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Monthly Archives: June 2015

We are caught a bit off guard when the admin page of WordPress indicated that our next post will be the six hundredth (600th) that we published. As previously said several times, we are surprised that the interest in keeping up this blog has not fizzled out over the last 5 years. True it is, that we are still living in Europe and away from our friends and families, the primary reason for starting the blog. But we also find that this blog is a convenient medium to capture and frame memories of our time in Switzerland and our travels, and it became a habit and a hobby (at least for Chris).

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The blog was launched on November 4, 2009. The first trip ever reported here was our visit of Playa de Carmen, Mexico in November 2009 (click here to see). We had not yet left the US at that time but were starting to pack our belongings and worried about the move.

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Fast forward to now, posts on our quick tour of three cities – Taormina, Siracusa (Ortigia) and Catania – on the east coast of Sicily, taken during Easter, are under preparation now. Our most recent visit to Berlin and Copenhagen earlier this month has not yet been written up. Most of the photos are still in Raw format.

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Since March 2013, we have been posting a series of photos on Facebook, one a day except Sunday and Thursday when the blog is updated. There is no theme – just something random and per se visually interesting. They are essentially pictures that did not make the blog for some reasons. We gave each a serial number, a minimally-worded title and a mention of where it was taken (to the extent we could remember the location). But we wanted to share them with the readers here too – so we started showing 5 of them in a post – somewhat irregularly. This is the first of the series – #1 – “the history of cool” –  Munich.

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So far we have shown about 150 of them here, but on Facebook, we are at #444 – there is a backlog of almost 300 random photos! On days when we are not writing the blog, these photos could keep the blog going for a while. This is #443 – “dark 3” – Taormina.

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The readership of this blog has stabilized at around 50-70 views per day. Apart from posting a link in Facebook, Twitter and Google+ each time a post goes public, we made little attempts to drive up the statistics. We also signed up Pinterest but have not seen much changes (perhaps we are not leveraging the site properly). But other people have pinned our photos on pinterest.  So if you do not feel like writing a comment, pin a photo.

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Recently, we noticed that the page view of one of our posts in April on eating durian on the street of Petaling Jaya (click here to see) has gone through the roof (more than 120 views last week alone and maintaining the momentum). It must have caught the attention of certain netizens in Malaysia (as reflected in WordPress statistics), and got linked to an index or a popular site.

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The reigning champion of page views is still our first post on HSBC’s poster ads as seen around major airports in 2010 (click here). Its two siblings are receiving decent traffic too.

This blog has changed its theme (a WordPress term for the overall look and feel of the blog) only once which happened within the first month of its launch. So the appearance remains constant for the last few years and it is getting a bit aged. But we are hesitant to change to a more modern theme as it could affect somewhat unpredictably the old posts. More experimenting is needed (if we have more time).

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One day we might want to make a book (or several books) using these photos, like the ones we did for Yellowstone National Park and Iceland back in 2007.

We have been buying books showing photos of a city “then and now” or aerial views of an area.

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Before signing off, we want to thank our readers for their interest and support, and Susie who has been responding to our posts consistently and ranks No. 1 with the highest number of comments.

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Your feedback is important as it is the only way we know someone is reading the blog. So please comment, like, retweet, follow, clip, subscribe, pin, bookmark, repost or do some good old-fashioned word-of-mouth. In the meantime, we will continue to share words and images of our adventures.

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Cheers.

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While we were in KL, our friend J took us to Lima Blas which means 15 as the restaurant is at 15 Jalan Mesui, Bukit Bintang – an area full of bars and restaurants.

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It was raining lightly that night, thankfully the restaurant was practically just downhill from our rented apartment (click here to see Lanson Place).

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The place is decorated like it is a grocery store (?) from the 50’s or earlier. It is packed with vintage signs and posters, jars, rice sacks (framed) …

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 … old telephones, gum ball machine, assorted period pieces.

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J brought us there for both the decor as well as their menu of Nyonya favorites.

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The place was packed when we arrived which was a bit late, and some dishes are already sold out ! That was a bit of surprising given that the restaurant is located in an area of full of night life and one of the biggest night market is only steps away.

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J somehow talked the staff to give us portions of the sold-out items which they had saved for themselves. Cendol.

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We read in Time Out that the Nyonya laksa, “a bowlful of coconut, spice and laborious boiling”, is only served at lunchtime and limited to 15 bowls every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

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The interiors did suggest (or copy) a tiny bit of Wong Kar Wai’s “In the mood for love” style.

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Overall, authentic flavors and interesting (but less authentic) decor.  Well worth a visit.

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While in Kuala Lumpur, we took a day trip to Melacca 馬六甲 – a historic town that is about 2 hours by car in the southerly direction on the Malaysian peninsula.

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The main street was really crowded with tourists. It took us almost an hour standing in line to get a table at one of the better known Hainanese chicken rice ball shop.

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While we all swore we’ll never wait in line for such a long time for lunch, the chicken was one of the most tender we have had. The rice balls were just a curiosity.

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One of the cultural sights of Melacca is the Zheng He cultural museum which houses a collection of artifacts relating to this famous Chinese sea captain who visited between 1405-1407.

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Zheng He (鄭和, 1371–1433) was an eunuch, mariner, explorer, diplomat, and fleet admiral during China’s early Ming Dynasty.

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The museum is a bit old and many of the displays are chessey.

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We saw a fiberglass model of a giraffe of the Sultan of Bengal, brought from Medieval Somalia, and later taken to China on Zheng He’s ship.

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Connected to the museum is a teahouse which has its own entrance on another street.

