Friday, November 13, 2015
Sunday, November 08, 2015
Or perhaps the smartest of all is Pendergast's ward. She was able to sample one brother and then captivated the other.
The Hippo cant help liking Diogenes better than the rest. Especially when he was better at Latin than Aloysius (she's a big sucker for latin). Pity the authors had this fascinating super intelligent character fall into a volcano. But is he dead? Perhaps not.
"one eye hazel, one milky blue...'
Thursday, November 05, 2015
Although the series was not without its flaws (and a great many of them), they were well written and highly entertaining, and sure took the Hippo away from her mundane dull and uninteresting world.
Sunday, October 25, 2015
Saturday, October 10, 2015
All tourists crowded and waited in line to take pictures with the Rocky statue, or run up the 'rocky' steps. not many paid too much attention to the museum itself. Inside the European collections were outstanding. The special exhibit "The Wrath of the Gods", masterpieces by Micheangelo, Titian and Rubens, reduced the Hippo to her knees.
When I read about "Curator Christopher Atkins uncovering the striking similarities between Rubens’s Prometheus Bound and Michelangelo’s Risen Christ in the Sistine Chapel", I'd never look at Prometheus Bound the same way again. "Rubens was drawn to Michelangelo’s terribilità. Rather than a literal translation from the Latin word for “terrible,” terribilità connoted grandeur, force of expression, artifice, and skill. It was also a qualitative term that signified greatness. Terribilità conveyed the forcefulness, physicality, and power of the work of art, and of the artist who made it. Looking at this drawing, it is easy to see that Rubens directly modeled the pose of Prometheus on that of Michelangelo’s Tityus." The Hippo's never been much for Prometheus until now. It opened her eyes. After seeing Titian's paintings at the Hermitage, I was beginning to really like this guy too. Really had a great time at the Museum of Arts and pity we could not stay longer. (she's such a sucker for museums and classic arts).
After that, we retired back to the beautiful modern comfortable Sonesta and on impulse we had a food massage on Chestnut and 20th. After grabbing some supper at the Reading Terminal (M had classic philly cheesesteak as she'd never had cheesesteak before and the Hippo finally had her shrimp low mein). it was pouring rain when we went back to the hotel on the double. So we took a taxi to the opera at the Academy of Music, which was only 4 blocks away. We first stopped briefly at the Kimmel Center just to take a look at the inside. people were all over the steps to the Academy of Music as it didnt open its doors until a half hour before the show. The inside of this 158 years old building, beautiful chandeliers hung on the ceilings, 3 tiers of balconies, a beautiful enormous central chandelier blocked our 'amphitheater' 3rd tier view of the stage but it was raised up before the performance started. We only saw the first 2 acts of the modernized La Traviata because we'd wanted to return to the hotel early to relax a bit. Besides I didnt like the way they did the opera making it contemporary. They were dressed in modern attire but sang 'she sold her horses and carriages'. The walk back to the hotel on Broad st was quite enjoyable on a friday night. Everyone was out for the shows and pubs. The city hall was lite up and so were some of the nearby buildings. One even shone in alternating red and blue. Gosh I loved this town.
Next morning -
We only had the morning to see the remaining spectacles in Philly. M wanted to see the historical sites, so we went to the independence Hall. The line to the Liberty Bell was very long. People packed in the info center. The first available tour was at 1:45. With our afternoon departure, she wouldnt make it. So she queued up for the Bell while I shopped. We were thinking of doing the East State Penitentiary but decided against it and did the Constitutional Center instead, so at least she'd get to see the Bill of Rights and the printing copy of the Constitution with her own eyes. The exhibits here were very well done. I particularly enjoyed the Signer's Hall with the 42 life-size, bronze statues of the Founding Fathers. I even signed the Constitution electronically.
We should have done the Penitentiary yesterday while we were at the Museum of Arts since it's nearby. And we should have gotten across the river to see the University city. And there are the Catholic Shrines that I've wanted to visit also. Or simply to wander around admiring the old row houses like we did on the first day on Spruce. There's so much we missed. But who knows, we may come back someday. Another offsite maybe? I didnt know I'd love it so much. So much history, so many museums, so much architecture. Aside from not having the best cheesesteak, I have found nothing that I didnt like in Philly.
Thursday, October 08, 2015
US Airways check-in was in terminal 2 but the gates were in terminal 1. Even though I've already checked in the night before, had to check in again at the kiosk just to drop off my luggage. SFO was packed so instead of having enough time to get food and settle down, I've almost missed my flight out. Everything on the boarding pass that I've printed the night before was wrong. Terminal was wrong, gate was wrong. The lines were super long at check-in and even longer at the security check. The security confiscated all of M's liquids. Food line was super long and slow and the line to the women's bathroom was even longer. so it's either food or toilet. Opted for food. Just got enough time to get a croissant and coffee and they're already boarding. We've all boarded but still no sign of S. We began to wonder if she'd make it. Window seat again but this time 2 other business people next to me and this dude from hawaii had to go a lot, so every time he got up, I got up too. Hate domestic flights. no food. the flight a bit bumpy when we got close to Philly. From up on top, the greater Philly area looked very green. Saw the city center by the meandering Delaware. cloudy. Luggage came out after 20 mins wait and waited another 45 for D to land. Our car was here and the journey to Horsham took over an hour due to rush hour traffic. Very green. leafs just about starting to turn orange brown. long 2 lane highways. Very New England. The 7 of us were excited and chatted happily during the ride. Warm and sunny.
