Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Europe 2016 diary: day 11

Sunday, 30 April, 2017

Tuesday, 8 November, 2016. 18:43

We got up a little lazily, and didn’t head down to breakfast until about 08:00 after having showers and dressing for a day in Monaco. The breakfast buffet served in the hotel restaurant was similar to others, but with a bigger selection of chopped and fresh fruits, and also pancakes. I had some muesli with fruit salad and yoghurt, and then tried the pancakes with maple syrup. They were luke warm and really not very good; thin and dense, almost more like small crepes. M. had some slices of bread with Nutella after some cereal. I also had a banana, since they were amongst the available fruits. The hot food selection includes sausages, eggs, bacon, mushrooms, and potatos, but I didn’t have any of those.

Saint-Charles Market
Farmer’s market near Église Saint-Charles

After eating, we set out for a day of walking around Monaco. First we headed over to Avenue Saint-Charles and the Église Saint-Charles, where there was a farmers’ market in the morning. This turned out to be quite a small affair, with just seven or eight fruit and vegetable sellers and a couple of flower stalls. They had some interesting things though, like really long skinny zucchini with the flowers attached. We walked through the stalls and then entered the side entrance of Église Saint-Charles to have a look at its interior, before exiting from the front to see the facade before continuing our walk.

Read more: Walking around the port of Monaco, exploring the old city of Monaco-Ville, the royal palace, the cathedral of Monaco, then having a wonderful dinner

Europe 2016 diary: day 10

Saturday, 15 April, 2017

Monday, 7 November, 2016. 20:56

We woke up a little later today, getting up only after 07:00. After showering, we went down to breakfast and filled up for the day. They had some chocolate biscuits half dipped in chocolate, and I had to try one, and it was good. I noticed while having breakfast that the hotel dog was in the kitchen next to the breakfast room; I guess that’s just a thing that happens in Italy. I wondered aloud if they had bananas, and M. said yes, there were some in the fruit basket. I got one and returned to the table. M. said I could save it for later… just as I cracked the stem to start peeling it. I realised saving it was probably a good idea, but it was too late now! So I had to eat it right away.

We packed our bags and checked out. We decided to walk over to the Arione shop to get some photos of this historical place, and by the time we got back to the car it would be after 09:00, when ticketed parking started. So M. fed the meter to get a ticket, with the help of the hotel guy. He’d also helped us take our luggage out to the car, and had generally been very friendly and helpful.

Unfortunately when we arrived at the Arione shop, it was shuttered, and a check of the hours revealed that it didn’t open on Mondays until 12:30! So I took some photos of the posters outside, and we walked back to the car. This led us past two chocolate and pastry shops there were open, right next door to each other. Both also sold cuneesi al rhum, but what caught my eye was bottles of amaro bitters of various brands in one of them. It sold small bottles, and I decided to get one to take home. After purchasing this, we went to the car and drove off, heading towards France.

Tunnel queue
Cars and trucks queuing to pass through the Col de Tende tunnel

We drove up into the Ligurian Alps, passing the last Italian town of Limone on the way to the border. Just before the Col de Tende pass at the top of the valley, we ran into a queue of cars, stopped at a red light. Next to the light was a display showing the number 14. After a few seconds, I divined that the 14 was indicating how many minutes until the light would go green and we could proceed through the tunnel immediately ahead. Seeing others ahead of us turn their cars off and get out for a stretch, I did likewise, taking the opportunity to take some photos of the scenic valley with the forest around us. One guy ahead of us let his dog out for a walk too.

Read more: A day exploring the village of Tende, driving through Mercantour National Park, ending up in Monaco, the Monte Carlo Casino, then dinner and drinks

Europe 2016 diary: day 9

Tuesday, 4 April, 2017

Sunday, 6 November, 2016

We got up just before 07:00 and had showers before descending to the breakfast room. We had cereal and cornetti, and I tried making a toasted cheese roll in the sandwich press, but it wasn’t very hot and the cheese didn’t melt at all.

Before leaving La Spezia, we walked back to the bakery where we’d had lunch yesterday, to buy some things to take with us for lunch during today’s drive. We asked what the brown focaccia-like bread was that yesterday the lady seemed to be saying was filled with cherries. After some to and fro with language, we determined she meant cereals, that it had different grains in it. M. got a slice of that, while I chose a slice of one that looked like it had cheese with lumps of feta on it, and the woman said “Gorgonzola” as she cut a piece for me.

Taking these back to the hotel, we repacked our bags to fit all our new things and our freshly cleaned laundry in, then checked out and headed off in the car. Navigating out of La Spezia was not too difficult, and we picked up the autostrada north of the city, where we’d got off it the other day when we’d arrived. We took the route towards Genova, west along the coast. The road was good, passing over many viaducts and through lots of tunnels as it cut through the rugged coastal landscape of hills and steep valleys. We saw the Mediterranean Sea a few times but never got really close to it.

