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Monthly Archives: February 2014

While IT was visiting, we took her to Château-d’Oex, a small Swiss alpine mountain village that was hosting its annual winter hot-air balloon festival.  See this earlier post here.

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Unfortunately, the weather was not suitable. So we walked around the small village which had several hotels, restaurants and shops.

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The place looks a bit deserted in these photos because there were not a lot of people in the first place and the people were congregating in the cafes and restaurants.

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The Swiss loves fondue and the area is well known for cheese. So we went to Le Chalet (this has to be the most unimaginative name ever given to a Swiss mountain eatery) which is a cafe-restaurant, fromagerie (with a ski school on top) and a shop below (“magasin”).

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Hanging on the outside wall of the restaurants were rows of cow bells.

On our way there, we passed the village of Étivaz, whose name is used to name the hard cheese made in the area. According to Wikipedia:

In the 1930s, a group of 76 Gruyère producing families felt that government regulations were allowing cheesemakers to compromise the qualities that made good Gruyère so special. They withdrew from the government’s Gruyère program, and “created” their own appellation d’origine protégée (AOP) cheese – L’Etivaz – named for the village around which they all lived.

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L’Etivaz is made essentially as Gruyère was 100 years ago. It is a hard cheese made from raw milk, produced by hand over an open fire from May to October in about a hundred Alpine dairies. The raw milk is treated directly in the dairy and is full of aromas of fine Alpine herbs.

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A man was making L’Étivaz-style cheese in the dining room of the restaurant.

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It has a firm texture, a characteristic aromatic/fruity taste with slight hints of nuts that can vary slightly depending on the food given to the cows (so say the promotional leaflet). The cheese is formed into a wheel, 40 to 65 centimeters in diameter with a thickness of 10 centimeters and weighing from 20 to 50 kilograms. It has to be aged for at least 5 months.

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Below the restaurant was a cheese shop which sold various types of local cheeses. We had a tasting of 14, 18 and 24 months old aged L’Étivaz and bought the 18 month-old. To us, they all tasted like a strong flavorful Gruyere, as expected.

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Cheese soup – according to Sue, buttery and very tasty, with bits of vegetables.

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A plate of very local charcuterie to start.

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For the three of us, we ordered two persons’ portions. Local white wine. Bread and potatoes for dipping. Potatoes were our favs.

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The menu at this restaurant did not offer any option on additional ingredients (other than the 2 or 3 kinds of cheeses). At other places we’ve been, various kinds of mushrooms (bolets, morels, etc) can be ordered which are mixed into the cheese giving the fondue a more varied combination of flavors.

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We had a slow, long meal before venturing back out to the cold.

This is a decent touristy restaurant, authentic (in the cheeses used in the fondue) and welcoming. However, we suspect that the locals never eat here.

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Château-d’Oex is a small Swiss alpine mountain village that hosts an annual hot-air balloon festival in the middle of winter. It is located in a valley and surrounded by the Swiss Alps and numerous ski resorts. fondue-1

The area known as Pays-d’Enhaut was just 2 hours drive from Lausanne – we took the scenic route via Aigle.

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Since IT was in town for a few days, we drove up to Château-d’Oex hoping to see some balloons and an air show. The 2-week festival, in its 36th edition, was sponsored by Parmigiani, a watch-maker based in Fleurier  (on the other side of Switzerland not far from my office). The pictures from past festival events were spectacular.

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But the weather was not cooperating – the visibility was low so it was too dangerous to fly.  And the spectators cannot really see anything because the clouds were very low. There was only one balloon that gave people short rides to no more than 50 feet above ground, while it was still tied down.

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Hot-air ballooning has been popular here for more than 30 years. On their website here, the charge for a flight is about $400 per person. There is a small museum in town to explain the history and equipment of this human endeavor to fly. fondue-13

Inside the Espace Ballon:

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The place was quite small, not much more than a barn. But the content was interesting.

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We flew in a hot-air balloon once in Jackson, Wyoming.

