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Monday, February 20, 2006

Yellow Springs, Ohio

I found Yellow Springs to be a very pleasant, very arty little community. It has about 4,600 residents and is home to Antioch College. Apartment rental and real estate prices are on the high side because so many people working in Dayton want to live in Yellow Springs.

It's also the home-away-from-Hollywood for popular comedian Dave Chappelle, who was spotted there after his 2005 nervous breakdown and flight to South Africa.

The village really reminded me a lot of parts of Bloomington, IN and Portland, Oregon. (Presumably, it would remind me even more of Eugene, Oregon, another city that has been accused of being stuck in the sixties, but I have not been there yet.)

While we were there, we stayed at the Morgan House Bed and Breakfast, which is within walking distance of practically everything you'd want to visit in the town. The location is the major advantage to Morgan House; while it is far less expensive than most B&Bs, it's not ideal if you're looking for a getaway with your significant other. The rooms don't have private bathrooms, and the accomodations are more rustic than romantic. You also can't lock your room when you leave, and although I was assured my belongings would be safe, I still found it a bit offputting.

Yellow Springs' downtown is nice, but it's small, and the village rolls up its sidewalks fairly early; if you're out and about after 8 p.m., the only food you'll be able to find is at the Sunrise Cafe, which looks from the outside like it might be a greasy-spoon type diner but which is a more formal restaurant inside. The food there is good, but perhaps a tad overpriced.

If you're willing to drive a bit north out of town, a very good place to eat (if you're a carnivore) is Young's Jersey Dairy. They offer excellent burgers and real fountain Coca-Cola made with syrup and soda water that taste much better than the bottled kind. The food is fresh and inexpensive.

If you're a book lover, you should check out Dark Star Books while you're there. The front of the shop has a very decent collection of comics and anime; my first impression was that this was entirely a science fiction book shop, but when I went toward the back of the store, I realized most of their stock is used books on a wide variety of subjects.

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Friday, October 14, 2005

Travel review: the Sistine Chapel

The Sistine Chapel is breathtakingly beautiful. Pictures of the place don't really do it justice (though artbook photos will let you see details you can't possibly glimpse when you go through).

Michelangelo's masterpieces in the Chapel -- which, if you've seen work taken from Pompeii or Herculaneum, you'll quickly realize were influenced by ancient Roman art -- very well demonstrates the painter's genius. The masterful work of the other Renaissance artists who did the Chapel's walls looks stiff and lifeless next to his.

Eve, the mother of mankind, is at the center of the ceiling. When the ceiling was first unveiled, a couple of the old cardinals were aghast and enraged that a naked woman was the centerpiece of their ceiling. They actually demanded that the ceiling be torn down. Fortunately, the others were a bit more enlightened, and the ceiling was left unmolested.

If you decide to visit the Chapel while you're in Rome, be aware that it's likely to be very crowded, and you might only have 20 minutes or so to gaze up in wonder. However, in my opinion the wait and crowding is entirely worth the experience.

Also, before you leave, take a moment to look down. The floor displays some truly excellent tilework. Some now-nameless artisan poured his heart and soul and probably many years of his life into creating that floor, and it is walked on by millions who never notice it.



Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Travel Review: Hotel Corot

Hotel Corot is located in Rome, Italy at Via Marghera 15/17. It is conveniently located near the center of the city and is just a short walk from the "Termini" rail station. I was pleased by my stay there, because it was very easy to go out walking and see many of the city's sights from there, and several commerical tours will also pick you up there. In particular, the hotel is just to the east of Piazza della Repubblica and Piazza Santa Maria Maggiore.

The hotel is joined at the hip with another hotel, and the two hotels share a staircase and an elevator. Some of the rooms are located behind the front desk and bar area, but the rest are on three floors above.

