Monday, September 27, 2010

Alexei Yagudin - "Die Another Day"

Is this a dance or a fight?

Seriously though, they look good on the dancefloor. I'm curious to see them on the ice now.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Supernatural 6x01: Exile on Main Street - good acting, awful writing

Well, I took my time to digest what happened in Supernatural season 6 premiere. A few thoughts:

The opening montage was probably the best part from the whole thing. I didn’t care much for the music, but the alternated videos were well done.

I liked the new title card, but it feels somehow out of context given the rest of the show. It’s like they wanted something cool and they just tossed it in there without any consideration for how it fit in the rest of the footage.

The first half of the episode was too slow and felt like an alternate universe. I get it, they’ve done it on purpose, but I couldn’t help thinking that they should have chosen a more experience and less prone to experimentation director.

After the first thirty minutes I finally started to warm up to the idea that this is actually a new beginning, and I’m watching a drama and not a fantasy/supernatural/action show. Hey, that would have been actually cool and interesting to see! I’ve never cared for the monster-of-the-week type of thing, I want a real story with an intelligent plot. Not feeling that yet.

And after all that snail crawling, blind man sleepwalking the plot went all over the place. The YED might be a great character, but they ended that story in season 2 and they should have put a lid on it for good. The djinns’ attack was pretty lame. Cool tattoo effects on their arms, but they were neither scary nor creepy. The djinn from “What It Is And What Should Never Be” was gold compared to this. Never repeat a story unless you can make it better. These djinns were just… there.

There was no real hunt. The boys didn’t have much to do to begin with. Dean was taken out instantly and Sam got to swing some golf clubs, meh. One would think that a trip to Hell taught him some new combat tricks, like it did Dean, but I guess not.

Which brings us to the Campbells next. I don’t know where they have come from, but I want them gone. They were terribly annoying, a total waste of film, Papa Samuel included. They obviously have their own agenda and no respect for the Winchester brothers who are one of the most famous hunters out there, for God’s sake! Given that they are so many, one killed per episode will do just fine, thank you very much.

Ah, Dean… the poor guy never gets it easy. If he’s not beaten to a pulp then he’s turned into an emotional wreck. I don’t blame him. I kept expecting him to take at least one swing at Sammy for not letting him know he had been back for a whole year, but I guess he was still in shock.

I blame the writers for other things:

1) After an entire life of hunting and 40 years in hell, one year living in suburbia would have not made him less of a hunter, no way. The Campbells looking down at him, while knowing who he was, was down right insulting.

2) Dean screaming that he’s living with Lisa and the kid only because Sam wanted him to was painful to hear. It implies that he doesn’t really loves Lisa, and it’s very out of character for Dean. He always does the right thing so he wouldn’t have gotten so fully involved into a relationship if he hadn’t felt like part of it. There’s something fishy in Denmark, and that would be the writers’ quarters.

3) It comes in contradiction with Lisa claiming it was the best year of her life, which also felt off since it couldn’t have been, not with Dean grieving after his brother all this time. How could she be so happy when the man she supposedly loved – and she had to love him since she took him in considering the state his was in after the apocalypse – was suffering? On a second thought, I noticed they have moved in a bigger nicer house so maybe they won the lottery and she was referring to that. Yeah, right!

I didn’t care one way or the other about Lisa up until now – we’ve only seen her just what? twice? – but I like the way her character was developed during this episode so this flawed writing when it comes to their relationship bothers me. I know Dean will have to leave and go back to hunting eventually, but I like the idea of him having someone to return to. Hey, Sammy can sleep on the couch if he wants.

Another character written OOC was Bobby. Sam I understand not wanting to tell Dean he was back, he was too messed up in the head by the hell experience and he couldn’t think clearly, but Bobby? Really, the man had witnessed both brothers’ torment while the other was dead and he still chose not to do anything about it when it was this easy to pick up the phone? I’m sorry but I don’t buy it.

I’ve left Sam last because, of course, I have a big problem with him too. I don’t know how he got out of hell or why, but I don’t like this cold, unsympathetic Sam. If it’s a plot device I hope it doesn’t last long. I want sweet, caring Sam back. Even when he was doing horrible things like teaming up with a demon, drinking blood and betraying Dean, I could understand his reasons and felt for him. The way he is now all I want is for him to go get his head examined and get the hell away from Dean. And that isn’t right because I like it best when the brothers are working together.

So in conclusion it was a rather weak episode, with flawed writing and a badly structured plot. Jensen’s acting sold it for me, but this doesn’t work for everyone, and it’s the only reason I’ll give it a C. Not an episode I’ll be tempted to watch again anytime soon. Hope it gets better from now on.

