Friday, October 03, 2014

Nats Fall in Game 1

It's undeniable that the rust that accumulates with five days off hurt the Nats in Game 1 of the NLDS against the Giants. If you can win the Wild Card Game, then having played in it is a huge advantage. Both Wild Card teams won Game 1 of the Division Series this year and it was pretty clear that the Nats' and Angels' timing was off offensively. MLB has to reorganize the playoffs.

The Nats' offense succeeds when Denard Span and Anthony Rendon get on base. They were a combined 1-9 in Game 1. The 3-2 loss was frustrating because it seemed so fluky.

Wilson Ramos made a few great blocks of the ball, but the one he missed was huge. Ramos almost never misses a pitch like that. It allowed two runners to move up and a run eventually scored. One of those two runners were on base because Adam LaRoche was uncharacteristically aggressive defensively. He's usually such a cool customer, but he tried to do too much.

Ramos is also great at throwing out potential base stealers. He threw one out in Game 1. But he didn't get Hunter Pence and the Giants scored a run only because Pence stole that base.

It was also frustrating because Steven Strasburg pitched well, but the batted balls kept finding holes. And Ian Desmond struckout with the bases loaded, but the very next batter, Bryce Harper, launched a monster homerun. Unfortunately, Harper's homer took place in the following inning.

The Nats' defense has been the one area that has shown inconsistency. The Nats can be very good defensively, but they have a tendency to implode every now and again. Still, the machinations of the postseason bit them. The long wait and the torturous four hour 9-inning 3-2 game are two things that are very different than the regular season. Laz Diaz's miserably erratic strike zone didn't help either.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

NL East Champs!

The Nats claimed their second NL East tile in three years. It's been a long journey since the early years in DC. It's rewarding to pour your heart into a team from the outset and eventually get to celebrate. There were a lot of losses to endure before we got to cheer on a winner.

I especially feel good for Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann, Tyler Clippard, Craig Stammen, and Ross Detwiler, who have been with the franchise for so long. I only wish that Ryan Zimmerman, Mr. Nat, had been there to celebrate.

And of course, it feels extra good to clinch in Atlanta. The past two seasons, the Braves have represented everything that's wrong with baseball. They've hit opponents for no particular reason, started fights, and scuffled with umpires. The Nats had struggled a bit with the Braves until turning things around midway through this year.

The thing I love most about the Nats is that they genuinely seem to enjoy each other's company. It's an easy team to root for, which is a real luxury for a fan. Here's to another month and a half of Nats baseball!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Reykjavik to DC

At our hotel in Reykjavik, where we got a room in a giant three-story house, one of the owners, a middle aged man, flirted way too much with Candace. That didn't make me happy.

We packed up and headed towards the Blue Lagoon before traveling to the airport. The Blue Lagoon was worth the hefty price of admission, because that price wasn't so hefty for us. We got half off. The Lagoon itself looks like a fancy swimming pool in an upscale spa. It's heated by geo-thermal power and steam constantly rises into the cold atmosphere.

We smartly wore our bathing suits under our clothes. But it turned out to be stupid, because neither one of us brought a change of underwear. We put the clay on our faces that was supposed to make them smoother. I don't know how well it worked. But I wasn't feeling so great when I woke up and I felt better after being in the pool.

On the drive to the airport, we couldn't get the correct address for the airport. Candace saw a sign for Keflavik, so we went there. But the Keflavik international airport isn't in the city of Keflavik, which used to be home to a large American military based. We thought we were running late and were a little anxious. We eventually found our rental car place, returned the car without issue and walked to the airport. The airport went smoothly and so did the flight.

Clearing customs, the only thing of note back int eh U.S. was when an agent asked how much cash I had on me. "$2," I replied a bit flustered. I hadn't expected that question. Was he planning on mugging me when I left the airport if I had more?

Overall it was a wonderful trip filled with incredible scenery. I'd highly recommend anyone to visit Iceland. I did forget to mention the time I tried to cut our frozen pizza in Akureyri and the knife slipped out of my hand. I was agile enough to catch it, but stupid enough to catch it. The blade sliced my finger.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Akureyri to Reykjavik

Afyer eating our stove top cooked frozen pizza again, we headed back to Reykjavik. We were hoping to go to the Thingvellir park first, but the GPS took us to some unpaved roads and the Suzuki Swift didn't much like that. So we went back to the ring road and it was too late to head for the park.

The drive was long and arduous. About 5 hours, but not on the big wide highways that I'm used to. The scenery was, well... you'll just have come to Iceland and see for yourself. If you make the drive between Reykjavik and Akureyri, your trip will be well worth it. Hidden waterfalls, sund-drenched mountains, sparkling lakes, just to name a few.

Candace wanted to take pictures of the scenery constantly. I get anxious when people stick things out or near an open window, say a camera, while I'm driving. Candace did not appreciate my anxiety.