The rooms are very small by American standards, but they are clean and fairly comfortable. You do get a fair amount of traffic noise from the street below. The bathrooms are nice, but very small; you can stand in the middle and touch either wall easily with both hands. The shower stall folds up out of the way when you're not using it; when it's in place, it takes up most of the bathroom. Their built-in hair dryers are some of the oddest I've seen in my travels: they have a straight barrel and look more like hand vaccuums. You turn them on by pulling them away from the wall, and it's easy to accidentally pull the nozzle off.

The downstairs lounge area is very nice, and all the furniture is chic and ultra-modern. I didn't try the bar, but they look like they serve an entertaining array of drinks.

The hotel's complimentary continental breakfast was a real bright spot. In most hotels, you just get breads, butter, and coffee, maybe some cereal. In addition to the standard fare, the Corot offered us a wide variety of cereals, milk, soft cheese wedges, fruit juices, yogurts, and a plate of sliced ham and cheese.

The hotel does not offer lunch or dinner, so you'll just have to go out into the city and sample some of the many restaurants that are within walking distance of the hotel.

Oh, and you can bring your little dog, too, as pets are welcome at the Corot.



Monday, August 29, 2005

Travel review: The Bronx Zoo

The Bronx Zoo is located in the heart of the 'hood in New York City. It is one of the largest metropolitan zoos in the United States and contains over 6,000 animals representing hundreds of species. The zoo first opened on November 8, 1899 with 22 exhibits featuring 843 animals.

The zoo has been important to the nation's animal conservation efforts. The zoo's first director, William T. Hornaday, was instrumental in saving the American bison from extinction. Today, the zoo's researchers are heavily involved in trying to save over 40 species, including the snow leopard, the lowland gorilla, the Chinese alligator, and the Mauritius pink pigeon.

The Bronx Zoo is a wonderful place. When I visited in 1992, I saw animals that I never knew existed, like the hairy rhinocerous. It was smaller than the regular rhinos, about the size of a large horse, and, indeed, it really was hairy. Evidently, the species is extremely endangered, as were many of the animals I saw. That was the one major downside to the zoo; I knew that many of the species I was looking at, despite the zoo's efforts, will likely be extinct in 50 years.

Because it rained hard the day we visited, we couldn't see many of the animals that were in the outdoor enclosures. But we did get to see the seals and the gorillas. The gorillas I really felt sorry for, even though they didn't look like they minded the rain too much. I saw a small portion of their "African Safari" section, which is a few acres planted to look like African grassland. I saw a big male lion out on a low hill, looking miserable and periodically giving his mane a hard shake. Knowing cats, I figure he probably thought the zookeepers had made it rain just to aggravate him.

We mostly stuck to the various enclosed exhibits. As it was, the inside exhibits, such as the Reptile House, the Monkey House, the Mouse House, the World of Darkness (which contained all nocturnal creatures, including many fine bats), and Jungle World (which contained rainforest fauna), were wonderful and we didn't have time to see all of those.

The Reptile House had some incredible specimens in it. There was an alligator snapping turtle in a big tank; the turtle must have had a shell that was four feet long. He looked like he could have bitten a rowboat in half. And they had some absolutely huge snakes. They had an anaconda that must have been over a foot in diameter. And they had an impressive array of poisonous snakes, including some very large king cobras. One of the cobras was about to shed. Snakes tend to get pretty irritable when they're close to shedding because they can't see properly. He heard us outside the tank and reared up and flattened out. He didn't actually spread his hood, as we hoped he would, but he was pretty impressive nonetheless. They had a sign posted below the glass to the cobra tank that read, "Please Do Not Tap On The Glass. What If It Broke?"

The Monkey House was equally incredible. They had more species of prosimians than I had ever seen. They even had some mouse lemurs, which are reported to be the smallest primates, and they really were tiny. They couldn't have been more than four or five inches tall. The little guys were in a tank with some tree limbs, and they were bouncing around all over the place. One of them spotted me looking at it and he ran up to the glass, pressed his little hands and nose against the pane and stared at me for a few seconds, then ran off again. Running into one of those in a forest really would make you believe in sprites or fairies.



