Posts Tagged ‘museum’

Data + Art at the PMCA

Last night, Evan and I went to the opening of the Data + Art exhibit at the Pasadena Museum of California Art. The show explores how data can be explored, visualized, filtered and even set to music for the sake of understanding, expression or art.

The opening display was a collage mosaic of photos, charts, medical diagrams and more with the quote, “Humans will very likely generate more information this year than in the cumulative history of our species.”

The exhibits were all thought-provoking and were striking in how different they were. They ranged from micro-etching to 3-D photos of Mars to light- and wind-powered drawing devices. The drawing devices were some of my favorites.

The light-powered one, Phototropic Drawing Device by David Bowen, featured two small robots with charcoal on their feet waddling and hopping around a large sheet of paper. They would change their direction depending on which lights were on, and they looked like two mini moon rovers searching for something.

The wind-powered drawing machine was completely different, but equally charming. The same artist, David Bowen, attached autumn leaves to long wires weighted down with rocks that had a piece of charcoal attached and would create small wind drawings. The drawings were created in Hungary by Lake Balaton. The devices as well as many of the drawings were on display, and it seems that nobody could resist blowing on the leaves to try to encourage a drawing right in the museum.

There were also some interesting music exhibits. One was a piece called Jiyeh by Jonathan Berger that took satellite imagery of a Mediterranean oil spill off the coast of Lebanon and correlated the changing contours of the spill into musical notes and phrases, which became the foundation for the composition.

Another music exhibit translated data from tumor biopsies to different noises, with benign cells represented by various bell noises and malignant cells represented by percussion sounds. The idea behind this piece was that mapping data to sound, pixel by pixel, will allow you to listen to a higher dimension of data that cannot necessarily be seen.

Though we’d seen something similar at MoMA in New York, we still couldn’t help but be mesmerized by the giant flight map of all the flights in a single day in the U.S by Aaron Koblin. The map would switch between cities and also show a full-country view. Watching the planes take off and land and do their turns was interesting, as was seeing ones coming from Europe and Asia, some traveling over the north pole.

There was also an interesting Flickr-driven display by Jim Bumgardner. For one piece, the artist took all the photos labeled sunrise and sunset and put them on a graph showing the day of the month and the time of day. For the other piece, the artist took all the photos labeled breakfast, lunch and dinner, and plotted them according to the time of day they were taken. The photos were made translucent, the brightest spots are when the most photos were taken. I love that from the graph you can see that breakfast has some popularity all day while lunch and dinner and much more time-specific.

Though I couldn’t take any photos that would do them justice, there were some neat 3-D photos of Mars, the closest you can get to feeling like you’re on the red planet. And there was also the original pixel-by-pixel hand-rendering of the first close-up Mars photo ever sent back to earth.

Another display I found interesting was a graphic representation of the size of Napoleon’s army as they headed to Russia and retreated from Russia, losing nearly the entire force on the way. The map-based graph by Charles Joseph Minard represented the number of troops in the thickness of the line showing their march, and to see it go from a robust swath to a thin line was quite impressive and an interesting way to graphically show a historic event.

One display I felt needed more explanation was a piece called Spam Architecture by Alex Dragulescu that apparently took input from spam emails and translated them through some algorithm into a 3-D drafting program to create structures. It didn’t give much information as to how the structures were created, and though they looked impressive and the piece was quite enjoyable, it’s hard to imagine how spam could translate into 3-D spaces, most of which actually looked structural, or at least like boxes with extra pieces added on. I’m curious to learn more.

There were also displays of solid smoke, MRIs of a developing quail egg, which showed the development of the skeleton and internal organs in amazing detail, and an entrancing light-through-water seismic display that encouraged visitors to step on or tap the metal plate the water bowl was perched on to create different light images on the wall.

