Paris part 3: the tour

We saved a walking tour until our last day, hoping that the sun would come out and burn off the mist hanging over the city. Unfortunately, no. If anything it got worse, and our tour was cold and rainy. But we would not be deterred: I put on my mittens and we headed out to the Eiffel Tower.

For some reason I was convinced the Eiffel Tower was black. Maybe cartoons and pop art have led me astray, but I was sure it would be shiny, black metal spiraling up into the sky. But as we walked toward it and watched it creep into view through the fog, I realized it was brown! A light brown-beige color of untreated metal. My world was shattered.

It was still neat to see. But we just walked on past. Because it was cold. And there are only so many touristy pictures you need of your sister pretending to hold up the Eiffel Tower.

We powered on to the Arc de Triomphe. It was in the middle of a busy traffic circle so we just snapped some shots from afar and decided to catch the train. And there are only so many touristy pictures you need of your sister pretending to hold up the Arc de Triomphe.

We were headed to Montmartre. We were both pretty excited about this one – both of us studied art history and couldn’t wait to see this place that had inspired so many amazing artists.

…It was not very exciting. I mean, it was incredible to be there, but it was dirty and filled with too many tourists. It looked like a hobo town, with run-down shops and cracked pavement. Stores were bursting kitsch through their windows and garbage from their alleys. Hawkers were selling tiny Eiffel Towers (painted black!) all over the place. A random busker had carried a full-size harp up to the top of the cathedral stairs and was playing a mediocre version of Coldplay or something.

We wandered around the hill top, aghast at the cheap trinkets and street art for sale, with at least six caricature painters following us around, until we finally settled in a cafe for an expensive snack. The whole thing was a bit disappointing, but at least we did it. And it meant that we could reward ourselves with some shopping and a lavish dinner later on.

We decided to go looking for an oyster bar. The first one we tried turned out to only have oysters on Sunday (why?? no idea). So we wandered around to Saint Germain, grabbed some beers and watched the people for a while. Then we found a great seafood place nearby and settled in for our last big night in Paris. The oysters were great – served on steaming dry ice – the drinks were great, the company was great – a perfect ending to a wonderful trip.

The next day we headed off to the airport – my suitcase (and me) both at least 10 pounds heavier than when we arrived. But I had about 10,000 steps back through the metro to burn it off. I waved goodbye to Cheryl and spent the next eight cold, boring hours waiting for my plane. They really need to heat the airport.

Au revoir, Paris!

Airport goodbye!
Airport goodbye!

London part 2: the tourists

It was Sunday in London, and my sister and I were looking forward to exploring around and watching the St. Patrick’s Day parade taking place at Trafalgar Square. It was cold enough for mittens that day (which, luckily, I had brought with me!). So we set out on foot in the hopes of having tea with the queen and to see some rowdy Irish folk drinking in public.

Well, we didn’t get to visit the queen. But we did see Buckingham palace. There was a large crowd standing around, and we sort of stood around awkwardly with them for a while wondering what to expect. The royal family arriving from church? The queen gracing the crowd with a wave from her balcony? No, nothing happened. So we left. But as we walked through the park, a troop of fresh palace guards came by on their horses – of course, everyone was waiting for the changing of the guards! Luckily we come from Ottawa, which is basically mini Britain, so we’ve seen the changing of the guards before and didn’t feel we missed anything. But I did get a video of them trotting down the lane:

 

After the palace, we found the tourist motherlode at the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the London Eye, and about 100,000 Asian tourists. We snapped a few photos, and decided to look for some tea, because London. We didn’t find any tea, but we did stop at an adorable place behind Westminster abbey called the Jewel Tower, where I bought a blanket made out of recycled wool (which I then had to carry around all day – I am not smart).