When we arrived at our hotel, our jaws dropped. The reception was the size of a closet and we just about took all the space there. Elevators were old. My assigned room was again at the end of the hallway while everyone else was put on the other side. The room looked tired. The bathroom was not cleaned properly, hair in the tub and sink. The sofa had white cat fur. the advertised fully equipped kitchen, was empty of utensils, a 2 plate stove, no coffee maker, all drawers and cupboards empty. Had to ask for cups, plates, coffee maker, spoons, everything at the reception. We were practically starving because none of us had lunch, and breakfast was 8-9 hours ago. No restaurants in the vicinity. no convenience stores within a 5 miles. So we ordered food to be delivered. Some of us wanted chinese, others italian so we ordered both. kun pao chicken, pineapple fried rice, spring rolls, stir fry seafood, french fries, spaghetti and meatballs, caesar salad, and taco pizza. The meatballs were disgusting. the pizza was strangely good. nobody touched the salad. Our feast was enormous. Starving, we ordered too much food. $40 and some for chinese, $70 for the italian. A, R, H and A arrived and we exploded in laughter and chit chat. We were like little kids on summer camp. Surprised no one at the hotel complained about the noise. A had to change his room because it was littered with ants.
Got ready for bed only to find out after pulling the linen over, a great blood stain on the mattress. There was no way I was going to sleep on that mattress for 3 nights. Besides, the toilet self flushed every 2 mins. So I went to the reception to ask for another room. 106? No way, that was A's old room with the ants! they finally gave me the handicap room on the 2nd floor. When I got there, a big bag filled with garbage was in front of the door and there was no blanket on the bed but everything seemed clean and in properly working order. Asked for a blanket and to please take away that garbage in front of my door! The bed however was itchy and I scratched and itched all night, waking up every hour if not for the heat, for the noise. people padded in front of my door, slammed door loudly, and the fridge was louder than R's voice. had to turn the fridge completely off. couldnt turn on the ac as the unit was thundering. So I've suffered the first night in the heat and itch.
In the morning, we had to walk a good 15 mins to the office, carrying our heavy laptops. Breakfast at the Extended Stay America, was grab and go. Coffee, tea in paper cups, 3 kinds of muffins and granola bars. Apples and oranges. Who eats granola bars for breakfast? They put us at Training room A and people would pop in and out to discover how the Hippo looked like. I was the only one who nobody met f2f yet because I've been missing the annual offsites (on purpose since it always coincided with my autumn trip). After a full day of work and meetings, we trained from willow grove to suburban station in Philly, and walked to the lucky strikes for a late afternoon of bowling and hors-d'oeuvre. This place was pretty cool. Billiards table, long sofas and bowl in the semi darkness. had 2 strikes and 3 spares. otherwise total open frames. long gone my days of good bowling. Remember that trophy I won at the Apple bowling league? arm hurting, eyes heavy with sleep, we trained back to horsham and L drove us back to the haunted hotel. Now the Hippo was famous at the east coast office for the room with the bloody murder. another night of itching, dirty carpet smell. found out that they didnt even clean our rooms daily. housekeeping only once a week and we're staying there for only 3 nights!
Second day of meetings and work. The wings we had for lunch were outstanding. The horsham office was amazing. the kitchen/break area had high chairs, brightly painted walls. coffee, tea, even iced tea stations. very bright green colors just like our san mateo office. they had quiet rooms, closet in the cubes. We all sat in the training room and for the first time in our history, the entire group worked in the same room, shouting at each other. felt like school kids again. We had a great time working actually. After the meet and pies (had too much pie, greedy, I took a little piece of every pie, and we had about 10 different types of pies), we went to Bonefish for dinner. had ahi tuna with mango and asian sauce and potato au gratin. was very good. too bad I had too much pie in my stomach. pomegranate martini (gosh this thing was GOOD!). bang bang shrimps. holy cow, I was so stuff to the point of getting sick. just couldnt go straight to bed (just think of that bed with itchy sheets, the dirty shoes carpet smell in the room, I shrieked), so we went for a walk near the lousy hotel, in the dark. no street lights. we didnt see anyone out. just a few cars driving by.nothing but offices. by the time we saw some shops, we had to go back. it was at least a good 25 minutes walk to any signs of civilization. C came in the 2nd day and got lucky because they couldnt find her reservation so she was put at the Marriotts. We were furious. and very jealous. I couldnt think of how I could stay another night in the itchy smelly room, so I frentically tried to book a room at the Marriotts. But all rooms were over $300 a night and the logistics of moving and getting there and back was too much to handle, so another night of itch, heat and bad smell.
On the third morning, never happier to leave a hotel. M called Uber and google gave us the scenic route to Philly. We drove through nice neighborhoods with beautiful brick/stone houses, along the Schuylkill river. picturesque old iron bridges. the philly skyline. $33 for the 53 mins ride. what a deal.
My room at the Sonesta was available so we dumped our luggage and went first to the Reading Terminal for food. Had DiNic's roast pork, roast beef and italian sausage. I liked the sausage and beef. the pork looked and tasted like chicken. i swore they gave us chicken instead of pork. Slow walk to the independence hall, liberty bell. first time layed eyes on a copy of the constitution and declaration of independence. birth of the nation here. you cant get anymore historical than this in the US. the spruce st offered the row houses that I loved. had coffee at the SaxCoffee on Spruce. It was a nice day of site seeing. The city hall was gorgeous. really loved Philly.
when the rest of the gang departed, finally some peace and quiet and I relaxed in my beautiful and clean hotel, on a clean thick bed with thick duvet and fluffy pillows. no itching. By 7, I strolled out to grab some low mein at the Reading Terminal only to find out that it closed at 6. Very pissed. how can a market not open for dinner? Had to settle for a veggie soup and chicken noodle salad from Cosi, which turned out to be actually quite good.
So tonight, finally a totally good night!
East Coast office reception:
Thursday, September 24, 2015
It was still early but multitude of tourists were already out and about in central paris. The air was cold, cloudy but no rain. Hopped on the FoxCity bus and did a 2 hr ride through all the familiar sites, the Louvre, Notre Dame, Place de La Concorde, Champ d'Elises, arc de triumph, the Opera house, the eiffel tower, and back to the Louvre. Wanted to walk around a bit but after 2 weeks of walking in the baltics and St Petes I was bone tired and it was very cold (even colder than St Petes), so had a lasagna lunch at a local joint and headed back to CDG.
