Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sunday, December 16, 2012

cow tipping, BBQ cake, Beetle trouble

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:59 PM 0 comments
and she forgot to bring out the cheese ...

the Hippo phone rang and she knew it as if she's been expecting it. The bathday honoree couldnt make it. Thus began the high drama day. Picked up the loaves from the Cheesecake Factory and raced home to start the pasta and lay the food out on the counter. Barely making the lemonade when the everyone arrived. didnt even have time to open the bottle of Chianti. Completely forgot the cheese that she so carefully selected for this particular day. D and I had planned to put 100 candles on the Chocolate cake. D brought candles that wont go out, so M blew and blew and kept on blowing until the smoke engulfed the dinning room, and the candles simply reduced to tiny stubs, still burning, and barbequed the cake. So far all has been a disaster so maybe Picitonary would fare better. but first they couldnt understand what's on the cards because of Hippo's misspellings and grammatical errors. sigh. But the map of Iceland was really Maui; a tree with a round arrow pointing down meant 'sound'; and 'bring something to the table' was another word for 'place things on the table'. Oh, and 26 was a give away for Marathon. But best of all, was the cow tumbing downhill. M learn cow tipping today. and of course Darth Vadar's first name sorta starts with an 'A' but not with a 'V'; and Sherlock Holmes was much easier to guess than Donatello the Teenage Ninja Turtle, but D was acquainted with Donny anyway. And of course that was a tube of toothpaste instead of the a box of bandages! Then we went to see the Hobbit, and afterwards wandered around aimlessly at the mall and the Beetle died of a slow death with the oil light on and loud knocking. Ended up going to Mineta airport for a rental. Sure beats Hippo's normal usual dull days!

Happy Bathdays M and T !!!


Images of the high drama day

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Long journey home

Posted by Hippo Bean at 9:30 PM 0 comments


The journey home was long and tiring. I was beginning to have a sore throat and a cold was imminent. I managed to sit on the right side of the plane this time, in a window seat and I got good views of the Himalyas. It's not every day that one gets to see them. Back at Changi, I've explored all 3 terminals and found the sunflower garden which was open to the outside, and Singapore was rainy, muggy and hot. I've checked in to transit hotel at terminal 3 this time and the room was better, with a bathroom that had a glass wall to the room. Had noodles at the Macau Express. Had wanted wonton noodle soup but being at this late hour, most places were closed. Did manage to catch up on my emails and snooze for a couple of hours. Then a 5 hr flight to Incheon. Waited a few hours there watching a Korean movie and then the 10 hrs long flight back home. Bone tired and very sick. She must be getting old!




Saturday, November 03, 2012

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Bhaktapur

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:00 PM 0 comments

Today E and I took a taxi to Bhaktapur, the second thing I wanted to do in Nepal. The journey was a little over 30 minutes and the view of Everest was ever present. The taxi left us at the entrance to the Durbar Square and we paid our entrance fee. Why did they make the tourists pay to see the place while anyone can go in free from the other side. The morning was quieter and the temples were more impressive. There were 3 major squares in this town, and we walked to all 3. Dattatraya Square was the
smallest with only 1 temple. Not much to see. Not impressive at all. Taumadhi was the most impressive. The Nyatapola temple with 5 levels, had a long staircase flanked by elephants, lions, and griffins. E liked ceramics so we went to the pottery square. The pottery had no color nor designs. Next we argued pricing and with 700 rupees more, the taxi driver took us to Changu Naryan, an Unesco site, up on a hill. On our way, we passed through golden fields of hay, with people harvesting. A glorious magnificent sight that reminded me of Bruegel's Harvesters, brilliant painting. The golden fields were very lovely. E had been in Changu Narayan years before and said the place was very quiet and tranquil. However, commercialism had polluted the place and now it had nothing but souvenir shops. Up on the hill at the end of the single road, stood the oldest temple in the area. Then finally we went to Patan, the city E liked the best. However, again, it was now littered with tourist and local people. It's no longer the quiet town which took E's heart away. We lunched at a restaurant overlooking the Durbar Square. The square was indeed beautiful, intimate with temples close to each other. It was my favorite Durbar Square. But being Saturday, everyone was out and there were many tourists. When afternoon came, more and more tourists and traffic poured in, to a point where I seriously had enough and wanted to get away. Before returning to the hotel, we made a brief stop at the Himalya hotel because E said it had nice views of the mountains. But this too was changed. They were building a complex right in front of the hotel, thus making the view less clear. The view was not impressive anyway. The mountains were far. I had wanted to go to Nagarkot see the mountain range as the reviews said it offered the best sunrise and sunset views. R who's been there, said it indeed had nice views of the Himalyas but the town was very small and offered nothing else to do. Since we got back later that I've planned, Nagarkot would have to wait for another journey. We again dined at the hotel and I had the veggie chow mein which was actually pretty good. I leave tomorrow so this evening I sat in one of the gazebos in the garden to silently unwind. Kathmandu is not a place I'd like to return to. But who knows, the tallest mountain range on earth might be worth a second visit.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Friday, November 02, 2012

Everest !

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:00 PM 0 comments

This morning J and I took the KTM to Mtn flight. We had the first row on Buddha Air, right next to the propellers. J wasnt happy as the propeller blocked the view. The flight was smoother than I've anticipated. They gave us each a map showing all the famous peaks with their names on it. Once in altitude, we could go to the cockpit and photograph Everest. I had the single seat on the right side. Once past the Himalyas, the plane turned to fly back and I was able to see the mountain range in plain view. Glorious Everest, Lhotse and Makalu. I've enjoyed the flight very much. This was what I came to Nepal for. Well worth getting up at 4:30AM. Bought a tshirt that says 'I didnt climb Everest but I touched it with my heart' for the rocket scientits. Then we had our second site seeing. Our local guide took us to the Annapurna area and we walked and walked through narrow alleys, filled with people, local shops selling meat and produce, old houses, cars and motorbikes, dirty dusty streets, small temples filled with pigeons. Reminded me of alleys in Hong Kong, except compared to Kathamandu, the alleys in HK
were clean and sane. Then we came to the famous Durbar Square. Not as impressive as I've expected. The temples looked asian with hindu statues and motifs. No one cared to visit the museum. I found nothing impressive in Kathmandu. We all had just wanted to get back to the sanctuary of our hotel, away from the noise, dust and traffic. We all lunched at the hotel bar next to the pool in peaceful tranquility. While the Brits sunbathed, I returned to my room to take a nap. I had wanted to venture out to experience a restaurant but ended up dining at the hotel again and had fish and chips this time. After the orderly and peacefulness of Bhutan, Kathmandu's vibrancy and confusion was just too much for the Hippo.


Thursday, November 01, 2012

Thursday, November 01, 2012

back to the dump KTM

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:30 PM 0 comments

Hard to say goodbye to such a clean, welcoming and harmonious country. And the beautiful airport at Paro. Really wish we could have stayed a few more days, especially in Paro, which I really liked a lot. The Druk Air flight took off and as soon as it climbed a bit, the plane took the necessary left turn to get away from the hills. Another hair raising moment and soon we were back to the Himalyas again.

