Wednesday, December 30, 2015


Klausjagen is an annual Swiss festival that I'd seen advertised for the past three years. Until 2015, I was always in the USA on December 5. Having traveled earlier this year, it was possible for a visit to Kussnacht am Rigi (name of small town) to see this event.
It takes place after dark which made it convenient for Tom to meet me on the train after work and head there together. Sadly, it was a drizzly night, but at least it wasn't pouring rain. Lots of folks were there to have some "brats" and wait for the procession. 

men in white will later be in the procession

just an alley - procession didn't go down it

the white shirted men have whips

The wait seemed very long and there was uncertainty among not only us as to when and where the procession would come. Eventually it came right past us.

From the very informative website
"On December 5, the eve of St. Nicholas' Day, the village of Küssnacht, on the shores of Lake Lucerne, glows in the light of some two hundred enormous, transparent bishops' miters, which have been artfully designed, cut out of cardboard, assembled, and lit by a candle from within. This Iffele, or headdress, is worn by the men, who accompany St. Nicholas on his way through the village."

The men walked very close together and as they went, they turned around. It made taking pictures of their headdresses very difficult. 

real candle inside

photo with flash shows full costume
many had St Nicholas on the headdress

I kept wondering why they were spinning and I'll never know the answer. There was plenty of beer flowing and I can't imagine the spinning was helping the men walk.

whip crackers in front
Before and in between the folks with the headresses, there were men walking along cracking whips. This seemed very dangerous to me. I have no idea how well they were paying attention to their aim. I had my hood up and head slightly to the side. It was definitely nothing to lose an eye over! If you've never had the opportunity to hear whip cracking up close and personal, rest assured it is very loud.

more whip crackers

There were also hundreds of men (and I don't think I'm exaggerating) carrying large cow bells and swinging them. This is also very loud. There seemed to be no reason for this sound other than to try to deafen us. Again, I was glad that my hood was at least partially protecting my ears.  (There is no picture of the bell carriers.)

Again from
"The streets echo with the sound of heavy bells carried by strong men, horn blowing, and especially the peculiar triad rhythm of a brass band accompanying the chant of Mänz, Mänz, Mänz, Bodefridimänz. Clemenz (Mänz) Ulrich tried unsuccessfully in the 1920s to convert the wild chasing of St. Nicholas by village youths into something more civilized. His successors had better luck in 1928, when they founded an association to maintain and preserve the Klausjagen custom" 

This was the oddest brass band I have ever experienced. They played the same pattern in unison for what seemed like ages, but was probably only 10-15 minutes.  For the musicians among you, it went like this: "do (halfnote), do (halfnote), do, mi, sol, mi (quarternotes), do (whole note).  Repeat ad infinitum. Or also known as 1, 1, 1, 3, 5, 3, 1 with same time values. There were a lot of people making this also very loud. Maybe that was a secondary theme of the day? I did not notice any chanting accompanying the instruments. To say it was monotonous is a huge understatement. I even had it stuck in my head after they passed!

Another loud group had cow horns. They randomly just "honked" on them. What an annoying sound. This continued as long as they were processing.

cow horn group

Finally, St. Nicholas appeared

After the procession passed, the crowd began to disperse and we headed back to the station for a train home. It was an odd event as so many Swiss festivals are. This time we were "underwhelmed" and glad we had not invited others to join us. We can check it off the list and don't need to go again!


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Moroccan Odyssey

Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca
Tom and I joined a National Geographic tour to Morocco in October. They called the trip "Moroccan Odyssey" and I decided to keep the name. It was a very interesting trip - so different than anywhere else we've been. It's definitely a third-world country. We were told not to drink the water, not to eat anything raw and not to buy food from street vendors. We did all those things and did not get sick. Remembering to use bottled water when brushing teeth is a challenge. 

Entering the country, we had to complete forms with basic personal information, where we were staying, etc.  I avoid using the term "housewife" as much as possible. Does Tom look like a house? I don't feel married to a house. This time I wrote "blogger" and they didn't question it! Cool!

Tom and I both took a lot of pictures - narrowing them down is difficult. I'm going to include many here. They will give an idea of the country: scenic landscapes, but also dirty, ugly areas with run-down buildings and trash on the ground; livestock in the fields and walking along in the cities; variety of modes of transportation whether safe for passengers or not; kinds of dress people wear from western to all levels of Arab coverings; mixture of modern and out-dated. What you will miss are the different smells (spices, animals, exhaust) and the sounds (calls to prayer five times daily). I've been told by some people that they like the pictures that include Tom and I the best. We made a point of taking at least one photo together each day. 

