Thursday, February 28, 2008

Italy, next trip

Last year I was on transit in Rome a few times, 4 times to be exact, I made 2 trips to Sicily and was on transit in Rome going to and leaving Sicily. So I've become really familiar with Fumucino airport. This trip I'll actually leave Fumucino airport to go to the city. We leave March 17, a Monday, it's cheaper to travel on a week day, there's 3 of us. We'll be staying near the central train station in Rome, just 4 blocks away, my 3rd trip to Rome. We won't be doing much in Rome, it'll just be a place to fly in and out of. We're going to Bologna and from there take a few day trips to Verona and Venice. I was on Trenitalia's website checking out train schedules. It's easier to go to Verona on a week day, there are more train services. We'll go to Venice on a Saturday, the train services does not diminish for Venice even on a week end. I can already see the throng of visitors we'll be bumping into.
I've spent Easter in France before, it wasn't very exciting. I hope Easter in Italy will be much more exciting. I just found out that I'll be there for San Guissepe's day, March 19. You know what that means? To me, it means eating the delicious 'fritelle' - a fried pastry filled with ricotta cheese. I had them in Agrigento, Sicily last year. They are delicious. Wow, what luck!
I bought our plane tickets in November, the prices actually dropped after I bought the tickets but British Airways wouldn't refund the difference. The hotel were booked online in December, so we've been ready to travel for months now.
We have work to do up to the last day before travel. I have to work to tutor my nieces right up to the day before we leave and we'll bring homework with us.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


There's a little book called, 'Prayer, The Mightiest Force in the World' by Frank Laubach which I refer to constantly. It's the best book ever written about prayer.
I quote from it a poem by Archbishop trench,
"Lord, what a change within us one short hour
Spent in Thy presence will avail to make;
What heavy burdens from our bosom take!
What parched ground refreshes as with a shower,
We kneel and all around us seems to lower;
We rise, and all, the distant and the near,
Stand forth in sunny outline, brave and clear.
We kneel, how weak! We rise, how full of power!
Why, therefore, should we do ourselves this wrong
Or others-that we are not always strong-
That we sometimes overborne with care-
That we should ever weak or heartless be
Anxious or troubled-when with us is prayer
And joy and strength and courage are with Thee!"

I've ordered some books from Amazon and I see them flashing them on this blog.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Math, math and more math

I was helping my older niece with her SAT and my sister in law is crying to me, her younger one is failing in math. My sister in law has been in to see her math teacher numerous times. The kid doesn't care. So this morning, Sunday, I went over, the kid was still sleeping, I dragged her out of bed and she fakes a temperature. I told her mother, drag her out, regardless, used a few scary examples of what happens to people who don't get through High School and college. She got up but said she didn't bring any books home. So I said, I'll be over next Sunday and be ready at 8am to study math. So all morning I've been visiting math sites online to brush up on my High School math.
There's an interesting site,, which is really good. I paid $15 to download a book which I didn't care for at all. I worked on a few things on The book was from a different site. I'm not even their mother but this is what parents need to do. Don't just say, study, you've got to sit down with them and study. If you've forgotten, you can go online and review before you help your kid. Or you can read their books and review that way.
I'm on knees praying for them day and night too. It's a scary world out there.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Le weekend

