Monday, December 15, 2008
We did one of those Santa Runs. You know, for kids. You sign up. You pay some money. You con your co-workers into also paying some money. You get issued a Santa suit. You run around town in the Santa suit. You give your money to charity.
Except that they ran out of Santa suits. So your correspondent ran around in a Santa hat only. Well, that is, his normal running clothes, plus a Santa hat. It was less festive. But the sun was out for the first day in weeks. And the kids still got their money.
Your correspondent also ran the grueling course through Old Riga -- including quick stops to snap a few pictures of the other Santas (the staff photographer was unavailable)-- faster than the two strapping young members of the United States Marine Corps who participated. I won't mention their names because think they could get dishonorably discharged for letting a State Department bureaucrat beat them in a test of physical fitness, even if it's more about silly costumes than strength and stamina.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Your correspondents diligently stopped by all the main tourist sights, such as the Pantheon (quite cool) and the Spanish Steps (uh...) and the Trevi Fountain. It certainly is an interesting spot, monumental and ornate. But it's one of those sights that doesn't exactly continue to reveal more of itself upon extended viewing. Nonetheless, the square around the fountain was bursting with tourists, all taking pictures of each other and throwing coins in the fountain and doing your normal tourist things. The staff photographer and art director both agreed that photos of our fellow tourists taking pictures of each other would be more interesting than any picture of the fountain. The pictures were mostly not that interesting, it turns out.
That is, until this couple emerged from the crowd and took approximately five million pictures of each other, all with a pocket camera. No harm, no foul, right? But their shots grew increasingly ridiculous, as they worked their way to an uncrowded corner of the fountain, and then started posing, staring off into space, lounging on the fountain, as if they were going to submit these pictures to the next issue of Vogue. The guy took his turns and didn't lounge so much as strike manly poses in his sunglasses and leather jacket. Still, their vacation, they can take whatever pictures they want. But the utter seriousness with which they did it was kind of mind-boggling. The staff photographer took so many pictures of the whole process that it was inevitable that at one point the subject would notice, as seen above. In a remarkable demonstration of their seriousness, she flashed only the briefest glance of recognition, and carried on as if what they were doing was completely normal.
At that point, they seemed odd, but admirable for their lack of concern about what anyone else thought about how they got their kicks. Then we ran into them again, walking away from the square, apparently with two assistants carrying their shopping bags and luggage for them. The picture was growing clearer. Then we saw them again making a public scene at another fountain in another square, with one of the assistants taking pictures with the pocket camera and the woman screaming her head off as the guy picked her up - maybe threatening to throw her in the fountain?
We didn't hear them speaking much, but we have a pretty confident guess on where they were from and why they were acting like they owned the city and all the other tourists were there to see them, which it would be impolitic to print here. I'll just say we hope if we ever have the money to have an assistant carry our shopping bags around town, we'll do so somewhat more discreetly.
Friday, December 12, 2008
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Among those who enjoy the game of counting up how many countries one has been to, some take a no-holds-barred approach. I read an article about the "Traveler's Century Club" of people who have been to at least 100 countries and want some certifying organization to vouch for how awesome they are. The article profiled some retards who were sailing by some small island country without a visa, and put out a distress call so they were "rescued" and taken to the island, whereupon they checked it off their list and then sailed away. In my mind, people who probably wasted half of some tiny nation's annual security budget in order to get more credit from the "Traveler's Century Club" should have their passports revoked, not celebrated.
Some of us, on the other hand, find country-counting amusing but not worth risking any lives for. And for me, a country as goofy as The Holy See should maybe not really count. They do have a flag and their own post office. They also have a church that is pretty impressive, but does not meet the medieval-mosaic standards discussed yesterday. They also have a ridiculously large museum. And the Sistine Chapel. I guess that counts for something. They do not, however, meet the official Frank Zappa definition of nationhood: "You can't be a Real Country unless you have a beer and an airline - it helps if you have some kind of a football team or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer." Well, he's dead, and I don't have designs on joining the Traveler's Century Club, so we'll just use our own personal judgment and count it.
The picture above is the outdoor seating in front of St. Peter's, presumably for the overflow crowds celebrating mass there.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Did we mention we went to Rome? A four-day Thanksgiving weekend may be a little quick for a visit back home for turkey and cranberries, but it was enough time for a quick hop down to Rome, where we saw nary a pilgrim and nary a mashed potato. Not to say we didn't eat well. Pizza for every lunch, pasta for every dinner, wine for every moment in between... hard to complain.
