Category > Travel

Photos from Moscow

22 July 2006 » In Photography, Travel » 2 Comments

The photos from the Moscow part of my trip to Russia are now up on the site. It’s taken longer than I expected to process them. This is partly because it was the first time I shot everything in RAW format in order to be able to adjust exposure and white balance easier. An unintended consequence of this decision was that I spent way more time on each photo than I usually do, tweaking things to be just perfect, and doing this for a good portion of 600 photos just takes a while, even with the help of a WhiBal. I’ll have to figure a more streamlined approach to processing.
The photos from St. Petersburg will be coming up a bit later.

In Vancouver

10 October 2005 » In Funny, Travel » 5 Comments

I gave a PHP and Unicode talk to the PHP Users group in Vancouver last week. The turn out was decent considering it was a holiday weekend, and I got to see more of the city than the last time I visited. Apparently, the bars and clubs on Granville street can now stay open and sell alcohol until 4 am. Now, take that and add the fact that the drinking age in Canada is 19 years. Got the picture yet? Walking up and down Granville sidewalks, you practically have to shove your way through the throngs of people waiting in lines for their turn at the “drink and hit on anything with a pulse” contest. Scene:

Peter, Shane, and I are weaving our way through the crowds on the way home. Turning onto a much less crowded Davie St:
Peter: It gets easier from here on.
Just as he says this, he runs into some girl.
The girl (indignant): Hell no, you’re not touching me!


01 June 2005 » In PHP, Talks, Travel » 1 Comment

Posting this out-of-order, but it couldn’t be helped.
A week before Cancún, I was at the International PHP Conference 2005 Spring Edition, held in Amsterdam. I gave an inaugural talk on the new Unicode support in PHP and also on the current state and development of PHP-GTK 2. This was my first visit to this city and I was determined enjoy it, despite the yawn-inducing 6 am departure time out of San Francisco and the three hours of turbulence after take-off. The good thing was that on the flight to Dulles airport the person seated next to me turned out to be the head of software department for Affymetrix, and we spent the whole time talking about DNA micro array, exons, TOUFs (transcripts of unknown function), and other such topics.
Continue reading “Amsterdam” »

