Tuesday, December 26, 2006


On December 24th, 2006 Erik and I attended a game at Monster Stadium with Lori and Shayne.

I (Natalie) was the only one amongst the 4 of us who had never been to an NFL game. I've seen the Hollywood movies and I've had many male friends. I've been told many times that a great NFL game can sometimes be a thing of legend, can sometimes bring brothers, families and friends together. Funny enough, I also thought that these things could also tear these same people apart....(maybe that's just Hollywood speaking).

I was lucky to be seeing this particular NFL game through the lense of a lifelong 49ers fan. It was kinda like bringing a 5-year old to Santa's village. Everything about the game was like a trip to Germany for me. Everything about the game was like a trip to Mecca for him.

We walked through the expansive parking lot which was filled with entire families barbecuing, playing cards and throwing around a football. You could hear laughter, music and fun. Some came equipped with stereos, barbecues, TVs and I even saw a generator. These people are serious about their football....but they are JUST as serious about their tailgating. There was no lack of comfort.

Walking into an NFL stadium for the first time is something of a religious experience even for a football neophyte like me. The size of the crowd, the size of the stadium, the size of the field...none of which even compares to the size of the hearts on display....which are all hoping, wishing, praying that the 49ers would lead them to victory on the homefield. The cheers, the boos, the smell of hotdogs and most of all the laughter. There is no other way to describe these fans...but as a family.

Throughout the game complete strangers came together believing in one single thing...that the 49ers should WIN this game. I saw 60 year old men dancing and 3 year old girls waving and cheering. But on Christmas Eve, it was not to be.

As the game wound down, 49ers down by 7, dozens started to make their way down the aisles, back to their cars. The final game of the year would not be one of legend.

Others straggled in the aisles, exchanging Christmas wishes, hugging fellow fans and extending warm handshakes "See you after Christmas" was heard all around me.

I didn't learn much about football on December 24th, 2006, but I learnt a lot about football fans. In a word they are Faithful....faithful to their team, faithful to their sport and most surprisingly.... faithful to one another. It was a good day.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas Everyone

May you all have a wonderful day filled with love, tenderness and
lots of the good things in life.

Natalie & Erik

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Out of Africa.....

Fresh off a pretty interesting tour of Alcatraz, all hungry and tired, we set out for our hotel. We waited in vain for a cable car (too full). We ambled through the streets laughing (men are bad at not knowing proper directions) and ended up walking up Battery Street from the Pier.

I (Natalie) casually remarked that a friend of ours had told me about the great comedy clubs in San Fran when not a full block later, we stumbled on the awning for the Punchline Comedy Club.

We decided, on a lark, to check out the billboard and quickly saw that for the dates of December 22nd and 23rd ....right beside the words "SOLD OUT"...was written DAVE CHAPPELLE!


Again, on another whim, we climbed the stairs to the door, saw a last minute lineup and were informed that stand-by seats might be available, but only for the 10pm or midnight show. We collectively laughed at our "good try" and went about our way walking back to our respective hotels.

After eating and sleeping, some texting took place and despite my protests (haha) we decided (again, on a whim) that we'd be stupid to NOT try to get into the midnight show. What IF? So we set out to walk to the club again, leaving at midnight with Red Bulls in hand.

We waited in line for a little over two hours (still not thinking that it would be possible, to see Dave Chappelle LIVE ....at such a late hour)....and the stars aligned....WE GOT IN.

After two opening acts, Dave took the stage at about 3am...and played for over 3 HOURS!....when he started he was stoned out of his mind...then he sobered up....then he got delirious with fatigue....but the WHOLE time....he brought funny to a WHOLE new level. Man, he is one seriously funny (and deranged) guy.

Thanks for the awesome Christmas present San Fran. We might have to leave our hearts here for good.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

San Francisco here we come (sung to the tune of the OC) UPDATED WITH PICTURES

Why the title? Wanna guess? It's not really because we are still "on our way" .....but it MIGHT have something to do with the fact that Erik sang that damn song intermitently for about 10 hours on Thursday, it has stuck....and it's stuck good. I was working on the "flowers in my hair" thing....his song is however much more annoying....therefore much stickier to get rid of in the brain!

