Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Australian Open 2011

Stuffed Roger fans in front of us
2011 marked our third year attending the Australian Open, a truly fantastic events that even non-tennis fans can enjoy. We purchased a quarter finals package to ensure that we'd be able to see our Swiss hero, Roger Federer (as long as Roger made the quarters, which he did, of course) because we'd missed him on previous years.

Luckily for us, the quarter finals package allowed us to see all the top players: Rafa, Wozniacki, Murray, Na Li and the eventual singles champs: Djokovic and "Aussie Kim" Clijsters. Our seats and the weather were fantastic. The only thing to be desired was a bit more excitement in the matches; those players who won did so seemingly pretty quickly and easily ending the matches in a timely fashion.

This was painfully true of Rafa's match against his countryman David Ferrer. He wasn't well and couldn't win and even started to break down in tears between games, but decided to finish the match rather than withdraw. Ferrer played brilliantly and Rafa might have had trouble beating him even if he were in top form. I came away with more respect for both players.

Rafa lunging for the ball

Perhaps the most entertaining player to watch was Francesca Schiavone, an Italian who was incredibly strong and determined. Her grunts, let alone her backhand, intimidated her opponents.

I'm already looking forward to next year's Open and a chance to cheer for Rog and perhaps a fabulous American or Aussie player (Sam Stosur, we're looking at you).

Tasmania - Cradle Mountain and Launceston

Because Australia Day fell on a Wednesday this year, we grabbed the opportunity to take two days off and treat ourselves to a long weekend in Tassie prior to the Australian Open in Melbourne. We had visited (and loved) Hobart and were keen to explore the Cradle Mountain area near Launceston.

Our friends Dan and Estee gamely agreed to accompany us and tolerated our choice of accommodation. The first stop enroute to the Cradle Mountain Lodge was Christmas Hill Raspberry Farm, an overpriced but delightful spot with a cafe serving raspberry-infused everything (even tea). It was indeed a lovely drive through picturesque farmland and tiny towns that, despite their size, each had a claim to fame. There was Railton - Town of Topiary and Sheffield - Town of Murals not too far from each other. Mickey asked if I wanted to pull over for photos, but I sufficiently enjoyed the topiaries and murals from the comfort of the passenger seat.

Cradle Mountain was beautiful and especially easy to enjoy in the good weather that we were lucky enough to experience. We took some leisurely bushwalks around the lake and national park and were treated to a poem about wombat droppings by an overqualified ranger. The dude almost fell off a cliff taking this photo:

Wombats and other native Australian creatures are a highlight of any trip to Tassie. Because most are nocturnal, we took a night spotlight tour with Cradle Mountain Lodge. I was thrilled to see an eastern spotted quoll, a sight which the driver/tour guide indicated was rare, but a bit disappointed that we didn't see any Tassie devils in the wild.

Fortunately, our penguin tour on our last night in Tassie made up for any previous disappointments. We were told to meet the tour company, which operates out of a tiny beach shack, at 9pm (twilight at that time of year). Three guides broke us into three groups of ten or so people and led us down to the beach to tell us more about fairy penguins. Our guide couldn't have been more than 17 years old, but he did a fantastic job. As the sky darkened we started to notice tiny penguins emerge from the ocean and waddle up the beach in small groups. Pairs were headed back to their nests to feed their young.

I helped the guides lug around a large battery-operated red/orange light that we could shine on the penguins without hurting their eyes. To say that they were cute is a profound understatement. The babies, though not much smaller than their parents but fluffier, were even more adorable. Hunger drew them out of their protected nests and caused them to holler for their mamas and papas. We took about a zillion pictures and painstakingly culled them down to a manageable number.

I've enjoyed all of my visits to Tasmania and hope I can take my own kids there one day.

What has art done for you lately?

Back in January, the Sydney festival gave anyone the chance to see their name in lights across the top of the Australian Museum a stone's throw from our house. American artist John Baldessari's exhibit "reflects the changing cult of celebrity in modern society and recalls Andy Warhol's prediction that in the future everyone will have their 15 minutes of fame" according to the Sydney Festival website. All you had to do was enter your name on the website and wait for them to let you know about what time your name would appear. 

Here's mine:
Yes, I became famous at exactly 6:47am so we decided to take a screen shot from the site's webcam rather than drag ourselves out of bed early to take a photo. 

This is probably the coolest thing that art has ever done for me.

Monday, April 18, 2011

NYE 2010: Santa Barbara

In an attempt to maintain the tradition of spending each New Year's Eve in a new location, Mickey and I wound up in Santa Barbara on the last evening of 2010. We had "done" LA and San Francisco in prior years and didn't wish to leave California so we decided on the lovely seaside town of Santa Barbara, a place known for a once-legendary Halloween party, but not for any particular NYE festivities.

