Our friend L from Holland sent us a pic of icicles at her deck. Her house is in an Amsterdam suburb and it’s been an extremely cold winter in Europe this year. The canal hasn’t frozen over because it’s windy but the lake nearby has frozen.
I took this of her house when we visited a few years ago in April. It was cold then but not icy. I love the house and the deck.
Most nights I can’t sleep and I start thinking of mundane things that involves going through a list, not unlike the traditional counting sleep method. Guided imagery, or focusing on an image or story to slow down a busy mind, is one of the methods suggested for combating sleeplessness. It’s not just taking a generic screensaver, it’s highly individual and may consist of:
a favorite vacation or calming outdoor spot, a relaxing activity like curling up with a book in your favorite chair, or something repetitive like remembering the steps of an exercise or dance routine. The key is to find something that allows you to focus your attention and let go of other thoughts. Begin to create this scenario in your mind. Visualize all the details of the image or story, as slowly and carefully as you can.
What has worked for me is to imagine I’m on a desert island. There’s a river within walking distance and the camp is by a rock formation that gives a sort of cave to provide shelter. The river runs to the ocean and there’s a small beach. Since I’m not a survival expert, the island isn’t exactly desolate, people used to live there so there are remains of houses but most importantly firestarter, vtools, pots, vegetables and, lately, goats. I would sustain myself via the plentiful coconuts as well as the produce from an abandoned fruit & garden. There’d be fishing gear available, like crab pots that I can use at the rocks that are at one side of the beach. I’ve even watched youtube videos on how to make salt from seawater and ropes from coconut husks.
There’s St Bean’s island by Wroe Clark. Everything is idyllic, from the morning beach to the occasional volcano to the hammock to the orchard. And what fantasy island can’t be without a mountain meadow with perhaps a llama:
Ericka Kendall’s island also has lots of features, like a beach with perfect sand that doesn’t get inside your underwear, a lush green forest with no bears or cougars, but best of all, guests who visit the island will have no memory unless the owner wants them to remember:
This one from 11-year old Ben P. has a castle, a skull mountain and a hut for the witch who guards the treasure:
I can’t draw, but I may take a stab at sketching out my fantasy island.
Cold but sunny day. We decided we needed some fresh air so we headed out to the wetlands countryside area. Late lunch at an AYCE Japanese bbq place, then followed the signs to an “eco farm.” It was a big letdown. They charged an admission fee and it looked from the map outside that the so-called farm consisted of walking paths, small gardens, a playground and a kids’ petting area. There was one other car in the carpark which didn’t bode well either. We decided to save our money and give this placa a miss.
Ended up at the small village at Nam Sang Wai. First thing we saw when we parked the car was a row of dockless bikes that have invaded the city. No fewer than 3 different companies with yellow, green and blue bikes. To the credit of the users, the bikes were parked in a neat row. We saw others in poorer shape elsewhere–covered in mud or just thrown into an unsightly pile. How these schemes make money we don’t know.
The famous “wedding bridge” had been slightly repaired, and handrails added. This is the place where a lot of people come to take wedding pictures, because of the beautiful scenery. The bridge is more a small wooden pier but its location at the side of a canal and the background of trees and a small hill is ideal for photography. This was taken on the iphone and with no adjustments whatsoever. I know, golden hour and all that. Still, pretty.
Walked further into the small village. There are around a dozen houses, mostly metal-cladded and quite run down. People do live there though; we saw a young woman watering her vegetable garden, heard the sound of a tv or radio through the gap of another house, and there’s laundry out to dry in front of several houses. The concrete path turned into one that was basically rotten wooden planks, which is part of the charm.
The wooden planks lead to another small pier, this one at the side of a river/canal. There’s a boatman who rows people across to the other side, probably the shortest river crossing ever. Equivalent to 50p per crossing, add 10p per bike. Very sedate. A sign says it’s around 15mins’ walk to the nearest train station from the other side of the river. During the 10mins that we were there, we saw a good 5-6 people crossing, one came back to this side with his bike and 2 bottles of either detergent or comfort in the basket. Looks like it’s widely used by locals.
We caught the sunset as we were walking back to the car. It was quick! We were both full from lunch, so decided to call it a day. I was home by 7.30pm.