It's Saturday and what am I doing? I'm seated at a desk for 6 hours coaching a niece in her SAT prep. She's studying while I sit next to her, making sure. Kids, today, do not have all the tools for studying. They go to classes, they do their homework. They know they need to study and do extra work to prepare for SAT and PSAT and all the other prep classes. Most don't because they don't know how. They need an example, someone (a parent) needs to sit and study with them. There's no secret about it, it's just sitting down at a desk and study and do practice courses from the myriad of prep books available.
It's all very well to tell the kid to study and all very well for them to concur. But they don't do it. Someone (best be a parent) must sit with them and study with them. Growing up, I had an aunt who sewed for a living, so she worked at home, our home for a few years. She would quiz me on my homework and I would study while she sewed. I'm eternally grateful to my aunt Monica. Today I'm returning this favor, by doing the same for a niece.
I noticed my niece's desire to study and her inability to do so because there was no example. Her parents, like all parents, work non stop. So I decided, this Saturday, and many more to come, she and I will sit down from 8am to 3pm and do nothing but study.
I bought a bunch of books on SAT prep for her and is making her work on them from cover to cover.
What was I doing? I'm working on continuing education for my licence renewal. Being a pharmacist I need 30 units of continuing ed every 2 years. I've been quite undisciplined. So today I cracked the books, made myself work on a few courses.
My sister has 2 boys, they bring their homework when they travel, when they come to visit during holidays. Her husband is very hands on when it comes to their kids' education. He sits with them and makes sure they study. Her oldest is now attending Dartmouth.
My niece was asked what reading material she's bringing on our upcoming trip to Italy. I said, 'her SAT prep books!'
I hope to one day take my sister's 2 boys to Europe.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Paris, at night

What a great trip it was. Wow! Paris, at night, is so romantic, so wonderful. I hope I don't stay away too long.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Reasons to return to Paris

As if this is necessary but I'm bookmarking some places to see the next time I'm there which I hope will be real soon. I'll probably go alone and definitely not bringing anyone who has been there before. Don't want to be an unpaid tour guide again. There are lots of quaint and unknown places I want to visit. The March issue of National Geographic Traveller has some incredible suggestions. I'd love to visit the antique malls at Clignancourt. I haven't been to the Basilica St Dennis, the oldest church in Paris. I went to the website of the Hotel du Nord ( near Gare du Nord, at 65 euros a night, it's a great deal, kind of out of the way but at that price, it can't be beat!
I've been to Montmatre to see the Sacre-Coeur but near here is the Musee de la Vie Romantique- a museum dedicated to the lifestyle of the romantic writers, painters and poets, like George Sand.
Back to Paris, soon? Oui!

How to have more money

After a hard day at work, 2 things I love- being home and simple pleasures like a cup of tea and toast....
To have more money one can always take up a second job. I used to work a lot but not anymore. It saps my spirit, my time, my energy and the money I made usually went to little treats to trick myself to work some more and in the end I have little to show for, for the extra work I did.
Today, saving money makes more sense. I reread some of my books on economizing,
1) The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczynn (a gift from my sister years ago)
2) The only investment guide by Andrew Tobias
3) Your money or your life.
4) The simple dollar, a blog
5) Suze Orman, she gave away her new book, 'Women and money' for free as a free download, the last count, there was one million download, lots of people are serious about their money as they should be.
There are lots of ways to save money, we just need to take little steps to get started. Look at your life, make a list, be careful not to be derailed by other people, have a buddy. When I started my sister and I were buddies, we competed as to who is the more frugal person. When we try to stop smoking, we need buddies who will encourage us and get on our case if we should falter. It's the same with trying to lose weight. These days we need people who love us enough to do intervention and to support us.
1) take care of your things, make things last. I have an old TV which will be around till February 09. I'll only replace it when I see 'snow' on the screen.
2) Do without, before buying big ticket items, think twice, three times, hold off.
I went inside an 'American Eagle' store the other day, they have the cutest things. I love the tote bags, one costs $34. I saw the price tag and thought to myself, that's the price of a train ticket from Bologna to Venice. I'm going to Italy in 4 weeks. I left the store without buying anything. It's either having a closet full of 'stuff' or having money to travel. I'd rather travel. My closet is pretty empty. I have to force myself to replace some of my very old clothes. You need an incentive to save money and stop spending like a trip abroad, get addicted to it. You'll never by happy just hanging out in the USA.
3) drink tap water. I drink tap water even in Europe, every morning before we leave the room we would fill our water bottles with tap water.
4) use less water and elictricity if you are paying your own utility bills, my bill has stayed the same in spite of rate increases, it works!
5) sack lunches- wonderful money savers!
6) Amuse yourself - no cable, read and reread old books. Lately every Sunday night I'm excited about 'The Complete Jane Austen' on PBS. I want to marry Mr. Darcy (Pride and Prejudice). It would help if he looked like Colin Firth. There has been some great Masterpiece Theatre productions like 'Bleak House', 'Jane Eyre', 'The Forsyth Saga' and of course, the complete Jane Austen! They are all free, beats snything else that is on the regular telly.
If you tally up all these savings, it could go up to the thousands of dollars and you ask, where are we going to find the money to travel?
In Paris I saw people dumpster diving outside a supermarket. They took things out of a dumpster, sorted through them, took the usable stuff, split them among themselves and return the rest to the dumpster. The amazing thing was they left the dumpster neat and clean. I thought they would make a mess but they didn't. Wow! Kudos to the French. They are very frugal people. I read somewhere they are able to take a bath with a tea cup of water.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The spirit of adventure