Check out Paris in 2015.
Checked in to the CitizenM hotel next to terminal 3 and oh, this place was awesome beyond expectation. Decor totally modern, self check-in, long tables with outlets for the businessmen laptops, and banks of Macs to use, an awesome bar and small dinning area. The room was what sent me to the heavens. 4th floor with a direct view of the runway, planes parading in front of my window every 3 mins. Small Snowie perched himself on the windowsill counting the planes going by. Small room but everything adequate. The shower and toilet were located inside the room in an oval glass compartment with different color shades ambient lighting. King size bed up against the window, 48 in flat screen tv with free movies. Everything controlled by a tablet. I could set the ambient lighting to display alternating colors of the rainbow. Loved this room. After a shower beneath faded orange lighting, headed downstairs intending to grab some supper material from terminal 2 but spotted the hotel buffet - orange duck, curry chicken, mushroom beef, kale salad, scallop potato, so went for it. lemon pudding and drink came with the dinner, so I carried it all to my room and enjoyed the sumptuous meal watching 50 Shades (again) while Small Snowie watched the planes go by and occasionally stole looks at the TV and at my food. Had a most relaxing invigorating sleep accompanied by the lime green ambient lighting. I've really enjoyed this room and the hotel. Next CDG layover, guess what. citizenM again! forget the Ibis, although closer to the terminal. price the same and citizenM's rooms were a bit bigger and excellently modern.
Double decker Air France Airbus again and this time on the upper deck. A dutch with perfect English sat next to me. Not much conversation between us but he conversed quite a bit with his colleagues sitting behind us. Dutch not a very pleasant sounding language but good background noise to my sweet slumber. Finished up Brimstone and really loved the Diogenes trilogy of the Pendergast series. Did the trilogy in backwards order. Fun to already know what happened later in the story. hee hee.
Another great trip. Loved the lovely Baltics, stormy adventurous ferry acrossing the sea, the smooth elegant Allegro train, completely blown away by St Petes. A trip of grand chandeliers, palaces with enough gold, rivers and cathedrals, great meat (reindeer, moose, wild boar, elk), good strudels and pies, pleasant hotels. Just the weather was not nice but hey, it's Mother Nature and she's in control, always, and one cannot complain.
My room at the CitizenM hotel:
Planes parading in front of my window:
Air France double-decker Airbus to SFO:
Our plane coming:
Wednesday, September 23, 2015
Pushkin was a small lovely quaint town. this was where the russian government put the foreign dignitaries. Cottages, they called them, actually grand 2 story single houses crowded in the town, surrounded by green gardens with trees. Like a nice summer place to be. Loved it. Another stunning classical baroque architecture, the Catherine's palace was built to impress. enormous didnt even qualify it. we paid a brief visit to the family chapel next to the grand building. nice little intimate church. Not sure if all the imperial state houses still showed their original colors, but Cath's palace was now sky blue. I loved the vibrant colors of these russian palaces. Somehow this palace lacked a grand entrance and staircase. the staircase we've entered was not even as grand as the one in the Mikhailovsky Palace which was just a duke's palace. Gosh more gold everywhere. We just about seen enough gold. Strangely this place had all painted ceilings with no chandeliers! Walking from room to room, I began to wonder if the palace's inhabitants knew that one day chinese tourists would walk through their chambers. Katcha told us that was exactly what Cath had in mind. to tell people how rich she was. I remember my childhood friend A told me when she went back home and saw that her house in Taipa had turned into a local museum and she went it and said "oh, it's my room" and now tourists were walking in it. Must be a strange and funny feeling. Hm. We stole a few photos in the packed like sardine Amber room. What's the point of prohibiting photography only in this room? Although it wasnt the original amber, this room was still floor to ceiling in amber. amber not my thing. just look brown to me and i actually didnt find it all that spectacular. but others might disagree. This palace had the most romanovs mementos. paintings of them filled 1 room even with one of a boy Alexei. Poor kid. We strolled through the massive gardens and the leafs were just about to starting turning orange brown. On the Cameron Gallery, one could get excellent views of the back of the palace and the palace church on one side, and the English garden on the other. Very nice view of the blue palace amidst green orange brown trees.
After a buffet lunch, we drove to Pavlovsk palace, the 18th-century Russian Imperial residence built by Paul I, now part of the World Heritage site of St Petes. this palace was occupied by the Germans during WWII. The palace curators removed most of the treasures of the palace and dug holes 3 meters deep to bury/hide the statues, for the german wouldnt dig deeper than 1 meter. Other treasures, the curators hid them behind fake brick walls in the basement. For 2 and a half years the German didnt know the palace's treasures were all around them. The german burned the palace to the ground when they fled. All the palace's hidden treasures remained intact. Quite a triumphant story. Pavlovsk I liked very much. Smaller in scale, more intimate. Not many foreign tourists here. Still richly decorated and furnished, but none of the over the top extravagance as the other palaces. Here one can feel at home. A short walk in the gardens behind the palace where a small tranquil lake was situated, the pale yellow palace was reflected on it, it looked like the one in the sound of music. I really did like this palace very much. Nice way to round up St Petes visit.
Being in St Petes literally reduced me on my knees. I didnt expect it to be so westernized. Its excessive grandeur spoke of the old glorious imperial days of the tzars, with so much gold and excessive extravagance, and no wonder the common folks revolted. I've tried unavailingly to find out what the old Lenningrad's days used to be. No one would venture to speak of it. Most of the population was young and seemed to live in good times with plenty of money to spend, plenty of western commodities to buy. True the history was enormous here. One could see the architecture, grand palaces and state buildings all around. But the present is modern and western. Gone were the Lenningrad days, controlled, isolated and enclosed. Now it looks like a capitalist world. Passing by Tchaikovsky's house was a sentimental moment I didnt expect. I've enjoyed St Petes and loved it very much.
