Geeks Abroad! Post 7: Kattenstoet!!

The following takes place on May 10, 2015.

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Here is sleepy me waiting for the train in Brussels.  We are headed to a town which is called Ieper (EE-per) or Ypres (e-PREY), depending on which language you’re using.  Since the city is in a Flemish region, we’ll use Ieper for this blog entry. Also, I feel the need to mention how weird/irritating/confusing it is for every place in this country to essentially have 2 names.
With just a few stops, we make it to Ieper in a little under 2 hours. We notice a handful of people near us on the train carrying stools. I figure it’s for the cat parade and wonder if camp-style collapsible chairs just aren’t a thing over here?

We walk the distance from the train station to the hotel, which is .6 miles.  It wouldn’t have seemed nearly so bad if we hadn’t had our luggage and the streets hadn’t been mostly this cobblestone-like bricks.

We are here for Kattenstoet, the Cat Parade and festival they have here every 3 years.  Back in the day, cats were brought in to keep vermin out of the massive cloth hall, but in the spring when all the fabric was sold, the cats were deposed from the bell tower.  And like some holidays, a happy celebration was created in place of the negative.  Hence the massive cat festival!!!  I was so excited when i found out about this AND that it fell in our vacation window.

We arrive at our hotel, Alliance Hotel Ieper Centrum but it’s too early to check in.  Also, they don’t have a room to put our luggage, so they have us stow it in the lobby with a few others already there.  I don’t feel great about leaving my stuff like that, but it’s a tiny hotel and I don’t think many people will be coming through there, so I transfer any valuables to my purse, fix my hair, apply some makeup while sitting on the floor of the lobby and then put on my cat ears and head out to stake out a spot to watch the parade.  We were pretty early, so we found a good spot right against the barricade, just past the stands set up right in front of the cloth hall.  BTW, this cloth hall is massive!

The parade starts at with an advertising caravan, mostly local businesses.  They mostly toss out candy, toys and other promotional knickknacks.  I start pocketing the pieces I catch and that land near me.  Some people lift their kids over the barricade to go collect candy that fell in the street.

After like 45 mins of this, the stray cats come out.  Worn clothes and running make-up.  Then there is a welcome and they start with tableaux of cat worship throughout history, about the history of the city of Ieper, cats in Language and Legend, the Cat around the World, etc.  In the last part we wave goodbye to all the cats. But not without celebrating first with the real Ypres cats. There are the big-headed cats and the sweet Snoezepoezen. We see the well-dressed giant Cieper followed by the parade horse (or should we say parade cat?) Minneke Poes! The Fools Fanfare is preceding a float supporting a model of the Cloth Hall from which the Ypres Fool scatters kittens into the crowd and a confetti cannon showers the crowd.

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me, post-confetti

This parade started at 2pm and went strong all the way until the Cat throwing from the belfry tower by the city jester at 6pm.  I mean, this is the longest freaking parade I’ve ever seen.  Ironically, I don’t generally like parades much at all, but I guess it’s kindof like not liking lines and crowds but still going and looking forward to San Diego Comic Con with it’s 130,000 attendees and lines you sit in for 12+ hours.  Go big or go home?  I don’t know.

In the middle of cats through history, I ran back over to the hotel to check us in and put our luggage more safely in our room, and Jon left at various times to get food and drinks. After 15 mins of watching the stuffed cats being tossed  from the belfry tower out to the crowd we decided to go get some dinner (we weren’t near enough to catch one of the cats anyway).  We managed to grab the last open table at the nearby pub and had a nice dinner.  After that we shopped a bit….and it should be no surprise that I bought a couple plushie cats and cat-shaped Belgian chocolate.

After this, we notice they’re still doing the cat tossing….man, they really keep this thing going on.  I read in the program there was supposed to be a mock witch-burning at 7, but we decided we’d been out on our feet for a sufficient number of hours.  We envied the people we saw on the train with stools.  On our way back to the hotel, we encountered a mass of people and tables in the street that hadn’t been there before.   It was a mini-adventure navigating through that.

I gotta talk about this hotel a little bit.  First of all, there was an actual key for the room key.  I can’t even remember the last time I had a hotel key that wasn’t a plastic key-card.  The door lock had an odd, hold the handle like this and turn the key this way, then turn the handle the other way to open, and then you needed the key to lock it from the inside.  The room itself was not huge, but the bathroom took up a large chunk of it, and the bathtub was pretty sizeable.  I’m not usually a bath person, but I had to partake.  I also figured it’d help my tired feet and legs after standing for so many hours.  The bed situation was actually 2 twin beds pushed together.  Jon was pouty about this, but like I said, they were RIGHT next to each other and we don’t spoon or actively cuddle when we sleep so it didn’t bother me.  The beds were comfy and there were extra pillows provided.  The comforters, however, yikes.  I’ll just say they could use an upgrade.  There was no a/c in the room but a remote controlled sky-light which was sufficient to keep us comfortable, luckily.

We ate one of the boxes of chocolate and watched a couple episodes of Myth Busters we found on in English.  Then we both basically passed out.

Stay tuned for the next post when we travel back to London…

Geeks Abroad! Post 6: Trains in France and the evening in Brussels

The following takes place on May 9th, 2015.

