“The air is full of spices!”

Last week was the sad passing of Alan Rickman.  I’ve loved him since he whispered the iconic lines about India in the film adaptation of Jane Austen’s (who I love even more) Sense and Sensibility.

On that note, last Friday a conversation between an Indian coworker of mine  went something like this:

Me:  Hey I heard you are getting married! Congratulations!

Him:  Thanks!  You should come to the wedding in Bombay in April?

Me: Seriously??  I suppose I could…Ben has spring break and we were planning on going to Korea but we could go the other direction?

Him: Yes, totally.

Me: Really?

Him: Yes, I’m totally serious.

Me: Ok, why not?

So six days later, Emirates tickets purchased (because that airlines is on the bucket list) for a fast 1 week in and out of Mumbai with an extended lay over in Dubai so Ben can to to the top of the Burj Khalifa.

India…here we come.

MtoD

 

Oh Paris…je t’adore but Amsterdam, you are in my soul.

I never did get back to my blog during this adventure.  Hours were occupied with strolling, talking, and conversation in cozy warm pubs.  By the time we made it back to our apartment, sleep came fast.   I’ll have to summarize the best I can.

I only had that one last day in Dusseldorf as the next day we were headed to Paris.  When we finally made it out of the house it was to go for a long walk along the Rhine.  It was interesting and not quite what I had imagined.  It was December and the sky was grey.  It’s my understanding that this part of Germany is always like this in the winter. I was already amazed how dark it still was at 8am add in the cold grey and I can see how it can get a bit depressing.  We attempted to find coffee along the way but it seems on this end of Germany the holiday season, post-Christmas, is taken very seriously and everything was closed.  We ended up at a local grocery and contented ourselves to making dinner on our own that night and picking up some Glühwein and Champagne to take to our friends in Paris.

The next day before catching our 6:30pm train to Paris, we made a detour to Köln to see the Kölner Dom. Yet another fascinating grand Cathedral….and of course, we had to walk to the top.

IMG_9524
IMG_9518

IMG_9523

The rest of the afternoon we strolled about, ate Thai food (ah, some things never change…) and eventually headed for our train.  I do love European rails.  It’s so easy to get places.  How I wish, wish and wish again we could figure out a way to create these rail systems in the US. During the ride through France it was dark so there was nothing to see.  I slept a bit but for the most part I just sat there quietly, eyes closed, and in my head feeling the intensity of every second of knowing I was somewhere so different from home.

We arrived into Paris late and jumped directly into the metro to the 7th arrondissement. You have to love the Paris subway.  It goes every where and really quite easy to navigate. Mind you, the stairs with luggage isn’t fun (I have no idea how the disabled manage to get around) but if you are in good health, you can do Paris without a car.  Anyway,  my very good friend and Capetown travel buddy took an apartment on the Avenue de la Bourdonnais.  From the station it was an easy 10 minute walk.  In the dark, as we got closer to our address, our luggage bumping along the side walk,  we saw it…the Eiffel Tower. It really was breathtaking. Again, I didn’t take a picture.   I’m trying to savor moments in my memory these days and not always walk with my phone in front of my face.

It was pretty amazing.  This was the sunrise view in the morning from our balcony.  I know, right?

IMG_9579

IMG_9593

IMG_9578

For the next three days the German and I did touristy things.  I was fascinated by everything underground,  the the Sewer Museum and how genius the Parisians set it up to keep their city streets stink free (take note SF).  It was no joke, it was a fully functioning sewer.  It smelled bad and you could see stuff float by.  It really made me think about the total population of Paris and all the toilets flushing every second or sink being turned on.  That’s a lot of water to pump through a city and dispose of!   I can only imagine 300 year ago when these sewer passage ways were filled with vagrants and all other types of mysterious people.  I could not help but hum songs from Les Miserables as I went along.  To my surprise, they actually had a tribute to Victor Hugo and his novel down inside the Sewer Museum.

IMG_9610

This was interesting to think about.  It showed illustrations of early Paris with no sewers (can you imagine the street muck!), to early sewers to modern day.  The engineering is amazing if you think about it.

