Recently in going places Category
Back home in the afternoon. First thing was to shower — I hate going over 24hrs without a shower and we were out all day in Dubai, then off to the airport straightaway. Luckily the flight was only 6 and a bit hours which made it bearable. I have 1,650 pics and 10 videos to go through so it’ll be a project to sort and write up the trip. But there are highlights that have stuck in my mind.
- quiet morning at Rosenborg Castle and grounds — we had time before boarding and the beautiful King’s Garden was the perfect place to rest after a couple of days of walking in Copenhagen
- finding a huge flea market at Kiel that turned a potentially boring Sunday when nothing was open to a more interesting day
- breath-taking fjords: the rainy, foggy morning at Geiranger that turned into a beautiful blue sky evening cruise down the fjord; descending Stalheim’s hairpin bends in a coach; the too-numerous-to-count waterfalls and topped off with a ride on the steep Flamsbahn
- catching a mini avalanche at Geirangerfjord and even better, it was right across our balcony
- sampling caviar from a tube, whale meat and black cheese at the fish market at Bergen harbour, walking along the UNESCO listed Bryggen area
- sailing down another beautiful fjord to Oslo — this was when I had this thought that life is unfair, why can’t I have been born in Norway and able to live in this wonderful country. (Oh wait, I’m an EU/EEA citizen, I can.) Anyway, who wouldn’t want to have their own house on their own island like this one
- crossing the Dubai Creek in a watertaxi called abra, only AED1 for a 10min ride from one side of the creek to the other, a bit like the traghettos in Venice
- souks were interesting, I finally get to see the “mountains” of spices that I didn’t get to see in Tunisia
Food on the trip was a game of two halves. The food on the cruise was exactly like the last one. So now we know, all MSC cruises have the same menu: same broken fatty bacon, same baked apple for breakfast, same pizza in the cafeteria, same overdone beef in the restaurant, same soggy vegetables, same no sugar added ice cream, same wines, same baked alaska for gala night. The few highlights were grilled prawns and chocolate tart in the restaurant, pan-fried calamari and rocket in the cafeteria and pots of honey so I could make endless honey & lemon for my flu.
Food at the stops was better. Hot dogs in Copenhagen brought back memories from last time I visited, over 10 years ago with mm. We were poor students and hot dogs from street carts were one of the few things we could afford, we didn’t complain because they tasted great. This time, the cart at the side of the station near our hotel was our favourite, so much so that we visited it twice.
Other food? Bratwurst, strudel and beer at Kiel, delicious salmon at Voss as part of our excursion, grilled king crab claw at Bergen fish market, prawns direct from the fisherman on his boat at Oslo harbour, lamb shawarma with three types of rice in a Dubai food court, Cheesecake Factory next to an indoor ski slope in the middle of the desert. We all must have gained weight, although hopefully not too much because we also did massive amounts of walking.
Finished packing over the weekend already. Got the final stuff like toiletries and chewing gum. Our second cruise of the year, Mum had been doing lots of research into our destination — the Norwegian fjords. We’ll be staying additionally in Copenhagen and Dubai, so the challenge is to pack 2 weeks’ worth of clothes for both hot and cold weather.
It’s another MSC cruise, this time on the Musica. I expect the staterooms and most things to be similar. I think we have balconies also this time, and that will be great when sailing into the fjords. There are a couple of excursions we may join, because it’s not as easy to do ourselves — the railway at Flam and possibly an excursion at Geiranger. The rest, like the stops at Kiel, Bergen and Oslo, we’ll explore the cities by ourselves.
Went with Mum to Sai Kung, a bit out in the countryside. Still quite crowded. There’s a pier, a walk to a small sandy beach and traditional shopping streets. Saw a guy flying a kite made up of more than 100 small paper pieces.
There was a normal covered wet market, but alongside the pier fishing boats come right up to sell their catch direct to customers — fish, lobster, crab, prawn, clams, whelks, all sorts. Most of the restaurants offer seafood. We had a set dinner for 2: lobster with noodles, steamed small prawns, steamed fish, steamed abalone. All in all a good meal and a good day.
Going to mm’s holiday place with her family. Her brother booked a car that would take us there — 6 adults and 3 kids squeezed into a people carrier, plus the driver. The trip normally takes 1.5-2hrs, but we hit terrible traffic and ended up being on the road for 3.5hrs. Ugh. After everyone got settled, we went to the supermarket and back to his place for hot pot gathering. He bought 2 side-by-side apartments and knocked down the central wall so the living room is huge and there are bedrooms on either wing. Interesting.
Over 800 pics from the cruise to sort, delete, rename, touch up, resize and upload. Yes, I rename all my pics in an organised manner and check each one in photoshop. It will take a while. Progress so far — put each batch in separate folders for easier handling. 12 folders, eg 00ship, 09rome. One per location visited and another one especially for food.
Here’s a teaser. This was from Sidi bou Said just outside Tunis, Tunisia. All the houses in the village have uniform white walls and blue doors. Together with the cobbled streets set on a hillside overlooking the Gulf of Tunis, it makes for an extremely pretty and photogenic location. Even though it was full of tourists and the usual tourist trappings like souvenir shops and street sellers it didn’t take away the charm.
Long layover at Dubai, and in the middle of the night. At least there was enough time and we weren’t rushed. I hopped into the duty free and bought a bottle of Dalmore 18 that also came with a bag. Explored the other shops. There’s a Mcdonalds there selling chicken big mac. The food shop had the usual chocolate, biscuits and nuts but also milk and cheese. Lots of people waiting for planes there, seems to be a big hub. There’s a flight to Manchester and another to Gatwick. I wish I were on those.
We had to leave our luggage outside our door by 1am and check out of our cabin early. After a long leisurely breakfast we headed to the theatre to wait for our turn to disembark. It was pretty boring, waiting. And then we were off, and had to claim our luggage from the carousel and find our bus to the airport. I guess they had to stagger the process to avoid overcrowding, but it just seemed to drag on and on. We were too early at the airport and had to wait for the Emirates desk to open. After that, it was getting on the plane to Dubai and on our way home.
So, end of my first cruise. Interesting experience. What I liked — different ports every day, watching the ship slowly arrive and leave was mesmerising. The food was okay, the ship was pretty. What I didn’t like — far too many mainland tourists, every drink had to be paid for and the rip off excursions. I brought a couple of bottles of coke with me, and managed to buy them at convenience stores at the ports, so I was sorted.
After 3 days in Italy, we come to France. And I knew there’s a reason I like France, and especially this part of the country, in Provence. It’s like coming home. We didn’t venture this far south last summer, but next time we’re in Provence I think we’ll stay in Aix and then I’ll get to take mm to Marseille. Sigh.
Shuttle from the ship to town was 15 return. The bus stop was just around the corner from le vieux port, and even though it was sunday, there was an interesting fish market underway. Fresh fish from boats that were sold a meter from where the boats docked, how fresh is that?
I would have liked to walk, but after so many days, the rest of the group was tired. Opted for the open top bus. I got on, asked for tickets for 1 adult and 4 seniors, and the driver charged us for 5 seniors. Hahaha!! In this occasion, I don’t mind being a senior, if it meant saving a few euros. The bus took us along the scenic, if very windy, coast and up the hill to the Notre Dame de la Garde. Beautiful cathedral and beautiful views of the city. Glad we took the bus, would have been more difficult to wait for the regular bus.
We went to the other side of the port to hunt for lunch. Even though the restaurants looked quite touristy, they were busy and we found a decent one. The set menus at L’Ecailler were only 12-15, and for that we got 3 courses, can’t complain. I had mussels, bouillabaisse and lemon tart. The fish in the bouillabaise had a lot of bones, so may be I should have had something else. Tasty enough though. Ordered a 50ml bottle of rosé for the table which also went down well. The best thing was I understood almost 90% of the menu and was able to translate and order for the group.
Got instructions for a small supermarket, more food shopping. Tried to find lavender but wasn’t very successful. More excuse to return to Provence. Got the 4pm shuttle back to the ship. Finished packing and went on the balcony watching other people come onboard. The last shuttle was 5pm and there was only 1 passenger, everyone was safe and punctual. I like watching the ship leave every port; the pilot would come up in the fast small boat and then we were off.
Last dinner at MDR — moules, salad, bean & pasta soup, veal, bread pudding and a carafe of house red.
Absolutely gorgeous sunrise at Genoa, was watching it on our balcony. I’m quite happy we had a balcony cabin, I enjoyed watching us dock and leave. We didn’t join any tour today, and our friends were tired so it was just parents and me. As soon as we stepped off the boat we were accosted by the open top bus tour at 10 per person. Grabbed their map and I said I saw a sign for the metro so let’s look for that first. It’s only literally across the road from the dock! For 1.50, it’s only one line with a few stops.
The centre of town at Piazza de Ferrari was quiet early in the morning and we ended up walking around in circles. Found a charity stall selling oranges and honey. We asked about market and was given instructions to go to the mercato orientale. On the way we found panettone on sald 15 for 2, yay! The market was not a disappointment. Easily spent an hour looking at the stalls and being annoyed we could only buy spices and a little fruit and veg. Lots of produce and seafood.
Found a discount supermarket and a Coop (wow, remember them?) to stock up on chocolate, more balsamico and I bought a bottle of grappa. Rested at Mcdonalds before metro back to ship. Again, they didn’t bother with my grappa. Late lunch, rest and more reading. Italian night at MDR — cold cuts, salad, osso bucco with risotto, steamed veg, rum baba, lemon sorbet. I had a glass of chianti and limoncello in the souvenir MSC glass.
The ship docked at the port of Civitavecchia, which was just a port. We hopped on an excursion that took us 1.5hrs to Rome, transport only. The coach drop off was conveniently located next to the Vatican, which was a lovely as I remembered. Could have spent a lot more time inside. There were a couple of chapels that didn’t allow photography, for praying only, and they were the prettiest of chapels. Sent a postcard to my niece, with Vatican stamp and all.
Asked at the tourist information for the way to a street market. Ended up at one, which I think wasn’t the one we were told, but was still nice. Covered market selling fruits, veg, pasta, dried goods. Bought polenta, porcini mushroom and dates. Had lunch at the snack bar inside the market — simple sandwiches and pasta.
Took the subway and continued our walking tour of Rome, hit Spanish steps, Trevi fountain, wedding cake building and Colosseun in quick succession. Subway back to Vatican and back on the coach for transport back to the ship. Our coach was one of the last to arrive back, almost 6.30pm. Late dinner in MDR again — rice ball, salad, fish soul, beef roll with cous cous, cannoli and a sugarless ice cream.
Palermo today. The ship docked right next to town so no need for excursion. It was a rainy and dreary day so it spoiled a little. We got right off the ship and got a map at the tourist information booth, and another map from a hop-on-hop-off stop. Headed straight for the street market. Very nice! Lots of fresh fruits, vegs, meats, fish. Just a shame we couldn’t buy any of it. We did end up at a shop that sold spices, sweets, oils, vinegars and such. Mum asked the young man if he knew somewhere we could grab a snack and he directed us to the café next door, run by his mother and sister. Had calamari, potatoes, pizza and gratin. 20 for 5 people.
Visited small church opposite, very pretty. Then walked to the cathedral, which was actually not as pretty. There was more walking, and most of the group was tired so they headed back to the ship. Mum and I had a final bout of shopping at a deli near the dock, bought limoncello and balsamic. The ship’s policy is that they take your alcoholic purchases away and give it back to you when you leave, but they didn’t touch our purchases so all was well.
Read a bit in our cabin and then it was another gala evening, which we didn’t know about. Marlin salad, tagliatelle with veal, grilled king prawns, baked alaska and a chef parade.
I had been looking forward to today, but ended up feeling ripped off. The cruise offers lots of shore excursions, and we thought that this was the one location we should join, because none of us had been to Tunis. For 70 they would take us to the souk at Medina and then to a pretty Mediterranean fishing village.
I had visions of mountains of spices and coffee at the souk, but we were just taken to tourist trap shops — a perfume place, a carpet place that also sold tacky souvenirs. Seems like that particular corner of the souk was for tourists only. Even walking outside the designated carpet souvenir shop, all we could find were more souvenir shops and gold shops. Nothing of interest. Where are the spices?
Then it was on the coach again for a 20 min ride to the village of Sidi bou Said. The village was picturesque, with its whitewashed houses and uniform blue windows and doors. But again, very touristy with pushy sellers of souvenirs. A tiny mixed pack of herbs and spices was 7. There were isolated spots of beauty, thankfully. The sky was gloriously blue and the sea and the view was fantastic. Look away from the main street and the houses are postcard perfect. Even the orange trees were photogenic.
Late lunch on the ship, more comfort food. Found the gym and ran a little. Only 25mins allowed per person, so only 3km. Dinner at MDR — cod, salad, awful penne not homemade, pork escalope, clafoutis, ice cream. Went to theatre for a show of mediocre tribute singing, altogether a day that had so much promise but ended up falling a little flat.
Today was an at sea day whilst we sailed from Barcelona to Tunis. Good day for rest after the long flight. Up early at 7.30am after a pretty good night’s sleep. Big breakfast at the buffet — sausage, bacon, ham, eggs, baked beans, baked apple, waffle, tea. Did some walking around the ship. Can’t find the gym but there’s a sort of walking trail around the top deck.
Lunch at the other dining room — salad, cheese croquettes, five cheese penne, turkey schnitzel, pistachio ice cream. Gonna gain 10 pounds on this cruise. Afternoon rested in cabin, started reading Sea Legs, and finally connecting the dots for some of the terms and cruise experience.
Gala evening, supposed to dress up. Okay, no jeans for me. Free cocktails at the bar and chatted with a few UK guests. The ship is mainly Italian, German, Japanese and mainlanders so not so many English speakers. The captain never showed up so we headed to dinner. Roast veal salad, ravioli, lamb, pear in red wine and I ordered a pannacotta for the table to share.
Sunday night I left home at 8pm for a 12.35am flight. Early yes, but because it was a group ticket I couldn’t check in online and besides, my parents and friends H&F were getting to the airport early too. I did not expect to be all checked in and on the train by 8.20pm.
It’s the first time I’d flown Emirates. Being at the back in steerage class is pretty awful actually. Watched tons of 30 Rock, tried to sleep, arrived at Dubai at 5.45am. The plane was parked all the way out at the edge of the airport and took 10 mins on the shuttle to get to the terminal. Then it was walking to the other side of the terminal only to get on a shuttle again to somewhere remote to board another plane. Dislike. Impressions of the terminal — crowded, pretty run-down, definitely not what I expected of Dubai.
Watched even more 30 Rock, had an interesting mezze breakfast, before finally arriving at Barcelona. Flew past the port and thought I saw our ship. Shuttle direct to the port meant no chance of exploring Barcelona at all, this was one of the biggest regrets of this trip.
Embarkation to the MSC Splendida was straightforward and we were in our cabin by mid-afternoon. Or should I say stateroom. It felt more like a cabin. Like a Best Western hotel room, small compact bathroom and a balcony. I had the sofa bed and my parents had the main bed.
Had tea at the self-service buffet, explored the ship a little, then went to the emergency drill. The buffet was okay, filling but not exciting food. The ship is huge — several pools and whirlpools at the top deck, shiny atrium with crystal staircase, long corridors with plenty of cabins. A little drama when we sat down for dinner — we’d been seated with other people in a table of 9 and we wanted our own table. Food was okay, I had salad, risotto, beef and ice cream. There are 2 fixed time seatings for dinner, we had the first one at 6pm. The menu had 6-7 courses and we could order all courses or just a few. Had to order water with our dinner, and we had a bottle of gewurz too. There are drinks packages available, but no one in my party drinks so I’m going to have to no think about the lack of wine and beer all trip.
So tonight I fly out with my parents and a couple of family friends to Barcelona and will join the MSC Splendida for a cruise around the western Mediterranean. The routing is: Barcelona -> Tunis -> Palermo -> Rome (Civitavecchia) -> Genoa -> Marseille -> Barcelona. Apparently my parents sometimes go on holiday with Auntie F and Uncle H, who are both retired and have been our family friends for decades. I have never been on a cruise, nor have I travelled with both my parents and people my parents’ age so it will be interesting. Or, in other words, a test on my patience. The ship will sail at night and dock during the day, so there’s a few hours every day to go onshore. We intend not to join the official excursions; we know Italy and France well enough, and it seems fairly straightforward in Tunis.
I’ll bring my kindle and even though wifi will be costly, I’m bringing the laptop, if only to download pictures. Never want to repeat the experience of losing a camera towards the end of a trip, like I did when mm and I went to Provence and Paris last summer. If I manage to get online, it’s a bonus but I’m thinking I’ll be out of contact. Like I said, test on patience.
The online reviews for this cruise ship and cruise line are mixed. It’s an Italian company, so most of the staff and probably customers are non-English speaking. There are negative reviews of nickel and diming, which I guess is only to be expected since the cost of the cruise is pretty reasonable. They don’t serve tap water, and tea/coffee after meals are extra. I brought my travel kettle so we can boil water in our cabin. Most of our meals will be at the buffet or may be we will try the restaurant. There are also a couple of gala nights, and supposedly there is a dress code. Well, all I have are a couple of shirts.
I’m trying to contain my expectations — going in with no, or lower expectations means things can only look up, right? Check back in 9 days.
Didn’t sleep very well, ended up getting up and reading. Sigh, unfamiliar bed at mm’s. We didn’t get up till 10.30am. Had brunch of bratwurst and fried eggs, I played on her mbp and she practiced piano for a bit. Leisurely headed out to catch the ferry to the “opposite side” — a sort of traditional fishing village that served lots of seafood. Nice view of the boats moored in the typhoon shelter.
Caught a minibus into town, aimlessly walked around, then found another ferry to take us back. Dinner at a market restaurant, very very busy but very very good food — golden prawns, stir fried squid thai style, vegetables, fresh fish congee. I ordered a beer, which came served in a chilled bowl. Heh.
A day of travelling. Early breakfast and the lady owner took us to the station to catch the 8.39am train that mm so diligently and persistently booked against a lot of competition. Reached Taipei at just after noon. We deposited our suitcases and went to eslite bookstore to browse around. Lunch of noodles at their foodcourt too. Then to Sogo to visit the supermarket and to buy sausages. Flight was at 9pm, so there was plenty of time to get to the airport, even with getting lost whilst looking for the airport bus terminal. We again had exit row seats so we were comfortable. Was pretty late getting home though.
The morning was spent at the east coast. A nondescript cave with bats followed by a nice hour or so climbing the rocks on the coast. Just something so simple brings so much pleasure. Watching the waves pound on the rocks, feeding the fish with bread. Nature at its best.
After lunch of noodles, we rented bikes and headed out on a bike path next to fields and behind houses. Nice ride, very easy. We went on a bridge that spanned the eurasian and philippine geo plates, and there was even a sign that showed where the 2 plates met. Shopping after we returned the bikes — whisky and local sweets for souvenirs as well as a favourite activity of ours: visiting the local supermarket. Waited at a stinky tofu place before it opened at 5pm with other people. Dinner of noodles again.
More spa at night. This time it was a millipede, also in the bathroom. Also only seen by mm. Yikes. That’s the peril of living so close to nature but we are both too much city folk to enjoy this sort of experience.
Self drive car hire turned out to be challenging so we ended up hiring a car and driver for the day to go to taroko national park. The driver was good, he’s a hiker himself so he knew all the places to go. We stopped at the famous (and quite crowded) swallow grotto, then after lunch did a little hike ourselves to the water curtain cave. 2km through tunnels and along the river, good hike. The cave itself was fun! We brought flip flops and rain ponchos. so were able to walk inside and play with small water columns that leaked from the roof of the cave. Too wet and dark for pictures though.
After the national park we headed to the seven stars beach on the east coast. It was just coming up to sunset so it was pretty. We looked for distinctive rocks for a bit. Dinner was at a night market were we had bbq cuttlefish, filled toast and sausage hot dog (a meat sausage in a rice sausage acting as the bun). More spa at the hotel, downstairs at the big one after mm saw a cockroach in the bathroom! We had to get the friendly Indonesian helper to battle the beast. Scary.
I had airmiles that needed to be used up by January, so we were plotting on where to go. Settled on hualien county on the eastern coast of Taiwan. Woke up at 4.30am to catch the 7.30am flight. 30mins delay, which for a flight that was only over 1hr was impossible to catch up, so we were late. Got the airport bus to the main station, queued up to collect our tickets and went in search of food. There wasn’t enough time to sit down so we got a couple of nice bento boxes.
The train journey to the town of Yuli took 4.5hrs. Nice scenery but we were glad to reach our destination at last. We are staying at the new life spa resort. They had to come fetch us, it’s on top of a steep road 15mins drive from the station. We had dinner at the hotel of home-styled food. There is an in-room spa but we made use of the one outside instead.
I left at 5am, earlier than I needed, just in case there were delays in traffic and in returning the car. You never know. I took the tollway I-294 and it was surprisingly busy so early, lots of crazy fast cars and trucks. Returning the car was straightforward and I also managed to catch the Hertz shuttle to the terminal. My suitcase ended up at 57lbs, almost 26kg, and I had to transfer some stuff to my backpack because they only allowed 52lbs. Lucky that I have both my backpack and trolley as carryon items.
I did pay an extra £36 for an exit row seat. While it bristles that airlines are nickel and diming us, and making extra money off us, I can’t help feeling that the £36 was money well spent. I had something like double the legroom of an ordinary economy class seat and didn’t disturb my neighbour when I went in and out of my seat.
Food was okay, nothing special. The first meal we had, breakfast, came with a packet of snacks (biscuits, dried fruit) in a narrow cardboard container that fit perfectly in the seat pocket, wonder if it’s on purpose. One thing about American, they give you the whole can of diet coke instead of a tiny amount over ice in a glass.
We were only 5-ish minutes late arriving, even though it was pretty late, almost 11pm. Long, long walk to immigration and a short wait at the baggage carousel. The duty free shop had closed by the time I exited. I had already booked a minicab, and I spotted the card with my name quickly. At this late hour the drive home was quick. £30 plus parking is pretty good for the minicab.
Showered and unpacked. Could have waited till tomorrow to unpack but I usually can’t wait. Bedtime.
Woke up at 6am, had breakfast (plain waffle today), checked out and was on the road before 7.30am. I’d planned the day last night with military precision, and I needed the early start. The destination was Barton distillery at Bardstown, an hour away. I hadn’t heard of them at all, and they’re not on the official trail, but I saw a leaflet and I was able to work them into the day.
Barton is actually owned by Buffalo Trace and has a huge, huge, huge site. BT bought it not for the distillery but for the warehouses (a new one will cost $2m to build) and the bottling plant. They were bottling tequila and other stuff today, it was a big operation. The bourbon wasn’t bad either. Oh, backup, they had the only 9am tour and there were only 2 of us on that tour — a girl from London who is living in New York and is taking a 3 week drive across the country to Alberqueque for a wedding. Imagine meeting another Londoner all the way in the deep south, heh. In a typically British way we chatted very amicably but did not exchange personal details, nor did we “promise” to keep in touch. It’s just not done.
Only 5 miles and 10 mins away is Heaven Hill. Unfortunately their tour was due to start at 11.10am, 10 mins later than the advertised time and I was under time pressure. This was the one distillery were I wasn’t sure if I could stay, and it turned out that I only had the chance to browse around the shop and get my passport stamped. Ah well.
Another 45 mins drive and I was at Makers Mark. A very slick operation indeed. Not in production, and a tour group that numbered at least 30 people. Tasted 4 varieties: their new make spirit, aka white dog; normal Makers Mark; an over-matured expression to show how it didn’t work; and Makers 46, which I bought a couple of years ago at ORD when it first came out. Very smooth, very nice. Bought a souvenir glass with their signature wax detail.
There was time for lunch. Everything is in the middle of nowhere, and it was perfect timing and location to lunch at the café at Makers. Pulled pork sandwich was pretty standard, nothing special but it filled me up. Interestingly in the café were a bunch of Japanese people having a casual meeting with obviously people from the distillery. The Japanese contingent presented them with a bottle of Hibiki. Not sure if the bourbon people quite understand that this is one of the best single malts in the world, they did seem a bit unsure. I think they were talking about business partnerships, I wish I could eavesdrop more, but it was time to go.
Doubled back to Bardstown and further to Jim Beam. They don’t have a production tour, just a demostration model of the stills and tuns. Did go into the warehouse though. Got to try their double aged black label and one of their small batch labels, Bakers. Wow, their small batch labels are absolutely fantastic. I’ve already tried Bookers, Basil Hayden’s and Knob Creek. Bakers complete the series and I can say I totally love all of them.
The only large bottle I bought on this trip was the bourbon cream at Buffalo Trace. I have a few miniatures, it’s the only way I can fit everything in my suitcase. Sigh. I have a glass from each of the distilleries, and I’m very pleased with my souvenirs.
Tonight I’m at Clarksville IN, just north of Louisville. I looked at hotels last night, and I guess I could have reserved one even further north along the I-65. As it was, there was a big delay on the highway because of a couple of accidents and broken down vehicles, so I’m glad I didn’t have far to drive. Another Best Western. Had a sizzling steak and a margarita at the Mexican restaurant opposite the hotel and I’m back in my room watching food network, reading and messaging mm. Back to Chicago tomorrow.
The hotel has breakfast included, I made blueberry waffle and tea from their hot water. Set off on the longest day of the year to my first stop, Woodford Reserve. About 15 mins away, and I was parked and in their visitor’s center in no time. Beautiful grounds. They charge $7 for the tour, the only one that charges on the bourbon trail. For this we got an hour long, detailed tour. And technology, we had these spiffy earphones and the guide had a mike, so no problem hearing him even in the noisy distillery. They only make one product, and we got a nice shot glass to take away with us too. Since I’m driving, I only had a tiny sip and then took the rest with me to the car.
The second stop, about 25 mins away, Wild Turkey. Hahaha, the same people are on the tour!! The distillery is huge, and I got to taste 4 different spirits: wild turkey 101, kentucky spirit, russell reserve 10 year and this fabulous liqueur called American honey. The car is filling up with samples in shot glasses for enjoyment later, can’t wait.
Wild Turkey gave us directions to a nearby bakery for lunch, I had a reuben sandwich. Nice. Then onto the final distillery for today, Four Roses. I’d never heard of this brand before, apparently it’s the best selling bourbon in Japan and there are 2 Japan export only expressions. Interesting, I must look out for it when I’m next in Japan. The distillery wasn’t in production so we just briefly toured the premises. There were 3 tastings: standard yellow label, small batch and single barrel. I got a miniature bottle of single barrel for souvenir.
Dinner was at the Cattleman steakhouse near the hotel. Now I know why Americans are so wedded to their cars. It’s a 5-10 min walk from the hotel to the restaurant, which in any other part of the world I’d happily walk. The problem is that here, there is no pavement and I would have had to cross a busy 8 lane highway that makes no allowance for pedestrians. Argh. I couldn’t finish the steak, only 11oz. Either it’s the heat or the salad bar I had as starter I don’t know. I did take it away and finished it at the hotel later while I sipped the rest of the whiskey samples I’d saved earlier.
Booked tomorrow night’s hotel, planned tomorrow’s schedule and did laundry. I discovered another distillery, Barton that isn’t on the trail but also worth visiting so I have to plan the day almost to the minute. Let’s see how it goes.
I have a extra week in the US after the con, and I decided that I really needed to do something so as not to waste the airfare. So I did research and internet booking yesterday. This morning I picked up the rental car at 8am and started the drive to Kentucky. Yep, going on the bourbon trail.
Google maps said 6 hours to the hotel at Frankfort, and it was pretty correct. I stopped at a McDonalds outside Louisville for a quick lunch. By the time I approached Frankfort it was around 2pm, which turned into 3pm because of the time change. 10 miles before the supposed exit for the hotel there was a sign for Buffalo Trace distillery so I followed it — it was in the plan to go to Buffalo Trace today so I just reversed the schedule. Correct decision given that I hadn’t realised I lost an hour.
I’d missed the beginning of the tour, but managed to join when the group visited the warehouse and the bottling plant. My first impression of the distillery is how huge it is! The warehouse alone is 9 storeys high, and where a barrel is housed will make the bourbon. Those higher up will mature quicker in the hot Kentucky weather; those in the lower floors are the premium bourbon. Then we were at the bottling plant, where a small group of workers were hand bottling Blanton’s. Even the wax and stickers were done manually. We got a small taste, a choice between Eagle Rare and Buffalo Trace. I picked the Eagle Rare but only had a tiny sip. The second glass was bourbon cream, the bourbon version of Bailey’s. Our guide taught us how to enjoy it with root beer and bourbon chocolate. Yummy!
Checked into the Best Western Park Inn at Frankfort, a nice clean standard room. It was only 5.30pm so I drove to downtown Frankfort. Most shops were closed, with the exception of a bookstore, a café, a craft shop and a few bars. I had pizza from home so I just went to CVS to buy iced tea and a beer. Also bought a few bottles of miniatures for souvenir. Time to watch tv and plan tomorrow’s visits.
Plotting and planning 2 trips at the same time. Bourbon trail for the next 4 days — rental car, hotel, route planning and map printing, trying to get the best deal at short notice. Then finalising the Provence hotel with mm. An exhausting day that I spent sitting in the same chair for hours.
The last day of the con consists of saying good-byes and having brunch. It’s been a good event, well organised and smooth. Everyone is looking forward to the next one. All of a sudden though, I just wanted to go home. Home as in where my stuff is. I’d had enough socialising for this week, this month. I worked myself up to a weird state of mind, and was quiet all the way back on the drive to Chicago. I have to figure out what to do for the next week.
Keynote speaker this year was Jewelle Gomez and I really have to put my hand up to admit to absolutely having no idea who she is. Her speech was great though, and there was a lot of history and thanks we owe her for paving the way. The membership meeting followed and this year it wasn’t as contentious, the board did a great job for this con and after a few years together things have settled down. Finances look to be in good shape too, to everyone’s relief.
After lunch I went to part 1 of a talk on writing mysteries. Main lession learned, every suspicious character must have a secret. And the difference between a mystery and a thriller: in a mystery the crime has already taken place and it’s the detective’s job to solve it; a thriller is more often than not a race against time to stop the crime. The final session was a well attended one on romances. A and I were doing laundry so we were in and out. The silent auction also finished and I got outbid on Lee’s leather jacket, I don’t have room in my suitcase anyway.
Big break in between. Rested. Went to the bar. Went to DQ for dinner and then got dressed for the awards. I had a union jack tie, sneakers and big floppy hat, it seemed to have been a hit. The awards were fantastic and I couldn’t clap enough for the winners. The dance followed, and this is the part of the con I usually enjoy least. I had a beer, congratulated the winners, had a few pics taken and disappeared up to the room while everyone was still dancing.
The day started with a tribute to Barbara Grier, truly a pioneer. I must admit that I didn’t know a lot about her until she passed away, and how everyone who met her had something wonderful to say, how she made a giant impact and would forever be remembered.
