31 May 2011

Hadrian's Wall Path: Day 4

Vindolanda is a short walk from the Once Brewed Youth Hostel, so right after breakfast we walked there.  WOW.  First off, they have 150-200 years of excavating left to do, and for example they've already found over 5000 pieces of ancient Roman footwear.  There is over 24 feet of layers (the area was occupied for well over 200 years) and 9 historical periods to excavate.

Slipper/Sandal that belonged to Sulpicia Lepidina, who also wrote the birthday invitation also found at Vindolanda -- this is the oldest piece of female handwriting found in Europe

One thing they recently found was the body of a murdered girl buried in a shallow grave in the barracks, with her hands bound.  The archeologist said it was really tough to work on.

The top thing about it is that they do a fantastic job of contextualizing everything and telling as much as possible about everyday ancient Roman life.  For this area of northern England, they didn't enjoy the same standard of living as the ancient Roman period until the 18th-19th century, and some people didn't have running water until after the second World War.  So to see the complexity and efficiency of the ancient Roman settlements is really impressive.

While some products were made locally, like beer, they have found evidence at Vindolanda of olive oil from the region around Seville, Spain and northern Africa, glass from around Cologne, Germany, and amber from the Baltic region, and many products from Gaul.  Many objects are exceptionally well-preserved because the wet conditions and soil conditions made the conditions anaerobic, which of course slows decay.  They've also found paper fragments there, giving an incredible insight into everyday communication among the inhabitants, including an invitation from the CO's wife to the CO's wife at the next fort, inviting her to her birthday party.

The excavations are taking place in full view of the visitors, and they invite volunteers to help, so I was able to speak to a lady who has been coming up every summer for the last five years, and she had recently found a dagger and part of a bow.

The nice volunteer archaeologist lady pointed out to me the round wall that is the foundation of a round building built by North African (Severan) soldiers stationed there

After Vindolanda, we took the AD122 bus to Housesteads Fort, to stamp our passport and walk the only section of the Wall where you are actually walking on the wall itself.  Because you're nearly hanging over a cliff, it's the only place where I got a bit nervous and unsteady.  I might add here that the AD122 bus was great because we had reservations and therefore places we had to arrive at every evening, and Vindolanda merits a whole morning (or afternoon), so you kind of need to use it to make up distance in places.  The distances we needed to cover were doable if all we were doing was walking, but we also wanted to see things along the way.

From Housesteads, we took the bus just a few more miles to the Mithraeum at Brocolitia, which is right on the Hadrian's Wall Path.  Mithraeum are often hard to find, because they were buried into the hills as it was, and then now they're even less visible.  But this is the best-preserved Mithraeum in Britain, and it was really cool.

Mithraeum at Brocolitia

From Brocolitia, we walked to Greencarts Farm, along the way passing Limestone Corner, which would've been the northernmost-point of occupied Roman Britain, and therefore of the Roman empire, which was totally amazing to consider -- I still can't really believe it.

Hadrian's Wall Path: Day 3

We were really lucky enough to have an exceptionally knowledgeable and very sweet local show us around the Lanercost Priory -- which is worth visiting because for such a small hamlet, it has 3 William Morris & Co. stained glass windows.  It really is a quite exceptional place.  We had to leave before the English Heritage part of the site opened, which was unfortunate since we couldn't contemplate the ruins -- we had to get on our way.  But we did get to go to a local craft fair in Dacre Hall, which was something out of Keeping Up With Appearances or something.

Here are the windows:

The proprietress of the B&B was kind enough to drive us about a mile up to Banks, where we began walking at the first turret that is visible of Hadrian's Wall.  Shortly thereafter, we walked through a wooded area that was so lushly verdant:
Woods near Wall Bowers
But that was nothing, because we got to Birdoswald and decided to take the AD122 bus to the Roman Army Museum at Greenhead.  We didn't visit the museum, but we did start the walk over the crags, which was overall spectacular.

on the crags at Walltown Quarry - that's Hadrian's Wall in the background, with those well-cut stones
The rest of the day got pretty tough, as we were going up and down over the crags to Once Brewed.  We passed the highest point on the trail, only 345 meters (1131 feet - for comparison, Mt. Davis in Pennsylvania is 979 meters/3213 feet), where we spoke with a nice Belgian guy from Ghent who was doing the Pennine Way trail.

Right down the hill from the plinth marking the 345 m point is Once Brewed Youth Hostel, where we stayed and ate.

