Wednesday, 31 January 2018

January in a nutshell

Greetings! It's month end which means it's time for me to review my January. I started out writing a sentence a day for the month. However, since several of my activities were daily events, my sentences seemed repetitive. So I decided to write my highlights in five buckets (Fitness, Entertainment, Arts, Social, and Travel) instead of one sentence a day for thirty one days.

I'm linking up with several fabulous bloggers who are documenting their month. Please be sure to visit their blogs as shown at the bottom of this post for more inspiration.

January in a nutshell:

  • Jan. 1 to 31: My walks along the waterfront plus an hour of exercises daily have been good for my mind, body, and sleep at night. In January, I did fourteen workout sessions in the gym, eleven yoga sessions, two swimming sessions, and four 5K runs. The lake view is always mesmerizing to me, even in the winter.
  • Jan. 4: Despicable Me 3 was entertaining!
  • Jan. 10: Jana Luksts' piano recital was contemporary and very good.
  • Jan. 11: Dunkirk was so intense, would it win an Oscar?
  • Jan. 25: Steve Carrell and Emma Stone acted well in Battle of the Sexes.
Jana Luksts
  • Jan. 10: I like the new purplish pink #TOwaterfront sign made of driftwood by driftwood artists Shore Land Arts. It's over 7-feet high and over 50-feet long.
  • Jan. 24: I felt hopeful after viewing the Winner and Honourable Mention photos from the Imagine Toronto in 2050 photo contest on display at City Hall. 
  • Jan. 28: I enjoyed the work by so many talented artists at the Winter art exhibitions at Harbourfront Centre.
  • Jan. 1 to 31: I'm improving my Spanish by taking online lessons fifteen minutes every day. 
  • Jan. 10: The new and exciting Wellness Wednesday blog link-up started!
  • Jan. 13: I was proud of myself for hand writing two letters to my friends abroad.
  • Jan. 15, 17, 22: It was fun chatting with my friends over coffee and lunch.
  • Jan. 20: I remembered to wish a dear friend a happy birthday.
  • Jan. 19 to 21: We had lots of laughs while visiting our friends in Ottawa.
    • Jan. 12: I booked my flights and accommodation for my trip to Chile in March.
    • Jan. 19 to 21: Our trip to Ottawa went smoothly, both by train to get there and by plane to return home.
    • Jan. 27: We'll be out of town again next weekend!
    VIA train to Ottawa

    Overall, January was a great month for me. I look forward to enjoying more fun events in February and sharing them here on my blog.

    Your turn...How was January for you?

    Sunday, 28 January 2018

    2 days in enchanting Prague

    Greetings! This post is the fourth of four posts inspired by my trip to Central Europe last November. My sister and I visited Budapest, Vienna, Bratislava, and Prague. I wrote about our stay in Budapest here, in Vienna here, and our walking tour in Bratislava here. I hope you enjoy my highlights of our stay in Prague and the selected pictures below.

    DAY 6, Thursday November 16 - Arrive in Prague
    After an excellent breakfast this morning, we departed Austria for the Czech Republic, also known as Czechia. The journey took about 3.5 hours, without border control between the two countries. We had a lunch break at the Melikana restaurant then continued our journey, made our way through Southern Bohemia, and on to the Czech capital city, Prague, nicknamed "the City of a Hundred Spires", also known as Praha to the locals.

    We checked in our comfortable hotel room, then regrouped to hop on the tram for a short ride to the Municipal House, Prague's most lavish Art Nouveau building that is now a concert venue.

    Municipal House, Prague

    Michael, our tour manager, gave us a quick orientation then we were off to explore on our own. We walked past the Powder Tower to reach the Old Town. Prague Old Town, is architecturally beautiful with about 900 years of history. The Old Town centre is pedestrian-only. No matter where we looked, there was a row of beautiful buildings looking back at us. We happily spent hours exploring the Old Town and visited Charles Bridge. The bridge itself is a gift to Prague from the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV.

    Prague is built on seven hills, which slope gently down to the Vltava (Moldau) river. The riverside location, enhanced by a series of graceful bridges, makes a great setting for Prague's fairy-tale architecture. It looked and felt romantic day or night.

    Prague river view

    Prague at night

    We took the tram back to our hotel, and from there walked to a local restaurant for dinner. Prague's beauty has exceeded my expectations. It is a gorgeous city with stunning Gothic and Renaissance architecture. I looked forward to our city tour the next day.

    DAY 7, Friday November 17 - Prague City Tour
    Our morning sightseeing tour of Prague includes a visit to the Royal Castle District at Hradcany, former residence of the Bohemian kings.

