I think it would be a very, very bad idea fo Hillary Clinton to interfere in anyway in the Amanda Knox verdict. It's one thing to intercede on the behalf of hikers in Iran who might have been apprehended unfairly or the journalists in North Korea or the father whose son was kidnapped to Brazil, but it's another thing entirely to interfere in another's country judicial system (thoughts about that aside). There is no strategic national security involved, there's no question of apprehension under vague circumstances, and the defendent was well represented in court.
I mentioned the Starbucks habits in yesterday's post. I don't think I know anyone who actually has a hardcore Starbucks habit, but then I run in different circles than the people described in the article. That being said, I do consume Starbucks about 4 or 5 times a year, most recently about a month or so ago because we thought they were offering free cups of their new instant coffee. Alas, we were wrong and ended up buying highly priced house coffee.
I love coffee. It makes me go in the morning, it perks me up. I don't drink a lot of coffee, maybe 2 cups a day (1 cup today), but I do enjoy a good cup. So this last visit to Starbucks, when you're forking over more than $2 for a plain ole black coffee, you expect something good. But instead, it was what I've come to expect from Starbucks -- as if someone overroasted the beans and then used the burned parts to brew the coffee. It. Was. Not. Good. The only thing more disappointing about a bad cup of coffee is one that cost more than $2.
The Starbucks wasn't giving out free tastes of their instant coffee as advertised but they did give us a packet to try later. I had it one Sunday morning instead of my usual instant Taster's Choice and again, It. Was. Not. Good. I have no idea how much that instant costs, but I definitely won't be trading in my current coffee for it. A friend tried it recently and his verdict was the same as mine. Not. Good.
I do have to give a shout out to Nescafe though. I had some really good Nescafe packs in Budapest -- they come pre-mixed with sugar and creamer and great for on the go. It could be that I was so excited about non-shot glass style expresso that I found the Nescafe (purchased at a train station kiosk) absolutely wonderful, or was it was really that good? I might try again in the future. The problem with nostalgia is when you revisit, the memory is sometimes better than the reality.
Another trip coming up and I'm nervous about it for any number of reasons. I'm just not feeling it. Usually I'm super excited about going to a place I've never been to before, but this time, I just get the... I don't know. There's something that doesn't feel right to me. However, the next trip, I'm completely cool with. It's just this one that feels a little off. I think maybe if I do some research about my destination, find a guided tour that I can take over the weekend when I'm not working, I think I'll be fine. Just have to keep the anxiety to a dull roar.
"... does the cartoon image of it — encapsulated in the dread slur 'socialism,' which is being lobbed in American political circles like a bomb — match reality? Is there, maybe, a significant upside that is worth exploring?"
One of the highlights of the trip was visiting Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. In general, I found people in Bratislava to be extremely friendly and helpful. The old town was charming and easy to get around, and the food was delicious. The city sits right on the Danube and the bridges are architecturally interesting and modern. Overlooking the Danube is the medieval castle of Bratislava. I took this photo of the castle from the New Bridge. It's really quite lovely, and the hike up to the top of the hill is definitely worth it for the wonderful views.
So I'm home again, and while it's nice to be sleeping in my own bed again after being away for 10 days, it's also a little bit of a letdown, because I had a super marvelous vacation. For those of you not in the know, in the past week or so, I visited Budapest, Bratislava (Slovakia) and Vienna. All three cities were amazing and I had a great time. Bratislava, especially, was a very pleasant surprise -- not at all crowded, relatively inexpensive (given the plunging dollar, which made Vienna and London really painful), and the people there were extremely friendly, and more importantly, lots of vegetarian food!
I managed to do the entire week in about $1500*, which was my budget. I was concerned given the weakness of the dollar, but managed to mitigate the damage by eating pretty cheaply, buying few souveniers, taking public transport instead of private tours as I have in the past, and only going inside of a couple of castles, and skipping museums and churches entirely (many churches now charge admission to go inside -- anywhere from $2 to $10 depending on the church). I bought a 3-day pass for metro in Budapest and that worked great, especially given how freakish Control is about checking tickets there. In Vienna and Bratislava, I mostly walked, though I did buy the occasional metro ticket when the cold or my feet defeated me.
I actually stayed in a couple of four star hotels in Budapest and Vienna, courtesy of Priceline. I highly recommend using Priceline for booking your hotels. I was absolutely stymied while making my hotel bookings because I couldn't quite figure out where to stay, how much to pay, currency conversions etc, etc., and ended up on Priceline. The result was getting two Marriotts for $120/night each, when the going rate in Vienna was $250 a night and in Budapest, $400. Both hotels were located in the city centers, and in Budapest, the hotel was sitting right on the Danube, with a gorgeous view of the Castle and Citadel. There is no way I would have been able to stay in such hotels without Priceline.
As for Bratislava, I stayed in the Hotel Kjev, which to put it kindly, was a dump (the ceiling in the bathroom was literally falling, the sheets and pillows were frayed, there was no shower curtain on the tub, and I had some doubts on when it had last been cleaned, and the whole place reeked a little bit of Nair). However, the Hotel Kjev was right next to the Old Town and had a great breakfast included, so that helped a little bit. Plus, after staying at the Kjev, I really, really appreciated the Marriotts. :-)
All in all, this was one of my favorite vacations of all time. It was very relaxing, lots of fun, and I consumed lots and lots of chocolate, including the famous Sacher Torte at the Hotel Sacher in Vienna. I didn't think about work once, and that was really good for the trip, but rather discombobulating when I came home because it was like, "Okay, now where did I leave off again?"
My camera died during the Bratislava leg of the trip, so I'm not sure when I'll have pictures to post. I'm hoping it's just a question of having the wrong batteries for the camera and all will be resolved when I get the correct ones. That probably won't happen until this coming weekend when I'm more awake. I'll post some of the highlights of the trip tomorrow.
* Includes hotels, airfare, all transportation including trains, boats, taxis, buses and trams, food and drink, admissions, and souvenier shopping