Back at Kathmandu, the dust, the noise, the traffic, the people, the cows and pigeons and the Shanker hotel. I made sure they gave me a different room this time. Up on the 7th floor, the windows were small but at least it was brighter and with a better view of trees and some buildings and the Radisson hotel. The bathroom though was small and dark. We had a site seeing tour with a local guide. Nepal was not on my list. Had to come here in order to fly to Bhutan. The Hippo was not for Hindu architecture. I found
their deities scary. The first place the local guide took us to was a temple with monkeys and an Elderly's home. Very depressing. Then to the sacred river Bagmati with dirty polluted water, a cremation site, the Temple of Pashupatinath. Not a very welcoming site to tourists. The dead body was a young man. I should have brought a face mask. Later we went to the Stupa of Bodnath, surrounded by souvenir shops. The place was a mad house of people, monks and tourists. It turned cold by the late afternoon and we were tired. We dined at the hotel. I've ordered a sizzling steak platter that turned out to be a hamburger patty. Should have known better. Was dying for some beef after a week of chicken. It tasted OK but it wasnt a steak.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The highlight of the trip

Posted by Hippo Bean at 10:30 PM 0 comments

Finally the highlight of the trip. We stopped for an early lunch at a new hotel just outside Paro, right at the start of the trail to the Tatksang Monastery. The hotel was beautifully decorated in Bhutanese style. Of course. Fantastic veggies again. The chicken this time was curry. The garlic beans were gone in an instance. At the hotel, we lifted up our heads to admire the Monastery perched on the side of the hill, high up in front of us. It seemed so tiny and oh so far up. It reminded me of Meteora. Then we began our hours long hike up 900m to the Dzong, the Tiger's Nest. The first part of the hike wasnt too bad. It's steep but not long. It took me about an hour. At the halfway point, we stopped to rest at the teahouse and I had free lentil soup that was very salty, excellent to replenish the electrolyte. The view of the Dzong from here was really not close enough or as impressive as I've expected. I was a bit disappointed. From the online images I've seen I thought this area bigger with closer view of the Tiger's Nest. The next section was really steep but shorter it seemed, but still it only took me about 45 minutes. The view became better and better as we climbed higher and higher. Then came the 478 stairs down. At this point the view of the Dzong was stunning. We paused for photos. At the bottom of the stairs, more stairs led to the Dzong's entrance. Up we went. The terrace of the Dzong offered a sweeping breathtaking view of the Paro valley. I couldnt believe we've actually climbed all the way up. The Dzong consisted of 3 separate halls and the cave where Guru Rinpoche flew to on the back of a tiger. Nothing too impressiv inside. So why there was a guard at the entrance to make sure no one went in with a camera, and we had to leave our belongings at the lockers? Back down it took me about 1 hr. All the reviews I've read over estimated the time and the difficulty of this hike. Nonetheless it was a good thing I brought my hiking boots. I also bought a hiking stick in the shape of a phallus. Everyone made fun of my hiking stick. I gave it to L who wanted to take it home. I did carry-on only for this trip so I couldnt take the stick home anyway.

By the time we returned to Paro, it was already dark. On our way to the hike, we drove through the town of Paro and the buildings on the main street were very beautiful, Bhutanese style, and I had wanted to take photos of them. But now it was dark and we wanted to do some more shopping. We had some time to browse the shops and the Dzong was illuminated at night but my poor camera just couldnt get enough
light for a photo. Pity. We dined at a local restaurant, very small, at the heart of town. The chicken this time was boneless. Namgay and the driver Dam ate with us finally. They even ordered a spicy curry for themselves.

Thus ended the month of October and our visit to Bhutan. Good wholesome food, lousy breakfasts and hotels, but gorgeous unique architecture. Excellent hospitality, refreshing mountain air, beautiful unpolluted nature, friendly people. Fantastic country indeed. That last evening I watched the Bhutanese TV showing the young king and his various visits to different parts of the country. He showed a genuine concern for his people and land, and his unique idea of Growth National Happiness did seem to work, as hard as their lives might be, the people seemed happy and the country clean, unpolluted and unspoiled. The last Shangri-la indeed.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Thimphu

Posted by Hippo Bean at 9:00 PM 0 comments

While in Thimphu, Sandy wreck havoc on the east coast. I saw it on CNN and BBC and Al Jazeera. Thinking of the Goose and tried to email him but the internet was not cooperating. Went down for breakfast around 7 but the girl at the restaurant said breakfast was at 7:30. Only gave me coffee. Really had to wait till past 7:30 for my toast and plain omelette. Times like these I really hoped for a McDonalds. But they only had KFC. No Starbucks or any other chains here. Yes, pristine and untainted, but sometimes a McDonalds could save the day.

Thimphu was big and sprawling as compared to the towns we've been. There's a big golden Buddha up on the hill that offered a nice view of the capital city, and the area was still under construction. The seat of the government was an enormous Dzong beautifully decorated. The young king lived in a modest house next to it. A 9 par golf course was right beside the Dzong. We visited a traditional handicraft shop with apprentices working their crafts. I bought a lot of stuff there. We went to the zoo to see the Takin, the Bhutanese national animal, body of a cow and head of a goat. Very ugly if you ask me. For dinner we went to the Bhutan Kitchen, a local restaurant, great truly Bhutanese food, which included crispy seaweed. Yummy. And accompanied by the melody of a Bhutanese harp. Best dinner we had yet. But didnt like Thimphu that much. Then again, I've never enjoyed capital cities.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Monday, October 29, 2012

my first butter tea

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:00 PM 0 comments

I burned my toast this morning. Should have known not to tamper with the strange toaster. I'm tired of toast and plain omelette for breakfast every morning. The lunches and dinners were so good, whatever happened to breakfast?

Before the terrible long drive back to Thimphu, we visited a farm house today and I had my first butter tea. It was salty and buttery but I actually quite liked it. Like coca tea, the first few sips didnt quite agree with me, but after a few more sips, you'd begin to get addicted to it. The farm house of course was all for tourists. I didnt much care for it.

The drive to thimphu was long and tiring. We pretty much went back the same way we came. There was only 1 highway. The one lane highway. Lunch was at the Wangdue Phodrang village with the burned down monastery. Lunch was good and we discovered they had peach flavored lipton iced tea. I was so tired of sprite and coke and welcomed the iced tea wholeheartedly. The hotel Wangchuk in Thimphu was the worse hotel we had so far. My room had dirty smelly bathroom with dead flies. It was a top corner room with windows on 2 sides. However, the curtains had holes and they didnt sufficiently cover the window, so I felt like being in a fishbowl when the lights were on. But the room was pretty good size and it did have a view of the mountain. The ever incessant noise continued. There's an electric heater but it couldnt provide enough warmth. Had to pull extra duvets to keep warm. Dinner was poor at this hotel. There's a pork dish with more fat than meat. No tea was offered after the meal. The reception was always empty. The girls spent their time chatting at the bar and not attending the reception. There was free computer with internet but the connection was unreliable.

Before dinner we went out to walk the town. The main road was just behind the hotel. shops lined both side of the street. Lots of souvenir shops and a mall. E mentioned the Taj hotel, the biggest and grandest of the town. We went in to check the lobby. It was finely decorated but not big. The hotel had the shape of a dzong. Very pleasing to the eye. It was nice to finally be able to go for a walk and had something to do after dinner. Most of the shops were still open. I planned on doing all my souvenir shopping here.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sunday, October 28, 2012

phobjika

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:00 PM 0 comments

Fear of the suicide shower came to nothing because in the morning, there was no water in the bathroom. So I resorted to shower next door at E's room.

