...another new blog, sorry

The time comes again
That my title seems odd, so
I get a new one.

Yup. New blog time. This semester's blog will be called SPRINT TO THE END, and it's at sprinttotheend.blogspot.com. See you there. ;)



Sometimes, the day we
Think we will have is further
Than we can believe.

I guess this is the last blog post for this summer... that's sad (again).
It's going to be a long one, though, so get your snacks ready.

Stories are first: since the last time that I wrote a post on here, I've been
traveling still. I found myself spending a last weekend in Berlin (a nice
bookend to my trip, I think, considering I spent my first one there) with
Alex. We went to a cocktail party of a friend of his and generally felt
fancy. I also had the chance to meet the guys he's been living with in Halle
this summer; we had a cookout and general good times.

What followed that was an arduously long train ride to FRA, the airport in
Frankfurt. It was about 7 hours on trains, plus a few hours waiting for a
connection in Mannheim. I'm afraid that I didn't even meet anyone interesting
on these trips; I was much too close to unconscious.

I had my final beer and pretzel breakfast when I arrived the next morning, and
I fell asleep again waiting for my flight. Julius was kind enough to come
meet me at the airport to say goodbye... but I must say I wasn't expecting
that he would actually show up (it had been a part of an offhand comment in
text messages fluttering around the previous day), so I had regrettably
already passed security.

Hours (and movies) later, I found myself in YYZ, which is almost assuredly the airport I've
found myself in second most (next to IND, of course). I was in a strange
travel-coma, as might be expected. Evan met me.

It was a rather odd sort of meeting (as he and I are apt to have, I suppose): he'd come to the airport in time for my flight to land, but I had the immense good fortune of receiving the last bag off the baggage carousel, and so he was sleeping against a post
when I finally emerged from the secret customs area in Pearson. He had been
to a rave the previous night, and was immediately recognizable amid the other
passersby thanks to feathers in his hair, electrical tape on his glasses
(broken again, and this time not by me!), raver candy gleaming on both wrists,
and a brightly coloured shirt. And we spent the afternoon at
his parents' house in Oakville, whereupon I passed out at 6pm and slept for a
good, long time.

The next day was a chance to explore around Waterloo, and by that I mean
"bother Jeff." We didn't have any sort of plan, and Jeff had spent a lot of
time recently playing Braid, so we decided to have a backwards day. We began
by having after-dinner drinks and playing cards, then progressed to going out
to the movies (District 9 - a very strange, but good, sci fi movie), eating dinner, playing on Jeff's Ripstik (which are tremendous
fun, by the way, and apparently the transportation of choice at Facebook,
where both Jeff and Evan will be working just one short week from noW),
getting gelato, and winding up by watching "Cannibal Apocalypse" (where I
slept again) and eating breakfast: Capitain Cronche in French.

A sort-of early start the next day sent Evan and me towards Pat in Montreal,
Canada's other village. It's around 6 hours from Toronto, but we dinked
around in Kingston (lunch at a place called the something-or-other Goat, which meant, naturally, that we had to go there) for a while and got to Pat's around 9.

The next day was spent eating our way through Montreal, which I guess is known for various cuisines. Poutine (yes, Mathieu, this was real poutine),
Montreal-style bagels, and smoked meat make for a very filling day. A quick tour of the "glorified hill" that is the Mont Real promised by the city's name and delicious dinner cooked by Pat's parents rounded out the day. Well, they rounded it out, and it was then capped off by a couple hours in the Fairbank family hot tub. :D

Biking 20km to the city was gorgeous the next day: we explored the old town and surrounding area. Biking 20km back in rain on a bike with no brakes was a little more trying, but it was okay after Evan, Pat, and I sat down to watch a little "Look Around You." I've now seen all 8 of the core episodes, and it was worth every moment.

There don't actually exist any photos of me and Pat from our trip... sort of tragic, but I promise I was there.

