24 February 2011

Academy Awards Predictions

True Grit
A really great take on the Western. It was the perfect amount of gory, it was dark, it was witty, and it was hilarious. There were parts when I was laughing so loud I missed the next line. Wasn't really expecting that. It was hard walking into it having already seen the iconic original starring John Wayne. But Jeff Bridges did a great with the character of Rooster Cogburn. He was funny and original, and tough as nails. He definitely deserves the best actor nomination. The real gem of the film, however, was Hailee Steinfeld. First of all, she is the main character, so I'm still trying to figure out why she was nominated for best supporting actress. Another thing I'm a little confused about is why Matt Damon wasn't recognized more. He was so good as the smug Texas ranger and I looked forward to every scene that he was in.

127 Hours
I was completely dreading watching this movie. I mean, I know how it ends. Someone gets their arm cut off -- sorry to spoil it! After grabbing a Crabbies to get me through the movie, I settled in to watch the movie. I ended up really enjoying it -- James Franco does a superb job. There is one particular scene in which he imitates a morning talk show that stood out. I was so blown away by his performance that I was stunned for a moment. While I don't think that he will win, I'm glad he was nominated. Not many actors can carry a movie all on their own. He was charming, funny, daring, and moving. I am sure that part of that is due in large part to the real person he was portraying. You can't help but be impressed by his bravery, perseverance, and sheer ability to survive.

Winter's Bone
This is a movie that I started watching knowing absolutely nothing about beforehand. I can fully admit that the movie was great, but it was a little dark for my taste. It was supremely depressing. I don't know too much about the actual demographics of the region, but it really dug into the dark side of the Ozarks. There were moments when I literally cringed, like when a rifle was being swung around by a child or a bag of crack was casually pulled out of a pocket. Jennifer Lawrence was a strong lead and I kept on swinging between loving and hating the character of Teardrop. Again, a good movie, but I don't think I will curl up on the couch to watch it again.

Here are my predictions for the Oscars this Sunday. Who I think will win is bolded, and in italics is who I think has the possibility for an upset.

Actor in a Leading Role:
Javier Bardem in “Biutiful”
Jeff Bridges in “True Grit”
Jesse Eisenberg in “The Social Network”
Colin Firth in “The King's Speech”
James Franco in “127 Hours”

Actor in a Supporting Role:
Christian Bale in “The Fighter”
John Hawkes in “Winter's Bone”
Jeremy Renner in “The Town”
Mark Ruffalo in “The Kids Are All Right”
Geoffrey Rush in “The King's Speech”

Actress in a Leading Role:
Annette Bening in “The Kids Are All Right”
Nicole Kidman in “Rabbit Hole”
Jennifer Lawrence in “Winter's Bone”
Natalie Portman in “Black Swan”
Michelle Williams in “Blue Valentine”

Actress in a Supporting Role:
Amy Adams in “The Fighter”
Helena Bonham Carter in “The King's Speech”
Melissa Leo in “The Fighter”
Hailee Steinfeld in “True Grit”
Jacki Weaver in “Animal Kingdom”

"Black Swan" Darren Aronofsky
"The Fighter" David O. Russell
"The King's Speech" Tim Hooper
"The Social Network" David Fincher
"True Grit" Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

Best Picture:
"Black Swan"
"The Fighter"
"The Kids Are All Right"
"The King's Speech"
"127 Hours"
"The Social Network"
"Toy Story 3"
"True Grit"
"Winter's Bone"

22 February 2011


Brussels was, in a word, wonderful. Now pardon moi while I gush.

We arrived into Brussels late on Wednesday night, so we really only wanted to grab something to eat and get to bed. Since Kari and I have made it a tradition to try McDonald’s in every country that we travel to, we figured this would be our best shot. Unfortunately, by the time we got there, it was 11:05 and it closed at 11:00. Where to then? Across the street was a kebab place, so we decided to stop in there. It ended up being the most hilarious meal of our trip. The men at the counter were very flirtatious. When we placed our order, it went something like this:

Man #1: (pointing at me) My friend, he likes you.

Me: Oh…well, thank you.

