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“Got kitesurfing on the mind, mixed with some search & classification tech, and a dab of political ranting”

Archive for February, 2006

Wednesday is “Ski Safari Day”…

Posted by direwolff on February 16, 2006

…well, at least that’s how our hotel bills it.  Lil’ Pinot and I had been convinced by my dear friend Steve, that this was worth doing.  So sure enough, we got psyched and showed up at 10:00am in front of the hotel to meet the group.  As Steve & Lil’ Pinot were running a bit late, I was tasked with getting the group to wait a couple of minutes.  Once there, I notice that every one was giving me one of those dissappointed looks for no immediately apparent reason.  Well, it all became clear when our guide, Manfred Hartl, turned and half jokingly said, “so you’re going to join us for the ski safari with your snowboard?”.  Oh-oh, off to a bad start.  So I apolgetically suggested that I may drop off from the group once we get started if things got too hairy for me.  The bigger concern was the potential for traverses across flat sections.

Fortunately after seeing a few of the skiiers snicker, Steve and Lil’ Pinot arrived in time to save the day and provide me some much needed support.  Of course, it didn’t take long for the group to find out what they were getting into with me.  I wasn’t some snotty nosed reckless snowboarder out there threatening their lives.  As soon as we made it up the first lift and made our way to first gondola the group got a lesson in why snowboarders can rock!  It was our faithful guide, me, then the rest of the group bringing up the rear.  There were eleven of us, but with the exception of one other skiier, the pecking order always had me in the second or third slot behind our guide.  Frequently, we ended up waiting several minutes for the group to arrive…though by mid-morning, the first arrivals included Lil’ Pinot who was also rocking the house in fine form.

As lunch approached, Manfred took us to one of the mid-mountain restaurants where we could indulge in local Austrian delights.  Unlike the cafeteria style lunch spots at U.S. resorts, here all the mountain restaurants are individually owned and operated.  This means that the food quality is high and the menus unique since they’re all competing for your business.  Lil’ Pinot and I shared a “grolsch” which is basically roasted potatoes with sausage pieces mixed in and a fried egg on top…YUM!!!  The picture above is pre-lunch with the crew, including Manfred (2nd on the right), awaiting the goodies to come.  Lunch came and went, then it was off to finish the safari which effectively meant that we had circled both the Saalbach and Hinterglemm resorts.  Pretty awesome, but pretty tiring, but most importantly, the guide confessed that it was nice to see a snowboarder that could actually keep up and ride with the skiiers.  I returned the favor by saying that it was nice to see a guide who could actually give a snowboarder a run for his money.  We ended the day with a couple of shots of tea with rum and schnaps, and we all became fast friends.

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It’s good to be with family

Posted by direwolff on February 16, 2006

Now going back to the first day, upon Lil’ Pinot’s and my arrival into Vienna we were greeted by one of my favorite cousins, Phillippe, whom I hadn’t seen in 20 years. Now the father of two, he still had that spunky and mischievous look that I remember so well when he used to torture me for fun. Apparently he also still plays a mean game of tennis. He was over-the-top generous to us in that he not only picked us up at the airport, but after we dropped our stuff off at his sister’s apartment, he then drove us to Shonbrunn, the Austrian royal family’s summer residence turned museum, and picked us up after our tour. Now that’s going over and beyond the call of duty. We were totally grateful given our general lack of German language skills.

We all got together again later for dinner where we were joined by his nieces, my 2nd cousins Sophie & Nathalie, Sophie having championed our arrival by giving us the grand tour of her mother’s apartment where Lil’ Pinot and I were to spend the evening in her absence. Also with us was Phillippe’s wife Gabi and his youngest son Patrick. This was the first time I’d had the pleasure of meeting Patrick, though through my mom, I have been updated on his general progress. The best news to come from him was that he joined the dark side of snow sports…yes, he’s now a snowboarder. In a family where ’til this day I carried the snowboarding mantel versus all of the rest of them being skiiers, Patrick came to my rescue and is ready to pick up the rebel cause. Finally, we were also joined by Michelle, another wonderful cousin of mine that I hadn’t seen in probably the same 20 yrs that I had missed Phillippe. It was so good to be around them, our parents all being sibblings, sharing remembrances from our youth, slipping a word or two of creole between us that rushed fond memories of our family get-togethers. It’s funny how expressive and how much information was packed into the use of any single creole word.

Dinner was at a very traditional Austrian restaurant in Vienna. Complete with their own winery, and most traditional Vienese plates that you could imagine. Phillippe convinced me to go for the blood sausage which I didn’t regret one bit. Lots of laughs went around with every one getting their moment in the “hot seat” with the passing jokes to keep us all humbled. It was a wonderful time that I hope we can enjoy again sooner than 20 yrs from now.

The group picture above came as we left the restaurant, unfortunately, Nathalie had already left and Phillippe, always the hero, was the one taking the shot. Lil’ Pinot got a good dose of several folks who had a major impact on my life and the next generation of my family in Sophie, Nathalie, and Patrick. It was good.

