Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Assassins and Einstein on the Beach in Berkeley, October 2012

Went to Berkeley for a weekend of Musical Arts

A group of us met for Ethiopian dinner at Cafe Colucci in Oakland.  It can be a bit intimidating to use the injera bread as your utensils, but the tastiness is worth it.

Over to the Ashby theater to see the Shotgun Players put on Stephen Sondheims Assassins.  I am a Sondheim fan and this was the first time any of us had seen Assassins.   The lyrics (can we talk about a Moment), music (reminiscent of Into the Woods)  and theme (dark much) are unmistakably Sondheim.  The storyline revolves around the people who tried to kill US Presidents (and a the few who succeeded).  When you kill just anyone, you are a murderer, but when you kill a president, you are an assassin.  Sondheim goes all timey-wimey on us and the assassins get to interact with each other.  It didn't top Into the Woods or Sweeney Todd as a personal favorite, but I would definitely see it again to catch more of the layers.  And I would definitely see it by the Shotgun Players-quality acting in an intimate setting.

E- and I stayed the weekend at the Hotel Durant-super close to Telegraph and the campus.  So it is a convenient location, but could be noisy, especially if it is a football weekend.  Rooms are small but well-appointed.  School-themed accessories, but grown-up quality, nice toiletries, sheets and furnishings.  On Saturday morning we had brunch at the Elmwood Cafe where the fresh buttermilk biscuits and mimosas were my highlights.

We meandered onto the Berkeley campus and ran into the Big Game-Stanford vs. Cal Quiddich.  Yup.  This has become a thing.  Maybe I should consider going to the Quiddich World Cup.

We also had to peruse Games of Berkeley, you know, since we were in the area.  Bought Takenoko, whose underlying game play as a bit of a classic train game (build with others) and a bit of gin rummy (collect things!).  But the theme is simultaneously build a bamboo garden and feed a hungry panda-super cute accessories.

Dinner was a quick hot dog from the Dojo Dog food truck.  The Asian toppings are quite a mix for a standard hot dog, but delicious.  Mine had pork sung which is dry, finely shredded, tasty pork and E- had nori.  And every dog gets Japanese mayo and quick-boiled cabbage, which is more of a vegetable than catsup.

The evening event was Einstein on the Beach, almost 5 hours of minimalist opera.  While not for everyone most, we had a fantastic time.  It is so rarely performed that this was the west coast premier even though it was written in the 1970s.  There is no plot, and the music is incredibly repetitive, which should be boring...but I was fascinated.  There is change, it is just extremely slow.  Over the course of 30 minutes one of the performers went from walking to dancing and there were parts of the changes that I know I missed because I was watching some other part of the stage.  At the end Philip Glass and Lucinda Childs came out with the performers. It was really an amazing performance-almost certainly a once in a lifetime event for us.

How do you follow such a heavy hitting performance?  Frozen yogurt from Yogurt Park of course.  Definitely the best place because they know how to do toppings.  They swirl them into the center as well as on top.

And one final Berkeley meal at the local Buddhist temple.  Which is a converted house in a residential area. It is not a restaurant, they are only open once a week after Sunday services.  And they don't really take money-you exchange money for tokens, and then you exchange the tokens for food.  But it was tasty Thai food and we had a lovely conversation with the folks we sat near.  Read the Yelp reviews before you go to learn the ins and outs.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Iguassu, Animals of the jungle, September 2012

Iguassu Falls is in the middle of the jungle and we saw plenty of animals.

Fancy birds

Little lizards

Big lizards

Giant jungle ants!

We didn't see any snakes, hopefully they were happy in the jungle.
I missed a picture of the giant catfish that live at the top of Devil's Throat, but we saw about 5 and one fellow clearly lives in his spot because many people have thrown coins at the spot.

 Butterflies everywhere
No really, everywhere!  

The coaties have little fear of humans and will overrun the snack tables and garbage cans.  

