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Monthly Archives: January 2014

In our last minute search for a winter holiday, we wanted a destination that is warm and truly relaxing, preferably English-speaking. We did not want to do much sightseeing or shopping.  Cruising the Caribbean came up as the obvious option. It has been quite a few years since we last went on a cruise. Cruising the Mediterranean was an option but the climate is not really warm enough.

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After wading through an ocean of choices on cruise ships, ports of call, cabin class, connecting flights and layovers, we decided on Celebrity’s newest flagship – Reflection. It came into service in Feb 2013.

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Our itinerary was a 7-day cruise round trip out of Miami, with stops at San Juan, Puerto Rico, one of the US Virgin Islands, St. Thomas, and the island of St. Martin.

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We would have loved to do a 9-day trip since I (Chris) had the vacation days this year.

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Chris’s mom and sis cruised with us that time also on a Celebrity ship – the Century.  It is now one of the oldest ship in Celebrity’s fleet and is sailing from the ports in the China seas.

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The ship’s atrium.

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There was a tree suspended in midair on the 7th floor above the ship’s atrium.

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Other than making the ship longer or wider, they are getting taller. There are at least 15 levels that are accessible to guests, 12 of which connected by banks of elevators.

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I counted 12 restaurants/eateries, 13 bars/cafes, 3 pools, and a host of facilities ranging from a casino, theatre, art gallery, library (see above picture) and at least ten shops.  There is also an indoor pool with an age restrictio

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There are a few surprising innovations. On level 15, there is the Lawn Club Grill –  a patch of real grass with cabanas and in the middle of it is a restaurant where a guest can sign up to use the outdoor grills with the help of a grill master to cook a meal for friends and families.

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I assume the cruise industry must be very competitive. They have to keep bringing back past customers, fend off other cruise companies and convert land/air tourists to cruisers.

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In the spa, there is a Persian Garden which is a air conditioned room full of heated tiled loungers surrounded by a row of dry sauna, hamam, cold room, and themed showers. The idea is to go through the dry/wet/cold/hot treatment and doze off on the loungers in-between. It was nice but a bit overhyped.

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The room shown below facing the bow is my favorite where I sunk into the chair and fell asleep while staring at the ocean.

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There seemed to be plenty of treadmills, right ? Wrong, in the morning, it was impossible to find an unoccupied machine.


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Of course, there is the nightly entertainment which was very competent and included some American Idol finalists.

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Good times.

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This is no. 2 in a series of posts that is about funny business names that we captured on camera. Since we are now living in continental Europe, from time to time we come across English names that makes us laugh. See Hilarity in names #1 here.

Happy pills, Amsterdam

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Happy seems to be popular word to use a name. I am sure there are lots out there.

Happy Horse – Lugano.

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Dick, Bern

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Dirty Dicks, London

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Homeless, Hong Kong – a shop that sells housewares

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Get your gift – Lugano. English words are hip in parts of Europe.

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Mess, New York, Chinatown. It is a hair salon called Mess.

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Hope these photos brought a smile to your face.

While in Miami, we (Chris especially) loved the food served in this Peruvian restaurant, Cvi.che 105. We went twice during our stay in town !

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The restaurant’s name is derived from its speciality, ceviche and street number on N.E. 3rd Ave in downtown Miami.

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Started with a dish of crunchy, roasted corn nuts (ever so slightly salted) – cancha made from a special variety of corn called maiz chulpe. Don’t remember eating it anywhere before. Addictive. Great with drinks.

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I(Chris) like ceviche and the restaurant Sushi Samba where one can reliably find some variations of ceviche.  This is part of our dinner on the first night.

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Ceviche is typically made from fresh raw fish marinated in citrus juices, such as lemon or lime, and spiced with ají or chili peppers. Chopped onions, salt, and coriander, may also be added.

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My ceviche main course for the second night.  White wine sangria !

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At Cvi.che 105, boiled sweet potato(the orange cube on the plates) was served as an accompaniment. I did not expect sharp tasting raw fish could be paired so well with sweet root vegetable. More corn.

