Friday, May 29, 2009

Our new netbook and camera

Early last month I posed a question about Netbooks. Well, after some additional research, we bit the bullet and got one – an Acer w/ 160GB hard drive (which is a ton for a netbook- most have 8-16GB space thus can’t do much except run Windows) for a steal at Sam’s Club for $256.

(I wanted pink but got the blue one for Mr. Lush’s sake)
I didn’t know much about Acer but I asked around to some computer geeks at work and they came highly recommended, well over the HP I was considering. I poured over reviews and basically came up with occasionally, just like every electronic product, you might have a problem and need to call customer service….and Acer’s customer service evidently (or so I read) REALLY sucks. However, I purchased the extended warranty from Sams Club, so should something go wrong, I get to deal with Sams Club instead. So far, it appears to be working out great.

While I was shopping, I decided it was time for a new camera. We got the Canon PowerShot SD960 IS 12.1MP Digital Camera. (also could've gotten pink, but no, I got silver)

It *supposedly* takes good low light pictures….I’ll test it out this weekend and see how it goes. I know, SLRs are great....but they don't fit in your pocket and this is little - about 150% bigger than a deck of cards - and we need pocket size. Mr. Lush got a HUGE 8GB memory card for it…(on sale for $20 at Office Depot – also a great deal) so we have plenty of room for thousands of pics and videos. Also, the card just slips into the netbook, so I can just take pics from there to my blog and keep everyone updated on our European travels.

Things are looking ok…..still have a lot to do and we leave in 9 days but managed to cross 6 things off the list between yesterday and today!!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Roadtripping frustrations

In honor of the recent holiday weekend we, along with 50,000 other St. Louisians went down I-44 to a lake (we happened to go to Table Rock Lake). During the road trip I encountered some frustrations.

1) Cops. Yep, sorry Mr. D, just didn’t like your kind this weekend. They were everywhere – bridges, overpasses, on ramps, off ramps, and at bottoms of steep hills (I think that might be called a speed trap!). Yes, we know. Don’t speed on a holiday weekend- got it. For the love of god, between the holiday traffic and the on/off pouring showers I TRIED to go above 75 to pass someone who was going 65 in the fast lane of a 70mph zone and couldn’t do it. The last thing I need is everybody braking because they see a cop in the pouring rain. Grr.

2) MODOT. Just in general. First, why are you re-striping things on holiday weekends? Why are you putting “Be Prepared To Stop” signs in the middle of nowhere? Once again, just to cause panic slowdowns? Grr!

3) My frickin passenger side seatbelt. It ALWAYS, ALWAYS locks up on me. Does anyone else have this problem or am I just a fidget freak? It doesn’t happen on the driver’s side, but it does with the passenger side every stinkin time. Doesn’t matter if we’re braking, cruising, stopped, etc. The darn thing locks up the moment I move and never goes free again until I unbuckle it, let it go all the way up, then take it back out. WTF??

I will note though that Layla was a very good girl in the car. Pretty much slept the whole way there and the whole way back. Good puppy. Except for pooping while Mommy had you on the leash in the parking lot - you should've saved that for Daddy.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Metrolink Haters

Last night I was lucky enough to attend my second Cardinals / Cubs game in a row (thanks to a couple of good friends sharing good and free tickets). Mr. Lush and I always ride the Metrolink to the games - we live about 2 miles from a park and ride stop and its just nice to get dropped off at the stadium. Well, last night Mr. Lush was busy and he was going to be late, so I rode the Metrolink alone.

Question- what goes through your head right now? Are you think I’m going to tell a tale of mugging? Near mugging? Improper behavior? Criminal activity aboard the public transportation?

Nope. Nothing happened. Just a bunch of Cardinal (and a couple Cubs) fans riding along. One I got to the game, few people inquired how it was riding the Metrolink, implying it was full of crime and horrible to ride and oh my god you have to wait forever after the game. Uh, not really, but sure, public transportation does lend itself to more crime, just keep your purse/backpack/etc close. Really the only unpleasant thing about it is that since a recent proposition to increase sales tax to fund the Metrolink didn’t pass, they’ve had to make cutbacks. (The only reason it didn’t pass is because at that moment, gas was sooooo reasonable and now…its climning back up!) Thus, after the game instead of extra trains, they hold trains back so everyone can pack in. So, you wait for the train for about 10-15 minutes (Mr. Lush and I will often use this opportunity to have a post game drink and wait for the crowd to die down) then you’re on your way.

I digress. I rode the Metrolink there but on the way home I rode with Mr. Lush, who parked about 6 blocks away for $4. We took a back way to the highway and didn’t hit too much traffic and when he dropped me off at the Metrolink station to get my car. Guess what had already arrived by the time we got there? In the time that it took us to leave the game, walk 6 blocks, get out of the parking lot, hit one block of traffic and drove directly there, the Metrolink train had already arrived and those people were in their cars, leaving the parking lot.