Then, back to Waterloo to harass Jeff again. We went to another movie: "Inglourious Basterds," the new and brilliant Tarantino flick. I got tremendous enjoyment from watching it, and though I was certainly the one laughing loudest I do believe everyone else did, too.

At 3:30 yesterday morning, Evan and I peeled ourselves out of bed and got in the car to collect Jeff and one of his friends, Jim, for an epically long and exciting road trip to Cedar Point in Sandusky, OH. The path we wound up taking was a complete circuit around Lake Erie--we went down through Buffalo on the way in and up through Detroit on the way out.

Cedar Point was everything that I remembered it to be. Huge coasters stacked up on a tiny peninsula, huge crowds making huge noise, and huge prices for tiny food. :) But, really, it was awesome. We hit all the big coasters there, despite a minor setback due to rain. At the end of the day, we were all starving, energy reserves depleted from screaming our way all the way through the day. We did have some great souvenir photo shots (one ride, the Raptor, now offers souvenir videos, which we were sorely tempted to purchase after filling them the entire ride with obscene gestures), among which I particularly liked the one showing Evan's mouth oddly contorted by one of the park's wooden coasters and he, Jeff, and I giving the rock \m/

Since we were starving, we headed back down the peninsula into tiny Sandusky to scavenge for food. We found a promising candidate: The Thirsty Pony, a bar/restaurant with pizza at good prices. We sat down and immediately ordered two large pizzas, cheese fries, and a round of beers. But on the way to the table, what was that? Television screens showing horses?

The Google Trio went to investigate. Horse races! None among us had ever bet on the ponies before, so why not try it out? It couldn't hurt, right? So we each threw $5 into the pot and attempted to discover how it's done. This post is getting pretty long already, so suffice to say that there are a lot of different ways to bet on horse races, and it's amusing to see the breakdown of how much money is sunk into safe vs. risky bets (it's displayed at the end of each race). We wound up turning our $15 into $16.80, and Evan and I nearly landed on roughly $3000 apiece in our last bet, but choosing the right horses isn't the same as choosing the right horses in the right order.

A drive sprint brought us to Detroit, where we were woefully lost for half an hour in tangles of one-way streets and seven-way intersections. During the drive, those of us who were not occupied with things like steering cracked open 5 tubes of glowsticks, left over from Evan's rave, and decorated the car with them. I believe we described that it looked like our car had become the nest to a glowing spider; bright ring chains twined through the oh-shit handles, up to the rearview mirror, through the driver- and passenger headrests, and onto all our wrists. We hung larger glowing rings over the sideview mirrors. And the Canadian border officer didn't say anything about them at all.

We finally collapsed into bed at around 5:40 this morning, then arose at the crack of one to get me ready to ship out back home. We had a delicious and nutritious breakfast of leftover pizza (which was deliciously garlicy, by the way), then an actually nutritious lunch-picnic alongside a lake on the way to YYZ.

Okay, now I guess that's all the basic information. In the interest of keeping this blog post to a not-entirely-unreasonable size, I think I'm going to cut it off here. It'll be tough to get back into "real life," whatever that is. Already I've been bombarded with requests from professors to please UI for their classes and set up their talent shows and lead their groups and be their treasurer. I guess that if I can't travel all the time (although I know already that I'm going to Pennsylvania, Arizona, Oregon, Quebec, and probably California this term), I have to keep myself busy somehow. And with a suicide schedule like I've got planned, I don't think that it will be hard. I guess I'll see what Evan's last semester was all about, but this is the FINAL SPRINT TO THE END: Graduation in December!

p.s. Anyone who is reading this (whichever states or countries you may be in) is most cordially invited to my as-yet-unplanned grad party. ;)



back to the alps

Sun sparkles over rocks,
Parts mists, lights mountains, and shines
On all those who smile.

I got another chance to see the Alps, and this time was absurdly fantastic. The comment I put on my Facebook album was that "this place was stupid gorgeous. I'm photo-retarded and wound up with some great shots."

