A Journal, with Pictures

Happenings

Florence/Tuscany 2018

by on Jun.13, 2018, under Happenings

Since we decided to got to the Cirrus Owners and Pilots Associations European Migration in Rome we added a week in Tuscany. We arrived in Florance on Friday after a long flight with two stops, so the rest of the day was relaxing and do a little sightseeing then dinner at the hotel.  We stayed at a fantastic small boutique hotel right on the Piazza S. Maria Novella, and a short walk to the incredible Piazza Duomo (Religious Center). We had visited Florence before so we didn’t have to see the must-see tourist sights, so the plan was to soak in more of the culture and of course, partake of the great Tuscan food and wine. On Saturday we started the process with a “Culinary Tour of Florence”. Our delightful guide Barbra introduced us to everything from local truffle sandwiches, to finally Gelato, with lots of interesting things in between including tripe and local wines, olive oil, pastry, cheese, and on and on. We passed a steak restaurant where the minimum thickness is four fingers (three and a half inches) and rare is the only choice.  We continued our tour through the Medici seat of government and viewed the famous statues in the Piazza Signoria then over the famous Ponte Vecchio, once a meat market known for its smell and finally on to our gelato.  One interesting site is the Medici Justice statue, no blindfold, and a sword. The plaque essentially says “I’m Cosmos Medici and justice is in my eyes and I have the sword to carry it out”. We spent the afternoon walking off the morning calories doing more sightseeing including the Medici chapel/museum. The evening we dined at Il Cibreo a very special Florentine restaurant.

Our next day adventure started with a “Florentine Cooking Class” with our chef/teacher Laura of www.cookinginflorence.com. This turned out to be great fun and we learned and prepared brochette, Pici pasta, chicken breast stuffed with mozzarella, and Terra Ma Sue. Then we added a little Tuscan wine, music by Boclli and we ate the whole thing for lunch. Delicious, educational and great fun.

A little more walking off the calories, then a tour “off the beaten path” by golf cart. Our guide, who was a delightful character, entertained us with little-known historical facts and hidden treasures of Florence.  One piece of Medici gossip was the fact that one married a Hapsburg daughter and they made sure everyone knew by decorating the city hall with Viennese scenes. We finished the golf cart tour high above Florence with a breathtaking view of the city, from S. Miniato al Monte. We then boarded a boat on the Arno for a sunset cruise. We finished the day with dinner at the 100-year-old family run restaurant, Bucas Mario, featuring traditional Florentine recipes.

The next day our driver guide Simon picked us up at the hotel and drove us into Tuscany. We first toured the lovely medieval hill-town of San Gimignano. We explored this walled town with perfectly preserved towers and building with a wonderful view of the countryside. We then drive to a winery for a relaxed lunch and wine tasting, (and buying) experience. After lunch, we meet our local guide in the beautiful city of Siena who takes us on a walking tour of this fabled medieval city, including the remarkable shell-shaped Piazza del Campo-home of the famous Palio horse race and Unique Gothic-Romanesque Duomo. Finally, we drive out into the countryside to our hotel/castle, Castello di Casole, where we will stay while in Tuscany. Our hotel turns out to be a real gem on a hill overlooking the beautiful countryside of Tuscany.

On Tuesday Simon picked us up at the hotel for a day of learning about Chianti wine. We Began with an excursion to Panzano, then a visit to a historic abbey cellar. We then had another light Tuscan lunch accompanied by Italian wines.

Wednesday our great driver/guide picked us up again and we were off to the town of Montalcino. Montalcino is important in that it is the capital of the legendary Brunello wine region. We explore the winding streets and medieval walls and fortress with a great view of the Tuscan hills. Brunello is made from Chianti grapes, but they produce a very different wine in this region. We then visit a local winery for a tour, tasting, and lunch. We add some Brunello to our cellar to accompany the Chianti we purchased earlier. After lunch we decide to visit one last village in Tuscany, Pienza, finishing our Tuscany exploration with a celebratory Gelato before heading back to our hotel for our last night dinner of real pizza and Tuscan wine.

Tuscany was wonderful, Culture, Food and Wine and wonderful places and people. Tomorrow we drive to Rome to meet flying friends and visit a great city. It will be hard to beat the unique ambiance and character of Tuscany. If it’s not obvious by now, we love Italy, Italian food, and Italian wine.