The author auction followed, and raised $3,400+. Lunch was sandwiches again. After lunch a few of us went to the Mall of America, target was Best Buy. We split up and I went over to look at the kindle fire stuff, ending up buying a case and protective screen. Back to the con and I then attended a session on series and sequels, a panel that included 3 authors with ongoing series as well as an editor. Lots of pertinent information and great discussion. The final session I attended was on soldiers and spies, I wasn’t there for the full session, wanting to rest a little. I didn’t have anything for the authors to sign at the author autograph session (ebooks now) but I still went to enjoy the atmosphere.
Dinner was at TGI Friday’s. I have to say how much I love the location of this year’s con. The hotel rooms and the conference rooms are in the same tower, making hopping back to the room a mere lift ride away. Within walking distance of the hotel there are: subway, burger king, DQ and Friday’s. No more having to go to Disney to have expensive food. I had a steak with 2 vegetable sides, then a bourbon shake which I could only partially finish.
Back to the hotel room to change for the karaoke. Someone had suggested 50s night as a theme, so I brought a black shirt, the leather jacket and converse hi tops. Pol did a wonderful job with my hair and with my sunglasses on it was a tai chi moment. Our group gained the nickname of the greasers, under the leadership of head greaser KG. Sang a few group songs, including “I feel pretty” in tribute to one of our members who passed away a couple of years ago. Didn’t stay till the end, left at around 11.30pm.
Up at 7.30am, made proper tea (both A and I brought our own tea bags, knowing the state of the tea in the US) then down to the coffee shop to get a croissant to prepare for the first session. The President of the GCLS said a few words, then turned it over to 3 illustrious local members for tips on where to go in the Twin Cities.
I went back up to the room to skype mm about Provence hotels so missed the start of the first breakout session. I didn’t want to interrupt ongoing sessions, the one that didn’t seem like I’d disrupt was the one with newbies, aka the con virgins. Didn’t participate, as it’s already my 4th year. There are something like 24, 25 newbies this year, wow. After the break I went to a session about keeping the audiences at the edge of their seats. I learned that the tricks included: go quick, go slow, build fear and never kill the main character!
By then the silent auction had officially begun, the items were nicely laid out. Aside from the chocolate shoe and whiskey, I had a bunch of stuff from the UK that I grouped into a teddy bear picnic: a teddy bear, Jamie’s newest cookbook, cadbury’s chocolate, hobnobs, PG tips, a brolly, a picnic mat and a couple of bottles of Magners (and glasses). I hope the bidding goes high.
Lunch was sandwiches provided by the con, this is a new perk and is really appreciated. Roast beef sandwich, chips, cookie, yogurt and an apple. After lunch I went to a session on writing dialogue. Started with a writing blast where in 10 mins us the students wrote about our experiences during momentous events like JFK assassination and 9/11. Some people read theirs out loud, they were all great and very personal. The speaker was great and informative and I learned a lot. I didn’t go to the second half, opting for one of the sessions I was looking forward to, of first time published writers talking about their book(s) and how they came to being published. I must say, inspirational stuff.
4.30pm now. We did laundry and I continued research on Provence hotel. We have 6 responses and I was able to eliminate 4 because of price, location or reviews that aren’t as good. 6pm I went down to the bar to meet up with friends. Had a blue moon and 2 new bourbons: Basil Hayden and Booker’s. RM wanted me to try and get Booker’s for him but I did not like it. No nose until I added water when it opened up a little. Far too spicy and difficult to drink I couldn’t even finish it, ugh. Had a grilled vegetables flatbread pizza too that was quite good.
Then it was back to the room to change into swimming things for the hot tub party. It was just a bunch of us sitting in the jacuzzi chatting. I met some new people and new friends, it was great. Back at a decent hour and to prepare for the second day tomorrow.
p.s. chocolate shoe bid at $40.
When I went to Brussels with A in April and did the chip’n’choc walk, we bought a chocolate shoe from Wittamer that we thought would be perfect to donate to the silent auction at GCLS. We had in mind several attendees who are very interested in shoes and chocolate, and we hope would gamely put in generous bids.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve been posting teaser images of the shoe on facebook; basically I took pics at odd angles and photoshopped them. Been extremely pleased that a fair bit of buzz has been generated. We got to the con today and finally revealed the actual item. Hopefully it wasn’t a disappointment, from the reactions it would seem that there may be a potential bidding war. All in aid of the GCLS which is always a good thing.
image courtesy flickr user fabrice terrasson
Both mm and I have been doing research on Provence, and the conclusion is to take the train because flight schedules are not useful. The only flight to Avignon is from LCY at 4.30pm, that’s a whole day wasted. Flights to Marseille are either early in the morning (BA has one at 6.40am) or get there late afternoon; by the time we pick up the car and drive to Avignon it’s dinner time.
The train routing we are thinking of is to take the Eurostar early (but the advantage of Eurostar is check in 30mins before not 2hrs), with a change at Paris from Gare du Nord to Gare de Lyon to Avignon. Pick up a rental car and that’s it. Return to Paris, stay a couple of nights then back via Eurostar.
I sent of a bunch of hotel enquiries for the Vaucluse region and around Avignon, having decided against Avignon city centre in favour of the more rustic and charming hotels in the countryside. We’ll have a car, it’ll be even better to stay outside the city.
The flight was uneventful, watched the Iron Lady and Adele’s concert at the Royal Albert Hall. The food was okay. The guy sitting next to me spent the whole flight sleeping, so crawling out was difficult. Arrived almost half an hour early. Car picked me up from the airport and we were back at the house having pasta in no time. Yum.
Unpacked a bit, and then we went off to see Snow White and the Huntsman. Interesting film, a modern, darker, special-effects filled take on the familiar story. I was waiting for the dwarves to appear and I wasn’t disappointed.
Very hot. Over 30°CTwo days of rest then we’re off to the con. It’s good to be back in Chicago.
I’ve been packed since Thursday, although the list was done a couple of weeks ago. Didn’t start focusing on this until I came home from Dublin. Checked in as soon as I hit the 24hr mark, cab is booked for 6.45am, everything is packed except the electronics. Travel starts tomorrow to Chicago and the annual GCLS conference.
This morning was supposed to be a church going morning, but it wasn’t to be, to my disappointment. We walked to St Patrick’s Cathedral on a glorious sunny day, and I was looking forward to visiting it. Then we discovered that they charge 5.50 to go in. Yes, I understand the need to upkeep the place, but there’s something very jarring about having to pay to go into a church. I didn’t want to visit the crypt or exhibits or whatever they have there, I was looking forward to lighting a candle and saying a prayer inside. We didn’t go in, as a matter of principle. Same story at Christ church, they charged 6. Sigh. To add insult to injury, at Christ church there was a craft fair which was advertised as free entry. I mean, it’s about 8-10 stalls selling sweets, hot dogs and trinkets, it should be free to go into church grounds. Argh.
Our day drastically shortened, we headed to Temple Bar to soothe our sorrows, like generations before us. It’s interesting and confusing for first timers, Temple Bar is both a district and the name of a bar. It’s a large bar (600 capacity) and one of the most touristy on the strip. We sat at the bar and had a Smithwick’s. RM wanted Irish coffee but after watching the bartender make it with instant coffee, he decided against it.
We went to Grafton street again, the whole area on a bank holiday monday was full of people, and also runners taking part in the Women’s mini marathon 10k. Now it pains me a great deal to write marathon and 10k in one sentence, because a 10k is not a marathon. I hate how organisers include the word marathon in any old race. This wasn’t even a race from the looks of it, about 90% of people were in charity t-shirts and less than 10% look like they are runners. A fun walk, more like. Anyway, we got to Butler’s and got hot chocolate, that was very nice.
Whiskey shopping and back to the hotel to repack. Got the coach back to the airport, which was almost completely devoid of people. Uneventful flight back. The bus stop outside Paddington was closed because of roadworks so I had to walk all the way almost to Waitrose, it was late before I got home.
A quick visit to Trinity College and the Book of Kells in the morning. Informative and impressive story of how the 9th century manuscript was produced. Such care and dedication to a manual process in those days. No photography allowed, which is the only downside to the visit.
Then a bit of a trek to the Old Jameson distillery. We didn’t go on the tour, having seen more than enough of whisky distillery processes, this one with animation and silent equipment just won’t hack it. We had lunch there, a quick one of smoked salmon sandwich and buffalo wings. Explored the shop and made our way to the ground floor bar. They have a tasting tray 22 for 4 expressions, but we were only interested in one. Instead, we did our own tasting tray of: Green Spot, Crested Ten, Jameson Limited Reserve 18yr and Redbreast cask strength. Yes, it came to more than the standard tray but we’d never tried any of these whiskies before.
We were at Jameson longer than we thought, and walking back to the city centre it was time to go to dinner. I’d researched steakhouses beforehand and we made a reservation at the butcher grill at Ranelagh, 4 stops on the tram line. We had the 12oz 60-day dry aged sirloin that came with sides (greens and cauliflower were our choices). A fabulous house wine and very nice cheesecake later, we were extremely satisfied. It’s not exactly in the city centre but a few stops on the tram it’s completely worth it. Highly recommended.
It was still early when we got back to the hotel, so we went to the Palace Bar over at Temple Bar. Had something other than Guinness deliberately: half of Murphy’s and a bottle of O’Hara’s ale. Made friends with other patrons in the noisy bar and asked the bartender for whiskey recommendations. Got to try their own bottling, which we promptly purchased 2 bottles. When we got back to the hotel, we had additionally acquired a bottle of redbreast 12yr, there was about 3-4 drams left. We also had a small tasting from some of the miniatures we bought. There’s a lot of Irish whiskey I’d never heard of before, it’s a good learning experience.
Went to Dublin over the jubilee weekend with RM. Flight was at noon, so no need to get up early, although I did miss the #36 bus and had to get another one, meaning I got the later Heathrow express. First time on Aer Lingus, and it was okay, short 1 hour flight only. Bus transfer to trinity capital hotel, which is located just around the corner from Trinity College, very convenient. It’s converted from a part of a fire station (the station is still operational next door) with quirky, Alice-in-Wonderland colour scheme decoration. Fun.
Got our directions to the tram stop and took the tram to the guinness storehouse, one of the primary aims of this trip. This publie part of the distillery has no working equipment, just a series of exhibits about how guinness is made. A lot of reading of posted words. Included in our ticket is a pint of guinness at the gravity, but the other option of using the voucher is way more fun. About 5-10mins of queuing only, and we were inducted into the guinness academy, where we learned how to properly pull a pint. A bit gimmicky, but still fun. When we did go to the gravity bar, we were so glad we did the pint pulling — the bar was just like any other noisy and crowded bar.
Weather was crap, we took the bus back to city centre and explored a little. Walked down the main shopping street Grafton Street to our dinner destination Thorntons, one of the few Michelin starred places in Dublin. We had the “surprise” tasting menu, 8 courses:
- scallop with foam — quite nicely done
- salmon three way — carpaccio, tartar, confit in broth — again quite nicely done although no surprise
- foie gras in black truffle with white truffle powder — all about the decadence here, the white truffle powder was very strong
- lobster claw and king prawn — very fresh
- fillet of atlantic turbot with white asparagus — the best dish of the night, the turbot was perfectly cooked, fresh so fresh
- loin of lamb — the main course was okay, the lamb pretty tasty
- cashel blue cheese plate — from Tipperary where the chef hails from
- strawberry parfait with strawberry and lemon verbena salad — good, cleansing dessert
With a bottle of gewurtz and a glass of red the meal came to over 300. The meal was marred by the attentive but rather snotty service, may be that’s because we didn’t dress up. And also for the first time in my life, I sent wine back. I was offered a glass of syrah that tasted so off, and as a substitute I opted for a chianti. The food was good and well prepared. Would we recommend it? Probably not.
When we got back to the hotel, we opened a bottle of the foreign extra guinness we bought at the storehouse, thinking it will be a nice drink to sip while watching tv. So wrong! It was so utterly strong and bitter that it took real effort to drink and finsh. Hahaha!
- Islay at Easter, whisky crazy
- Brighton Marathon 15 April
- Brussels chip’n’choc walk with A in April
- Stockholm with Mum in May
- Brussels again with Mum in May
- Edinburgh and Orkney with RM and Mum in May
- Dublin this weekend with RM
- Chicago on 10 June, can’t wait to go “home” and see Car and Aunt Nancy
- GCLS in Minneapolis
- I have an extra week in the US, I may go to the Bourbon Trail or to New Orleans, or I may just stay home in Chicago
- 5 musicals booked (bargain tickets) — Les Miz (3rd time), Singin’ in the Rain, Chicago, Sweeney Todd, Wicked
- my niece will come for her UK summer holiday in June/July so we’ll do something
- Prague with mm in August
- Provence and Paris with mm in August
- Olympics — I have womens’ diving final tickets, both 3m and 10m
images from flickr users johnfromks and boaderhype
Sometimes, too much choice isn’t such a good thing. Been planning mm’s trip here in August and discussing places to travel, musicals to see and restaurants to try. I saw a good deal on ba.com last week of 2 nights in Prague so I already booked it. Then it’s deciding on the second, longer trip. We’ve gone through so many ideas: Scandanavia, Portugal, Geneva and Switzerland, Alsace, Venice, Florence, Iceland, Paris. I went to the library and got travel guides and narrowed it down to two possibilities: Provence plus south of France or Tuscany.
Both in fact very similar: beautiful countryside, wines, food, weather, history and culture. Both highly recommended. Both would be great destinations. Tuscany is even prettier than Provence, but after skyping mm, Provence has the edge. Her favourite lavender, my favourite chateauneuf-du-pape, seafood. Our pragmatic side is also leaning towards Provence: our French is passable vs we don’t know Italian; easier travel (fly to NIce, rent a car, train back via Paris and Eurostar); plus I feel more comfortable driving in France than in Italy.
So, in the fight between Provence and Tuscany, Provence currently has the edge.
After visiting Islay, I got interested in several of the other good whiskies — Talisker, Balvenie, Old Pulteney and Highland Park. Then I started getting obsessed with Highland Park, and naturally my obsession turned into a desire to visit. And this is why RM and I dragged Mum to Kirkwall this past weekend. The purpose (not sole, but certainly top) of our trip was to the Highland Park distillery, where we’d pre-booked the Magnus Eunson premium tour. It promises a tour with a senior guide, a souvenir book, souvenir glass and full range tasting. Considering a miniature of the 40yr is £77, at £75 it was something I’d looked forward to since we made the reservation.
They picked us up from the hotel and dropped us back, which is much needed service. We were there 10mins early, and joined the regular tour group for the introductory video. Then we separated and went with our guide, James, a retired banker, who took us more slowly around the distillery. The floor maltings, mill, mash tun, washbacks and stills were familiar by now, it was great to have a refresher. The stillman even showed us his computer that monitors the alcohol % at the safe.
Before the tasting got underway, we looked around the tasting room and all got a chance to hold a bottle of 50 year. At £10,000, we were all extremely careful not to drop it. I made notes as we tasted.
- new mix spirit — this is the clear liquid that comes from the still before it gets into the cask. At 69.8% it’s strong on the nose. Tasted surprising sweet
- oloroso sherry — mainly to nose, this is the sherry which occupied the casks before being filled with whisky. Rich in colour, it was quite dry
- 12 year 40% — the standard expression, to me the nose was chemical and medicinal, not terribly nice. Pleasant enough to drink
- 15 year 40% — richer, fruitier, sweeter, spicier, more of everything compared with the 12
- 18 year 43% — spicy but less than the 15, sweet, lots of complexity, methinks one should always have a bottle of this on one’s shelf
- 25 year 48.1% — lots of sherry, dark, sweeter again, rich almost like wine, has a kick and tons of body; not everyone liked this but it was my favourite so far
- 30 year 48/1% — not spicy on nose but stronger alcohol, rounded almost delicate, flowery, can definitely feel its warmth travelling down me
- 40 year 48.3% — smells like 25, lots of sherry, big, big smell; big, big body, so sweet! With a little salty and bags of finish, sigh sigh sigh
- Thor 16year special edition 52.1% — first of a series of 4, big hit and really sweet and fruity
Sometimes the instinct is to go for the most aged, most expensive expression. The question becomes, “is it worth the premium?” The 40yr is almost £1,000; the 25 £130-ish. Is the 40yr 7.5 times better than the 25yr? Not really. In terms of value for money, the 18yr at around £60 hits that sweet spot, and I think that’s the one I’ll have as standby at home. I would like to buy the Thor (£120) because it’s the one that appeals to my palate and wallet most, I’m just afraid that I won’t be able to get the other 3 in the series when they come out.
This was one of the best tastings I’ve been so far and my first vertical tasting. Expensive, and we were rushed at the end — the tour started at 4pm and we weren’t even halfway through the tasting at 7pm. I think instead of having the driver wait around, a deal with a local cab company would have put less pressure on us. It’s not the most value for money tasting, that would go to Ardbeg; nor is it the most fun and informative, that would be Laphroaig. Is it worth coming all the way out to Orkney? Yes, it was well worth the long trip out.
Our flight was at 2.40pm but we still managed to fit in quite a lot for one morning. Drove east to Deerness and to Mull Head nature reserve. It’s a nice, short walk to the coast to see The Gloop, a cave / hole in the cliffs that together with the spectacular cliffs gave a great view. Drove back to the south islands to go to the Italian Chapel, which we missed on Sunday. It was built by Italian prisoners during WW2, and is the only building remaining of the site. Very postcard-y and I can see why it’s one of the most visited spots in Orkney.
Final stop was at Highland Park again. Three times in 3 days. No tasting, just some accessories shopping. I got a small lapel pin to go with the tasting glass and polo shirt I bought the other day. Filled up the car and parked back at Kirkwall town centre for quick walkaround and fish and chips lunch. They also had white and red pudding, that tasted somewhere between black pudding and sausages.
Uneventful flights home, connected at Aberdeen. Both flights from Kirkwall and Aberdeen were almost completely full, luckily they were short flights so not too uncomfortable. Picked up the whisky purchases from Saturday at Heathrow. My bounty this trip, from Heathrow and Aberdeen airports as well as Edinburgh and Highland Park distillery:
- Highland Park St Magnus
- Highland Park miniatures — 21, 25, 30yr
- Laphroaig PX cask
- Bunnahabhain Cruach-Mhona
- Scapa 16yr
- Old Pulteney 17yr
- Mortlach 16yr
- Dalwhinnie 15yr
- Glengoyne 21yr
Two cruise ships came into Kirkwall today, all the locals were talking about it. One of them, the Caribbean Princess, had 3,500 people so if all of them came on shore, it would double Kirkwall’s population. We watched them come via their small orange boats, and them they got on coaches or taxis. We were warned, and expected to see them all over the island at the popular tourist spots.
Nevertheless, we had a plan to follow. The first few stops were Maes Howe and the standing circles at Stenness. We did come across some of the cruisemates, but never intrusive. We didn’t join the tour at Maes Howe, just looked at the shop. We did however spend a lot of time at the stones. Fantastic, beautiful site. Then onwards to Skara Brae (shop only again) and the rock stacks at Yesnaby followed by the scenic coast at Birsay. A stop at Earl’s Palace and a short walk around the area. We had a quick lunch from the snack van of burgers and soft drinks, facing the wild bule sea. What a beautiful island.
Back at the hotel at around 3pm for a little rest before the car from Highland Park came to pick us up. We’re booked on the top end £75 Magnus Eunson tour at the distillery, which promises us tastings from all of: 12, 15, 18, 25, 30 and 40 year expressions. That is worth another post on its own. Dinner reservation at the hotel restaurant, we plan to have seafood and cheesecake tonight.
Early start, free buffet breakfast at hotel. Then to the bus station for the short ride to the airport. Flight at 10.40am to Kirkwall was short, on one of those piddly flybe propeller planes. Car hire company picked us up from the airport and I drove the car to their office for paperwork. We got a Vauxhall Vectra, I’d wanted group B but they didn’t have any available so it’s a bigger car.
Staying at the Kirkwall hotel, right on the harbour of Kirkwall. I was able to book a family room which is a double with an adjoining single sharing a bathroom. It’s quite an old hotel but the rooms are large and comfortable enough. Quick lunch at the hotel of toasties and baked potato. Not a lot was open around, so the safest bet was the hotel.
We drove around, couldn’t resist stopping off at the Highland Park distillery even though we have our tour booked for tomorrow. Fabulous chat with one of the staff there and we ended up buying the St Magnus limited edition 55% natural strength that was so fragrant and rich that I could feel it flowing down my body. Yum.
Drove all the way down south, marvelling at the Churchill barriers through the islands of Burray and South Ronaldsay. The Tomb of the Eagles weren’t attractive enough for us to pay the entrance fee and walk around the windy cliffs towards archeological sites. Pretty scenery though, different from Islay or the Highlands.
Back to the mainland and west towards Stromness, the second largest town on Orkney. Very picturesque harbour. It being Sunday everything was closed, with the exception of a chippie. We shared one haddock and chips plus a single portion of scampi, a bit like appetiser. Dinner was at the hotel again. It was very crowded and we had to wait about an hour before they had a table for us. Not a problem, we rested up in our room. I had a lovely seafood salad, vanilla & orange ice cream / sorbet. Afterwards Mum went back up and RM and I sipped a selection of Scapas — 12, 16 and 25 years. Surprisingly, or rather not, the 16 yr was the best. Oh, we also went by Scapa distillery but they don’t open for visitors.
It’s now very late, but it’s still not quite dark out, we are so far north. More sightseeing and tasting tomorrow.
Me, Mum and RM are in Edinburgh, on our way to Orkney. We decided to stopover for one night, firstly because of the flights and secondly because it’s an interesting place to visit. Flying out of Terminal 5 means a huge duty free selection. With the discounts and travel retail only selection, we ended up buying a lot even before we got on the plane. They have a collect when home service so we’ll get our purchases when we return to London.
Flight was short, drinks and snacks and we landed already. Got the bus to Waverley station, £6 return, it’s only 10-15mins walk to the Holiday Express, our hotel for the night. Checked in, and came back out again. Walked back into town, had a very late lunch at Whiski bar, which has 300, yes 300, whiskies. We didn’t have any, Mum had fish & chips, RM had mussels and I had venison liver with side salad.
Walked towards the royal mile and then the castle. It was a nice day and a very pleasant walk around. Had dinner at this restaurant called Steak which is literally next to the hotel. We all had mixed grill — sirloin steak, sausages, pigeon breast, black pudding, bone marrow, mushroom and tomato. The practice of having a dram with a meal continued, when we ordered the Thomas Handy Sazerac Rye whiskey. Wow, very nice drink.
Breakfast at the hotel was EUR23, so we just had the croissants we brought with us. We didn’t wake up till 9am, so it was past 10am when we left. First stop was to go to St Catherine area, where I thought there was a food market. But we were disappointed, there was nothing, and for a weekday morning, no one around either. We visited a Carrefour Express and got some waffles. Remember this.
Went back to the hotel to dump our shopping and walked to Le Grand Sablon, where the chocolate shops are. We’d already done some chocolate shopping at the Grand Place vicinity, so it wasn’t as much of a wow factor as before. We did sit outside at Wittamer and had a leisurely 2 hour lunch. That’s the life! We had a couple of nice quiches — lorraine for me and saumon for Mum. There was an odd marching interlude, where a group of about 100 people dressed as officials marched through the street in front of us. The people at the front wore costumes and some had flags. Some of the people had medals or chains that suggested that they are mayors or council members. May be the beginning of the local council or parliament? The people at the back weren’t in costume but were still in business attire and looked official.
Too full after the quiches for dessert, even though the selection looked delicious. I couldn’t let Mum leave Brussels without tasting the hot chocolate though, so we had that. Yes, it was as heavenly and smooth and chocolatey as I remembered. Everyone who visits Brussels must try hot chocolate, preferably at Wittamer, at least once.
I was a bit full but couldn’t resist the frite stall behind La Chapelle. Last time it was closed (too early) so I insisted on getting a small portion. Freshly fried and still piping hot. Nice.
Still some time to spare, so we headed back to Grand Place and behind, near the Bourse. There was a talented busker singing guitar classics, and his tip box was full of euros. We then found a supermarket and went shopping crazy. Mainly white asparagus (3 bunches) and more waffles. I think Mum bought something like 4-5 packets of different sized waffles altogether. I have no idea whether we can finish them all, or she is going to take them home with her. Anyway, our overnight trolley bags are full of waffles.
Uneventful Eurostar trip home. No silly delays like last time, we were home by 8pm.
I was just there, but since Mum was interested, we went to Brussels for a quick overnight trip. Eurostar and Novotel 1 night total £300 for 2 people.
I had to remember how to navigate. Last time, there was a lot of walking so I wasn’t as familiar with the metro. There were stations where both sides of train doors opened and we got off at the wrong side and had to get out of the station and re-enter to change. Weird. Once settled at the hotel, we walked to the Grand Place and looked around. Got duped to having lunch at one of those supremely touristy place — I had waterzooi and Mum had moules, both were mediocre. Never say yes to smooth talking people lurking outside restaurants!
Since we had the day pass, we decided to fully utilise it. Took the metro to near Gare Midi to visit the Cantillon brewery, which apparently is the brewery to visit if you were to visit any brewery. The problem was, the staff there were few and overloaded so we got almost no attention or instructions. At least it was a self-guided tour and I had some understanding of the process after visiting so many whisky distilleries. The tasting was 2 glasses of their product, we had (or rather, I had and Mum took a small taste) gueuze, framboise kriek and faro. The raspberry kriek was just like cough syrup but I liked the caramel faro, which tasted like sherry.
After the brewery tour, we took the metro all the way out to the NW to visit the Atomium. This was probably the only memory we had of our first visit to Brussels, when I was still at school. It was a nice day and a nice enough visit. We didn’t go up to the top.
Dinner was frites at the place opposite the hotel. We bought some of the skewers and sausages, plus one carton of frites each. Took it back to the hotel to enjoy in the comfort of our room, together with the TV. Nice.
I first did it when I went to Prague with Mum last year. I most recently did it just this past weekend when we went to Stockholm. I’m sure I’ll continue doing it going forward.
Borrow travel guides from the local library. The books are up to date, and the DK guides have plenty of pictures and maps. Perfect for travelling. I can take the books out for 3 weeks at a time. What a great resource.
We purposely went easy on breakfast because we were going to visit the food market later so wanted to save space. Before that, and after checking out / depositing our bags, we had time so we hopped on the #2 bus to the end on the island of Södermalm south of the city. Residential areas, with blocks of flats that reminded me of Switzerland. And on the water too, so pretty. I bet it’s great to live there. Took the #55 bus back to the city, stopping off at Slussen, immediately across Gamla Stan. The views back towards the city were, as usual, stunning. Fresh air and a bright blue sky day, wonderful.
Time for lunch at Saluhall, just behind our hotel. From the moment we entered, we knew it was great. Historic building, and stalls selling great, great food — fruit & veg, meat, cheese, jam, fish, chocolate — all of the highest quality. There were restaurants inside too, serving fish, smorgasbord, and hot food. The hot food stalls had counters, which were way more attractive than sitting at tables at the small restaurants. There weren’t many counter seats, we lucked out in spotting someone just about to pay so we queued up behind him. Basically it’s choosing the dishes displayed at the counter, which are also on the menu. Mum had meatballs and I had raggmunk, a potato pancake with salted pork dish. We helped ourselves to ligonberry sauce and pickled cucumber, as well as the complimentary lemonade. 110kr per dish (about £10), it’s the best value food we’ve had this trip.
Went back to the central area to buy chocolate, then it was time to head back to the hotel to pick up our bags, repack and head for the airport. There was time to spare so we sat at the coffee shop near the gate. I spent some of our remaining kr on pickled herrings, reindeer pate and chocolate wafers.
Breakfast is included in our hotel room, and served in the lounge. Who says continential breakfast is not filling? Delicious ham, pate, cheese, salmon and salad, and I discovered 2 jars of wonderful pickled herring, so yummy. They also have hot food — bacon, sausage and eggs. Thus satisfied, we set out for a full day of exploration.
First stop, the bus #2 then tram #7 to Djurgarden, the large island to the right of the city centre. What I wanted to visit was Vasamuseet, the museum that houses the Vasa, the only remaining 17th century boat in the world. It sank on its maiden voyage and was salvaged in the 1950s. The ship remains pretty intact, and the work that went into restoration has been impressive. There’s lots to see, we’re able to view the ship on different levels. It’s not the most visited museum in Scandanavia for nothing.
We managed to catch one of the vintage trams back to the city, and then we were off to Gamla Stan, or the Old Town. Didn’t go inside the palace, but did catch the changing of the guard, which was more a display show for 45 mins. There were marching soldiers, stomping running soldiers, horses, military bands on horses, lots of shouting and a bit of flag waving.
Lunch was at one of the restaurangs on Stortorget, a square at the heart of Gamla Stan. The salmon Mum had was as beautiful as the one yesterday; and I had a moose burger that came with a huge bowl of the sweetest grilled new potatoes. Gamla Stan has pretty houses and narrow streets, we didn’t spend as much time as I’d like exploring. Took the metro to hard rock café to get my souvenir shirt, then back to Djurgarden, this time right to the end of the tram line to Waldemarsudde, a place of peace, beauty and crisp air; and then a brief stop at Skansen, an outdoor museum with historical significance. We didn’t go in, just visited the shop.
We made full use of our 3-day pass, took the tram/ bus combination back to the hotel. We weren’t very hungry so stopped at the supermarket at the station to get yogurt and drinks, that was it for dinner.
Taking Mum to Stockholm for the long weekend. She’s always wanted to go to Niagara Falls and Scandanavia, so I’ve managed to take her to two of her dream destinations. I’ve never been to Stockholm myself so I’m looking forward to this trip too.
Flight was very early, 7.40am, so a very early start. T5 going out is never a problem and we were sitting down at Giraffe having breakfast just after 6am. Even had time to wander around the duty free before getting on the shuttle to the departure gate. 2 hr short hop flight. The walk inside Arlanda airport from the plane to baggage reclaim was very long, I guess it gives the airport staff time to bring our bags out. I’d pre-booked the train to city centre, only 20mins, very efficient.
Bought a 3 day travel pass (metro, bus, tram) so even though it’s only one stop to the hotel, we took the metro. We’re staying at the hotel stureplan, situated in an old building that still has one of those tiny caged lift. Our room wasn’t ready so we parked our bags and set off on foot to explore the city. Walked along pedestrianised streets to the waterside, it turned out to be a sunny if windy day. From the waterside, we walked back up through one of the main shopping streets. On the way we bought chocolate, visited a wine supermarket I thought was a regular supermarket and generally window shopped.
It was almost 2pm and we were starting to feel hungry. The cafés along the touristy street didn’t appeal. And then, as if by magic, we turned into a pretty, tranquil, green courtyard that housed the central badet spa and a few bars and restaurants. It was nice enough to sit outside at the restaurant Hubertus. Mum had a lovely grilled salmon with potato, courgette, mix veg and salad (lots of accompaniments) and I had a seafood pasta and a Falcon Export beer. We stopped by the Hötorget market on the way back to the hotel and bought a punnet of strawberry.
