Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Offsite - Giants game at AT&T Park

Posted by Hippobean at 9:14 PM 0 comments
Missed all past years, so this time the Hippo decided to make it.

The gang:

the game:

the ballpark:

The video [6.5M]:

Monday, August 08, 2016

Monday, August 08, 2016

2nd time always not so lucky

Posted by Hippobean at 10:14 PM 0 comments
Lots of road constructions in Poland, so we left early to drive to the chopin airport in warsaw. 3.5 hrs with a couple of pit stops. Blew away the extra hour at Chopin without realizing we needed to check in at the machines. And so I was, once again, due to my stupidity, stuck in the middle seat. However, was clever enough to change to a seat towards the front of the plane. Lots of Africans were on this flight and they were all stuck at the back of the plane. It seemed it was their very first flight as they were rowdy, posing and taking shots of the cabin, very loud and smelled very bad. They didnt lock the bathroom door either and I've walked in to one of them. The flight was just about 2 hrs so so long as I dont have to be towards the back of the plane, everything was bearable.

Once in CDG, the now watered down routine of catching the CDGVAL to T3, and walking to the CitizenM. Noticed a new construction next to the hotel. Selected my room and sure enough, it faced the construction site. No matter. just one night and too tired to get it right. Came down and saw veal stew, ratatouille and tomato soup, so I've decided to once again do their buffet. After dinner, saw the huntsman winter's war free on TV and fell asleep.

The next morning woke up a bit late and arrived back at T2 and it was packed. thought it was just crowded, i went out, intending to come back in through another door. but could not go further as everything was yellow roped off. Discovered later that there was some left luggage so they closed part of the airport. When it finally re-opened, of course, multitudes in passport control, security and gate lines. strange, normally cdg-sfo departed from the newer gates. this time it was in an older one, so fewer shops. With still 20 minutes before boarding, i collapsed on a chair after browsing the few shops. Not a very pleasant day. Soon be home and all the sh*t again.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Grodna - now that was nice

Posted by Hippobean at 10:45 PM 0 comments
In the morning I discovered I slept on several dead bugs on the bed!

an hour or so later we checked in to our Grodna hotel, the Neman, another grand soviet style hotel. Why we had to stay overnight at that terrible hotel at Lida, only to check in to another hotel the following morning, beats me!

I like the hotel Neman. It's right across from the square, with a supermarket, bakery and bank next door. The rooms were big and a plush restaurant. it would have been perfect if we didnt overnight at Lida but came straight here for 2 nights.

The augustow canal was a pleasant visit in a Saturday morning. no crowds and the place was green. they built this canal with several locks to go all the way to the Baltic sea! we had our picnic lunch here and this time I had 2 pastries, which i bought from the bakery next to our hotel, one with some fruit paste that was good and another some onions that was horrible. H got one with cooked liver. since they didnt speak any english and there were no signs indicating what the pastries were, we just pointed to some and let luck decide.

The remains of the fort of Grodno had massive walls and we couldnt go inside the fortress because of the mines. But I was quite impress with the thick walls. Then we did a walking tour of the city, the old castle which had wonderful views of the new city on the other side of the neman river with a very pretty bridge, the white st francis xavier church right next to our hotel, the Kalozha Church, the red brick church of st boris and gleb with unique brick designs, the last surviving ruthenian architecture, the very pretty pink Pakrouskaya Orthodox Church, and the great synagogue with interior filled with intricate arches.

Saturday was wedding day in Grodna, and we saw many brides in different gowns, some elegant and beautiful. Women were beautiful in this country. However, the men less so.

Finally we walked back to our hotel in the pedestrian street that had a supermall and a few shops. Found a souvenir shop but there wasnt much there to interest me. Hard as I've tried, there wasnt anything to buy in Belarus. Just managed a few postcards and a semi acceptable fridge magnet of the Mir castle. all they had was woolen socks, gloves and mittens and babushka dolls. quite disappointed at their souvenir department.

Dinner was at a basement sports restaurant adjacent to our hotel. big flat screen TV's were showing the olympics. I had mushroom soup (no more cold slaw) followed by a hot pot of beef, mushroom and potato. this time a much bigger pot but the sauce wasnt as tasty as the one in the park.

back in my room, ready to turn in for the last night in belarus but felt a bit hot. since we crossed the border, the weather had turned cloudy and rainy and sometimes very hot (like yesterday in Lida where we needed AC the most) and sometimes even cold, like in Polostk. So I've tried the room AC. Fowl water smell came out and i thought to let it run a bit. the smell didnt improve so i shut it off and thought of opening the window for some cool fresh air. i was in the 3rd floor so I thought the air should be good. out came lots of bugs into the room. at closer check, the bugs were stuck to the window (for warmth? since the evening was rainy and cool?). so suffered another night of bugs. stupid me!