Saturday, August 20, 2005

Travel Review: The Vatican

In my whirlwind visit to Rome, my friend Carol and I took a bus tour that went to the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel in the morning and the catacombs in the afternoon.

Trying to see the Vatican Museums in one morning is an utter joke. Merely trying to get a good look at the bits you're whisked past on the way to the Sistine Chapel is equally impossible. The word "huge" doesn't begin to describe the museums' dimensions. There's amazing work in there collected from every continent and era; there's a masterpiece hidden in every corner. It would take a lifetime to truly absorb it all. And I really wonder what they keep behind closed doors, things too terrible or precious to give over to public viewing.

Unfortunately, the tour didn't allow for any restroom time between leaving the Chapel and getting back on the buses. And I desperately had to use the facilities. Carol wanted to mail some postcards there so they'd have the Vatican stamp, so I told her where I was going, and sprinted down the 3 or 4 levels to try to find a restroom.

The Vatican restroom was probably the cleanest public facility I've ever seen. Spotless. But there was an odd severity to it, from the polished marble walls down to the chilly, seatless toilets.

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Thursday, August 11, 2005

Travel Review: Santa Maria Maggiore

The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore (St. Mary Major) was the first church dedicated to The Virgin Mary and is one of Rome's four great basilicas.

It is 1,600 years old and was first built after the Council of Ephesus; a legend states that the church was founded on its site because a miraculous snowfall appeared there one August. Pope Liberius began the construction in A.D. 358 and it was rebuilt by Pope Sixtus III from 432 to 440. It underwent a lot of renovation and decorative additions in the 18th Century and has been undergoing restoration very recently.

Many people who visit St. Mary Major's believe the church is second in beauty only to St. Peter's Basilica. A casual observer passing by the outside of the church would have no idea of the sheer opulence of the interior and the priceless treasures it contains.

St. Mary Major's sacred relic is the remains of the Baby Jesus' crib, which is kept in a jewelled golden container that somewhat resembles a Faberge egg. The crib is taken out for viewing each Christmas.

The ceiling alone is a wonder; it contains 3 tons of gold in elaborate meter-wide rosettes in gilt frames. Our tour guide told us that the gold in the ceiling was from the New World and was given by the King of Spain as a gift to the Pope.

That little tidbit of information really set my mental wheels in motion:

  1. How much gold must the King of Spain had if he gave 3 tons of it to the Pope? How much of a "gift" was it, really, and how much of it amounted to spiritual "protection" money?

  2. The churches of Rome are full of tributes to Jesus and the Christian martyrs -- what about the millions of South American natives who were martyred by the Spaniards who took their gold? How many holy native relics were melted down for Spanish ingots that then became Christian shrines?

  3. Given that he used three tons of gold for a ceiling, how much gold did the Pope spend to feed and clothe the poor of the city?

If you stop to think about it, St. Mary Major is a beautiful living example of why the Protestant Reformation happened.

If you are in Rome and want to visit St. Mary Major, look for public transportation that heads to Piazza di Santa Maria Maggiore. Admission is free, and the church is open every day from 7 am to 7 pm.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Travel review: Sorrento

Sorrento is a small seaside city on the southwestern coast of Italy in the province of Campania. It has a population of about 15,000 people and is built on a long cliff that overlooks the Bay of Naples.

The town is old (people have lived there for over 2,000 years), scenic, and very touristy. It has long been a favorite destination of artists and writers seeking an inspirational resort. Henrik Ibsen wrote The Ghosts here, and Lord Byron, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Albert Dumas, Giuseppe Verdi, Oscar Wilde and Friedric Nietzsche also spent lots of quality time in this lovely city.

It was also the birthplace of famed 16th century poet Torquato Tasso. The main square in the city is named after him.

For those who like to shop, you'll find plenty of stores catering to nearly every taste and budget imaginable. For those who like to sight-see, the town is filled with very old churches and buildings full of history.