No need to complain about this as we're leaving anyway. Long drive today to the town of black necked cranes, Phobjika, through high passes. Had tea and biscuits at a teahouse with immense glorious views of the Bhutanese Himalyas. The day was cold but crystal clear blue sky. Really loved that place. The hotel the Dewachen Resort was a gorgeous building, each room had a direct view of the mountains. We were offered lunch which was again the same thing but the green beans were outstandingly done. The rooms had a wood burning stove that needed to be fed every 20 minutes or so. Above it, a hot pot of water was boiling. Wood logs were pilled high just outside the room. The shower had a window with a view. The towels were snow white and fluffy. The sitting area with 2 sofas was comfy. Really enjoyed this room. We spotted a few cranes. They were short little things with red tops and black bills and heads. The Hippo was not much of a bird watching person so I wasnt as thrilled as the rest of the group. The highlight of the area (well, aside from the cranes that is) was the Gangtey Monastery, perched at the end of the small village. There was a festival that evening and they brought in rowdy horses to the monastery which scared half of us to death. Inside, the monks were chanting and playing the trumpets. We hiked back to our resort, a nice easy walk really, through the peaceful valley. We were preparing for the strenuous hike to the Tiger's Nest on the last day of the trip.

The late afternoon sun hit the fields making everything shine in golden colors, even the golden retriever lying on the field. The dinner buffet at this resort was subpar but nonetheless satisfying. Nothing else to do, I retired to my room to continue my reading of the sexy book. when asked what I was reading, V laughed out loud and from then on, they made fun of my reading this book, and said I returned to my room early every evening because of the book. I was quite enjoying the book to be honest. the writing was amateurish and childish but it did have a plot and for light travel reading, it was perfect. It's erotica, so it spiced up my travels. When I opened the bed covers and climbed in, the smell hit me. The bedsheet smelled of slept in. So I put on my jacket and ventured out to ask them to change the sheets. Everything was locked down. No lights in the hallways. No lights in the main building. A big padlock locked the front door. The sheets on the other bed was also smelly. So I had no choice but to sleep in sheets that smelled like armpits. It's really too bad because the room was wonderful and warm with the stove. And the first night with no noise. No dogs. No people talking. Absolute quiet. It could have been heaven if not for the smelly bedsheets. But of course there's no heaven.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Saturday, October 27, 2012

My first Dzong

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:30 PM 0 comments

Breakfast again was a bowl of oatmeal and toast. We asked for eggs. This time we had a choice of fried, scrambled or omelette. And omelette came with a choice of mushroom, tomato or cheese. A slight improvement.

This morning we visited the local produce market. Chilis, tomatoes, fruits and green veggies everywhere. Some veggies I've never seen before. The guava scent caught my nose and I bought some. I've never had white guavas before. These tasted fantastic and the smell was heavenly. Next we visited our first Dzong. The Punakha Dzong, situated on the sandbank at the confluence of the Mochu and Pochu (mother and father) rivers, was the grandest of the Bhutanese monastic architecture. It contained a collection of tiered halls, inner courtyards and golden spires
and a big golden handsome buddha in the main temple. It absolutely completely blew the Hippo away. Too bad we werent allowed to take pictures of the inside of the monastery. The walls had images that depicted the life of Buddha. We lunched in the Punakha town in a local restaurant that had images of the Bhutanese young king and his bride. He's really handsome. His face showed compassion, modesty and serenity. She's gorgeous. Lunch again was chicken, chili and cheese and a variety of cooked veggies and a deep fried spinach that was heavenly savory. The town was small but filled with Bhutanese style buildings.

In the afternoon we hiked up to the Khamsum Yuley Chorten, a 3 tier monastery that had a top terrace that provided a spectacular view of the Mochu river valley below and distant hills and golden fields. This place was stunning in the afternoon sun. Peaceful serenity, good for the soul. Totally pristine. The last Shangri-la. The last untainted unspoiled place on earth. I think the Bhutanese government got it right. It mandated a required minimum spending per day and all visitors must have a local guide, thus no riff raffs, no cheap hikers to pollute the land. Contrast it to the dump of Kathmandu, Bhutan remained unadulterated.

Back at the hotel resort for dinner, the same old food again, ever so tasty, ever so wholesome and satisfying. There's a greek guy traveling on his own with his own computer to blog his wanderings. A gorgeous lonesome fellow and very very polite and quite friendly. The girls in my group, talked and wondered about him, all too shy and reserved, so the Hippo went over to chat him up. He was nice and offered the Hippo a sexy smile. They wondered about the Hippo's courage, but hey, it was just a guy.

Tonight they moved me to a new room, right above the main building, next to the loud restaurant and bar. The noise was constant but the room had a nice view of the mountain. However, the bathroom had a suicide shower. The hot water tank was plugged in to the outlet just below the showerhead. With water running, it sure will electrocute me. So much for a nicer room. My laundry (1 pair of jeans, 1 sweatshirt and 1 tshirt) was done when I returned to the hotel in the early evening. It cost 200 ngultrum . A mere 4 bucks!

I continue to read Fifty Shades of Grey under the bright light in the room amidst the noise from the hotel restaurant, bar and gazebo below me.



Friday, October 26, 2012

Friday, October 26, 2012

To Punakha

Posted by Hippo Bean at 10:00 PM 0 comments

Breakfast was a bowl of oatmeal, juice and toast. There were apples and small bananas that looked like plantains on the table. the oatmeal tasted salty and adding jam and bananas only made it worse. We asked for eggs and finally some plain omelette came in a slow pace.

The morning was crisp and cold. The valley under a blanket of thin fog. And I remembered someone who said about the mornings in Bhutan.

Today we traveled to Punakha. We went past the Paro Dzong and the airport again, then past Thimphu, the capital, and climbed up to 3200m, passing through fields blanketed in rice terraces, and scattered villages. I just couldnt get enough of the Bhutanese houses. They are unlike anything I've seen. All have windows framed in the Bhutanese architecture and a roof that extended out like in Bhuddist temples. We made a stop at the Dochu La Pass with a grand monastery and a group of 180 chortens and prayer flags everywhere. The day was clear but the distant Himalyas were covered in morning clouds. We lunched near the Pass and the buffet lunch was again chicken, with loads of veggies and lentil soup, very very good. We continued our journey descending into the Punakha valley, and the climate turned warmer, and the landscaped changed from forests of pine and oak, rhododendron, alder and cypress to tropical cactus, oranges and bamboo. We stopped to make a short hike to the Chimmi Lhakhang, the 'Mad Monk' Monastery, built in the 15th century by Lama Drukpa Kuenley, the controversial monk who was believed to have subdued the demon of the Dochu La. The trek took us through the village surrounded by golden fields of hay. The monastery was also called the fertility monastery and here the Pallus was everywhere, painted in every house. People came to be blessed by the monk anointing you with a wooden phallus. We caught the young apprentice monks chanting their mantras in the monastery. Our hotel the Meri Puensum Resort was a beautiful stone structure including an enormous prayer wheel, situated on the side of the hill. The rooms were in small buildings scattered on the side of the hill, some offering grand views of the river valley below. We were again offered tea and biscuits, this time in a big gazebo in front of the main building. A very nice area to relax and take in the view. However, my room offered no view and a wall in front of the window. Dinner again was chicken (what's with their chicken dish with bones), rice, noodles and never ending veggies and chili and cheese. I didnt mind the lack of variety as the food tasted superb and was very satisfying. Again the evening was cold and the room didnt have any heat. But under the extra duvet, I was warm. I've really enjoyed this first day of travel in Bhutan.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Paro over the Himalyas

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:00 PM 0 comments

Someone long ago told me about the Himalyan Kingdoms. She said she specially liked Bhutan because one morning she woke up and saw the mist in the quiet of the morning. It was so heavenly beautiful. Every since then Bhutan was on my list and I dont know why it took me so long to finally decided to go. I thought I was done with traveling this year after the Caucasus, but out of a whim, I've decided to make the Himalyan Kingdoms this year.