Warning - this is a very long post. No obligation to read the entire thing in one sitting or ever. I'll never know the difference! I am also well aware that some of the text appears centered rather than left-justified. Why? Google is not cooperating with me! I have spent a lot of time going back to edit those sections and they won't change. Well, so be it. Some things are just not that important. 

We started our tour in Casablanca, home of the third largest mosque in the world. That is the main tourist attraction in the city. The other reason to start there is because it is where it is easiest to get flights in and out. Coming from Europe, we were lucky not to have to deal with jet-lag.  Everyone else except our NG (National Geographic) expert flew in from the USA.

We stayed in very nice hotels and they were each unique. The first had an open window area between the bathroom and the bedroom area - that was a first for me! 

Tom sitting on the couch

palm tree lined streets
We had some time to explore Casablanca on our own while the others had the morning free to try to sleep off jet-lag. 

 We wandered around the old medina (market/shopping area). 

exterior of medina

not the clothing advertisement we're used to

Our group was made up of 25 Americans, one NG expert who is American but lives in Norway in the summer and Morocco in the winter, a local Moroccan guide and a NG expedition leader who was responsible for all the logistics. We introduced ourselves at our first lunch together and over the tour learned much more about each other. Everyone was nice enough although there were a couple of odd characters (and they weren't us - no comments, please!).

There are many royal palaces in Morocco and tourists are not invited inside - imagine that! We were only allowed to take pictures outside the walled grounds.

first day of tour - royal palace of Casablanca
We walked through the Habous district.

so many olives including pink ones, who knew? sadly, no taste testing since this is a street vendor!

Finally we made it to Hassan II Mosque with the world's tallest minaret.

 The people are necessary to appreciate the size of this mosque.

slightly under-dressed

Before we left for the mosque, I was told I was slightly under-dressed. There were no clothing police like we saw in Kuala Lumpur, Istanbul or Abu Dhabi, but out of respect for our local guide and the other Moroccans, I had a scarf with me just in case. It was nice not to have to wear it covering my head.

Now for the interior:

Ornate chandeliers and ceilings

men worship below, women on the wooden balcony above


Tom and others from the group appreciating the detailed work

 Lower level is for ablutions or baths, separate facilities for each sex

 Mosaic details

Our NG expert, David Silverberg, was with us for the entire journey. He is a geologist and was able to explain how the four mountain ranges that cross Morocco were formed. (please do not ask us to repeat it, though) He is also very knowledgeable about other aspects of life in Morocco. Before we left Casablanca, David gave his first talk about the geography of Morocco. He and Mohammed, our local Moroccan guide, were a good team. 

As we depart the Casablanca portion, I will quote two of our compatriots who declared that Casablanca "looked just like any European city!" Really? I totally disagree. You can judge for yourselves. 

This bus was our mode of transportation for most of our travels across Morocco. We had the same driver and helper for the duration. We made frequent "comfort" stops where we would find tolerable toilet facilities. Nothing as bad as we were warned we might experience. 

David introduced us to his favorite Moroccan coffee drink: Nos-Nos (pronounced noose-noose). It is hot coffee and unsweetened condensed milk. When done right, it is served in layers.  I definitely thought it was over-rated. It wasn't much different than the Swiss latte-macchiato, but without chocolate on top. 

From Casablanca, we made our way to Marrakech, one of Morocco's four imperial cities. We visited the Saadian Tombs which include more than 60 royal tombs primarily from the 16th century. The different heights of the grave markers indicate status. Servants were also buried here. 

Saadian Tombs exterior

Arab artwork does not include any human or animal figures. All their art is either geometric, floral/plants or calligraphy.
calligraphy on grave marker


During our time in Marrakech, we had plenty of time to explore the medina and souks with the group and on our own. It is a maze of crowded alleys with vendors trying to entice us into their shops by saying "you are welcome!" Maybe because of the hat and beard combination, Tom was often called Alibaba or Indiana Jones by the shopkeepers. 

