Thursday, February 27, 2014

Delta Airlines changes their frequent flyer program...

You gotta love corporate spin.  This morning, I got an email from Delta Airlines explaining that they were changing their frequent flyer program so that people would be rewarded based on the amount they paid for their tickets rather than the number of miles they fly.  Naturally, they made this sound *awesome*, even though it basically rewards business flyers because they tend to pay more for their tickets.  Now you have to spend at least $2500 a year on tickets in order to reach the lowest tier of their medallion program.

For me, personally, this is not a huge deal.  Although I usually try to fly Delta because their miles don't expire, I know I'll never have a lot of miles.  I mostly joined the program so I might not have to board in zone four.

Of course other airlines are watching how people react to this news.  Along with all the other hassles and indignities of flying, this is yet one more way to stick it to consumers.  Flying is expensive and annoying, but it does shorten travel time and, in many cases, is the only practical way you can get somewhere.  I'm surprised they offer any rewards, given how uncomfortable and unpleasant flying can be.  Frequent flyer miles are really just a gimmick to make you think you're getting something for your business.  What the airlines really want you to do is sign up for credit cards so they can make more money.

Anyway, this is not good news for bargain hunters who like to fly.  For me, it's probably business as usual.


Monday, February 24, 2014

Interesting video from the Soviet era...

If you've read my main blog, you may know that I was once a Peace Corps Volunteer in the former Soviet Union.  From 1995-97, I worked as a teacher at a school in the Republic of Armenia.  The job itself was pretty tough for a lot of reasons.  I think teaching is difficult, but trying to teach in Armenia was, for me, pretty chaotic.  A lot of times, I didn't even know which class I would be teaching.  Sometimes my classes would be cancelled or reassigned and I would find out the day of.  I did have some good students, though, who were well-behaved and smart.

Last night, while messing around on YouTube, I found this video that was listed as a "tribute" to Soviet style education…

What strikes me about this video is that all the kids are dressed the same.  In Armenia, a lot of kids would come to school in black and white on the first day.  Maybe a couple of them had red kerchiefs kind of like what they would have worn as Young Pioneers.  After the first day of school, they dressed as they pleased.

The next thing that strikes me is how old this video looks.  It was from 1981, when I would have been 8 or 9 years old.  I know that was a long time ago, but it doesn't seem like it was that long ago to me!

I appreciate the musical numbers.  I used music a lot in my classes, though I don't remember my pupils being this well-behaved or singing as well as the teachers and students in this video.

Finally, it just strikes me as weird that for the first 19 years old my life, the Soviet Union existed and seemed like such a huge threat to the United States.  And then I actually lived in the former Soviet Union and realized that it was mostly a big facade.

I would not trade my time in the Peace Corps, even though parts of the experience sucked.  My time as a PCV changed my life in positive ways.  But this video is far removed from my experiences in the former Soviet Union.  I can't imagine that things changed that much from 1991 until 1995, when I started teaching kids English.  I also learned through this experience that teaching is not my forte.

ETA…  check out this bizarre relic from the Soviet era.  The same guy in the above video is in the one.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Cool storm video from my hometown...

I grew up in Gloucester, Virginia.  A few days ago, there was a severe storm there.  A man named Randy Pryor made this film showing the storm approaching incredibly fast.  It was such a serious storm that it broke his window.

The Coleman Bridge is at the southern end of Gloucester.  I have driven over it countless times in my lifetime.  It looks like Mr. Pryor is on the Gloucester side of the bridge, looking toward Yorktown.  I'm glad he and his dog weren't hurt when the storm broke the window.  That must have been scary!

Gloucester was also hit by the tornado that ripped through the South in April 2011.  Bill and I lived in Sanford, North Carolina at the time and our town also got hit.  The tornado destroyed the local Lowe's store.  I don't remember having these scary tornados when I was growing up.  I guess they are the new reality as the globe warms.   

Monday, February 17, 2014

Old West Burgers, San Antonio, Texas...

I decided I wanted to go out and try a different burger joint today.  Bill and I decided to go to Old West Burgers in the Shavano Park area of San Antonio off the 1604 Loop.  I had noticed this place from the car last time we drove past that area.  It has a very simple Web site which is pretty much just the menu, but I had read some reviews of the place that made it sound appealing and different.

We walked in at about 2:30pm and a friendly guy behind the counter welcomed us and asked how he could help us.  I said we'd never been there before, so he gave us a quick lowdown on what they had to offer.  They specialize in burgers and offer everything from the regular beef burgers to chicken to even vegan varieties.  They also offer salads.  I really wanted a burger so I ordered the guacamole burger ($7.99), while Bill got the jalapeño burger ($7.99).  All burgers come with fries, but if you want to pay a little more (99 cents), you can get tater tots or sweet potato fries.  Bill got regular fries but I got the tater tots.  Then we each ordered beers.  Old West Burgers has a pretty good selection, especially of Texas beers.