Catherine's Palace photos:
Pavlovsk Palace photos:
Tuesday, September 22, 2015
We had lunch at a nearby subterranean small local restaurant. The pasta I had was delicious. Nice place decorated with russian mementos, and I spotted a very nice color drawing of Lenin in a winter field. Such treasures. We missed the hydrofoil so we drove to Peterhof instead. Another grand palace, filled with gold. no photos allowed inside. But the garden fountains were what made it famous. 7 beautiful fountains on 1 side, elaborate tiered ones ornate with statues at the back, the Grand Cascade and the Samson Fountain'. Barely enough time to snap a few photos, we had to run to the last hydrofoil. Short ride but you did get a perspective of the compact city from the river. Back at the hotel, just in time for one last afternoon tea. Glorious cakes and bakes again. yum yum.
For dinner we went to an authentic russian restaurant and had beef stroganoff. Not like the ones we had at home. This came with mashed potato. Very good though. Piles of georgian flat bread again. Yum to the max. Slept quite well this night.
See the Tsars' Treasures - The Winter Palace:
Monday, September 21, 2015
First stop was the Baroque St Nicholas Naval Cathedral because it was a living church and thus opened early. Far from the depressing soviet colors, this russian church was painted in striking blue with white accents and golden domes. Inside, no photos allowed, typical of orthodox churches, it was elaborately decorated with every inch in the wall painted. Few people were praying. The bell tower across from the courtyard was magestic. Next, the very ancient looking neoclassical St Isaac Cathedral (Isaakievskiy Sobor) was an impressive site even under the cloudy sky. the gold dome supported by red granite columns, was imposing. The cathedral's bronze doors, covered in reliefs by Ivan Vitali, did not open until 10am. So we waited. the interior of the great dome painting honoring the holy spirit, had a bank of circular windows below the dome and below the windows, golden statues. and I just couldnt get enough of the gorgeous classy chandeliers. many paintings by russian artists and many colorful mosaics. the equestrian Monument to Nicholas I sat facing the cathedral. In the Senate square, next to the Admiralty, the bronze horseman, Peter the Great statue on a horse, faced the river, on an enormous Thunderstone pedestral, with the inscription "Petro Primo Catharina Secunda MDCCLXXXII" in Latin 1782. Next we went to the peter and paul fortress across the river. I was disappointed the fortress walls were now painted in red (soviet color?) but they left parts of the wall in its original stone brown which was nice. The interior of peter and paul church inside the fortress was filled with gold and pink marble corinthian columns, the sanctuary totally in gold and crystal chandeliers on the ceilings. Beautiful to say the least. Here peter the great , catherine the great, alexander I, nicholas I, and lesser romanov tombs are located. not terribly ornate, just marble slaps. Later the remains of Nicholas II, his wife and children were interred in the cathedral as well, but we couldnt see the tombs as the room was been renovated. Back across the river again, we stopped to photograph the stunning baroque Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. The exterior was totally in mosaics. When I looked at it, i was stunned with no words to describe it. Over the top decoration. but stunningly beautiful. Need to go back to admire the interior.
We visited the Russian Museum in the afternoon. Located inside the splendid neoclassical Mikhailovsky Palace with grand staircases, magnificent chandeliers, opulent rooms and grandly decorated doors, just the palace itself was worth visiting. The collections included paintings of Karl Briullov's 'Narcissus looking into the water' and 'the last days of pompeii', and 'the view of constanople by moonlight' by Ivan Aivazovsky. The Hippo enjoyed her time visiting this museum. what grandeur.
Dinner was at the Villa Aston, close to our hotel on Stremyannaya. Nice french decor. comfy sofas in the restaurant. We had very black sturgeon caviar, not salty at all, served with pancakes. Pumpkin cream oyster soup and wild boar. Discovered the Lambrusco that was the best prosecco I've ever tasted. very delicious meal. earlier today some of us had lunch there as well. I had the borsch that had large cubes of beef, with no sour cream. Very beety and quite good. This place was worth eating at. if I ever return to St Petes, I'd probably stay at this hotel and sample their restaurant's meal again. While some went to see the Impressionists at the Hermitage or to the Faberge museum, the Hippo went souvenir shopping at the Nevsky Prospekt. Blew many rubbles there.
See the Tsars' Capital city:
Sunday, September 20, 2015
Helsinki main railroad station was small but there were shops and a market in the basement. We went in just in time for the freshly baked meat pies. We got some for the train ride. The Italian train Allegro looked brand new, all clean, state of the art everything, even came with a big bottled water in every car. The 3.5 hrs ride was smooth, with just a few stops on the Finnish side, mostly small towns. Scenery not too spectacular. Finnish Border control came and stamped our passports. Once on the Russian side, the landscape changed. more mountainous. no problems with the russian border officers. Asked where our luggage were and we just said 'there'. Stamped our passports and immigration paper, tore 1 half and stuck it in our passports. simple like that. Quite enjoy this ride. Amazed that the Italian made train could be so new and clean and efficient.
Katcha picked us up in a van that reeked of cigarettes. Our hotel was just off the Nevsky Prospekt. The front looked like an old building but renovated. The restaurant small but cozy and it offered afternoon tea everyday from 5-6. Fantastic! the back of the hotel went on and on in a labyrinth. Once out of the elevators, I had to walk up a ramp, turn left, down the hallway, turn right, down another ramp and right again to my room. Was told that old buildings could not be restructured and thus as the hotel added more and more space, they built ramps and hallways to connect the different parts of the different buildings, so the result was a maze to get to your room. The lights were auto sensored, so at first when you turned into a corridor, it was pitch dark, and then a second or 2 later the lights came on. Same thing when I exited my room. Had to wave at the sensors or just wait a second for the lights to come on. Strange and a bit unsettling in the beginning but got used to it after a while. The room was amazingly clean and renovated. Bed, pillows, duvet all acceptable. TV had 2 english channels - euroNews and BBC. No american channels.