After checking in, I crashed on the bed for 20mins. Needed that nap, been up since 4.30am. When we were ready to leave again it was almost 5pm and we realised that most shops are closed. And a lot of them don’t seem to open on sunday either. Took a short walk then took the bus to Sergels Torg, the central traffic roundabout with a large scupture and fountains. Next doors is the Kulturhuset (Cultural Centre) with museums, small galleries and theatres. Not much to eat in terms of restaurants, we found a Turkish festival at Kungstradgarden and had shish kebab. It was beginning to get windy and cold so we took the bus back to the hotel.
We had a leisurely morning, taking our time to wake up, check out and have breakfast. Then a short walk to find a couple more friteries near the hotel. It was too early for them to be open, so it was just a matter of taking pictures and then moving on.
Having done the savoury chipwalk yesterday, it’s the turn of the sweet chocwalk, making our trip the chip’n’choc walk trip (my invented word). Of course, Belgian chocolate is famous all over the world, and we took inspiration from this really useful nyt article and made a beeline to Place du Grand Sablon which promised us 8 chocolate shops in one square.
The first shop was Pierre Marcolini’s two storey extravaganza. They treat chocolate like delicate vintage, and have a box that includes the Grand Cru selection. Other selection include one that offers the taste of cocoa from different parts of the world, and one that has spices. I also bought a €49 box of rum & whisky chocolate. The next stop was Wittamer where I bought a box of 9 pralines topped with chocolate coated crickets. Yes, crickets as in the insect cricket. The unboxing and tasting deserves its own post I think. Wittamer was also where we stopped for a hot chocolate. I don’t usually order hot chocolate but this was well worth the exception. The intense cocoa flavour is nothing like the hot chocolate from a packet. Even the cream was delicious. Final stop was Neuhaus for truffles.
I was now pretty laden down with chocolate purchases. But that wasn’t the end of our chocolate adventure. We made our way back to Grand Place and visited the museum of cocoa and chocolate. For €5.50, we visited the small museum, watched a demostration of how to make pralines and had a small sampler. Nice little museum to spend an hour or so in a tiny street just behind the main square.
And in a touristy shopping street the other side of the square, I found the other thing I was hoping I’d find, Westvleteren 12 beer from the Abbey of St Sixtus at Westvleteren. Their beers are in huge demand because of having consistenly been voted the best beer in the world and the small quantity made at the abbey. To make a purchase, people have to ring up to check when reservations are available; then ring up again when reservations do open to make an appointment for a visit. They have to indicate the licence plate number of the car visiting, and one licence plate can only buy every 60 days. Such is the rarity that I wasn’t sure I’d even see posters of the beer let alone the real thing. I had no hesitation in shelling out €12.95 for a bottle (actually got two, plus one each of the blonde and the 8).
Now I was well and truly carrying a very heavy load. Not a lot else to do with only a couple of hours, we ate more frites (at one of the friteries not on the list), had ice cream at at biscuit place and then camped out at a small café. I had a couple of beers and A had a diet coke. Then got a bit hungry, A had a salad while I ordered an américaine, which here means steak tartare. I can’t imagine a dish more misnamed, I can’t imagine many Americans eating steak tartare. It’s been a while since my last one, and it was okay, not the best one I’ve had. Sigh, really have to go back to Switzerland one of these days.
Walked back to the hotel, hung out for a bit in the lobby until it was time to catch our respective trains. Not even the Eurostar delay on the way home, because UKBA was so understaffed they asked the trains to go slow, dampened my overall impression of the trip. What a great weekend, it was a good idea to meet up and do something different than the usual touristy stuff.
I took an early Eurostar train to Brussels to meet up with my friend A. We’d arranged to go on the chip walk together. The chip walk is part of this year’s Brusselicious food festival, which includes other events such as gourmet tram dining, mussels at the beach and a wine festival. Apparently one of the distinctive food features of Brussels is these friteries, roadside stalls or shops that sold frites, aka fries, aka chips. Traditionally they are hand-cut, and there’s even an app that has an interactive list of the top 49.
I’ve been in Brussels once, a very very long time ago, for half a day with my family. That almost counts as having never visited. The train was only 2hrs from St Pancras, and our hotel literally across the road from the station. We couldn’t check in yet, so we stored our luggage and set off on foot to the central areas.
It took 1hr to find our first stall, having walked through the tourist attractions and to a more local part of town. The stall was very unassuming, the woman at the stall took pre-fried chips and fried them again to order to give them an extra crunchiness. There’s a variety of sauces, but mayo is the standard. There are other food items too, but are mainly deep fried processed meat in the shape of sausages or meatballs or burgers. I had the meatballs, because I needed food at that point.
We had planned on hitting at least 4, which we sort of did. We only bought frites from 3 of them, and by the last one we just ordered a small portion to share. Too much carbs. They were good though, it’s surprising how something simple like fries can taste different from stall to stall. #2 had the most anecdotes: a) the queue was a whole hour long; b) nearby bars and café had signs that said “frites accepted” so people can take their frites packages and enjoy them in the bar. Of course, it meant purchasing a drink, so it’s a smart move. I had a Westmalle beer while A had a tea.
After the last stall, we were on the lookout for ice cream, which we found nearby. I had an orange one, and it was fantastic. The weather turned nasty, it had been showery all day, and now the rain was steady. After walking for a bit in the miserable rain, we took the wise decision of taking the metro back to the hotel. All chipped out tonight.
Here are some misc pictures of Brighton I took on Saturday while walking around. My recollection of the city is driving down with mm and then spending the day doing seaside-y stuff like going to the pier to play on the machines. I’m happy to report that the pushers are still 2p and there are still the old favourites like the basketball machine. There are still seafood stalls, I had a pot of whelks that cost me a blooming £1. Rock is still a favourite.
For some odd reason, I had a picture of the Royal Pavillion somewhere at the edge of town next to the A23, but in reality it’s in the town centre within walking distance of the station. Strange memory. I don’t think the Lanes was as developed then, but now it’s a picture of smartness and where all the cool people go. Interesting.
At the end, we did manage to visit all the distilleries on Islay and Jura, including the 2 that were closed — we took photos at least.
I bought a couple of bottles — a wine cask Bruichladdich and a Caol Ila 18 year . But the most fun stuff I got were the miniature bottles — laphoraig, bruichladdich, jura and bowmore; and at least one tasting glass from the distilleries where we went on tours. I already have an Ardbeg, but now I have Glencairn glasses from Lagavullin and Laphoraig (large and small), tumblers from Bowmore and Bruichladdich, and shot-glass sized glasses from Jura and one with the map of the island etched. Good stuff.
Jura, Portnohaven, peat banks, home
We set off early to catch the 9.30am ferry to the even more remote isle of Jura. The ferry trip was literally 5 minutes, it took longer to drive the car into the boat and drive off.
8 miles along the coast of Jura and we came to the village of Craighouse. It had been raining all morning, and then the sun came out. The main strip of the village is along the harbour, with matching whitewashed buildings housing the hotel, the distillery and the store. That’s it. Our tour was at 11am so we had time to wander around until there was nothing more to wander to. RM went to the distillery shop to chat with the people there (and it turned out, bum a dram) while I took a walk in the other direction towards the old pier.
The distillery tour was free. Afterwards there was the obligatory tasting. They didn’t give us any complimentary glass, so I bought one. Fair, considering the tour was free. We had lunch at a small but busy café behind the store — burgers and salad, and since we are in Scotland, irn-bru.
We missed the return ferry, so we set up shop at the pier to rest for a bit. Back on Islay we had time to head to Portnohaven at the southernmost tip of the island. Pretty village with lighthouse. On the way back to the airport, we filled up the car with petrol and made our final stop. One of the tour guides (laphoraig, I think) told us where there peat banks are, and how they cut the peat by hand. We spotted them by the airport, and it’s a sign of how much we (or at least I) have learnt that we knew what we were seeing. We’d driven past that road several times without noticing.
The flight to Glasgow was 30mins late. For some administratively stupid reason Flybe won’t check us through to Heathrow so we had to retrieve our bags, exit and re-checkin. BA is much more efficient and we were back inside the gate quickly. The flight to LHR was also late, we didn’t land till 10.30pm. Luggage took forever to come out so it was a little bit stressful. The train was full, and there was a long queue for taxis at Paddington so I just took the bus. Past midnight and I was home finally.
Laphoraig, Lagavullin distilleries. Carraig Fuada Lighthouse.
Short 5min drive to Laphoraig this morning. We’d booked for the most extensive and expensive tasting this trip, for £28. We joined the regular tour of the distillery first. I must say, this is the absolute best distillery tour so far. Normal price of £3 is frankly undervalued. The guide was well informed, and the best things were: we got to try a small sample of the yeasty wash; we were allowed to put our hands inside the safe to catch a drop of the distilled product to taste; we also dipped our fingers into a freshly filled cask. Wow. And then on the regular tour there was a dram tasting of the 10 year old.
The advanced tasting, the Johnstone tour, involved tasting of 4 expressions: 10 year old, a 25 year old, a special festival edition and a superb, smooth, awesome 30 year old. Then we got a bonus, and I tried the triple wood. I can’t recommend Laphoraig enough. If visitors only have time for 1 distillery visit, this is where I will recommend.
Quick lunch back at the hotel. I had ham (it is Easter after all) and then back to the same area for the tour at Lagavullin. Ack, we weren’t allowed to take pictures. Apparently company policy. Weird. The tour was also good, I stuck my head inside one of the wash tuns and got a noseful of yeast and carbon dioxide, eeek. As it was just a regular tour the dram tasting was more limited. I had a distiller’s edition Lagavullin and a 18 year Caol Ila. The Caol Ila isn’t widely available so I purchased a bottle.
The weather had been crummy all day, rain varying between drizzle and downpour. Late afternoon the sun came out so we took advantage and drove to the southern tip. When the sun is out, the water is soooo blue and the island so picturesque. This is the Carraig Fuada lighthouse. There’s a faint rainbow at the center of the shot, towards the left.
5 distelleries — Bruichladdich, Kilchoman, Bowmore, Bunnahabhain , Caol Ila — one birthday
Woke up to a gloriously sunny morning at Port Ellen. Beautiful photo op, went outside the hotel to absorb the quiet atmosphere and take pictures. Full breakfast of cereal, toast, bacon, sausage, black pudding, beans, mushroom, tomato and potato pancake.
Then to the other side of the island, past Bowmore. We were early so we drove further on to Port Charlotte before turning back to Bruichladdich. Had a 45 min tour, but as they weren’t working today, it was empty. Tasted a 10 year classic at the end of the tour. Bought miniatures and a bottle that isn’t available online.
Stopped at Kilchoman, the newest distillery. We hadn’t booked a tour, just visited the shop. Had a tiny sample of their inaugural and sherry cask. Pretty new and young, a distillery to watch out for I think.
Back to Bowmore proper. Had time to spare for some souvenir shopping before joining the tour at Bowmore. The distillery was both working and we had an extremely informative tour guide. For some odd reason we weren’t allowed to take photos because of health and safety reasons. Weird. Tasted a 12 year and a 18 year.
Rest of the day was driving to 2 distilleries that are closed for the holidays — Bunnahabhain and Caol Ila. We went there for picture opportunity and to say we’ve visited all the distilleries on Islay. Final stop was to Port Askaig, initially to find something to eat but it turned out to be a port with just 2 buildings, pretty disappointing.
Dinner was at the Harbour Inn. I had langoustines and semphire salad, pan-fried vension and prune & almond cake with Bowmore Tempest ice cream. Had an Islay ale too, it was smooth and dark and almost like a stout.
Back in hotel before 8am. Shower, TV, relaxing, posting. Resting for more sampling tomorrow.
Not my usual birthday. It just happened that this year it falls smack bang at Easter weekend and I got the offer / temptation from RM to go travelling. A part of me would rather have stayed at home, but this has been vastly interesting and I’m very very pleased that I came.
London —> Glasgow —> Islay
Going to Islay with RM for the long weekend. Early morning start at 4.30am. Bus to Paddington then train to Heathrow. Flight to Glasgow was 7am, arriving at just before 9am. Our luggage were checked through, so we didn’t have to worry. Got the #500 bus to Glasgow city centre and walked around a bit. Originally we were worried that we won’t have time to see anything but we managed to see the main sights. Nothing much to see, to be honest.
Flight to Islay was delayed for over 1 hour. The flight itself was only 30mins, so it’s all relative. Luggage came out quickly. Got our rental car and drove to Port Ellen. Checked into the hotel no problem, very pleased with the room. As soon as we ditched our luggage we ran out and hightailed it to Ardbeg. We had booked a tasting tour, and I called in Glasgow airport to advice that we were delayed and they were so kind to let us join the end of the tour, the tasting.
The tasting. Oh man. Incredible. Out of this world. We tried 8 different expressions, starting with a 10 year old, then it got better and better. 17 year old, 24, sherry cask, ones that are no longer available. I gave quite a lot to RM, and he got quite drunk. Heehee. We barely made it to dinner. I had scallops, lemon sole and summer fruits pudding. Shower and spent the rest of the evening watching tv.
Temporary pictures only. Will need to do the whole set when I get home.
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.
Over the weekend i caught up with The Very Hungry Frenchman, the new bbc2 program where Raymond Blanc travels back to France and explores the cuisines of various regions. The series started with him going home to his parents’ house. How lovely to see his mother’s garden and kitchen, it’s no surprise that he learned a lot from her. This clip shows him making comté soufflé. Wow, oh wow.
Thus inspired, I looked at packages at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, his 2 Michelin-starred hotel restaurant in Oxford. Pretty expensive is an understatement. There are midweek and weekend packages as well as one the combines a day at his cookery school. For example, the Decouverte Experience includes:
- room varying between luxurious to super deluxe suite
- welcome drinks, flowers, chocolate
- 9 course dinner, which has dishes like confit de foie de canard, wild brill with caviar, roasted venison and vacherin with truffle & honey
- french breakfast
will costs at least £800. Gulp. Talked it over with mm, and even though it would have been a fantastic visit, we decided it’s too expensive.
The flight was very full, haven’t been on one this full for a while. (No whining about business class, nope.) I watched Moneyball and 8 episodes of Entourage. Slept for about 3-4 hours total, may be. By the time I got to the conveyor belt my bag was already out. There was a huge long queue for taxis, ended up waiting almost half an hour, ugh.
First thing Mum said when I walked in, “we’re going out for dinner.” Nice, although I was tired. They took me to one of those busy places hidden inside a market. Had golden prawns (sautéed in salty egg yolk), a most succulent boneless pork rib that had been braised and served in a sweet sour sauce, pigeon and vegetables. I really was very tired, almost fell asleep on the train back. Felt better after unpacking and a shower. Bed soon.
Flight out today 10.05pm, so I left work at 4.30pm, took a shower, finished packing, took care of rubbish and everything else. Got to LHR on time, checked in, through immigration quickly. Got some chocolate for mm, then got settled in the lounge. Had some noodles and some wine. Now just waiting for boarding.
I was reading about brixton market and thought I should give it a visit to see what I can score. It’s a little far away, at the end of the Victoria line, but I left at 10.30am and it took me less than an hour. The market is just around the corner from the tube station, with busy street stalls selling fruit & veg, meat, electrical items and bric-a-brac. The usual £1 bowls of peppers, apples, lemons. But there were smaller packs too, and I bought carrots, parsnips and turnips for 50p a pack. Good size for me.
The hidden gems are inside the market buildings. There are still the fruit & veg stalls, together with fresh fish and meat stalls. The meat stalls had cuts of meat that are not commonly available — pig’s tails, tripe, oxtail, salted fish, salted meat. I bought oxtail and neck fillets, £5 per pack.
In amongst the older style stalls are the modern food places. Korean, Japanese, South American, Mexican, pizza, coffee shops, a place with DIY toast, chinese dumplings — all very artsy and full of people. Small places with a few tables, almost all were full.
I had my heart set on honest burgers, which has had rave reviews all around. It opens at 12pm, and there was a queue 10mins earlier. A scant 5 mins after opening, it was full already. I was on my own, so I got a nice end bar seat. The menu is small, with burgers made from 35-day dry aged beef. There were other options with chicken, meat free and even gluten-free bread.
I had the cheeseburger with stilton, which came with onion relish (I ate that). Chips were thrice fried served with rosemary salt. Automatically they served ketchup and mayo. I even had a small beer to go with the burger, which was cooked medium and was perfect. At £10.50 for the whole meal, it is on the expensive side, although quality is high. I’d go back the Brixton Market no question, even take mm and Mum there when they next visit.
Breakfast was, at all places, the sausage stall in the square. We had the whole morning and part of the afternoon, and wanted to go back to the market square we saw yesterday. We were looking for small souvenirs and found some nice simple fridge magnets. Bought some sweets and fruit too.
Watched the not very exciting hourly chime of the old astronomical watch and had lunch at a restaurant on the square. Mum had ham and I had boar goulash with hash browns. Walked to an Aldi’s to get sausage. Then back to the hotel to collect our luggage, but not before getting more of those yummy minicakes from the supermarket. I like our hotel location, it’s perfect.
There was a line for the shuttlebus so we thought we’d get on the next one and get to the airport early. I had some money left over and we bought more sausages at the airport for Mum to take back to Papa. We both enjoyed the trip and the plenty of good food. By the time we got home it was quite late but not too tired. Took 250+ pics: full set at flickr.
I’d brought tea bags so we had tea and bread for breakfast in our room. Then we braved the metro and the #22 tram to the top of the hill to Prague Castle. The castle grounds is huge, with many buildings. Most of them were on a ticket, and we opted not to purchase it. The only building that didn’t charge is St Vitus Cathedral but the queue to get inside was too long. It was nice enough to walk around the castle and enjoy the architecture.
The view, once we got to the other side, and looking down into the city, was spectacular. The day was a bit hazy, otherwise it would have been postcard perfect. The walk downhill was nice too, at the foot we came across a hot dog stand that had this huge delicious sausage. Mum loved it. There was an outcrop underneath the bridge with a really nice view of the river, great photo ops.
A slow walk back to town and we ended up at a small pizzeria “V Laznich” where Mum had sausage again, and I had the goulash with dumplings. There were only a few tables, but the service was very slow. Ah well, plenty of rest for the rest of the day walking. Crossed Charles bridge again, this time able to see clearly the religious statues and the crosses. Very symbolic. By the time it was almost 5pm and we reached a street market by accident. Bought fruit, and then yogurt and bread from the supermaket as a light dinner. Another good day.
I took Mum to Prague, 3 days 2 nights. Investigated package deals, and easily settled on BA holidays, since I didn’t fancy flying easyjet. More research on tripadvisor and I decided on staying at the Marriott. Booked a minicab from home, £30 to T5. Had breakfast at, of all places, wagamama. Flight was uneventful and fast. For probably the first time in my flying career we only took hand luggage. My research showed that aside from taxis the best way into town is by minibus. It’s been something like 10 years since I’ve visited Prague and it is much, much more advanced now. English is spoken everywhere. The bus stop was clearly marked and when we got into town we discovered, to our delight, that the Marriott is literally across the road!
It was in the afternoon, so we had time to explore. The first place we found was a Billa supermarket just a few doors down from the hotel. Talk about convenience. We bought these minicakes, which completely filled the spot for further exploration. A few more minutes and we were at Republic Square. More food awaits, this time a street stall that had huge whole ham joints smoking over real wooden fire. Had to try, had to try. Delicious.
Energised from the food, we explored around town. Managed to see the Opera House, Old Town Square, the astronomical clock and the narrow streets that radiated out from the old town square. I even bought a hard rock café polo shirt.
Lots of new sights and shops to explore. These vintage cars were part of an offering for tourists to be driven around town on the open top vehicles, very cool. There were small craft shops, lots of touristy souvenir shops and we came across an absinthe bar that looked positively bohemian. Very fitting, since the word bohemia was originally used to describe this region. Much as I would have liked to sample the absinthe bar, I was with Mum, so that was out of the question.
I did reward myself with a large beer at dinner, which would prove to be my default mealtime drink here. Dinner was at a restaurant in the old town called “U Kocku” where the menus came in 6 language and had pictures. We had the set dinner of tomato soup and a choice of meat for mains. Mum had the pork knee and I had the pork ribs. The picture suggested that the knee would be served, knuckle style, on metal swords. Alas, the swords were missing and it was just a rather large roasted meat. Tasted nice, but a lot of meat. The ribs were good too, but needed some sauce.
Utterly full now, we walked towards Charles Bridge, intending to walk off a little of the dinner. We ended up crossing the bridge to the other side and then slowly walking back to the hotel. I bought another beer at the supermarket and Mum bought scads of cereal bar and yogurt. We also got bread for breakfast — with a supermarket nearby there is no need for expensive hotel breakfasts. An excellent, excellent day.
video link: http://youtu.be/DeWMFKomkzg
I booked a taxi to go directly to the airport. Flat rate of $53 which wasn’t too bad. Was at O’Hare ridiculously early so I spent a good chunk of time at the food court and bar. Had a Uno pizza and bud light, oh so very American.
They were offering upgrade to upper class for $1,700. I mean, really? I did pay for the upgrade to premium economy which was good enough. Unlike the trip to Orlando the seats on this flight were newer and more comfortable. Actually regular economy on the way over was fine too. I watched source code which was quite good. The story was improbable, but the execution made it believable. Then I watched the bbc adaptation of Sarah Water’s The Night Watch. I was confused with the characters at first, because I wasn’t familiar with the actors. I already know that in the book the timeline is reversed, with the past coming after the present. It’s the sort of drama the Brits do so well, and I’d like to watch it again (with no character confusion) to catch the nuances and emotions better.
Flight arrival, immigration and baggage reclaim were uneventful. By the time I got to Paddington it was 8.45am and not surprisingly the taxi queue was long. I had considered doing zipcar but I’ll go to Tesco with mum next week anyway. Got home, unpacked, walked out to the supermarket. Talked for 1 hr with mm in the afternoon. I’m sure I’ll go to bed early.
I had plenty of time at Heathrow. Had breakfast, talked to mm, made my way to the gate. The flight was full but wasn’t too bad. They fed us plenty and I watched a couple of films — Super 8 and The Green Lantern. Landed early, at 1.30pm. As usual the line at immigration was long and the luggage was already on the belt when I got out. I had about a 30min wait for the bus, which was good cos I could get some fresh air. These are good buses, and Car picked me up at the station. Pizza dinner. Everything is just like it was, feels like coming home.
Why the pic of a Metra train? It was the first pic I took in my first personal trip to Chicago in 2006. I don’t count the 2000 overnight trip because all I saw was the hotel and office.
Went out for an afterwork drink so I’m running behind. Almost ready.
- check in — done, managed to change to a good window seat
- minicab booked — it’s £25 to heathrow, which works out to be about the same as getting a minicab to paddington then heathrow express, no brainer
- travel insurance — got worldwide multi-trip for the whole year
- laundry — done yesterday
- arranged for pickup at chicago — getting the bus
- packing — almost done
- checklist stuff — on track
youtube link: http://youtu.be/Kj4USbHbXlU
So Britain is basking in the glorious sunshine of an indian summer with temperatures predicted to reach 29°C over the weekend. And what will I be doing over the weekend? Flying to Chicago, where it is currently raining and grotty. I’m looking forward to it very much though, to see my friends. Oh, and that wee 26.2mile race Sunday week.
Our destination today was parkside farm in Enfield, which used to be our default strawberry picking venue. It has expanded and now has a variety of fruits and vegetables available for picking. It has been raining so we were worried, the info recording says that it’s muddy in the vegetable fields.
Their strawberries are table-top, and I wasn’t sure what it meant until we got there. Instead of planting at ground level, the crops are grown in troughs at shoulder level. I’m thinking it means the fruits are less prone to damage and pests. It also makes picking easier — no bending down. Even at late August there is plenty available, and according to their calendar they continue all the way through September. There were 3 varieties, and we discovered the best tasting one, Sonata, further back in the fields. The Sonatas are also smaller and, presumably since they are sweeter, attracted more wasps. We ended up with about 3/4 of a basket.
Other fruits included plums and raspberries. There was also brambles although I think they are wild. The vegetable fields were muddy. We got a couple of small squashes and a bunch of sweetcorn. Had to spend a good 20mins cleaning our shoes at their outside tap afterwards.
At the end, we were a bit rushed for time. I dropped mm off at St John’s Wood station so she can go to Bond Street to meet CC for coffee while I returned the car and went home. Met her for dinner and took her to Le Relais. She thought the place was called steak frites, but actually it’s what they serve. We shared a half bottle of their house red and skipped dessert. Nice meal, I think she liked it. We walked around a little afterwards before taking the bus home.
We used to be crazy kids and drove all the way to Margate to play in the arcades. It was only very much later that we discovered Whistable and its famous seafood and oyster restaurants. I found Wheelers online and had it on my to-visit list. Driving through London was the pits, it took forever to get from Aldgate to the Blackwall tunnel. After that, the A2 was fine albeit foggy.
The restaurant is a tiny oyster bar with just 4 tables inside. They’re always fully booked — I tried booking a few weeks ago but could never get anyone on the phone. We are truly blessed, we scored the last 2 seats at the seafood bar. It’s a BYO place so I got a bottle of gewurz from the off licence opposite. And then the feast started. Oysters were okay, the lady said they didn’t have a lot of stock which meant the quality wasn’t top notch. We also had fried calamari and enjoyed their homemade bread. For mains mm had skate and I had john dory. They were so yummy!! Better than Rick Stein’s, and cheaper. One of the freshest, best quality fish I’d ever eaten in Britain. The triple chocolate mousse was just icing on the cake.
There was a film crew and they interviewed us a little bit. Apparently the program will air in October, but it’s a daytime program so I’m not sure if I’ll remember to catch it. We had to sign releases and such.
From Whitstable we headed to Westgate, where mm went to school. There used to be a traditional sweet shop there but it’s gone now. The convenient store has some, and we meticulously counted a big stack of flying saucers at 2p each.
Her school has changed, it’s now a college and seems to specialise in sports. Looked a bit more run down than before too. But there was a blessing — while walking around the grounds she bumped into her ex-headmistress and a couple of other sisters who taught her. She was very moved at the perfect timing. A sweet reunion. They say it was okay for us to walk around the school, it wasn’t very interesting for me but I could see how it affected her.
I’d originally planned to overnight at Cheddar, and was glad we didn’t as it would have been a longer drive yesterday. We did make an effort to visit though, a quick stopover to walk around to the gorge, buy cider and an ice cream.
This is becoming our nostalgia trip, we ended up at Clarks Village. It has changed, much bigger and a layout we’re not familiar with. Not much in terms of shopping though, we finished the circuit in record time. Since we had the car, we decided on something adventurous — hit Bicester Village on the way back. It’s a detour but not by much. I called to extend the rental by a day and there was no extra charge cos my rate was a weekly one.
Bicester was much nicer, we could have spent more money. In particular we had our eyes on Burberry jackets that we tried on for a long time. Finally though, spending £300-400 just wasn’t our style. I did buy 4 tall cocktail spoons for £10 at the cutlery shop. Hit Tesco on the way out and it was an easy 1.5hr drive home. Tonight we get to sleep in my bed. Happy again.
We worked very hard not to eat too much of the delicious breakfast, opting for the minimum and taking as much of it away with us when we checked out. If ever we return to Cornwall, we’ll probably want to stay at this b&b again. But the main focus of today, and what we have been looking forward to, is our lunch reservation at The Seafood Restaurant at Padstow. I remember when Rick Stein first appeared on TV, promoting fresh simple seafood, a great complement to the flamboyance of Floyd, the practicalities (before the days of Norwich FC and Sainsburys) of Delia or the fussiness of Gary Rhodes.
But first, Padstow. If at all possible, it was even more crowded than St Ives. We scored a good spot in the car park, which became full shortly after we parked. The town (the term village seems too quiet for it) is pretty, interesting, full of shops and of course overrun with Rick Stein enterprises — 4 restaurants (with accommodation), one pub, a gift shop, a patisserie and a deli. I guess Padstow is a victim of his success, although the tourism income can’t hurt. Anyway, we bought some fudge, took in the harbour sights and window shopped.
Our reservation was at 12pm, and the restaurant didn’t completely fill up throughout lunch service. Although we could have ordered à la carte, we decided on the set lunch menu at £37 instead. We did supplement with half a dozen oysters to start though. They were great, a mixed plate of Carlingford and Porthilly oysters. For starters, mm had mackerel salad and I had deep fried prawns, which were so crispy they could be eaten whole, skin, head and all. Very nice, very crunchy.
For mains, mm had baked hake and I had sea bass. Here came the problem, both dish was oversalted. Frankly, the hake from Ben’s was better. For dessert we both opted for the chocolate fondant, which wasn’t goo-ey or ooze-y enough. That was a bit disappointing. Everything about the restaurant — the décor, the service, the hype — was just as we thought, but we expected something extraordinary and got only “pretty good”.
Walked around the town afterwards, had an ice cream. Watched many people and families sitting on the quayside crabbing. The funniest thing is, they were all using bacon as bait. From the haul we saw, it seemed to be working. Most of the crabs will end up tossed back to the sea anyway.
The afternoon plan was to go to Lanhydrock House but nostalgia and sadness took over and we decided to drive back to St Ives to look for Eggbert decorations that we bought with mm’s sis. Unfortunately the shop that sold them is no more and the remainder of the stock hidden in a concealed old cabinet of the gallery that the owners now operated.
I guess we may get to go to Lanhydrock one of these days. Tonight we’re staying at the Apple Tree hotel in Bridgwater, halfway up the M5 and in Somerset already. Compared with Denham House, it’s like day and night, this £95 is not value for money — tiny end-corridor room that reminds us of a travelodge. At least it’s only one night. Slowly making our way home tomorrow.
Breakfast came in a quaint wicker picnic basket left outside our door. The night before, we’d fill in a room-service like menu order of bread, yogurt, eggs, cereal and grapefruit. What a delightful idea to be able to have breakfast in our own room. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t a full english, the bread was fresh, the eggs we boiled ourselves in the electric egg boiler, everything was perfect.
If we didn’t have so much to do today, we would have stayed in our room. The weather wasn’t as good and I was almost tempted to detour to somewhere indoors. Then the showers stopped and we made our first destination, the Minack theatre, an open air theatre with seats carved from/into the cliff facing the sea. Very imposing view. Our visit coincided with the company of what looks like amateur actors arriving and forming a human chain to pass props, costumes and whatnots down from the top to the bottom. Very interesting place. We sat at the seats for a while just enjoying the view and each other’s company.
Next stop was Land’s End. It’s like some sort of ritual, no one can visit western cornwall without going there. We ignored the tacky “attractions” and headed to the tip. Not a lot to see, just absorbing the view and the fresh air.
We were full from breakfast, and decided not to have lunch. Instead we waited till we got to St Ives to have cream tea. Oh yummy!! I put so much clotted cream on, the scone had to be on its side. I’m more of a clotted cream person, I think I finished 3/4 of the pot. Don’t even want to think about the calories and how I will miss a whole week of running.
St Ives is pretty, if a little touristy. Crowded too, and too much of a “we’re oh so artistic” feel. We have fond memories of the place, last time was with mm’s sis so many year ago. It’s changed a lot since then. We supplemented the cream tea with traditional english seafood — mm had whelks and I had jellied eels. We took a drive to the Lizard but didn’t stay — didn’t want to pay for parking for just a short visit. Dinner was at the pub back at Marazion, an entirely forgettable meal of some fish or other.