The end of a trip signals the beginning of another trip. This Easter, my 2 nieces and I will be in Rome and Bologna, we'll take daytrips to Verona, Venice and Orvieto. I'm a little stressed out, taking kids, even older kids is stressful. It is not like traveling alone or with another adult.
I remember being in Venice a few years ago and seeing some Canadian moms bringing along their children to Venice and seeing them on the vaporetto brought out the maternal instincts in me. They had a little adopted Chinese girl among them, she was so adorable, it made me want to bring kids with me when I travel. I also saw a German woman with her teenage daughter, boarding a bus with back packs. I took my younger niece to London 2 years ago, that was the stressful thing I've ever done. I was sick the whole trip. Now they're older, I hope it'll be easier and more enjoyable.
Will I ever learn?
I remember meeting 2 Japanese girls a year ago in Naples. They had flown from their home in Osaka into Rome, took the train from Rome and arrived in Naples at 10.30 at night and came to the hostel where I was also staying. The hostel is near the train station and not in the best part of town. Naples, as whole, is not for the faint hearted and to arrive there so late at night would scare the living daylights out of most people. We said hi the next morning and all 4 of us, including Sophie, went to the marina and took the hydrofoil to the Isle of Capri to see the Blue Grotto. From Naples, they were to return to Rome and to Venice and to Llubyana and then fly back to Osaka. I said to Sophie, 'Wow, I wish I had their spirit!'. Sophie said, 'you do'. We headed south to Bari, Matera, Alberobello and Leece before returning to Rome, the Cinque Terre and Nice, France and then home. That was another great trip.

The Magpie

By Claude Monet at the Musee d'Orsay, Paris, a very favorite of Christmas cards printers. It's so beautiful, the painting of snow and a lone bird sitting on a garden gate. It is this Christmas card that brought me to my now most favorite museum.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Musee d'Orsay

I wasn't supposed to take these photos, I was reprimanded. I couldn't help it, I know I can them from a book but these are the originals. I love the Musee d'Orsay, my most favorite museum, it's small and cozy. I like the British museum also because it's free. The Musee d'Orsay wasn't free to get in. There was a long line after we returned from Versailles, this was our very last afternoon, the 3 week trip was finally at the end.... I'm sad now... when will I return to Paris or Sicily? This was my second trip to the Musee d"Orsay. I remember my first visit as if it were yesterday. It was also my first trip to Paris and was around Christmas time. I rushed over there, again on my last afternoon, I had wanted to see 'The Magpie' by Claude Monet. I searched the whole upper floor where the impressionist paintings were but couldn't find it, a check with the front desk took me to the ground floor. I cam, I saw, I was thrilled.
This trip made me love the museum even more, we had enough time to go through every impressionist painting they had and the thrill of being in the presence of art, art and more beautiful art is overwhelming.
There are certain places in France that inspired some of these painters. Sophie said we should visit every single one of these places. I'd love to do that, follow the trail of Matisse or Cezanne or Picasso, Monet and on and on.... We can spend the rest of lives doing that, I don't mind it at all.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


