in about me , going places |

eutrip019florenceview

Rainy day plus a late start due to laundry meant we spent the day in Florence instead of taking a day trip out to Tuscany. It means we only get to go to Siena this trip. I’m a little disappointed although mm preferred to stay in town.

Headed to south of the river to Piazzale Michaelangelo. A long trek up steps brought us to a wide open square with spectacular view of the city. The rain stopped long enough for the sun to peek out to give us even better views.

Quite a lot to see and do over there. There were 2 churches next to the square, a small church associated with a missionary and the basilica San Miniato al Monte which had a spectacular view to the city as well as an extensive cemetery behind the church. In front of the square is a small garden with roses and citrus trees, very pleasant to sit there once the weather cleared up.

Back to San Lorenzo market and Duomo area for last minute shopping. Dinner at our usual restaurant and florentine steak again. Back to the retreat house for our last night, packing and relaxing. We weren’t as agressive as before, taking our time everyday, so it meant we saw fewer sights than how we used to travel. Then again, we didn’t feel as rushed and it was sometimes nice just to sit at a café and watch the world go by.

The retreat house we stayed in Florence is the casa per ferie regina del santo rosario run by Sister Flora, Sister Lucia and others. I can’t recommend it high enough. Yes, it’s fairly basic. There is no TV in the room, no room service and other fancy stuff. I found it very peaceful and pleasant. We spent a little time this morning in the living room with the door to the garden open for fresh air and it was as good as life can get. They are actually on booking.com, the Sister was using the computer the other night.

Train to Assisi tomorrow. From the website, the retreat house at Assisi has no internet. Let’s see how we manage.


in going places |

eutrip017flrcroce

Leisurely breakfast. Laundry after breakfast too, the sisters charged us a nominal €1 to use their laundry facilities, there was plenty of room in the garden to hang our clothes to dry.

Walked to the Basilica di Santa Croce, the biggest franciscian church in Florence. The entrance fee was €6 and it was worth it, there was a lot to see. Aside from the main area, there were rooms and corridors full of art and artefacts, including many that were ruined by the 1966 flood and carefully restored. The church is also the final resting place for MIchaelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli and other prominent people.

eutrip018flrcroce

I enjoyed visiting the church, but got a bit impatient. We would go to a particular spot, an altar, a painting or something interesting. It’d take me a couple of minutes to look at the object and take a picture. Then I’d have to stand there for another 10mins waiting for mm, who seemed to read, look, appreciate and photograph every.single.thing with excruitiating slowness. We definitely have to compromise going forward. Sigh.

It was past 2pm by the time we came out of the basilica. I had plans to go to Piazza Michaelangelo across the river, but obviously the plan disappeared. We still had to find lunch. The first place, near palazzo vecchio, was way too touristy for our liking. We found a trattoria slightly off the main squares. It was still touristy, with some locals inside. Their lunch menu was until 3pm, so we took advantage of it. I had chicken liver crostini and mm had grilled vegetables. For mains we had veal scalloppine. Everything was good, the scalloppine was underseasoned, as if the chef forgot salt. Their bread was the best we’ve tasted in all of Italy. They made their own pizza and we noticed they made their own bread too. For dessert we shared a cheesecake with strawberries and cream.

More walking. Had a small gelato (mint and yogurt for me, mint and lemon for mm) and got a few things at the supermarket. Back at the retreat house at around 6pm. Still full from lunch, no need for dinner.

in going places |

eutrip016outlet

We woke up at 9am, too late for breakfast at the retreat house. Had our coffee and tea at a nearby coffee shop instead. Bought sandwiches from the street market—porchetta and lampredotto (cow stomach).

First stop was at the religious shop near the Duomo, to give the sisters there a cake we bought at Siena. They were so nice. Sister Stefanie invited us to visit their chapel above the shop. So peaceful and blessed.

The rest of the day was quite boring for me. Walked to the bus station to catch the bus for the outlet. The bus was full so we had to wait for the next one. Good timing to have lunch. The outlet had a number of brands—Prada, Ferragamo, Coach, BV, Burberry, Tods, Hogan, EA and the like. Honestly I have no interest in branded stuff, especially since most of the stuff for sale was handbags, shoes and accessories. There were a few wallets that looked alright, and mm as usual was tempted by handbags. I don’t get why anyone will buy wallets for €100-200 or handbags for almost €1000, nice thought they were. We didn’t buy anything at the end.

Walked through the market back at Florence and looked more carefully at things to buy. Came across a couple of stalls where the salesperson wasn’t obnoxious or pushy. Bought two handbags (mm) and two belts (me).

Bought chocolate at lindt then headed for dinner at the taverna near the retreat house. We shared a 1kg florentine shirloin steak on the bone, good taste and well cooked.

in going places |

When I was doing research for the trip, the dilemma was how to cover Tuscany. My first reaction was to rent a car, then drive around just like what we did at Provence, but mm didn’t want to, so the task was to figure out public transportation. Most of the websites and guidebooks said that if we only had one day and one destination to visit, we should go to Siena because it’s pretty and it’s relatively reachable by bus and train.

We had a leisurely breakfast then walked to the central station. The bus station is next to the train station and we saw a Siena bus leaving at 10.40am. I glanced at the clock and it read 10.39am, eeek. Hurried to the ticket office and sent mm to hold the bus. Thanks to the kind bus driver who wanted for us. Turned out that it was a local bus that stopped at a couple of towns before Siena. We got there around 12.20pm.

