New Year's Tea

The New Year is always a reason for change. It’s always a reason to do something differently than you’ve done before. It’s a time when people hold to ages-old traditions, and make efforts to start new ones. It’s a time to look back on the past, and look towards the future.
And frankly, it’s a darn good reason to make a little trip out to Banff to see old friends.
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The trip home

Well, Monkey, we’re home now. I know it doesn’t seem like it to you, because you’ve lived in three different homes since you were born. But this house, the one in Calgary (where we’re currently adjusting to serious sub-zero temperatures and drying out) is a home we hope you’ll come to know and love.
It’s not Costa Rica. It’s not always warm. It’s not filled with the sounds of parakeets, or tropical rainstorms, or filled with Spanish-speaking voices. This is the Great White North. It’s chilly for most of the year, leaves are seen for only five months, and the only monkeys you’ll see are at the zoo. It’s going to be an adjustment for you, and for Mommy and I, too.
It was a long road to get here.
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A (wet) birthday vacation

Well, Monkey, if your memory is any good, you should remember the last few days for the rest of your life. And not because you got to spend five uninterrupted days with your dad (remember, I just turned 37 … I’m not old), or even because Nana is here for a visit.
It’s ‘cuz I doubt you’ll ever see that much rain ever again.
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Visiting Villa Blanca

Alex’s birthday was yesterday (she just turned 29, in case you’re keeping track … ‘cuz we’re not), and as tradition holds, she got to choose where we went to celebrate.  
Well, at least it’s a tradition we’re going to try to restart and keep going, anyway.  
She did some reasearch and chose a place up in the cloud forest called Villa Blanca. The pictures we saw online of the place looked nice, but as we’ve found a few times — the pictures often look better than the real thing.  
It was nice to find an exception to the rule.  
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Weekend at Tabacon

When Alex and I first came to Costa Rica 3.5 years ago, we went on a little packaged tour. The tour included a two-night (possible three-night — Alex and I are struggling to remember which it was) stay in the Arenal area. Our first afternoon/night included a hike around the south side of the active Arenal volcano, and dinner and a splash at the Tabacon Hot Springs.
At the time we’d been there, it was highly magical. We’d seen lava (in the form of red-hot tumbling rocks) rolling down the side of the mountain, the clouds of steam rolling through the trees illuminated by the carefully-placed lights. It was something to behold.
Ever since then, Alex had wanted to go back. Rack up Surprise Weekend in Costa Rica #3.
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A revenge-free Montezuma

Mother’s Day in Costa Rica doth not come in May, like we’re used to in North America. Here, it’s 15 August. This is the day (so I’ve read) that the Virgin Mary ascended to Heaven, and given that this is a very Roman Catholic-centric society, Christian Holy Days are holidays. That means El Dí ­a de la Madre takes on extra importance here. Down here, it really is a religion.
Which is good for me, believe it or not. You see, back in May, I royally screwed up and really blew Alex’s first Mother’s Day by doing … well, nothing. At least nothing of note. Not exactly a wise thing to do on a mother’s first Mother’s Day. I had some serious sucking making up to do.
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Weekend in Punta Leona

I had promised Alex that the second weekend we were in Costa Rica would be spent away from our apartment. I just had to find the right place to go. So I spent a fair bit of time working out the location, time to get to the location (because any estimates of travel time here are usually way off once you leave the #1), cost, and whether or not they had massages.
Yes, that is a consideration in her (and hence my) world.
In the end, I decided on Punta Leona. This would be our first surprise weekend in Costa Rica, and it would seem the first surprise weekend in — we fear — two years! Turned out to be not too bad.
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Back in Costa Rica

Years ago, I used to think business travel was glamourous. You got to go to far-flung places, see different things, and engage in activities you just don’t do at home. Then I started going on business trips. I learned fast that the enjoyment is only so deep.
Worst experience was [[Live from Cincinnati|Cincinnati in 2000]]. Second, and only because I was utterly exhausted by the end (the trip itself was very helpful) was [[Je suis en Paris!|Paris in 2006]]. (As I learned, when you travel to Europe, you end up with 18-20 hour days, because you’re trying to stay sync’d with the home office.)
But today hasn’t exactly been a slice, either. And just because I’m currently in Costa Rica doesn’t mean I’m sitting on a beach.
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On my way home

Well, the wedding’s done, Tamara and Dan are wed, and pretty much everyone is pooped. The bridal party was out late the night before, the groom’s group was fairly tired, and I’m just beat from all the running around. My feet are killing me.
It wasn’t the shortest wedding I’ve been to, but it was definitely more expedient than most of the ones I’ve seen. That said, it was still a lovely ceremony.
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Back in Vegas