IMG_9612

During our time in Paris we also did the tour of the catacombs which took us for many blocks under the streets of Paris.  Before it opened we strolled through a large cemetery.  I was perplexed that in a city like Paris, these graves didn’t seem very old.   Barely at the end of the 19th century and some within the past 10 years.

Then we went into the catacombs and I understood.  Because land for burial was scarce, grave were dug up and the bones were stacked up in the Catacombs.  Once the grave plots were empty, they were available for new burials.   The marker (below) was the location of the church these bones came from and the year they were laid to rest below the streets.  The front appeared organized in a decorative way.  However….

IMG_9686

If you get a peak behind the wall of leg bones and skulls, the remaining tens of thousands of bones were tossed in one big disorganized pile.  Some areas it went back a few yards.  Things like this really make me think.  Each bone represents a person that once walked these streets.  Man, woman, child, wealthy, poor, maid, scholar or merchant….it doesn’t matter.  Underneath our clothes and our skin color we are just the same.

Enough of the deep thoughts.  Moving on….I’ve been to Paris before so I didn’t feel the need to do museums again during this trip.  I’m sure I’ll do it the next time I’m here with my sisters.   Instead there was a lot of walking of the various neighborhoods and seeing interesting things along the way.

IMG_9603

IMG_9658

Always at the end of the day being greeting by this view.

IMG_9605

We even took a moment to stop at the Bataclan theater and pause a moment at the memorial across the street.  I don’t have the word to describe that experience.

IMG_9708

New Years Eve found several of my friends, that were in Paris, and I toasting in the new year under the sparkly lights of the Eiffel Tower with a handful of other tourists and locals hanging out across the street from our building.

IMG_9674

IMG_9767

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January 2nd it was another train trip as we exited Paris.  This time we were headed north to Amsterdam as this would be our departure point back to the US.  I made arrangements for the apartment as I wanted the experience of a very narrow Amsterdam house.   This is what we got. 4 stories of Dutch awesome narrowness.  (you can see it inside and/or rent it here Angels Canal House)

dutchhoue

It was quite a hoot.  The “stairs” were more like ladders and I decided to remain on the first floor so I didn’t have to haul my luggage 4 flights up.  Instead, I could get ready for the day on the lower lever and meet my friends on the 3 floor for coffee.  Even T decided to leave her luggage on the first floor and only haul up what she needed.

This was my 3rd visit to Amsterdam.  I was pleasantly surprised to find the weather just as mild as Dusseldorf and Paris.  A bit wet but 40 degrees by day.  Not that much colder than San Francisco in the winter.   That meant the canals were not frozen and there was no snow, just rain.  Along with Rome, Amsterdam remains in my top 2 favorite places in the world.  I could come back here again and again. (If I could only figure out a way to live here!)

While visiting the last few days we did a few tourist sites like the Modern Art museum and another canal tour. I finally got around to doing a bit of shopping too.

IMG_9864

IMG_9869

However, by far my most favorite part of the day was finding a small pub in the evening to enjoy a beer, conversation with my friends and the last of the holiday lights in the window.

And seriously, what’s better than a bar with cats?

IMG_9954 - Copy
Theresa is a cat magnet…


Until next time….





 

 

 

 

 

Willkommen in Düsseldorf!

I’m off again for a few days of R&R in Europe.  I left San Francisco Saturday morning and after a brief stop in Atlanta, landed in Düsseldorf at 8am.  Flying to Europe from the west coast is always a bit of a chore.  From Atlanta it was an easy 7.5 hours. Oh if it was only that short every time!  It’s a tempting reason to move to the East Coast…kinda sorta…however I don’t know that I could give up California for a few hours of convenience flying.

Unlike previous flight adventures, I don’t have any good stories.  It was pretty uneventful.  I even passed through German customs in record time.  The German was there to pick me up and off we went in search of every Cafe Society Hacks first order of business…coffee.   It being Sunday and perhaps because it was also the Christmas holiday not much was open.   When the car stopped, I was delighted to find we were next to the famous Gehry buildings.  We had our coffee and went for a stroll.