I got to see Alex's "office," and by that I mean the obscenely gorgeous (and freezing) river he has to climb into every day. The water is a really fascinating blue; he told me that it's because it's running over limestone and picking up some of the minerals.

The place that we stayed the first night was a little hütte in the mountains that was owned jointly by a guy named Charly and a guy from Nepal. Charly rides his motorcycle into the mountains along a crazy trail every day to get there. There's a helicopter place out back so that they can airlift the beer in. At night, Charly plays the hammer dulcimer, Simon strums the guitar, and the guy from Nepal sings in languages I can't even recognize. The morning awakening (at a confused-blink-inducing 5:50am) is the same.

Some snow was still hanging on in the shadows of the mountains. I took some time to play in it.

We wandered over everywhere, spent some time stargazing (the Perseids are this week, for those of you keeping score at home), and explored a cave that Alex's supervisor had asked him to check out. The thing was not only at the top of a talus cone, there was about 3 metres of free-climb to be done to get up to it. And do you know what was at the top? Sheep poop. Damn sheep.

We ran into a friendly bunch of mountain sheep, actually, the black one among which was super excited to see us for some reason inapparent.

More wandering brought us to another hütte, where we stopped for a beer (airlifted beer... mmmm...). The rest of the day took us through the klam (gorge), where sudden rain fulfilled the double purposes of chasing away other tourists and making the place feel like a lost world. The klam is basically a canyon carved out by the Partnach (the river Alex works in); it has caves bored through the side for people to walk through, and they're lit with lights too tiny to push back the darkness of a stormy German sky entirely. It was spooky and beautiful.

I met Alex's roommates/field partners: Martin, a PhD student, and Christopher, the son of the professor he's working with. The four of us took a gondola up a mountain the next morning to start another hike.

Atop this mountain, it's apparently great sport to skydive. There were about half a dozen people packing parachutes on the grass, and there were platforms hanging into space designed for them to jump from. I wish I could've tried.

So we hiked down and down and down... pausing, since I was in the company of geologists, to survey a cave or two along the way. The route we took is evidently rather frequented: there were stairs in tough spots down it. We came to another hütte along the way, and Martin and Christopher had sensible lunches while Alex and I had less-than-sensible maßes (litres of beer). It made the rest of the hike down the mountain more fun.

We emerged through another klam, which makes for a pretty excellent story since it was the way out of hell. The valley we'd been in for a while was called Hell's something-or-other (Alex? what was it?). Anyway, this one was even more spectacular than the other one.

Following all that, we went back home for a much-needed shower. Then out to dinner with Mr. Steven Soneff, who was in the area on "business" (and by that I mean he was visiting family in Zürich and wound up committing CLs at the Google office there for part of a day).

I miss the mountains. I'll probably have to find myself there once again in the not-too-distant future. Maybe I'll be a geologist, after all. ;)

p.s. Picasa has been updated! All my photos are there now. :)Link


d&d revisited

No need to cower
In a dark basement when you
Play a robot bard.

Last night brought D&D: Round III. Evan got to take part this time, since he was around, but first a recap of last week's epic board adventures:

0.) The dwarf, the mage, the druid, the defender, and the barbarian find a lonely dragon in a cave and are presented with a medieval cell phone crystal in exchange for a pledge of friendship to him.

1.) The team return to town to sell the heads they've collected during their battles and get some much-needed rest. (And level up!)

2.) The party makes its merry way to Winterhaven in search of a new quest, following a tip from a patron of the tavern in the town they'd come from.

3.) Two dragonborns walk into a bar... and beat the shit out of each other. Well, Juniper (me) beat the shit out of Shamash (Julius). Well, actually, Juniper had been drinking, but he was the one who knocked himself out by trying to charge down the stairs at her. The battle was made more interesting by the fact that one in our party tried to stop us (we thrashed him) and one tried to keep the fight going as long as possible by alternating healing the two of us. The dwarf, Harbek, made sure no one important was coming and dragged the unconscious out of the way when necessary.