I don’t think I want to check out of this hotel, but we must tomorrow. Sigh.
We set off early, first stop was to go to hertz to add mm’s name, we started on our way at around 9.30am. Traffic to the M4 was okay, it was so great to be driving together again through familiar roads. Stopped at around Reading for coffee and so mm can take over. She drives better on motorways anyway. We didn’t stop for lunch, instead ate bagels and chicken wings while in the car. She drove all the way to the end of the M5, and I took over for the drive on the A30.
We reached our destination of Marazion, east of Penzance and opposite St Michael’s Mount, just after 3pm so almost a 6hr drive. I’d booked 2 nights at the Denham House b&b, which had fabulous online reviews. £125 per night isn’t cheap but oh so worth it. At the top of a small hill, views of the sea, newly renovated huge room with superking bed, sofa, dining table, deck, jacuzzi tub, walk-in shower.
There was enough time to walk down to the beach. It was low tide so we could walk over the causeway to St Michael’s Mount. We didn’t go into the castle, it was enough to explore the grounds for about an hour. By the time we made our return journey, the tide was coming in and parts of the causeway was beginning to be submerged. We always have great timing.
Walked around the village, had a quick drink at the pub by the beach before dinner at Ben’s Cornish Kitchen. We didn’t have a reservation so we got there early at just after 6pm. The place filled up quickly so it was a wise choice. For starters we had the most exquisite fresh squid; for mains we both had the hake with fennel and romesco sauce; for dessert we shared (or rather, I ate most of it) a panna cotta knickerbocker glory. I ordered a whole bottle of pinot noir so I’m a little drunk at the end of the evening.
The day ended with a soak in the jacuzzin tub. A little stuffy and I needed lots of fresh air. Lots more to come tomorrow, I’m in a very happy place with mm right now.
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.
Got my luggage quickly, and ran into the tailend of rush hour on the train, which was full. Taxi home, showered and booked a zipcar to go to Tesco. Done in 2 hrs, so my fridge is full. Early night tonight.
I had half a day, and was vacillating between Epcot and Hollywood Studios. Finally the lure of the revamped Star Tours ride proved irresistible so DHS it was. We always loved this park, it’s so full of surprises. Got fastpass for the ride, and went to find lunch. Cheeseburger and a beer, to continue the unhealthy non-running diet. The new ride is interesting, gone is the Endor scenes and now it’s a more modern romp through space. The line at Toy Story Mania never got below 60mins, I believe I’m destined to have to wait a long time for it.
Wasn’t able to check-in online so had to go to the airport earlier than expected. Ate more junk food and a soft serve ice cream to boot. The aircraft on the way back was even more elderly than the one coming in, unbelievable. The controls were the ones embedded in the seat-rest, ack I’ve forgotten these existed! The whole upper deck was full. Was the extra money for premium economy worth it? For the comfort and quiet yes, but it’s not value for money considering the condition of the planes. I guess it’s worse in economy class.
video link: http://youtu.be/5Yw8HF29e4U
The afternoon after the con finished, a group of us went to islands of adventure. There were 11 of us, and we took 3 cars. I was the only one who had visited before, but that didn’t mean I was less excited. We headed straight to the wizarding world of harry potter and began exploring. I ended up having 2 frozen butterbeers and fish & chips. After we went on the forbidden journey ride. At someone else’s suggestion, we all went on the single rider line, which meant only 5-10min wait. The pods were enclosed anyway, so it didn’t make any difference going as a group or as a single. I remembered how dizzying it was, and I must confess to having my eyes closed for the worst parts. I did take the video of the whole ride though.
Then it was a matter of riding every water ride there was, so we all got soaked. I dragged a few to the Spiderman ride, which I experienced from the first row with a huge grin throughout — this is one ride I love and am not afraid of. It started getting dark and a little bit thundery towards the end. We managed to do the whole park in about 4 hours.
The last day of gcls is always sad. Brunch, then good-byes. Almost everyone there I won’t see for another year, and a year is too long. Next year it’ll be at Minneapolis and I have mixed feelings about it. It’s closer to Chicago, so I can fly to Chicago and drive down with Car. But it’s an American city that is not very well known outside of the US, and if it weren’t for the conference, I won’t be interested in visiting. At least at Orlando there are the Disney and Universal attractions. It’ll be a new experience.
I’m a sort-of experienced con attendee now, and I must say that I’ve come a long way from the shy, hesitant first timer who approached KK, KG, Lee etc for the first time. It is to their credit that these incredible authors are so without pretension that they treat everyone as friends. Publishers rub shoulders with each other; writers and readers get drunk together at the bar; almost the entire group turned out for the surprise 50th birthday party of one of the nicest person on earth. This is a rare community, in a world that is dominated by business politics, there was a conspicious lack of arrogance and competition.
In the afternoon a bunch of us went to Islands of Adventure, and that adventure deserves its own post.
The morning started with an inspirational speech by KG. During some of the previous sessions, even though they were uplifting and supposed to be encouraging, I actually felt discouraged. What’s the point. I’m not good enough. I don’t think I can take rejection or criticism. Then she talked about the classics and what would be our generation’s classics. From her, I began to feel that it is okay to write about something a little edgy, a little less traditional. She had many people in (good) tears after her speech.
The membership meeting and a couple of sessions and we had a short day. The afternoon was for everyone to get ready for the evening’s award ceremony. I did laundry and 30mins on the hotel treadmill. And then it was time to gather for the awards. It started late, but got quickly into a smooth, almost routine, swing of things. It’s the first time I’ve sat through the awards without having to run around taking pictures. All the awards were well deserved, although I feel disappointed for those who didn’t win this year. I’ll definitely check out some of the winners’ books. The awards was followed by the dance. I left before midnight.
I didn’t have to take pictures this year, so this was the only one I took, simply because I was sitting immediately behind them and the moment presented itself. I don’t know how many Goldies and other awards this famous trio have won between them, it’s a lot. And it couldn’t have happened to nicer or more talented people. This was during the first session by Elizabeth Sims, who gave a funny and educational lecture. This was followed by the author auction, which is always fun and raised over $2000. More sessions during the day, readings and discussions. There was a surprise birthday party and a karaoke, it was a fun day.
Breakfast was at the buffet at the hotel, I was still a little disoriented from the jetlag, food was welcome. More hugs and meets before the first session, and then the conference began in earnest. Lots of different sessions for all tastes. Our session was just after lunch, and directly conflicted with KK’s session, so we were happy to have a decent turnout. I read first, cos I was nervous at not having done the read-in-public thing before, I think I did okay. I read from Jane Fletcher’s The Exile and the Sorcerer, and the others read from equally prestigious books.
This was the only evening where nothing was planned, so we drove offsite to Walmart and dinner at Lonestar steakhouse. I had a juicy rib-eye and my favourite lettuce wedge. Oh how i’ve missed good steak.
It’s been a long time since I flew on Virgin, but they had the only direct flight to Orlando. I did splurge for Premium Economy, not mentally able to deal with the families and children on the crowded plane. It’s also been a long time since I went to Gatwick. The flight was delayed 1 hr because of late incoming aircraft, so I had plenty of time. Had a sausage mcmuffin breakfast, walked around the shops then found a space to read and bbm with mm.
The PE seats are upstairs on the 747. Definitely not business class, the seats are wider and there is more legroom, but the aircraft itself felt old and tired. The movies was the old system where they played at set times, not on demand. Food was okay, passable.
8.5hrs flight. I’d rented a car, and took a little while to get used to driving. Straightforward drive to the hotel, and then I was enveloped in hugs by Car, her mom and Ann. It’s a new hotel for the conference so everyone had to find their way round. The meet and greet was in the vendor’s room with no alcohol. Afterwards some of us went to the bar and had plenty of beer and chat. It was great to say hello to people I hadn’t seen in a year and people I was meeting in person for the first time.
Sunday lunch at the Star Fruit Tree restaurant where we had chicken and pigs stomach hot pot. Added lamb, chicken blood, winter melon, water chestnuts and a meat filled bun. Ate everything. I also got a chicken and 2 squabs to take home for my parents.
Back into town, stopped by the steamed milk dessert place then it was time to board the bus. We were too full to even go for a quick dinner. All in all we had one main meal a day during our trip, we definitely ate too much! Fantastic.
Ran away with mm for weekend to mm’s home in Shunde. We met yesterday afternoon at the bus station, the 3.30pm bus took around 3 hours, including stopping for the straightforward border crossing. I daren’t take any pictures but there were at least 4 groups of young children who commute across the border every day to go to school. They were chaperoned, and then their mothers were waiting at the gate just over the Shenzhen border. Imagine doing this daily, wow.
We headed straight for dinner. I wanted lamb, but to our disappointment, the place is gone, only an empty shell of a building remained. We then headed to another nearby restaurant where we had seafood, veg and cheung fun. Equally good. The rest of the evening was spent getting foot and body massage, it was late when we got home.
Saturday we dragged ourselves out of bed and went to pick up a rental car. That was an experience. Because it’s not very common, the place couldn’t accept mm’s credit card so we had to go to the atm to get RMB10,000 in cash for the deposit. Eeek! The car was a BYD car, neither of us had heard of the brand before. It’s a fairly large salon that was just like a Japanese or Korean car. We drove to an outdoor restaurant where the speciality is chicken roasted in clay pots in a fire pit. Very succulent, with crispy skin. We could have the chicken whole or chopped up; we opted for the whole one so we could Henry VII it. The restaurant has its own farm, so the chicken and vegetables didn’t have to travel far.
After lunch we drove to chuan loo (giraffe) theme park. We thought it’d be a farm, but it turned out to be much commercialised with roller coasters and thrill rides and arcade games. The one interesting show was of pigs diving off a short platform. Hmm.
More massage in the evening and we were too full to have dinner. Bought a few cheapo DVDs, had popcorn, and mm fell asleep watching The King’s Speech.
I was at the lounge over an hour, ate everything they had to offer. I got to the gate and got upgraded to business class. Hahaha, and I was just bemoaning my lack of status.
Flying west means losing time. By the time I got to my parents’ it was 6.30pm. Mum asked if I was tired, and I wasn’t. So we went out for dinner. Lobster, steamed fish, abalone and roasted goose. Very very nice.
I’m at the airport lounge at Heathrow. It’s a funny feeling, I feel at home at lounges and yet today it’s particularly poignant. I start a new airmiles year and I’m two levels down from what I was 2 years ago. I do so much less travel nowadays, with the new job and general cost cutting. Gone are the days when I get upgraded to first class. now I barely get into the lounge and don’t get priority luggage. The flip side is less stress, and perhaps I’ll get settled somewhere at last. I know at least 4 people who will be happy about this.
Sunday lunch was at the Star Fruit Tree hot pot place. We had the chicken and pork stomach hot pot and added sliced lamb, chicken blood, winter melon, water chestnut and a meat-filled bun. Very full. I also took a whole chicken and 2 pigeons home. Snack and fruit shopping, and a short visit to the steamed milk dessert place and it was time to catch the bus. Didn’t need dinner, so we ended up with just one main meal a day.
Flight was full but comfortable. We sat on the runway at ORD for a while before taking off, and there was of course the obligatory Heathrow Holding Pattern drill made us 1 hour late. Can’t complain, I got fed, watched Salt, Entourage, Glee and was the second person off the plane. A little queue at passport control and my luggage was already out when I arrived at the carousel. Just made the Heathrow Express too — sprinted with my 2 suitcases and caught the train just before doors closed. Taxi to the serviced apartment.
The place is called st john’s house, near aldgate. PT it’s not — it’s smaller, less modern, less clean. Utilitarian is how I’d describe it. There are 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, but I don’t see any use for the extra 2 rooms. When I unpacked and got settled it’s already 4pm.
The check-in guy told me there’s a Tesco’s nearby, but I walked 10mins in all 4 directions and can’t find it. It’s not on google maps either. I ended up going to a pub and getting a pint and their dinner special of pork loin at £7.95. Spent the evening watching tv and playing on the computer. Wifi is included, that’s the only advantage this place has over PT.
The movers came to pick up the mattress, bedding, towel and last minute stuff this morning. And then I was left with 2 suitcases, a backpack and various and sundry toiletries and food in the fridge I would use today. My kind neighbours took me to RCN to drop off the cable boxes, taking me by car and saving me a good 1.5-2hrs. They also fed me lunch and took me to the airport. They did so much for me today, thanks B&D.
Before leaving I took them to Taste of Heaven. This was where it all started, and I wanted my last meal to be here. Way back last May, I met Car and Nell here for brunch, and on the way walking from the ‘L’ to the café I saw this for rent sign. And the rest was history. So in a way it’s come full circle.
So now I’m in the Admiral’s lounge at ORD, waiting for my flight to leave in about an hour. I’m still numb, taking it a minute at a time. Check back in when I’m in London.
Checked out of the hotel and went back to Epcot. Did Soarin’ and Test Track again. Lunch of burgers at the electric umbrella and it was time to say good-bye to WDW. Sniff, sniff.
We had different seats on the flight back, she was up front in first and I was back in coach. I was really tired and we sat there in the food court and I fell asleep at the table! Taxi home and it was time to introduce mm to my apartment. I think she likes it. Neither of us want to leave Orlando, but it was nice to be home. I’ve been fighting a cold all week, and it was great to sleep in my own bed. Having mm there was a big bonus of course.
full flickr set: here
Our last full day here, full of memories. Today is the turn of Animal Kingdom. Again parking was organised and we were at the entrance in no time. We headed straight to the Kilimanjaro Safari and got a fastpass. There was time, so we did the Rafiki Planet Watch train ride and walked around the Pagani Nature Trail. Even before going into the safari we’d seen tigers, gorillas and bats. The Safari was modeled after a regular African safari, and the animals there did roam free. There were elephants, hippos, rhinos, wilderbeests, thompson gazelles, cheetahs, flamingos and warthogs. Reminded us of Kenya. So nicely done that we got another fastpass immediately to go on it again.
Lunch was fairly standard American Chinese food in Asia — orange chicken, sweet and sour beef, with rice. We’d purposefully opted out of the meal plan, wanted more flexibility to what we ate. It’s a good plan, where you can have 3 self serviced or 2 self serviced and 1 served meals a day, plus snack. The thing is, we have to eat at disney resaturants. If we’d been on the plan we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to go to the lobster place last night.
Anyway, we took some pictures at the tree of life and against the expedition everest ride (no, we didn’t go on that). We did go on the Kali River Rapids, and luckily didn’t get very wet, compared with some people who were completely soaked.
Then it was time for the parade. AK wasn’t very crowded today and we even managed to find a couple of stools to sit on the side of the road. Plenty of space to watch. This parade isn’t as good as the others, we still enjoyed it. There was time for pictures with Pluto, Goofy, Pooh, Tigger and Eeyore before catching the Nemo show.
Animal Kingdom closes early, at 5pm. The day was far from over. Had dinner at the lobster place again, this time the quality wasn’t as good, so it will be our last visit. After dinner it was time to hit Magic Kingdom again for the Electric Parade and the fireworks. We didn’t get a very good view of the electric parade, stuck at the side with an official bang in our way. With our cameras (mm got a new s95 before coming here) we were doing pretty good.
Oh. The fireworks. Absolutely beautiful, set against Cinderella’s castle. mm took pictures while I took videos. Afterwards we did not want to leave. We lingered to have a dole whip, and take pictures of the castle. Absorb absorb absorb the atmosphere. We had to practically trea ourselves out, because the trams to the car park were ending service. Sigh.
full flickr set: here
A really hot day today for Epcot. Lovely park, I can see why it’s a favourite. We started at Future World, got a fastpass fo Soarin’ and then set about exploring the rest. There was Nemo & friends, the shops at Innoventions, and Club Cool, where we could try for free different flavours of soft drinks from all over the world. Perfect for a hot day.
What can I say about Soarin’ but how amazing it is. It’s a simulation of hang gliding through different parts of California, from the beach to vineyards to downtown LA. I managed to video most of it. Very relaxing, very awesome.The other side of Future World was Mission: Space and Test Track. More rides that I want to go on again. We actually ended up going on Test Track twice, the second time I videoed as well.
Our visit coincided with the International Food and Wine Festival, where in addition to the countries at world showcases, there were stalls from other countries with signature foods and wines. We had scallops from NZ, lamb and barramundi from Australia, mussels from Belgium and a beer flight of 3 different beers. A little expensive, still worth trying for the experience. We visited several countries, shops and boat rides. Very relaxing.
We got a voucher for boston lobster feast. It’s not by any means an upscale restaurant, but the lobsters were good and kept coming. There was also clam chowder, shrimp, other seafood, prime rib and salad. I think I had 3 or 4 lobsters, by the end I was only having the tail, didn’t even bother with the head or claws. Made a change from all disney all the time, and I’m glad we have a car.
Went back to Hollywood Studios for a walk around and shopping. Still couldn’t get into Toy Story. We have to leave something for next time, right?
full flickr set: here
Universal studios today. Or more precisely the Islands of Adventure part, there are 2 parks and this is the one everyone goes to, because of the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter. But first, there was the main street and the Seuss section. We breezed past the Seuss section, cos we know nothing about Seuss. In any case we wanted to get to Hogsmeade.
The village was authentic, with Hogsmead station and Hogwarts express. There was a Honeyduke’s for sweets, owl post, restaurants, Ollivanders and of course butterbeer. Yummy. The castle at the other end of the village was home to the ride. It was a very intense and occasionally dizzy ride. Strapped in a pod, we went up and down, sideways and rotating all around while play quidditch, or fighting death eaters. The line was long, about 1.5hrs, I thought it was worth the wait.
Lunch of ribs, corn, rice, beans and it was onto the rest of the park. Jurassic Park, Toon land and Popeye’s boat, and another signature ride, Spiderman. This one was 3D too, following Spidey as he flies from building to building fighting villains. Good fun. The outside of the park, between IoD and the studios, is an area called Boardwalk. There are restaurants, cinema and a hard rock café. I wanted to get a shirt there, but alas, it looks exactly the same as my London shirt. Not worth getting.
On the way back, we stopped by the Premium Outlets. We were both pretty tired by then so we did the outlets very quickly. Dinner was drive-thru McDonalds heehee. I wanted the angus burger and mm hasn’t had it before. We sat at a comfy cushioned seat by the lake back at our hotel, proving that it isn’t necessary to go for fine dining to have a nice meal.
full flickr set: here
Monday. Park #2. Hollywood Studios. Oh wow. What a collection of bright colours. From reading online guides, we knew that we must go to Toy Story Mania to get a fastpass first thing, but we were too late, all had been given out. So we went back to the entrance and started exploring. The centrepiece was the giant Mickey’s sorcerer’s hat in the middle, and it was a landmark. The long stretch of Sunset Boulevard on the right was full of shops, which led to the popular Tower of Terror and Rock’n’Rollercoaster rides. We went to the respective shops but didn’t go on the rides.
What we did catch were all the shows, we were at the showtimes board constantly and managed to fit them all in:
- Beauty and the Beast — where they fit the musical into just about 25mins
- Indiana Jones — with the actual stunt doubles who did the stunts on Raiders and reenacting the scene with the WW2 plane
- Lights, Motor, Action — driving stunts, including chases, leaps over trucks, motorcycles, speedboats and cars coming through a building
- Backlot tour — gentle train ride through parts of the working studiio
- Great Movie Ride — another gentle ride with a little action, presenting movie history
We caught the block party parade, with singing and dancing cartoon characters. And then it was time for Fantasmic. I’d originally planned for us to start at Epcot then end up here for the show, I’m glad we just did Hollywood Studios in a day. By the time we got there, more than 1hr before the show was due to start, all the seats had been taken. We were lucky to get 2 standing places at the front of the standing area, which turned out to be pretty good locations. The signature Fantasmic show was all about water, laser and all the disney characters. Very spectacular and a great end to another wonderful day.
full flickr set: here
We had breakfast at the pepper market again, and then set off for our first disney adventure. Where else but the magic kingdom? We were there the whole day, and we could have stayed much longer if we weren’t so tired.
Parking was free for disney resort guests so we saved $14. The car park is huge, but very well organised and marked. Trams took us to the entrance and we took the monorail over to the park. Magic Kingdom is the one that other disney parks around the world is modelled on, so the layout is familiar. We had our first photopass pic taken at the main entrance, just below the railway station. It is as easy as they say, just hand the card over to the photographer and pose.
We were lucky to catch a parade straightaway, what a good start. The park was crowded, as expected. Our first ride was Stitch’s Great Escape at Tomorrowland, only a 5min wait, it was great. We got a fastpass for Buzz Lightyear and lined up for the Speedway. In between, we rode the Tomorrowland Transit Authority ride. Everything was as magical as advertised.
After Tomorrowland we explored Toontown. I hadn’t expected to stay there long, we ended up spending a fair bit of time at Mickey’s and Minnie’s houses. Lunch was pizza and pasta, nice and simple. After lunch we did the relaxing rides — Snow White, Pooh, Philharmagic. The only disappointment was that Small World was closed for renovation. Onward to Liberty Square, the Haunted Mansion and a ride on the steamboat. Again, relaxing. We gave Big Thunder Mountain a miss but went on Splash Mountain. It was way less scary than I remembered.
Before dinner we went to explore the shops on main street. Oddly enough, neither of us were tempted to buy, although it was great to explore. I had dinner reservations at the crystal palace, it was a character dinner with pooh, tigger, piglet and eeyore. The food was standard buffet fare of salad, chicken, roast, pasta. The characters came by and took pictures with everyone. It was great.
It was almost dark by the time we came out of dinner. It turned out that it was one of the nights of the Halloween Party, which was extra admission. We were supposed to have a wristband but we kind of stuck around and managed to catch the parade. Tired but very happy.
December — I finally got the pics done and loaded, so I’ll be posting catch up posts for our vacation in Orlando.
My flight was in the morning, and I toyed with taking public transport for a second before deciding on taxi. Check-in and flight were uneventful, it actually arrived early. As I was on the way to pick up my luggage, mm called me, frantic. She’d missed her flight at Miami. I couldn’t get much details while I was trying to console her. She was first on the waiting list for the next flight, in about 1 hour, and I was hopeful that she’d get on. I guess she isn’t as familiar with domestic flights.
Her luggage came with the original flight, which arrived less than 30mins later. I grabbed it and found a bench seat. She called back and confirmed she had gotten on the later flight so all was well. Worse case scenario, it’s a 4hr drive to Miami, and I would have done it.
We got the rental car and to the resort without any more drama. I’d gotten a good deal at the coronado springs. Wow, it’s a huge hotel. We got a room in building 8A in the cabanas area, it’s a decent 3-star room with enough space and a large bathroom. Nothing fancy.
It was already dark, so we walked out to the El Centro lobby area and had dinner at the Pepper Market. That is a self-service place with different stations for different types of food. In keeping with the southwest theme of the resort, we had Mexican. It’s so good to be eating with mm again, even though she was pretty tired. Went back to the room and she was asleep right after showering. Took me a longer time, I played on the mbp for a bit while she slept.
In less than 24 hours’ time I will meet up with mm at Orlando airport. I’m arriving from ORD, she’s arriving from LHR. Then we will pick up a rental car and drive to walt disney world. We’ve been planning this for a while, and been looking forward to it immensely. Everything is planned, and I’ve reserved tickets and done as much prep as I can:
- flight — we’ve both checked in to our respective flights already; she’s coming back to Chicago with me
- taxi — my taxi is booked for tomorrow morning; she is taking a taxi to Paddington, and has her Heathrow Express ticket already
- car — I researched all the big car rental companies and finally got a deal at Dollar, for an SUV even cheaper than a compact at Hertz/Avis
- hotel — booked through a travel agency, who found us a nice deal at the Coronado Springs resort
- meals — we’re not taking the dining plan, as we wanted to be flexible…it’s not that useful for 2 adults
- meals part 2 — I have a booking at the disney character dinner at the crystal palace; she doesn’t know about it, i hope she likes it
- park tickets — I got park hopper tickets at pre-increase prices by buying them early; also got a 1-day pass for universal
- maps — all printed
- itinerary — have a high level idea of which park to go on which day, but leaving it flexible
- photopass — prepaid for the photopass cd, saving $50
I’d say we’re ready for a nice time.
This is a great idea — postcards with pre-paid postage. Yes, more expensive than regular postcards+regular postage but for tourists who don’t have time or knowledge to go to a post office to get stamps, it’s oh so convenient.
I hope she likes it. We emailed her some pictures and her reaction to the falls “bigger than I thought” heehee.
We crossed over to the US side early to avoid the crowds. Found a nice parking spot at the Niagara State Park and spent a few hours enjoying the falls from another perspective. It was still awesome to see how the river torrents tumbled over the sides. Have to be there to truly appreciate how big the falls are.
I queued up for 2 hours to go on the cave of the winds trip. Only one functioning lift carried 12 people down to almost river level and it’s a short walk to the bottom of the American Falls. And by bottom I mean bottom. That’s me there with my arms waving while being plummelled by the force of the water. This is absolutely the wettest experience of the whole trip, and the one I most want to repeat. They give us sandals to change into, and I should also have changed into shorts. It’s like coming out of a washing machine.
We got to BUF very early so we sat ourselves down at the food court watching the world cup. Our flight was delayed cos ORD was under “ground stop”. Eventually we were airborne but ended up circling over some point, and when we ran out of fuel had to stop at grand rapids to refuel. A flight that is supposed to take only 1.5hours took almost 5. It was past 9pm when we got home.
Didn’t dampen our mood. It was a great trip.
Mum and I got up early to go on the first maid of the mist boat tour. We saw how far the line snaked on saturday and decided that the early bird really does kill the line. There was minimum waiting and we got a good spot on the upper deck.
The boat tour is probably the quintessential niagara experience. It brings you inside the mist and almost right up to the bottom of the horseshoe falls. As soon as we hit the mist it was like taking a rainforest shower. It was wet. I blindly pointed my S90 in the general direction of the falls, and in the photostream the path from clean to soaked lens was clear to see. It was also a lot of fun. I wanted to do it again as soon as we got off.
The plan today was to drive up to niagara-on-the-lake, touted as one of the prettiest towns/villages in Canada. It is quaint, but I feel like it’s purposely quaint, in a fake tourist trap sort of way. We found parking immediately next to the central clock tower, had lunch at a french-speaking-greek-pub, then drove down to where the lake was. I liked the peaceful park atmosphere by the lake, shame that it was too hot to linger for long.
On the way back, we stopped at a fruit farm. There are a lot of wineries on the way, and the area is famous for its wine route. But a) I was driving and b) my parents don’t drink that much, so we gave them a miss. The farm was a great stop though. We bought brownies and cheesecake for breakfast tomorrow, and I introduced my parents to the joy of rainier cherries. Oh, I think they’re addicted. What perfect timing. We also got ice cream and sat at the benches outside just enjoying everything.
After we got back to the hotel, we relaxed for a bit. Well, they relaxed while I fell asleep for an hour. It was still light so we ventured out again. Mum and I went behind the falls. Oh, we got even wetter than on the boat. This was a different view, on a ledge just meters from the bottom of the horseshoe falls. There are also a couple of portals in the rock that bring us to behind the falls. The video doesn’t show the true power of the water, I was trying to capture the rush and sound of the spray hitting the rocks.
Walked up past the skylon tower in search of an ihop for dinner. It was closed, so we settled for applebee’s. Walked back to the hotel via the shore, took in the night scene. Both falls are illuminated by spotlights that regularly change colours. It’s another amazing sight.
Mum has always, always wanted to go to niagara falls. So early this morning, we got into the taxi and off we went to ORD. It’s the first time I’d flown on American Eagle, that part of the terminal is nice. I got all of us into the admiral’s lounge, so we could relax for a bit. The plane was small, the flight short, and it took far too long for the luggage to come out at BUF. Still, it was fine. We got our rental car, a subaru impreza, and despite an early hiccup, found our route to niagara quickly.
An hour or so later we were crossing over the rainbow bridge. A short wait at Canadian immigration and we checked into Sheraton-on-the-Falls before 3pm. They offered us an upgrade to a partial view room, which we gladly took. Only 3/F but we had a full view of the American Falls.
It was still afternoon so we went out for our first experience of the falls. All I can say. Wow. Fantastic. Impressive. No wonder people flock to see them. The American Falls are more square and immediate; the Horseshoe Falls shrouded by mist but its shape is awe-inspiring. The walk all the way to the Horseshoe Falls was probably an hour, it was hot and I was really thirsty by then.
The town itself is way too commercialised for my taste. Then again, they have to make money off the falls somehow, right? Fast food restaurants, hotels, amusement arcades, souvenir shops all along the Clifton Hill area. We had dinner at Ruby Tuesday, after nixing hard rock café and rainforest café. Ribs, steak & lobster plus salad bar. Good for sharing.
Papa went back to the hotel and Mum and I explored the souvenir shops. Mum bought a stack of small calendars and I bought a couple of pre-stamped postcards. Back at the hotel we were surprised at 9.30pm by the sound of fireworks coming from over the US side. It was a nice 30-minute display, a huge bonus to end the day.
Internet is extra in the room so I used the free machines in the lobby. Despite being in Canada I was able to pick up at&t so could do a little on the iphone. That’s enough for me.
Quiet day at work. Left at 3.30pm, stuck in horrendous traffic up the kennedy and finally reached ORD. Met up with mum and checked in for our flight to LGA. Me on business, she tagging along and then going to my aunt’s tomorrow.
I read on the flight, it was a good book, hard to put down. By the time we checked into the hotel it was almost midnight. I’m less anxious about this trip now. Things have changed since yesterday.
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.
Went to epcot today. Still amazing. I finally got the chance to go on the test track ride that I missed last year. It’s the perfect ride for people who like a little bit of excitement but don’t like rollercoasters. It’s a simulation of how car manufacturers test cars, so there’s hills, rough surface, braking and acceleration.
Afternoon we returned to the hotel to check into our room. Then it was back to epcot for late night opening. Walked through all the countries. Wanted to have dinner at canada, but it was full. We managed to get the last 3 seats in germany for the buffet. I had a whole litre of dark beer, i think i shocked people.
Drove through Atlanta this morning. Too early even for the hrc shop to be open. Ah well, another time. There were quite a bit to see even on a short drive-through. The Olympic park, cnn center, aquarium and coke museum. Now I know that if I get to visit, there’ll be lots to see and do.
It got steadily hotter and hotter. And then we were in Florida. Yay! We got to orlando one day earlier than expected, and the hotel was very accommodating. The room we’d booked was occupied so they gave us the room next to it, so we move tomorrow. Already seeing people coming in for the con, it’s going to be a fun week.
Early start again, heading towards pigeon forge. This funnily named place is the home of Dollywood (of dolly parton fame) and the whole town is full of attractions. Even the old mill area, made up to look “old-timer”, seems kinda fake and tacky. But still interesting. We spent a nice amount of time at the quilt store, full of quilts and southern belle dresses.