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It is very well known locally. There appears to be a line outside the restaurant all the time. We had to wait on both visits, each on average for about 15 minutes. They placed benches outside the restaurant where the waiting customers can study the menu. Ranked #24 of 3,534 restaurants in Miami by Tripadvisor.

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The chef Juan Chipoco is young and he walked around the restaurant amidst all the chaos, birthday celebrations, and loud music. He also owns another restaurant next door called Pollo & Jarras – it is less popular but I(Chris) think it has potential. Too bad we did not have time to try it. It was quite highly rated online. This is our starter for the second night – it looks a bit murky but the stir-fried squid/octopus was great tasting.

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The restaurant has a bar and an open kitchen where the ceviche dishes are being assembled. The dish with the pink sauce is octopus carpaccio with an olive dressing – we will order it when we return next time.

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We also tried tiradito which is a traditional way to serve very thinly sliced raw fish (with roasted and fresh corn).  According to Wikipedia:

Tiradito is a Peruvian dish of raw fish, similar to sashimi and carpaccio, in a spicy sauce. It reflects the influence of Japanese immigrants on Peruvian cookery, and differs from ceviche in the way in which the fish is cut, and in the lack of onions.

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Apart from fishes and crustaceans, it also offers a variety of Peruvian food including many stir-frys as well as potato-based dishes.

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We cannot judge the authenticity of the recipe as some may be the Peruvian chef’s own invention using traditional ingredients such as corn and a Peruvian grape liquor called Pisco 100.

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The restaurant walls are decorated with plaques won by the chef and framed magazine pages about the restaurant. There are some traditional handicrafts hung on the walls too.

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We definitely will go back to Cvi.che 105 when in Miami.

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For our 2013 Winter break, we booked a 7-day Caribbean cruise departing from Miami. The vacation began in Miami a few days before we boarded the ship. Sue booked us into the Epic Hotel located in the downtown business district.

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The hotel is quite new and the building also contained some residential apartments. It is epic !

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The front of the hotel was always busy and crowded with some of the residents’ or visitors’ exotic cars.

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The hotel is located right next to the Miami River and apparently, one can rent a boat on the bank of the river just steps from the front entrance of the hotel.

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The Epic belongs to the Kimpton chain of hotels. We are not familiar with the chain except that R & B’s wedding was held in an Epic Hotel in Manhattan in May 2013.

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We had a room on the 20-something floor. All rooms have a terrace.

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After the cruise, we stayed a couple more days at the same hotel except that Sue booked a room with ocean view.

epic-5The views from our terraces were unobstructed. The hotel has several swimming pools on the 16th floor.

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The ocean view is a misnomer really because our room faces a channel that leads to the ocean but not the ocean itself. Geographically speaking it is almost impossible to see the ocean unless the hotel is located in Miami beach.

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Condos on Brickell key, a small island (same view as above at night).

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Views down Brickell Avenue. Normally a busy commercial thoroughfare. There was hardly any traffic on the weekend before the New Year. It was weird to see no cars on a street with so many buildings.

epic-8Brickell Avenue at night.

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The hotel is recommendable.

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On my way to Vila Madalena (see earlier post here), I (Chris) first took the metro to Faria Lima and stopped by the Instituto Tomie Ohtake.

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This cultural institute, built by Ruy Ohtake – a prominent São Paulo’s contemporary architect, is dedicated to his Japanese-born naturalized Brazilian mother, Tomie Ohtake, one of São Paulo’s most revered artists. She is best known for her work in geometric abstraction.

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Opened in November 2001, the cultural center occupies two large floors, one of which houses the education area, with four studios, space for seminars, and a Great Hall.

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Level 1 with various art pieces that invite participation of the viewer.

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Level 2

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One of the installations at the institute – monochrome and sound installation  – a bit like Olafur Eliasson’s work.

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The institute also has a restaurant Santinho, a bookstore and a shop for design objects.

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Tomie Ohtake celebrated her 100th birthday soon after I left Sap Paulo – in November 2013. The Instituto is running the “Gesto e Razao Geometrica” (Gesture and Geometric Reason) exhibition with some 80 works — mainly paintings — until February 2.

