Exploring North Shore

We’re supposed to attend a wedding in Canada this summer. Besides seeing relatives and friends we’ve planned to explore some places there as well. But COVID-19 changed our plans. US residents are not allowed to cross the border. Well, the wedding still happened, albeit without us in attendance.

Though I did not cancel my vacation altogether, for I needed to get away. The stress of this pandemic to us, healthcare workers, is wearing me down. I needed a break.

So my family and I drove up North.

View from our lodge

Since Canada is still close to visitors, we stayed within the US border for our vacation. Yet we ventured really close to the northern border. We explored Minnesota’s North Shore Scenic Drive, which is Lake Superior’s rugged westside coastline through Highway 61.

Highway 61 stretches from Duluth, Minnesota up to the Canadian border. Photo below is the aerial lift bridge at the Canal Park in Duluth.

We passed some lighthouses along the scenic drive and went down to check them out. Lighthouses nowadays don’t serve the same importance as it used to, as ships and boats usually navigate now with the GPS instead of just relying on visual cues. Yet lighthouses are still of iconic beauty.

Since we don’t have a tight schedule we had time to stop at a beach on a whim and just enjoy the scenery. Or also skip some rocks.

Skipping rocks requires both skill and knowledge of basic physics. Having the right spin, speed, shape and angle is needed in order for the stone to “skip” on top of the water. It may seem impossible at first to have a stone jump on water, but it can be done. Maybe life is like skipping rocks. We need to have the right elements in order for us to have our heads stay above water.

Here’s my son skipping rocks: (How many skips did you count? It was about 10.)

Although we were near the water, we spent much of our time in the mountains. The mountain resort where we stayed is a known ski destination but it has a different appeal during the summer months.

We rode the gondola up to the mountain peak. The view on the top was something to die for.

Then we rode down the mountain via the Alpine slide. This was half a mile of exhilarating ride.

This was a first-time experience for us. You can control your speed with a brake as you slide down the track. You can go slow (if you’re cautious) and enjoy the view, or go really fast and everything is a blur. My wife was so slow that it spoiled the fun of the kid behind her on the slide. I overheard the dad asking the boy if he had fun after the ride and he vehemently said no. Poor kid.

We like it so much that we did a second run. I thought of offering that poor kid a free ride but I couldn’t find them anymore. My wife did much faster on her second run. Maybe we should try bobsledding for our next adventure.

We also did some not-so-serious 2-mile hike up the mountain. Most of our activities were staying away from crowds as we practiced social distancing. We chased water falls while we also chased our breaths.

We followed up the river where it has less turbulent rapids and rested there. We ate our pack lunch while watching the river flow.

The morning we did the hike I received a phone call from our office informing me that one of my partners died. It was sudden and unexpected. Our life is in such a precarious balance that it could topple any moment. We should always be thankful for every precious time we have. (I’ll write a tribute for him later.)

We drove further up towards the Canadian border which was a little more than an hour drive from where we were staying. Again stopping along the way to enjoy the road-side view.

There was a last rest stop just before the border. Since it was in a state park, there were hiking trails in that area. So we hiked again.

We followed the trail that leads to the Canadian border, where at the end of that specific trail, we found this marker stating, “International Boundary Commission.”

We can’t get any further so we headed back. While we were hiking to this international boundary marker, we were interrogated not by Customs agents but by insects. And all we took back as souvenirs from the border were bug bites from friendly Canadian insects. At least they were duty-free.

From the North Shore,

Pinoytransplant (with my signature jump shot).

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

A Room with a View

Our planned trip to Canada this summer went kaput. Because of this COVID-19 pandemic, the northern border is still not open for tourists. Instead of giving back the vacation days that I already took, we scrambled to look for an alternate local getaway.

As we were booking for a hotel or a lodge, we were looking to have a room with a view. I for one is really particular of having a view. Even if I spend the whole day doing nothing, as long as I enjoy looking outside the window, that’s more than enough for me. Thus on many of our trips we hunt for a room with a view. And if we checked in to the hotel and we’re given a room that was different than what we imagined, we would request to be moved and not settle until we get the room that we wanted.

Who wouldn’t like a room with a view?

I don’t know if this can be applied when being hospitalized. First of all you cannot really pick your hospital room. Second, most hospitals don’t have a view. And lastly, if you do have a beautiful hospital window view then you may not want to leave at all, which is counterproductive.

I am not saying that hospitals should not have a good view if they can provide it. After all I believe a serene setting or view could be in itself therapeutic to patients. In our hospital we have a central garden with pretty flowers and some rooms overlook this garden. While a few of the rooms have a view of our city’s skyline. While many rooms in our hospital have brick walls for their view.

