Burma

Last fall when I visited the Wrisleys in Thailand, Jarrett and I flew to Yangon, Myanmar (Burma) for the weekend.

Although it was a short time in a single place, we met a lot of people and saw some very cool things in the city. Most impressive was surely the Shwedagon Pagoda, a giant golden dome at the center of the city and an important holy site for Burmese Buddhists.

Shwedagon Pagoda
Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar

See my album of photos after the jump…

Continue reading Burma

Nantucket

We were up on “the island” for a few days over the Fourth of July, where friends of ours got married. Beach time, biking, lots of sun and fun. A really fantastic and memorable trip.

Niagara Falls

We finally took that trip to Niagara Falls that she’d been wanting to do for so long. “You have never taken me to any American landmarks,” she would remind me. “What about Washington, DC?” I said. “We got an insider’s tour of the Capitol!” “Yes, and then you took me to an awful ‘diner’ for dinner. Some trip!” Well, she was right about that – but I digress.

Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY
Home of the Famous Buffalo Wings

Off to Canada we went, by way of Buffalo. A friend from the WordPress NYC Meetup gave me some great advice, which we followed exactly. Having landed in the city which gave the name to the famous wings, we got our Zipcar (that was another story – Zipcars aren’t at the airport, but at the University at Buffalo – when we asked the lady at the information booth if there was a bus that went there, she offered to give us a ride herself as it was the end of her shift!) and drove straight to the bar that created them: Anchor Bar in downtown Buffalo, right on Main Street.

The area is gritty but proud, and some of the buildings look historic. They have that solid, old feeling to them. A giant cathedral, the St. Louis Church, is right nearby. Inside the bar, there are license plates all over the walls and full-size motorcycles in the rafters. The place is awesome.

Obviously we were going to order some wings, the only question was how hot and spicy? We opted for the extreme version: “suicidal.” To be honest, though, they weren’t really that hot. I mean, nothing compared to an authentic Sichuan meal. But they were delicious. And the ambiance of the place really added to it. Besides the wings, I remembered what my friend had told me and ordered the “Beef on Weck” – a roast beef sandwich on a kummelweck roll, which was also tasty.

Into Canada

Fully sated, we packed back into the car and drove over the Peace Bridge into Canada. This allowed for a scenic drive up the Niagara Parkway, along the river, rather than taking the expressway. The customs guy was serious but polite. The weather was gray with light rain, but the river was still beautiful, and lined with nice houses where Canadians could look out on America from their front porches – albeit, not much of a view.

We arrived at the Bed & Breakfast my friend had recommended, Ambiance by the Falls. This charming place is run by Scott and Diane Gerrits, a very nice Canadian couple originally from Winnipeg. Scott had emailed me right after I booked online, and he was there to greet us when we arrived. After we settled into our very comfortable room, he gave us the lowdown on Niagara, what there was to do, and how to get around, and we set off to explore.

From Ambiance by the Falls, we walked along River Road, approaching the falls from the north. Passing under the Rainbow Bridge, we first caught sight of the American Falls – as I learned, there are actually two waterfalls that constitute Niagara, and this is the “small” one. We laughed at how this majesty is totally upstaged by the Horseshoe Falls (the classic image of Niagara). Anywhere else it would be considered grand in its own right, but here it will forever play second fiddle.

Rindy at Niagara Falls
The American Falls at left, and the Horseshoe Falls right, in the distance

Continuing on our way, we arrived at the Horseshoe Falls. She got a really good picture of the drop. Just standing there listening to the roar, I was overwhelmed by the power, and hypnotized by the rushing water. The water just kept coming. Where does it come from? When will it stop? How much water just keeps running and falling and crashing down? It was amazing.

Following Scott’s suggestion, we purchased two “Magic Passes”. This is like the all-in-one tourist package, which gets you admission to the Journey Behind the Falls, the Butterfly Conservatory, and The Power of Niagara, as well as a few days’ access to the tourist bus system. We sat at the bar that overlooks the Horseshoe Falls and just took it all in over a drink, then attended The Power of Niagara, which is billed as an interactive experience of the creation of the falls. It was kind of lame, but hey, we were doing our tourist thing. The kids in our showing seemed to enjoy it. Basically you watch a cartoon film that goes over the whole carved-by-glaciers story, to get the background. Then you step into an immersive studio set, with a 360-degree screen and a steel platform that you stand on. There are no seats, but bars to hold onto. The floor moves and shifts, and rainwater and “snow” occasionally fall down upon you (they provide you garbage-bag ponchos), as you watch some kind of Nature-channel scenery of glaciers, earthquakes, roaring rivers, etc. Before you can figure out what it’s all supposed to mean, it’s over. Exit through the gift shop.

