Essen Spiel

This is going to roll a couple of days all into one post. Mostly because the train ride to Germany was fairly uneventful and we basically stumbled our way to the hotel and just relaxed. And then the next two days were walking through the Spieltage and taking breaks from walking through the Spieltage. 

We are very lucky, with a hotel right next to the train station so the amount of lugging luggage was minimal. Although the new luggage that we got has been great and I’m very happy we got it. 

I think this is the third time that I’ve been lucky enough to make it to Essen Spiel. The first time was maybe 7 or 8 years ago. It seems very different. I’m not sure, but the energy seems a bit different. I wonder if it has to do with the industry or the media around the industry maturing, but the first visit it seemed the crowds were much more exploring to find something interesting...this year it seemed that a large majority had an idea and were focused on getting somewhere specific. I think there was still the desire to see if the game met a person’s liking but it was more “I want to try this game I’ve heard about that sounds interesting to me” rather than “oh, this game looks interesting. I wonder if I will like it.” 

The convention does seem to have grown, but I don’t think to the same extent that Gen Con has grown. Gen Con has seemed to have become massive and sprawling, Essen more dense and tightly packed growth. (That isn’t to say that Gen Con isn’t definitely is.)


One Day in Paris

Travel has normally been something that I do at a relaxed pace or at least try to. This trip has been a bit of a whirlwind. It feels like we had just moments in London before we were on our way, and Paris we had even less time. Basically arrive late afternoon on one day, one full day in the city, and an early morning train out the next day. Not what one would generally consider an ideal amount of time to see a city with so many pieces of history, so much food, and so many things to wander around and take in. 

However, a single day with the right people keeping you company can still lead to an ideal day. 

Wake up perhaps just a little later than you intended, so you get to enjoy knowing you are on vacation. Walk through a lovely park with that has enough other people that you know it is a well-enjoyed park but it doesn’t feel crowded. If possible, have cross-fitters at the far side of the park jumping relentlessly up and down stairs, so you can mock them because (a) you are on vacation and (b) you are walking to a boulangerie to eat bread and pastries that contain more calories than they can hope to burn off. 

When you arrive at said patisserie (we found Boulangerie Poilâne exceeded expectations) order just a bit more than you should. Share with everyone at the table.

Upon finishing breakfast, start walking to a patisserie. Because, why not have more pastry?

Stop at a bookstore. If possible, a bookstore with a large children’s book section. A bookstore with a large children’s section has hope as well as books. (A side note, if this bookstore is someplace where you are not fluent in the language, you will very likely feel some regret and try to convince yourself that buying books in a foreign language is okay. Or that may just be me.) 

Realize that if you just go out of your way by a block there is a giant sculpture garden you can meander through, so that you build up a bit of an appetite for the next round of pastry. Do this. 

Meander. Meander with friends, on your own, and with your spouse. That is, take enough time to meander in many different ways, 

Go to the next pastry shop. Be briefly disappointed that they did not have “what they are known for” because you are not there on the right day. Order two different things to compensate for this disappointment. Eat those pastries as soon as a bench or some other location makes it available to sit down. 

I also recommend preparing ahead, have tickets to something that sound fun. Something that isn’t listed in every “top ten” list. We chose the Ateliere des Lumieres.

We realized this meant that we should take our pastry filled selves and head towards the exhibit. We then spent an hour, surrounded by lights, people sharing the same experience we were having, and just a general sense of wonderment.

Conclude with more pastry and a big dinner filled with conversation. 

You may not see everything in Paris, but what you saw will have been worth it. 

The English Channel - Underneath It

As with most travel days, not much to say. The travel was nice, the company was nice. It is such a difference traveling via train vs traveling via airplane. It just feels smoother and more relaxed, which is odd since there are probably more jolts and “turbulence” on the train but it doesn’t feel unexpected because there is a connection with what is being moved over. In an airplane, any change comes unexpectedly. That might need some more thought, but at least top of the mind musings lean in that direction. 

We arrived in Paris and everything seems palatial and old. All the buildings feel as if they were built for a different era and no amount of modern merchandise inside a shop window will pull the building forward in time. We drove past a modern building (it looked like a new opera house) and it was striking how much it stood out from everything else, which all felt as if there were centuries behind them. 

Suzie had found a very lovely Air BnB for us to stay in. Five flights of stairs with full luggage are a lot of stairs. Note: counting stairs, and whether platforms or landings factor into the total stair count has been a running joke. Although after five flights, it was more a gasping-for-air joke. Product endorsement: Scott and I picked up some new luggage for the trip, Away, and it has been great.  I was willing to say I still liked it after hauling it up the stairs. Although a big thanks to David, who came and assisted for the last two flights.  :) 

After that, everyone rested briefly and then everyone except me went out to wander the area. I wanted to catch up on some writing, since as may be apparent all of these blog/journal postings are several days behind when they actually happened. Plus, at least for how my brain works, it was very nice to just get to sit in a comfortable space with room and quiet and no crowds or bustling about. 