We wandered our way toward Trafalgar square and stopped for some overpriced lunch and drinks at a pub along the parade route. The parade filled up quickly, and soon we were back outside, fighting our way along the road to the square. I was surprised at how many South & Latin American groups were represented in the parade. I realized that St. Patrick’s Day is treated as the “Irish” national holiday in North America, but actually, it’s the “Catholic” holiday, so of course there were plenty of Mexicans, Peruvians and others taking part. But it was great to see so much spontaneous salsa dancing in the street! Also, plenty of pipers.


The activities in the square were not very exciting, but as we left, we came upon one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever seen: a huge animatronic St. Patrick float blasting “Whoop, There It Is” with a troupe of pro-choice (or anti-abortion? actually it was hard to tell) dancers in front of it… video or it didn’t happen:


That afternoon we decided to go for a real English High Tea, and booked ourselves into a table at a swanky restaurant. We decided to order ALL the scones and crumpets and cucumber sandwiches, and forgo the strange cakes that everyone else had. Because London. After stuffing ourselves, we wandered around for the night sampling pints in all the bars around Chinatown and along Charing Cross road. It was a good night; if only I could remember it better.

The next morning we met up with a business contact for brunch at the Wallace Collection, which is a beautiful family-donated art house. Londoners really like their runny eggs, dry toast and smoked salmon for breakfast – that was basically every morning menu we saw. After breakfast, we went off to explore the Tower of London and whatever else we could find around there.

First, I had a mission to find the Globe Theatre. We didn’t find it. But I did take a picture of something that had the words “The Globe” on it, close enough? But we did find some pulled pork sandwiches for lunch, which made up for that loss as far as I was concerned. Then we wandered along the river, both of us in shock that the “London Bridge” is just a boring normal bridge and not the iconic “Tower Bridge” that you see on everything London. My childhood nursery rhyme knowledge was built on lies. We also wandered over to the Tower of London, fully intending to go inside (I mostly wanted to see ghosts), but it turned out to cost about 4 billion dollars to get in, so we just looked at it from afar and consoled ourselves with the fact that we were unlikely to have seen any ghosts anyway. Later on, we stopped at Coventry Gardens (not at all anything to do with gardens) to check out the flea market… it was not very exciting.

That night we wanted to celebrate our last night in town, so we planned to check out this neat restaurant called Flat Iron that apparently has fancy hipster steaks, but it was packed. We settled on a funky ramen noodle restaurant instead, and it turned out be amazing! I ordered the “Dracula” ramen, which was FULL of garlic and black sesame broth. The crazy waiter tried to talk me out of it, and when I insisted that I love garlic and would accept nothing else, he started crushing on me because it was “his favorite dish too.” We had a moment. I also ordered a BEER SHAKE – beer that came with a frozen whipped topping, which was also made out of beer. Look, if you didn’t know me before, then you do now. Garlic ramen and frozen whipped beer is the key to my heart. After a bit of shopping at the totally surreal M&M shop and a disappointing dessert bar, we headed home to sleep off our food hangover.

Before the train left in the morning, we spent an hour or two wandering around Regent’s Park, which I’m certain is beautiful when it’s warm and sunny. But it was cold and drizzly, and the zoo was closed. We did spy over the fence to see some kind of penguin documentary being filmed, but one of the production crew gave us the stink eye so we didn’t linger. On the way home, we peeked at 221b Baker street. There was a guy dressed up like an old-timey bobby hanging around, so we took some discreet photos like real Brits and went out of London with a bang!

Next stop: Paris.

London part 1: the arrival

Back in March, my sister and I went on a Thelma-and-Louise style trip to Paris and London (minus the manslaughter and double suicide, of course…). But it was a super fun last-minute vacation, and extra special because it was probably the first time we had ever traveled together, just the two of us. Why Paris and London? Well, it seemed to be a fair halfway point between Canada and Indonesia. Plus, who wouldn’t want to go there??

It’s taken me a while to post this because we crammed so much into our week abroad that I was exhausted just trying to sort through all the photos. But now I’m ready! So let’s do London.