Another neat display, called 10,000 cents by Aaron Koblin and Takashi Kawashima, was a large $100 bill that was divided up into 10,000 rectangular pieces, each drawn by a different person paid 1 cent using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk distributed labor tool. The idea was that the cost to produce the piece was $100, and on close inspection, you’ll see that not everybody followed directions when it came to drawing their square — there are cat faces and stick figures and other anomalies in the bill.

I’d highly recommend this exhibit, so head on over to the PMCA at 490 East Union Street in Pasadena. Admission is only $7, and it’s free the first Friday of each month (so February 6 should be a freebie). The exhibit runs until April 12, and there’s also a neat exhibit of David Sharf’s microphotography called Micronautics that’s worth a look.

Touring Tokyo

On August 14, we took the Shinkansen to Tokyo. We had reserved seats, but they turned out to be in a smoking car — and at the very front of the train. We decided to look for new seats, but all the unreserved calls are at the back of the train. I walked from car 16 to car 4, where there were lots of open seats, then went back to get Evan and our bags. It took until we got to the first stop to get everything settled.

We got in to Tokyo in the early afternoon and made our way to the fancy Keio Plaza in Shinjuku. We stayed a night, then spent the rest of our stay at the brand new Shinjuku Best Western, which was nice and cozy and had decent prices for Tokyo.

In Shinjuku, we went into plenty of fancy department stores and movie theaters and had a nice and filling Indian lunch at Pina Maharajah.

August 15, 2008

Our second day, we set off for Ginza to see the Sony showroom, where we played with cameras, TVs, phones and music players. It was fun, but less interactive than I’d hoped. The we went off to find the Godzilla statue that was marked on the map in our guidebook. We nearly missed it is was so small! It was quite a let-down, though it’s possible that was the original size of the claymation Godzilla. After taking a quick photo, we went to see the parks around the Imperial Palace, which were very pretty, though much of the area is gated off.


Godzilla: smaller than he appears

After strolling around a bit, we used our Passmo cards to take the subway to Roppongi Hills to check out a giant shopping mall. Like Kanyon in Istanbul, it was modern, clean and a nice place to spend an afternoon.

August 16, 2008

The next day, we spent the afternoon at the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno Park, looking at old Japanese paintings, armor, ceramics, sculpture and clothing. It was a nice, concise collection that gave a good overview of Japanese art and culture. The park was also very pretty.

August 17, 2008

We took another museum excursion, this time farther out of the city, to the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka. We bought tickets months earlier, when we were still in London, because it was recommended to us, and we were not disappointed. The museum was fanciful and fun, with beautiful Zoetrope exhibits, sketches and painting. The building itself was also fun, with lots of small doorways, staircases, elevators and walkways. There was rarely a direct way to get anywhere. We also went to the cafe, where we had a great lunch, topped off by a giant piece of strawberry shortcake.


The robot on the roof of the Ghibli Museum

We went to a great macrobiotic place in Harajuku for dinner and had a lot of fun walking around the area. There are lots of funky little shops, and people make a real effort to look different, with candy-colored hair, Little Bo Peep-style costumes and neon clothing.

August 18, 2008

It was surprisingly hard to find vegetarian food in Japan, especially at standard restaurants. It was even harder to find menus in English. I learned to say “I’m a vegetarian” — “Watashi wa bejitarian desu,” but that didn’t always mean I’d get a vegetarian meal.

Evan wanted to get some good sushi while we were in Japan, so we tried to go for a nice sushi lunch. The nice place recommended by our guidebook was closed, so we found a small place with a good lunch special nearby. I told them I was a vegetarian, hoping to get a selection of vegetable rolls, but it apparently translated to “Don’t serve me anything.” I ended up picking some veggie rolls off Evan’s place while he enjoyed the fish, soup and other small dishes.

For the afternoon, we took the elevated train on what felt like a fancy urban monorail ride to Odaiba, in Tokyo Bay to go to Toyota Mega Web in Palette City. We checked out cars, rode in simulators, and went to an arcade to play some air hockey. We also did a reaction-time race car driver test, where we had to press buttons as they lit up on a big board. I did a bit better than Evan (sweet!). The elevated train back to Ginza was fun again on the ride home since it was dusk and the city’s lights were coming on and the towering glass buildings were becoming even more transparent.