4.) We get a quest! This is mainly due to the fact that Shamash and Juniper are out of commission and not able to harass the Lord of Winterhaven. Then we pay for the table we broke in the inn and head out to beat up some more Kobolds.

5.) We get the tar beat out of us by the Kobolds.

6.) Two of us die. :(

And there ended our game for the evening (and our consumption of horrible-for-us foods like peanut butter-flavoured Cheeto things, sour gummy strips, and chili pepper-flavoured tea), whereupon we adjourned and made our way to our respective professions/distractions.

This week found us with three new characters: an elven druid, a shape-shifting humanoid of some kind, and Evan's robot bard.

The adventure that we faced involved the strange circumstances of meeting these fellows (the shapeshifter managed to sneak into our camp disguised as... a Siberian tiger? how did I not notice that...?) and the more standard beatings of monsters alongside them. Unfortunately, there was no wolf-throwing or dragon-tackling or stair-tripping this game, but at the end we wound up with our robot bard running through a waterfall into an ambush and being javelined and rusted into robot death.

So we again packed up our treats (this time we had feasted on brie, crackers, playgirl-shaped gummys, more sour gummy strips, curry ketchup chips, more peanut butter Cheetos, more gummy everything, and beer) and headed out, managing to squeeze in a few hours' sleep before striking forth to appear as productive members of society.

There were a few important lessons that I learned during the game (related to, gasp, real life!). One is that having fuzzy dice hanging in your car, which in the US implies that you are a "playa" or some such, in Germany brands you as a role-player. The second, and really more vital, lesson was that, when toasting, you are always to use the bottom of your glass because "glasses and women are to be thrust at the bottom."

Then I took Evan to the airport, and here I sit. Run, experiments, run!


to be quite frank(enstein)...

A monster lives deep
In the woods, prowls out to eat,
Scaring the locals.

Burg (Castle) Frankenstein is actually really close to here... within just 20 minutes (well, it took us more than half an hour to get there, but it's a 20 minute drive if you do it properly). It supposedly inspired the famous novel by Mary Shelley, which is a fantastic read if you're bored over a summer, and I guess I can see why? I mean, it's hidden in the forests at the top of a hill, and, though it's just ruins now, one can see the formidable character that it must once have had.

It's also still impenetrable... unless you are a tourist. We walked around the backside of the thing for 20 minutes or so, looking for a place to scale the wall to see in, and we were thwarted time and again by dead brush and rusted razor wire (which hurts when rubbed upon the skin), until we made it all the way round to the entrance. Where you can walk in.

It was a pretty low-key sort of attraction; mainly the only people around were a pair of goth girls in medieval clothing and black wings doing a photo shoot. There wasn't even a place to get post cards...

The castle itself was nice, and I'm glad I went, but there was neater stuff to be seen in the forest around. Julius and Olex (guys from Jugger) came with, and we found a little forest lean-to, a crazy forest wood man, a listening cone, a forest xylophone, and a slice of a tree with life events detailed on an accompanying board.

I wish the place had been a bit creepier, but it was really just another set of castle ruins... but it was made up for by the after party: D&D character building! On Wednesday Evan will become Qwghlm-0.87, a robot bard. Awesome.


luck o' the irish

Mists rolling o'er hills,
Veiling ancient castles, burn
To rainbows at last.

The Emerald Isle was as green and mysterious a place as I could have expected it to be, at least outside of Dublin. I'm quite relieved that I got the chance to see things outside the city: Dublin seemed to be all pubs, wet benches, dirty rivers, houses, and tiny patches of grass not intended for walking. The pubs bit was alright, certainly (the famous Temple Bar! which is, in fact, an entire district, and not just a bar), and I guess there was the additional benefit of running into Nadège and Catherine and Jean-François. :D Evan and I actually managed to stumble across the latter pair in FRA on our way out.

Oh, right! Evan is here! He came in, partially comatose from overwork and overstress and undersleep, from YYZ (Toronto Pearson) on Friday morning at 6:30, which meant that yours truly, who lives, conveniently, in the middle of nowhere, had to wake up at 4 to get there to meet him. I didn't realize that it ever actually got fully dark here in Germany; even at midnight it seems that there's still dusk hanging about the edges of the sky, but at 4 in the morning it's like pitch.

