Sunday, July 27, 2008

REM: Arena Civica, Milano, 7/26/08

Ahhh... what a beautiful night of music!

Last night we were fortunate enough to be at REM's concert at Milan's Arena Civica, which is an old open-air stadium in the middle of the city. Our seats were not that close, but I had no complaints at all. The view and the sound was still very good.

The opening band was the Editors, an English band I think. They sounded pretty good, very U2-like. I've never heard of them, but apparently they get played on Italian radio quite a bit.

REM came on a little past 9pm. I found out that the time printed on the tickets (in this case 21.00) is the time the actual act comes on, not when the opening acts going on, like in the U.S. They played a great show, with many of their well-loved classics. The band seemed to love us too as we were treated with a 6-song encore!

Living well
Wake up bomb
Leaving New York
So fast so numb
Man sized wreath
Walk unafraid
The great beyond
I've been high
Let me in
Fall on me
The one I love
Horse to water
Bad day
I'm gonna dj
Imitation of life
Orange crush
Supernatural superserious
Losing my religion
Country feedback
Hollow man
Driver 8
Man on the moon

The Italian fans were loving it! When they played Losing My Religion, I was impressed how everyone around us suddenly seemed to acquire excellent English speaking skills. Everyone knew the words and was singing along. ;-)

Here's a video clip of the encore closer, Man on the Moon. You can see a little bit of the venue here.

It was an awesome concert. The weather was great with a slight breeze in the warm summer night. We had liberally sprayed ourselves with mosquito repellant beforehand so were spared from any mosquito bites.

Another funny thing I noticed was that while they were selling official band merchandise (t-shirts, etc) inside the venue, when we walked out after the concert ended, we were greeted with dozens of stalls selling 'unofficial' merchandise. There were all varieties of REM and REM European Tour t-shirts. Unbelievable.

Then we were hungry so we walked over to a cute creperie/bar/cafe in Brera for a midnight snack. We had one with proscuitto and tomatoes, and another with grand marnier orange liquor. Yummy! A perfect way to end the night.


Lincoln Park Zoo: Cute Polar Bears

Oh, I forgot to post this video I took of the polar bears we saw at Lincoln Park Zoo. They were so lovable, showing off their swimming skills to the crowd of kids with their noses pressed up against the viewing glass.

The kids just loved 'em!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Bocchetta di Caspoggio

Good morning, it's time for another hike in the Italian Alps!

This little excursion that Stef had planned required a little more planning. For the whole week leading up to it, he was checking the weather on three different sites (Italian and Swiss) to ensure we would not run into any bad weather. And then there was the checklist.
- rope
- climbing harness
- crampons
- ice axe
- trekking poles
- extra clothing: warm layer, socks, gloves
- water (4.5 litres), lunch

We had to be prepared for any contingency. I thought our backpacks were rather heavy with all this gear. (Stef's pack was alot heavier than mine, phew). Good thing he decided that we could leave the helmets at home.

The plan was to leave from home in Sondrio at 7am, and start hiking from the trailhead at the upper dam at Campo Moro at 8am.

Within the 1st 1/2 hour I spotted the cutest little marmot, the only one I'd see that day, unfortunately.

After an hour we arrived at Rifugio Bignami, and marvelled at this view. Not bad, huh?

And then it was back to business, hiking up towards the Bocchetta di Caspoggio pass. The landscape started to get rockier with patches of snow around. We were heading up to 2983 meters (9787 ft). Hmmm, pretty high... I had my doubts, but I was feeling in much better shape compared to the last hike when I was also suffering from jetlag.

The patches of snow turned into much bigger patches of snow. Apparently there was much more snow than usual because the warm summer season arrived late this year and there was alot of rain/snow. To avoid slipping, I made sure to step carefully into each of Stef's footprints. I was also very glad to have a trekking pole in my hand for extra support.

When we got near the top, Stef realized that the path over the pass had changed since he was last there 2 years ago. Now getting over the pass involved climbing over a rather steep rocky section with the help of metal links installed on in the rock. He was worried that I might have trouble here. But actually, it wasn't so scary at all. I made sure to stay low and close to the rocks, and most importantly not look down.

And here we are at the top. At this point we had only met one other person on the trail, a Dutch guy who spoke English well. We shared some chocolate with him and took some pictures.

Then the three of us put on our crampons. On the other side of the pass was the glacier. I'd never heard of these contraptions until I met Stef. It felt strange and new strapping them onto my hiking boots.

I was so excited stepping onto the glacier with the crampons. The sharp spikes gave a good grip on the ice and it was not difficult at all descending from the pass.

Check out the funny expression on my face; a mix of excitement and awe at the strangeness of it at all.

This was the view in front of us. If you look closely, you can see Rifugio Marinelli on a ledge in the middle right of the picture.

The glacier we were on. Pretty soon it was time to take off the crampons.

More mountain views.

By now it was already 1pm and time for lunch. We found this cute spot on a flat piece of rock next to a small lake with ice pieces floating in it.

Our panino shot. ;-)

To complete the loop back, we coninued on the trail, passing by Rifugio Cai Carate and descending into the valley back to Campo Moro.

The dam was a welcome sight. We were almost there.

Finally, another 2o minutes from the lower dam to our car. It was a long day. We had been out for over 8 hours and probably did about 16km (10 miles).

Monday, July 14, 2008


I had to return to the US to take care of some stuff that came up. I sure didn't expect it to be so soon. I found really great airfare online so we decided to make a small holiday of it as well and visit my sis and Matt. Hooray for KLM/NWA.