I had a Santos...

Bill had a Ballast Point IPA...

Nice bar area overlooks a pleasant outdoor seating area… There's also a playground for kids.

Huge projection TV!

Modern country music blared over the sound system as we looked around at the spacious dining room.  There was only one other couple sitting in the restaurant, so our food was up pretty quickly.  

Guacamole burger with tater tots… It was absolutely delicious, juicy, with excellent homemade, fresh rolls.  The tater tots were also very good.  I struggled to finish the sandwich, but was feeling good when I was finished.

Jalapeño burger had a cheese and jalapeño bun, also homemade, as well as jalapeño peppers on top.  Bill pronounced it outstanding.

A view of the back wall.

The shopping center where this place is located… 4553 N.W. Loop 1604 

Bill and I could definitely see ourselves going back for another burger at Old West Burgers.  The service was fast and friendly and the burgers were very satisfying.  I especially loved the buns.  It's not so easy to get there, but it was definitely worth the trip.  I think Chester's Hamburger Company has a better beer selection, but I definitely preferred the burgers and fries offered at Old West Burgers.  I'm glad I got the urge for an outing!  Looks like they also have events.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

House Hunters International makes me dream of living overseas...

I swear, I would love to go back to Europe for a few years.  I watch House Hunters International and it makes me long to move to another country, preferably in Central Europe.  We both know we like being expats.  I'm just not really feeling Texas.

I did tell Bill that I think we should look into getting pre-qualified for a home loan, in case we do stay here or move elsewhere.  We get one move and there's always a chance our shitty property managers may want us to sign another lease because our lease was signed with different property managers (I did NOT want to do business with the property managers we have now).  And if they want to raise the rent, I am for sure wanting to leave.  This house is not worth what we pay now.

But we only get one move on the Army and I don't want to waste it moving into another rental or a house we don't want in a city we don't love that much.  I don't hate San Antonio, but I don't see myself wanting to stay here for years unless there's a compelling reason to stay.

House Hunters International sure makes me dream of where we could go…  Right now, I dream of Germany or Belgium, but hell, even a move to the Pacific Northwest or Colorado might be interesting.

We'll see what happens.  I think I'll do some searching of my own...

Friday, February 14, 2014

Now where?

I usually have someplace I want to visit next after I take a big trip.  Right now, I have to confess, I can't think of where we should go next.  It's probably because I'm pretty nervous about what Bill is going to do next.  Leaving the military is a big deal.

April 25 is when Bill goes on transitional leave.  He's out of the Army on July 1.  It's going to be odd having a civilian husband.  It looks like the Army isn't going to have a lot of jobs available when he's done, either, so we may end up moving.  I think it's likely we'll move anyway, because we hate this house we live in.

I was hoping we'd squeeze in one last cruise before we leave the Army… and maybe we can do that, though it might not be the kind of cruise we usually do.

I'd really like to go to Ireland, but that may be more than we can afford this year, since we are still recovering from Spain and Portugal.  I'm still interested in doing a river barge cruise with European Waterways in France or Ireland.

This looks like it's about my speed!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Texas or Germany?

I have a feeling that once Bill retires, we'll end up staying in Texas.  But really, we could end up anywhere.  For the first time in our marriage, our next station will largely be our choice.  Well, it'll be our choice to the point that we can go wherever there is appropriate work available.

Bill has contacts in several places.  We could conceivably end up in North Carolina, Virginia, Texas, or even Germany.  Bill found a job in Stuttgart that he's a very good fit for.  He hesitates to apply for jobs now because retirement is a few months off.  I say he needs to circulate his resume now.  It takes time to find work.  That was true even in the dark ages when I was looking.

I don't really want to go back to Virginia because I have spent most of my life trying to get out of there. It is my home, though, and living there would put me close to friends and family.  On the other hand, I kind of like not living so close to family.  North Carolina would be okay, though we would probably choose a different area than where we were living before.

Texas is okay except there are so damn many people here.  Just driving around this city, you see so many houses on zero lots, packed in so tightly.  Yes, there's work here, but it's not a place that feels like home to me.  Nevertheless, we're looking for a place that might be a good place to settle.  Texas offers some really nice benefits to Texas veterans, including home loans.  Given that Bill's ex wife screwed him out of his VA benefits, this is a great opportunity for us.

So we'll see…  But given my 'druthers, we'd move back to Germany for a few years and save up some money so we can buy a house.  I don't feel ready to buy a home now, even though it's supposedly a good time to do so.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Foreign language teachers who make you change your name...