Man #2 smiles charmingly while he tends to our order.

Kari is laughing at me. Man #1 notices and turns to her.

Man #1: (pointing at Kari) I guess I like you too.

Kari: That’s OK, you don’t have to.

No, really, you don’t have to.

(Grand'Place with Hotel de Ville)

The next morning, Kari and I woke up bright and early. We headed straight to Grand'Place, which is the heart of the tourist city. We stood in complete awe of the square. The architecture was absolutely amazing and we were blown away. Within moment, we both knew that we loved Brussels. Unable to take our eyes off Grand'Place, we decided to grab out breakfast in the square. We settled on the first coffee shop that also advertised fresh Belgian waffles. Mmmm....It was a great excuse to have a waffle with chocolate sauce drizzled over the top. Yum! I wish I had one right now.

(Grand'Place with Maison du Roi)

From there, we made our way to Manneken Pis. What is it, you ask? It's a fountain of a little boy peeing. This is by far the most popular tourist site in the city. Considering it's everywhere, it was surprisingly small. It's only about a foot high and we almost walked right past it. The Manneken Pis is absolutely everywhere. Seriously -- it is like the Eiffel Tower of Brussels. You can't go into a tourist shop without seeing about 60 different little statues dedicated to him. The best one? A tiny little bottle opener with the corkscrew conveniently placed. We were very tempted to bring one home.

Right near Menneken Pis were numerous stands advertising waffles for only €1. Although we had just downed one for breakfast, we gave in. We each ordered a waffle with nutella and strawberries. With our exorbitant toppings, our €1 waffle suddenly became €4.50. Whoops. Our eyes proved to be bigger than our stomachs. We ended up just eating the strawberries, leaving about half of the waffle behind. What an expensive, delicious whoops.

After eating our second waffle of the day, we of course needed to make a stop at the Musée du Cacao et du Chocolat. In the museum we got a real life demonstration. A delightful old man showed us how to make a traditional Belgian praline. Although he spoke in French the entire time, we were still able to follow along. After all, he was still speaking the language of chocolate.

(With my free sample of chocolate)

There was only one way to follow-up the Cholocate Museum – with a visit to Cathedrale St Michel. In my mind, the holiness of the chocolate was perfectly complimented with the famous cathedral. This massive cathedral looked an awful lot like Notre Dame to us. With its huge towers and gothic façade, we were sufficiently impressed. It seems that every trip that Kari and I take involves going to about ten different churches. Cathedrale St Michel only managed to further solidify our admiration of Brussels – and convince us that it is a smaller version of Paris. With its huge vaulted ceilings and stunning stained glass, we spent almost our entire time in Cathedrale St Michel with our necks craned and eyes glued skyward as we walked slowly down the nave.

(Cathedrale St Michel)

From there we made our way to the beer museum. Located right in Grand’Place, the museum is charmingly quaint. Between the two small rooms, we were granted a view of some shining equipment and a video espousing the popularity and quality of Belgian beer. The best part? The beer at the end of the short tour. The worst part? We chose a cherry beer. It was so sweet that we could barely enjoy it. Warning to all future travelers to Belgium: If you are ever given the option between a cherry and blonde beer, always choose blonde. Always. Otherwise you will find yourself drinking glorified cough syrup.

(Ucky cherry beer in the beer museum)

At this point we had only had glorified and beer the entire day, so we were really in need of some real food. We went in search of the national dish of Belgium – mussels with a side of fries. A little strange, but we had been reading all about it in the guide books so we figured we had to try it. We struggled to spot it, despite it being advertised literally everywhere. There was one point where we approached a restaurant on Grand’Place, and with our backs to the sign bragging about their mussels, we struggled to find mussels anywhere on the menu. We finally found a café and ordered our mussels and (blonde) beer. Without fail, we had a huge bucket of mussels delivered to our table with a heaping plate of fries. To really solidify the weirdness, there was mayonnaise poured over the fries. Again, a little out of our ketchup element, but we went with it.