    Guards at Prague's Royal Castle

    Panoramic view of Prague & Charles Bridge

    We enjoyed the panoramic views of the city and Charles Bridge below as well as a visit to St. Vitus Cathedral, the largest and most important church in the Czech Republic.

    St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague
    Prague Castle
    Following our visit, we walked to the Jewish quarter and viewed more magnificent buildings. We returned to the Clock Tower at the Old Town Hall in time to see the skeleton figure of Death tolls the bell and the clock's 15th-century mechanism activates a procession that includes the 12 Apostles.

    High Synagogue, Prague

    Clock Tower, Prague

    In the evening, we joined our group for the farewell dinner with live music at a Czech restaurant. The restaurant owner invited us to sample Becherovka, a traditional and herbal bitters that is produced in Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic.

    DAY 8, Saturday November 18 - Depart the Czech Republic
    We had breakfast and said goodbye to our tour manager and fellow travellers. Our driver came on time to transfer us to the airport for our departure flight. Check in was smooth. We had a flight connection at London Heathrow, and arrived in Toronto several hours later.

    Prague (Praha) airport

    This concluded our fantastic visit to Central Europe and a memorable trip for me and my sister. I'd highly recommend Prague to all travellers. It's now one of my favourite European cities.

    Wednesday, 24 January 2018

    Top 10 sights in charming Bratislava

    Greetings! This post is the third of four posts inspired by my trip to Central Europe last November. My sister and I visited Budapest, Vienna, Bratislava, and Prague. I wrote about our stay in Budapest here, and in Vienna here.

    While in Vienna, we booked a day excursion to Bratislava, the capital city of Slovakia, and one of Europe's newest capitals. I was curious to visit Slovakia, which was part of Czechoslovakia, until January 1, 1993, when the self-determined split occurred and Czechoslovakia became two countries: Czech Republic (or Czechia) and Slovakia.

    From Vienna, it takes about an hour by car to reach Bratislava. The historic Old Town of Bratislava can be covered on foot in a couple of hours. Below is my Top 10 sights in charming Old Town Bratislava. Click to enlarge the pictures.

    1. Bratislava Castle, the landmark overlooking the capital, was built in the 9th century. It stands on a hill above the Danube river. Its silhouette is created by four wings, each with a corner tower. The castle has undergone several redesigns in its history.

    Bratislava Castle

    2. St. Martin's Cathedral, the largest and one of the oldest churches in Bratislava, situated below Bratislava Castle. The Gothic cathedral, begun in 1204, and reconsecrated in 1445, was restored in 1861-80. The tower is surmounted by a pyramid bearing a gilded Hungarian royal crown. The cathedral is famous mostly as the coronation place of the Kingdom of Hungary between 1563 and 1830. It held nineteen coronations (eleven kings and eight queens), and Queen Maria Theresa was one of the crowned people.

    St. Martin's Cathedral, Bratislava

    3. Michael's Gate and Tower: Michael's Gate is the only city gate that has been preserved of the medieval fortifications and the last standing gate in Bratislava. Its history dates back to the 13th century. The statue of St. Michael and the Dragon was placed on its top. The gate's tower is 51 m high and has seven floors. Right under it there is a golden circle, known as kilometer zero. It illustrates the distances from Bratislava to 29 other capital cities.

    Michael's Gate & Tower, Bratislava

    4. The Main Square (Hlavne Namestie) is lined on one side by the medieval Old Town Hall and Maximilian Fountain, and the other by a mix of inviting restaurants, cafes, and souvenir shops. Parts of the Old Town Hall dates back to the 15th century and the famous clock tower can be seen from all over the inner city. The 10.5 meter high statue at the Maximilian Fountain is also known as the Roland Statue.

    Old Town Hall, Bratislava
    Maximilian Fountain, Bratislava
    Souvenir shop, Main Square, Bratislava

    5. The musicians' quarter where numerous famous music composers studied, lived, or gave concerts, among whom Liszt, Mozart, and Beethoven were the most famous.

    A plaque for F. Liszt, Bratislava

    6. The Historic Opera House, an elegant neo-Renaissance building constructed in 1886 after designs of the prolific Viennese architects Ferdinand Fellner and Hermann Helmer, with a charming Ganymede Fountain by Viktor Tigner in the front.

    Historic Opera House, Bratislava

    7. Restored Baroque and Renaissance buildings seen as we walked along the main pedestrian streets of Michalska and Venturska. Alleyways fan out in all directions. It was a pleasure to wander and pause to admire the detailing of the buildings around us.

