Tag Archives: Maps

Bay Area Travelswithmyselfandothers

Being back in San Francisco encourages me to continue my frequent walks throughout the city. Being situated in the southwest quadrant of the city, we can easily go in any direction–the city is merely 7 miles wide in any direction as the crow flies–and hit a water’s edge. The 7×7=49 square miles makes it easy to conquer the city by car, bus, bicycle, or walking. Whenever I can, my choice of transportation is on foot. I can accomplish a 3-5 mile walk in less than 2 hours.

Admittedly, it takes a bit of clever navigation to avoid the daunting hills of San Francisco! Tourists have been often thwarted by the steep elevations and unforgiving fog banks in California summers. Clad in bermuda shorts, tourists shiver as they study their maps. Plan views show short stretches between Fisherman’s Wharf and Downtown. In reality, going through Nob Hill requires a hefty hike in elevation of 400 feet! And that’s with a few bumps and bruises along the way, as the elevation rises and falls. It’s no wonder that tourists are stunned not only by the beauty of San Francisco, but its harsh climate and terrain as well.

For local city dwellers, I learned that there are more than the seven traditional hills in San Francisco. Here is a link to a description of the 53 reported hills if you are curious: http://sfgazetteer.com/how-many-hills-in-san-francisco.html

As a locavore, I enjoy exploring the streets of San Francisco and comparing them to the many scenes of cities I have visited throughout the world (for some reason, Prague comes to mind first). Since last October’s Halloween festivities (see Hallo Halloween from October 30, 2015 posting), I am realizing that San Franciscans LOVE decorating their Victorians and sweet homes. There is definitely pride in a little city that CAN. The more I walk, the more I notice the sweet, sensitive little details that make this city sparkle. Here are two random samples from this month’s holidays:

In addition to Valentine’s Day and Chinese New Year’s (Feb. 8 this year), San Francisco hosted the 50th Superbowl. Not being an avid sports fan, I failed to capture any photos of the carnival-like atmosphere downtown. It did preoccupy the city and drive it crazy for three weeks, so there was alot going on this month. Americans love celebrating holidays, and now it seems to extend beyond Christmas and Thanksgiving.

Aside from local city walks, husband Gee Kin and I continue to take urban walks throughout the Bay Area. After accomplishing various routes from San Francisco to Napa, Oakland to San Jose, and San Jose to San Francisco, we are now finding extensions beyond. We mapped out a route in the past couple of weeks from Petaluma to Santa Rosa. You can see the route screen shots here:

I originally planned to stay overnight at the Hampton Inn. In the past, I linked each day’s 8-12 mile walk between hotel rest points. I discovered that you can do the same with public transit points. As long as you are linked to connections back to home base, you can string transit points to each other, and easily pick up where you last left off and by paying attention to transit schedules.

Each leg was accomplished on a separate weekend day. We took Golden Gate Transit to each point of departure to link the route, so each walk was an easy day trip. The beginning and/or end of each walk was capped by a visit to a local, perhaps newly discovered restaurant as a reward! We discovered the Naked Pig in Santa Rosa, a roadside diner with all naturally produced ingredients.

The featured photo shows another weekend walk out the door and across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito. We topped our trip with a visit to Scoma’s for mussels, fries, and pink sparkling.

Next time you get good weather, think about walking out your door to a restaurant you’ve been dying to try. And don’t forget to smell the roses along the way. Let me know what you do!!

PS. Plans are underway for this summer’s travelswithmyselfandothers. Hint: Oh No! The TSE and GI AGAIN??!!

We are now able to link our Bay Area walks physically from Santa Rosa to Los Gatos. If you are interested in doing it too, see http://www.crazyladywalks.com.

Day 76: Chicago to Santa Fe, NM and the Amtrak vs. TME Report

After setting off from Chicago late in the afternoon, we enjoyed an idylllic train ride plying the Midwest from Illinois through Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico. We passed the Mighty Mississippi and wheat fields to enjoy a peaceful sunset.

On arrival, we had a look around the city and enjoyed a sunset the following evening from our hotel roof deck. See view above.