DUS_n

After dropping my bags at the house and taking a bit of a rest, we were out and about again. We stopped at the Classic Remise which is a renovated historic locomotive roundhouse.  People with entirely too much money can rent these glassed enclosed garages to house their classic cars.  There are also a few specialized auto shops for working on these cars and a showroom where you can sell your car.  It was interesting to see several with price tags over 150,000 Euros. There was even one for over 300,000 Euros. It wasn’t all fancy cars.  There were some classic Volkswagen Bugs and Vans.  There was even a Vespa section.  I think Ben would have enjoyed seeing these cars.  IMG_9477

It’s not a surprise to say, I was feeling really feeling the jet lag by late afternoon. We went for another stroll in a small park where there was a sweet little noshery where visitors can stop for coffee, cake and of course.

Beer.

IMG_9475

I am pleased to find the weather quite mild.  I even think it was in the low 60’s. No snow, no need for a hat.  I hope that this lasts through the whole trip.

The night ended at Frango Portuguses where we enjoyed dinner with some local friends.  Since this was my first meeting, I had to resist the American urge to take pictures of my food.  Trust me, it was really good.

It is now Monday and although there is a foreign city I do not know outside this window I am moving at a snails pace.  I slept in, I casually sipped my morning coffee, lingered in a hot shower, and enjoying this quiet “me” time sitting at the kitchen table catching up on this blog and listening to German radio playing most of the pop tunes heard back at home.  I like to think that this isn’t my last time here so I’m going to savor it instead of rush it.

Yes, yes, Italy again.

In less than a year I made another trip back to Italy. I’m met up with my travel companion to spend 10 days together seeing some new things, have a few new experiences and also make good on my intention return to Cinque Terre and to hike the Vernazza trail.  Since this is more of a 10 day long “date”, my stories are not likely to be as comical or as detailed as they are when I travel with my sisters or my children.  I’m not one to “kiss and tell”, so for privacy sake, I’ll stick more to a few highlights of what I did.

The first few days were spent in Milan which was the host city for this years Expo (otherwise known as the World’s Fair). This was really exciting for me.  I grew up hearing about the fair in St. Louis and Seattle but I could never quite get a grasp on what it was all about.  Granted…2015 is not 1904 or 1962 but still…it’s was on the bucket list of experiences to have.

We both arrived early afternoon in Milan.  Since I came from the US and he was still in the same European time zone, I did my best to regulate my sleep on the plane so I could stay awake the rest of the day.  I was so pumped to be in by beloved Italy again that there was really no jet lag.  For accommodations, I booked through Airbnb for the first time. It was the cutest apartment around the corner from the Express airport train, on a sweet tree lined residential street with cafes and shops.  Of course, perfect environment for the café hack, eh?

IMG_6361

IMG_6445 - Copy

We settled in quick and got back outside just as quick.  We only had 3 days in Milan and 2 of them would be spent at the Expo.  It would be unfortunate to come all the way to Milan and not see the Duemo so off we went.  I was amazingly hot and this palazzo was crowed with tourists and foreign hawkers who would tie “free” string bracelets on your wrist and then ask for a donation.  Because they caught me off guard I paid $1.17 for what amounted to 8 inches of kitchen twine on my wrist.  Live and learn…

Duemo was really beautiful like most Italian churches tend to  be.  The view from the rooftop was worth the climb.

IMG_6367

(check out the dude photobombing my pano pic)

IMG_6394 - Copy

Near our flat was Castello Sforzesco.  It became the location of our evening strolls

IMG_6570

IMG_6575 - Copy

IMG_6431IMG_6424

The next two days were at the Expo.  I’m not sure how to put it into words; I’ll leave it to Wikipedia .  I will say that they had some architecturally beautiful exhibits and delicious foods.  It was really hot during the day and around 8pm on the dot the mosquitoes woke up and were swarming.  It was so bad that I took my scarf and waved it as if I was a rhythmic gymnast going for the gold    I suppose that it is what one expects in June.  It was still worth the visit.

