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Experiences in Baltimore, MD

Archive for November 2010

Road Trip Days 5-6: Nashville

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Our next stop was Nashville, Music City!

I must admit that Nashville had mostly been a token stop for me, when planning the trip. My road trip partner was much more enthusiastic, probably because he’s more into live music. But by golly, it didn’t turn out badly at all.

We got there pretty early in the day, so we had some time to kill before we could indulge my companion. The first step was naturally to find a place to stay, which turned out to be the only backpacker-style hostel in town (a fact that they were happy to advocate; “Very popular in Europe and Asia!”). Not a bad hostel (having experienced many in Europe and Asia :P), close to the action part of town and reasonably priced; consequently it was completely full and I had to sleep on an air mattress for which I had to pay full price. Meh. With that out of the way, we decided to see the sights. I’d read or heard somewhere that there was a full-sized replica of the Parthenon there, and was curious to find out why. Get to Centennial Park and, lo and behold, there’s a big old temple that I’d believe looked more or less like the Parthenon (I haven’t seen the real thing). More or less, but not quite, I reckon; I do believe that the Greek one was constructed from marble rather than concrete, and probably lacks the very generous handicap accessibility ramps and elevators found here. I don’t know which one has the higher entrance fee, but we decided that $15 for the lookalike was a bit much. I did, however, get an answer to my initial question: The replica was built for the World Fair in 1897 and preserved by popular demand.

The Parthenon, two!

After stumbling onto the photo shoot for a cigarette commercial or perhaps an album cover, we proceeded to check out the nearby Vanderbilt campus. It was rather nice, and it was fun to walk into the Student Life building and more or less blend in (aside from the tourist outfits anyway). But the main attraction for us was, of course, the frat houses. Eternally glorified through pop culture, the enigmatic fraternities have arguably achieved something of a legendary status in Europe. Keg stands, toga parties and Greek letters are all symbols of the hedonism, exclusiveness and sheer betterness concealed behind the gates of the frat house; a bacchanalian paradise swimming with solo cups and college girls awaits you if you are fortunate enough to be accepted to an American college. A bit of exaggeration perhaps, but with a foundation of truth. Are fraternities all they’re cracked up to be? I doubt it (though of course I wouldn’t know, dundunDUN). Frat boys are going to be doing the same things that students in Denmark, or anywhere else, are doing. Only we’ll have be doing it from age 15, and so exhibit a bit more self-control by the time we’re in college. But hey, as the sign says, nothing in frattier than America.

Nothing indeed.

At the end of the day, we finally headed to Broadway and the honky tonk bars. And there were a lot of them, a wall of sound and I.D. checks that was only occasionally broken by a store selling CDs, guitars or cowboy boots (Buy 1 get 2 free!). After a couple of passes we had a pretty good impression of what was what: each bar had a slightly different genre (bluegrass, country with and without fiddle, etc.), with different bands playing for tips over the course of the evening. No covers, so you could hop from one place to the next, but you couldn’t bring your drinks. All the musicians seemed to know each other as well as many of the (presumably) regulars, so there was a whole lot of community feeling going round. A good way to spend an evening, or ten. No photos though, as the E-PL1 isn’t really nightlife friendly.

The next morning we went to a place that had been recommended by my favorite food guide, the Elliston Place Soda Shop.  Classic soda shop interior, (nonfunctional) individual jukeboxes for each stall and distinctly Dixie cooking: I had fried bologna with gravy and biscuits. Mm-mmm? Well, it was better than I’d expected, not too different from country ham. I also had a milkshake, which was perhaps the best milkshake ever. Fortuitously, Mike behind the counter gave me some sage advice as to vanilla vs. chocolate (Chocolate. I don’t even know why they make those other flavors.), and after a torturous wait brought in a massive malt cup filled with thick, creamy chocolate milkshake. I poured it into my big glass, applied a powerful vacuum to the super thick straw, and tasted heaven. So rich! So creamy! And the best part was that it just kept coming. When I finally emptied my first glass, I was able to pour out a second and third helping of this ambrosia. For the rest of the trip I would seek out milkshakes wherever I could, in the hope of getting something to rival this one, without success.