Later edit: Funny how most official reviews sound enthusiastic, while die hard fans complain all over the Internet about how lame this season's premiere was.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Lady Marmelade a la Alexei Yagudin Style

And he said he couldn't dance... :)

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Reader As An Unfaithful Lover

More or less quoting Dreaming Jewel's post, which I found very interesting... She has some questions regarding our behavior as readers when it comes to falling in love with various characters.

1. How often does it happen for you to fall in love with a character from a novel and how does it manifest itself (pure respect, ask him/her out for a coffee, take him/her home, shag him/her to death, follow him/her to the end of the world, etc.)?

Now that I'm thinking about it, I realise that it hasn't happen to me in a long time to fall in love with a character. Maybe my expectations have increased in time, or I'm just getting lazy and refuse to invest in them. I know I'm careful not to fall for my own characters because if I do then I can't torture them properly. LOL I remember as a teenager I used to fall in love with each of Al. Dumas' heroes and a couple of Paul Feval's too. Quite an unfaithful little thing I was, but I would have followed them to the end of the world if given the chance. Now I'm more reasonable, or lazy like I said. I would go out to have a coffee, but I would wait to be asked first and I would expect them to pay the bill too. My sacrifice would be big enough since I don't normally drink coffee, but for them I would make an exception. :P

2. Do you have the same standards for book characters as for real people?

Definitely not. I mean, it takes 300-500 pages to get to know a character and decide whether you like him or not, but it can take a lifetime to really know a person and discover that combination of things that makes you tick and compensates all the other flaws a person might have. It's tricky, but when you fall for an imaginary person the rules change and it's easy to ignore some of the facts that otherwise would drive you mad in real life and possibly put you behind bars. It's also incredibly easy to pretend that the character has *insert long list of* problems, but treated with proper care, and lots of love too, he would change, which in real life rarely happens.

3. Does the sex of the characters matter when you're drawn to them?

It does. Maybe because, being straight, it's normal for me to be attracted to male characters, but also because I don't often find female characters likable enough. They're either annoying, whining, frustrated, depressed, self-righteous, undecided, helpless or, God forbid, Mary Sue-ish. And if the novel happens to be written from the POV of such character, it can make you wanna run up the hills screaming... On the other hand, if it's a male character you know from the start that he can't be perfect, so you strip away the parts you don't like, keep the ones you do, and then dream about living happily ever after.

4. Would you rather identify with the characters or fall in love with them?

I seem to be unable to fully identify with a character - after all we're all unique, right? - so I'll go for the second option. Besides, it's always wonderful to fall in love, isn't it? :)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Dean Winchester (SPN) vs. Damon Salvatore (TVD) – A Character Study

Let’s start with the actors first: Jensen Ackles and Ian Somerhalder. They both have several reoccurring roles in TV series listed in their resume, and only a few movies done for the big screen, none of which was a big household name or at least remotely memorable. It’s not too late, though. They’re still young, have the looks required by the job, can do action scenes, have great comedic timing and the ability to express feeling with their face and eyes. For their sake, I hope they do more work for the big screen, because it would be a shame if they got forever stuck in TV land, no matter how successful they are there. Their real breaks came with the roles played in CW’s horror and fantasy series, Supernatural and The Vampire Diaries. They quickly established a big fanbase and their shows are still running, partially thanks to them. If anyone noticed, they’re listed second and third in the cast list, and still it’s one of those cases when they manage to steal the show. Neither SPN or TVD would be the same without their characters.

But enough about them, let’s talk about the characters. In a way, both Dean and Damon come from a similar background. Sure, the Winchesters weren’t big estate owners like the Salvatores, but the boys were raised in the absence of a mother by an obsessive and controlling father. They suffered a great loss. Dean lost his mother in a fire when he was a kid, while Damon also lost the love of his life, Katherine, in a fire, as we learn at first, and neither was an accident. They also lost their family and friends along the way, and all they have left is their younger brothers, Sam and Stefan. With a strong sense of the family and lifetime experience of doing it, Dean is obsessed with protecting his brother. Things are a little more complicated for Damon, who is not exactly a nice guy, though he has his reason to be the way he is. Even if he swore to cause his brother a lifetime of misery in retaliation, and we get the hint that he stuck to his word in the past, we don’t actually see him hurting Stefan, not to the full extent of his power to do such thing. Instead, he spends a lot of time saving and taking care of Stefan, in his own seemly detached way.

The sense of brotherhood is strong. The Winchesters move from one cheap motel to another, share the same car, and work together hunting demons and stuff basically 24hrs a day. The Salvatores, being wealthier, live in a huge house, where each keep to their own agenda, while still keeping tabs of each other’s moves. In their barely holding together world, their lives are repeatedly disrupted by their own obsessions. Dean wants to stop Lucifer, save his brother, save the world and everybody in it. Damon has a smaller goal, but spread on a longer term, a century and a half, which he can afford being immortal, and that is to bring Katherine back. Their dedication to the cause would be worth admiring, if it wasn’t also so self-destructive. It’s like they’re in the middle of this train wreck and they don’t get off, they don’t want to get off. They’ve been caught up in this nightmare for so long, they don’t remember how a normal life feels like anymore.

