December 24, 2006

Genesee AFTER the Storm

The storm cleared but our flight could not be rescheduled until Christmas. So Rae Ann and Rich had us five more days! They took us to Red Rock (famous natural amphitheater), Downtown Denver for the Art Museum (Rae Ann and I had bought the framed Madonna Christmas stamp at the Post Office), Georgetown (former mining town and home of the Georgetown Loop Railroad), to the Colorado Mills mall and the cinema (Casino Royale). Kris and Rae Ann also went snowshoeing several times while I finally finished the cross-stitch I was making for my cousin (Rae Ann framed it and sent me a photo before mailing it). We had a great time and enjoyed a wonderful Christmas dinner on Christmas Day before successfully flying out that night to NJ to visit Raj, Bonnie, and Priya.

December 20, 2006

The Storm aka Sleeping in DIA

Almost 5000 people were stranded at the Denver airport by a blizzard - and we were four of them! We were scheduled to fly to NJ and Bob & Lali were flying to Las Vegas. Of course, when we called to check that morning before we left Greeley, all was fine. But when we got to the airport, all flights were cancelled. Eventually, we flew out on Christmas Day but Bob & Lali had to cancel their vacation completely. All of the roads were closed and we were stranded!

After collecting our red cross blankets, putting our luggage in storage, and passing through security - it was time to pick our concourse for the night. We made our way to Concourse B, ate dinner at McDonalds and settled into the only bar. Everything was going OK until the manager turned off the TV and closed the bar - at 9pm! It was time to pick our sleeping spot and try to settle in.

As the night wore on, it got colder and colder and colder. We finally gathered up our belongings and moved to higher ground back near the food court, many of the other residents, and the X"#&!! terminal train announcement made every three minutes throughout the entire night.

The next morning, we called for help. As soon as the roads cleared, Rae Ann and Rich picked us up and took us back to Genesee. Later that afternoon, Jason and Cassie picked up Bob and Lali since their car was completely snowed in.

December 19, 2006

Greeley BEFORE the Storm

We had a relaxing visit with my parents and family in Greeley. Jason and Cassie hosted the delicious Christmas dinner. We celebrated Christmas early because almost everyone was flying out of town that week. Little did we know!

December 14, 2006

Genesee & Winter Park BEFORE the Storm

Kris and I visited my college roommate (Rae Ann) and her husband (Rich) at their home in Genesee. They took us to their home in Winter Park for our first experience on snow shoes! I also included a picture of a moose they had taken earlier in the season.

December 06, 2006

Chocolate Tasting at Luento Santoro

Until this tasting, I never realised how complicated chocolate can be. The very enthusiastic owner (Deborah O’Neill) and her assistant compared chocolate complexity with wine and coffee. The cocoa bean quality depends on country of origin, soil, weather conditions, and expertise of the grower. Luento Santoro sources from 21 growers and we were given samples of cacao nibs / beans from three different countries to help us discern the differences. The harvested and dried cacao is shipped to their atelier in France for cleaning, roasting, conching and tempering to produce the "couverture" (chocolate in its pure form). We learned about dark vs milk vs white (only cocoa butter, no cocoa paste) chocolates; French vs Belgian vs Swiss styles; optimal storage and handling; and the critical "finish". We also ate a LOT of chocolate during the two hour tasting. This was a GREAT event!

December 05, 2006

Royal Academy Holiday Reception and Christmas Carol Service at St James Picadilly

My neighbor Dace and I attended the Royal Academy Christmas event. We got to the RA right on time and were ushered into the John Madejski Fine Rooms. We walked quickly and purposefully towards the food and each got one drink and 3 delicious morsels (brownie, stollen, cookie) - others who came minutes later may have gone hungry - but not because of us! We admired the paintings and then set out for the St James Church across the street.

