Monthly Archives: August 2010

Knight and Day Movie Review and Dreams of Salzburg, Austria

So many reasons to see Knight and Day.

I was really excited to see Knight and Day for two reasons: one, part of the movie was shot in Salzburg, Austria, which I visited earlier this year and is totally amazing, and two, because I saw clips of the movie while watching Top Gear (not my choice) and it seemed like a fun action flick. In the clip, Tom Cruise is riding a motorcycle with Cameron Diaz behind him when he flips her around swing dance-style so that she is straddling him (hot) and she shoots backwards at the bad guys while he drives. COOOOL. Oh, and a third reason. I heard that the powers that be in Hollywood changed the promotional poster for the movie because they realized at the last moment that people don’t really like Tom Cruise that much anymore and so it’s better to have a white cut-out than his actual face. Ouuuch. So I kind of wanted to check it out.

Ok, fine. I read that snarky gossip part in Perez Hilton. It’s a blog post called “Tom Cruise is killing his own movie.” Double ouch. Now back to the movie.

Now that I have actually watched Knight and Day, I can tell you that it is pretty darn awful. It’s a little like watching someone play a less funny John Cusack from Grosse Pointe Blank (tagline “every hit man deserves a second shot!”) with less realistic/plausible fight scenes than any James Bond movie or the Matrix combined. True story. For the unvarnished truth, I recommend reading A.O. Scott’s Day and Night/Knight and Day movie review in the New York Times. It’s called “Opposites Attract,” and it’s so well-written that it defies being excerpted by yours truly. The rest of the reviews I read make it sound like Knight and Day might just be a good movie—silly, good-hearted, and fun. Not so. Awful.

PARENTAL ADVISORY: THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH KIND OF CONTAINS AN EXPLETIVE

“I’ve seen a lot of bad action movies, but usually they have something good about them… this is the purest sh*t I’ve ever seen.”

(Anonymous reviewer, expressing views shared by this blogger)

So there you have it.

Knight and Day in Salzburg

The scenes in Salzburg take less than 24 hours in movie time and therefore last maybe 15 minutes of real time. And all those scenes take place in the dark of night. So did I get to soak in the wonderful atmosphere of Salzburg? Was I able to relive the time I spent walking its cobblestone streets?

No. Of course not. That would just be too much to ask.

At least the Entertainment Tonight interview features a nice backdrop of the city. They seem fairly happy to be there.
cameron diaz and tom cruise on set for "knight and day" in salzburg

Entertainment Tonight interview with Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise, on location in Salzburg.

My brush with someone else’s brush with fame; otherwise known as OMG I ALMOST MET SURI CRUISE

In June, I went to Salzburg with one of my best friends, Elaine, and spent the weekend there with her and her sister, Abigail, who was living there at the time. Much of my time there was spent drinking beer and hugging statues, although my blog post does not reflect that. Mostly you can read about the pretzels. This was soon after Knight and Day had finished shooting in Salzburg, and Abigail pointed out the house that Tom and Katie rented while they were on location.

I present to you: the alleged rental home of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes! Almost brush with fame number one.

This house is really large and on a cliff overlooking most of Salzburg (I assume). I took this photo from right outside the Schloss Mirabell gardens, a famous palace originally built by a 17th-century Archbishop for his lover and their ten surviving children. The Schloss Mirabell palace and gardens are really beautiful and totally worth visiting if you’re in Vienna.

While I was Salzburg, Abigail, Elaine, and I also went to the die Steinterrasse, which is (according to the website) the “cafe.bar.lounge” of Hotel Stein. Basically, it was this beautiful wrap-around terrace with amazing views of the city, a DJ, and an extensive cocktail menu. I was in seventh heaven.

The Hotel Stein's famous Steinterrasse (Stein Terrace) with views overlooking all of Salzburg... by knight and day muawahahaha!

Ok, so this is where almost brush with fame NUMBER TWO starts. I was at the Steinterrase for drinks with Abigail and Elaine. A month or so later, Tom and Cameron returned to Salzburg to promote the movie premiere. Abigail tries to go to the Steinterrase for drinks again, BUT SHE CAN’T BECAUSE TOM AND KATIE ARE THERE and THE WHOLE HOTEL IS ON TOTAL LOCKDOWN. omg.