 

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Rome

by on Jun.13, 2018, under Happenings

On Thursday, we were driven from Castello di Casole to Rome. It’s a beautiful drive and we arrived in time for lunch. Our hotel was the Marriott Park near the International Airport since the majority of those attending the European Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association “Migration” planned to fly in. I said planned because only five of the planes ended up having parking spots in Rome and the rest of the planes were spread all over Italy. Turns out we could have stayed downtown which would have been much more convenient. It was a fun three days, starting with a group dinner at the hotel, then the next day was a bus tour of Rome, lunch, then an afternoon to explore the city on foot. We took this opportunity to visit one of our favorite places the Piazza Navona, for a cool beverage and watching the daily spectacle. Friday evening was the Gala Dinner, then Saturday there were excellent seminars in the morning and after lunch an optional walking tour of the city and dinner. It was great to see old friends and make new ones while visiting one of the great cities of the world.

Sunday we flew back to the United States in what turned out to be a very long day due to flight delays. We finally got home and started the mandatory diet after a great ten days of food, wine, and culture, plus spending time with flying friends. It was a great experience.

 

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Beijing

by on Jun.30, 2017, under Happenings

We embarked to China on May 5th, 2017 for a three week tour of China. The trip was organized by our friend Tony Huffman who employed Imperial Tours of China that turned out to be a great experience. We had a China host, Lotus Qi, who accompanied us for the entire three weeks and in each city a guide and in some cases special guides for a particular area. We stayed at great hotels, and had a private car and driver  in each location. I do not comment in each city about the food, but we ate at the best restaurants, mostly Chinese, but also international cuisine. We laughed at “another light Chinese lunch”, because every meal was a feast, orchestrated by our Chinese Foodie, Lotus. We had the best Pizza we ever had in China (Truffle Pizza) and the best French Toast. We ate our way through China. We also witnessed what has been called the “Chinese Economic Miracle”, which has produced an infrastructure now world class and the largest middle class in the world. I will save my comments of what I have learned about the Chinese system of Governing and the “Economic Miracle” for a separate blog that I will post later and just focus on the sights of China for now.

We arrived in Beijing and were met by Lotus and taken to the Peninsula Hotel. As we were descending into the area the first thing that struck us was the huge  number of high rise apartment buildings and how modern the Airport and other infrastructure was. Beijing is a city of twenty two million covering about one hundred square miles. We had a good flight, but having done this many many times, I concluded I’m getting old, won’t go work out right way. Our first day was spent touring Tian’anmen Square, the Forbidden City and doing a tour of the Hutong district of Beijing.

Across the street from Tian’anmen Square is the Forbidden City the Imperial Palace of the Emperors of China. This complex served as the home and seat of power for 24 emperors, their courts and harems from 1420 to 1924.

 

Of course we had a lunch of Peking Duck, which was great, but I said I would not obsess about the food but it was special having Peking Duck in Peking. We then did a tour of the Hutong, means alley ways, which was an exclusive neighborhood before the revolution.

On our second day in China, which was a Sunday, we visited The Temple of Heaven. This structure was build in 1420, using no nails, and was where the Emperor would visit twice a year for three days to meditate on the affairs of God and man. On the way to the Temple we visited an exercise park paid for by the Welfare Lottery, that’s right, no entitlements in China. We also witnessed mothers in the park soliciting wives for their sons, since the one child policy has produced a thirty million man surplus. Another example of unintended consequences when governments meddle in the peoples business.

 

After the Temple of Heaven we visited Beijing’s Art District that was created from a Cold War arms factory. This area was very lively and an impressive use of Factory 798.

On our last day in Beijing we visited the Summer Palace and then traveled out to the Great Wall. The Summer Palace was rebuilt in 1888 by the Empress Dowager Cixi and consists of 3000 buildings, gardens and ponds, around the man made Kunning Lake.

The Great Wall was built to protect China from predatory nomads, and is an impressive structure with questionable effectiveness. This again demonstrates that a government project is hard to stop once started. We saw the wall and were surprised to learn that a private luncheon was catered for us, on top of the wall.

 

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Xi’an

by on Jun.30, 2017, under Happenings

Xi’an is a modern city  of eight million people including a million students attending fifty universities. It is an agriculture center with both the Yellow and Yangtze  rivers flowing through the area. It is most know for the Terracotta Warriors, the 8,000 man army that Emperor Qin had built to serve him in the after life. The Qin dynasty (259 BC) was pivotal, as he was credited with unifying China into a single nation.  The Tomb and Warriors were discovered in 1976 and now have become a major tourist attraction in China. Xi’an was the place where the Silk Road began and today there remains a significant Muslim population. In addition to the Terracotta Warriors there is Shaanxi History Museum, that features the Tang Dynasty murals. The city itself is interesting in that the four mile wall around the historic central city remains intact.

