The Grand Masters

I like playing chess. It is a game of intelligence, strategy, and mental stamina. However, because it needs thoughtful moves and concentration, that is if you’re serious on winning, playing it can be time-consuming. Considering that you have a worthy opponent too. Did you know that the longest game on record took 269 moves and it ended in a draw? All those moves for a draw!

The shortest game can be won in 2 moves, but it can only happen if your opponent is so naive. Thus this is aptly known as the “Fool’s Mate.” By the way, the word “Checkmate” in chess comes from the Persian phrase “Shah Mat,” which means “the King is dead.”

I taught my son to play chess when he was still little, and since then he always wanted to challenge me, hoping to outwit the ‘master’ who taught him. Well, he’s not so little anymore now, and he has become a worthy opponent.

Recently we were in a place so idyllic, that we don’t mind spending a lot of time there, even if we were engaged in a serious game of chess.

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Don’t get me wrong, we are far from being world-class level, nor do we have the crazy delusion that we are Grandmasters in chess. Grandmaster is a title that is only awarded by the world chess organization to players who have ascended to the highest level of mastery of the game. There are specific and strict criteria of earning this prestigious title.

Yet since we were playing chess in this particular place, I think we can be called ‘Grand’ Masters. At least for the time we were there.

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(*photos taken at the “Grand” Hotel in Mackinac Island, Michigan)

A Place Somewhere In Time

Nestled between the upper and lower peninsula of Michigan is a place where time stood still. The Mackinac Island, located in Lake Huron, is a popular tourist attraction due to its certain appeal. This place has undergone extensive historical preservation and restoration and is considered a National Historic Landmark.

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I have heard of this place from a partner of mine when we moved to the Midwest more than a decade ago, but it was only recently that we were able to check this place out.

Mackinac Island is only reachable by a ferry from either Mackinac City or St. Ignace. These are fast hydro-jet ferries and only takes less than 20 minutes to get into the island.

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As winter can be brutal in this part of Michigan, most businesses on the island, hotels included, are only open from May to October. Though there are residents that stayed on the island even through the winter.

Visiting Mackinac Island is like walking back in time, as houses and buildings are mostly built from the glorious era of the past, or at least they are made to look that way.

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The island is not only for history fans but also attract nature lovers. There are lots of beautiful sights to enjoy, either cultivated or natural.

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Tourists who visit Mackinac Island are called “fudgies.” I believe the reason for this is that the island has several fudge stores, and all of them offer free samples. So the tourists definitely take advantage of this, us included. But we also brought some home, as we felt obliged to buy after sampling a lot of them.

One of the most unique feature of the island is that there are no cars here. All motorized vehicles are banned on the entire island since 1898. There are only three motorized vehicles in the island: an ambulance, 1 police car, and a fire truck. So to get around, you either walk, bike, or take a taxi. Of course the taxis are horse-drawn carriages.

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When you’re on the island, time is not an essence. People here take their time leisurely. And even if you are in a rush, you cannot hurry the horses. The horses rarely trot, and most of the time they walk. They don’t gallop. If you’re a fast walker, it may be even faster than riding the carriage. As I said, time here stand still.

Horses rule the island. They have only one physician in the whole island, but they have three veterinarians available here. So you know where their priority lies in this place.

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One of the down-side of having many horses walking the streets, is that the roads are littered with their manure.

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The smell is undeniable and sometimes can be overwhelming. But there are many people employed here as a “pooper-scooper.” They even have a mechanized street sweeper or cleaner. Of course it is also horse-drawn (photo below).

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Beside the horse-drawn carriage tour, another faster way than walking, to tour the island is to go biking. And that’s what my family and I did. The whole island is only 8 miles around, though there are some steep hills that may be challenging to ride up.

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One of the most iconic place in the island is the Grand Hotel which opened its doors way back in 1887. As the name implies, it really is grand. It even has its signature horse-drawn carriages available for their patrons.

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This hotel has hosted many presidents, dignitaries, and famous people in its existence. Even if you don’t stay in this hotel (as it is a little pricey) you can still tour it for a minimal fee. It remains one of the most visited place in the island.

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The hotel is also known in the popular culture as this is where the classic movie “Somewhere in Time,” starring Christopher Reeves and Jane Seymour, was filmed. The film is about a time traveler who fell in love with someone in the past. They chose this location for the obvious reason that the hotel have not changed much even in the passing of time.