The thought of going to Versailles makes me feel tired. My first trip was a very hot July day years ago. The expanse of the palace and it's grounds, just thinking about it makes me tired. It is so huge, it should take a whole day if one is to visit every bit of it. My sister in law, Sophie, hasn't been there so as a good unpaid tour guide, we set off one morning to visit it. Somewhere on the left bank, near Musee d'Orsay is the station for the RER, the underground train system, one of the lines takes you almost to the doorstep of Versailles. They make it so easy now, they sell a package, train tickets to and back plus entry to the palace for 21 euros. So we bought that and off we went with a myriad of people. The place was packed, as usual.
We saw the famous bed chambers, the chapel, the hall of mirrors, the children's quarters, part of the grounds. We didn't venture to the other buildings on the grounds, it was just too much for us. It was our last day and we still have Musee d'Orsay that we needed to go to. The Versailles is an important experience for Paris visitors. I've been twice now and I hope I don't have to go again. I don't think I can work as a tour guide, it's too boring to go back to the same places so many times.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


These are pictures of some of the treasures in the Louvre. What's the connection with heartache? A friend is staying with me right now, I invited her over for a few days. She's just broken up with the guy she was living for a year and a half. I reaaly sympathize but I'm no relationship expert. All I could be is a friend who listens. I've been in that situation before, only time will heal.
Today my life is too full to be taken down by heartaches. My work is fulfilling and pays me a lot of money which allows me to travel extensively. The more I travel the less time I have to be bogged down by relationship problems. When I'm sad I have all these gorgeous images to look at and more to anticipate in future trips.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

I went on the a while ago. It's an interesting blog about life in Shanghai written by an american expatriate. It showed some gory pictures about a bus crash in China and the recent stampedes at train station by people trying to get home for Chinese New Year. It breaks my heart to see these images, I'm planning to go to Shanghai in September 2008. It is an interesting site, one that would throw your sense and sensiblity out the window.

Chinese New Year

I found this cute video on youtube about fire crackers in Shanghai during Chinese New Year. This reminds me of how we celebrated Chinese New Year in North Borneo, the bigger the noise the more prosperous will be the new year.

The OC

What a gorgeous day it was yesterday. It was clear and one can see for miles into the distance. I was in the OC, Orange County, yesterday. I pulled off the 5 freeway at Harbor and saw the snow on the San Bernadino mountains in the distance and thought, wow, look at that. I had forgotten these views after living in Los Angeles the past 7 years. I have lived in the OC for 15 years before that and these were the same views I saw while living here. I stopped the car, almost in the middle of the street to take these pictures. Some guy on a bike was laughing at me, I can't help being a tourist now, from Los Angeles.
I had a few things to do in the OC, to visit the used book store and the antique shops in old towne Orange. I bought a few used books, I love that store. I saw an old iron bed in one of the antique shops, I like it, I have to measure my car to see if it'll fit, so I can buy it and bring it home.

Saturday, February 09, 2008


The next day was our full day in Paris. I decided the Place de la Concorde was a good starting point, so we got on the metro and off we went, surfacing at Place de la Concorde. We can walk down the Champs-Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe, taking pictures and bumping into locals and tourists. I've walked the Champs-Elysees many times. Then we turned around and headed for the Tuileries. By then we were hungry, we bought some hot dogs and crepes from a make shift stand and sat in front of the fountain to eat our lunch.
Then it was time for the Lourve. They moved the Mona Lisa, she's now behind glass and one can take pictures of her. The previous times I've seen her, photographing her was forbidden.
The Louvre is so immense, it's a collection of buildings of a palace. I looked outside and saw this immense and beautiful staircase. I love the staircases of baroque buildings, both interior and exterior ones, they make such a dramatic statement.
I can live in Paris and not be bored, one can spend considerable time in the Louvre and be entertained every time. We bumped into a Chinese group with their French guide. Nothing remarkable in and of itself, you see all kinds of groups all over Paris. When the French man spoke, he spoke flawless Mandarin. We smiled and looked at him with awe. He turned to us and in Mandarin said, 'Is my Mandarin funny and amusing to you?'. We said, 'on the contrary, we are very impressed'.