Posted in Travel

Guatemala – the Ancient Mayas

In early 2024 we were finally able to do the trip we had initially planned in April of 2020 – that trip was cancelled for obvious reasons.

After a very long day of travelling, we arrived in Guatemala city after 9PM and went directly to the hotel to sleep.  The next day, Antonio came to pick us up for a 6 hour drive to Copan Ruinas in Honduras – our first visit to Guatemala was very short!  It was a good opportunity to get to know the guide who would be with us for the next 13 days.

Copan was a major settlement of the Mayas during the “Classic Mayan” Period (250 to 900 AD).  It started to decline in the early 800’s and was completely abandoned by 1000 AD, probably due to the lack of drinking water.

This is a model of what the main area of Copan is thought to have looked like at the height of its development.  Only a few of the temples and buildings have been restored to this date for lack of funds and manpower.  In the middle of the model, at numbers 2 and 3 you can see two of the highlights we will see again later.

Before we made it to the ruins, we ran into local wildlife – there were several beautiful macaws hoping for a handout.

Copan does not have the spectacular temples and buildings that Tikal can boast about.  It is known for the stelae representing its successive rulers.  Copan has the distinction of having been ruled by 16 members of the same family (or clan) between 400 and 825 AD.  These are just two examples of these stelae that were very well described by our local guide.  The front shows a portrait of the current ruler while the sides are filled with hieroglyphics about his life and times.

The preservation of these stelae is quite extraordinary; the one on the left still had some of the original paint on it.  The quality of the carving is also unique to Copan.

There are many other sculptures that have helped archeologists to piece together the history of the site, but also the history of the Mayas as there is evidence that the various settlements did communicate with each other (and there were occasional conflicts were one clan ‘conquered’ another city) and installed their own ruler.  This did not happen to Copan as was mentioned earlier. Continue reading “Guatemala – the Ancient Mayas”

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Posted in , Travel

Bangkok and Ayutthaya

We recently spent a few days in Thailand, mostly in Bangkok but also spent one day in Ayutthaya with family. It was mostly a trip down memory lane as I had been to most places, but we still had different experiences.
We started with a personal guided tour of Bangkok – we decided that an experienced guide would help us learn more and see temples and monuments in a new way.
We started with my favorite temple, the temple of dawn or Wat Arun

The shape of the stupas is quite unique and the feel around the place is very special.  It is across the river (Chao Phraya) from the main part of Bangkok, so a little more difficult to get to.  This is where we met our guide for the day.

A view of the main temple with guarding deities – please do not ask me who they are, as I always get them confused.

Inside the temple is a golden Buddha and no matter what time you come, there are always people praying and paying respect.

We took a local ferry across the river (it is the fastest way to move in Bangkok) and went next to the Wat Phra Chetupon, or the temple of the reclining Buddha

It is impossible to get a good picture of the reclining Buddha as the room it is in is actually quite small and full of columns.  These are two views from each end. Continue reading “Bangkok and Ayutthaya”

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Posted in Culture

Singapore Lantern Festival

The eighth month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar is considered to be mid-autumn and during the full moon of that month everybody celebrated mid-autumn festival.

In many Western cultures, this is known as the Harvest Moon, but it generally signals the end of summer or beginning of fall.

Mid-Autumn is celebrated with Lanterns and the best place to see these in Singapore used to be Chinese Gardens.  They are closed for a major renovation right now and therefore the Lantern Festival was held in Jurong Lake Gardens, which is right next door.  I happened to see the lanterns while I was cycling in the neighborhood and so we decided to go for a closer look one evening.

Along one of the alleys, we noticed that the trees had been covered in crochet-covers, some of which were quite interesting.

We started before sunset to see what the lanterns look like in daylight.  There is a whole section dedicated to different countries.

Italy is well represented with the Tower of Pisa, in front of a man with Pizza, the roman Coliseum and also the Rialto bridge in Venice with a gondola.  The trees did not make it easy to take a decent photo…

Egypt went for their ancient culture

Continue reading “Singapore Lantern Festival”

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Posted in Culture

Singapore MRT History

I have been working on a history of the MRT in Singapore.   The MRT is the local name for their “Subway”, “Metro” or “Underground” depending on where you are from, more generally known as Heavy Rail Public Transport.  It is a very important part of the overall public transportation in Singapore; the government wants to convince people not to buy a car.  To do this, they make the purchase of a car very (very) expensive and provide a cheap and convenient alternative in the form of excellent public transport and cheap taxis. 

