Saturday, November 05, 2016

Cycling Oceanside

This picture is taken at Carlsbad beach during a cycling event with Performance Bikes group. We started from the bike shop at Oceanside, rode down Plaza drive to Hecienda, then south on Melrose, to Palomar, to Paseo Del Norte, to Cannon Rd. to Carlsbad Blvd. On the way back we took Cannon Rd. all the way to College Blvd. to Plaza Dr. to the bike shop again. The ride was about 22 miles and took about 2 hours and 15 minutes including a brief stop, which means we were making about 10 miles per hour. My Trek mountain bike served me quite well over the past several years especially on dirt rough roads up and down hills, but here in California one needs a road bike to take on those smoothly paved hilly roads that require a lighter and more maneuver capable bike, so I bought this Fuji Roubaix 1.0 road bike. This bike comes with a light aluminum frame (except the front fork which is all carbon), Ultegra 11-speed drivetrain, 105 front derailleur, and Oval compact crankset and Shimano 11/28 cassette. The wheels are Oval 327 with Vittoria Zaffiro slick Slick tires. At first I installed Shimano pedals with triangular cleats PD-R550 that go with Shimano RP-05 shoes, but after falling four or five times while using them I decided to return them and replace them with regular platform pedals. I rode this new bike along 18 miles which took me about two hours and the experience was fantastic. The Ultegra drivetrain shifts flawlessly and the brakes work great giving an overall exhilarating experience. I also liked the Oceanside bike shop "Performance Bikes" who accepted my returns with no questions asked, and they re-aligned my gears after my numerous falls off the bike free of charge.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Fig Tree Growth

Growing a fig tree is so easy. If you know somebody who has a fig tree, ask them to give you a branch of it during April as the tree starts to bloom. Take that branch and soak it in water for a couple of weeks until you see roots start to come out, then bury it in the ground. That is all to it. In picture number 1 on the right you see the branch after a week or so from planting it in the ground. You see that it started to have leaves. The picture number 2 shows the same branch after a couple more weeks as new leaves started to emerge.
Picture number 3 shows the same branch after six weeks or so when even more leaves came out and it started to grow in thickness as well. The last picture number 4 shows that branch after about six months. We were away for a couple of weeks and when we came back we were surprised to see the tree started to bear figs as you shown in the picture. That was quite a pleasant surprise as we did not expect to see any fruits this year. I am not sure if the fruits will be good enough quality to eat the first year but that remains to be seen. It seems that next year we should have tasty figs coming out of this tree which started as nothing but a leafless branch. I need to point out that no special preparation was made to the soil at all. We just planted that branch and later I used some compost that I prepare in the garden using old leaves and kitchen vegetable refuse. I also installed a sprinkler to the root of the tree so that I don't have to manually water it daily. Other than that the tree is low maintenance and quite easy to grow. Try it out and you will be pleased at the results as I did.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Istanbul Istanbul ...

Istanbul is the only city in the world that falls on two different continents: Asia and Europe. It was the third Ottoman capital after Bursa and Edirne. The picture to the right is that of Hagia Sofia (the holy wisdom), and in front of it is the so called Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet mosque). In Istanbul also there is the famous Topkapi (cannon gate) which used to be the residence of the Ottoman Sultans and their harems. Some of the holy relics contained in Topkapi are: Staff of Moses, sword of David, pan of Abraham, footprint of Prophet Mohammad, keys of the Kaaba, cloak of Prophet Mohammad, his beard hair and his seal. I joined the Fez Travel magic carpet tour which showed us around Istanbul and other cities in Turkey as I will explain next.
Next to the area of Sultan Ahmet mosque and Hagia Sofia there is the remnant of the ancient Hippodrome which was built at the time of Emperor Justinian. To the left you see a picture of the Galata tower north of the Golden Horn (Halci in Turkish). The nine-story tower is about 67 meters high and you can see a beautiful 360 degree panoramic view of the city from the top. Other landmarks of Istanbul are the Istiklal street and the Taksim square which were in the news during last July's failed coup that took place in Turkey. I took a public ferry boat along the Bosphorus and enjoyed the voyage by sea very much. We went under three bridges that cross the Bosphorus. The name of one of the bridges was changed to "The Martyrs of July 15" after the failed coup. Another one is new and was opened recently in August. Other landmarks of Istanbul are the Spice Market "Eminonu", and the Grand Bazaar. The next day we went by bus to Gallipoli where we saw the ANZAC cove and the trenches from WWI. Then from Gallipoli we crossed the sea of Marmara by a ferry boat to a city called Canakkale where we spent the night in Iris Hotel. The next day we visited the ancient city of Troy, but most of its treasures were looted by a German treasure hunter in the nineteenth century. Then we drove to a nice city by the sea called Kusadasi, and along the way, near Izmir, we stopped
to visit the high city "Acropolis" and Bergamo. The next day we visited Ephesus which was built 3000 B.C. from the time of the Hittites. The picture to the right shows the remnants of the library inside Ephesus. There is a nearby town there called Selcuk where the Seljuk Turks of the 11th century ruled before the Ottomans. There is also nearby Sirince which is famous for its wine. In that area there is also the church of Virgin Mary where she is believed to have died, as well as apostle St. John. We visited the temple of Artemis which has nothing left really except one column. The next day we drove to Heriopolis near Pamukkale. There we swam in an antique pool of thermal spring water among historic columns. We stopped at Denizli to buy some towels for the pool first. That area is famous for its Denizli roosters that can crow for 30 seconds, and for its textiles.
Pamukkale's thermal springs have calcium carbonates which gives it its therapeutic effects and its white color. The picture to the left is that of Pamukkale's thermal springs, and its fantastic white slopes made of calcium carbonates. We spent the night in Pamukkale, and the hotel had thermal spring water pool for those who want to partake more of its therapeutic value. The dinner in the hotel was nice and had a big buffet with a large variety of foods and desserts. There were also many tourists in that area especially from the far east and the middle east.
The next morning we drove towards Cappadocia, or the Land of Beautiful Horses. But first along the way we stopped at Konya where we visited the tomb of Jalaluldeen Al Rumi, the mystic who founded the whirling Dervish practice. Near Konya we also passed by the village of Hodja called Akshehir. Hodja was famous for his humorous stories but he was also a philosopher and wise man. We also saw caravan sarays, or caravan depots that were built along the Silk Road during the Seljuk dynasty. Finally we arrived to Cappadocia seen in the picture to the right. It is a beautiful land of wonderful rock formations and where houses and churches were carved out of the mountains. There were also whole cities that were built underground, where early Christians took refuge from the Roman persecution at the time. We spent two wonderful nights in a nice hotel at Cappadocia, and the next day we went on our way to Ankara but we decided not to visit Ataturk's mausoleum there and continued on our way back to Istanbul. I really enjoyed my tour of Turkey so much and I would recommend it to anybody who wants to see the best of Turkey in ten days.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Romulus's Rome