And that was fine by me, because I'm one of those who believe that NYE is always overhyped and disappointing. You could dress up and get tickets for a fancy evening at a restaurant or club, watch some fireworks and hope for good music and good company. OR, you could buck tradition and start your own. I've decided that my favorite NYE traditions are a night in with friends full of games, making top ten of 2010 lists but not getting past number three, a dip in the hot tub and s'mores at midnight. At least that's what I did this year and hope to do again on subsequent NYEs.

Of course a night in with friends was appealing to me because "in" was the gorgeous, cozy holiday house we rented for the weekend and "friends" were five of my favorite people on the planet: Mickey, my dear friends Andrew and Alyssa, Nic and his girlfriend Kat. We spent plenty of happy hours playing Dance Central on the xbox 360 Kinect, the 'it' gift for last Christmas. Poor Nic couldn't make it to midnight because of a brief episode of stomach flu, but he was in fine form the next day when we went wine tasting.

This was one of my most enjoyable NYEs. In fact, the only part I would not do over again is watch the prerecorded Snooki ball drop on the Jersey Shore at the stroke of midnight. I'll stick to smooching my sweetie and s'mores.


Directly after Christmas, Mickey and I flew to Ohio to spend some quality time with his family and by quality time I mean eating-intensive visits with family structured entirely outside of normal mealtimes. "Please don't say we're going to Aunty's place. I might barf because I'm so full" is sort of the sentiment after two and a half days of breakfast, brunch, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner visits. Of course, each of these meals (even breakfast) concludes with dessert, too. And choosing not to eat would offend the host, so gluttony is the only option for my visits to Ohio.

Our joke of the trip was saying "this week was sponsored by Jaipur Junction" in a singsongy advertising voice. The size of our gatherings required some catering because even the most tireless little aunty couldn't be asked to throw together a meal for twenty and Cleveland's favorite Indian restaurant Jaipur Junction was the takeout of choice.

The highlight of any trip to Ohio is spending time with our niece Priya and twin nephews Isaac and Isaiah. They're boisterous, but ridiculously adorable. We only see them once a year and it was delightful to observe their budding personalities. Isaac follows Priya, the loving big sister (and only person other than their momma who can tell the twins apart reliably) while Isaiah dances to a different beat. Though he can barely talk, he expressed his preferred clothing and shoe brand to his mother thusly: "Mom, Nike shirt." This cracks me up because it's adorable, but also sort of terrifies me. Does Nike know that their Swoosh is recognized by two year olds?

When not half heartedly stuffing Jaipur Junction's butter chicken down our throats, the tykes and I played Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders. Good times.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Bowling in the new year

It's April, but I'm still writing about the Christmas/New Year holidays. Yes, I'm a bit behind.

If our holiday trip to the states had a subtitle it might be: American Bowling Alley Tour 2010/2011. We literally went bowling four times over the course of the holiday, first at our beloved 4th Street Bowl (aka Ghetto Bowl) in San Jose, then again in Diamond Bar and Parma, Ohio and finally somewhere in Ventura County enroute to LAX.

Though Mickey's a good bowler, I can't say that we're particularly attached to the sport (we own neither our own shoes nor ball). So, why did we go bowling four times over the holiday? Well, there actually is some logic to it. When you get together with family and friends over winter holidays, you can only go out for meals so many times. At some point, you want to do something mildly active, but the weather doesn't always permit it. Going to the movies is a great option, but it's not very social.

And that's when bowling becomes your go-to holiday activity with friends and family. It's indoor, bowling alleys are everywhere in the US, they're cheap and they have something for everyone. Competitive and/or athletic? Stick to the bowling. Can't stand bowling and/or your family? Well, the bowling alley probably has a bar. Teetotaling or entertaining little ones? They probably also have a jukebox, arcade and nachos. See? You just can't go wrong with bowling.

After touring the four bowling alleys, I noticed a slightly disappointing trend, attempts to renovate and modernize. You may wonder why a bowling connoisseur such as myself isn't excited about replacing the clunky CRTs with flat screens at bowling alleys across America and it's because 'slightly dingy' and 'retro' are the descriptors for which every bowling alley should aim.

Have you ever been bowling abroad? I've been bowling in Zurich and Sydney and the bowling alleys there are all wrong: bright colors, loud music, high prices, menus with items like sliders and satay skewers and way too clean. No, if you ask me, plastic seats, cheesy graphics and cheap cocktails are part of the American bowling alley's charm.