Within a couple minutes of walking over to the tent of Grayling’s The Bicycle Shop one of the shop guys took my wheel, ran over to his truck, hopped in, and headed towards the shop. Roughly 30 minutes later he was back with my wheel fixed and true. As seen glinting here on the rear wheel the replacement spoke is silver and not butted, but I could care less as it got my wheel working right again. I took a rather lowly 11th (out of 12) in the race, but it was fun, and that’s more of what I’m interested in.

Saturday was PA‘s burial up north, and the timing worked out so that on Sunday I would have been able to ride in the Hanson Hills XC race on the way home. While this was the only biking planned for the weekend, Danielle’s want for a nap on Saturday afternoon gave me some time to ride up to the Vasa pathway which was only ~3 miles by bicycle from the hotel. Once at the trail while taking a break to clean my glasses I ended up talking to a guy named Ryan who showed me around the trail route, including how it connects with the Vasa Singletrack. While riding along the single track I heard a slight ping sound, followed by what I thought was a stick in my spokes. Stopping for a bit showed it to be a broken spoke, so wrapped it around another spoke then carefully made my way out to the two track and began heading back to the hotel. Along the way I saw signs for Timber Ridge, finish line for Iceman, and called Danielle then headed there hoping for a ride to a bike shop to fix my wheel.

Unfortunately, as it was near bike shop closing time in TC no shops were able to help me, so Danielle and I instead headed off to Short’s Brewery in Bellaire where we tried some wonderful beers and had a particularly tasty dinner. Following this (and once back in TC) we stopped by Right Brain Brewery where (with the help of some responses on the MMBA Forum) we decided that the best plan would be to show up at the race anyway and see if someone would be able to help me out.

Over this weekend we also ate at quite a number of places, all of which were good. On the way up north we stopped by Bill Thomas’ Halo Burger in Birch Run, and this place both has tasty burgers, a classic (and enjoyable) fast food atmosphere, and uses its apostrophes correctly. Then there was Mabel’s Restaurant in Traverse City for an enjoyable breakfast on Saturday before PA’s burial, G’s Pizzaria in Kalkaska with family for lunch, Short’s for dinner, and Right Brain for a sort-of snack. On Sunday after the race we stopped in Spike’s Keg ‘O’ Nails for more tasty burgers (I had a patty melt) before heading home down I-75.

Here’s a bunch of photos from this weekend:

· Titus next to the car after a race at Hanson Hills after it’d fallen and lightly dented the fender. Note the shiny silver spoke which The Bicycle Shop of Grayling, MI fixed for me just before the start of the race.
· Waiting outside of Timber Ridge for a ride to hurridly get my wheel fixed.
· Broken spoke which unexpectedly let go while riding the Vasa single track.
· More of the tight tree area on the Vasa, this time looking down from above.
· Tight tree area on some uphill switchbacks on the Vasa trail.
· Deep fried pretzels from Spike’s Keg O Nails.
· Looking towards the bar area in Right Brain Brewery.
· No Marking sign at the Traverse City Fish Wier.
· No LARPing sign at the Traverse City Fish Wier.
· Stage and lower seating area at Short’s Brewing Company’s pub..
· Looking towards the bar at Short’s Brewing Company’s pub.
· Japanese Cowboy, a Vietnamese-style sandwich, at Short’s Brewing Company’s pub. This was very, very tasty.
· Danielle at Short’s Brewing Company with her beer sampler.
· Menu board at Short’s Brewing Company’s pub in Bellaire, MI.
· Waiting in the parking lot of Timber Ridge for Danielle to come pick me up after I broke a spoke.
· Deep fried apple pie at Bill Thomas’ Halo Burger in Birch Run, MI.
· Food for Danielle and I at Halo Burger in Birch Run, MI. I would definitely eat here again.
· Penis-shaped candy munched on in the car while stuck in traffic.

While focused around something outwardly sad, this weekend turned out to be really nice and I think that’s what PA would have wanted. Thinking back, I’m quite certain that a good part of my interest in being outdoors and poking around places comes from time spent with him. When I was little he and I would head up north and drive around seasonal roads in his white Izuzu P’up, exploring all manner of places where a vehicle like that shouldn’t really go. Whenever I see a seasonal road I think of that; and these are exactly the sort of things I think of when I head off on my bike just wanting to wander around and just see whats there.