So they compensate with violence, women and booze. For Dean, it’s a living. He kills demons and all kinds of evil creatures, he even takes a shot at Lucifer. Favorite weapons of choice are shotguns with salt and knives, but he can get creative if the situation calls for it. In Damon’s case, it’s a matter of lifestyle. When one lives for so long, it’s easy to get bored, and boredom leads to stupid things that tends to blow in his face. The trick is Damon doesn’t get mad, he gets even and usually in the most vicious way. Neck snapping without warning is quite popular, but he’s handy with the stake too. And from there things escalate leading to a lot of dead bodies to dispose of. The difference between them is that Dean wouldn’t hurt innocent people, while Damon treats everyone equally. If he wants them dead, they’re dead. It helps that he can switch off his conscience and feels neither sufferance nor guilt. A good fight is much more fun this way. And yes, they fight and usually win, but that doesn’t stop them from being savagely beaten and tortured. It’s like the powers above have decided to punish them for their sins, and they’re brought back repeatedly or not allowed to die.

Given the circumstances, no wonder they turn to drink. Dean needs the alcohol in order to be able to sleep and forget the misery in his life, the hopeless future, and the forty years spent in hell. He’s often seen with a bottle or glass in hand, though I don’t quite remember seeing him drunk. Having less to fear for his safety, when the scene doesn’t require the glass to contain blood, Damon treats himself with one drink after another, something fancier than the cheap liqueur Dean is able to afford no doubt. It’s a miracle that a vampire can actually get drunk, but he does that successfully on several occasions.

Ah, and then come the women. ‘Cause, you see, they’re both good looking guys and a good catch at first glance. They wear rings or amulets carrying protective spells, and of course then there are the leather jackets, brown for Dean and black for Damon, the cars, and kick ass attitude mixed with a great amount of charm. They are very fun to be around, especially when they pretend not to take anything seriously. They also hit on everything that moves, but, well, no one’s perfect and those eyes and smiles are very hard to resist. In the absence of a higher education – let’s face it, what would he have to talk about with a Harvard graduate other than movies and cars? – Dean has to settle for waitresses and strippers, and when that doesn’t work out he falls back to porn. Over the one century and a half of his existence, Damon has refined his act. When Dean scores with twins, Damon gets four girls naked in his living room. Mind control is a great thing, and memory erasing is even better if he cares for a snack.

But where is love in all this? We know Dean was in love once with a journalist, but of course the relationship couldn’t last because of his day, and mostly night, job. He obviously cares for Lisa, the former and current girlfriend he’s playing house with, but it’s not clear if he is in love with her or just the idea of a family with her and her son. He’s lost so much, so many people in his life, that the ability to open up and let someone in is highly debatable to still exist in him. Illusion or not, Damon loved Katherine and it was real enough for him. He wanted to spend an eternity with her, and then die once she was gone. Now he is starting to open up to Elena, who doesn’t return his feelings since she is in love with his brother. So the question is, in the absence of a real relationship, a true love experience, will they be able to recognize real love when, or if, it comes their way? Maybe. But if they recognize it, will they be able to accept it, deal with it and make it work? Probably not. It would take a very strong, intelligent, patient and understanding female character to achieve that, and chances for someone like this to appear are very slim, close to non-existent, in these particular shows.

So we’re left with a couple of very lost, very messed up, and very hurt boys, so hurt that all we want is to grab them, hug them, and tell them that everything is going to be alright. Awww.

Later edit - Here's an example of how they deliver a line:

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Musings on a Theme of TVD

It should have been Paganini, but, no, it’s The Vampire Diaries.

What? Yet another TV series? Am I reaching menopause already? No, but I wouldn’t mind that if it meant the dismissal of cramps… but anyway. In the beginning of summer, after the total fiasco of Supernatular’s finale, a friend recommended me The Vampire Diaries and one day, when I was bored, a gave the first episode a try. I was not impressed by the teenage fantasy drama, not to mention yet another vampire movie, so I put it out of my mind and didn’t give it another thought.

Last week it was cold… and when it’s cold I get all cranky and all I want to do is curl up with the cat in my lap and bite the head off of whoever dares to interrupt my hibernation process. It’s like my brain is shutting down too, and I can’t even think straight. So no writing, unfortunately, and no reading either since I was too busy keeping my hands on the cat to keep them warm. She didn’t seem to mind that much, but I did because I was getting bored. I needed something to occupy my mind, and I thought a couple of less intellectually demanding episodes couldn’t hurt. I had to choose between Fringe and The Vampire Diaries and the latter won. My reasoning was simple: if it turned out I liked the show, at least it was shorter and I would be done with it faster, without a repeat of last fall’s disaster, when it took me a whole month to catch up with Supernatural. Another reason might be the fact that Joshua Jackson shows early signs of not aging well, which is a real shame, while the cast of TVD is full of eye candy. Yep, I was having a shallow moment.