After an hour or so of driving, we passed Genova, skirting around the edge of it. This was a tricky bit of navigation, as there were several exits and forks and they all had place names we didn’t know. M. used Google Maps to assist and we managed to pick the correct forks, which followed signs pointing to Ventimiglia. (I checked where Ventimiglia is later, and this was certainly the right direction, as it’s the last large Italian town on the coast before the French border.) However we didn’t follow the coastal road all the way, but instead turned inland at Savona, heading towards Turin.

At a rest and fuel stop along this road, we stopped for a break in the drive. M. got a cappuccino in the roadside bar. While she drank it, I spotted packs of Fonzies, the Italian equivalent of Twisties, in the same distinctive red and yellow packet. I had to get a pack to try them, so she paid for one when she paid for the coffee. I ate them outside, while M. had two pocket coffees for some extra coffee hit. While eating the Fonzies, I noticed an area near the car park which was specially set up for dogs, with a tap and water dishes, and even a special wooden pole for them to relieve themselves on. There was quite a graphic cartoon picture showing a dog using the pole, on a sign nearby.

Returning to the autostrada, we continued northwest until a turn off to the A33 route west to Cuneo. As it turned out, Cuneo was the end of the line for the autostrada, as it simply ended with a toll plaza and then turned into a regular road. This time the toll was €25, which I paid with an Amex card as the only booth with human assistance was closed. The toll machine worked fine thankfully.

Piazza Galimberti
Piazza Galimberti, the heart of Cuneo

Read more: wandering the streets of Cuneo’s old town, discovering the local chocolate specialty, relaxing in a cafe, exploring the cathedral, taking in the views, and finding the best place for dinner of the trip

Europe 2016 diary: day 8

Sunday, 2 April, 2017

Saturday, 5 November, 2016. 21:01

We rose just before 07:00 this morning, to the sound of heavy rain outside. It had moved in during the night and looked set in for the day, as the forecast had predicted. We showered and went down to the breakfast room to see what was on offer. There was no hot meal option, unless you counted various cornetti in a warmer so that they were warm as though freshly baked, or the sandwich toaster press with which you could assemble your own toasted sandwiches if you had such a desire. But certainly no eggs or bacon or sausages. There was however a bran flake cereal with fruit pieces in it, which both M. and I had. The yoghurt I added to mine was very runny, and I almost spilled the first tub all over the place as I tipped it over the cereal, expecting to have to use a spoon to coax it out of the tub, whereas it actually came pouring out rapidly. M. told me the cornetti she had were nicely warm, so I grabbed a chocolate one. These Italian cornetti are sort of like croissants, but straight rather than curved, and quite a bit smaller. At this hotel, like the last one, there was also a large tart with apricot jam on it. The Italians sure love their apricot jam, it being the typical filling for cornetti con marmellata as well.


The rain in La Spezia, from our hotel window

After breakfast, we packed a paper bag with dirty laundry and went for a walk in search of a laundry that would do a bag wash for us. Google indicated two dry cleaners nearby, the nearest just a block away, named Casa della Penna, and a second one three blocks in the opposite direction from the hotel, named Lavanderia Everest. With umbrellas raised against the heavy rain, we tried the nearest one first, but couldn’t see a laundry anywhere near Google’s indicated location. I went into an open pharmacy and asked a lady in there, “Sto cercando una lavanderia, il nome è Casa della Penna.” This seemed to confuse the woman for a second, before she began saying in Italian that there was no laundry nearby, and that Casa della Penna was a “negozio”, a shop. I didn’t fully understand her Italian but got enough of a gist, and asked where was Casa della Penna? She pointed at a shop just across the street and down a couple of doors. We looked and sure enough, it had “Casa della Penna” above the door. But far from being a dry cleaner, it was a fancy pen shop, selling Mont Blanc pens and other similar items of luxury! No wonder the lady had looked confused when I asked about a laundry by that name! I’d thought “Casa della Penna”, or “House of the Feather”, was an odd name for a laundry, but now it made sense as a fancy pen shop, as “penna” is also the Italian word for pen.

Read more: The heavy rain spoils our plans for the day, but we make the most of it, eating good food, drinking hot chocolate, and checking out a couple of interesting local museums

Europe 2016 diary: day 7

Tuesday, 28 March, 2017

Friday, 4 November, 2016

We woke early yet again, around 05:00, and dozed a bit before getting up so M. could shower before breakfast. We went to the breakfast buffet in the Albergo Firenze, which was similar to most of the others so far. This time thought there was bran cereal, which we both mixed with some muesli. M. had two cornetti, one with jam and one a sort of wholemeal one. I tried a bit of some paper thin looking bacon with scrambled egg, on a slice of fresh bread, and then a small slice of a tart which was covered with apricot jam and various nuts. We took our time, then returned briefly to our room before heading out to explore Como a bit.