We walked up and down Nevsky Prospekt with hotels, shops, restaurants and cafes on both sides. A long avenue with very long blocks lined with magnificently decorated buildings. Just walking here seemed like a major site seeing. So much architecture. 2 starbucks, 1 on each side of the avenue. Got the St Petersburg mug and the girl at the counter asked where I was from. I said california and she said 'wow'. why? 'not many american tourists' she said. I was surprised as I've heard american accent everywhere.
The avenue was busy and crowded with people coming and going. Mostly young people, dressed fashionably in bright jackets, tied pants, women sporting luxury hand bags and leather high heels. Almost every other building was either a restaurant or cafe or bakery. Tons of souvenir shops. KFC, Pizza Hut, H&M, and shopping centers with local markets in the basement like СТОПMAT (stopmat). Many electronics gadget stores. I didnt expect St Petersburg to be so westernized and modern. It didnt have any soviet feel to it. Long gone were the days of Leningrad I suppose. We had afternoon tea at the hotel and the scones, cakes, strudels and pies were delicious. Tea though was just Lipton. For dinner we went to a Georgian restaurant just next door. We had pork Khinkali, the fantastic georgian dumplings that had a broth inside it. You carefully punched a tiny hole, held it up to your mouth and squeezed the juice into your mouth and then swallowed the thing. Mmm, yummy yummy. Khachapuri was a flat bread with cheese, like a pizza. Some other meat pies and beef veggie soup. Delicious dinner. Georgian food was most popular in Russia, due to the fact that Stalin was native Georgian. I didnt mind, Georgian food was so good. I remember the few that we had while in Georgia.
I was beginning to really like St Petersburg and anxious to see the major sites and more of it. Couldnt wait.
Saturday, September 19, 2015
In cold and rain we arrived at the Helsinki harbor. Our hotel is soviet style and hungry we ordered ham and cheese panini at the hotel. simple ham and cheese pressed in a panini never tasted so good. Our afternoon walk through town brought us to the rock church, national museum, music hall, of which the interior reminded me of the Disney music hall in LA, the central railroad station and buzzling square, with McDonalds at every corner, up to the lutheran church and down to the harbor, where years ago, I've had some really fresh seafood, then slow stroll through the main drag, starbucks to purchase the city mug, saw the Itala store but didnt go in and finally back to the hotel. Didnt even go to the Sibelius park. Many in the group expressed their admiration of the architecture and the city. But not me. Didnt like it then and didnt like it much this time either. Not meant to be a grand city, it lacked an old town and medieval architecture that I loved. Modern city yes, lots to buy but otherwise, dull and boring.
Second best dinner we had on this trip happened here. In a small Ma and Pa place, we had a buffet (real buffet this time, all you can eat), of reindeer meat in some mushroom sauce, elk and beef meatballs, savory chicken, lamb ground meat, pancakes, beets salad, smoked salmon and herring, salmon soup. the Hippo was in heaven! I've stuffed myself to the max. At least one good thing in Helsinki.
Friday, September 18, 2015
Small picturesque town, with only 1 main cobbled stone pedestrian main drag, lined with stores and restaurant cafes. Here I bought an orange wool coat. I've been looking for these woolen coats all through the baltics and tried a few in Riga that either didnt fit or didnt have the color I preferred. Here in Parnu, I've tried one on, didnt feel quite right, didnt like the light brown color, and then on impulse, picked up an orange one and the minute I put it on I knew I have to have it. Not the latest cool 1 button style but it fit me perfectly. What's more, it's short and stylish and accentuated my petite figure. 55 euros. not bad. very happy with the purchase. Next we had pasta and pizza at a restaurant, sitting outside and watched the few towns people passing by. Small town, few locals, no tourists. Love it. tourists usually go to Tartu, the bigger university city. I prefer Parnu any day. Lovely churches, old houses, cobbled lanes. Intermittent sunshine and cloud, cold and warm. We had a lovely time in Parnu.
The outskirts had nice big houses with gardens and young people walking. But suddenly traffic, crowds, neons on buildings, 2 shopping malls, and we arrived at our hotel the Park Inn, not far from the harbor. My room faced the Narva Mnt but I dont mind the traffic and noise as I got to observe the trams coming and stopping, people going about their daily businesses and buildings across the hotel. H&M, Zara again. I even saw the Hurtigruten office sign in the building near the hotel and reminisced the lovely water journey through the Norwegian fjords and fishing island villages. Nostalgic! The hotel room had the tiniest bathroom and the tiniest sink, even smaller than the ones in the airplanes. But room was OK size and very clean. Lovely pillows and thick dovet again. Love these European dovets. They were thick enough but not too heavy and very warm. Salmon dinner was OK. it came with some veggies so we were happy with that. A brief walk on the Narva Mnt after dinner, long blocks, old buildings, lots of shops. Although Tallinn is not the biggest Baltic capital in size, it felt and looked more metropolitan than the others.
The next morning, we drove through Tallinn in the cold and rain. We've visited the 1980 Summer Olympics Sailing park (didnt know it hosted an olympic here), where the olympic hotel had the shape of a boat and across from it, a church for all religions. Next we paid a visit to the Russalka monument and the outdoor song festival hall. Really nice place with the oval open roof stage, green belt and the strange statue of Gustav Ernesaks, sitting facing the stage, papers on his hand, one hand resting on his skin, meditating? ugly statue.
Last time I was here in 2001, I've only been to the Old Town. I remember driving through many soviet apartment blocks. This time I didnt see any. Tallinn looked very big, with many districts, and hills. hills finally as both riga and vilnius were pretty flat.