Star Island is located 7 miles off the coast of New Hampshire, USA. It’s 38 acres in area and owned by the Star Island Corporation, a non-profit which operates hotels on the island. The island runs on solar power and has its own water supply and septic treatment facility. During the summer, staff at the hotels live on the island. During winter, there is one single inhabitant, the winter caretaker Alexandra de Steiguer. She’s been returning to the island every winter for the past 19 years.
Here’s a moody, almost mysterious short film about Ms. de Steiguer’s time as the caretaker. Although it’s a video, all the shots were taken with the camera stationary, to give a sense of space and quietness. Well worth watching.
Alexandra de Steiguer is a photographer and the film captures her taking her camera around, and processing the photographs. This is “Shoals – Rock Pool No. 1” of the Isles of Shoals series. She also has a book, called Small Island, Big Picture.
On long periods of solitude:
Most of us aren’t often by ourselves for long periods with only the wild elements for company. In a way, solitude is like being restricted to one small island – yourself. You’ve walked that personal island all your life; you take it for granted that you know every part of it. But solitude forces you to stay there, to walk it again with new eyes… to come to the very edge and gaze into the unknown.
The hotels on the island are more geared towards conferences and retreats. There is no bar (although visitors and staff may bring their own alcohol), and no real resaturant aside from the hotel dining room. From a mefi commenter:
It’s super tiny, it’s rustic, it’s homey and homely, it’s very very plain, it’s not luxurious. Yet it’s an incredible, gorgeous, elemental place to visit. You can hike the tiny island in under an hour, or ramble out on the rocks to watch the gulls and surf, and be the only person you see for hours any afternoon…It’s not for everyone, but it’s pretty wonderful if it’s the kind of thing you like.
I wonder what it looks like this week, under all the snow. All the pics I found on flickr and google images are during the summer. I guess since Ms. de Steiguer is the only person there, any winter or snow pictures will have to come from her.
Big family outing day. Early start, everyone met at the train station to go take the cable car up to the big buddha. The cable car was very crowded but since there were 10 of us, we had our own. The journey was long, around 20-25mins, with really good views. I’d dismissed the cable car as a touristy gimmick but was as pleasantly surprised as when I went on it for the first time a few weeks ago.
We walked along the shopping village, which my cousin A described as being like in Disney but in a good way. For some odd reason, we had a few free coupons for snacks at specified restaurants, including an ice cream place so the kids could get cones. Walked to the end of the village towards the big buddha. I still don’t know what record it holds, largest outdoor sitting buddha with a raised hand? My cousins and the kids walked up to the top while I went to explore possible lunch places.
We saw several feral cows. They were just laying there on the grass enjoying the sun, people were going up close taking selfies and petting them and they didn’t seem bothered. My nieces were fascinated and J said it’s the best thing she’s seen all trip. I told them the story, that they are descended from farm animals that were abandoned. But looking at them, they don’t seem to be starved or suffering. If anything, helping with tourism.
Vegetarian lunch at the temple starts at 1.30pm so we decided to go elsewhere. I ran ahead to check the bus stop and found the one to the fishing village just about to depart. The extremely nice stationmistress said she’ll hold it for me so I ran back to the group to tell them and got mum, my two aunts and my uncle (all retirees) to run for the bus, hahaha. Only 10mins to the fishing village with stilted houses. Not too crowded on a weekday, so a pleasant walk exploring the houses and shops. Lunch was at my “usual” deck café where we had the entire upper deck. Just pizza, fish cakes and soft drinks. But the view, wow, still spectacular even after so many visits.
We lucked out on the bus again, only 5mins’ wait back to the cable car. But the return trip had a 30min queue. My nieces were taking time lapse videos but for some reason mine didn’t work, sigh.
Dinner was buffet at the hotel restaurant. Really nice and everyone had a great time.
No, it’s not Lie-sester Square it’s Lester Square; and Marylebone always stumps non-Londoners. Apparently Rotherhithe too.
Personally, I don’t agree with Ommer-tun for Homerton, I’d pronounce the h. And I always say Aldwych as All-witch.