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Planes, trains, and automobiles…or Destination: Paradise

Posted by direwolff on February 13, 2006

Well here we are, the end of day 3 in beautiful Austria.  Since I’m still awaiting some pics from one of my cousins, I’m gonna start my travelog from yesterday, but perhaps mentioning that our arrival in Vienna after a near 11 hour flight was sight for sore eyes.  A beautiful city indeed, and I was quickly reminded of this on our drive from the airport to one of other cousins’ home and taking a pass around the main ring of the city.

Leaving the rest of that day aside for now, and putting the air flight of our voyage behind us, Lil’ Pinot and I embarked for the next leg of our voyage, 5.5 hr train ride from the Westbanhoff (West Train Station) in Vienna to Zell Am See, in the Tirol area of Austria (Austrian Alps).  We were taking the 7:34am (Central Europe Time, 9 hours ahead of Pacific Time)…yikes!…as this was the only direct train there on Sunday.  While I focused on some reading, Lil’ Pinot was having a tougher time of it given the combo of jet lag, being in private smoking cabin that reaked from previous lost bouts with the cancer sticks, and the understandable cabin fever feeling that this unruly symphony brings.  She managed to pull a shift of solid sleep which helped, and the views of the alps once we hit Salzburg made for a more enjoyable last hour.

The whole trip took us through one area after another blanketed with a sheet of beatiful white snow chasing us all the way.  I’ve only been to Vienna in the summer, and though I have experienced a week in January in Kitzbuhel back some 10 yrs ago, seeing so much snow every where we looked somehow warmed my heart.  But when we got to the mountains, it really took on a new sense of urgency since I knew what would await us on the mountains.  After finally arriving at Zell Am See, a town 20 mins from Saalbach-Hinterglemm, our ultimate destination, we hopped a cab as we couldn’t get ourselves motivated to take a bus with all of our gear after what we had already endured to get this far.  So off we were with a super friendly local cabbie who was telling us about the mountain ranges, the 7km ski run (longest in this area), how one could hike to Kitzbuhel in the summer by going over the mountain range at the end of Hinterglemm, past the dead-end, for just a day trip.

We arrived at our hotel (Hotel Theresa) in Hinterglemm, which is the second of two small ski towns (the first being Saalbach), where their runs are joined for what is an unspeakably huge amount of terrain.  Overwhelms the senses just to look around with runs and lifts on both sides of the valley.  As we checked in we were welcomed by the glowing smiles of my goddaughter’s Mom and sister, Case.  Case was holding a couple of cards that they were bringing to the reception desk so that these would welcome Lil’ Pinot’s and my arrival to our home for the week.  We pre-empted their plan, so Case, with her adorable and mischievous grin handed us the goods.  It was later that we were to find out that these were congratulations cards on Lil’ Pinot’s and my engagement, written out by Emma (my goddaughter, age 6) and Case (age 4).  The cutest things you ever saw.  We knew this would be the beginning ofa
wonderful week with our lil’ companions.

By the time we got settled it was already 2:30p so Lil’ Pinot & I made our way towards town to grab some grub.  Of course, we picked the wrong direction and instead of ending up at the center of nearby Hinterglemm, we ended up in Saalbach, approx. a 20 minute walk in what had to be sub-20 degree (Fahrenheit) weather.  Fortunately, it was sunny and the walk made for a great way to acclimate to the altitude.

All I can say is this place is beautiful all around.  Never would have thought to come here, but it’s been a regular spot for Emma’s family (her dad is a dear long time friend of mine) for the past four years.  He sure called it right and Lil’ Pinot has been beside herself enjoying the place.  Needless to say, with a choice in the morning of water aerobics, gymnastics, running, and a killer breakfast, not to mention the inevitable day of skiing in dry cold weather (can you say champagne snow?), what’s there not to like.

We made it to a light dinner that night, but more because we wanted to see how these past 4 yrs had treated Emma since I last saw her.  Her sister had a only been born a few months when they all moved to the UK (from Cole Valley), where they live now.  Priceless lil’ girls with the cute lil’ British accents and a “joie de vivre”.  As Emma and I chatted, Case had some news of her own to share and she would not be stopped.  Of course, there was no real news, but she needed some attention too.  Emma shared how she’s now the fastest swimmer in her class and how she was enjoying her skiing
lessons.  By all measures, Emma is the perfect child.  Well behaved, very thoughtful, speaks quietly but confidently, and is very distinctive in her adorable way.  Case for her part has a tough act to follow but does so gladly telling her stories and being much more physical as a means of expressing herself.  The two together are truly wonderful to experience, which of course was the object of this trip to begin with.  There’s good snow in Aspen too, but no Emma and Case to be enthralled by.