Couldn’t see a tourist information office so followed our noses and the crowd. Very beautiful, rustic Tuscan town with narrow cobblestoned streets and typical houses with tiled roofs, shutters and balconies.

Wandered into a small gourmet supermarket and decided to have lunch there. Porchetta sandwich with a little pickled peppers and we shared a whole burrata. Perfect lunch. We followed the signs to San Francesco church and accidentally went inside the university next door. Felt a bit like mature students. Useful since we needed to find a bathroom. The actual San Francesco was large if really empty.

eutrip013sienacampo

eutrip014sienaduomo

Followed the signs again to Piazza del Campo and the Duomo. The duomo had various combinations of entrance tickets including the main cathedral, the crypt, the tower, the museum next doors. We opted for just the cathedral entrance for €4.

eutrip015sienalibrary

The standout for me was the library, which had a display of illuminated choir books and frescos on the ceiling. There were also many other works of art in the cathedral as well as painted mosiacs on the floor.

On the way back to the bus station, we bought a couple of local cakes for the nuns at the retreat house and the shop. Took photos at the Basilica Cateriniana. We had 20mins to wait for the bus, and in trying to find bathrooms again accidentally came across the small pretty St Andrea chapel. We ended up going into a hotel for bathroom so all was well.

Dinner back at Florence as at the mercato again. Had the local speciality of trippa (tripe), arancini with spinach and spelt salad. Didn’t feel like anything too heavy so the combination was good. I had a chianti reserve with the meal.

Lots of walking again, probably 3-4 miles today. I’m missing running and training but hopefully the walking is keeping me from losing all my fitness. Quite pleased that we managed a whole day’s exploration without a map. Would have been nice to find a tourist information office but it’s okay.

I remember when we were planning our Provence trip in 2012 we debated between Provence and Tuscany. We only had one day in the Tuscan countryside so it’s difficult to compare. Both are beautiful and well worth repeat visits.


in going places |

eutrip010flrduomo

Woke up at 7am, mm wanted to go to early morning mass with the nuns. I didn’t go, but I got up anyway. We had breakfast at the dining room of the retreat house—bread roll, cereal, yogurt. We then explored around the house, gardens and chapel, everything was immaculate with a sense of peace. The furniture admittedly were older, made the place even more charming.

The distinctive Duomo was around 15mins away. There were queues for both the dome and the cathedral so we walked on towards San Lorenzo and the Mercato Centrale. Just the right time for an early lunch. The second floor of the market had about 10-12 artisan food stalls, we opted for a plate of mixed cold cuts & cheese from one and spaghetti pomodoro from another. I had a glass of rosé as it was the same price as coke.

eutrip011flrvecchio

From the market we walked past the train station, Santa Maria Novella church towards Piazza Republica. Checked out the hard rock café and the market nearby. Lots of leather goods and souvenirs, also quite sticky salespeople. Followed the crowd to reach Palazzo Vecchio and the copy of David at the entrance.

eutrip012flrponte

Where the crowd was thickest was at Ponte Vecchio. Around the bridge and on the bridge. Not inside the jewellry shops on the bridge though. Across the river we ambled towards Palazzo Pitti and Biboli gardens. Didn’t go inside, we weren’t that interested in the art in the palace and €10 for just the gardens didn’t seem value for money. We were pretty tired so had tea at a small coffee shop opposite the palace. One street over and we were at Santo Spirito church. Free entrance, so we went inside. It was quite nice, the main attraction was Michaelangelo’s wooden crucifix. We walked around the interior that had lots of art (didn’t know how to appreciate though) and sat for a little while.

From south of the river, we walked slowly back towards our retreat house. On the way we stopped at a religious store near Duomo. We were looking at the figures at the window when the sister inside waved us in. The store was run by nuns from a religious order. We were drawn to wood carvings of Mary and baby Jesus that was handmade by one of the sisters at their order. Quite expensive, but after some thought, we decided that they were worth it. Very beautiful pieces. The sisters at the shop were so friendly, we even took pictures together. We won’t forget Sr Stefanie, who spoke English and have travelled around the world, for a long time.

Dinner was at a taverna near the retreat house—caprese salad, grilled vegetables, pici cacio e pepe. It’s the first time we tried cacio e pepe pasta, and even though it’s a Roman speciality, the one here in Tuscany was very good. I had 250ml carafe red wine that was only €3, which was cheaper than coke. I think I’ll end up drinking a fair amount of house wine in Italy.

Walked a lot today, probably 3-4hrs. Helped burn off all the good food and wine.

in going places |

Travelling day. Early start, 6.30am alarm and out of the house at 8am. Had to repack at bag drop as our luggage was just a little above the limit. First time we fly easyJet and we can see the nickel and diming at work. Flight was almost 100% full and almost on time arriving at Rome. Picked up our luggage and leisurely made our way to the train station. We had a couple hours to wait for the direct train to Florence. It was fine, we found seats and had sandwiches we made at our friend’s house for lunch.

The train was very nice. When I was booking online, the first class (non-refundable) was the same price as second class (flexible) so I sprang for the first class tickets. For that we got comfrotable seats, a free drink and a small snack.

