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Saturday, January 22, 2011

60th Stop: Washington DC, USA

What's in that big box?
After meeting up with my host Rob, we took a walk and had dinner at a Salvadorian restaurant called Las Placitas. It wasn’t the best ever but the company more than made up for it. Rob works in the House of Representatives as a staff writer for the congressional office. It was great talking to Rob, one story led to the next and there seemed to be quite a few parallels in our lives (teaching English in far away places for one).

On Thursday, I got a Library of Congress card and sat in the rotunda for a few hours... surfing the internet and checking e-mail! The mission of the Library of Congress is to serve the legislators, providing references, data, facts and any other things they might need to argue and vote on laws.

Later that night, I met up for happy hour at Masa 14 with a longtime friend from high school, Briana, who now works at the World Bank. In May, she’ll be riding a bicycle from NYC to Washington DC to raise money for climate change prevention. Kudos to you Briana!

Checking e-mail in the LoC
After a few drinks and appetizers (get the tuna wrap, it rocks!), we went for dinner at a Mexican restaurant. Thanks to the saleswoman from Cisco who bought us all dinner!

One more stop before calling it a night: meeting up with Meredith from to listen to some jazz at U-topia. Meredith and I had a lot to talk about. She works for the government, helping Pashtun and Farsi teachers write lesson plans. We discussed language learning strategies and swapped some good ideas... She recommended using Declan Software and Thanks Meredith!

The Wordfast Pro training on Friday was full :-) Thanks to everyone who came and a special thanks to Gwendolyn Gurley and Renate Cords for making donations to buy some bednets!

One more night in DC and what luck, my longtime friend from high school and soccer buddy Brian and his wife Kristen were in town for a conference! That night we ate a delicious Ethiopian meal at Dukem  and then wnet back to U-topia for more jazz and wine. Great seeing both of you and hearing about your future plans to travel and work in some exciting places. I'm looking forward to our next adventures together... bamboo bike ride?

One last incident to report: early Saturday morning I took the shuttle to the airport. At one point, the driver went onto the wrong side of the road--on a divided freeway! Luckily, I was half awake and alerted her to the oncoming bus. We were all a bit shaken up, but even happier once we arrived at the airport and got out of that shuttle!

Thanks again to Rob, Brian and Kristen for hosting me and to Meredith and all the colleagues that attended the Wordfast training!

Next stop: West Palm Beach, Florida!

P.S. - Sorry for the crappy photos; for some reason I forgot to take some in DC :-(

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

59th Stop: New York City, NY (Part 3)

On Sunday afternoon, I left John’s place to meet up with my new hosts, Charles and Liz, at the Museum of Modern Art. John lent me his university ID so all three of us could get in for free. Thanks John! I was really surprised by all of the beautiful women I saw, “just waiting to be picked up, picked up” (I’ll send you a post card from Estonia if you can figure out what song this comes from).

Later that night, we went for a gourmet meal in one of Liz and Charles’ favorite restaurants called, Momo Fuku. They told me about their work and travels: Liz works for a handbag design outfit and Charles works from home as a day trader. They were recently in the Galapagos islands and will soon be traveling to Barcelona (lucky!).

On Monday, I went up to Harlem to run a private Wordfast training and on Tuesday stayed in downtown for the training. Why is it that every time I’m on the Eastern seaboard during the winter, I always get a snow storm, blizzard, or ice storm? Impossible for some people to get to the training, difficult for the trainer as well!

On my way there, when trying to hail a cab, I asked the guy who arrived after me where he was going and if he wanted to share one. It turns out he was going in the same direction, only farther! When I got out, he insisted that he’ll cover it and thanked me for letting him share (cabs were few and far between in light of the ice and flooding conditions).

We managed to have the training but got off to a late start. A big thanks to Kristyna from Wordfast for inviting everyone for lunch!

One more night before leaving and I took Liz and Charles out for dinner. I had been dying to go to La Bonne Soupe, a restaurant my Aunt and Uncle recommended to me about 15 years ago. I was 16 years old when I went there for the first time with Dave M. during a high school theater trip. We had the lunch menu which consisted of a salad, bread, soup, mousse au chocolat, and wine or coffee. When the young waitress asked with her thick French accent if we wanted wine or coffee, I replied wine. We were amazed, getting served wine in a restaurant when you’re only 16 years old considering the fascist liquor laws in the USA.