We met in the Paris airport on a chilly Saturday morning. As it turns out, public spaces in Paris are not heated. Coming fresh off the plane from Jakarta, I had to put on two pairs of pants just to keep warm while I waited. Soon my sister arrived and there was much rejoicing. Our plan was to head straight to the Gare du Nord and catch our train to London. We hopped on the metro, passing what I think must be the ugliest part of Paris: crumbly buildings, industrial yards, graffitied train stations and gypsy tents made out of discarded fridges and old clothes. As it turns out, most of Paris looks like that, but more on that later.

When we arrived at the Gare, we had a few hours to kill before our train to London, so we took a little wander around the area. Although there wasn’t a lot to see – other than about 1000 cafes, all with the exact same red awnings and wicker chairs out front – we stumbled on a lovely little indoor market (also not heated) selling fresh produce, flowers, seafood, cheese, meats – so we picked up a little treat of salami and delicious stinky cheese for the train ride. Our train companions were thrilled about that.

The trip was only a few hours, and the track went under the English Channel. I was hoping it would be epic – how often do you get to travel for miles underneath the water? But we didn’t see any coastline or actual water, because the tunnel starts so far away from the edge, and then inside the tunnel is quite dark – of course, because it’s a tunnel. This makes total sense in hindsight. I’m not sure what I was expecting; maybe one of those glass aquarium tunnels where fish swim right over top of you? I guess that was a bit unrealistic. So the ride wasn’t very exciting, but it was neat to see the Paris suburbs turn into quaint English pastures as we chugged along.

We rented a little apartment in London just south of Regent’s Park, perfectly situated to walk to most of the tourist areas, and right on the underground line for areas that were a bit too far on foot. That night we were up for an adventure, so we headed straight out to explore the town!

The first place we ended up was an adorable and totally packed English pub that was about the size of a small living room. We shoved our way to the bar, ordered some pints and started chatting to a couple nearby. Turns out they were visiting from the U.S. and were equally up for an adventure. So the four of us had a few more drinks and wandered off to find “real English” dinner – that didn’t turn out to be too hard, and we soon found ourselves in the (probably haunted) top floor of a pub eating a variety of liver pies and heartily overcooked vegetables. And it was all as bland and tasteless as we expected. Mission accomplished!

We stumbled out of the pub and wandered around Piccadilly Circus – which, disappointingly, is not at all the animal kind of circus. Wikipedia informed me that our British friends use “circus” to mean a junction of streets in a circle. Silly. We checked out some shops, I bought a coat because it turns out London is cold, and eventually parted ways with our American friends to get a bit of sleep back at the apartment.

Next up: Irish partying & garlic love

Winter magic in the rockies

Well, New Year’s was quite some time ago – but it’s never the wrong time of year to share the glory that is winter in the Rocky mountains.

We spent three lovely nights in a Canmore condo with our friends, enjoying some incredible snowshoeing in the Sunshine Valley, watching a snowstorm blow across Lake Louise, spending frosty evenings in the outdoor hot tub, sharing wine and games into the night warmed by the cozy fireplace, and having delicious dinners of both homemade and restaurant variety to top it all off.

Our snowshoeing trip stole the show. It was a perfectly crisp, clear day, with the bright sun glinting off the fresh snow. The light and air were magical, the trees perfectly framed by clumps of pure white.

We journeyed along the Sunshine Valley floor for hours, taking photos and getting lost in the glory. And that night, we rang in the new year with good food and laughter. It was a perfect New Year’s Eve.

The next day, we drove up to Lake Louise so A could teach J how to ski, while B and I photographed everything in sight, went tubing, drank beer and hot chocolate, and drove around the Lake. So, basically the perfect New Year’s Day.

It was all over too soon! But we’ll always have these gorgeous memories. You’ll want to look at them babies in full screen:

And if those glorious views were not enough for you, here’s a message we recorded for the kids from the valley lookout:

Plus – bonus video of B and I tubing at Lake Louise, with a surprise ending (for me, at least!):

Happy (belated) New Year!