Grodna photos:

Friday, August 05, 2016

Friday, August 05, 2016

horrible night in Lida

Posted by Hippobean at 9:13 PM 0 comments
Picnic lunch in front of a lake. biscuits and juice. tired of these picnic lunches. Most markets we stopped at to gather lunch materials didnt have much in term of sandwiches (the locals dont eat sandwiches), so we mostly bought biscuits. At one market, we found some cold chicken which was eatable and tasted semi acceptable, but I had to eat it in the minivan as we didnt stop to save time. sigh.

Drove by Lake Naroch, big and pretty but we didnt stop, why? Stop we did at the Valoja village with colorful houses and fences of dual colors. Short walk in the heat, interesting but just so.

finally reached Lida and was immediately taken by the red brick castle. but we didnt go in to visit as it's just a small square castle with not much inside. So we just walked around the castle walls, visited the Church of the Exaltation of the Cross and strolled through some streets and checked in to our very small hotel in the center of town. The reception was so tiny we couldnt all fit in it with our luggage. european style which meant navigating through ever twisting corridors to get to your room. the hotel was next to a bank and there was even a door on the 3rd floor that could get you to the bank. one of the rooms window actually faced the bank vault! We walked a few blocks to a restaurant to partake our dinner. this time i chose the halibut with potato pancakes and salanka soup, the belarusian borcht, which was just a beets soup with whatever meat and veggies they happened to have, thrown in, just to try it. The soup was good but the entree was terrible. ah well, small town.

with nothing to do after dinner, we sat at a bar next door to just drink. It's Friday night and the younglings were out. our teas and beer came in cheap flimsy plastic cups.

the day was 31 degrees C and there's no AC in the hotel room. The room was so tiny, barely enough room for 1 person to move, but they managed to squeeze in a tiny table with 1 chair, a closet, tv and fridge, and had a tiny bathroom that looked renovated, but the bathroom had a rain shower that didnt work. the room was stuffy and hot and had to keep the window open for air, which meant bugs city. the bed was pushed up against the wall below the window, and so it was bug central. The door locks in belarus were moody. one had to put the cardkey just so on the reader in order for it to work. Most terrible night.

Lida photos:

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Thursday, August 04, 2016

lots of fungi, no animals - berezinsky park

Posted by Hippobean at 10:30 PM 0 comments
breakfast in belarus started with a cold slaw. hm ...

walked on a well guided wooden path through the park with stations showing the fauna and flora but all we saw were fingi, big colorful ones. Love to eat mushrooms but they're mostly poisonous. Reached the marshes, ankle deep with tiny frogs and climbed a wooden tower to admire the immense of the marshes and forests. Belarus was totally flat. not hills anywhere the eye could see. End of the park walk, there was an animal refuge with a bison who posed for us, 2 very sick moose and a black bear. Otherwise, we didnt see any animals in the park.

Returned to the hotel, i ate my picnic lunch of bread and cheese and banana, washed down with orange juice. With a mind killing headache, i've opted out of the afternoon walk and just stayed in the nice hotel for a nap to nurse my head pain.

Dinner was again cold slaw followed by a small hot pot of chicken in a savory tomato sauce. Very tasty but very small portion. it only contained 1 small piece of chicken, some tiny pieces of carrot, tomatos and potatoes. Not enough even for the small Hippo.

had wanted another dark evening with tea in front of the hotel and waited till dark to descend. here in belarus (and in poland also) it didnt get completely dark till about 10PM. But a russian speaking group invaded my private reverie. one guy turned to engage me in conversation. he's from lithuania and the group was scientists, here for a conference and spending a day in the park. then the chief, very friendly but spoke no english, came out and offered us potato pancakes. I have had enough of pancakes and with the headache I politely refused and returned to my room. Last night at this amazingly comfy hotel. sad to leave.

Berezinsky Park:

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

how belarus came to be - Polotsk

Posted by Hippobean at 10:01 PM 0 comments
some free time in the morning to visit the 3 bayonets memorial, 3 columns structure with a forever flame burning in the middle. then we visited marc chagall's gallery. it is not a chagall museum as it only housed chagall's Biblical lithographis, all donated by private individuals. never a modern art fan and certainly not one of chagall's (his paintings look cartoonish to me) but what I saw in that gallery completely captivated me. he painted the entire biblical story. oh those colors! what enslaved me entirely were his 12 lithographs of the 12 hebrew tribes, each in form of a tablet. each depicted the character and temperament of Jacob's 12 sons. photos were not allowed, so I bought the book with images of the lithographs. there were many chagall's fans in the group, so we made a stop to visit the house where he was born and lived in his childhood. small 4 rooms house. He had 7 siblings. how on earth could they all fit in this tiny wooden house? bought a chagall fridge magnet that showed the adam and eve painting. I am now a fan.