And the monkeys!  They travel in small packs and view humans as vending machines.  One evening we watched from the pool as a troop of 4 scaled the balconies in search of an open door.  They found one and were inside quick as can be.  The hotel security guy had to figure out what room it was and go chase them out.  Seriously, when the note says don't leave your door open-Don't leave your door open!!

Iguassu-Rainbows in the waterfalls, September 2012


My favorite way to end a vacation is with the most relaxing part.  Iguassu Falls is perfect for me-the Sheraton hotel is IN the national park.  We had two full days to walk the park at a relaxed pace and still get back in time to sit by the pool with drinks.

The falls is pretty much impossible to describe.  It seems like it should be easy to explain waterfalls.  But it is just SO MUCH WATER that it is hard to explain.

There are three main areas, the Upper Falls, the Lower Falls, and the Devil's throat.  Each has a sturdy walking path and you can rush through it in an hour, or linger for several.

Views from the Upper Falls

The little spots are the birds that practically live in the waterfalls.

We went back the second day in the afternoon when the rainbows were out.

The Lower Falls is where you go to get drenched.  There is a walkway that is the closest to the falls you can get.  We checked it out on the first day, but there was a long line, so we came back first thing in the morning and had it completely to ourselves!

You can also take boat trips that bring you into the spray.  The one we really wanted to do-to the island-was not running because there was too much water.

 Tiny boat!

The Devil's Throat is crazy busy with people.  I would recommend you walk out and take the train back. It maximizes the butterfly viewing and is a nice walk through the jungle.  On our walk there was a constant stream of yellow butterflies coming at us down the train track/trail.  Once you are there, enjoy the constant sound of rushing water.  

We took one side trip to Macuco Falls.  The waterfall was not very large and the trail to the bottom, which was the main reason to go was closed, but we had a nice walk in the jungle.

 Funky jungle flowers

PeruRail and a quick tour of Lima, Peru September 2012


PeruRail waiting room

To see Machu Picchu you pretty much have to take PeruRail.  And that is fine because they have an excellent setup.  Trains run on time, there is a set schedule, the views are amazing, there are different levels of service (fancy Hiram Bingham to the backpacker car) and it is well organized.  Very well organized.  Just in case you missed the marketplaces at either end, or didn't wander past an alpaca sweater in Cusco, PeruRail have you covered.  On the way to Agua Caliente they flog (nicely) knick-knacks, books, CDs and postcards.  On the way back, they give you a show of local color.
And follow up with an alpaca wool fashion show where they pick a man and a woman from the audience to model the fianl sweaters.  Don't miss it!  Thanks to Mary for the pictures-I was too dumbfounded to pull out the camera!
Zoolander face
We did the usual logistics to get back to Lima where we met our next guide for the city tour.

Sometimes you just go with the simple food-the empanada won, though the panini was ok.

During the drive through San Isidro we see the old olive orchards that were put up by the Spanish. We saw some of the lovely plazas and the tourists as well.  The weather is remarkably like San Francisco, cool cloudy morning that most off give way to sunny afternoons.

Ah Pizarro, where would Peru be without you.

We learn a bit about everyday life.  People love their food and there is a festival happening now that takes up  10 city blocks and snarls the traffic.  Much of the food has an Asian influence-originally Chinese, but in recent years Japanese as well.

Voting is mandatory!  Everyone has a national identity card that you use for everything like banking.  And on the back they keep track with a sticker if you have voted.  If you don't vote, you can't use the ID card until you pay a fine.  After the fine you get a sticker, but of a different color, so everyone knows you didn't vote.  Holy cow!  

Gotta love the family crests

You are not allowed to take pictures in the churches, so I don't have the evidence that we went into the 'catacombs', but we did.  This is a big tourist draw, but they are not actually catacombs.  They were originally just tunnels that were mainly structural, and then were used to hide from the pirates.  But lack of burial space got them to think outside the box and use the space for burials.  The bones are lined up artistically, but that is just for the visitors :)

Some Moorish influence