Abigail tried to get into the hotel by saying that she was Suri’s au pair, but to no avail. Nevertheless, a brush with fame. And my brush with someone else’s brush with fame. I, like, totally almost hung out with Suri.

Anyway, now you know where to go if you want your very own brush with frame in Salzburg. Stop by the Steinterrasse, sit on the top deck, and order a really great cocktail. Enjoy.

If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy…

Hanging out with the original Austrian meatheads (really) and a trip to Salzburg

Photos: Recent Events

Things that happened recently that I was either too sick or too busy to write about…
A package arrived from my parents. No comment on the state of the box.
I tried to go berry-picking in the forest, but we found a pitifully small number of berries. On the plus side, we found unripe hazelnuts. I’ve never seen hazelnuts growing on a tree before. I didn’t even know where they came from. They could have been one of those foods found exclusively in the Spice Islands for all I knew. However, they grow wild in the forests of Sweden. That’s really cool.
I went to a crayfish party (kräftskiva). More on that later.
In Lund, they have huge urban gardens called “Colony Gardens.” They are totally amazing. I went for a walk through one of them yesterday evening and saw these flowers as well as the beginnings of the fall raspberry season.
July 29, 2010, I became an honorary aunt to the cutest little boy ever. Adam is now just over a month old and totally adorable.

Stay tuned for explanations and exploits regarding crayfish parties, colony gardens, berry-picking expeditions, and more!

24 Hours in Paris, and the conclusion to the world’s most excellent bachelorette party

So we tricked our friend, kidnapped her twice, and took her to Paris for 24 hours for her bachelorette party (möhippa, in Swedish). Life could be worse.

In Paris, we started off our day with breakfast at the Café des Deux Moulins, the cafe from the movie Amélie (full title Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain). It’s in Montmartre, and while it’s definitely a tourist destination with the requisite memorabilia for film buffs, it was also clearly a neighborhood cafe as well, with its own regulars and non-movie freaks. The staff seemed pretty amused by the arrival of our 20-strong gang and sort of shooed us towards the back. The petit dejeuner was delicious.

At left, Anna opens her next letter... breakfast in Montmartre! At right, Amelie! (That guy was not part of our group. He just happened to be in the way.)

You can find the Café des Deux Moulins at 15 Rue Lepic within easy walking distance of the Metro stops Blanche, Pigalle, and Abbesse. Here’s a map.

Photo by Jeremy Pearson via Wikipedia

Then we walked from the Café des Deux Moulins to Sacré-Cœur, from Sacré-Cœur to the Louvre via the Opera, and then onwards towards the Eiffel Tower, where we had an extended picnic and relaxed. You can see our approximate route below. We were really tired and hungry by the time we got to the Eiffel, and I fell asleep for a while in the sun (probably with my mouth open… horrors).

View Larger Map

We walked one zillion miles in the course of not even a full day. Whattup.

Then we all trucked back to the Peace and Love Hostel to pick up our stuff, then we started on our journey home! (For a laugh, check out the Peace and Love Hostel’s homepage. Love it.) The next day, it was hard to believe everything that had happened in the course of two days, even though we had the sunburns and blisters to prove it.

Team Anna's Möhippa at the Louvre

DECEIT! DESPAIR! And other totally normal emotions to feel during a bachelorette party!

So, all in one week I got the mumps and got better and kidnapped a bride-to-be and gave her lots of champagne and a picnic and kubb(!) and a make up session. And the day was far from over. Long live the Swedish bachelorette party! (Or möhippa, in case you want to be all authentic and Swedish about it.)

After Anna’s make up was applied and she looked like a rock star, we met up with the guys again and headed towards the train station. We got on the train that takes you through Malmö, across the Oresunds bridge to Copenhagen, and then heads north. And then we gave Anna her next letter.

At left, the letters-master (Simon) and Anna, still unsuspecting. At right, Anna's getting a little nervous, probably because we're all laughing and squirming in anticipation.