Ginza by night

We went to Harajuku for dinner again and spent time in an English pub before getting a fantastic feast at Fujimama’s, where I had a pink Hello Kitty cocktail and Evan had an orange Crouching Tiger one. We shared a grilled vegetable salad and Evan had something meaty while I had some really delicious handmade noodles with mushroom and truffle sauce. Of course, we had dessert, too, though our Oreo mousse was my least favorite course.

August 19, 2008

For our last day in Japan, we visited the Toto Super Space to check out — and test out — some fancy toilets and other homewares. The Japanese sure have a monopoly on fancy toilets, they have ones with auto-up seats, adjustable sprays and bidets that can move around and change temperature and intensity, and they have toilet sound cloaking noises you can turn on.

We stopped briefly at the Nikon showroom, which is just a couple of floors up from Toto, then we picked up a picnic lunch to take to the park. Unfortunately, since it was our last day and the ATMs would only let us take out a minimum of 10,000 yen (about $100), we were back to where we started in Japan — with no cash. We had just enough to buy lunch, but we couldn’t scrounge up 400 yen ($4) to get into the park. Instead, we ate on some benches by the visitor’s area, then went shopping in the department stores.

Late in the afternoon, we hopped on to the Narita Express from Shinjuku station to go to the airport for our flight to Hawaii.

Check out our Tokyo photos in Evan’s Facebook Gallery.

6 Days in Kyoto

Getting to Kyoto from Bangkok involved a very long day of traveling, which seems to be a recurring theme on this trip. First we took a 5-hour flight to Tokyo, then had to hop on an hour-long train to get to the 3-hour-long Shinkansen — where we had to stand in the unreserved smoking car for about 45 minutes before getting seats. We also had a bit of a failure in planning here — we had no baht left to exchange for yen, so we didn’t get any in Bangkok. Then we missed the exchange counter at the Tokyo airport, leaving us with 0 yen, and thus no food or drink possibilities. We thought we’d be able to find an ATM at one of the train stations, but that didn’t happen, and when we finally got to Yamashina, where we just needed to take a Kyoto subway 4 stops to Daigo, we got stuck. Our Japan Rail passes wouldn’t cover the trip, the ATMs we found wouldn’t take foreign cards and at 10:30 p.m., we didn’t have any exchange options we could see. We were also caught in a thunderstorm. Thankfully, we were able to call the person we were staying with, Ted, to come pick us up. He even had dinner ready for us when we got to his house.

The front gate at Kiyomizudera

We spent our first few days in Kyoto exploring the city — going shopping, eating at vegetarian restaurants and checking out the temples. Kiyomizudera was my favorite, with its pretty trails, beautiful views and quaint wooden shrines. The complex also has a waterfall that people drink from to gain luck and knowledge — we made sure to drink up! We also spent some time in Gion, where we saw a Geisha in her full get-up, with white face makeup and all. Tons of people were snapping photos of her just crossing the road. There were many other women in traditional kimonos, but not many were fully made up.

We visited some other temples in the hills that form the city’s border, like Nanzen-Ji, where we walked through an enormous gateway and under a red-brick aqueducts and up into the woods to visit a small shrine by a waterfall. And we walked down the Philosopher’s Path, a quiet walkway by a canal, until we found Honsen-In, another temple, which was closed for the day.


A temple garden in Kyoto

We were able to scramble over to the Ginkaku-Ji, the Silver Pavilion, shortly before closing time, but were disappointed to find the structure undergoing a complete restoration — it was basically a shell of a building covered in tarps. The gardens, however, were well worth the visit, with clear ponds, stone steps leading up to a view point, sunny and shady areas, plenty of moss groundcover, and a sand garden shaped to represent Mount Fuji and the sea. We took a second loop around the grounds because we liked it so much.