We were a little early for the concert so we did a bit of browsing in the market in front of the church. Eventually our tickets were taken (alas, no souvenier for my scrapbook) and we went upstairs - we nabbed front center balcony seats. The Reverend opened the service and then there was a rotation between special songs sung by the Mary Ward Singers, all of us singing carols, and Royal Academy dignitaries reading selections of their choice. It was not until the end that we started recognising the carols. The church was beautiful but the seats felt very hard after an hour. We stayed for the entire service (~ 90 minutes) and agreed that it was a great experience.

December 04, 2006

Medieval Christmas at Banqueting House

The Banqueting House, one of the Historic Royal Palaces, is all that remains of Whitehall Palace which was the principal royal residence from 1530 until 1698. Below (courtesy of the HRP website) is one section of the ceilings painted by Sir Peter Paul Rubens.

The AWC arranged for us to enjoy a buffet lunch followed by a medieval Christmas concert performed by the "Dufay Collective". These five musical performers played the vielle, rebec, bagpipes, recorder, flute, simfony, harp and percussion - instruments and music from the medieval times. The soprano had an especially clear voice.

December 02, 2006

Wakehurst for Christmas

Kris and I visited Wakehurst (sister garden to Kew Royal Botanical Gardens) on a coach trip sponsored by Kew. After a quick drive to Wakehurst (no traffic and no essential engineering works), we were ushered into the "Tack Room" for tea and biscuits. We then were guided around the gardens by Paul Taylor (who bikes to Wakehurst - does not have a car and does not intend to get one). We then had two hours of free time for lunch, visiting the Millenium Seed Bank and shop, and walking around the grounds. At 3:30 we returned to the Tack Room for mulled wine and mincemeat pies. At 4 pm, the "largest Christmas Tree in England" was illuminated and I was happy to have my phone camera. Another quick drive back to Kew. This was a wonderful day.

November 30, 2006

V&A da Vinci "Experience Experiment Design"

The Victoria and Albert Museum Special Exhibit "Experience Experiment Design" is contained in one room of drawings and projections. The audiovisual guide is latest technology.

The V&A explains the exhibit theme and Leonardo's thinking "The dominant theme is the mathematical operation of all the powers of nature. Every small part of nature mirrors the action of the whole, and the human body is specifically a “lesser world” – lesser in scale but not in wonder and complexity. Everything is related to everything else. Leonardo saw connections where we see only differences."
As an example, here is the commentary that accompanies this exhibit drawing. "This is Leonardo’s supreme, composite demonstration of the irrigation systems of the body in terms of the microcosm or 'lesser' world. It is the culmination of his thinking after the dissection of a 100-year-old man in the winter of 1507-8. Some forms are shown in three dimensions, others sectioned and others rendered as if transparent. Traditional knowledge (for example, the two-chambered heart and "horned" uterus) is synthesised with observation and theory. To clarify the spatial disposition of the organs, Leonardo reminds himself to 'make this demonstration from the side'. Other notes discuss reproduction, birth, death and rebirth."

November 21, 2006

London Weather - Rainbows and Hailstorms

One minute I am enjoying a fabulous full rainbow over Kew Village and the next minute I am being pummelled by hailstones. I couldn't get out my umbrella because I was carrying my Pether's pumpkin pie (try saying that 10 times fast) home and I needed both hands to keep it level. Ping! Ping! Ping! Those hailstones hurt! And they were cold!

Whinge Whinge Whinge (another great British vocabulary word)

November 19, 2006

Museum Marathon

Carrie typically enjoys the special London art exhibitions at her leisure, usually preceded or followed by lunch with friends. Kris had to pack in six unique exhibits at three museums in one day, with a quick refuelling stop at Pizza Express and using the long brisk walks between museums as a replacement for his normal Sunday stroll along the Thames.

Note: No museum allowed photography so all pictures are from the museum websites.

Royal Academy of Arts - Chola Bronzes and Rodin

The Chola (South Indian dynasty) sacred bronzes (9th - 13th centuries) were exquisite and everything has a special meaning.

Kris was surprised at how much he enjoyed the Rodin sculptures including The Thinker, The Kiss (shown) and the Gates of Hell.