Weekend of Biking

For this past holiday weekend some friends (Nick, Marty, Erik, Kristi) and I all headed up north to Pine Creek Lodge, a nice, basic, and affordable campground in Wellston right near Big M Ski Area, home to Lumberjack 100. The intention of the weekend was to pre-ride the Lumberjack course do a fair bit of mountain biking around the area. While much of our riding ended up being cut short from original plans, it was still a great weekend spent outdoors.

The trail tally for the weekend was as follows:

· Big M: Rode most of the outer trails as part of the LJ100 route. After some mechanical issues and as the afternoon rolled on we opted to cut our ride short and go eat dinner.
· North Country Trail, Segment B: Only rode from Udell trail head to Steinberg road and back. Super-fun segment, but rain set in and radar showed it to be a big storm so we headed back and went to visit Tippy Dam instead.
· Arcadia Dunes: This is an incredible IMBA-designed trail in a land preserve. Rolling, flowing, fun climbs and downhills here are great. If it wasn’t so hot I would probably have done a second lap.
· Midland City Forest: Rode this by myself on the way home, as I wanted a break from driving. Apparently I missed a traffic backup by stopping here. Interesting, tight trail with some very sketchy areas, yet fun to ride. Needs a bit of work in some places, but otherwise good. Met a guy named Mark Mutton here who explained the basic trail layout and showed me around a bit; this was very helpful and appreciated.

Coupled with a whole bunch of great food and coffee, sleeping in, and generally nice weather, this was a great weekend. The biggest downside was cutting the back of my right calf on my chainring while failing to make it up an iffy armored climb at Midland City Forest. I stumbled, and in keeping myself from falling I caught my leg on the chain ring and put this gash in it. Once cleaned up it doesn’t look too bad, but I’m still having a bit of pain from it whenever that muscle tenses and the skin there stretches. (Tomorrow’s planned single speed ride should prove to be interesting.)

We also ate quite well, with much of our food coming from either the Dublin General Store (home to lots of great meat products) or simply stuff cooked up on the fire or in Tak and Jon’s cabin. (They came up as well, but rode, stayed, and traveled separately.)

This was a really great weekend.

Here’s all the photos taken this weekend:

· Marty, Erik, Kristi, and Nick at the top of a random climb in Big M.
· Nick riding along a fun, fast, flat piece of trail in Big M along the Lumberjack course.
· Erik, Nick, Kristi, and Marty as we all took a brief rest somewhere along the Lumberjack route in Big M.
· Erik’s Pivot Mach 429 and my Titus Racer X 29er at the top of one of the harder climbs in Big M along the Lumberjack route.
· Bratwurst from Dublin General Store grilling on a rack at our camp site at Pine Creek Lodge in Wellston, MI.
· Looking down at the water at Tippy Dam as Kristi stands on the rocks.
· Erik, Nick, Kristi, and Marty while we took a trip to the Tippy Dam on the Manistee River.
· My bike in front of the sign for Arcadia Dunes, a mountain bike trail designed by IMBA and located in the C. S. Mott Nature Preserve.
· My bike in front of the Midland City Trails kiosk showing a map, trail rules, etc.
· Pet cemetary found along the Frog Hollow loop of the Midland City Trails.
· Chainring cut and grease mark after stumbling on a steep armored climb.
· Chainring wound acquired at Midland City Forest, cleaned with water and with antiseptic ointment applied.

2011 North American International Auto Show

After leaving work today at the RenCen I hopped on the the nation’s stupidest public transport system to visit the North American International Auto Show. I was originally planning on going with some new coworkers during the day, but actual work got in the way of that so I decided to go by myself afterward.

The show was as expected, but worth the $12 admission as I got to wander around and look at interesting things, ride in a Chevy Volt on a small indoor test track in the basement, see a microscope that I would really like to have (a Vision Engineering Lynx Dynascope), and the smart fortwo seen above showing off it’s incredible strength by holding up a (52.2 lb) Magna Excitor 2x Dual Suspension not-for-off-road-use Terrain Bike.

2010 Iceman Cometh Challenge

This weekend was the Iceman Cometh Challenge, an annual race that runs from downtown Kalkaska to Timber Ridge in Traverse City, and the first one in which I participated. I’m content with my time of 2:36:01, which included one intentional stop to use the forest as my urinal, and a few unintentional stops due to the trail being too congested to ride.

Just as I was told, the route is mostly fast two track with some good sized hills with a bit of single track sprinkled in. Due to the sheer number of people racing (3700 or so), their varying ability levels, and the flow of traffic there were a number of places where the route bottlenecked bad enough that one had to stop and wait for a few moments. With most of these places being on narrow uphills I found myself walking a handful of times, and even waiting for 15-20 seconds while one blockage cleared. The tight bits of single track were also ridden at a slow group ride pace. All of this made my time slower than I would have liked, but it also provided some forced resting and really is just part of the Iceman experience. I was told it would happen, so I wasn’t particularly frustrated by it.