Cancún Conference

17 May 2005 » In Talks, Travel » 2 Comments

Last week I was at the PHP|Tropics conference in Cancún, Mexico presenting two talks, one on regular expressions in PHP and the other on the new version of PHP-GTK. The conference was held at the Moon Palace, a sprawling resort located not far from the city. Some of its highlights are worth mentioning: free drinks, 6 restaurants and snacks around the clock, an enormous swimming pool with swim-up bars, jacuzzi in the room, a variety of tours and activities and much more. My only complaint would be that the place was so big that it took a good 10-15 minutes to walk from the lobby to the to the room and back. The conference itself went very well – kudos to Marco again. The talks were interesting and informative, and it was great to sit by the pool afterwards and discuss everything from PHP to traveling around the world to British comedy series and so on.
Since I am always up for extracurricular activities, I wanted to get out of the resort and do something different, specifically zip-lining. So, Derick, Ilia, and I signed up for an adventure tour from AllTourNative to Chikin-Ha, a Maya village about an hour’s drive south from the Moon Palace. We were up bright and early that morning, when Ricardo, our tour guide for the day, picked us up at the hotel. He already had a few other people in the van, but they were staying in Cancún. We took off for Chikin-Ha, with Maya native music playing in the background, and Ricardo gave us an introduction to what our tour would involve as well as insights into Maya language, culture, and customs. He explained that in Maya “chi” means “mouth”, “kin” is sun and “ha” is water, so Chikin-Ha means “water that comes from the mouth of the sun”.
The drive seemed quick. Once we got there, we jumped on the provided mountain bikes and rode a couple of miles inland to where the village was. The first activity of the day was zip-lining, which I couldn’t wait for, although there was just a bit of anxiety about what it would feel like jumping off into the air. We strapped into harnesses and Ricardo explained how to brake properly so that you don’t overshoot and end up hitting the bumper on the other end like a sack of potatoes. Naturally, being gentlemen, we let the women go first :-). Then I stepped onto the platform and leaped off. The feeling was great – slicing through the air, feeling the wind in your face, and knowing that you are that much closer to flying. This zip-line was not very steep or long, so when it was over with, I felt charged up and ready for the next one, not a bit of apprehension remaining.
After everyone was done with their first line, we walked up a bit to the second one, which was a bit steeper and longer. We had no problems with it and Ricardo, who went last, showed how you can jump off and travel upside down for a bit before flipping yourself upright and braking. Then he led us to a tower from which the final zip-line was strung. It was about 60-70 feet tall and had pretty steep staircase. We had to clip ourselves onto a metal cable just in case we took a wrong step. We climbed in a single file and reached the top platform. Stepping onto it I could see the tree tops stretching to the horizon and the zip-line cable running far away and down to the other platform which seemed very small indeed at this point. The last two lines we were not more than 10-15 feet high and with water below them. This seemed like the real thing. When it was my turn, Ricardo unclipped my safety line, attached the harness to the zip-line and said, “Have fun”. And so I did. Taking a big jump, arms and legs spread, and feeling a great rush all the way to the other end, about 20 seconds in all. I stepped down to free the way for others and knew that this was an experience I would want to repeat.
The next activity was snorkeling in the cenotes – water-filled sinkholes. Ricardo said that Maya people consider cenotes somewhat sacred places, and that we would need to have a ceremony where shaman’s grandson would ask the spirits to allow us to enter cenotes and protect us while we were there. The ceremony was inside an old cenote which was almost dry. We walked into the darkness, and took a seat on a low bench. It was incredibly quiet, so we just sat with our eyes closed and waited, breathing in the earthy smell that was around us. The shaman’s grandson appeared shortly, a cup full of coals in hand. He crushed a bit of what looked like amber or petrified tree sap and put it into the cup, producing billowing white smoke. The ceremony was not long, and it was fascinating to watch him pray in rapid staccato Maya language and ask the superworld and infraworld gods for blessing first, then walk to the four cardinal points and pray to the cenote spirits, and finally go in front of us one by one, saying a short prayer, all while blowing onto the cup with coals and letting the aromatic smoke cover us.
Appropriately blessed, we left and descended into another cenote, this one with water. Ricardo gave out snorkeling equipment and off we went. The water was cool and very plesant, and visibility was not bad for an underground cave. It seemed shallow from the surface, but in fact the cenotes may extend 40 to 70 meters deep, so they are suitable for scuba diving as well. In fact, the whole cenotes system of the region extends more than 70 km. We swam for a while, and then dived through a couple of underwater channels. This was a very refreshing activity, especially for the hot day. Afterwards, went to another cenote and swam on the inner tubes, directly under the third zip-line, so we could see other groups flying above us while we ourselves basked in the sun.
After swimming we were supposed to eat, but Ricardo said we had some time, so who wanted to do another zip-line jump? Everyone, of course! Harnesses on, we climbed the tower again, and this time tried to jump off and turn upside down. I almost managed to do this properly, but next time it should be no problem.
The meal was provided for us in the hut, buffet style, with soup, chicken and beef en mole, rice, and hand-made tortillas. For drinks there was tamarind and jamaica water, which I liked best. Jamaica water is made from petals of the hibiscus flower, by boiling them and adding a bit of sugar so it achieves a nice red color and taste. Finished with the meal, we went to pick up our photos, which were taken just at the end of the third zip-line. Mine didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped, because I was twisting a bit during the jump and ended up with my back to the camera. But no worries, the important thing was the jump itself.
This was it for the day, so we piled into the van and headed back to civilization. Ricardo dropped us off at the Moon Palace and we thanked him for being a great tour guide. Throughout the day his good humor, energy, and infectious enthusiasm were unbounded and our adventure was that much better for it. He went above and beyond his duties by getting us another zip-line jump and also promising to email us the photos, even though it’s not really allowed. I would highly recommend AllTourNative tours – ours was well organized, informative, exciting, and safe. By all means, take one if you are ever in Cancún and make sure to ask for Ricardo. You will have a great time.

British Virgin Islands

16 January 2005 » In Travel » 4 Comments

Having always wanted to go to Caribbean, I got my wish last March when I went on a PHP cruise to Bahamas. But being on a cruise ship keeps you so far away from everything: the land, the people, the soul of the place. Right about that time I was falling in love with sailing, wanting nothing more than to silently glide along the water propelled only by forces of the nature. I took a sailing class and completed it in June. In December I finally got my wish: myself, my friend Anil, and a colleague from work Brenda flew to British Virgin Islands, picked up our chartered boat. and spent an amazing week sailing around the islands. A longer write up will be forthcoming, but the pictures can be seen now.

