Tag Archives: pictures

Facts about Lisbon and Portugal

20 Aug

Quick, tell me what you know about Portugal! Here’s my list pre-Lisbon visit:

1. They speak Portuguese there.
2. It’s on the coast of the Iberian Peninsula next to Spain.
3. Christopher Columbus and a bunch of other explorers were from Portugal. Although I just Googled him and apparently Columbus was Italian. I’m a bad American.
4. Cristiano Ronaldo the famous footballer [soccer player] is from Portugal.
5. Nando’s! (Cheeky Nando’s!) Although I just Googled Nando’s and apparently it was founded in South Africa and peri-peri sauce is from Mozambique. Why is it Portugal themed then?!
6. Lisbon is the capital.

That’s basically the knowledge I had of Portugal before we went there. And now I’m happy to report I can add a few facts to my list.

7. Lisbon is super hilly.

As far as I know, Lisbon has great public transportation, but we didn’t use it, because I needed to get Fitbit steps (and also I suppose exploring a city on foot helps you truly see it). We walked from Avenida da Liberdade to Miradouro Sao Pedro de Alcantara to get a nice view of the city. Google Maps said it was a short walk.

lisbon weinerWhat Google Maps did not say was that it was up a very steep hill. (Although I guess I should have inferred a viewpoint would have to be high up…) Most people waited and took the trolley up and down, but most people don’t have Fitbits that track flights of stairs climbed (and hills count as stairs). So we walked up and down.

lisbon trolleyI don’t know if you can spot it in the first photo I posted, but São Jorge Castle is up on a hill in the center of Lisbon. We walked there next (after stopping for ice cream, of course).

lisbon castle

This post is going to be very photo-heavy, so click to read on.

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My month in Cincinnati in photos

2 Jun

The fact that I’ve barely had time to blog means I’ve had a great U.S. visit. I have several blog drafts that I’ve started, ranging from complaining about hot weather and the FedEx guy who didn’t ring the doorbell to a 5K race recap, but I think a photo post might be better.

My visit began with a performance and poetry reading by one of my favorite local bands, Ellery.

Ellery northsideThe next day we had a fancy night downtown with dinner and a play. We went to Jean-Robert’s Table, a “chef-owned eatery serving upscale French fare in an intimate room,” according to Google. I had stuffed my face with Panera only a couple hours before our 5pm dinner reservation, so I wasn’t that hungry and just got this amazing crab salad:

jean robert table saladAnd chocolate mousse, of course!

jean robert table mousseThere was a baby bird in my parents’ backyard:

baby bird backyardI ran a local 5K in under 30 min! My clock time said 27:23, but the race was so small it wasn’t chip-timed, and according to MapMyRun, the course was only 2.99 miles, so I kept running after I crossed the finish line. I’m sure the onlookers thought I was nuts, but I wanted a real 5K time! So I ran 5K in 28:25 according to my phone app. I’m proud of that time considering how hilly the course was. The race was also special because it was on May 16, which would have been Squirt’s golden birthday (16 on the 16th).

5k race time We went to Big Bone Lick State Park to see the baby bison, but they weren’t visible. So we went a little too far into unpaved territory to get a glimpse at them, which warranted a stern talking to by the park ranger. It was worth it though, because we got to see the baby and other pregnant mamas up close and we did not get crushed by giant bison (there was a fence!).

big bone bisonI got to spend a lot of quality time with a dear friend — the very first person I met when my family moved to Kentucky almost 20 years ago. She went on vacation for a week so I took care of her cat. We had a fun time despite my cat allergies (my £5 six-month supply of allergy medicine was one of the best Groupons I’ve ever bought!).

daisy catI saw this vending machine at an Asian buffet restaurant.

playful pandaI kind of regret not getting a Playful Panda, but a photo is probably better.playfun panda vending machineWe went to Florence’s Public Services Night Out, where we got free food and cool water bottles. Apparently the water bottles were not dishwasher-safe though.