(Enjoying my blonde Belgian beer with lunch)

Our first day in Brussels ended with a stop at a parking garage. We had read about the view from the roof of Parking 58, so we simply had to check it out for a view of the sunset. The view did not disappoint. We got a great panoramic view of the city, but had to cut it short since we both had to pee so badly. Sorry for the share, guys, but when you’ve only had coffee and beer all day, ya gotta go eventually, and sometimes it’s during a sunset!

Since we had such an early lunch, we were starving by 9. So after relaxing in our hotel room, we tried McDonald’s again. We brought our chicken nuggets back to our room and had a small feast followed by Belgian chocolates. Did you know, by the way, that in Belgium you can order a beer with your meal? It was a surreal experience, but we totally recommend that McDonald’s in the U.S. follows suite.

The next day started off the same as the first, with a waffle and espresso in Grand’Place. During breakfast, we both realized that we didn’t have much left to do in Brussels. In the first day, we had zoomed through most of the tourist spots. For the day, we decided on a little shopping and walking around. We started off at Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, a massive shopping arcade. It’s a long indoor hallway with shops lining either side. It’s basically a linear mall with beautiful sculptures, a glass ceiling, and pretty pink walls.

From there we made our way slowly to Parc de Bruxelles, which is the big outdoor park in Brussels. It is bookended by Palais Royal and the Palais de la Nation – the royal palace and Belgian parliament. Since it still wasn’t time for spring, the park was still a little unimpressive. Kari and I enjoyed ourselves on the ledge of the Palais Royal. We sat and admired the view while we ate the rest of our chocolates. It was pretty fancy-shmancy. Plus, the palace provided the opportunity to take more silly pictures in front of serious things.

(Palais Royal)

(View of the Palais de la Nation from the Parc de Bruxelles)

Kari and I were both impressed with Brussels. Each of us didn’t know much about it before going, so we really didn’t have any expectations. If given the chance, I recommend you all go and check out the Grand’Place and giggle at the Manneken Pis.

(Cathedrale St Michel all lit up at night)

(Slight disappointment with the size of Manneken Pis)

(Kari and me in Grand'Place)

(Keeping it regal while eating chocolates at the Palais Royal)

(Grand'Place at night)

15 February 2011


In true Kari and Kat fashion, we shipped off for Munich this past weekend. This was only my second time in Germany, so I was particularly excited to get the Bavarian experience. There for only two days, we set out to see as much as possible.

Our first logical stop was Marienplatz, which is the historic center of Munich. Although it was rainy and grey all day, there was no way we could deny the absolute beauty of the city. We had a quick stop to grab a bratwurst in Viktualienmarkt, this huge farmer's market that has a ton of vendors and food booths. After our first delicious taste of German food, we really needed to work off the calories. What better way to do this then to climb 306 steps to the top of St. Peter's Church. The view from the top was definitely worth it. We stood 13-stories above the ground, looming over Marienplatz. Perhaps the best part? We could see the Alps in the distance. Beautiful.

(A previous guest to the tower at St. Peter's summarized the climb perfectly)

(On top of the tower at St. Peter's with Marienplatz in the background)

From St. Peter's Church we made our way to the site of Oktoberfest. Conclusion? Kinda lame without the Oktoberfest. Seriously -- it's basically just a huge parking lot. Of course, this didn't stop us from taking pictures. After making our way back to Marienplatz and stopping at a couple more churches along the way, we had to squeeze in our traditional stop at McDonald's. For how much I love traveling, I have somehow managed to go to a McDonald's in every single country I have visited. Impressed? Yeah, I wouldn't be either.

The only way we could imagine ending the evening was with a stop at Hofbräuhaus. This was really cool and fun and probably the best way to experience the Bavarian beer culture. While an oompa band played we enjoyed our Weisse Bier and a massive pretzel.

And here is where I share an admittedly embarrassing story with you all...

Since it was so crowded in the Hofbräuhaus, our waiter was really brisk. Seriously, if you weren't ready to order, he would just walk away and wouldn't come back for another like 15 minutes. For this reason, I was really anxious when I ordered our Weisse Bier. When he repeated the order back to me, I suddenly panicked. I hadn't prepared for this! The only thing racing through my mind was, "Oh my God...He expects me to answer him. In a foreign language...uh, uh!"At this point, "si!" burst from my lips. Apparently Spanish is the only foreign language that I have in my repertoire. In all honesty, I'm just glad he chose to ignore me.