We shouldn’t make fun of non-locals. I don’t expect to know place names in countries where I don’t know the language, but there are some names in the US and Australia that I can see the word and it’s made up of letters but I cannot put the letters together to form coherent sounds.
2. map of walking times between tube stations
TFL published a map that shows the walking distance between tube stations. There’s also a map that shows the number of steps between stations, so they can put a spin on the “steps = exercise” trend.
Practially, this is a useful map for visitors and newcomers. Every Londoner knows it’s pointless to take the Piccadilly Line between Leicester Square and Covent Garden. Between waiting for the train, the actual journey, and the horrendous wait for the lift at Covent Garden, it may take 10-15mins. Walking is 4mins.
There’s another leaflet, journeys that could be quicker to walk [pdf] that is also very useful. For instance, the map would suggest it takes 18mins to walk between Queensway and Bayswater (via Notting Hill Gate) but the journey leaflet tells us it’s only 5mins. Google maps actually say 2mins, but that probably needs running at nighttime with no other pedestrians.
3. john snow’s cholera map
I saw this on a tv program about sewage and how the world’s cities made the jump from being disease infested to, well, less so. It’s all about clean water.
The story of how John Snow discovered that cholera spreads through water rather than through the air by plotting a map of outbreaks that showed occurrences near to a water pump in Soho is well known. His use of data mapping is as revolutionary as the discovery itself. The blob of black dots around the pump at Broad (now Broadwick) Street as pretty horrible. But the interesting thing is workers at the nearby brewery were not affected because: a) they drank mainly beer and b) the brewery had its own water supply. That would not have been the case if the disease spread in th air.
So many diseases from 100, 200 years ago are under control. Cholera, TB, measles. Have we reached peak discovery? There doesn’t seem to be huge discoveries like this anymore, more like small incremental ones. Then again, it could be that they were low key. HIV has been contained, and many cancers are less life-threatening now. We have so much to learn.
4. property prices
According to bloomberg, london house prices are coming down, with more sellers reducing their prices from originally marketed. A report published by Rightmove says on average the reduction is 6.7% due to:
initial over-optimism and a tougher market
That said, the average in november is still an eye-popping £628,219. I mean, that’s staggering compared with a national average of £311,043.
The article immediate below the one about housing talks about more bad news for the pound, with further drops possible. An uncertain brexit, Theresa May’s uncertain future, all lead to the market being bearish on the pound. This actually is good news for us, since it means we can buy more.
Around the table on tuesday’s lunch we were all talking about property, as a group of middle-aged professionals are wont to do. If only we’d all bought a place in London when we graduated, we’d be all sitting pretty now. Ah well, can’t turn back time. The consensus is, £ and house prices haven’t seen bottom, so it’s worth waiting a little while longer.
5. decadent hot chocolate
Have to end on a more cheerful note. How about the most decadent hot chocolate in the capital. Fortnum’s chocolate bar, Flotsam And Jetsam’s rainbow-coloured white unicorn chocolate, Fattie’s Bakery’s with a toasted marshmallow rim, and the best chocolate café name of all, Choccywoccydoodah. Some of them look like they have far too much whipped cream. My 2 favourites on this list:
The one from Dark Sugars that has a mountain of chocolate shards shaved on top. The way the shards melt into the chocolate…
And finally, the classic from Hotel Chocolat. Who needs fancy when you have classical elegance and top quality ingredients.
We realised this long ago, and the idea is widely shared by others, that experiences, particularly travel, is more important than money. There’s scientific studies that show that anticipation of an experience lead to a higher level of happiness than anticipation of a material good. Cornell researchers Thomas Gilovich and Matthew Killingsworth and PhD candidate Amit Kumar:
You can think about waiting for a delicious meal at a nice restaurant or looking forward to a vacation, and how different that feels from waiting for, say, your pre-ordered iPhone to arrive.
Dr Gilovich talks about the Easterlin paradox, which found that money buys happiness, but only up to a point. People who are happy about their purchase of, say, a new iPhone, find that their degree of happiness decreases over time. Their happiness with an experience, say a concert or a holiday, does not diminish at the same rate.
This is true even in the negative. If the iPhone stops working, happiness drops. However if something negative happened during an experience, like if a beach holiday was rained out, people tend to say “we went to the museum instead and still had a good time.”