We had a nice dinner at a place that Scott recommended, the Sandstone. It was kind of a casual but classy joint with a nice ambiance and a guy on the piano, and we had a good time and a good meal, and the owner came by to chat. He’s been running the place for 25 years, took it over from his in-laws, and when we mentioned that Scott had told us to come by, he sent over a free tartufo, which was really nice of him.

Saturday

The next day we took full advantage of the Magic Pass, but not before being treated to a magnificent breakfast by Scott. We started with yogurt, granola and fresh fruit, with homemade blueberry muffins (we’d brought a bottle of champagne as well). Then, wearing his white chef’s smock, he served us western omelets, mine with cheese and hers without. Beautiful! And with a fresh pot of coffee, too. 🙂

Fully energized, we headed first to Journey Behind the Falls. This involves walking around a series of tunnels that have been dug out of the rock, literally behind the Horseshoe Falls. You can walk right up to several openings where the water is just rushing over in front of you. Of course it’s really loud, too. The best view, though, is one tunnel exit that is off to the side of the falls, giving a close-up view from near where the water lands. It’s quite a powerful sight:

Niagara Falls
View from Behind the Falls

Before you enter the Journey, they snap your picture in front of a green screen, and when you come out they have classic Niagara souvenir photos waiting for you (for an additional fee, naturally). They put you right in front of the falls – as if you were hovering over the water – and even give you both the day and night views. Because it was cold and rainy and I was a bit unprepared for the weather, I was wearing her scarf wrapped around my head when they snapped us, and so our trip will be forever memorialized in this ridiculous fashion:

[Removed out of embarrassment]

The Journey completed, we took the bus to the Butterfly Conservatory. This is a nice little hothouse full of butterflies! They are flitting every which way, all around, and we snapped photos of them and tried to get them to land on our fingers – no luck. They also happened to have a snake exhibit going at the time, and we were treated to an up-close view of a baby python.

We returned to the B&B to get our car and drove up to Niagara-on-the-Lake. We had heard about this quaint little town both from Scott and Diane, and from the nice lady who had given us a ride from the airport. It’s at the mouth of the Niagara River where it meets Lake Ontario, and has the feel of a small artists’ community. There’s a lovely old building called the Prince of Wales Hotel, tiny boutique shops lining the walkable roads, and cute lake houses along the shoreline. We had a heart-stopping moment when I appeared to have locked us out of the Zipcar – somehow all doors were locked but one, crisis averted – and we learned that Wayne Gretzky is now a winemaker. We enjoyed an early dinner of antipasta and pizza, snapped some photos of the lake, and made our way back for one last mesmerizing look at the Horseshoe Falls.

Leaving

We woke up early on Sunday to the first sunshine of the weekend – of course we were leaving. Another delicious breakfast by Scott, and we were on the road. We went right over the Rainbow Bridge with no line at the border. The guard was gruff: “Nationality? What was the purpose of your trip?” he barked at us. Give us a break, man. Since we’d left early, expecting delays, we stopped over on the American side to see the falls again. That’s when we got all those lovely rainbow shots.

One regret was not being able to take the Maid of the Mist, the boat tour that takes you right out on the river to the falls, as it was still closed for winter. We were literally 3-4 days too early to do this, but hey, it’s a great reason to go back. What I’ll keep with me from this trip is the sheer power of Mother Nature, which was impressed on me most not by the glorious sight of all that water dropping, but by the incredible loudness of the sound it makes. Now I’ve not only checked a world wonder off the bucket list, but I’ve earned some good husband credits, which is always nice. 🙂

China Trip 2011 – Return to the Motherland

With Chinese Mom and Dad
With Chinese Mom and Dad

Even though Mrs P had returned about once a year, I hadn’t been back to China since we left in August 2007. Upon my return, I immediately regretted not having gone back sooner.

After three months living alone in New York, I boarded the plane for Beijing around 5pm. I had just received, the day before, a Kindle e-reader from Mom as an early birthday present, and I was downloading books and magazines for the flight while putting back beers in the airport bar. What a great device for travel!

Let me tell you: no matter how attractive the price, I will avoid at all costs in the future flying Air China. I have become accustomed to having a personal TV screen in my seat for long-haul flights; not available here. They have a single screen for the whole cabin, the “entertainment” they choose is horrendous, and the screen flickers and distorts the colors to boot. The plane was so old it had ashtrays in the armrests!