We do not own a car and therefore depend on busses and the MRT for most of our movements around town.  When we made the decision, we also agreed that whenever necessary, or more convenient, we would just take a taxi; so far, there have been very few instances when we actually needed to take a taxi.  All it takes is a little planning ahead, and leaving early enough.

I have been coming to Singapore regularly since 1996 and lived here for 8 years between 2000 and 2009; I have visited regularly since then on business, or more often for pleasure to see friends and family.  I have seen the network grow at a tremendous pace; this can cause significant inconveniences as there are works going on everywhere, often affecting traffic and lasting for several years.  I was discussing this pace of development with friends recently and they seemed very impressed so I decided to do some research and see just how dramatic the pace really was.

These are just some thoughts that I have gathered by reading various sites on Internet (Yes, I know, do not believe all you see on the Internet – so you need to use your own judgement with this document as well); the main sources I used are shown at the bottom of this post.

Let’s start with today.  As of August  2022, this is what the network looks like:

I have to be precise on when this is valid as there is a planned expansion before the end of this year – more on that later.

As of August 2022, there are 6 lines and 127 stations – see the table below.  There are also several LRT lines (or Light Rail Transport – in grey on the map above) that bring people from larger neighborhoods to the nearest MRT station.  These are not included in the summary below.

Note (1) If you do like me and add up the stations for each line, you get 151.  There are “Interchange” stations that are counted in multiple lines, but are still only 1 station and therefore the sum is not wrong.

But let’s go back to the beginning. Continue reading “Singapore MRT History”

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Posted in , Travel

Auvergne from above

We are slowly starting to travel again, in small steps…

We decided that we did not want to go too far, and not across more than one border.  Our first trip was to Auvergne, right in the center of France, a region that neither of us had visited before.

And in Auvergne, the first thing we did was an early morning flight in a hot air balloon!  How early? See below!

This was the clock in our apartment as we were eating breakfast – cannot go out without some food and a cup of coffee.  The real breakfast will be after the balloon trip.

We had to meet across the street from the apartment (fortunately) at 5:30 AM and discovered that there was quite a crowd already waiting.  That photo is actually quite deceptive as at 5:30 AM, it is still dark! We finalized the formalities and were introduced to Stanislas, our “pilot” for the day and the gentleman on the right.  After introductions with the rest of our crew (we were in a small balloon with only 4 passengers + pilot) we were off to a nearby field in order to prepare the balloon for flight.  You can see our basket in the lower left photo.

Here you can see the various steps in the preparation of a balloon for flight.  The passengers are actually doing quite a bit of the work, under the directions of the pilot and one or more helpers.  On today’s flight, there will be four balloons, which could be quite interesting as we will not be the only ones up in the air.  After unloading the basket, the balloon shell is stretched out and securely attached to the basket.  The balloon is inflated initially with powerful fans and only once it is well inflated, it is heated up with the burners to get lift.  That will be the next step for the crew of “Auvergne Montgolfière”, the red balloon here carrying the name of the company we are flying with.

This is our balloon being inflated with one fan – it is called “Volvic” after a local water.  It is quite noisy actually as the fan is powered by a petrol engine! No power necessarily where you want to start your flight.  The departure point is determined to give us the best possible flight, carried by the dominant wind.  As we saw during the flight, there is a possibility to steer the balloon in flight by changing height, actually, a lot more than I thought but the general direction is still dictated by the wind.

Continue reading “Auvergne from above”

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Posted in

Les Deux Maisons

PIERREO.COM Restaurant Review

Restaurant Les Deux Maisons

Val des Seigneurs, 81
1150 Bruxelles

+32 2 771 1447
lesdeuxmaisons@skynet.be
Website: LesDeuxMaisons

Overall :

This is a very nice restaurant to which we have been going regularly for 6-7 years.  We returned on the first day that the restaurant re-opened after Covid-19 restrictions were lifted.

Pierre Demartin is an excellent host and his staff is very attentive.  This makes for a very enjoyable experience every time we come.

Food:

This is “fine dining”.  The Chef only uses the best ingredients which he then prepares in unique combinations of flavors.

We had the “Menu Tradition” with the wine pairing.

