IMG_9629-0.jpg

Revisiting Rothenburg

It was about a year ago that I visited Rothenburg. And this weekend, I’m back  with a few friends. We drove down on Friday (well one friend drove) and will head back to Prague on Sunday.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a beautiful old city with a wall and many buildings from the 15th and 16th century.

   
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
   
We stayed in a lovely guesthouse. The breakfast was varied with a spread of cereal, cold cuts, eggs, sausage, hash browns, fruit and vegetables. A veritable feast!

Food was challenging on this trip. I’ve been avoiding milk and minimizing wheat. The first night, I tried to order baked potatoes without sour cream or potato pizza without cheese and was told neither were possible. This response was delivered with a look of disdain. I settled for French fries and ketchup. My shrimp salad for lunch on the second day was delicious. However, the waitress delivered 3 forks and 4 knives so I had to ask for one more to eat my meal. She looked around the table quizzically and insisted that she had brought 4 forks. Is it really so much more believable that I did away with the fork instead of thinking that she possibly made a mistake? Oh German hospitality!

Colorful Burano

4 Days in Venice

Colorful Burano

Colorful Burano

I head back to work tomorrow. My trip to Venice just over a week ago was the final trip of my summer, a send-off for Jane and Emily who are moving on from Prague :(.

Venice is beautiful, with its scenic canals, iconic gondoliers, glass, masks and vibrancy (in the summer). It was amazing watching the traffic on the canals, the garbage boats, ambulances, taxis, vaporetto, delivery trucks and private crafts.

We didn’t visit many buildings but we went to St. Mark’s basilica for a free tour. We paid 2€ to book our entry online and avoid the long ticket line. (Well worth it!) Our entry time was 10:45-10:55, which as perfect for joining the free English tour that started at 11:00. The tour was done by an enthusiastic student intern from England who shared many interesting facts about the cathedral, particularly about the design and the Renaissance and Byzantine mosaics. In one period, a sketch is made before the mosaic is created, but not in the other. (I can’t recall which is which; maybe I’ll look it up.) We paid the extra 1€ to see the Pala d’Oro with its gold and polished, unfaceted gems. We were lucky that the lights were on during our visit; apparently the lights are only turned on for one hour a day!

From the basilica, we went to Galleria dell’Accademia to see some art by Titan, Bellini and other Venetian, Byzantine and Gothic art.

This was a laid back trip, with a focus on lots of (delicious) seafood. We started every meal with by sharing seafood and vegetable antipasti. The seafood was invariably varied, fresh, and delicious. My entree (premi or secondi) often included more seafood. I was trying to avoid wheat, and there is an amazing amount of gluten free available. However, the one gluten-free pizza and bread that I tried was a relative of cardboard. After that, I was reluctant to try the gluten free pasta.

Our last breakfast was at a wonderful bakery, Pasticceria di Chiusso Pierino. I made an exception and tried an almond croissant. Delicious with both sliced almonds and marzipan.

The slideshow won’t below won’t work without flash. See the photos at https://goo.gl/photos/Xv6QQ7eHGDoV6Hb68.

schonbrunn palace

Long Weekend in Vienna

As part of the continuing adventure of summer holidays, we went to Vienna from July 17 – 20.  What a beautiful city, and not so far from Prague. The whole train ride was just over four hours, which makes it an easy trip from Prague.

Entertainment during the train ride

view from train entering Vienna

We got to Vienna early in the afternoon, but given that we had a small child on this trip (3.5 years), we relaxed during the afternoon and just walked around a little to get our orientation. This included walking along the Ringstrasse and finding out about the Vienna pass with hop on/hop off bus access.

Goethe on the Ringstrasse

Mozart in the Burggarten

Since we’d use Priceline to find the hotel, and it was a Marriott with a price of 30 euros for the buffet breakfast (!), we took off to find a local restaurant to fuel ourselves for the day. We’d noticed Chilai near our hotel and decided to go there. They have a variety of breakfast options, and I ended up ordering the breakfast with hummus and falafel. I found the falafel uninspired but my friend enjoyed it enough to have the same meal twice . (The meal was good value so when we had trouble finding our choice the next morning, we ended up there again.) Once we had breakfast, it was time to head off on the yellow hop on/off line for Schonbrunn Palace.