Good morning!  Well, sortof good…it’s so early.  We say goodbye to Stuttgart and head towards Strasbourg, France by car.  It takes about an hour and a half. When we arrive at the train station we have to say goodbye to Jimmy as well, and send him home to get some rest.
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We might’ve had enough time to switch our ticket to an earlier train but since the only French I know is limited to basic greetings and like 2 phrases I learned from TV shows, so we waited it out.  As we sit, I notice there’s a phone charging station where you charge your phone by pedaling.

Also, we notice a couple of soldiers with big-ass guns walking around*, so THAT was slightly terrifying.

Finally it’s time to board the train to Paris. Our journey is un-eventful, the French countryside having less mustard flowers and more windmills.  Also their soda cans have got to be the tiniest I’ve ever seen.  So far in Europe, I’m used to getting 8oz bottles, but this can is 150ml, which is just barely a smidge over 5oz.  Even those little 90 calorie cans in the US are 7.5 oz, dang!
We arrive in Paris, at the Gare de l’Est station, and have to make our way to the Gare du Nord station a few blocks away.
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We have about 1 hour between trains so we decide to get something to eat. We find a place in the station that serves sandwiches and pastries and the helpful proprietor speaks enough English to help us with our choices. I also got a chocolate tart.  Please note the spiffy travel hair and complete lack of makeup–yeah, I’m stylin’.
As we are eating, we are approached by a very persistent beggar woman.  After a minute the proprietor appears and shoo’s her out (well, more like silently pointing than actual “shooing”).  I find myself very fond of this proprietor!

In hindsight, it might’ve been better if we’d just stayed in that deli/bakery for the rest of our hour, but what do we know?  Our train doesn’t have a platform assigned yet, so we just sortof wander around, checking out the station.  Jon pops into news stands a few times to look for something to read.  Since these shops are rather small and I have my luggage, I decide to wait outside the shops.  The station is crowded and loud.

As I wait I am approached by another woman asking for money.  I am polite and apologetic as I tell her no.  I observe others being approached, and quickly adopt their method of handling these beggars, which is just a simple ‘no’, which I utilize as I am approached 6 times in that hour before our train left, including two women who didn’t even ask, they just walked up with their hand out.  A random guy starts trying to talk to me in French, and I regret that I hadn’t at least learned how to say “I don’t speak French”.  I half-smile and shrug awkwardly until he gives up.

I see there are soldiers at this station as well.*

Finally our train arrives and we have a platform!  I am so ready to get up out of this train station!  As we leave the city, I can see the top Eiffel Tower in the distance, but couldn’t get a picture of it.  And that is the summary of my time in Paris.  It’s a good thing I didn’t have a romanticized view of the city otherwise I would be severely disillusioned right now.

We arrive in Brussels in the mid-afternoon.  I see this random, unexplained thing in the train station, but I love it cuz, ya know, I like the weird stuff.
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We catch a cab from the station to our hotel, the Royal Windsor Hotel Grand Place.  It is late in the afternoon, and though I would like to just rest in the room, I know we only have a couple of hours to explore Brussels, so we head out.

Our first stop, the Manneken Pis (the peeing boy), which is a big deal as far as tourist attractions go here.  All the souvenir shops are flooded with anything and everything they can make with this peeing boy’s image.  Also, they dress him up regularly, which is how we found him.

We then had to get some Belgian Waffles from a street vendor, because reasons.  We then attempt to eat them with the most ridiculously tiny forks possible.  The whole process of eating them was almost comical, but they were sure tasty.

Then, with our main objectives of the statue and the waffles taken care of, we wander around the sea of tourists and buy souvenirs and Belgian chocolates and take pictures of the buildings.  Lots of statues…hard not to think of weeping angels here.

We ate dinner at the restaurant in our hotel, and Jon got a sampler of local favorites and a goblet of beer, while I just had some pasta.

After dinner there was more walking around and sightseeing.  We saw quite a bit of street art.  I believe there was a whole lot more to be seen, but we only got out to a couple block radius around our hotel so it was a bit limited.  I was a little bummed I didn’t get to take Jon to the comic book museum, too.

Oh, and I also found another peeing fountain/statue down a little side-alley between pubs.  On researching it later, I discovered there was also a statue of a dog peeing on a post somewhere that we didn’t see.
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Finally we retired to our room for the night.  I was surfing the internet on my phone via the hotel’s wifi, trying to figure out the timetable for the next day’s travel.  I had tickets purchased but they were good all day, not just one specific train.  After a few minutes of browsing the WiFi cut out.  When it didn’t come back up after a while, Jon decided to go downstairs to complain about it while I watched one of the few TV stations in English (the rest being French and Dutch). A rerun of the Jimmy Fallon show was on, which was fine with me.

Then the power went out.  It was around 9:30, so dark out, but the light from the street outside lit the room enough for me to find my little bitty flashlight.  After some time Jon made it back to the room (he had to walk up 5 flights).  Evidently their trying to fix the WiFi had knocked out the power.  He told me it was still on in the lobby though, so we decided to go down and sit in the lounge in our pajamas for a while.  They did have a live piano player there, after all.  We weren’t the only ones with the idea, so the lounge was pretty lively.  We got ourselves a couple of drinks and I mused to Jon that they could at least comp us a free drink on account of the power being out in our room, but I didn’t have enough rage about it that I actually went to talk to someone about it.  Also, I noticed this sculpture in the lobby that makes me think of Gollum in a dress.