The moral of the story? Don’t be a Metrolink Hater and don't be so quick to judge public transportation – and for the love of god, next time a proposition comes up, vote for the ½ of 1% of sales tax or whatever piddly amount it takes to help it! Public transportation is great - I wish we had more of it so we didn't have to worry about who's driving after a night out!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Train travel - booked

I bought our train tickets for travel within France yesterday on Rail Europe's website. They offer a few "cost saving" options such as the Anywhere Anytime France Pass and the France SaverPass....however, after looking at the options of buying our tickets indivually or booking through the pass options, I realized I had to pay a reservation fee for certain rides (almost all) and that those passes ended up being more expensive or at best, break even but with less freedom on travel times (only certain trains are covered, I suppose?). I was rather surprised, because we're going from Toulouse to Bordeaux, Bordeaux to St. Emilion, Libourne (bigger station by St. Emilion) to Dijon, and Djion to Pairs. We're really seeing a good amount of France and taking some long rides so one would think we would be the ideal people to save on these deals. But nope. I even checked on the 1st class AND 2nd class options - still the same outcome.

In the end, we purchased our tickets indivually with the long rides in 1st class and the short rides in 2nd. The ride from Toulouse to Bordeaux is a little over 2 hours and the ride from Libourne to Dijon is a total of 5 1/2 hours (3+ hours to Paris, then has a 2 hour stopover, then to Dijon in about 2 hours) - both those are 1st class. The difference between 1st and 2nd class? Reclining roomier seats with armrests - and the price difference was between $15-35 / person depending on the trip. I can handle a short ride being uncomfortable, but I don't want to spend5 hours on a seat that doesn't recline and is little, you know? But since I'll be riding both 1st and 2nd class on a variety of trains, I can let you know if 1st class is worth it.

Either way, happy to cross one more thing off the list.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

My dog needs some bitch friends

Layla has two boyfriends, Brix and Bodhi, that she plays with. She’s fickle and can’t decide which is her favorite – such a player, my doggie! Brix is big and strong and wears her out and Bodhi lets her dominate. Choices, choices. ;)

Well anyway, today I took her on a walk and noticed some boy-like behaviors: she went pee like 6 times, as if she was “marking her territory” (the walk was only a mile- she didn't need to go that often and it was always quick!) and at one point, she even started to lift her leg! I guess its “monkey see monkey do” (“doggie see doggie do”) so we need to Layla around some girls to teach her some ladylike manners!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Zins = not always the best match for BBQ

It seems that popular opinion is that Zins go well with BBQ....but I think I've decided that most Zinfandels don't go that well with the Lush BBQ. (Now, our BBQ is slightly spicy - so this isn't a blanket statement that NO Zins go well with ANY BBQ.)

Last weekend we smoked up a brisket and topped it with some BBQ sauce, had a few friends over and had a Graff Family Grenache, Imagery Tempranillo, and a Meeker Zin. The Zin was a high alcohol zin - 15.6% I think - but it was like adding cayenne pepper to the BBQ - it knocked up the spice by at least 2x. The Grenache, a medium bodied fruity wine (Vibrant blueberries and wild cherry surround the deeper smoky and spicy flavors of this light fruit-driven wine) went best, and the Tempranillo was also very good with it. But the Zin, while VERY good on its own, just seemed too hot- even after an hour or two of decanting. (side note - I would recommend any of these wines - all were great - I'm only talking about their pairing ability with our BBQ)

There are exceptions - I haven't paid a ton of attention, but I remember that some Zins have been better with our BBQ than others - and I'm willing to bet that the ones that were better with the BBQ had a lower alcohol content. So, should you have a spicy BBQ and want to pair a wine, look for either a low alc Zin (hard to find sometimes) or pick something a bit fruitier. If you have regular ole BBQ that's not spicy at all (maybe something Kansas City style)...then go forward with the Zins.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Chicken stuffed porta shrooms and sauv blanc

I’m sure you’re wondering what’s been going on – have I been having ANY good wines lately? Has every moment been dedicated to my trip? Really, the answer is yes to both – I HAVE had some good wines and nearly every moment HAS been decided to the trip planning. So its time for a much needed break on trip discussions and lets get back to good food and good wine, shall we?