Somerset House Gilbert Collection - Bejewelled by Tiffany (1837-1987), Pietre Dure and Micromosaics, and Snuff Boxes

Carrie learned a lot about Tiffany during an AWC tour of the exhibit - so she is ready to pay a visit at the next Tiffany store she sees!

Tiffany established a set of principles that are still followed today. There is a broad range so "everyone" can afford something. And there are those beautiful boxes! Credit is given to high profile designers. As the years went by, Tiffany made his stores more and more American such as even importing wood from California for his shop in Paris.

Most of all, Tiffany creatively commemorated significant events in his jewelry. For example, the first photograph shows a length of transatlantic cable that came in a beautiful box and with a certificate of authenticity. Queen Victoria's message ("The Queen congratulates the President on the successful completion of an undertaking which she hopes may serve as an additional bond of Union between the United States and England." ) to President Buchanan in 1858 took 16.5 hours to reach (mainly due to a gap between Newfoundland and New York) and the cable failed within months - but the event was still historically significant.

The second photograph is of the 128 carat Tiffany Yellow Diamond (set in Jean Schlumberger's "Bird on the Rock" brooch). The rest of the photographs are just samples of some of the fabulous jewelry displayed at the exhibit.

Somerset House is particularly proud of their Frederick the Great Snuff Boxes and we enjoyed all of them.

Kris was especially fascinated with the mosaic collection and how they were produced. The Somerset House website explains that there are two types of Italian mosaic featured in the Gilbert Collection: 1) Pietre Dure (hard stones) developed in Florence and 2) Enamel Micromosaics made in Rome.

Pietre Dure is a form of mosaic where brilliant pictures are created from cut and polished marbles and minerals. By skilfully selecting, cutting and polishing many rare and naturally beautiful types of minerals and semi-precious stones (e.g., agate, amethyst, jasper and lapis lazuli), these works are appealing as much for their materials as for their design.

Micromosaics are made from thousands of tiny coloured enamel rods, painstakingly assembled and secured with a slow drying adhesive - some contain over 5,000 of these tesserae per square inch. The final stages of the process involve waxing and polishing to create the seamless surface characteristic of the art.

Tate Britain - Holbein in England

Holbein the Younger became a Henry VIII Court Painter and was paid £30 per quarter (considered a vast sum) for unspecified duties. Holbein also managed a prolific and lucrative side business painting royal portraits. In a three hour sitting, he could often sketch enough details needed for a full portrait. He was very accurate while being able to portray the essence of a person's personality and include something particularly meaningful about or to the person in the painting.

November 16, 2006

Bleinham Palace in Autumn

Another great AWC coach trip - this time to Bleinham Palace (where Winston Churchill was born and proposed to his wife). After a great tour, an OK lunch in the cafeteria, and some shopping (Christmas Market would not open until next day, and gardens were rather cold on this day), a friend and I set off for the cute town of Woodstock. We had a wonderful time looking in the shops. I bought a fabulous chicken and mushroom pie at a butcher and a lemon curd cake at a bakery - each for £4 - bargain basement prices relative to London. We got back in plenty of time to catch the coach home.

November 13, 2006

South Bank Wine Society - 1997 Red Bordeaux

Unlike in the United States where we fear we may be fired for even thinking about wine at work, Shell in the UK allows the South Bank Wine Society to meet monthly in Shell Centre.

The theme for the November monthly tasting was 1997 Red Bordeaux. 1997 is considered a "rubbish" year for wines and the leader of this testing took on the special challenge of finding excellent wines for us to taste. He found 8 great wines from a variety of regions (one repeat) and chateaus. He also used his connections to get the best possible prices. At the end of the tasting, he was congratulated on successfully organising and leading a great tasting, despite concerns from other senior club members about the questionable vintage.

Kris and I enjoyed the variety and the price - £25 per person for all the wine we could drink (portions are generous) and cheese & crackers we could eat.