After about an hour we found out the power was restored to our floor, but the WiFi was still down and was expected to be down until the morning.  I expressed my irritation at the front desk for a few minutes and they placated me by directing me to the business center, which had internet through a wired connection.  So finally I was able to look up the train schedule!  I printed it out, even though there was a sign in there saying printing was 10p each.  The room was dark and there was no one to pay, anyway(I’m such a rebel!!!).

Upon returning to our floor, we got to shimmy through a set of mostly closed fire doors blocking the Elevator vestibule from the hallway to the rooms.  We found out later that the fire alarm had also gone off while we were downstairs.
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Once we got back to our room, that was pretty much it.  We made sure our stuff was packed and ready to go in the morning once we got dressed and then we went to sleep.

Stay tuned for the next post….the CAT FESTIVAL!!

*PS:  I confess I was too afraid to take pictures of the soldiers I saw so those pics are ones I found online

Geeks Abroad! Post 5: Stuttgart Zoo (and the boys go to some car museum)

The following events take place on May 8th, 2015.

I wake, shower and as I’m trying to blowdry my hair, the dryer cuts out.  Wasn’t sure at the time if I’d killed it or if it was a circuit issue, but when I got home and tested it, it worked fine again.  I was trying to be very conscious about using the correct adapters and that my electronics were made for both 110v and 220v, so I’m not sure what the deal was.  So, wet hairstyle it is (ie, I pinned it back and did little buns with the rest).  I didn’t have time to do anything else because I needed to go meet Sandra!

Wait, who is Sandra?  I met her in San Diego at SDCC back in 2012 at a Castle fan dinner.

But of course, she was TAKING this picture so she’s not IN the picture….

It just so happens she lives in a town near Stuttgart so when we were planning this trip I knew we just had to get together!  Also, I had brought a surprise for her and was super anxious to see her reaction.

The boys walked me over to the train station where we were to meet, but they were planning to go off to some car museum while we hung out.  I feel like this would have been less than interesting for me so I’m even more glad Sandra was able to spend the day with me!

Here are some highlights from Jon and Jimmy’s excursion to the BMW museum.

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Sandra and I grabbed a little bit of food and then some water and then caught the train to the Wilhelma Zoological-Botanical Garden.  It wasn’t far.

We walked through a couple of greenhouses of various climates (let me tell you, they do a good job keeping that rainforesty, hot, humid climate in there for the appropriate plant life).

Then there was the penguins!!  Little bitty cute penguins!!

These guys were adorable! And so close! This one here is not zoomed in at all…
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I could’ve reached over and petted it!  And I was SOOO tempted to….  and then, knowing my luck, this particular blog would have likely been titled “I got bit by a penguin and then kicked out of the zoo”.

We walked through the butterfly house, in which I was surprised to find a bunch of bats chillin’, and rather more lively than I would have thought for the middle of the day.  One of them had a baby!

Walking around, we saw the insect house, giraffes, all sorts of monkeys, llamas, seals, peacocks, kangaroos, a sloth, even some chickens.  Here’s an an assortment of all the animals…

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We ate some lunch, and I managed to order a kids meal without realizing it.  Whatever…chicken nuggets and fries on a cartoon-decorated plate.  NBD.

We walked around for a couple more hours, and for a little while we stood and watched a very amusing bird running around it’s habitat, and then we sat and watched some monkeys for a while.  We probably sat by the monkeys for longer than was strictly necessary, but it was hot and I am out of shape so I needed to rest a bit.  We started to head back towards the front of the zoo, and passed the seals on the way.  One seal was finding a great deal of entertainment by splashing a bunch of water up and biting at it as it swam along, then diving under and going back to where it started and doing it over and over.

We also stopped to take some selfies and pics.

Also, I didn’t get a picture of this, but we’re pretty sure we saw a naked guy sunbathing in the park next to the zoo.

We did some gift-shopping and then headed back to the little train station.  As we waited for the train to arrive and during our journey, we noticed a growing number of people in festive traditional german-wear.  Evidently it was Frühlingsfest (Spring Fest).  Lots of this kind of thing…

Yep, dudes in lederhosen.

We met the boys back at the train station, and Jimmy asked if we wanted to go to this festival.  It was still hot, and I personally wouldn’t have have much fun in a beer tent, so I passed.  We decided to go out for some steak instead.  On the way to the restaurant, we detoured around a plaza in which an animation festival was also going on.  It was really a busy night in Stuttgart!

The food was good, but there was a miscommunication that happened when we asked for some water.  The normality of sparkling or ‘gassed’ water was mind-boggling to me.  It wasn’t that I asked for water and got sparkling because I didn’t specify, but I think when I asked for ‘flat’ water they heard ‘tap’ water, which is apparently not done and we got a talking-to about it.  It was all just odd and confusing.

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But also, here is the picture of what I brought for Sandra.  I’d given it to her in the morning when we met, but didn’t get a picture of it until dinner.

Rachel Skarsten was in Kansas City for Planet Comicon back in March.  Knowing that Sandra is a huge fan of hers, and that I was going to be traveling to Germany it was kindof a no brainer that I had to get an autograph for her.

After dinner, we walked Sandra back to the train station and said farewell.  We walked around a little bit and then I had another banana and nutella crepe.

We got back to Jimmy’s place and then we had to check on our travel arrangements for the next day.  The plan was to take the train up to Brussels, but that rail strike from before was still going on so I checked the status of our first train and it was cancelled.  So, it was more mentally scurrying around to try and find another way to Brussels.  Flying wasn’t an option this time.  Driving would have taken about 6 hours, and nearly 12 hours by bus.  After much frustration, we finally decided to drive to a town just over the French border and then catch a train from there to Brussels.  We’d get there a little later in the afternoon than we would have on our original train schedule, but it was the best we could figure on such short notice.