After lunch we drove in the traffic to gatlinburg. Too much traffic, we didn’t stop. Just so I could get another hrc shirt. Took a detour back to the interstate, heading to atlanta. Again stayed at the residence inn. There was a thunderstorm so we just stayed in, ordered pizza and did laundry.
So we set off at 6.30am to drive our way to orlando. It was a pleasant drive, much more relaxed since there are 3 of us. We’d made sandwiches last night, and loaded Car’s truck with snacks. The plan was to hit Nashville by the afternoon. I think we drove through TN on the way from TX to DC a couple of years ago, but it doesn’t really count.
With the wonders of the iphone and car’s mom making the reservation, we got ourselves a nice room at the residence inn. Original plan was to visit the grand ole opry, home of country music. Of course, we’re in tennessee. Unfortunately, it was closed due to flooding. So sad.
Went to mass at a nearby church. It was an…interesting experience. Clearly everyone knew each other, and we were stark outsiders. The possession went in and out at lightning speed and everyone began chatting and leaving even during the last hymn. Unusual.
We did make our way downtown for a brief looksee. Went to the hard rock café to get a shirt and bought a fedora in the process. These were taken just outside the hrc — opposite the river looking at the bridge, and a touristy horse-drawn carriage.
Dinner was at boundry, with car’s cousin. We were early so we sat in the very nice bar watching the hockey. So funny to be watching the chicago blackhawks even while travelling. The restaurant was okay. Service was very very slow so we didn’t get out till late.
The aisle seat was unoccupied, I had a comfortable flight back. Only got 3 hrs sleep though. Our captain was a woman, I shouldn’t be surprised but I was. Especially since I think I saw her at heathrow when I checked in. There was a whole bunch of them and a slim fortysomething lady had bright, shock red hair. I remember thinking, she can’t be a flight attendant cos they’re usually more conservative. Then I saw her pilot’s uniform and figured she was a cockpit crew. If that really was the captain, I think she’s pretty cool.
Because of the volcanic ash cloud our flight plan was changed to fly further north, adding an hour to the time. By the time I got home it was past 1pm. I unpacked everything and immediately went out to the store.
Too tired to cook. Netflix kindly sent me sherlock holmes during the week, it was perfect for the afternoon. I wanted to wait till later to call mum for mother’s day but it didn’t work. Going for a nap at 7.30pm whilst jetlagged is not a good idea. I slept till 3.30am, called her, then went back to bed.
The idea was to check into the hotel then go check out new shirts at hard rock café and get tickets for wicked later this week. But lunch with J&R didn’t finish till past 3pm, we were talking so much. I had to hurry to the hotel, there wasn’t enough time to get the tube, had to get a taxi to piccadilly circus by 5pm to catch drones as part of the sci-fi london festival. I know I’m supposed to gush lovingly about the film, but truth is, it was okay and I fell asleep several times. It was shot over 2 weeks in an empty office building and is all about discovering that your best friend and girlfriend are both aliens and eventually there is a “save-the-earth” scenario. I could see how it would attract a cult following, with its deadpan humour and obviously actors, writers and directors who put a lot of care into it. May be one of these days when I’m less tired I’ll give it another chance.
Running back at the hotel on the treadmill. Dinner was salt beef sandwich from the Brick Lane shop. The internet in the room is free but slow (there is high speed, which costs money), good enough for me.
Flight was a little early. I got off the plane quickly and by the time I retrieved by suitcase there was still no one at the luggage carousel. Huh. Must have been a planeload of Americans still going through passport control. Heathrow Express and a ¥6 taxi ride later and I was at the house of my friends J&R. They’d recently moved from Chicago and was still in the “let’s explore” phase of living in a new city.
They also didn’t have a car so we took the bus to Camden to walk around the market. It’s grown since I was there last, with new sections and way more stalls. It was a pleasant way to spend an afternoon, albeit with all the crowds that are there on a sunday.
I took them to chutney mary for dinner. I last went there with mm in 2005 or 2006. It was a great meal. R is a wine expert and ordered a terrific verdelho with the main meal and a riesling for dessert. Bill came to over £200 cos of the wine but thoroughly worth it. On the walk to Fulham Broadway tube we stopped and looked at estate agents windows. Wow, property prices have gone way up.
This is an odd occurrence for me. I’m flying to London saturday night, it’s wednesday and I haven’t even made the list out yet. In the past, the suitcase would be all packed except for last minute stuff and sitting by the door already.
Of course since I wrote that paragraph, I stopped and wrote out the packing list. Heehee.
We were travelling with our bags today. Lunch at the Dragon’s restaurant where we had dim sum on the first day. There were a lot of people, so mm got us a private room — had to order a la carte, and a bit more expensive. Still good value.
More snack shopping — biscuits, sponge cake and all sorts. Bus was on time and today it was more a hassle, had to get off and on the bus twice for customs cos they weren’t in the same building.
Quick dinner of hainanese chicken rice and I was glad to be home.
Today’s itinerary can be summed up by these 2 pots. Lunch was at a local restaurant that specialised in “chicken and pork stomach” pot. There was a long wait for it, may be they had to cook the chicken? It arrived with the chicken in the soup, a bit like sukiyaki. It was again, fresh and delicious.
The second pot is fish congee. The fish was swimming fresh, the flesh went into the congee and the bones was steamed. A theme to the food here is everything fresh.
In between? We went to Walmart and bbmm went for foot massage. Weather is very very cold.
I can’t remember the last time I was in the mainland. Shanghai may be? That was over 6 years ago. Sounds just about right.
Basically, mm bought a flat and spent a lot of effort decorating it. So we went there, and my parents came along too. It was pretty straightforward to go — a 45min coach journey to the border, get our bags, go through 2 sets of immigration, get back on the coach for the remainder 2-3hr trip. Her place is nice, in her style.
We had a dim sum lunch, then visited the Qing Hui gardens right in the city centre. It’s not very big, surrounded by buildings and streets but once inside, there’s surprisingly a lot hidden. Turn a corner and there’s something new, another pond, another doorway leading to another exhibit. Pics: whole set
Dinner was the most scrumptious lamb hot pot ever. We had lamb, blood, skin, and all sorts of interesting parts, all in a hot pot. Plus rice cooked in coconut that was perfect. I didn’t charge my S90, so no pictures. Sigh.
Went to the supermarket nearby, got some snacks and sweets and milk and stuff. Got parents home, then we went for massage. It was late when we finished, and cold outside, after a quick (and not hot enough) shower there wasn’t much to do except crawl into bed.
Flight arrived early at 6.45am, I was one of the first off and was out through Immigration quicker than the bags. My duffel came out first (as in the first off the belt) but the suitcase only came with the non-priority bags, brrrr. Got on the train, called home, off the train straight to the taxi and I was home by something like 7.30am. It’s cold. No heating. Took a while to unpack all the food I’d brought back. Showered and got online. Very frustrated that I can’t seem to connect my mbp to the modem, Mum doesn’t have wifi. So now I’m stuck with the 2004 PC that runs like a run/walk marathoner at mile 22. Sigh.
The good thing was, I had steamed fish for lunch and everything my parents cooked was great. It is nice to see them.
Went out in the afternoon to meet up with mm. It is valentine’s day after all. She was tired and asleep. What else could I do but join her? I was jetlagged too. Eventually we pulled ourselves up, cos otherwise we’d sleep through the night. She took me to a conveyor belt sushi place that was very yummy. The plan was to walk around but my energy level was fading so I called it a day.
I basically lost today on the plane. It’s usual when I fly west over the international date line. I slept for about 4 hrs, had a nice dinner, watched lots of TV. I wasn’t expecting it, but no I didn’t get bumped. Can’t complain. Who gets to go on vacation on C-class?
I’m at SFO. The pic was taken at ORD. The flight was fine, only 4-ish hours. There was a delay of 30mins, so I stayed in the Admiral’s Club a little longer, but when I got to the gate they’d already started boarding and was at Group 3, drat. It was interesting and annoying to see all these people with their wheelies, trying to cram into the tight overhead spaces. Not many gamers of the system this time. Full flight, but I was comfortable, read a book, ate a choc chip cookie I got from training yesterday.
The walk from the domestic to the international terminal at SFO was quite far, but I got my new boarding pass very quickly once I found the counter. The stupidest part was at security. Which yo-yo had the bright idea that priority = first, business and families with children? Families with children do not know how to get through security quickly so who suffers? The same people who know, have paid for, and expect to get through security quickly. ARGH!!!!
So this is why I’m kinda in a rush here. I wolfed down a cup noodle, and just managed to check all my mafia and vampire wars stuff. Boarding to HKG soon.
Went over to the bookstore to say goodbye to people, we’re leaving today. We managed to greet and hug a lot of people who were walking by or just milling about — it really is a congregating spot.
Car and I joined Karin and MJ for a screening of Hannah Free. Thanks to Karin and MJ for offering us this honour. The film is based on a play, and the book is coming out in the spring. The performances were strong, dialogue sharp and the story very touching. Yes, I found it a bit long and boring at places, but that’s me. The actors and the ending more than made up for it. Highly recommended.
More goodbyes as we walked back to the car, and then a quick stop to Race Point. The sea was very ferocious over there, and then there were a couple of para-wakeboarders out there braving the waves. Beautiful.
And we were off at around 3.20pm and the plan is to drive overnight. Over 1000 miles. Should be back in Chicago by tomorrow afternoon.
Morning signing with Karin Kallmaker, Donna Kelli, Jocelyn Powers and JE Knowles. It was a pleasure to meet all of them. The store wasn’t very big so initially we spent time at the café opposite.
Pizza lunch with Car, Nell and Trin at Twisted Sister. It was good to catch up with them. Their book everafter has just come out, and sold out at the bookstore already. Wonderful news.
The main event in the afternoon was the reading from the outsiders, a collection of stories by Lynn Ames, Georgia Beers, JD Glass, Susan X Meagher and Susan Smith. Smitty read JD’s story and Susan read Georgia’s so we got an excerpt from each of them. It was a great informal reading, kudos to Lynn, Susan and Smitty for making it so enjoyable.
There was a bsb erotica reading, but I missed it because I was out with Ruth at the Pig. We then made our way to the Post Office café and later at the Vixen ran into Karin and MJ. Boy, I was pretty full of alcohol from all the drinking. Ooops.
I woke up, grabbed the blackberry, saw that it was 6am and made a face. But I couldn’t go back to sleep and eventually crawled out half an hour later. A thought came to my mind that i could go running!! And so I did. There is a bike trail at the dunes and I did a full 10k up and down that path. There were a few other runners, a biker or two, some people in their car reading the newspaper / drinking coffee, and a couple walking on the beach. See previous post.
It turned out, my BB says 6am, but in my haste and delirium it was 6am CST, actually 7am here. Would I have still gone running? That far? Dunno.
Mid-morning was my hair appointment. The hairdresser was running late so we did some shopping at the bookstore and surplus store. The haircut was quick and efficient — kept most of the length but not the thickness. Lunch at the pig (again) was fish and chips. The fish was absolutely fantastic.
And then it was time for another reading. There were again 2 panels. The first was about mystery-romance and included Carsen Taite (moderating), VK Powell, Anne Laughlin, Kim Baldwiin & Xenia Alexiou, Clara Nipper and Ali Vali. Heavy hitters all.
The second panel was historical / paranormal and included Nell Stark (moderating), I Beacham reading Colette Moody’s book, Trinity Tam, LL Raand (Rad’s pen name for a new series) and Gill McKnight. These were so awesome, I need to get books by, heh, pretty much all of them.
I missed the book signing, was distracted by Chef shopping then running into Bobbi and stopping for coffee. Made it to the meet and greet, and met so many authors, in addition to the ones i’ve met already, it was unbelievable. There was also a prize draw (didn’t win) and everyone left with a goodie bag.
And now for the grown up part of the post. I went to my first drag show! Two of them. In one night. First it was all the kings men, and then it was an amateur contest. There was a contrast between the professionals and the amateurs, both shows were interesting and enjoyable in their own ways. Our Rach won the amateur contest, with a rousing performance…and a loud supporting contingent.
Original plan was to get a haircut, but the places were either closed or full, so i made an appointment for tomorrow. We ended up at the pig where I had proscuitto, fig jam and gorgonzola on ciabatta and I was introduced to magner’s cider. A full pint bottle too. First it was just Jeanine and me, and we deliberately sat at the window so people can see us and vice versa. And it worked! Trish and Jacqui joined us, then Smitty, and I spotted Car walking down the street. T&J mentioned they saw Nell and Trin so I called them to tell them to join us. And Ruth joined too.
First reading was at the Vixen, where we went to support Cheri. Then it was to Gabriel’s for a big reading — 2 panels of 10 authors over 2 hours. Mainly it was to support Bobbi and to meet a few authors I hadn’t met in person yet.
After a quick one at the Pig, we went to the house of Cheri, Trish, Jacqui and Jo for a private reading. Rrrose, DK, Dalia also read. And Trish made us chilli con carne that was fantastic.
Rrrose and DK came to our house to hang out for a while, then Nell and Trin popped by too. Nice evening with friends. I’m feeling like I’m getting the hang of this, and it’s only my second event.
Had planned to go on the walking tour this morning, which got scuppered by the weather — windy and raining cats and dogs at one point. Stayed in, took it easy with the housemates. It’s a sight — all 4 of us on our laptops doing facebooking, twittering, reading, emailing, photoshopping (that’s me). We had planned a house dinner tonight, which got expanded when we decided to post an open invitation on fb. We went to the supermarket and ended up spending $240 on food, chips and alcohol.
We ended up with 10 people, a good dinner party size. Chef made individual meatloaf with mashed potatoes and oven-baked glazed carrots & parsnips. I was sous chef and pastry chef for the day — made salad and apple crumble served with vanilla ice cream. Everything was delicious, especially with the wines — I bought a chateauneuf-du-pape to share with Chef, and there was also a nice Pinot and a Petite Syrah. Others were enjoying beer, smirnoff ice and soft drinks.
A few of us went to the Vixen bar afterwards for more drinks (i had a Stella and a Jack and diet coke) and air hockey (3-0 for me, yay!). The jack and diet was pretty potent, we talked a bit more once we got home but i went to bed soon after.
First order of business today, drive out to the mall at Hyannis so Car can get a replacement camera. Of course while at Best Buy I see the canon s90, which came out yesterday. so tempting, but I’m gonna wait. I can fix my coolpix with a rubber band, so may be it has a few months left in it.
The main plan today was to systematically visit the cemeteries in this area. There are many old cemeteries here, and they are all full of character and history. So, one by one:
Cove Burying Ground: site of the original congregational church and has markers for 3 Mayflower passengers. All in all a nice, peaceful, small cemetery.
Eastham Congregational and Soldier: the major attraction there, surprisingly, is the moss on all the gravestones.
South Wellfleet: a little unkempt, but that’s its charm. Gravestones facing every direction, some markers hidden in grass, other parts more groomed.
Duck Creek: undulating landscape, some markers were broken and lobsided, interesting. Lots of mushrooms.
On the way back, we stopped at Truro Vineyard. Just in time for a wine tasting. $7 for 5 tastes. I had a chardonnay, a vignoles, a cab, their triumph blend and a sweet cranberry wine. The cranberry, and their sweet white, came in distinctive lighthouse bottles. I bought a couple, for decoration.
Dinner was at the lobster pot, where I briefly contemplated having the crab. But i got told off by Car, so I changed my order back to lobster — I’d been whining about lobster for a while, so i had to get it. It was really fresh, having presumably come straight out of the ocean today. Total $30, including clam chowder, salad and a side of mussels. I had a local amber ale too, nice and dark, the way I like it. We walked home, completely full and having had an enjoyable and relaxing day.
It was a beautiful, beautiful day when we woke up, and it kept sunny all day. We checked out and was on the I-84 towards Boston in no time. Didn’t stop for breakfast, just sandwiches in the car, making good time.
Stopped at Milford for gas (full service, seriously!). Then by chance came across Pine Grove cemetery. The gravestones were old and well maintained. What I hadn’t seen before were gravestones for the whole family in the same plot. The central pond was pretty, and the trees around it already turning autumn colours. We spent a nice half an hour there.
The route was straightforward. We ended up at a tourist information centre at Hyannis, then stopped at Nauset Marsh, not worrying about the time. The marsh was also very beautiful, the combination of well maintained paths, water and autumn trees very enticing indeed.
Next stop, Head of the Meadows beach. Sandy, with sand dunes, and I hadn’t seen the Atlantic for a while, it was so peaceful and refreshing.
Finally we drove to the tip of Cape Cod at Provincetown, our holiday home for this week. Our house was a great 3 bedroom place we will share with 2 others. Lots of deck room, spacey bedrooms, and a spiral staircase leading up to a tower turret study / den.
After dumping our stuff, we walked to the town centre, stopping at the shoreline to take in the beach scenery. it’s so beautiful. The main commercial area is at, well, Commercial Street. It’s narrow, full of people and lined on both sides with interesting shops, restaurants and galleries. We didn’t have dinner there, walking back to the house and meeting our housemates. Did go out for pizza at a place in Truro, just a local-ish type of place. I had ice cream too.
Cape Cod is truly beautiful, and I can easily see why people come and stay. It’s like the South of France, the combination of breathtaking scenery and general charm is hard to beat.
I had quite a bit to do at work, but a lot of motivation to get it done. Still managed to leave at 4pm and was at Car’s house within an hour, pretty quick considering the rain and the traffic. We had dinner, then transferred the luggage to the SUV. Since we are bringing the car we packed freely: our respective bags, a box of books, shoes, snacks and a cooler of sandwiches and drinks.
We left at 6.45pm. Then hit traffic at Indiana, wasted over an hour because of construction. Then made better time as soon as we escaped that area. I took over at midnight and drove for about 2.5 hours, taking us from Ohio and into Pennsylvania. But that’s for tomorrow.
My friend RM is here for work, but he came over early to stay with me over the weekend. I picked him up from the airport yesterday, we took it easy last night — I made lamb chops and we walked around Clark for a bit after dinner.
It was a glorious day today. We started by going to ann sather for brunch. It’s a beautiful restaurant with local European feel and good food. We were quite greedy, hehe. Between us we had crabcake eggs benedict, cheesecake panini french toast and sides of bacon, sausage, applesauce and hash brown. Extremely full but very very tasty.
I drove into town, parked at Millenium Park. Visited the bean, the Loop, Sears Tower (but didn’t go up), Michigan Ave, the Apple Store of course. There are a variety of tours we could have chosen — the hop-on hop-off trolleybus, the architectural boat cruise — but we were both excited to go on the segway tour.
youtube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Adm89zeK3gQ
I’d seen people on segways before, it’s pretty common in chicago, but never tried it myself. oh boy, was it absolutely fun!!! It took no time to get familiarised, and accelerating, stopping and steering were very intuitive. The tour was 2.5hrs, and we went all the way from the top of millenium park to the museum campus, northerly island, soldier field and back. I’d say for every visitor I’m getting from now on will get a recommendation for these.
Ten years ago today, 29 Sept, I arrived at New York. It was the first time I’d moved from one country to another on my own. Even though I was familiar with Asia and Europe, I was less familiar with the US.
I found this when I was cleaning up my writing stuff earlier. I’d had these scraps of paper with scribbled words for ages and ages. This is what I wrote those first days, most of it for mm. I typed it up unedited.
Brand New New Yorker
Did I tell you that when I checked in the desk clerk told me that seat 83K wasn’t reserved, but it was available anyway so I took it anyway but it turned out the recline didn’t work! Luckily the seat next to me wasn’t occupied so it was ok, the entire upstairs was only half full anyway. Couldn’t sleep very well, wrong time of day, ate and watched the films — most repeats. The Matrix, Love Letter. What the hell it helps pass the time, quite comfy anyway. Thought about you, did you hear me say good night and to wake you up? Stopped myself from thinking too much about missing you. Soon it’ll hit me that I’m not on vacation, this is for real and going to be for a long time. Busied myself thinking about where to go for your last twentysomething do, and guess what, the west coast isn’t the only place between NY and HK, there’s the whole of Europe! What about Venice or Eastern Europe?
One hour stopover in Vancouver, first time in Canada. Forgotten how pretty things are here, well designed. I know how biased you are against Canadians (Chuey…) so I didn’t get you a souvenir. Still quite tired, sitting at a coffee shop near the gate writing to you after searching in vain for an internet connection. Walked around the duty free places but no concept of how much things are, too tired to convert currencies. Can’t believe how many Asians here, announcements in English Cantonese and Mandarin. Saw logs floating on the river first time with my own eyes. Guess I’ll be using ‘first time’ a lot. It’s 2am HK time, are you asleep yet? I miss you.
Amazingly I got out in 15mins! Plane landed and we had to wait for the previous plane to vacate the parking space but once we parked I was able to get through Immigration really quickly, no comments or problems. Luggage was one of the first out and nothing at customs either. Ernie was surprised. The apartment is nice inside, can’t believe how much it costs though. A one-bedroom apartment, pretty good size we’ll be quite comfortable even if we both had to stay here. I wish you were here. Neighbourhood seems ok decent, delis, supermarkets, laundries. Bought some pizza and ate back at the apartment. Bought a phone card, prepaid with a dial-in number and an access number. Supposed to be cheaper than using the phone here. I called Mum and of course I called you, want to tell you everything but now I can’t really put words into how I’m seeing things. Lots of TV channels but not sure what is on, far too confusing for someone like me who’s used to only 4 channels plus a few on cable. Went to bed at around 11pm but woke up twice. Woke up at 7-ish couldn’t sleep more. Watched TV and read the newspaper. Raining this morning but it got sunnier later. Quiet street here not many people around.
Forced by necessity and that sense of expectation to venture out of the relative familiarity of the apartment. Promised my grandma and aunt and cousin I’d visit them, so had to go take the subway (including buying a stored value ticket) and getting a monthly train pass. All so strange, such a long time ago that I took a train. Walked from Times Square to Penn Station with the sun in my eyes, felt like a tourist yet wasn’t a tourist. Had a salad in a deli salad bar, keep adding to the places I’d take you when you come visit. Trains all over the world are so alike, buy ticket, go to platform, give ticket to conductor, change trains, avoid dozing off. Suburbs everywhere also the same, just the size varies and the names on the storefront different. But the same mentality people go through the same motions.
I never wrote more. It took me about 4 weeks to find my eventual apartment on E96th, and that weekend of moving everything on foot was an experience I’d rather never go through again. New York was lonely, I was never very happy there. I never got any visitors, not mm, not my parents, because not quite 1 year after I arrived, I got pulled out to Zurich. I guess this is why I’m so grateful for this second chance in Chicago.
Today turned out to be a crappy day at the end. It started out well enough, with breakfast and then what KK called “kiss and cry” as good-byes were said. I packed and we checked out of our room. I even went to the membership meeting and … gasp … spoke out.
Just before our bus was due to pick us up the sky opened up. Heavy thunderstorm persisted till we got to the airport. We found seats in the crowded terminal. The flight was supposed to leave at 4pm, and the plane arrived at the gate at 4.05pm, so needless to say we were delayed. The flight wasn’t that comfortable, it was full and I scrunched into the middle seat.
Car was in pain and had been for a few days, poor thing. Her mom was at the airport. To add insult to injury, 3 out of 4 of our bags came but the last one didn’t. It was one of Car’s, but in a twisted turn, was tagged under my name. The agents checked and advised that it looked like one whole cart didn’t make it. At that point, Car and her mom went home and I queued up to register the lost luggage. About 30mins into the queuing, they told us they found the cart, and so we waited another 15mins for it to come out. Okay, nice, relieved. But I had 2 big bags plus my puma bag to haul home. Taxi time. I didn’t get home till almost 10pm.
The highlight of today’s sessions is undoubtedly the author auction, where selected authors get auctioned off to the highest bidder for the first dance at tonight’s award dance. I was as usual busy with videoing, even more so cos a couple of authors had confided their plans with me beforehand — so I could get into the best position. It’s good that the other camcorder was fixed so i could roam. The auction was hilarious, with costumes, muscles, lap dances, leather, heels and plain charm. I actually bid on one and won, but was too busy with my job that i didn’t collect. Heehee.
Quite a lot of free time in the afternoon, so postie and I hung out at the pool. Late afternoon it was time to get ready for the Awards Reception and Ceremony. I’d brought my pinstripe suit and M&S shirt — my best work clothes — which I spruced up with a pin, a pinstriped fedora I bought at Disney, and (lol) one extra button undone (still modest though). There were plenty of fabulously dressed people — the suave in tuxedos and suits and the elegant in cocktail dresses and heels.
Shoes got a lot of attention, from KK’s shiny heels to someone’s rainbow chucks. Mine weren’t bad either, I wore the silver acupunctures that are perfect for this type of function.
The awards were fun. Lots of authors i recognise. Rach from the vlr won 2 awards, one for debut author, i’m so proud of her. And for that I acquiesced when she dragged me to the dancefloor, although I only lasted just over 1 song. I think I made so many friends tonight it’s amazing.
This morning opened with the keynote address from JM Redmann, followed by a coffee chat. Both general sessions, no breakouts. I was videoing again, and paying attention to the interesting talks.
Lunch was provided, which was different from yesterday. Thing about having the conference at the Hilton is the proximity to Downtown Disney, and that there is a 24hour marketplace that sells drinks, sandwiches, snacks and such like. Perhaps the conference can provide drinks and snacks but I guess there wasn’t the budget for it.
After lunch was a session on romance together with lots of ppt slides. I wasn’t overly interested in the next block, but since Car wasn’t well and sleeping in the room and I didn’t want to go upstairs to disturb her, i thought i might as well go to a session. It was on writing series characters, which was pretty okay. The last session of the day I went to a fun and games — it was a hilarioius session of Jeopardy.
There was time to visit the vendors area where booksellers had set up stalls. There’s also a silent auction of goodies like books, posters, action figures, wine etc donated by various people.
Even more people joined for drinks at the bar and dinner. We decided to go to the House of Blues, there were 12 of us at the end.
The evening entertainment was pool and hot tub again, but not before we all sat out a heavy thunderstorm. The pool party was crowded! At one point at least 20 people were sat in the hot tub singing show tunes. I didn’t know any of them, so I left a little early.
The conference proper started today. It’s my first time, and I was a little scared. I stuck closely to the couple of people I met last night, and postie naturally. I had my big camera and my new camcorder in my backpack. Got talking with another participant with a camcorder, turned out she volunteered / was asked to record the conference. So I said I’d help too, and with 2 camcorders it should be better.
So I found myself a job and it made my life easier. Less lonely, less unsure of what to do and where to go. I can focus on videoing and photographing instead of talking to people.
I went to a session about writing a realistic beat cop, run by an actual former beat cop. Then there was a coffee chat, a readers’ panel and finally a session on sci-fi, fantasy and horror writing. All very interesting and fun.
As the day wore on, I ran into more people I know either from the reading last year, the vlr or on fb. I’m pretty surprised I actually know so many people (well, about 10). Joined up with a bunch of them for drinks at the bar then dinner at Downtown Disney, ending up at Wolfgang Puck Express where I had a spaghetti with tomato and basil.
After dinner we sat around the pool, just hanging out. Then a couple of them decided they’d go into the pool. So I went upstairs, changed and joined them. Then more participants came, and we had a pool party. Which got moved to the hot tub until lights out at 11pm.
There are many big name writers at this conference, and I’m only a wee little reader. That said, there was no feeling of arrogance, all of the writers seemed to be just regular people. Many of them have day jobs, which made them more down to earth I think.
Hollywood studios today. When we were planning this trip we were thinking, blah hollywood studios who wants to see the American Idol Experience? Oh my, were we wrong. This theme park ROCKS.
Needless to say I pouted and batted my eyelids so that we went to the Star Wars ride first. It’s a simulator, similar to Mission:Space at Epcot. But this time it’s on a Federation vessel that accidentally got caught, among other places, in the Death Star trenches. It was super fun. I got heady and lost at the Star Wars shop on the way out, and managed to offload quite a bit of cash on: a Jedi Academy robe and a make-it-yourself lightsabre (double ended like Darth Maul’s of course).
For me, the distinctive attraction about this park is that it’s full of sights and sounds. Even the landscaping had a Hollywood theme.
Car and I went on the Aerosmith Rock’n’Rollercoaster. It’s an indoor coaster, very fast and loud. At the queue, this 10 year old boy kept telling me how the car starts at 60mph then accelerates to 100mph very quickly and that I should take my glasses off cos it may fall out. We figured he thought I was a kid, cos he totally ignored Car. Hahaha!! I must admit to failure, I closed my eyes and adopted a fetal position for the whole ride.
After lunch (beer and cheeseburger) we took in the Beauty and the Beast show and then Car dragged me to the Tower of Terror. Postie got the fastpasses for us earlier. This one was terrifying and I was plenty scared going in. We were strapped in seats in a giant lift that did random freefall drops. All I could think about was “is it over yet?” while trying to keep my backpack from disappearing — i was literally lifted off my seat several times during this ride. My hands were shaking when I got out. Once is enough.
We got back to the hotel around 5pm. Just in time for the Meet and Greet for the conference. Had some wine, and then went to the suite of one of the authors for a selective book signing session. Even managed to catch some fireworks. Conference starts tomorrow.
(catchup post and make sure to click on the panorama)
Met a new friend today, postie from the bella forum. She’s from Yorkshire, and boy was I ecstatic to hang out with a Brit. Car was feeling poorly so I met postie by myself. We went to Epcot, which looked brighter and bigger in the morning sun. Lots of photo opportunities, including with a disney photopass — it’s a plastic card with a code that can be given to any of the official photographers. once the photos are taken they scan the card, and we can look at the photos online for 30 days. I bet it’s expensive, but i think it’s a good way to capture people pics.
Anyway, the distinctive spaceship earth dominated the entrance, and at certain angles looks like a giant golf ball resting on leaves on the ground.
We got a fastpass for Mission:Space, then roamed around the innoventions pavilion before finding ourselves at the Honey I shrunk the Audience 3D show. At Mission:Space there were 2 rides — the orange regular ride and an green “less intense” ride that is the same as orange except with no spinning. We were wusses and went for the green ride. It’s a Mars landing simulator and huge huge fun. I’m scared of rollercoasters but have no problems with simulators. May be I should go on the orange ride next time. I got a fastpass for Test Track but forfeited it (more later).
The great thing about Epcot is that it has the futureworld section with the rides and such; and then it has the world showcase section around the lagoon. It was very peaceful and beautiful. We found ourselves at a perfect spot looking over the lagoon and there were no other people. I took this series of 8 pics to make the panorama.
Lunch was at the Germany pavilion. We had the oktoberfest beer and i had a bratwurst and a crumble cake — the whole counting calories thing is going out of the window this week.
After lunch we decided to go back to the hotel to pick up Car. Hence forfeiting the TT fastpass. On the way out we were stopped by a disney staff and asked to complete a customer satisfaction survey. I was in such a hurry that i just put whatever answers were the most convenient on the touchscreen. Which meant postie and I were aged 7 and 8 respectively, and we had beer for lunch. Way to skew the stats. We ended up missing the bus so we got a taxi back.