We got here late on Thursday night after a very painful flight (babies crying, hotter than hell and turbulence that kept Erik saying "remember that scene in Lost"....thanks hon!) We are staying in this funky little hotel called Hotel des Arts, which is a neat, if not a little too beatnick...but so cheap that we really can't complain. Our room is small but brightly furnished and we have a perfect window view into the next building (which is located about12 feet from our window at the same level....ahhh...the joys of staying in a downtown hotel!). I hope to make a new friend!

We got alot done on our first day in the SF. We walked through the Castro, the Mission, the Shopping District and also wandered into Chinatown (which is about 2 blocks from our hotel). We had a fabulous lunch in the heart of the Latin Quarter at the Rosevelt Tamale Parlor.
At the end of the day, we climbed Hayes Street to see the much anticipated Painted Ladies....funny, I didn't see Uncle Jessie anywhere...we did step in lots of dog crap and Erik managed to slide (baseball style) down a grassy hill getting mud all the way up to his elbows.....(you can't take us anywhere)

We capped off the the night meeting up with Shayne and Lori for dinner at Brindisi, drinks at Voda (a vodka bar, as it were!) and then more drinks at the Irish Bank where an Irishman rather aggressively tried to take Lori home with him....in front of Shayne.

Today has started with a hangover.....but not of the monumental St. Petersburg kind. Will post more pictures later.

Natalie (& Erik)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

San Francisco: Waits with charms unfoldin'

Source: http://bergoiata.org/fe/californie-paysages/25.htm

In a short couple of days, Erik and I are lucky enough to find ourselves traveling to the city by the Bay for the Christmas holidays. We'll arrive in San Francisco on Thursday evening and will stay for approximately one week and then we'll be off to Vancouver for the remainder of the trip to spend some time with the brother in law (Hi Serge) and spend some more time exploring another cool city. We'll be accompanied by two good friends who will ensure trouble, laughter and great memories.

We're not really sure what SF has to offer (aside from Trolleys, Bridges, Wharves and Burlesque) but we're keen to find out and anxious to go exploring. We do have a few things figured out though....we know we're staying here (which we are super psyched about) and we've officially planned a trip to here. We've also bought tickets to see these guys on Christmas Eve (Yes, you can all say it now, I am the best wife EVER, period). The rest is up in the air...I love these kinds of trips.

Anyone reading ever been there? Any suggestions?

Friday, November 17, 2006

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Bills Win!!!

Friends, it was a great weekend: saw family, saw friends, vices were indulged upon and the Bills won!
Shayne, Lou and I drove 13.5hours through the states to get to Ste-Catharines. One way cost us $20US in tolls. Fucking tolls!!! Got there very early a.m. and slept the rest of the day. We stayed the weekend at cousin Richard le char (thanks again for everything Ritchie). Jay met up with us on Saturday. We watched alot of football, Ali G, MTV and drank alot of beer. We attempted to have a Playstation Basketball tournement going at 4a.m... that didn't work out as planned.

On game day(Sunday), we got up at 7a.m. for a 1p.m. game. Yeah tailgate!!! We were following my cousins from Ste Catharines but fuckers did not wait for us. HEY ASSHOLES WAIT NEXT TIME!!! Needless to say, we had no idea where we were going. But we did get there eventually, although not before stopping at the duty free for some beers.

Licence plate of cousins who did not wait for us. Big fans or what?

We got there finally. We found a parking sport near Bills' Superfan Kenny. We found my cousins not far trom there. It's quite surprising we did find them because there are acres and acres of tailgaiting parties.

Now a few words on Bill's Superfan Kenny...

Kenny has not missed a game for 205 games! That inlcudes pre-season games, regular season games, playoff games AND away games, away games!!! Crazy bastard is THE Super-fan.

During every game at around 11:15 a.m., he will go through the ketchup motion, where a fan will spray, or attempt to spray Kenny's burger. as you can see the consequences are somewhat humurous.

Kenny before ketchup and mustard: Kenny with ketchup and mustard.

Not only that, but Kemmy will have his "crew" make breakfast and shooters in a bowling ball for anyone who wishes it. For FREE!!! He truly is an institution.

owling Ball Shooter. You go girl!!!