The story is pretty simple: two vampire brothers, Damon and Stefan Salvatore, who love the same human girl, Elena. One needs to watch several episodes to discover its complexity, but the story has a fast pace and there’s no time to get bored. Instead of insisting on the subject and getting into more details and spoilers, I’ll only quote Dean and say “It’s compelling,” and rather focus on the characters so far:

Elena – it’s odd that I wasn’t that much drawn to her, like most people are. I mean, she’s smart, loyal, brave and determined, and of course good looking, so what’s not to like? The problem is that all my lead ladies are like that, so she didn’t enrich my universe, she didn’t bring anything new. She’s alright, but that’s all there is to it. It sort of bothered me that her name kept being pronounced wrong to my ears.

Stefan – the youngest Salvatore brother and Elena’s boyfriend has a laid back personality, often brooding, partially because of his ‘vegetarian’ diet. He’s even channeling Edward Cullen at times, so much that his story with Elena resembles too much to Twilight, at the surface at least, as it follows similar steps. Paul Wesley has a nice enough voice, but his face seems to be stuck on one expression only, like he is constantly in pain. It doesn’t help the fact that his character isn’t given much to do, but his relationship with Elena seems to be solid, even if boring, and there are good chances for them to still be together in the end.

Damon – now here’s a whole different story. He’s the life of the party, sort of speak, the trouble maker but also the problem solver. He could be seen as a psychopath, I guess, after all he’s quick at killing and retaliating, favorite method is neck snapping, he feeds on human blood and drinks too much alcohol, and we’ve seen him making out with half of the female population of Mystic Fall already. But as the story evolves, we discover there are more layers to his character and there is some shred of humanity left underneath all that “I don’t care” crap. He is a fun character, in an odd twisted way, and he has great one liners. I only knew Ian Somerhalder as being that annoying and totally waste of film guy from Lost, but watching him play this particular character has made me improve my impression on him a big deal. He’s great at expressing feelings with his face and eyes, and sometimes a smile can make the whole difference in a scene.

Katherine – the current villain of the show is the former lover of both brothers and the reason for them becoming vampires in the first place. Unfortunately, Nina Dobrev, here in double role, goes for a stiff approach of the character, totally missing the playfulness from the flashbacks. Katherine is too damn serious and looks a little lost and out of place in this universe. She’s not the type of character you would love to hate, you just hate her and want her gone. For obvious reasons, I hope Damon gets the satisfaction to stake her and kill her for good in the season’s finale.

Bonnie – I’m starting to like the little witch more and more. She can be a little too smug at times, but watching her butting heads with Damon is always fun, even if I fear she bit more than she can chew.

Caroline – air headed blonde with no other purpose than to be Damon’s chew toy and Matt’s rebound girl. Her scenes were such a bore and held no interest whatsoever, but with her becoming a vampire she has the potential to become a very interesting character. Hopefully, they won’t get rid of her too soon.

Jeremy Elena’s little brother spent last season mopping after his parents and then his girlfriends, which in no way could make him appealing. Maybe now, after his close encounter with death, he’ll get a wake up call and start living for real. He could use a haircut too.

Vicky – annoying character, glad they didn’t keep her around any longer, although her dance with Damon in a certain scene made me never to look at Enjoy The Silence the same again.

Matt – cuddly teddy bear, but no real story arc and mostly used as a filler.

Tyler – a bully with temper issues, and his story should have ended along with Vicky’s death. I don’t care for the werewolf twist, I don’t see how this will affect the general storyline. I’m more interested to see who will replace the Mayor.

Jenna – for a psychology major and legal guardian of two teenagers she really doesn’t do a good job. She has no idea what happens under her own roof, and she lets Elena spend several nights at the Salvatore house. Come on!

Alaric – his character was intriguing when introduced, but as the mystery started to be unveiled he lost some of the appeal. His reluctant collaboration with Damon is the best part still.

Uncle John – the most annoying character in the show. I regret that instead of being killed he got to leave town in one piece, more or less, and we will have to suffer through seeing him again.

Anna – a well developed character, who was killed way too soon. Yes, they needed a significant death in the season finale, but couldn’t they find anyone else other than the only good vampire in town beside the Salvatores?

Pearl – another character whose potential was not fully used. Apparently the writers don’t want in town any other vampires who could sideline with the brothers. This makes me wonder what they have in store for them. Her interaction with newly returned best friend Katherine would have been interesting too.