The other night I made a stuffed mushroom dish – a very large stuffed mushroom, portabella mushroom to be exact. I threw the mushrooms in the oven for about 15 minutes at 350 and while they were cooking, I finely diced up chicken, sautéed it in Italian seasonings, mixed the chicken with some breadcrumbs and some Sargento Bistro Blends of mozzarella, basil, and sundried tomatoes. I mixed a bit of garlic alfredo sauce in the mix, stuffed it all into the mushrooms and baked them for another 20 minutes at 400 degrees. Topped with a smidge more alfredo sauce and served with the Niner Sauvignon Blanc (yes, there are actually ones I like). We served it with a nice spinach salad (both were good with the wine) and it was great. Now, this dish isn’t for the calorie counting folk, but it was delicious. Mr. Lush and I each ate one mushroom and split another one and he had the last one for lunch the next day and said it warmed up quite well.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Dublin - booked!

As I said in a post long ago, Mr. Lush is in charge of planning the 2 days in Dublin. Well, with a little extra research help from me, he booked the Drury Court Hotel on Lower Stephens Street. (no affiliation to the Drury Inns in the US) It’s a couple blocks south of Temple Bar area (“stumbling distance”, Lucy) and a couple blocks north of St. Stephens Green, also close to Dublin Castle and about a mile from the Guinness Storehouse. (because really, what’s a trip to Dublin without visiting Guinness)

We discovered the hotel through Dublin’s Tourism Website and he actually booked through there as well, because for some reason, the rate was better, even including the 2.50 Euro booking fee, to book through that website than through the Hotel’s website. Our rate was 69E per night including breakfast. (Although I’m not holding my breath that the breakfast will be edible, its still nice that its included.) The hotel also has free wi-fi in the rooms, a must for updating friends, family, and blog followers.

Some other hotels we considered, but decided against solely based on their lack of close proximity to multiple things we wanted to do: Maldron Hotel Parnell Square, Arlington Hotel O'Connell Bridge, and Camden Court Hotel. All were fairly well rated on Trip Advisor and were under 90 Euros per night.

Now, of course, Mr. Lush does need to plan what we’re going to do in Dublin for those two days. I’m fine with having a couple options per day – we don’t need every minute planned. (which I suppose is a good thing, as he couldn’t plan that anyway) We actually know 3 separate groups of people who are going to Ireland after us, so we'll certainly have to take notes.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Burgundy - booked!

Ok, Burgundy is booked. We really had a hard time deciding where to stay in Burgundy – we really want to experience a lot of the region’s wines, but as with the rest of our trip, proximity to a main road is important along with relatively easy access to bus or train station (ie not a 25km taxi ride). We also wanted to stay somewhere that we could conceivably walk to at least one or two other vineyards. I sent out a ton of emails and didn’t get a ton of responses, either because they were booked, don’t read English, don’t like Americans or combination of those.

In the end, we chose Maison Jean-Philippe Marchand in Gevrey Chambertin. Gevrey-Chambertin is between Dijon and Beaune and has 9 grands crus and 26 premiers crus. The village only produces red wines, which is fine, we’ll certainly pick up some whites here and there. It’s a little village so it looks like there’s much great wine to be had within a decent walk. (note to self- we’re planning a lot of walking …. must start walking a lot daily to get into the groove) It also appears there is a bus station about ½ mile away, which can take us down to Beaune as well as way south, to Macon for the day. Here’s a link to directions from Gevrey Chambertin to Macon to give you an overall view of where it is.

It appears Burgundy has a decent bus system, however, as with most sites, there isn’t as much info in English as in French but I feel relatively good that we’ll have at least some options to get around the region using public transportation – we might be limited on where we can based on where the bus drops us off at, but we’ll deal. (I have run across enough reminders looking at Chateau, Domaine, and tourism websites reminding me that drinking and driving don’t mix to decide we for sure aren’t renting a car)

We contemplated staying 2 of our 4 nights in one place and 2 in another place, but at the price of 55 Euros per night….its hard to justify staying somewhere else at 95 Euros per night. However, should you be visiting, here’s a couple other places I considered:
Chateau Andre Ziltener (ok, I considered it until I found out the price – 220 Euros per night, but looks very lovely)
Bergerie de Fuisse – 90 Euros per night and it wasn’t a vineyard, but the rooms do notably look nicer than the one we chose. It was way south, however.
Hotel de Vougeut – Probably the biggest contender in the Clos de Vougeut area. Its part of Domaine Bertanga and is a separate house turned into a hotel. Price was the biggest factor, while reasonable at 98 Euros per night – it just came down to saving 45 Euros per night. Ultimately, not matter where we stayed, we’d have to get transportation to other areas, so we thought we’d rather have the money to buy more wine.

Whew. Now I can start picking what wines we’ll have.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

To rent a car or no?

Ok, our initial plan was to take public transportation around France - then we don't have to deal with driving at all- muchess worrying about being intoxicated and driving. However, I'm reconsidering it for one reason - while public transportation is a-plenty within the country, its a-plenty to cities/towns, not always within cities towns. So while I know how I'm getting to St. Emilion, I'm unable to find how I'm going to get around St. Emilion- from our Chateau to the town center, for example.