Everyone who's been to Bhutan had told me how they loved that place. And about the thrilling flight to Paro. Since Paro was nestled among hills, the plane had to descend rapidly and maneuver among the hills. Only 8 pilots were qualified to fly in and out of Paro. And so I was specially looking forward to the adventure. I got a window seat on the left side to make sure I get to see the Himalyas this time.

Once past the security check-in at the KTM Tribhuvan airport, it was confusing. People everywhere and no monitors to tell you which gate to embark. Suddenly Paro was announced from one of the gates and we went in. Druk Air, the Royal Bhutan Airlines, the only airline that flies to Bhutan, had excellent service. As we flew by the Himalyas, the pilot announced the appearance of the famous peaks, Everest, Lhotse, Makalu, all the familiar names. We were given drinks and a box of munchies, sandwich, cookie and peanuts. The descend into Paro was abrupt and the plane was so close to the hills, I could wave to a man walking his dog. Then suddenly the plane banked right and touched down. Compared to the heat and dust of KTM, Paro's mountain air was fresh and cool. The airport was the most beautiful in the world. The terminal was built in Bhutanese traditional building architecture, with the Bhutanese window frames. There's a wrap around balcony on the inside of the terminal building, every inch painted. Everything and everywhere was clean and orderly. Our local guide Namgay was there to greet us. He and the driver both wore the traditional customs. He told us they were required to wear the traditional wear when they work. Welcome to Bhutan! Now the real vacation started!

On our way to our hotel, along the gorgeous clear Paro Chhu river, we stopped at vintage points to photograph the Paro Dzong. Imposing gorgeous building. All along our way, we saw Bhutanese houses with architecture unlike anything I've ever seen. By law the houses must have the design of the traditional style with the bhutanese window frames, and painted with buddhist motifs and religious symbols, like the white tiger and phallus. The road was narrow, only 1 lane but paved, unbroken and clean. Our hotel, the Dechen Hill Resort sat on the hill side offering views of the valley and the Paro town below. The day was cool with clear blue sky. We were offered tea and sugar crackers at the hotel reception.The crackers were wonderful. My room was big but very cold. The bathroom was antique and not very clean. Later V and I walked up the hill to check out the 5 star hotels. Dinner that evening was a hot soup and a never ending flow of chicken, cooked veggies, chili and cheese (the local favorite)and red rice. I've never had red rice before. The resort hotel was comfortable but noisy at night as all the dogs who slept during the warmth of the day, became alive at night. They barked and howled and walked around all night long. I could hear them pawing in front of my room, which was on the ground floor. They sounded right next to me when I finally retired to bed, so I've moved to the bed furthest from the window. Even with the electric fire on, the room was freezing so I've pulled the 2 woolen blankets from the extra bed and I was still cold. Under 4 heavy woolen blankets, it reminded me of my first night in Patagonia, in the ever hateful hotel there.

Everyone visiting Bhutan was required to spend a minimum of $250USD and must have a local guide, so all our meals were included. The food was excellent and the service and hospitality so far far exceeded any I've experienced anywhere in the world. So perhaps people didnt exaggerate when they said they loved Bhutan.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

give herself agonizing grief

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:00 PM 0 comments

The Hippo must hate herself very much to give herself agonizing grief. Months before departure agonizing through wardrobe, how much to bring, weather conditions, had kept her up at night. Then when the time came, she dreaded going. Was this a vacation? A asked me if I were excited when he took me to the airport. I think this was probably the first time I didnt look forward to the trip and I wasnt really into it. The 12 hrs flight to Seoul was long but not terrible. Singapore airlines had good service. They even came out to the waiting line at the check-in counter to greet you. A hot towel to start things off and they gave you a pair of socks and tiny toothbrush and toothpaste, in a cute Givenchy bag. At Incheon, we had to get out of the plane only to board again in 1 hr. So alone in Changi at the transit hotel with nothing to do. Tried to sleep but couldnt. The airport at this hour of the night was quiet. I loved it. I walked everywhere and not a sound, most stores were closed, only an occasional passenger sleeping on the floor or an aiport staff still working. Flight to KTM was stuck on the front row again with crying babies. The Himalyas were on the right side and I was on the left. No views. My airport pickup didnt show up and I had to get a taxi to the hotel. Kathmandu was dirty, dusty, broken roads, people, cows and traffic everywhere. How do the people live like that? The taxi driver asked for a tip. Gave him a dollar and he looked at me like "that's it?". I didnt pay him any attention. I hate it when they ask for tips. I grabbed my bag and walked in to the hotel. My airport pickup was there and asked where were you? I said I've waited and didnt see you. He said he was there. Liar. Not really having fun yet. So what's the point?

I've checked out the Shanker hotel online before I came. It had bad reviews about the staff always asking for tips. It's an old palace converted into hotel. One of the floors had arched windows that were basically on floor level. They had converted 1 floor with high ceilings into 2. And I was given one of these rooms. The room itself was actually pretty nice but the window was low, with no view, making the room claustrophobic and dark. But for one night, I didnt mind too much. Everything in the hotel was old but the decor was great. It had a front garden with gazebos and a very nice swimming pool with a bar. The food wasnt bad either and by our standards, very cheap. Not a bad hotel if you didnt mind the noise as the walls werent insulated. The staff was friendly, over friendly actually. Everyone greeted you with a Namaste every time they saw you. I had one extra day here at the end of the trip and I intent to spend it in the garden with a cup of tea, writing my travel blog and chilling out.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Friday, September 21, 2012

It's our turn

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:35 AM 0 comments

After seeing Goose's images of the Shuttle Enterprise in NYC back in April, and dying of envy, today was our turn. We planned to catch the lightrail to Moffett Field but at the last minute we scraped it. So Hip drove and managed to find a parking space at the garage on Enterprise Way. It was 9:11 and there were crowds there already, every inch of the place taken. We waited for over an hour. The flight started late to allow the famous SF fog to dissipate. The morning in Mtn View was gorgeous. More and more people came and the place was packed. T was giving me the status of Endeavor. Now it was at Berkeley heading to the city. Now it was circling above the Golden Gate. Then suddenly we spotted it, a speck in the sky, slowly approaching NASA Ames and lowering, coming straight at us. Soon it came into full view, so low, and whisked by us almost at eye level, escorted by a F-16. I didnt notice too much noise but perhaps I was too excited to even notice the sound of a flying Jumbo 747. I've expected people to cheer and scream of awe. But the group around me was silent. Stunned by the sight of the last shuttle on its way to its final home. Although it took only a few seconds for Endeavor to fly over our heads, the wait for worth it. This was the last shuttle to be retired. The last time we'd ever see a space shuttle in the sky.

The last time I saw Endeavor it was at the Kennedy Space Center in 94, perched vertically on the launch pad. And I remember seeing H and L at Ames preparing the Macs. I put my open palm on their lids. Lucky devils who got to fly in a shuttle and go to space.