I don't know why they make flavors other than chocolate either.

We had a dinner planned that evening with more friends of a friend, but no particular place to spend the preceding daylight hours. On a whim, I decided that we should go to a pistol range to get in another rather American experience. Asking the GPS didn’t take us to a pistol range, but instead to a skeet shooting range. We walked in there anyway, and after a slightly awkward moment where 8 men with sunglasses and shotguns asked us: “Are you guys lost?”, we established that we could in fact go out and blast some clay pigeons without any previous experience, for the low price of $30 each.  We rented a gun from Steve Leadbetter, who kindly offered to show us the ropes; he was a terrific guy, and “Dead bird!” will forever hold a special place in my vocabulary. It was a ton of fun, and goes to show that you don’t need to use a map to get lost and have unexpected adventures: just ask your GPS for directions.

Dead bird!

The dinner was at the Loveless Cafe, just at the beginning of the Natchez-Trace parkway. In this apparently classic Nashville spot, with the correspondingly long wait, cultivated atmosphere and delicious food, I had another infusion of Southern stables: Fried chicken, fried catfish, fried okra and a whole lot of biscuits. Honestly, it’s not really my cup of tea. Not that I mind the taste, but all the fried stuff gets to me after a day or two, and a lot of the sides feels like main dishes (cough-mac’n’cheese-cough). But hey, that’s the good thing about a road trip like this: we did the Southern food thing in high style, and could then move on to another cuisine. Plus the place was great and the company even better; the waitress had to come back to our table three times because we just kept chatting away and forgetting to pick our orders. A good meal followed by a good night in town, and then we were once again (South)Westward bound.

By the light of the night

Written by Martin

2010/11/27 at 15:40

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Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving. Perhaps the most traditional American holiday, and a time to give thanks for a bountiful harvest. Supposedly Wampanoag indians taught some pilgrims in what is now Massachusetts to live off the land, thus earning a thanksgiving dinner from the well-fed settlers. And so it seems entirely appropriate for this well-fed visitor to take the opportunity to thank modern day Americans for coming up with turducken.

Turducken? What the hell is turducken? In short, it’s a chicken stuffed inside a duck stuffed inside a turkey. Turducken. And of course each bird is stuffed with, well, stuffing. Only in America… (Edit: I stand corrected! Apparently the idea is British)

Not willing to be shown up by Americans,we decided to one-up their creation by stuffing the chicken with a Cornish hen, thus creating the Turduckenen. We roughly followed this recipe (which is an amusing read itself), with a few variations: Slightly different stuffing, 50% bigger turkey and of course the extra bird. The first step was to debone the four birds, which took up pretty much all of last night.

Ready the scalpels!

Using Dr. Morten’s anatomical knowledge and our surgical scalpels, we carefully loosened the ribcage, spine and hips, severing the thigh and wing joints. Then pull: schlup!

All your bones are belong to us

Looks nice and easy, eh? In reality it was rather messier, in the case of our 10 kg turkey. We pretty much spent all of last night deboning, while watching a slideshow from my road trip and listening to The Beatles. Good times.

Meatstrosity

At that point we still had to remove the wing- and thighbones, and of course prepare the stuffing. If you skipped the recipe above, we were making sausage & oyster stuffing (wtf?), cornbread stuffing (to which I spontaneously added clementines) and traditional Danish apple & prune stuffing (to replace the instant stuffing in the recipe). Once all that was done, we had the following before us:

Stick it in!

And naught to do but to assemble our chimeric feast of poultry. By using only a single cut while deboning, we had more or less intact birds spread before us, and thus it was a simple matter to lay out the turkey, put in a layer of stuffing, and then repeat the procedure for the remaining birds. The end product was… impressive:

Git 'er done!