Florence train station was a big heaving mess. We had the option of taking a taxi or bus, and ended up at the bus stop. The bus arrived a few minutes later and we squeezed in with what seems to be the entire population of florence. I had the fare in my pocket but wasn’t able to figure out how to pay when we were pushed further down the bus. We knew we had 4 stops to go, and were glad the directions were correct.

eutrip008florenceretreate

We found the retreat house with no issue, the only slight problem was pushing our suitcases along the narrow cobblestone streets. We were greeted by Sister Lucia and Sister Flora, both from India. Their warm and friendly welcome was a good sign already. Our room was a good size and basic, with our own bathroom. We took a peek at the breakfast room, sitting room, chapel and garden. More pics tomorrow.

After leaving our bags, we headed out to find dinner. Found the remains of a market at a nearby square selling baked goods, cheese, olive oil and balsamic. I bought some balsamic glaze for mum, as requested. We also found a small supermarket where we stocked up on water.

Dinner was a small café nearby. We both had spaghetti vongole and we shared a plate of grilled vegetables. The spaghetti was good if a little salty; the veg was very good. I also had a small carafe of house red, which was the same price as a large coke. Pretty good. The retreat house has a curfew of 10.30pm, we were back well in time.


in going places |

eutrip007antwerpsteen

Our 5-country trip will become 6-country. The great thing about living in Central Europe is proximity and ease of travel to other countries.

We started the day at a cash-and-carry supermarket, like costco. Had to be very restrained not to buy anything. We ended up getting ingredients for a picnic lunch of herring, smoked eel, smoked salmon and bread rolls. Herring was fatty and fresh, the eel was the star of the meal, could have just had it on its own.

Driving into Belgium was like driving into another state, there was a sign and here we are. We headed first to Antwerp, to Het Steen, a medieval castle where a tyrannical rich man ruled. He charged toll for people and boats passing by and if they didn’t pay, he’d cut their hands off. Such was the life then. Walked to the central square with the cathedral and cobblestoned streets. Stopped for coffee at a nearby coffee shop.

Next stop Brussels. Our friends go there very often and even know where to park without needing to pay. Yes, it’s a 15min walk, which actually was great after sitting in the car for a couple of hours. Brussels was busy, full of locals and tourists. We quickly took in the sights—main square, manneken pis and the all-important chocolate shops.

Dinner was at Mechelen, a town between Brussels and Antwerp. Hadn’t heard of it before and it was a revelation. So pretty! Again the central square with an imposing church and beautiful architecture. It’s off the tourist trail and looks like a place we will like to revisit.

We shared a white asparagus starter made apparaently in the flemish way—with what tasted like hot egg mayonnaise sauce. It’s similar to hollandaise with posched egg. For mains we both opted for the horse steak. Ordered rare, came medium rare. Very, very lean and tasty. There’s a stigma with meat other than beef, lamb, pork—our thinking is that if the locals eat it, it’s good enough for us.


in going places |

eutrip006piano eutrip005amsterdam

Late start today, relaxed. Left the house at 11am, got the bus to the station to get a train to Amsterdam Centraal. Stopped by the free public piano at the station to watch people playing. Met our friend for lunch near Dam Square, nice café for sandwich and salad. Spent the afternoon walking around town, the first time we visited for almost 20 years. Lots of tourists and things have changed quite a bit.

Took a circular route from Dam Square to Westderkerk, around the canals to Rijksmuseum area—didn’t go in, took some pictures outside. Got some souvenir magnets after exploring the hard rock café shop. Stopped for just a minute at the bloemenmarkt before heading back to Dam Square area to meet our friend after work. Total time walked, around 3hrs.

She treated us to the most creamiest, richest ice cream at the tiny van der linde shop. Caught the train back to the house and I made dinner.

eutrip007dinner eutrip008crumble

Originally we wanted to make steak or lamb, but we couldn’t decide on the protein. I ended up making chicken & fennel with grilled courgettes and red peppers. For dessert I made a quick apple crumble. I was so happy that we finished everything. Nothing was left. Yay.


in going places |

eutrip004oostvaarder

I was so tired last night I went to bed at 10pm and woke up at 9am. Still not quite over jetlag, it’ll take a few more days I suspect.

Breakfast was croissants and tea. First stop today was a garden centre, we’re too early to see flowers in bloom in the tulip and flower fields, so our friend took us to the garden centre to look at flowers. Lovely.

The actual destination was beautiful Oostvaardersplassen nature reserve next to the garden centre. It’s a really pretty marshlands with walking trails around a lake area. There are supposed to be deer, ponies and cattle—we saw a herd of something from afar. We did see thousands of birds. In fact the visitor centre has binoculars and bird watching stations.

We had lunch there at café at the visitor centre. I had a ham & cheese omelette that came with bread and salad; mm had ham & cheese toast. Freshly made, we thought it was good value. Worked off the food with a walk around the nature reserve, almost 2hrs we covered around 2-3 miles. Great weather, blue skies and fresh air. It’d be a brilliant place for running.

Went to a supermarket nearby and bought vegetables, snacks, diet coke, stroopwafels and I saw rivella (!!). Haven’t had rivella since Switzerland. I got 2x2l bottles for travelling as well as a 500ml bottle for immediate consumption which, hahaha, got me into a bit of trouble with mm.

For dinner our friends drove to Lage Vuursche to take us to a pancake restaurant. Posh area, beautiful surroundings and buildings. I had a bacon & mushroom pancake. We shared poffertjes (small, fluffy pancakes with icing sugar) for dessert.

