Thursday, July 31, 2008


This weird thing is called a durian, it's a fruit, highly prized in South East Asia. Once in a while I can buy a fresh one like this one from the Chinese Supermarkets. The smell is offensive to most people except aficionados. It is so tasty, sweet and custard like. This was taken 2 weeks ago. I have a little time now before I need to go next door. Valerie, who owns the house next to mine invited me over for dinner. Wish she's serving durian but I don't think so. She'd probably faint at the smell. I'm not going to dress up, hope she's not going to be offended, just going to run a comb through my hair, change into a fresh shirt and walk over.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Baking their way to peace

Again, I love or International Herald Tribune, my online news source, it covers news from all the world. Our local coverage is too pithy, it's no wonder our local newspapers are losing readership. has a lot of interesting video clips also and their reporters lives in the major cities of Europe and blogs from there. They are able to enlighten us on interesting neighbors to visit which are not found in the major guidebooks. The following video clip is cute. I don't care for the politics but surely tolerant mothers will raise tolerant children. I just love hearing French being spoken and I love peeks into the lives of people abroad.

Baking their way to peace

Monday, July 28, 2008

The ugly

a Palermo neighborhood, near Via Maqueda

a Palermo neighborhood

the Ballaro market in Palermo, Sicily

the Ballaro market

side streets leading to the Ballaro market

the Ballaro market

the Chiesa del Carmine, next to the Ballaro market. This gorgeous gem was the reason why we ventured into the Ballaro market, it's a place that one should not miss. This church is not mentioned in the major and leading guide books.
Not everything is pretty abroad. I remember an incident in the Soho district in London some years ago. This is the Chinatown area. It was my first trip to London and I was to meet up with my English cousins for dim sum in Chinatown. My aunt with whom I was staying took me there. We had time yet before the meeting, so we decided to get some groceries. She said, let's look at the fish' and started to walk down some alley and I followed but not for long. It was wet and absolutely filthy, I ran out from there, yelled to her,'I'll pass, I'll wait for you here!'. OMG, I couldn't stomach the filth. She decided, too, she couldn't either and left. Phew!
Last year, we (with Sophie) met up with a similar situation in Palermo, Sicily. This time we pressed on because at the end of this dirty alley was the most dome of an old church, Chiesa del Carmine. It had brightly colored mosaics and is the most beautiful baroque dome. The church is right next to the Ballaro market in Palermo and is the most dilapidated of any Palermitano neighborhood. To get to the church, we had to walk through alleys littered with trash, dog poop, smell of urine till we get to the Ballaro market which itself is no better. It smelt of dead fish and rotting vegetables. Phew! I love Palermo, and scattered among these desperate neighborhoods are the most gorgeous churches which are so well worth seeing. I remember an earlier trip when we went to see 'casa professa', a Jesuit church, we had to make our way through similar neighborhoods, I was praying the whole time that we'll come out of there alive. It was well worth the effort. Some of the neighborhoods in Palermo are very scary, they look dilapidated and intimidating and not having a guide or a local with us makes it a little uncomfortable. Well, that's the way I like to travel, I'm going to see the world on my own. Maybe the people are nice but we didn't have time to find out. These are very mixed neighborhoods with a lot of dark skin North Africans. We saw a big Tamil population because every afternoon the children would assemble in a shop and you can hear recitation and songs in Tamil. Here is one community trying to keep alive their heritage in a foreign land.
I love Sicily because it is not touristy, not yet!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Globe spotters

I love to read Globe spotters on or International Herald Tribune, found this cute video on it. It sounds like something I might want to do some day.

Globe spotters

Friday, July 25, 2008

Al di la by Emilio Pericoli

I found this song on Sicilyscene ( , it reminded me of a time long long ago. This song is for my cousin, Lily. Lily, if you are logged on, remember this? I think she introduced me to this song when we were little girls. When I heard it on Sicilyscene, I almost cried. Wow! Patrizia who writes Sicilyscene lives in Modica, Sicily, it's one of the blogs I read on a regular basis to stay in touch with Sicily. Please give it a listen.