As far as production goes, the vampires are ugly and scary, but not enough to give you nightmares, the action is fast packed, there aren’t too many mushy scenes, more sex scenes than I would have expected to see in a teenage show, but that’s not necessarily something bad, the shots are lively and full of colors, and the music is decent enough, even if taken separately the soundtrack is sort of slow and leans towards depressing.

Season two kicked in in full force, so I’m curious what will happen next. I tried to read the books, but I gave up after the first twenty pages. I mean, that’s bad writing even for YA. What’s the target audience, fourth graders? I used to read more advanced literature in fourth grade. So no help there, like it or not I’ll have to wait for the writers to see the new ways they found to torture the characters. Or I could just wait until the season ends and then have a TVD marathon like I just did last week. Supernatural’s return has a two week delay, plenty of time to decide. Of course, I could wait with both, these are just TV series and too much TV is bad for the brain. The skating season will also start soon, and that will keep me busy. We’ll see…

Since I mentioned both Dean and Damon earlier in this post, I’m gonna do a little character study. The idea came to me after I finished watching TVD season 1, and I started wondering what would happen if these two characters ever met. From there to having plot bunnies jumping all over the place with crossover fic ideas attached to their tails was just one step. No worries, I won’t write that fic, my fic writing days are pretty much over, but it did make me think.

Dean Winchester (SPN) vs. Damon Salvatore (TVD) – A Character Study

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

2010 Frankfurt Vacation

or how the Romanians conquered Germany.

There were a few things different about this trip compared to the previous years:
- we took our vacation in the beginning of August and not towards the end;
- we were going to stay with my cousin, not the one who traveled with us last year but the one who lives in Frankfurt. The funny thing is that a while ago she gave little brother a Germany travel guide and wrote inside that she would quiz him later. Now was her chance to do it 'cause we took the guide with us and we planned to show it to her. Of course, all the studying had been done by me, while he hadn't even bothered to open the book.

As usual, this is just a travel log and no high class literature. I'll use some abbreviations for short: MM=my mom, MD=my dad, LB=little brother, MC=my cousin, MU=my uncle.

Here we go...

Monday, the 2nd of August

- Iasi - Oradea trip
- for the first time ever at 12:00 sharp (deadline set by MD, who was busy in the morning) we were ready to leave the house. Unfortunately, the car wasn't, and by the time the boys had delt with it and we had lunch, it was already past 3 in the afternoon.
- so we left the parking lot at 3:30 PM and arrived to our first stop at 12:30 (9 hours later like Google Maps had predicted).
- we used the same route as we did for our return from Vienna last year: Iasi - Pascani - Tg. Neamt - Borsec - Toplita - Reghin - Cluj - Huedin - Oradea. I didn't remember the road to have so many twists and turns and be so bad. We had barely started on our journey, when we discovered we had lost three of the brand new wheel lid covers (or whatever they're called).
- MM had to drive the last hour because the lights gave MD vision problems and he didn't want to risk it.
- we spent the night at the now familiar Z pension; same stuffy air, but no Dolph Lundgren movie and the roses covered sheets were missing.

Tuesday, the 3rd of August

- Oradea - Frankfurt trip
- we bought cakes from the store next door for breakfast, hoping their quality had improved over time. No such luck.
- we were too tired to leave before 11:00, and we arrived in Frankfurt at 23:30 (local time) so Google Maps was sort of right once again.
- the followed route was Oradea - Debrecen - Budapest - Gyor - Vienna - Linz - Passau - Regensburg - Nurnberg - Wurzburg - Frankfurt.
- it rained four times while crossing Hungary and Austria.
- I was congratulated for the music selection chosen for the trip, we had started with Leonard Cohen upon leaving followed by a little Take That, a little too much according to LB, who complained about not having enough Eminem. Well, there would have been more if he hadn't just handed me over the flash drive and then gone to bed, letting me do all the work.
- MM drove the last 30 km, missed the exit on the highway, and we finally arrived to Frankfurt where we met MC in front of her building.
- she was coming from work and only stayed long enough to show us the apartment and tell us how everything worked before going back. We knew she had plans for both upcoming weekends so we agreed to find some other time to meet and catch up. Little did we know it was the only time we were going to see her, as she had also arranged for her to sleep somewhere else so we could have the whole place to ourselves. And LB had been so excited about sleeping on air mattresses. Of course, the first thing we did was roll up the white living room carpet and water her plants.
- she has a two room apartment situated on the first floor of a two story building, so no elevator available, but that turned out to be not such a big problem. We loved the huge green couch from the living room and the black and white photographs on the wall. Us girls quickly claimed the bedroom and let the boys have the TV. The blue horse with a psychedelic background was a bit of a shock, but the tropical paradise on the opposite wall was well fit for inducing pleasant dreams.