With my start time of 10:28am (wave 28) being just below freezing (22°F – 28°F depending on the temperature device), the trail started becoming muddy about half-way through the course, right around the time that the hills started. Thankfully much of this was gritty northern Michigan sand mud that wasn’t too slimy, although the newly cut (so new it seemed to be just for the race) pieces of single track were nearly as bad as the Tree Farm Relay. However, due to the congestion there was no fast riding in them.

If you’d like to see some film of the trail check out this video shot using a GoPro camera mounted on the fork of Jeremiah Bishop‘s bike. It shows more of the fast two track sections and few of the climbs, but it does give a feel for the trail. (Hopefully the complete footage will make its way online eventually.)

Due to the size of the race riders are asked to park at one of the local schools, to which school buses and box trucks (for carrying bikes) make regular shuttle runs. While it’s possible to park along the road leading to the finish venue it’s absurdly crowded and difficult. As we’d planned Danielle parked at one of the schools, so after catching my breath post-race and eating some fruit leather I rode the ~3.5 miles from Timber Ridge to the car. It was then easy to change in the parking lot, store my bike in the car, and catch a bus back to the finish line for some food, beer, and meeting up with friends. After the day was done we then hopped on a return bus to the elementary school to get the car.

I intend to register for the race again next year, and hopefully the conditions will be either the same, or perhaps a bit warmer and without as much mud (or any rain). I love riding in freezing temperatures with a light bit of snow on the ground, so this didn’t disappoint, but I sure wouldn’t mind being able to wear shorts. The event itself is also quite well put on, with a nice expo at registration packet pickup the night before, well organized starting, a well marked course, and an outstanding finish venue with lots of reasonably priced local food, $4 pints of Michigan beer (Bell’s, Kuhnhenn, Shorts, and Right Brain), a changing area, free cookies / HEED / water, and plenty of good viewing of riders approaching the finish line.

The only difference next year might be that we’ll stay some place other than the Motel 6. It was cheap, reasonably comfortable, very well located, and the rooms were clean, but it could have used to have been a bit quieter and with Michigan-type humidity in the rooms. We both would wake up periodically from noises in the hall and other rooms, feeling a bit dehydrated from the furnace that just heated air and pumped it through a slightly rattle-y vent into the room.

If you’d like some more info about the race, here you go:

· 2010 Iceman Cometh Challenge Results
· Cycling Dirt Coverage
· Iceman Cometh Challenge (Main Site)

Lumberjack Route at Big M and North Country Trail

This weekend Danielle and I headed up north to the Manistee area to meet a bunch of Trail’s Edge folks at Big M to ride this year’s route for the Lumberjack 100 Mountain Bike Race. After doing one lap of this 33 mile course I’m quite certain that there’s no way I’d be able to complete the three required for the race. It’s a hard trail, almost all tight, winding single track with unexpected sand at the bottom of hills.

At one point I was coming down a hill, only to see Nick and Erik standing at the bottom of the hill. It turns out that Bill (pictured on the right) had slid a bit in some sand and hit a tree hard with the side of his head, leaving him sitting dazed on the ground. As I tried to assess where I should go and slow down I too slid in the sand, but instead spun my front wheel around and stopped against the tree, hugging it and holding on to stay upright. Just as I came to a stop I watched my front wheel roll up towards Bill, only to stop an inch from his helmet and face.

Thankfully I didn’t hit him, as that would have made an already bad situation even worse. Even more thankfully, after sitting for a while Bill was able to get up and ride out, feeling only a bit shaken and showing no obvious signs of what I knew to look for indicating serious brain injury.

After the ride we headed over a nice, but older campground a few miles from the Big M ski area where we’d reserved a number of campsites, and a cabin for the less hearty of the bunch. Tents were set up, a fire was made, food was cooked, and beer was drank while sitting around. We ended up eating a spectrum of food, from locally made beef jerky and kielbasa to spanish tortilla, a mini-keg of Oberon to Trader Joe’s house-brand Pilsener, from Annie’s Cheesey Lasagna made with high quality turkey in a dutch oven to sandwich cookies and M&M’s.