Stay tuned for the next post about our travels and Brussels.

Geeks Abroad! Post 4: Rhine Falls

The following takes place on May 7th, 2015

The boys went out to breakfast so I was able to sleep just a little, and they brought me some croissant goodness, too!  We got in the car and headed towards Switzerland.  Our first stop:  the Rhine Falls.

Before crossing the border from Germany, Jimmy had to stop and buy a sort of Swiss driving permit sticker. At this rest stop, I picked myself up a coke.  Irritated as I generally am that I can’t find any version of MY name on any cokes (Pamela is a lot harder to find on personalized things than you might think), I am intrigued by the one I have picked out.  I can’t find one with my name, but I can always share a coke with Schwarm.
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At the Swiss border they were randomly asking cars to pull over for (I’m assuming) questions or inspection of the vehicle, but we were not selected for this.
The falls are near the border, so it didn’t take long to reach. We parked and went to buy our entry ticket. Jon took a bathroom break and Jimmy a smoke break, so I took some pictures of the cow-benches.  Why were there cow benches?  I have no idea.  If there was an informational sign about it, I didn’t see it or it wasn’t in English.

We stopped at the first overlook area and took some pictures.

Then we went down a bunch of stairs and took some pics at the next overlook area.

Then, down some more stairs and another overlook area, but this one also had a cave with a less obvious but pretty cool overlook.  It made for some awkward light/dark contrasts in the pictures, but it was really amazing to be right there in the midst of it.  You could really feel the rumble of all that water rushing by.

I also saw people put locks on the fence here…I’m assuming it’s like those love locks people put on that bridge in Paris…
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Then we followed the trail for a bit and then down some more stairs (so many stairs…I was NOT looking forward to climbing them up again) and then we got to the little boat dock. We bought passage to cross the river and then take a boat tour.

We ate lunch on the other side (I had some Penne a la Arrabiata….on a tray…which was wet) and strolled along the river for a little bit, then waited for a blue boat to arrive for our tour.

After all this, we did have to go walk up all those stairs again.  Stairs are the worst.
But here is a shot of a funny gift shop.
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After this, we had originally planned to go down to Zurich and look around, but Jimmy had recently had a surgery which was giving him a lot of discomfort after walking around, so we headed back to Stuttgart.  To the ER, in fact.  Turns out he was just pushing himself too hard, which Jon and I are blaming ourselves for, even against his protestations.
While at the hospital I wandered over to the cafeteria and they had Cornettos, so I got to try a Lemon one!
Later that evening, we ate at the restaurant owned by Jimmy’s landlord, who decided what we were going to eat.  I was afraid at first, but it turned out to be quite delicious.
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After dinner we walked around Stuttgart a bit and I had a banana and Nutella crepe for dessert.  WOO!

Stay tuned for the next post where I meet up with a friend and go to the zoo!

PS: I put sunscreen on, but I still got sunburned.

Geeks Abroad! Post 3: Traveling to Stuttgart and Hohenzollern Castle

The following takes place between May 5th and 6th, 2015.

Our route for the day:
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We woke early (again) so we could check out of the hotel and walk over to the train station.  We had to take a short trip from one Bristol station to another, and then wait there about a half hour until the train to London came along.  It was raining, and this train station had a very open, out-doors layout to it.  It was a little bit cold and miserable for a few minutes until a train station employee told us about an indoor waiting room at the far end of the platform (well hidden, I thought).  He then asked where we were going and when I answered him he looked visibly shocked, not because of our destination, but because he clearly wasn’t expecting an American accent.  He chuckled a little and then was apologetic.
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Then our train arrived and we began the journey to London.  This leg I’d booked first class and it was sooo nice.  Free Wi-Fi, convenient plugs for our stuff, free food, no one sitting next to us.  It made for a pleasant beginning to the day.  Notice my super stylish travel hair.

I enjoyed the view of the English countryside. It is not incredibly dissimilar to hilly farmland places in California. It made me think of the places outside Petaluma, like Two Rock Valley and Valley Ford. However there was one thing that was distinctly different, and that is the mustard fields. All over the place. Upon further research, I found that they’re also (disturbingly) called rapeseed. Pretty though, and they were a vibrant splash of color in the landscape.

After we arrived back at Paddington station, we had to make our way to Gatwick airport, by way of the St Pancras station. This meant our first time on the Underground.
I had our pre-paid Oyster cards so that was extremely handy. We were nervous but navigated it without incident. We had lunch at St Pancras station after inquiring to see if there was anything we could do about our Eurostar trip (not much, as I thought, but they weren’t jerks about it).

We had lunch here before continuing our travels.
We jumped back on the Tube and got off at Victoria station where we had to catch an express train to the airport. There was a train at the platform already, and since we didn’t want to have to wait another half hour for the next one, we were rushing. After we boarded and sat for a moment, they came over the loudspeaker saying we should all get off this train and go get on the one in front of it. So we rushed off the train and scurried (Jon ran, but I could not with my luggage) along the train, which I felt to be ridiculously long, with station employees waving us along and urging us to hurry, and boarded the other train.
Then we just sat there for 15 mins until it left.
We got to Gatwick airport and followed the signs to the easyJet luggage check (They were going to make us pay to bring carry-on or checking, so I figured we’d check). Or so we thought. I mean, it was easyJet, but the guy looked at my boarding pass and told me we had to go to the other terminal. So we embarked on this crazy maze-like journey up and down and around and around.  We got in this massive line for bag check, and then after just a couple mins I saw there was another section for the ‘Plus’ priority boarding I’d sprung for this flight.  Then the security screening entrance near there was closed so we had to make another mini-journey to the other one. Then our flight didn’t even have the gate assigned yet so we had to wait around in the Duty Free shop area. The whole place just smelled faintly like too much perfume mixed together.