I'm posting this in my travel blog because I figure a lot of the people who look at this blog must have taken a foreign language class at some point.  I studied Spanish for about six years total.  You'd never know it based on my recent trip to Spain and complete inability to express myself.  But I do have the transcripts to prove I did take Spanish; and one thing at least one of my Spanish teachers did was force everyone in our class to "change" our names to something Spanish.

By the time she got to me, all the best names were taken.  So my sophomore year of high school, I went through the whole year being called "Bonita".  Bonita means "pretty" in Spanish, so naturally, I got a lot of shit for calling myself that.  But it was either that, or some other name that I liked even less.  There were maybe three or four names left to choose from.  I don't remember what they were, but I do remember Bonita was the least icky of them all.

From what I understand, this is a common activity in foreign language classes.  Somehow, going by a name other than what your parents named you is supposed to help you advance in your foreign language learning process.  I don't get it, though.  How is calling myself Bonita going to make my Spanish skills progress?  I mean, I guess if you like your new name, it might help you get into the spirit of the process.  But I didn't like the name Bonita and was happy when I could abandon it in June of that year.

I just asked my Facebook friends if they ever had to "change" their name for a foreign language class.  So far, only guys have responded.  I get the sense that guys tended to think that was a dumb thing to have to do.  The girls probably didn't mind it as much, especially if they got a name they liked better than their own.  For the guys, it was probably pointless.  I mean, your ability to conjugate verbs and pronounce trilled r's probably has nothing to do with the fact that for 50 minutes a day, your name is "Raul" or "Rafael".

It wasn't just the Spanish teachers who did this, though.  French teachers did it too.

I'd be interested in knowing if today's teachers even have time for such a pointless activity.  In my day, we could play Spanish bingo and win dulces when we got "Bingo".   But from what I understand, today's kids are too busy preparing for tests to have time for fun and games.  Hell, a lot of 'em don't even get P.E. class anymore.  Why would they have time for new foreign language names or Spanish Bingo?  Or watching cheesy Spanish soap operas from the early 70s?  I swear to God, in the same Spanish class during which I had to call myself Bonita, we watched an early 70s soap called Zarabanda.  I think it was actually an educational soap, but all I remember about it besides the theme song was the ugly Brady Bunch era outfits they wore.  

OMG… Someone posted it on YouTube!

Apparently, Spanish classes are still using this soap…  They were old in the 80s!

Anyhoo, if anyone out there can shed some light on this for me, drop me a comment.


Monday, February 3, 2014

Great booze tourism spots...

While there's no denying that some people shouldn't drink alcohol and over imbibing can lead to health problems, there's also no denying that booze tourism is a trend that's been growing in popularity.  Bill and I have definitely enjoyed some fun booze touristy spots in our travels.  Here's a list of some of the places we enjoyed the most.

Vinopolis- London, England  (ETA: Sadly, Vinopolis is now closed!)

Bill and I visited Vinopolis in January 2009 over Martin Luther King weekend.  We were living in Germany at the time, so it wasn't too hard to get to London.  I had heard about Vinopolis by watching Samantha Brown's Passport to Europe.  Knowing how much we enjoy tasting booze, we knew we had to make a point of stopping there.  We tasted everything from Slovenian wine to Czech absinthe.  Afterwards, we staggered to the Clink Museum next door and looked at all the prison memorabilia.

Bill tries out the moped through Italy's wine regions...


Waiting for a Bombay Sapphire gin cocktail.

Chodovar- Chodova Plana, Czech Republic

I never thought I'd take a bath in beer, but I sure did when we visited Chodovar.  I first heard about Chodovar when I saw it featured on Zane Lamprey's drinking show, Three Sheets.  In February 2009, I decided we needed to pay the place a visit.  I neglected to bring my camera on that trip, but if you click the link, you can see plenty of photos of the pewter tubs where you soak in hops and sip beer.  Afterwards, we relaxed in a dark room, then enjoyed massages.  The whole experience was very reasonably priced.  I think for the entire weekend, which included meals, parking, and three nights in the hotel, cost us less than $500.

Pilsner Urquell Museum- Plzen, Czech Republic

We saw this museum on the same trip in February 2009 and it, too, was featured on Three Sheets.  This museum offers a great history of Pilsner Urquell brewing and beer making in general.  After you're finished looking at the extensive museum, you can stop by the restaurant and sample the beer.  We also had a nice lunch there.

This show is worth watching if you are curious about the Czech Republic and all the boozing you can do there.  On a side note, I sat in the same tub at Chodovar Zane Lamprey is in.

Asheville, North Carolina

We went to Asheville to celebrate our eighth wedding anniversary and were delighted to find a great beer culture there.  There are a number of craft beers made in Asheville, many of which offer tours.  If you prefer wine, you can stop by the Biltmore Estate, which offers tours of its winery and tastings.  Bill and I took the tour and were very impressed by the quality of the wines sold there.

