This Time the Pandas were ALIVE!

Ciao Readers!

As I promised, this blog post is about the cutest of all creatures – LIVE pandas.  Why the stress on the “aliveness” you may ask…let me explain….

For those of you that have been following this blog (or my adventures) for a while, you might remember an ill-fated trip to the Ueno Zoo in Tokyo, where, after much panda-phanelia hoopla we were unceremoniously (well, a little ceremoniously) informed that the panda was dead (and told to have a nice day at the zoo).  You can read about it in my post about Japan (or simply scroll to the bottom where I cut-and-pasted the relevant part).

In any case, unlike my love of Shake Shack burgers, my desire to see a cuddly (live) panda remained unrequited – that is until last weekend.  Steve planned a surprise birthday weekend in San Diego, mostly to see the sea and eat seafood, but where, coincidentally, 3 of the 12 pandas in the U.S. live!  San Diego Zoo, here we come!

So, until this trip I knew nothing about the San Diego Zoo; I could not believe it when I read online that the tickets are $54!!!  For those of you also previously unfamiliar with the zoo, once you’ve been there you get the ticket price (mostly) – this place isn’t a zoo, it’s animal Disney!

In any case, the Universe decided to be generous to me – either for the disappointment I felt at the Ueno Zoo a decade ago, or maybe just for the “ack” year that was 2017 – either way, I got a panda-stravaganza!  After trying to catch glimpses of the mom panda walking back-and-forth in her area (cute, but…), we finally snapped that just a little further down there was much more excitement  to be had – the youngest panda (Xiao Li Wu) was about to eat lunch!  While I know the pictures below probably don’t do it justice, this adorable panda just sat there and ate bamboo and played in bamboo and basically acted as adorable as if he were starring in all the adorable viral panda videos (yes, I am overusing the word “adorable” on purpose).  And just to make it a little more fun was the hysterical (unintentionally) docent, who after making it very clear that she was NOT a volunteer and had been doing her job for 21 years, proceeded to tell us of all the ailments and less pleasant aspects of the pandas (things like the fact that the father panda gets acupuncture for his arthritis on Tuesdays, and how much “food” comes out of pandas).  In such a fancy zoo with such an amazing exhibit you’d expect someone peppy telling you all the great facts about how adorable the pandas are….maybe because that part needs no explaining (or maybe because after 21 years the adorableness eats at your soul), this docent preferred to tell us how the pandas would rip our faces off if we tried to cuddle with them.  In any case, her banter somehow only added to the experience (an appeal to Steve and my respective dark senses of humor), and she seemed unfazed when I motioned for permission to snap a photo of her instead of the panda (below).   (And, oh, yes there was an adorable baby koala and other cute things…..). Enjoy!

 

From May, 2012 post:
Tale of the (Dead) Panda
When we were in Tokyo we decided to venture out to the Ueno zoo since they had a giant panda (Ling Ling) and I had never seen one in person.  The anticipation built as we neared the zoo and encountered all sorts of panda-related items – giant statues, posters, vending carts with stuffed pandas, you name it!  The entrance to the zoo was similarly decorated with panda-phanelia.  When we got into the zoo, there was even a place to take your picture with a stuffed panda.  We excitedly went in the direction of the panda sign, but after at least 15 minutes of searching and walking in circles by cute (but little) pandas, we gave up and went to the information booth.  A women bowed her head and handed Steve a laminated piece of paper that said (in English) something close to “We apologize.  Ling Ling dead.  Please enjoy your day at zoo.”   It turns out that Ling Ling had passed away quite some time ago, but as we had already learned on our trip, refunds are really not heard of in Japan, so we did the best we could to heed the advice on the laminated paper and enjoy our day!  (Here is a picture of me making the Japanese “ja nai” sign [no, can’t, forbidden, not here] in front of the stuffed panda):

 

River of Lights!!!

Ciao Readers! Happy Festivus!

So, while I have one more Italy blog in me (“Siena’s 500+ year-old Palio: violent horse race or community therapy?”), it’s going to take some research and be a little heady, and after the melancholy note on which I left my last post, I thought I’d share some holiday cheer….

Tonight we went to the River of Lights, a ginormous light display throughout the Albuquerque Botanical Gardens.  The display has over 500 sculptures and millions of bulbs, requiring workers to start setting it up in early October (using over 90,000 zip-ties)! Next to the Balloon Fiesta, I think it’s my most favorite (non-edible) thing about Albuquerque.  So, instead of blather on about it, I’ll share it as best I can (notice one of the quirky new additions, a UFO over the corn field):

 

Fast to Fancy – NYC Food is Fab!

Ciao Readers!