Finally our gate was assigned and we made yet another journey down along the long walkway, turning here and there and then way up and over the runway.  This airport is supposed to be smaller than Heathrow, but there was so much walking around here it felt much larger.

Then there was some plane shenanigans.  Everyone boarded but then we sat there at the gate for maybe a half hour without explanation.  Then the captain came over the intercom and let us know that there had been someone they’d had to remove from the plane and that’s why we had a delay.  My first thoughts were amazement that they could remove someone from the plane without basically the whole plane knowing about it.  It’s not a huge plane so the fact that they kept it all contained is rather impressive.  Then some bad news…since we’d missed our takeoff spot, we’d have to wait a while for them to find another spot for us.  We taxied to some remote edge of the tarmac and chilled for a while.  They estimated a half hour, but it was probably less than 10 mins.
Once we finally got in the air it was more or less uneventful. They made up some time in the air, and we avoided what looked like some nasty storm clouds. When we landed it was raining a little bit, which made it awkward as we had to de-plane on the tarmac and get on a bus.  Not sure if this is normal procedure or not but it felt odd.
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Then we had to go through customs and I got my second passport stamp!
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As we were waiting at the luggage carousel, I overheard a group of people talking about the person that was removed from the plane, so I walked over and asked for the details. It was apparently one of those doomsday preachers. I’d seen those guys a few times already around the airports and train stations. I can only imagine the panic this guy could’ve caused if he started ‘spreading the word’ mid-flight. Very glad that was avoided, but kinda wish I’d known it was going down at the time as it would’ve been more interesting than staring out the window, thinking we’d be going to take off any minute.
We left the secure area and were met by Jon’s brother (actual name Peter James), whom Jon calls “G”, the family calls “Jimmy”, most others call “Peter”, and I usually don’t call anything directly (because, for reals, it’s confusing), but for this blog “Jimmy” will be the moniker I shall utilize.
We drove from the airport to his apartment.  It’s really quite pretty driving down into the valley.

After we dropped our stuff off and changed, we went out to eat.  I attempted to use what I recall from my high school German classes when ordering my drink, but failed miserably.  Since everyone tells me in Europe they drinks their sodas with no ice, I ask for it with ice, but when it arrives…no ice.  I’m considering that an epic fail and do not attempt any further German communication beyond ‘thank you’ from that point onward.  Dinner was very good though.

The next morning I got to sleep in a little bit.  Then we were on the road south to Hohenzollern castle, the ancestral seat of the Prussian Royal House and of the Hohenzollern Princes.  The castle has been destroyed twice before, and was built most recently in English Gothic revival style in the 1800’s.

We arrived shortly before an English tour, but of course they didn’t let us take pictures of most of the interior. The view from the outside is spectacular, though.

On the way back to Stuttgart, we passed this place.  I thought it looked odd and quirky.  I think the boys might’ve actually humored me and stopped but we didn’t have enough time.

Back in Stuttgart, we went to one of the US Army bases and grabbed a quick fast food dinner before we saw Avengers 2 at their movie theater.  Jon & I had already seen it but we enjoyed it and didn’t mind seeing it again.
After the movie we stopped at the store on base where we picked up some sodas and snacks and headed back to Jimmy’s place for the night. We went to bed semi-early-ish so we could get up early for our drive down to Switzerland and the Rhine Falls.

And that concludes today’s post.  Stay tuned for the next post where we go to the Rhine Falls!

Geeks Abroad! Post 2: Cardiff and The Doctor Who Experience

The following events take place on May 4, 2015 (may the 4th be with you).

We woke up early, walked the quarter mile or so to the Bristol Temple Meads train station to catch the train to Cardiff, Wales.


After a confusing time trying to find the correct bus stop (there was like 20 different bus stops), we asked for help at the train station information booth and were directed out and along and behind the train station to the correct bus to take us down to the Doctor Who Experience at the marina.  The bus, however, didn’t take us all the way to the marina.  It was a Monday but a holiday for May Day, and there was a 10K or some other run going on down at the Millennium Centre, so we had to just sortof head towards the water, occasionally finding these kinds of signs to guide our way.

We also met a fellow Whovian walking from the bus to the Experience, a girl from Canada traveling in Europe. She originally had a different start time for her Experience but they let her change it and we then basically ended up spending most of the rest of the day together.

Even having to walk as far as we did, we arrived a few minutes early.  We did decide to wait a few mins for the next tour (they gave us the option) after seeing that the 10:30 tour was 80% small children.  As it turned out, the next group had zero children.

So there’s 3 parts to the place, the ‘Experience’, the museum, and the gift shop.  In the Experience itself, they wouldn’t let us take pictures, so I’ve found a few pictures online to try and describe this.  Also, here’s a YouTube Video that gives you an idea, too.