The researchers found that one of the reasons experiences rate higher than material is because comparison with others is less significant. There is no constant need to buy a bigger car, or earn a higher salary.
The last point is interesting. I have friends and acquaintances who are travelling right now–one couple is on a round-the-world trip and have reached Tanzania where one half did safari and the other half climbed Kilimanjaro; one couple is on extended honeymoon to Italy; an acquaintance is in South East Asia–and while it’s fascinating to see their trip posts, it feels weird because I’m usually the one travelling to lots of places.
So to make me happier, let’s increase the anticipation. With mm’s mum still ill, it’s not feasible in the immediate future, but worth keeping in mind as an option somewhere down the line. I was watching a program where James Martin travelled to Annecy and it looked gorgeous. Research time.
Annecy is located in the Haute-Savoie region of SE France halfway between Geneva and Chambéry. It’s called the Venice of the Alps–it has a river and two canals running through the picturesque city. A blogger called it a real life fairytale town; another said it will steal your heart.
It has everything–a beautiful lake, a well-preseved old town, a river and a couple of canals, a great market. Cycling, hiking, skiing in the winter, boating in the summer. And of course wineries, a local woman-run brewery, boulangeries, restaurants, and cheese, cheese, cheese. Seems to be less well-known and crowded than Chambéry and obviously Geneva, both less than 1hrs’ drive away. I randomly plugged in one week’s stay next April on airbnb and found great looking places for around $70-80.
No wonder it’s a must visit. Just look at these pics. It being in this part of France, the architecture feels very Swiss.
Along the Thiou canal: courtesy flickr user kosalabandara under cc
The 12th century Palais de l’Isle: courtesy flickr user pug_girl under cc
What is so attractive is the location. Halfway between Geneva and Chambéry, 45mins to Switzerland and 1.5hrs from Italy. It’s easy to fly to Geneva, pick up a car from the French side of the airport. A trip that can combine Geneva, Annecy and Chambéry, that’s the ultimate in anticipatory happiness.
We’re going on a cake walk, straight through the glamorous heart of the old school 7th arrondissement, steeped in Belle Epoch spirit, stuffed with gorgeous museums set in formal gardens (coucou, Musee Rodin). On the way, we’ll be collecting a grand assortment of the finest pastries, cakes, and chocolates that the City of Light has to offer. Then, we’re going to sit on a specific park bench and enjoy them.
The walk starts at Musée d’Orsay station. The walk itself according to google maps is around 15mins but the actual time taken will be much longer because of the stops. At least 10 pâtissières along the way where we have the option to get macarons, chocolate ganache, pralines, truffles, fruit jellies, cakes, tarts, breads and all manner of delectable goods.
The walk ends at the Square des Missions Étrangères with a marble bust of Vicomte Châteaubriand, politician, writer and who had a steak named after him. One of the best cuts of steak too.
There are so many great food destinations in Paris that it’s hard to go wrong. Each neighbourhood will have its greengrocer, butcher, cheesemaker and baker. Hope we can take a trip back to europe soon.
I’m coming across stuff to do in london this summer. Of course, I’m not going to the UK because the round-the-world ticket was too expensive. But it doesn’t stop me looking. There’s a sculpture exhibition at regent’s park until october; kerb’s guiltiest pleasure festival featuring dumplings on a pizza, fried chicken with blueberry pancake bun and strawberry milkshake filled donuts; and half a dozen beer festivals in july alone.
An interesting tour, and educational too, found via the londonist, the old royal naval college in greenwich is offering tours to its painted hall to view the beautiful painted ceiling. The tour is 1hr and gives visitors the opportunity to climb 60 feet to view the ceiling up close and personal. The Painted Hall is called the sistine chapel of the UK and features baroque murals painted by Sir James Thornhill between 1707 and 1726.
Not bad, £10 for adults and free for children under 17. Tours end september.
I have a morbid fascination with North Korea. Currently it’s fairly nearby in terms of geography and a quick bit of googling tells me that there are package tours. Expensive, the 4-day tour is more than the flight+5 nights hotel package I got for Paris. Plus a) it departs Beijing and b) it’s more for foreign passport holders.