The amuse bouche already provided an interesting surprise: a cucumber sorbet on a slice of mozzarella cheese.  It was very tasty.

For appetizers we had the “Millefeuilles de raie et crevetes grises” (Millefeuilles of sting ray and grey shrimp – on the left) and the “Velouté de petits pois à la menthe et féta avec caille fumée” (cold pea soup with mint, feta cheese and smoked quail – on the right).

AS for the main, we had the “Dorade royale au poivron rouge et au condiment niçois, roquette, oignons frits et olives noires.” (Sea bream with red pepper and Nice condiment, arugula, fried onions and black olives – on the left) and the “Filet d’agneau, ail et romarin, tian provençal, blinis (Lamb fillet, garlic and rosemary, Provencal tian, blinis – on the right).

To top it all up, very nice desserts: Poire rôtie à la vanille, tuile au romarin, beurre salé glace caramel and Tarte fine aux pommes, glace vanille. Both were delicious

We had wine from Portugal and the Pays d’Oc that went very well with each dish.  A real feast

Atmosphere :

The restaurant itself is well appointed and what we appreciate even more now, the tables are spaced out.  In this occasion, we ate on the outside terrace (in the back of the restaurant) and enjoyed the beautiful evening.  The chef limits the number of tables that he serves so that he can concentrate on the preparation of each dish.

Comments :

There is a very nice terrace outside with just 7-8 tables – same inside.

We always enjoy the very high quality of the food prepared with attention and creativity by the chef.

Details:

Reservations: It is essential to make reservations, especially on week-ends

Credit Cards: Cash, Visa, Mastercard, Debit Card

Parking: There is usually ample street parking not far from the restaurant which is free after 18h00

 

 

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Posted in Travel

The Florida Keys

 

I cannot count the number of times that I have thought about going to visit the Florida Keys in the past.  I always ended up not going as I was not sure what there was to do there and I did not look forward to the drive from Miami all the way to Key West.  These are all the wrong reasons for not going somewhere!

That all changed in 2019 as Bee and I talked about it more and more and I discovered that there were a lot of good reasons for going there.  We did so in January 2020.  We flew to Miami and rented a car from there.  Our first stop was at a Cuban Restaurant in Little Havana where we had an excellent lunch.  After lunch, we drove onto Route 1 and left the mainland USA.

Our first stop for the night was at Marathon Key where we stayed at the Hampton Inn (we are frequent users of Hilton chain hotels as they always treat us really well).  That evening, we had an excellent meal at The Island Fish Company, across the street from the hotel.

We had all day to go from Marathon Key to Key West so we decided to do some sightseeing on the way and stopped at the Curry Hammock State Park where we did a coastal trail on the North side of the Key.  Nice trail but very much in lush greenery all the way and therefore not much to photograph.  Here is an example of the typical trail we followed.

It was a very pleasant walk that only took us about 1 hour and we seemed to be the only people on the trail.

We arrived early at Key West and checked into our B&B called the Old Town Manor (details at the bottom of the post) – I would certainly recommend this B&B as it is beautiful, with very nice rooms and a great location.

The first order of business was to finalize our plans for the next day, when we were scheduled to take the Yankee Freedom to the Dry Tortugas.  This is an all day trip to the very last key, one that cannot be reached by car but only air and boat – we chose the boat.

And it is coming back from the Ferry Docks that we really lucked out!  In the main marina, I saw this boat which I thought was just gorgeous!  This poor picture does not do it justice.

As we got closer, we noticed that it was available for local cruises – a bit more discussion and we found out that the Sunset Cruise will be leaving in 1/2 hour with only 15 passengers on board.  We quickly signed up and almost ran to the B&B to get warmer clothes.

It turns out that this is “America 2.0” a replica of the yacht “America” which beat the Brits around the isle of Wight to win the very first “America’s Cup” on 22 August 1851.  It is not a perfect replica as it is made in modern materials but made to look like the original yacht.

They asked for volunteers to help raise the sails – no modern conveniences, such as electric winches here – it is all done with arm, and leg muscles.  I was only tailing, and trying to help a bit the person actually lifting the sail…

Here she is, almost fully rigged.  The wind was just perfect for a good sail and she sailed very well.

I even got to steer her!  Am I happy or what!