Sorrento is an ideal place to stay to tour other parts of the western Italian coast, since the hotels here are less expensive than in larger urban areas. Naples is just an hour to the north, Rome is 2.5 hours to the north, and Pompeii, Herculaneum, and the Isle of Capri are very close by. It's also very easy to catch any of several tours of the historic and beautiful Amalfi Coast from here.

To get to Sorrento, you'll probably want to fly into Rome or Naples and take the Circumvesuviana train down to the town.

You can also rent a car and drive down, but if you aren't a seasoned veteran of Italian-style driving, I wouldn't recommend it. To the American eye, Italians drive their little Fiats and Volkswagens like mad people; traffic signs and red lights are taken as mere suggestions. They'll tear into one of the many mountainous hairpin curves outside Sorrento at full speed, honking twice to let whoever's on the other side of the blind curve know that they're coming. If you sit near a busy intersection, over the course of an hour you'll see at least twenty near-collisions that the drivers miraculously avoid at the last minute. But if you're not used to this kind of driving, you won't be able to avoid the collision, so it's best to use trains, buses, and your own two feet to get around.

Sorrento is located in the heart of Italy's citrus country; you'll see lemon and orange trees all over the place, along with tall evergreens, palm trees, and even cactus.

While you're there, if you're a drinker, you'll have to try the local limoncello, a sweet lemon liquer that is yummy by itself, as part of a hot toddy, or even over vanilla ice cream.

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Travel review: Hotel Il Nido

The Il Nido (Italian for "The Nest") is a pretty little family-run hotel about 5 kilometers outside Sorrento, Italy. It was established in 1964. The hotel is set terrace-style in the hillside, so all the rooms have a great view of the ocean and Mt. Vesuvius. However, they are well away from the beach.

If you're planning to tour the southwestern parts of Italy (Naples, Pompeii, Herculaneum, the Amalfi Coast, Isle of Capri, etc.) I cannot recommend this hotel highly enough. It's very inexpensive, and the service is great.

Two brothers, Orlandino (Dino) and Giovanni (Gianni or Johnny), run the place, and their mother supervises all the cooking for the hotel's small restaurant. And their mama's cooking is absolutely wonderful. The first night, we came in late due to a train breakdown outside Naples. The kitchen had been closed for hours, but upon seeing our weary, hungry group, their mama went into the kitchen and fixed us all a light dinner of brushetta and ravioli. I haven't had bruschetta that tasty anywhere since. Definitely try the flank steak with mushrooms or the four-cheese crepes. We had full dinners the five nights we were there -- appetizers, drinks, main courses, dessert, the works -- and at the end of it all, my restaurant tab only came to $42US.

You get a continental breakfast with the price of your room; while the Il Nido's breakfast isn't as varied as you'd find at places like Hotel Corot, it's filling and tasty. You get strong coffee, tea, orange juice, and a variety of pastries like big, flaky, buttery croissants.

The hotel has two PCs in their lobby and offers Internet access for a very reasonable fee (6.000 lira per hour). The only slight problem is you have to contend with Italian keyboards.

You really can't walk to Sorrento from the hotel, because the roads are narrow and steep and you'd get hit by a car trying the hike. But Gianni drives a courtesy van to drop you off and pick you up near the city's center; pickups and drop-offs run every hour from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. Other travelers have apparently made arrangements for Gianni to pick them up and drop them off at other locations as far away as Naples.

The rooms at the Il Nido are small, but immaculately clean and comfortable. Very tall/heavy people may have trouble with the beds, though. The rooms we all had came with two very small single beds, a wardrobe, small table, chairs, and a dresser. Each room has a very nice balcony, and a bathroom with a shower stall and a bidet-type pedestal tub that came in extremely handy for soaking sore, blistered feet after tromping around Pompeii all day.

In short, this is a great little hotel. Dino and Gianni are warm and friendly, and if they think you're a good sort, they'll go the extra mile to help you out and ensure that your stay in Sorrento is a pleasant one.