30 May 2011

Hadrian's Wall Path: Day 2, continued

One of the top things about the Hadrian's Wall Path is that the people along the way are certainly friendly and because ostensibly we all speak English, it's really easy to communicate.

Mum and this miniature horse near Crosby-on-Eden

The walk from Carlisle was generally uneventful.  We passed some of the vallum on the west end of the fortifications where there was no wall, but only earthen fortifications.  Mostly we just tromped through a lot of sheep and cow poo.  At one point, we really could've gotten ourselves into trouble because we walked too close to a nursing cow with calf.  But as far as the Wall is concerned, you really don't see the it until the third day, no matter if you're walking west to east or east to west.

When we arrived to our B&B in Lanercost, Mum got a bit lost, because I dropped out of view for about a minute, and she'd made it halfway up the hill to Naworth Castle.  It really freaked me out, because it was really very windy and I knew she wouldn't be able to hear when/if I called out to her.  Anyway, I went up every other nearby road except the one she took, of course.  Finally she came back down and the B&B owner Gillian found her.  Once we settled in, I accepted Gillian's offer of tea, and her husband David came in to say that he'd just invited two other friends in for tea, who were walking across the bridge over the River Irthing.

By talking with these four locals, I learned a lot about the local issues -- for example, Hadrian's Wall is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but to what extent?  Is it just the wall, how far around the wall, etc?  The farming subsidies are also a huge local issue, because of course everyone wants the pretty landscape and local, organic food, but also to have it cheap.  So the way they described it was that farmers whose fields we were walking through were being paid to manage the landscape.  Whether that's true or not, I certainly don't know, but it's an interesting way to describe farm subsidies.  It was during this conversation that I learned about Sarah Outen, who is going around the world by her own power -- she was the friend of one of the gentlemen's sister from Oxford.  Because it also became clear that the local Lanercost Priory was quite important, we arranged to visit it the next morning.

That night, we had dinner at The Belted Will Inn -- half rack of ribs for both of us, with some cider for me.  They were out of their local Cumbria sausage Scotch Eggs, and I was really disappointed because I love Scotch Eggs.  The B&B took us there, and the owner of the Inn drove us back to the B&B.  We passed Naworth Castle, which is a quite valuable estate, still making money from the land and tenant farmers.  Philip Howard is a cousin of the Howards who have Castle Howard in Yorkshire, which is where the Brideshead Revisited movies were filmed.  Apparently Naworth Castle is partly modernized but mostly it's a right proper castle, with suits of armor and everything.

29 May 2011

Hadrian's Wall Path: Day 2

It seems it is unclear to either of us how far we walked today because we're not sure in what unit of measurement the signs are, and then sometimes the distances vary as well. My estimate is over 10 miles, certaonly, but I'm working back from the better km estimate because appaently UK miles are longer than American miles?
We started out in kind of bad weather but by the end of the day it was warm and sunny.
It's important to note that we've not yet seen the actual wall, per se, and we won't until tomorrow at Banks.
We're staying at a sweet little B&B near Lanercost Priory, which we will briefly tour tomorrow before stamping our passport at Birdoswald and then heading over the crags to Once Brewed.
Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

28 May 2011

Hadrian's Wall Path: Day 1

Today we biked 15 miles of the 84 mile trail from Bowness-on-Solway to Carlisle, in the rain. We passed lots of cows and sheep grazing on the Solway Firth marsh, and the tide was much higher than it was when we arrived this morning. Because of the rain, I was glad to be wearing my astronaut long underwear, and really we dried out quickly as we got into Carlisle.

Leaving Bowness-on-Solway

It took probably about 2.5 hours or so, and when we got to Carlisle, we visited the very beautiful cathedral and had a nice lunch there. We were able to get good directions to our b&b and get a few last-minute supplies.

We had dinner in a pub across the street and got out just as the Man U v. Barca final game was starting.
Tomorrow we'll walk to just past Walton.

27 May 2011


After catching the bus in Carlisle, we arrived at Bowness and the B&B keeper was waiting for us at the door. We're staying in a converted former Methodist chapel.
We went to the trailhead to scout it out, and then had some dinner at the King's Arms pub - wonderful people, really. The owners, in the middle of taking care if other customers, answered all of our questions about, for example, tidal flooding. Scotland is just across the Solway Firth estuary.
They have a pig named Joe, who is a pet and who is at least as long as his girth, and has quite long hair.
Perhaps the highlight was their guestbook, of walkers starting or ending- I may post some excerpts later.
We also got our passports, to be stamped along the way - I have a feeling it may become one of my dearest possessions.
Tomorrow morning we set off on bikes for the first day.