Our bus dumped us in the Old Town just when the rain started to come down hard. The driver had to return to Riga, so he kicked us out. Soaked we walked through the nostalgic Old Town. Nothing had changed here. Same spires, same turrets, same city walls, some lookout viewpoints. I love this Old Town, my favorite of the 3 Baltics. It had everything an Old Town should have. Walls, turrets, churches, up and down cobbled lanes, tons of souvenir shops and cafes.
We had elk pies and soup at a local joint in the town hall building at the square. the soup felt nice in the cold rainy weather. After lunch some of us had garlic ice cream in a fancy restaurant, sitting on fancy sofas, with white table cloth and silverware. Took a bite, was very garlicky just as good as the ones in the garlic festival in gilroy. slowly walked back to our hotel which was only 15 min away on Narva Mnt. lots of shops to browse through. Bought some smoked moose sausage because the sample tasted so amazing.
Peter took us to the Restoran Peppersack in the Old Town, right on Viru st. The interior was like being in an old castle hall, tall chairs, long wooden tables, wooden barrister, chandeliers, stone walls, stone hearths, tapestries, and dinner even came with a mock sword fight comedy. The ambience was fantastic. medieval. The menu tho was out of this world. garlic and cherry sauce everything. I couldnt decide bewteen the "Pepper sack" Hans recommends" Spicy stir-fried beef fillet pieces, or the "Alderman Johan Möller's special" Grilled rib-eye steak, or the "Philipp Crusius's musings" Roast duck breast fillet with potato puree, roasted winter squash and blackberry sauce, or the "Swordsman's feast" Roasted leg of pork with beer-stewed sauerkraut, potato wedges, gherkin, marinated pumpkin salad, mustard and horseradish, but finally decided on the "Merchant Gerke's delight" Grilled rack of lamb with garlic, oven baked potato with herb butter, warm vegetable salad and cherry sauce which came with half of a bulb roasted garlic. So yummy I finished the whole thing. So full, couldnt swallow any dessert after this. Carol got the marinated wild mushrooms, with pickled garlic that was so good, she took the leftovers back to the hotel. the very peppery digestif left my mouth, throat and stomach burning. Although the meat pie and pork in Vilnius was a very good dinner, this one topped all the dinners I've ever had. Loved it.
Gosh, I've loved Tallinn the first time I was there. Loved it even more this time. Best Old Town in all the old towns I've been. Nostalgic!
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Border crossing, eu to eu again, was simply driving through the border control booths, now empty. no stamp on the passport. No prove the Hippo's been to Latvia.
The biggest of the Baltic capitals, a sprawling city as compared to Vilnius. Even the river, the Daugava which dumped its water into the Baltic sea, was wider than the intimate Neris back in Lithuania, and bridges longer, the daugavpils railway bridge, the stone bridge, and the cable bridge vanšu, they stood on our left as we continued towards the baltic sea, to our hotel.
It was near 9PM and we had tasteless tilapia over cold lentils for dinner. Fish on lentils? Terribly horrible dinner it was, but we got upgraded to Business class room, large bed, large room, tiny but clean renovated bathroom. Room window opened to a back parking lot, no view. There was an enormous expresso machine sitting on the table but no coffee was provided. this time, there was an outlet by the table and the power chord plugged in just right.
It began to rain by the time we're done with the art noveau on Alberta and Elizabete streets. Eizenšteins' statues with shocking expressive faces, over decorated façades and windows did not necessarily pleased my eyes. interesting to look at but not really beautiful to me. Reminded me of Gauthier's creations. Somehow they thought more and excessive meant beauty. The thing was, your eyes just suffered an initial shock and then you didnt really care to look anymore. I find the beauty in simple things much more appealing. We drove through the town in rain. The Opera house was fine and the Orthodox church with its signature onion domes, well, very pretty orthodox style. Some of the embassies on the embassy road shared front yards like the italian and netherland embassies, 2 flags in 1 courtyard. It poured by the time we got to the old Town. Very pretty with churches and spires everywhere. Here in the Baltics, everything was red brick. Old dwellings very cozy. Quite enjoyed this old town. Had lunch at a local restaurant. The steak was hard and chewy. Just like the meat in Ethiopia. Tasty but made my jaw quite tired. No steak knife so the eating was hard work.
The Hippo first saw it in the Castle book that M got for xmas. That was what triggered the Hippo to visit it some day. Who would have known a tiny Baltic state castle would make it to the World's Castle book.
It was quite early when we got there, before the crowd. A cloudy day but no rain. The air smelled cold. Soon a group of small school children caught up with us and the castle touring became a nightmarish hell with kids running all over the place.
The castle resembled somewhat the Schönbrunn in Wien. Same color, smaller in size. I quite like the Rundale. It felt quite intimate, although the Grand Hall didnt lack the usual gold trimming, painted ceilings and chandeliers. The Duke's apartments were decorated in good taste. Elaborately ornate but not exaggerated. Even the garden looked similar to the Schönbrunn's, although again, in a smaller scale. and not packed with tourists, unlike the Viennese cousin. I really liked this palace.
Lunch was at an amusement park called Lido. gocar course, miniature golf course, carnival game booths and shops, and a buffet restaurant inside an enormous log cabin. I mean enormous. However, the buffet wasnt really our American style buffets. Buffet in a sense that you could select what you want but have to pay for each item, and couldnt come back for more without paying again. I was hungry so I grabbed the sausages, the first items I saw. Deeper in to the restaurant, I found meat pies and wraps, lamb shanks, buffalo steaks, pork chops and chicken in every cooked way, deep fried, in pies, croquettes, grilled, roasted. Endless desserts, cakes, ice cream, tiramasu, puddings. Endless types of drinks, soda, juices, beer. Never ending side dishes, potatoes in every form, mashed, boiled, baked, scalloped, fried. Pasta and noodles, multiple types of rice, risotto, veggies of every kind. 6 different kinds of soup. not to mention the type of sausages. The food offered in this place was overwhelming to the point of scary. The food that I've sampled was tasty but not amazingly good.