Wednesday, the 4th of August

- in the morning we were still tired after the two days spent on the road. Luckily, the beds were good so we slept well and hardly ever heard the tramway passing right in front of the building. LB stated he would take the green couch as souvenir when we left home.
- we decided to take it easy and just get familiar with the city the first day. Therefore we walked the whole 4 km to the city center instead of taking the tram. It took us about an hour to get to the bridge and cross the river, but the weather was nice, sunny, even if a bit too windy for my taste (especially after the two days spent with the A/C full on, which made me have blood red vampire eyes for the next couple of days) and we didn't mind it much. We had plenty of new things to see, and we were also looking for nearby grocery stores.

- a few observations: there’s a flower cult going on, lovely; the percentage of overweight people is low; older women seem to have a hair problem; there were fewer dogs than expected.
- on the border of the water we saw swans, wild ducks and geese, and once we crossed the bridge, Alte Brucke, we entered the old city. Our misfortune was to walk right into the Zeil, a big pedestrian area bordered by stores, and we lost a lot of time there hopping from store to store in our journey from one end to the other, right up to the old Opera House, which was undergoing repairs.
- from there we entered the skyscraper district. My favorite was Westend tower, the white one with a summer top hat and neck tie statue in front. By then it had started to get clouded, so the photos came out either dark or having a fantastic feel. MM kept asking why I was upset, but I wasn't, I was just cold. Later it turned out that I was frowning in every single photo, not that there were so many, because of that.

- I can’t stand that black suit and white shirt uniform all the business women seem to wear. When we checked at home, we realized we had been close to the place where MC worked.
- when it was starting to get dark, we made it to the Dom and saw it from the outside, but it was getting late and it was time to go home while we could still walk.
- it was a long walk. MM kept asking after each km if we were there yet. It was quite funny, especially when she started to count the houses.

Thursday, the 5th of August

- it rained in the morning. MM and MD rested, while LB and I figured out how to setup the Internet connection. We mainly used it to check the weather forecast and look for parking places later on.
- LB took over the laptop to chat with his friends, and I inspected MC's bookshelves. Only work related books, serious stuff, I couldn't find any fiction work. I was starting to get worried, but then I discovered the X-Men trilogy and Dallas (wtf?) among the DVDs and I was like "yep, she's still human!" I entertained myself with her photo albums until the rain stopped, and of course I sent her a short e-mail to let her know what I was doing. In fact, I think I sent her several, I was getting bored. Ideas were exchanged with MU too, and he gave us some good tips where to go and what to see.
- in the afternoon we went out after the rain had stopped. I made sure I was well bundled up with a sweater and raincoat just in case. We had all agreed that MC's apartment was placed in Twilight Zone because when you looked out the bedroom window it didn't rain, and when you went to the living room window it did. Also water on the plates didn’t dry after being washed, so we decided it was safer not to even try washing clothes.
- it was too dark to take photos, yey! MM bought a pair of sneakers because she had only brought sandals, and then we just wandered around on various streets ending up in Romer along with nightfall.

Friday, the 6th of August

- cloudy, but no rain and it wasn't cold either.
- we started with a walk on the south side of the river, through the Museumsufer. We had known in advance that both Staedel and Museum of Architectures were closed for repairs, and that limited our choices as far as museums were concerned, but that was alright since last year in Vienna we visited one museum per day and it felt a little too much. Only the Museum of Modern Art and Natural Science seemed to be interesting and we decided to visit them later if we had time or if it rained.
- we crossed the river on a different bridge and on our way to the center we passed by Rathaus, St. Stephen's Church (it was closed to public), we took a turn by Goethehaus then back to Romer and the Dom. We finally saw the old city main square in daylight: nice old buildings all around, but somehow soulless, maybe because of the tourists flocking in. The Dom reminded me of the one in Vienna, big, dirty and full of promises on the outside, and quite simple on the inside.
- the boys spent the money saved by the morning and evening walk on shirts and t-shirts while we did some shopping.
- we ended the evening at My Zeil mall. It was late and most stores were closing, but the building with the hole in the middle of it was very interesting.

Saturday, the 7th of August

- the hottest day. Actually, it was the only day when I could wear only a t-shirt. I used to be able to tell when a photo was taken from the clothes I wore. Not anymore, not when wearing either red top, red t-shirt, red sweater or red raincoat.
- we spent the morning at the flea market on the south border of the river in Museumsufer. Lots of junk, just about any old stuff you can imagine, but it would have taken hours of digging to find something worth the time and the money. We found a set of beaded necklace and bracelet for LB, who has more recently developed a passion for such things.
- then we started a long journey towards MesseTurm, passing by the train station, which our guide listed as the most dangerous part of the city. LB had borrowed a defense spray he'd found in the apartment so he felt safe. I have to admit the tower is quite something, for some reason there was smoke coming out of the top, but I still like Westend better.
- once he was done with the photos, MD started to rush us to made it to the grocery story before closing time because the next day was Sunday and everything was going to be closed. I kinda pouted at that, I mean we could wait for hours for him to take photos, but when we wanted to finally go for a walk he had to get hungry.
- no need to say each evening we drank beer and ate various kinds of wurst.
- the weather forecast predicted rain, so we stayed up late looking for accommodations in Amsterdam. Being so late we couldn't find anything remotely convenient.

