Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Wenatchee Winter Wonderland

Okay, that's stretching it, but a few inches of snow did fall during the night and we heard the city plow going by this morning.

It's a good day to sit around the house and watch a couple of cute grandkids in action. Blane and Riley do not disappoint.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Taking A Pass

Our RAV4 now has new front brakes, and an annoying clunking sound in the steering is gone, courtesy of a soon-to-expire extended warranty.

It's time to check the Washington State Mountain Passes page, and to consider driving over to Wenatchee early enough to watch Grandson Blane's soccer game this evening.

The winter tires may come in handy.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Bratislava Bound

We're not leaving until March 6, and we're visiting grandkids in Wenatchee first, but it's time to start thinking about our upcoming four nights in Bratislava Slovakia.

It will be our second visit, having spent a couple of nights there in September 2010.

One major objective is three nights at the opera.

It's a charming city, though, and we agree with the comments here:

As you arrive at the Main Train Station, you'll see vineyards on the slopes of the Little Carpathian Mountains, where they meet the Danube River. The Austrian border is almost within sight of the city and Hungary is just 16 km away. Many beautiful monuments survive in the old town to tell of its past under Austro-Hungarian rule, and Bratislava's numerous museums are surprisingly rich. Franz Liszt visited Bratislava 15 times, and the opera productions of the Slovak National Theatre rival anything in Europe. Bratislava is not as swamped by tourism as Budapest and Prague.

There's plenty of travel information here and here as well.

It's definitely not too soon to be looking forward to our visit.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Bellingham Dining: Incognito at Ciao Thyme

We'd heard about a Bellingham business that combines catering, cooking/food classes, and monthly dinners by reservation only.

It's called Ciao Thyme, and the homonymic pun on "Chow Time" doesn't detract from the serious intent of the owners.

They title their monthly dining sessions Incognito. The name seems suitable as most of the advertising is by word-of-mouth (speaking of puns). We made a reservation for last night's event.

The operation is located in a remodeled building with a pleasantly decorated interior, dinner seating for about 50, and a magnificent open kitchen at one end.

Arriving a few minutes late, we were fortunate to snag the only two-top table in the place with highback chairs, offering us a great view of the food preparation and plating, with the husband-and-wife owners and now fewer than six employees functioning very efficiently and with good humor throughout.

Last night's menu was a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the New Orleans Mardi Gras...

Phat Thursday

Popovers with peach-ginger jam

Pork belly benedict on butter fried brioche with poached local pullet eggs and hollandaise with pickled relish and fried parsley garnish

Arugula and kale salad with blood oranges, ruby grapefruit, tangerines, and cara cara orange supremes with shaved coconut, pomegranate meringues and mint-grapefruit vinaigrette

Snack Deux...
Fried oyster with sunchoke-celeriace remoulade and red pepper jelly

Dirty 'farro', chicken thigh and livers, fried okra, and prawns with seafood-tomato broth and fresh-made smoked andouille

Black (ened) Cod
Cheesy grits with collard greens, charred tomatoes, and sauteed black trumpet mushrooms

Coffee & Doughnuts
Caffe Du Monde chicory-coffee ice cream with Louisiana grown pecan tuiles and fresh fried beignets

AT $55 Prix Fixe, we'd call it good value. The meal stretched over 3 1/2 hours and was an evening of entertainment as well as of creatively prepared high-quality food.

We'll definitely plan to return.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Delhi's Women-Only Subway Cars

Did we ever mention this? When we rode the Delhi Metro Rail, we noticed with interest that one car of each train is designated For Ladies Only, as is a waiting area on the platform.

On one of our trips, Kathy, Elly, and Haley rode in one, simply because the other cars were quite crowded and the entrance was handy.

What reminded us was reading this glowing description in the Toronto Globe & Mail, written by an appreciative Canadian reporter of the female persuasion.

Spring Travel Bargains

USA Today is currently running an article on five bargain travel destinations. Lo and behold, Seattle is on the list.