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The first successful uninterrupted global circumnavigation on a balloon took off from here in 1999. Sponsored by Breitling, we assumed the two pilots each wore Breitling watches. According to Wikipedia:

On March 1, 1999. They traveled southwest over the Mediterranean and swung east over Mauritania on March 2 at a starting meridian of 9 degrees, 12 minutes west. They landed in the Egyptian desert after being aloft 19 days, 21 hours, and 55 minutes on March 21, 1999, having traveled a distance of 40,814 km (25,361 mi). During the course of the flight, the balloon had climbed to altitudes of up to 11,373 m (37,313 ft), and achieved speeds up to 161 knots. The official “finish line” of the circumnavigation occurred over Mauritania at 4:54 AM, EST on March 19. The goal of ending in Egypt had been to touch down near the Great Pyramids; however, high winds forced the pilots to land short of their target.

fondue-24 Apparently, there were two other attempts which failed. We believe this is a mock-up of the Breitling Orbiter 3 – the enclosed gondola in which the two men lived for almost 20 days. The real thing is at the US National Air and Space Museum in the Milestones of Flight Gallery.

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We had a nice long fondue meal at Le Chalet, see our next post.

In January, a last minute business trip to NYC landed me this room in the Langham Place Hotel – a chain of hotels owned by a Chinese group, I think.

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With a stovetop, I made tea every morning.

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There was so much space which is rare in a NY hotel.

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The bedroom was located in the southeast corner with views downtown.

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Hidden behind a set of wardrobe-doors was a washer-dryer unit !  We did not have that in our old NY apartment.

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A bright and shiny bathroom.

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Lousy toiletries despite fancy fittings. The “Chuan” branded toiletries is named after the hotel chain’s spas.

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Langham Place is located on 5th Av between 36th and 37th Street. Looking down onto 5th Ave from 20-something floor at around 5am (… jet lag).

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Sunrise. Queens and Long Island direction. I was very lucky with the weather, being there when the temperature was unseasonably warm, missed the snowstorms altogether.

langham-11Chrysler building hiding behind some other midtown towers.

langham-10Langham Place is a block from the Empire State Building.

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Looking south on 5th Av (downtown).

langham-13Empire State Building up close.

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Overall, very pleasant stay. Attentive staff. Recommendable.

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These are the photos I (Chris) took and posted on Facebook. The series was started in March of 2013. There is no theme – just something random and visually interesting. We gave each a title and noted where it was taken (to the extent we could remember the city). To find the others, just click the tag “random”.

#21 – Kaffee und Fußball – Zurich

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#22 – Miró in the clouds – Barcelona

Miro in the clouds

#23 – corny buildings – Chicago

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#24 – parking ? – Vienna

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#25 – “more, please” – Chiang Mai, Thailand

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Below are the views from our veranda on board the Celebrity Reflection during a 7-day cruise through the Caribbean sea. Our cabin was located on the 12th floor, midship, starboard. For more views of the ship, click here and here for earlier posts.

These photos were taken more or less from the same spot on the handrail. The photos are roughly in chronological order.

Miami – San Juan – St. Thomas – St. Martin – Miami

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Miami
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San Juan
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St Thomas
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.

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.

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St Martin
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.

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Miami Beach

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Back to Miami.

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On our first “at-sea” day, we went to one of the “events” which is a tour of the galleys on board the ship. The galley is a compartment of a ship, train or aircraft where the food is cooked and prepared – i.e., the mobile industrial kitchen.

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The German executive chef started with a power point presentation giving all kinds of Guinness book of records type- statistics – 12300 pounds of potatoes and 75000 pounds of fresh fruits …

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The tour is a smart move because it costs the cruise line nothing.

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It afforded the ship’s senior catering staff time to interact with guests, and boasts customer confidence in food hygiene.

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The tour is interesting for those curious people who always want to see behind the scenes. =)

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Instead of having  a centralized galley (like older ships), each of the restaurants on our ship has its own galley. It saves the waitstaff from carrying a tray of hot food and walking to one of the far-flung restaurants.  This is sensible as the cruise ship gets bigger and bigger.