The rest of the time we were based in Kyoto, we took day trips to nearby cities. Also, we were surprised by how hot Kyoto, and Japan in general, was — the heat and humidity made Thailand feel temperate, and we had to buy little towels to wipe the sweat from our faces. Who knew?

August 11, 2008

First, we took the Shinkansen to Hiroshima, where we visited the peace park. We saw the A-Bomb Dome, the ruins of a neoclassical building that was very close to the hypocenter of the blast, which was eerie — parts are still standing, other parts are totally mangled, and there are Japanese families taking photos giving the peace sign in front of it. From there, we walked on to the island where most of the park is, and saw all the paper cranes that comprise the children’s memorial, then went by the eternal flame and the cenotaph, which looks back on the A-Bomb Dome.


The A-Bomb Dome in Hiroshima

We also visited the museum, which gave a detailed history of Hiroshima and a good amount of insight as to why it was bombed. It also had a lot of information on nuclear weapons and really showcased the devastation of the city through photos, models and artifacts from the day it was bombed, like warped metal girders, burned clothed, melted roof tiles and some gruesome victim portraits. The museum isn’t only a memorial of what happened there, though — it is truly a call for peace and an end to nuclear proliferation. It was very powerful to see such a tragedy turned into a positive mission.

After taking in the museum, we also checked out the memorial hall, a large, echoing sunken space with a fountain at its center and the names of Hiroshima’s neighborhoods set around it. Also, we noticed that water played an important role at the peace park — many visitors were leaving water bottles at the memorials — and we learned that it’s because many of the bomb’s victims died begging for water.


The floating gate in Miyajima

Once we’d toured the park, we were ready for some lighter fare and headed to Miyajima to see the tori gate in the sea. We took a ferry over to the island and were surprised to find lots of deer to greet us. We walked down the coast to the shrine, which was closed because it was a bit late in the day, then watched the sun set pink behind the bright orange floating gate.

August 12, 2008

Our second day trip was to Himeji to see the castle. From the train station, we walked right up the main road until it stopped at the big, scenic moat. We walked across the bridge and onto the castle grounds and went to the main tower — a big, white, multistoried building on a tall stone foundation. There were lots of small spaces for people to throw rocks or boiling water down on invaders, and these came in square, circle, triangle and rectangle shapes. It was also a no-shoes building, so we climbed the stairs to the top barefoot, carrying our shoes in bags. I don’t know why they insist in putting metal caps on the ends of the stairs for people going barefoot — it’s quite an uncomfortable climb.


Himeji Castle

The view from the top wasn’t all that great — Himeji looks pretty industrial — but it was nice to see the castle.

When we returned to Kyoto station in the evening and took the escalators up to the roof garden on top top of the cool modern bulding to take in the nighttime view, then walked across its glass walkways.

August 13, 2008

Our day trips started feeling like doing suicide sprints backwards — we started with the longest, Hiroshima, and just kept on the same train lines, going shorter and shorter distances each day. We definitely made the most out of our JR passes. The bullet train was basically our daily transport, which really helped us get back and forth quickly, though we wish we could have ridden the super-speedy Nozomi trains, which had better, longer routes.

Osaka is only a short ride away from Tokyo, yet it feels quite different. It’s much more modern, and much more crowded. We first went to the aquarium, since it was highly recommended. Apparently it was highly recommended to all of Japan, though, since there were some really incredible crowds. There were people blocking every tank and sign and women on bullhorns yelling announcements every few feet. It made for a pretty stressful visit, though we did manage to at least get a glimpse of the dolphins, otters, penguins, rays and whale sharks. The best part was a smallish exhibit with baby otters, which was set apart from the main path and nowhere near as packed.