Back to Riga, the bus stopped in mid traffic and the Hippo on impulse jumped out. Had to photograph the 3 bridges over the Daugava. Walked back towards the Old Town to view the Riga Castle, now the presidential residence, and looked for St James hidden behind buildings. Back at the hotel, went for a massage and spent the last night in Latvia chatting with airline pilots in the hotel restaurant.
Quite liked this capital, Riga and Rundale, the Bellas.
Sunday, September 13, 2015
It's 10 past 2 and we're still havent started boarding yet. The KLM plane from Amsterdam was 20 mins late. Finally at 2:30, they've started calling the row numbers. by 3 we're still havent taken off. The pilot said they couldnt start the engine. Oh no, not again! At 3:30, the pilot announced they'd finally manually started the engine. huh, how else can the engine be started? 'and there's no safety issue' the pilot added. whew!
The flight was accompanied by a Norwegian couple. The hubbie was a skier and lamented not being able to visit Squaw Valley while in the Bay Area. We talked about skiing, snow, and the olympics in Squaw and lillehammer. They were delighted to hear the Hippo's been to Norway and loved the fjords. Coincidence had it that the hubbie was from the Lofotens. When the Hippo proclaimed the islands were her most favorite place in the world, their eyes widen with glee. dont you love Norwegians! We were stuck inside the plane for 20 mins after landing. They couldnt get the door to open. never had any trouble flying KLM before. sigh.
Getting to my next gate at Schiphol required going through passport control. 'what is the purpose of your visit?' the passport control officer asked. eh, layover? gosh, dont they know they're inside the security area? The Air Baltic plane to Vilnius was a 2x2 propeller, tiny tiny but the flight was smooth and very on time. My luggage came out quickly on the carousel and there was no passport control at Vilnius airport. EU to EU I guess. So I got no stamp on my passport to show I've been to Lithuania!
The ride to the hotel was, as always, full of curiosity. Always loved the first ride in a new country. The hotel Congress was situated by the Neris river and my room on the 4th floor faced the river and the bridge. Beautiful view. When I've turned on the TV to EuroNews, I've learned the macaca lost to Vinci in the semis. Quite a shock but a good shock. never happier to see macaca lose. This has promised to be a wonderful trip indeed.
The hotel breakfast proved to be extensive and satisfying. Croissants! smoked salmon! bacon and eggs. pickle herring too of course.
The morning was overcast and cloudy. The wind was strong and piercing on the island of Trakai. Long row of souvenir shops, elegant wool jackets! The Trakai castle was a beauty of red bricks, surrounded by the clear waters of the lake Galve. Perfectly maintained, every room stainglass on the walls, tapestries, chandeliers, gorgeous medieval paintings of the duke. Loved this castle. The town Karaites houses were wooden cottages, each with a different color. Well preserved. Very quaint. If not for the fowl weather, would have love to spend more time there wandering around the tiny dirt roads surrounded by houses of a bygone era, a step back in time.
Back to Vilnius in the afternoon, we visited the St Peter and Paul cathedral, not big but every inch adorned in white. not the Hippo's liking.
After the Trakai famous karaite dish, the Kibinai (meat pie - i had the lamb) and a cup of tea (it was so cold), we entered the old city. Probably the most un-old old city I've visited in Europe. narrow cobblestoned lanes yes, in the Jewish Quarter, but otherwise everything renovated and looked bright and brand new. One thing though caught my fancy. Every building with a courtyard!
Vilnius, like its Baltic sister cities, was full of churches. Here they were predominantly catholic. Very pretty churches but nothing too special. St Anne's in particular, was built entirely in red bricks, sight for sore eyes. Today was Vilnius marathon and the runners donned bright color tshirts. The cathedral square was packed with spectators. Dinner was inside the old town, with Vilnius famous potato meat pie for starters, followed by a savory pork dish and of course, their famous apple strudel for dessert. yummy!
back at the hotel, had wanted a cup of tea before bed. There's a kettle resting on the electric plate on the table. however, the power chord was very short and I found no outlet except one in the bathroom. I sure wasnt going to lug the entire electric plate to the bathroom. Reminded me of the hotels in the Stans. Lamps with power plugs that didnt match the outlets. some day these countries will learn to do things right in the hospitality business.
Standing on a small hill across the Nemunas river gazing across to Kaunas, was freezing. I couldnt believe it could be so cold in Sept. The small town of Kaunas was quite pretty with the river running next to it. The tiny castle was again in red bricks. Many catholic churches again. The pedestrian main drag had a few souvenir shops and mainly just restaurants and cafes. Not much to sing about.
On our way to the Latvian border, our bus anti-freeze exploded and all the coolant leaked out. We had to wait 2 hours for another bus. Thus we arrived at the Hill of Crosses just before sunset. This place was Maddening. so many crosses! big and small, wooden and metal, ornate and plain. We could skip this site if you asked me.
Lithuania? Mm, all I saw was Caucasians. No imports. Not many tourists. Small and not very sophisticated capital city but it had an intimate feel to it. The hotel and restaurant services were good, people were friendly. Not my favorite Baltic country tho.
See photos of Lithuania:
Wednesday, August 26, 2015
Tuesday, August 25, 2015
Thunderbolt and lightning
Very, very frightening me
I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me.
He's just a poor boy from a poor family
Spare him his life from this monstrosity
Oh, mama mia, mama mia (Mama mia, let me go)
Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me, for me, for me
So you think you can stone me and spit in my eye?
So you think you can love me and leave me to die?
Oh, baby, can't do this to me, baby,
Just gotta get out, just gotta get right outta here.
UR DA BEST !!!