It was an emotional morning. Rest well Endeavor as you deserve it.


shuttle endeavor

See Hippo's photos taken at Moffett Field

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Saturday, September 15, 2012

ballpark Opera

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:50 PM 0 comments
It has happened many times before and the Hippo never deemed it good enough since it wasnt live. But when the Rocket Scientits suggested, and so why not, especially when it's free. So we went. We dined at the Paragon, a local burger joint 1 block from the park. She had sardines on toast. By 6:30, the line was already long and it spewed out all the way to the piers. So we queued. By the time we got to the park entrance, we were deferred to another shorter line and then again to a third one and finally got in. We climbed the ramp to the promenade level, turned and looked out, and the Hippo was awestruck. She's never been to the AT&T park since it was inaugurated in 2000. Once she attended a Giants game, many moons ago, with the Apple bunch, but she cant remember if it was at Candlestick or at the new park. But this one was awesome. The day was mild but we went prepared for the SF cold. We settled at a few rows up from the field, and the Hip went to explore the baseball park. Up and up she went, all the way to the very top, to the very last row and what a sight. The bay was immediately behind the ballpark, exactly behind the giant screen, where less than 2 hrs later Rigoletto, live from the Opera House, would be simucast. The view from the top was breathtaking. Slowly descending on each level, I got a different view, a different perspective of the field below. Tried to crash into one of the Oracle suites and was thrown out. Before the opera started, the national anthem was sung as if it was a ball game. With hot dog in hand and mouth full of 100% beef dog, she struggled to get up from her seat to pay respect to the nations song. Then Rigoletto appeared on the screen and by 9 the famous SF wind whipped up and it was time to bring out the woolies, hat and gloves and blanket. They estimated 30K+ people attending. The field was packed. They even ran out of hot water and tea. The opera was a bit boring. No Hippo's favorite songs. But the giant screen showed close up shots which otherwise we could miss if we're seeing it live at the Opera House, and the opera orchestra and conductor. Hard to see them when you're sitting up in the Opera House Balcony section. When it was over, all the actors/singers wore Giant paraphernalia, giant gloves, hats, bats and Rigoletto himself came out with a Giants baseball shirt and bat, and hit a virtual ball. It was fun to spend an evening in the city, to experience the cold and the people and the new ballpark. After all, the show was free.

Zee ballpark

Gang freezing in the ballpark

Gang queuing

Hip with retarded glove

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Vegas 2012

Posted by Hippo Bean at 9:03 PM 0 comments
It ended with inviting the audience to stand up and dance with the tempo of Waterloo. I was wondering when they're going to do that song. I turned and spotted the old man on the next row shaking and swinging. The singers were just OK and the dancing was just fine. They sped up Fernando and took away the slow romantic theme. Shame. Then they did a few disco numbers that werent by Abba. But all in all, the Dancing Queen show wasnt too bad. And what do you know, even the Hippo got up and danced and made a fool of herself. The theater though was just a plain room with rows of not really comfortable chairs, all on the same level, a stage and a full service bar on the side. Someone of medium height sat in front of the Hippo, luckily only blocking a bit of the view. Will never go to another show in this theater again though. I wasnt feeling well, with a slight fever and tummy problems but M insisted I go and I actually was glad that I did. Just slept on the first day and lied in bed watching S&W tennis on TV. The Vdara room wasnt big but it had a kitchenette and the bathroom was nice with a separate shower and nice separate modern tub. They brought me some seabass rice porridge that cost $17 but it was delicious. The fever was gone on the next day and I ventured out all the way to the Venetian and had Minestrone at Canaletto. It was good, tho a bit on the salty side. M wanted to lunch at Bouchon but it was already closed for lunch. The best part this time around was the Aria was only a short walk away and we had $75 per room dinning credit, which we wasted at the Lemon Grass Thai place and at Sirio. Had wanted to try out Sage but stupid us didnt even remember to make a reservation and it was fully booked. Walking back at night, the Hippo looked up and realized what gorgeous architecture the whole City Center complex was. Brilliant glass buildings, both the Vdara and Aria, with white and blue lights on top and on the side of the building. The sharp angles that could only be admired from below and the curves of the structures were simply eye pleasing. Every year the Hippo discovers something new to admire in this city of sin.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Sunday, August 05, 2012

haute couture

Posted by Hippo Bean at 9:21 PM 1 comments
From Madonna to the Fifth Element, his designs were overwhelming with detail upon detail. "There's nothing simple here", the Hippo exclaimed. And T said "No, you wont find it with him. But he's got just the right amount. Not one bit more." I couldnt agree. I think Gauthier must have had something lacking when growing up. I'm a firm believer that less is more. Although I did find some of his pieces indeed gorgeous, most of his collections were just lace upon lace, fabric over fabric. He just kept piling them. And many times he did over do it. By a wide margin IMHO. And that for me, was not beautiful. But the exhibit was excellently done. The video displayed on the mannequin faces were so real. And the mannequins catwalk at the end was an excellent way to showcase his clothes. Videos of movies where Gauthier was the costume designer, including the leopard piece worn by Chris Tucker, Madonna's bodice that she worn on her Blond Ambition tour, sketches of the designs and his very first pieces were all displayed artfully. I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibit. And thanks T for allowing the grumpy Hippo (she didnt bring her camera because she was told by the Legion of Honor rep that picture taking was not allowed in the special exhibits, but when we got there, the ticket guy said it was OK to take pictures) to take images with his iPod.

Next we did the permanent collection again and this time I ventured up to the second floor, and discovered paintings from the Hudson River School (didnt even know deYoung had them). We need to go back and explore the upstairs with more leisure and care.


This time we even took the elevator to the 9th floor observatory. The Hippo got a bit disoriented once up there with 360 degree view of the city by the bay. Although we could id most of the major landmarks, T whipped out his Android and pointed it at different directions to show the site names. Wonderful s/w.

The day started out misty, foggy and wet but not cold. By the time we're done with the museum, the sun peeked out, and T even lied down on the bench in front of the Spreckles Temple of Music to catch a bit of sun. Then we remembered the bisons but overshot the turn on Kennedy Dr and ended up back out on 19th Ave, so we've decided to leave it for the next time. Bisons could wait I suppose.

We took 280 back and the ride was gorgeous (280 is always gorgeous) with the pre-dusk rays turning the hills in gold. We dinned at the Cupertino Village, the Hippo's old stomping ground. The string beans and clams in black bean sauce were very tasty.

By 10PM PST (17 minutes after the hour to be exact), the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter gently deposited Curiosity on the surface. JPL went ecstatic. And T was TM'in me just about every few minutes, which started with the spacecraft approach, parachute deployment, heat shield separation, backshell separation, powered descend, sky crane and deposit of the rover. Soon images arrived and by tomorrow the world is going to be wild with images and telemetry.

Simultaneously on TV, McKayla of US lost her gold medal by failing to stick the vault landing, and hours earlier both the US men and women won the medley relays , which I missed, because I was watching the String Theory on PBS, world of string strength, membranes and parallel universes. Fascinating! And that's between running out to the balcony to try to catch the ISS flyby AND the bright triangle formed by Mars on the left and Jupiter on top.

Meanwhile, A was missing and we're about to call the police. So M drove to Davis but halfway up in Fairfield, A surfaced and all was well again.

