Monday, December 31, 2012

Welcome 2013


Wishing all of you a Happy New Year in a peaceful world!

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Image by Charie


Saturday, December 29, 2012

Sky Watching 2012

Black clouds hover over the salt marshes

It was only this year that I've started watching the skies more avidly than before. Perhaps this is due to the fact that I've been lucky enough to have a great view of sunrises from my front window. I also walk at the park right by the salt marshes and I often watch the planes coming in to land at SFO. It's a wide open space and there's an unobstructed view of the sky. One day while walking along the trail, I espied black smoke in the horizon. Then I heard the sounds of sirens and police cars speeding to the scene of the fire.

Since I walk around the park after work, I'm often rewarded with breathtaking sunsets.

Bay Area sunset

The sky is a canvas in progress. Cloud formations change so quickly that by the time I pull out my camera from my handbag, I've lost that particular scenario. It's a little tricky to take pictures while driving unless you're at a stop sign and the train is passing through so you're waiting ages for the light to turn green. Here's one I took at the stop light. I used my old IPhone to take this image. This is what came out.

Cirrocumulus clouds

And when dark clouds gather, rain is just a whiff away.

Dark clouds over the Central Valley

I woke up early the day after Christmas and watched the sunrise. It was so different from the warm and fiery sunrises of summer. The sky was grey and cold. But it was still a marvel to watch.

Sunrise - December 26, 2012

"The sky is the daily bread of the eyes." Ralph Waldo Emerson

"And I am well nourished by it." Me 

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Images by Charie

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmastime in The City

Union Square

An overnight stay in San Francisco is a welcome treat, especially during the holidays. The streets are abuzz with visitors during the day and there are many bargain finds for the hardy shopper. A stroll around Union Square enchants with decorated display windows vying for attention. And when evening descends upon the City by the Bay, thousands of Christmas lights illuminate the night sky.

Neiman Marcus Atrium

One of my favorite stops is Nieman Marcus. Their Christmas tree is a floor to ceiling giant barely scraping the beautiful stained glass dome. There's at least an hour wait if you decide to eat lunch at the Rotunda restaurant on the fourth floor with a view of Union Square. Best to make a reservation. An alternative would be the food court at The Cellar inside Macy's. It's crowded but there's usually a table or two. I ordered handrolled crab cakes from SC Asian. It came with a salad. It was all surprisingly good. There are also other restaurants to choose from like Boudin which is famous for their sourdough French bread, Mixed Greens and Frontera Fresco. And there's Ben and Jerry's for ice cream.

Is Santa coming your way?

"He's making a list
And checking it twice
Gonna find out who's naughty or nice
Santa Claus is coming to town!"

Merry Christmas! God bless us everyone.

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Images by Charie

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Travel Trends 2013

Where are savvy travelers headed to in 2013? Here are the travel destination picks of National Geographic Traveler editors and Lonely Planet.

Kyoto
National Geographic Traveler Best of the World 2013

National Geographic Traveler Best of the World 2013:
Crimea (Russia), Marseille (France), Raja Ampat (Indonesia), Ravenna (Italy), Great Bear Rainforest (Canada), Malawi, Quito (Ecuador), Bagan (Myanmar), Cape Breton (Canada), Uganda, Hudson Valley (New York), Thessaloniki (Greece), Grenada, Bodø (Norway), Valparaiso (Chile), Missouri River Banks, St. Augustine (Florida), Memphis (Tennessee), Kyoto (Japan), Jarash (Jordan)

Lonely Planet Best in Travel 2013:

Top 10 Countries
Sri Lanka, Montenegro, South Korea, Ecuador, Slovakia, Solomon Islands, Iceland, Turkey, Dominican Republic, Madagascar

Top 10 Cities
San Francisco, Amsterdam, Hyderabad, Londonberry Derry, Beijing, Christchurch, Hobart, Montreal, Addis Abbaba, Puerto Iguazú

Palawan, Philippines
Lonely Planet Top Ten Regions pick

Top Ten Regions
Corsica (France), The Negev (Israel), Mustang (Nepal), Yukon (Canada), Chachapoyas and Kuelap (Peru), The Gulf Coast (USA), Carinthia (Austria), Palawan (The Philippines), Inland Sea (Japan), Campania (Italy)

Note that Ecuador has been picked by both National Geographic Travel and Lonely Planet. This is a hot destination! What's on your bucket list for 2013?

