How to spend a half day in Singapore

Yesterday I found myself with a half a day in Singapore.  I had arrived by car from Malaysia around 1pm, and had a plane to catch late in the evening.  I also had my rather hefty purse and a carry-on bag on wheels.  It is August and humid. I tried to think of the best way to spend the afternoon, without lugging my bags around all day in the heat, and without arriving at the airport in the evening feeling like I’d been through the wringer. I was jet lagged, so I needed to build a bit of downtime into the day.  I also wanted to have fun, soak up some local culture and hopefully eat some good food. The answer: The National Gallery of Singapore.

I spent some time in the gallery last year and knew it had a bit of everything I wanted from the day.  I had my taxi drop me off right at the front.  I went up to the desk and asked if they could check my baggage for me for the day; they were very obliging.  I then set about ticking one thing off my agenda: some delicious local cuisine.

Everyone knows that the local food in Malaysia and Singapore is fantastic. Alas, I have coeliac’s disease and must follow a 100% gluten-free diet.  After 30 years of this, I don’t usually find it difficult, except when I travel.  In Johor Bahru, where I had travelled on business, I found it especially tricky. First, none of the wait staff seemed to know what I was talking about when I tried to instigate the gluten conversation.  Second, even more troubling, there seems to be a commandment in the local service industry, to say yes to anything the customer asks.  It goes something like this: If the customer must be pleased, and the customer doesn’t want gluten, then tell them that the food is gluten-free.  And because I found it difficult to engage in conversation directly with the chefs, I ended up ordering plain rice and grilled fish everywhere.

There are a range of restaurants at the National Gallery, including one called the National Kitchen by Violet Oon.  It is small with fabulous interiors, and they were extremely accomodating.  My waiter went and talked to the chef, who told me which dishes could be made specially gluten-free for me.  The manager came to talk to me to make sure I was happy.  I ordered the Udang Goreng Chili – described as “Angka prawns tossed in a spicy chilli padi garlic rempah”.  I am not sure what the normal dish looks like, but here is my gluten-free version:

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These prawns had so much chili and garlic, you would not believe.  They were utterly fantastic!  All of my food cravings were satisfied.  Add in a lovely glass of wine and the lovely decor, and I had a great lunch!

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They even had a fantastic gluten-free dessert: kueh beng kah, a steamed tapioca cake, served warm with gula melaka syrup and coconut cream.  Heaven!

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To build on a great start to my afternoon, my trip coincided with a major exhibit at the gallery of Yayoi Kusama’s work.  Doug and the girls and I were lucky to catch Kusama’s exhibit at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin in 2006.  It was a real treat to spend the afternoon at this exhibit in Singapore.  The exhibit is huge, spanning four galleries, and takes about 2 hours to get through.  I love this, one of her many Venus de Milo pieces (Statue of Venus obliterated by Infinity Nets, No. 2, 1998):

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Here is a photo I took in the installation “The spirits of the pumpkins descended into the heavens” (2017). (You can see my face as I hold the camera in the box in the centre and reflected throughout):

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The sheer scale of some of the installations are impressive.  This room has 50 enormous canvases of her black and white drawings stacked up on every wall:

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The originals were done in magic marker and each contains repetitions of faces, eyes, and other small motifs.  Here is a closeup of the intersection of two of the canvases:

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In the tulip room, part of which you can see here:

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I happened to catch a photograph of a young woman with the ‘dots’ from the exhibit reflected on her sunglasses.  I love this photo!

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The exhibit is only open through the 3rd of September and the admission lines are long (the entrances are timed and are very well managed).  If you are anywhere near Singapore, I highly recommend it.

After the exhibit, I went up to the roof gallery where I sat and looked out on the fantastic view of Singapore, while enjoying a drink and my knitting.  Here is a photo of said knitting against the backdrop of the view.

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To make the end of the day even more fantastic, as I sat enjoying the view (and a very nice drink) a wild and wicked storm suddenly blew across the city.  I watched it advance across the skies and then they opened and the heavens poured down.  I went inside to the Supreme Court terrace, and was able to watch the rain pelting on the roof.  Fantastic! Here you can see the darkening skies on the right, while the sun still shines on the left:

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If you ever find yourself with half a day in Singapore, I say: forget having a Singapore Sling in the Long Bar, don’t challenge your vertigo at the Marina Bay Sands, and instead take yourself to the National Gallery!

A funny thing happened on the way to the graduation

Emma has graduated!  Hooray!

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We are very proud parents.

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Emma looks pretty pleased as well.