John, Charles and Liz
We walked home that night and saw a few sights: Rockefeller Plaza, the MET... Thanks for showing me the really cool whispering echo effect at Grand Central Station!
Can you hear me?

Don't shrug!

The next day I was on the Amtrak train to Washington DC (with a slight weather delay, go figure). Thanks again to John, Liz, Charles, and their respective roommates/family for hosting me. Thanks also to all the Wordfast trainees and Kristyna! See you soon, but definitely during the spring, summer, or fall!

Next stop: Washington DC!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

59th Stop: New York City, NY (Part 2)

Louis was en route home and I was en route to meet up with my new host John Raekwon in Manhattan. Little did I know, however, that Raekwon was an alias from the famous rap group Wu Tang Clan...

When I got to John’s place and asked the doorman to ring up John Raekwon, he looked at me puzzled. “Are you sure about that name? The only Raekwon I know is the rapper!” Luckily, John called me at that instant so I handed over the phone to the doorman and was eventually sent upstairs.

John on the left next to friends
John was waiting there with his Swiss roommate and a friend. We chatted briefly about John’s work as a research scientist at Rockefeller University and then went to a gourmet potluck house party in Brooklyn. The host had one of the most impressive whiskey collections I’ve seen in a long time... in his bedroom closet! Thanks for the tasting and the party!

On Saturday, I made a tomato, sausage, and meatballs pasta dish that we greedily devoured after an early evening workout at the gym. Later that night, we went downtown to meet up with an old friend of mine from Brandeis University, Jason F., thanks to Facebook: you never really lose touch with your network like we did in the past. All you need is a name and a few other details to reconnect after 10 years... It was great meeting up with Jason and reminiscing about our freshman antics. He reminded me of one particular story that involved trapping a fart in a snapple bottle and sharing it with some unfortunate soul several hours later.

I had a fantastic time over the weekend with John, hearing a lot of interesting stories and laughing quite a bit. I definitely found a good friend and also the first member of the new CouchNetSurfers team. John will be eradicating malaria by couchsurfing throughout the year. Thanks again John for hosting me and for being a part of this initiative!

To be continued...

Friday, January 14, 2011

59th Stop: New York City, NY (Part 1)

I’ve rarely been so stressed out about accommodations as I had been for our first night in New York City. I had decided to get a hotel for Louis and I next to Times Square.

It must have been Casey who started telling me stories about bedbugs infesting the entire city of New York and my brother-in-law Dave confirmed it. They told me to check the bedbug registry before booking anywhere.

After spending an hour or so on the site, I started to get overwhelmed with paranoia. Sh*t, the last thing I wanted to do was pick up some vagabonding bedbugs and export them in my bags to my next destination! Not to mention suffer the sting of their bites all night long (cue Lionel Ritchie). I finally settled on the Edison Hotel after seeing some ok reports.

When I got into the room, I did a full sweep, checking the sheets and the headboard. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one because it looked like the headboard had been ripped off the wall about 50 times (it actually slid off, but I made the same mistake of pulling it off, oops). I had never seen a bedbug so was I really in a position to identify one I asked myself?

Louis and I left for the drugstore to get some insurance: an aerosol can of bedbugicide and plastic garbage bags to put all of our stuff in. I had them both in my hands and then convinced myself that I was overreacting and needed to calm down. In the end, no problems.

We tried later that evening to get lottery tickets for Wicked but we weren’t too lucky. We ended up having dinner and getting to bed early.

The next day, I took Louis to the USS Intrepid, an aircraft carrier cum museum on the West side. We had a splendid time on the simulators and learning about the carrier’s history. Unfortunately, we couldn’t visit the Concord because it was closed on weekdays.
Louis' hands on deck!

SR-71 Blackbird on the right, coolest plane by far
Old helicopter 69
Later that day, I brought Louis to the airport and put him on the direct flight from NYC to Nice. I was reassured when the check-in agent came back to the gate after putting him on the plane and told me that he is adorable and that the flight attendants love him already!