Sunday, the 8th of August

- at MC's suggestion, we retrieved the car from the field behind the building and took off to visit a few nearby towns. Mind you, it was the first time we were using the car or any other kind of transportation since arriving to Frankfurt.
- Eltville - lovely small town with well preserved old houses; lots of tourists, but the atmosphere didn't feel crowded but relaxed; nice promenade on the border of the water and flower garden. We wondered how the locals made a living, probably by running all those terraces and restaurants. MD and LB took lots of pics, of all 600+ only one featuring family. MD's favorite themes this vacation were windows, doors and people, while LB settled for cars, girls and dogs.
- Rudesheim - the initial intention was just to pass through and continue our trip along the valley, but once we got to see it we couldn't resist and got out of the car to explore for a bit. This town was bigger, with more tourists and a summer resort feel given by all the crowded shops.
- Wiesbaden - I was the one who insisted to stop here too. A real town, and I loved the old buildings. Unfortunately the GPS had been set to take us to the city center but there were repair works being done and while we drove around looking for a parking we kinda got away from it. It was getting dark and in the absence of a map we didn't get to see much. We saw two churches, but not the one that had been recommended to us.
- after dinner that evening, we looked for hotels in Eindhoven this time. We made no reservation, but we wrote down the address of a few hotels that had rooms available.

Monday, the 9th of August

- Koln - we left relatively early to go to Koln. We discovered a local radio, Rockland, that aired old rock music so we didn't have to listen to our own. I love western highways, but without the GPS it wouldn't have been that easy to get there. It didn't help much with finding a parking, although we had the address, so we had to let the street signs guide us. We parked close to the Dom and went to visit it first. The Dom is big, huge even, and it would look great if cleaned, which it wasn't, except for a few ornaments. The interior was again not quite to my liking, the arches were too narrow and there were too many columns, which made it hard to see what was going on on the other side of the church. I'm not a big fan of blank ceilings and I've seen better stained glass windows. But it was impressive nevertheless. Next we walked over to the bridge, where we admired the collection of tons of locks attached to it. That's quite a business to have there. The rest of the time was spent in the pedestrian commercial area. The streets felt too narrow and crowded.
- Eindhoven - towards the end of the afternoon we left for Eindhoven. We went to Stanton Hotel, the first hotel on our list, and we checked into a quadruple room. We only took our luggage upstairs and went out to explore the town. MD had taught for a semester at the university there back in the late '90s, and he kept pointing out to us the new buildings. I loved the town, with the old center with terraces on both sides of the street, especially the Sgt. Pepper bar with the loud rock music, the mall and the modern center. I could easily see myself living there. The sidewalks were just perfect.

Tuesday, the 10th of August

- Amsterdam - we had a rich breakfast at the hotel, and then we went to Amsterdam. As we got closer the weather began to change and the sky got covered by clouds. We parked at the Music Center and from there started to walk. We passed by the flea market and flower market, and then we walked on various streets and channels until the rain got so bad that we had to buy an umbrella for the boys, who had left their jackets in the car, and a yellow raincoat for me because my jacket turned out to be not as waterproof as it should have been.
- Eindhoven - it wasn't raining when we arrived at the hotel, but when we got downstairs to go out for an evening walk it started to sprinkle a little. We went to the store around the corner to look at the lamps displayed in the windows and then on a couple of more streets, but it kept raining on and off so we retreated to the hotel.

Wednesday, the 11th of August

- Eindhoven - lovely weather. We spent the morning shopping after we checked out of the hotel. I found some things for myself and everyone was happy that I finally got something. We entered the church, I liked the stained glass window, and after another tour around the center we left.
- Amsterdam - LB bought new sunglasses and I bought colored cacti. I'm not normally much into cacti, but these with the colored tops were very cute. Initially I only wanted a set of three, red, pink and orange, but I couldn't find one so I got red, yellow and pink instead. Of course, a few steps to the left I found the desired set in a different kiosk, but I had already bought them. I saw a purple one looking like a snail, so I bought another set of red, purple and orange. That's how I ended up with six cacti. Oh, well. We walked some more, cut it through the Redlight district, MM's ideas so “the kids would know what’s out there”, and then we returned to the car. It rained all the way back to Frankfurt, and MM drove part of the way, missing the right exit on the highway.