Al di la by Emilio Pericoli

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Pretty things

I've been scanning through my stock of pictures looking for pretty things. Once in a while, or more often than I let on, I need to look at pretty things to get inspired. I found some like this photo of a Van Gogh painting which I took at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris. One needs to be reminded of others who have struggled with bringing their life's work out to the front. When life becomes a struggle for me, I take a peek into beautiful things and I'm ok again. It works better than a pill. One doesn't take action after taking a pill. With viewing pretty things, I'm inspired to get up and find more pretty things... I book an airline ticket, I plan a trip to known pretty places, I work harder at work, do an extra shift, just so I can keep doing the things I've enjoyed doing.
Pretty stenciled French bowls. I love red.

The French word for window shopping is window licking. In Europe, one literally has one's tongue out, the shop windows are dressed up so invitingly. I wish I had more time so as to savor everything. Fortunately I can take pictures which I can look at even when I'm not there.

Mmmmmmmm, how do you live in a country with shops like this? Maybe one day I'll find out by living there.....

Pretty French macarons. They are really good to look at but they are too sweet for me.

I saw this one of a kind scarf at a shop in Lyon. I took a picture hoping one day I'll copy it. It is in a red velvet and is absolutely beautiful. Maybe you can copy it.

Even this junk shop is pretty.

One of the kids' bed in Versailles. This is found in the kids' apartment of the palace.

I love my apples red and sweet. I'm looking forward to October when they appear again.
'Appearing soon at the Santa Monica's Farmers' market.' Be watching for it!

The journals of Italian artist, Antonio Basoli. I regret not having purchased the book of his complete works while I was in Bologna this March. Regrets in life are usually of things we didn't do, places we didn't get to see or things we didn't buy. In this case I regret not buying his book, it's put out by the museum and not available commercially. It was 50 euros and heavy and that was why I didn't buy it.

Treviso radicchio, OMG, it is so pretty, maybe it should be in a vase and used as a decorative piece, rather torn to pieces and eaten in a salad.

Mmmmmmmm, pizza... with shrimp and rocket. It is so good. I'm looking forward to eating it again. Forget about tomato and cheese pizza, order this the next time you're in Italy!

A vase of Oriental poppies, so pretty and inviting. It is a good subject for sketchers and painters. I love poppy fields too.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

a pretty place, Annecy, France

Annecy, France is so pretty. Everywhere and in every corner is a pretty vignette. It is one of the most delightful places in the the world. It's got sparkling water flowing from Lake Annecy, flowing through the city. As with all water cities, like Amsterdam, Brugges or Venice, it's water through the city. Unlike Brugges and Venice, the water ways are too narrow to be navigable by boats but the water is clear and so clean.
Annecy is at a corner of France, close to the alps and just round the corner from Geneva, Switzerland. The old part of town is what I'm writing about. As with all places, the newer part of town grew around the old part. We took the morning bus (2 hours) from Lyon. I had planned to go there during a previous trip and to access it from Geneva but I changed the itinerary and so never went to Annecy till October 2007. It is hard when all the cute and quaint places are scattered all over, it'll take many trips to get to all of them. With each trip, I'm able to whittle the list down. That's an idea, I should list all the cute places I most want to visit and see as many as is possible with each trip.
In the days of old photography it is a 'two rolls of film' place! Definitely one is more likely to take a lot more pictures of interesting places. I've been to places where I'm reluctant to even take the camera out. Thank God, these places are few. Not Annecy, it is so pretty, I've lots of photos of this place. The buildings are painted in all kinds of pastel colors, not unlike the colors of French macarons. I won't forget this sweet place

Monday, July 21, 2008

The dentist

I was at my dentist for my bi-yearly check up and everything is ok. It wasn't fun to have someone prod in your mouth with sharp and pointy instruments and scrapping away at the gunk called 'tartar'. But neccessary. I've been with this dental practice for 20 years and have never missed a check up, except the year I lived in Salt Lake City, I went to another dentist there.