Which is why I was so fascinated at a r/pics thread of a European traveller who went to the DPK recently and came back with wonderful pics. Many were quick snaps out of range of the ever-present guides.
The pic that grabbed my attention to the thread, entitled Off-limits shop in North Korea. I had 15 seconds to take this picture before my guide realised I wasn’t around, which says it all really.
The first album posted, of the initial part of the journey, is a huge eye-opener. It isn’t entirely surprising, because we know about the poverty, isolation and amount of propaganda there, especially as more and more people visit. It’s just sad and shocking to the system to see how real it is. It’s worth scrolling through every pic and reading the commentary.
p.s. all pics copyright Michael Huniewicz @ m1key.me
My friend Carleen posted in her blog (she posted in her blog, that’s already something amazing) about her town, Blue Island. It’s a suburb of Chicago and has history that is really interesting if you dig deeper. I won’t go into it, google is our friend. I do remember my first visit, almost 6 years ago. I had never visited Chicago, everything was fascinating and unusual and new. The tiny unmanned train station, the street she lived on — cute detached houses and pretty front gardens. The fact that it was not that pedestrian-friendly and we drove everywhere.
Everything was so big. What are these giant structures in the middle of the field? To this day I don’t quite understand why water has to be stored in these ginormous tanks perched on top of towers in the middle of a field. Alas, I looked through my flickr account and I never took any pictures of that huge Blue Island one, or the one at Alsip or Merrionette Park that we drive by all the time.
There were tons of grocery stores. The first time I went to one I was flabberghasted by the amount of stuff on these shelves that seemed to stretch miles and miles and miles. The local gas station is called Thornton’s, just like the chain chocolate store in the UK. Pizza came in squares (and is delicious). Drive-thru banking, which always brings the “what? seriously?” when I tell my non-US friends. There’s a street where you have to drive at snail’s pace because a golf cart might suddenly decide to cross the road. Or you might get stuck at a railroad crossing for 20mins while a freight train passes. And cemeteries everywhere!
After that first visit, none of us were sure we’d ever see each other again. It was a long way to travel (28 hours door to door). I believe it is God’s gift that I was able to return (6 times in 2008, talk about extremes), and definitely a blessing to have spent 2 years living there. Being able to bring my parents to visit my Chicago family…there are no words.
For the longest time I got my directions mixed up because google maps had their house in the wrong street. What should be north was south and vice versa. There is a sort of grid system in the south suburbs that should make it easier, but it took me a few years actually until I was able to shake the wrong google map image. Then it was easy. Streets that go east-west increased the further south you go. Vertical roads had a pattern — Western, Kedzie, Pulaski, Cicero. Foreign sounding names that I eventually got to grips with.
What struck me about BI, again and again, was how family-oriented it is. It’s not the Gold Coast with its $1mm apartments, or the West Loop where all the yuppies live, or Belmont or, well, Andersonville, where all the gay hipsters hang out. (I’m not a gay hipster even though I lived in A-ville! Nor a granola-sandal-yoga new age…person, either.) It seems comfortable in its own skin. As Car said, people looked after each other. She already told the story about her lovely neighbour when her grandmother was taken ill. The neighbours surely got used to my car visiting after a while, and after the first few times, somehow I never attracted too much of a second glance. I certainly was fine with walking around during daylight hours. In fact, the last day I was in BI, I walked over to the nearby Aldi’s and then to the ice cream shop and had a very nice ice cream.
Car’s post is about her town. It’s not my town, Blue Island. But while I was living in Chicago it was sort of mine too. I don’t really have “my” town because I don’t have any affinity or loyalty or emotions about one particular place. “Where is home?” people ask me. “Where my furniture is,” that’s my answer. My life has been too strange and transient and a little disorientating. I will count Blue Island as one of the towns and cities I’ve hung my hat, so to speak.
One of the places my niece really wanted to visit is legoland, so I got a zipcar over there. Only 1hr’s drive to Windsor, we got there mid-morning.