florence water bottleOn a rare day when it was not obnoxiously hot and both my parents were off, we went to the zoo. It was teeming with school trips, but we still got to see a lot of aminals (intentional misspelling). The okapi, my mom’s favorite animal, were out!

okapi cincinnati zooSo was the red panda. He’s no giant panda, but he’s still pretty cute.

red panda cincinnati zooI made delicious Amish sugar cookies, as well as several other kinds. I don’t bake much in London, so I take full advantage of my parents’ new kitchen (and their willingness to consume copious amounts of cookies).

amish sugar cookiesWe went to visit my brother in Louisville and went strawberry picking. I may or may not have consumed this monstrosity while still in the field.strawberry freakThis bad boy was not ripe yet.weird strawberryI bought 4 lbs of strawberries all for myself, and ate all of them in less than a week (aside from a small bag that I froze).

hubert farm strawberries

One of the main reasons I wanted to come back in May was because Over the Rhine, my favorite band, was having a barn raising — a concert on their actual property, Nowhere Else, to raise money to restore an old barn into a performing arts center.

otr barn

It was my 18th Over the Rhine show and every bit as magical as I dreamed it would be.otr barn raising I even spotted a swallow on their farm!

otr swallow nesting

I miss running in the Royal Parks, but I recently discovered some nice trails running distance from my parents’ house. Of course I discovered the best one two days before I leave.florence creek

It turns out the Standard American Diet of bottomless chips, sangria, wings, curly fries and ice cream is not conducive to speedy running. But Bruster’s birthday cake ice cream was worth it. brusters ice cream

It’s been good, Cincinnati. But London’s calling.cincinnati ohio river

Christmastime at the Biltmore Estate

4 Jan

Have you ever been to the Biltmore Estate? Or, perhaps more importantly, do you even know what or where it is? Up until a year ago I didn’t. It’s the largest private home in America (owned by the Vanderbilt family) and I had never heard of it. But after a friend visited at Christmastime last year and raved about it, my parents and I decided we had to go.

So a few weeks ago we drove nearly 6 hours to Asheville, North Carolina, to see what all the fuss over a giant house was about. Our first stop was the winery where I sampled too many wines like I knew what I was doing.

biltmore wine tasting

biltmore winery

Then we went to see the aminals! (Yes, that spelling is intentional)

biltmore goat

This goat enjoyed munching on my coat.

goat eat coat

And this one preferred tree branches.

goat eat tree

I was disappointed by the lack of pugs in the farmyard.

petting zoo pug

Once we got our fill of farm animals, we headed over to the house. And here comes the part where I sound like a spoiled world traveler with impossible standards: I thought this was the back or the side of the house. In fact, I was so convinced that it was that I actually asked an employee how I could get to the front of the house. She simply pointed back the way I came.

biltmore winter

Maybe it was the weather, maybe it was photos like these online that gave me unrealistic expectations:

biltmore christmas night


…but the outside of the house did not blow me away like I thought it would. It was no Versailles or Schönbrunn Palace.


Schönbrunn Palace

However, the lions were in a festive spirit, so I had to be too.

biltmore lion

And once we got inside the house (where no photos are allowed), I took back everything I said about not being impressed. The entire house was impeccably decorated for Christmas, with hundreds of trees throughout and even carolers. This house built in 1895 had an indoor swimming pool and bowling alley! The inside tour was way more impressive and extensive than any European palace tour I’ve done. The Vanderbilts sure knew how to live!

