Gay news, Expedia opens gay store, Harvey Milk dayMoscow Pride satanic, Gay blood ban

22 05 2010

Travel site Expedia.com has opened a Gay Travel Store on their website since yesterday on http://www.expedia.com/daily/gaytravel/default.asp. They partner with International Gay&Lesbian Travel Association to help find and identify gay-friendly hotels all over the world. I just had a look and it is pretty cool except for the fact that with hotels in for instance NY or Amsterdam I do not understand why some hotels are listed as gay-friendly and others not…. What qualifies as being gay-friendly? I probably keep (small)luxury hotels of the world as my number 1 but this might be a good alternative.

Today is the first Harvey Milk Day. It is only an official holiday in California but all over the U.S there are parties and events. As most of you know he was the first elected openly gay official in the U.S and was killed shortly after. People that do not know the importance of Harvey, should watch the movie Milk or one of the documentaries made about his life. Celebrations in his beloved Castro neighborhood will be biggest but also in LA, San Diego and NY marches and events for equality will be held. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will kick off a fundraiser in SF on Market Street. Yesterday she promised DADT would be over by the end of the year. Hope she can keep her promise. Below Milk Screenwriter Dustin Lance Black about the importance of Harvey Milk.

For the 5th year in a row Moscow Gay Pride was banned by Mayor Yury Luzhkov. According to him it is satanic and he will do everything to stop the event May 29. Moscow authorities have also blocked the website promoting the pride, GayRussia.Ru. How democratic.

There might come an end to the FDA approved ban on gays giving blood donations. The Department of Health and Human services wants to hear presentations and engage in deliberations on the topic. Since september 1985 men who had sex with men(even once) were not allowed to donate. This change would be about time, there are tons of monogamous gay men who are HIV-negative and can donate.

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Brussels

3 05 2010

Last weekend me and my boyfriend made a trip to the beautiful capital of Belgium. Even though it is my neighboring country and I have been all over Europe, strangely enough I had only visited Brussels twice before at night, to party. From Amsterdam it is only 1.5 hours with the Thalys and it really feels very different from Holland. The first night I was alone because my hubby was still on his way through Europe to get to Brussels(it was the week after the start of the volcano trouble).I walked over the magnificent Grand Place with numerous intriguing century old buildings. Lots of gold and amazing details. Then a quick bite to eat at a brasserie, duck in a beer broth and later on some of the best ice-cream I ever had, with a gingerbread flavor. After that I had a quick walk though the gay area of Brussels, which was fun. Lots of flirting going on, always good for the ego. I definitely miss that from NY, here where I live in the Netherlands I go weeks without seeing many gays(or none at all) sometimes. Our hotel was the luxurious Rocco Forte Amigo where the beds were very comfortable. Next morning I finally saw my boyfriend and it always feels extra great to see each other after a longer absence. We got some coffee, soft-drinks and sandwiches at a nice little bakery in the sun and planned the rest of our day. First we did some shopping and bought a cool retro orange/black messenger bag for myself and a new digital camera. We had lots of pictures so shoot and nothing to do it with at the time(2 of them are in NY) so it was a necessity. Then it was time for lunch already and we went to a small place recommended by the concierge of the hotel and it was phenomenal. My boyfriend had the best casserole with lots of meat and beans he ever had( and he had a lot) For myself there was rabbit rillette as a starter and sole in a creamy sauce for my main. After that it was off for a long walk to burn some calories, through the picturesque city center. Beautiful churches, pedigreed lawns/parks and the palace of the Belgian royal family. Not as pretty as the British one but still worth seeing. At night we had reservations at a 2-star Michelin restaurant. That means in general for foodies like us a good time but this was one of the most mediocre Michelin star restaurants we ever ate. The amuses were uninspiring, the fish-sauce too fat and the sweetbreads a bit bland. The silverware was very chic as was the interior but the service was not up to par while they were pretending to be very formal. Empty glasses were not filled on time and the bottles were out of reach for us, napkins were not refolded after toilet visits nor did people get any assistance sitting down. Don’t get me wrong the food was ok and some of the formalities are not important to me at all, but expectations from a 2 star are pretty big. We had a great night together nonetheless The next day the weather was again very nice (sunny and 70’s) and after a nice breakfast at one of the many outside cafe’s surrounding the Grand Place we thought it was time for some culture and went to 2 museums. The first one was a beer museum, perfect for my beer-loving boyfriend. The showed how some of the famous Belgian beer was brewed in the past and present and it ended with a tasty local beer. Not too shabby huh? Belgium is famous for his comic books and I read many of them as a kid. The cartoon-museum featured some of my favs like Suske and Wiske and Tintin but I expected a bit more. It is worthwhile for families but I would not recommend it for only adults. Then we walked fo another hour or so, bought some of the famous Belgian chocolate for family and had a farewell lunch at out spot from saturday afternoon. Another hearty feast was served and eaten to the last little crumb. All in all I would totally recommend people to visit Brussels, maybe in combination with the medieval beauty Brugge for a long weekend.