Recently, one patient of ours told me that he was surely glad that he was referred to our hospital. He was transferred from a small regional hospital to our tertiary medical center for further management of worsening respiratory status from COVID-19. He told me that besides the advance medical care we can provide in our facility, the view from his window at the regional hospital where he came from was not “reassuring.” In fact he said it was downright depressing.

A couple of years back, we started going to that regional hospital once a month, which is an hour and 45 minutes drive from our main office, as part of our outreach clinic, so I fully understand the comments of that patient. Across the street of the regional hospital is a very “serene” park, though it is probably not what you want to see when you are sick. The said hospital, believe it or not, is overlooking the town’s cemetery. That could be depressing. Though it could be an incentive to get better too, or else you end up across the street.

I remember a story* I read years ago about two hospitalized men who were sharing a hospital room. Both of them were suffering from serious illnesses. One patient was by the window and the other one was across the room. The one far from the window was unable to get out of bed, so everyday he would ask his room mate what he sees in the window. Every time the patient who was lying by the window would tell the other one the beautiful view outside. Like how the sun was shining in the sky, or the children playing at the park, or the pretty flowers blooming in the garden, or the ducks swimming at the pond. This lifted the spirit of the other patient and gave him encouragement to get well so he could go outside and see for himself the beautiful view.

Then one day the patient who was by the window died. The one across the room felt very sad for his room mate, yet he felt good at the prospect that he could transfer to the bed by the window.

When he finally got transferred to the bed by the window, he was terribly disappointed. Why? The window of their hospital room was facing a brick wall. No view of a park, nor of a beautiful garden, nor a pond.

He realized that his former room mate made it all up to inspire him and to keep his hopes alive. That hope that sustained him through his illness and pain.

The next day, there came a new patient who was laid in the bed far from the window. This new room mate ask him what he sees outside their window. To this he replied, “Oh, there were children merrily picking flowers……”

**********

(*Original short story is by Harry Buschman, “The Man by the Window.” I added the last twist.)

A Train Ride to the Alps

I know many parts of the world still have travel restrictions currently and some areas are just coming out of lockdown from this COVID-19 pandemic. We don’t know if world travel would ever be the same again, however I just wanted to feature a long overdue post about a trip that we made some time ago. In fact, we made this trip exactly a year past already, in May of 2019.

We rode the Bernina Express. This is touted as one of the most scenic train rides in the world and it runs on the highest railway accross the Alps. We boarded the train at Tirano, Italy and traveled to St. Moritz, Switzerland.

By the way, in this time of pandemic and limited travel, I saw that there are virtual train rides around the world that you can experience (see this link) right now. Bernina Express is one of them.

Tirano, Italy

The Bernina Express travels through the UNESCO World Heritage site via the Rhaetian Railway. When we say World Heritage Site, it is a landmark or area, that is selected by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for having cultural, historical, scientific or other form of significance, and that it is legally protected by international treaties.

And off we go….

The train has comfortable seats and is roomy inside. The glass windows are huge and are up to the ceiling, offering uninterrupted views of the breath-taking landscapes.

We passed through bridges and tunnels, mountains and valleys, towns and even lakes. No underwater tunnel though.

Photo below is the Lago di Poschiavo, a natural lake in the Poschiavo valley near Miralago, Switzerland.

The landscape gradually changed as we went higher and higher in altitude. Not too long from then we were coursing through the Alps. We were on top of the world!

After a little more than 2 hours, we finally arrived at St. Moritz, Switzerland where we boarded off the train. We spent only a shortwhile there, perhaps only to take some photos, and then we headed back to Italy.

This is an instance that the journey is as good, maybe even better, than the destination. A wonderful ride indeed.

St. Moritz, Switzerland

Here’s a short video clip of the train ride as we were navigating through the snow and glaziers that it was like the Polar Express:

From the top of the Swiss Alps,

Pinoy Transplant

**********

(*photos and video taken with an iPhone)

Tulip Time

Every month of May there is a place in Iowa that turns into a tulip town. And even though there’s still a scare of the pandemic, we went to visit the place. Of course we practiced precautionary measures and social distancing while we were out.

As their landmark says, it is “Tulip Time.” There is supposed to be a parade also during this festival that showcase the town’s Dutch heritage, however due to COVID-19, it was cancelled for this year. But we can still admire the tulips.

Also popular in this town is the famed Dutch bakery where the baked goods are as colorful as the tulips. The most sought after item though is the Dutch Letter, an S-shaped pastry that taste so delicious. S stands for Sinterklass, the Dutch Santa Claus.

Dutch Letters

Here are some more photos that does not necessarily feature tulips, nonetheless, they caught my fancy.