    A courtyard, Bratislava
    A historic building in Bratislava

    8. The New Bridge (or UFO Bridge, or Novy Most), Bratislava's retro-futuristic bridge, which links the Old Town to the sprawling housing project of Petrzalka. It's the 7th largest hanging bridge in the world. The top part of the bridge, in the shape of a space ship, includes a restaurant and an observation deck.

    New Bridge, Bratislava

    9. Pedestrian walkways from the Main Square to the New Bridge, lined with restaurants, shops, cafes, trees, quirky statues, and snack vendors.

    Hans C. Andersen's statue, front view
    Hans C. Andersen's statue, back view
    Cumil (The Watcher) statue
    Pressburg Bajgel stand
    Caffe Mobil, Bratislava

    10. The historic Cafe Mayer where we took a coffee break. The dessert selection is mouth-watering and extremely inviting. We decided to share a slice of the Mayer cake with our coffee-based drinks. It was a pleasure to relax in the coffee house and people watch for a while.

    Cake selection at Cafe Mayer, Bratislava
    Cafe Mayer history
    Mayer cake and cappuccino

    We enjoyed our walking tour in Bratislava's Old Town very much. I'd recommend other travellers, who are already in Central Europe, especially Vienna, to visit Bratislava since the two cities are so close to each other, and yet each has its own charms.

    Sunday, 21 January 2018

    Winter fun list update #1

    Greetings! Back in December, a few days before Christmas, I wrote my winter fun list here. Today I'm posting my progress update, and linking up with several fabulous bloggers. Please join in on the fun and/ or leave a comment so we know you stopped by.

    My Winter Fun List Update #1:

    1. Exercise one hour daily: In progress. I've been meeting my daily target since December 21. My current physical exercise schedule, one hour/ day, looks like this:
    • Monday, Wednesday, Friday: gym time includes warm up, cardio, weights, core, balance exercises, and cool down
    • Tuesday, Thursday: gentle yoga at home
    • Saturday: swim laps
    • Sunday: run 5-6 km and gentle stretches
    I know some people would say exercising is not fun. I'd suggest to replace the term 'exercise' with a physical activity that you enjoy, add your favourite play list, or grab a partner or a friend or your dog(s) to make it more social and voilà, it's fun!

    Even in the winter, I go for my morning walk and enjoy nature. In my eyes, every season has its own beauty, like the blue sky, morning light, and snow at one of our urban beaches in the picture I took below:

    TO sign at HTO Park Beach

    2. Continue learning Spanish 15 minutes daily: In progress. I haven't missed a day since December 21. I've learned new words, and had to review parts of past lessons. More importantly, I'm having fun with this activity. I allocate 15 minutes so it's quick but I do it daily to reinforce my learning.

    3. Enjoy three family outings: In progress. Two done and one is coming up in February. We had a fun extended family gathering in December that I wrote about here. We also just returned from a three-day family trip to Ottawa this past weekend.

    4. Go on five coffee or lunch dates with friends: In progress. So far I've gone on one coffee date and one lunch date with my friends. Two more coffee dates have been booked. It's so nice to chat and catch up with what's on in our lives.

    5. Attend seven cultural events: In progress. Since December 21 to date, I've enjoyed three movies (Star Wars The Last Jedi, Despicable Me 3, and Dunkirk), and attended one contemporary piano recital performed by the talented Jana Luksts. I plan to go to an exciting outdoor interactive art exhibition this month and more piano recitals starting in February.

    Jana Luksts

    6. Start a new blog link up: Yes! I was excited to see the Wellness Wednesday link up launch on January 10 as posted here. Thank you to the bloggers who are participating, and readers who have left encouraging comments. You're the best! The next Wellness Wednesday link is on February 7. The graphic is below.

    7. Plan an independent trip to Chile: Yes! I did some travel readings on Chile and mapped out where and when I'd like to visit. While looking to book my flights and accommodation, I scored a flash sale on my air tickets and a special offer on my room rate. Both saved me quite a bit of money which of course will go towards more travels! I'll write about my itinerary soon.

    8. Explore Chile in March: Pending. A new adventure awaits! If you've been to Chile, I'd love to hear your comments.

    That's my progress update for now. I'm pleased to have two completed, five in progress, and one pending. My next progress update will be on February 21. 

    How are things going with you? Please share.