Solway Firth watercolor from one of the guestbooks

This cartoon is hanging in our B&B.


Gateshead Millennium Bridge and Baltic Center for Contemporary Art

I love train stations. Waiting for the train to Carlisle.

Newcastle panorama from the Baltic.

Did you know?
Sting is from Newcastle.

26 May 2011

vlog: Souvenirs

I made this quickly this evening:

Souvenirs from Maria Silvestri on Vimeo.

The Great North Museum

Ohh how lovely it is to get to a museum and it's free entrance.  If this is the horrors of European social democracy...  Free museum visits take the pressure off of feeling like you have to get your money's worth and see everything, because you can just see what you want and then leave, edified by what you saw and not exhausted by it.

To me, it seemed like this museum would be a good introduction to Hadrian's Wall museologically, and indeed it was.  As the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli has the best artifacts from Pompeii and Herculaneum, so it would seem does The Great North Museum have the best artifacts from the Hadrian's Wall region.  After our Roman sojourn from 2000-2002, I've gotten to visit some of the far reaches of the ancient Roman Empire: the Ponte del Diablo and the Römanisches-Germanisches Museum.  Because of the need to defend the borders, it seems there was more diversity at the far reaches of the empire than there was in other areas - and from such diversity, a greater cross-section of ancient Roman life appears than it does in Rome itself.  This is something I expect to see more of in the next week or so.

While 9.9 times out of 10 I'm not a fan of touch screen doodads in museums, there was a really interesting interactive display in this exhibit: when a century finished a section of the wall, they carved their name into a century stone.  In this kiosk, you can record your name and then see your initials on the screen, with a soldier walking around it, too:
The soldier is covering his head because it's raining in the video the way it was raining outside today.  Can you find our initials?
However, museum analysts: my mom did comment on how hard it was to use.  So ixnay on the ioskkay, eh?

These bronze harness mounts from the 2nd-3rd century CE were some of the finest artifacts on display:

These figures were all throughout the exhibit, providing more personal stories of life along the Wall in Roman times.  I'm posting this one so that my friends E & A can see that I wasn't making up the thing about the Phrygian cap:
Aux armes, citoyens!

I wasn't expecting such excellent highlighting of the Cult of Mithras, but I guess I should've, because it was a cult very popular amongst Roman soldiers.  I certainly learned some new things today.  The cult of Mithras has a legacy that we still are connected to today, because of Christianity's adaptations of pagan customs.  I excerpt some sections of a BBC article about it (and if that's not enough, here's another link):
Mithraism and Christianity had many similarities - baptism (although Christians used water instead of blood), bread marked with a cross and wine taken in a ritual meal, Sunday as a holy day, and the idea of brotherhood of members with a priest who was called 'father'.
Mithras himself was born of a virgin on 25 December, and lived a celibate life. On 6 January following his birth, the infant Mithras was visited by Magi. He is often pictured between two torchbearers, one pointing upward to heaven, the other downward to hell - just as Christ was crucified between two thieves, one of whom repented while the other did not.
Interestingly, an inscription to Mithras exists which reads:
'He who will not eat of my body and drink of my blood, so that he will be made one with me and I with him, the same shall not know salvation.'
St Peter's Basilica in Rome stands, in fact, on the very spot on which the last Taurobolium - the blood-baptism of the bull sacrifice - took place in the 4th Century in what is called the Phrygianum, referring to Phrygia, the place of Mithras' origin. This is according to David Fingrut, Mithraism: The Legacy of the Roman Empire's Final Pagan State Religion, 1993.
It has been argued that the Emperor Constantine, long regarded as the founder of Christianity as a state religion in Rome - and now known to have been a follower of yet another solar cult, that of Sol Invictus - simply overlooked the amazing similarities in the different mystery cults of his day in the service of unity in his far-flung empire.