After our evening candlelight tour we had dinner next door at the Stable Cafe, where we dined inside an old stable stall. The food was amazing, as was the ambiance.

biltmore stable restaurant

And then we got to see the house at night with the tree all lit up. For some expectation vs. reality, compare the photo I took below to the professional ones above.

biltmore christmas night

The next day we headed over to the Grove Park Inn to see the winners of the 22nd Annual National Gingerbread House Competition. The hotel was amazing and had a very impressive fireplace.

grove park inn fire place

The gingerbread houses were also amazing, even if they went by a very liberal definition of both “gingerbread” and “house.”

grove park inn gingerbread

gingerbread grove park inn

grove park gingerbread

I couldn’t believe these chipmunks (and the one to the left on them) didn’t win anything!

gingerbread contest

This was the grand prize winner, a gingerbread chessboard called Pawn Stars.

grove park inn gingerbread winner

Then we went back over to the house again since the weather was better. We walked through the gardens, which I’m sure are a lot more impressive in the spring than in December.

biltmore gardens winter

biltmore gardens

biltmore blue sky sunny

biltmore sunny

Overall we had a great time. The Biltmore Estate is in no way unimpressive, I just went in with impossible expectations. The inside of the house definitely blew me away. A part of me is bummed they didn’t allow photos, but on the other hand it forced me to be present and soak everything in instead of worrying about what angles to capture and how to maneuver around everyone else with their cameras out. I would definitely recommend The Biltmore Estate at Christmastime, or during the spring when all the flowers are blooming. I just hope you get warmer weather than we did — when we went the second week of December it was colder in North Carolina than Kentucky! We were told that was a fluke, of course.

Istanbul was Constantinople, Now it’s Istanbul not Constantinople

7 Sep

A week ago we went to Istanbul, Turkey. I believe Istanbul can be summed up in this one photo I took:

essence of istanbulSomething really old and historical (Column of Constantine on the left, from 330 A.D), a mosque and a stray cat. In reality, the city has a crapload of history, a crapload of mosques (is that sacrilegious to say?) and a crapload of stray dogs and cats, so I’m oversimplifying it a bit.

We did a full-day walking tour of Sultanahmet our first day there, which was full of all of the above. We saw Topkapi Palace, the underground basilica cistern, the Hippodrome, Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, an Ottoman cemetery, the Column of Constantine and the Grand Bazaar. If anyone reading this post found it because they’re actually curious about Istanbul tours and not the usual fat pugs and zebra penises (my top blog search terms), we used Efendi Travel. The tour was reasonably priced considering it included hotel pickup and admission to all the sites and we got to go to the front of the queue most of the time. I would recommend them. They said the group tours usually have 8 to 10 people, but our group only had 3 — including Stephen and me, so it was almost a private tour for the price of a group tour.


The main reason we did the tour was for peace of mind and safety — though friends and random strangers on the Internet assured me Istanbul was perfectly safe, we were a little concerned about the recent protests and the fact that Turkey shares a border with Syria and Iraq (although Istanbul is 800 miles away from that border). I was also a little nervous visiting a predominantly Muslim country for the first time. Did I need to act or dress a certain way to fit in? While I did have to wear a headscarf inside the Blue Mosque (and take off my shoes), I soon realized that while the majority of Istanbul is Muslim, a lot of them seem to be Muslim in the way that people who only go to church on Christmas are Christian — i.e. few were flocking to the mosques five times a day for prayer and most women were not wearing headscarves outside the mosque (and the only ones wearing full burqas were visiting from other countries). The Sultanahmet area is also at least 87% tourists I think. Still, it was interesting to hear the call to prayer resound from the minarets of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia while we were near and to experience a different culture.

Now for the animal pictures! We had another woman in our tour group who often got separated from us because she was photographing some historic building or monument. I often got separated because I was photographing cats or dogs. You can see the main sights of Istanbul on Google, so here are my favorite stray animals of Istanbul pics:

(Click to enlarge)

Stray dogs of Topkapi Palace, assemble!

topkapi palace dogs

dogs of topkapi palaceturkey stray dogs

istanbul stray dogsking of the mountain

istanbul cat

istanbul dog

cat placing order

“Um, I believe I was next to be served.”

istanbul cat hungry

istanbul kitten

Stephen and I played with this kitten instead of learning anything about the Ottoman cemetery we were at.