We weren’t too ambitious today, it was nice to take it easy, take a walk and enjoy good food.


in going places |

eutrip002almere

Woke up at 7.20am, after sleeping at 11pm and waking up 3 times overnight. Our friend prepared an absolutely delicious breakfast of croissant, roll, soft boiled eggs, cheese and freshly squeezed orange juice. I made tea from the PG I brought with me. We took our time and we left around 10am. Destination was Almere town centre to look at the shops and explore the market. Our love of markets is legendary. Great produce: fruits, vegs, meat, fish, sweets, baked goods and cheap household items. We bought some veg for home cooking. I even bought a pair of sneakers for €35, as the shoes I was wearing had a hole at the bottom. Lunch was unconventional—cake and tea at a tea shop. It was what we felt like.

eutrip003naarden

Originally the plan was to head to the Oostvaardersplassen nature reserve but the lateness of the hour plus poor weather meant a change of plans. Instead, our friend took us to nearby Naarden, a village surrounded by a 17th century fort with pretty streets and buildings. We stopped at a whisky shop, sampled different types of genever and 5 millstone whiskies—5 year and rye. I did not like the genever, it tasted like medicine; liked the rye whiskies best.

Rested for tea at a bar café. I had a small bock beer and we all shared a plate of ossenwurst (beef tartare sausage) and bitterballen (like beef croquettes). Back to the house for shower and dinner at home: roast chicken, frites, salad and traditional dutch apple tart. Great to have homemade food.


in going places |

Travelling day. I set the alarm for 5.15am, showered, last minute packing, I was out at 6.30am to catch the bus to the airport express station. Check-in and everything was straightforward. The flight wasn’t full; the seat between us was empty (I deliberately picked the 2 aisle seats in the middle column).

It was a day flight so I couldn’t really sleep. Watched Imitation Game, Grand Budapest Hotel and Robocop. Enjoyed all of them, especially Imitation Game and Grand Budapest Hotel. There is a Japanese anime cartoon feel to GBH, it was atmospheric and funny.

Food was mainly forgettable airplane food. Decent quality, I only had about an inch of their cab with dinner, sticking with coke zero and soda water at other times.

The route was almost 1 hr longer than it used to be, to avoid Ukraine. Most of the flight was over Russia. We laughed when the map showed that we were almost directly over Amsterdam, and then we carried on to London. Going from T3 to T5 was okay, then it was a long queue at security. Definitely security theatre, they swiped my small flight toiletries ziploc—the same bag and contents have flown with me thousands of miles around the world, so why would T5 need to swipe it today? Hahaha.

heathrowtea

There was enough time to sit for a while. We shared a hummous wrap from eat and I had a much needed large cup of tea. Ahhhhh.

The flight to AMS was very short. BA gave us snacks (crisps and biscuits) and drinks (the other businessmen all opted for something alcoholic, I had diet coke). We spent about 15mins around the duty free shop, retrieved our luggage and our friends L&P picked us up. They live in the suburbs, and we picked up chinese takeaway on the way back for dinner.

A long travelling day, the sense of excitement is building. Getting a good night’s sleep then we’re ready for the trip proper.



in 101.1001 , challenges |

1001miles20150316

Task #39 of 101.1001 is to run/walk/bike 1001 miles. I originally put 1001km, then I upped it to miles. I went past 1001km in novembe. The red line shows the growth in mileage lately as I’m building base for marathon training, it looks like a taper for the last datapoint, but bear in mind March is only halfway gone.

I crashed my knee on sunday’s race which scuppered the planned 10 mile weekend long run. I should be resting but I did a fast 5k around the neighbourhood:

  • I noticed I was only 3 miles from the 1001 milestone and I’m not going to let poxy ITBS stop me from getting there
  • I don’t know how much time I’ll have to run on the trip, so it’s like a final run before we fly tomorrow
  • I wanted to stretch the knee out a little

The initial 1km up the hill was uncomfortable, the knee kept wanting to give out. I changed to a flatter route and by the end of the run the knee was sort of okay. I rollered the IT band together with my back and boy, it was painful.

This task is done, but there’s still #40 walk to Mordor, next milestone is 1309 miles from Lothlorien down the Anduin to Rauros Falls. If I can consistently hit 80-100 miles a month, I’ll get there hopefully by June or July.

in challenges |

3030-20150301

Somehow managed to get at least one task a day despite not being very motivated. Haven’t needed to use the rest day yet. Deliberately leaving photochallenges for the trip.

    health
  1. run/walk/bike 60mins // done
  2. run/walk/bike 90mins // done
  3. take the stairs
  4. weights/trx/resistance band // done
  5. do more than one type of exercise // done
  6. do something relaxing
  7. sleep early // done

  8. food & drink
  9. 3 different vegetables in a day // done
  10. 3 different fruits in a day // done
  11. no red meat day // done
  12. no alcohol day // done
  13. no snack day // done
  14. new food // done
  15. new drink // done
  16. new recipe // done

  17. looking inward
  18. gratitude for the day // done
  19. keep calm and… // done
  20. participate in prayer or service
  21. say a prayer for family
  22. silent retreat

  23. photography
  24. 10 photos: a colour
  25. 10 photos: a shape
  26. 10 photos: directions
  27. 10 photos: loud
  28. 10 photos: morning
  29. 10 photos: next to me
  30. 10 photos: numbers
  31. 10 photos: old
  32. 10 photos: people
  33. 10 photos: water

  34. bonus
  35. rest day — no challenges today


in being healthy |

2015bananarace01start 2015bananarace04medal

5k (GPS=4.83km) 34.48min 7.12min/km

I ran the beat the banana race in London a few years ago. The idea is to run after a guy dressed as a banana. Definitely a fun run, organised by the World Cancer Research Fund.