IMG_6559 IMG_6489

Cooling off at the pool at the Czech Republic was one of my favorites.  It was only about 18 inches deep and everyone was allowed to wade in it. It was flooded with kids in the afternoons.   This would scream insurance liability in the US.  I love that they don’t live in such an alarmist society.

IMG_6647 - Copy

Some countries went very small with their exhibits.   Cuba was basically just this mojito bar.

IMG_6626 - Copy

 

After a few days, we left Milan, rented a car at the airport and head west to spend four days in Cinque Terre.  We made a quick stop in La Spiezia.   Our flat was in the village of Montorosso al Mare, one of the few cities were one could park a car. When I say park, I mean park a 20 minute walk up the hillside v. parking in a lot at 18E a day. The flat we came to by luck.  When looking for a hotel/flat one month before a trip, every location we wanted was sold out.  Because of the car, Montorosso was really our only reasonable option.  I happen to receive an email   from a hotel clerk who knew of a local who rented out a flat.  At a 100E a day, I grabbed it.  It was not at all fancy but it felt like visiting the seaside flat of a great aunt.  It had a small balcony that faced another row of apartment buildings.  It was entertaining to watch the elder ladies talking from street to balcony or listening to the grandchildren they watch during the day call out to their other little friend on a balcony across the way.

For the next 4 days I was in heaven.  Days we lounged at the sea, hiked, explored the other villages such as Manarola and Vernazza, at night we sat outside in the plaza drinking Aperol, going out to dinner and just pretending to being Italian.  I’m a traveler and there is just no place like Cinque Terre. It affected me greatly…every night we would go to the plaza and there were so many children running around, young adults gathered in groups at a café and bars, old people sitting in small groups and the only time I saw people with their face in the phone was a group of about a dozen teenagers sitting on the stairs by the sea.  It really is my happy place.  Sometimes it feels so untouched by the modern world (perhaps thanks in part to being a UNESCO World Heritage site) that it feels a bit like time travel.

IMG_3198 - Kopie - Copy

IMG_6737

IMG_6738

At this hotel, guests had to be out of their rooms a hour each morning.  Then the staff would hang the bedding out the windows for fresh air.  How fabulous!

IMG_6739

IMG_6764

The start of the Vernazza trail (below) which starts to the very right of the picture above.

IMG_6809

The elevation going up (stairs..lots and lots of stairs) seems never ending.  Some parts of the trial are so narrow and there is traffic in both directions.  BRING WATER!

IMG_3214 IMG_6836  IMG_6831

Along the way, there is this guy.  I assume he either lives in one of the village houses on cliff above or comes down from the road above (very very steep).  Just when you are feeling hot and exhausted from the climb, there he is this older bearded Italian man selling water and oranges.  He even pulls out his pen knife, carves groove around the fruit and peels them for you. What? Are you kidding? Of course I’m going to spend a Euro on your juicy citrus which I’m sure you picked yourself from your tree!  I’m not paying a Euro for the fruit, I’m paying for the amazing encounter! It’s one of those things you read about in novels but you think is just made up.

IMG_6823

IMG_3217

Just before the end and final decent, there is this view of Vernazza.  Not only is it breathtaking, I think to myself that I can’t want to take a break and cool off with a quick swim in that water below.

IMG_6875

2 hours later, the end of the trail as it leads through the narrow residential alley to the streets of Vernazza.

IMG_6866

This is another day when we went to swim in the pools of Manarola. The water was so cool and refreshing.   Again, paddling around out there was like an ethereal dream.

IMG_3248

And of course, ending our nights on the Palazzo.

IMG_6732

For our last few days we headed up northeast and stayed near Lake Guarda.  This was another new experience for me as I had yet to see the lakes.  We stayed at the Hotel Villa Maria .  It was a nice property with a gigantic pool.  There are also little villas with kitchens that many tourist rent for the summer holiday.  We just stayed in a regular hotel room which was really quite large and included a sitting area. The Décor was a bit kitschy but I think they were just trying to fit in with the theme of being a “villa.” It was very European in that breakfast was provided…but you must bring your own pool towel or “rent” one for 5 Euros.