It’s been nearly a dozen years since I was last (and first) in Las Vegas. (See [[Road Trip of the Southwest United States, Mesa Verde Cave Dwellings, Grand Canyon, and Arrival in Las Vegas]].) It’s been a long time, and this city has changed a lot since I was here last. And not all for the good, I should say.
If you’ve watched CSI, you’ve seen a stylised version of Las Vegas. And it ain’t the one that’s here. This is half gambling, half drunken idiots, half shopping, half selling sex, with some shows tossed in for fun.
Yes, I know that adds up to well more than 100%. But this is a city of excesses.
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Surprise weekend at Bow Lake

Surprise weekends are a good thing. Especially if you have a good place to go.
We have no standing rule that says we have to go anywhere, though. Although the “rules” (such as they are) suggest that staying at home is an option, we have yet to actually do that. This weekend was no different.
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Finding the Academy of Geology Hotel

When the Lonely Planet books fall a little short…So here’s the description of the Academy of Geology Hotel here in Ekaterinburg, as provided in the Lonely Planet Trans-Siberian Railway book:

Bldg 6, prosp Lenina 54
Singles/doubles with breakfast $26/30. This is the best budget option with smart, spacious rooms in a quite complex tucked away off the main road.

Yeah. So let me tell you how we found the place. First of all, we found Lenina Prospekt — that wasn’t hard. We walked all the way down to #54 (buildings aren’t individually numbered here, they go in groups). When you get into cases where buildings are in groups, they’re numbered something like 54/6 — such as the building holding our hotel.
Admittedly, I don’t know what exactly Amy was looking for, but I guess I expected something a little more … less apartment-y, which is what the 54 block looked like. We found 54/5, but couldn’t find 54/6. So we started walking around. A kind gentleman, about early 40s, asked us a question. We replied, sheepishly:

ya neh gavaroo pa-rooskie

Yeah, you guessed it: “I don’t speak Russian.”
This didn’t stop him, or us, and we proceeded to point, speak slowly (in both languages) until he dug out a map. Turns out that a building in the “courtyard” was the one we wanted. The side we could see was partly boarded up and covered in grafitti. We walked around to the other side and found the “Academy of Geology” sign, which we could barely read thanks to a Russian trend to use words similar to those in English, but with different spelling. The woman inside was totally unintelligable, and suggested (though her thick, steel bar window) that we should walk around the building. To the graffiti side, it seemed.
Luckily, a boy about 15 years old spoke up — speaking just enough English to understand that we couldn’t find the place. Back to the old woman. Conversation, back around to the side (west side, to be specific) of the building to a very unmarked and handle-less door. Pressing a little black buzzer above the door called the attendant, upon which we found out, that yes, this was the place.
For the record, the hotel is fairly nice, but certainly nothing special. So a word of warning to those of you looking for the hotel — it’s not clearly marked in the Lonely Planet books, and may require some assistance.

The last Moscow post

We’ve wandered a lot through Moscow, and I never did get around to talking about it due to all the bitching I was doing. So… We took Train #1 to Moscow, did a walk around the Kremlin, saw the Armoury museum (snore), walked through GUM, and revelled in the “marvel” that is our hotel. When not being watched by the hundreds of security guards, that is…
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Mercedes-Benz meetings, going home

Despite having the room to myself, I was really groggy when I got up this morning. I know it wasn’t a result of last night, though, as I didn’t feel any worse for wear. I showered, packed, and checked out (using the television interface — I don’t go to the front desk unless I have to). Running into Jamie on the way down, the two of us hiked directly over to the Tribune building. We didn’t get a chance to go to the office for email.
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Surprise weekend in Edmonton

It’s been a while since our last surprise weekend (see [[Surprise Visit to Drumheller]]), but not for a lack of wanting. We’ve been that busy. Either Alex has had to work (the joys of working in the medical community) or we’ve both been traveling. This weekend was the first one we’d had to get away.
It was a bit of a special one, but for no other reason than we’d barely seen each other in almost three weeks. I was away in San Jose for a conference (see [[Search Engine Strategies Conference 2004 San Jose, Calgary to San Jose]]), followed immediately by the Calgary Dragon Boat Festival (see [[2004 Calgary Dragon Boat Festival]]), and then Alex was off in Ontario for a week and a half. So I had to plan this weekend’s getaway so we’d have some time to ourselves.
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