So we got into Dublin and spent the evening exploring the Temple Bar area, then awoke the next morning to meet the French Canadian Contingent at City Hall for the New Europe free tour of Dublin. It was to start at 11am... so where was everyone at 10:55? Not around the back, not at the side, not in the castle... were we in the wrong building?

Nope, just the wrong time zone. Damn GMT.

So after an hour in which we explored Trinity College (and were admonished to stay clear of the grasses thereof) and ate delicious Irish muffins (who knew you could put butterscotch in frosting?), the tour was awesome; the guy who led it seemed pretty passionate about everything, plus he was Irish, and listening to his accent for 3.5 hours was entertaining in itself. :)

We learned about the horrible misfortunes of the Irish people, and how the "luck o' the Irish" may be considered sarcasm. They've had lots of failed uprisings, invasions by the Vikings, famines, and general not-good-ness. Trinity College, for example, was off-limits for the Irish people for a long time. There were some pretty fantastic stories about it, though: the tower/gate located in the middle of the grounds is supposed to mean bad marks on exams when students walk under. Its redeeming quality is that, if a student is able to climb all the way to its top, he or she will receive first in his/her class. The catch? The dean is allowed to shoot at the climber with a crossbow.

We saw some interesting additions to the city for the millennium, including a spire thing that wasn't actually finished until 2003. It's really tall and slender, and it's equipped with a light at the peak "in case there is a helicopter chase through Dublin." Um, okay.

There was also the requisite bit about Bono, whom our tourguide loathes with a passion, evidently.

The River Liffey that flows through the centre of the city is quite a sight; it's maybe the filthiest river I've ever seen. Irish wisdom has it that you don't need to be Jesus Christ to walk on that water.

Christchurch Cathedral is a cathedral, naturally, which is great, but the best story about it was that it holds two mummies. They aren't human, but instead they are a cat and mouse that were found, dead, in the organ's pipes during cleaning. The Irish, with their weird sense of humour, decided that wouldn't it be great to mummify these guys and let them chase each other for eternity? So they did. Also around this area were some remains from a Viking settlement (the Vikings had terrorized the island several times over the years), which were sort of neat.

After the conclusion of that tour, there was still another classic to be done: The Guinness Factory! It was a chance to learn how beer was made and to sample a pint of "the black stuff." Mmmmmmmm...

On to Cork, just a 4.5 hour busride away. Buses are serious business in Ireland; the bus station in Dublin was set up to be as efficient as an airport, with terminals and departure boards and -announcements and whatnot. On the bus ride, the sun caught the misting rain just right and refracted into a gorgeous Irish rainbow. No pot of gold that I saw, though...

Cork was way sleepier than Dublin, which was fantastic. It was possible to see countryside (and to walk on grass inside the city limits!) from everywhere. The trip out to Blarney Castle was also great; the castle stands tall and proud against the elements, even after hundreds of years. The Blarney Stone itself is far more awkwardly-located than I might have imagined; one must climb to the top of the castle (five storeys) and dangle backwards over a chasm that opens to the ground in order to kiss it. I did it, but I've probably got about 47 new diseases from it. :-/ At least I've also got the gift of gab!

Again, wandering the countryside was fantastic. The sheep and cows speckled emerald hillsides under temperamental grey skies which alternately drizzled on us and glowed with caught sunlight. I think that Irish cream must come from those cows.

This was followed by a night on the town and an early-morning flight back home.


just a photo

Some spiky steel thing
Called me to climb it. So I
Did. Took photos, too.


paris, je te laine!

The city of lights
Shines, a spire sparkles, wine flows...
Paris in July.