The following morning, after eating breakfast at a local diner and breaking down camp, some of us headed over to the Marilla trailhead of the North Country Trail to do some riding there. Erik, Kristi, and I took off together, but with the terrain there being almost all bench cut trail leading up and down the sort of hills that I normally don’t ride, I soon turned back. If I was in better shape, or maybe if it was a bit cooler or less sunny, or maybe if hadn’t ridden one of the hardest long rides of my life the day prior I would have ridden more, but I’m glad that I headed back when I did. Once back at the trail head I couldn’t stop sweating, and only felt better 20 minutes into the drive home in a car with the air conditioning on high.

Here’s some of the photos I took this weekend:

· Joe, Jon, Marty, Nick, Kristi, and Bill as we are about to leave the Big M parking lot to ride the Lumberjack race route.
· Bathroom break. There were an equal number of people using trees along the right side of the trail, but the lens wasn’t wide enough.
· Consulting on the route while standing in some CCC pines.
· Sandy downhill where Bill crashed and I almost ran into Bill due to my inability to stop safely in the sand. I ended up stopping against / gently hitting the tree on the left.
· Kristi, collapsed on the ground, after riding up a hill that everyone else walked. Erik then helped her get unclipped.
· Typical Big M Ski Area signage.
· Bratwurst boiling in a cast iron skillet before being grilled.
· Bratwurst on the grill as a paper plate burns and Tak and Nick sit in comfy chairs.
· Kristi and Bill along the North Country Trail right near a bench overlooking a wonderful hill.
· Sign pointing back to the Marilla Trail Head from the North Country Trail. Much of the riding was sandy like this.
· Riding back to the Marilla trail head on the NCT alone, as I turned back before Erik and Kristi.
· This bridge was not far from the trail head, at the bottom of a ravine.
· Some inconsiderate person tucked a dirty diaper under the bridge on the North Country Trail.
· Looking over the handlebars down from the spur of the North Country Trail leading back to the Marilla trailhead.

I’m hoping to get up there to ride the NCT once more, this time a bit better prepared both mentally and physically. With all the bench cutting the trail is a little more intimidating than I’d expected, and with all the climbing it’s a bit more grueling than I’d hoped for.

Amsterdam Photos

A couple days ago I finished captioning the photos of Amsterdam from my recent European trip. The original plan was for Dominic and I to meet up with Sarah and Danielle on the morning of Saturday, April 17th, but due to the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull and subsequent closing of European airspace they didn’t arrive until Tuesday morning. This left us with only roughly 18 hours to spend in Amsterdam together before we went our separate ways. (Dominic and I on to Germany; Sarah and Danielle on to Brussels then France then Spain.) Because of both this and Dominic’s damaged feet this we ended up not doing that much, instead spending lots of time just hanging out in the apartment that we rented and wandering around the center of the city.

Before you ask, no, we didn’t go to any coffee shops as neither of us were particularly interested. We did have some very good coffee and cake, but that was just in a place called Coffee Connection which we happened by while wandering after visiting the Anne Frank House.

Here’s a few of the more interesting photos:

· Fields of flowers as seen from the train between Brussels and Amsterdam.
· German-style toilet. Yes, the shelf is unpleasant to use.
· Looking out the window of Floor 1 of Bed And Net. It’s very well located with great food and such right near by.
· The second building from the right is Bed And Net, the guesthouse where Dominic, Danielle, Sarah and I stayed.
· This boat on a canal was full of people from the US and/or Canada who were stuck in Amsterdam by the volcano. They were enjoying their time drinking and cheering about wanting to go home.
· It seems that 9/11 Truthers / Alex Jones fans can be found anywhere.
· Jamon Iberico hanging in the window of a pork shop.
· Cheese and tomato sandwich which Dominic picked up for me from Bakkerij v Eijk, across the street from where we stayed.
· Looking down a canal roughly across the street from the Anne Frank House.
· Carrot cake and a latte in a coffee house (Coffee Company) after visiting the Anne Frank House.
· Sarah and Dominic the morning that Sarah and Danielle finally made it to Europe. We were all sitting in a cafe eating breakfast.
· Glasses of La Chouffe with breakfast.
· Danielle’s breakfast was fried eggs, cheese, and ham on toast.
· Very large cone of frites with garlic mayo, which Sarah, Danielle, and I shared.
· FEBO, an automat-like place in the Netherlands which sells food from vending machines.
· Looking down a canal at a bridge around sunset.
· Standing outside of the train station, passing time, as my coffee cup drips on the sidewalk. It was poorly made.

Yes, I do have video of the failings of the German-style toilet, but I have yet to post it. The issue is not so much with the insult being exposed and sitting on a shelf, but that the water frequently fails to wash it off of the shelf, necessitating a brushing. As such its apparently common to have a toilet brush by every toilet.