Preliminary Evaluation of the Amtrak vs. Trans-Siberian Express (TSE)

As for the evaluation between Amtrak and the Trans-Siberian Express (TSE) a la Trans-Mongolian Express portion (TME), here’s my interim report below.

If you recall, on Day 71 I established a self-inflicted competition between the American Amtrak system and the Trans-Siberian Express (TSE). You may be confused when I refer to the Trans-Mongolian Express (TME). The TME is a significant portion of the TSE, and differs only in the start point. the TSE begins in Vladivostok on the eastern coast of Russia. The TME begins in Beijing and traverses through Mongolia to Moscow, where both the TSE and TME meet. See map below.


If you are not particularly interested in either, skip this post as it will be a bit long-winded, self-admittedly, and only for those die-hard train afficinados.

Here are comments based on the original criteria I established:

1. On Time Record

So far, the two long haul trips we have taken on Amtrak (Philadelphia to Chicago, Chicago to Santa Fe (Lamy), NM) have been on time or early, and the shorter legs through New England have been on time or slightly delayed. Trains on the TME were either on time or early, but we were not able to verify the arrivals or departures due to fuzzy time zone changes (!!)

2. Comfort (Bed strength, ability to rock a baby to sleep and keep them there; access to lights, camera, action; no annoying overhead PA system used at free will for the comfort of the system and not the passenger; and good padding and ergonomics for blogging)

Beds on Amtrak are comfortable, non-formed foam pads over two seats pushed together in the roomettes, with an overhead bunk that does not allow you to sit up straight. One passenger complained about the pillows and beds being too flat, but seating ergonomics and padding seem fine in both systems. Beds on Amtrak are in the direction of travel, whereas the TME beds were perpendicular to the direction of travel. Not sure either makes much difference in terms of rockability, but the Amtrak trains definitely sway more at the top due to the double-height cars. Most of the sleepers were on the upper level so more passengers would experience the sway, so I’d give Amtrak a negative point for this.

There are more stops at night on Amtrak due to the higher population along the route, so it may appear to be slightly more disruptive at night. However, the train starts and stops are smoother on Amtrak compared with the Chinese bump-and-grind at each stop. The Chinese trains did not appear to have any or much cushioning between cars so they slammed into each other when the trains departed or arrived at each station.

Lighting and controls were sufficient on both systems so no particular comments. In contrast, the use of the PA system was notable on Amtrak. The dining car made repeated comments about availability, MIA’s, and hours of operation; there were none on the Chinese cars (perhaps because there were so few or no passengers! or the multiple languages spoken by passenger on the train would render the effort fruitless). We did take a Chinese train on a different trip last year that piped overly loud and annoying announcements and music on their PA system. At one point, the speakers were disconnected (i.e. ripped out) to our car by a passenger and it seemed to take care of the problem.

3. Service (attentive staff, no back talk or attitude–i.e. Courteous; visible but not obtrusive; professional but not hollow friendly delivery of information)

As you know, we found the service on the Chinese trains to be very good, but that’s because we spoke Chinese. I am not sure foreigners would find the staff as friendly. Surprisingly, the Amtrak staff have been generally friendly and attentive. They must have improved their customer service training since we took the trains a generation ago. There are still vestiges of the long-timer staff person here and there who crack canned jokes every now and then, or a raspy voice yelling out instructions by someone who cumulatively earned the distinctive voice quality. Overall, both appear to be genuine in intent and concern.

4. Cleanliness (no spit on counters; toilet paper unfailingly in supply; Windows you can see through; stainless upholstery and carpets)

Well, can’t say I went looking, so I didn’t find any gross evidence in either system. In general, the toilets in the Chinese trains were not well attended, but in defense of the system, we were only 2 of 3 passengers in our car. There were four toilets available in one Amtrak sleeper car for some 24 rooms; only one toilet and one washroom per car on the Chinese train. You can do the math.

Toilet supplies were plentiful on Amtrak, nada on the Chinese trains. Bring your own.

Windows were a little soiled on Amtrak. Hard to see through some windows on Chinese cars.