There was also an interactive feature where you walked into a small, windowless room, and were transported in time to a Mithraeum. One of my favorite archetypal visual symbols is often found in Mithraic imagery, Christian imagery, and other forms of folk art:
Altar detail, The Great North Museum

But now that we're on this Mithras thing, I may as well illustrate the Phrygian cap idea: As you see in the picture above, the devotee of the Cult of Mithras is wearing one, ceremonially. It's the hat Mithras wears in reliefs as he's killing the bull. After wide use in ancient imagery, it then was adopted as a symbol of freedom in the French Revolution, American Revolution, and the (French) Revolution of 1830 - see Delacroix's painting, Liberty Leading the People, and then various Bolivarean Revolutions.  Because I'm weird like that, I have made one prototype and will probably make another, to bring back the Phrygian cap.
This was I think last year sometime?  Goofy me - but Phrygian Cap v. 2.0 will be better.
My only criticism of the Hadrian's Wall exhibit was that there was no intro text and it was difficult to understand how to use the exhibit - even though it was self-guided and circular, with no intended route, which I prefer.  It'll be interesting to see what's left at some of these sites after seeing what's there from them in the museum.  Also, perhaps because of British museological style, there was a lot of restored and filled-in fragments, instead of just fragments left alone.  Controversial.

Lowbrow, I know

I'ma try and sneak in something lowbrow here, because it was soooo funny:

Grainger Street, Newcastle Upon Tyne
While mum was turning away and pretending she didn't know me as I was taking this picture, she was totally laughing too.  ... reminds me of a certain classic SNL sketch.

Food Souvenirs

I was just reading this article on Serious Eats, and it of course is very timely.

The main question is: What are your favorite food souvenirs to tote home?

Since I know a lot of lovely, interesting people will read this post, I thought I'd open it up to us, the lovely little community that reads this blog - don't be shy.

Over the years, Team Silvestri has brought back, among other things:
  • a dried poppy seed bulb
  • bryndza cheese and slanina
  • dried mushrooms
  • Cadbury chocolate-covered whole hazelnuts
I think that since we've got such good Italian and fresh markets in Pittsburgh, we never brought anything from Italy as much as we have from Slovakia.  Until I have my own sheep in my backyard, I'll have to keep bringing it back.

How about you, dear readers?

25 May 2011

Final Snippets from Iceland

Back to Iceland, because I'm still processing some of it in my head.

First, the following postcard, which I picked up at the airport, though the series is also on billboards, advertising the Landsbanki, which was involved in Iceland's current financial crisis:
What is even more compelling is the note on the back:
So never tell more than one person your secrets; preferably keep them to yourself altogether, to be on the safe side.  News and gossip have always travelled fast among the small population of Iceland.
*cough cough Rusyns cough*

While we're making comparisons of Icelanders and Rusyns, I'll post the following, especially for my aunt who has made this alternate history narrative in which Our People came from Scandinavia on their way to the Mediterranean to escape the long cold winters and got stuck in the Carpathians.
For finding the Icelandic branch of our family.  No Italo-Icelandic branch exists.

And finally, while we're thinking about escaping the long, cold nights, while my mum insists it wasn't dark at all when we were there, I'd say it was dark, just not while we were awake.  Here's the May page from the 2011 Icelandic Almanac:
So on the day we were there, it was dark for only about 4 hours.  It would seem that if you're not used to it, it really does kind of mess with the old body clock.

Moby Dick on a Stick

Minke Whale
 Before we left, I did some research and found this restaurant.  It's exactly the type of place I like to eat: local, hyper casual, and specialized.  This could explain why my last Pittsburgh meal was a Saturday night Primanti's ham, egg and cheese - it fills all of the criteria: local, hyper casual and they do one thing exceptionally well.

So when I found out about Saegreifinn, it seemed like the right sort of place.  It's in among a few rows of buildings that look kind of like warehouses right along the Old Harbor -- when you walk in, it's quite small with 3 long, narrow tables and barrels with cushions to sit on.  On the left, there's a refrigerated case with skewers of fresh seafood: cod, halibut, salmon, minke whale...  That, and soup are the only things on the menu - and so you point to the skewer you want, and that's what you get.

The other specialty of Saegreifinn is lobster soup.  Apparently people come from all over just for this lobster soup, and it was great.  Nice pieces of lobster in a cream-base buttery soup with just a bit of onion and red peppers.  Like lobster, in soup.  Simple, and definitely a heart attack in a nice big mug. 

We ordered and paid, and then sat down, and shortly thereafter they brought out the soup with fresh warm bread and butter.  Then a bit after that, our two seafood skewers. 