Wintertime in Calgary

In the middle of our winter holidays in Canada, B and I took a week out for ourselves to visit family and friends in the Calgary area. It was our first real non-kid vacation ever!

Our plan was to rent a car at the airport, spend a few days in the city to see the aunts, uncles and cousins that we hadn’t seen in several years, pick up our friends at the airport and head into Banff for a few days of frigid fun over New Year’s Eve.

We arrived at the airport on a snowy, blustery morning. I was nervous about renting a car because we only have Indonesian drivers’ licenses, and, well, those aren’t exactly recognized internationally. I had done a lot of digging on the rental company’s website and brought along some printed pages from their rules & regulations. Clutching them, I handed over my driver’s license to the clerk… “Oohh, no, Indonesia?” Me: (oh crap) “Yeah… we live there, we’re just here visiting family…” And then he proceeds to talk about the recent airplane crash in Indonesia, all the while ringing up our car order like nothing is amiss! I am sorry to say that I was relieved to talk about an airplane crash rather than my questionable driving status. He even managed to talk us into an upgrade from a mid-size SUV to a full-size truck, because, well, Alberta.

That morning we caught up with my cousin and her husband for brunch at a hipster beer-house-slash-breakfast place. Mimosas were on sale. I approved. The next few days were a blur of family visits. We managed to fit in both sides of my family and B’s family too, as well as some wandering around downtown and a drive out to the country.

My mom’s side has some land just outside Calgary along the Elbow river, and I used to spend summers there as a kid. I always like to go back and see how much smaller things look as an adult. This time, they were covered in snow and wintry beauty. We stopped in to see my aunt and then took a little drive around the neighborhood.

Later that day, we had to stop in at Peter’s drive-in for some burgers and milkshakes, which turned out to be kind of a bad choice on a -25C day, but they were still delicious.

The next day, we met our friends at the airport to begin our trip into Banff!

 

Winter holiday highlights: Ottawa

Our Christmas holidays were lovely. It had been over a year since we last visited home, and even longer since we had seen winter! The plan was to spend almost a month relaxing in Ottawa with family and friends, making the most of wintry days playing in the yard and wintry nights sitting by the fire.

We headed out of Jakarta on an early Saturday morning, laden with suitcases full of gifts and only the bare necessities – since none of our current wardrobes were at all suitable for the weather in Canada. Luckily we had managed to buy some long pants and a few sweaters in Bogor, so we could at least make it from the airport to the house when we arrived. But wearing socks for the first time in two years was a bit weird.

The flights were relatively smooth, other than a few panicked hours in Hong Kong when we thought our flight would be late and we would miss our next connection in Vancouver. But it turned out fine, and the 35 hours passed like a breeze. A very long, very boring, incredibly painful breeze filled with hours of cramped seats, terrible movies, inedible food and whining children. But we made it.

Our first week home was also filled with boring things like visiting the dentist. Twice, for the family members who had a cavity. Three times, for those with two cavities. And we battled jet lag for quite a while, waking up to watch movies at 2 in the morning. Ah, who am I kidding – it was the holidays – we probably would have done that anyway!

It snowed just when we arrived, and the kids were so excited. We took them tobogganing. J cried the whole time, complained that LittleB was “throwing sand at her” and went to play at the snowy swing set instead. LittleB face-planted at the bottom of the hill and sprawled there for the rest of the time. BigB smacked his knee on some ice riding down the hill on a kiddie saucer and limped for the rest of our trip. But I had a good time, though!

Obviously the big ticket item was Christmas. My sister and her family came to stay as well, and we had a busy schedule of visiting friends and family throughout the week. Christmas is always a busy time for us, since we have so much family in the same city – and we have to carefully plan our days to get in a dinner and presents with all of them. The upside is that we get dinner and presents with all of them. We also visited an old-fashioned Christmas village, where we got to meet Québécois Santa, see thousands of Christmas lights on old-timey buildings and eat toasted marshmallows at the firepit. We also managed to see a number of good friends.