For detailed graphical directions on finding the hotel, visit their site at http://www.ilnido.com/.

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Travel review: The Isle of Capri

This Italian island's name is pronounced CAP-ree, rather than ca-PREE. Capri was not named for goats (as one might guess from the name, since "capreae" is Latin for "goats") but for a colony of wild boars that the first ancient settlers found there ("kapros" is Greek for "boar").

Our tour group went to Capri in March (during the off-season) via a large ferry boat from Naples. Everyone else in our footsore group opted for a bus tour, but my friend Carol and I decided to hike around on our own. Those who went on the bus tour said it was rather unsatisfactory, and was geared more for people who wanted to shop at the many expensive boutiques scattered across the island.

Capri is very, very expensive if you plan to stay there; expect to pay upwards of $300US a night for a hotel room. A much better tactic is to stay someplace on the coast (like in Sorrento) and make a day trip out to the island.

Capri is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been. I think Carol and I spent a solid five or six minutes just wandering around going "Wow!" after we got there. The scenery is just stunningly gorgeous.

We took a funicular up from the dock to the main town. After exploring the lovely Augustus Garden, we went to the 14th century Carthusian monastery of San Giacomo. We wandered into the municipal public library that's housed in the monastery, and the young man there let us into the museum, which was closed for the day. The museum is pretty small, but still has its share of treasures.

We also went up to see the Villa Jovis, the Roman ruins at the top of Capri. The Villa Jovis was the palace of the Roman emperor Tiberius; he ruled the empire from the island for about 12 years until his death (if you've seen the movie Caligula, much of it takes place in the palace at Capri).

The ruins are very much worth seeing, but, unless you're in much better physical condition than the average U.S. tourist, don't believe travel expert Rick Steves when he says one can make it from the town to Villa Jovis in a mere 45 minutes. The hike up the mountainous island will take you closer to an hour or an hour and a half. I'm pretty sure the hike would have been too much for at least half our tour group. Wear good shoes, and bring water, because you'll need it.

The path up to Villa Jovis is not as well-marked as one would hope, and it's easy to take a wrong turn and end up at the Natural Arch instead. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing, because the natural arch -- a huge arch formed naturally by the action of wind and water -- is quite beautiful.

The trek to Villa Jovis also lets you see some very nice houses and landscape. Chances are, though, you won't be in a mood to notice them until you're on your way back down to the town.

We did not go see The Blue Grotto, which is a partially submerged cave you can visit in which the water seems to glow a brilliant blue. Other people we met there said that while the grotto's pretty, you don't get to spend much time there considering how much the boat trips cost, and all in all it's a bit of a tourist trap.

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Thursday, August 04, 2005

Travel review: Pompeii

If you're visiting southwestern Italy and have the chance to visit the ruins at Pompeii, I strongly suggest you do so. The place is amazing, and much larger than I expected it to be. Travel expert Rick Steves claims that you can tour Pompeii in three hours; I say that's far, far too short a time to see the place. We toured the ruins over two days; I'm guessing we spent at least 12 hours there total, and there was still stuff there that we didn't get to see.

If you're planning to see both Pompeii and Herculaneum, see Pompeii first if you can. Pompeii was much larger, having a population of about 20,000 people versus about 5,000 in Herculaneum. But, because looters first rediscovered Pompeii in the 16th and 17th centuries, it's suffered more from both erosion and plundering. The first planned excavations at Pompeii began in 1748, but it wasn't properly excavated until an Italian archaeologist named Guiseppe Fiorelli undertook the task in the mid-to-late 1800s. Archaeologists are still uncovering Pompeii's secrets today, but you'll appreciate both sites more if you see Pompeii first.

When I saw Pompeii, I was impressed by the architecture, artistry, and artisanship of the buildings. These people, in 79 AD, had indoor plumbing. It really hit me what kind of technology was lost and had to be re-learned as a result of the fall of the Roman Empire.