Today, we managed to get out by 9:30am and ski/snowboard ’til 3:45pm…and believe it or not, we only covered some 25% of the combined resort of Saalbach-Hinterglemm.  The place is HUGE!  Lots of gondolas, not lots of lift lines, plenty of powder due to a recent dump a couple of days ago, and midday food that puts you in the right mood.  I gotta say this, Austrians take their lunch breaks seriously.  What a spread for lunch.  I settled in to a Wienerschnitzel while Lil’ Pinot went with some gourmet chilli and rice.  Within a half hour, we were back shredding what untouched powder remained, making an effort to hit some new spots we had yet to explore.  The picture above was taken by my buddy during our afternoon session.  The alps view you see behind Lil’ Pinot and I, was what you could see no matter what direction you faced at the tops of any mountain range there.  Amazing.

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Google Desktop 3

Posted by direwolff on February 10, 2006

If this new offering from Google doesn’t scare the bejesus out of you, nothing will…especially in light of the government’s recent requests to Google, Yahoo! and MSN. Google’s new desktop product will index all of your files in your local machine into their servers and make those available to you wherever you are or to several users. Sounds like a wonderful application, especially useful in corporate environments…but then again, isn’t that the way all of these privacy violating apps start out for those who don’t think through the consequences of their use? Yet another reason why I’m sticking with Copernic, which from my understanding doesn’t upload anything to any servers outside of my local machine. I may be a luddite in this respect, but it’s my small way of practicing safe computing.

Check it out.

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A fine bunch of patriots these guys are making…

Posted by direwolff on February 9, 2006

Libby, Cheney, Ashcroft, Rumsfeld (yeah, I know, I’m begging the question by adding Ashcroft & Rumsfeld, but we got other goods on them)… these are the faces of a new generation of so-called patriots who have served our country so poorly.  While they still have their supporters, hopefully stories like the ones being archived here will begin to force more people to give some thought to whom they have been ascribing such titles as “patriot”.

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Ahh-rrron!!!…and the Steel City boys winnin’ the Superbowl

Posted by direwolff on February 6, 2006

Ah yes, it was quite the nostalgic day I enjoyed yesterday, as 5 of my fraternity brothers with whom I had attended university in Pittsburgh, got together for the Superbowl at one of their homes. Of course, it was the home of the guy with the biggest HDTV home theatre set-up, and it ROCKED!!! The nostalgia didn’t stop at seeing all of these great guys that I’ve known and been close with for over 23 yrs now. In the spirit of our Pittsburgh roots, I brought over some Rolling Rock beer from the neighboring Latrobe, PA. The significance of this beer was that we liked it enough to go visit the plant one Saturday back in the day, but unfortunately it was closed. That is until the security guard came out and opened the gates and brought us in for a quick tour then dropped us off in a room with a tapped keg and only asked that we close the door on our way out. Imagine that, 7 college kids dropped off in a room with a keg back before people cared about drinking laws. It was a beautiful thing.

Well, I was one-upped on this nostalgic day by another brother who had some Iron (or as pronounced in the ‘Burgh, “Ahhh-rrron”) City Beer from the Pittsburgh Brewing Company shipped in for the game. Now this beer has a special place in my heart as it was truly a part of our college experience. For 3 running years (of which I was present for 2 of those), our fraternity was the third largest drinking establishment of Iron City Beer in Pittsburgh, behind only Three Rivers Stadium (R.I.P.) and the Civic Arena (aka. “The Igloo”, home of the Penguins hockey team). Having a 4 keg cooler in our basement with taps running 24/7 probably helped in this matter. Those were the days, as kegs are no longer allowed in campus fraternities. This was such a big deal that representatives from Pittsburgh Brewing Company came by in 1985 to give us a plaque to commemorate our achievement) We had a lot of pride going around over this one.

Our host’s wife topped herself by serving some light snacks of little mini beef wellingtons and stuffed mushrooms, with a main treat of hot chilli with the usual fixins of sour cream and cheese. Yummmm!!! Something about chilli and Ahh-ron, the Steelers on TV and a couple of games of pool at half-time that sent me reeling back 20 years. Like none of us had aged a day…well except for perhaps the 20 pounds we had all put on since our college days…ah, and the graying hairs…ah, and the fact that we weren’t in the basement of our fraternity w/the stench of days old beers and a TV that we constantly had to smack to get the reception working right…and of course a pool table w/scratches and cues that had seen their better days years earlier…but other than that, it was just like I remembered it in college.

Most importantly however, wearing all of our Steeler regalia and swinging the Terrible Towels around, it was a true joy to see our Steelers win the big one. Note that with the exception of the native Pittsburghers among us, none of us had experienced the Steelers as a winning team during our time in the ‘Burgh. But the infactuation over the team is contageous and even during the 80s in the worst times of the franchise’s storied history, we were still diehard fans. Well, it only took some twenty odd years, but they finally came through and we were around to witness that game with Iron in our hands and brotherhood in our hearts. All I can say now is “yee-haw!!!…Love dem Stillerz!!!”

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