Animal Kingdom was every bit as fabulous as the Magic Kingdom and Epcot. It was CROWDED, and the fastpasses had run out. So we queued up properly for the Harambe safari, the biggest attraction there. It was like a real african safari, we saw rhinos, giraffes, thomson gazelles, elephants, warthogs, flamingos, cheetahs and a male lion. Very authentic and impressive.
The rollercoaster ride there is the Everest ride, but we didn’t go because it had stopped — with a whole car of people stuck right there for at least 20 mins. I took a photo of that too. Instead, we went on the Kali Rapids water ride. It was a long queue but totally worth it, it’s my favourite ride so far this week. There was a sign that said “you will get wet, you may get soaked” — it’s a complete lie because getting soaked is a 100% certainty, within 30 seconds of the ride starting the whole pod went through a water sprout, it’s the degree of soakiness that may vary. Suffice it to say that we were well and truly soaked at the end. FUN FUN FUN!!!
After showering and changing, we had beers and food at the hotel bar — nachos, pizza and i had a chicken quesadila. Exhausted, very very happy.
Today we went to Magic Kingdom, and this means that I’ve visited all FIVE Disney parks in the world. The day started really grotty, with showers that got heavier. Didn’t dampen our enthusiasm one single bit, today I felt like, and acted like, I was 12. Heehee.
Rides / attractions we did — autopia, small world, haunted mansion, big thunder mountain, country bear jamboree, pirates of the caribbean, splash mountain. All i can say is, they were all fantastic and fun and impressive. One useful feature we didn’t fully utilise till the end was the fast pass, which is a little like getting a reserved timeslot, it is great for planning and saves time on queuing.
Didn’t really have a sitdown lunch, I got a huge turkey leg to munch on at one point. Kept drinking water as the weather cleared up and it was the expected Florida sunny day. Did some shopping as well, bought a mug, an oven glove set, tote bags, a pirates t-shirt and a Jasmine costume for my niece. Since we are staying at one of the hotels inside the disney complex, we can have our purchases delivered to the hotel, no need to lug bags back, how thoughtful.
After returning to our room and resting for a bit, we headed to Epcot for dinner. Every theme park has a late opening night and tonight was Epcot’s turn to stay open till midnight. We went straight to World Showcase and had dinner at the Mexican restaurant. I even had a passion fruit margarita. After dinner we walked around and I indulged in a little night photography — I’d brought the EOS and the tripod with me for the Epcot outing.
The efficient free Disney bus took us back to the hotel. Showered and still a little wired. Plan tomorrow is to return to Epcot for the attractions, then to Animal Kingdom. Keep an eye out for the tweets.
It’s been a while since I visited a new US state, and I deleted a few off an earlier list cos I just drove through them. This new one is genuine, I arrived in Orlando today for a week of combined holiday and conference. This is just a quick snap that I twittered, it was taken as we were walking from our hotel to the restaurant at Downtown Disney. It was threatening to rain, hence the blue-grey sky. There will naturally be a full set of pics and detailed write-ups when the trip is done.
i shut down the mbp this morning with a guilty twinge — i’m gonna be without it till next sunday — a good 10 days. I’m going away on holiday, then to the conference. I’m taking the netbook. A fb friend, upon reading my dilemma tweet (mbp or wind?) put it aptly — that it will be an experiment to see if I’m compatible with netbook computing. I think I am, but ask me again in 3, 5, 7, 10 days.
My flight was at 4.35pm, and I gave myself 2 options: a) check out, leave the luggage at the hotel, go to Oxford Street and come back; b) check out, leave the luggage at Paddington, go to Oxford Street then get on the Heathrow Express. I opted for (b) cos I didn’t fancy trekking back to Liverpool Street, there wasn’t a lot of time anyway. What I didn’t account for, was that it costs £8 for left luggage. That’s too expensive!
So I ended up hanging around the station. Had a very nice plum tart and tea at paul. Took my time, didn’t do anything to hurry up.
Had plenty of time at the lounge. Even though I was flying AA, I went to the CX lounge instead. Ate some food, drank lots, watched the cricket, talked to mm. It’s funny, Mum couldn’t decide on the colours for the flooring and tiles, and couldn’t find me cos I was in London so she called mm! Very wifely. Hehe.
Flight wasn’t full but someone sat next to me. I had the first seat in business class. Watched He’s just not that into you, napped for a bit, listened to the radio, watched the flight path. It was a long fly-in, overshot Chicago, almost to Iowa before turning back! Must have been a long queue. Immigration and customs were quick, I got a talkative taxi driver, was home by 9pm. Went to the supermarket, initially to get milk and ended up getting loads of other stuff. I’m glad to be home.
I’m not used to “only” 7 hour flights, which was how long it took from ORD to LHR. Quick dinner, watched The International then I made sure to get some sleep. Woke up an hour before landing and had some cereal for breakfast.
Tube strike today, start of 48hs. It’s been a long while since the whole Tube was closed. A car picked me and my colleague up from T3 and it took one hour to get to Chiswick roundabout, and 2.5hrs to get to our hotel. Staying at the Andaz at Liverpool Street, which I stayed in when it first opened and was known as the Great Eastern.
Went to the office for conf calls and meetings. Wanted to get salt beef bagels but the walk is too long. Went running, ordered room service sushi and now watching England vs Andorra. Woot, football!
Uploaded NYC pics: nyc set | ym6 set
One that isn’t related to the trip, but I really like it. In the Ellis Island museum, there’s a area that they haven’t totally restored and the feel is still stuck in the 1950s. Some of the rooms were empty, though roped off. This is one of them. I wanted to convey the sense of quietness and isolation that I felt, looking at that room.
i fell asleep the second the lights went out last night, and slept all the way through to almost 8am. We checked out of the b&b, returned to the breakfast place from yesterday, and headed out to Rockefeller Plaza. I didn’t know about the top of the rock observation deck, it was great! Panoramic view of central park and a closeup the empire state building.
Outside at the plaza I spied a Teuscher store. Sigh. Memories. I had to get their champagne truffles even though they’re like almost $5 apiece.
then it was time to return to the b&b and head out to the airport. we called Ali again, and he in his imitable way brought us to LGA quickly and humorously. I took Car into the AA lounge until it was time for her flight. we were on different airlines for the return to chicago. the weather in NYC had been great all weekend, which didn’t prepare us for the delays — the weather in Chicago was grotty, and air traffic control at ORD was controlling flights coming in. This means my flight originally at 5.30pm was delayed until 7.30pm. I was lucky that I was in the lounge in a comfortable sofa and free drinks. Once we boarded the plane, they pushed us out quickly but we had to sit on the tarmac for 20mins waiting for our takeoff slot.
In the end I got back to PT after 10pm. I’d originally planned to go grocery shopping, but that was no good. Shopping and laundry will have to wait till tomorrow.
i’m in nyc this weekend, to meet up with car and bobbi and to attend a launch event. got in last night after an uneventful flight to LGA. We’re staying at chelsea pines inn at w14th and 8th — the meatpacking district. it’s a great little b&b, with rooms named after hollywood stars. we were in the George Nader room, except I have no clue who George Nader was.
woke up early, after a restless night. the b&b has a nice kitchen with a simple continential breakfast. We wanted a real breakfast instead so we walked over to this very nice place. i had waffle with ham, which i scarfed down at record speed. i was pretty hungry, having only had snacks at the ORD lounge, and the remains of a beef sandwich when I arrived at the b&b.
After breakfast we taxied down to Battery Park to catch the ferry. The queue was long cos of the nice day, lots of tourists, and security check. This meant we had time to check out the sights and sounds — street vendors, buskers, the Korean war memorial.
We didn’t alight at the statue of liberty, the view from the boat was nice enough. I’ve never been to Ellis Island, and was impressed with the museum. Unlike some other visitors, i don’t have the emotional connection of “my great-grandparents came through here when they immigrated from the old country” though i can understand how it can be moving. The small exhibit on the ground floor was the most impressive, with visual exhibits showing immigration trends.
Back on shore, we walked the 10mins or so to Ground Zero. It’d been fenced over, even more so than my last nyc visit, and there wasn’t much to see. The memorial wall seemed a little sad and temporary, perhaps the idea is that it goes on the new buildings when and if they are completed. With the amount of interest in the site, i’m surprised there isn’t an observation platform or something like that. Yes, it’s tacky to treat this place like any other tourist destination, but it can be done with dignity and for visitors to have a more substantial experience. It’s important.
We were tired after that, so we taxied it back to the b&b to relax for a bit. There’s snacks and hot drinks available at all time in the kitchen as well as free wifi, a change from business hotels i tend to find myself staying. Originally we were going to take a bus to NJ, but wisely decided to call a car instead. it wouldn’t have cost that much more than a taxi and a bus, and miles more convenient. We were attending the launch party for yuri monogatari 6, a graphic novel series. The party was at rareflix.com store at the Secaucus outlet NJ. Very hard to find place, and to add to the confusion, it’d moved. Credit to our driver who stuck with us and was determined to find it. A lesser driver would have just abandoned us somewhere in the general vicinity.
I’m not a big consumer of comics and graphic novels. I feel like I should get into them more, but haven’t been able to. That’s one of the reasons I was looking forward to this trip. The party was low-keyed and casual. We looked around the store, including in the back where there was a horror set. Pretty soon the contributors arrived and started signing. For sone reason they all had to wear purple and white feather boas, i guess to distinguish them from non-authors? i dunno, it was fun anyway. We were there primarily to support JD, who also writes books, is in a band, is super smart and all round cool person. The evening ended far too early at 10-ish (and that’s saying something). we called Ali, our driver, and he took us back to the b&b.
We hadn’t had dinner, so we ran across the road and got pizza. I had a slice of bbq chicken, it was perfect for the time and place.
Arrived LHR before schedule cos of strong tailwinds. 7 hours is one of those neither here nor there flight times. After they fed us, I tried to sleep but couldn’t. Wasn’t interested in watching any film so ended up reading. The ereader was FANTASTIC. Did manage to nap for about an hour before breakfast came round.
Heathrow is big and confusing. First off, I hate that we didn’t park at a gate and had to get a bus. Then I had to get another bus from T5 to T3. That was a good 20mins spent on buses. The security line at T3 was long too, but at least unlike the Americans we didn’t need to take off our shoes. So finally I staggered to the CX lounge and staked my claim on the sofa in the first class lounge. It’s a pretty grotty lounge actually, and definitely not enough electrical points for laptops and such like. I hopped out for a bit to get twix, aero and milk trays for mm and other people. My recollection of T3 was that it was big and full of shops. There are still a millions shops but the waiting area seems grotty and very very crowded. I must count my blessings.
I got bumped up to first class. I half expected it cos this flight was full and I was originally waitlisted. It makes sense for them to bump people up to fill up the plane. I’m very lucky to have the comfortable seat for the long flight.
Watched Quantum of Solace during dinner, then slept for 5 hours. Watched Twilight and did not get the fuss. It’s kinda lame.
I finished my work by 11am and thought sod it, i’m not hanging around for the sake of hanging around. So I went back to PT, squeezed in an intervals session, showered and left around 2pm. There was a bit of traffic to the airport due to some roadworks.
I’d checked in already, and the queue at the BA counter was slow. It was weird, watching the woman’s demeanor change between when I walked up with my documents and my leaving. Sigh, it is the emerald status. The BA lounge was nice. At 4pm they opened the dining room and I had a nice chicken salad, lamb with guinness and some cheese. Too much Pinot Noir too, heehee.
So, time to board. i have a window seat, one of those rear facing ones. I usually don’t like facing backwards but I’m thinking it’ll be okay.
With 5 trips to Chicago this year I definitely made it over 100,000 miles. 113,140miles = 182,081km. Distances are between airports and calculated at webflyer. I’ve reached diamond level at the Marco Polo Club, so next year will be a good year in terms of privileges. Wonder if I’ll get as many miles under my belt in 2009 as 2008.
Had half a day to spare before needing to go to Heathrow so I took the opportunity to walk around and take pictures of places and things that I’d taken for granted when I was young. First I walked from the hotel to Liverpool Street past my old company then through Moorgate and back to my old school. Some of the old shops are still there — like that Boots next to Moorgate station.
The school looks the same too, as was the sign for Cripplegate Without on the wall of St Giles Church, one of the remaining old use of ‘without’ I think.
Took the tube to Hyde Park Corner to the Hard Rock Café with the sole purpose of getting a new London HRC polo shirt. More about that in another post on my HRC polo shirt collection. I’d actually never walked around Wellington Place on foot, because that’s such a touristy thing to do. The New Zealand war memorial is new, and is very poignant. From the HRC I walked all the way to Piccadilly Circus to another tourist mecca — the Eros statue, Leicester Square and Chinatown. The familiar restaurants are still here, including our old favourite. Except instead of noodles it’s now a §8.90 buffet place. The second hand bookstores on Charing Cross Road were unchanged too.
Lunch at Belgo, where I had moules provenç with frites that looked more like chips. Washed them down with a Chimay Bleu beer, and tried the Floris Apple beer too. The apple beer tasted of cider, nothing special.
By then it was almost time to head back to the hotel. By bus again, and it being a nice day looking out of the windows was clear.
Here are some uniquely London things: the traditional red phonebox and the open platform routemaster buses. Not many of either left.
More pictures at the flickr set. And I edited monday’s post to add a few food pics.
On a grotty, grey, drizzly November day, I am a Londoner again.
I left 13 years ago to follow…someone, something, some unknown dreams. I last visited the UK 4 years ago. I was afraid that I’d feel out of place, unfamiliar. That I won’t recognise the streets, that I won’t know how to navigate the tube, or not know what food to order.
None of that. The flight arrived at 4.40am, and I was through immigration quickly — there are counters now, where your passport gets scanned rather than just glimpsed at by an officer. Terminal 5 reared its ugly head again, as my luggage took forever to get to the carousel — the fact that it’s priority didn’t seem to matter to the baggage handlers. Well, I had time.
Staying at the Crowne Plaza Shoreditch near Liverpool Street. Was all checked in and unpacked by 7am. What to do, what to do? Time to get back to old habits.
Londoner #1: bought drinks and crisps from the Tesco Metro across the road. Walkers for mm and Quavers for me.
Londoner #2: walked 10mins to the bagel place at Brick Lane to get salt beef bagels. Yes, far too early in the morning, but I don’t care, it’s been years. We used to drive all the way from home in the middle of the night to get those salt beef bagels, so walking over from the hotel was no big deal.
Londoner #3: bought a Oyster Card, though I eventually got a one day travelcard instead. Tube to Oxford street. And no, there was no problem in navigating the tube. Shed a tiny tear when I noticed it was a West Ruislip train I got on.
Londoner #4: shopping shopping shopping — underwear form M&S (hee, tmi); Christmas pudding for Mum, also from M&S; bathroom scale from John Lewis. Now I have to explain why I go all the way to the UK to get a bathroom scale, and the answer is very simply — I need scales that are in stones, meaning UK only.
Londoner #5: late lunch at John Lewis, where else? Scallop risotto and lemon & sugar crepes. The crepes did not taste the same as I remembered, a little disappointed.
Londoner #6: took the bus back to the hotel cos I wanted to watch the streets. It started raining though so the windows fogged up. Got asked the way by my neighbour, a tourist from Eastern Europe. And I knew how to direct him!
Londoner #7: got dark by 3.30pm, 4-ish. And like everyone else, I shrugged it off.
Londoner #8: whinging about the lack of TV channels. I’m so spoiled by the choices in the US. heehee.
Bought some vegetable and guacamole dip for dinner. Didn’t feel like a lot. 40mins running at the hotel gym. The thought of weight training went out of the window cos the hotel only has 2 treadmills, 2 ellipticals and a rowing machine. Gonna be an early night tonight. I had a nap early this morning but there’s no harm to get more rest.
God, it feels good to be home.
It has been 5 years, it was a long wait, but it was well worth it.
There’s a thread in one of the flickr groups called the 5-shots-a-trip game where you’re supposed to show a trip using only 5 pictures. My choices were based on what they brought to me:
- something new — marimo
- something breathtaking — sunset at bibaushi
- something delicate — millenium forest
- something indulgent — the joy of hot springs
- something fulfilling — all that seafood
The whole trip has been written up:
Not including flights, hotel and car rental we spent ¥307,823, or approx $2,800 so double that for the whole trip. I’ve broken down the cash spending into categories.
Should really take out mm’s Burberry shopping. Heehee.
We want to go back already. Even with 2 trips there are so many places in Hokkaido we hadn’t explored. The far south Hakodate, the ice boats at Abashiri, the tiny islands off the NW side, Jozenkei Onsen, skiing at Niseko and many more.
An old New York Times article so aptly described why visitors to this magnificent island return to it again and again.
[T]he primary difference between Hokkaido and the rest of this heavily industrialized, crowded country is that it is still raw and largely unsettled. Hokkaido is Japan’s frontier and looks the part. In a country where little goes to waste, the Japanese have set aside large expanses of this countryside.
We’ll try not to let 5 years lapse before our next visit.
- Full of food
My stomach is full to its limit. We spent 9 straight days eating anything and everything we wanted. Thankfully since it’s Japanese food mostly it’s low on red meat and high on seafood and vegetables. Still, I can’t help feeling bloated after quite a few of those meals. By the time it got to Saturday and Sunday I was subconsciously staying away from snacks, and I found that the trousers I had on at the beginning of our trip felt just that little bit tighter. Sigh.
- Full of images
We took both my cameras. I had the 350D and mm had the S550. I went through 2 CF cards (total ~3GB) and mm through almost the entire 4GB SDHC card. We ended up with over 1,500 pictures.
Whenever we stopped for a shot potentially there’d be half a dozen pictures all at slightly different angles. mm tends to take 3 identical ones, probably cos of her conservative / safe nature. It’s a lot of work to sort through these and rename them. I can understand for occasion shots to get duplicates, but every.single.one? Sigh.
- Full of clothes
I’ve done 3 loads of laundry already. I took too many clothes, thinking it’d be cooler than it was, and forgot that Japanese hotels generally provide yukatas.
I can’t seem to accept the idea of wearing a shirt multiple days running. I need new shirts every day, this adds to the laundry load.
Flight was at 4.40pm so we had the whole morning for shopping. Breakfast was ramen at the JR station. First time we had ramen this trip and it was a good one.
mm went crazy and bought a handbag and a couple of purses from Burberry Blue Label. Blue Label is exclusively licensed to Japan and seem to have a more contemporary design. We even got the tax refund immediately in the store, very convenient.
I didn’t buy anything, unless ice cream and gumi sweets count.
We were very late returning the car, mm was cornered by someone on a customer satisfaction survey. We were spared the pain of check-in cos of my gold card but everyone was treated equal at security. For the 3 flights leaving around that time there was one security checkpoint so imagine the queue.
The lounge was tiny, more like the waiting room at a train station albeit with better seats and free drinks. The flight was fine, we had 3 seats to ourselves.
I didn’t think we’d make it back to Otaru. In my mind it’s got shopping and more shopping and how many pretty glass ornaments can we buy?
I’m glad mm insisted to return. After all, it’s only 30 mins drive from Sapporo. We had a great day. Tired from all the walking, but still good. Parking was difficult, at least for the free variety so we parked for the whole day. ¥100 for 30mins, max ¥1,200, we were prepared to pay the maximum price.
No visit to Otaru can be complete without a stop at the canal. I’ve never really gotten why it’s considered to absolutely stunningly beautiful. It’s pretty, but…I dunno.
Early lunch of uni rice at a food stall. We thought the place would get packed later but the crowds never appeared. They must have stuck to the restaurants on the main strip. And what a main strip. Took us the whole day to walk from one end to the other and back. Mostly glassware, music boxes and ornaments. There were repeats which suggested similar sources. Still, the handiwork was impressive.
I didn’t buy much. mm bought sake sets from the outlet, an award winning bottle of sake, music boxes and other souvenirs. We learned something new today at the Otaru Music Box Museum. Normally music boxes are 18-note, so are limited in the range of music they can play. High end music boxes have 36-, 50- and even 72-notes. One of the curators at the museum showed us the difference, and it was remarkable. The 72-note box played Ave Maria with both treble and bass, just like on the piano (same number of keys). Naturally the price increase is exponential.
Food-wise we had a heavenly day. The seafood stall offering grilled scallops on the shell for ¥100 was too good to pass up. We had one each, then returned to have 2-3 each. At Kitakaro where we got a tea set of coffee, ice cream and puff for ¥500 was equally value for money.
Dinner back at the wholesale fish market in Sapporo. By then it was dark and the stalls had closed, but not the restaurants. For this last dinner we totally gorged ourselves, I had the crab set meal and mm had sushi and tempura. The new room at the Keio Plaza was way better, so much so that I was impressed (or relieved) enough to take pictures.
We found ourselves lingering, not wanting to leave, because Bibaushi is so stunning. We traced our route from the station to Takushinkan, this time by car. I’ve tried over the years to try to find more works by Shinzo Maeda and realise his son Akira has taken up his mantle. We bought a big stack of postcards, wanting to buy the whole lot.
A side note is that Takushinkan charged for parking, but only a minute away was a service area with free parking. We wondered why they even charge when every single car parked at the service area. Just as well because we had the sweetest sweetcorn and juiciest cherry tomatoes at the small shop there. The hospitality of the shopkeeper was amazing, she even gave us small doughy rolls to taste. May be our poor student persona was showing again.
The GPS directed us back to Sapporo via Asahikawa, weird. It was lunchtime and we stopped at a huge shopping mall. Had more buta-don and quickly looked around the giant Jusco supermarket. Food was amazing.
We took the fast, and expensive, highway to Sapporo. Instead of wasting time checking into the hotel we headed straight for Sapporo Factory for a little shopping. Not far away was the Sapporo Bier Garten. The beer museum was closed by the time we got there, but dinner had just begun.
Wow. Talk about vast and organised. The speciality is jingisukan, the romanji spelling for Genghis Khan. No surprise that it’s barbequed lamb. There are several different restaurants in the complex and the choices are - full buffet, 100 minute all-you-can-eat, à la carte and a grill. We opted for the AYCE, which for ¥3,570 included beer and soft drinks. I had 3 glasses (500ml each I think) of draft and a half-half mix of draft and black beer. Followed with a glass of oolong tea.
Another shopping mall next to the beer garden and the main attraction was the Uniqlo store. We both managed to buy something, woot!
When we checked into the Keio Plaza we were told that we had a standard (smoking) room for one night and had to move rooms for the second night. We were really, really annoyed. I mean, if a customer requests an additional night before their original booking, wouldn’t it make sense to have one room for both nights instead of treating it as two separate bookings? Not sure if it was the problem with our travel agent or the bureaucratic hotel.
Today was all about reliving old experiences and sampling new ones. Furano, Biei and Bibaushi invoke images of rolling hills, vivid flowers and lone trees like no other place in my mind.
The cheese factory was a new experience. It was a little out of town and we didn’t have a car last time to reach there. There were free samples, including a black cheese made with cuttlefish ink, as well as hands-on cheese making sessions.
Next to the factory was an ice cream factory. We didn’t try it cos it was too early in the morning. A short walk to the back led us to a photographer’s gallery where the owner sold me one of his books.
Then it was off to Farm Tomita, arguably the biggest tourist attraction in Furano. The lavender had wilted by now, but there was still plenty of other flowers. Lavender inside the greenhouse if photographed a certain way gave the impression that it was outside.
The famous slope was bare, compared with full bloom last time.
Between Furano and Biei was the Trick Art Museum [English translation of Japanese site] where 2D paintings gave the illusion of 3D. Fun stuff.
Yet again we missed the narrow lunch window and most places in Biei were closed. We ended up eating instant ramen from 7-Eleven in our car. Sometimes we splurge out on expensive meals and yet sometimes we go back to poor student mode.
The starting point of the Biei circuit is Pension Ken & Mary with its distinctive tree. They charge ¥300 entrance to the café, or we can buy something to drink and sit on the terrace. No brainer, duh.
The sun was almost setting when we reached the Shikisai Hill otherwise known as four seasons hill farm. The hay figure was a memory from last time, as was their pumpkin ice cream.
We had dinner at an izakaya - drinking places that are part pub and part tapas bar. We ordered sushi, yakitori, fried camembert, and beef on hotplate. I had a beer and mm a sake. Such a pleasant way of spending an evening.
The softball gold medal match was on. I saw the first few innings at the bar and caught the final few after getting back to the b&b. To see the elation on the faces of the winning Japanese team was gorgeous. When the last US hitter got run out, one of the commentators cried and squealed, even not knowing Japanese I could tell her excitement.
Time to pack up and leave the Kangetsuen, sniff sniff. What a lovely place. Before heading out of the area totally, we explored the town around the hotel. Behind the visitors centre we enjoyed a foot bath and a few minutes’ drive away was the huge flower clock at Tokachigaoka Park.
Then it was time to head out in the direction of Obihiro and the Tokachi Millennium Forest, a nature reserve that is an eclectic combination of wilderness, agriculture, ecology, education, art and technology. The owners expect the site to be sustainable for 1,000 years and aim:
to nurture and maintain the natural woods where various animals and plants live. By planting conventional species of trees, we are restoring the original Tokachi forest. We welcome our visitors to come and discover the abundant nature of the forest, and to ultimately enhance their knowledge of agriculture.
The park was designed by Dan Pearson who was also responsible for Roppongi Hills and Millenium Dome. There were distinct zones - forest, grassy plain, agriculture garden and even a cheese factory. Located randomly in the park are works by various artists, the most famous being Yoko Ono.
We spent a bit of our money at the cheese factory on goat’s cheese. Got to sample fresh milk from this morning too.
We would have stayed at the forest for the whole day if not for needing to move on…and find lunch. We headed back to Obihiro, parked, and found out that most shops and restaurants were closed. It was only just after 2pm. Sigh. By sheer luck we came across Kita no Yatai which was a narrow alleyway of small stalls that looked interesting. These open at night for drinking and chatting so we wouldn’t get to experience them, what a shame.
One of the restaurants that were open nearby served buta-don, which is associated with the area. The options depended on the number of slices of pork on rice. We chose the smaller 4-slice portion and supplemented with a vegetable tempura.
Next stop after Obihiro was Furano. Funny thing about GPS, not all roads are registered on satellite. When we got to one of the toll booths the attendant tried very hard, with lots of words and drawing on a map, to explain to us that a new highway just opened. It was only driving on it, and freaking out the GPS (driving through a blank screen was hilarious), that we figured out what was happening.
We checked into the b&b and drove to town for dinner at Kumagera. Its speciality was raw beef don, tofu cheese and beef hot pot. mm had the beef don and I opted to try the bear set meal. Yes, bear meat. They warned that since it’s difficult to hunt bear, it may not be available all the time but they had it tonight. It tasted gamey but not as strong as venison, a little chewy like jerky but in general quite nice.
The restaurant also had a large selection of sake, so it became impossible for us not to try a glass.
The pension had a small onsen bath and we enjoyed that for a while. The best thing actually was the open shower area and we could talk and share the bathing experience. No wonder the Japanese talk about the social aspect of going to the onsen. There is no embarrassment about being naked with other bathers, unlike what might occur in other countries. No staring, no judging, no lewdness. Stripping away clothing is like leaving social barriers and other stresses of real life behind. Once in the baths, the flow, the heat and the sound of the water has a cleansing and peaceful effect.
Long drive today to Kushiro not helped by the poor weather. It rained and was cloudy all day. We missed the wetlands train by a few minutes, but we were only half-heartedly rushing for it anyway.
We made the tour of the wetlands by car instead. The Hosooka Viewpoint gave an expansive view of the meandering Kushiro river below us. This panorama was stitched from 6 photos, click for larger image.
Lunch was at Washo market, a non-descript building housing a wet market of about 80 stalls selling fruits, vegetables, seafood and other produce. The reason for the visit wasn’t because it is one of the three largest seafood markets in Hokkaido, it was to sample the katte-don, or “make-your-own” chirashi. It was simple. Buy your rice from one of the many stalls, picking the appropriate size. It’s sold by weight so no issue about scrimping. Next, go to one (or several) of the many seafood stalls and select the various items you want on your rice. That’s it. As was our focus on this trip, ebi, salmon roe and uni formed the main selection. Two chirashi plus a plate of uni came to ¥5,050.
The next stop was the Tancho Reserve that is home to a flock of red-capped cranes, Japan’s national bird. From pictures we thought it was an open nature reserve and were a little surprised to be confronted with high wired cages each housing a crane family. Strange. It could be that most of the cranes had migrated elsewhere, since they were only supposed to be on site during the winter. The theory that the ones remaining were in captivity was quickly debunked when a couple of them flew out of the cages and starting hanging out on the footpath. Clearly if they wanted to fly away they could, and these few chose to stay. It would still have been nice to see them in their natural habitat but it was also reassuring to know that they weren’t prisoners. They were tame though, we walked past them very close and they weren’t bothered.
We had coffee and ice cream at the small (rather deserted) souvenir shop off to one side of the carpark. The service we received was as usual impeccable.
There was just enough time to pay a short visit to the Kushiro City Marsh Observatory, another lookout to the wetlands.
Guess what? Our third beautiful dinner and more relaxing soaking in the onsen followed by Olympics. That’s the life.
Breakfast was in the large dining room and self-service. All the traditional items were available - rice, fish, noodles, pickles. There was a local item that was like semolina with croutons that was interesting. Yogurt was more sticky than what we were used to, and had a mild taste. The tea from a teabag was awful so I stuck to oolong and green teas.
The drive to Akan was under 2 hours. We had our first petrol station experience on the way. It had been years since we’d been to a fully serviced place. They even cleaned our windows, and directed traffic to guide us back out to the road. Talk about great courtesy and service.
Lake Akan is one of three lakes in the Akan National Park. We just missed the hourly sightseeing boat so we took the speedboat option.
The main attraction of Lake Akan was to see marimo, slow-growing algae balls that populate the bottom of the lake. Marimo was declared a national treasure and there is a concerted effort to preserve them. The Marimo Observation Centre is located on an island at the top end of the lake. The round shape of the marimo is formed through gentle rotation of waves, and one of the exhibits replicated this action. It’s just like a relaxed version of lava lamps. [hurray for flickr video]
Back on shore, we walked the length of the village of Akankohan. The main industry being tourism, there was an abundance of souvenir shops. But hidden between buildings were hand or foot baths. Temperatures ranged from cool to too-hot-to-put-your-foot-for-more-than-5-seconds. Very enjoyable and relaxing.
The far end of the village behind the Ainu tribal museum was a 30-minute nature walk that led back to the lake. The end of the walk was the Singing Marimo monument, from what we could gather it had song lyrics carved into a rock.
Lunch was rice bowls at a local family place. Pork for mm and ebi for me. As with many Japanese we came across on this trip, we communicated through a combination of hand gestures, pointing and lots of nodding. The Japanese has a cute tendency to continue talking in fast Japanese even though they fully understand that we understand 0% of what they are talking about. It’s as if by talking even more, some of it will get through.
We hurried to Lake Mashu. The drive took longer cos of slow moving vehicles. We ended up at Observatory No 1, and a nice view. Apparently the lake is often covered by mist from the Kushiro wetlands but today it was open though overcast. Apparently also the view from Observatory No 3 is better (there isn’t any No 2) but we didn’t have time.