Before we left the city, we decided to do some tourist activities so we didn’t feel like we had wasted our entire vacation sitting around drinking Bailey’s (that doesn’t sound too bad, actually). Of course, on the week we decided to take the kids to the museums, they were all closed for annual maintenance. We did manage to visit the art gallery for an M.C. Escher show, which was very neat. But it was on the coldest day of the year so far (-37 C with the windchill). We made the poor kids walk about 10 minutes to the gallery – that was a mistake. J started crying uncontrollably and LittleB had a panic attack when he saw BigB’s mustache getting ice on it. But we stopped for beaver tails and hot chocolate, which every Ottawan knows is the only cure for a cold day in Canada. Everything worked out fine.

The night before we were meant to leave, the whole family came down with a stomach bug. We managed to change our flights at the 11th hour and got a whole extra weekend of time. So we headed over to the Nature Museum to see the dinosaurs and stuffed birds and stuff. We also managed to squeeze out a few more restaurant trips and extra goodbyes.

Too soon it was time to head home for real, to the home that has all our stuff. The highlights I carried home with me, other than a bunch of new underwear and kids’ medicine: easy shopping, nice restaurants, driving on the wrong side of the road, new babies, craft beer, personal space, silent snowy nights, ham, and bacon.

I think my only regret is that I didn’t get any one-on-one time with my sister. Our kids kept us both busy, and we had too many family gatherings eating up our days and nights. Luckily, we just planned a last-minute Thelma-and-Louise trip to Paris in a few weeks, so I guess that worked out for the best!!

We miss you, Ottawa. See you next time!

NYC extravaganza – part GHOSTBUSTERS

So the best part of my trip to NYC was that I got to see all the real-life sites of the Ghostbusters movie. We watch that movie at least once a month, so as excited as I was, it was even more essential that I catalogue these places for the kiddos back home.

The first building, which I found quite by accident, was the church next to Dana’s apartment building. You know, the one that gets squooshed by the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man?

Originally, I took this photo because it was quite picturesque. And I didn't realize until later that it was *the* church I was looking for!
Originally, I took this photo because it was quite picturesque. And I didn’t realize until later that it was *the* church I was looking for!

Next, as I wandered through Central Park, I managed to find the apartment building itself!

Here is so-called "Spook Central" itself. Unfortunately, it seemed to be undergoing some refinishing, so the tarps take away from the looks a bit.
Here is so-called “Spook Central”. Unfortunately, it seemed to be undergoing some refinishing, so the tarps take away from the looks a bit.
Another view of the apartment building. There was obviously some "movie magic" going on to make it look more imposing in the movie itself. But you can see the platforms on the penthouses!
Another view of the apartment building. There was obviously some “movie magic” going on to make it look more imposing in the movie itself. But you can see the platforms on the penthouses!

A few days later, I found the library.

Another iconic shot. The stairs heading up to the library, where they find the first ghost!
Another iconic shot. The stairs heading up to the library, where they find the first ghost!
The lions guarding the entrance. Also haunted, I assume.
The lions guarding the entrance. Also haunted, I assume.
And here's where they run out after being scared by the library ghost. It's like I was standing in the same place as the film crew. Wow!
And here’s where they run out after being scared by the library ghost. It’s like I was standing in the same place as the film crew. Wow!

And the piece de resistance:

And the money shot: the Ghostbusters firehouse. Still looking the same (though much smaller in real life)!
And the money shot: the Ghostbusters firehouse. Still looking the same (though much smaller in real life)!

Funny story about the firehouse. I dragged my dad and friend on the subway all the way uptown to find this firehouse. I had the address and I was fairly sure we could get to it from the subway stop. But when we came up the stairs from underground, we stood around for a few minutes, struggling to get our bearings. My map wasn’t quite good enough. Then suddenly – there it was! It was literally across the street from the subway station. Too bad the garbage truck blocked our view, but it was still a great victory and a great way to finish off my Ghostbusters tour.

Next time, I’ll try to find Slimer.