Today’s race had around the same people, the course was along the harbourfront. The 5k was billed as an “elite” race; there was nothing elite about it, it was the only 5k during the event. The other races were 3k fun run and 1k kid’s race. There weren’t any people dressed as bananas on the 5k, just on the other two shorter races, which was disappointing.

No chip, and the organisers obviously put more emphasis on fun, family and charity aspect. The course measured 4.83km on my GPS. There were volunteers telling us we’d reached 2km when it was just over 1km. The halfway mark was labelled 3k on the course map. Not “elite” but still sort of fun.

A grotty, foggy, muggy, humid, cloudy morning. I ran the bulk of the race with steam on my glasses, it was that humid. Then at somewhere between 3-4k my knee gave out on me. Sigh. Managed to get to the end. Grabbed the goodie bag, the sponsored banana, a couple of bottles of water and hopped on the bus. Home by 9.30am.


in going places , outside interests |

Since we will be in Rome over Easter, we investigated whether it was possible to participate in a mass at the Vatican. Turns out, general audiences and liturgical masses conducted by the Pope are free and open to the public. Over Easter there are special masses:

  • Thursday 2, Chrism Mass, at 9:30 am, in St Peter’s Basilica
  • Friday 3, Celebration of the Lord’s Passion, at 17.00, in St Peter’s Basilica
  • Friday 3, Way of the Cross, at 21.15, in the Coliseum
  • Saturday 4, Easter Vigil Mass, at 20.30,, in St Peter’s Basilica
  • Sunday 5, Easter Sunday Mass, at 10.15 am, in St Peter’s Square


The Prefecture of the Papal Household is responsible for administering the tickets. Application involved downloading a form at their website and completing it precisely indicating:

  • Date of the General audience or Liturgical celebration
  • Number of tickets required
  • Name / Group
  • Mailing Address
  • Telephone and Fax numbers


The form then has to be faxed over. Argh. Printers and faxes, how 1990s. My printer is at my parents’ place so it was straightforward. The problem was faxing. In the past we would have just used the fax at work, but we can’t do that anymore. And who faxes nowadays?!

I googled and found a few free online fax services. Some limit the number of pages; others only send to certain countries. I ended up using myfax which offered one free fax to 41 countries per 24hr period. We wanted to apply for all the masses so I split the applications into 2 faxes over 2 days.

That was about 3 weeks ago. We aren’t sure how we’d know if we are successful. The website said tickets are to be collected the day before at the Prefecture office but does it mean we automatically get tickets? There was nowhere to put our email and we’re sure if we called or faxed to enquire, no one will be able to help us (imagine thousands of people calling up to ask about the status of their application). Our plan is to go to the office once we get to Rome and hope that they have our names on a list or something like that.

vatican201504

Imagine my surprise when I received a letter in the post. I recognised the stamps—one had Pope Francis on it. A paper letter. Can’t remember the last time I got one. The first paragraph:

vatican


Perfect timing. This is an absolute blessing indeed.

We’ve seen the Pope’s Easter and Christmas masses and address on the news. This year, we’ll be there in person. How cool is that?


in techtalk |

iphone4and6

It finally happened. The touchscreen on the iphone, or rather the left hand corner of the touchscreen, stopped working. I can’t type the letters e, s and merely touching a gives me a bunch of letters in the vicinity. Apps kept opening by themselves. The keypad doesn’t register, so at times I can’t unlock the phone. I left it overnight and it worked for about 1 minute before going haywire again.

It’s time to get a new iphone. I wasn’t planning on getting it this cycle, was hoping for another year or two. C’est la vie. I guess 4 years of constant use, being dropped multiple times and exposure to the elements are factors that led to the failure.

Debated between 6 or 6 plus. The 6 plus was too big to fit comfortably in pockets so 6 it is. I’m struck by the comparison in size between the 4 and 6.

Went to the messy computer mall to get screen protector and case. App and data transfer was easy, just restored from icloud. For some reason the camera roll didn’t transfer so I took the opportunity to clean it up by selectively restoring from dropbox. Spent 3 hours on software update though, a combination of slow internet and slow itunes.


in eating and drinking |

whiskymackmyra

How often does someone give you something you’ve always wanted but thought you’d never get a chance to have? Hardly ever. And when it happens, it is a very special moment indeed.

Sis went to a small Swedish shop with her friend, a Swedish mom whose daughter is my niece’s best friend. They were there to look for chocolate and biscuits. She spotted an unusual bottle of whisky that she hadn’t seen before, and because it’s my birthday coming up, bought it for me.

She didn’t know Sweden had whisky and hadn’t heard of Mackmyra before. Little did she know it’s one of the whiskies on my list that I’ve wanted to try. I first came across it in 101 whiskies to try before you die, and saw a bottle at Stockholm airport—I couldn’t buy it because it was only available for purchase for travellers going to non-EU destinations. The best chance of trying would have been at a whisky bar or tasting.

Mackmyra is Sweden’s first single malt whisky, and the comments are positive. This bottle is a first edition, ie the distillery’s first product. NAS, and from what I can gather, is light and smooth. Now that I know where I can get it, I’m tempted to get another bottle to open and drink.