From Pella, Iowa,

Pinoytransplant.

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

Chicago (Bull)Horns

We have been to Chicago several times before, perhaps ten times or more, yet we were there again last Valentine’s weekend. It’s not that Chicago is a particularly romantic place, but we were there for a different reason.

The 2020 NBA All-Star weekend was in Chicago during that time, but we were not there for that reason as well. Though I wish I could have watched the NBA All-Star games. (This post has nothing to do with the NBA team Chicago Bulls.)

We went to Chicago to see a concert. Whose concert? It’s a group that our daughter introduced us to, and she’s a big fan of them. She is a music major and a classical pianist if you have not known that already, and I would say that she has a good taste for music. But we did not watch an opera, for I don’t think I could really appreciate that kind of music genre. The concert that we watched was of a group of three young tenors that are classic-pop crossover who fondly call their music “popera.”

The concert we watched

Many of the songs they sang were in Italian, like “O Sole Mio” and “Grande Amore,” though they have some cover of old polular songs like Frank Senatra’s “My Way” and Barbara Streisand’s “People.” I told my daughter that at least I could understand 1 out of 2 songs that they sang.

We also have relatives from the Philippines that are visiting us here in Iowa so we brought them along for the drive to see Chicago. Even though it was too cold to roam around yet we were still able to show them some of the famous spots of the city. Is the Jollibee restaurant a part of that famous location for a Filipino tour? Of course!

We also took our guests up the viewing deck at the 103rd floor of Willis Tower (previously known as Sears Tower). It took us almost 3 hours to get to the top, not that we have to climb the stairs, for that would be much faster. It was the line of people waiting to go up that was really long. Definitely a painfully long time to wait for an elevator ride.

View from the skydeck of Willis Tower

We booked rooms in a hotel in downtown Chicago at the heart of the city’s bustling traffic. Nearby our hotel was a fire station. So you could imagine the street noise that we could hear even if we were already on the 12th floor of the building. Sure enough it was hard to sleep at night due to the sounds of wailing sirens and cars honking. No wonder they provided ear plugs as part of their amenities.

I am not used to hearing car horns already let alone hearing them almost continuously through the night. I thought the beeping would only last during rush hours, but no it did not stop. People were honking their car horns even at the unholy time of 3 o’clock in the morning. Unless they consider that rush hour still, or perhaps these people were drunk or just plain rude. Well, it’s Chicago’s bullhorns!

Don’t get me wrong, I like the city of Chicago and I have been exposed to noisy environment in my life as I grew up in Manila and I also lived for a few years in New York City. But I have been in Iowa now for 16 years and have adapted to peaceful rural living.

But we’re back in Iowa now. I’m back to the quiet nights where the only noise I could hear when it gets dark is the rare hooting of the illusive owl and the deafening sounds of my thoughts.

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

Wild Goose Run

January and February are usually the coldest months here in Iowa. It is too cold to run outside, at least for most people. The last time I went out to run was back in December, and it was actually Christmas Day as we had a spring time weather that time.

But today is different. By the way, it is 02 02 2020, how neat is that? Even though it is February, our temperature is above freezing (40º F), which is unusual for this time of year for us.

So I decided to go out for a run.

It is a sunny day and our big pile of snow is starting to melt. It may take several days of “warm” days like this to melt them all down though.

Then I met some flocks of wild geese. They usually fly south for the winter, but I am seeing more and more of them staying here in our place even for the winter months.

These geese are equipt for the cold anyway, as they have down feathers which we even use to insulate our jackets. In fact goose down jackets are one of the warmest jackets you can get and has the advantage of being lightweight. But I know they can be expensive.

Here’s more geese coming for a landing.

There is more cold weather forecasted for this coming week, and we will be back to subfreezing temperature, and more snow as well. But for a day, I enjoyed going outside with the wild geese.

A wild goose chase? Maybe.

my shadow selfie with the geese

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

Tracing Vicki Belo’s Wedding Trail

We Filipinos are fond of fairy tales. The wedding of celebrity doctors Vicki Belo and Hayden Kho in 2017 was nothing short of a fairy tale. At least in the place and setting where it happened.

(above photo taken from the web)

I was waiting for my invitation to that great event but I think the mailman misplaced it. On second thought, maybe I was not really invited.

So I did the next best thing, I visited the place where the wedding reception was held. It was in the Opera House in Paris, or also known as Palais Garnier.

This 19th century architectual masterpiece was built by Charles Garnier and opened in 1875. Today, it is home to Paris Ballet, and besides being a venue for great art performances, it is also open for visitors to tour. Well, I guess it can be rented for a wedding reception too.

It was almost closing time when we got to the Opera House, and so we did not have much time to roam, but just enough to get a feel of this grandiose place.