Throughout the trip I've been trying to find out how belarus came to be and where its people came from. Finally the answer came in Polotsk. Polotsk was where belarus began. the oldest slav town in the region, the name derived from the polota river, a lituanian origin. the principality of polotsk became the powerful Polotsk Duchy in 10-13 centuries and self-governing in the late 1400's. throughout history it was part of the grand duchy of lithuania, later conquered by poland, then by Ivan the Terrible, then by the nazis and finally annexed by the soviet russia after WWII.

We are now in the furthest north of our journey. Polotsk was a small town by the Dvina river, steeped in history. the Red Bridge over the river Polota, commemorating the bloody battles of the Napoleonic wars, Saint Euphrosyne Convent with lovely frescoes inside, the Geographical Midpoint of Europe, the Monument to the Letter U, Monument to Vseslav Charodey, polostk first royal prince, the jesuit academy. it was raining hard now, as if to add more romance to the ambience. We climbed the wooden steps to the st sophie church and rubbed the boris stone that was supposed to make our wishes come true. let's see if it's true.

leaving history behind, we drove to the berezinsky park to spend the next 2 nights amidst forests and marshlands. I was expecting a very basic but rustic hotel. however, the hotel was a 3 story building complete with restaurant, lounge area with free wifi, and even a billiards room. The rooms were big with 2 large windows, TV, AC and a large bathroom. My room on the second floor faced the park. very comfortable and totally quiet at night.

We dinned at the hotel restaurant on very dry fish and white rice with absolutely no sauce, and a cold slaw as starter. The evening tea was at a table in front of the hotel, in the absolute darkness and quiet that I craved so much. another memorable travel moment!

Hippo's favorite Chagall's Biblical Lithographs:

Polotsk photos:

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

wasted morning and attitude in the afternoon - Vitebsk

Posted by Hippobean at 10:31 PM 0 comments

free morning to do minsk site seeing. but there wasnt anything in particular that I'd like to see in minsk. besides, places didnt open till 10 and we're supposed to leave for Vitebsk at noon, so there wasnt even enough time to visit a museum. on top of it, i didnt want to manage the metro where no one spoke english and taxiing back and forth would cost a fortune. so i remained in the area, walked around a bit (strange that in soviet culture, the shops even though were open, do not open their doors and from the outside, everything looked dark as if the store wasnt open at all but all one needed to do was to push open the door to get into the shop) and had a cup of tea at a coffeeshop next to the hotel with J, while others metro'd out to the city center. had I knew they went shopping at Gum, i'd have gone. but i simply didnt want to have a rush morning. just felt like taking it easy and relax a bit. dunno why i felt so tired on this trip. So much for free time in minsk.

after a long drive, we reached our Vitebsk hotel, another soviet remnant. our local guide was upset since we arrived late. She threw her binder and collapsed on the sofa in an exagerated manner to show how upset she was by waiting for us for so long. we were half an hour late. then she had to wait yet another 10 minutes for us to check in. it was past 5 when we finally commenced our walking tour. because we were late, our TL rushed her a bit but she said 'but there's so much to see' and sighed loudly. So we were late and didnt want to waste time listening to her never ending speech about every nook and piece of brick. we were tired of the long journey and hungry and had no patience nor energy to learn about every insignificant piece of wood or painting and who was so and so, and certainly we didnt need to put up with her attitude. she's the worst pre-madona local guide we've ever had. took us to the summer amphitheater and just a few of us got off the bus to photograph the modern glass cover. She finally released us at 7:30 when she ran out of steam and speech.

Vitebsk, the second most ancient city in Belarus tho was truly a nice city, straddling 2 rivers and close to the russian border. the city's history was painted on a wall by the dvina river. The city was mainly rebuilt so everything, including the town hall, looked new, rebuilt on the same spot where once the old buildings stood. the Holy Assumption Church, a gorgeous white structure on the hill, offered panoramic views of the city below with a view of the gorgeous kirov steel bridge over the river. a statue of Alexander Nevsky with his family stood next to the Annunciation church. the church dedicated to him was a small but pretty wooden structure. the city even had a statue of pushkin! The cobblestoned street off the main square had a few cafes and shops. The world renowned summer amphitheater, the main venue of the International Festival of Arts “Slavianski Bazaar in Vitebsk”, had an unique glass cover, a gorgeous modern architecture. Vitebsk even boasted the perhaps only remaining KGB headquarters housed in a beautiful yellow building, in what used to be a royal palace. across the tiny garden was the Chagall Gallery. so yes, maybe our local guide was right. there was a lot to see in Vitebsk. It was one of my favorite visited places in Belarus.