Looking up at the Osaka Sky Building

Next on our sightseeing tour was the Osaka Sky Building, a transformers-looking structure, with two tall buildings attached at the top, with long escalators running to the roof garden observation point and a thin bridge at the 22nd floor. We made it to the top just in time for sunset, when the clouds and sky turned a beautiful pink over the sprawling city. And riding up to the top in the glass elevator and then taking the glass escalator the last five stories was quite a thrill.

Check out more photos in Evan’s Facebook gallery.

12 Days in Istanbul

Sorry I haven’t written in a while — the keyboards in Istanbul are a bit hard to type on because some of the letters and punctuation marks are in different places, and I just haven’t spent too much time in front of the computer lately. Good thing I’ve been writing about my days in a journal. Here are some of the highlights…

blue sultanahmet mosque istanbul
The Blue Mosque

July 13, 2008

After our adventures in Jordan, we headed over to Istanbul on a very annoyingly timed 3:30 a.m. flight, which left us with no sleep for the night and brought us into Istanbul so early in the morning, we had to wait about 5 hours for our hotel room to be ready. In our waiting time, we had breakfast at our hotel, Hotel Tashkonak, on the rooftop patio, and took a short walk through Sultanahmet, the old part of the city where the Aya Sofia, the Blue Mosque and plenty of the other tourist sites are. Then once our room was ready, we slept the rest of the day.

July 14, 2008

Once we were well rested, we started exploring Istanbul in earnest. We started out with the Little Aya Sofiya, which is a pretty church-turned mosque with a graveyard surrounding it and a pretty domed roof. Then we visited the tomb of a bunch of sultans, which we happened to come across. All their individual grave markers/sarcophagi were standing like little houses under a domed roof.

Next we went to the Blue Mosque, or  Sultanahmet  Mosque, which is one of the most beautiful sights in the area. It has soaring minarets, domes everywhere you look and a lovely courtyard and garden. Inside it looks like a pretty standard mosque, though it does have some nice tile work, with mostly blue floral designs on the tiles. I’m glad I bought a head scarf when I was in Egypt so I didn’t have to use a loaner.

We couldn’t go in the Aya Sofiya, which is right across from the Blue Mosque, because it’s closed on Mondays — we explored it a few days later — so we headed across the street to the Basilica Cistern, an ancient roman cistern with a hodgepodge of columns taken from across the city and a vaulted roof. There were some carp swimming around in the water, and in the far corner, there were two columns whose bases were upturned Medusa heads. The theory as to why one is on its side and the other is upside down is that the Romans, being Christians, meant to show that they were just using the blocks as building materials, not worshiping false idols.

Continuing our super-tourist day, we went to Topkapi Palace, a huge complex for the sultans and their families. The treasury had an interesting collection, with lots of rubies, emeralds and diamonds, and there were some very elaborately tiled walls in the harem. It was also neat to learn about the palace’s history, complete with scheming concubines, murdered princes and the sultan’s mother ruling the roost while the sultan walked around in silver-soled shoes.

We also walked around the hippodrome, which isn’t much to see, except for two obelisks, a column and a fountain. It functions more as a pedestrian thoroughfare and makes a pleasant place to stroll.

basilica cistern istanbul
The Basilica Cistern

July 15, 2008

We decided to head out of the city for a day to explore the Princes’ Islands, a set of 9 Islands in the Sea of Marmara where people from Istanbul keep summer villas. The only transport allowed on the small, hilly islands are bicycles and horse cards, though there are some motorized vehicles allowed for the police, garbage men, etc.

We went to the biggest of the Islands, which we got to by ferry, and got some ice cream straight away, since it was a hot day. Then we started our walk to the monastery up in the mountains, which ended up being more of a church than a monastery, but maybe we missed something. The walk was really lovely — the big houses had huge gardens, and because of all the trees, we had lots of shade. There were also great views of the sea, the other islands and Istanbul.

When we finally got up to the monastery area, we had a nice lunch, explored the small Greek Orthodox church where people had left little trinkets, like watches and jewelry, in hopes that their prayers would be answered. There were also lots of white bags, papers and cloths tied to the trees and bushes on the path leading up the hill, which apparently also symbolize prayers.