Not a bad day it was!



gauthier

See Hippo's favorite Gauthier pieces

Friday, June 15, 2012

Friday, June 15, 2012

It ended with a loud dance

Posted by Hippo Bean at 10:14 PM 0 comments
One more monastery and a Greek temple ended the tour. The Geghard one was a very interesting monastery built right into the cliff. It comprised of many chambers, a vestry, a mountain spring cave chamber and the Proshians’ sepulchre. This cave chamber was the most interesting. In the center, there are two lions with a chain around the necks and between them there is an eagle with a lamb in its claws. This is the coat-of-arms of the Proshian Princes. The rocks were pitch black and the only light was from the open dome, so the entire chamber was eerie and gave one a mysterious but at the same time quiet feeling. The domes were sculptured but not colored like the ones in the Stans, but the sunlight streaming down from the opening made them looked heavenly. Very beautiful monastery. My favorite so far in Armenia. The Garni Temple was reconstructed and made to look ancient as it was. Seen too many of these so I wasnt too impressed nor interested. We lunched right next to the temple and watched the women make lavash bread which tasted absolutely heavenly, crispy and satisfying. We returned to the capital for an early dinner and then it's time for an Armenian traditional dance show at the spectacular Opera House. The music was very Armenian, with women playing the traditional Kanon,a table-like stringed instrument that sat on the lap and with a pick on the index finger, men playing the ancient Middle Eastern Oud, like a guitar with its head bent backwards, and lots of drums and woodwinds. The dancers did all the numbers that lasted a full hour and half without breaks. The costumes were eye catching. The music was loud and I throughly mesmerized by it. A very nice way to end the trip. Loved Armenia!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Biblical Mtn Ararat but where is the ark?

Posted by Hippo Bean at 10:07 PM 0 comments
"It's there on the right" and everyone frantically whipped out their cameras and snapped, snapped, even through the bus dirty windows. Well, it was our first sight of the biblical mountain since yesterday's cloud and mist shrouded it from our view from atop the Haghtanak Park. We had no patience to get to Khor Virap to admire it. Then we stopped at a vintage point where we're warned of snakes because the day was so dry and hot, that offered a clear view of the mountain on the Turkish side. Local farmers looked at us with a mixture of annoyance and curiosity. The view was fantastic but not close enough. When we finally made it to Khor Virap, the snow covered Ararat was in front of us, probably the closest we will ever get without crossing the border to Turkey. It is huge but not quite as majestic as Kazbeki, simply because Kazbeki was surrounded by lower mountains which gave it the feeling of towering over all others. Ararat stood alone, with no others around to compare it with. We did not see the ark anywhere. We are now so close to Turkey that we could literally touch it if we simply stand our arms out. Strange that it was so close and yet it belonged now to someone else. Once upon a time, the mountain range was Armenian, so we were told.

Next we visited Noravank, 2 churches nestled in orange rocky hills that resembled the dry cliffs of Arizona. Same color and texture. The churches were quite interesting. One offered a narrow double staircase that led to the upper chamber. Climbing them was thrilling. Then we had lunch at a restaurant just behind the churches, where it was open to the orange and beige cliffs. Felt like eating in Sedona.

We returned to Yerevan for an afternoon of souvenir shopping. While shopping we came upon the Italian Arezzo day parade with flag acrobatics and complete with a marching band. We had a light dinner of good soup back on the street near the Opera House and returned for the fountain light show at the Republic square. Good way to end another day at Yerevan.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Yerevan energetic and vibrant

Posted by Hippo Bean at 10:00 PM 0 comments
There was no old city. Strange for a city that was one of the oldest inhabited cities and the first to adopt Christianity. But the city was quite pretty especially the Republic Square. The buildings with the Armenian Tufa stones were gorgeous! And the water and light show every night in front of the National History Museum was quite attractive, a miniature of the fountain Bellagio at Vegas. And every night, different music, a different singer. The crowd gathered there each evening, old and young, in groups, in pairs and singles. Our hotel was a mere stone throw away and one could hear the fountain music at night. Very soothing! Loved that place!

First stop was the Haghtanak park on top of the hill for great views of the city. The statue of Mother Armenia with a sword, much like the one in Tbilisi, except this one is all black, stood on top of the Military Museum and guarded the city, facing the straight Mashtots Ave with the Opera House on its left. Spectacular sight! Biblical Mtn Ararat loomed in front but veiled in clouds. We hoped to see it tomorrow clear and imposing.

Next we explored the Mashtots Ancient Manuscript Museum and oh, so many illuminated manuscripts! Hippo's heaven! How she loved them!

We had brandy (Armenian cognac) tasting at the Ararat Brandy factory. Three kinds and enough to get the Hip tipsy. The weather was very hot and it thundered and then rained pretty hard on us. But I loved it as it was refreshing. And I even remembered to bring the egg yoke colored umbrella that we bought in Vienna.

During lunch break, Jonathan, Greg and the Hip went to smoke a bit of Shisha with mint and grape flavors, and snacked on olives, hummus, flat bread, and mushrooms. The French Fries never came! She got a bit stoned!

In the afternoon we visited the Armenian Orthodox Holy See at Echmiadzin and what did we know, the Patriarch was at the souvenier shop!

In the evening we dined close to the Republic Square (Hip had grilled rabbit) and on our way back to the hotel, we stopped at the square for the fountain show and mingled with locals. All the surrounding buildings were lite up. Close to the fountain, it was refreshing and Charles Aznavour was singing through the enormous loudspeakers. Great ambiance and lovely early summer eve.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Goodbye Georgia and hello Armenia

Posted by Hippo Bean at 4:34 PM 0 comments
We did our second cave town today in Vardzia, a 7 story structure built into the slopes of the Erusheti Mountain on the left bank of the Mtkvari River. It's more impressive than yesterday's Uplistsikhe. We passed by the Khertvisi Fortress, in Southern Georgia in the Meskheti region, to and from our way to Vardzia and stopped for some photos. A very beautiful fortress. Too bad we didnt have time to explore it. Then it's border crossing to Armenia. The weather suddenly changed to cloudy and rain but still very hot. No hassle whatsoever at the border and there's even an exchange machine on the Armenian side, where you put in any currency and out spits the equivalent of Armenian drams. A wonder of Armenia! And a nice welcome ! We met our local guide and our first stop was the earthquake devastated town of Gyumri, the capital and largest city of the Shirak Province in northwest Armenia. It is located about 120 km from the capital Yerevan. It was almost entirely flatten by a 7.1 earthquake, called the Pitak Earthquake in 1988 but totally rebuilt. Some buildings were still waiting to be rebuilt and showed massive damage. The new constructions used the Armenian tufa stones and they were absolutely gorgeous. Hues of brown, beige and orange blocks interspersed in the building walls offering well designed and eye pleasing houses. I really loved it! We arrived quite late and tired to our Best Western hotel in Yerevan, right in the midst of the Republic square where every night the fountain in front of the History Museum offered a water light show, kinda miniature of the Bellagio in Vegas. It's the evening hangout place. Couldnt wait to paint this vibrant city!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Monday, June 11, 2012

Kazbeki finally

Posted by Hippo Bean at 9:54 PM 0 comments
It was 6AM and when I parted the window curtains, Mtn Kazbeki said good morning bathed in orange glow. Didnt know our room window faced the mountain, with a view of the Sameba church, which we put in some hard effort to climb to it yesterday. This morning, its majesty the mountain was clear and the view spectacular. Mtn Kazbeki was enormous, majestic among surrounding mountains, and with the church perched on a lower hill in front of the huge mountain, made it picture perfect. Couldnt get enough of the sight! Was glued to the window to admire it. Later I had my morning coffee in the terrace accompanied by the imposing Kazbeki. Last day in here and had to leave leaving my heart behind.