After the tailgaiting, we made our way to the Stadium while finishing our tasty beverages. We watched the game in great spirits. Much cheering went on. Although Lou looked depressed most of the game: he is a Packers fan. The fact that Favre made some stupid plays did not help either.

Favre getting ready to make a stupid play.

In order to avoid the traffic after the game, we continued tailgating for a while. Cuz Richtie was too lazy to make his way to the toilets. All in all, it was a great time. Although the 13 hour drive back was a bit painful. We could barely see straight by the time we got home.

Next chapter: Erik spends a weekend in Ottawa.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Great Debate...

Only a few days until the Bills host the Packers.
The only question right now is: who is going to win?

Green Bay Packers
The visiting Packers have a a 3-4 record, inching away to a winning season. Their road record is actually not bad with 2-1. They have a 2 win streak and are hoping to up that to 3 this weekend. And considering they are playing the Bills, they might actually end the weekend with a win, although the Bills seem to have an all right defence.

Buffalo Bills
The hosting Bills have an even worse record with 2-5. They suck at home, they suck on the road, they suck with a 3 game losing streak. They appear to suck all 'round. Right now, irrate fans and desperation are their only incentives for a win; it's not pride, 'cause they lost that a few years back. You can't win games on a good tailgate party alone!!!

So, who is going to win?
We will see in a few days!!!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Buffalo Bills Mania!

Hello folks, sorry to not have written for some time but we just have been staying put for the last little while (although I am still waiting for Natalie to put our photos up on Flickr). This post, and next posts, will mostly touch on my up-coming trip to Buffalo to see the Green Bay Packer play against the Buffalo Bills. Last time I went to Buffalo, I went with my brother and a bunch of my cousins to see a 1:30pm game. We got there shortly before 9am and I felt we got there late!!! NFL tailgate parties are crazy. By the time we got there, some people were already passed out, steaks were cooking, people were doing shots and the list of vices goes on...Hopefully, this time will be no different.
Will keep you posted.
PS-the photo above fairly depicts where we are sitting.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Happy B-day Pops!!!

I would like to wish my father, Big Lou, a happy 60th birthday!!!
Bonne fete el pere!!!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Part VIII - Bustling Beijing

Well, it goes without saying that we are now home. However, the trip is really not complete without one last post about our final destination on this trip: Beijing.

But first a bit about the train ride from Mongolia to China, which had to be the best train-riding experience of our whole trip....why? Because of Brent and Renee. You see, we had this notion, that we were kinda world travellers...we were adventurous, savy, wild..yes, all of the above. We rocked..right? WRONG...Renee and Brent rock, they truly do...and so much harder than we do.

You see Renee and Brent were normal on the outside (I might even say average) but on the inside, they were true adventurers...none of this wimpy one month trip stuff. In the previous year, they'd fought cancer, sold their house in London, travelled throughout Europe and Africa, accross Russia and planned to be on the road for another six months or so before settling in Australia. We inadvertantly found kindred souls. All four of us had a blast talking about everything from politics, to religion, to books, to tv and finally to sex. Through a bizarre set of circumstances we didn't get their number, which makes us really sad, but we know that they're out there living it...this adventure... and this somehow makes it a bit better to have missed out on their contact info.

Beijing is a curious city in so many ways. History, landmarks, religious sites, beautiful monuments and people. People everywhere. Beijing is one of the world's largest cities and you can almost feel it as soon as you step off the train. Bicycles, vendors, taxis, students all moving....in every direction. Everyone has something to do. Everyone has a place that they need to be. Everyone but us. And don't even start us on the students...who all wanted to sell us something...after they told us their very "unique" story.

Despite our trip taking place in mid-September, we found all of the tourist spots to still be incredibly busy and everyone in a bit of a hurry. In some ways, it was a difficult last stop to make. Beijing has an intensity to it that is palpable. It's not a city for the faint of heart or for the "out of shape"...unless taxis are considered...which is actually a good idea, because they are dirt cheap. And for the record, everything in Beijing is really farther than you plan on it being...all the time. It's just the way it is.