Upholstery on Chinese cars were old but clean; no carpeting in rooms.
I noticed a few stains on the blankets of the Amtrak, and maybe on the carpeting. The concierge announced that shoes are required on all Amtrak trains.

5. Food (real food; reasonable prices; no cheap shots using lots of salt and sugar; no bar codes on wrapping; cold beer; wine list; nuking; no plastic, polystyrene, or jewel boxes)

Food to date on Amtrak was decent, and better than I remembered. When you book a sleeper you get free meals. Dinner options included salmon fillet, steak, chicken, or pasta. The only disappointing aspect were the frozen vegetables.

Hard to compare the food from the Russian dining car. The food appeared to be freshly cut and prepared, and although small portions, the food was fresh, tasty and healthy. Gee Kin’s vote for the staff’s home-cooked pasta and meat buns unfortunately do not qualify for this evaluation of customer-consumed food. Interestingly, I asked Sean, our Amtrak attendant, what he did for food. He immediately remarked that the food on the train was unhealthy for service staff. Assuming that they ate it frequently, the food would take a toll on your weight and BMI. The food is included in their benefits, but he mentioned that he beats it over to Whole Foods whenever he gets in to Seattle. Staff stock up on their own food but are not allowed to bring anything requiring refrigeration. That poses some limitations, but he said they work around it (wink, wink). Occasionally the house chefs make family meals for the staff and they really appreciate it.

I am copying and pasting the earlier post comments for convenience and adding any additional notes or changes.

Pros of the Trans Mongolian Express:
1. Decent food in the Russian dining car at reasonable price
2. Service in the sleeping car was very good and attentive by the two attendants assigned to our car (even though we and one other woman were the only passengers in the car after Ulan Bator!)
3. The compartment was tidy and toilet at the end of the car was adequate.

Cons for the Trans Mongolian Express (TME)
1. The tracks are not universal in Mongolia thereby requiring wheels to be changed on every car going between China and Russia through Mongolia
2. The trains do not have Internet access
3. The schedule and arrival times at any station were a mystery due to fluctuating time zones

Pros for Amtrak trains
1. The trains are very comfortable
2. The trains have Internet access (10/7 correction: none on the long hauls!!)
3. The information for time, stops and scenic opportunities is helpful (10/7 update: excellent handouts available at every seat)

Cons for Amtrak
1. Service staff are surly (10/7 update: I would delete this comment that was based on historical experience)
2. Stations are antiquated (10.7 update: true, but they have installed First and Business Class lounges with internet access that overnight passengers can use)
3. Seating is not reserved (10/7 update: all seats are reserved on the long-hauls)

This report includes two long hauls:
1. Washington DC to Chicago on the Capitol Ltd.;
2. Chicago to Santa Fe, New Mexico on the Southwest Chief;

The last report will include the third and final leg:
Santa Fe to Los Angeles (continuation of the Southwest Chief), then the Coast Starlight train from LA to San Francisco.

Day 58: Pause to Refresh

This is a good time to recap the first two-thirds of my 80 days around the world, since I am about to leave Germany to fly back to the US. In the past two months, I have traveled on the Trans-Mongolian Express (TME) from Beijing to Moscow, visited the Russian capital and St. Petersburg, and several cities in Austria, Switzerland, and Germany.

The next segment will be a stay in New York City and a short trip by car to see the Fall Foliage. The final leg will be the counterpart to the TME: a cross-country trip via Amtrak to Philadelphia, Chicago, Santa Fe, New Mexico, and finally back home to San Francisco.

Join me in the next few weeks as I compare cross-country trips between the U.S. and Russia!! I also look forward to seeing old friends and family.

Below is a glimpse of each stop. You can find the posts by searching the city or in the archives for July-September 2015.

Beijing: Best Hotel Experience in a traditional Chinese Hutong (Courtyard) Hotel

The Trans-Siberian (Mongolian) Express:

The Trans-Mongolian Express travels from Beijing to Moscow and is part of the Trans-Siberian Express. It connects to the Trans-Siberian Express in Ulan Bator and picks up the route that begins in Vladivostok.