Iceland volcano ash plume causes huge travel problems

16 04 2010

The volcano is still giving off ash and archeological researchers think it can be days or weeks until it is done. Whether it causes airplane delays for that long depends on the wind. The 3 biggest airports in Europe are closed, London Heathrow, Charles de Gaulle in Paris and Frankfurt, Germany.(Amsterdam’s Schiphol as well). My boyfriend is marketing in europe this week and already had huge problems. Yesterday he was supposed to fly to London from Frankfurt but now he has to go with the train to Brussels today(yesterday all was booked)and then take the Eurostar train to London. And my brother-in-law is stuck in Tokyo. Lots of people are stranded on the airport or have to find expensive hotels. Most hotels around the airports are already fully booked. Volcanic ash in a plane’s engine becomes molten glass and clogs the, causing complete shutdown.





Travel(tuscany)

30 05 2009

Tuscan Adventure

 

Driving over the narrow cobblestone streets of the beautiful town-center of Siena, is anything but pretty. It’s like pushing a fat sausage through a keyhole. I totally regret the Red Bull I drank, because I thought I needed to be alert and focused as driving through Florence required. Now I’m jittery and I go about a mile an hour because of the hordes of people. The tourists in their tacky outfits right next to the car and the locals dressed immaculately a couple inches in front of me, talking loudly to each other and acting like they don’t have a care in the world.

My friend says he can’t wait to get to our hotel and drink a bottle of Brunello, the great local red wine, to calm the nerves. I need a couple tranquillizers at this point. But will we ever get there? I am this close to getting out of the car and missing out on one of the most marvelous towns in the world. Could a near nervous breakdown be worth it?

We decided to go to this part of Italy, because it catered to all of our needs to have a fabulous vacation. The food is known to be one of the best in the world, as is the wine. The scenic beauty rivals the best of any other European country, and the cities and small towns are extremely picturesque. Also, definitely in the central and eastern part of Tuscany that we are covering, the art treasures are just breathtaking.

We started our trip in the most famous Tuscan city, Florence. A place known for the piazzas, palazzos and all round great history. We stayed at the Grand Hotel Villa Medici, walking distance from the city centre. The Medici family was one of the most powerful families in Tuscan history and this former 18th century villa had many memories from that glorious time. The rooms were decorated with priceless antiques and paintings from the family’s rich history. The lobby had thick red carpet with embroidery patterns and huge impressive chandeliers. The reason that we chose this hotel was because it was the only one in the city center with an open- air pool. The water in the pool with a surrounding lush garden was unfortunately extremely cold, so not wanting to risk a cardiac arrest diving in, only our feet went in the water for our entire stay there.

We began our sightseeing at the heart of Florence, the Piazza del Duomo consisting of the Duomo, the Baptistry and the Campanile.  The Baptistery, one of Florence’s oldest buildings is very impressive inside with its colorful ceilings, but its engraved paneled golden outside door is simply jaw-dropping.  The tall and narrow Campanile is extremely picturesque as well, with its green, white and pink marble exterior.

After eating a couple scoops of delicious gelato (who could resist those melting glaciers of color), it was time for some exercise so we decided to climb the stairs of the Duomo. And exercise it was on those narrow humid steps. We were happy we were there in the relatively-cool April and not in the middle of summer. It was all worth it in the end though after having such a fantastic birds-view over the city and it’s surrounding green hills.