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Vancouver cooperated with a gorgeous day.  The UBC campus was beautiful. Happy grads and their even happier parents were everywhere.

However, a funny thing happened on the way to graduation….

On Tuesday, I was teaching a full-day workshop in Johannesburg.  On Thursday afternoon, Emma was graduating in Vancouver.  I finished my class Tuesday and rushed out to Tambo airport.  There was an accident on the highway to the airport, so we went a different route (the long route), passing a fire along the way.  I passed through the security and passport control and made my plane –  a nearly 12 hour flight to Heathrow. I made my way through passport control and hopped in a taxi to go home, where I then had 4 hours to unpack my suitcase for Jo’burg (where it was winter and I was working), re-pack my suitcase for Vancouver (where it is glorious and I am holiday-ing), and get back in a taxi to return to Heathrow.  On the way to the airport, our taxi was broadsided by a car in an intersection!  Both cars were totalled; the taxi’s wheel base was crumpled so we couldn’t even pull over off of the road.  Doug and I stood on the side of the road with our bags waiting for another taxi to come pick us up.

We made it to the airport (just!) and on to our plane, had the safety demo and were taxi-ing down the runway when the plane slowed down and detoured onto a quiet spot. We were then stuck on the tarmac for three hours because of a broken indicator on the plane. They re-booted the systems twice and then called in engineers to fix it. I had visions of Emma graduating without us.  Eventually, however, the bad luck ran out and we made it in time.

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Knitters: please note this post’s sole knitting content.  Above, I am wearing my Cool Boots shawl.

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Doug tells me to show you the following photo.  This is me at my graduation from Barnard in 1984.  No laughing allowed!

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What do you do when your daughter graduates from university?  You do a happy dance, of course!

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On over-estimating travel knitting time

I had an idea that my 9 days in Johannesburg would have me working all day and then spending the evenings in my hotel room, quietly knitting and listening to audio books. What actually happened was that I worked all day, ate dinner (by myself – boo hoo!), and then went back to my hotel room where I answered email, caught up with admin and collapsed well before 9 each evening.  Not much knitting got done.

However, I was able to spend a few hours on the weekend sitting out by the pool in the Johannesburg winter sunshine (which is almost like British summer sunshine) and get some relaxing and knitting time.  Here is where I sat by the poolside:

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Not bad, huh?

And here is a very un-interesting photo of the progress on my black linen tee-shirt.  It is hard to photograph plain, black knitting in progress and make it look interesting.

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The tee starts at the shoulders on the back, does some short row shaping, and then is knitted down to the the armhole; then stitches are picked up for the front shoulder and knit down.  There is some lace on the front, which I am just about to start.  Once I get down to the armhole, the front and back will be joined and then the body is knit in the round.

I also cast on for my Hanne Falkenberg jacket.  The fronts and back are knit as one piece, back and forth, so although this photo makes it look like a very small piece, this is actually 300 or so stitches and 40+ inches wide.

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Here is a close-up of the pattern in which you can see the variegation in both yarns. The dark blue is a Shetland wool and the contrast yarn is a linen blend.

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Here is where I spent most of my time.  This is the lovely campus of the Henley Business School South Africa in Johannesburg.  I teach there around 6 times a year, and always enjoy it immensely.  The students there are fantastic, and the staff always make me feel at home.

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Here I am with some of my South African colleagues, from left to right: Lyneth, me, Eli, and Caritas.

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I leave you with another shot I took at the Henley South Africa campus.  When you next hear from me, I will be reporting from Vancouver.

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Western Cape, South Africa: on a mission to avoid the news and relax

Doug and I are on the Western Cape of South Africa, trying to recover our equilibrium after the disastrous US election results by avoiding politics in specific and news in general.  We spent our first day in Cape Town, walking along Sea Point, and having dinner in trendy Camp’s Bay while enjoying the sunset. We then left for Tulbagh to get away from it all.  (Virtually everyone we talked to in Cape Town said “Why would you go to Tulbagh?  There is nothing to do there!” PRECISELY. We once again stayed at Rijk’s Country House, a little slice of heaven.

There, we did very strenuous things, like sit on the terrace and drink wine and appreciate the views:

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Walk through the vineyards and appreciate the views:p1010523

Go for beautiful drives, and appreciate the views:

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Baboons strolled by our car to say hello:

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Flamboyant grasshoppers tried, and failed, to blend in with the scenery:

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My knitting needles were put to use:

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(Full disclosure here: some time was spent reviewing grants, preparing lectures, answering emails, grading papers – it is near impossible to truly get away from it all. But other than those ubiquitous tasks, we reveled in doing nothing.)