We had another cultural experience in Xi’an, learning to make dumplings. We love Chinese dumpling, and now know that the Chinese should make the dumplings, but they are yummy. We also toured one of the few City Walls to survive the cultural revolution.

We toured the Muslim market and Mosque, a historic carryover from the trade silk road trade route that terminated in Xi’an.

The Mosque is in the Market area and when we visited there was a Muslim funeral service in progress.

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Tibet

by on Jun.30, 2017, under Happenings

We visited Lhasa in Tibet, which is at twelve thousand feet. Our hotel was the Shangri La in Old Lhasa. New Lhasa has been built by the Chinese since their occupation. As with the rest of China, they have rebuilt the infrastructure around old Tibet and in this case moved in a lot of Chinese. What Tibet is all about is Buddhism with  ninety percent of the population practicing the faith, and they practice it hard.  We mainly visited monasteries, the Dali Lama’s Palaces, with some time spent in the market. Our guide was intent on converting us to Buddhism, but I flunked catechism so there was no hope. Our first visit was to was to the Jokhang Monastery then the Barkhor Sera Monastery and finally the debating gardens, where the monks debate philosophy daily. They seem to enjoy it. For me Tibet was mostly about the interesting images of the pilgrims and monks.

Our lunch on the first day was served on the mountainside overlooking New Lhasa.

Our second day was spent touring the Summer and Winter Palace of the Dali Lama (Currently exiled in India), so it’s for pilgrims and tourist. The Portala Palace (Winter Palace) sits on a hill over looking Old Lhasa, the summer palace is in Old Lhasa. The Buddhist scriptures are are too voluminous to read, so the faithful spin prayer wheels to absorb the meaning. The Temples and Palace are lit by Yak butter candles and there are contributions of money at virtually every stop made by the pilgrims. The summer palace grounds are used for family picnics and we were amused to see one family carrying a case of Budweiser beer of course made in China. The Chinese including the Tibetans are addicted to smart phones and we noted even the monks were head down communicating. The Chinese equivalent to Twitter or Facebook is called Wechat and has nine hundred million users.

 

On our last day in Tibet we visited the Ganden Monastery which was my penalty for flunking the first two day of Buddhism. It is at fourteen thousand four hundred feet above sea level and involved lots of hiking including a hike on a pilgrims trail (What am I doing this for?). On our way back we past through New Lhasa (very modern) and then in old Lhasa visited a typical Tibetan market area.

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Chengdu

by on Jun.30, 2017, under Happenings

Chengdu is a modern city although it has been inhabited for over 4000 years. It is the capital of Sichuan Province and is an area of agricultural abundance and wealth inhabited by 14.4 million. Chengdu is famous for the Giant Panda Institute, which we visited while staying at the  beautiful Temple House Hotel. Our first stop was at a Tauist (also known as Dauism) Temple on the way to the hotel. Dauism is a indigenous religion to China and we were treated to an explanation by one of the Monks, who took us into his living quarters, equipped with computer and TV as well as liqueur cabinet. Seemed like a sensible religion to us.

The second day we visited the famous Giant Panda Institute. As our guide said if they weren’t cute they would be long ago extinct. They eat non-nutritious bamboo which means they eat seventeen hours a day. They are not so good at reproduction, one of the problems being very bad eye sight.

 

 

Another is being fertile two to three days a year.  The  Panda Institute has kept them from extinction with 1800 world wide and 400 in captivity. To feed the Panda’s the Chines grow, cut and truck bamboo from the highlands every day. Each Panda consumes 40 to 80 pounds per day. They are cute.

While in Chengdu we visited the Sanxingdu Museum which exhibits the relics from a Bronze age civilization discovered near the city. Sanxingdu means three mounds, where in 1929 farmers discovered artifacts, and was rediscovered in 1986 which led to the excavation.  This advanced culture existed around 12 Century BC and the exhibit displays some remarkable pieces.

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Guilin

by on Jun.30, 2017, under Happenings

Guilin is famous for the beautiful limestone formations that create the topography around the Banyan Tree Resort where we stay during our visit. We are actually outside of Guilin in the country near the village of Yangshou. During our stay we visit a village and learn about Tofu making from a delightful Chinese woman, visiting homes and seeing how the rural people of China live. Grand parents take care of working children’s children, so we got to meet a real China doll. We saw fields being plowed with water buffalo and cottage industry of mat making. The homes were new, constructed by the owners, the people we met were very friendly and welcoming. Despite China’s economic miracle 800 to 900 of the 1.35 billion Chinese still are peasants.