The minke whale was cooked rare, and I confirm it really is similar to beef - or maybe another lean lean lean meat, like venison or other game.  It had a very faint fish taste, but mostly it was like eating really good meat cooked perfectly.  We always joke in our family about overcooking meat, and so when I'm not home I like my meat to be cooked in such a way to, as Tom Colicchio would say, "honor the product." It was served with a small cup of mustard, which I tried, but didn't enjoy as much as I enjoyed the whale on its own.  I would've liked to try the cod skewer, because I love cod and it's like the national fish here, but the salmon was also great and cooked nicely. 

Salmon above, Minke Whale below

The skewers were served on styrofoam plates with plastic utensils, so by the end of the meal my plate looked like a massacre happened with all of the bloody knife cuts.  Hyper casual - I mean, we were sitting on barrels. 

The decor was nautical casual (fishing nets draped everywhere - you've been to the same place at every East Coast Atlantic Ocean beach town), but the coolest thing was a mounted eel kind of sticking out dynamically from the wall, next to a seal also mounted.  Eels are really pretty amazing and interesting creatures, really intense and full of energy and power, so much so that they can continue to move when they're freshly dead.

Between the generous serving of lobster soup and this rather huge skewer of whale meat (and a chunk of salmon), I was about ready to explode when we left.  Totally worth it, and it made it nice to walk off the meal around downtown Reykjavik afterwards.

Laugardur: The Geothermic Municipal Swimming Pool

One of the things I was most looking forward to before our trip was visiting one of the geothermal pools.  It's something I've gotten to do a few times in Hungary and really enjoyed.

A friend of ours had been to Iceland recently and went to the Blue Lagoon, which is the largest and most famous of these places, especially for tourists.  But when I looked on the map, it turned out that the Reykjavik municipal pool was only a 5 minute walk from our hotel.  So when we got to the hotel, we took our stuff to our room, had a quick bite to eat, and went to the pool.

If (when!) I come back to Iceland, I'd like to go to the Blue Lagoon, but I think Laugardur was definitely the more native, local experience.  It's not fancy, and it was mostly people coming after work (by the time we got there) to swim for exercise or team sport -- but it is very clean and well-organized (like it seems most things are here).  The pictures from the Blue Lagoon look amazing as well, and I'm sure it's much bigger and maybe a bit fancier.

It was clear to me before going that there's some sort of procedure for using these pools, but as much as I looked all over the internet, I only found one quick article about it.  The man at the front desk was really helpful (considering, and considering the relative standard of helpfulness we experienced here) and told us what to do, and then we rented towels (which nearly doubled the entrance -- we could've just snagged hotel towels for this outing), scanned our receipt at the turnstile, and began this ritual -- which is really what it feels like.

In a hallway, outside the locker rooms, there are benches lining the walls and a shelf for shoes.  You put your shoes on the shelf, and walk into the locker room in your socks.  The locker room is like any other locker room I've ever been in -- lockers and benches and hooks.  The lockers all have keys attached to bracelets on them, so you just strip down, put everything in your locker, put the key on, and take your suit and towel into the shower room.  The shower room has rows of showers, and you put your towel in a cubby and take a shower.  There are automatic soap dispensers and signs everywhere explaining that it is very important to wash before and after without your swimsuit on and the signs also explain where you need to especially wash yourself -- this is important because I don't think the water has many chemicals in it, which is nice.  I'd rather prance about naked and get into more natural water than go into a pool where the chlorine can knock you out.  There are also signs everywhere saying that photos are not allowed, which is nice because everyone's walking around completely naked, but it would also be impossible to take pictures anyway unless you had a waterproof camera.

No one has sandals on, and what we didn't realize was that you don't carry your towel out to the pools -- because the wind might blow them away.  The temperature outside was hovering around 40°F, and the pools are between 36-42°C.  So after showering and putting on your suit, you run outside barefoot and try to get into the pool as quickly as possible.  Once we got outside, there was no place to put towels anyway.  The first pool we got into was pleasantly warm, but it was certainly the cooler pool, so we moved to the smaller pool which was much warmer -- like perfect bath water temperature.    Had I been more motivated, I would've moved back and forth between the different pools more, which is more invigorating.  But after all of the delays and everything, it was exceptionally pleasant just to sit and get pruny.

The small, hot pool had seats and volcanic rocks to sit on.  Clearly, it was a really social thing, with groups of people sitting and chatting, young people with friends, business guys, some people on their own, parents with their small children.  People just kind of sit down right next to you and move around and it's all very chill and democratic because everyone's just in swimsuits.  The beautiful thing about it is that there's no cell phones, no nothing except the perfect temperature water.