Some random, but colorful views of Marrakech:

this day was very warm so the shade was very welcome

The hand of Fatima is considered good luck; therefore, it is seen protecting a home or business as a door knocker or in jewelry. 



snake charmers
the snakes

lots of snakes - yuck!
Berber water carriers dressed like this. Now they hope you'll take their picture and give them some coins in return.  I didn't really want to wear this hat, but I wasn't asked.

narrow streets with plenty of motorcycles

I bought this red "dress" with the hand of Fatima because I thought it'd make a decent nightgown. I left mine in the hotel in Casablanca! That's a first for me and I can't believe I'm admitting it. The shopping was definitely worth it because the vendor and Tom had a good time too. 
Alibaba and friend

This lunch was very typical. We were served many small dishes of vegetables and olives as a starter, along with bread, of course. If it wasn't this, it was a "cooked salad" of tomatoes, zucchini and eggplant. Similar to ratatouille with different spices. 

Tanjines are the ceramic pot that is used to cook the food slowly over low heat. They are also brought to the table to serve the food. (We actually saw some men cooking in one on the side of the street!) The meats we were served were either chicken or lamb. 
vegetable tanjine
lamb chops and sausages

Marrakech hotel by day and by night
water carrier in lobby
hotel grounds from our private terrace

This is definitely not your average hotel elevator! 

sunset over hotel grounds
evening view of Marrakech - everyone is "connected" by satellite dish

fancy tanjine used to serve dinner

Bahia Palace - built at the end of the 19th century

detailed view

ceilings were amazing

another ceiling


 wooden ceiling detail

walk-in fireplace!

at Bahia Palace

We visited Jardin Majorelle which is a small botanical garden of cactus and other plants that grow in a desert environment. While the plants themselves were interesting, the Berber Museum housed in a building on the property was the highlight for me. We were able to see the local costumes and jewelry. The Berber region covers quite a large area so there was extensive variety. No photos allowed, however. Guess who bought some postcards? 

does the hat look familiar?

hand of Fatima again

It is still common practice for women to carry their bread dough to a community oven for baking. They return later in the day to collect it. 


woman carrying her dough to the oven

finished loaves

We actually had a taste of bread from this oven. I was very hesitant because "how is this different from street food?" Our tour guide encouraged us so I took a tiny piece hoping any germs had been killed in the oven. The bread was still warm, but nothing special. Neither of us got sick. 

Ben Youssef Madrasa is an Islamic college founded in the 14th century. The buildings we toured did not look special from the exterior. There are no windows to the street because they didn't want people to look inside and see what might be there. There are usually large courtyards and any windows open to the courtyard. There is plenty of light, just not from the street.

main courtyard

dormitory rooms surround another roof opening

huge "necklace"
With our free time in Marrakech, we took our NG expert's advice and went to an artisanal shopping area. There were many kinds of crafts represented and there was no bargaining. I realize that is part of the culture, but we do not enjoy the haggling. If you don't do it in the other shops, you are guaranteed to over-pay. 

Ensemble Artisanal

lots of unique instruments

foot assists woodworker

he made this piece in only a few minutes
This is probably not very surprising:  a chess set made its way home to Switzerland with us. The black squares are burnt lemon wood and the brown squares are ash. The pieces are lemon wood, with the dark pieces stained.

We made a brief stop in the Photography Museum of Marrakech. It was interesting to see photos of local people from many years ago.  


1920 - not so different in the desert now

I'm glad we didn't have to sit right on the desert sand!

 Exposed skin tells us this is a Jewish woman.

Arab woman - 1920


same square, modern view thanks to google

hotel pool was a delight after a very warm day spent touring and shopping

After departing Marrakech, we crossed the High Atlas Mountains. Because of the terrain, we rode part of the way in a caravan of 4x4s.

During this drive, we followed the road of 1,000 kasbahs (fortresses) which is also the old trade route. Luckily, we only stopped at a few kasbahs, but we saw the remnants of many abandoned others. 

Kasbah of Telouet in disrepair - former home of Glaoui clan - abandoned in 1956

part of interior survives
view from kasbah

livestock and 4x4s below

National Geographic made arrangements for us to have tea at a local family's home. They are also renting out rooms as a small B&B. 

the tea tasted terrible to me

The daughter is 14 years old and stopped going to school after the 6th grade primarily because it is so far away. She is being prepared for marriage which is very common in this region of Morocco.