It was a really special treat to be able to spend a little under a month with Louis and I want to thank Thomas and his family for bringing him over as well as my mom, Danny, my sister Maria and her husband Dave, Nan and my dad for hosting us during our stay. We had a wonderful time!

To be continued...

Sunday, January 9, 2011

58th Stop: Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas

Happy Birthday Louis!

Louis and I left Minneapolis for a weekend visit with my dad and his girlfriend Nan in Euless, Texas, smack in the middle of Dallas and Fort Worth. Lucky Louis got a second birthday party and cupcakes on arrival!

Cupcake down, one ice cream sundae to go

On Saturday, we went into Fort Worth for a walking tour of the city. Both Louis and I really enjoyed the beautiful water sculpture/architecture park. It’s so sad that a few years ago several people drowned in it. Fortunately, they made some changes so it isn’t as dangerous.
Chisholm Trail, Fort Worth

Please don't wear anything at all!
Water sculpture park
Afterwards, we went to a brewery event that I found out about on Every Wednesday and Saturday, the Rahr and Sons Brewing Company offers a tour, three pints of beer, and a souvenir glass for $7. The place was packed! A mix of bikers, hippies, college kids, and a rocking blues band. I thought I would never find the couchsurfers but they ended up finding me! We chatted a little bit and then left for the stockyards. Thanks for inviting us and pleasure meeting you Kimmie!

My dad, contemplating his next pint

We went for a walk through the stockyards to see the infamous Texas longhorns and their cowboys. I tried to convince Louis to go for a ride on the electronic bucking bull: "No way Daddy!"

Taking the longhorns for a stroll through town
For dinner, my dad and Nan took us to their favorite Italian restaurant... owned and operated by an Albanian!

We had a lovely visit and want to thank both Nan and my dad for having us.  That’s 3 more bednets for 3 more families--thanks again and see you soon in France!!!

Next stop: New York, NY!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

57th Stop: Minneapolis, Minnesota (Part 3)

Louis versus the Volcano
After sending off Thomas and Co., Maria, Dave, and I met some of their friends for dinner at Mango Thai in Saint Paul. This is an excellent Thai restaurant that allows you to bring your own booze with no corking fee! I definitely recommend it if you’re in the neighborhood.

The next days, Louis and I spent at school, the pool, and playing with toys. He got his first swimming lesson at Lifetime Fitness, down the road from us. I also cruised through my book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which hi highly recommend if you enjoy a good cyber-punk cum S&M women’s rights crime thriller.

New Year's Celebration
On New Year’s Eve, I met up with Joe B., his girlfriend, and their friend Kat to ring in the new year in downtown Minneapolis. We were struck by fortune and misfortunate at the same time: we met at the right place but they entered another way and ended up shelling out $20 each as a cover fee. Fortunately, I went in the other way and didn’t have to pay... 2011is already shaping up to be a lucky year for me!

One night later in the week, I was showing my brother-in-law how works and happened upon Rebekah living in Lakeville. I sent her message asking if she wanted to meet for coffee or a drink. I had a response moments later and after a few more messages, was out the door to meet up at Babe’s!

Callie and Rebekah
I really enjoyed Rebekah’s company and her keen sense of humor. Later that week, she came over to play Scrabble and I’ll never forget the word she used when she lost: I got waffle-stomped. Maria, Dave, and I had never heard it before so we looked it up. ‘Waffle-stomp’ means to utterly defeat someone or be utterly defeated (in the case of Rebekah). There is however another definition. Check out definition number one here and tell me what you think ;-)

My friend Chuck-E
On the day before Louis and I left for Texas to see my dad and Nan, my mom threw a Chuck-E Cheese birthday party for Louis and my nephew Charlie. I remember being a kid and how magical stuff like this could be. Now, it’s not so much the fun and theatrics that appeals to an adult like me but the smiles on the kids faces the entire night. Thanks Mom for the party!

I want to thank Casey, Danny, Rita, Katherine, Maria, and Dave for hosting me over the past few weeks. That’s 20 bednets to protect 20 families from malaria for the next 5 years!

Next stop: Dallas, Texas!