Some of the houses have carved phalluses on their doorways; it's my understanding that these were protective/good luck symbols. You'll see out-and-out pornographic frescoes in places like the brothel. In the brothel, you'll see various sex acts depicted; these might have been as much for illiterate customers to order services as for decoration.

The House of the Vetti and the House of Mysteries have some really wonderful frescoes and statuary still intact; you'll see what kind of influence ancient Roman artwork had on Renaissance artists such as Michaelangelo. If you want to see more of the statuary and frescoes, however, most of the better pieces have been removed and are kept in the museum at Naples.

You will see are casts of the bodies of some of the people who died at Pompeii on display in cases in the ruins. When the first archaeologists were digging through the ash, they'd come upon odd cavities in the ash. They hit upon the idea of filling the cavity with plaster and, once it had set, brushing the ash from around it. They then had a cast of the space people's corpses took up as they were incinerated by the ash flow from Vesuvius. Most of these casts have skeletons inside them; some of the cast's feet had been chipped, and I could see toe bones inside.

The casts are eerie and some terribly sad to see. You'll see children huddled near their mothers. One cast was of a small person, perhaps a child or young woman, who had slumped beside a wall, covering her face with her hands. Some find the casts morbid, but I found they provided an important reminder of the enormity of the human tragedy that happened in this place.

The ruins are often filled with roaming packs of dogs. Most of the dogs are fairly tame, but it's best to not get too close to them, since many of them are mangy or otherwise diseased. If you eat at the cafeteria (the food is decent, so there's no reason not to) expect to see a small dog or two inside begging for scraps.

And if you visit the ruins, be sure to bring your sunscreen and wear a decent pair of walking shoes; hiking boots wouldn't be out of the question. You'll do a whole lot of tromping around, and it would be very easy to turn your ankle on one of the cobblestones of the ruins' streets.

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Travel review: Herculaneum
The Italian ruins at Herculaneum are about 6 miles from the shore of the Bay of Naples. Visiting them was quite an interesting experience. If you have the chance to see them, I highly recommend it, but you should probably see Pompeii first because the ruins at Pompeii will give you better perspective on what you'll see at Herculaneum.

To get there, you'll want to leave from Sorrento or Naples on a bus or train headed for Ercolano Scavi (Scavi di Ercolano). The ruins are open from 8:30 to 5 p.m. with final admissions at 3:30 from November through March, and they're open from 8.30 a.m. to 7.30 p.m. (final admissions at 6) from April through October. You should plan to spend at least two hours exploring the ruins, and you should enlist the help of one of the knowledgeable guides who approaches you near the entrance. They'll expect a tip, of course, but it will be worth it, because the mazelike ruins are poorly marked and are very hard to tour on your own.

As Jaz states, Herculaneum was a much smaller city -- 5,000 inhabitants versus Pompeii's 20,000. But because Herculaneum wasn't extensively excavated until the mid-1900s, the ruins are overall in much better condition because they haven't suffered as much from looting and erosion (the latter may become a problem, though, since the excavations to me seemed under-funded and proper preservation seemed lacking in places).

Some of the houses in Herculaneum have original wood beams and furniture still intact, though of course they're charcoaled. Thus, you're much better able to see how the houses were built, and other architectural details are much more apparent. And while the tilework at Pompeii is quite wonderful, in Herculaneum you'll see better tile examples where colors have stayed intact over the millennia.

As with Pompeii, the best treasures from these ruins are kept at the museum in Naples, though you will see some fine frescoes and statuary here. Probably the most impressive art you'll see here is a vibrant mosaic wall in the House of Neptune, which is toward the back of the ruins.

On the whole, visiting Herculaneum is a much quieter, more scholarly experience than seeing Pompeii. You'll see many more school groups than tourist groups, and the bookshop at the ruins is much more geared to selling actual books than tourist trinkets. So, if seeing Pompeii inspires you to read up on Roman history, you might wait to see what kind of books you can find in the Herculaneum store, because you'll see a better selection overall.