Dinner at a brewpub...

The Biltmore on a cloudy day!

Beautiful Asheville!

Texas Wine Country!

Living near San Antonio, Bill and I aren't too far from Texas Wine Country, which is in the hills northwest of San Antonio.  There, you will find a string of wineries offering surprisingly good products.  One of my favorite stops is Comfort, Texas, which is where you'll find Bending Branch Winery and Singing Water Vineyards…  I'm sure there are more I'd love, but we haven't visited them yet.  In all seriousness, Texas Wine Country boasts 37 wineries.  With San Antonio, Austin, New Braunfels, and  Fredericksburg all in the vicinity, there's plenty of opportunity for non booze related fun, too.  Of course, there are craft breweries in Texas too… and excellent tequila.

Museum of Creveja- Lisbon, Portugal

Okay, so the Museum of Beer in Lisbon isn't all that exciting in terms of beer tourism.  I mean, you wouldn't go to Lisbon just to see the beer museum unless you were extremely hardcore.  But if you happen to be in Lisbon, it's not a bad idea to stop by the beer museum to learn about Portugal's influence in brewing.  It's three euros a person to see the exhibit, which includes a sample.  Then you can head to the bar where you can imbibe to your heart's content.

Bill drinks with a fake monk.

Bill and I went to Scotland and visited two whisky distilleries.  We also visited the Scotch Whisky Experience, which is pretty cool if you can't go to the distilleries.  Granted, the distilleries may be more authentic, but the Scotch Whisky Experience is right there in Edinburgh.  On the other hand, we learned much about the scotch making process at Arran and Springbank distilleries.  And the Springbank distillery was especially cool, since it offers one of the few examples of Campbeltown style scotch whisky.  Campbeltown used to be a big whisky hub, but sadly a lot of the distilleries are gone now. 

The Scotch Whisky Experience has an enormous collection of scotches…

Okay, so Hampton, Georgia isn't exactly on most peoples' tourism hotspots, but if you're willing to get there, you may be in for a treat.  Bill and I used to live in a town close to Hampton, which is where a local entrepreneur purchased the old jailhouse and made it into a craft brewing facility.  You can take a tour and taste their excellent brews, which have really caught on in the Atlanta area.  Bill and I can't get JailHouse beers in Texas, but luckily we have friends who can send it to us.  If you're in the Atlanta area and don't mind taking a trip south of the city, I recommend a trip to JailHouse Brewing Company!

As you can see, Bill enjoyed his taste of the Breakout Stout!

I'm sure there will be more posts on this subject as we keep traveling!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Belgian beer!

I was inspired to post about Belgian beer today because last night, Bill and I went on a beer run and I picked up a four pack of Duchesse De Bourgogne.  I had never heard of this beer before and, given that it was priced at $22, I might have given it pass just a few years ago based on its price alone.  But there was only one four pack sitting there and I felt sorry for it.  It was covered with dust.  And I do love a good Belgian beer.

The beer I just discovered…

An employee at Spec's noticed the four pack in my basket and cheered.  "Yea!  Someone's finally buying that!  It's a good beer!"

I said, "That's what I'm counting on."

He said, "I won't let you down."

So I just opened this beer, which according to its label--  "Duchesse De Bourgogne is a Belgian top-fermented reddish-brown ale, a blend of 8 and 18 months old beers following the careful maturation in oak casks."

I tasted it.  It's sour… tastes a lot like a very complex lambic.  That's what you call a graduate level beer.

An awesome beer joint we found in Brussels…

When Bill and I went to Belgium for the first time, we spent most of the weekend drunk.  There was beer aplenty everywhere, just begging to be tasted.  So we obliged and we went bar to bar, trying exotic Belgian brews over Labor Day weekend in 2008.  

We even visited the Delirium Tremens Cafe, which at one time held the world's record for the number of different beers available.

Yes, it was a very beery time!

Ever since that trip, I've been in love with Belgian beers.  Whenever we go to a liquor store, I keep an eye out for Belgian brews.  The more exotic, the better.  I'm not usually scared off by price too much because usually it turns out they're worth it.  I know a lot of Americans prefer more pedestrian brews.  But for me, any culture that combines the elegance of wine with the fun of beer is worth visiting.  I am especially fond of a good kriek, that is, cherry beer.

Kwak is a favorite!  It even gets a special glass!

I don't remember the name of the beer I drank here, but I do remember it was pretty high-powered.

A very cool bar in Brussels where I had my first kriek!

We discovered a lot of great spots in Belgium thanks to Zane Lamprey and his now defunct show, Three Sheets.  I liked the show so much that we named our beagle after Zane Lamprey.

I think today we will enjoy our Saturday… and I will enjoy lots of Belgian beers. 

Beer #2…  Golden Draak!  Yum!