The two photos above with me in them are courtesy of Bee… Continue reading “The Florida Keys”

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Posted in , Food

Estaminet ‘t Kelderke

PIERREO.COM Restaurant Review

Estaminet ‘t Kelderke

Grand Place 15
Bruxelles

+32 2 513 7344
https://restaurant-het-kelderke.be/en

Overall :

I do not trust a lot of Restaurants in and around the Grand Place in Brussels.  Most places are tourist traps which serve so-so food at inflated prices.

I have been eating at this place for many years and have not been disappointed once.  You also cannot beat the view from their terrace.

Food:

We went there for lunch and had, as always, excellent food.  I had the Burger “L’Estaminet” and my wife had the Carbonnades Flamandes.  Both came with Belgian Frites which we ate with mayonnaise.

They specialize in Belgian Food and for the moment have only a limited menu due to the current restrictions (outdoor dining only) – they also have an excellent selection of local beers.

Atmosphere:

Eating ‘al fresco’ at the foot of the Maison des Bouchers with the full extent of the Grand Place in front of you is unbeatable.  There is a constant spectacle developing in front of you: tourists taking lot’s of photos; groups on a horse carriage ride; tour guides looking for their next victims, sorry customers; locals happy to just sit and absorb.

They have a very large room inside as well – I have never eaten there.

Comments :

They are highly rated on TripAdvisor: https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g188644-d694640-Reviews-T_Kelderke-Brussels.html

As I indicated above, one of the addresses you can trust in that neighborhood.

If you do not have reservations, you need to come early for lunch or dinner as they tend to fill fast especially with good weather.

Details:

Reservations: accepted on the phone or by email

Credit Cards: American Express, Cash, Visa, Mastercard, Debit Card

Parking: The Grand Place in Brussels is a pedestrian zone.  There are a lot of choices for parking around the Grand Place.

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Posted in Culture, Travel

Big Bend NP – Texas

In a short lull in the Covid19 Pandemic, we decided to go to Big Bend National Park.

We had actually booked the Chisos Mountain Lodge, in the middle of the park, for the first week in June six months earlier as this was a trip we really wanted to do.  However, the lodge was still closed.  We read that the Park would reopen on June 1, 2020 for day-use only so we made preparations and decided to drive there with a short stop in San Antonio on the way.

We rented a house in the Terlingua Ranch district so that we would have cooking facilities and be more independent; we also brought essentially all of own food and drinks as we read that not much was available locally.  We arrived to a wonderful house on Jun 1 around 4PM and settled in.

On 2 June, we drove into the park early in the morning – we quickly found out that this was a good strategy: (1) there was no one to collect our money at the entrance gate and (2) we were ahead of whatever crowd would come in.

One warning – if you do not like photos of wide-open panoramas, you might as well stop right here!  Big Bend is nothing if not wide open country with many different types of views, but always expansive.

As we drove into the park heading for the Santa Elena Canyon I could not resist this shot, just to prove the point above…

I did not drive very fast, we we were able to stop for the odd wild-life on the side of the road – this one was difficult to miss…

As I was photographing, he decided to fly away.

This last one is probably the best … we were so close, I hardly needed to crop this photo to make it look better.

Even early morning (about 9:30) it was already hot as we prepared to explore the Santa Elena Canyon.

Here is the view as we approached the canyon.  The Rio Grande makes the border between Texas (USA) and Mexico.  The left side of the canyon is in Mexico.

Continue reading “Big Bend NP – Texas”

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Posted in Travel

Alaska – Part 4

We are completing our wonderful trip after such a wonderful evening.

As we are heading towards Petersburg we run into more wales.

It is impossible to tire of the view of the tail from a diving whale in such scenery – maybe you are tired of these photos, so I will try to be even more creative for this last blog.  We did have a lot to see in the last two days.

We continued to stay away from the larger cruise ships. At a distance, they are not too bad…

Cruising along Storm Islands that lies between Stephens Passage and Frederick Sound.  It has an interesting light house called the Five Finger Light House, unfortunately no longer in use.  It was first lit on a very auspicious date – spring equinox of 1902, the second lighthouse to be lit in Alaska.

The lighthouse appears to be a magnet for breaching whales.  We sat there for quite some time just watching one whale and then another doing this several times in a row.  Not a full breach, but close to 50% of the whale comes out of the water in the sequence above. Continue reading “Alaska – Part 4”

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