We left the Greater Caucasus by the same Jvari Pass, saw the same mountains and the Freedom Memorial again, the place with the orange iron rich rocks, the same snow tunnels, and drove southeast to Stalin's hometown Gori. We visited the Stalin museum which had nothing but part of the house he lived in when he was a kid, and photos upon photos of him. Poor museum. And didnt know he was so good looking while young. But in Gori, we had what Georgians called a kebab, which was a very tasty sausage wrapped in thin tortilla. It was outstandingly delicious! Then we came to our first series of cave towns, the Uplistsikhe, an ancient rock-hewn town in Eastern Georgia, about 15 kilometers east of the town of Gori, not very impressive. Our final destination for the night was the resort town of Bakuriani, in the Lesser Caucasus. Our hotel the Didveli was very colorful and the rooms were big with balconies. However the mountain views were now less impressive. I miss the Greater Caucasus! There was a billiards table in the hotel lobby and the bartender and I shot a round of pool and the Hippo lost miserably.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sunday, June 10, 2012

hiking in the caucasus

Posted by Hippo Bean at 9:53 PM 0 comments
'You mean that church up on that hill?' I've asked yesterday and pointed to the tiny looking church up on the mountain facing our hotel. I thought they were kidding but this morning we hiked the 14km to the Sameba church, the Gergeti Holy Trinity church, at 2200m, 500m above the Kazbegi town. The hike wasnt particulary strenuous but the Hippo was out of shape and it took some huffing and puffing to get up there. Along the path, we were greeted by wonderful views of the Greater Caucasus and views of the ever diminishing town below. The reward for the hard work was a church perched on top of a green meadow that immediately gave me the feeling of the Sound of Music. The hills are alive! But Mtn Kazbeki was stubborn, hidden behind fog and clouds and will not proclaim its glory. The day was a bit warmer than yesterday, just a bit cloudy, very ideal for mountain hikes. Later on in the afternoon, we took 4X4's through the Sno Valley to the village of Juta, hidden among hills. The village wasnt particularly interesting, it only had old dilapidated buildings, no cafes or restaurants but they're building a brand new resort hotel. But along the way, we saw waterfalls and views of wondrous mountains in the Sno valley. On our way back, Mtn Kazbeki finally showed its majesty, clear, covered in snow (it's called ice mountain by the locals). It's an enormous mountain, towering above all others. What a sight! In the evening, again I had my tea in the terrace for a quiet communion with the Caucasus, and Greg came to join me, embraced by the surrounding mountains. One of the most beautiful places on earth! I so love mountains!

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Caucasus mountains finally

Posted by Hippo Bean at 9:52 PM 0 comments
No skirmish about leaving Tbilisi but unwilling to leave the wonderful Holiday Inn. First stop today was the Jvari monastery with breathtaking views of the town of Mtskheta, the capital of eastern Georgian kingdom of Iberia, the town of confluence of the Aragvi and Kura rivers. Next we went to the walled cathedral Svetiskhoveli, beautifully nestled among hills. Gorgeous cathedral in a gorgeous setting. The day was bright, sunny and refreshing. Then we saw some wonders. The confluence of a dark and a white river. You can literally see the dark and white waters converging. Then a place with no name, a side of a hill, with orange iron rich rocks with water running down but it's absolutely non slippery. It's beautiful but I dont know what made them non-slippery when water was running on them. Must check with our geologist friend Dr O'Reilly. We followed the winding Georgian Military Highway up hill, past the ski resort town of Gudauri, where in Soviet times must have been bustling but today it's deserted and looked abandoned and unkept, past the Friendship Memorial and came to the Jvari (cross) Pass at 2395m, absolutely freezing, and arrived very cold at Kazbegi (also known as Stepantsminda - town named after saint stephan), a resort town along the Georgian Military Highway, surrounded by majestic Caucasus mountains. Finally, the Caucasus! They are what the Hippo came to Georgia for. We stayed at the Ilia State University Alpine Ecology Institute, with very basic accommodations, and very slow internet, but the homemade food was simple and delicious.

Before dinner we explored town. A local museum, which was the poet Alexandre Kazbegi's house, a gorgeous structure with a garden where he was burried along with his parents, located just a few minutes walk from the town square by the Tergi river, and contained photos and original furniture. A local hotel by the square with the equestrian statue of King Vakhtang Gorgasali. Some very small grocery stores (one named Google Market with the google ball colors). And a mere 4km to the Russian border. The mountaintops were covered in snow and fog and no views of the Kazbek mountain, one of the 5000+ ft mountains in the Caucasus, the third highest mountain in Georgia (after Mount Shkhara and Janga) and the seventh highest peak in the Greater Caucasus Mountains. In the evening, I had my tea on the university terrace, cold but at awe with the tranquility of the misty Greater Caucasus, veiled in fog and clouds. heaven!

Friday, June 08, 2012

Friday, June 08, 2012

Tbilisi

Posted by Hippo Bean at 9:52 PM 0 comments
The city straddled the Kura (Mtkvari)river, brown but flowing with a fierceness. The most eye catching icon was the glass bridge. It was cool to walk on it under the glass cover and at night it's lite in blue. Once could see how the river meandered through the city from the view up in the citadel of Narikala. We wanted to do souvenir shopping but was made to walk from the old city to the non-impressive Freedom Square and then along the Rustaveli Ave, which claimed to be the most beautiful street in Tbilisi, but the buildings flanking it were rundown and old, with very little architecture. The newly open historical museum only offered photographs of people and things. We retired early to the Holiday Inn which for me, was the only impressive thing in Tbilisi. The city name sounded so cute but the city was a let down.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Thursday, June 07, 2012

the caucasus started for us

Posted by Hippo Bean at 9:51 PM 0 comments
So finally the last leg of the Silk Road! The georgian flight to Tbilisi was not comfortable. The plane was tiny and the 3.5 hrs felt trapped in a suffocating cave. But we were recompensed by the best hotel of the entire trip, the modern Holiday Inn. We were put on the 7th floor, in a room facing the hill, with a floor to ceiling window. One wall was covered with a wall paper illustrating books and at night, the books came alive! Oh, the bathroom with the rain shower and wooden floor which acted as the drain! The hand held shower was a cylinder! Even the public restrooms in the hotel lobby were modernly designed. The doors of the stalls were 10 feet tall and heavy! We loved our room and the enormous window that offered the fantastic view. It rained in the early evening and the mist made the view very romantic and mysterious. And the smell of summer rain! At night the TV tower antenna and Ferris Wheel were illuminated and the buildings near the hotel offered glimpses of the local living. A McDonald in Georgian alphabets was right across the never ending traffic filled street, where we could get truly cold sodas and american style coffees. Crossing that street took enormous courage! But the prospect of a cold drink was worth the risk, since Tbilisi was hot as an oven compared to the cool of Vienna.

The first impression of the city was a disappointing one. It looked dirty and backwards. And the city, being the biggest in the country, was small.

We met up with the rest of the group later at dinner. ;A nice welcome from Jonathan and a bear hug from Greg. Almost immediately they've told us about what we missed in the youknowwhatcountry and asked how we didnt managed to get the visa. But we got Vienna to show off.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Wolfie's everywhere

Posted by Hippo Bean at 7:21 PM 0 comments
It's wolfie's face everywhere here in Wien (Vienna). A city that was on my list to visit but never had the chance until now. We're flying Austrian and of course it had to stop at Vienna. And since the visa from the youknowhatcountry was never issued to us, we changed plans and had a 4 day stopover in Vienna instead. We arrived in the early evening and went to paint town. Our hotel the Best Western Kaiserhof was a mere 3 blocks from the center and we walked to the Stephanplatz with the enormous striking cathedral, romanesque and gothic, one of the tallest churches in the world. The evening was warm and pleasant. The full moon behind the illuminated Karlskirche (St Charles church) was spectacular. Later I've learned the full moon was even more spectacular in the youknowwhatcountry's capital. Of course I've never got to see it there.