Speaking of things that are unsurprisingly nice in Rome - they have some churches there. We saw many of them, and didn't scratch the surface. They have the big Renaissance masterpieces, but this correspondent prefered the olden-days churches with vaguely naive-looking mosaics, as the one pictured above. It is named something like "Church of the Virgin of Trastevere," apparently not related to the "Church of Vinny Testaverde," which is perhaps an abandoned shrine somewhere near the Meadowlands. Vinny was not pictured in the apse mosaic, in any case.
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
As perhaps predicted, we were otherwise occupied all evening and didn't even look at pictures from Rome. It's the Brits' fault, actually, for detaining the staff at a marathon five-hour game of British Embassy-sponsored pub trivia in Riga tonight. In any case, they do a fine pub trivia night, but it's not their only skill. They are also very good at snatching priceless artifacts from their ancient resting places. They do make a convincing case that if things like this crazy Assyrian relief, painstakingly crafted and then deliberately written on in crazy Assyrian writing, would probably be in a lot worse shape today if still kicking around the Middle East somewhere. Likewise, they claim, the Elgin Marbles. It's a debate we won't settle here, but we were pretty excited to see them in London, and even though we yesterday mocked the idea of taking pictures in museums, we relented in this case.
Monday, December 08, 2008
While The Lovely Katherine worked, the Staff Photographer was free to amble about London, snapping photos, surprisingly few of which amounted to anything. But we like this one. He also endeavored to stop into every museum in London to see various Elgin Marbles and Rembrandts and such, but mostly didn't take pictures of them, either because it wasn't allowed or generally taking pictures of things in museums is kind of silly when there's a postcard available in the gift shop. Anyway, tomorrow: Rome, unless we don't get it organized and resort to posting one more picture from London, perhaps taken in a museum.
Saturday, December 06, 2008
The London Underground is a great system. But some parts of it are a bit creepy. Like this tunnel, with its exposed insulation and security cameras. They also do an amazing job with selling advertising space on the escalators. American subways beaten at their own capitalist game.
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
Well, shopping, sort of. On the advice of our friend Paul (who has his own unique travel sense, but likes England enough that he managed to acquire a dodgy black-market UK passport) your correspondent spent a fair bit of time exploring various markets in London. These are mostly outdoor markets, selling variously: snobby gourmet foods (Borough Market), hipster clothing and accessories (Spitalfields), disaffected middle-schooler clothing and accessories (Camden), and last but not least, junk -- or rather, antiques -- (Portobello). While there were interesting items and people at each, the junk market was definitely tops in our book.
The further one got from the underground stop, the cheaper and perhaps more "authentic" and "local" the merchandise. Right near the Tube were touristy stuff like made-in-China-but-vaguely-antique-looking pocketwatches, then some interesting antiques like vintage typewriters and telescopes and a couple guys selling toy soldiers or other little figurines (as pictured above) who took it as a challenge to have a toy soldier in the uniform of whatever nationality a visiting shopper might be. (USA was an easy one, of course. Latvia was a stumper.) Moving on, one could find old paperback books, and tons of complete collections of themed cigarette-pack cards, and for some reason, gauges ripped out of boat instrument panels. Then clothing. Then vegetables. Then, reminiscent of Guatemala, a few blue tarps spread on the ground with some old batteries and random bicycle parts and questionably functional clock radios and decades-old VCR tapes of movies nobody wanted to watch then, let alone now, all for sale at sure-fire bargain prices.
Good times. Thanks for the recommendation, Paul. We have purchased you a random socket wrench from one of the blue tarps, which we will send soon, as a token of our gratitude.
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
Did you know we went to London a couple weeks ago? And we never told you about it? Sorry, we just totally flaked. But we were there. Check out the dudes in various silly hats if you doubt it. No other country would have the ingenuity to come up with such a nice variety of silly hats, and then actually use them. And then, crowds of people stand around in front of Buckingham Palace to get a glimpse of the guys with silly fuzzy hats walking around. Meanwhile, just a few blocks away, the staff photographer was alone with the guys in the fuzzy hats and the guys in the funny police hats, vigilantly keeping him from rubbing the fuzzy hats to see if they are as soft as they look.
Right then. So maybe this week a bit of London, next week a bit of Rome, and then maybe a bit of Latvia. All this international jet-setting is really hurting our publication schedule.