The Vienna pass includes free entry for the grand tour. The entry is timed so it’s good to get the ticket first. We had about an hour to wait so we first went to the carriage museum (Kaiserliche Wagenburg). After the carriage museum, there was enough time to walk around the gardens a bit, but it was a hot sunny day so my friend and her daughter went to the Kindermuseum Schonbrunn and I went off on my Grand Tour. On my tour, I could look out the window and see my friend and her daughter. I think it’s really cool that the museum has a specially designed children’s tour/experience!

After we were done with our tours, we had a nice lunch at Cafe Residenz before going to the Apfelstrudelshow (free with the Vienna pass). The pastry chef was impressive at opening the dough by flipping it in the air and using her knuckles! I was suprised that she rolled the dough in a circle rather than a rectangle, but she said that you can reshape the pastry after it’s filled to make sure that each slide is roughly the same size. She also used a strudel cloth over the rotating board, which she spread the dough on, and used that cloth for rolling the dough and moving it to the baking dish. I found the whole process impressive, but I am not such a big fan of apple strudel (I prefer apple pie). By the end of the show, it was already 17:00, and the sights were starting to close down.

We decided to take the train/bus (free with the pass) to get an overview of the other sites. The vehicle stopped at the (already closed for the day) Gloriette for 10 minutes, which was a great opportunity to enjoy the view. The child had fallen asleep during the ride, so we carried her to the hop on/off bus and headed back to the Royal Opera stop, from where we could walk back to the hotel. I can’t remember what we had for dinner so I suspect we had fruit and nuts, and leftover bread from breakfast (for the child).

I love blackout curtains, because sleeping in was easy the next morning. We left the hotel around 9:30 and went back to Chilai for breakfast. We had another plan, but the cafe was empty and looked uninviting. From breakfast, we walked to the Spanish Riding School for the Piber Meets Vienna show. The free entry with the Vienna pass is for standing. The show was a boring, with only a few horses galloping around, or prancing about. Even the child had little interest in it. We stayed for most of the show (45 minutes) but then went off to other adventures. My friends went to the zoo and I took off for the free 2 hours walking tour.

The walking tour was great for learning the history of the city, but didn’t involve much walking. I could have done it quicker with a Frommers self-guided tour or something like that. Then I went to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, the Sigmund Feud Museum, Donauturm, and to see the Imperial Silver Collection. My main reason for going to the Kunsthistorisches Museum was because it is world renowned, with many famous artists there. I went through a few of the rooms to see the highlights but there was too much to see in one visit. I tend to have an attention span of 1 hour – 1.5 hours for museums. The Imperial Silver Collection is impressive. It’s also interesting how the history of Prague is linked to that of Vienna. The Sigmund Feud Museum is quite small. It’s the place where he lived and had his office for many years. I loved visiting the Donauturm. It was wonderful to get a panoramic view of the city. Definitely worth a visit.

On the final day in Vienna, I went to visit the Belvedere. I first encountered Klimt while attending University of Ottawa. I was walking through the student center when I noticed an display of art prints. I hadn’t realized until going to the Belvedere that Klimt had so many different styles. There are also some lovely paintings by Delacroix and many other artists.

IMG_8788.JPG

Tokyo Stop

I’ve been to Tokyo before and seen most of the sites. This time, I spent one night and explored a few places with a friend. Mount Fuji still didn’t reveal itself to me. I give up; I clearly chose the wrong time of year to attempt a view.

Enjoy these pictures of my trip:

 

IMG_8725.JPG

Teleporting would be nice

Years ago, I was recounting a traveling incident to a friend when he said he would never travel with me. Another friend wrote that maybe I should stop traveling. I think that the more you travel, the more extraordinary experiences you have, and I travel a lot.