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Overall, we really enjoyed our trip to Mackinac Island. Even though we are not time travelers, perhaps we can be considered as such, as we felt like we visited the “past.” And we definitely fell in love too from something in the “past.”

From Mackinac Island,

Pinoy Transplant

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(*all photos taken with an iPhone)

No Uber

I have used Uber several times before to get around in places we visited. I have used this ride in cities like Chicago, Boston and New York City.

However in our recent trip to this certain place, there was no Uber. In fact, this was their equivalent of Uber:

It is not only Uber that is banned in this place, but all motorized vehicles for that matter. It is like being stuck in the 19th century.

I guess we just have to use our legs to get around.

(*photos taken in Mackinac Island, Michigan)

Sun Dogs

The photo below was not taken in some galaxy far, far away, where there’s 3 visible suns in the horizon. This photo was taken by our friend, right here on planet Earth, somewhere in wintry Iowa.

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The phenomenon seen on the photo is called sun dogs. No, I’m not talking about those 2 dogs playing in the snow. What I am referring to is those “mirage” sun images on the right and left side of the “real” sun. These glowing spots which are part of a halo around the sun, are created by the sunlight refracting off the hexagonal plate-like ice crystals in the cirrus clouds. The meteorological term for sun dog is parhelion (plural parhelia).

Explaining why sun dogs occur is probably easier, than knowing why it was named so. One explanation is that dog in English can be used as a verb meaning to follow or track. Since the mirage image follows the sun, thus the term. Another possibility according to one expert, is that the term may be from Norse mythology where archaic names from Scandinavian languages, like Danish: solhunde (sun dog), or Norwegian: solhund (sun dog), or Swedish: solvarg (sun wolf), pertains to the star constellation of two wolves hunting the sun and the moon.

I think calling those 2 dogs in the photo above, sun dogs, as they were enjoying the sunlight in this cold day, is perhaps much easier to understand.

(*photo courtesy of my friend)

 

 

Bethlehem Hills and Herod’s Mountain: A Christmas Reflection

It is mid-December, and in a few days it will be Christmas. It’s a season for celebration, yet it is well-known that the holiday season can be a cause of stress and depression for some people. Perhaps we should let go of that long Christmas shopping list of ours.

Even if the whole world celebrate Christmas in December, it is likely that Jesus was not born in the winter. Based on Biblical narrative, shepherds were watching their flocks in the fields at night during that time, and December nights in Judaea can be too cold for the shepherds to sleep outside in the fields.

Many scholars believe that it was probably spring time when Jesus was born, so December 25th is unlikely to be the exact date of Jesus’ birth. What I am saying is that the date may be off, yet I am not saying that we should not remember or celebrate Jesus’ birth. That’s another subject of discussion and debate.

Earlier this year, we were blessed with a visit to the Holy Land, including a trip to the city of Bethlehem.

IMG_4282.jpgBethlehem is about 10 kilometers away from Jerusalem. Today it is a Palestinian territory. So our guide who was an Israeli national and who was touring us in Jerusalem, boarded off our charted bus just before we entered Bethlehem, and another tour guide whom I assumed was a Palestinian, hopped in our bus after we entered the city and cleared the checkpoint. They must have some specific rules and arrangement.

We went to visit the Church of Nativity, the site believed where Jesus was born. This Byzantine basilica was built on top of a cave. So at the cellar of this church was a grotto (photo below), marked as the traditional site of Jesus’ birth.

img_4306Though the exact location is hard to prove accurately with archeological support, for me, it is enough that the city of Bethlehem exists to believe that Jesus was born. It does not matter where the exact spot is, as long as it was recorded that it was in Bethlehem, the city of David.

“For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord”(Luke 2:11). What a reassuring thought, that our Lord and Savior came to this earth, and that should not be a cause of stress and depression, but instead of joy and hope.

While on the bus, I observed that the terrain around Bethlehem was hilly. In fact, Bethlehem sits on top of a hill rising about 3,500 feet above the desert valley. It must have been difficult for Mary who was fully pregnant and about to give birth to climb those hills.