I was connecting directly to Chengdu and should have landed at 10pm; delays for “weather” meant I didn’t arrive until nearly 3am, with most of that time spent in the Beijing airport. But I arrived!

Rindy and Mom cooking in Chengdu
Making lunch!

For the next week, I did little else besides sleep, eat and read. A typical day involved waking up around 7 or 8 (ok, I slept in the first couple of days) and making coffee, then sitting down to read for 3-4 hours. Mom might make me a boiled egg or a bowl of tang yuan, then go to the market. Dad would get out his game board for “Five in a Row” and study a book of strategy, playing practice games against himself. Mrs P might be reading as well, or working on her thesis. When Mom returned home, Dad would start chopping and slicing everything she’d purchased, and she’d cook a big lunch which we’d all sit down to around noon.

These lunches were the highlight of the day. Typically they’d involve six or seven dishes – ribs, duck, fish, and several bowls of greens. Dad and I would drink beer or liquor, and sometimes a family member or friend would show up to share with us. Xiao Niang (Mom’s sister) was a frequent guest. After the meal, we might take a nap, or go for a walk. In the evenings we’d either read or watch TV, or else meet up with a friend of ours (there are a few still around Chengdu). It was most relaxing.

Homemade Sweet and Sour Ribs
Homemade Sweet and Sour Ribs

Labor Day weekend we flew out to Shanghai to see the old crew. Party weekend! First, to Brad’s restaurant, where he is no longer working for anyone else but has his own place, and naturally it’s awesome. There is no greater feeling in a restaurant than sitting down and being attentively taken care of without ever looking at a menu. Course after course flowed from that fine kitchen until we had to beg the man to stop; we literally couldn’t eat any more. He came out to see us and said, “You guys are waving the white flag, eh?” We sat there and drank wine the rest of the night, and once the other guests had left, Mallon brought out the guitars.

That was a lead-in for Saturday night, when we officially got the band back together for a rocking gig at YuYinTang. Nearly everyone who ever played with Georgia Sam turned out for a spectacular evening – Eli, Adam, Yam, Fabian – and we had some new dudes who brought it to a whole new level. All due to Nate’s very meticulous organization and motivation skills, we were able to pull off a crazy show that had people going mad. For a small taste, check out this cover of Zep’s No Quarter:

Good times with family, good food, good music, good friends. What more is there in life?

Back in Chengdu, a crew of Mrs P’s friends helped me celebrate my 31st birthday in style, bringing me a cake in the middle of a music club and singing for me. We had such a great time. It was all over too fast. When can we return? As soon as possible, as far as I’m concerned.

Shanghai Crew
Shanghai Crew

 

On a Mission from God
On a Mission from God

Postscript: I did manage one more city on my way out. Since, in my infinite wisdom and prudence, I had booked myself an overnight layover in Beijing on the way home, I was able to hook up with both Sam and Jeff for one last night, drinking beers in a hu tong until the wee hours and stumbling onto the plane at noon, “a little bleary, worse for wear and tear…”

Ah, China…

Summer Days and Summer Nights

I won’t lie. I miss the hell out of Mrs P.

Luckily I have a lot of good friends, ones that I can hang with in New York, and ones I can reach by phone around the world – and my family makes for pretty good company, too. So it hasn’t been terrible. But without my girl, things aren’t complete. We’re supposed to be together – we’ve got a plan!

Relax, I tell myself. The plan is still in place. It just feels like a giant interruption.

Meanwhile, I have been having quite a lot of fun.

There was the giant Phish festival – SuperBall IX – in Watkins Glen, NY, which is practically a home town for me, with Seneca Lake and Geneva – the birthplace of my grandfather – right there. I’ve been going to Seneca Lake since I was three months old, but I never went to a three-day rock festival at the race track and camped out on the grounds – over Fourth of July weekend. That was awesome.

superball stage
The stage at SuperBall IX
superball art
Installation art at the festival
superball grounds
View of the SuperBall grounds from atop the Ferris Wheel

I even managed to get up to the old lake house and have a swim!

superball at the lake
On the dock! (Fingerprinted…)

My campgrounds for the weekend were comfortable and pleasant:

superball campground
Roughing it (not)

***

Also, I went to Nantucket with the GRP – my old reggae band from college. What a fantastic weekend that was!

My friends took a great shot of me walking on a beautiful beach:

Rindy on a Nantucket beach
I like long walks on the beach … lol