David and Suzie were very generous (Scott was as well, but he married into my craziness of liking to plan food places to try) and had let me make reservations for our first night. We went to Breizh Creperie. It was excellent, a chef/restaurantuer who is very focused on the produce and heritage of his home area, as well as how those same ingredients are used elsewhere in the world. Which for us meant buckwheat crepes, Cancale cheeses and cider, and an occasional Japanese influence integrating the use of buckwheat flour in both Cancale and Japanese food traditions. The crepes were earthy with a strong buckwheat forward flavor, the cheeses ranged from creamy to aged and sharp. The cider was something that I could drink every night. Both Scott and I got a simple country crepe, buckwheat crepe with comte cheese, topped with sliced ham and a fried egg. It was really satisfying. 

Of course there were also desert crepes, wheat crepes with all sorts of selections of toppings. Scott went on a riff of what I considered bananas foster, Suzie with a salted caramel and ice cream, David started his whirlwind of rhubarb experiences, and I went super simple, drizzled honey and lemon. A very comfortable way to leap into Paris. 

The appetizers and cider at Breizh Cafe. 

The appetizers and cider at Breizh Cafe. 

While I probably would have been willing to consider that sufficient for me and crawled into bed, the Eiffel Tower and a internet sash/purse subculture called us out into the night. I know that sounds strange, but it is a true account of the evening. Text messages, a type of bag, and jumping into the air in front of the tower was about to happen...but I would only be a witness.  :) 

What I did get to participate in, was seeing the Eiffel Tower lit up, walking along the Sienne with my husband and being serenaded by an awful, awful troupe of French Horn players. I’d say 20 to 30 amateur horn players, gathered under a bridge. I think they were trying to play one song, but good heavens it sounded as if they were playing four songs simultaneously and off-key. It was beautiful in just how awful it was. 

Visiting Family

Sunday in London, our first day of actually getting to sleep in and feel like we are on vacation. A slow start and a leisurely wander over to visit Scott’s niece and family. It was an incredibly fun visit and hopefully we did not take up too much of their time. They have two young boys, so time is definitely a precious commodity for them...the days must zip by with all that needs to be done to take care of the two kids. And they were such awesome kids to get to hang out with. 

We brought them odd gifts from the U.S. and also snuck in some of the trashiest U.S. candies we could think of, although we didn’t hand those off to the kids directly. We figured that would be up to the parents on how horrible of Uncles we could actually be.  <grin> 

We had a very nice home cooked meal prepared for us, then got to wander to an area park (the first choice was sadly closed for pumpkins carving and lighting) but the open area we found was great to hang out and chat and watch the older of the two boys play. 

Since I’m now sure how they feel about having the kids pictures posted (or even having their own pictures posted) I’m not going to share any of the pictures, but I have to say that some really really sweet photos were taken of Scott with his nephew and of all of us together. 

After that, we got to wander some more and ended up with the other family in London. We made our way to Kevin and Laura’s house, and David and Suzie were there having finished their grand Indian dinner excursion. As a bonus, we got to talk via video call with Shannon. The evening then ended with a video of one of Suzie’s favorite comedians and a quick tube ride back to our hotel. Tomorrow is onward to France and the TGV. 

Stonehenge and Oxford

Ways to combat jetlag...waking up at 6:00am to make it to a car rental reservation.  This has now been tested and verified as an unsuccessful method. But we did it, and we made it to our reservation on time. Scott drove in the UK for the first time and handled it smashingly, with no actual smashing involved. 

David, Suzie, Scott and I did the drive to Stonehenge, with Kevin and Laura in a separate car and zooming ahead of us.  Apparently one should not get involved in a landspeed contest with Mr. O’Shea. <grin> 

While the morning started very early, it let us have what seemed the typical English countryside experience. We got to see some wide open mist filled countryside. Moody, possibly with enough time coming across as a little dreary but for those of us who aren’t used to was perfect. And then our powers of California won out and the English October day became a beautiful spring day. Seriously, we are talking t-shirt weather, possible sunburn, and gorgeous blue sky. You couldn’t really ask for a more beautiful view of Stonehenge.  


We got to wander around, I got to see something that I’d always hoped to see and do it with folks who are very important to me.  That is a pretty amazing gift. 

And then...


Always had been a pretty geeky shock to anyone. I’d for awhile thought I would get to escape to Oxford and go to school there and be one of the people in all the British kid’s lit stories that I loved so much. Or even the American kid’s lit stories that copied the British style. Studying, getting to walk seaside or cliff side or across moors. Studying ancient manuscripts.  So, seeing that Oxford was having a special exhibit on Tolkien and his work going into making Middle-Earth, it seemed a perfect signal that at least I could make it to visit, and see what that childhood dream life was like for someone who lived it.