IMG_4290We passed through some hills that were full of houses and buildings today (photo above). It was probably in one of those hills, two thousand years ago, where shepherds were watching their sheep when suddenly they saw a bright light and then the angels appeared to them announcing the birth of the Messiah. It must have been a marvelous experience to be on those hills that glorious night.

The tour guide asked us to look beyond Bethlehem hills and direct our sight to a strange-looking mountain in the distance. It was truncated and cone-shaped. I enlarged the section of the photo above to feature the mountain. (Sorry I was not able to get a better picture.)

IMG_4290It was a strange-looking mountain because it was man-made. The mountain was named Herodium, a fortress that Herod the Great constructed, about 5 kilometers southeast of Bethlehem. This was the same King Herod that tried to kill Jesus by slaughtering all the male infants in the region.

As history recorded it, when Herod the Great, was searching for a place to build his home and fortress, there was not a mountain high enough for him to build this structure. Instead there were two hills near each other at the site where he wanted it.

So what did Herod do? He cut down one hill and with an army of laborers he placed the pared hill on top of the other hill to make it higher, one bucket of dirt and rocks at a time. He literally moved a mountain.

When Jesus and his disciples were having discussion about faith, they were probably looking at this Herod’s mountain, which was hard to miss in the Judaean desert. Its dominating presence was a constant reminder of an oppressive regime. It was a common knowledge of that time how Herod moved a mountain.

However, what Jesus was telling his disciples is that faith, is much more powerful than what Herod can do. With faith they can be mightier than the mightiest ruler of their time.

“Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20)

Yes, we can move mountains. Though not by our own power but by the mighty power of God.

What mountains are we facing? What giant challenges are gripping our hearts with fear? Let’s put our faith in the King of Bethlehem hills, and He will move our mountains.

May we all have a meaningful Christmas.

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

The Hills are Alive With the Sound of…

Cows.

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Here’s the story behind the above photo:

During our last trip to New York City, we planned a side trip to upstate New York to see the autumn foliage. However we were disappointed as the color of the leaves were not that colorful or have not peaked yet. It’s delayed this year for some reason.  So out of a whim, from the suggestion of our friend from New York, we drove to Vermont to see a “better” fall foliage.

And we were not disappointed. Vermont’s fall foliage was much colorful!

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With hasty plans we headed to Stowe, Vermont which was 6 hours drive from New York City. Well, 1 hour was just trying to get out of the city’s traffic. We found a place in the mountains called the Trapp Family Lodge. If you are familiar with the Von Trapp family, from which the movie “The Sound of Music” was based on, this is their property.

IMG_5999.jpgAfter the Von Trapp family left Austria, they settled in Stowe, Vermont in the 1940’s. They built a home on an enchanted farm surrounded with beautiful mountains reminiscent of their beloved Austria. Later on they opened a lodge for visitors for some Austrian-inspired hospitality.

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IMG_5979This is a place where the hills are alive with the sound of music. And cows.

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By the way, those cows are owned by the Von Trapp family. I wonder if there’s a cow named Moo-ria.

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(*photos taken with an iPhone)

 

 

In New York State of Mind

If you have been reading my blogs, you probably already know that I once lived in New York City. I left New York seventeen years ago, though I came back once for a visit, and that’s seven years ago too.

But now it’s time to visit New York once more.

When you hear New York, you picture in your mind the big crowded city. But in reality, a large part of New York State is mountains and forested areas. And that’s where we started our visit.

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Yes, the above photo is New York.

We did some not-so-serious hikes up the mountains, and the view there was breath-taking. Breath-taking, not just because we were panting after the climb.

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It’s not all work though, for we did some relaxing as well. Lots of relaxing. Especially beside a lake. We even went for a calm boat ride.

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Beautiful mountains, trees, a lake, and some quiet time. What could be better than that?

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Well, this: to enjoy it with the love of my life.

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While in upstate New York, we also visited the Culinary Institute of America. Besides touring the place, we also ate a sumptuous meal there (see previous post).

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Another place we went to is the Walkway Over the Hudson, in Poughkeepsie, New York. This is the longest elevated pedestrian bridge in the world, spanning 1.28 miles over the Hudson River. It is actually an old railroad bridge that they converted into a pedestrian bridge.

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After spending a couple of days in upstate New York, it was time to visit the city.

We decided to stay not actually in New York City, but across the Hudson River, in New Jersey. So we can sleep with a view like this (photo below). And going into the heart of New York City is just one ferry ride away.