We like to consider ourselves “foodies”, so that evening we had to try Enoteca Pinchiorri, often described as one of Europe’s best restaurants. The whole ambience with the very formal waiters and the richly decorated tablescapes was enough to make one feel queen for a day but the food even surpasses that. We had the tasting menu consisting of the freshest raw fish, buttery pasta with strong perfumes of thyme, succulent roasted pigeon and scrumptious desert courses. After diner we were also allowed a small tour of their impressive wine cellar, and by that time we were in heaven. It is certainly a special feeling being around bottles of wine that are worth more then a new sports car. 

If seeing teenage Asian girls with colorful outfits and wicked hairdos shrilly giggling at what might be the first penis they have ever seen does it for you, the Galleria dell’Accademia is where you have to be. Other then seeing the real version of the David by Michelangelo in his full glory, for us it was not worth the long waiting time to get in.

Hardly a one trick pony and more then worth its wait was the famous Uffizi, with an enormous collection of Renaissance paintings. That said though, there are only a certain amount of Madonna with child paintings one can see without being under-whelmed.

It was time to get outside and enjoy the beautiful sunny day. We walked to Florence’ oldest bridge, the Ponte Vecchio. It is amazingly cute with overhanging shops on either side where in the olden days the merchants had their ateliers and stores. Unfortunately this day the stores are noisy tourist traps with overpriced jewelry, linen and souvenirs.

Later we admired the great piazza’s (squares) Florence is rich in. Our favorite was the piazza della Signoria with its collection of statues. It’s like a museum and a tanning salon in one.

We ended the day at the lush Boboli gardens, at the other side of the river Arno. This park with it’s ancient cypress trees and adorable little sights is itself worth a visit, but the best part is the overlook from the surrounding Forte di Belvedere where you get the best possible view of Florence’s city centre. You see all the famous buildings in one snapshot.

The next day it was time to leave Florence and make our way to the Grand Hotel Continental in Siena, the heart of Tuscany. Getting there was not easy. Between the erratic Italian scooters and confusing traffic circles in Florence; the lush vineyards, olive groves and beautiful landscapes that made it hard not to stop on the way; and the before-mentioned narrow streets of Siena where we miraculously squeezed our car through, I don’t know which one made it the most difficult. It’s safe to say there is a reason that in the centre of Siena, cars are only allowed to get to your hotel and drop of the luggage.

Standing on the balcony of our hotel, a renovated 1600’s palazzo, all our nerves were quickly replaced by pure awe. With the brisk wind blowing in our faces, we were surrounded by a sea of red rooftops and rose-colored brick buildings. Things are still the same here as hundreds of year ago. It was a magical feeling. The rest of the hotel was very impressive as well, with the frescoed ceilings in our room, use of marble in the high ceiling dining area and private wine cellar for hotel guests.

Siena is a small city of steep medieval alleys that make it a great, but also tiring place to walk. We walked through the town in less than 2 hours. It is hard to believe that in medieval times, Siena was actually the more powerful city over the now much larger Florence. Its architectural style is feminine compared to the more masculine Florence, resulting in buildings and ornaments that are rounder, less square. We saw distinct small multi-colored houses, grand Villas and leftovers of the original ancient gates that used to protect the city. The centre of the town is the fan-shaped piazza del Campo. It is an uneven square surrounded by a white towered palazzo, yellow and red colored buildings some in Byzantium architectural style, little knick-knack stores and bustling cafes. The square was quite empty when we saw it, but every year it hosts a horse race between local competitors cheered on by thousands of spectators.

With some of the world’s richest harvest readily available to local chefs, it should come as no surprise that the culinary scene of Siena is so alluring.

Our most memorable meal was at the little known Cane e Gatto, or cat and dog. With its charming layout, unique art- and antique-filled dining room and only 6 tables, we knew this place had to be special. The old maestro was still running the kitchen with the help of his wife. There were no menus, which made it even more feel like eating at the home of an Italian family. While the place might have looked like an old thrift shop, the food was anything but old and dusty.

We feasted on a hearty cauliflower soup, creamy papardelle with local mushrooms and delicious moist roasted beef. After an exquisite meal we ended the evening in style by visiting the Siena Duomo. We definitely saved the best for last, because this church has got to be one of the most spectacular in the world. 