After three days in Tulbagh, we headed to the coast, to a little village called Paternoster. There we stayed at the wonderful Abalone House and Spa.  I cannot say enough good things about this place.  Here is a view from the deck at the Abalone:

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Here is the whimsical plunge pool:

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Here is where we sat drinking a glass of bubbly and appreciating the views (are you noticing a theme here?):

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This is the view from the private terrace off of our room:

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Need I mention the fabulous restaurant (Reuben’s at Abalone House, run by celebrity chef Reuben Riffel)?  The luxurious spa?  The lovely staff?  It would be easy to check in and never leave the hotel, but then you would miss the little gem that is Paternoster.  How could you not love a town that has a house like this one?

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In Paternoster, we also did very stressful things, like stand on the rocks and appreciate the views:

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Paternoster has a glorious beach. It goes on for miles, with beautiful white sands.  It is also a windy beach.  We couldn’t take photos on the beach itself because of the flying sand.  On this day, it shot past brisk to exhilarating and then to mini gale-force sand storm, and it was still a fantastic experience. Here is me fooling around in the wind, just before it knocked me over:

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We had booked into the Abalone for one night, intending to have a glimpse of Paternoster and then head back down to Cape Town.  When it was time to leave, we found we couldn’t – we most happily stayed for an extra night.

We then headed down to Hout Bay, where we were meeting up with our friend Chris. We were all staying in the beach home of a dear friend.  We weren’t sure what to expect, but it wasn’t this.  Here we are on the balcony:

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We have had an amazing time.   Unfortunately, we must now get back to work, although we will still be here in South Africa.  Doug has a very hectic schedule of meetings all week in Cape Town, and I have caught a quick flight to Johannesburg where I start teaching tomorrow. Soon enough it will be time to face up to the mess of the real world and contend with baboons of a different sort.  In the meantime, hello from South Africa!

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In the Desert

I am writing this in the Airport Lounge at Phoenix Sky Harbor while waiting for a flight to take me home.  I have spent the past week in Tucson, visiting my mother and stepfather, Marylou and Stuart.  Both my step-sister, Alison, and my daughter, Leah, flew in for the weekend as well.  We had a fabulous time.  Leah had just survived the rainiest October on record in Vancouver and this intense burst of sunshine has refilled her batteries.  As she said: “I seem to be solar-powered.”  I can agree with that!

Before heading out to Arizona, I was struggling to finish knitting the pieces of Emma’s Tinder cardigan.  My secret plan was to block the pieces before I left, and to bring them to Tucson and do all of the finishing while on holiday.  Leah would then be able to take the finished garment back to Vancouver for her sister.  I knew that I would have to block them by Sunday evening in order to take them with me on the plane, but I had to finish knitting the right front first!  I finished at about midnight on the Sunday after a marathon session. Doug took a photo of me collapsed on the floor after I finished blocking (not the best photo given the poor lighting, but a good representation of how I was feeling at the time).

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Despite this mad rush, the truth must be told: I had vastly underestimated the amount of time the finishing would take and also underestimated how difficult it would be to piece together a worsted wool sweater in the record-breaking Tucson heat.  The sweater is now back in my suitcase, returning with me to England.

I can, however, confirm that Tinder is a lovely cardigan with some very clever details.  The raglan seams and the collar came out great:

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Here I have borrowed my mom to show off how the shoulders are shaped:

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Isn’t it gorgeous!

Despite the disappointing amount of knitting I managed to do on this holiday, I had a fabulous time.  I always enjoy being in the desert and it was fun to have so many of us together.  Here are some photos from the Desert Museum.  If you are ever in Tucson, it is a must-see!

Marylou and Leah:

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Javelinas:

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Unbelievable vista with Saguaro cacti:

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Leah, me, and Alison:

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Alison and Stuart:

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Random cactus photo:

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Now, I am going to sit back, enjoy my wine, pull out my knitting and zone out until flight time!

In which I get whisked off to Llandudno and have a wooly adventure

I’ve been doing a lot of teaching lately, including most weekends.  A week ago Saturday, I arrived back home in the evening after a very long stint of teaching, including the preceding two weekends and all day Saturday.  I was shattered and looking forward to collapsing in a puddle on the couch.  My plan was to vegetate for a day or two, maybe three.  Shortly after I walked in the door, Doug says, too casually, “How tired are you, Kelly?”