Monkey in Como
Como waterfront on Lake Como

We walked to the waterfront of the lake, which provided beautiful scenic views across to the mountains around the harbour, with boats moored nearby. The colours of the trees added to the prettiness of the scene. Nearby was a small market, just set up for the morning. Most of the stalls were selling cheese, or various preserved meats and sausages. But there was one selling chocolates, and we got tempted into trying some samples, which were so good that we bought a few pieces of chocolate for later snacks. The stall holders, a man and a woman wearing similarly patterned clothing, were very friendly, though they spoke very little English. They seemed pleased to meet some travellers from Australia. (After returning home, I saw their email address on their stall sign in one of the photos I took of them, and sent them a copy of the photo, and they replied with thanks.)

Read more: buying snacks for the day, the Duomo of Como, driving the back roads of northern Italy, lunch at a random cafe, the Austostrada, arriving in La Spezia, and an amazing dinner

Europe 2016 diary: day 6

Friday, 24 March, 2017

Thursday, 3 November, 2016

We woke up too early again, this time around 05:00. M. fell asleep again, but I didn’t. We were up and showered and ready to go to breakfast shortly after 07:00. The breakfast buffet at the hotel was pretty extensive, with several cereals and types of yoghurt, different breads and croissants with three different fillings – chocolate, apricot jam, and custard – as well as plain ones. In the hot food warmers, as well as scrambled and boiled eggs, bacon, and sausages, there were also chicken skewers, Thai money bags, spring rolls, and small triangular samosas. M. took a croissant which she thought had jam in it, but it turned out to be chocolate, so she went back for a jam one as well. I was amazed to find, amongst various doughnuts and cakes, a row of vanilla slices! So I had to take one to review for my vanilla slice blog.

Continental Parkhotel sunrise
Morning view from our hotel window, Lugano

We lingered over breakfast, allowing me some more diary writing time. After eating our fill, and telling each other how full we were, I went to use the nearby toilet, and when I went to undo my belt, the buckle popped right off and fell on the floor! The leather bits holding the buckle on had snapped! When I returned to the table I tried to tell M. what had happened, but couldn’t stop laughing for several minutes.

About 09:30 we went back to our room to pack and check out. We dropped our luggage in the car and checked out, but before driving off we walked once more down the hill to the old town, this time to look around during the day, when most of the shops would be open. As well as browsing various things in the narrow streets of the old city, we crossed to the waterfront to look at the lake and the view across to the nearby mountains. We also popped into a department store to buy a new belt for me, which took some time as we found a few small displays of belts, none of which were particularly appealing to me, and only when M. asked an assistant did we get shown a huge display of belts on another part of the floor. I picked a brown leather one and we paid and continued wandering around.

Read more: Driving to the top of Monte Brè for views over Lugano, then along the shore of Lake Lugano, before crossing over to Lake Como and driving along the shore to Como, followed by a much better dinner than the previous night

Europe 2016 diary: day 5

Thursday, 23 March, 2017

Wednesday, 2 November, 2016

We woke up early again, still not into the rhythm of sleeping through to sunrise. We showered as the sun came with wispy pink clouds over the valley. We went down for breakfast in the hotel at 07:00. Again, nearly everyone there seemed to be Chinese tourists, until later an Indian couple came in. We had muesli and fruit and things. The croissants here were nowhere near as good as in France or the French parts of Switzerland.

Hotel Weisses Kreuz view
Morning view from our hotel window, Interlaken

Back in our room, I took some photos of the sunrise and noticed that the building opposite our room was a dentist’s office, as I could see the dentist working on a lady reclining in a chair through the window. Checking the weather forecast for the Alpine areas I saw that snow was on the way later in the week, and today’s forecast was for rain, but tomorrow’s was colder, but sunnier. I didn’t want to drive through the Furka Pass in the rain, or risk getting snow and having the road closed, so considered staying for a day in the Interlaken area to avoid the rainy weather. But then I looked at a more detailed hourly forecast, and it said today was going to be partly sunny, with rain developing late in the evening. This seemed okay, so we decided to leave and spend the day crossing the Alps.

As it was a full day of driving, and nothing seemed to open in Interlaken until 10:00, we checked out, packed the car, and drove off early rather than wait and delay our departure. The sky was promisingly blue, with just a few puffy white clouds to add interest, and it remained this way all day, so our gamble on the weather paid off well.