Our next day started with the Glockenspiel in the Marienplatz. The Glockenspiel is basically just a huge cuckoo clock. At 11:00 and 12:00 it chimes for a full 6 minutes. If you're really interested, you can check out a video of it below:

After a quick espresso, we made our way to the palace, or Residenz. In terms of size, it was absolutely massive! I’m seriously surprised that you don’t learn about it more. I feel like we always look to Versailles as a model for decadence, but the Residenz was impressive in its own way. Throughout our tour, we were able to walk through over 90 rooms. One really cool aspect of the Residenz is that it is largely reconstructed. It was mainly destroyed during WWII, so a lot of the rooms were rebuilt in the last 60ish years. We would walk in, ooooh and aaahhh, and then suddenly read a sign that said, “Destroyed in 1944, rebuilt in blah blah blah.” Dang.

(Inside the Residenz)

(The resemblance is uncanny)

Afterwards, we headed to the English Gardens to visit the Bier Garten surrounding the
Chinese Tower. As it was kind of chilly, we went inside to have a quick drink. The rest of the day was a whirlwind, with a stop at the Hofgarten and Karlsplatz. From there we slowly made our way towards Marienplatz, where we grabbed dinner at a place called Hacker-Pschorr. It was absolutely delicious -- braised beef with potato dumplings and Dampfnudel for dessert. It was the perfect way to end our time in Munich.

(The Glockenspiel, which chimes for 6 full minutes)

(Marienplatz with the Glockenspiel)

(Tearing into my huge pretzel at Hofbräuhaus)

(Without Oktoberfest, the park was a tad bit underwhelming)

(Video of the Oompa Band at Hofbräuhaus)

(Kari really knows her German)

14 February 2011

Happy Valentine's Day!

While waiting in line at the post office, I dropped the package that I was getting ready to send out. Behind me was a man of about 60. As I bent down to pick it up, he stuck out his hand. I of course paused. With a flourish and with mock gusto, he said, "Allow me!"

As he came up with the package, he bowed as he handed it to me. I was so surprised and impressed with his chivalry that I could barely stammer out a thank you. His response? "It's Valentine's Day. Every man should do something nice for at least one woman today."

Man, I'm sure glad that he picked me! It made my day. We stood in line chatting for a bit more before I was called to the window. He was completely absorbed with the atmosphere of love. Evidence? He told me that his prize possession was all of the love letters that his wife had sent him so long ago. By the time we had to go our separate ways, I was smiling wide.

08 February 2011

Super Bowl Sunday...Scratch that...Super Bowl Early Monday Morning

The Super Bowl is perhaps the most amazing spectacle of American pride. Just look at Christina Aguilera -- she flubs the lines to the National Anthem, and now she's being vilified. This is why we were particularly interested to see what the Super Bowl would be like to experience in a foreign country.

We settled into Sportsters, our new favorite sports bar, for the evening. The moment we crossed the threshold, we felt like we stepped into little-America. There were about 50 TVs around the room, not counting the tiny televisions actually IN the table. Once looking over the menu briefly, we know we would be getting the appetizer platter to share. With the potato skins, curly fries, and onion rings, it felt a little bit more like home.

Oh, and did I mention that with the time difference that the game didn't start until 11:30? That was a strange element. At home, it's a big affair. The entire day is dedicated to the game. Here, however, we didn't stand for the National Anthem until 11:15. We ended up heading home at 2am, and that was when the 4th quarter was just starting. Talk about a long night!

I was pleasantly surprised by how many Scottish people were there. We were expecting to be in a sea of Americans that were abroad, but it was actually fairly split. Also, a lot of people were wearing jerseys for their favorite team. At home, everyone basically has to pick a side. If I had walked into a bar at home wearing a Bears jersey, I would have been mocked endlessly. Here, people were just wearing whatever they had. Everyone seemed happy to just be able to watch the game, and they could really care less about declaring allegiances.