There is a story involved here, but the short of it is, that Doug had just discovered he had his dates wrong for a conference and was supposed to be in Wales at 8:00 the next morning.   To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure I even knew he had plans to go to Wales at all, much less that he was thinking of dragging me along.  Before I could blink, I found myself throwing some things in a suitcase, piling in the car, and driving to Llandudno, in the north of Wales.  We arrived after midnight in the pitch dark.  The next morning, Doug gets up at the crack of dawn and heads off to the conference. (I ask you, what kind of conference begins at 8am on a Sunday???)  I wake up a few hours later, walk over to the windows, and – wow! – stare out at the ocean, and the picturesque town of Llandudno.  Here is a pretty shot of the town, which I took from in front of my hotel:

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Here is the iconic pier:

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I spent the morning walking along the pier and the strong ocean air blew all the cobwebs out of my head.  It was an incredible, invigorating interlude.  Doug was busy attending talks, but I was charmed by the town, and the wonderful views in every direction.

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The pier, with its candy stands, rides, bouncy castles, grand old hotel in a state of disrepair, and funky arcade games, was a kick.  Zoltan the magnificent tried to tell my fortune, and the Pirate Blasta beckoned:

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Late in the evening on the second day, Doug and I took a drive around the Great Orme Headland on Marine Drive.  This 4-mile stretch of road is considered one of the most scenic drives in Wales.  The view in every direction is breath-taking.  We were particularly taken with St. Tudno’s Church and churchyard, perched high up the wind-swept hillside overlooking the ocean.

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See how the trees have bent to the ceaseless wind.  It is one of those spots that inspires awe.  The monument stones are beautiful.

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St. Tudno built the first church here in the 6th century.  They still have services here, held outdoors in the summer.

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Continuing up to the summit, you pass the Great Orme Bronze Age Mine.  Discovered in 1987 by archeologists, this copper mine is 4000 years old.  This is me, standing on the top of the summit with the bay in the distance.  The wind was so strong I had to fight to stand up.

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Look closely at the hills behind me and you will see an interesting man-made feature. Over the years people have left their names spelled out in large stones along the side of this hill.

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Marine Drive may be only four miles long, but it is a beauty.

Now, observant readers may notice that the title promises a wool-related adventure. This is, after all, a knitting blog. Enough of this travel stuff!  Let’s talk about wool!

When I found myself in Llandudno, one of the the first things I did (as one does) is get on-line and look for nearby yarn stores.  One of them caught my eye: The Lost Sheep Company in Colwyn Bay.  As soon as the conference ended Doug and I made our way to this delightful shop run by Welsh-wool enthusiast, spinner, knitter, and designer Chrissy Smith.  The shop is lovely, filled with wool in various stages of production, and an assortment of spinning wheels, weaving looms, tools, and other treasures.

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We struck up a conversation with Chrissy, who told us the basement was overflowing with fleece.   Of course, then we just had to see the basement!  Here is Chrissy, knee deep in fleece, all of it from local Welsh farmers and all of it from Welsh breeds.

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Chrissy is a passionate and knowledgeable advocate of local wool and local farmers as well as the history of the wool trade in the region.  She regaled us with stories and politely answered our questions.  She helped me wade through hip-deep fleece, so that I could play with the unbelievably gorgeous Black Welsh fleece up on this shelf – the blackest natural wool I have ever seen.  It was much softer than I imagined, and rather addictive.

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The shop had a number of customers and students learning how to spin, and had the kind of atmosphere which made you want to sit down and chat over a cup of tea.  One of the women had come from quite far away to learn how to spin, and I could see why. If you find yourself in that part of the world (whether pirated away in the middle of the night or otherwise), you must go check out this shop.  And if you have time for a spinning lesson, so much the better!

Chrissy sells her hand-spun wool in the shop.  On the day we were there, her supplies were pretty limited, but I bought four pretty skeins:

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The one on the left is one that was in the window and is unlabelled; Doug liked it and added it to the bunch.  The others are, from left to right: Jacob, Welsh Mule, and Black Welsh Mountain.  And just because yarn photos float my boat (and presumably yours) here are a few closeups:

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I am looking forward to playing with some hand-spun.  Beware, Doug: maybe I will need to counter your newest guitar with a spinning wheel!

We drove home the long way, all the way down the A470 – 186 lovely, twisty miles from Conwy to Cardiff.  Autumn was in its glory.  This was the best 3-day break I’ve been on in a long time.

 

Rites of passage

I haven’t blogged in a few weeks, but in my defence, I have been busy undergoing rites of passage.  First and best, Doug and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary with a trip to Verona.