So, as I sit here in Lucca Italy on a rainy Sunday and try and think deep thoughts (time to think = large part of my motivation for this trip), I’ve decided a light-hearted blog about food (what else?!) fits the bill until I have something more profound to share….

Every time I go to New York I am overwhelmed (in a “I wish I had more room in my stomach” way) by all the food choices. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’d be adrift without a steady supply of New Mexico green chile (everything’s better with it – including matzo ball soup!), but it’s a big wonderful world full of food out there and no matter what you want, New York has it (in contrast, NM does not have any of the following things we enjoyed on our trip): Octopus cooked to perfection? -check. NYC style pizza and linguini with clam sauce? -check. Lobster rolls to rival Maine? -check. Korean food court? -check. Egg bagel with whitefish salad? -check. 100+ year-old Italian bakery with tricolor cookies? -check.  Shake Shack? -check and check! But instead of continuing to drool in my mind, I’ll “share” some of these delicacies with you – Bon appetite!

Two subways and a walk for the tri-color cookies of my dreams (and some requested pignoli cookies for our friend Sue, formerly of NYC) – totally worth it:

Carbo-loading before the NYC half at our perennial favorite, John’s – YUM!

An expedition to Food Gallery 32 in “Koreatown” for spicy squid and bibimbap:

Our splurge lunch at Marea on the outskirts of Central Park (I didn’t have the chutzpah to pull out my camera too often in this place, but here’s the best thing we had – from the menu – “POLIPO – grilled octopus, smoked potatoes, pickled red onion, radish, chilies, tonnato”):

A trip to a hip new food court, where Luke’s Lobster serves a mean lobster roll (i.e. butter soaked bun filled with sweet and tender lobster):

And, of course, the joy of once again requietting my new-found love of a “fast food” burger – SHAKE SHACK!

Thanks for reading (and dream-eating with me)!!!

New York City Half Marathon

Ciao Readers!

I am already in Lucca Italy, so slower strolling on my mind and agenda, but I couldn’t let the NYC half marathon come and go without a post!  Honestly, I’ve been waiting for 2 reasons – 1) the internet here in my apartment in Lucca is down for the second day in a row (add in gross sheets and ARG!) and 2) I was still holding out hope that the “nice” runners I met in the subway were actually going to email photos from the run as promised (I really regret not running with a phone/camera, that’s what I get for joining the 21st century so late).  But alas, we will do the best we can with what we have….

The day before the run (actually for 3 days before the run), there was a big expo/packet pick-up, where you got to get your number, shirt, spend money on more shirts, and find your name on the wall of runners (and panic wondering if your plane would get in on time in the snow so you didn’t miss the window to get your number):

The run started off in Central Park (where a nice woman took a picture AND emailed it to me):

We started in waves (different start times, as you can’t have 20K people all start at once!) and then in corrals – amazingly enough while I was in the last wave, I was NOT in the last corral (i.e. I was not the slowest runner there – actually came in 400-something in my 600-something person age group).  From this point words do not do it justice, so I will search the Internet for photos that do – picture a completely snow-covered Central Park bathed in bright sunlight – and then picture 20,000 people running through it, at one point doubling back and passing each other – the energy was palpable (I tried to psychologically harness it to help my momentum)…

photos from the interwebs (not convinced the first one is this year):

After we made our way up and back through Central Park (about 6.5 miles) we got to run straight down through Times Square (7th Ave.) – for some reason that was even a bigger rush (or maybe just one I could appreciate more because the VERY hilly part of the run was over).  Alas, more bad planning – while I knew Steve was waiting on the sidelines along Times Square to wave, we managed to miss each other in the giant crowds and 10+ blocks (again, Hope, carry a phone).  So, while I am not in this (that I know of – you can play find Waldo), Steve took this:

After the rush of Times Square, all that was left was another 5 miles down Manhattan in the 34-degree weather to the final rush of crossing the finish line!  I have to say, I look pretty good after 13.1 miles (and less freezing than those around me):

Honestly, it was the MOST amazing race I have run, so I will have to revamp my “top 4 runs of all time.”  Though, if I can get a little philosophical on you for a minute…..  For the first 6 miles I had a lot on my mind, so I knew I wasn’t fully appreciating what I was experiencing – I would tell myself to be Buddhist and in the moment and then I finally started to pay attention and take beautiful photos in my mind’s eye (yes, I know, real ones would have been good) – which just gets me thinking about how fast life passes (waxing poetic after turning 50 I suppose).  And, speaking of turning 50 – I trained for this race like I haven’t trained in a long time – I felt GREAT – I fathomed myself running at record speeds (for me) and didn’t even start to get tired ’till mile 12 (usually hits between mile 8 and 11) – so I was really surprised that I was at least 5 minutes shy of my “PR” (personal record – something many runners strive for).  I can’t help but wonder – was it all those darn hills (6 miles of them) or are there no PR’s left to get after 50……..?