Why am I writing about the dentist? We are so busy at everything that seeing a dentist is the last thing on our minds. Don't forget your dentist, is it time for your check up? No, 1-800-dentist isn't paying me. I work for a drugstore and we are having a campaign on oral health and this poster arrived for me (I'm the chief), so I thought it'll be an interesting topic, oh sure, having your teeth worked on is exciting and interesting. I think it is, it is important, you sure don't want to lose your pearly whites! What would you do? Wear dentures? While you are at the dentist, pick up a whitening kit also. When you are at the drugstore, pick out mouthwash, dental floss and stimudents, please.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Last week for Apricots

'Last week for apricots', the fruit lady said, trying to sell off the last of the apricots for the season. In a few months these same people will bring their apples, all kinds of apples, apples not found in supermarkets. I spent the first few months of this year eating Navel oranges, then came the cherries, they left, now the apricots are going, but there are peaches, plums, nectarines. It is a grand time of the year for produce, all kinds of produce are being made available, one really does not need to be in Europe. But while I'm not over there, I'm trying to make it feel like over there here! So I set out a little task for myself this morning, gather a bunch of ingredients, bring home and cook something I might be eating over there but I'm eating here. I found some heirloom tomatoes, some rocket, and a bunch of chevril. Chevril is a French herb used in omelettes, as in Omelette with fine herbs, the herb used is Chevril. That was what the salad lady said, oh yes, I'm going to make a 3 egg omelette with Chevril.
Ingredients for the Omelette with Chevril.

I threw in the whole bunch of Chevril, costs me a dollar. I think I have some left for my salad tonight.

Et voila, lunch is ready.

Open face sandwich with heirloom tomatoes, rocket leaves and Calendula blossoms, so tasty and so pretty, just like what a French Bistro might serve. Oui, Chez Tante Anne is open for business!

A half hour later, I'm sitting down to this delightful and most delectable brunch. I have a Raspberry sauce cooling on the kitchen counter. The whole kitchen smells of Raspberries. You've gotta find your neighborhood farmers' market and visit it regularly. Don't miss this incredible time of the year. I seldom use cookbooks anymore, unless I'm cooking a classic recipe. I usually make up my own recipes, throw things together and eat. Sometimes they turn out wonderfully, sometimes not so but either way I'm eating simply, without a whole lot of fuss.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Quirky places, Villa Palagonia

From this, it looked like a regular pallazzo, regular, it is not. This place is quirky if not the quirkiest place in the world. The quirkiest I've been to anyway. It was built some 400 years ago by a mad Sicilian prince. He was as quirky as the villa itself. There are accounts of him in popular literature. Goethe, in his 'Grand Tour' has visited and written about Villa Palagonia and has met the prince, who happened to be in the same shop in town. The prince, being spurned by his wife, began to pour all his money into making this place it is today. He had ugly figures made to be placed on the walls surrounding the property. He was known to go around town, forcing people to donate to his charities, his money went into this house.
Today, this house belongs to a Sicilian family who has allowed the place to be opened to the public. It is situated in Bagheria, a small town near Palermo, it is a 20 minute train ride away but a 20 minute walk from the train station. After I realized I had missed seeing it on my first trip to Sicily, I made sure I didn't miss it on my second trip. We ended up in the back entrance of the property which was locked and my heart sank so low. I thought after all this to get here I would have to miss it again..... I'd kill myself. So I said to Sophie, lets just walk round the property, even is we were to miss seeing the inside, we would have at least seen the figures from the outside. The sad part is, the town of Bagheria has grown so much, it now butts against the walls of Villa Palagonia. I don't understand what the you tube video is saying but I can guess they are saying restoration is impossible. There used to be a lot more figures on those walls but there are only some left. I feel, if anyone has any inclination to see this property, one should make the effort now.
I learned a new word yesterday after viewing Matt Gross, the frugal traveler on the New York Times series, 'the Grand tour' which is 'bo-bo' which means bourgeois-bohemian. That's the exact attitude of Villa Palagonia, it is bourgeois-bohemian! I love this attitude. I love this place.

The main entrance, guarded by some weird figures.

One can drive right through the house from front to back. I love the double staircases of baroque buildings.