Inside, she found what she thought was a MTV advertisement for an American Idol-style “Make Me a Pop Star” competition to be held in downtown Copenhagen. The advertisement told her that she would have 45 minutes to prepare and produce a music video for an international pop competition, and that she had to sing a song that had been on the Billboard™ Hot 100 sometime in the past three years. And I guess Anna doesn’t like singing or performing that much, because she panicked. Very quietly.

I didn’t feel sorry for her, because I knew what would be happening very soon. Instead, I took photos while she tried to choose a song and memorize lyrics on the fly.

Denial.

Despair.

DETERMINATION.

For the record, Anna was an incredibly good sport about imminent torture and all that. Things changed, though, and she didn’t have to maintain her stiff upper lip all the way to the Copenhagen Central Station.

OH MAH GAWD what's going on here! (Kidnapping, part two.)

Keep in mind, there were about 20 of us in one train car, all but one of whom know that the bride was not going to make it to Copenhagen. I was quivering all by myself in the corner, trying not to look to excited or expectant or anything. When the train reached the airport, just a few stops before Copenhagen, the doors opened and people filed out. Everyone was still playing it cool, staying seated, and then THEY SPRUNG LIKE WILD MEN AND PICKED UP ANNA AND CARRIED HER OUTSIDE TO THE PLATFORM ON THE WINGS OF EAGLES/LIKE A BAT OUT OF HELL/ETC. And then of course they delivered another letter.

In English, the letter says, "Where are you going? Go to the Norwegian Air check in."

Once we got there, she got her passport and a ticket to Paris.

I think it was a pretty ok surprise.

And then we were off!

Part of the group at the airport.

To cut a two-hour flight short, we all got on a plane to Paris and arrived around 9:30 pm. And the night was still young.

(to be continued)

Anna’s excellent möhippa, continued

In Tuesday’s post, Påssjuka to Paris, I talked about getting adult mumps and recovering just in time to take part of the world’s best Swedish bachelorette party, or “möhippa.” We went over to her apartment on an ordinary-seeming Wednesday morning and offered to join her on a walk to the center, where she was going to buy tulle for her wedding veil. Along the way, however, 20 friends were stationed at different spots, with some of them bearing one of seven sealed envelopes that contained details about the day’s activities.

Anna got the first letter outside of the city park, or stadsparken, telling her that we would all be having a picnic with champagne and games (especially KUBB!). When we entered the park, her sister was waiting with a giant buffet and blankets laid out on the grass.

Buffet to the left, blankets to the right, and one happy bride-to-be in the center of things.

Kubb Mania

So we ate and drank champagne and played kubb, which appears to astound and amaze worldwide. I found chapters in the UK, New Zealand, and the US. (If you want to see some crazy Swedish-American kubb players, check out Wisconsin Kubb’s photo gallery. They are awesome.) Wikipedia describes it as “a combination of bowling and horseshoes” while the Online Guide to Traditional Games describes it as “a cross between Aunt Sally and Volleyball.” (What is Aunt Sally??) To be honest, I have no idea what they are talking about. As far as I can understand it, kubb seems to be some sort of Viking version of bocce, but with sticks instead of balls. With a little Quidditch mixed in, since the games can go for hours OR EVEN DAYS according to some unsubstantiated web reports. Yeah, I bet Harry Potter would be awesome at Kubb.

There are two teams that face each other behind behind two lines of sticks standing in the grass. Then there are five or so sticks that the teams use to throw at each other’s line of standing sticks. Then there’s a big kahuna stick standing in the middle, and it’s the king. You can only try for the king when your opponents’ standing sticks are all down. If you hit the king before that, then you LOSE AUTOMATICALLY. Then there are a lot of other rules involving where you can stand and what you do with the sticks that are knocked down, but I really couldn’t keep track of what was going on. Wikipedia even shows a possible offsides trap play, but that is way too advanced for me. Basically, I just stood in a line with my team and waited for a nod from my team to throw sticks at the other team’s sticks.

Möhippa KUBB in action. One team standing behind a line of standing sticks, throwing sticks at our team's standing sticks. And there's the big kahuna stick in the middle... the KING stick... which can't be knocked down until the other team's defenses are thoroughly destroyed.

After eating, lounging, and playing kubb, we went into the center, where Anna got to open her next letter… and then all the girls whisked her off to Make Up Store on Lille Fiskegatan.