A mere four hours' train ride from Frankfurt sits Paris, the most popular tourist destination on the planet. It's home to culture, style, and history of all varieties. I'm inclined to say that it's one of my favourite cities in Europe so far: tied, of course, with Stockholm. :)

Alex and I spent some time checking out the famous sights in Paris: the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, the Musée d'Orsay, the Seine, the Cathedral Notre Dame, the Military Hospital that is now Napoleon Bonaparte's burialplace, the Champs Élysées etc. The Tour de France was finishing on the Champs Élysées, though, on Sunday, so everything in Paris was packed.

Eiffel Tower : awesome. I can't believe this was supposed to be a temporary installment for the World's Fair. It's huge and gorgeous, and it was (sadly) too busy to wait in line to go up. At night it sparkles on the hour, and by "sparkles" I mean that there are thousands of strobe lights on it that blink like crazy. Lying on the lawn in the park and looking at this thing was an event in itself.

Arc de Triomphe : conveniently located in the centre of the craziest traffic circle I've ever seen. It's about 6 lanes wide, but there aren't painted lines, so there's no way to know. There are 12 roads that converge on this thing, and right-of-way goes away. Our tour guide also said that no insurance company in the world will accept claims from an accident here. So, naturally, Alex and I decided to forego the underground walkway and cross the exciting way. The Arc de Triomphe is also the site of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in France, and there's an eternal flame burning to commemorate their fallen.

Louvre : Crazy awesome. Actually seeing the Venus de Milo, the Mona Lisa, the Code of Hammurabi, and a zillion other works worth a zillion dollars each is a ridiculous sort of feeling. The building that this place is in is also gorgeous; each room is themed to match the works it holds, including amazing ceiling artwork in most of the rooms. The floors were gorgeous granite and marble and wood, and the place was huge.

Musée d'Orsay : Not as massive as the Louvre, but it holds works nearly as famous. That Van Gogh self-portrait? Saw it. Monet? He's there. Not as many drop-dead gorgeous rooms as the Louvre, but still mega-famous.

Seine : What do you call someone who falls off a bridge in Paris? Anyway, the Seine is pretty nice. There were boat tours drifting up and down along it all day. It's good to take a break for relaxing and watching the water.

Notre Dame : BIG. Home to stained glass windows as large as my house. I'd be kinda ticked if this was the church I attended, though, since despite sufficient signage, there was no semblance of silence in the place for prayer and whatnot. Alex and I decided that they should sell "Quasi is my Homeboy" t-shirts at the gift shop, but unfortunately they didn't get that memo, I guess.

Crypts : Near Notre Dame, there are some neat old crypts that you can walk through for just a couple euro. I couldn't help but think of Return to Castle Wolfenstein as I walked in them, though... hahahaha. :)

Les Invalides : This is the Military Hospital. Our boy Napoleon is buried here, and the tour guide informed us that the reason his tomb was constructed the way it is (a pit-ish thing) is so that whenever people visit to see him, they are forced to bow. I guess that when Hitler came to see Napoleon, though, he brought a mirror with him to avoid bowing. Hrm.

Champs Élysées : "The most famous avenue in the world." I don't really buy that, but it was really classy. There were car dealerships (Renault, Peugeot), a Nike store (Alex and I got LiveStrong bracelets in honour of the Tour... at 1 euro each they were definitely the cheapest thing on the street), clothing stores (Louis Vitton and other big names that I don't care about... I did buy a pair of sweet-ass earrings, though, to say that I did it), and restaurants (we ate at one on the second night and were highly entertained by a pair of ladies from New York, one of whom had indulged a little too much in the wine).

Cemetery : Burialplace of Chopin and... Jim Morrison? Also Oscar Wilde, but he was someplace in the back and we got lost. :-/ Anyway, it was curious that these two both rather famous musicians from vastly different times/walks of life ended up as neighbours.

Obelisk : Paris has a really big obelisk with heiroglypics on it. That was sort of weird.

Wine/food : Mmmmmmm... Baguettes, brie, crépes, creme caramel, and general French delicion. :D The Bordeaux in France is also tasty, but that's not a tough thing to figure out.