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Verona is a gorgeous place.  We stayed in a hotel just outside the old walls of the city, near the Basilica di San Zeno.   While not the grandest of Verona’s many churches, this is the loveliest.  It was originally constructed in the 8th century and was damaged first by the Magyar invasion in the 10th century, and then in an earthquake on January 3rd, 1117 which destroyed much of Verona.  It was re-built in the 12th-14th centuries.  I love this older style of church architecture much more than those that developed during the Renaissance and Enlightenment.  Tradition has it that the crypt of San Zeno is the site of the marriage of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  Doug took some lovely photos of the Basilica:

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I especially loved the variety of columns, sporting whimsical carvings:

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(Doug informs me that these were probably not considered whimsical at the time.  I stand by my description.)  As the edifice is so old, and has been re-built a number of times, you can see many layers; here is a fresco painted over an older one.

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The Basilica has a lovely cloisters:

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In a nod to the fact that this is a knitting blog and not really a travel blog (it’s hard to tell sometimes, is it not?), here is a single knitting photo for this post.  This is me taking a small break to knit in the very peaceful cloisters.

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When in Verona one seemingly must visit the famous balcony of Juliet.  It is really a mad crush of tourists which I found peculiarly comic and boisterous.  I wonder what Shakespeare would have made of it.  The small courtyard surrounding the balcony is packed with people.

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The souvenir industry is in full swing.

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A never ending string of “Juliets”come out on the balcony for an expensive photo opportunity.

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The security guards look bored.

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Leading into the courtyard is a small tunnel on which visitors and lovers have graffiti-ed their names.  Those who don’t have paint have left their names in nail polish, or on post-it notes, or – my favourite – on plasters (band-aids).  I wonder if these last have a morbid sense of foreboding to them; it seems like bad karma to leave a symbol of your love and togetherness on a plaster.

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We had  fun in Verona.  We walked and ate.  Here is Doug at a cafe where we enjoyed a lovely bottle of wine and talked to a table of young British Indian women with families in Edmonton and Vancouver.

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I include this next photo specifically for Leah.  Grom is her all-time favourite Gelateria; yes, Leah, here we are standing in line at Grom.  We went there twice.

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The old town itself is very beautiful and surreal.  The shopping is first-class, the cafe culture is vibrant, and everywhere you look there are pockets of antiquity. Here is the Arena, a Roman amphitheatre built in the 1st century.  It is still used to this day.  In the summer, you can see open-air opera.  While we were there, Zucchero was performing and the square was filled with music.

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The Porta Borsari,  an ancient Roman gate in the middle of the old town, also dates to the 1st century AD. I find it astonishing to casually walk through a 2,000 year old gate. Millions of people, tourists and natives, pass under it every year.  Verona is like a living museum, but with ice cream and Gucci.

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On our wanderings, we encountered quite by accident the Chiesa di Sant’Eufemia, a gorgeous, peaceful church tucked into a corner of the old city.  There were no signs, no ticket booths, no tourists, just an open door and some hidden majesty.

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The ceilings were spectacular and, here and there, you could see the older layers of murals from beneath the newer ones:

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I loved this from the wall of one of the chapels:

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We stumbled, by complete accident, onto an art exhibit by Paolo Masi installed only the day before, in which a round mirror has been placed on the floor so as to interact with the space around it, giving amazing juxtapositions and views of the Chapel Spolverini-Dal Verme, within the Chiesa di Sant’Eufemio.  It is truly spectacular, but ephemeral – it will only be there till mid-October.

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I said that the last few weeks have marked many rites of passage.  This next one may not be a rite, but it sure marks a passage.  Also in Verona were my three house-mates and lovely friends from graduate school.  Itziar, Hamida, Lisa and I shared a house in Cambridge, Mass. when we were PhD students at MIT in the 1980s.  This was the first time that we had all been together since 1988.

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It was totally fantastic to meet up again in Verona. The five of us (with Doug of course) had a great time reminiscing about the past.

Last but not least, this week also marked my graduation from business school, with an Exec MBA.  It was a gorgeous day to graduate.  Here is a photo of the back lawn of the Henley Business School (the prettiest business school on earth) after the ceremony.

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In the background of the above photo, you see a bunch of graduates posing for a photo. This is the graduating members of my class (or most of us).

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We wanted to take a photo of us all throwing our mortarboards in the air.  The photographer refused.  He said that Health & Safety rules prevented him from taking such a shot.  I kid you not.  Doug compensated for this by taking many photos of mortarboards not flying through the air:

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Finally, here I am receiving my degree, about to shake hands with the Chancellor, Sir John Madejski:

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As you can see, I have had a busy few weeks.  I now have the weekend to re-coup and then next week will be in Beirut.  My new life seems rather hectic.  I promise to bring some knitting news soon.