As a sidenote, Make Up Store is pretty awesome. It seems like every Swede that I’ve talked to about make up thus far goes to Make Up Store and swears by it. Not like make up is a constant topic of conversation over here, but you get the point. I’ve never seen one in the US, but maybe it will make its way over the Atlantic soon.

At Make Up Store with our rockstar bride-to-be.

At Make Up Store, Anna was made up to look like a rock star, but the guys were busy on their own, secretly transporting people’s bags to the train station and sending them ahead with an advance group to the airport. Anna still had no idea what would be happening during the rest of the day as we headed towards the train station for a mystery destination.

(to be continued)

From Påssjuka to Paris… a week of swelling and love

Getting the mumps is not fun

Yes, I was immunized. Yes, I still got the mumps. As an adult. And in Sweden, of all places. Apparently the virus for the mumps is just always floating around in the air and you can just get unlucky and contract a strain of the mumps that you weren’t immunized against

The Swedish word for mumps is “påssjuka,” just in case you ever get the mumps in Sweden. Even though Dr. Per, my doctor at the local clinic, spoke really good English with a totally delightful Texan-Swedish accent, he couldn’t think of the translation off the top of his head. Fortunately, my itsy-bitsy teeny-tiny Swedish-English dictionary had the translation for påssjuka, which is odd but lucky. It made me feel a lot better to know what was going on with my face, even though the mumps diagnosis made me feel strange. I mean, seriously… I felt like I had been time-warped back to the 20th century or whatever.

On the plus side, having the mumps meant I wasn’t going to die from a sudden attack of cancer or a spider bite. (I am becoming more of a hypochondriac with every weird disease that I get, and I am seriously scared of Brazilian banana spiders. They attack when you least expect it.)

Basically, when you have the mumps, one or both sides of your face swell until you look like you’ve had your wisdom teeth removed again. Then you get tired and feverish and can’t eat without shooting pains from your ear to your neck. So I got really skinny for about four days, which would have been exciting if I had gotten all Kate Moss gaunt and hot looking, but my face was still rocking the chipmunk look so it didn’t happen.

I looked a lot like this kid, but more unhappy. My friend Katie sent me this picture.

Let me take this moment to remind you that I am currently living in Sweden where everyone is good-looking, healthy, and unaccustomed to freaky-looking people wandering in their midst. On the day that I had to go to the clinic and the pharmacy, I got a lot of horrified looks. After that, I stayed inside.

The other thing about getting the mumps at this precise moment during the summer is that I was supposed to take part in the world’s greatest bachelorette party, or “möhippa.” Two of my boyfriend’s close friends, Anna and Nils, are getting married in September, and Anna asked Simon to plan her bachelorette party for her. Which worked out really well for her, because instead of embarrassing her and making her sell hugs in the main square or something like that, 20 of her friends planned a two-day extravaganza that included 24 hours in Paris. The swelling in my face went down at the last possible moment, and I was able to take part. THANK GOODNESS.

The world’s greatest möhippa (Swedish bachelorette party)

The most crucial element of the Swedish bachelorette party (as it has been explained to me) is kidnapping the bride-to-be. She must not know when the party is taking place. The party planners might clear it ahead of time with her fiance or employer, but her fiance does NOT get to know what’s going to happen during the party. It’s all treated like a state secret among the party planners and participants.

Once you kidnap the bride, the traditions are less clear to me. It seems like basically you go through a couple of hours of embarrassing the bride and then you have a party. I’ve heard of the bride having to sell hugs or ask for marital advice from strangers in a public area, and it was pretty much the same in Vienna. A couple of times when I was out in Vienna, this group of women would approach us and try to sell us stuff from a box “to raise money for the wedding.” They sold really weird stuff, like razors and toothbrushes and stuff. If it were me, I would have really gone for the profit and sold sandwiches or something. Seriously. What do you want between 10 pm and midnight when you’re out partying?

Back to Anna’s möhippa. We “kidnapped” her in the morning by convincing her to take a walk with us into the center… She thought we were going with her to buy tulle for her wedding veil. Her friends were stationed all along the route between her apartment and the center. By the third station, Anna had realized that she wasn’t going to be getting any tulle. Along the way, her friends also delivered seven sealed letters for the different activities that would be taking place.