Oh, the French.

Random note: for some reason, Parisians get the reputation that they're a bunch of stuck-up jerks, but it wasn't true at all for us. Every time we pulled out a map, someone stopped, not prompted, to help us figure out where we were and where we needed to go. Also, everyone seemed to speak English, despite what you may have heard. Hrm. Also, they love pink toilet paper for some reason that I haven't figured out yet.

Yeah, I'd go back. I need to to see the damn Tower. Next time, though, I think I'll avoid going the weekend that the Tour is there; getting a train back home was a nightmare. They were all full because people had to fly out of FRA (Europe's biggest airport). ARGH. So I didn't get home until late, and then had the pleasure of sleeping in. Ahhhh...


KNOLedge is POWer

A throwback! Regress!
I'd nearly forgotten it.
And learned something new.

After a year, my feature has been released for use in knol! There's an article about how to use it here:


The note from my supervisor also mentioned that the way it was deployed was different than originally planned, so it should be easily plug-innable to other Google products now, i.e. docs and mail. Sweeeeeeeeeeet. ^_______^

So what was the new thing I learned? D&D! I was lingering in the lamentable state of being a nerd without being a proper nerd worthy of other nerds' respect... but that's all changing now. ;)

I am: female, youthful, athletic, acrobatic, strong, semi-charismatic, moderately unintelligent, wielding a greatsword, and dragonborn.

You are: able to make up for my tragically low hitpoints and armor class with healing powers.

Other than that, I'm not picky.

We had awesome fun (I played with my dear friends from Jugger, which I can only assume doesn't come as a surprise :P); it was not really how I expected at all! For the uninitiated, here is a brief rundown of how it goes:

-1) With the help of a computer (surprise), Julius, Olex, and I develop a ridiculous Dragonborn barbarian chick with mega stats for BEATING PEOPLE IN THE FACE. We equip her with the requisite armour, weapon, and ale pitcher.

0) Participating nerds convene in a room in the computer science building, at night after normal people have left.

1) The DM pulls out his bag of goodies, including little figurines of all the characters and--I had no idea that this was how it worked--tile-y things to put together a map of what it was we were seeing.

2) The players laugh and make appropriately immature jokes about whether or not a dragonborn female has boobs because she has them in the drawing in the book but logically reptilian creatures don't need mammary glands.

3) We are led into the story with, "You see before you a wooden door..."

4) The other dragonborn in the party (equally as unintelligent as my character) listens at the door and rolls a pathetically low number for perception check... hears nothing. Checks to see if it is locked... no.

5) With 19 strength, I punch through the door, despite the fact that it isn't locked. POW.

6) The dwarf ranger and his wolf run inside and stand by the door. The room is big and has a big rock at one end, a small alcove at the other, a 10ft (why do they use feet instead of metres? oh, because all the D&D books are conveniently only available in English) high square wall column thing in the middle, and a platform opposite the door.

7) I run past him, almost directly into a dragon, and to the base of the stairs up to the platform, where a mean-looking sorceror is just chillin.

8) The elven druid runs near to the rock and starts dragging baddies around with magical... magic-ness.

9) The rock starts rolling around the room.

10) ...we all hit people in the face/shoot people in the face/drag people around/jump off ledges and onto flying dragons, tackling them to the ground/throw wolves/rescue each other from the rolling rock/rescue each other from imminent death with healing surges (admittedly it was only I who was rescued...)/leap across gaps/fail to leap across gaps/hit more people in the face.

11) Victory!

I was shocked at how many weird contingencies the authors of the books had planned for: there were actually accepted rules for how to, um, leap off a platform and onto a dragon. They were based on dice rolls and acrobatic skill. Also the wolf-throwing. I wouldn't have counted on someone thinking of that.

Anyway, it was good times. We ordered pizza and ate cookies and gummy apple rings. For some reason, everything in Germany is available in gummy form? But, yes, D&D. Nerd cred for me!


i love gay bar

The tide goes always out,
The Vikings go forth to trade,
And mead is on tap.