We spent time in Desenzano strolling, took the Ferry to Sirmione (which I LOVED and totally want to go back and stay.)

IMG_6967

IMG_7139

Scaliger Castle in Sirmione and strolling about.

IMG_7038

Scaliger Castle, Sirmione

IMG_3274

We even spent a day driving around the entire lake including at stop at Monte Baldo for a hike.  We approached from the back end to the east and to a chairlift to the top.

IMG_7061

This felt very surreal to me.  There is no equivalent in the US to walking among sheep in the Alps.  I felt the urge to twirl like the Sound of Music…but I didn’t.

IMG_7076

…and these two.  One sleeping in the grass as the other read scripture.  It was like a page out of a modern day Room with a View. Who are these people?  Do they realize the awesomeness of the small act they participated? Sometimes I wonder, is it just me who thinks these things?

IMG_7085

The picture below was at the very north end of the lake.  My companion, who had been here before, informed me that it is quite popular with the sportif German and Swiss for camping, mountain biking and windsurfing. Again, NOTHING at home feels like this.  Seriously, I would get this tightness in my chest..this feeling of never wanting to leave…of being given a bite of the most delicious cookie that you are not allowed to take with you.  I love a lot of place…but only Italy does this to me.

IMG_7115

On our last day, we checked out and headed out to Lake Iseo to spend our last day relaxing in the sun. I think I was mentally so bummed out that the holiday was over that I didn’t take pictures.  I didn’t swim either.  I should have.

IMG_3287 - Copy

Due to early morning flights the next day, our last night was at a hotel at the airport.  The Moxy is owned by Marriott and designed as a traveler’s hotel, likely those who just needed an overnight stay and/or traveling along. It was very modern and had a very nice social atmosphere. We covered a lot of territory in our 10 days and it ended very melancholic as the next morning, my companion and I returned had to say good-bye and return to our respective countries. As the saying goes, don’t cry that it’s over, smile that it happened, right?

IMG_7154

In and out of Seattle in 33 hours

My sister needed a date to her friends wedding so I tagged along.   It went by in a flash.  Besides the wedding, we had a few hours to see the Chihuly exhibit and do a bit of shopping.  I love Seattle.  I could totally live here. It has lots of art, good food, local goods and not as techie overkill as San Francisco.

IMG-20150822-WA0003 IMG_8204

IMG_8202

Honestly, I could have been happy hanging at the hotel.  Any time with a sister is a vacation, don’t cha think?

IMG-20150822-WA0001 IMG-20150822-WA0004  IMG_8230

IMG_8247

Shanghai, China, a worthwhile visit.

Shanghai, China, a worthwhile visit.

The kid and I are back from China!  It certainly was a very interesting and educational visit.  Unlike my past trips, this one was more difficult to blog day-by-day due to the internet restrictions encountered there.  One needs to remember that outside it’s economic boom, progressive building and manufacturing, it’s still a Communist country and therefore they limit access.  For example, pretty much anything “Google” is blocked.  Without a VPN, there was no Google searching, gmail or even Google maps functioning on my phone was very spotty at best. On a positive note, most of their phone booths are wireless hotspots so if you have an international plan in place, you can find many areas to jump online to look up where you are or where to go.

The trip started out on Air China.  I was a little worried as they really received some bad reviews online.  We didn’t seem to have any issues.  We checked in early enough, the airplane was not uncomfortable and both our bags made it without issue.

AirChina

Upon arrival we were met  by a car service and brought to our hotel/apartment.  The New Harbour Service Apartment is part hotel/part residence.  I assume much like executive housing.  It wasn’t in any trendy part of town but at no time did I feel unsafe, it was only 2 blocks from a metro stop and we could easily walk to just about anything.  I thought about a hotel in a tourist area of Shanghai, however when I travel, I like a bit more space.  I especially like having a kitchen so I can save some money on meals or just enjoy the ease of having breakfast at my own place.  I reviewed this location at TripAdvisor.