Thursday, the 12th of August

- again changing weather so we only left the apartment in the afternoon.
- we took a different route to get to the city center, starting with a back alley full of cute houses, then a road surrounded by vegetation, but we must have missed a turn somewhere cause we ended up at the same bridge. No problem, by then we had crossed them all.
- it rained on and off, and once we had to take cover inside Main Triangel's yard, which had a glass cover.
- we stopped by Kleine Markthalle, nice but bio products are quite expensive. Then MM and MD rushed ahead to farmers' market while LB and I window shopped and hid from the rain.
- when the rain got serious, we entered the mall and stayed there until it stopped. MM was in heaven inside Saturn, the electronics store.

Friday, the 13th of August

- Stuttgart - we went straight to Porsche Museum. Interesting building inside and out, but the tiles covering the floor were already cracked, although the museum is only a couple of years old. I can't say much about the cars, the display was a bit monotone at some point. LB took shots with all of them. I loved the Boxter.
- we had to rush to get to Mercedes Museum because it was getting late. I liked this one better, the exhibition was more interesting too, starting with a horse. LB ran out of memory space and came running to get another card for the camera. Many old cars produced over the years, less more modern models it seemed. I liked the green one with transparent top put on a pillar on the last floor, not sure what it was.
- we spent the evening walking in the old city center. Very nice, I wish we had time to see more of it.

Saturday, the 14th of August

- Heidelberg - another favorite destination for tourists. Really nice town, even if we only walked back and forward on the main street. We entered the church, but I’m not sure I liked the modern stained glass windows. The castle looks better in pictures I'm afraid.
- MM was happy she bought a pot to boil spaghetti. She had been obsessing about pots lately, mainly because we couldn't find any in MC's kitchen. That naturally brought us to the conclusion that she didn't cook, which we kinda suspected since she tends to work until midnight on regular bases.
- we would have stayed more but we had to return to Frankfurt and do some shopping for the trip back home.
- inspired by the one found by the bed I got an electrical pillow.
- the band we had listened to in Stuttgart the previous day was singing in the street here and we stopped to listen. They were pretty good, three guys playing drums, cello and violin, called Stilbruch. One song, "My Name Is Life", got stuck in my head for days.

- it was weird how the streets cleared after 10 PM. We were expecting to see more of a nightlife, especially on Saturday.

Sunday, the 15th of August

- an orchestra marching in the street woke us up early on.
- it rained all day so we stayed inside. MM made us soup and pastas.
- I wrote down the main points of interests for the diary, and then we did a bit of research on our cacti. It turned out that each of them is formed of two different species, the colored "flower" being grafted on top of the green base. A mutant cactus? Err...
- in the evening we packed our bags and did a little bit of house cleaning. Victory, we found the pots! They were hidden in a drawer underneath the oven that no one thought to check.

Monday, the 16th of August

- it was 14 C in the morning when we left the apartment. When we got in the car, it started to rain.
- while we stopped to put on gas, MM and LB ran to the store for some last minute shopping. We joked about them getting yet another umbrella. We had five already.
- the entire Germany was covered by clouds, but when we crossed the border to Austria the sun came out. It didn't last long though, it rained all the way to Budapest. We cut it through the city and then we had about an hour of sun that we used to gain back some of the time lost because of the rain and all the road works encountered on the highway.
- the rest of the trip was made through a major storm, the sky was lit up by lightning every other few seconds. It was surreal, I've never seen anything like it.
- the GPS must have liked Budapest cause it took us through Debrecen too, just like last year. At least we didn't travel on a highway the GPS didn't recognize.
- we found the door unlocked in Oradea so we check ourselves in. The red and blue roses sheets were back, but no sign of Dolph Lundgren. He must be busy promoting The Expendables.
- we were so tired the beds seemed to vibrate like we were still in the car when we went to sleep.

Tuesday, the 17th of August

- we followed the same route back to Iasi, and of course we stopped in Reghin to buy cakes, good cakes.
- we had the nice surprise to discover that most part of the road between Reghin and Toplita had been repaired in our absence. That plus the great scenery made for a nice trip.
- there was another storm before getting to Iasi, not as big as the one in Hungary, but then again this is Eastern Europe and everything happens at a smaller scale.
- at 9 PM we were at Metro getting ice cream. Mission accomplished.

A nice vacation as a whole. I don’t remember the last time we spent together two whole weeks as a family. Things I didn’t like: the cold, the time wasted in the car and looking for parkings. I wish we have had more time to visit the other cities beside Frankfurt, plus The Romantic Road, Munchen and Salzburg, and I wish at least once we managed to wake up and go exploring at a decent hour and not towards noon. Other than that everything was fine, and we owe MC big time.

Next year… I don’t know what will happen next year… I’m still thinking about Prague, but… I don’t know, we’ll see.

Be good all!