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Apparently, the cruise ship uploaded all the food we needed for the entire 7-day trip in Miami. Somehow they have to keep all the food fresh.

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The staff that took us on the tour have on average 15 years of experience on board a cruise ship. The catering staff wore different color scarfs to indicate their rank.  The senior staff who hosted our tour all wore black scarf (like Karate black belt).

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This is the menu for the main dining room for the entire trip –  7 columns for 7 days.

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Bakery.

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The tour was held just after breakfast so all the workspace was still relatively empty.

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This is the dessert menu for the main dining room.

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Dish-washing area.

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It is really quite an operation !

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On this Caribbean cruise, I organized my own onshore “excursions”. As the weather was not cooperating on the day we arrived at St. Thomas, the idea of snorkeling evaporated. Instead, we decided to stay close to the ship. I (Chris) went to a butterfly garden that is situated right next to the cruise ship terminal.

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The garden has a hatchery and a guide explained the biology of the butterfly. Fascinating.

Many chrysalis have two shiny metallic dots. I wonder what they do for the caterpillar inside.  The chrysalis of the “paper kite” (Idea leuconoe) is gold in color with black dots. Very eye catching.

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The black & white “paper kite” is a native of Asia.

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The butterflies are imported as chrysalis from the US and all are exotic species from various parts of the world. None are indigenous to the Caribbean.

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We watched a few emerged from their chrysalis. This is a common Morpho neotrpical (Morpho peleides) emerging from its light green chrysalis.

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The keeper allowed us to touch the wings of the newly emerged before they become hardened. It was floppy and a bit wet.

Pink Rose (Pachliopta kotzebuea)

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The red and black head/body and bug-eye made me think of spiderman.

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This leopard lacewing (Cethosia cyane) from Asia flew off my finger as soon as its wing was dry and they become fully expanded.

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Busily working on the many flowers in the garden.

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According to the guide, the lizards in the garden will try to catch and eat the butterfly. This is a Morpho showing off the metallic blue side of its wing.

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The underside of the Morpho is very dramatic with big eyespots.

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Butterflies live on nectar and are equipped with a straw-like mouthpart which curls up when not feeding.

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The butterfly garden also had a moth – an African moon (Argema mimosae)(I think) which just emerged from its chrysalis and was resting in a little fabric tent. This moth is about the size of a small child’s palm, practically a very small bird.  I would be quite startled if I encounter it in an African jungle.

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Right outside the garden, someone spotted a hummingbird.

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I have never seen a hummingbird outside of an aviary. This is the first time I got so close.

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It was good to see a bit of nature’s designs. A nice way to spend a few hours onshore.

More pictures from the cruise we took during winter 2013. Part 1 is here.

The Celebrity brand of cruise focus on food and services rather than parties or shopping. This is our ship – Reflection – in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

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This is the ship’s main dining room.

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This is one of the many stations in the self-service restaurant that was opened more or less around the clock.

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Our cabin class provides an exclusive sit-down restaurant which serves permits unscheduled seating (unlike the main dining room which imposes a set time for dinner).

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We liked the ambiance of the room – it has sea view. The food comes in smaller portions and in healthier form.

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Supposedly, less cream and fat was used in the cooking.  Look at the English bacon which looks almost too lean and dry.

ship2-7Breakfast museli trolley – prepared to your liking by your table.

ship2-5The Celebrity ships are marked by a “X” on its chimney. There is a story behind it but I forgot.

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These are some of the other huge cruise ships that we saw when we left Miami.

ship2-9Floating hotel/mini city if you consider the number of support staff onboard. I hear that our ship has an incinerator, a water desalination plant, and a diesel-powered electricity generator. What else ?

ship2-10This is another Celebrity ship – the Silhouette which belongs to the same class as our ship.

ship2-12Can cruise ship gets any bigger ? Is there a limit where they become unsafe, unattractive, or uneconomical ? Could there be something like a reverse Moore’s law here? (Moore’s law states that the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximately every 18 months; here the number of rooms on a cruise ship increases by … X ?)

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