When finished, you run back into the locker rooms, strip out of the bathing suit and shower again.  This time, it's really important to dry off well because it's apparently also huge faux pas to leave a puddle in the locker room, because at that point, you can slip easily and also who wants wet socks?  The nonchalance was super amazing, some women were getting dressed to go out on the town, others in regular clothes, everything was just very normal.  Then we walked back out to get our shoes, and at the end of the hallway there's a row of tables with mirrors and professional-strength hair driers, which added to the civility of the entire experience.  Girls were braiding each others hair and I gave myself a quick blow dry before putting on my hat.  We dropped our towels off at the exit turnstile and headed out into the non-sunset -- when we left around 6:30PM, the sun was still high in the sky, though it was cloudy so it wasn't sunny.

After all of the airplane delays, and minor stress of not knowing whether we'd be able to get out of EWR (actually, that's a large stress, because the goal is to get the hell out of EWR as soon as possible), I really felt relaxed after leaving the pool. 

Inside outside

Starting from the premise that 24 hours is not long enough to be somewhere to even begin to understand the mentality of the people, the vibe here is considerable enough to discuss.

It would seem that people really leave you alone -- unless we asked a direct question, no one really spoke to us.  It doesn't feel unfriendly, and everyone we came across was very helpful, but it's certainly not the loud, outgoing atmosphere I'm used to.  I'd think it leaves a lot of room for individuality and independence, because it all feels very non-judgemental, and that's very nice.

And of course everything's really nice and quiet and orderly -- even when we were at EWR, and then on the plane, I was thinking about how there were so many people and quite a few little kids, and it was so quiet.  If this had been a plane going to anywhere in southern Europe, it would've been the complete opposite.  So the things that can drive you nuts about the Mediterranean or Eastern Europe just don't happen here: people line up nicely, don't approach you in stores or restaurants, no one's yelling, but if you say thank you, no one says you're welcome...

And it's true that we're from a city of people a lot like us, where almost everyone is either southern or eastern European, and gabby, which is certainly not the case everywhere in the US.  So I'm wondering if actually what we've experienced here is what Garrison Keillor has been talking about all these years.  Maybe good preparation for this trip would've been to go to the prairies of Minnesota.

I'll excerpt from an article I read in The Rejkjavik Grapevine about stages of expat integration:
You know that the locals, once they see how much you love this country, will welcome you as one of their own and that you'll have loads of friends within a week's time. You can't wait to take photos of yourself to send back to your friends and family, who are unfortunately deprived of the blessing you have received to be living here.
In our case, visiting here.  But nonetheless - rather interestingly accurate.

23 May 2011

Volcanic Eruption in Grimsvotn, Iceland May 21 2011 from Jon Gustafsson on Vimeo.

An auspicious? beginning

NASA satellite image of the first day of Grímsvötn's 2011 eruption
Here's how all of this begins: Early Sunday morning I opened Google News, and the top picture was this.  Not another Eyjafjallajökull, but Grímsvötn caused some nervousness yesterday and this morning and depending on the weather and ash cloud movement, it still could create some interesting situations.  Our flight was delayed coming from Iceland, so now instead of leaving at 9:3PM we're scheduled to leave around 1am and arrive in Iceland around 10am local time.

This morning we took the Megabus from Pittsburgh to New York City, and I'd definitely take it again.  Double decker bus, free wi-fi in theory, reasonable breaks, and an overall good experience.  Most excellently, we were able to bump into some of my dear friends who are moving abroad and so it was wonderful to chat a bit by the NJTransit waiting room in Penn Station -- such are our lives, that we rarely meet somewhere normal, and so today was no exception.

The train ride from New York Penn Station to EWR was uneventful, but once we got to the security checkpoint in Terminal B, where the TSA folks, who are used to people who can't/don't/won't speak English, found my mom's cans of tomato and pineapple juices that she tried to pass through the checkpoint.  So no Bloody Marys for us while we sit here waiting for our plane.  It was rather wild to watch the guy talk to my mom like she couldn't understand.  I was simultaneously offended and amazed, at both of them.  I'd like to think the Steelers sticker on my laptop helped to diffuse some of the tension farther down the line.

So now, we wait.  I just want to get to Iceland and see what it's all about.

The good news is that my mummy will be Guest Blogging -- if we can convince her.  So please leave some comments or send some e-mails encouraging her so that we can all benefit.