This is where it got tricky, on account of the poor structural integrity of deboned poultry, let alone a veritable layer cake of it. Clearly, this called for further surgical procedures; with two of us holding the turduckenen together, Dr. Morten carefully stitched together the ‘wound’. It was going to leave a nasty scar, when you’re about to get eaten that’s the least of your worries.

I dub thee Frankenbird

Actually, that’s what the recipe called theirs. I named ours Byron Harkonnen. At this stage the only thing left to do was to carefully roll Byron over on his back, and stick him in the oven for around 7 hours while getting all the sides ready. You might be surprised to hear that I actually failed to get a great shot of the crispy brown colossus that emerged, but I’ll put that down a general lack of sleep since I returned from my trip.

So, how was it? Better than expected, is the best way I can describe it. It certainly had nothing on a well cooked goose, but it was really quite tasty. A lot of meat, but despite it being poultry the interspersed layers of stuffing kept it from being too dry. And the interplay of flavors from the stuffing was quite nice; even the sausage & oyster stuffing was rather savory. For anything less than a family of ten, however, it’s complete overkill; with seven people we got through about half of it, which I guess is to be expected when a half slice looks like this, and according to some random website contains over a thousand calories:

1639 calories?

And yes, I still had seconds.

Written by Martin

2010/11/26 at 01:59

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Road Trip Days 3-4: Great Smoky to Knoxville

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Blue Ridge Parkway ends up at Great Smoky Mountain National Park, another lovely part of the Appalachians that you can zoom right through to get from North Carolina to Tennessee. And, following a token stop at a North Carolinian barbecue place (Sledgehammer Charlie’s; perfectly fine ribs, but nothing to write home about at $20 for a rack), that’s just what we did. Unfortunately it was night by the time we got there, and we were rather late for dinner with a friend-to-be, so we didn’t have a chance see the sights this time around. Nevertheless, climbing those dark mountain roads did instill a sense of natural tranquility, leaving us utterly unprepared for what awaited us on the other side.

I’d been told that penetrating the mountains between Arizona and Nevada would yield a glorious view of the Las Vegas lights, but I didn’t expect anything of the sort when entering Tennessee. Reality, however, paid no heed to my expectations and promptly offered Pigeon Forge, the strangest town I’ve seen in America (or anywhere).

Look to your left: a multi-level go-kart track.

Look to your right: a neon-lit arcade.

Look anywhere and you’ll find some kind of outré entertainment or vendor. Jurassic Jungle Boat Ride, Extreme Lazer Tag, Mellow Mushroom Pizza, Mine Your Own Gemstones… the list goes on and on. Driving through that place was downright surreal. Alas, we were late for our dinner date, so we didn’t have any time to stop and experience the madness. The impression was lasting, however, and after our delicious pizza dinner with Meghan, we decided to spend another day in Knoxville to check the place out, and to visit Great Smoky Mountain in the day.

After a visit to the International House of Pancakes (good pancakes, bad syrups, not that cheap… and are they really international?), we followed Meghan’s recommendation on where to go in the National Park, to great success. I don’t remember what the route was called, but just like the other drives in the Appalachians, it was gorgeous. Some people might argue that you can take too many pictures of forest canopies, but I don’t agree. Thus, I present to you: pictures of trees.

But wait, it isn’t just trees! I further present to you: pictures of horses. Well, just one horse really; being the prettiest blonde around has its privileges.

And here’s one of my favorite photos from the trip, though I sorely wish I’d used a much faster shutter speed to reduce the exposure.

On our way back from Smoky we stopped in Pigeon Forge again. The experience wasn’t nearly the same by the light of day, but we did catch a decent game of laser tag. Plus, on the way back to Knoxville, we dropped by this monstrosity to get a souvenir for our generous host.

I doubt it's really the world's largest...