Not Moving

28 June 2004 » In Travel » 8 Comments

I decided that moving right now would be too much of a hassle and will stay in the current place for another year.
A couple of weeks ago I was on a business trip to London. While there, some people from work, Mari and I went to have a few pints of beer in various pubs. I have to say that I admire British pub culture in general, and so my experiences in those establishments were very pleasant.
The pubs in Britain seem to be much more of communal places that the bars here in US. They may vary from small unassuming pubs where people go to after work to ornate and expansive Pubs that are frequented by fast living crowds. But in all cases, you feel like there is a sense of, oh, I don’t know, camaraderie? And even before I read Passport to Pub I noticed that people there follow “rules”. What do I mean by that? Things like going up to the bar to order your beer, follow the queue, treat bartender as an equal, etc. The Social Issues Research Institute of Oxford conducted a study of the pub habits, behaviors, and etiquette and this is the result. By all means, click on the link above, it is a very entertaining read.
Can’t wait to go to London again.

Back On Solid Ground

06 March 2004 » In PHP, Travel » 1 Comment

Feels good to be on solid ground again. Back from my trip to Florida and the Bahamas on the inaugural PHP Cruise.
The PHP Cruise started on March 1, but I flew in a bit earlier because I wanted to visit the Kennedy Space Center. Pictures are here.
The cruise was an unequivocal success, with about 90 attendees and 12 speakers. It was a bit unusual to have a conference afloat and the first time wrinkles made themselves known, but Marco Tabini and Arbi Arzoumani quickly ironed them out. The quality of the talks was pretty high, better than at some other conferences of the same size that I attended. I ended up taking two slots to give my presentation on regular expressions because it was so extensive.
It was my first time on a cruise ship so I have no real basis of comparison, but on the whole I enjoyed it. Onboard restaurants, casino, bars, nightlife, comedy, and of course new people. All of us at the conference had a great time it seemed and the weather was nice and sunny. At Nassau I tried out scuba diving and it was simply fantastic – I’ll have to get certified now. The pictures from the cruise are here.
Word of advice: if you can, use your miles for upgrades to upper class, rather than for tickets themselves. The flight back was much, much better that way.

PHP Cruise

28 February 2004 » In PHP, Travel » 2 Comments

I’m off to embark on the PHP Cruise where I’ll be giving a talk about regular expressions in PHP. Back in a week.

The Tale of Two Cities

10 December 2003 » In Travel » 4 Comments

Sometimes the best things happen in the most spontaneous way. I was supposed to go to London to work out the project plan with the UK engineers there. Originally, we planned it for middle of November, but the visit of Mr. Bush there resulted in enough disruption that we had to postpone until the week of Thanksgiving. “Well”, I thought, “since I have to work on Thanksgiving and I have 2 floating holidays that I need to use before the end of the year, maybe I can combine all the vacation days and work out a quick trip somewhere nearby… Paris!”
Yes, Paris, that fabled City of Light.. I have heard much about it from my parents and friends, and I seized this opportunity to see it with my own eyes. I stayed there from Nov 19 until Nov 25, with no particular plan of action; every morning I would sit in a cafe, having coffee and pain aux raisin or pain aux chocolate and figure out what I wanted to do. Of course, I went to the Louvre, the Eiffel Tour, the Notre-Dame Cathedral, the Arc de Triomphe, and the rest of the tourist staples, but I also walked a lot every day, exploring the arrondissements (the districts), sitting by a fountain here, window shopping there, stopping for lunch at the wonderful outdoor cafes, grabbing a banana-nutella crépe from a street vendor.. That is the only way to get a feel for the new city, in my opinion.
Some good places in Paris to go to for food and drink:

  • Aux Trois Maillets, an excellent jazz bar, very friendly and non-assuming
  • Les Bookinistes, owned by Guy Savoy, serves up delectable cuisine and exceptionally friendly and pleasant service
  • China Club, good place to relax and chat with friends or listen to jazz in the upstairs room. The bartender there really knows his stuff!
  • These guides that helped me get around Paris:

    On morning of Nov 25 I took the Eurostar high-speed train to London. I had not been there previously either, and obviously, I did not have much free time in that city, but I still managed to see a few sights and go on a pub crawl with the UK guys. If you visit London, check out The Porterhouse in Covent Garden – they have 200 draught and bottled, and also the largest collection of beers on display that I have seen, over 10,000 of them. If you bring in a full bottle of beer and they don’t have it yet, you get a free drink and they put it in their collection.
    The pictures from the trip are here.

    Around the world

    29 October 2003 » In Photography, Travel » 3 Comments

    My friend Joachim is going on a trip around the world. He will travel through Europe (briefly), India (for two months), Southeast Asia (for a month), and will end up in San Francisco some time around the end of February. And he is blogging this experience. I can’t help but feel envious and also wonder at the same time whether I could leave behind a job, sell most of my property, and embark on such a trip. Best of luck to him.