Brick Walkway Blues

Our house has two brick walkways and a brick patio.  I prefer the look of brick to the look of cement.  I like the darker appearance and the more old-fashioned feel that you get from brick.

These positive attributes come at a cost, of course.  When spring rolls around, you just have to reconcile yourself to the reality that, at several points during the spring and summer months, you will have to weed the cracks between the bricks — because those tiny slivers of earth seem to be the most fertile ground imaginable.  Is there some magical property of brick that encourages the growth of grass and unwanted plants?  And, in deference to Penny, we can’t really apply powerful herbicides.

All weeding sucks, of course, but weeding the cracks between bricks is like weeding, squared.  It is a precise operation where you have to grasp the weed at its base next to the brick and then gently pull straight up to try to get the roots, too.  Gardening gloves don’t really work because they are too bulky.  This delicate bare-handed process always results in fingertips and palms scraped against the roughness of the brick, as well as an aching back and sore hamstrings from being hunched over during the endless series of careful extractions.

When you have finally finished, the walkways and patio look great, but you know it is just a matter of time before you are going to have to do it again.  Such are the burdens of the brick walkway owner.

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Eurotrip 2011: Lisbon and Porto

The riverfront in Porto.

I had a feeling that I would like Portugal. Like Istanbul and Athens, my two favorite cities from the first half of my trip, Portugal seemed like it would be “on the edge” of Europe, so it would have a less touristy, more intimate vibe, inside and outside the hostels. My intuition proved to be correct; Portugal was one of the best parts of my trip so far.

I spent six days in Portugal – three in Lisbon, three in Porto. Both cities were beautiful, thanks to plenty of hilly views, non-stop sunshine, and to the Portuguese custom of covering the outsides of buildings with colorful tiles. Unfortunately, the Portuguese also have a less pleasant custom of making their sidewalks out of bits of slippery tiles.

The Portuguese tile style.

More tiled buildings.

Lisbon was great, but gritty. Its oceanfront is taken up by a busy road and some decrepit buildings. It’s impossible – for a young man, at least – to take a walk without a few guys coming up to you and whispering “hashish, marijuana, coke.”

The main thoroughfare in Lisbon.

Another view of Lisbon.

Porto was my favorite of the two cities. In fact, it would rank near the top of my list of my favorite destinations on my trip. It has a beautiful riverfront with steep banks occupied here and there by layers of buildings, many of them abandoned and falling apart, but in a charming way (for some reason, deteriorating buildings look good in Europe but not in America). There are many tall bridges spanning the river, including one designed by Gustav Eiffel. Porto’s riverfront is one of the places that gave me a specific sensation that I’ll always remember.

Porto's riverfront.

The view of the riverfront from the top of Eiffel's bridge.

An abandoned building by the river.

Porto also has many lovely churches which use the tiled-exterior style.

I turned 25 the day I arrived in Porto, so I got a nice seafood dinner, compliments of my mom and dad. A pair of American couples at the table next to mine struck up a conversation with me, and when they learned it was my birthday they bought me a slice of cake.

Strangely, one of my favorite things about Portugal was that there weren’t many famous museums and historical sights that I felt obligated to go to. The only item on my agenda was to enjoy the beauty and the culture. This came at a welcome time; after traveling more than two and a half months, I was starting to feel a little burnt out. I took lots of naps, especially in the hammock they had in the backyard of my hostel in Lisbon.

I did some sightseeing, however. I took a daytrip from Lisbon to Sintra, where I hiked up to a 9th-century Moorish castle with a wonderful view of the surrounding countryside.

The Moorish castle.

Both of the hostels I stayed in were big hits. In Lisbon I stayed at the Lisbon Chillout Hostel. You already know that it was awesome because I mentioned that it had a backyard with a hammock. My hostel in Porto was the the Yellow House hostel. The hostels reminded me of my hostels in Istanbul and Athens in that they were small, they had great hang-out areas, and the staff socialized with the guests a lot. They both had breakfasts that were beyond anything I expected from a hostel at this point – an unlimited supply of cereal, toast, coffee and orange juice. Having gone more than two months without cereal, which is a major part of my diet in the United States, I ate about two bowls a day.

The chillout area of the Lisbon Chillout hostel, with hammock.

One of the employees at my hostel in Porto told me that there weren’t any hostels in Portugal until a few years ago, so all the hostels there are new. Maybe that’s why both my hostels were so good – they haven’t realized that hostel guests don’t expect to get an unlimited supply of cereal with their breakfast.

On the 28th I finally said goodbye to Latin Europe. I took a flight to Paris, and from there I took a train to Bruges, my current location.

Eurotrip 2011: Madrid

Eurotrip 2011: Barcelona

Eurotrip 2011: Rouen, Le Havre and Paris

Eurotrip 2011: Paris

Eurotrip 2011: Nice and Marseille

Eurotrip 2011: Venice and Milan

Eurotrip 2011: Interlaken

Eurotrip 2011: Florence and Pisa

Eurotrip 2011: Rome pt. 2

Eurotrip 2011: Rome pt. 1

Eurotrip 2011: Palermo

Eurotrip 2011: The Journey To Palermo

Eurotrip 2011: Santorini and Athens

Eurotrip 2011: Athens

Eurotrip 2011: Istanbul

Playing the Penny Slots

Back in March Bob and Kish went to the Greenbrier Hotel in West Virginia for a brief getaway. I remember seeing a post card from Kish on mom’s kitchen table saying how she thought mom would love the place so thanks to the suggestive post card and the mention of somewhere for mom to spend some of her vast fortune it got the wheels turning. This past Sunday several family members and I headed down to West Virginia to check the place out.

I had done a little research on the internet before going and saw the Greenbrier had just recently added a casino with Blackjack tables, a craps table and multiple slot machines. Typically in the past when visiting casinos in Vegas I would only play the table games, but any more playing the table games has become much more expensive. I had a friend who played only penny slots, so I joined her in doing so and I really enjoyed myself. Earlier this year when I was down in St Marteen, I made up my mind to only play penny slots.

Below is an interesting video about penny slots and their new found attraction with the downturn in the economy so it looks as though my friend and I are not alone. People find it hard to believe when I tell them I won close to one thousand dollars playing the penny slots at the Greenbrier, but it can pay off.

In the old days you dropped a penny in the slot, pulled the arm and waited to find out if you were a winner, but not any more. With the resurgence of the penny slot, there has also come a reinvention of the penny slot by the gaming industry. You now have many choices as to how many lines you want to play and whether or not you want to multiple your bet. On some penny slots you can spend as much as ten dollars a spin or more. So it’s not really a penny slot any more, in fact most penny slots you can no longer bet a penny.

So next time you visit the casino have some cheap fun and check out the penny slots. It’s a good time and your money will hopefully last a little longer.