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The teahouse is decorated in traditional Chinese style, neat but a bit contrived – it has a theme-park look. We noticed installations of disco lighting suggesting that this venue has been used to host touristy dinner and dance party.

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The owner (?) and his friends were really friendly and we had a nice chat.

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The teahouse has a small open courtyard.

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Zheng He commanded expeditionary voyages from China to Southeast Asia, Middle East and as far as East Africa.

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Over three decades he conducted seven voyages on behalf of the emperor, trading and collecting tribute in the eastern Pacific and Indian Oceans.

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A closeup of one of the admiral’s nautical map recreated with pebbles.

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According to Wikipedia, Zheng He’s first voyage departed 11 July 1405, from Suzhou and consisted of a fleet of 317 ships holding almost 28,000 crewmen. He is believed to have contributed to the spread of Chinese culture along with islam in South East Asia.

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We could not stay for tea because our driver was waiting to take us back to KL.

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Overall, our impression of Melacca is that it is a very historic town but its tourism infrastructure looks underdeveloped given the amount of visitors it is receiving.

A few more posts about Malaysia …

My regular readers know that I(Chris) like taking pictures of bookstores and have been posting them online, for example:  Alexandre in Budapest, Livraria Cultura in Sao Paulo, MIT Press in Boston, Waterstones in London. As we were wandering in KL’s celebrated shopping mall – Suria KLCC, we found this massive Books Kinokuniya.

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Kinokuniya is a Japanese bookstore chain that has opened stores beyond its native country. There is one in New York on 6th Avenue between 40th and 41st across from Bryant Park – a few blocks from my old office.

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As expected, one finds Japanese books in Kinokuniya.

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There were also plenty of English books.

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… including text books and models of cars.

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As there were many Chinese in KL, we found a Chinese section. But we did not see a Malay section. It was probably there but it was less prominent and escaped our perusal. A section of Chinese magazines – most if not all use traditional Chinese characters and came from Taiwan or Hong Kong.

 

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There was also a large manga section …

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… as well as Western (US mostly) comics nearby.

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Matchbox-sized metal diecast toy cars were a surprising find. I(Chris) was really tempted to buy one. There are currently 140 models in the Tomica brand lineup, which is continually being renewed with the release of a new model on the third Saturday of each month.

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Also surprised to find was the number of tarot cards, Western fortune-telling paraphenalia on sale.

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There was a cafe upstairs.

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The well-stocked arts section was upstairs.

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Sadly, bookstores are disappearing in the United States due to ebooks.

 

This post is about arancini, Sicilian rice balls. The name derives from their shape and color, which is reminiscent of an orange (the Italian word for orange is arancia, and arancina means “little orange”).

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My Italian colleague told me about it. The first time we saw the arancini was at Catenia airport but we were running for our connection, so we did not bothered trying it.

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In Taormina, Strit Fud (pronounced as “street food”) –  a chain of fast food store – makes this very popular local snack part of its logo.

arancini-12It was just around the corner from us.

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Arancini are orange-sized rice balls that are coated with bread crumbs, and fried. Arancini are usually filled with ragù (meat sauce), tomato sauce, mozzarella, spinach, etc.

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This was our brunch-snack – we were not really hungry but just wanted to try them. They are essentially risotto made portable with a slightly crunchy shell. Soft and gooey inside. It should be eaten hot (or microwaved).

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Although deep-fried at some stage in its preparation, they were not overly fatty – there was hardly any oil stain on the serviette.

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Arancini from Catenia, Messina (east coast of Sicily) generally has a conical shape (apparently some oranges around here have an elongated shape). There are a number of regional variants, that differ in fillings and shape. e.g., in Catania, “alla norma” (the norm) contains eggplant.

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Strit fud also sells pizza and other snacks.

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We had another round of arancini at their branch further up Corso Umberto a few days later.

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Sooner or later, some entrepreneur will figure out how to make arancini quickly and cheaply, and then sell it globally as the next fast food item, much like what happened to pizza.

Taormina, being a historical tourist attraction, has plenty of restaurants catering to every price point. This was the best dinner of the entire trip, we all agreed, even better than one in the Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo.

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Ristorante La Grotta Azzurra was recommended to us by our local contact. We even had a business card signed by the manager who promises a 10% discount.

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Simple kitchen and standard antipasti.

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The day’s catch was very attractively presented on the iced table at the entrance.

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The lobster was moving very slowly but the John Dory on the far right caught our eyes …

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Nothing to say about the decor except there were imitations of famous Renoirs and many photos of the restaurant owner holding various fishes that he caught in the 70’s ?

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For the starter, we shared a bowl of mussels and clams. Plump and juicy … very tasty.

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For the pasta course, we all had something different. I (Chris) ordered the Vongole, my standard favorite, despite the presence of clams in the starter. Excellent.

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Sue ordered pasta with shrimps and tomatoes, and enjoyed it enormously. She even complained that there wasn’t enough.

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And IT ordered one with a sea urchin sauce (al ricci di mare) – she is still talking about the dish – it was that good !

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Our main course is the John Dory also known as the St. Peter’s fish or St Pierre. The fish owes it’s name to its main characteristic, a clearly visible spot behind the gills. According to legend, over 2000 years ago, St. Peter dropped a coin into the Sea of Galilee and the fish caught it. St Peter picked the fish up and took the coin back, leaving his fingerprints on the skin of the fish.

According to a 1845 cookbook, the fish should be baked and our waiter had a reaction when we first suggested grilling it. Our dish was baked with fresh olives, olive oil and some herbs.

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The owner pretended he forgot the discount but we let it slipped. We had a great meal. Fresh, good quality ingredients cooked simply and traditionally.

We highly recommend La Grotto Azzurra and will definitely go back if visiting Taormina again.