cute istanbul kitten

Not a stray animal, but look, Panda ice cream!

panda ice cream

That time I embraced my Kentucky heritage and visited Jane’s Saddlebag

14 Apr

Whenever someone (with knowledge of US geography) asks me where I’m from, I usually say “Cincinnati.” (If they have no US geography knowledge, it’s “Chicago,” where I spent most of my young adult life.) It’s mostly because Cincinnati is the nearest metropolis to northern Kentucky, but also because, let’s face it, Kentucky has some stigma attached to it — hillbillies, rednecks, cousin-marrying, barefoot hicks… you get the gist.

Most of the time I shun my old Kentucky home — I’m wasn’t born here, majority of the time I live and have lived elsewhere, and do not care about college basketball whatsoever — but sometimes — sometimes — I choose to embrace it. Like this past Saturday.

We started our Kentucky appreciation day with a walk with Squirt at Big Bone Lick State Park — yes, that is the actual name of the park. According to Wikipedia, “The name of the park comes from the Pleistocene megafauna fossils found there.” Apparently mammoths liked to hang out there because of the natural salt lick. Nowadays there are only bison hanging out there.

big bone bison
Squirt was ready to go!

Squirt hike

Although he promptly crapped out once we reached the bison and had to be carried. The old man is not a good hiker anymore (not that he ever really was).

squirt picked up

Bison! They actually do not do anything or move in the slightest. Maybe because it was starting to get uncomfortably hot for April.

big bone lick bison

chihuahua bison

Squirt was overheating a tad.

old hot chihuahua

He was also tired… or bored.

tired chihuahua

squirt car
After hiking back to the car, we drove further down the road until we officially hit the boonies.

welcome to the boonies
Jane’s Saddlebag.

“What is it?” I asked my mom when she suggested we visit. “Is it a town?”

“You’ll have to see,” she said. “There’s no way to describe it.”

When we pulled into the parking lot I knew exactly what she meant — Jane’s Saddlebag cannot be defined with simple words, or even photos. It’s everything that’s wrong and right with Kentucky.

wyatts general store
Upon exiting our vehicle we were met by a friendly big dog whom Squirt had no interest in, and were greeted by the ::whatever Jane’s Saddlebag is::’s creator? founder? owner?’s grandson, who welcomed us and encouraged us to walk around, try some wine at the Whine Shoppe, visit the petting zoo or check out the replica 1700s flat boat. He told us to let him know if we needed anything or had any questions, but I figured “What is this place?” and “Why?…” were too loaded questions for a sunny Saturday afternoon, so we set off to explore whatever-this-is:

janes saddlebag auto

janes saddlebag buildings

big bone chapel

Squirt did not know what to think. Neither did I.

squirt chapel

text if you want to meet him

national sarcasm society

“Hate is never a family value” — surprisingly progressive for the boonies. Right on, Jane’s Saddlebag!

janes saddlebag barn

I neglected to photograph the petting zoo, restaurant and replica flatboat, but that’s Jane’s Saddlebag. I learned “Saddlebag” refers to an old style of house on the property and is unrelated to thunder thighs. I had no idea such a place existed, yet alone within 20 minutes of my parents’ house. JanesSaddlebag.com calls it “a heritage tourism family destination,” which is probably the best way to describe it. I’ll admit a part of me is a little sad I won’t be in the country for their annual wine festival, as such a place as Jane’s Saddlebag may be best experienced after three glasses of vino.

I’ll just leave this here now:

wanted squirt


wanted squirt zoom


wanted squirt super zoom

A Portrait of the Chihuahua as an Old Man

5 Dec

Sometime circa 1998 my brother and I started pestering my parents for a dog, as all kids tend to do at some point. We watched every dog show and special on Animal Planet and started brainstorming names.

“We are not getting a dog!” my mom said each time we asked. “You know I’m allergic!”

