Sunday, November 27, 2011

Brief visit to Crete, in Opera format

I saw Idomeneo, a Mozart opera, that takes place in Crete, at the San Jose opera this fall season.  The staging was fantastic-they had gotten some extra money and it showed.  They used Minoan art to inspire the set design.  See the bull vaulting fresco for a great example. Now, I still want to visit actual Crete, but this was a nice way to get a taste.

Work trip to Europe October 2011, second half

No photos since this was so work focused.

Lazy weekend in Budapest.  Dinner at Nobu (yes, that Nobu-he has 20 restaurants around the world) with the sake tasting menu.  All the fish is amazing, but OMG the wagu beef cubes-like butter!    Wine tasting with friends.  12 Hungarian wines, 6 white, 6 red, tasted by 13 people, basically a bottle a person except for the post-tasting bottles, call it a bottle and a half.  Now I definitely need the next day to be lazy and recover.  Ate a chocolate covered cottage cheese stick.  It was a firm cottage cheese, not the liquidy stuff on salad bars, almost a mozzarella stick, but with the hint of sour-surprisingly good for something with such a bad description.

Trip to Sweden!  As we land in Stockholm, it is damp and grey, the same as Budapest.  But the Arlanda airport makes me want to move to Sweden.  Hardwood floors, all glass windows, clean, organized, and welcoming.  The drive to the outskirts also feels friendly to me because it looks just like the best of the midwest, rolling hills, cut away rocks, evergreens and birch.

Our transportation for the evening is a cruise ship!  We hop onto the Gabriella and sail into the Baltic Sea.  For the first hour or so we are going out past the shore and it is incredibly picturesque.  Cute homes along a well manicured shore-all propped up with stone walls, green grasses and trees all over the place.  On the cruise there is of course the buffet-but we are cleverer than that, we opt for NOT the buffet so that we don’t overeat. So clever…we order an appetizer each and a main entre to share.  And since we are sharing we go a little extragavant and order the seafood platter, with lobster…except there is confusion and we get the platter for two-oh well, the best laid plans!  The first part of the journey is relatively choppy and we fall asleep to the rocking of the boat.  In the morning though it is completely calm and I spend a little time on our balcony watching the little waves.  There are 2 other cruise ships, 3 non cruise ships and an oil drilling rig-spiffy!  Pulling into the port of Helsinki was much faster, it is right on the sea edge and the view is more rugged-little islands run right into the water.

In the port of Helsinki we spend a few hours in the lobby of the Grand Mariner hotel for a little coffee and internet access.  The countryside is lovely and green, but we are barely here and then off to Sweden again by more conventional plane-Molndal outside of Goteburg.

By train from Goteburg to Copenhagen-it is worth an extra $20 to get the first class seats where there are fewer people and it is quiet.  4 hours of green countryside….I nap!  The best part is the bridge over the water to Denmark-a whole line of the windmills we have been seeing, but in the water.  There is a capsizing boat-oh no!  but then the guy in a nearby seat says it has been there for awhile.

Copenhagen-hotel on the doorstep of the train station and Tivoli.  Tivoli is decorated for Halloween and there is a line to pay and go in, so we don’t and instead walk along the pedestrian walkway to the habor.  Lovely theater building overlooking the water.  Wander around the area looking for a wine bar or Italian restaurant but they are not quite right until we find THE spot.  It is clear it is the place to be-it is a busy oasis in a quiet desert!  Mojito and a cider, mussels and a burger.  M has been putting up with my American-style eating, so I practice being European and eat it all with a knife and fork-it is impossible to get a bite of everything at once, but I must admit it is neater. 

Manchester-all these tiny little roads with no shoulder to speak of, no visibility because of all the high green hedges and just a bit disconcerting to be on the wrong side of the road.  But the pub food is good-sweet potato fries!

Off to a little vacation after the worldwind work travel!

Work trip to Europe October 2011, first half

I've been in Europe with a coworker M for two weeks and was able to visit quite a few new-to-me places.

Non-stop SFO to Frankfurt, I realize that I have been flying Singapore Air recently, and standard economy is…less good…wow is that seat in front of me close!  But our row of five has two empty seats-bonus!  I get my vegetarian meal super quick and am falling asleep before most others are finished eating.  Quick flight to Catania airport in Sicily, but we arrive late and the luggage is slow and I have missed all the shuttles-most expensive cab ride ever.  But when I arrive M and I get dinner.  The beachside restaurant is barely open-we are the only ones there.  But they let us order pizza and prosseco which we eat by candlelight while listening to the waves-nice!

We have a little time before the conference gets going so we hang out at the beach.  This is my first ‘European’ beach experience.  Basically there are lines of deck chairs for the folks staying at the hotel.  The women love bikinis, and love to lie with the straps off to avoid tan lines.  It feels very eighties to me, aren’t we all about sunblock now?  The beach is not sand but little rocks making the waves sound lovely.  I visit the water briefly, but the rocks are not super comfortable and the temperature is between northern and southern California-nice, but not long term nice.

We visit Taoromina, touristy seaside town on the hill.  First stop is the Wunderbar, to drink Campari and orange while overlooking the ocean on one side and the tourists on the plaza on the other. Classic Italian waiters charm their way into our photo.

Wander the town, eat gelato.  Visit the Greek theater, but it closed 5 minutes ago-eat gelato to console ourselves.  Visit the public gardens just in time for sunset.  The plant variety is almost exactly that of northern California-fancy that since they have a similar Mediterranean climate ;)  

One more drink at a little cafĂ© before heading back to dinner at the hotel.  The beach restaurant is closed for a private party so we are in the fancy restaurant, and in the middle of my anchovy appetizer (fresh, not salty) we see the fireworks from their party-festive.

One more set of drinks and snacks at the more casual beach bar before the conference begins. 

The best thing about my hotel room is that it has an ocean view and I sleep with the balcony door open to listen to the ocean while sleeping.  In the mornings I often saw the cruise ship of the day, and sometimes at breakfast a horde of folks due to be on the cruise ship later that day.  During the week we encountered more memorable waiters.  At O’Neils the head waiter had a penchant for singing as he dashed back and forth and as he set you plate in front of you ‘and especial for you’.  I even try a whole local fish-lovely.

Within the conference we get an afternoon tour of Mt. Etna.  So, imagine you have a major tourist destination.  It is so impressive that 50 bus loads of tourists come every day.  Obviously you think-lets make the buses drive through the narrow ancient streets that have 4 consecutive 90 degree turns. Obviously!  I understand, it can be difficult to build a new road in hilly ancient towns, but if ever you are going to do it, 50 buses per day sounds like the time!  The Mt. Etna tour itself if fun, but not thrilling as we do not get to go near any molten lava.  After the easy stroll around the edge of the accessible crater I join the folks who want to climb to the top of the nearby, less accessible crater.  Ugg, worse than a stair-climber, but a view that can't be beat!