You start out in a mostly dark room with a few cool items like the Moment.  They hand out these lanyard badges to wear that have crystals that light up.  The museum curator comes out and the story begins.  A crack in the wall opens up and we go inside…

…and into the inside of the TARDIS.  Once we’re all in there, the Doctor comes on the screen and explains the emergency that’s going on (you know, aliens attacking, time unravelling, just gonna land the TARDIS inside the TARDIS, like ya’ do), instructing “Boy-Girl” (the museum curator) to guide us from room to room and do various things in each.  In the TARDIS we have to use the joystick controls to steer and land the TARDIS.

We come to a room with a bunch of apparently dead Daleks, however one of the crystals we need to collect is sticking out of one of them.  They ask for a volunteer to retrieve it.  I figure I’ll let the children do this bit, but then remember there’s no kids in this group and no one’s raised their hand yet so mine goes enthusiastically up.  Why not?  I bravely extracted the crystal from the Dalek and escape just as it and all the other not-so-dead Daleks in the room start waking up!

Then there was the Weeping Angel forest…

Then we get to a room where they hand out 3-D glasses and we get to assemble the 3 crystals our group has retrieved and then craziness happens.  Basically, the 3-D show is so you can experience the sensation of every scary Doctor Who entity flying towards you.  The Weeping Angel was the worst.

Well, the Doctor saves the day, however, he leaves us in the 60’s, but that’s ok, right?

Next is the 2-story museum full of props and sets and costumes and all sorts of things, including the round things…
Cardiff 050415 (4)

Oh, and here is our new friend, Kathleen!
We took quite a lot of pics here, so to see the entire collection, click Here!

Then it was time for gift shop!

We shopped and shopped, and picked up our merchandise packs that came with the tickets I bought.  It has a T-Shirt, a wristband, brochure booklet, a souvenir ticket and certificate.

Basically, the whole morning I was like this…
It was about lunchtime now, so we decided it was time to venture over into the midst of stuff going on at the Millennium Centre and get some food.  It was extremely busy, so we put our names in at a pizza place with a 45 min wait and then wander about, taking pics and looking in the Millennium Centre gift shop.

Also, since we were by the water, I thought to myself, ‘I wonder if the back door to Torchwood is around here…’ and so we walk towards the water, under the foot-bridge, turn right and there it is!  Only, there’s stuff all over it.  It turns out people have made the wall there into a huge shrine to a certain character on Torchwood.  There’s all sorts of mementos, fan art, gifts and some downright weird shit on this wall.  I won’t spoil it for you if you don’t want to know who, but if you do….. CLICK HERE!!

So we ate our lunch of pizza, which was decent, and then decided to head to Cardiff Castle.  On the way we saw a Mr Whippy truck, and Kathleen said they were good so stopped and had some.

We all rode the bus back over by the train station, because Cardiff Castle is nearby.  This is where Kathleen left us as she still had a few more days in Cardiff and didn’t want to do everything all in one day.

Our first castle!

About Cardiff Castle:  The original motte and bailey castle was built in the late 11th century by Norman invaders on top of a 3rd-century Roman fort.  The Norman Keep is still there, and there’s even still bits of the wall from the Roman times.

Cardiff Castle was repeatedly involved in the conflicts between the Anglo-Normans and the Welsh, being attacked several times in the 12th century, and stormed in 1404 during the revolt of Owain Glyndŵr.  The third Marquess, John Crichton-Stuart, inherited his family’s fortune (including the castle) at 6 months old.  As an adult, he used this fortune for extensive renovations of the castle in a Gothic revival style by architect William Burges. The resulting interior designs are considered to be amongst “the most magnificent that the gothic revival ever achieved“.

During WW II, the castle was used as shelter for air raids, able to hold 1,800 people.  When the fourth Marquess died in 1947, the castle was given to the people of the city of Cardiff (emphasis on ‘people’).

Now, this wasn’t here when we were there, but it’s a cool pic, so I’m including it!
CARDIFF, UNITED KINGDOM - AUGUST 07: The TARDIS appears on the top of Cardiff Castle ahead of the
After the castle, we stopped at a few shops across the street, including a comic book store and a Welsh craft store featuring an extensive collection of Love Spoons.

Cardiff 050415 (108)

During our walk back to the train station, I saw this weird street art.

We got back to our hotel room that evening and we’d put a Do Not Disturb sign on the door handle, but the hotel left a bag with fresh towels, toiletries and provisions at the door for us.  I thought that was rather nice of them, and kindof wish more hotels would do that!

So now that we’re back in our room where there’s WiFi, I check on our travel arrangements for the next day (the big train day).  We’re supposed to take a First Great Western train to London (back to my favorite, Paddington station), then ride the underground to St Pancras International station and catch a Eurostar to Brussels, then a couple of Deutsche Bahn trains down to Stuttgart.