In the absence of the power to teleport, I often fly between destinations. On a recent Turkish Airlines flight, I was less than thrilled with the experience.

My flight from Tel Aviv to Istanbul was uneventful, except for the fact that we took off late. I enjoyed taking to the lady sitting beside me (a journalist from Beijing) and the time passed quickly.

As we were waking from the plane to the connecting flight area, we noted that there had been no information about connecting flights given neither on the airplane nor on disembarkment. We looked at the time and  noticed that we had little time to make our connections; she had 10 minutes and I had 30. We pushed our way through the long line at security and I rushed to my departure gate. The flight was scheduled to leave in 15 minutes but the gate was deserted except for cleaners going about their work.

I trudged back to Turkish Airlines customer service desk. After passing one unmanned desk, and a second with an unhelpful person texting on his cell phone (I don’t know if be worked for TK or was just hanging out in that chair), I found the correct desk.

The desk was well staffed, with two agents per client. There were many people there seeking assistance. I was on that long line for a while before I finally got through to be rescheduled on a flight about 11 hours later (it was already ~ 01:00 on July 2). Once I was issued a boarding pass, I was told to exit security and go to the hotel desk to be given accommodation. At that point, I remembered that a visa for Turkey costs $60 for Canadians.

I asked the agent whether or not there would be assistance for paying the visa. He told me no. I argued his response and he told me to find a reimbursement form online. To be more precise, he replied “website” and I deduced the rest. I asked what options I would have if I had no money or my card didn’t work (the system was automated and required a payment card, and my debit card did not work although my credit card thankfully did) and he said I could sleep in the airport in that case. I took the name of the two men down because I didn’t like their responses, but as they explained, they are only employees and bad policies and procedures are not their fault.

I paid the $60 grudgingly after complaining about it to the agents and headed to the hotel line. There was one person at the desk assisting a long line of customers. After 35 minutes, a second person came to assist, and then a third. By the time I got assistance, I had been waiting in lines for 2 hours, and was told to have a seat and wait for my name to be called. It took a further 48 minutes before my name was called to be taken to the airport. Everyone was kept waiting until the line of customers for hotel transfer was empty.

I didn’t count how many people were waiting but we occupied three buses to the hotel. Thankfully, the hotel was close and only took 18 minutes by shuttle. I was also lucky in that I was amongst the first 5 people to be issued a room.

I dragged myself upstairs and entered the room. I was surprised to see there was already a keycard in the slot to activate the lights. Further, there was a dress in the closet. I’m a little slow after hours of travel, but it was impossible to miss the 4 legs sticking out from the blanket on the bed (note to self: always use the security chain). I rushed out of the room, and downstairs for a new room assignment.

By the time I got to my room and got ready for bed, it was 4:21 and I was told to be ready for the shuttle at 10:00.  

I think it is time to replace these!


 In the morning, I had a quick breakfast and was ready to leave at 10:00. It was no surprise to me that the shuttle was 30 minutes late. My mind started wandering thinking whether or not I could miss my flight again. Thankfully, I did not and I hope no one on my shuttle did either!

I’ve flown TK before with no issues, and my friend recently flew them and was pleased. In fact, the rest of my trip went well with friendly agents and no mishaps. I sure hope that this experience was an aberration!

IMG_8867.JPG

Visit to Utsunomiya

I travelled to Utsunomiya for a few days to visit a friend. There aren’t many tourist sights there but it’s bigger than I expected. Nikko isn’t nearby, but it was too rainy for a visit. Instead, it was a great opportunity to relax and visit the Ota Museum.

I will embed the pictures later, but for now you can see them here.

IMG_8787.JPG

Rainy, Relaxing Days in Nagoya

I loved visiting Nagoya. It felt familiar, like an old friend. And it was great to meet with friends, and revisit some of my former favorite haunts.

Near my friend’s apartment, there was an old shopping “mall” called Oz Mall. I’ve never seen Wizard of Oz (which Jane and Emily consider a travesty) but I feel I got the gist from the displays on this street.