Here’s the majestic staircase where Belo and Hayden did their magical wedding dance.

Of course I had to climb up those steps as if I’m in a fairy tale story too. My wife and I did not dance though on those stairs for we might stumble and fall, and end up in a tragic tale instead.

Here’s the grand foyer (photo below) where the wedding banquet and tables were set up. The newly wed couple and their guests dined under these intricate painted ceilings and opulent lights.

As I said, this is an Opera House, so here’s the auditorium that can sit 2000 people and where the real magical performances are happening.

Below is an interesting Christmas tree made up of ballet shoes which was displayed during our visit. I have no idea what the golden tractor tires are for.

There is also a mystery surrounding the construction of this palatial edifice that facts and fictions are blurred. The famous tale of the “Phantom of the Opera,” a classic novel by a Frenchman, Gaston Leroux, a story that was retold in so many ways was inspired from the history of Palais Garnier.

We roamed around the halls perhaps looking for traces of Belo or perhaps searching for the phantom, until a lady with a bell called everyone still inside the opera house announcing that it was time to close. We were among the last ones who exited the place that night.

The Phantom?

I know this place was already enchanting even before Belo rented this place. Maybe someday I’ll have my birthday bash or a wedding anniversary here. Alright, I’ll dream on.

From Belo’s wedding reception place, albeit two years too late,

Pinoytransplant.

(*photos taken with an iPhone at Palais Garnier, Paris)

10 Years of Blogging: Making A Landmark

Over the history of mankind, people have built structures that have become landmarks. They are a testament of the people who constructed them. Here’s a few that I have visited.

There are landmarks that are enduring and have lasted the passing of time.

Petra, Jordan

There are landmarks that are flawed, but that only make them more endearing.

Pisa, Italy

There are landmarks that symbolizes what a nation and its people stands for.

Washington DC

And then there are landmarks that are very popular and have become cultural icons.

Paris, France

I am not saying that I have created a monument of such significance as of the structures above, for that will be delusional. However I am proud to say that this blog is now 10 years old which I consider an achievement, for that is way more than the average life span of a blog site. My writing has flaws and is far from perfect, but I am still a work in progress.

This blog represents my personal ideas and nobody else. Moreover, I stayed true to my original purpose to keep this blog for the mere joy of writing – no ads, no commercials. If you should know, I still haven’t made a single cent from blogging.

I have posted more than 900 posts and this site has garnered more than half a million views. I know that is really not considered a very popular or a viral site that can have million of views a day. Yet I hope that like a landmark, I am leaving an impression in this blogging world in my own little way. I owe this though to you my dear readers.

And as long as I am enjoying this journey, I will keep on blogging. Thank you for your continued visit.

Rendezvous With A Famed Lady

I’ve got to see her.

She probably has the most recognizable face. I am not her secret lover nor am I looking for an affair. I’m not even a devoted fan, but I just got to meet her to discover for myself what is this madness about her.

It was a cold and cloudy morning with intermittent drizzle, but that did not deter me from meeting her on our appointed date. The subway transit, known as the Metro was not running due to the labor force strike, but that did not stop me either. I could walk, or I could use Uber.

So I went to the palace where she resides. They even have these aesthetic glass pyramids in the inner court (photo above).

When I entered her royal residence, I passed through some naked guard statues. I thought to myself, if our medical mission is here, some of these guards could avail of our “operation tuli.” But I get it, circumcision was not in vogue in that era.

Some of the sculptures were really huge.

And so were the paintings.

The palace was enormous with more than 60,600 square meters to roam around. You could get lost here. I climbed up some majestic stairways and passed through several long hallways in search of my lady.

Finally, I entered the room where she was (photo above). For some reason, there was not much crowd around her that day. I think I was fortunate, I don’t have to navigate through a long line. Or perhaps I was favored, and she set aside a time for me to meet her.

In the end, I was face to face with her, my lady, Mona Lisa.

I was a little disappointed though. Maybe I was expecting more. Maybe I was thinking that it was something more grand, and not a tiny 30 x 21 inches affair. Or maybe I was just hoping that she would break into a full smile when I meet her. Maybe.

Now I cannot forget her enigmatic smile. And just like the sentiments in the song “Mona Lisa” by Nat King Cole, I felt the same:

Do you smile to tempt a lover, Mona Lisa?
Or is this your way to hide a broken heart?
Many dreams have been brought to your doorstep.
They just lie there and they die there.

Are you warm, are you real, Mona Lisa?
Or just a cold and lonely lovely work of art?

(*My wife took these pictures, and this rendezvous had no intention of being disloyal to my real lady. Photos taken at Louvre Museum)