There were many interesting sites along our ride. Taking pictures from a moving vehicle is quite challenging, but since Tom took many pictures, we got some good ones! 

prickly pears growing everywhere!


doesn't look like much, but satellite dishes tell you people do live here.

Moroccan mountains are different than Swiss, but still beautiful

you can see why we needed 4x4s

back in the car!

Our vehicle had seating for six and lucky for us, our NG expert was in our vehicle. I sat in the seat farthest back for most of the time. My knees actually bothered me by the end of the day from being unable to straighten my legs! Tom only had a short stint in the back.

shielding their faces from the camera

one of many kasbahs along the way

goats and sheep grazing

Lots of donkeys live and work in Morocco.


government reforestation

the white on the hillside is salt

camels live and work here too

Our next stop was the ancient fortified village of Ait Benhaddou. Parts date back to the 11th century, but other parts are younger. We walked across the bridge (sometimes there is water in this river bed) and through the narrow streets to the upper levels. This area is now a tourist attraction because it has been used as the set of several movies including Lawrence of Arabia and the Asterix and Obelix "Mission Cleopatra" film. 

Ait Benhaddou with movie set on the far right

it was incredibly windy on the top!
view from the top

musician along the way
There were shops and entertainers along our walk. Tourism is obviously a big part of the local economy. 

There were also some old movie props in the hotel (Le Berbere Palace).

from Asterix and Obelix

We only stayed one night in Ouarzazate, but as it is home to a university, we had the opportunity to meet some students and also two members of the Peace Corps. We were able to chat before and during dinner. One of the young women, Fatima, was 21. Her father is a teacher and encourages her to continue her studies. Another of the young women was only 20 years old, but has already been married 3 years! Her husband lives in Casablanca because that's where the job is and she lives here. I asked her if she knew her husband before the wedding and she said yes. I learned later that the marriage had been arranged so she didn't know him for very long. We were surprised how excited they were about having their picture taken. We had been told never to take pictures of individuals without their permission first. Some people believe part of their soul is taken from them when a picture is taken. Taking a picture of a street scene that happens to have people in it is not a problem. Here, the waiter even joined the picture.

Fatima is in the stripes
The students are frustrated because their teachers are not dedicated. They are studying English (which was already very good), but as of this date in early October, the professor had not come to class since the semester began! Fatima's English was so good that she even used common American expressions: whatever, like, and my bad! She said she learned a lot of her English from watching TV. Her education still needs work because when we told her we were living in Switzerland she said she had no idea where that is.

Departing Ouarzazate, we continued along the road of 1,000 Kasbahs, stopping first at Kasbah Taourirt, a former el Galoui (family name) palace. 


Moroccans sure love their ceilings.

with local guide

We had both lunch and dinner at our hotel, Xaluca Dades, which I liked because it was not only convenient, but had very nice decor in the restaurant. The hotel room amused me with what I call the "bunk bed" closet with the safe sitting on the top shelf.
hotel restaurant

I learned that dates grown on palm trees. Guess what they're called? Date palms - good name!

Jewish Cemetery

A couple more Kasbahs along the way. I'm sure you're glad we're not including all 1,000! We're actually glad we didn't see all of them or their remains! 

We took a short bus ride to have a walk in the Dades Gorge. People are in some of the pictures to show the size of the rock formations. Our NG expert did his best to explain to us what we were looking at and I have since forgotten most of it. He was often heard to say "it's really quite fantastic!"

figs left to dry in the sun

kasbah and landscape at a photo stop on the way back to the hotel

hotel welcoming party
More pictures thanks to Tom's fast reactions to sights outside the bus window:

that's a lot of goats!


more camels

roadside laundromat?

seat-belts everyone?

bicycle repair shop

I'm glad I don't have to use my head to transport goods.


sheep crossing

Lunch stop at this Pizzeria Restaurant. Nice change from the usual offerings.

Moroccan pizza

Fruit dessert which I did not eat, but an interesting way to serve pomegranate.

We made a stop in Rissani, an historical major caravan center, walking around its souk. We did not buy any livestock although the opportunity was there!

Rissani street view

meat for sale swarming with flies!!!

scarf purchases made here

We were encouraged to purchase head scarves to protect us from the desert wind and sand. Our guide negotiated a great price: about $3 each.