I wish I can say, come to my villa....

The staircase from an upstairs window.

Another one of them.....this one has seen a lot over the last few hundred years, if only he can talk, he'll fill up volumes. His blog would be so huge.......

These old figures are barely hanging on, they used to fill up every space on top of the wall. This is really only a house and yard but the figures has given this house the notoriety it has enjoyed the last few hundred years.

A close up look of the figures show them smirking. The prince was very upset about his wife's indiscretions.

Read November to December 2007 postings in this blog for more on Villa Palagonia. I was there in October 2007.

Villa palagonia, a quirky place

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Memories of trips past, quirky accommodations

As with the planning of every trip, a myriad of guide books are consulted. I found this hostel, not in Let's Go but in Lonely Planet. The major airport in Sicily is in Catania, so Catania is very important for any trip to Sicily. This is an old pallazo now turned into a hostel. It is dirt cheap and always full, usually of young Europeans. If they are full, they offer you another apartment that they own, just yards away. We've stayed at both places. These are really nice people. I've stayed at expensive places and cheap places. I prefer cheap because with the money I saved I can make more trips. Even when I started traveling, years ago, when the US dollar was still worth something I still prefer cheap. Over the years I've stayed in more cheap places that I can count and/or remember. It is these places I write about here that I've kept a record of. There will be many more in my future. For the next trip I'm hard pressed to look for and locate even cheaper places.
Carcassone, France, mai oui! I took my nieces and their mother, the girls were very small then. I thought it would be a blast for them to stay within the walls of a medieval fortified city. I've been to Carcassone twice, the second time, I stayed in the village below, the Bastide St Louis.

The exterior of the building where we stayed, the owner's shop was on the first floor, her apartment on the second and the chambre d'hote was on the third. It was really quirky, all decorated in colorful provencal fabrics and had bright pink walls. It was a lot of fun sans a lot of money. It was a loft and we had fun in Carcassone, living within the walls and our view was of turrets and the crenellations of the double walls of this fortified city, even though they were completely restored.

She chose this bed in the corner. I loved this place, I love Nicole, the owner, found this place in Rick Steves' guide.

Avignon, a pretty affordable place, within the old city, within walking distance of everything, nice owners, a young French family.

Paris, a hotel on Rue Cler, a Rick Steves' recommendation. They gave used toilet paper rolls. I don't mind bad treatment if the place is cheap. I do expect a little bit more if I paid more money. To me 110 euros (double) is a lot of money, maybe in Paris, this is dirt cheap. I don't really care, I'm easy, I just want to maximise on the value of my hard earned money. To quote Matt Gross of Le flannuer frugal, New York Times,' stretch the dollar to the breaking point'.

Catania, this is the apartment belonging to the hostel. No sooner had we arrived, we already have laundry hanging on the furniture. Some hostel forbid having wet laundry hanging from the furniture in the room. We do it discreetly, in the night, in the morning we hang them in the closet. We always have wet laundry in the room and they have to be hung somewhere. It is important to bring quick drying stuff only.

The apartment and the location maybe a dump but the view was priceless. We had an ocean view and because of the storm and rain, the waves were humongous. You can see the train tracks going to the central train station which is just 5 minutes walk away. The location is so convenient. If I need to go to the airport early in the morning, I wouldn't stay so cheap, it will be the only time I pick a 1 or 2 stars place who has 24 hours desk service and can give me an early wake up call.

Catania apartment

We've arrived in Catania, after 3 flights. At 45 eros (double) I can smile even though the room looked like a cheap boudoir in a whore house!

This place in Trapani, Sicily was a lot of fun, it was an apartment hotel. The owners also operate the restaurant downstairs. I love this place, it wasn't a lot of money, 76 euros a night.

The view of the courtyard from the apartment in Trapani, Sicily. It is such a pretty place.

All the rooms surround the courtyard and we had the front door opened all the time just so we can see the beautiful courtyard.

I have no doubt I will have more stories of quirky accommodations in the coming years. Even as I write this, I have to start looking for accommodations for the next trip, September 14, 2008.