Read more: The amazing drive up the Aare River valley, across the Alps via Grimsel and Furka Passes, descending into Italian Switzerland, the town of three castles, and dinner in Lugano

San Francisco 2017 Diary: day 7

Sunday, 5 March, 2017

Friday, 3 February, 2017. 21:36

I got up this morning and had a shower before heading out to meet Stuart in the hotel lobby. We walked to Millbrae station, stopping at the It’s-It ice cream factory to try to get an ice cream sandwich for a pseudo breakfast. Unfortunately they didn’t open until 10:00, so we couldn’t, which meant I had no real breakfast at all, my bagels having run out yesterday.

We got to Millbrae about 09:30 and then into the city a bit after 10:00, getting off at Embarcadero. From there we walked across into the Ferry Building to look around a bit. I said we could at least get some ice cream here, from Humphry Slocombe. But when we arrived at the store it didn’t look open, and a woman was setting things up. I asked when it opened and she said 11:00! Not having had breakfast, I was getting hungry now, so I bought a currant bun from a bakery, which was nice, to hold me over until lunch.

Aside
Ferry Building

We walked north along the Embarcadero, having planned our morning to arrive at Golden Boy Pizza at 12:30, the time and place designated by Scott for meeting up to have lunch together. We stopped in at the Exploratorium gift shop, but didn’t have time to justify paying the admission fee to the museum proper. Stuart said he wanted to buy some San Francisco souvenirs for his kids, and I suggested some of the things here might be good, but they weren’t really tourist souvenirs, as in labelled as from San Francisco. I saw a cool looking science tarot deck, which was a tarot deck reimagined with scientific imagery. It was attractive, but cost $30, which was too much to justify.

Read more: climbing Telegraph Hill, trying a New York egg cream soda, amazingly good pizza for lunch, the Cable Car Museum, and flying home

San Francisco 2017 Diary: day 6

Saturday, 4 March, 2017

Thursday, 2 February, 2017. 17:48

I slept better last night, and was woken too early by the alarm at 08:00. I ate my last bagel with the last of the cream cheese, after having a shower and getting dressed. Then I went down to buy some more fruit, only to find that the pop-up snack shop wasn’t there. I ran into Jackson, who suggested the small shop attached to the bar and restaurant. I went up there and they indeed had fruit, so I grabbed two apples and a banana again. I asked how much the fruit was, and the lady said a dollar, but this time when I went to pay the total was $3.26. For some reason they were adding sales tax here when they didn’t do so at the pop-up version down in the lobby.

23:38

The last day of conference talks was interesting, though it began a little inauspiciously. I chose a talk whose title promised a history of virtual reality from primitive beginnings to a bright future. It turned out to be all about CAVE immersive display rooms, and nothing at all about head mounted VR displays. It was interesting, but completely not what I was expecting.

But then came the Human Vision sessions about art and aesthetics, which I always enjoy attending because they are so different and they intersect the realms of science and art, which are both fascinating. There was a session either side of lunch, and they contained some very cool talks. The most interesting was one in which a woman told us about her research teaching blind people to draw, by letting them feel a tactile raised line drawing, and then trying to draw a copy from memory. After some brief training they got pretty good at this, and then tests of other spatial, coordination, and navigation abilities also showed significant improvement, even six months after the drawing training. So she’s advocating giving this sort of training to all blind people to improve their spatial awareness and navigation skills.

It's-It mural
Monkey at the It’s-It ice cream factory store

At lunch I basically repeated what I did yesterday, taking a walk along the bay shore while eating an apple and a banana, and then returning to the hotel via the It’s-It ice cream factory. This time I didn’t take my SLR camera, but I took my umbrella, because it was threatening rain, and in fact had been raining earlier in the morning. I also took Monkey, to get some photos with him. And instead of mint, I chose a chocolate ice cream sandwich, which was also good.

Read more: Final conference session, then dinner of French crepes at a friend’s place

San Francisco 2017 Diary: day 5

Friday, 3 March, 2017

Wednesday 1 February, 2017

It was conference routine again today, getting up, eating a bagel for breakfast, and then heading down to a day of talks. I bought a couple of apples and a banana from the pop-up snack bar which was there to cater to conference attendees. They cost $1 a piece.

The morning talks were the last of the Digital Photography conference. There was a talk about infrared camera calibration and another about measuring MTF of sensors, so they were interesting. After the coffee break was a keynote about CMOS sensor design, which wasn’t so exciting for me.

Long-billed curlew
Long-billed curlew

At lunch I went for a walk to get some exercise, across the road to the bay shore and then north along the path that runs there. I ate the remaining apple after having one earlier for morning tea, and the banana. I took my camera with me to get some photos of the birds that putter around on the shore of the bay. I didn’t have a long zoom, but got some moderate shots of a few different birds, including a big white egret, some ducks, and some wading birds. I later identified the birds as: willet, long-billed curlew, snowy egret, American crow, grey plover, and canvasback ducks.

Read more: an ice cream factory, talks about colour science, dinner at a Senegalese restaurant in Oakland