That was the plan, anyway……

I’m scrolling through my email and I see one with the subject line “Rail Strike Action in Germany 5th -10th May”.  So of course I have a surge of panic, thinking WTF! as I try to read through this email.
Basically, for Deutsche Bahn “many trains are likely to experience disruption and may be cancelled”.
It’s around 9pm at this point, and rather than settling in for sleep, I’m now on emergency planning mode. I require food and drink. Inquiring at the front desk, there are no vending machines in the hotel (WTF? Why not?), but there’s a convenience store a few blocks down. Oh yeah, it’s also raining, so that’s fun, too. So we make our way down to the shop and grab a few things. As I’m trying to pay at the single self-checkout, I’m getting an indeterminate error with my card. The cashier manning the manual check-out is thinking I haven’t swiped my card yet, and we’re trying to explain from a bit of a distance with growing line behind me.
So the cashier finally transfers our transaction over to his machine and gets it to work. He theorized that the self-checkout didn’t like my card being from overseas. Sounds likely, but I’m just internally flustered and don’t care about the reason.
So, back in our hotel room, wet clothes set out to dry, I hunker down to find us a new way to Stuttgart. Basically, if we do nothing and chance it, we could be stranded in Brussels. I have little luck finding any alternate trains from Brussels to Stuttgart that even kindof fit in our time frame. I’m figuring everyone else that had train tickets had an 8 hour head start on rescheduling and nothing is available. Now when I check out the DB Bahn site, it already says the first train from Brussels is cancelled. I guess that decides that. In my head I’m like this…
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So I start thinking alternatives. I find a reasonably cheap flight from London Gatwick directly to Stuttgart on an airline I’ve never heard of (but what do I know about European airlines?). I book it, even though I realize this means we’ll likely just be eating the cost of the Eurostar trip from London to Brussels (why would they give me a refund because another rail company had a strike?).

And poor Jon is sitting there while I’m in frazzled ‘don’t talk to me until I get this figured out’ mode. I normally like planning, but not this last minute on a deadline kind of planning. This is why I bought tickets in advance, ya know? And who strikes on a schedule like that?!

Ugh, so anyway, new plans are made, and we’re actually due to land in Stuttgart about the same time the train would have arrived, so at least in that aspect we aren’t losing any time there. Now I can sleep.

Stay tuned for tomorrow, as we actually implement these modified travel plans.

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Geeks Abroad! Post 1: Kansas City to Chicago to Dublin to London to Bristol to Wells to Bristol

This gallery contains 6 photos.

Here’s the quick version. Who:  Myself and Jon What:  Trip to Europe Where:  See pic. When:  May 2-17th Why:  Jon’s brother is stationed in Stuttgart currently. We were planning to go next year, but since we’ve been trying to have a baby we decided we should do this trip sooner rather than later. How:  Planes and […]

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Nerdy & Thirty

Here are some musings on being a 30 year old geek/nerd…


I’ve identified as a geek/nerd since about middle school.  X-Files, Star Trek, Babylon 5 and Starwars were some of my early fandoms.  I was not particularly popular at school (putting it nicely), but luckily I had a small group of friends that liked at least some of the same things.  So, while I could geek out in the safety of the group, there were plenty of times that we were not together and those times could be quite perilous.  During those years, my main goal when alone amongst the dozens of classmates who already found me to be strange and unusual was to stay quiet and be as inconspicuous as possible.  Anything to avoid the attention of those who would target me for ridicule.  Thankfully, that is over half a lifetime ago and some of that group are still friends of mine.  Even if we’re not as close now, I will forever hold them in high regard for the great moments I had during an otherwise miserable period in my youth.


In the years since, I’ve (mostly)learned to not give a flying frak about what those peripheral people think of me on a personal level.  As long as I’m able to have a functional working relationship with people like coworkers and others I need to interact with on a semi-regular basis, I couldn’t care less that they don’t “get” me or my hobbies.  I still don’t have a lot of friends, but geeks tend to find each other and I’ve got a solid handful that are just the best.

A side effect of having geeky friends you can introduce each other to new fandoms so the nerdiness is ever growing.  I once made a deal with my sister that I’d watch True Blood if she’d watch Castle, and now we are both fans of each.  Without one of my nerdy friends I never would have seen Serenity in the theater and who knows if I’d be a Firefly fan now?  …Probably, but who knows how long that could have taken me to discover in another way?  Without my love of Nathan Fillion I wouldn’t be watching Castle which is just my FAVORITE.


So I try to just do ‘me’.  I suppose I still have some tendencies to play down the geekiness when in unfamiliar surroundings, and I shouldn’t because sometimes the people you least expect turn out to be nerds over something you love, too, and you wouldn’t have ever known if you just kept your head down and made the minimum socially required smalltalk.  That geek bond can form almost instantaneously.  Suddenly you both realize it, high-five and your regard for each other goes up ten-fold.  Sure, sometimes you make a midichlorian joke in a meeting with your boss and get a confused look, but when that kind of thing happens it’s usually okay to laugh at yourself.  More than once I’ve said something along the lines of, “I seem to have nerded myself there…” and the non-nerds seem to be okay with that.  Y’know, unless they are an asshole.


Now we’re gonna talk about Cons.  I’ve been to maybe 10 conventions thus far in my life.  A couple small ones, some medium ones, and three times to San Diego Comic Con (henceforth to be referenced in this post as SDCC).  Each has it’s perks and disadvantages.  At SDCC, you might get to be among the first to see footage for something months before it comes out, and usually get to see the biggest stars in the industry.  However, there’s months of extremely stressful pre-planning stages in order to even GO to SDCC, and the lines…well, I don’t think I’ll ever in my life see any line situation that even remotely compares to SDCC lines.  But, when you’re sitting in line near people for 8+ hours, you start to get to know each other.  Con friends are awesome.  You meet people from all over the world, and if you keep in touch you generally have a place to stay if there’s a convention in their city (and they’ll probably be going to it already).  Smaller cons obviously have smaller crowds, and usually not very many of the ‘big’ stars ever attend.  But if there’s someone less universally popular going that you happen to like, chances are good you’ll at least get to chat with them for a while, if not get selfies and such.  I saw Sean Patrick Flannery(from Boondock Saints) at a Con in St Louis, and he recorded someone’s outgoing voicemail message in his McManus brother accent.  Also, at smaller cons, you have a fairly good chance of getting to see everything, whereas at SDCC…panels aside, with all the stuff going on on the convention floor at different times, you’ll never get to see half of it (but what you do see is usually awesome enough you don’t focus on that).