Witalij took us to another supermall for ready made food for dinner. not sure if it was a blessing or curse. it saved us time and we could look and point at what we wanted instead of sitting down waiting for slow service. but again he only gave us half hour to eat. we had to bargain for an extra 15 minutes. i needed time to eat and get a cup of tea afterwards. back at the soviet hotel, my room was at the 12th floor with good views. since we finally got an early night, i joined the group for drinks at the hotel minuscule bar. soviet hotels, huge reception with empty areas, tiny bar with only 2 tables. what were they thinking.

Vitebsk photos:

Monday, August 01, 2016

Monday, August 01, 2016

most beloved palace and a pretty castle in 1 day

Posted by Hippobean at 9:59 PM 0 comments
woke up at 6 as usual and since breakfast wasnt until 9, i ventured out. the gates were electronically locked, so I climbed over the small mount. There were 2 lakes next to the castle and from there i got good shots of the palace. a few people were jogging and biking around the lake and 1 guy was fishing. the air was cool and refreshing. the atmosphere quiet and serene.

Breakfast took an hour. service was slow and when the eggs and tomatoes finally came, the coffee was already consumed. but we breakfast'd in an elegant room with decorated ceilings and walls, inside the palace. It started to rain by the time breakfast was finally over but the morning was still warm when we visited the inside of the palace. It didnt disappoint. The Nezvizh palace, owned by the Radziwiłł family, was one of the highlights of belarus, and one of the most beautiful I've visited. It's not tremendously big and not exaggeratedly ornate like the russian ones but had an intimate feel to it, and the superb location of situated between lakes and very green belts. The halls werent big but nonetheless stunning and magnificent. The hunting room was filled with animal trophies. I particularly liked the moose heads and falcons. The meeting room boasted of wooden ceilings with intricate golden design and the golden hall gorgeous glass chandeliers and mirrors facing each other so not only could we see the reflections of the chandeliers but also reflections upon reflections through the mirrors. The parquet flooring also had beautiful designs. The chapel was all pastel pink and it had 2 levels. I really liked this palace. It's now one of my favorites. Near the palace, we stopped briefly at the Catholic Corpus Christi church to admire its fantastic frescoes decorating every inch of the walls. The church exterior was a simple white but the interior was stunningly decorated. Most pretty church. Next we walked to the town square but there wasnt much to see.

A few hours on the road and it brought us to Mir, the second highlight of the trip. It was as beautiful as shown online. Mir castle, imposing from the the outside, the inside was more of a museum. I've walked the walls and climbed to a side tower but there was no view from the top. No matter. I still liked this castle. a few shops across from the castle were open and we browsed. bought a semi acceptable fridge magnet. otherwise, nothing really caught my eye

Witalij said we'd stop at a village. The 'village' turned out to be the memorial to the Katyn village which was completely destroyed and all inhabitants killed by the Germans. The setting was sad and beautiful as every second the bell tolled and it echoed across the entire plain. A rectangular block marked where each house stood with a black and red square with open flame. Most beautiful memorial.

We arrived at Minsk late in the day and did a walking tour of the capital. Very soviet with large boulevards, big victory square complete with lenin's statue, eye catching st simon and helena red brick church, big never ending city but not pretty. Only the city gates across from the railroad station was worth a photo but we didnt stop and i couldnt get a shot from the running bus. pity.

our soviet style hotel was in the industrial area (r u kidding?), far from the city center but there's a metro station just outside the hotel. very soviet the hotel was, with huge reception area, a few sofas but otherwise empty spaces, 14 floors, tiny and slow elevators and small rooms. 1 pillow and 1 towel per person. all this didnt put me down because it was expected and the view from the 13th floor wasnt bad.

for dinner we walked to a nearby chic restaurant joint that offered lousy local cuisine as well as burgers and pizza, pretty much everything under the sun. young people frequented this joint. my beef came in rolls with cheese inside. somehow every piece of meat in belarus either came with cheese or tomato on top. they dont know how to cook meat without putting anything on top. and my very salty beef was expensive simply because it's the capital. not a satisfied meal. but the hotel did have an inner garden, a sanctuary for my quiet evening with a cup of tea before bed time.

Nezvizh Castle photos:

Mir Castle photos:

Minsk photos:


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