Since relying on my phone for directions was spotty, we relied on a good old paper map. This I did not mind as the kid is a Boy Scout and it was a good lesson in map reading.  For the next 3 days we logged roughly 8-10 miles a day walking around the city seeing the major sites, walking every park path we came across, tasting street food and just being in awe of the cosmopolitan nature of the city. When is 13-year-old taste buds couldn’t take any more noodles we taste tested the local McDonalds and even checked out a local Pizza Hut where pizza dishes were the minority on the menu.

bazzaar
Yu Garden Bazzaar

PhotoGrid_1428156055731

building
Site of the First National Congress of the Communist Party of China
IMG_4947
Dongtai Road Antique Market

IMG_4949

On our last two nights we “Couchsurfed” with a Shanghai family.  For many travelers, couch surfing is a way to save on lodging expense and also a chance to get to know the locals.  For me, the last part was important because I wanted my son to see how a family similar to ours lives in Shanghai. I had a chance to meet our host before our trip when she was in the Bay Area.  On the first evening she was at a class so I had the most interesting conversations with her husband about Chinese culture and rapid expansion of the Shanghai area in the last 25 years.  Another fortunate outcome is that we got to see a part of Shanghai that I didn’t know existed.

Benhat

IMG_5130

IMG_5118

IMG_5169
Zhujiajiao ancient water town

IMG_5166

 

Overall, it was a great trip.  I am please that I was able to experience and share this part of the world with my son.  It’s pretty amazing.

*****

Tips when visiting Shanghai

-Language is a barrier.  I went equip with phrases in Chinese such as “Driver, please take me to “Hotel Name.”  It proved many times to be very useful.

-Consider using a service to obtain your visas.  For me, transportation and a half day waiting in line wasn’t worth losing a half day of work.

– Due to our late arrival, I arranged for a driver a head of time.  The taxi in Shanghai was like no line I had seen before!  Once arrived, confirm, confirm, confirm!  Even after we came out of customs, it took at least 30 minutes until our driver found us.  I was able to pay ahead of time.  Keep copies in the even you need to show your driver.

-Again, if traveling with kids considering bringing some food from home.  I brought along cereal, snack bars and Mac & Cheese.  We certainly ate the local food, but for a kid it could turn to be a bit much. We tried the pizza and it just wasn’t the same.  Since we had a kitchen it was nice to be able to cooks something easy from home. Snacks came in handy for the plane ride too.

-Skip the under river tourist tunnel. It really is kinda silly…unless you really are trying to get to one side or the other.

-Have afternoon tea the the Fairmont Peace Hotel.  It really is a treat in any part of the world and no one does it like the Fairmont.

tea

Shanghai Spring Break

Friends stared at me like blinking penguins when I said that I was taking Ben to China for spring break.  I guess many people we are acquainted with head to the beach or go camping. Frankly, they are probably right because when I was a kid, spring break just meant a week to run around the neighborhood.  However, I’m an adventurer and he is an adventurer in the making….and neither one of us can fathom the idea of 5-7 days of just sitting on a beach.  We want to see things, learn things, eat weird things, walk the path of historical figures, and contemplate our existence in the grand scheme of the universe (ok, maybe that last one is just me).

China is a whole new territory for me and honestly, I’m a bit nervous.  Granted Shanghai is still pretty cosmopolitan as far as China goes but this isn’t just a country with big street names with 15 letters, this is a land of characters that I can’t even begin to decipher.  For all I know things turn out to be neatly labeled in English but I haven’t been there so I really don’t know, nor have I even cracked open the guide book.  To some extent, Ben and I are winging it and it’s kind of exciting.  There is a bit of melancholy along with this too. Some subjects I keep off social media but the one I will share is that tomorrow is my Dad’s birthday.  He would have been 89.  He was my biggest advocate and supporter of my wanderlust.  I hope in whatever energy capacity his matter exists, he’s out here with us.

I hear that China is not very USA social media friendly.  Who knows if I will be able to blog or instagram while I’m away (oh no!!!).  If not, it will certainly be a new experience for me to be unplugged from those at home, a new experience in a very exotic land (or seeing as I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, maybe not?).

Good, bad or ugly, I’m so looking forward to this adventure.  Are you?