The ruins don't have a cafeteria or snack bar, but you can bring food in with you as long as you dispose of your trash properly. There are several snack shops just across the street from the ruins' entrance that will sell you sandwiches and drinks to go for a reasonable price (many of the sit-down restaurants in the area are a bit spendy).

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Monday, February 25, 2002

San Francisco
I've been in San Francisco for only two days now, and I've seen and done more than I did the four days I spent here in '97. Of course, when I came here before, I was here for Convergence III and the folks I was with were of course all about the bands and the clubbing and thus were seldom functional before 3 p.m. I could, of course, have gone off by myself, but since I have the sense of direction of a non-magnetic rock, it's generally a bad idea to send me off by myself in unfamiliar urban territory.

We're staying with D.'s friends Ed and Carol, who are an artist/musician couple who live in El Cerrito, which is just north of Berkeley. They have a very cool little house well-populated with funky art pieces and pets. Their pets have been particularly entertaining: they have two white spitzes (Bolo, their larger dog, is sitting at my feet as I type) and two cats. Only one of the cats, a big tom named Joe, has come out to make friends. The other kitty has been making herself scarce; Ed says she'll probably decide we're not a threat in a couple more days. She looks a lot like my kitty, who is also skittish around strangers (though not this skittish).

Yesterday we went to lunch at a nice little cheap Chinese place near E&C's, then poked around in Berkeley for a bit. The big touristy thing we did in the afternoon was to go to the USS Hornet, a WWII aircraft carrier that did three batte tours in the war and then later served as the recovery base for various Apollo space missions in the 60s. I'm not hugely interested in military history, but getting to poke around that ship was awfully cool. It's huge; the flight deck is three football fields long. And D. tells me that the modern aircraft carriers are about twice as big. When I stepped onto it, my first thought was that I could not conceive of creating such a huge, complex hunk of steel that floats. We only had an hour on the ship, but we got to see the coolest bits, I think. In addition to the flight deck, we got to see all three types of crew quarters, the galley, and the sick bay/medical section. They also had a nice little exhibit on the Apollo missions, complete with one of the modified Airstream trailers that the astronauts were quarantined in.

Today, we first went out to Marin County and drove through the houses in Mill Valley. This is the area where John Walker Lindh is from, and D. and I agree: setting aside the religious and political issues entirely, the kid is crazy to leave such a beautiful, vibrant place for the deserts of Yemen and Afghanistan. Mill Valley is right up there with the Isle of Capri when it comes to physical beauty.

Once we stopped ogling the babbling brooks and multimillion-dollar houses, we drove up into the hills and stopped at this little bed-and-breakfast (whose name escapes me) for lunch. The restaurant seating was on an outdoor deck that had a breathtaking view of the valley and the bay. The weather was fabulous, clear and sunny.

After lunch, we backtracked down the road and went to see the redwoods in Muir Woods National Monument. The woods were Lothlorien-like in their beauty; an hour was nice, but a whole day to walk and explore would have been even better. It was pretty chilly down in the shade of the trees; I was quite glad I had my windbreaker.

Ed and Carol dropped me and D. off in Berkeley so we could meet up with Mary Anne Mohanraj and sundry other Strange Horizons staff members at Au Cocquelet for tea and pastries. Au Cocquelet has a pretty good menu and good seating. I had a piece of blueberry pie that was quite tasty. The meeting was (predictably, since a lot of us had never met before) a little awkward at first but we had more or less warmed up to each other after a couple of hours.

Everyone but David H. went to an Indian restaurant afterward, which was a much chattier and more relaxed outing than Au C had been. Don't know why; I guess it was just an issue of breaking the ice. The food at the restaurant was good, but not better than the decent restaurants in Columbus.

So, all together it's been a good couple of days.



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I'm Lucy Snyder. I'm a Worthington, Ohio author and former magazine editor; on this site you'll find my writing as well as features from my husband, novelist Gary A. Braunbeck.

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