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Santinho

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If I was not pressed for time, I would have stayed for their lunch buffet. The staff had a group meeting before settling down at their station.

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Ruy Ohtake also built this very colorful commercial building next to the institute. I wonder what is inside that scoop-like structure at the top.

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The main entrance to the commercial building is in metallic pink. I went in hoping that there was an internal passage leading to the cultural institute. The reception told me to go outside and around the building to find the other entrance.

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Ruy Ohtake is known for his half-moon-shaped Hotel Unique. We were originally booked to stay there but changed our reservation due to its distance from our meeting. We stayed somewhere less dramatic – see post here.

Below is a picture of Hotel Unique taken from Wikipedia.

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The mother and son Ohtakes are known for their use of colors and curved metal expressively in both architecture and sculpture. I hope to see more of their works.

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While I was wandering around in Vila Madalena, looking for some galleries, I came across this bar/restaurant – Sabiá. See this earlier post about Vila Madalena.

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It had all its windows opened. It was bright and airy inside.

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The bar is at the end of the dining room.

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One wall is covered by a huge black-and-white mural.

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There was a long table booked for a lively group of people getting together for a Friday lunch. I recognized some people in the restaurant – they are the employees of one of the galleries I visited.

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This must be a great place to hang out at night. My young heavily-tattooed waitress spoke quite a bit of English – very helpful and patient. I ordered the plate of the day (Prato do dia) as written on the board at the entrance (top photo).

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Filé de peixe empanado com creme de espinafre e batata salteada (Breaded fish fillet with creamed spinach and sautéed potatoes). It was Friday, hence fish. My apologies for the out-of-focus photo.  Obviously, I was in too much of a hurry to start eating my lunch.

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Nice friendly place. Glad to have eaten there.

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* H A P P Y  *  N E W  *  Y E A R  *

W i s h i n g  – y o u – a l l – t h e – v e r y –  b e s t – i n – 2 0 1 4  ! !

In 2013, we did a fair bit of traveling. Here are the places we visited in the first half of the year.  Part 1 was posted yesterday. Click here to see the other places we visited in the second half of 2013. Since many of the related posts were uploaded in the same period of time, you can discover them by going forward or backward on the time line or in the calendar.

Frankfurt, Germany in June 2013

Frankfurt 2013

Paris with IT and MW in June 2013.

2013 review-18Versailles, in June 2013

2013 review-7London, to see the Champions League final with IT and MW in May 2013. This is taken from the London eye.

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New York for R & B’s wedding in May – this is taken near the Time Warners Center.

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Montreal, Canada in May 2013.

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Emmental, Switzerland in April 2013.

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Baden Baden, Germany during Easter.

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Freiburg, Germany during Easter.

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Ko Samui, Thailand in January 2013.

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Bangkok, Thailand in January 2013.

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I am now wondering where would our/my first trip in 2014 take us/me ?

* H A P P Y  *  N E W  *  Y E A R  *

W i s h i n g  – y o u – a l l – t h e – v e r y –  b e s t – i n – 2 0 1 4  ! !

As the end of 2013 is upon us, we are taking a look back at some of the places we visited. The places are organized in reverse chronological order and there is a part 2 to come tomorrow. Some of the trips are business trips and some are vacations.

Click on the link to jump to the posts – there are usually a series of related posts per location, they are uploaded around the same time – you can discover them easily in the calendar at the bottom of the post.

December 2013

We just came back from a cruise in the Caribbean sea on Celebrity’s Reflection. This was taken in San Juan, Puerto Rico – one of the ports of call. The pictures will be up here soon.

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The cruise started and ended in Miami – we spent a few days at the Epic Hotel, downtown Miami

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Barcelona, Spain in October 2013

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Sao Paulo, Brazil in October 2013

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Jungfraujoch, Switzerland in September 2013  (posts to come in 2014)

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Near Interlaken, September 2013

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Lavaux, Switzerland with VL in July 2013

2013 review-23Glacier 3000, Switzerland with YS – July 2013

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Lac Liosin, Switzerland with YS – July 2013

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Chambery, France with IT in July 2013

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There were 7 separate trips in this second half of 2013, and another 7 trips in the first half – see next post.