July 16, 2008

We woke up to rain for the first time on our trip, but by the time we had breakfast and set up a lunch date with a friend who lives in Istanbul, it had stopped. Before lunch, we decided to tour Aya Sofiya, which is much more impressive from the inside than the outside. Outside, it looks old and staid compared to the blue mosque, but inside, it’s all gold and there are some incredibly detailed mosaics in its gallery. It would have been amazing to see it in its original glory, with its large open spaces and soaring dome, which were unfortunately obstructed for us by scaffolding put up for reconstruction work.

By the time we were ready to leave, there was a thunder-and-lighting storm raging outside, so we ran to the nearby tram stop, getting soaked in the process, and trammed and funiculared to Taksim to meet our friend who took us out to a lunch of traditional Turkish food. We had dishes like “The Imam Fainted,” a tasty cold eggplant dish, dolmas, stuffed peppers and pureed eggplant. I also had Turkish coffee with dessert — strong and bitter as expected.

July 17, 2008

It was time to see something of contemporary Istanbul, so we went to the Istanbul Modern, a great museum that showcases Turkish modern art. We were introduced to plenty of talented artists we’d never heard of, and toured the temporary “Design Cities” show, which showcased important works from cities that influenced popular design over the years. The museum also has a fantastic cafe overlooking the Bosphorus, though it seems like just about every restaurant in Istanbul has some sort of water view, which is always a nice touch. The rest of the day’s tour included a trip up Galata Tower and down the Kamodo Steps.

July 18, 2008

We thought we might avoid it because of our crazy experience at the bazaar in Egypt, but we ended up going to the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market anyway, and boy were we surprised. It wasn’t crowded, the shopkeepers didn’t hassle us too much, and the shops had some really interesting and colorful items. We also went in to a bunch of mosques, though at this point they all started looking a bit the same.

July 19, 2008

We had a nice relaxing day of sleeping in, then sat at a tea garden eating ice cream and baklava and playing checkers for most of the afternoon. Evan beat me every time.

July 20, 2008

We went to tour Dolmabahce palace — another home for the sultan’s, though newer than Topkapi and in a European style. The grounds were beautiful, with manicured gardens, fountains and little ponds with lily pads and an expansive view of the Bosphorus. Touring the interiors of the buildings, though, we needed to go as a group with a guide. The groups were pretty big, and the palace’s big rooms echoed and made it hard to hear our guide. We also kept running into the group ahead of us. Still, the building was impressive, with huge chandeliers, carved ceilings and a lot of trompe l’oeil painting. Touring the harem, our guide did a better job, though we had some rogue tourists who kept arguing with her and trying to strike out on their own.

After getting lunch at a vegetarian restaurant near Taksim, we took the metro to Levent to go to the mall. The Kanyon mall was huge, modern and gorgeous. It’s an indoor-outdoor multi-level space with posh shops, curving walkways and a spherical movie theater. We shopped a bit and saw Hancock — with an intermission that included commercials (not cool to interrupt a movie so abruptly like that and then make us watch even more ads!).

July 21, 2008

Lazy day lounging at the hotel, researching Thailand and reading. We ordered in food with the help of the super-nice staff at the hotel and spent a lot of time using their free lobby computer.

bosphorus
View of the Bosphorus

July 22, 2008

It was time to get out of the city again and go on a Bosphorus tour. We caught the ferry at Eminonu and took it up to Anadolou Kavagi, where we climbed up a hill to a ruined castle, where we had great views of the Bosphorus and the Black Sea, which were both a  tranquil turquoise blue.

When we got down from the mountain, we caught a bus down to Kanlica where we had a strait-side lunch featuring the town’s delicious yogurt, which really was better than any of the yogurt we had elsewhere in Turkey. We watched plenty of ships passing by and even saw a dolphin. By the time we were done with lunch, it was too late to visit any of the other sites we’d hoped to get to — just about everything around Istanbul closes at 4 or 4:30 — so we hopped on another bus to Uskudar, then took the ferry back to Eminonu.