According to myth, Romulus and his brother Remus quarreled about where to found the new city. While Romulus wanted to found the new city on the Palatine Hill, Remus preferred the Aventine Hill. Romulus killed his brother and founded the new city, named it Rome, after himself, and created its first legions and senate. The picture to the right is what remains of the ancient city from circa 750 B.C. when it was first founded on the Palatine Hill. Our guide said it was analogous to today's Beverly Hills in California, a place for the rich and wealthy. While the Roman Forum was its business district. Next to the Palatine Hill you see the famous Roman Colosseum which was destroyed twice by powerful earthquakes, which is why it is missing sections in its structure today ... see picture to the left.
From inside the Colosseum is huge and is under continuous repair. Near that area there are the remains of the place where Julius Caesar was assassinated. It was a good idea to pay extra for a guided tour because it bypasses the long waiting lines, in addition to the explanation of the detailed history of the structure and related subjects. I have to say that Rome was quite hot during the day in August, especially under direct sun light. Prepare to walk a lot in that area to see both the theater as well as the Roman Forum in the Palatine Hill. The Vatican is a separate entity and although it is in the middle of Rome, it is a different country. Its population is about 5 thousand people and it is surrounded by an ancient wall that was meant to protect the popes in the past. The most important structure in the Vatican is the St. Peter's Basilica which is the biggest church in the world, and the most important as well ... see picture to the right.
For my luck a devastating earthquake struck the middle of Italy while I was there, about 100 miles away from Rome. The earthquake shook Rome but I was sleeping at the time and luckily I did not feel it. More than 300 people died and many buildings were destroyed in the Lazio area. The Pope held a special prayer in the Vatican because of the event. I visited the Sistine Chapel which is where they choose the new pope each time, and it is decorated by paintings by Micael Angelo on its walls and ceiling, some of which are quite scandalous, but the pope of the time shielded Michael Angelo from any criticism and kept most of the drawings intact although the bishops of the time wanted to knock down the whole building because of the flagrantly inappropriate paintings. The Vatican museums are full of statues and paintings as well, in addition to maps made in the old times, and other artifacts of significance. It was also a good idea that I joined a tour on that day to bypass the extremely long lines by the walls of the city. Other attractions in Rome are the famous Fontana Di Treva shown in the picture to the left.
Every day people visit that fountain and throw coins in it to make wishes. The government collects daily more than six thousand Euros of coins from the fountain and the proceeds go to various charities that help the poor and estranged women and children. Other important attractions in Rome are the Pantheon, the piazza Venezia, piazza Novana, and the Spanish Stairs. The Pantheon was a temple of the ancient Roman gods. The piazza Venezia was used by Mussolini during WWII and has the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in its yard. The piazza Novana is an example of Baroque Roman architecture, and has the famous Fontana Dei Quattro Fiumi (fountain of the four rivers) by Bernini, as well as the Fontana del Moro. The Spanish Stairs is an upscale shopping area where you find the latest designers' collections of clothes and shoes. Don't miss sampling the Italian Gelato, their ice cream made of goat milk and is characteristically sticky and quite tasty. The Italian cuisine is one of the best in the world. I loved their olive oil and pasta dishes with seafood. There is a lot to see in Rome, so plan to stay there at least three days to see all the important historical places. One day for the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. One day should be dedicated to the Vatican City, and one day to stroll along the various piazzas (Novana, Venezia, Pantheon, Spanish Stairs, etc.).

