The Electricos of Lisbon

Lisbon is full of narrow winding streets that, esp. from the perspective of 2 people having spent the last 10 days aboard a ship, were wonderful to explore. Public plazas, statues, fountains, back alley squares—it is European in so many wonderful ways. But, as 2 people having spent 10 straight days only walking from ice cream machine to movie theater can tell you, these long meandering explorations into the different parts of Lisbon can tucker a body out.

Enter the electrico, Lisbon's answer to public transportation, at least in part. Designed long before the automobile was a glint in Mr. Ford's eye, many of Lisbon's streets are hard pressed to allow passage to a mini* let along a regular-sized public bus. Electricos are small trolleys with rounded ends to make some of the narrow corners. They rattle along the tracks, up and down hills, through tight parts of town carrying both tourists and locals alike.

For me, riding the electricos was a merging of so many favorite things; exploration, public transportation, narrow old streets, and sitting. All in all, not a bad start to a European vacation!
Thursday May 2 2013File under: travel, Portugal

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Cruise Food - A Gaining Proposition

It's common knowledge that one of the awesome upsides of travel by cruise is the food. This upside, however, has a bit of a downside. Judging from how I handled the bi-weekly trips to the Jumbo Buffet this fall, I was in for either a challenge in self control or a severely expanded waistline. To impericially figure out which of these won the day I decided to do an experiement. My first stop while boarding the ship was the scale.

So the food worked like this: From about 7 in the morning until 9 at night, the all-you-can-eat buffet was available. We ate about 80% of our meals there. The fare was good and plentiful, although got monotonous after a while*. Then there was the full service dining room that was open for limited hours for each meal. It worked mostly like a restaurant where you got a menu (which changed daily), and you ordered appetizers, main course, and dessert. In the evening, you were seated with the same people so you had a nice little cadre of people to share stories with. We went here maybe 3 times. The languid pace of the meals, the extreme degree of fanciness*, and the rigid schedule made us opt for the buffet most of the time. Our other option was a little cafe type thing that had a small but sufficient menu that was open later into the night. We would occasionally stop in there for a cup of soup or a burger after the late show.

And that was all free and all as much as you wanted. If you wanted 3 shrimp cocktails to start your dinner in the main dining room, you could. I did. And whoever thought to put a self-serve soft-serve ice cream machine onboard gets both my highest praise and cruelest fist shaking (but mostly the former).

So this is what I had to contend with. Almost daily visits to the gym helped, but were also depressing. Thirty minutes on the stationary bike reported that I burned 300 calories while I know that my breakfast alone was up in the quadruple digits. But that's what vacations are for, right?

The morning of our last day, I faced off with the scale...for science. (I would have taken daily data points, but it turns out a scale doesn't work so well on a rocking ship.) The verdict? One pound. Jigga-what? Twenty six ice cream cones, 14 pounds of mashed potatoes, and the equivalent of 3 pigs worth of ham, bacon, and pork chops and I only gained one pound!?! I figure it was a tactic by the cruise line to slowly recalibrate the scale throughout the trip so skeptics like me walk off believing that the food thing turned out all right.

And it worked. I feel pretty good about the whole thing. Sure I didn't do the healthiest thing for myself. Sure all those 4-meat breakfasts probably weren't so good for my heart. But I'm okay with it. More than okay, I'd say. In fact, I can't help but ponder when I'll get my next chance to eat on a cruise ship again.
Sunday April 28 2013File under: travel, cruise

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Cruise Amenities

While you can get the official word on the amenities of our ship, Brilliance of the Seas, from Royal Caribbean or the ever helpful Wikipedia, I wanted to share the features as they pertained to our experience, not just the official line. (Note: the ship was headed into dry dock directly after our trip to undergo a significant revamping, so much of this info is probably already out of date)