We are near the stadium a couple of kilometers outside of downtown. Soome soccer match was going on and we could clearly hear the cheers as  we walked around. We discovered how Icelandic children who live in isolated places go to school. They go to boarding school of course. We haven't figured out why Icelanders love licorice, even a chocolate-covered licorice bar.

We also learned that it is permissible to say fuck in English on tv here. We caught the global edition of The Daily Show and Jon Stewart was talking about the volcano in Iceland!

Monday, September 08, 2014

In Akureyri and Godafoss

We drove to Godafoss today. I really don't like driving on windy mountainous roads. We pulled over a few times to take pictures of the lakes that show perfect reflections of the mountains that hover over them Godafoss includes several different waterfalls clustered together. One shoots hues of green, another is small and cute. The water at the bottom is turquoise. On the trip, Candace said, "It's not fair that there's so much beauty concentrated in this little area. They should have to spread out the pretty."

On the drive to Godafoss, we got gas. Apparently, you have to go to the correct pump and if your credit card doesn't have a pin number, the attendant has to "open" the pump and then you pay inside.

Back in our apartment, we tried to make a frozen pizza without an oven. We cooked it in a skillet with a glass cover. The heat was too high, so the bottom burned a bit, but otherwise in worked well.

We walked around Akureyri during the evening. We saw the botanical garden. At first, we thought this small circle was it, until we realized it was a huge garden next door. It was lush and beautiful. We hid under a tree for a bit while it rained. Then we got ice cream from Brynja. Then we walked along the coast soaking in the stunning views and trying to shield ourselves from the frigid wind.

We went back to the apartment and watched some tv. One channel plays pop music over pictures of the volcano. Another channel showed a music video by Unnar Birna, a dissection in Icelandic of a public bathroom in Akureyri near the church with the huge stairs that we had passed ten minutes before, and a 15 minute interview about head lice.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

On to Akureyri

The ring road is a windy country road that meanders through mountains in certain spots. I don't like to drive on windy country roads and I'm deathly afraid of driving in mountains. The scenery was striking. It wasn't lush and green, but dramatic. The ubiquitous mountains stood proud exibiting their brown tops for all to see. Some of them even carried pine trees down below. The lakes were stunningly crisp blue. Gorgeous tiny waterfalls hid in the mountains' cracks. Up north, some mountains donned a hint of snow. We saw a range in the distance as we approached Akureyri. My heart began to thump as my jaw fell at the sight of the bluish hue of that mountain range.

Sheep and horses hung out in the brownish fields next to the ring road. At times the GPS wanted to take us off the ring road, but we stayed on route 1 until we were in Akureyri.

Akureyri is Iceland's second biggest city. It has about 17,000 people. It is a picturesque town surrounded by mountains and a lake. It has a cute vibe and a funky main street. Our "hotel" is actually a studio apartment. The apartment itself is smaller, but nicer than our place at home. The view is amazing. You can see mountains and the lake from our glass door and windows that envelope the rear of the apartment. We saw the twinkle of light emanating from the little houses perched on the mountain from the other side of the lake.

We had dinner from the lone Indian takeout restarant in town. We were startled by how accessible almost everything is. There are ramps everywhere!

Saturday, September 06, 2014

The Golden Circle and Beyond

We hit the grocery store, picked up our rental car, and were headed yowards the Golden Circle. Driving in Iceland is easy although the Suzuki Swift doesn't have much get up and go.

It was raining most of the way, but thankfully stopped when we got to Gullfoss, a giant and impressive waterfall. I had to use the restroom, but didn't want to pay to pee, so I passed. Next, we went to nearby Geysir, a collection of geysers, including its namesake, which has remained dormant because tourists threw rocks into it in the 1950s, to see what would happen.

Geysir does have a very active neighbor and everyone had their cameras at the ready to capture its eruption. We saw it spew sulfur smelling water a few times before heading back to the car. That was when I realized I had dropped the car keys somewhere near one of the geysers. After a frantic retracing of steps, the keys were nowhere to be found. I was freaking out.

I went to the shops across the street and asked if any of the stores' workers had been given lost keys. The women at a store selling little souvenirs said no. The told me to head downstairs and ask the bistro on the right. There was another duo of clerks for the same little souvenirs down the stairs and to the left, but I figured no one would turn them ovrr there. I found a bathroom and peed for free. Then I asked the people at the bistro. They didn't have them. I went to the hotel next door. They didn't have them and I was told by a stern woman to "walk around again."

I was panicking. Candace said the rental car could drive out here and drop off a spare, something that I was unaware of, because I've only rented a car once before in my life and didn't lose the keys that time. Candace went to call the rental place. I sat by the car and was quite upset at myself. A German woman asked me if I had a problem. I told hrr what jad happened. She comforted me while telling my how excited she was to practice her newly learned English. She had been born in Poland, so her accent was almost like my grandmother's Yiddish accent.