One big disappointment of watching the Super Bowl over here is that there are no fun commercials. All we got were the lame UK commercials that we've been watching for months anyways. Yes, I know that a lot of people said that the commercials weren't that good anyways, but isn't part of the experience the anticipation of a potentially good commercial? Here, we had none of that.

I'll end this post with a funny story from the night.

At one point, a group of middle aged Scottish men chatted up. We had started talking because one was wearing a Jets jersey, and it turned out that they were all die hard American football fans. Later in the evening, another man approached us and said, "I hear there's a Bears fan at the table." When I confirmed, he continued, "You need to come with me, darling." Now, I ordinarily don't follow drunk men in bars, so I declined. The rest of the conversation went something like this...

Drunk Man: "But you need to come with me. There are a couple of Packers fans that we need to bother."

Me: "Oh, well...but see, my inbred dislike of the Packers is being eclipsed by my hatred of Ben Roethlisberger, so I'm rooting for the Packers tonight."

Without missing a beat, he replies, "OK, so the man's a rapist. But if he can beat the Packers, I'll forgive him for that."

As I told Kari, I was really torn on who to root for. I don't like the Packers, but I couldn't, in all good consciousness, root for a team that that man was on. So, sorry drunk Scottish man. I was rooting for morality this Super Bowl. Although, I did love that they heard about that all the way over here.

05 February 2011

Sarcasm (noun): sneering or cutting remark

Let's begin this with one simple fact: I think I'm hilarious. (Also, in my mind, that was said in the voice of Ron Burgundy)

If you know me at all, you know that I'm a fairly sarcastic person. My sarcasm, however, was not received very well tonight.

Kari arrived on Thursday, so we've spent the last couple of days galavanting about town. Tonight we decided to head to Viva Mexico! Two years ago, we could not find a Mexican restaurant for the life of us. Now, there are two. Go figure.

As we were walking down Cockburn Street (hahaha....Cockburn...) we passed a store that had lingerie displayed in the window. The main mannequin was wearing a baby pink bustier and matching silk panties with a feather boa. Jokingly, Kari paused and pointed, saying something along the lines of, "Wow, Kat, you should really get one of those." My response? "Don't worry -- I already have it in purple."

Just as Kari and I start to crack up, a man passing by yells, "I can't believe this...PERVERTS!"

Woah, calm down there buddy. I was just kidding....I really have it in blue. It goes better with my eyes.

02 February 2011

Here's a story...

...that's been running through my mind the last few days. I have no idea how it got in there, but I think it's a wonderful example of the power of kindness.

When I was maybe 5 years old and Mark was 3, we had a routine with our mom. She would pick me up from kindergarten and we would all go to the local Jewel get our groceries for the week. We would both sit in the cart as she cruised through the aisles. We would get packed in by all of the food, and I'm sure we each smashed many loaves of bread in our day.

One day, as Mom was checking out, Mark and I ran to the candy machines. I'm sure you know the kind that I'm talking about -- you put in a quarter and you get a small toy or a handful of candy. As our tiny fingers smudged the -- in our minds -- pristine showcase, we would spend our time "ooh-ing" and "ah-ing" over the little prizes.

This became as much of a routine as our weekly shopping trip with our mom. This day, however, proved much more extraordinary. As we stood with our noses pressed against the glass, a man paused on his way out of the store. We barely noticed him, until he gently placed two quarters -- one for each of us -- into the machines we were admiring.

As young as we were, Mark and I were baffled, overwhelmed, and ecstatic with his little act of kindness. We each smiled up at him, thrilled with his gift. I suppose he took our toothy grins as a thank you, because he gently smiled back, waved, and went on his way.

I'm sitting here 18 years later, and I still remember this happening. It's one of my first clear memories. I recall it most often when I think about the importance of kindness. We all struggle to maintain our sanity and compassion for others, myself included. So...here's to you all. I sincerely hope that everyone takes the time out of their busy day to smile at a stranger, open the door for someone, or even give a quarter to a child so they can get that prize they've been admiring for so long.