We walked along the coast back to our hotel, passing swimmers and sunbathers on the rocks (there’s no beach there).

July 23, 2008

One of Evan’s brother’s friends who we’d met for drinks earlier in the week played tour guide for us all day. She brought us to a Greek Orthodox neighborhood where we visited a church and an impressive large high school on top of a steep hill. We also toured Bosphorus University, which as its name suggests has some beautiful views, then had a long and relaxing lunch at a waterfront cafe in Ortakoy.

We spent the rest of our day in Istiklal, hanging out in a cafe reading while avoiding some rain, then going out for a makeup birthday dinner, since in Jordan we never had one, at a rooftop restaurant.

July 24, 2008

With our flight to Thailand in the evening, we had one last day to spend in Istanbul and I knew what I wanted to do — go to a hammam/Turkish bath. Evan didn’t want to come, so he went on his own errands while I headed to the Cemberlitas Hammam, right near the Grand Bazaar. The Hammam dates back to the 1500s, and the men’s side is supposed to be grander than the women’s, though it was still a neat experience.

The main bathing room has a warm raised central platform, where most of the activity takes place. I started out relaxing there in my bath sheet while others were getting bathed around me, staring up at the small circular skylights in the pink domed ceiling, and soon an attendant came in to give me my bath. There was lots of water, soap and scrubbing with a loofah mitten. There was also a bit of a massage and I also had my hair washed in an adjacent alcove. The most surprising part of the experience, though, was that the attendants don’t really wear much clothing. Like only bikini bottoms. The guide book did not prepare me for that — I thought I was the only one who was going to be exposed.

Well, I chalked this one up to being an interesting cultural experience, and I despite some initial anxiety, ended up enjoying myself and feeling squeaky clean and relaxed by the time I was done.

Evan and I spent the rest of the day relaxing at the Dervish Tea Garden, drinking tea and playing backgammon. I won every time.

When it was time to finally leave, we had a nice time at the airport, hanging out in the Turkish Airways lounge, which was really nice (we somehow managed to fly business class to Thailand — our longest flight!). There was a business centers with computers to use, a big dining/drinking area, a separate kids’ room, a TV lounge and a sleeping lounge. The flight itself was fine — we both slept most of the way — though Turkish Airways has the worst business class food I’ve ever had, worse than most economy meals I’ve had. There were at least huge TVs, and on their flight monitor, we could check out the front and rear views from the airplane — it was quite cool to see it approach the airport and land!

Check out our Istanbul photos in Evan’s Facebook album.

The Egyptian Museum and the Crazy Bazaar

Well, we’re just finishing up day 2 in Egypt, and it’s already been a bit of a wild ride. We haven’t been able to upload any photos just yet, but I have written down what we’ve done over the past two days, and we’ve included this lovely webcam photo from the hotel’s lobby computer.

June 28:

Early this morning we arrived in Cairo, about an hour or so later than planned. We got our visas from one of the banks by Immigration, and then joined the Passport Control queue. We also made the (sort of) mistake of asking one of the policeman patrolling the line about our visas, since the man at the bank said to have a policeman put them in our passports. Well, after looking a bit confused, and searching through our passports, the policeman stuck mine on one of the blank Special Modifications pages, and stuck Evan’s diagonally spanning two pages. Thankfully, it turned out not to be a problem, and we were stamped on through to the baggage claim quickly enough.

Once we grabbed our bags, we found the driver for Havana Hotel and went with him to his car. The parking lot was packed, and we were parked in. There were words, lots of honking, and we eventually got out to the craziness that is Cairo’s streets.

Two-lane roads are treated as three lanes, everyone passes from every direction, motorcyclists don’t wear helmets, and horse-and-donkey-drawn carts use the same roads as everyone else. We even saw a bicycle in the left lane of the freeway. We did manage to make it safely to the hotel, and tipped our driver what we later learned would’ve been the full fare from the airport.