NYC extravaganza – part 1

I’m sure you’ve all been wondering where I’ve been for this past week or two!

Well, I was in NYC last week for a work-related conference, followed by a trip to DC. Luckily, because I was so close to home, my parents were able to come down and spend the weekend with me.

I arrived in NYC on Friday, minutes before “winter storm Nemo” touched down. But I didn’t realize what was happening at the time, since I had been the air for so long and hadn’t heard any weather information. Thankfully, we landed without any issues. Indeed, the snow hadn’t started falling when I arrived. I later found out that we were one of the last planes to come into JFK that evening!

After landing, I caught an airporter shuttle and headed into town. Everything was feeling a bit surreal since it had been so long since I’d seen north america. The cars were on the wrong side of the road, there were no motorcycles, and the houses were not nearly close enough together. Oh yeah, and it was cold! (But don’t worry, fellow canucks, I was still under dressed compared to the locals and other tourists. It wasn’t that cold!)

An aside: I had a hard time finding clothes to wear on this trip. Winter coats are not something you typically need to buy in Jakarta, so I didn’t have a lot of choice… I had to settle for a $200 cashmere coat that I will probably never wear again. Argh!

Unfortunately, the storm meant that my family couldn’t arrive on Friday as planned. My parents were delayed until Saturday afternoon, and my sister had to cancel her visit completely. So, I holed up in the hotel room (at Times Square) and ate a giant club sandwich (which cost $30). But yum! real mayonnaise, bacon and chips!

Times Square 1
Times Square 1
Times Square 2
Times Square 2
Two "double" beds
Two “double” beds
The desk in the hotel
The desk in the hotel
Dinner, yum!
Dinner, yum!

Anyway, my delayed family left me with most of Saturday to myself.

I decided to wander around the city a bit to get my bearings. I headed out and walked up to Central Park – apparently with all the other people in Manhattan. Well, at least all the people with dogs, dogs in coats and boots and strollers.

It was beautiful, though. The snow was blanketing trees and icicles hung from street lamps.

Central park 1
Central park 1
Central park 2
Central park 2
Central park 3
Central park 3

I walked about halfway up the park on the west side, then turned around and headed back down the east side. I would have kept going, but I wanted to get to the MOMA when it opened. Along the way, I saw a bunch of great landmarks:

Carnegie Hall
Carnegie Hall
Central Park West
Central Park West
LOVE
LOVE
Radio City Music Hall
Radio City Music Hall
Rockefeller place skating rink
Rockefeller place skating rink
Rockefeller place
Rockefeller place
Rockefeller tower
Rockefeller tower
Rockefeller place.... in LEGO
Rockefeller place…. in LEGO
Lunch!
Lunch!
Trump Tower
Trump Tower
FAO Schwartz: the "BIG" piano
FAO Schwartz: the “BIG” piano

When I arrived at MOMA, there was already a lineup, but it was still early enough that it wasn’t to crowded. I paid my $25(!!) and went in. Now, it’s been several years since I took any art history courses, but most of the important things stuck with me. To see so many important works in one place, in person, was a bit overwhelming. I teared up a few times. It was lovely.

Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup Cans
Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans
Munsch's The Scream
Munsch’s The Scream
Van Gogh's Starry Night
Van Gogh’s Starry Night
Monet's Water Lilies
Monet’s Water Lilies
Mondrian's Composition in Red, Blue and Yellow
Mondrian’s Composition in Red, Blue and Yellow
Pollock's Number 1A, 1948
Pollock’s Number 1A, 1948
Alfred Stieglitz's City of Industry
Alfred Stieglitz’s City of Industry

That afternoon, my parents arrived and we went out to celebrate with some beers! I teared up a few times. It was lovely.

Dad & Beer
Dad & Beer
Mom & Me
Mom & Me

Later on, we went to see ‘Wicked’ on Broadway. I didn’t tear up, but it was lovely too.

Stage of 'Wicked'
Stage of ‘Wicked’
Mom & Dad at Wicked
Mom & Dad at Wicked