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On Saturday we went to visit a nearby garden, the RHS Garden Hyde Hall. We were not very sure if it is worth the £7 each entry fee especially as the rain kept coming and going but, in the end, it was very nice. The entrance is not very enticing though, as it is still under growth, but the more you go up the hill the more interesting it becomes, with dry area plants, roses, dahlias, a beautiful pond with lilies and another pond with lots of fish. We loved it and here are the photos from there.

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I am deeply saddened by the senseless acts of vandalisms going on in UK. There is no logical explanation for such things. I hate when politicians try to explain it through the recent cuts or the failure of the education system and so on. Such things are expressed through demonstrations not through stealing, burning and killing. The only thing that makes sense is that the gangs just want to show that they can do whatever they want at any time and the police would be unable to cope. So far, that worked. The police seems in a state of confusion that worries me deeply. They cannot deal with this kind of violence, the mayor of London cannot, the home secretary cannot and then they have to call the Prim Minister back which then calls the whole executive back! What kind of message is that?

These events also provide a painful exercise in under-developed humans’ psychology. These are gangs that most likely live in the areas they have just burned down or at least around. How can you even consider creating such a mayhem in your neighbourhood? Is conscience something that only manifests itself above a certain level of education? Is “right vs. wrong” such a hard lesson to learn? Is it because their whole family is like that and that’s the only thing they know? Somehow, even terrorism makes more sense than such acts of organized vandalism! At least they have a cause. What is these kids’ cause? Destroying for the sake of destroying?

Last weekend we went to Bucharest for a very short trip to attend a family wedding. I noticed that every time I arrive in Bucharest during the day light and see all the miserable apartment buildings on Stefan cel Mare/Mihai Bravu boulevards I arrive at my parents’ really depressed. I cannot deny that there have been changes, that some places have been improved, that new shopping areas keep popping up like mushrooms, but, in the same time, lots of those ugly apartment buildings become even uglier, with wall pieces falling off. Their time to get some repair will probably come but not soon enough.
Of course, the general aggressive traffic behaviour in Bucharest does contribute a lot to these feelings of disgust and sadness. However, once I get over the initial shock it gets better 🙂 Of course, then I get to interact with people and get depressed again 🙁 Lots of them seem to be angry, aggressive, rude or just disinterested. There are some exceptions but they are so rare that I get quite impressed when somebody behaves differently.
Going back to Bucharest is always such a mixed bag for me: I am happy to see my family and friends and to revisit places that I know so well and where I spent my first 25 years of life; in the same time I am sad to see how lots of buildings (and people) are decomposing and realize that this ugliness might be there for a long time.

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Last week we went to the A. I.  Cuza park in Bucharest to see the major changes that happened there: complete replacement of the alleys, various monumental features and … peacocks! Both white and normal. I assume it’s supposed to be impressive but I found it very sad as there are about 12 peacocks in a quite small fenced space covered with a mesh and guarded by a security guy. And to add to the grandeur of the whole thing they also brought some white and black swans that are kept in a relatively small patch of water. I wonder where all the money came from and why they could not be used to repair the ugly apartment buildings around instead of creating this crazy park!

I’ve recently experienced a very stupid query engine and web interface. I made a booking through directferries.co.uk, asking for a very specific route and very specific days (nothing like flexible dates, etc.). Unlike other searches on the multiple travel websites I have used so far, this one decides to use a price-based algorithm and instead of showing you the requested route and dates first it starts showing nearby routes leaving or returning on other dates just because they are cheaper! So, you have to actually sift through the long list of choices and be careful not to book in other days (as I ended up doing). Stupidly enough I assumed that the first choices are the ones based on my search criteria…Booking a ferry is like booking a train for me or checking the Transport for London so I did not really imagine that if I ask for a train in a specific day it gives me another date first just because it’s cheaper! I did not ask to book a ferry sometime in May!
Anyway, I got very annoyed as I had to pay for changing the tickets, but that’s my lesson to not book through them anymore. It’s true that I should have triple checked before paying but it seems that the website was so confusing that I really did not notice 🙁 Proof that after all these years of intensely using the Internet for all my bookings I can still get fooled by stuff…

Since coming back from Venice I kept wanting to paint one of the places we found while walking around back alleys.

So last night I’ve decided to give it a go. I have been really lazy regarding painting during the past months and I wasn’t even sure if I still “have it”.
So, here is what I managed to do last evening in about 3 hours.