I’m so so so grateful that Sis saw this whisky, and thought of getting it for me.


in eating and drinking |

pizzasprouts201503 winepassori201503

Sis and niece took me to pre-birthday dinner. The restaurant we wanted to go to had a private function so we ended up at motorino’s. Ordered two pizzas to share: brussels sprouts with pancetta and four cheeses. Both really really good. I like the sprouts one better, it was light and the veg was just charred giving them a crunchy texture. Sis was surprised we ordered two white pizzas (no tomato sauce); I wasn’t bothered, I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary to have tomato sauce on a pizza. I remember in Rome, having this most delicious pizza with potato and a little cheese. Simple.

At her place she opened a bottle of veneto rosso wine. First time I tried it, apparently not expensive. I like it. Will keep in mind for italy trip.

in techtalk |

iphone4power

Excuse me while I have a fit. I was getting my haircut and happily exchanging stickers with mm when the iphone started acting stupid. Apps kept opening, I couldn’t bring up the keyboard and when I did, I couldn’t type. At one point, the keypad wasn’t working so I wasn’t even able to unlock the phone. I’d press one number but it either didn’t register or it’d register as 1. All in all, a complete mess.

I do not need this just a few days before the trip. I went to the phone shop and was this close to getting a new phone. The customer service person said may be it’s the screen protector. I took it off and it seemed to behave for a little bit. Will test for a couple of days.


in being healthy |

tired

Interesting.

I ran 10 miles yesterday and felt fine. Drank 500ml of energy drink, munched on a few biscuits, took a shower and I was okay. Slept a bit earlier so it helped.

Walked a mile to the local market today to run some errands and I’m knackered. My knee hurts, my back hurts, my thighs feel like I’d played a whole game of basketball (or ran 10 miles), I sat at my desk and fell asleep.

I guess it’s not the mile-long walk, it’s recovery from the long run. That said, I’m quite happy with training progress. Slow and steady with, touch wood, no major injuries. Knee pain and back pain are to be expected, and at the moment they are both manageable. I’m a little worried about the month-long holiday, I definitely will not get the chance to follow the training program.

in family first |

lambshank012

It’s International Women’s Day. There are articles where writers talk about the women who have most influenced their lives. Top of the list, their mums and grandmothers.

I must say I don’t feel influenced by Mum or either of my Grandmas. [Caveat: I don’t feel terribly influenced by anyone specifically so it’s nothing against Mum or Grandmothers.] I don’t think there’s any legacy they will pass to me. People who are chefs or go on cookery competition shows always say that their greatest cooking influence is their family. “I cooked at my grandmother’s knees” is a common sentiment.

I don’t have any family recipes passed down from the older generation. None of my grandparents cooked. Mum is an okay cook, but she is a better appreciater of food. My dad is the best cook in this group, and like me, he’s not the best at presentation.

I learned cooking from tv and reading recipes. Now I cook so I can share with my family. I wish I had a chance to cook for my grandmothers.


in 101.1001 , challenges , techtalk |

Task #3 of 101.1001 is to become proficient in evernote.

As a nano winner, I got 3 months of evernote premium, which just ended. I’ve been using EN for a while, and now have over 250 notes. I know, I know, proficiency isn’t measured by quantity. However I think that I can claim to have at least basic proficiency. Like many tech services, I signed up for an account ages ago but never got round to using it until later. When I did get started it was just playing around with to-do lists. I read up on how other people use it and I really appreciated its power and functionality when i started using it to organise travel. And then I started using it more. The rest of this post is how I currently use EN. Warning: may be boring for some, not everyone is into organising their lives in such detail.

in arts and media , going places |

tkts
flickr / conny liegl

Current musicals in London that I am interested in, and today’s availability at the “half-price” tkts booth at Leicester Square:

  • book of mormon at the prince of wales — not sold at tkts, there are more expensive seats available direct at the theatre
  • charlie and the chocolate factory at the theatre royal drury lane — £18.50-50.50 no discount
  • let it be at the garrick — £32.50 with discount
  • matilda at the cambridge — £36 no discount, I saw this in 2012, I definitely want to see it again and definitely think mm will like it
  • miss saigon at the prince edward — £28.50-38.50 no discount, saw it when it first came out (lea salonga!!), will be interesting to see it again
  • sweeney todd at the london coliseum — not at tkts, limited run closing on 12-apr; cheapest tickets are £86, I love Emma Thompson but…gulp
  • women on the verge of a nervous breakdown at the playhouse — £22.50-39.50 with discount

There are others playing I’m less interested in, like Beautiful, the Commitments, Gypsy, Jersey Boys, Lion King, Molly Wobbly, Once, Seven Brides; others I’ve seen already like Billy Elliot, Cats, Les Miz, Mamma Mia, Phantom, Wicked. The two I do want to see, Kinky Boots and Damon Albarn’s Wonder.land, are not on yet.



My personal preferences: the Book of Mormon, Matilda, Women on the Verge. The ticket booth doesn’t have tickets or offer discounts for the more popular musicals, not even on the day. Disappointing. I’ve always thought of the booth as a tourist attraction anyway, and now even more so with the new look booth and the twee phone box next to it. Seriously, apart from escort services, who uses phone boxes?.

Anyway, I think we’ll probably end up seeing Matilda, if we were to go to the West End. Which is more than fine with me.


in challenges , going places |

keepcalmholiday

I set a task in 30.30 that was a play on the keep calm and carry on posters that were a hit once upon a time. The idea was to take some time during our holiday to get into a peaceful state of mind.