The spices are very often displayed out in the open, totally exposed. They look pretty, but unappealing at the same time.

sheep market

anyone want a donkey?

chickens - for eating or eggs? unknown
watering the dusty road

Sign says no parking for horse and cart, but look who is parked there?

Earlier, our Moroccan guide had explained to us the prayer ritual and we often heard the calls to prayer. Here we happened to see men in prayer, exactly demonstrating what we'd been told. I must admit to being confused about the one man facing in the opposite direction. (They are in front of a building with a painted mural.) It is not unusual to see someone alone in prayer outside.

old caravan town

The rock in Tom's hand is black on the top, where the sun has hit it for years, and brown on the unexposed bottom.

After we finished our visit in Rissani, we once again boarded 4x4s. This time we needed them because our destination was our tent camp for the night in the Sahara.  Our driver was a bit rogue and didn't want to be last. He did not always follow the path of those in front, but made his own way - there are no roads. It was definitely a bumpy ride.

camels and drivers waiting at the camp

always a welcome with (sometimes gross) tea

tent gathering area without people - Tom must have chased them away!

hallway between tents

our accommodations for the night


ready for our ride into the desert

camels and desert await
For those camping fans out there, you can see behind me that our tent had indoor plumbing! Camp style shower, sink and toilet all good unless you need them after 10 pm when the generator was turned off for the night. We were very glad to have them!

I'm on the lead camel!

The goal of this excursion was to reach a good vantage point for watching the sun set on the desert. It wasn't only an exotic "pony ride".

Ready to go! Tom stands out in red!

follow the leader

my camel and driver - we're not leading anymore

I had to stop because the person on the camel behind me was about to slide off. Adjustments needed to be made and then we started again. The group did not wait for us. How rude! We were leaders and ended up being the caboose.

me and my faithful "steed"

Our camels are way down there! Wasn't so easy to climb up the dunes!


 Sunset over the sand dunes.


While we were out waiting for the sun to set, some folks noticed a storm cloud. Our Moroccan guide was asked if the storm was headed our way. He confidently answered that it would blow in another direction.  He was wrong! The sand storm came right at us. Most of us were very thankful we took the advice and bought head scarves. The one who did not...well, he didn't complain. The sand is very fine and was everywhere. It felt great to use the little camp shower to get at least most of it off. During the night, it was still very windy and sand kept falling from our tent ceiling. Not so pleasant and not so easy to sleep. Many people mentioned having turned their pillow over during the night to use the sand-free side. I wish I'd thought of that. 


Some of us got up early the next morning to walk up into the dunes to see the sun rise. It wasn't a very restful place to sleep, so there was no incentive to stay in bed anyway! It was much colder than the night before and we were glad to have layers to wear.

windy, but much less sand flying

dunes with morning light
We had breakfast at our tent camp (some people complained about sand in the eggs, but I did not experience that, luckily) and got back in the 4x4s to head out of the desert. We made it back to our bus and began a long drive to Fez. 

Did I happen to mention that the desert sand got EVERYWHERE? Notice the brown on the edges of the luggage tag - that's inside the plastic!!

During our longer bus rides, our NG expert and Moroccan guide gave us mini-lectures which helped ease the boredom of the ride. We learned a lot about the history and politics of Morocco, the Islam religion and much more. Our NG expert also read aloud some short stories set in Morocco. He is an excellent reader and the stories were very enjoyable. 

Interior of our lovely lunch spot

Waiting to get back on the bus to continue our journey, I walked around a small square multiple times - just to get the blood moving. I have no idea why the park had a lion carved from stone.

out of the desert

sheep are finding what little vegetation there is

Another stop along the way to Fez was to walk through a cedar forest. Looks a bit like New England!

Zurich insurance is worldwide!
 For our stay in Fez, we were led by a local guide who knew his way around the narrow and winding alleyways. We started with a walk through the Mellah, or Jewish Quarter

First stop, the synagogue.  It doesn't look like much from the outside. 

our guide, "Moomoo" shows us the ancient torah behind the curtain

rabbi's chair
view from above

women's synagogue was upstairs
Of course, there had to be a Royal Palace in Fez like every other city. Again, tourists are only permitted to photograph the walls and gates. No picture taking of guards because they fear someone will copy the uniforms and disguise themselves as guards. 