The flight went by quickly as it was only 8 h0urs flying time from Amsterdam. I last saw my sis at Christmas time but it sure felt alot longer. Soon we were home at their cozy apartment in Oak Park. For our first meal, YL took us out to Penang, our favorite Malaysian restaurant in Chinatown. We had char kuay teow, cantonese fried noodles, satay and roti canai... all the staples... good stuff!

The next morning we all piled in the car to drive up to Wisconsin. We had been invited to spend the weekend at Matt's dad's house on Lake Delavan. It was less than 2 hours away (we stopped at a Mitsuwa along the way and I had ramen, mmm!)... and this is what we found when we drove up...

What a beautiful 'villa' right on the lake. Stef and I were impressed with the property on the huge lot, and their dock with three boats. We didn't waste any time going out on the lake and taking a dip to celebrate the first day of summer!

Me and my sis, chilling on the dock.

Matt and YL, chilling on the dock.

The next morning we woke up bright and early to drive up to the river (Wisconsin River?) to go canoeing. It was fun and relaxing floating down the river and soaking in the sunshine. It got a little windy at some points and we had to paddle furiously to stay on course so there was a little workout involved. On the way back we stopped at a Dairy Queen to get milk shakes, but they were out of milk! Unbelievable, considering we were in cow central.

During the week, YL and Matt had to go to work while we hung out around the house, in Oak Park and Chicago. YL bought us these awesome tickets to the Chicago Architecture Foundation's architecture river tour of the city. It was really interesting to see the city from a different perspective.

We visited Millenium Park in downtown. This was a cool art/water feature. All the kids were having a blast playing in the water.

And my favorite, the 'giant bean', aka as the Cloud Gate by British artist Anish Kapoor.

We couldn't resist taking pictures of ourselves reflected against a backdrop of Chicago's skyscrapers.

And there sure were alot of cool-looking skyscrapers in Chicago. One thing I realized is that the cities in Italy just don't have these kind of tall buildings. This is the view from my sis' office in the IBM building.

I thought this building was really cool with the cut-out in the middle.

Who says Chicago is land-locked? They even have wide sandy beaches!

The annual Taste of Chicago was on while we were in town. It's actually the world's largest food festival. I have a memory of visiting the Taste way back when I lived in Chicago, with dad holding up a giant bbq turkey drumstick with a big grin on his face.

And eating. I made sure to do alot of that. Authentic ethnic food is hard to come by in Italy. Mmm... Vietnamese grilled beef... I still don't know exactly what it's called, but Long has taught me well enough to be able to pick it out from the menu.

There was this cute fastfood chain in downtown called Wow Bao. Hot asian buns! We stopped by twice for a quick snack.

My sis lives in the nice neighborhood of Oak Park. It's really convenient, only 5 mins walk to the El. It only takes them 20 mins on the Green Line for them to get to work in downtown Chicago every day. This is their building, just across from a park and the library, and two blocks from shops.

We took a walk around the neighborhood one lazy Sunday morning.

Matt gave us a tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright homes in the area. Oak Park has the largest collection of homes designed by this famous architect, as well his home and studio.

Don't forget that Chicago is the home of Obama.

We ended that walk with a meal at MacArthur's. It was really good Southern cuisine, soul food, or as Stef calls it, food of the soul. I had smothered pork chops that were so unbelievably good and melt-in-your-mouth. I also tasted the bbq chicken and bbq ribs. So good and so heavy. We had sides of coleslaw, greens, beans, yams, mashed potatoes and peach cobbler for dessert. I had to take a nap after.

It was alot of fun visiting the city, eating, shopping (oh yeah, we did quite a bit of that) and spending time with my sis and Matt. We'll definitely be back.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

A Summer Hike: Rifugio Longoni

This morning we woke up in Valtellina after arriving late last night from Milan with no real plans in mind. When we checked the weather, the forecast called for a good chance of thunderstorms tomorrow so we decided we had to go out in the mountains today. We had a rather late start but we made it to the trailhead by noon with sandwiches in our backpacks. It was beautiful and sunny out and we were headed to the Longonio Rifugio in Valmalenco.

The first 30 minutes were just hellish. I think it was a combination of the jetlag, being out-of-shape and the relentless uphill. Ok, the remaining 1.5 hours were still hell. My legs felt like lead and each step took effort.

Luckily I had some cows to say hello to, as a diversion. These cows were grazing in a valley surrounded by beautiful scenery. I would say these were definitely Italy's version of 'happy cows'.

We were headed up, up and up. (Ok, supposedly it was only 800 meter/2600 feet in elevation gain and I shouldn't have been complaining).

Then we finally arrived at our intended lunch spot. A meadow with several waterfall cascades. There were wildflowers all along the hike but this meadow was a blanket of little yellow and blue flowers.

And in front of us was this view.

Our paninos never tasted this good.

Here I am enjoying the scenery and sunshine, and just feeling good.

Then we headed up a little more towards the refugio. A rifugio is basically a small mountaintop lodge that serves meals and provides a place to sleep for hikers. The Italian Alps are dotted with these so that you can easily plan trips of a few days or longer by sleeping at different rifugios along the way. The size and services offered vary; some offer private rooms while others just have dormitory style beds.

We stopped at the rifugio for something to drink on the outdoor patio and met some other hikers that were staying the night. They were headed out to another refugio the next day, about 10 hours hike away.

We really enjoyed the hike and all the uphill effort was forgotten. ;-)
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