When the whole group was gathered, she opened the first letter…

Opening the first letter outside the city park (Stadspark).

 

(to be continued)

“Don’t call this Swedish” Pizza Salad (from Sweden)

Sorry for the extended delay. I had the mumps. (Really.) I’m better now.

So, in Sweden, there’s this strange stuff you get when you order a pizza. It’s like this gooey, squishy sack of… something. It comes in a plastic bag, and there’s definitely cabbage involved. Lo, it is ye olde pizza salad.

 

There’s a spectre haunting Swedish pizza — the spectre of Cabbage.

I don’t understand this pizza salad thing. I have yet to see anyone really eat it or approach it with any kind of enthusiasm. “Oh, look! My delicious pizza… and what an unexpected treat!! CABBAGE SALAD ON THE SIDE!” It just sort of sits there like a giant oily-cabbage mass, looking at you while you eat your delicious pizza, glaring at you resentfully with its googly eyes.

“I see you eating that pizza,” it says. “You think you can ignore me? Well, maybe you can. But I’m watching you, and I’m waiting, and one day…” And then it just trails off menacingly as the birds stop chirping and a cloud passes in front of the sun.

You try to convince the pizza salad that you will, in fact, eat it later, and you put it gently in the refrigerator, making sure the vacuum lock has really been activated before going to sleep for the night. But in the morning, it’s still there. Still waiting.

You sort of open up the bag to take a whiff and maybe entice someone else in the apartment to dig in. Despite the smell of cabbage wafting through the air, no one takes the first step to eat the pizza salad. It just sits there, getting angrier.

There are those who claim it’s good, even those who claim to eat it while waiting for their pizza… “Just try it!” they say. “It tastes a little like sauerkraut!” I’m not so sure.

 

Eating… a lot… in Vienna. For €5.

It’s almost the weekend, and I’ve been holding on to this gem for too long already. Do you want to know where you can eat as much as you want of good food for only €5… in VIENNA?

Der Wiener Deewan

I have had it up to here with people being like, “Oh, Vienna, that’s nice, but it’s sooooooooooooooo expensive!” Look. Europe is expensive. The Euro is expensive. Large cities are expensive. I am not interested in having this discussion anymore. If you want to travel and you don’t want to spend your inheritance, choose your countries, restaurants, and alcohol wisely.

Western Europe is more expensive than Eastern Europe or the Balkans. Denmark is more expensive than both, thanks to their amazing currency. Eating dinner at a restaurant is more expensive than eating lunch at a restaurant or buying food at a grocery store and having a picnic. Alcohol is extremely expensive in Scandinavia and basically dirt cheap in Vienna and Italy… as long as you are buying beer and wine. Don’t get a cocktail unless you’re willing to pay more! (And actually, if you’re in Vienna, go for the beer. Austrian beer is amazing.)

However, for the faint of heart or those easily overwhelmed by options… Der Wiener Deewan takes all the guesswork out of how to best spend your money. It is all-you-can-eat, pay-what-you-want Pakistani food. Meat and vegetarian options, rice, bread, salad, and hit-or-miss dessert. (This paragraph has a lot of hyphens in it.)

I am a poor starving expat, so I usually chose to pay €5. They don’t even blink an eye. Of course, if I weren’t a poor starving expat, I would probably pay more like €10, or if it were me returning to the mother ship after many years away having actually made some money, I would pay €15 or €20 to make up for past service. But that aside… you pay what you want, no questions asked.

The day’s menu is posted outside. This shows you that the buffet included chicken, lamb, chickpea curry, a potato and spinach dish, zucchini curry, and some sort of strawberry pudding for dessert.

It is easily the most delicious, cheapest, most filling option in all of Vienna as far as I know. End of story. And next time you start a conversation with a Viennese person, please, stop talking about how expensive it is. You have options!

And if you don’t have time to sit or it’s too crowded inside to get a seat, Der Wiener Deewan also sells take-out by the kilo.