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Though we stayed a few days in the city, I’ll just chronicle here a one-day trek that we did through the city.

We started at the new improved Chelsea Market. It is an enclosed food hall, shopping mall and offices all rolled in one. It was built at the old Nabisco factory complex, where Oreo was invented and produced. They transformed the factory, but kept many of its original structures.

IMG_5733IMG_5734IMG_5737IMG_5736There were places that we visited that were not existent yet when we were still living in New York. Like the High Line Park, a long elevated linear park at the West Side of New York City, which opened in 2009. This is again an old elevated rail road track that was repurposed into a park and walkway.

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Walking this park gives you a unique perspective of the city, as well as get interesting stories as you peered through buildings, neighborhood and people’s backyards.

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And yes, we walked the whole 1.45 mile span of the High Line Park.

The photo below shows typical New York. That means construction never stops in this city.

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Besides walking inside the city, we also rode the ferry to get a different “feel” of New York City. That is, to view it without the noise, the hustle and the bustle.

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United Nations Headquarters (white building)

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The Empire State building from afar

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Midtown Manhattan

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Brooklyn Bridge and Lower Manhattan

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Statue of Liberty from a distance

We got off at the Brooklyn port from the ferry, and then we crossed the Brooklyn Bridge by foot back to Manhattan.

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the city view from Brooklyn Bridge

As you can surmise from my account, we did a lot of walking that day. In fact, according to my phone app, we walked 7 miles or more than 18,000 steps that day.

After all that walking, I got hungry so I got something to eat. Iconic New York City’s street food, of course!

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We ended our tour at the One World Trade Center, which has become the emblem of New York City’s tenacity and resolve. Photos below show the One World Trade Center and the Oculus NYC.

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Finally I stopped at the 9/11 Memorial and spent some quiet moments besides the reflecting pool. I uttered a prayer and paid respect to the thousands of lives our nation lost there.

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After visiting the 9/11 Memorial, we decided to call it a day.

On our way home, we rode the subway. Though for some reason, it was not crowded at all. Is this is the World Trade Center’s ghost subway train? Nah!

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From New York,

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Pinoy Transplant

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(*Photo credit: Pinoy Transplant and his unofficial photographers)

Pinoy Transplant Visits the CIA

Yes, you read the title right. Take note of the “CIA” sign at the door, on the photo below.

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But it is not Central Intelligence of America. It is rather the Culinary Institute of America.

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CIA is a premier culinary school, and boast to be the best in the world. An institution specializing in culinary, baking and pastry arts. It’s main campus is located in Hyde Park in New York, which is the one we visited.

The school campus is nestled in a beautiful location near the Hudson River, with surrounding views that is conducive for learning and artistic inspiration.

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Touring the CIA campus is a gratifying experience in itself as you see the beautiful and clean premises and also take a glimpse of the students honing their crafts.

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Just watch out for crossing chefs.

But dining and tasting their food creation is another whole experience of its own. And that’s what we did.

The CIA New York Campus operates four public restaurants. If you don’t mind to be a “guinea pig” of these budding chefs, because in a sense their creation is part of their training and test, and your satisfaction could be a part of their grade. But I’m pretty sure these students are under the watchful eye of certified master chefs.

We dined at Bocuse Restaurant, which serves traditional French Restaurant. If there’s a restaurant there that serves traditional Filipino food, that’s where I’ll go, but there’s none.

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I was not disappointed. From the ambience, the service, the presentation and the food were all excellent. The food I ate there, is one of the best food I ever tasted. I have been to fancy restaurants before, but the appetizer, entrée and desert I had in CIA was a league of its own. An absolute gastronomic delight!

Whoever prepared my food, he or she definitely passed with flying colors, in my humble opinion.

By the way, their wine list is exhaustive as well. But since I dont’ drink wine or any alcoholic drink for that matter, for personal and health reasons, so I did not have any.

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One unique policy they have in their restaurants is that they don’t accept monetary tips from customers, as part of their student’s education is to provide outstanding service even without tips. To this I tip my hat.

From the CIA campus,

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Pinoy Transplant

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(*I did not receive any commission for the above post. However if CIA would like to give me a free dinner next time I visit, I will definitely accept it.)

(**Photos taken with an iPhone)