Red, black and white marble, filled with facades of saints and engravings that from a distance look like dripping wax, it is almost to magical to be real

Tuscany was everything we were hoping for and more. This area really does seem to have it all. The food is phenomenal, the landscapes are truly breathtaking and many of the wonderful little towns are museums in and of themselves. Traveling here during spring is also highly recommended. It is less touristy, not to hot to climb steep stairs or walk around and everything is in full bloom. A couple small nervous breakdowns here and there were so worth it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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travel

25 05 2009

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jackalope

jackalope

 A dutch guy in Colorado

 

 

 

 

 

After arriving in the humid blistering midday heat of a Colorado summer, at the homely decorated lobby (and I use that term very loosely) of the Econo-Lodge in Brush, the porky proprietress of this shabby joint asks us, upon looking at our new slacks and Italian shoes, what brings a couple guys like you to a place like this.

I asked myself that same question a couple of minutes earlier when, less then a mile from the motel, we saw a red sign on the side of the road that advises people not to stop for hitchhikers, since there is a state penitentiary across the street. I promise myself then to sleep with one eye open, while I envision being stabbed to death.

My boyfriend  grew up in Colorado and after showing him the joys of the Netherlands, where I is was born, it was time for him to return the favor and guide me through the great Centennial State. We would first visit the area where he was raised around Brush and Fort Morgan on the eastern plains, followed by a road-trip to Vail in the Rocky Mountains. We would end our journey in Colorado’s capital, Denver. It would certainly become an adventure with some things good, some bad and some truly awful. 

 

We walk up the metal steps of the Econo-Lodge and upon opening the hotel room, my first impression is cautiously optimistic. There is a wooden desk with a TV, a fridge, a red fluffy chair and a big bed with a blue flowery comforter. After closer inspection though, I see several bloodstains on the covers and shriveled brown insects on the floor while strong insect-spray scents are infiltrating my nostrils. The small window is open but there is no breeze and also no air-conditioning in sight.

I decide to freshen up my sloshing pits and change my drenched green shirt. When I open the bathroom door, I shriek like a girl. Throngs of huge brown moths – called millers by the locals – find there way out of the air filter and are violently waving their wings while circling me. Needless to say, I slam the door, yell to my boyfriend that I’m not going to stay here for another second and march out of the room to our car, fuming like a teakettle. He calmly follows me, calls some family and secures our night-rest within minutes.

Brush is a city with around 5,000 people, highlighted by a trailer park. Four of the ten stores in the city center are ‘antique’ shops. Parrish Galleries is the largest, and my friend had a classmate back in junior high who is the son of the owners. Every weekend as a kid, the guy had to go to markets all over Colorado with his parents to find new material for their store and upon entering it today we both can’t help but feel overtly sorry for him. The place smells like an old sock, the owners act grumpy and look ratty with ripped clothes, and all there is to see are rusty pots, broken plates and stained postcards. We leave the store as quickly as we came in. 

Our next stop is Fort Morgan, known to me as the “Smelly City”. The nickname is due to the fumes of its 3 factories; a sugar-beet factory, a meat-processing plant, and a sewage treatment center. Even though some of the houses are modernly designed and have well-groomed gardens, it is hard for me to fathom that my partner grew up here.

All I can see in this area is dry and rocky surface with thorny stickers everywhere, no rivers, no buildings of any significance. Everything seems so monotonous and it’s truly depressing to me.

It’s time to leave this part of Colorado behind and drive to the famous ski resort of Vail. The closer we get to the rocky Rockies, the more diverse the landscape becomes, with lush green hills, snow-capped mountaintops, clear lakes and rugged creeks.

We make a stop in Central City, a town that in the late 1800’s, during the Gold Rush, was one of the richest towns in the U.S. The Gold veins were soon exhausted though and most people lost their money quickly. That is exactly what we are doing behind the slot machines and black jack-tables that now are the backbone of the local economy. Our temporary companions were primarily fidgeting old brittle ladies, covered in cheap jewelry, with their eyes fixated on those machines. With every pull at the slot machine their gaunt faces grimace and their wrinkly claws get even veinier. The city tries to establish itself as the Vegas in Colorado but the only similarity is the gambling. Central City is still very low key, and because of old multi-colored brick buildings, narrow streets and the surrounding tree-filled mountains it looks more like a western town then a gambling Valhalla. The town’s main sight is the marble, balconied old opera house. It was build in 1870’s and during summer it functions as a theater.