 

Ack – I joined twitter!

Ciao Readers!

So, those of you who know me know I don’t (didn’t) buy into the whole social media hoopla…. Well, long story short, I decided I can’t accomplish everything I may want to in the travel-blogging world under my anti-social Luddite rock.  So I bit the bullet, joined Twitter (@HopeEckert), and almost immediately got retweeted by Bassem Youssef (known as “the Egyptian Jon Stewart”), who we saw in NYC last night – he has 9.2 million followers, so I think in the social media world that means something……?  A new adventure of a different sort…….

(inscription in book we got at the Town Hall last night, they were all different) #RevolutionForDummies:

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Have You Met Hieronymus Bosch?

Ciao Readers!

Today I introduce my latest artist obsession – Hieronymus Bosch. Now, I admittedly know very little about Bosch (apparently no one does)*, but what I’ve seen of his works, he deserves much more attention than he gets (plus, how great is his name?). He lived and painted during the Renaissance period (1450 – 1516), and while others were painting lovely Madonnas or venturing as far as “Venus” and “Spring,” Hieronymus was painting fish-headed-demon creatures and cave houses growing from people’s rear-ends (in all fairness, he did also paint some “normal” looking religious scenes).  His art seems to be closer to the surreal genre of Salvador Dalí, who painted almost 500 years later, than to his contemporaries. Where did this guy’s imagination come from?!?!?! You can literally spend hours looking at all the weird creatures in any one of his triptychs (3-paneled paintings) – they are mind-blowing!

I discovered Hieronymus a few years ago and was looking forward with great anticipation to seeing one of his more famous works at the museum in Brugge (The Last Judgment) when we were there in January.  Alas, after we were already in the museum, we learned that The Last Judgement, and almost all of his paintings, are currently on loan to a museum in the Netherlands for the single largest showing of his work ever. (Though the Prado in Madrid was not willing to part with the most famous work – The Garden of Earthly Delights (links to interactive tour!)). I was sooooo disappointed! To help sate my new-found obsession with Bosch, Steve got me a GIANT (11 pounds) book of his complete works for my birthday – so when I learn more I will certainly share, but for now check out a few of his creations (as photographed out of my book, photo 1):

* “Very little is known about the artist Hieronymus Bosch. His date of birth, thoughts, writings, personality, and the meaning of his art have all been lost to time. What is left, though, is a series of paintings that defy the imagination as well as any set art form before him.”  Wikiart.

Five Reasons to Boycott Valentine’s Day

Ciao Readers!

So, today I go off on a tangent (i.e. mini-rant); one of my only posts not about travel or food. I figure, I have this grand public forum, why not totally abuse it?  If you don’t know this about me, I HATE (yes H-A-T-E) Valentine’s Day and have since I was a teenager.  I honestly think it is the worst, most sadistic/masochistic, commercialised abomination ever.  I hope you’ll agree and join my 3-decades long boycott.  Here’s why…. (in no specific order and somewhat redundant)….

  1. No one ends up satisfied.  Seriously, how many people are out there right now building up their expectations for Valentine’s Day and how many people are fretting about the expectations put on them? What percentage of people on February 15 think “YAY, let’s do that again!” v. “Whew, thank goodness that’s over!” or “Boy, am I disappointed!”?
  2. It makes kids feel bad.  Do you remember counting the valentines cards you got in elementary school?  How about the carnations you got in jr. high or high school?  I remember the “popular” girls would all have tons – it took a couple of years to realize they were buying them for each other – they weren’t more loved than us other kids, they just had more spare lunch money and a marketing plan.
  3. It makes adults feel lonely.  If you don’t have that “special someone” to spend Valentine’s Day with you end up feeling left out, sad, lonely, etc. It seems like a day that’s specifically meant to make you feel bad (crappy premise for a holiday, no?!). As I am old and un-hip, I am not 100% certain how this works, but I am guessing this societally-induced feeling leads to alot of poor [tinder?] [grindr?] decisions at about 11:30 p.m.
  4. Big Hallmark owns you.  Seriously, do you need Hallmark to tell you when to express your love, appreciate the people around you, buy your wife flowers, call your mom, and so on?  Okay, maybe you do, but you could revolt and just pick any other day of the year.
  5. The candy is 50% cheaper the next day.  Seriously, same delicious chocolate, half the price.  ‘Nuff said.

Since this post does not readily lend itself to photos, but I’ve learned that photos are de rigueur, I am about to randomly pick some that I think would make good anti-Valentine’s day cards….

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