Monday, July 13, 2015
* Pluto, THE 9TH PLANET
Sunday, June 21, 2015
Wednesday, June 17, 2015
quand est-elle arrivé au port de New York?
Sunday, June 14, 2015
Thursday, June 04, 2015
The ride from Kailua-Kona north to Waikoloa on Queen Ka'ahumanu Hwy, flanked by midnight lava rocks, was a smooth ride, beneath intermitten rain. I looked for the Hippo sign I've made with snow white pebbles years ago on the lava rocks, and of course, it was no longer there. This island has good memories, from my first time with TnT till this one.
Strolling through the labyrinths in the Hilton Waikoloa Village, looking for dinner, marvelling the decor, the statues and paintings on the walls, we remembered the ocean facing room we stayed in, the swim in the lagoon and the sunset ever so glorious. "this was where T and A got married" we pointed out the chapel to S. "and here's where the reception was held". They swam in the serpentine Kohala pool, right below our old room in the Ocean Tower, while the Hippo simply reminisced contemplating the glorious sunset. C&D drove over to meet us, and we shared a mid-day meal in the lanai, catching up. We havent seen each other since the wedding in 2006. Later they took us to a secluded area in the Lava Lava beach, where the water was shallow and the waves calm. Even the Hippo dared to enter the water. The view looking back at the resort hotels by the bay and the mountains was picturesque. They said on clear days one could even see Maui. Back at the Kohala timeshare, we had a tasty BBQ of skirt steak and Ono. It was always so nice to see the O'Reillys, so warm, easy going and comfortable to be with.
The surf was high and the skies stormy, but we did checked out the kayak launch pad in Kealakekua Bay. We stayed a bit to watch the waves crashed on the rocky shore. Gorgeous and spectacular but the waves also look menacing and scary. We stopped at the Kona coffee farm on our way back to the Hwy. Their peaberry Hawaiian medium had a very smooth taste. the salted macademia was out of the world. The dark chocolate covered macademia was so good we kept asking for more samples. Bought a bag of their oatmeal macadamia cookies and ate them in no time. Even their fig and apricots were fresh and delicious. We bought an entire papaya, advocado, guava jam, honey and bags of different kinds of coffee. Awesome place! Annie's Burgers came highly recommended and so we had our burgers there. True to the reviews, their burgers were excellent. To compliment the lunch even further, the bakery/creamery next door had the most real taste of chocolate orange ice cream. I spotted mini cannolis with crusted macademia nuts. bought 2 and they were the best i've had, almost as good as the authentic ones in Sicily, even without the ricotta cheese. Yum!
I've always loved the drive to Hilo. All along Hwy 11, the view was magnificent as always. Pouring rain by the time we reached Volcano. S and A did managed to take the helicopter ride and according to their testimony, although the crater was hidden in fog, they did see spectacular sights, the waterfalls, the red glowing lava flows. However, when our turn came, they cancelled the flight due to fog. M was bitterly disappointed. the Hippo, however, didnt have quite as high an expectation, because the weather didnt cooperate and choppers usually werent friendly to the Hippo. she was prone to motion sickness. Since we're already on this side of the coast, we drove to see the Kapoho tide pools, stopped at the green sand but because we either had to hike a 6 miles roundtrip or pay $17 for the shuttle, we opted out, and made a brief stop at the South Point diving point instead, and saw a couple diving. Paid a visit at the buzz bee farm for ka'u coffee and they had some of the most colorful parrots. Rain came on and off with the wonderful scent of the tropics. People come to Hawaii for the sun and beach weather. But I prefer the misty rain, romantic cloudy skies and tropical rain that came down in sheets. There was no rain back home and I so missed it. paradise for me is not the tropical heat, sunny white sand beaches, coconut trees shade and cool drinks. Paradise for me is the misty fog, tropical rain that you can smell it before it came down, romantic cloudy skies. And south of Kona all the way to Hilo is paradise to me. We took the newly redone saddle road back to Waikoloa, most of it under the dense fog of mauna kea. It only took us a little over an hour to come back to the sun and heat of the west side.
For the kids, we did do the white sand Hapuna beach, with waves so feroucious that knocked me down twice because I gave up. And the kids also had a dip in Mahukona Beach Park. We drove to the end of the highway till the very tip of the island at Pololu Valley Lookout. Later that evening, even though we made dinner reservations at Roys (and changed it several times), we ended up eating at the Tommy Bahamas in the Mauna Lani mall. My second and their first. The food was delicious and we were even greeted with a spectacular fireworks from the Fairmont. Returned to the timeshare and watched the Seventh Son on DVD (very bad movie!)
Best moment of this trip? Alone in the timeshare garden drinking the last of the orange fanta at midnight in almost total silence, below the now clear dark sky with sparkling stars.
When asked how many times I've been to Hawaii, I had to think. Hawaii in general or each island? Hm, kauai twice, Oahu 6, maui 4 and the big island 4. aside from
vegas, hawaii is my second most visited place.
on our way back, we had a layover at Kahului. The volcano was obscured by fog but the last time I was there, it was sunny and in clear view. "today is a good day to drive to haleakala" I remembered L saying. I kissed the ground on that visit. It was also on that visit that i first sampled the hawaiian macaroni salad with sticky rice and dined at Tommy Bahamas in the new Wailea up-scale mall. L took me to the Maluaka beach and its current was alternating cool and warm, and I've floated there in total bliss. Later that evening I drove to lahaina at dusk and the amber rays hitting the West Maui mountains made them look deep orange and red, a view one could only get at that beloved place. Such nostalgia! Love that island, Maui no ka oi indeed.
See the 2015 pictures:
also see the Hippo Hawaii page
Wednesday, April 15, 2015
Sunday, April 12, 2015
Tom Lantos tunnels from the south side
Looking down from Devil's Slide
Devil's Slide looking towards north
Mari & Darin on the Devil's Slide trail
No starfish, just this in Halfmoon Bay beach