(Canvas size is around 18″ x 14″)

It’s not an actual copy of the photo, as I found it quite hard sometimes to keep the perspective and I am also not very keen on creating copies of reality. I was mainly trying to capture the warm feeling the place gave me. I am quite pleased, I have to say 🙂

I saw this picture that tries to map colours to meanings in various cultures. For some reason, I checked God and I was surprised to see that there is no mapping to colour for that in Western/American culture. I wonder why…

Recently we went back to Paris for a special occasion: my father’s 80th birthday! It has been his dream to make it back to Paris, after seeing it for the first time (and for just one day) in 1990. Even though November is probably not the best time of the year to go around, given the unpredictable weather, we were lucky enough to have a very beautiful day exactly on  his birthday and had to go around in a bit of rain during the other 2 days. Through OpenTable I made a reservation for a restaurant around Eiffel Tower, La Villa Corse, that proved to be a great choice, both as food and as service. The main course was excellent: Dirk and I had the scallops with ham risotto while my parents had guinea fowl stuffed with herbs and mashed potatoes. The desserts were amazing: I had warm chestnut cake with chestnut ice cream, Dirk had lemon cheesecake and my parents had tarte tatin. Absolutely delicious! The waiter was very nice and brought me some chestnut ice cream to taste before I made up my mind. Even though it sounds weird, it was amazing: a combination of chestnuts, lemon and honey. As the weather was so good, we also went up Eiffel Tower, to the 2nd floor. Beautiful views of Paris in autumn from there, so we managed to take very nice pictures.

Next day we went to Sacre Coeur, but did not get to really enjoy it as it was raining. We then went to Galleries Lafayette, which was not a very smart move as it was Saturday and a sale day so we mainly tried to go in, get to see the beautiful ceiling, tried to do a bit of shopping (and failed, mainly due to how warm it was inside) and then rushed out as fast as possible. We also had a late lunch in a cafe on Haussman (Cordial Cafe) that had the same rude and annoying service that I experienced during our previous trips to Paris. Pizza seemed to be good there but that place is on my black list now anyway. Next day we went to Notre Dame. My parents very much enjoyed it as there was a service going on and they could stay and listen. We had a tour of the cathedral and then went nearby to get a coffee. We hit another one of those cafes with crap service. This one is right next to ND and is called Aux Tours de Notre Dame. The service was rude, probably because we had ‘just’ two coffees. Another entry on my black list. There is however a place around there that consistently has good service and good food: Le Depart de St. Michel. I really enjoyed that place  the last time we were there and it did not disappoint. However, the weather got colder and colder, so after a walk on the Seine we got to Place de la  Concorde, got the bus back and that was it!

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We are now back from our trip down to Italy, at Lake Como. We’ve decided to go by car this time, probably one of the longest trip by car we’ve done so far together. On 30 July we drove down to Dover to take the ferry to Calais. Once in France, we started going towards Reims. Soon after Calais we had to take a ticket for the toll road. I had no idea what tolls mean in France, so I thought they cannot be that much. Around Reims the paying time came and, to my huge shock, we had to pay 20 Euros! I did not have much time to recover from the shock that we had to take another ticket. This time it took us to around Metz where we paid another 13 Euros. Then, right before St. Avold another 4,10 Euros. The next day we went towards Strasbourg and we paid a further 8 Euros. We then continued to Switzerland. There we had to buy a vignette, which is a yearly pass that allows you to drive on Swiss highways. That cost about 36 Euros. However, when driving through Switzerland (Basel, Luzern, Lugano) you also see why you pay, as they had to create countless number of tunnels. Wonderful feeling when you start seeing the Alps and then you just keep getting closer to them. Luzern area was really beautiful, with the driving along the lake. However, Lugano provided us with the most amazing view, as the lake was of an amazing turquoise colour! The Lugano lake is also quite big so we kept driving along it for a while in our way to Menaggio. When going back we decided to avoid another rip off in France, so we went instead through Strasbourg-Luxembourg-Belgium. We had some severe delays due to holiday season (before San Gottardo tunnel in Switerland) and French stupid decisions to close highways or move main traffic through fields. This time we decided to go on top of the San Gottardo tunnel, through the mountains and it was an amazing experience! I was very disappointed of toilets as well as rest areas in all countries except Belgium! In Switzerland they decided to go for bowl-less toilets, which are not very enjoyable. Luxembourg rest areas were ugly and over crowded. France had better areas on toll roads but nothing really as impressive as I saw in Germany. Overall, it was an interesting experience and provided us with some really amazing views.