Mongolia and Ulan Bator:

Moscow and St. Petersburg:


Salzburger Festival Performances:

Vienna and Linz, Austria


For Schwabisch Hall, see recent posts.

And a few earlier posts organized by my favorite topics:




Photos may be repeated from earlier posts.

Day 31-33: St. Florian

As a contrast to my onslaught of cultural cities, I decided to take a different path and stay at a monastery in Linz, Austria.

My first glimpse of the monastery was breathtaking, after a short but determined path uphill through a winding path. The landscape in the area is exquisite, with rolling hills and tenderly groomed patches of yellow and green plots. You would never leave here if you were from this area, I thought.

The monastery has rooms for visitors at a reasonable price, and has daily performances of one of the most magnificent organs in Europe. The highlight will be another (gulp) mass in the evening with an organ performance.

Anton Bruckner, who was an organist and composer, is a native son of the area. There is now a connection between Ansfelden, where Bruckner was born, and the Augustinian cathedral at St. Florian, where he was a choir boy. You can read about him: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anton_Bruckner

A billboard advertising the Bruckner Way is located on a path outside the monastery. It lights up each path you select among several different paths. You can view the Google image below. “Wanderers” can choose from the more mild “running shoes” paths and those for more advanced “hikers”. Trips run any where from 5-20 km.

The walk even has an MP3 player for hire that has all 12 Bruckner symphonies on it, so you can listen to it while you are on the trail. You can also arrange for a taxi to take you back if you only want to do a one-way trip. I thought that this was an excellent idea and wished this system that is available throughout Europe were established in the U.S.

This path forms part of the “Jacob’s Way” and leads a pedestrian all the way to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. I googled it and you can do it in a mere 19 days from here. If you “boots are made for walking” here’s a place to use them.
This walk was one I had always contemplated, until I realized why they advised carrying a poncho.

Day 12: Moscow Tour Time

Red Square
Red Square
KGB after a bottle of vodka
KGB after a bottle of vodka

Yesterday was a busy “play tourist” day, covering most of Red Square including the Eastern Orthodox St. Basil’s Cathedral, with its colorful onion domes; one of the most beautiful parks in the world just outside the Kremlin walls (see header if it is current); and Tym Department Store with its turn-of-the-century splendour (it has an enclosed galleria like the one in Milano).

Meals have been incredibly exciting and contrary to stereotypical notions of Russian food. Like most big cities around the world, you can find state-of-the-art contemporary food for nouvelle tastes. We found a great lunch place near the hotel called “Fresh”, with inventive vegetarian dishes. I had a salad of quinoa, avocado and greens, and Gee Kin had one with buckwheat, tomatoes, grilled spinach, sweet potatos, and mung bean sprouts. Both were served with olive oil and a delicious miso/rice vinegar, soy sauce, and mint dressing.

For dinner, we ventured into the Arbatskaya area and landed on an original crab-and-caviar menu with Prosecco for under $50! From Kamchatka, the crab is Russia’s equivalent of the Alaskan King Crab. Gee Kin thinks perhaps the oil boom brought on alot of high end quality food demands but the ruble devaluation has made the prices here a bargain. Come soon while Russia is on sale.

See pop-up captions above to sights we visited today.

Follow up to my own question the other day: why does it seem so long to lunch time on the TME and always an hour away?

Take a look at the up to six time zone changes, from Beijing to Ulan Bator in Mongolia, then across Siberia to Moscow. Many of the westernmost cities such as Kirov, Novgorod, and Ekaterinaburg along the train trip follow Moscow time to avoid confusion. However, as the crow flies westward, the time zones are less dramatic on a train than those when flying. Jet lag is reduced, but the time warp messes with your brain and metabolism like a slow drag. Also notice how tidy (and tiny) our US times zones are compared to those in Russia. Russia visually looks and feels alot like Canada somehow when you compare the two countries on the map.

World Time Zones
World Time Zones

Day 4b: TSE (Trans-Siberian Express)

TranssiberianmapBeijing to Ulan Bator

Since I will be traveling today, I am posting a map of the Trans-Siberian Express Route for you. I am not sure how reliable Internet access will be on the train, but I certainly will try to stay in touch and keep everyone informed about my saga across the huge, vast Eurasian continent. It is nearly twice the length of the US! You might find the map informative. Trace the route, from Beijing to Moscow via Ulan Bator in Mongolia. Ulan Ude is the first Russian border town we will hit in a couple of days from here.