    Wednesday, 17 January 2018

    2 days in grand Vienna

    Greetings! This post is the second of four posts inspired by my trip to Central Europe last November. My sister and I visited Budapest, Vienna, Bratislava, and Prague. I wrote about our stay in Budapest here. I had been to Vienna with my friends before. This time it was lovely to re-visit Vienna and create new memories with my sister. I hope you enjoy my trip highlights and the selected pictures below.

    DAY 4, Tuesday November 14 - Vienna

    After a satisfying breakfast, we left Hungary and travelled through the Austrian countryside to Vienna, former centre of the Habsburg Empire, and the capital city of Austria. With the Communist regime ended in Hungary in 1989, and both Austria and Hungary are in the European Union, there is no longer any border control between the two countries.

    Entering Austria from Hungary

    Upon arrival in Vienna, we got off our modern coach for a short walk break and a quick snack. Michael, our tour manager, recommended the locally well-known Bitzinger Wurstelstand Albertina hot dog stand. My sister and I shared a hot Viennese sausage, cut up in bite sized pieces, served with mustard and rye bread. It was so tasty!

    Bitzinger Wurstelstand Albertina

    Next, we walked over to Kärnterstrasse, the main pedestrian-only shopping street of Vienna. The shops were beautifully decorated for the Christmas holidays. We window shopped until it was time to board our coach to go to Schönbrunn Palace for our scheduled guided tour.

    Schönbrunn Palace was the baroque summer palace of the Habsburgs. Built between 1696 and 1730, it contains a staggering 1,441 rooms. Empress Maria Theresa and her sixteen children left the greatest impact on the palace. 2017 marked the 300th anniversary of Empress Maria Theresa's birth. One of her daughters is Marie Antoinette who was the last Queen of France before the French Revolution. Franz Josef I, who was born in the palace and reigned for 68 years, was the last Austrian emperor to live here. The greatest attraction are the stunning State Apartments, followed by the Gloriette, a marble summerhouse, and the palace's Imperial Gardens.

    Schonbrunn Palace
    The Gloriette

    After touring Schönbrunn Palace, we were dropped off at our nearby hotel. We checked in our comfortable room, rested a bit before heading out for dinner at Schonbrunner Stockl restaurant that our tour manager had recommended. I had the classic Viennese Tafelspitz served with creamed spinach, apple horseradish, and shredded potatoes, with local wine. It was an excellent meal. Sleep came easy after a wonderful touring day.

    Viennese Tafelspitz

    DAY 5, Wednesday November 15 - Vienna

    Today we took a tram ride around the entire Ringstrasse or circle of boulevards that enclose the old city of Vienna. The tram follows the route of the medieval fortifications. We passed by several landmarks, historical monuments, museums, beautiful buildings, and even graffiti walls. It was a relaxing and inexpensive way to view the city.

    Vienna, Austria
    Buildings along Ringstrasse
    Hotel Sacher & Cafe Mozart, Vienna

    I was interested in taking a guided tour of Staatsoper, Austria's State Opera House. This French Renaissance-style building, with its elegant arcades, is right along the Ringstrasse. It was built in 1861-1869, and rebuilt in 1946-1955 to plans.

    Vienna's Opera House

    The queue for the guided tour at the Opera House was long so we decided to visit Domkirche St. Stephan or St. Stephen's Cathedral, the symbol of Vienna. Construction of St. Stephen's Cathedral commenced in the 12th century. Today, it is one of the most important Gothic structures in Austria. The cathedral is 107.2 meters long and 34.2 meters wide. It has four towers. The tallest of these is the south tower at 136.44 meters.

    St. Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna

    Feeling energetic, we bought our tickets and climbed the south tower with its 343 spiral steps to the Watchman's Chamber for the panoramic views of Vienna. On the roof of St. Stephen's Cathedral, colourful roof tiles were laid to create the Royal and Imperial double-headed eagle and the coat of arms of the city of Vienna.

    East view of Vienna
    West view of Vienna
    North view of Vienna
    South view of Vienna

    After returning to the ground, we did gift shopping for our families. The Christmas Market outside St. Stephen's Cathedral was getting set up. I imagined it would be very busy and festive here in the next few weeks.

    We took the subway train back to our hotel. For dinner, we went to Strasser Brau, a local restaurant recommended by our tour manager. Both of us ordered the Wiener Schnitzel, another traditional Viennese dish, with wine. When the orders arrived, we had a good laugh as the portions were big enough to feed four people.

    Wiener Schnitzel

    I'm grateful for the opportunity to visit Vienna again. It is a grand city with so much history and culture to offer. I'd highly recommend Vienna to other travellers.