You'll find it here.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Our Last Few Hours In India

We sightsee on our final day with our friendly and skillful driver.

We spend some time in Old Delhi. While standing outside a mosque gazing at the street below, we watch an excited crowd gather when a fender-bender accident occurs, fortunately and amazingly the only accident we saw during our time in India.

First, the street as it appears before the accident...

The crowd gathers to check out the vehicles. This is obviously the most entertaining event of the day around here...

As we drive around, we also see armed soldiers behind sandbag fortifications keeping an eye on things. We learn these precautions are being taken in advance of Republic Day.

Looking out our car window, we realize yet again we're a long way from home.

Down Memory Lane: la Fête du Citron® In Menton France

One of very first post-retirement trips abroad saw us spending 30 days on the French Riviera in Menton France at an "extended-residence" hotel, Pierre & Vacances.

We enjoyed it so much that we returned a couple of years later and stayed at a similar establishment for two weeks.

On our first trip we arrived in time to enjoy the end of Menton's annual Fête du Citron® or Lemon Festival. Our description still fits: Imagine the Rose Bowl Parade with lemons and other citrus fruits instead of flowers.

We were reminded of it when we ran across an article in the Los Angeles Times that consists mainly of photos.

You can see for yourself here.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Hamayun's Tomb: The Inspiration For The Taj Mahal

After lunch we visited Humayun's Tomb, yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Humayun's full title, Al-Sultan al-'Azam wal Khaqan al-Mukarram, Jam-i-Sultanat-i-haqiqi wa Majazi, Sayyid al-Salatin, Abu'l Muzaffar Nasir ud-din Muhammad Humayun Padshah Ghazi, Zillu'llah, wouldn't quite fit on the sign.

The Mughals were Asian descendants of the Mongol warriors Ghengis Khan and Tamerlane. Among other places they conquered was India, where they ruled between the 1500s and the mid-1800s.

Humayun was the son of the very first Mughal emperor. He ruled for a decade in the mid-1500s before being expelled. The Shah of Persia helped him regain power in Delhi, where he again ruled before dying a year later. His widow had the tomb built in 1569-70, 14 years after his death.

Almost as soon as we entered, we had a feeling of Déjà vu, having visited the Taj Mahal only two days earlier. Yes, we learned that Humayan's tomb was an inspiration for the Taj (built a century later) and for other Muslim tombs. It's set in a geometrically arranged garden intersected by water channels that probably symbolizes paradise. This tomb marks the first appearance of a Persian "double-domed" structure, and the first time a tomb was placed on a large platform.

As with the Taj Mahal, Humayun's Tomb is visually appealing due to its symmetry and balance, and of course its intrinsic beauty.

Signs We Like

India edition...

Monday, February 20, 2012

Haley And The Cobra

On our way to lunch we found out just how brave our niece is when she sat down next to a snake-charmer without realizing he was going to try to charm her with the snake.

She did manage to keep smiling...

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Delhi Sights And Sounds From Our Car Window

En route from one attraction to another, the views are ever-changing and never boring.

Sidewalk vendors with colorful wares...

Using the fence on a road median as a clothesline...

Cars, people, apartments, overhead wires...

These folks call this home...

And always the overwhelming sights and sounds unfolding before our eyes...

Touring Delhi With Jittin - Qutb Minar

On our next-to-last day in India, a car pulled up to the Hilton Janakpuri to pick us up. Our guide was to be Jittin, the young business associate of son Dave's friend who had kindly agreed to organize our Delhi sightseeing.

Jittin works in the Human Resources field, in part hiring people to work in India for US-based countries. He's very well educated and speaks English absolutely fluently. He also has a great sense of humor, a useful attribute for anybody leading our group around. We found out as the day progressed that Jittin can reel off the capital of every US state (part of his training when he was answering phones for US companies early in his career). He also possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of American movies, their directors, and the number of Oscars won from the 1980s onward, all this simply because he's interested in them. His DVD collection must be very impressive.