Giddy at the Getty

J. Paul Getty was an oil magnate who traveled and learned to appreciate the antiquities of Greece and Rome. He was an avid collector and showed pieces he acquired in his Malibu mission-style ranch house. Although he lived in London most of his later life, he commissioned the Getty Villa to be built in Los Angeles to house his artwork but never saw the villa.

The Getty Villa simulates a Roman villa from Herculaneum, a town that was buried from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD. While Pompeii is better known for the entire city that was excavated, the site at Herculaneum was closer to Vesuvius and was preserved intact under 65 feet of ash and lava.

The villa that Getty copied was owned by a Roman senator whose daughter was married to Julius Caesar. The senator was quite wealthy and influential, and the house was 60,000 sf. The Getty Villa is a small replica of the Roman one and contains an amphitheater for Greek plays, a peristyle or colonnade surrounding an atrium for dining and social meetings, and rooms above to house slaves.

Getty clearly got addicted to acquiring Greek and Roman artifacts. Once he accumulated all of these possessions, he had to build a museum to house them. Stephen Garrett, an architect, was hired to research, design and build the villa. Machado and Silvetti were also involved in the design of the site.

Photos, from top, left to right:
1. Entrance Plaque to the Getty
2. Detail of Greek Terra Cotta Dish, ca. 450 BC
3. Detail of Roman Sculpture, ca. 150 AD
4. Exterior Garden and Pool

The Getty Center, also built with Getty Foundation funds after Getty’s death, took more than 20 years to complete from inception to opening. It was designed expressly for the preservation of Western Art at the cost of $1 Billion and as part of a lawsuit. Family members were engaged in a bitter battle over the inheritance, and the only resolution was to build the museum. Twenty years ago, I was disappointed that funds were not devoted to building a higher education institution. The UCSF Mission Bay Campus would have cost about $1 Billion.

However, with all the museums I have visited this past year, I have revised my opinion. The Getty Center has become a vibrant and relevant educational institution on its own merits. I certainly witnessed many diverse visitors enjoying the buildings, exhibitions, and gardens. The Turner exhibition and the WWI Images special exhibition at the Research Center were both excellent and well curated. With a variety of visual aids, visitors were engaged in learning about the artists and the subject matter. For some reason I was more aware of the level of activity and engagement at both locations than what I normally notice at other museums. Both museums are free.

Photos, from top, left to right:

1. I-405 Freeway Access to Getty Center; a Monorail takes visitors from Parking Lot to Center at top of hill
2. Approach to Main Plaza
3. Main Plaza
4. Research Center. Buildings are designed by Richard Meier, a prominent New York architect. He moved to the site to determine placement of buildings. Flooring, panels and windows are designed to the architect’s signature 30″ grid. The Center opened in 2006.

Being located at the northern end of Los Angeles, the Getty Villa in Malibu and the Getty Center off I-405 are worth grouping for a day-long tour of both. Unfortunately getting to both requires a car.


1. Exhibit from WWI Images.Map by Walter Trier, an artist who illustrated books for Eric Kastner. Each European country is a sinister character.
2. Henry Moore Sculpture, 1983
3. Chart showing personalities of each European Country, divided by “Futurists” and traditionalists or those against progress.

1. Burl texture (see Sacto Dreamin’ video from November)
2. Super gigantic fig tree in garden of Fairmont Miramar Hotel, Santa Monica.
3. Acanthus leaves in garden at Getty Villa, similar to those represented on Corinthian columns

The Mighty Mets

My focus for the Metropolitan Museum was to see the Central Asian and Silk Road related items to reinforce my understanding of the intercourse between East and West.

(You can tap on one photo to get full screen views in a slide show. Give time for them to upload.)