 

Written by Martin

2010/11/21 at 17:00

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Road Trip Days 2-3: Appalachians

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The transition from DC to the first significant leg of our journey, the Appalachians, was about as smooth as magnificent mohawk. To elaborate:

As the day wound to an end, we needed naturally needed a place to sleep. No problem, the road atlas shows several campground along Skyline Drive, we’ll just set up camp (again, literally) at the first one and then start cruising down one of America’s most scenic byways at the break of dawn. Well, we get to Skyline and find the welcoming committee absent, replaced by a deserted Ranger’s hut illuminating the otherwise complete darkness. By the dim light we discern that all the campgrounds along the Drive are full, and that there are bears in the woods. Now what? Well, it’s not a big deal really, my pre-trip research showed that sleeping in the car wasn’t too bad, so we’ll just park at the side of the road and nap it out. As written, so it was to be…

…for about an hour, at which point I was awoken by an aggressive knocking on the window. “Get that guy up!” the cop was saying, while hammering away at the window. I scrambled for my glasses and provided ID, which calmed him down some. But the essence of the interaction was unchanged: car-sleeping in the park wasn’t allowed, so we’d have to bugger off. On went our clothes, and off we went to the parking lot of Walmart; devoid of angry guards, that place would be the site of several dormancies along the way.

257 words were enough to recount that little occurrence, but a thousand wouldn’t begin to describe the views on Skyline Drive. Instead, I’ll resort to the time-honored tradition of letting my pictures speak, well, thousands of words.

Skyline Drive...

...in the Appalachians...

...offers great views.

Gorgeous. And at 35 mph, a bona fide easy ride. Banjos in the speakers, sun in the sky; exactly what I’d envisioned for the road trip, or at least the beginnings of it.

Somewhere towards the end of the day we transitioned from Skyline Drive to Blue Ridge Parkway, an equally celebrated byway. Flatter, but still a scenic drive through multitudinous trees sporting every color from bright green to glowing red; even though I liked Skyline better, Blue Ridge still took my photo count above a hundred. And while it wasn’t quite as pretty, there were more interesting sites along the way, such as this old farm turned snapshot of history.

Pumpkins, scarecrows, dungarees, it was swell (if you’ll excuse the counter-thematic code-mixing). I even got my first shoe-signature there (from Joe Morse, the resident guide) but you’ll have to wait a little longer to find out that that’s all about.


Written by Martin

2010/11/18 at 22:42

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Road Trip Day 1: Washington DC

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At 3am on October 16th, I picked up my travelling companion at the bus station. Back at the Mystery Mansion, we celebrated his arrival to America in the most appropriate manner: by consuming three or four boxes of sugar-loaded cereal between us. With this (literally) under our belts, we commenced to clean the interior of the car and load up our luggage. I donned my road trip Converse and off we went towards our first stop: the District of Columbia!

Ready to go!

I’ve talked about DC before, so I won’t spend time describing it again. Suffice to say the weather was great, the Mall majestic and the museums impressive. I also had my worst meal of the entire trip, a Mushroom & Swiss Angus Third-Pounder at McDonald’s.  Probably doesn’t surprise anyone, but Mickey D’s attempt to ride the Angus wave is as crappy as their regular selection; I saw several more or less positive reviews while scrounging up the link above, and can only conclude that the authors were American and probably mildly deranged. The mushrooms were flavorless pieces of rubber, the mayo was excessive and the cheese nondescript. The meat was vaguely better than usual, but the whole thing still gave you that stuffy feeling of having consumed cardboard fried in trans fat and salt.

Well, enough ranting about that. Overall DC was super, and I’ll share a few random shots for good measure.

Neo-classicism for great justice!

Plantissimus Birdalicus

Arcimboldo's revenge

Written by Martin

2010/11/17 at 02:35

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We made it

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4 weeks; 6700 miles; 13 states. 1200 pictures taken and around $2000 spent. 2 flat tires. 9 National Parks visited. 6 kinds of barbecue and 14 fast food franchises sampled. Any number of wrong turns. 20 signatures on my flies. One million dead bugs on the windscreen. Innumerable good times.

I’ll be uploading snapshots and highlights in the coming weeks, probably for the rest of my stay here (1200 pictures…). Whenever I get time anyway, lot of work to catch up on.

Written by Martin

2010/11/16 at 00:05

Posted in Uncategorized