There are a lot of lego there, although we expected even more. The rides weren’t really lego, and neither were tables and chairs and everyday stuff. The park itself is geared towards kids, there are rides that are for the under-13s only, so my niece had a great time. She was a great driver in driving school and took us up on the balloon. The newest ride, Atlantis, is a yellow submarine that took a circuit around a giant aquarium that contained fish, sharks, stingrays and lego mermaids. The centrepiece legocity has replica miniature cities — London, English countryside with cricket team, Paris, Italy, and even the space shuttle in a NASA compound.
If only the weather held up. Dry, sunny spells were interrupted by heavy thunderstorms. During the storms we managed to hole up at the building stations and built a windmill and a racing car. All in all, a good day out especially with young children.
At first we wanted to go strawberry picking, but the PYO farm was closed. We ended up at Stansted Park. Didn’t go inside the house, just explored the grounds. Rode on the miniature railway, had lunch at the garden centre and did the maze with my niece. Then it was home to play in the garden for a while. We kicked a ball around, blew bubbles and ate gooseberries.
Sis came back to London with me. She’ll stay for a week for shopping and to go to the places she used to visit. The train journey was pretty long, almost 2 hrs. We had luggage and were tired so we got a cab. We thought we’d get kebab but the place was closed so we got ham and bread and stuff for a sandwich instead. She has the guest room, she’s all set up with the internet, hopefully she’ll be fine.
Today’s itinerary was to meet up with my great-aunt and her family to go to the field museum. I hadn’t seen my cousin patrick in many years, and my great-aunt for a couple of years. They live in toronto and are in chicago for my cousin’s work convention. Their whole family drove down. Their 2 kids are so cute and well behaved.
I’m not so much a museum person, but I loved the field museum. The most famous exhibit, Sue the T-Rex, was right up there in the entrance hall. The other exhibits were impressive too, especially the evolving earth and nature walk. Unlike some museums where the exhibits were in a glass cabinet and that’s it, the layout here was interesting and informative. The kids got tired so we left before going to all the exhibits. Well, that means a return visit is necessary.
They went back to their hotel to rest, and we came home. Met up for dinner at ed debevic’s, a fifties type of diner place. The waiter was fake rude, and it was kinda fun. We shared a full rack of ribs, roast turkey plate and dinner salad and there was plenty left over. We treated my great-aunt and her family for dinner, it was a pleasure to spend the day with them.
From metafilter, the top 15 skylines in the world. Some of the entries are contentious and subject to debate on metafilter, but most are agreed on #1. Heh, my reaction has a huge dollop of “yeah right” in it, simply because most days it’s impossible to enjoy a single bit of that skyline — everything is covered by a thick dark blanket of disgusting smog.
In other news (and this is for mary), Klimpton is the best hotel chain for wifi. I remember my problems at the Oberoi in Mumbai, where the wireless conked out without notice and took almost 2 hours to return. While I’m traveling I usually have to wrestle with awful in-room internet services that are expensive and not always Mac compatible. So it’s refreshing to read about a hotel chain that not only provides free wi-fi, they make sure the network covers the entire hotel. Like the article says, the hotel is perfect for “business travelers, hip leisure travelers, and globe-trotting bloggers.” Globe-trotting? They mean ‘North-American continent’ trotting surely? The chain is only found in the US and Canada.
We went to Ocean Park today. It’d been raining the past month and for once the sun came out occasionally albeit interspaced with heavy showers. When it was sunny it was hot as hell and we felt like we were melting. I didn’t want to go at first for the same reason — I don’t go outdoors when it’s this hot. But she had these complementary tickets that runs out 30 June, and she really wanted to go. Sigh, the things I do.
Turned out to be a good outing. Heaps and heaps of people, and rude and loud too. I tried very hard to pretend they didn’t exist. Watched a bit of the show from way up on the pathway, walked along a nice sea lion enclave, fought against thousands of people for much needed but way overpriced fried chicken, vsited the panda house, dinosaur house, goldfish house. All in all it was worth the visit.
Bus queue was long, so we made a great decision to take the taxi out. Stopped by the computer store and bought her a new Powerbook, currently sitting pretty at my place. Nice dinner and here I am. Every single piece of clothing I wore today is soggy and sticks to my skin, my hair is full of grease and whatnot, I stink of … just stink. Freshly showered, I’m okay.