Well the pros with having a car is that we're in charge of our own schedule and would have no problems getting to and from where we're going without waiting on someone else. Cons are worries about knowing the driving rules, paying for insurance, high gas prices, finding parking, and of course, the doozy of worrying about drinking and driving. Without a car we have to pay for train tickets and then find and pay for transportation around within the areas we visit. Some prices aren't horribly bad - one taxi company off the St. Emilion had a half day tour advertised for 25 Euros per person, however a Chateau told me a taxi from the train station to the Chateau (which is maybe 15km away, or so I thought) is 30Euros (total).

Even with rental, insurance, and gas, I'm sure we'd spend more on doing the train/bus/taxi route, even with trying to save as much as we could. I suppose there's also a possibility of someone at our Chateaux taking us to a destination, whether it be the owner or another guest or if the owners know someone who is starting out in that business, etc, and who knows, it might end up costing less than I think. I like the idea of not driving, but I don't want to be stuck unable to get where we need to go.

See why I'm torn? What are your thoughts?

What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

St. Emilion - update

A few posts ago I told you that we were eliminating CDP and staying in Bordeaux and St. Emilion for 4 nights and that I wasn't sure if Chateau Monlot had a room available for all three nights. They do - unfortunately after many exchanges (hate the language and time difference barriers) - we booked our chosen room for 2 nights at 98Euros and a suite for 130 Euros. Ouch. (yes, that means we have to switch rooms) But, at this point, we're talking about a Saturday night stay and everything is booked so rather than search, I just took the hit on the one night stay. Its done and its a Grand Cru vineyard, there could be worse things!

I've still not booked Burdundy yet - I didn't get responses from all the places I emailed and so I sent a few more out yesterday. Hopefully we can get that hammered out in the next day or two. Then I just need to pick out the wineries we're going to visit.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Paris - booked!

We have booked Paris. We had a hard time picking out a location – of course we want to see the Eiffel Tower, however, we probably want to go up the Montparnasse Tower- we’ve read that although its not pretty to see itself, the lines are less, the cost is less, and the view of Paris is the same as Eiffel, if not better as you can see the Eiffel Tower (good for pictures. :) Mr. Lush also wants to see the Pere Lechaise Cemetery (where Jim Morrison and others are buried), and that’s in the east part of the city (which is close to where we’re staying.) Here’s a quick glance map of major attractions and their districts (Arrondissement).

Basically, we couldn’t find one spot that was close to everything we wanted to see, so I poured over reviews and decided on the Hotel le Relais du Marais. Its 125 E per night, includes wi-fi in the room. Its reviews were that it was clean, the hotel staff is friendly, and its really close to a Metro station so it makes everyplace in Paris seem close. Negatives were the room size (as with nearly all under 200 E per night hotels in Paris) and that its so close to the Metro that sometimes it’s a bit loud and you may not be able to sleep with your window open. I must note that the pictures online do make the room seem a bit bigger – the ones on Trip Advisor show it’s a bit smaller, but it was the top rated hotel under 150 Euros per night and hardly anyone had anything negative to say about it- which is impressive as there is always SOMEONE on Trip Advisor who dislikes a place.

Its in the Marais district (in the north part of the 3rd Arrondissement - close to the 11th) – we opted against the oh so popular Rue Cler – right by the Republique and down the street from the Centre Pompidu, which honestly I might want to see more than the Louvre, which is also a 5 minute metro ride away. (well, that might not be true- I do want to see the Louvre, but I’ve heard the lines are soooo long (6+ hours) that we’re going to be armed with alternatives – because I don’t want to see the Louvre enough to wait that long in line.)

Here’s the map from the hotel’s website:

We had our eye on another hotel in Marais, which of course was booked, as it was quite a bit cheaper – the Hotel Jeanne d’Arc.

For your reading pleasure, here’s some info on the 3rd Arrondissement from Frommers website: 3rd Arrondissement (Le Marais) This district embraces much of Le Marais (the swamp), one of the best-loved Right Bank neighborhoods. (It extends into the 4th as well.) After decades of decay, Le Marais recently made a comeback, though it may never again enjoy the prosperity of its 17th-century aristocratic heyday; today it contains Paris's gay neighborhood, with lots of gay/lesbian restaurants, bars, and stores, as well as the remains of the old Jewish quarter, centered on rue des Rosiers. Two of the chief attractions are the Musée Picasso, a kind of pirate's ransom of painting and sculpture, which the Picasso estate had to turn over to the French government in lieu of the artist's astronomical death duties, and the Musée Carnavalet, which brings to life the history of Paris from prehistoric times to the present.