1) Pomerol - Chateau Nenin - £33
2) St. Julien - Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou -£34
3) St. Estephe - Chateau Cos D'Estournel - £39
4) Margaux - Chateau Palmer - £50 (Kris's testing notes: "Perfect! ")
5) Pauillac - Chateau Pichon-Longueville, Comtesse de Lalande - £55
6) St. Julien - Chateau Leoville Las-Cases - £50
7) St. Emilion - Chateau Cheval Blanc - £85
8) Pessac - Chateau Haut-Brion - £97

October 20, 2006

Asola Wildlife Sanctuary of Delhi

Just a few minutes south of the hustle and bustle of Greater Kailash II in south New Delhi lies the amazing Asola Wildlife Sanctuary. We started walking and came upon a few lookout towers, cows laying in the grass, camels with bells on their necks, peahens and finally on the return, some blackbuck and spotted deer. What used to be a barren pit mine is now filled with trees and brush. During our 2 hour hike, we only saw 3 other people.

Our one suggestion is that a few "this way to exit" signs would have been appreciated!

October 17, 2006

Jalianwala Bagh Memorial and Amritsar Golden Temple (Sikh)

Jalianwala Bagh Memorial - This is where British General Dyer shot 2000 unarmed Indians staging a peaceful protest (as seen in the movie Gandhi)

Amritsar (“Tank of Nectar”) Golden Temple (Sikh) aka HARI Mandir (Temple of God)

Guru Nanak (1469-1539) founded Sikhism as a "synthesis of the best" of Hinduism and Islam. After depositing our shoes and washing our feet, we entered the vast rectangular complex with the golden temple sitting on a (67 square foot) platform in the middle of the sacred "tank" (Amrit Sar) and approached by a (20.9 x 19.6 foot) causeway. Construction of the Golden temple began in Jan 1589 and was completed in 1601. The Adi Grantha (Holy Scripture) was installed in 1604. The central dome and upper half of the walls are covered with gold-leafed copper sheets. About 50,000 meals per day are served from the community kitchen.

We walked (clockwise) around lthe tank and stopped to quietly enjoy the atmosphere. We entered the golden temple (all are welcome) which was as spectacular as advertised. The temple was also beautiful at twilight and as the spotlights were turned on.

Important highlight for tourists - Pristine, western toilets!

October 16, 2006

Dharamasala, McLeod Ganj, Norbulinka Institute (Tibetan Buddhist)

Our destination today was Dharamasala to visit the residence of the Dalai Lama (leader of Tibetan Buddhists).

We passed by the Palampur tea estates and stopped at a stand by the side of the road. This area was not set up for tourists as in Coimbature. We admired a few tea and chicory plants before buying a small quantity of tea (which turned out to taste like mowed grass and was promptly given away).

We then visited the Chamunda Mata temple devoted to the Hindu Goddess Chamundi Devi. The approach to the temple was spotless, with rows of stores each with neat piles of offerings. We witnessed an aggressive monkey who grabbed a bag of edible offerings from a woman. The monkey scattered the goods and a group of monkeys pounced on the food. The temple itself was located on a river making it very peaceful.

We made a quick stop at the Chinmaya mission where Kris's aunt and mother have spent time in retreats.

Finally, we reached the residence of the Dalai Lama (exiled from Tibet in 1960) and temple which are actually in McLeod Ganj (770 meters). There was a group of noisy teenagers who somewhat spoiled the ambience and many of the statues in the temple were covered. I did enjoy spinning the prayer wheels and absorbing the good fortune they have to offer.

We had a pleasant lunch and terrific views from the upstairs terrace of a restaurant in town.

Our last stop for the day was Norbulinka Institute – dedicated for preservation of Tibetan culture. The shop contained beautiful crafts but were too expensive in our opinion. The cafĂ© had nice tea and cake. The real highlight was the Losel Doll museum. It was surprisingly informative and we recommend it highly.

October 15, 2006

Baijnath Temple (Hindu)

In the evening, we visited the ancient Baijnath Shiva Temple which was built ~ 800AD. We met two cute giggling 7 year-old girls (Sukpreeth in red, Puja in blue) who said "hello" proudly in English, wrote their names for us in Hindi, and requested (and of course received) our prasad (a sweet given by priests with their blessing).