Monday, June 29, 2015

San Francisco Pride Parade

Laura and I marched in the 2015 San Francisco Pride Parade on Sunday with the USTA (United States Tennis Association) and the LGBT Tennis Network.  We had great T-shirts that said "LGBT Tennis Network" on the front and "Tennis for Everyone" on the back.  We were group number 211 in the parade, with an estimated start time of 1:30.

The parade began at 10:30 and we were asked to be at the staging area by noon.  I watched the parade start on television at home and as the lead group, Dykes on Bikes, rode by the TV cameras, I optimistically noted, “We’ll be there in 3-1/2 hours or so.”  Little did I know.

We rode over to San Francisco on BART and had to wait for a train with room for us.  With the parade and a SF Giants game at the same time, BART was running longer trains using their weekday schedule, but they were still packed.

We staged on Beale Street, ½ block down from the parade route on Market Street, so we could wander up and watch some of the 210 groups before us march by

1:30 came and went.  Someone came back and reported that he saw number 150 go by.  2:30 came and went.  3:30 came and went, but the numbers were in the 180s now – we were getting close.  The groups lining Beale street that were energetic and ready to go at 1:30 were sitting on the curb

dancing to Blue Shield’s DJ

playing tennis in the street with the big rackets the USTA sent for us to carry.

Finally, about 3:45 we started our amble down Market Street, behind the Cancer Society and a group of cancer survivors and, several groups ahead of us, the Bay Area Furries.

The parade had been going by for over 5 hours so far, but the crowd was still alive and enthusiastic as we went by.  A lot of cheers for tennis!  We were handing out screen cleaners to the people lining Market, with information on how to access the LGBT Tennis Network app in the Apple App Store or Google Play Store.

We finally passed the TV cameras around 4:30, waving at the cameras and the hosts who had been sitting there since 10:30.  But, the reviewing stands near the end of the parade were basically empty as we reached them a little after 5, folded up our banner, and hopped back on BART for the ride home.  And, the Giants won!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Paris Love Locks

We’ve seen the news that Paris has removed the ”love locks” from the Pont des Arts bridge after a section of the bridge collapsed last year.  Fastening a padlock on the bridge (and many other public fixtures) developed quickly as a way for couples (including us) to publically demonstrate their love.

Looking back at our trips to Paris, we see that in 2008 the bridge was au natural, lockless.

We brought our lock, engraved with our wedding date, with us from the US and placed it on the bridge in 2012, when there was a lot of room and we could select the location that appealed to us, right in the middle of the Seine.

Last year, we looked for our lock, but to no avail..

Our backup lock was placed on Via dell’Amore in Cinque Terre in 2013.  But, since then, mudslides have closed the Via dell’Amore and only 200 meters from the Manarola train station are open at this time (and the Bar Via dell’Amore, near our lock, remains closed).  When it reopens, we’ll have to see if our lock survived (and if the bar is open).

Monday, June 22, 2015

Dinner at Kokkari in San Francisco

We met friends at Kokkari Estiatoria Friday evening and had another truly magnificent dining experience.  Kokkari came in number 1 on Zagat’s 2015 San Francisco restaurant rankings and we have been enjoying it for over ten years.  It’s known to be a tough reservation to get; start early, be flexible.

Walking into the old-world, wood floor and beam ambiance, we face the large open fireplace with today’s rotisserie special slowly turning.  It could be lamb or pork, today we’re in luck, it’s my favorite, duck!

Laura and I had our wedding reception in the back room at Kokkari six year ago.  Today the back room is open to the main dining area for general seating area as the restaurant fills.  And, we’re in luck, our server is Max, who helped make our reception a truly memorable event.  Max is knowledgeable, personable, and always has great recommendations that enhance our dining experience.

We start with a bottle of Prosecco while we try to choose among all the options for starters.  With five people, we can share, including of course my favorite, Octapodaki (grilled octopus).  But also, Gigantes (oven roasted giant beans), Pantzaria (roasted beets), Melitzanosalata (roasted eggplant dip with grilled pita), and a salad.  What a complementary assortment!  We’re filling up already, but the entrées call and we can’t resist.