It poured non-stop for an entire day the following day while we visited the Hapsburg's Hofburg Palace. The silver and gold collections in the palace were stunning and the apartments were gorgeous. Comprised of so many wings, this place was enormous. After that we've waited 30 mins in the rain to visit the world renowed Staatsoper, the Vienna Opera House. Sitting there in one of the historic velvety red chairs was a touching experience. The opera hall was smaller that I've imagined, but the stage was very deep, and I kept visualizing Mozart conducting one of his operas in the orchestra. Everywhere in the interior from the not overwhelming Grand Staircase to the walls and ceilings and side halls were lavishly decorated. The most beautiful was of course the Schwind Foyer with the stunning chandeliers. A beautiful place but not as big as I've imagined. Nevertheless, it didnt disappoint me.

The next day we took the u-bahn to Schönbrunn, the Rococo summer residence of the Hapsburgs. The front looked a bit like Versailles but the resemblance stopped there. Behind it, the imperial French garden, the great Parterre, gently sloped uphill to the Sun fountain and on the very top, overlooking the palace itself, stood Maria Theresa's Gloriette. The Parterre had a zoo and several mazes. We walked one but failed miserably and had to retrace our steps back out. Then we found out there's a direct route to its very center and got there to the platform where we video recorded the whole maze. It reminded me of the wizardly maze in harry potter. We've tried several other 'easier' ones which were created for kids. Later when the rain finally stopped, we dined at the famous Plachutta restaurant. We had emperor Franz Joseph's beloved boiled beef, which came in a brass pot steaming with a mouth watering aromatic broth filled with spices, onions, carrots and potatoes. And oh yeah, I had to try the wiener schnitzel, lightly breaded veal accompanied by mild vinaigretted potatoes. We've discovered the restaurant by accident and it's only a block from our hotel, the Hilton. We switched hotels to sample different parts of the city and the Hilton overlooked the Stadtpark and it's within walking distance to everywhere. Vienna is a very walkable city.

On our last day, we crossed the brown danube and went up to the Donauturm with a bungee jumping platform and a rotating restaurant on top, to admire the 360 view of the city. Later in the evening, we attended a wolfie's concert in the Brams Hall. The music hall was small, intimate and very grandly ornamented. The orchestra all dressed up in 18C attire and wore wigs. I admit it was the highlight of the visit, even though I'm not much of a Wolfie's fan. The music was heavenly recognizable. They even played Strauss' blue danube, which the audience enthusiastically applauded, even though it wasnt even a Mozart's piece.

The Hippo absolutely loved Vienna (who wouldnt). The visa fiasco has turned into a blessing in disguise. Even tho later we found from the group that the youknowwhatcountry offered great sightseeing, an ultra modern capital with a state of the art shopping mall, Zoroastrian Fire Temples, view of southern Caucasus, a hotel facing the Caspian Sea and evening promenade strolls by the Caspian, Vienna had trumped it several times over. The food was fantastic, the music heavenly, the city was safe and easy to walk, and the culture, well, nothing can beat the art. Definitely a city the Hippo will visit again and again.

See Wien photos

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Concierto de Aranjuez - live finally!

Posted by Hippo Bean at 8:53 PM 1 comments
"Chewing on a piece of grass Walking down the road... You don't care, I know"

We put on Ventura Highway as we got into Ventura county. It's been a habit to me now.

"Ventura Highway in the sunshine
Where the days are longer
The nights are stronger than moonshine
You're gonna go I know"

The HippoJet sped on the freeway while Bunnell's lyrics conjured up the America I've always imagined.

"'Cause the free wind is blowin' through your hair
And the days surround your daylight there
Seasons crying no despair
Alligator lizards in the air"

There's nothing more American than America playing Ventura Highway. I so love this song.

We havent made a soCal road trip in a while. This time we're going for the Concierto de Aranjuez being played by the LA Phil in the Disney Concert Hall. We've always wanted to attend a concert there. I've been waiting in vain for the SF Symphony to do Rodrigo. Although the idea of a weekend road trip to LA wasnt initially too appealing, my favorite guitar concerto was well worth the hassle. The weather the week before was cold and rainy but this weekend it was perfect. Warm but breezy. Sky clear and blue. The road trip through Hi 5 was as usual, dull, boring and uneventful. The Millinnium Biltmore hotel had a grand reception area with gorgeously ornated ceiling. We made it in time for afternoon tea in the victorian lounge. The chandeliers looked ancient and historic. The tea ceremony wasnt grand but the tiny sandwiches and scones were delicious. They even had Devonshire cream! However, the rooms had tiny bathrooms with very antiquated fixtures. Our room faced a wall and T's was very noisy because it faced a busy downtown street and the windows were old and single pane. The hotel service wasnt up to its star rating. After tea we explored the Disney Concert Hall garden and Frank Gehry's architecture. I'm not much for curvy metal lines but the late afternoon sun gave the glistening curvy metals a peculiar luster that was unmatched by any other time of the day. The interior was modern and pleasing. The main Hall was intimate with every seat having a good view of the orchestra. We had front row seats on the side terrace. Young, talented and handsome Christoph Konig was the conductor and he conducted with a passion that I thought far surpassed our MTT. Romero's interpretation of Rodrigo though was a bit of disappointment to me. Maybe the mic was not close enough to his guitar, but the LA Phil orchestra simply overshadowed his guitar strings. Romero was quite skillful with the musical instrument, but I'd have liked his guitar to be more forceful and commanding. But it could be just because I prefer it that way. I found even the second movement not as hauntingly regretful as I'd have liked. Ah well, I'm being picky here. Guess I'm too used to Tokos and the Budapest Strings for this euphoric piece. I've always wondered if the beginning of the second movement was played with an English horn or some other woodwind. For days before the concert, we googled for English horn to see how exactly it looked like. I really like the sound of that thing. Finally at the concert we saw the single English horn being played and the sound was so heavenly romantic it almost made me cry. A world of difference between listening to a CD and hearing it play live. With the CD, one could only imagine. Seeing it played live right before your eyes, you get to appreciate the real unmolested sound of every instrument, and how the author played each against another, and how he combined them to give you nirvana. Ah, music soothes the savage Hippo!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

grand finale - the quiet before the storm

Posted by Hippo Bean at 9:03 PM 0 comments Links to this post
AD is 11 yrs old. We raced goKarts today and the Hippo ended dead last. After 3 laps of intense concentration, she lost it. She's never been known to be mentally strong. Not physically strong either. And the key to winning anything is the mental part. I went half hearted. This would be the last. After Thursday's big announcement, I remembered when I've joined AD, I questioned myself if that was a career suicide. 6 years later, I'm still here, gone nowhere and going nowhere. Complacency totale. Today was the grand finale. Tomorrow the quiet before the storm. Possibly the end of a chapter and the start of the next.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Compete

Posted by Hippo Bean at 10:00 AM 0 comments Links to this post
my eyelids shut again when the clock ticked 5AM. Still the 2 champions battled. I was so sleepy at this point i no longer cared who won as long as they ended the match SOON! They both looked as exhausted as I was and still they battled. And my heart went out completely for Rafa while Novak ripped his shirt open and simply roared.

The night before I saw Sharapova lose badly to Vicka, and for the first time in all my years of following the grand slams, I too felt sorry for the loser.

watching how relentless they played, it made me wonder why we liked to compete so much. Is that the only way to push ourselves for the better? Is there no other way other than beating down our opponent?

What is it about humans that exult so greatly when beating someone else? why human has to compete? what is it about us that we constantly need to be better than or superior to the next person?
compete
 

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