May 202009

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Day Five. Another day, another museum. This time, to make Cris happy, I picked the National Museum of Natural History. First we took a short stroll through the southern part of Central Park. We passed by the pond – I wonder what happens to the ducks in winter? 🙂 (This was my attempt of a literary joke) – by some baseball fields full of activity, and finally by the Strawberry Fields and John Lennon memorial. The museum was pretty crowded, given that it was a Sunday. Cris got upset when he found out that the IMAX theater was closed. He was looking forward to seeing a movie at IMAX. Instead, we got tickets for the Cosmic Collision, which turned out to be a 20 minutes movie narrated by Robert Redford with some nice special effects. It showed the importance of cosmic collisions and I learned a few new things (about solar wind and how Earth is protected by it by the magnetic field generated by its iron core). After the show we spent most of our time in the Rose Center for Earth and Space. Exiting the big silver globe that is the Planetarium you can descend via a spiral platform that traces the history of the universe. From the Rose Center for Earth and Space we went up to the fourth floor to see the dinosaur halls. Huge dinosaur skeletons dwarfed everything in the room. We left at the closing time regretting that we didn’t have more time to look around. If I were to live in NY I’d probably come here more often.

My morning bagel:

The Central Park Pond:

John Lennon Memorial in Central Park:

Museum of National History, entrance hall:

Rose Center for Earth and Space, Museum of National History:

My diet was too severe:

One of the dinosaur halls:

Dinosaur hall:


The Globe at the Trump Tower, Columbus Circle:

May 132009

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Day Four. I said on my previous posts that I won’t do anything too touristic on this trip but as I passed by the Rockefeller Plaza on our 5th Avenue stroll I noticed a booth with the following sign “Top of the Deck – Tickets for the Observation Deck” and I couldn’t help myself, I convinced everyone to go up on the Rockefeller Center. I was surprised that I didn’t know about climbing the tower before, but I read in the LP Guide that the observation deck was closed for almost two decades from 1986 to 2005. We moved to the West Coast at the end of 2000 so the deck was still closed at that time. After paying $20/person (ouch), going through different security checks and watching a short movie about the center, we were ushered into an elevator and told to look up. As the elevator started a movie was projected its ceiling, showing different images from the history of New York and after a short ride we arrived on the 67th floor. The views from up there were amazing and we got a pretty nice look at the Empire State Building and the Central Park while the Crysler Building was partially obscured by another building. We spent about half an hour there taking pictures and listening to the French tourists. Based on our observation half of the tourists in NY at this moment in time were speaking French. Who knows, maybe they were French Canadians but I think they were French taking advantage of the weak dollar.

Afterwards we sat down at the Rink Cafe for drinks and snacks. While trying to find our way out of the building to the cafe we passed by many stores inside the Rockefeller Center including a shoeshine store where believe it or not, there were people in line waiting to get a shoe shine. Didn’t see that one before. After the break we walked by the NY City Library through Bryant Park to Times Square, this time at daylight. It was as crazy as at nighttime. Every three meters or so someone was advertising something or trying to sell you some kind of tour. We were pretty tired by that time so we decided to go see a movie and we picked Star Trek which was just opening in theatres. Cris and I are old Star Trek fans, we have seen all the series (even half of Enterprise) and most of the previous Star Trek movies. This one is a prequel, happening before the start of The Original Series and showing how Spock and Kirk met. I really liked the movie, I thought the actors were well chosen and they had a good chemistry together. It made lots of references to the series, as a gift to the fans, it had good special effects, lots of action and a decent script. I hope it does well at the box office so we can see them again in a sequel.
Oueensboro Bridge:

Fifth Avenue:

Also on Fifth Avenue:

Rockefeller Plaza:

View of Central Park from the top of Rockefeller Center:

Midtown Manhattan seen from the top of Rockefeller Center:

Empire State Building:

The entrance to the Rockefeller Center:

Bryant Park:

Times Square:

The line for the TKTS ticket booth in Times Square:

Times Square:

May 112009

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Day Three. This was the day we decided to visit the Met mostly because it was cloudy outside and it looked like it’s going to rain. We started with the Egyptian wing so Cris won’t get bored. He tends to do that when we visit art museums but he likes history a lot more. The museum was full of school children making fascinated noises at the sight of the mummies: “Miss, is it a real person inside?”. As expected, Cris found the whole wing fascinating and he was trying to read about the Egyptians while I kept interrupting with my impersonation of the Bangles “Walk like an Egyptian” which Cris said he didn’t remember. I was trying to make him remember so I even did the dance. Finally I left him in peace and went upstairs to the Modern Art section which proved to be amazing. I wonder if they own more Impressionists painting than Musee d’Orsay. Room after room filled with Monet, Manet, Renoir and some of the most famous ones too. “The Garden of Sainte-Adresse”, “The Regatta at Sainte-Adresse” and “Grenouillere” by Monet, “Boating” by Manet, Picasso, Van Gogh etc. I even found a painting by Gaugain that my mom liked – she kept a reproduction of it in her bedroom. I had no idea it was displayed here, I tought it was in the Louvre since my mom visited Paris but never been to New York.

We stayed in the museum until closing time, had dinner and headed for the crazyness of lights that is Times Square. I like Times Square, its hustle and bustle, the noise, the crowds, the flickering ads, the cheesiness. Once there we were deeply impressed by the sight of a banner that said “Bun venit”, which means “Welcome” in Romanian. There were Welcome banners in different languages all around the square.

Metropolitan Museum of Art, Egyptian Wing:

Metropolitan Museum of Art, Temple of Dendur:

Metropolitan Museum of Art, Temple of Dendur:

Gaugain, a picture that my mother used to like:

Metropolitan Museum of Art, entrance hall:

Metropolitan Museum of Art, facade:

Delicious Italian food:

The Italian restaurant we ate in (“Erminia”):

Window display, Upper East Side:

Upper East Side:

Times Square at night:

The “Welcome” sign – in Romanian – in Times Square:

Times Square at night:

May 102009

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Day Two. Our first destination for the day was Washington Square in Greenwich Village but to our disappointment the park is closed for reconstructions until “Spring 2009”. I was hungry and earning for a bagel and we walked around the neighborhood to find me one. I’m crazy for bagels, it’s one of my favorite breakfast options. Within the world of bagels I like the sesame ones, toasted and with cream cheese. After enjoying this late breakfast, we took the subway from Christopher St. to South Ferry with the intention of walking around Battery Park. When we got there we found Battery Park overrun by tourists. I guess not many people had the same hesitance as us in coming to an area with swine flu. Or they decided that 98 cases in a city of 8 million is good odds. In any case, the line to the Statue of Liberty ferry was weaving around the park and all around us there were people with cameras photographing statues and pigeons.

We left the park and headed north where I was planning to take a picture of the Wall Street bull. I had to give up because it was impossible to see the bull from the group of tourists and you probably had to wait in line for minutes to take a picture of it. I settled instead with taking pictures of the New York Stock Exchange whose facade was draped with a huge American flag. They were filming a commercial in front of the Stock Exchange, we couldn’t figure out for what product. Three beautiful young women dressed smartly in short skirts were parading around while a guy sitting on a bench, reading a newspaper was supposed to fall down when seeing the girls. They repeated it for four or five times until we got bored and left. Next stop was the World Trade Center site which at the moment is a construction area. You can’t see much over the tall fences, just some colorful cranes. We turned right on Fulton and followed it all the way to South Street Seaport which is only a bit more than a glorified mall with shops and cheap restaurants and a beautiful view of the Brooklyn Bridge. We had some beer on the terrace while enjoying the view and headed for the bridge. The weather was good, sunny and clear, perfect for walking. The bridge was – of course – packed with tourists. And again we wondered the streets for hours until it was time for dinner.
The very patriotic facade of the New York Stock Exchange:

The Ground Zero construction site:

What they’re building at Ground Zero:

Lower Manhattan seen from South Street Seaport:

The almighty Brooklyn Bridge:

Brooklyn Bridge:

View of Manhattan from the Brooklyn Bridge:

May 082009

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We’ve been planning a trip to New York for a long time but kept postponing it for different reasons (birthdays, weather, relatives visiting). Finally, about a month ago we bought the plane tickets and decided to leave on May 5th, right after the May 1st holiday in Romania. About two weeks ago the swine flu story broke out and we hesitated asking ourselves if we should postpone the trip once more. We watched the news on CNN for hours and in the end decided to go ahead with the trip.

Cris and I have been to NY many time before, back when we were grad students at Rutgers University in central New Jersey, about an hour by train south of New York. For this reason Magda, who had also been here before, and I decided that this trip will be more of a “get back in touch with the city” sort of trip in which we would do a bit of tourist stuff but we would take it easy; we’ll try to enjoy things and activities that we didn’t have time to enjoy back when we were running to cross all must-sees off the list. This time we would enjoy sitting in cafes and watching people, we would eat in good restaurants, we would shop a little. We won’t climb the Empire State Building or go to the Statue of Liberty. We’ve done it before and we don’t feel the need to do it again. We’ll probably go to the Met, see a musical or a movie, try to meet friends who live in the city or close by.

Our first night in the city, for example, we went to eat Indian food, something that we miss in Bucharest where there aren’t many choices in terms of Indian restaurants. Magda got out her magic Zagat map that she bought on her last trip to US and we picked Chola on East 58th street between 2nd and 3rd Avenue. The restaurant was crowded, noisy and the decoration a bit kitchy as any respectable Indian restaurant would be and the food was very good. I asked for the usual – samosa, chicken tikka masala – while Cris decided to try some new stuff. We ordered a bit too much – I guess we forgot about the American portions – and asked to take home the leftovers which were about half of the meal. Walking from the subway to the restaurant I felt some familiar smells rushing back at me: the ominous smell of food that you find in an American city and – because this is NY – a faint smell of garbage.

On a different topic, we’re staying with friends on Roosevelt island right in the middle of East River. It’s one subway stop away from Manhattan on the F line.
A view from the Roosevelt Island towards Queens:

A view from Roosevelt Island towards Manhattan:

Manhattan Midtown East, Lexington Avenue:

Manhattan Midtown East, Lexington Avenue:

Feb 052008

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I’ve decided that I’m going to start posting pictures on my blog such that when I don’t write anything because I don’t have the time I’ll still post something. Pictures, I have thousands of those cause I really like to take pictures. I’m merely an amateur, not an expert in photography but I like to take pictures of the places I visit. Sometimes I am one of those people that see a place through the viewfinder, but I can’t help myself. Ideally I would like to capture the essence of the place, such that when someone sees them they’ll say “yes, that’s the soul of Paris without a doubt”. But most of the time they’re just nice pictures of the places I visit. I don’t think I’ll be able to post a picture a day but I’ll try to post often enough. I have enough pictures to last me to the next millennium 🙂

Because Cris and I are heading to Argentina on Friday for a second trip, I’ll start by posting pictures from our first trip to Argentina, which we took in February 2006. Today’s pictures are from a tango show at Cafe Tortoni, a famous coffeehouse located on Avenida de Mayo in Buenos Aires. The cafe opened in 1858 and is located in a beautiful 19th century building.

Apr 192007

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Easter came and went, leaving me with three extra pounds. We made the family rounds as we always do when we return to Romania. We’ve met a few friends and I ventured downtown Bucharest a few times. Our president was suspended yesterday.