I find, though, that I needed to remind myself to keep calm and not get too stressed out the past few days. The reason I’m stressed out? I’m doing all the bookings and planning for our trip.

To give a scale of the amount of work done:

  • 7 flights on 4 different airlines — interesting to note the difference between carriers like BA/CX who behave normally and EI/EZ (Aer Lingus, easyjet) who nickel and dime everything, £16 for luggage, £5 to select seats, admin fee, online fee…but are still cheaper than the regular airlines — it’s something that has been around for a while in US domestic airlines and budget European airlines, I guess I’ve just been shielded from the madness
  • 1 long distance train journey + seat reservation — top tip, use italiarail rather than the official trenitalia because a) english; b) ease of navigation
  • 2 regional train journeys that I have not booked, but have gotten times and details
  • 1 car rental — as usual, go to the UK site, avis UK gave me a 15% discount
  • heathrow express — duo express return saves £20 for 2 people if booked online
  • 3 convent stays — monastery stays booked everything and sent a comprehensive package that included an introductory letter in italian for each convent, list of amenties and travel directions; very impressed with the service and promptness (I booked on saturday, got everything on tuesday which basically meant a 24-hr turnaround)
  • 4 hotel bookings — top tip: browse on hotels.com or bookings.com but check out individual hotel websites for offers like free wifi or further discount if booked on their site, I also paid attention to reviews and took posted pictures with a grain of salt
  • 1 airbnb booking (another one was unexpectedly unavailable so had to switch to hotel) — we specifically didn’t want Central London and went through around 10 potential choices, the flat we booked is 2 stops away from where I used to live, quite happy about our choice
  • 1 restaurant booking — for our birthday dinner I chose butcher grill, I visited in 2012 and said it’s worth returning, they have a special offer of côte de bœuf for two at €45 on mondays and tuesdays
  • maps and directions for airports, train stations and accommodation
  • 8 notes in evernote for each city / region we plan to visit with research on sights, transportation, food & drink — I’m quietly amassing lots of EN notes on travelling
  • expenses spreadsheet — because there will always be a spreadsheet, especially for a trip this long and this complicated


I haven’t even started the packing list. There is still stuff to do, like get EUR, arrange travel insurance, take passport photos, book appointment at passport office, get haircut, pay/pre-pay bills.


in arts and media |



Spotted via adweek, a clever ad by AIS London for Skoda. Watch till the end. The black flashes are normal.

I mean, Skoda isn’t exactly attention grabbing. Which is why this ad was clever. It plays to the image of Skodas as the opposite.

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in 101.1001 , challenges , photography is life |

southbay011tower

Task #20 of 101.1001 is to reach 1001 instagram/vine/snapchat total. I tried vine and it was fine, but instagram offered similar videoing functionality and I’m used to using instagram, so my vine count is still under 10. I never got round to using snapchat.

Without me noticing it, I reached 1001 instagrams a couple of weeks ago. This was taken when mm and I drove out to South Bay on a nice cool evening and the place was empty. The lifeguard towers looked sad and forlorn on the beach.

in outside interests |

minecraftlego02 minecraftlego01

My niece, bless her, got all top marks in her school report. So as a reward, sis and I got her some minecraft lego figures we spotted when we went to the computer place. They’re not proper lego, they look like lego but don’t have the branding. The figures are really cute though, my niece put them together and they are lined up on her windowsill.


in challenges , eating and drinking |

onionsoup201503

Task #15 of 30in30 is to try a new recipe.

Mum felt like onion soup so she bought a ton of onions. I don’t like onions so I usually relegate it to a flavouring as a component in mirepoix. Although IIRC I never made onion soup, I don’t think it’s something that requires a recipe. I mean, cook the onions, add liquid and simmer, right?

Ha!

There’s a good discussion about the various methods for making onion soup. The type of onions to use, how long to caramelise the onions (from Michel Roux Jr’s 30-40mins to Thomas Keller’s 5 hours), the type of stock, additional seasoning (balsamic) and even what alcohol to add (cider, brandy).

Here’s what I did. I chopped 6 large onions and cooked them in butter for about 1.5hrs. I stirred like crazy towards the end, and left the lid off to reduce the liquid and break down the onion further. Most recipes call for beef stock which I didn’t have, I compromised by adding about 100g total of cubed beef with the onions.

After 1.5hrs the onions were soft and mushy and turned a nice medium brown. I then added vegetable stock I had in the freezer. Brought the whole lot to a boil and kept at a rolling boil for 20mins. Seasoned with s&p, thyme, worcestershire sauce, a dash of balsamic and soy sauce. Recipes tend not to include worcestershire or soy sauce, but they are my secret ingredients for adding umami to soups.

The cheese toast was made from baguette and shredded cheese. Proper cheeses like gruyere or comteé are simply too expensive and difficult to find so I used processed, sigh. I toasted the croutons on both sides before melting the cheese on top. Sprinkled more cheese onto the soup.

I was fairly pleased with the results. A tad too watery, I could have done with another 10-15mins reduction at the end, or taken half the soup and blitzed it. Still not a fan of onions.


in challenges |

3030-20150301

My friend R asked if I wanted to do another challenge or take a break; it’d be 3 months in a row. The Europe trip starts the second half of the month and doing challenges on holiday can be, well, challenging. But that’s why they are called challenges, right? (I’m thinking an editor will frown at this paragraph, with so many instances of challenges, snerk.)