The woman wished me luck and shortly Candace came back triumphantly waving the car keys. A local had  returned them to the one set of clerks I hadn't asked. Candace said the upstairs clerks had curtly told her they didn't have our keys, but did allow her to call the rental place. The rental place had been alerted that the souvenir shop had the keys. The upstairs clerks denied it. Eventually, they decided to check with the downstairs clerks who had the keys. They said a local had found them and turned them in.

We had lost an hour and a half. It had worked out as best as possible, but I was still disppointed in myself. I realized even more how lucky we were when it started pouring moments after we were back on the road. As a result, we skipped the park.

There's a long tunnel on the ring road heading north along Iceland's west coast. After the tunnel, there's a toll and I stupidly went into Iceland's version of the EZ Pass lane without Iceland's version of EZ Pass. So I went through and then backed up to the cash/credit booth. I told the woman what happened. She said she saw and it wouldn't be a problem. She said, "It happens all the time. Every day."

Now we're in a hotel north of Borganes all by ourselves. It's quiet.

Friday, September 05, 2014

In Reykjavik

Today we ate appetizers of putrid shark and smoked puffin with a main coarse of whale steak for lunch. The shark came out in little white frozen cubes. Even frozen the ammonia smell was powerful. It had a strong unpleasant taste followed by a worse aftertaste. Now I know, if putrid is in the name of the dish, I'll pass next time.

Compared to the shark, the puffin was great. Puffin is a cute multi-colored bird, but it tasted like lox that had been sitting out too long with the consistency of liver. It was maroon. The whale steak was the best, tasting a bit like undercooked beef. After lunch, we went back to the room and ate gummy sharks brought from home. In the evening we were decidedly less adventurous. We ate the national dish of Iceland, hot dogs.

Before lunch, we saw the famous Hallsgrimskirkja, a tall church with a memorable layered design. We took an elevator almost to the top and walked a couple flights of stairs. We took in the view of the city and its surroundings.

A couple of other observations: the shower water smells eggy because there's sulfur in the water. Icelandic drivers have a weird habit of speeding and then screeching to a halt even when it's obvious they'll have to stop. The funniest is when they screech to a halt 100 feet in front of a pedestrian who so much as thinks of crossing the road, even if it's illegal to cross there. It's a good analogy for many Icelanders who have a brusque facade that masks a deeper kindness

Thursday, September 04, 2014

DC to Reykjavik

Everything about our trip to the guesthouse in Reykajavik went smoothly. The fact that I can't sleep on a plane and the four hour time difference meant that I got no sleep. The only eventful occurance of our trip to the guesthouse was when my fiance Candace decided to take pictures of the American Embassy over my objections. A burly guard started yelling at her in Icelandic. He said she couldn't take pictures of inside the building.

After a lengthy nap, we ventured around the city center. The Althing was a quaint stone and glass building that is home to Iceland's parliament. It looked cool, but didn't quite exhibit the gravitas of a world power's legislature, which is why Iceland isn't a world power. That and the lack of people. The square around the Althing was very European. It was cool to be standing where protests were held when Iceland joined NATO in 1949 and again when Iceland endured its financial meltdown in 2008. The neat think is Iceland doesn't have an army to suppress the protests. We thought about overthrowing the government, but decided against it because we were tired.

Icelanders seem to be a nation of the oblivious as we encountered a number of people wandering down sidewalks not looking where they're going until it was too late. We saw Harpa a funky glass building on the coast that's home to Iceland's symphony and other shops. Candace took a ton of pictures of it and then a ton more of the water and mountains in the background. Along the coast, many roofs are white, which is supposed to be more energy efficient than dark roofs.

We walked down what seems to be Reykjavik's posh commercial street. We ate an overpriced grilled wrap and an equally overpriced panini. I wasn't adventurous enough to part with 7 dollars and try a little cup of skyr, a yogurt like drink. Outside the restaurant, a man yelled at his girlfriend for a long time. Iceland has about one murder a year and it's usually crime of passion. I thought we might be witnessing this year's crime.

Iceland does a good job with curbcuts but many of the stores have steps, so they're not accessible to wheelchairs and scooters. We also forgot to charge the scooter while we napped, which led to a scenic push along the coast. We made it back to the guesthouse and Candace screamed at me not too fall asleep too early, alas to no avail. It's nearly 4am and I'm up.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

American Flags on America Cars

I was driving in Maryland and spotted an SUV with two American flags flying from its windows. I instantly slowed down and started waving and pointing at the flags. I lowered my window.

"Are you from America?" I shouted, "Me too! Wow, what a coincidence!"
The man at first looked confused and then indignant. "That's not a big coincidence," he scoffed, "We're in America, you moron."
"Exactly."

I sped off.