Egyptian Museum
In front of the Egyptian Museum

This morning, we headed out to the Egyptian Museum. The place is massive and filled to the brim with Egyptian antiquities, statues, carvings, sarcophagi, jewelry, mummies… The King Tut section was amazing, especially the gold mask, jewelry, and nested sarcophagi. Plus some of the side rooms with extra-special pieces, like Tut’s gold mask, were air-conditioned — very nice in the midday heat.

We stopped for lunch, and when we felt rested we set out for Khan El-Khalili bazaar. We spent quite a bit of time, sort of accidentally, in the non-touristy, calm southern side of the market and its surrounding neighborhood, which we liked very much. The narrow streets were full of stalls and locals doing their shopping. I bought a scarf, we didn’t get hassled, we had children say hello to us, sing, and then ask for money, but we just smiled and laughed them off.

buying a scarf
Buying a scarf at Khan El-Khalili bazaar

Then we got a little bit lost. We started wandering further down the alley-like streets, and we got to an area full of construction shops. We decided to head back to where we came from — of course not on the same path — and wound up down an incredibly busy street, which had a traffic jam of cars, trucks, mopeds, rickshaws, donkey carts, and pedestrians. We had to walk in the road amidst all this because there were no sidewalks, and we almost got squished by a truck making a very close turn to a car. A young man made the truck stop and pulled me to safety, but it was a pretty scary moment. We ended up having to walk back the way we came, and finally found our way back to our starting point.

When we crossed over to the touristy side of the market, we were hassled and chatted up at every turn. We left the market shortly after we arrived there, feeling rather spent.

Springtime in Hyde Park!

hyde park tulips

Winter finally decided to loosen its clutches on the city of London, and we’ve had some lovely weather. The first really gorgeous day, Evan and I took an excursion down the road to Hyde Park. While we’ve been to the park plenty in the winter, and we knew it was a nice park, it was pretty chilly and barren save for the grass.

Two weekends ago, though, it has a fantastic facelift — there were tulips, cherry blossoms and daisies in bloom, the lake was full of row boats and pedalos (what the Brits call pedal boats/paddle boats — you know, the plastic kind you power like a bicycle), and there were plenty of children, pets and friends soaking up the sunshine. Even better, we left our jackets at home and were even able to go without our sweatshirts for much of the day.

hyde park serpentine rowboat

Evan and I went out on the Serpentine on a rowboat, which was very relaxing (I did some rowing, too). The only thing missing was a picnic and some sunscreen — I unfortunately managed to get a pretty decent sunburn.We also took a tour of the Serpentine Gallery, which had a very intriguing exhibit of Viennese artist Maria Lassnig‘s work. Though the gallery was very small, it was perfect for a 15-minute detour in the park, and Lassnig’s works were very intriguing — the first paining that greeted us was a self-portrait titled “You or Me,” where we were confronted by the naked octogenarian artist pointing guns both a the viewer and at her own head (you can see some more images of her work here).

And here’s a great photo of a duck Evan took while we were at the park…

duck at hyde park

For more photos of the day at the park, visit Evan’s site.

Straddling the Hemispheres

Greenwich Park and the Royal Observatory

A few weeks ago, we went to Greenwich to check out the National Maritime Museum and Royal Observatory, where the prime meridian was conceived. The Maritime Museum was pretty well put together, though seemed to be more for children, whereas there wasn’t a whole lot to see at the Royal Observatory (the building on the hill) other than the prime meridian — there’s a green laser beam pinpointing its place. Greenwich park was also really nice, though we chose a pretty rainy and gray day to go.

Of course, we had to take a photo on the dividing line between the hemispheres. The one below is of me and Evan’s friend Shelly, who was hanging out with us for the day.

Prime Meridian at the Royal Observatory

Straddling the Prime Meridian