On our very brief stop in this massive city, I think we might have tried to pack in a bit too much excitment. We visited Tianamen Square, Chairman's Maos' Mosoleum, the Temple of Heaven, the Great Wall of China, the Ming Tombs and a Jade Factory. And we were on foot through all of it, except for the last three. There was one day we figure we walked almost 10 kms. Yea, we felt real fresh at the end of that one!

One the best parts of our stay in Beijing was the evenings. We didn't do much....but wander, snack and drink it all in. Our hotel was not far from a pedestrian street called Wangfujing that literally had everything from pearl markets to a Rolex store. Off Wangfujing, we snacked nightly at the Dong Hua Men Night Market where you could buy almost anything that wiggled on a stick. It wasn't fine dining, but it was a notable experience, to say the least.

One would literally have to stay a month in Beijing to do it justice. There is so much to see, so much history to absorb and so many streets to walk. We know that 3 days only scratched the surface of all that is Beijing. Our one solace? The fact that we will hopefully be returning within the next 18-months to pick up a daugther. That's more than enough to keep us going.

Part VII - Holy Mongolia Buddha!!!

Mongolia was everything we thought it would be, and more. From the capital city, UlaanBaatar to the Bayan Gobi, we loved every minute of it. Our only regret was that we couldn't stay longer. We started off our Mongolia stay in the capital, UlaanBaator (fun fact: 1 million of the 2.7 million population live in this city, almost everyone else lives a nomadic lifestyle).

As previously stated in our post about buddhism, we arrived early on a Sunday morning to a mostly empty city. It's a nice way to start off sightseeing, without the hustle and bustle. Our schedule was tight (as we only really had the day to see the capital) so we focused on monasteries and temples. They were a delight to see: vivid colours, fascinating architecture and detail all set amidst overgrown landscape. We were advised that over 94% of all Mongolians practice Tibetan buddhism (interesting fact for a country that is lodged between Russia and China).

One of the striking things about Mongolia's capital city is the sheer amount of homeless children who mostly seemed to be living on the streets. We had heard about this problem before however we weren't really able to get a grasp (despite enquiries) as to the root of this problem. Although always begging for money, they were always polite and friendly. The children appeared to be relying on each other for survival. It was tragic and very difficult to see; we couldn't help but want to give them everything we had.

On day 2 of our trip to Mongolia, we rode off into the Bayan Gobi. To get to our ger camp was a 290 km trip. In Canadian standards, this would take no more than 3 hours. In Mongolian standards, this took over 5 hours. Imagine the worst road you have EVER seen (potholes, erosion, etc) and then multiply this by 10...this is the state of highways outside of the capital city. Add to this, the fact that we were riding in a semi-luxurious sedan as opposed to an SUV or a Jeep (our travel agent will be hearing about this) and a driver who was always frustrated when his car bottomed out (which was very VERY often) and you get the picture of how unpleasant a ride we faced. But despite all of this, we arrived safely and were able to keep focused on the main issue...we were in fucking MONGOLIA!

From our ger camp, we took short trips to a couple of monasteries, some monuments, a nomadic family and the sand dunes. Every single minute of the car ride was worth it. We saw ancient spiritual places of worship, the site of Genghis Khan's ancient capital, we drank fermented mare's milk (it's as bad as it sounds), we tried on traditional clothing and we rode camels in the sand (off which Natalie fell, yes she did).

One of the things that marked us profoundly about Mongolia is the spirit of its people. Most of them live a nomadic lifestyle, moving their gers (round felt tents which are surprisingly comfortable) from one spot to another, at least 10 times a year, in search of grazing grounds for their herd (which include sheep, goats, cattle, horses and yaks). Those Mongolians that live in an urban setting, face rising prices, low wages and slower development than what most people could tolerate. Despite very difficult living conditions (by Western standards), they seem incredibly happy and peaceful. We encountered so many people simply wanting to help, or graciously offering us a taste of Mongolia, it was hard for us to not fall in love with this place.

The day we left, we were quite sad. However in another way we were happy, because as the train pulled away from the station it actually began to snow. Despite our love for the people, I don't think we're quite cut out for snow in September. LOL

A brief interruption - A most important message

Arrived in London yesterday, but this post will not be about travelling or about us at all.
This is about our newest best friend who arrived in this world on September 7th, 2006. Welcome to the universe Alexandre! We are so happy that you arrived safely, we've been waiting to meet you for a long time (let the spoiling begin!).