But that didn’t stop us. We laid subtle hints and I even went to the extent of convincing my dad to tell his coworker that I would dog-sit her Chihuahuas. So when a little (OK, big) 1-year-old black Chihuahua named Squirt was dropped off at the local animal hospital in need of a home, the receptionist (the wife of one of my dad’s coworkers) called his other coworker, who said she already had enough Chihuahuas, but she knew just the person — Bob’s daughter loves Chihuahuas!

So in late July 2000 I came home from my gymnastics class to find my mom on the phone with the animal hospital receptionist who was convincing her that a little Allerpet and plenty of baths would subdue her allergies.

“Don’t freak out, but we might be getting a dog!” my brother told me. Of course I freaked out.

Just hours later an SUV pulled into our driveway and out came a giant bag of dog food, a crate smaller than our guinea pig’s cage, and a timid 9.8-pound Chihuahua named Squirt.

“Does he bark? I want to hear him bark!” my brother said.

“Oh, he barks…” said his current owner.

And he hasn’t stopped barking 13 years later.

(Squirt would like me to pause here to clarify that this is not a eulogy, he is not dead yet, nor does he plan on kicking the bucket any time soon.)

He was there for me throughout high school and welcomed me back each time I came home from college, working life in Chicago and now London. Although I’m pretty sure he thinks I live at the airport now since he comes along to pick me up and drop me off. He battled obesity, tipping the scales at 18 pounds in 2007, but eventually swapped caloric dog treats for his new favorite treats — carrots, green beans and radishes. At 14 1/2 years old he’s definitely slowed down, rusted out and is going deaf, but he’s still a tough little squirt.

My Christmas present to myself arrived yesterday, a 35mm prime lens for my DLSR. I could think of no better subject to test it out with than my favorite crotchety old Chihuahua who wanted nothing more than for me to get the big black thing out of his face so he could go sleep in his crate.

old black chihuahua

(It turns out the shallow depth of field blurred background effect I favor is called bokeh, and prime lens capture it well.)

squirt profile

The poor old guy had most of his teeth pulled, so sometimes his tongue won’t stay in his mouth.

chihuahua tongue

chihuahua lick

squirt smile

chihuahua yawn

senior chihuahua

squirt portrait

Eventually he decided he had enough of this portrait session and retreated to his crate.

squirt crate

And since I know you’re curious, here is what 1-year-old Squirt looked like when we got him in 2000. He was so black, shiny and skinny!

baby squirt

(Excuse the photo quality, these are both photos of photos — that’s how old Squirt is, pre-digital age!)

chihuahua puppyI guess even then he had a hard time keeping his tongue in his mouth!

So here’s to you, old gray Chihuahua who used to be black — may you have many more years of radishes in your future and may you get your hearing back, but not so much that you can hear me preparing lunch and continue to bark until I’m done eating.

Return to Regent’s Park Rose Garden

28 Jun

It still amazes me that a place this beautiful is within walking (and jogging) distance from my flat. As promised, I went back last week with my good camera when the roses were in bloom. There were a few bushes that were still budding and I’ve been checking on them each time I run. If we ever get another sunny day I may have to go back to take even more pictures.

I took more than 100 photos, but here is just a selection:

queen marys garden regents


red rose ladybug

orange pink rose

There was a school group there tasked with sketching the flowers. This little boy was goofing around until he spotted a bee and freaked out. I used to be absolutely terrified of bees, but now I realize they won’t bother me if I leave them alone (although I didn’t really because I kept sticking my camera in front of them)

kid rose

polinating bee

This is my favorite photo — my favorite color rose with my favorite shallow depth of field.

queen mary's garden

The ropes surrounding the garden were even covered in roses!

regents park roses

The place was filled with tourists taking photos (yes, if we want to get stereotypical, many of them were Asian)

asian roses

I couldn’t get over the color of these flowers, my camera didn’t do it justice.

blue nile flowers

I walked back by the pond and caught these two in a stand off:

heron standoff