Wizard of Oz display, Oz Mall, Nagoya

I did little sightseeing in Nagoya as I lived there for four years and visited the sights of interest to me in that time, plus it was the rainy season and rained every day of my trip. 

It was a lovely trip, thanks to a gracious host, and wonderful friends that I got to hang out with. 

I will embed the photos when I am back on my laptop, but in the meantime, they are available in Google photos.

IMG_8722.JPG

Please let me out

The first problem was being allowed into the Tel Aviv airport. Apparently I do not look like my passport photo (I concede that it is a bit scary). I pulled out a second ID which was my Japanese driver’s license which got more quizzical looks, and then my Czech residence card. As you can imagine, this lead to a barrage of questions about who I am, what I was doing in Israel, why I was flying to Japan and what I do in Prague. After several consultations with a supervisor, the lady tagged my bag, put a sticker on my passport, and let me in. The best was yet to come …

ok, so maybe I should make sure next time that my passport photo does not look like a mug shot

Check-in was painless despite my bag being 25 kg (I will be a light traveller someday). I confirmed that I had packed my bag myself, and I had no restricted items or weapons in any of my luggage. So onward to security. (It’s possible I went through passport control first; I can’t remember.)

Which of these is not safe as hand luggage?

At security, I follow the protocol and remove my laptop and liquids from by backpack. I get through the detectors without any horrible beeping noises (yay, no pat down) but my bags have a more difficult entrance. First, I had a file in my purse. I knew it was there and have travelled all over with it for at least three years so I thought it was fine. That was confiscated. Ok, stupid me, I can pay the price. But then my backpack is scanned several times and I am asked to open it. Out comes a stone that I bought with an Arabic calligraphy reading “Ya Baha’ul Abha” meaning “O glory of the All-Glorious”. The security agent tells me that this is a weapon and asks why I didn’t pack it when I was told I couldn’t have any weapons in my hand luggage.

First, I felt embarrassed, but also upset at a seeming accusation, and finally mortified when I started to cry. To compound matters, the agent asked me why I was crying and all I could do was stammer “I don’t know”. Although the crying was not deliberate, it was successful in saving my rock. The agent said that she could tell this was important to me and would get a box to check it in for me. She filled a box with bubble wrap and put the small box containing my souvenir in the centre, had me label the box and tagged it (after going to Turkish Airlines check in for the tag). I’m thankful.

IMG_8731.JPG

First Return to Japan

Residency Card

Residency Card

It was lovely being back in Japan (July 3 – 11, 2015), so different from my first arrival when I felt like an alien. Maybe Japanese officials knew of this feeling, and that’s why they issued me an “alien registration card”. By year four of my residency, however, the card name had changed to the “residence card”. I’m not sure what prompted the name change but found it a welcome one. On my recent trip, neither of those two names applied to me. I was simply a tourist.

I landed in Tokyo after paying homage to the troll in the sky by surviving the turbulence upon approach there. Customs was painless and quick, and both my pieces made it (find out why I had an unplanned second piece of luggage in the next post). I successfully found a data SIM card for my phone, had a snack at Starbucks near the JR train station, and got Narita Express train tickets to Shinagawa followed by a Nozomi shinkansen ticket to Nagoya. The journey took a while but was thankfully smooth, with no greater challenge than handling my heavy suitcase.

on the NEX from Tokyo to Shinagawa

on the NEX from Tokyo to Shinagawa


Be consider, be quiet on the train ...

Be considerate; be quiet on the train …

 

shrine

Baha’i Pilgrimage June 22-30, 2015

Baha’i pilgrimage is a physical and spiritual journey of prayer, meditation, and closeness to God. I’ve recently had the good fortune to complete my second pilgrimage. I found it a positively overwhelming experience, exhausting and exhilarating.

I wrote some notes during pilgrimage to help me process the experience. If you would like to read my reflections, please send me a message for the password. Otherwise, please enjoy the pilgrimage in pictures.

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 6

Day 7

Day 8

Day 9

Last Day in Haifa