Congrats S&M!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Part VI - Everyday Buddhism

We arrived in UlaanBaatar early Sunday morning. We walked through mostly empty streets towards a buddhist monestary. We saw monks, old and young, reciting their sutras and being all monklike. The morning prayers moved us, but not as much as the gesture we witnessed after exiting this holy place.

As we were walking away from this place of worship, in a zenlike state, we saw many "wild dogs" walking and meeting along the sidewalks. We both agreed that we were torn between feelings of warmth at seeing these dogs happy and completely free and feelings of sadness at seeing them wimpering and hungry. However, nothing prepared us for the sight of a dog lying on a sidewalk who had not made the night. As we were contemplating this dog's short, but free life, a few people walked by the dog without blinking an eye.

Then, it happened. Out of the corner of our eyes, we spied a robed monk briefly stop by the lying dog. As buddhists cherish all life, big and small, he proceeded to pick up some sand from the sidewalk, recite a prayer and sprinkle the sand as a sign of respect for our fallen little friend.

He then went on his way, without looking back as this was not a show: such is his faith.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Part V - Just a quick one - Siberia

Hey folks,

This will be just a quickie as we are soon leaving for Mongolia. We've spent the past few days in Siberia (I know, I know, how crazy is that?). We started out at a quaint little fishing village beside Lake Baikal called Listvyanka. Total population 2500.

There wasn't much to do and it was kinda cold as hell but it was a great way to relax. The Lake itself is also kinda fascinating. It is the deepest lake in the world and one of the major sources of fresh water in the world.

We had a cool, old, kitschy apartment to ourselves and we spent our time walking up and down the main street (as there was no public transportation and the town was about 3 km from where we were staying).

We arrived yesterday morning in Irkutsk. The guide book called this the "Paris of Siberia". We're not so sure about that one. The population is about 600,00 and it is a kinda neat city. Especially interesting if you consider that virtually everything had to be brought in by rail in terms of its construction. It is literally in the middle of nowhere yet people here are thriving and seem pretty happy. We are actually enjoying this city much more than we had thought. We arrived on the first day of school and were treated to a great many students, old and young, all dressed up walking the streets of Irkutsk. It made for a nice way to see the city.

We are leaving in less than an hour for our train to Mongolia but not before another trip to a Banya (we LOVE Russian baths...brilliant). Our train ride will take about 36 hours in total and we're a little nervous about the Passport control however I'm sure that everything will be ok....just long and possibly annoying.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Part IV - Des bains pi des trains

Other than the Kremlin, our last day in Moscow was pretty uneventful (well, as far as Moscow goes!). However, with a little push from Erik, Natalie decided to go to a Russian bath with him (although men and women were seperated). A Russian banya consisted as such: shower, steam, cold dip in barrel, swim (for Erik only, Natalie got a whirlpool though), shower, tea and snacks, then repeat. And all naked mind you!!! There were also several services available, including (for women anyway) manicurists, hairstylists, massage therapists, laundry service, etc...It was the perfect thing to do before heading on an 80 hour-5000km train ride to Siberia.

The train ride itself was quite a feat. We really didn't know what to expect. I don't think there was anything that could have prepared us for what we experienced. We wanted the "Russian Way" and I think we got it. We got a Russian family anyway. For most of the entirety of 5000km we shared our cabin with not one, not two, not even three people. Yes, there were 4 + us. There was a family of three (including a two-year old toddler) AND the grandmother. It was however pretty fun at times. There were several questions exchanged but hardly any answers exchanged. We did however share some beer, some food, some pictures and we learnt at least a bit about our respective cultures.

Vlad and Papa

The Russian landscape was spectacular. We literally spent hours staring out of the windows into meadows and villages. It seemed (along the railway anyway) that people are mostly congregated in small villages made up principally of wooden houses. Gardenning appears to be at least sustaining if not profitable. Several of what we might call "shanty" houses had amazing gardens and small farms. Most of the roads were made of dirt and we regularly spied people walking everywhere. We'd like to say it was depressing but the reality is that it was quite charming in a pastoral kind of way. There were several places we passed where we both wished we could have hopped off the train to do some exploring.