On Sunday we’re leaving for Israel, visiting family for two weeks. I’ve been there before in October 2005 and I liked it. I found Israel as I read somewhere, a “small country with big sites”. I feel that’s the best way to describe it. I grew up under a communist regime so I’m not a religious person. I guess I can call myself a nonpracticing Christian. I only go to church once a year, on Easter night. I don’t read the Bible. But even someone like me feels something when stepping into Nazareth, or at the Jordan River. It feels like you’re breathing history, old or recent, it doesn’t matter.

When I tell people in Romania that we’re going to Israel, there’s one question that everyone asks “Aren’t you afraid?” I also remember getting the same question when I was getting my green card in 2002 (because of September 11). Aren’t you afraid to go to US? “I’m already living there” was my answer, “just that I had a working visa and not a green card. Nothing will change for me.” Two years ago I was contacted by a Swiss who wanted to visit Romania. He’s seen the news reports and was afraid of being robbed. He was asking me if he should carry a paralyzing spray while visiting. I told him there’s no need for that and after his visit he was laughing remembering his fears. Same when we traveled to Argentina, some of our friends were marveling at our courage to visit a country in South America. The media’s representation of a region doesn’t always tell the whole story. Most of the time our fears come from our ignorance about that particular place. And in today’s world, can you be sure that you’re completely safe anywhere in this world? Do you think that you’re safer in your own home town? Did anyone expect the tragic events that took place at Virginia Tech just a few days ago? I have friends who interviewed for a professor position there. It sounded safe at that time. One of the victims was a Jewish professor born in Romania, who survived a labor camp in WWII and the totalitarian regime in communist Romania. We’re never safe from random acts of violence and unfortunately that’s a reality we have to live with.

I feel like my post doesn’t have a point, like it’s missing something. I guess my point will be, don’t stay home just because the outside world seems less safe. Of course I don’t advertise going into a war zone. I don’t want to tempt fate in any way. Of course I’m a bit afraid too when I’m traveling to a place with a history of violence like Israel. But my belief is that in most places the overwhelming majority of people just get along peacefully on a daily basis and they are simply interested in living their lives, earning a living, and being normal people.

These are pictures from my previous visit to Israel:


Golan Heights

The Jordan River, the site of Jesus’ baptism (complete with gift shop)

The Sea of Galilee

Nazareth, the Grotto of the Virgin inside the Basilica of the Annunciation (this site is believed to be the place where Virgin Mary was announced by an angel that she was to become a mother)

Baha’i Gardens, Haifa

Elijah’s Cave, Haifa

A Coke bottle

The Dead Sea

Us floating at the Dead Sea

Apr 062007

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What’s a girl to do when she has a new camera and she’s stuck on a plane for 12 hours? For starters I took about 30 pictures of the plane’s wing, followed by about 10 pictures of my seat and the book I brought on board, portraits of Cris, Amsterdam from above etc. I stopped short of photographing my shoelaces.

The wing:

The book:

Landing in Amsterdam

Schipol Airport

Final destination, Bucharest:

Mar 272007

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Big Island, Hawai’i, 5th Day. This was the most eventful day of the trip and the longest day as well as we left the hotel early after breakfast and came back after midnight. Before going we checked the weather report which showed a 50% chance of rain at the Kilauea Volcano but since this was the day before last in our vacation and I wanted one more try to see the volcano we decided to take our chances and go. And it turned out better than two days before, at least in the beginning of the day. We were able to stop at many waterfalls on the way to Hilo and this time the “scattered showers” were for real. We started with the gorgeous multi-tiered Umauma falls for which we had to pay an entrance fee because the access road was part of the grounds of the World Botanical Gardens. Nothing seemed to come cheap on Big Island. After seeing the falls we took a walk through the garden and I think it was worth the money. The garden had a lot of exotic flowers and trees that I’ve never seen before and some that I thought I knew but turned out to look different that what I was expecting. They had some bug spray at the counter but we ignored it, something we started to regret as soon as we got deep enough within the garden to be too lazy to return just for getting sprayed. We left the gardens in some sort of dancebreak movements, and I kept on scratching until we reached our next stop: the Akaka and Kahuna Falls. It was our third attempt to see these falls, the previous times it was raining so hard that we stayed in the car and decided to return another day. To get to the falls we walked a short path through the rain forest. With so much rain, the vegetation was living life to the maximum, everything seemed so green and lush.