We then enjoyed the incredible scenery surrounding the Li River by rafting on a bamboo raft.

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Hangzhou

by on Jun.30, 2017, under Happenings

Hangzhou was the capital of China during the Song dynasty which was a time of explosive innovation in the sciences and arts. It retains this special feeling with the city surrounding beautiful West Lake, where our hotel, the Four Seasons, was located. We start our first day learning about taichi, from a master, we then take a private gondola ride on the lake, while being serenaded by Guzheng (ancient Chines instrument)  player in another boat.

We toured a tea plantation and learned about tea growing and making. We toured the gardens of a wealthy Chines industrialist now a public tourist destination. We visited a Buddhist temple and saw a limestone rock face decorated with more than 3000 Buddhist effigies.

The Chinese have become the largest group of tourist on earth, both with China and abroad. In China they have shared bikes, millions of  bikes that you pay a initial fee ($15), then with your smart phone you locate the nearest bike, scan the code on the bike and use the bike and check out by smart phone and pay a small fee for use leaving the bike for the next user.

Finally, we were treated to a private lesson on the “Five Disciplines”, tea, incense, flower arrangement, music and calligraphy, those things a Hangzhou gentlemen were expected to excel in.

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Shanghai

by on Jun.30, 2017, under Happenings

We arrive in Shanghai by high speed train to a ultra modern terminal and drive into the city to the Peninsula Hotel, is right on the Bund part of the historic British concession granted after the second Opium war (1860). Shanghai is a amazing city of 25 million stretching for 75 miles and was and is a very important port city. We are treated to a traveling lecture tour of the historic colonial buildings, starting with the British concession then the tree lined streets of the former French Concession. As we have seen throughout China, the infrastructure is modern with free ways and ring roads, high rises, including the second tallest building in the world (125 stories), and of course high rise apartment houses and an ultramodern international airport. We tour the historic area with a unique enclosed structure of gated entrances, to alleys lined with small court yards called the Lane district. This was the early gated community providing security for the residents of each neighborhood.  We also see where the first organizing meeting for the communist took place in 1921 and examples of how it pays to be in “the party”.

One of the reminders of the history leading to the communist victory is a monument on the Bund in the spot where a sign read “no dogs or Chinese allowed” (in the British Concession). and then the huge monument to those lost in the “Long March”.

We attend a Acrobatic Show one evening, which was mind blowing, the Urban Planning Museum which displays the 25 year plan for the city, the Shanghai Museum which covers a range of subjects from costumes from the over 50 “minority” groups, to historical painting, ceramics and bronze as well as imperial furniture. We also toured a renovated high end shopping district that connects the Yu Gardens one of the best examples of traditional Chinese garden design.

Shanghai was a great last stop, blending examples of the great history with the explosive modernization of China. We arrived by Bullet Train, had great tours, High Tea at the Peninsula Hotel, saw the sites day and night including the fabulous Pudong Skyline and bustling Huangpu River right from our hotel room, and of course one last incredible Chinese dinner with our new adopted grand daughter, Lotus Qi,  who made our three weeks in China effortless and a wonderful experience.

 

 

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February Florida Visit

by on Feb.05, 2017, under Happenings

Joyce and I made a February swing to visit family and friends to Florida. We stopped in Fort Lauderdale Wednesday to see Jennifer, Mike and Alexandra for an afternoon and evening. Life continues at warp speed there with Alexandra growing up fast. We then flew to Sarasota on Thursday to visit some of our former NCR colleagues and friends. Elton and Gordy White hosted us for lunch and we stayed in the beautiful apartment overlooking the bay. We were joined for cocktails, by Chuck and Carol Exley, Joe and Nora Stephan, Rex and Pat Fleet. We had a great time catching up and everyone is ageing gracefully and most of all haven’t lost their sense of humor. We then had a great dinner at the Field Club, continuing the frivolity.

On Friday we flew to Naples to visit Rich and Linda Miller. They are doing fine as full time Florida residence and we again enjoyed catching up. Rich and Linda treated us royally, at their great club Grey Oaks. We then flew back to Hilton Head on Saturday, a quick but very enjoyable trip, reminding us of how lucky we have been to have met and works with such great people.

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