Jittin invited us to ask him questions that we wouldn't ask a guide - religion and dietary beliefs, the caste system, politics - and we learned a lot more about India.

What added further to the enjoyment was that Jittin himself was visiting some of these famous sites for the first time. Sometimes it takes out-of-town visitors to motivate the locals to visit the local attractions, and we were Jittin's motivation. If he wasn't aware of a particular fact, the answer was as near as the Internet on his wireless phone.

The first stop was Qutub Minar, a UN World Heritage Site.

This tall minaret (72.5 meters or 237.8 feet)was built in 1192 and is one of the most famous sights in Delhi.

We two former teachers are still interested in observing students on field trips, no matter where we are in the world.

Many of them found us interesting as well.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Painless Saturday Morning Border-Crossing

We stayed around Chilliwack long enough to watch Jake and Taegan scrimmage with their soccer teams and then hopped in the car to drive home.

It's Saturday morning, the Canuck buck is at or above par with the US buck, and everybody is lined up at the southbound border crossings, causing delays up to 90 minutes.

Now that we have NEXUS, that's no problem for us. We just zipped all the way along Zero Avenue to the Truck Crossing, got into the NEXUS lane, and were through the border within 10 minutes.

We should have done it years ago.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Sunny Chilliwack

We've awakened to a lovely day in Chilliwack. We're here to have fun with two of our seven favorite grandkids while their parents attend educational "professional development" conferences today.

We attended plenty of those back in the day, and we're quite happy to be spending our day with Jake and Taegan.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Boeing's 787 Dreamliner: One Journalist's Impressions

Living as we do in Washington State, we naturally have to root for the success of Boeing. Their 787 Dreamliner is now in service, and Scott McCartney, the Wall Street Journal travel columnist who writes The Middle Seat, one of our favorite travel columns, discusses his flight on ANA from Tokyo to Frankfurt.

His bottom line: It's evolutionary but not revolutionary.

How Dreamy Is the Dreamliner?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Driving Through Delhi

The driver selected by our new friend Jittin proved to be exceptionally skillful and the traffic itself seemed generally not to be as frantic as in Agra or Jaipur.

Our rides still provided views just as interesting as any of the monuments we visited.

Delhi's Cycle Rickshaws

During our two weeks in India, we saw a great many pedal-powered cycle rickshaws carrying both passengers and cargo. They were something of a technological innovation over hand-pulled rickshaws when introduced to Delhi in the 1940s. We read also of the controversy involving government quotas, seizures, and the potential of corruption surrounding this basic form of transportation most often operated by poor seasonal migrants.

There's always something interesting to look at, whether it's a crowded bus...

an entire family on a motorbike...

or those ever-present rickshaws. As soon as we thought we'd seen the most heavily loaded one ever, another one would come into sight.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Dining At Zune In The Hilton Delhi Janakpuri

We felt very comfortable returning "home" for our third stay at the Hilton New Delhi Janakpuri.

We decided to dine in at Zune, one of the hotel's many restaurants.

It was another expensive evening by Indian standards, but the food and service were good and the quartet of entertainers reminded us that we were in India.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Goa: A Walk On Utorda Beach

Utorda Beach...

We watched the beach parasailing in operation, complete with an acrobatic "guide" who maneuvered the chute.

There are a number of beach shack restaurants along the beach and we'd been told Zeebop is one of the best.

You can't say the seafood isn't fresh, and Zeebop, although not cheap by Indian standards, lived up to its good reviews in Trip Advisor and Frommers. We did take a pass on the shark.

Lunch is delicious.

Now it's time to walk it off and to take a couple more photos.

One last little detail - during our stay we noticed quite a few signs in Russian. Apparently Goa is a popular and affordable vacation spot for members of the growing Russian middle class, as noted here. It looked lovely to us. Given the winter climate of Russia, it must be heaven on earth for them.