The next stop was Io-zan, or sulphur mountain. Similar to the hellmouth at Noboribetsu but on a smaller scale, there was a short path that led up a little into the mountain where we could see, feel and smell the sulphur seeping out from the rockface.
Another fully loaded, beautifully cooked dinner course and hot spring evening followed. Heh, we even did laundry.
I didn’t realise until mm told me that we were going too fast, even worse than a tour group. Sorry, mm. Let’s slow down and take our time.
We got up early to visit the tourist information office. We’d decided to revisit a favourite and spend 2 nights at Furano. Yes, it’s another tourist mecca but it really is very pretty. Disappointly the tourist information office couldn’t help us book accommodation; and neither could the travel agency we were directed to. We decided to stop off on our way to Tokachigawa to make the reservation ourselves. With the sheer number of hotels and b&bs in Furano we weren’t worried.
That settled, we headed off for brunch at the seafood market. The more popular one is Nijo Market near Odori Park but we went to the Central Wholesale Market which was just 10 mins’ drive away. The advantage was the less crowded location and easy parking. We’d also seen a leaflet for Kaisen-ichiba Kitano Gourmet which reassured us that a) there’d be some English and b) it had a phone number for GPS direction. We weren’t disappointed, the prawn looked like it was gonna jump off the bowl, the seafood was so fresh. Two chirashi plus a grilled conch came to ¥6,750. No need for drinks, a jug of cold tea was on every table. Watched the finish of the woman’s marathon, so impressive when the runners enter the bird’s nest stadium.
Dessert was yubari melon from a street stall, Japan’s version of luxurious cantaloupe melons. To give a perspective on just how luxurious, the best pair in this year’s first auction fetched ¥2.5 million in May. Ours were more modest, at ¥100 a slice.
The drive to Furano was just under 2 hours. Would have been faster if we hadn’t gotten stuck behind some truly sloooooooow drivers on the single-lane A-roads. The speed limit was 50km/hr, so okay, we were above the limit. Then again, so were 98% of the other drivers. Not sure of the purpose of setting such a low speed limit only for it to be broken by almost everyone.
It was straightforward booking the hotel, even with the language difficulty. We went for a pension near the ski lift that mentioned an in-house onsen. Stopped off for an ice cream and then we continued on our way to our destination for the next 3 nights, Kangetsuen at Tokachigawa Onsen.
This was the highlight of the trip. The Japanese-styled room was simply furnished but roomy. The sizes of the rooms are measured by the jo. Ours was 8-jo which converts to 12.24m2. The futons were put away in the closet during the day, and the hotel staff set them out on the tatami during dinner. Originally we wanted to book the rooms with en suite spa, but our agent couldn’t secure them.
Our stay included breakfast and dinner. The dinners were traditional Kaiseki style, consisting of a multitude of delicate courses carefully cooked and presented. The attention to detail was amazing, from the small glass of pre-dinner drink to the orientation of the plates.
After dinner was another highlight, the onsen. After thoroughly showering, it was time to try out the different baths. There was a main mineral bath with whirlpool section, a separate whirlpool, waterfall, stone walking pool, sauna and an outdoor bath. My favourite was the outdoor bath, overlooking what looked like the fields outside the hotel and further, a nearby bridge (hard to see without glasses, hee). Rocks form the boundary of the bath and there were submerged areas to sit on when the water got too hot.
The Olympics were on tv. We watched volleyball, basketball, gymnastics and other games. Commentary in Japanese was interestingly incomprehensible. Naturally they focused on the Japan team, and it looked like they were doing very well.
We visited Hokkaido in 2002 and were awed by the beautiful scenery. We’ve talked so many times in the intervening years about going back, and it’s taken 6 years. Even though we are missing the peak tourist season, July, when lavenders flower, we figured there will be so many other things to see and experience.
The flight arrived early but the long queue at immigration ate away the time advantage. We wheeled our bags to the Toyota Car Rental counter only to discover that, hee, it’s affliated with Hertz. No wonder when we reserved online that it was so efficiently English. In a procedure that reminded us of Heathrow, we registered at the counter and then were taken by van about 5 mins’ drive offsite to the main rental location.
Our car was a Ractis, class P2 (similar to group B or C). For 8 days it was ¥75,600 including insurance. Automatic and came with GPS. I’d emailed them previously to ask for an English-speaking GPS and that was what we got. The people who got the car next to us at the parking bay obviously didn’t make that specification and had to change their car.
First thing I noticed when I got into the car, I didn’t know where the handbrake was. How embarrassing. Turned out it’s a foot pedal located where the clutch would have been if it were a manual car. :blush
Second thing about the GPS. It spoke English but the dashboard was still in Japanese. There were English instructions but we managed with the kanji anyway. Programming a location was dead easy - just key in the phone number!
The last time we’d rented a car on a long holiday was New Zealand, although I’d driven in the US in the last couple of years. But driving was easy, it helped that Japan is on the right side of the road and the roads are in good condition.
This first night we stayed at the Keio Plaza. Location was perfect, a few minutes’ walk from the JR station. We hadn’t booked all our nights for this trip, and were hoping that the tourist information office could help. We took bundles of brochures off to dinner to talk about options.
By the time we remembered that we had a car, we were at the ticket machines in the subway station. Hee. It was only 2 stops to Susukino the nightlife district. We had conveyer belt sushi and our first indulgence was to order a bunch of uni nigiri. Yummy. Dinner came to ¥3,276.
On our way back to the hotel, we stopped off at Robinson’s (a decidedly un-Japanese name for a department store) and ogled at the displays of greenhouse fruits. Amazing. Artificial, but still amazing.
First impressions. Seemed to me that there are more tourists than we remembered, especially from other Asian countries. Hokkaido has always been the Japanese people’s best kept secret but now more and more people are learning about this. Sapporo probably isn’t the best example cos it’s the largest city and the starting point for visitors.
[Note: USD vs JPY is currently 109.597, but for quick rule of thumb use 100]
Flight arrived at Tokyo early at 2.45pm I was booked on the 17.00, which I changed myself when the not-helpful-new travel agent didn’t have enough common sense to change it from the 18.30. Anyway, I was the 5th person off the plane and got through transit security quickly. Hustled to the lounge and asked if I could be placed on the earlier flight. See, I know there’s one around 4pm. As it happened, the 17.00 was delayed so I was doubly glad I made the effort.
The lounge and desk staff were super helpful and I got myself a seat on the 15.55. Another aisle seat, what’s up with that? Can’t complain. I was really tired and fell asleep after dinner.
Problems started at the luggage reclaim. It was a busy evening, with a huge number of flights arriving. On the same carousel were bags arriving from LAX. First all the crew and priority bags from my flight arrived. I was mildly irritated that mine weren’t among them, but figured it’ll show up with the regular bags.
But no. The carousel cleared and soon it was empty. Sigh. I wasn’t all that worried cos the suitcase will show up eventually. When I reported to the lost luggage desk both the agent and I figured that it didn’t make it to the flight but will arrive with my original flight.
So I got on the train and went home. Talked to mm on the phone and she met me at the train station to talk a little. I really wanted her to come home with me but she was tired, and I needed a shower. She got me dinner though. :D
I got the call after I showered that they found my suitcase. They even offered to deliver it straight away, but couldn’t guarantee that it’ll be before 11pm. I told them to deliver it tomorrow morning. It’s not like I’m desperate to do laundry, and there is a difference between lost luggage when travelling and lost luggage when home.
The hotel bill came to $3000+ and that’s already including breakfast. They comped me last night’s dinner (wow!!) but otherwise I had minimal charges.
Taxi to airport, checked in, hung out at the lounge, the usual. Had an aisle seat this time, and the passenger in the middle seat moved just after take off so the seat was empty. Perfect.
Read a little, disappointed at the lack of interesting films (remembering that I’ve been on this route 4 times in the last 2 months) and slept for 3 hours. The flight attendant was okay, but could have done better. Friendly enough but seemed to be just going through the motions. Not offering drinks refills, dropped a wine glass and did a sloppy job of picking up the pieces (the passenger across the aisle from me had to finish the tidying up), dropped food into another passenger’s lap. Not unexpected from an American airline but would have failed in an Asian airline.
Ack, the falling standards
After one year, I finally got round to writing up last year’s big trip to Texas, Washington DC and Chile. It’s no big deal cos I’ve already written it all up, it was just copying and pasting from one part of the website to another. All the more reason why I shouldn’t have taken so long.
I enjoyed reading through my struggles with stupid Delta, the long cross-country drive, the largeness of Texas, the awesomeness of DC and mostly the privilege of visiting friends at Santiago. Worth re-living.
A few pictures from the stopover at the Notre Dame University. Huge, pretty campus. The car park alone is larger than the whole of KCL. There are many notable sights at the university, one of the most distinctive being the golden dome at the main administrative building.
And then there’s the World of Life Mural at the Hesburgh Library. The upraised arms of Jesus are in line with the goal posts of the (American) football stadium opposite and the mural is often referred to as “touchdown Jesus”.
I went to the taste of chicago today. I avoided going at the weekend because of the crowds, and today i got there at 10.50am, just before the 11am opening. The place was practically empty and I had time to walk around looking at the stalls deciding what to try. Tickets were available for $8 for a strip of 12. Most stalls had 3-4 menu items costing around 6-10 tickets, although they have one “taste of” item for 3-4 tickets obviously for tasting.
There were the expected sandwiches, pizza and the like but I focused on trying food I hadn’t tried before. First was a chorizo arepa, because I was watching a program on the Food Network over the weekend on arepas. This arepa wasn’t anything like the ones on TV, the sausage was okay but the pastry was dry. The second thing I tried was a mustard fried catfish. Now this one was good. The breading wasn’t thick, the fish was fresh and the mustard gave it a nice gentle kick.
On the theme of fish the next stall offered shark. I’ve eaten all sorts of unusual food so i wasn’t fazed by the shark. It was actually quite nice. Like tune in taste although it’s white not red. Better than crocodile definitely. Not to fishy either. I was kinda full by then but one dish from my earlier inspection stood out — goat with fried plantain. I didn’t care for the goat, it was very tough, even tougher than mutton. The plantain was good — sweet and filling.
Dessert time. The New Orleans style restaurant offered up a tasting portion of beignet and a large piece of watermelon was the perfect thirst quencher.
The best till last. A combo of lemon and watermelon ice. Yep, a great day out.
There really isn’t much to say anymore. A 4-hour flight, 1.5hrs layover and another 12 hours. Eat, sleep, read, watch movies, fidget.
Watched Charlie Wilson’s War, Definitely Maybe, Penelope, I Could Never be Your Woman and some tv. Ate everything they gave me. Surprisingly only got through 70 pages of the book I brought along. Sometimes I’m in the mood for movies, sometimes for reading, I never know.
It was hot in Chicago. Took a taxi to the apartments. Since I’ll be here 3 weeks they booked a serviced apartment for me. It’s at Presidential Towers and first thing I did when I got through the door was take pictures, hee. It’s a one-bedroom place, with more closet space than my own apartment. No, strike that. Total area is larger than my own apartment. Just look at all those large appliances in the kitchen.
Got to Narita around 3pm. I had no idea what date or time it was exactly. Transit was quick and I ended up at the lounge to get my boarding pass for my flight at 6.30pm. Then I looked a the board and noticed an earlier flight at 5pm. It was around 4.15pm. I asked the staff if it’s possible to change. Getting a seat was no problem but there was a tantalizing wait to see if they could intercept my bag. I guess I helped them by saying I didn’t need to have it with me and I’m happy to collect it tomorrow. Being flexible gives people more incentive to help, I think. Plus, it’s Japan. Plus, airlines don’t like unaccompanied luggage. Plus, I’m a Gold member.
There were no problems at the end and they found it. I can’t help wonder if I’d get equally efficient service at any of the US airports or Heathrow. Asian airports yet.
The flight was blissfully empty. Almost everyone had 2 seats. I got the last row centre, but I didn’t care at that point. After dinner I collapsed and slept till the lights came back on, may be another hour to add to my sleep bank?
I’m sooooo pleased to have gotten the earlier flight. Instead of getting home at close to midnight I was unpacked and showered by 10.30pm. I know I’ll need a melatonin tonight but…sigh… I’m home.
Another travelling day. I’m becoming familiar with the bus to O’Hare, the kiosk check-in and the long security queue. I’ve always wondered why the US doesn’t have outgoing Immigration but with the queues at security it’s a good thing.
The AA Admiral’s lounge was pretty large with plenty of seats scattered so people have their own personal space. I got a bar voucher but when I tried to present it to get a Diet Coke I was told I didn’t need one. Perhaps only for alcohol drinks. Biscuits were available but other food we had to pay. Okay, this is the first lounge I’ve been to that charges for sandwiches and salads. I thought about getting one, but decided against it cos I wasn’t that hungry.
The flight was long. I got may be 1-2hrs sleep. Watched the second half of 27 Dresses and then ended up listening to music. Had bento again. Read a new book, I’m glad it’s a thick one.
If I vaguely remember, I once travelled from London to New York on American. On the 4th of July. It must have been 2000, cos I was still in NYC then. Since then my experience of American airlines — both the airline by that name and airlines-that-are-American — have been purposefully limited. On US domestic flights there is no choice.
Which was why I approached the long haul from NRT to ORD with a certain trepidation. It turned out to be … okay. The seat was comfortable, sufficiently wide though not very well extended. There was enough legroom for me to climb over my next door neighbour even though she had the seat stretched out. Even though I couldn’t get the headset to work I didn’t feel a loss cos the movie selection was average. The best feature was that they offered Japanese bento as dinner option, which I took without hesitation.
Flight was early by an hour and I had enough time to check in at the hotel before Car picked me up to join her family for dinner.
What next for this week?
Today is/will be a travel day. This is the first time I fly to Chicago via Tokyo, because I simply had enough of US domestic flights. The longer flight (12 hrs from NRT to ORD) will be on American, not my preferred, but let’s see how it goes. Business class on a poor airline is still business class surely. [/jinx]
Now I’m at the Admiral’s Club lounge at NRT. It’s very pretty and large and peaceful, so I’m tending to be relaxed. I even had a shower despite not planning to, or having brought a change of clothing. I’ll do whatever I can to make the next leg more comfortable.
It is a larger lounge than the CX one down the hall but amongst others, CX has cup noodles. I’ve been here an hour, I’ll be here another 2; it’d be nice to have some hot food. Shouldn’t complain though.
Another early finish, lucky me. I hurried to the fish market to buy salmon roe for mm. Most of the market had closed, but a few shops were still open. While I was at it, I got some of the roasted eggroll too.
Very tired after all the work, so I went downstairs for a massage. More precisely, a hand, foot and head massage. It was very relaxing, not too strenuous like my usual foot massage. They call it refle, which I’m sure is Engrish for reflexology.
Had a hard time finding dinner. I should have gone back to the fish market for sushi, but didn’t want to walk 20-25mins to spoil the foot massage. The 2 sushi restaurants near the hotel were both full, so I had shabu shabu instead. ¥2900 for pork, vegetables and soba. I must admit it was very very tasty and I wanted to order more … but it was too expensive. The wait staff were friendly, giving me all sorts of tips on how to eat the shabu shabu. I didn’t have the heart, nor did they know enough English, for me to tell them that I know what to do.
Early start tomorrow. But finally, here’s a night shot from the middle of a rickety metal pedestrian bridge behind the hotel.
Our Tokyo office moved to Roppongi Hills recently and this was my first visit. It’s a huge modern complex comprising of tall office buildings, a shopping mall, an art museum, luxurious apartments and the Grand Hyatt Hotel.
The most interesting place is the iGoogle Art Café, combining computers, internet and an art collection.
I managed to leave at around 4-ish, and got back to the hotel before it got dark. I’m staying at the Royal Park Shiodome, which is a short taxi ride from Roppongi. I took the JR train to nerd central, aka Akihabara, to explore the electronics stores. Just one store with 7 floors covered everything from computers, games, TVs, cameras and white goods. Of course, being the magnet for otakus, there were lots of shops selling anime stuff, dvds and things I have no clue about.
By the time I exited one shop it was dark, it’d started raining and I was hungry. I took the subway a few stops back to Ginza and headed straight for Tenkuni tempura. I got the seasonal special, starting with a grilled fish accompanied by lots of small dishes and followed by the more classic tempura. Needless to say it was fantastic.
Oh, and apparently I’m so stylish. I opted for not needing my sheets changed (I mean, after 1 night there is no need) and I got a nice thank you card. I’m sure there’s an Engrish joke someplace but I can’t think of it now.
Yeah, no first class upgrade on the way back. Not too bad still. Upstairs in the quiet cabin. Watched I am Legend cos I missed it when it came out, then a whole bunch of Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. Slept for about 2 hours, otherwise an uneventful flight. The captain was one of the humorous type, he made snarky comments instead of drolling on about altitude and temperature. Hee.
The conference finished but some of us stayed behind to have individual meetings. It was a pretty quiet day, nothing much to report. Lunch was steak frites at a bistro opposite the office.
Dinner was at Chez Flottes. We shared a seafood platter for starter — oysters, mussels, clams, tiny shrimps. I had confit de canard, another item to check off my “must eat in France” list. It was served with a delicious aligot — mashed potatoes with cheese and garlic. Oh my, that cheese just melted into the potato!
Was back in my room to pack by 9-ish. Watched some football and went to bed at 10.30pm. Tired.
Originally the agenda was only half a day but the conference continued until almost 6pm. It was my first time participating in this steering committee meeting and at the end I have this sneaking feeling that it won’t be my last time. I hope.
I followed some people to the Louis Vuitton shop to ogle at the expensive bags. I was a little bored, though some of the bags look nice, I can’t see myself ever wanting or needing something like that. Talking about LV, there was an ad on the flight that is really pretty, though associating philosophical journeying with bags is a bit of a stretch.
Dinner was at Aux Lyonnais, which served well, Lyonnais food. The restaurant is now part of the Alain Ducasse stable and has been in place since 1892 and it seems that some of the original art-deco like fittings have survived. There was a wee bit of confusion about the booking, but all was settled at the end. We were served cervelle de canut while we waited for the rest of our party. This is a specialty of herbed garlic fromage blanc served with fingers of toasted rustic bread.
I had asparagus for starters, it’s in season and pretty much a must-have in any occasion. For mains I had the tripes aux lyonnais. A cast iron pot of tripe in a creamy sauce with potatoes and carrots. Not everyone likes tripe, of course, but for me I was willing to try and it was very good. The others had shoulder of lamb and a Ducasse special — quenelle de brochet et écrevisses (pike quenelle dumplings and crayfish) — all looked good.
Because I was the adventurous one, the waitress recommended that I tried the special dessert. Île flottante aux pralines roses et tarte aux pralines was made up of an island of egg white floating in crème anglaise served with a pink praline tarte. I’m so mad the cameraphone is so disappointing.
A few of us walked the 25mins back to the hotel, and a small group stayed at the hotel bar for a drink. Originally we were going to have tea but it became cocktails. It was nice to catch up with people from around the world.
Early start, met up with everyone at 8am in the hotel lobby. Most of us opted to walk to the office, with a couple of people (the ones who don’t walk or are in heels) opting for the taxi. It’s a very pleasant walk to the Champs.
We were holed up in the conference room all day. Lunch was sandwiches brought in. The meeting was intense with lots of agenda items and discussion. Pretty exhausted at the end of the day. There was enough time to go back to the hotel, dump our bags. I got changed, I didn’t care if it was formal, I wanted comfortable.
Dinner for the group was at La Cagouille, specialising in seafood from La Charente, the flat sandy district on the Atlantic south of Bordeaux. The seafood is prepared as naturally as possible, with no fancy sauces or elaborate techniques. We shared starters — a huge seafood platter, oysters, salted cod salad, asparagus. For mains I had a duo of red mullet and john dory. Both were extremely fresh and definitely needed no fancy sauces.
In the continued tradition of trying something new, I had Paris-Brest for dessert. It turned out to be a bagel-shaped pastry made from choux pastry and filled with crème pâtissière. Sigh. A million calories.
Arriving early sometimes means the hotel room isn’t available, which is a bummer. I was able to borrow my colleague’s room for a shower.
So without anywhere to go or anything to do, I dumped my luggage at the hotel and went out with my camera. The hotel is just oppositeTuileries, so it was nice to get myself re-acquainted with the area. Joggers and tourists were already out in force but there was enough space to find quiet time.
I went into the Louvre but only under the pyramid and the shops, I didn’t go into the exhibits. Somewhere in my albums and photocds there are pictures of Paris, but I’m still glad I have the opportunity this time to re-build my collection.
After finally checking into my room at 12.30pm, I went out again to search for lunch. By then it’d started raining quite heavily. First I walked in the direction of Concorde thinking perhaps I should try the Champs d’Elysée but then realised it’d be too much in the rain.
Instead I headed for Opera and les grand magasins. Lunch was at the self service place at Galleries Lafayette. It was only after lunch and walking around the gourmet supermarket bit that I saw all the various counters for cold meat, cheese and seafood. Argh!!!
Met up with the rest of my colleagues for dinner. The concierge apparently had recommended Le Dauphin, a bistro within walking distance … and closing tomorrow. I had a tuna carpaccio starter and for mains I had pig’s cheeks slow cooked in armagnac for 7hours. The pics from the cellphone camera didn’t turn out too good, this was the best one.
I got invited to the departmental steering committee meeting in Paris. It was a last minute affair — one minute I was going, the next I wasn’t, then it was on again. There was a bit of a scramble to get tickets earlier this week.
I got to the in-town check-in early. There was no wait at the counter where I was promptly told that business class was full so I was being upgraded to first. First class. On a 12-hour flight. Oh man.
The seats were huge — 79” long and 22” between the armrests. They also recline fully into a flat bed. Aside from the usual amenities kit we were given a comfy pajamas and slippers set. It was easy to cocoon myself, and not have to deal with the other passengers.
The entertainment program was the same on-demand as in Business. I watched Bewoulf during dinner. Now dinner, that was different from Business. It was full service, like in a restaurant. The menu:
Caviar and Balik Salmon with Krug grande cuvee
Mesclun salad with olive, sun-dried tomato and balsamic vinaigrette
Grilled beef tenderloin with gratin potato, asparagus, carrot and red capsicum
Pesto tortellini with tomato sauce and pinenut
Cheeses — cambozola, appenzeller, double gloucester and somerset brie
Fresh seasonal berries
Tea and coffee
I finished the film and went to sleep. Not blankets but a proper duvet. I managed to sleep for 6-ish hours, which is not bad nowadays.
As a flying experience went, it was extremely comfortable. I can only hope I can have another opportunity another time.
After the presentations this morning, we were done.
The team went for lunch together, at the Japanese restaurant at the hotel. We all had the same bento box, which was amazing and so intricate. I must remember to bring my camera whenever I eat in Tokyo; or get a cellphone with a decent camera.
The afternoon was free. While my colleague went shopping, I went to the gym and read. It’s interesting to see how different people react to free time.
Dinner was also at the hotel, this time at the charcoal grill. Man, I should have photographed each course, even with my small cellphone camera. The appetizers, fresh fish course and the melt-in-the-mouth steak … wow. The guy at our next table asked for an additional steak, and after tasting it we could all understand why.
Early day tomorrow. Can’t wait to get home.
This time last week I was getting ready to leave Chicago; now I find myself at the ANA Intercontinental in Tokyo. The trip was planned before my vacation but I had kinda hoped it wouldn’t happen. It’s not that I don’t want to be here, it’s just flying again so soon … sigh.
I watched Enchanted on the plane and enjoyed it. It’s an amalgamation of all the fairy tales we know well, but the human element made a change. We took the Airport limo to the TCAT station and a taxi the rest of the way.
It was almost 5pm but we made our way to the office anyway. It’s only next doors. Did a little work, had some meetings, made some plans for this trip. Dinner was nearby too, of fried pork chops. Showered and checked in with Car. I brought 4 books, so I’m all set.
So what did I do during the missing day that was thursday?
First of all, I have to vent. 14 and a half hours!!! It only took 11hrs going there, why did it take so long on the way back?
Okay. Calm now. I had a window exit row seat, so I could stretch out or prop my feet on the doors. They served dinner quickly. I watched Atonement, then fell asleep. Managed 5 hours of sleep, which wasn’t bad. Walked up and down the aisle a bit, grabbed water and a sandwich from the mini-bar area the flight attendants had set up next to their galley. Watched The Jane Austen Book Club, and then gave up on films. Oh, back up. It was a newly refurbished plane, one of those with single business class seats, economy seats that shift down but doesn’t fall into the space of the PAX behind and…on-demand entertainment in every seat. I took advantage and watched a bunch of TV programs — Grey’s Anatomy, Scrubs, e-online documentaries, Gordon Ramsay and the Hotel Inspector.
Actually most of that took place on friday, but who’s counting?
I’ve got a timezone issue. I think it’s still wednesday, it’s now almost 10pm and I’m at the lounge at LAX. In Chicago, where I started this morning, it’s already Thursday. I’ll get home my friday morning. Somehow I lose thursday. huh.
Uncle Bill and Aunt Carm took me to the bus station and it was a straightforward trip to O’Hare. I’ve checked in and printed out my boarding pass already, so going through the formalities was a breeze. Only as I was walking towards the gate that I realised I should have checked out whether I could get on an earlier flight. Ah well, I settled at the gate and read for an hour or so. The flight to LAX wasn’t full, the middle seat was empty so I could stretch out. I finished one book on the flight, and started a second one.
LAX was crazy crowded man. I hadn’t checked through my luggage (though I should have) but it means I can priority check on the long haul leg. Of course it wasn’t as easy as checking in … we had to take the luggage to the X-ray point. Then the long queue through security. Long, but eventually it gets through.
Last time I was in the LAX lounge it was under construction and it was in a temporary portakabin. This time it’s properly on the 5th floor of the terminal. It’s a oneworld lounge so it was shared with a group of Qantas travellers. It’s pretty nice.
I have 1.5hrs till boarding, so I’ll probably catch up with my feeds and read a bit. I have to remind myself it’s still wednesday.
I started the preparations for the end of my vacation, sigh. Checked in for one flight, the other can only be done 24 hours ahead of time. Checked out the bus timetable, gotten numbers for the taxi. Laundry, packing.
It always happens, whenever I fly I become superaware of near misses and incidents happening at airports. Scary to watch the recent A320 almost crashes at Hamburg in strong crosswinds.
I did a search for “crosswind” at youtube and the most prominent are the ones landing at the former Kai Tak airport. Oh my, the good old days of watching the plane get closer and closer to the buildings, then that 47° turn, looking into people’s living rooms.
I did a lot of flying over the past 6 months. I was 13,000-ish miles, or one long haul flight, away from advancing to gold status on my frequent flyer card. My membership year starts in August so I’m very sure I’ll get there.
Surprise surprise I got a package today congratulating me on reaching gold status. So they didn’t even need me to put in the additional 13,000 miles. woot! Gold means I have priority waitlisting, even more extra baggage allowance. Lounge access and priority boarding applies for all oneworld airlines, not just my home airline. That will be very useful.
This means my airmiles is reset and I have to start another 12 months afresh. Hopefully I can get enough miles. I think a couple of business trips to Chicago will be good enough. I’ve been a member since 1999, I wonder if they’ll give me some benefits next year on my 10th anniversary. Hee.
It’s the end of the year and I’m supposed to do some introspection and review. Like list out my achievements, thoughts, regrets, surprises and all.
Look at the categories and tags here and you’ll see that Travel is the most popular topic. And I did a lot of it this year. I thought it might be interesting to figure out how much I have done, so I did a little summary of all the flights. The distances are actual miles between airports and calculated at webflyer.
Total is 99,700 miles or 160,450km. If it weren’t for stupid Delta and the cancelled JFK-ORD flight I would have gone past 100,000. In any event I’m claiming the extra 300 miles cos it’s within the margin of error. This is flights only and doesn’t include driving — add on an extra 6,000 miles or so for the couple of big roadtrips.
That’s a lot of miles, eh?
Woke up at 5.30am Sydney time, checked out by 6am. Getting to the airport was really really quick; getting through immigration and customs was also really really quick. This meant that I was settled in the lounge, had gotten breakfast and was just messaging Car when the A380 pulled in. Yep, I’m going to Singapore on SQ and I lucked out on the A380. Again, hee.
This time I wasn’t as wide-eyed tourist like as last time. It was just as quiet and smooth as I remembered. There weren’t any films I wanted to see so I watched HIMYM instead — mmmTed. swoon I tried to sleep a little and managed about an hour before giving up and started reading instead. During lunch I watched Bones. Yes, it’s a CSI knockoff, but I was impressed with it. It was … interesting to be watching a program featuring a year old decomposed body found in a lake while having a nice lunch. heh.
Most of the rest of the trip was reading and listening to country music. We landed pretty much on time. Had a chatty taxi driver to the hotel, and all checked in by 3pm. Quick trip to the 7-eleven to get drinks and that was as much as I could manage. I’d been up since Singapore time 2.30am. Tried to nap but only managed half an hour.
At around 6pm it was time to find dinner. I was mortified to discover that the small shopping centre (including a bunch of restaurants) had closed for the day and the choices were — Subway, Burger King, a local place selling only deep fried food, walking further to the hawker centre near Chinatown (with no guarantee that it’s still open) or cup noodles from 7-eleven. Not much of a choice, eh? I took the expensive, I-can-claim-T&E way out and had the semi-buffet at the hotel coffee shop. Lots of seafood starters, a scampi and fried rice main course, dessert and tea. SGD35, not too bad.
Not a busy day tomorrow, I can get away with resting a bit.
Woke up late, very nice day. The plan today is to visit Parramatta, another one that the “what to do in Sydney” guides said to visit. There are several ways to get there, and the most picturesque is by rivercat from circular quay. I got there at 11.40am and the next ferry left at 12.30pm, so plenty of time to walk around the area.
The boatride was nice. Took about 50 mins up the river.
Parramatta was disappointing though. It got really hot — later I found out it was 30°C — and in parts there was no shade. According to the official tourist info book there is a Harris Park Heritage walking trail. I followed it, along a highway, stopping at a historical hut which was closed, and the rest of the trail was a footpath along the river. Nothing much worth photographing.
To top it all, I missed the 2.30pm ferry and the next one was at 4pm. I wasn’t gonna hang around for over an hour. So I walked back into town and got a train back. Quite dehydrated by the time I got back to Sydney Terminal station, and needed the isotonic drink quick.
Debated whether to go to gpo or foodcourt for dinner. Ended up at the foodcourt again, and most stalls were putting their food up for sale. Easy choice then, got some roast lamb, roast turkey, pumpkin and roasted veg. Plus a selection of fresh juices.
Have to go to bed early tonight. Flight’s at 8.50am tomorrow.
My day ended early today, so there was time to explore and walk around. It’s great that sunset isn’t till late. I was reading about other areas of Sydney to explore and after reading about the “hundreds” of restaurants in the King Street Newtown area, it was easy to make the decision to visit. There are a few buses that go to Newtown from town, and it was easy to hop on one. I keep having to remember that Sydney is a small city because in no time at all I was there.