To find the Wiener Deewan, get off the U-bahn at the U2 Schottentor stop. Head towards the street using the exit that is NOT filled with people. The exit that is filled with people will take you the the Vienna University, and you want to go in the opposite direction. The address is Leichtensteinstrasse 10, 1090 Wien, and it’s right next to a Mexican restaurant that is supposed to be good (I don’t know if I trust any Mexican food in Europe any more unless I’m making it). Good luck, and as the Viennese would say, Mahlzeit!

Der Wiener Deewan

Liechtensteinstraße 10
1090 Vienna, Austria


Visa större karta

Catching up with Thor at Viken, "the bay"

Last weekend, I went on a short day trip, and one of the places I stopped was Viken, which translates literally as “the bay.” It’s one of the many beautiful towns on the coast of the Öresund strait in southern Sweden that seem to have more boats than people if you visit during the day. During the summer nights, though, all the Stockholmers come out from their summer cottages to party… or so the legend goes. 
I did see Thor in Viken, however… being his “manly man” self and pulling a fish out of the water. (I was studying Swedish this morning and discovered that the phrase “manly man” exists in Swedish, too. “Manliga man.” Love it.)
Viken is really close to Höganäs, a town famous for its ceramics industry. It’s all very simple and beautiful–mostly earth colors and simple shapes. You can find their products at their company website, or you can just search for Höganäs Keramik. There are hundreds of sellers online.

I went to Höganäs during a trip to Sweden over Christmas/New Year’s 2008/2009, and I bought the mug you see below in four different colors for my college roommates and myself at the outlet store. I don’t think they’re making the colors that I bought anymore, but they were super cute and dishwasher-safe. Now my mug is packed away with the rest of my things at my parents’ house while I am traveling the world.
Anyway, back to Viken… It’s not in my Lonely Planet Sweden book, so I had to do some extra research to find out more about the town. As it turned out, I did a lot of research, but I didn’t find that much. As one travel site said, Viken “receives very few travelers, and it’s among Sweden’s least visited destinations. Travelers generally stick to more popular destinations in the area. If you do travel to Viken, please add your favorite spots in this Viken travel guide.” So you get an idea of what is out there.
Along the way, I discovered a few interesting things, though, including this video by Håkan Dahlström. He clearly spent much more time there than I did. (I just got out of the car, took a little walk, and then continued on to more adventures in Kullaberg… more on that later).
Håkan Dahlström also posted the following amazing photo: 
My picture of the harbor, not quite as amazing. But it gives you an idea. 
Probably the easiest way to get to Viken is to drive. There is also a bus. From walking around, I saw a few bars and restaurants–the fish is probably amazing here. It’s too bad I didn’t get to stay longer and see more, but I got the feeling that this is the sort of place where you relax and hang out with your friends and family rather than do intrepid touring… 

This time last year…

 
Almost exactly one year ago, I was sitting exactly where I am sitting THIS VERY INSTANT. But one year ago, I was headed to County Cork, Ireland, to meet up with some of my friends from Perugia, Italy, where we all studied Italian at the Università per stranieri (the “University for Foreigners”) for one semester. It’s strange to write “one semester,” because I think we all had experiences that seemed to go far beyond what you would expect to occur within the bounds of one semester. Anyway, I spent six months there, and it was just one of the most amazing, alive periods of my life. The friends I made there are still some of the most important people in my life. And our reunion was just incredible.
We spent the first day in Cork as we all flew in from different places around the world–Boston, New York City, Amsterdam, the Hague, and Lund. Then we jumped in rented cars and drove into the countryside, all the way out to Goleen, Ireland… way out on the southwestern tip of the island. We stayed at our friend’s house there–we hung out, went hiking, cooked enormous dinners, went out to the bars, went to the beach, everything. Everything was so easy and it was so fun being there with all of the friends that we hadn’t seen in at least a year. (Easy for me… not so easy for the drivers. The roads there were ridiculous.)
So now I’m itching to go back. I wish I could just magically transport us all back there for another week together.

On the top of Maura’s mountain
The view from Maura’s front porch
Ahh! What a great trip. Friends, breathtaking views, discovering Irish culture (mostly bars… but still), enjoying the time and the place together… all in all, an unforgettable trip.