Afterwards Cris decided he’s seen enough waterfalls for one day so we drove to the Kilauea Volcano. We passed by the visitor center and found out where we can see lava flowing. We drove the park loop, stopped and walked through a light rain to different craters, passing the time until dark. I liked the bleak, desolated landscape, the fumes rising up from the black earth, a lone rainbow shining through. About an hour before sunset we drove down towards the ocean to the end of Chain of Craters road. We parked a looong way from the end of the road, passed by numerous warning signs – “Extreme danger beyond this point” – and started walking on the lava. There were two paths marked by the rangers, one to a viewing point very close to the end of the road. It was difficult to see the lava from that point so we took the other path and continued passed the markings. At some point we found the remains of the old road, complete with a bent “No parking” sign caught in the lava field. We kept on walking until it got so dark we were afraid we’ll have problems returning. We were pretty deep inside the lava field at that moment and we could see the lava shining in the night at many points ahead of us. It was a great sight and we stood and watched for some time. After that we subjected our knees to some more suffering – it’s not an easy job to walk on lava – got back to the car, had dinner at the Volcano Lodge and started on the 3 hours drive back to the hotel. The people at the Volcano Lodge deserve my recognition. First they told us we have to wait half an hour to be seated but when they heard that we have a 3 hours drive ahead of us they took pity and fed us right away.

The Umauma Falls

At the World Botanical Garden

Akaka Falls Park

Kilauea Volcano

That’s me in the middle of the road

Mar 222007

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Big Island, Hawai’i 4th day. On the fourth day on Big Island Cris demanded that we keep his part of the bargain and go snorkeling. Leafing through the travel guide to find a good place to snorkel, I found that one of the best places according to the guide’s authors was very close to a Hawaiian temple. This was the beach I picked, thinking that we can do both activities, see the temple and go snorkeling afterwards. This time we drove south keeping to the west side of the island, passing again by fields of lava sprinkled with white stone messages and past the airport and the resort of Kailua. As soon as we left the highway the road started to descend towards the ocean. The Hawaiian temple that I wanted to visit had the long name of Pu’uhonua o Honaunau or Place of Refuge at Honaunau. From what I’ve read this place was a sort of an extreme form of “get out of jail free”, or rather “get out of trouble alive” meaning that if those accused of a crime could manage to get here they would get absolved. In ancient Hawaii the society was regulated by the”kapu” system of laws and according to the kapu the crime that one can be accused of and executed for could be as ridiculous as “one’s shadow touching the shadow of a leader” or “walking the same path as the chief” or “men and women eating together”. It was believed that the violation of these laws will bring god’s anger in the form of famine, lava flows, high tide and earthquakes so the violators were hunted down and killed. Their only chance was to reach this place of refuge and once inside the priests will perform ceremonies to absolve them and they could return home. It wasn’t easy to reach the place of refuge because the well defended royal grounds full of warriors were adjacent to the pu’uhonua. Today this place is a neatly organized national park and the quiet and beautiful grounds really feel like a place of refuge. There are some reconstructed Hawaiian huts, the wall that separated the place of refuge from the royal grounds and a reconstructed thatched temple that used to contain the bones of 23 chiefs. The small cove was full of green turtles basking in the sun. We walked around the place, following the lava all the way to the ocean. After the visit Cris finally got his wish, we went snorkeling at the beach just north of the place of refuge. The travel guide was right, it was a good place to snorkel with plenty of fish. On the way home we stopped by the St. Benedict’s Painted Church, a small catholic church whose walls were painted in Biblical scenes in 1899 by a Father John, a catholic priest who came to Hawaii all the way from Belgium. He’s done a beautiful job with the painting.