Sunday, April 17, 2016

San Diego Harbor

One of the attractions of downtown San Diego of course is the harbor area, called the Embarcadero (Spanish for wharf). You can stroll from Embarcadero Marina park to the Maritime museum where there is the Star of India, supposedly the oldest sailing ship in the world. You could also visit the Midway museum which is the longest serving aircraft carrier in the history of the US Navy. Fine dining in the area is abundant, for example try the Fish Market restaurant which serves fresh seafood grilled to your liking. There are also the Harbor Island and Shelter Island which are great places for quiet getaways for people to enjoy a walk or just a peaceful moment overlooking San Diego Bay. San Diego is beautiful.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Aux Champs Elysee

Visiting Paris reminded me of Joe Dassin's song "Aux Champs Elysee". The main pet peeves for me here too was the cigarette smoking which bothered me so much. Everybody smokes everywhere. Restaurants where smoking is not allowed inside, allow people to smoke outside and all the smoke liberally enters inside so you feel you are sitting besides smokers not in a non-smoking area. The iconic Eiffel tower appears anywhere in the city you look. We saw it from our hotel window at La Defense area. The next tallest building you could see from anywhere was the Sacre Coeur cathedral which is built on top of the Montmatre butte, see the picture to the left. The Notre Dame cathedral is the oldest building in Paris and has lot of history in it. The building was destroyed and vandalized during the French revolution, but was restored afterwards and is still suffering major cracks until today. I visited the Louvre museum. It is so huge, and needs at least three days to see everything, but I managed to see the most important things in it, like the Mona Lisa and Napoleon III furniture.
Transportation within Paris is easy and convenient using the Metro system. If you need to go outside Paris, for example to visit the Versaille palace, then you need to take the RER train. Chateaux Versailles was splendid, and full of treasures that tells the story of the kings of France before the revolution, but then Napoleon made himself emperor and royalty returned to France. In the Concorde square I saw the obelisk that Mohammad Ali of Egypt gave as a gift to France's king in 1829. Moving it from Egypt to France was an engineering feat by itself. You can see the obelisk in the picture to the right. What a magnificent scene.
Walking on the Champs Elysee was fun of course, and eating hot chestnuts in the freezing night was nice (called marron chaud, i.e hot chestnuts). Nothing is left of the Bastille castle except some stones. Two famous gardens we saw were the Jardins de Tuileries, and Jardins de Luxembourg. We went to Cherbourg in Normandi also. It was cold, windy and rainy so it was hard walking outdoors, but we saw the Tapestries of Bayeaux that tell the story of how William (Guillaume) the Conqueror became the king of England in 1090 or so. We also saw the structure that Napoleon built near the shore to ward off the British ships from attacking the Normandi shores.
The picture to the left shows a rustic country scene in Cherbourg, Normandi. The area is famous for dairy products and many variants of cheese and butter. As I said it was damp and cold so the trip to Normandi was marred by the weather elements, although it was a great place to visit. Restaurants in France in general are modest and not that great, which might explain why most French people are skinny.

Lo London!

We arrived London on Xmas day 12/26/2015 and as expected it was wet and cold but not freezing cold, just mild cold. The main thing that bothered me in London (and the same with all European cities) was the cigarette smoking. People smoke at the entrance of buildings so that you certainly passively smoke with them each time you pass by a door. Apart from that, I really enjoyed London, especially the double-deck buses and the friendly people. I can say I saw all the major attractions, namely Big Ben (shown in the picture), Trafalgar square, Picadilly circus, Westminster London Eye, St. Paul's church, Tower of London, Buckingham palace, Hyde Park, Harrods, and the British museum. We climbed St. Paul's cathedral all the way to the top of the dome and saw all of London city from above, see the picture to the left.
The main modern building in London is the Shard building, which was built by a Qatari millionaire. Visiting Harrods was an exquisite experience. A ring sells for 1.2 M pounds, and a bracelet that goes with it sells for 10 M pounds! The London tower is another great attraction. The ancient wall of London lies near it and was built by the Romans around 100 A.D. The bridge opens at certain times to let ships pass under it which is a magnificent scene as you can see in the picture to the right.
The food in London is modest at best unless you eat at an Italian restaurant. Picadilly square is vibrant and live at night, especially we were there during new year eve. It is a circus, thus the name Picadilly circus. We spent three full days in London and stayed in Islington which was central to all the major attractions, and lied next to Angel station which allowed us to use public transportation to go anywhere in the city. Unfortunately there were floods in Wales and Scotland at that time so our trip was limited to London.