Switching to the 30.30 format. I am fully aware that march has 31 days, but I’m keeping the tag as 30.30, and given myself one day with no required task. I’ve listed more photography challenges than usual because: a) I find I’m doing photo-a-day type challenges anyway; b) I’ll have more opportunities to take pictures.

    health
  1. run/walk/bike 60mins
  2. run/walk/bike 90mins
  3. take the stairs
  4. weights/trx/resistance band
  5. do more than one type of exercise
  6. do something relaxing
  7. sleep early

  8. food & drink
  9. 3 different vegetables in a day
  10. 3 different fruits in a day
  11. no red meat day
  12. no alcohol day
  13. no snack day
  14. new food
  15. new drink
  16. new recipe

  17. looking inward
  18. gratitude for the day
  19. keep calm and…
  20. participate in prayer or service
  21. say a prayer for family
  22. silent retreat

  23. photography
  24. 10 photos: a colour
  25. 10 photos: a shape
  26. 10 photos: directions
  27. 10 photos: loud
  28. 10 photos: morning
  29. 10 photos: next to me
  30. 10 photos: numbers
  31. 10 photos: old
  32. 10 photos: people
  33. 10 photos: water

  34. bonus
  35. rest day — no challenges today


in challenges |

30day20150228

All done. Ran a lot more, but walked less than last month. Non-alcohol days just made (phew), the rest were straightforward.

health

  • run 80 km (50 miles) // 113km (70 miles) done
  • run/walk/bike 120 km (80 miles) // 165km (103 miles) done
  • weights or circuit x4 // done
  • crunch 60 reps in 1 set // done
  • check out Chicago summer races // done — nothing suitable

food

  • new recipe // done pikelets
  • old recipe // done banana bread
  • non alcohol days x20 // 20 done
  • vegetables x24 // 28 done — veg everyday
  • fruit or juice x24 // 27 done — missed one day because I got home late and too full
  • within daily calorie goal x 20 // 27 done

family

  • visit parents x15 // 19 done
  • family activity x1 // done
  • bbmm activity x1 // done

misc

  • research for april trip // done — it’s now march trip
  • photo-a-day challenge // done
  • photofriday x1 // done
  • LL edits x3 // done


in challenges , photography is life |

Get the flash player here: http://www.adobe.com/flashplayer



This photo-a-day challenge is actually from feb-2014. They post one item a day over the month, instead of posting the whole list at the beginning of the month. Seems to be quite interesting anyway. Full set here.

18magic

Probably my favourite is 18magic, the stack of rocks my niece built at the beach. I thought it was pretty magical.


in going places |

eutrip2015

We had been planning our long trip for a while, and because of external factors, had to push the timing up. We went to the travel agent earlier in the week to finalise our in- and outbound flights but there’s a lot of other stuff in between to research and book. We fly in and out of London, then we get extremely ambitious:

  • Amsterdam — will be staying with our friends L&P, whom I haven’t seen for something like 20 years (mm has seen L more recently, L is more her friend really) — a bit too early for tulips unfortunately but can’t be helped, there’s still a lot to see and do and catch up
  • Florence — have to figure out the best/cheap way to get there, currently looks like easyjet to Rome then train. We are looking into staying at monasteries and convents; which are fairly abundant in italy, offering peaceful and safe b&b accommodation. Of course not 4- or 5-star hotels but a special experience, and at €75-100 per night with en suite bathroom, good value. We’ll spend a few days in Florence, then take day trips out to Tuscany, probably Siena and hopefully Lucca and the Chianti region
  • Assisi — train from florence; this is the sort of pilgrimage part of the trip, another monastery stay, we found a convent directly opposite St Francis’ basilica
  • Rome — more monastery stay near the Vatican, we’ll get tickets for general audience or mass with the Pope. I’ve been to Rome twice in the last 2 years so it’ll be repeat visits to the main sites. Interesting, despite visiting Rome for so many times, I’ve never been to the Vatican museum and Sistine Chapel, will try to brave the crowds this time
  • London — markets, food places, Bicester and may be a musical or even a day trip if we have time. No convenient monastery stays, may have to do airbnb if regular hotels are too expensive. We keep saying we don’t need to stay in zone 1 or 2 but I keep gravitating to W9 and NW3. I saw a garden flat in little venice that got me excited, until I noticed it’s a sofa bed. We’re frugal, but not that frugal. While we are in London, we may as well renew our passports so need to call for appointment
  • UK / Ireland side trip — we debated between Ireland, Scotland and the Lake District and tentatively decided to look into Dublin then driving around southern Ireland. That doesn’t leave us much time in London, perhaps we are being too ambitious

There’s all the flights and trains to book; car rental; all accommodation except amstersdam to find. And then to build research notes on every destination. Lots to do, not a lot of time.


in 101.1001 , challenges |

mordorwalk920

Task #40 of 101.1001 is to complete the 1779 miles walk to mordor challenge.

I reached milestone 1: hobbiton to rivendell or 458 miles in august-2014. Today, as I reached 87 miles for the month of feb-2015, I passed milestone 2: rivendell through moria to lothlorien for a total of 920 miles. More than halfway, 859 miles to go. I’m ahead of scheule—marathon training has me running a lot, and I’m still only at the base building phase. Proper training starts in june.


March 2015

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101 tasks in 1001 days

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