Even the streets of Fez have architecture like palaces!
Lunch at the beautiful Palais Medina restaurant.  


Following our guide through the labyrinth of Fez, we had to walk single file and be mindful of the donkeys that might appear around the next corner!

Many doors are actually a door within a door. Whether the large or small door was opened for you depended upon your status. There was a different knocker (with different sound) for each of the doors.

unique way to make crepes
We visited Kairaouine Mosque which houses the world's oldest university. It is still a spiritual and intellectual center of Islam. 

central courtyard with ablutions basin

one speaks facing the wall and the voice is amplified

dormitories above


We were exploring unknown territory and not always quite sure what to expect. At two meat stands we came face to face with dead animal heads! This is supposed to prove what kind of meat was there. One was a cow head and one a camel - each time was very startling. (Sparing you the visual experience.)

One of the constant surprises was the extreme contrast between a building exterior and interior. Here we are entering a carpet showroom. They explained about the different designs and materials and of course concluded with a heavy sales pitch.
carpet showroom

want to buy a fez?

Surprisingly, the fez hats weren't for sale everywhere. This vendor made at least one sale from our group.

Moomoo explains about this cooking device which was being made at this shop. 

willing to be photographed ... for a small fee
under renovation
Fez is known as a center for tanning and making leather goods. I think it was to our advantage that the tannery was under renovation.  It would have been horribly smelly. Instead, there was a video of what normally takes place outside the window of the leather showroom. 

Some pictures from the video:

Inside there seems to be an infinite amount of leather goods for sale. I was not able to leave this place without a purchase or two!

that's a lot of shoes!
Some of us took the opportunity to go to a pottery workshop and showroom. All stages of production were being demonstrated and explained on site. 

tanjines in progress

hand painted
special brush has longer bit in center in order to paint fine details
I found the process for putting together mosaics fascinating. The pieces are only colored/painted on one side. The are laid into the form color side down! I thought that wasn't so bad. Each color must only be a certain shape and that is how it could be remembered. Wrong! The artist must remember the intended pattern and what was placed last. Some pieces take days or weeks to create and there is no way to check. Wow! Even more appreciation for the art now.

cutting mosaic pieces

mosaic pieces

When the mosaic is finished, the pieces will then be covered with more clay to hold it all together. 

 The finished products are beautiful!

crazy traffic patterns - cars and pedestrians!

hotel restaurant's musician

Our last full day we were given the choice to go back into Fez or go to the Roman ruins of Volubilis. We chose the latter and it was definitely reminiscent of the Forum in Rome although bigger than what I remember from Rome. We had an early departure to get here before the crowds - it was well worth the effort.

from a distance

The floors of the old structures had intricate mosaics.

intricate stonework!

doorway structure reminds me of Malta

ancient road

Farewell Volubilis

Here is our NG expeditions leader, "JD", in a stress-free moment. He was a vital part of the success of the trip: he was in contact with each hotel or restaurant before our arrival, he carried extra listening devices (the fancy necklaces you saw us wearing) and batteries, he made sure everyone was back on the bus before departure and much more. On top of all that, he was a genuinely nice guy. 

After Volubilis, we spent our last Moroccan afternoon in Meknes, the 17th century capital. 

main square of Meknes

Moulay Ismail, a former sultan, was responsible for building projects in Meknes and also robbing the ruins of Volubilis which helped raise the status of Meknes to an imperial city. We visited the granary and its stables.

white spots are all garbage

Beside the tourist attractions and local color, one constant on the trip was garbage. Morocco has a definite problem with people littering. Empty plastic bags blow in the breeze. Trash is along all main roadways. It appears that they don't recycle plastic bottles - the empties are everywhere! What a shame.  

garbage is not scenic

Here is our whole group - a nice size for easy travel. Mohammed, our Moroccan who accompanied us the whole trip, is squatting on the right. NG expert, David, holds left end of the banner. "JD" took the photo! 

As we were waiting in the queue at passport control in Casablanca to leave the country, my person left his booth and told me to go to another line! What? I'm next. At least I didn't have to get in the end of that line.  After I got through, I saw him kneeling and  praying in the corner! That was a first.

We always enjoy seeing the easily recognizable stop sign with languages other than English.  It also seems a fitting way to end this extremely long post. Anybody bleary-eyed? Congratulations to those of you who made it to the end. There is no prize except that you're done!