We drove from Stonehenge to Oxford.  And when I say “we,” I mean Suzie. Who ended up having to navigate and handle the insane parking lots of Oxford, which she handled with aplomb. Sadly we arrived a fair bit later than expected, parking was a bit much more challenging, and the distance a good walk. So, we arrived a bit late and the exhibit was running far behind schedule. Luckily we did have tickets to the exhibit to get it, but it meant that there wasn’t really much time to see Oxford proper, the campus, the grounds, etc. The exhibit was quite interesting, very well curated but very poorly  organized.  Our best guess is that they weren’t expecting the level of crowds and ended up possibly having to utilize a different entrance or flow then the galleries to planned??? But it meant that every exhibit you lined up for, you were at the end of the exhibit and progressed through it backwards. So if you wanted to see the exhibit in the proper order you had to jump the queue and then “swim” against the flow.  But still worthwhile. 

With the long day, we were all quite hungry and tired. Suzie and Laura had done some information gathering while the rest of us were at the exhibit and found two of JRR Tolkien’s old haunts, The Eagle and Child and The Lamb. Neither of which had room for us.  But it was still cool to get to wander in and see.  We then found the nearest pub that provided food and ate quickly and wearily hopped back in the car to make the way back to London. 

While, that should have been enough for one day, instead we got to end on an unexpectedly high note. Gabe let us know that he was available that evening and we got to have a lovely nightcap that he provided (bringing my favorite gin) and getting to share stories. It was amazing to get to chat and get just hear stories and catch-up.  Cheers! 



Muggles at the WB

Day one of the travel adventures, an early morning train ride out of London to catch a shuttle to the Warner Brothers Harry Potter studio tour. I’m trying to think of the last studio tour that I took...I think it was the Universtal Studios studio tour in Hollywood back when I was in elementary school? 

 So, in an appropriate double-decker bus we rolled up to the studio. It was fun. It was great to be seeing the sets, the attention to detail and design that went into even some of the smallest or far in the background elements. The best part was getting to be there with Scott and David and Suzie. This is the first international trip for Scott and I, and the first time that I get to a big trip with two of my best friends (yay, David and Suzie). matter what the tour brings, things are pretty magical.

Yes, we did try Butterbeer. I’d say it is butterscotch soda with frothy butterscotch pudding on top. Glad I tried it, I would not call it “refreshing.” 

We made it back to London following the tour and headed to our friends’, Kevin and Laura, house. Very nice neighborhood and home. Oddly enough we had to wait very, very briefly for Kevin to get back from the airport as he had just flown in from San Jose. Being a much sturdier soul than I am, he was still up for traveling around and we all headed to Bouroughs Market, pastries, meats, produce, cheeses, candies, prepared foods, etc. etc. It is such a great place to wander through.

We chatted and walked past the new Globe Theatre, the Millenium Bridge (and an amazing view of the Tower Bridge, the Shard, and the moon hanging overhead). Gabe joined us and as we went from the Millennium Bridge to St. Paul’s cathedral. Between the two was an surprising but very on-theme public art exhibit of giant (maybe 11 feet tall) wands of different characters from Harry Potter. Lined up so that they formed sets of arches that you walked under as you made your way to the cathedral. So, a nice continuation of the Harry Potter day. 

Still, we did not make it to the cathedral. You would think that a short 100+ feet would be easy to cover for distance but yet again another public work...this time, an exercise spot? Or an area for kids to play?  Not sure, but it definitely distracted us, and we got to learn that Suzie has core strength to rock the world. 

 We ended the walk with a gorgeous view of St. Paul's Cathedral. 

The evening ended with a recommendation for meat pies and a nice walk further through London. 

The Night Before (and the Day of) Travel

So, the trip is going to be exciting and I’m thinking most of the posts and discussions are going to be positive but this is going to be about the joy of traveling with anxiety. The travel companion that you can’t leave at home. 

Winston after two walks

Winston after two walks

And it is something that you unfortunately share with everyone around. It makes me cranky, constantly feeling angry, unsettled and worried about everything. It leaves the mind whirring where it is impossible to determine if a concern that is being raised by your brain is an actual concern or something that the anxiety is tossing out as a thought to keep you from going and doing something. And, yes...everyone has these sort of thoughts to some extent (or at least I assume they do) but for me they are non-stop. Multiples and multiplying. Are the dogs going to be okay, will a panic attack occur on the plane, will I be in another plane crash, will something happen to the house, will... And this message just plays over and over repeatedly until at some point you inadvertently snap at someone or something happens that comes out as a focal point that you have a theoretical reason to complain to someone about.

And it affects others as well, both dogs have been completely on edge the past couple of days. Neither wanting to leave my side for a second. Winston having digestive issues. Blah blah blah.

Bluebelle - the guardian following me everywhere

Bluebelle - the guardian following me everywhere

It creates a dynamic where I’m left excited and horrified about the prospect of the trip all at once. And feeling horrible for those who have to be around me while the anxiety spin just ramps up more and more. You breathe, you do all the tricks to keep it in check, and in the end you have to figure out how to move forward although the entire force of your brain tries and tell you that that forward movement means something horrible is going to happen and it is your fault for not being prepared for it.