The 8.4-mile steep and winding road we take to get back and forth from the highway to this old mining town was finished in 2004 to cater to the casino crowd. With the current financial state of most casinos due to the economic crisis, I suspect the city has some regrets over this extremely expensive development.

Vail makes this European feel right at home. The town is modeled in Austrian style, with wooden houses and stores, several cuckoo’s clocks and little knick-knack stores. There is something for all shoppers: original knives, clothing and souvenirs. And all that while being surrounded by scenic mountain beauty. We stop at a yellow colored brick restaurant where the waiting staff is dressed in lederhosen and Austrian costumes. The menu mainly consists of beer and hearty grub. All the outdoor air makes us feel hungry and we devour the tasty but fatty schnitzels in minutes. I immediately start to feel the altitude of this ski-resort though. It’s over 8000 feet and for someone originating from one of the flattest countries in the world this is a new experience. I have to catch my breath a lot more then normal.

Our hotel is the Ritz Carlton, a little out of the center in Bachelor Gulch. This luxury mountain resort is made of wood and stone and costs a small monthly wage a night in the winter, but since we are out of season the prices are a lot more reasonable. It has multiple stunningly decorated public areas with pristine antique vases, comfy leather sofas and huge chandeliers. Our suite, the size of a moderate New York apartment, has a separate country-chic living area, 2 private cozy fireplaces, a marble counter topped chef’s kitchen and a bathroom with the best smelling toiletries I have ever encountered in a hotel. The very friendly and helpful staff makes us feel even more privileged. 

While driving back from Vail to Denver we make a stop in a tourist trap called Georgetown to satisfy our empty stomachs. Like Central City this town reached its peak during the Gold Rush; now it’s known for an ancient scenic railroad, a neighboring great clear lake and buildings that are a bright pink, lime green and sunny yellow. Here I encounter two of Colorado’s trademarks. I see a bedazzling creature in a home decorating store that is a mix between a jackrabbit and an antelope. I look at it closely for a little while and my friend says it’s a jackalope. He tells me he used to go hunting for them when he was a kid. Luckily for me a store manager is nice enough to confirm my doubts about the authenticity of this creature and tells me enthusiastically it’s an ancient legend caused by sighting of rabbits with a virus that caused antler like tumors in various places.

We enter a typical Wild West saloon called the Red Ram where the décor is very traditional with simple wooden tables and chairs, a player piano and a spittoon. With Willy Nelson singing in the background, I order a moist perfectly seared Buffalo burger and my friend orders the oysters. I question his sanity to order raw seafood in a place so far removed from the ocean, but as the plate arrives, I understand this is something different. I see fried bull testicles on his white plate. I hesitate a couple minutes before trying a mouthful of this delicacy. The rich juicy organ meat flavor is not for everyone, but it’s not as bad as I feared either. This might not be the first testicle I’ve had in my mouth, but it certainly is the first one I swallowed.

From the city of Denver I only remember small details, because the night went by in a haze. While out for an otherwise delicious dinner of roasted rosemary chicken and crispy fingerling potatoes, I can’t even have a simple conversation without trying to catch my breath.

I tell my friend we have to skip dessert because I’m feeling worse by the second. While walking out of the restaurant I feel clammy and dizzy, my heart races literally 140 beats a minute and I think I’m loosing consciousness. I’m having a heart attack, I keep thinking; I’m going to die. We manage to get to the hotel where I quickly take 3 tranquillizers to calm me down a bit. I’m crying and moaning softly on the bed while laying in a fetal position. Meanwhile my boyfriend tries to comfort me and tells me I’m going to be ok. One hour goes by followed by another one, and finally after 3 hours I feel a little more calmed down and realize I’m not going leave Denver in a casket. My friend does a little research on the Internet and we come to the conclusion that this is altitude sickness followed by a major panic attack.

The next day I walk through Denver International airport like Anna Nicole Smith during her reality show days. I feel numb, drowsy, talk slurry and still have difficulty breathing. 

Sure it was really interesting to see where my boyfriend grew up. The hotel in Vail was like a dream come true, the old mining towns where we walked and gawked were memorable and I even learned a thing or two. Yet as I board the plane back to New York, I promise myself whole- heartedly never to set foot in Colorado again.