Like I've mentioned before, there was a ton of stuff to see, do, and experience. Ten days at sea, however, gives one lots of time to explore them all. So here's my report.
  • Pools: There were 2 pools onboard*, one outdoor and one indoor in the solarium. At first impression, the pools were quite small, but then I realized there was a reason—11 floors above the ocean on a rocking ship can cause water to slosh to an extreme degree. It was pretty weird being in the pool and having waves slosh back and forth more than waves at a beach. But it was neat. The pool also had some very specific design features to try and lessen the slosh which made me marvel at all the ingenuity that it takes to build such a massive ship*. Another neat feature of the pool was that it was saltwater, which makes total sense*. The water is just pumped in from the surrounding waters (after being filtered). Great idea! There were also a couple of hot tubs (both indoor and out), but the temperature was tepid and the weather was warm enough anyway, so we mostly just played in the pools. (I did try the kiddie waterslide a time or two, but it wasn't made to entertain such a waterslide connoisseur as myself.)
  • Shows: There was a show in the huge, state of the art theater every night. While styles of shows ranged from singing and dance, to comedy, and even to juggling, the majority of the shows were music/song based. We at least poked our heads in to every show, but ducked out of a couple. But this can be said about all of them: they were very professional. The dancers were incredibly well rehearsed and the sets for those shows were amazing. The "headliner"* were good too, all of whom seemed like they were used to the cruise ship gig. The jugglers (a husband and wife duo named Airborne) had a great show, although nothing mind boggling skill-wise. But very professional. We also got a chance to meet up with them for a drink later in the cruise and they were incredibly nice.
  • Movies: If the main attraction show didn't suit us, we would usually check out the cinema. They played a different movie every day (usually 4 times a day*) with pretty good variety of action, comedy, etc. We saw the Dark Knight Rises, Bourne Legacy, and Sherlock Holmes 2. What surprised me, however, was that the cinema wasn't all that nice. It had super tiered seating, which made you feel super close to the screen, but it was a square screen (instead of widescreen) and the projector looked like it cost $129 from the local Wal-Mart hooked up to a bootleg DVD player. The movies were still totally watchable, but I was really unimpressed. We figured they wanted to discourage movie watching because it meant you weren't out buying drinks or gambling in the casino.
  • Gym: Della's got me going to the gym more at home, so I had a good comparison for the gym onboard. Basically, it was pretty good. Lots of machines, treadmills, stationary bikes, and ellipticals. We tried to make it up there every day (Della sometimes 2 times a day). It's a good thing too, because we were eating a 9000 calorie-a-day diet (more on that later). But the gym wasn't the only exercise we got. Our stateroom* was on floor 4 while most activities were up on deck 12, and we vowed not to take the elevators. So 8 flights of stairs 4-5 times a day is a great additional workout.
  • Climbing Wall/Mini-Golf/Pool Table/Ping Pong: I never got around to doing the climbing wall, but it seemed mostly like a gimmick that everyone thought was neat but very few people did. It makes for great promotional pictures though. The mini-golf was more or less the same. It was less a traditional mini-golf with windmills and loop-d-loops than a faux putting green for real golf enthusiasts. It was all moot, more or less, though because of the rocking ship not allowing a putt ball to take its directed path. The pool table, however, didn't suffer from the boat's rocking. It was self-leveling and totally hypnotic to watch*. We played a game or two, but the tables were usually full up with other players. We also had a couple gos at ping pong, where the rocking of the ship mattered a little less.
So that's just a taste of our impression. Speaking of taste, this list leaves out the main activity of the cruise: eating. I'll have to work up a different post on just that. Thanks for reading!
Thursday April 25 2013File under: travel, cruise

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Middle Of Nowhere

The captain just announced that we are halfway to Europe. At first pass, I applied that concept to this part of my vacation—I'm halfway through the all-you-can-eat buffets, free shows, and relaxing time by the pool. But when I really thought about it, it struck me in a different way, you might even say a more profound way. We are 1300 nautical miles from Puerto Rico with another 1300 to go to the Canary Islands. A brief glance at the various charts and maps around tells me that there's not much land out here. In fact, I think it's safe to say there is no land for 500 miles in any given direction. When you look at it that way, it's kind of errie.

It's not like the feeling of isolation is all that present, though. There are over 2000* people on board this massive ship, so finding peace and quiet, let alone isolation, is a challenge.

But from an esoteric stance, it's kind of neat. I remember a similar feeling when sailing to Tahiti, studying the GPS to find out where the nearest land was and realizing it was a long freaking way away. Both then and now, I realize we are father away from anything resembling civilization* than 99.9% of the worlds population. It really reminds me how small I am, how big the world is, and how great it is to get out here!

Someday I might find myself in an even more remote place, father from, say, an airport or grocery store, or whatever "civilization" means. Until then, I'm going to keep gazing out at the huge expansive ocean and marvel at it all.
Wednesday April 24 2013File under: travel, cruise

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Cruise First Impressions

In the three months since booking this cruise, my feelings towards it have ranged from intense excitement to cautious trepidation. The reasons for excitement were clear and what I touted when telling people about the trip: all-you-can-eat food, good shows, out of the way ports-of-call, etc. My trepidation, however was a little harder to explain. Basically I was concerned I just wasn't the cruise ship type. Dress up dinners, contrived scavenger hunts, lay by the pool, dissimilar demographics*. With both sides of the spectrum represented, I was curious to see how it all played out.

After less than 24 hours aboard Brilliance of the Seas, any thoughts about trepidations are long gone, replaced with excitement, curiosity, amazement, and down right giddiness. I was almost wishing I had one of those reality TV style camera crews following me for that first half hour as I explored with a ridiculous grin on my face. Everything is so nice, and not just in that way that cheap things try to look nice but aren't. It all feels so real deal.