Rotisserie Duck sounds good to three of us and it does not disappoint.  Laura tells me that I have the big contented smile as I finish up, nibbling on the wing bone.  She has the grilled sea bass and it’s perfectly done, light and tasteful.  The other dish at our table, a lemon-oregano roasted chicken, smells and tastes great.

With this mixture of entrées, we decide to have a young Greek red wine, the Driopi Agiorgitiko Nemea, which is light and refreshing and complements all the dishes. 

Desert, like the starters, is shared:  fresh berries, baklava with crème fraiche, and an assortment of Greek cookies.  A vin santo for me; Laura and Jennifer have prosecco, Howard and Sherry have flavorful herbal teas .

It couldn’t be more perfect – good friends, fabulous food, great atmosphere.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Shanghai Views

There are a few sights in Shanghai that always delight me and to which I return periodically.

The first is a small garden near where the Suzhou Creek flows into the Huangpu River, right at the top of the Bund.  From the Bund, there is the traditional view across the river to the spectacular buildings in Pudong.

 Shanghai Tower is the tallest building in China
and the second tallest in the world

However, heading up to the Waibaidu (Garden) Bridge in the North Bund, I see that for Spring, the gardeners have sculpted dophins in the small park.  When I come back in a few months, it will be something else.

 Spring garden display

As I walk down Beijing Road, ½ hour from the Bund, the Jing’an Sculpture Park has just finished a major renovation.  I call this one, “Creative Use of Shipping Containers”:

 Statue in the Jin'an Sculpture Park

Almost every trip to Shanghai, I make sure that I wander by these sites and see what is current.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Brief Stop at Lake Como

We've visited Lake Como twice, once on our way to Cinque Terre and once on the way back.  Both times we stayed in Varenna, on the eastern shore across from Bellagio.

Varenna from above

Varenna is quiet, with beautiful views of the lake, small restaurants, and distinctive hotels.  A direct train from Milan Centrale takes about 45 minutes to reach the Varenna station and the adventurous can walk from the station to the hotels, but taxis are readily available.

Ferries run frequently from Varenna to Bellagio, Mennagio and down the western shore of the lake.  One good day's adventure is to take the ferry across to Villa Carlotta, explore the fabulous building and grounds, and then wander up the Via Statale along the shore until you find a restaurant that looks appealing for lunch, preferably with a great view of the lake.

After lunch, a short stroll up the Via Statale (or back down to Villa Carlotta if you're feeling less energetic) will take you back to the ferry for trip across the lake to Bellagio and an afternoon exploring the high-end shops and the historic city.

Approaching Bellagio on the ferry

For the evening, return to Varenna and wander down to the Bar il Molo on the waterfront for cocktails.   If you've settled in, dine at the Bar il Molo, or choose one of the small nearby restaurants on the water for fresh lake fish or, perhaps, lasagne bolognese.

We've stayed at two hotels in Varenna, each with its own unique personality.  Hotel Eremo Gaudio extends up a hill with fabulous views from the top rooms, but is not for everyone, and the TripAdvisor comments reflect this - people love it or not.  Hotel Villa Cipressi is an elegant complex of buildings and gardens on the lake, with stunning lake-level views, and is convenient to the restaurants and shops in town.

View from our room at Hotel Eremo Gaudio

From Varenna, one can hike up into the hills and across the ridges to nearby towns.  The views from the top are spectacular and the train along the shore runs frequently to bring you back.  The trails are not well marked, leading to interesting adventures and diversions, but it's hard to get lost with the lake almost always in site.
 Lake Como from the hills

Lake Como is always a great stop if you are passing by.  The trains from Milan or Switzerland (arriving at the Como station) are convenient and the ferries cover the lake with schedules that encourage exploration and new discoveries each trip.

Monday, June 1, 2015

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