As Mathieu and I stepped off the plane in Skavsta airport, one of the first things we noticed was that, dammit, we were in Sverige (Sweden in Swedish) and it was 10 degrees warmer than in Deutschland. Fricking Deutschland.

We met up with Alex, and the first place that we decided to check out was Nyköping (pronounced "ni-SHEP-ing"), a small town just 7 minutes from the airport by bus. It was, um, basically adorable, and it afforded us the opportunity to bring Mathieu to his first ocean (sort of..) and to eat some delicious and reasonably-priced lunch (that was... the last time that happened). Then we hopped on a train, which was thankfully faster than the trains in Poland, and headed to Stockholm.

So Stockholm is basically awesome. It looks like Wien, but it is located on an archipelago, and 14 islands comprise the city. When the glaciers carved that area out, they just sort of hung out on top of it for a while, crushing everything down, and now the islands are slowly rising out of the water, about 50cm every 100 years (hey, Mr. Geologist, are you going to elaborate on this?). So Stockholm is no longer filled with seawater, but instead is really in a massive lake that drains into the Baltic Sea. When we first arrived, it looked like the tide was going out really strongly, and then... 8 hours later it was still going out really strongly. But our Viking tour guide enlightened us as to what was up.

Oh, Saturday night we went out for dinner at one of the oldest restaurants in Stockholm. We had Swedish meatballs, which we were informed include reindeer meat. Then we went home to make party on our boat hostel. :D 21st birthday, part ii!

Might I now mention that we were all highly annoyed by the law in Sweden that you aren't allowed to drink in the streets. It's going to be hard to come back to the states... But that meant that we had to do all of our drinking in bars, where a pint of beer cost around 65 kronor, which is about 6.50 euro or $8. Ugh. Expensive. We were informed by a random Swedish guy that a low-end salary in Stockholm is around 50,000 kronor per month, which is $7,000. Damn.

The following morning, we had some delicious breakfast at our hostel and hopped on a ship to Birka, aka Swedish Viking Central. It was the site of the first city in Sweden, and also a UNESCO world heritage site. We got the lowdown on lots of Viking stuff; apparently the Swedish Vikings were the tamest of the bunch, and they mainly traded with Russians and the rest. The rape-and-pillage-style Vikings were more from Norway and Denmark. Also, Vikings didn't actually wear the horned helmets that they have become renowned for; that was an aesthetic detail added by some archaeologist who found a helmet (not designed for battle, just for a statue) that had ornamentations on it that were a bit broken and resembled horns who happened to decide that Vikings should be a little more badass if they wanted to be set apart from all the other pirate types in Europe in that era.

We heard some awesome stories about the village that used to be in Birka, including how it became Christian (our tour guide's comment was that "they already had Odin, Thor, Freyr, Frigg, so, Jesus? A bonus god? Great!") and then burned down the church when they discoverd that Christianity wanted them to keep just one god. And I was amused when he started telling legends about Valkyries.

After another 90-minute boat ride, we found ourselves once more in Stockholm, this time starving. We found a medieval restaurant in the old town that had exactly the ambiance we were looking for after poking around Viking shit all day. They had mead on tap, and our silverware was a steak knife and a huge spoon each. The napkin for the three of us was one really long piece of cloth, and we shared a "Viking feast" that included salmon, sausage, pork, sauerkraut, peas puree, apple pie, delicious soup, bread, and weird bread-topping that was some kind of sour cream-based stuff. Mmmmmmm... dead stuff. Good heavens, I am a terrible vegetarian.

With roughly 5 hours until the first bus left for the airport and no hostel to stay in, we wandered the town and met some crazy Swedish people and enjoyed the ambiance of the archipelago. My fuzzy vest was sometimes more- and sometimes less well-received, but I still thought it was basically awesome, and it attracted some amusing attention at times. Mathieu and Alex both acquired Viking drinking horns (and by that I mean cow horns that were hollowed out with the intent of filling them with mead), and all was good.