I don’t know what exactly I expected but it was … interesting. Mostly old buildings and small shops. The hundreds of restaurants are mainly cafés and Thai / Indian / deli places. It wasn’t even 5pm so too early to have dinner. Walked up and down, window shopping at the smattering of gift shops. I guess the nearest equivalent is that this is the Sydney equivalent of Mission, down to the second hand furniture shops, small record shops and places selling incense. Only it isn’t as cool as the Mission.
There were a couple of potentially interesting places to eat but I finally decided on a deli kind of place. The reason was one of their specials is grilled halloumi and chicken schnitzel salad. Love love love halloumi. I also had a carrot, beetroot and celery juice and took away a slice of orange & poppy seed cake for later. Bus ride back to hotel was quick too.
Spent the rest of the night reading.
okay, I like qantas business. Seats are the pod-like skybeds which don’t quite fold flat but are good and comfortable. Lots of buttons and reclining positions to play with, including one for a mild back massage.
Dinner was cream of broccoli soup followed by sea bass and noodles. The noodles were too salty and I needed a quick fix of diet coke. Finished with chocolate mousse tart. I tried a muscat dried wine but I didn’t like it. Or I was too tired. Couldn’t sleep that much though. The way they handled breakfast was pretty good — they gave us a hotel door hanging type card so we could choose what items we wanted. When the lights came on, they were able to serve people as they woke up instead of having a trolley service.
Watched Once which was fantastic. I’ll write about it in the next post. After breakfast I watched Strictly Ballroom, which I hadn’t seen before.
Staying at the Swissôtel this time. So I didn’t hurry through immigration and customs — I knew the room wouldn’t be ready when I got to the hotel at 10am. And I was right! So I left my bags, walked down to Paddy’s Market to wander around; then took the light rail to the fish market. Had oysters, a few prawns and a spinner crab (remember last time?). By the time I got back to the hotel at 1.30pm the room was ready. Took a shower and hopped online. Got too tired and slept for 4 hours. Woke up at 7pm. Luckily today was late night shopping and the streets weren’t totally deserted. Dinner at the food court at Myers — roast lamb with vegs, lemon & sugar pancake, and a carrot juice to take back to the hotel.
Everything so familiar. I even bought a 10-ride bus ticket. The hotel receptionist asked if I needed a map and I said no.
The Christmas tree is already up at Martin Place. It’s been so busy that I hadn’t had time to focus on Christmas.
I’m off to Sydney and Singapore in a week. Great for my airmiles but hell otherwise — the jetlag alone will mean I can’t wait for the Christmas break.
I’m in the Qantas lounge, which is shared with the BA lounge. It’s not a lounge I’m familiar with — it’s smaller, more crowded and in general I’m not used to it. I’m not quite used to Qantas either but it should be okay. I have an upstairs window seat, which is what I like.
I have my mbp, a couple of books, I’m sure I’ll get good food and watch some movies. If only I were: a) on holiday and b) younger so I can enjoy this.
Here’s an interesting New York Times article about the difference between first class and economy class travel. First, I’m thinking the author is talking about US domestic flights. Oh gosh, those first class seats! Compared with business class in European or Asian airlines, first class seats on US airlines fail miserably.
I know I’m privileged. I’ve been flying on business so often lately that I am completely spoiled. The lounge access, the priority check-in and boarding, the personalised service, better food and of course the bigger seats. Interesting point made in the article:
But here’s the puzzle. Such shameful feelings do not arise in hotels with concierge floors, in trains with business-class cars, in traffic jams where S.U.V. drivers five feet above me glare down.
Could it be the blatant arrogance at which business class passengers rub it in the faces of the sheep/cattle class that occupies the after cabins? The envious looks as they trudge down the aisles to the back of the plane on boarding … I’ve seen plenty of those. It’s like, “who are you to have this luxury while I’m gonna be stuck in a middle seat fighting two armrest battles?”
And the worst?
It’s that insubstantial curtain that is drawn after we reach altitude, the one that pretends to protect decadent first-class activities — it cannot be lap-dancing, orgies or the tango — from the purportedly covetous eyes of the rest of us. What that curtain really does, its sole purpose, believe me, is to keep us from using the toilet up there.
You know what, that is so true. Many a thick-skinned economy passenger has dared push aside that curtain and sneaked into a toilet they don’t have the right to go into. No matter that there are 4 toilets in business for 30 people and 6 toilets in economy for 200. Too bad.
Here’s a secret. Business class toilets are just the same as economy class toilets. They aren’t plated in gold; nor do they have massagers or individually wrapped soaps. They are cleaner and have a few more towels and lotions, but the riff-raff are not supposed to know this.
Flight at 10am means a 6am morning call. Sigh. Caught the 6.35am bus to the airport, got there 7.40am, all checked in and settled in the lounge by 8.30am. There was lots of time and I got a little writing done.
Flight wasn’t full. Watched Ratatouille, had chicken for lunch and read some more.
Home by 3pm. Too tired to go to work. Feeling a headache coming on.
Went to bed at 9.30pm last night. Only woke up briefly at around 2am but otherwise slept through. Still tired though.
First meeting was in another area that needed taxiing, no big deal. Lunch with ex-colleagues and I was so happy to see them. One more meeting in the afternoon and I was done by 4pm.
It was cold. And a part of me wanted to stay in and read. Another part felt like a little adventure. In the end the need for a walk won out. surprisingly the walk to Namdemun was short, the hotel was nearer than I thought. I remembered many of the stalls and found the one that sold these delicious sweet flatbreads. Also had a small bowl of noodles at one of those streetside stalls.
Dinner was a toss up between room service and the hotel restaurant. Again, adventure won out and I found myself seated at the buffet. Oh joy, they had raw beef with pear. And lots of sashimi, salad and king crabs. Didn’t have too many of the hot food, preferring to have the more special items. Tried not to get too full.
Conference call at 9pm that lasted 1.5hrs. Tired. Still.
What do you call the nice person who comes round to your hotel room while you’re out and makes up your room for you? In most hotels it’s usually maid or attendant. Here at the Westin Chosun they are Room Stylists. They leave a little note at your bedside table with their name and photo; so I know Mrs Young styled my room today. heh.
Meetings were fine today, the staff are very friendly. The admin department took me to Hanilkwan, a traditional Korean restaurant that has been around since 1939. The lunch was KRW23,000 per person and I had grilled sirloin in red wine sauce. The beef came sizzling in a hotplate and was delicioius. There were the usual side dishes, kimchi, as well as salad and strangely, an oyster.
After the grill course, there was the starch course. A choice of bibimbap or beancurd soup with rice or noodles. I had the soup, it’s mm’s favourite.
My colleagues said it’s a luxury lunch, which I guessed. It’s the sort of traditional place you’d take guests. I appreciated their taking me.
Meetings finished early so I took off back to the hotel. It was cold today and after being hot yesterday I decided to not wear my coat. Big mistake. The hotel is about 10 minutes’ walk from the office and I never really warmed up. Oh, on the way out from the office I noticed there was a rotiboy, oh boy I can’t resist those. A taste of Singapore in Seoul, hmm.
After consuming my rotiboy bun, I took off for Myeongdong, just across the street. Walking around mainly. But I soon got bored, because duh I don’t like shopping. Early dinner then, at the familiar chicken restaurant where I had ginseng chicken soup. What’s this about going to traditional restaurants, this one opened in 1960.
Got some seaweed and tea for souvenir and I’m already showered. Nice.
sigh. guess what. I’m not home again.
This time it’s Seoul. Flight and everything was nothing special although my neighbour struck up a conversation with me. She’s an American lady who lives in Korea and she was curious about my accent, so we got talking about culture, technology and language. Normally I don’t talk to people on the plane but it turned out to be a nice chat.
Immigration was quick. I’m staying at the Westin Chosun hotel. Once out into the arrivals hall, all I had to do was to go to the hotel counter and the lady there took me to the airport bus. She actually gave me a choice of transportation — airport bus, hotel car or taxi. I mean, the bus is so convenient there is no point going for more expensive transport.
She must have called it in because I was greeted off the bus by the check-in staff. No need to check-in at the desk either, he took me right up to my room and I did all my signatures in the room. It was done in 2 minutes, very efficient.
I actually did not bring enough KRW in cash with me. I thought I had some leftover from the previous trip but it turned out to be only $50 in total. Yikes. There was enough for the bus and to go th 7-eleven to get some drinks. But dinner had to be room service. I had beef rib soup which came with kimchi and rice. Seriously, i don’t like room service it’s not value for money. ah well, I went to the supermarket in Sydney and lived off bread, ham and yogurt for 3 days, the company can pay for my room service for a few days here.
Of course the room is nice. The bathroom is nice. The bed is great. I’d rather be home though.
Flight was at 8.55am, so working backwards gives:
- arrive at airport 7am
- leave hotel 6am
- wake up 5.30am
and that’s cutting it fine. Once again I’m glad of my decision to rent a car instead of relying on taxis. Incredibly the road was full of cars, so much so that part of the drive was at a slow crawl. Wow, who gets up at those hours?
Check in was straight forward. Mum wanted me to get her a slab of lamb so I walked through every single shop in the duty free to look for it. No luck. There was beef, so I got her that instead. There was still time to hang out for a bit at the lounge, so I was relaxed. I had to be, with even the announcement status boarding telling us to. Hee.
Flight was half full, at most. Every one in Business got 2 seats, which was great. They fed us, I watched a film — No Reservations, read my book, napped. I got home and I was quite tired. Had a quick shower then had to go out for dinner with ex-colleagues. I changed my ticket especially so I could make it to the dinner.
Anyway, I’m just happy to be home. Two weeks is a long time.
A stop-start sort of day. First meeting involved driving about 15 minutes to another suburb, getting lost (google maps isn’t 100% reliable) then having to call the people for directions. The meeting ended at around 11am. My next meeting was in St Kilda at 3pm, which meant driving another half an hour towards town. I found the place in advance and then realised I had a good couple of hours for lunch.
Drove up to Queen Victoria Market and did the same looping around the side streets looking for parking space thing again. This time there were no cheapie spots even though the meter wasn’t expensive. I wandered around the large market and was pretty much astounded at the collection. I was soooo tempted to buy all the fruit and veg I’d need for the next 2 weeks there.
Lunch was at the food court. I had a choice of fish and chips, sandwiches, Chinese and Indian. I chose the Indian, had chicken biryani and a mango lassi. It was pretty good. More wandering around the other stalls — souvenirs, clothing, all sorts. Walked as far as the Old Melbourne gaol then back before having to head back to the car and drive to the 3pm meeting.
Wasn’t very productive that meeting. I had decided as soon as I entered that we weren’t going to use that company. But I still had to go through the motions, right. Meeting ended at 4pm and I changed in the car.
I’d forgotten that sunset was late, like London. So I had more time than I expected. Drove up St Kilda Road and initially found a parking space near the park. It was more expensive than I thought, so I actually went inside the park and found a space that was really cheap. Incredible that an extra 5 mins walk can save so much money.
First stop was the Arts Centre, with its interesting Eiffel tower like lattice structure. I didn’t go inside, just walked around the outside.
Strolled leisurely along the south side of the river and caught a bunch of kids doing rowing practice. Their coach would be on a bike following them and hollering at them through a megaphone, it was pretty funny with all the shouting from the various crews.
Dinner at the Southgate food court. Sweet potato and spinach salad, with a tapas collection — olives, stuffed peppers and prawns. They threw in a glass of wine with 3 tapas dishes so that was what I had. Very nice. There was an ice cream counter there that was far too tempting. I had orange and chai latte ice cream. Yummy.
The rest of the evening was spent at the park, enjoying the late sunshine. Walked all the way to the National Shrine then back to the car. It was almost 9pm when I got back to the hotel.
So I got up at 7am and checked out by 7.30am. Taxi to airport was quick and I even managed to bump myself on the earlier 9am flight (originally my flight was 9.30am). All in vain though because there was fog in Melbourne causing a backlog — we had to circle for half an hour before it was our turn to land.
Got a rental car because I worked out the costs. I’m not staying in town, and 1) the taxi ride would probably be huge to and from the airport; and 2) I need the freedom of a car. I had checked on google maps to get directions but didn’t print them out, just wrote the main directions on a piece of paper. The Hertz map was pretty brief so I was amazed that I got to the Novotel Glen Waverley with no need to stop or turn around. It’s a good 45 mins from the airport and is basically a roadside 3-star-ish hotel, a far cry from the Westin Sydney. Still, it’s fine by me.
After a quick unpack, I drove out to town to explore. I found a parking space at the park, yes it’s 15 mins walk from Federation Square but the meter was only AUD1.30 an hour. For 3.5 hours it only cost me AUD4.50, compared with AUD44 for the big carparks … eeeep.
Not a lot of time — had to get back to the hotel by 6pm for a call. So time for quick walking. First was the important Federation Square, with the impressive Atrium and the glass mosiac roof at the ACMI museum.
Just behind Fed Square was the Yarra River, and next door was the historical Flinders Street station.
From there it was across the street to Swanston and Bourke Streets, with shopping, trams, hotels, the entrance to Chinatown, street artists, the town hall and at the end of Swanston, the State Library. The camera was busy!
It’s kinda unreal, it was sunny and I was in a polo shirt. It’s November, and Christmas preparations were already underway. Even a special Santa-only mailbox. Wow.
Hit rush hour traffic on the way back, glad that I left early. Turned out I had two conference calls, one at 6pm one at 8pm. I was pretty tired and pissed off. Had to find some dinner so went outside to around the back of the hotel. Oh gosh, it’s bad. Typical suburb strip mall — pizza, fish and chips and a ton of Chinese restaurants. Even though I really didn’t want Chinese food it was the best of poor choices. I bought a roast pork and duck rice, that was it. Could have ordered room service but … didn’t feel like it either. Walking around the area it reminded me of Blue Island actually. :P
Well, more of Melbourne proper at the flickr set
One meeting at 10am, then I was done. Still had some shopping to do — to get UV protective swimsuits for my niece; and sherlock’s advice was to go out to Bondi Junction. The Westin’s location was perfect for the train, a short walk to Martin’s Place station and 3 stops to Bondi Junction.
Walked around the high street, had lunch of pastrami bagel and iced tea (what, no diet coke?). Managed to find the swimsuits at various shops. Not surprisingly the best choice was at the last shop, after I’d already bought a couple of suits already. The cheapest purchase was at Target and the best selection was at the Cancer Society shop.
There was time, so I took the bus down to the beach, trying to find the Sculpture by the Sea exhibition. Couldn’t find it — I guess it’s along the coastal walk which was a bit far away. It was nice to walk on the beach, people watch and take pictures. This was taken at the side, the main beach was pretty crowded and I was glad to find a corner with fewer sunbathers.
As this was Bondi, there were surfers galore. No wonder this is one of the most famous beaches in the world, look at that blue sky and the water. Picture has been resized but not photoshopped.
Took the bus all the way back to town. Yeah, I kinda wasted the return journey on the train, but it was nicer by bus. It was supposed to be an express but it stopped everywhere. The people behind me needed to get to Circular Quay by 4pm but they realised with the non!express service they won’t make it.
Dumped the backpack in the room and went out walking around for the last hour or so that shops are open. Oh yeah, shops close at 6pm. Initially the purpose was to look for some beer but I ended up buying some souvenirs instead. Turned out that I could have bought the beer at the Coles around the corner. Hmm.
Didn’t have food left in the fridge so I went downstairs to the gpo for dinner. I was hesitant to eat at the posh steak or seafood restaurant and was happy to find that there were more casual choices — there were counters where people could order pizza or seafood or bar food. So I had some oysters and grilled dory and chips. A nice glass of shiraz/cab and it all came to something cheaper than one of the steaks at Prime. Much preferable anyway.
Need to get up early tomorrow. 9.30am flight means I need to leave the hotel by 7.30am.
I reserved a rental car yesterday and I had to drag myself out of bed when the alarm rang. I tried to cancel online but wasn’t allowed to (duh, cos I said pickup at 10am and I tried to cancel at 10.15am). By then I was more awake so I walked over to the Hertz office and got the car.
Debated whether to have lunch at the fish market or elsewhere. Decided to go to Harry’s instead, since I have the car. Ordered the famous Tiger — beef pie, mash, peas and gravy. Was hungry so I got a plain hot dog as well. I prefer the peas more than the mash, should have gotten pie and peas with extra peas. Anyway, it was as delicious as I remembered it; sitting on the wood beams overlooking the Finger Wharf.
The main purpose of getting the car was to drive out to Rose Bay and then further to Watsons Bay. Note to self: instead of wasting 20 minutes trying to find a parking space at the bottom of Watsons Bay, drive back up and park at the highest point. It’s an extra 10 minutes walking along the coast, it’s pretty and there are plenty of free spaces.
Beautiful beautiful day, blue skies, clear seas and the cliffs were as spectacular as I remember. There was also an impressive view back into the harbour, of the city and the bridge.
It was around 2pm when I left, so I attempted to go to Bondi. Attempted. Not that Bondi had disappeared or anything, there was so much traffic and it was impossible to find a parking space. So I drove along the beach, then left.
There was still time to go to the fish market, which was what I did. Parking was AUD2 for under 1 hour, increasing to AUD5 for each half hour after — obviously they want people to park and go. That made the decision easy for me, I bought a dozen Manning River oysters, a cold platter of lobster and prawns, and a spinner crab. Ate the oysters by the bay with a light beer (well, driving and all) and took the rest with me.
Returned the car at 5pm, and was back in my room by 5.30pm. Could have kept the car to drive around at night and returned it before work tomorrow, but couldn’t be bothered. Nicer to relax in the room. Plus I had laundry to do. Dinner of assorted fresh seafood was good — the crab was sweeter than even the lobster and the prawns were the sweetest.
So I got to the gate, and it’s buzzing with anticipation. There was a party of young kids, presumably on a school outing. There were families, grandparents, and the usual single travellers. People were huddled around large seat maps or their noses pressed against the glass gazing at the big monster. I tried to take a couple of pictures but they didn’t work, neither on the camera nor on the cellphone. I should have gone out while it was light, dammit.
The lower deck consists of Suites and economy class; the upper deck is business class with economy at the back. Economy is 3-4-3 downstairs and 2-4-2 upstairs so I think upstairs is preferable.
Business class was amazing. The seat arrangement is 1-2-1, with the intention that each seat has aisle access. The seat itself is wide enough to seat two people and there is a footrest embedded in the seat in front. Narrow storage cabinet between the seat and the window, like the ones on the 747 upper deck.
The seats fold out to completely flat flatbeds. There is enough room to lean back, move around, sit cross-legged, stretch my legs. I watched Stardust like that, very comfortable. Even when dinner was served, the table was high enough so I could sit cross-legged at one side of the seat. I had prawn salad and lamb chops. Dessert was ice cream and I had some Shiraz with the meal.
I was enjoying myself so much I didn’t want to sleep; but I knew I had to, otherwise I won’t last the day today. The flatbed was great, they even gave us 2 pillows and a non-static blanket. It was easy to fall asleep. So much so that I had to force myself to wake up when the lights came on.
Breakfast was light, just fruit and croissant. Pretty soon it was time to land. At 7 hours the flight wasn’t long enough to feel like long haul yet was too long to be short haul. The view out of the window at landing was nice. We were even half an hour early, landing at 6.30am.
I lucked out hotel-wise. We don’t have an office here so no official hotel. The hotels nearest the other party’s office are Swissôtel and Westin. I knew the Westin is more expensive but the Swissôtel only had suites. So Westin it is. Because I was so early I was afraid that I have to wait for a room to be ready but I got it straightaway. It’s on the 4th floor, not very high and looking out to the courtyard. I don’t mind though. It’s one of those rooms with modern design with glass between the bathroom and bedroom.
Chatted a bit with Car; when she went home from work I went out to the Coles around the corner (yay for still remembering some of the landmarks) and bought bread, ham, rocket, pâté, tzatziki, yogurt and drinks. In other words, the essentials. Had breakfast, then napped until noon-ish. RKT chat at 1pm, and I arranged to meet Chris for coffee. It was nice to meet someone from the group, pretty soon I would have met everyone. He even took me around the shops to look for a swimsuit for my niece. No luck, but not for want of trying.
Tired, so I’m glad to be at the hotel early. Sandwich again for dinner, nice and simple.
My flight is at 8.30pm and I’m already at the airport. It’s only 2.30pm. I finished work at lunch and in theory had the whole afternoon to wander around, go shopping, have a massage or go to Underwaterworld in Sentosa to have fish reflexology.
Um, may be another day. I figured I could just go to the airport and hang out at the lounge. There’s free wireless, free food & drinks and I can take a shower later. Great check-in process. Everyone delighted in telling me, delightfully, that I will be travelling on the A380. Wow. I brought my camera especially for this leg of the trip.
So yeah, I had a nice chicken curry, some salad, fruit and a peach bread pudding. As much diet coke as I can drink in the next few hours.
What does the early bird catch? A life that Riley knows about I’d say.
It’s almost boring, to be posting about where I am right now (Singapore). I got to the airport early to have a late lunch at the lounge. There were a lot of people in the lounge, felt almost like the fast food places outside. Luckily people tend to congregate at the sofa seating area and the computer area wasn’t full. I discovered that there are 2 types of workstations there, the normal size desks and longer desks with enough extra space to set up a laptop. I wrote about 2 paragraphs of the Christmas story.
The other notable event was that we turned onto the runway and the captain announced that we have a maintenance message to return to the terminal. So we drove the whole length of the runway without taking off. Ended up at a parking bay (non-terminal) and we waited for about 20 minutes while engineers came up to the flight deck. Apparently the onboard computer said that one of the tyres was under pressure so they had to have it checked by hand. Turns out it was fine, so the computer was wrong.
The second time we got on the runway was take off time. We were about an hour late. Had a nice dinner of prawn salad, braised lamb shoulder chop and calamansi cheesecake. The only thing was that the attendant seemed to be newly promoted and didn’t understand that I wanted tea with milk, not milky water. Another attendant came to her rescue quickly though.
Immigration was quick as usual. And the luggage was already on the belt when I got there. Changi is so great.
I’m staying at the M Hotel. They gave me a twin room — I went straight back downstairs and asked for a double room. Nothing for tonight (except one with 2 singles put together on the smoking floor), but I get to change tomorrow night. In theory, it’s not a big deal … hell no, I’m here for 5 nights and I want a bed I can roll around in. This means I can’t unpack and I’m not sure if I can come back to the hotel to change tomorrow. We’ll see.
So yeah, I’m on the road. Again.
I finally downloaded the pics from Mum’s camera. Naturally I only took pictures of food, heehee. I forgot to take pictures of the fantastic grilled kobe beef we had on Thursday but remembered on Friday and Saturday.
First it’s the sushi we had at this place in Shinjuku. I honestly can’t remember its name and I have only a faint idea of its location. It’s pretty popular, we got there before 7pm and lucked out with a table but couldn’t get seats at the counter. People coming in later had to wait. We ordered à la carte and everything was fresh and delicious. From the top: crunchy roe, scampi, daily special white fish, cooked prawns, crab, uni, toro, salmon, sardines, ebi.
That was Friday night. Saturday lunch we went to Ginza Tenkuni, a tempura restaurant that began as a small street stall in 1885. There’s a reason why this place has been successful for so long — the best tempura! Mum had the bamboo set which consisted of 2 different kinds of prawns (regular and king prawn), squid, fish and vegetables. The set came with tuna sashimi, tofu, pickles, miso and rice.
I had the bento which had fewer tempura pieces but also included a piece of grilled salmon, egg, grilled skewers, different types of vegetables, sashimi, pickles, soup and mushroom rice.
Here’s a picture of the poster menu. They also had a seasonal mushroom tempura dish as well as smaller sets that was just tempura on rice — kinda like chirashi but with tempura instead of sashimi. Definitely a place worth returning to.
I like traditional Japanese breakfasts, even though it’s not the type of breakfast I’m used to. This is what we had this morning at the hotel: warm pickles, grilled salmon, fish, rolled egg, more pickles, slimy seaweed natto stuff, miso and porridge. I can see why — hot food that fills you up but doesn’t make you feel bloated. Like most traditional Japanese meals it’s not a large portion, more vegetables and easy on the carbs and proteins.
Oh, taken on my cellphone camera because i didn’t bring my camera.
I’m in Japan this week for meetings. It’s been 2.5 years since I was here last. Lots of changes since then.
I brought Mum. She’s never visited and wanted to. I upgraded my room to a twin and got her an air ticket; this way she saves on hotel. I had some airmiles expiring next January, and it was just enough to get her airport lounge access. We had breakfast and I set up the mbp while she read a magazine. It was relaxing pre-flight; much better than fighting with the masses at the public food court. The flight was too full to upgrade her to business class, but I checked her in early and got her a front-of-plane window seat.
Uneventful but long bus ride on the bus to the TCAT station, then we took a taxi to our hotel — the Royal Park Shiodome Tower. Shiodome is a new developed area, full of modern office buildings, post restaurants. It used to be a derelict railway terminal and now it’s like Docklands.
Met Sis’ family for dinner. My colleague took us to an area with a bunch of restaurants. I had chirashi and we shared a mixed sushi. ¥12,000 (US$100) for 5 adults and 1 child — we’re talking about fresh fish here. That’s really good.
Tomorrow is a long day for me. I’m still enjoying NewJob but it’s been quite draining.
A few of my pictures on flickr got noticed by schmap and they asked for my permission to use them. It’s flattering, there’s a sense of pride the first time I received an email telling me my picture has been shortlisted and could I click on a link to agree or reject its inclusion.
Schmap is a travel guide, I can’t decide whether they want it online or whether the downloaded version is the proper way to use it. They cover 200 destinations in USA, Canada, Europe Australia and New Zealand — North American focused and the usual suspects in terms of cities. The interesting feature is that users can click around the guide and there are useful links and photos of hotspots along the route. Or they can plan a walking tour and see pictures of highlights on the way.
For instance, my first Schmap picture is of the Carbide and Carbon Building. There’s a map to show where it is, a little blurb about the landmark and the user can scroll through 10 different pictures of the building. They also included my picture of the Hard Rock Café in Niagara and I just got an email that a couple of my Washington DC pics have been shortlisted.
The pictures aren’t the super fancy professional ones, more like ones taken by ordinary people, which I guess is the point. It’s an interesting business model. To use a clichéd saying, very web 2.0 — user-generated content, no need to use expensive photographers, free marketing. They seem to source the majority of their pictures from flickr, and the people who use flickr are mostly more tech-friendly. How better to have a bunch of bloggers telling the world about how they are included … the page links and click rate alone is bound to be stunning. Having said that, the content needs to be good to ensure repeat visitors.
I just got back from a week in Chicago, this time for work. My new global head is located there, as is the global team. I went over Friday night because Car’s Grandma had her 93rd birthday on Saturday. She didn’t know I was coming so we had to detour to iHop after the airport to make sure she was asleep and I was sneaked in through the back door. It was a nice surprise for her in the morning.
Most of the rest of the weekend was either birthday party or shopping. I bought a couple of new shirts and a ton of sweets.
It was a change, having to shift from being at the house to being at the hotel. The work meetings were long and intense. In a merger situation there will always be degrees of acceptance by the people affected and after the meeting it was pretty clear, even to me as a newcomer, who were in and who were less committed.
Out host, my global head, was super hospitable. We had dinner at Roy’s — nice starters, I had seared ahi for mains and a fab dessert — and at Ballo — family style Italian food with very nice salmon and ribeye steak. On Wednesday when the official meeting has finished, a group of us were still in the office visiting and they had a pizza lunch with the entire department.
What I took away from the meeting was that it will be massively busy in the next year or so. But that providing I work hard, they’ll want to keep me. There are knowledge and experience that the team members don’t have because they haven’t been exposed to such an environment and not because of their ability.
As a side note, this visit I found myself feeling familiar with Chicago. So much so that I didn’t take my camera, and I was able to point out landmarks for my colleagues.
I wasn’t online for almost a week (yes, really!) because I was so tired after I got back to the hotel, by the time I showered I had enough energy to read one chapter of my book and that was it. Next time I go back, I’ll find surveillance cameras. If I miss the place, I can build my own 3D models of the famous skyscrapers or even the Metra trains.
Chicago O’Hare — June 2006. On my way to Newark. Late arrival of crew, who were on a late inbound plane. It was funny, on the way to New York the captain was telling us about how she had the same turbulence on the way into Chicago.
Chicago O’Hare — July 2006. On my way to La Guardia, even got on the plane and waiting for push off. Except LGA was closed because of the heat. Spent the best part of the day at ORD, got on an American flight to JFK at the end. Missed my onward flight but luckily it was C-class so got re-booked on a later flight.
San Francisco — Sept 2006. On my way to meet Car’s family in Las Vegas. Plane was delayed coming in from LAS because of mechanical problem. Flights after that one came and went, I didn’t get to Vegas till after midnight.
New York JFK — June 2007. Came in on a 15 hour flight already. Found out my connecting flight was delayed; then cancelled. Apparently the whole east coast was backed up because of bad weather (“what bad weather? it’s so sunny outside!”). Spent the night sleeping on the floor behind a vending machine. Was on standby in the morning and couldn’t get on any of the fully booked holiday flights. Ended up driving to Chicago.
Yes. All US airports. Every time a domestic flight.
We caught the Globe Trekker episode on the haute route by accident. We were totally riveted watching it — a seven-day ski tour of the highest peaks of the Alps. Oh.my.god. It looks an absolute, stupendous, “I wanna do this” fantasy.
First tackled by the members of the Alpine Club in the mid 19th Century, it was originally a hiking route from Chamonix to Zermatt. The ski route was first tackled in 1911. The English name was “The High Route” but the French version became more prominent.
The ski route takes 7 days, and the hiking takes about 2 weeks. Needless to say, participants need to be extremely fit as well an advanced off-piste skier. They also need to have luck on their side, because bad weather can totally ruin the well planned itinerary. Tours usually allow an extra day for delays. At around £825 half board (flights, lunches, insurance and equipment are extra) it’s not cheap … for staying at basic mountain huts. But I’m willing to bet it’s a great experience.
I’ll never reach any sort of proficiency at skiing to attempt this; but may be I’ll keep hiking as a pipedream.
Sigh. I wish.
Somewhere along the way I lost a day. I got home at 8.30pm on Friday. Unpacked, showered, sorted mail and checked in with people. Doing laundry, then I’m off to bed. My own bed.
For the sake of completeness, here are the links to the full sets of pictures:
After sorting and deleting, I still end up with almost 800 in total.
A travelling day. Got to SCL early, way early … with loads of time to kill. I had a little money left so I bought drinks and spent the remainder on small souvenirs. When I settled down at the gate I had 200 pesos left, for souvenir. Heehee.
Flight to LAX was about half-full. I got second row exit row which turned out to be not so great because exit row arm rests are fixed, I couldn’t stretch out along both seats. Not a big deal, I still managed to sleep for about 6 hours.
Layover at LAX was 5 hours. We had to clear immigration, customs and claim our bags. A bit of a pain, considering I’m just transiting. When I got to the CX counter they hadn’t opened yet. Had McDon