And I’m not saying that everyone at Con is super cordial and polite (usually you’ve all been walking around for hours on padless cement floors), but when you have occasion to talk to other people, compliment their costume or accessories, ask a their opinion on something, usually they become quite friendly and enthusiastic about it.  Something about being at the same type of event, even if it’s for different reasons, I guess we recognise the kindred spirit in each other…that they love their fandoms as much as you do yours, you can really appreciate and respect each other.  It’s quite liberating.  And who knows, maybe you run into them in line next year once you’ve binge-watched Doctor Who so now you’re a fan, too (true story).


So if you’re a closet nerd, let loose.  You never know what kind of friends you can make or good times you can have.  If you’re a non-nerd, kudos for reading this far.  Whoever you are, you just keep doing YOU.

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So, this is me.  I watch waaaay too much TV.  I love Castle and a bunch of other cop shows, Disney movies, lots of anime, Doctor Who, Sherlock, Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, Arrow, Outlander, Babylon 5, Big Bang Theory, Star Trek and Star Wars (though not a fan of the prequels, and I hold special regard for Ewoks…yub yub!), Game of Thrones, but I’m not a fan of Harry Potter or Walking Dead.  I’m a crafty person, and I love making costumes and dressing up.  I’ve entered costume contests and won a couple of them.  I resisted the Marvel movies at first, but now I quite like them.  I don’t read comic books, but I have an odd amount of knowledge about some specific series’ and characters (thanks to my husband).  I’ll complain about plot-holes in shows & movies I love (seriously, that mining ship in the new Star Trek movie? how is the design of that ship at all practical for a mining ship.  I call shenanigans!!).  I have so many geeky/fandom shirts, I have #nerdworldproblems when packing for SDCC.  I wore a Minion shirt to the doctor and he had no idea what it was…no concept…and this was just crazy to me.  Yes, I’m 30.  I don’t have kids yet but I already have baby costumes in mind for when I do.  I don’t play video games, but I ran the Assassin’s Creed obstacle course at SDCC for a free t-shirt and because it’s the closest to Ninja Warrior I’ll ever get in my life.  I will buy merchandise of fandoms I don’t like to give to friends who do (just because I don’t like it, doesn’t mean I think you shouldn’t, too).  There are some fandoms I think I will probably like but just haven’t gotten around to watching yet (like Supernatural).  I don’t usually expect people to get the random movie or TV quotes I throw out in conversation, but if you do it makes my week.  I am usually a rather impatient person, but during SDCC, I will watch that pot until it boils over and over for hours if it means being in the same room as Benedict Cumberbatch and Orlando Bloom at the same time.  Once at Nerd HQ during a random crowd surge, I took advantage of being pushed into the middle of a line that had previously been capped to get a photo with Nathan Fillion (my doing this didn’t prevent anyone in line from getting their picture, and it was an extra $20 toward the charity, so I figured…..aim to misbehave!).  I am currently trying to figure out how to get the most fandoms represented in one tattoo.  I would completely nerdgasm if I ever got to go on a Castle set visit.  I have a couple of really great SDCC stories.  Ask me sometime.


So say we all.

I Want My Nerd HQ



I’ve been to Nerd HQ twice, and have had a fantastic time both times…

I got to attend one of the Conversations for a Cause with Nathan Fillion.  I was sitting 10 feet away from him.  I also lucked out and was able to ask him a question.  I’d seen him at the Comic Con panel for the Firefly 10th Anniversary the day before, but that was from dozens of rows back.

So, this, where my camera is at full zoom… Day 2 - The Longest Night and the Awesomest Day
…versus this, with no zoom.  He was there, RIGHT THERE, man! Day 2 - The Longest Night and the Awesomest Day

Also, I got to see this, which was highly entertaining…Day 2 - The Longest Night and the Awesomest Day

I did even more in 2013!  The first thing was my whole group went and saw the screening of Serenity at Petco Park.

After it was over, it was late and I’d been staying up for many nights in Hall H and Ballroom 20 lines, so I was quite loopy, but we stayed for a little bit and my sister and I took this pic

The next day she and I got to attend the Conversation with Nathan (I still don’t know how I lucked out getting tickets to that!)

A moment of mind-reading

And after that…well, see for yourself…

I got a side-hug and he said my shirt was cool and he hadn’t seen it before.  I don’t like to throw the term ‘epic’ out lightly, but this was indeed EPIC for me.

So that’s my personal experience with Nerd HQ, and it’s been amazing to say the least. How could I pass up the chance to help it out when it’s in need?? I’ve contributed, and I hope we can get to goal, cuz this shit is awesome!!!!!

Contribute to Awesomeness!!!


The Human Minion

I saw this guy at Target a couple nights ago.  Hubby was nervous about me just whipping out my phone and taking a picture of a stranger in the store, but in instances like this it’s almost mandatory….


He was a grouchy old man so I don’t think he was intentionally minioning himself