These are examples of Central Asian Art, beginning with the establishment of Islamic religion around 700AD through the reign of Timur or Tamarlane around 1350. If you remember from my travels in Samarqand and Bokhara, Timur’s base was there but he and his descendants conquered Iran, India, and everything in between.


At the museum, huge scale entry gates, temple facades, and rooms or courtyards installed in large rooms or areas help visitors understand the architectural scale and context of various cultures. Above is the neo classical facade of a U.S. Bank from Wall Street. Below is the description and view of Assyrian entry gateposts. The map shows the location of various products traded throughout the world, including slaves from Africa, spices from East Indies, and chocolate from Mexico.

Here are a few selected Chinese items from the extensive Asian wing (only the first item is Silk Road related):

1. Horses and camels were coveted from Tang period when they were first traded from the Ferghana Valley, the narrow passage between China and Today’s Uzbekistan. The woman wears headgear to protect her from sand and dust.
2. Ming scholar’s room displaying furniture from period.
3. Bronze wine vessel that depicts serpent on cover and handle. Steam comes out of mouth when wine is hot.

Another “MET” addendum, from the Metopera: curtain call for Don Giovanni by Mozart. 19th century writers admired Mozart as one of the first musicians to tackle deeper psychological aspects of human triumph and tragedy in the main characters.
Photo: Opera cast with Kate Lindsey and Peter Mattei, and Guest Conductor Alan Gilbert congratulating his orchestra.

Sorry, sports fans, I didn’t make it to any NY Mets baseball game, as the season hasn’t opened yet (Or that I am aware of; unless they are training elsewhere I don’t think they schedule games on snow-covered baseball fields!). Otherwise I coulda hit a triple!

Day 51: Thing for Thina

Today is a travel day, so I am getting ahead of the pack by sharing some information about the Silk Road. I read the book “the Silk Road, a New History” by Valerie Hansen and I want to cite some interesting points from it. The book covers three key chapters of my selected cities: the Turpan, Dunhuang, and Samarkand.
Dunhuang, while known for its Buddhist cave paintings, has a treasure trove of over 35,000 documents that recorded official edicts, announcements, and private letters. These were found in a garrison outside of Dunhuang. The dry desert air helped to preserve these documents from the 1st Century BCE to the 1st Century CE. Agreements were written on bamboo strips and wood before paper, originally used for wrapping, became the material for writing. Paper did not become widely used for writing until the 2nd Century. All envoys passed through this garrison at Xuanquan outside Dunhuang in either direction to control movement.
Turpan, a walled city further west from Dunhuang, was known for its foreign community dating back to the Tang Dynasty. It was only the halfway point between Samarkand and Chang An (current day Xian). One of the most significant groups living in Turfan, believe it or not, was the Sogdians, who originated from Samarkand! They settled in Turfan to farm, run rest stops, take care of animals, and trade.
A chapter of the book is devoted to Samarkand, one of our stops in Uzbekistan. The Sogdians who hailed from this area were originally migrants from Iran and practiced Zoroastrian beliefs such as leaving bones of their dead exposed before burial. Trade between Sogdiana and China peaked between 500 and 800 CE. Many Sogdians from Samarkand may have migrated to Turfan when Sogdiana was conquered by the Muslim genera in 712.
The difference in timeline between these cities can be substantial, so the context between them is important. The book focused on the period between 200 BCE and 1200 CE, with major Islamic developments in the latter half of the time span. This later period coincides with the Tang Dynasty at its peak in Dunhuang.image
In case you were ever wondering, the name “China” is derived from a reference to “Thina”, by a merchant in the 1st C. CE with a description of China as “a great inland city from which silk floss, yarn and cloth are shipped by land…” Since Ancient Greek did not have a letter for “ch”, the letter theta was used. In Sanskrit, where the English word for China is derived, China was pronounced Chee-na. This word came into use around 221-207 BCE during the Qin Dynasty.
As far as the Silk Road is concerned, it is a relatively recent concept from 19th C. explorers. The Silk Road consisted mainly of clusters of cultures that lived and traded among each other. The paths were unmarked and did not provide the big saga event romanticized by the Marco Polo story. Silk was only one among other goods traded that included chemicals, spices, horses, glass and paper.