And the food. So many all-you-can-eat places have food you stuff yourself with not because it looks amazing, but because you want to get your money's worth. The buffet here, not so much, and definitely not the table service meals. My pork chop was great!

Another thing I was concerned about was being nickle and dimed to death. I've been in situations where a cheap deal becomes much less so with all the fees*. While some of the services aboard do charge an add-on fee, it is always clearly advertised and on things that are totally non-essential. I foresee us easily making it 10 days without pulling out our wallets once.

Yep, it's safe to say I'm stoked (probably to an annoying degree to my dear Della). And with more of the ship to explore, tons of events planned daily, and 9 more days to enjoy it all, I'm thinking I will only get stokeder. Whatever the case, I'll keep you posted. Stay tuned.
Tuesday April 23 2013File under: travel, cruise

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San Juan Puerto Rico Instagrammed




Thursday April 11 2013File under: travel, puerto rico

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Road Face

One of the neat things about traveling is that in another place, you are anonymous. No one knows you and chances are you won't see many of these people again. That introduces a kind of simple freedom, to try out new things or to take a break from habits and expectations people have of you at home. I could wear long pants from the moment I leave the house to the moment I return and no one would say "Whoa, Wren is wearing pants!" Or get drunk every night. But I won't be doing either of these things.

I'm not saying that this lack of anonymity on the home front is a bad thing. I love it that people know me so well that many of my quirks can go unexplained. But it can also be nice to take a break.

Introduce a mustache. I've tried one out here at home once or twice, but never really owned it. Since I was due for a shave before I hit the road, I thought, why not give it a try? The worst that can happen is to have 6 weeks worth of photos with me looking funny. No biggie.

So that's the plan, to see what the world at large thinks of me with a mustache. I'll bring back a full report. In the meantime, I'll be posting from the road. Stay tuned (but try to keep the "crazy mustache" comments to yourself ;-) ).
Wednesday April 10 2013File under: beard, travel

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The Chair Dance Book

"Look at that sexy book! What's that? Not only is the book sexy but it will teach me the sexiest dance of all time? What a deal! I've gotta have one!"

Yep, that's right folks, Della (with some writing help from yours truly and some awesome illustrations from Stef) has put out a book to accompany her world famous chair dance act, and I gotta say that it is pretty awesome. With both helpful hints and hilarious hijinx, this book is part tutorial and part knock-you-outta-your-seat comedy. Originally conceived as a merch offering for shows, it turned out so great that we're hoping sales go far beyond that. With it being as awesome as it is, there's no doubt it will be a world phenomenon in no time.

If you want your own copy, you're in luck! Shoot me an e-mail and we'll make it happen, all for the low low price of $10 (+shipping and handling). Or you can come to one of her shows (like, for example, Moisture Fest this Saturday at 7:30 or 10:30).

Anyway, we're pretty dang proud of this little masterpiece. We're sure that if you check it out, you'll understand why.
Friday April 5 2013File under: circus, books

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Portland Octathalon 2013

Andrew* and I have somewhat of a competitive relationship. In fact, not a single Portland visit goes by without at least a little money changing hands on one bet or another. This trip to Portland, however, we decided to get organized.

We devised a list of 8 events, spanning various disciplines, to comprise a winner-take-all Octathalon. While some events were old stand-bys (such as darts or Dr. Mario), a few new ones were thrown into the mix. The competition was 4 day of fun filled intensity with lots of good humored swearing and racket throwing.

AndrewWren
Tennis X*
Simpsons TriviaX* 
Frisbee golfX*
DartsX* 
Child-sized foosballX*
Dr. MarioX*
Words With FriendsResults pending completion
HORSE (on mini-sized hoop)Currently tied at HORS to HORS, Andrew's shot*


While officially the final results are still up in the air, Andrew has graciously conceded knowing that as WWF game stands, he hasn't a prayer. But that just makes way for fresh start next visit.

Yet again, Portland proves to be great fun!
Sunday March 31 2013File under: Portland, games

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Trivia Trifecta Achieved!

My long sought after trivia goal was achieved this week with the help of some wonderful teammates. We completed the Western Skagit Pub Trivia Trifecta*, coming in first place in 3 consecutive nights of pub trivia (the three establishments in question are the ones I reviewed here.)

The competition was tight (esp. at the Longhorn, where it was more crowded than ever), but the categories were with us (former geographic names and Simpsons, to name a few). There was a helpful little overlap on the various pictures rounds* (answers in comments below), though.

And for this triumph, there was no prize in addition to those of the various establishments. But those do add up: 2 pitchers of beer, 2 mixed drinks, 4 t-shirts, and $95 in gift certificates. If I drank or wore beer swag t-shirts, that would be a pretty good haul. But a burger, desert, and good times is enough of a reward for me.

Next week I head to Portland to get a little trivia in down there. Hopefully the streak will continue! Did I mention that I really like trivia?
Friday March 22 2013File under: Anacortes, games

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