Please read my articles on Kyoto, Palawan, Amsterdam, San Francisco and other destinations by checking the tabs under each region in the Home page. Happy travels in 2013.
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Images by Charie

Scenes from Madera County


Moonrise and church steeple

I write most of my blogs from this small town in the Central Valley. Sometimes I can't concentrate, like at this very moment, because my neighbor has turned up his stereo system to absolute max and will stay that way until the wee hours of the morning.  It's the same "heavy on the bass" music that will wake me up at 6 a.m. And when I go outside tomorrow, I'll discover trash on the side of my garage from the previous night's shindig. "These are the times that try man's soul."  My gardener complains to me how much "basura" he picks up when he mows the lawn. So I try to pick up the discarded cups, paper plates, plastic bottles, potato chip wrappers and all the leftover food, with a heavy heart. Why do people litter on private property? Aren't children taught what's right or wrong in school? These teenagers next door were apparently absent from school when the teacher was giving a lecture on how to behave in a civilized world. I've asked these young adults in a nice way, to please not leave their trash on my yard. They apologized and said they wouldn't do it again. But they're back to their old ways. What more can I do?

Local color

On the bright side, there are some unique sights to see here. Just check out this man selling bouquets of flowers and colorful armchairs for litle kids. He's the roadside enterpreneur. Then there are the garage sales where used clothes are strewn all over the yard, for better exposure, I suppose. And on special holidays like Valentine's Day and Mother's Day, every major street corner has stalls selling teddy bears, balloons and flowers. Bright reminders to get something for sweetheart or Mom. There must be a lot of little kids in town at the rate I see bounce houses. It's a must for children's parties. And my favorite sight of all is the human billboard. This job has to be the toughest of all, standing on a street corner, waving at all the cars passing by under the heat of the summer sun or exposed to wintry temperatures. Brrr.

Sunrise

"Life is a great sunrise". Vladimir Nabokov.

And then there's awesome nature. This view of sunrise is from my living room window and this fiery sunset was taken from my kitchen window. If only I had a peaceful neighborhood. Is this too much to ask for?  

Fiery sunset


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Images by Charie




Kyoto Station


Main Hall of Kyoto Station

When Hiroshi Hara conceived his plan for Kyoto Station, he thought about "geographical perspective" and Kyoto's grid patterned streets. I am reminded of Piet Mondrian's painting, Broadway Boogie Woogie, which is based on the grid pattern of the streets of Manhattan. Hara had essentially incorporated old Kyoto in his design. But his futuristic ideas met resistance from locals who viewed his modern aesthetic plan for the station as a threat to the traditional landscape of Kyoto.

I felt dwarfed by the immensity of the main hall with its glass and steel beamed roof. Standing in the center of the hall, I looked around in wonder and wondered where to begin my exploration of this city within a city. Here's where three rail lines converge. There's a bus terminal on the north side of the station and a mall in the basement called Porta Underground with about a hundred shops and restaurants. No need to search far for lodging. The Granvia Hotel is inside the station and many more hotels are within walking distance. Isetan, a department store, takes several floors on the west side of the station. And they have an art museum on the 7th floor if you'd rather not shop. Time on you hands before you catch your bus or train? There's an in-house theater too.

Skyway

Straddling the east and west sides of the station is the Skyway tunnel which is 45 meters above the main hall. There's a great view of Kyoto Tower from here. At the end of the Skyway, on the west side, are more restaurants and a tranquil rooftop garden.

Kyoto Tower

Once when I got off the train from Fushimi Inari, I took a different exit and found myself in another basement which was unfamiliar to me. This turned out to be The Cube Shopping Mall.  But the restaurants here were full so I walked across to Porta to get some lunch there at the "all you can eat buffet". It was pricey but the selection was quite good and I was famished.

On some days when I had to take the bus from the station, I would stop and check the grocery store for snacks but what really caught my eye were the bakeries and pastry shops that carried green tea cakes. One afternoon I stopped for tea at Lipton where the price of tea is at a premium but it was well worth it after a day of sightseeing. And I lingered over tea and an apple tart while I checked my email. Wifi is conveniently available and free at Porta Mall.

Rooftop oasis

Most visitors to Kyoto fly into one of three main airports - Kansai, Osaka or Nagoya and connect by train to Kyoto. These trains, including the shinkansen from Tokyo, arrive at Kyoto Station. There are two tourist information centers to aid travelers - one on the second floor and the International Center on the 9th floor which has a multilingual staff.

Welcome to Kyoto! Yokoso! Kyoto.

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Images by Charie