One nifty thing that I hadn’t expected is that most people in The Netherlands, or at least Amsterdam itself, seem to speak English with a US accent. They also seem to know English very well, so I never had a language problem ordering food or generally going about things there. I definitely would like to go back there, and perhaps Danielle and I will on a better-scheduled trip. Maybe this next time we’ll rent a houseboat as well, staying on a canal somewhere and spending a bunch of time traveling out of the city and possibly over to other countries (Belgium, Germany?) as well.

Note to the world: Do not wear Chuck Taylor All-Stars when spending a few days walking around London. They are not good shoes for walking long distances in, especially if they don’t fit well and/or are worn with inappropriate socks. Doing this will seriously damage your feet.

Germany!

Continuing with presenting photos out of sequence of events, here’s the gallery of images from when Dominic and I were in Germany, visiting Dusseldörf, Aachen, and Ralitza / bumblebee (from the #llamasoft IRC channel) / inkscar.

We started off by taking the train from Amsterdam, then met up with Ralitza who showed us around Dusseldörf after we checked into our room at A.O. Hotel (also a hostel). After wandering and eating some outstanding pizza in the Altstadt (old town), and wandering some more she took us back to her apartment where she made us pancakes for dinner, which we ate with jam while sitting around and talking and drinking tea. The following day we went and visited Aachen, then once again met up with Ralitza to walk around more of the city, eat at Curry, and see all sorts of nifty things while walking along the Rhine after dark.

On this last night we also happened to walk past a building which I was told was the center of Nazi steel production during World War II. In my life I’ve seen and touched a number of old Nazi items, from flags to coins to busts of Hitler himself (some bearing bullet marks) and visited holocaust museums and the Anne Frank house, but seeing this foreboding building in person had a completely different, disturbing feeling to it. It was almost as if the interesting, curious, fascinating bits of the story were removed and replaced with the frightening reality which can only be detailed by seeing part of the bureaucracy and mechanisms which allowed such a system to function.

Here’s some of the more notable photos, although as with the Brussels photos you’ll need to look at the Germany album itself to see all the photos:

· The toilet at A&O Hotel Düsseldorf is a modern style and does not have a shelf. This is good.
· The soap / shower gel provided by the hotel is Tricky Ricky scent.
· A man making pizza at Colopic, a very tasty pizza place in the old town part of Düsseldorf.
· Pizza from Colopic in Düsseldorf. I had an Artischoken, Dominic had an Italia, and Ralitza had a Napoli mit Oliven.
· Füchschen Alt with Ralitza peeking over the glass.
· Apparantly one’s coaster is marked with the number of beers consumed, then the individual or table is charged for these.
· For dinner Ralitza made us pancakes. We ate them with jam and they were very, very tasty.
· Non-blurry image of Ralitza in her kitchen cooking the last of the tasty, tasty pancakes.
· Looking back at A&O Hotel Düsseldorf.
· This airplane contrail is the one of the first obvious signs we had of normal flights resuming in Europe.
· Wandering around a nice looking neighborhood in Aachen.
· 20*C+M+B+10 decal on the door to a shrine. This appears to be a way of blessing those who pass through the doorway.
· A DB train coming into station, taking power from the high voltage lines.
· Going up the side of a wall I think this hopscotch playfield is a bit ineffective.
· Somewhere in Aachen someone has lost their pineapple. Beneath a bicycle.
· Bicycle lane stencils laying on the sidewalk.
· This political sign confuses me. I think it is trying to promote a German politican based on the behaviors of a US LaRouche Democrat. I think.
· Another view of Rhine Tower.
· Another view of the red Gehry building in Düsseldorf, with the moon.
· Currywurst and frites, with mayo! I’d ordered aioli (garlic mayo) but received plain. That’s all right, though.
· Looking over at the table next to my bed, with the Vodafone Nokia 1661, earplugs, bottle of Tom’s of Maine Mint Soap, Nalgene bottle, and Ikea lamp.

After this nice trip I want to return to Germany, both with more time to spend exploring and a better command of the language. Despite my four years of German classes in high school I’ve forgotten most of what I’d learned, and generally seem to lack the ability to do much besides order beer and a bit of food, find the toilet, and apologize for not speaking German.

I would definitely recommend trying A.O. Hotel / A.O. Hostel if you are looking for a clean, nice, basic room for cheap in most major German cities. Our room was €92 for two people, for two nights, with a private bathroom. And it was in a nice neighborhood, within walking distance of the train station (Hauptbahnhof / Hbf).