As for sustainance, we survived mainly on the rations we bought in Moscow and from the awesome food that was available on the platforms from the babushkas. The train stopped several times a day including at least 1-2 times for a period of more than 15 minutes. So we wandered, stretched our legs and played a guessing game as to what food might be good. Out of the four days, we only bought one bad thing....pretty good I would say.

One thing quite pleasant about this kind of trip is that time seems to drift by. Unless we looked at our watches, it was often difficult to tell whether it was late morning or afternoon. Evenings passed by quickly. The train itself runs completely on Moscow time although we actually rode through 5 time zones.

Whenever we wanted exercise (and if we were willing to brave the smoking chambers between the waggons) we wandered down to the dining cart. We ate, played cards, read, tried to figure out why the waitress kept scowling at us, and relaxed.

Upon debarking the train, we were chauffered to Lake Baikal where we spent a couple of relaxing days but more on that later.

PS-For those of you who did not know, it is election time in NB. Does Erik show it?
Also click here: Erik made the NB CBC online news!!!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Part III - Moscow - Bringing Babushka Back!

Well, we arrived in Moscow after a relatively pain-free overnight train. We (Erik) once again haggled for a taxi and wound up at the Wallmart of hotels (actually, Erik believes it is more like the Giant Tiger of hotels, for those who remember this chain). We kid you not, this place is the funniest thing ever. There are 4 monstrous ugly grey buildings that are mostly linked together. Inside, you can find dry cleaning, several restaurants, bars, internet cafes, post office, a strip bar and even a bordello. All prices are overinflated (duh) but some of the services are convenient. With over 2000 guests PER hotel, car alarms are ringing 24 hours a day. And don't even start about the packs of wild dogs roaming the parking lots barking at people and cars. Scary.

One of the places we've been dying to see is the Red Square: revolutions, history, Ivan the Terrible, Soviet governments, even Lenin's tomb. It's all there and it is breathtaking. We've visited the Red Square 4 times so far and we still have about 24 hours left to go. We just can't get enough of it (and that's saying alot given that there are no benches).

Because of the plane crash a few days ago, Russia was in a period of mourning. Consequently (and due to regularly scheduled closings), Lenin's Tomb was not open. Erik was very disappointed. However, we did get to see Lenin live! (See below Lenin, although not pictured, was Putin. Yes, they were having quite a lively discussion, or so it seemed!)

Lenin LIVE at the Kremlin!

One of the higlights of this trip so far has been the food (who knew!). We've really lucked out in our choice of restaurants. From the obscure yet delicious Senate in St. Petersburg to this swanky splendor of the Metropolitain Hotel (pictured left), we've tasted some of Russia's finest foods. The Metropolitain is a venerable institution in Moscow. Everywhere you look do you see, golden trim, marble, stained glass and a beautiful water fountain. The service was also impeccable. It was a wonderful evening. Tonight we dined at an artsy cafe called FAQCafe where the service wasn't as great but the food was, and a third of the price of the Metropolitain at that.

We spent some time wandering the streets of Moscow today looking for souvenirs and fun items to bring home. We hit the jackpot at the Arbat where the streets are lined with street vendors, artists, boutiques, cafes and all kinds of other junk. If we saw 1 matrioshka doll, we must have seen over a thousand. We even saw matrioshka dolls made in the form of political figures. AWESOME. After a few hours and a few purchases of art, matrioshka dolls and soviet propaganda posters, we left with empty wallets.

One of the strangest things that we both realized is the vast difference that exists between Moscow and St. Petersburg. While Moscow is the capital of the country and the epicenter of all things Russian, the "happening place" appears to be St. Petersburg. In St. Petersburg, everyone was friendlier, sexier and filled with a joie de vivre that doesn't seem to exist in Moscow. In Moscow there appears to be less English (thanks alot Frommers, you suck!) and more abrupt. behavior. St. Petersburg brings the sexy back while Moscow just brings the babushka out of people.
Tomorrow, the Kremlin in detail, Russian baths (hopefully) and our trek to Siberia begins.


Erik still at work.