Category Archives: Personal

These are all about me.

Performing in Budapest

On our second full day in Budapest, we had the morning off, then an afternoon rehearsal with orchestra, then 2 hours off for dinner, and then a performance.  The rehearsal and the performance were all in Matthias Church, on Buda Castle Hill, where the bus can’t go, so when we set out, we had to have our performance clothing with us, and carry it up the hill from where the bus dropped us off.  I mentioned in yesterday’s post that the bus was too big to fit in the medieval streets on Buda Castle Hill.  This also meant that we had to eat dinner on the hill.

Photos for this post are in the gallery More BudapestIf you’d like to enlarge any of the photos please go look at them there.

But about that morning off:  the Lion’s Garden Hotel was about a mile from Heroes’ Gate, and in the same area there’s Budapest City Park (with lake), the Vajdahunyad Castle (in the park), a huge mineral water bath (which we didn’t visit, sigh), and the Budapest Zoo and Botanical Garden.  We bought transit passes from the hotel and walked over to the main tram line to pick up a car. As we walked, I got the idea that the Lion’s Garden Hotel isn’t in the best neighborhood; the buildings were shabby, with some graffiti.  I remember passing one dingy little door with an inscription in Hungarian of which I only understood the English word “striptease”!

Here’s a view of the park and its lake.  We didn’t really explore the park much, as we wanted to see the Castle.


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Touring Budapest

The tour company (ACFEA, which specializes in tours for performing groups) kindly scheduled us nothing but an optional morning tour of Budapest on June 24, our first full day in Europe after 17 hours in transit.  Naturally, we all piled into the bus and went. The photos for this day’s tour are in the Budapest 2015 folder in the photo gallery.

There must be a rule about tours of Budapest – they all seem to start with a bus trip to Heroes’ Square.  Our trip in 2012 did, and so did this one, although the Lion’s Gate Hotel is only about a mile away.  Because I took large scale photos of Heroes’ Square in 2012, and because I was using a different camera, I confined myself this time to closeups of the big statues.  From my previous trip, here’s the big view of Heroes’ Square:

Heroes' Square, Budapest, from 2012 (it hasn't changed)

Heroes’ Square, Budapest, from 2012 (it hasn’t changed)

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Also posted in Vacations Tagged |

Nights at the Opera

With the director of the San Francisco Opera retiring, Jim wanted to see a few of the productions in his last season, so we bought a “4 pack.”  Trust me, if you want to see opera in San Francisco, a “short” subscription of at least 4 productions will make the per-opera cost much more reasonable.  Last year we only wanted to see 2 productions, so we couldn’t get a subscription; this year our 4 opera subscription cost us less than the 2 sets of 2 tickets.

Last week we saw Die Zauberflöte, aka the Magic Flute.  Now, I like Mozart, and I like the Magic Flute, silly as it is.  But I thought SF Opera’s production was odd.  In an opera talking about the worship of Isis and Osiris, they chose to costume all the temple priests like characters in a Japanese Noh play, including whiteface makeup and very odd headdresses.  The hero and heroine, and the Queen of the Night and her court, wore more or less normal stylized costumes; but the “3 boys” who guide the hero through his mystical trials floated in inverted cones suspended on visible wires, and were dressed like Indian servants in a movie about the British Raj, including turbans.

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Back to Budapest

When I left Budapest in 2012, I didn’t expect to return again a few years later, and certainly not to sing there.  But the Oakland Symphony Chorus, in which I’ve sung since January 2000, decided as a group to do an international performance tour in central Europe – beginning in Budapest.  It took us most of a year to organize it, and we ended up with about 70 people on the tour – 45 singers, and the balance were staff, friends, family members and other unspecified supporters. Here we are waiting at the gate:

Waiting in SFO for our plane

Waiting in SFO for our plane

All the photos I took on this trip are in the gallery Oakland Symphony Chorus 2015 Tour, which has 4 folders.  I spent a lot of time rehearsing and performing, during which I couldn’t take photos.  My husband Jim was the unofficial “trip photographer,” and his photos are in a gallery called Oakland Symphony Chorus European Tour June/July 2015. In addition to photos, he took videos of rehearsals and performances.  He took the photo above; obviously, since that’s me in the bottom right corner!

We left San Francisco International Airport on Monday, June 22, 2015, except for a few people who had flown ahead to do a little sightseeing.  The plane left around 3 PM, 50 minutes after its original takeoff time.  We’d been at the airport since 10:30 AM.

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The Blue Angels, 2014

Fleet Week 2015 just came and went.  Oops – that means I never posted my photos from Fleet Week last year, when on October 12, 2014 I saw the Blue Angels perform from the Golden Gate Yacht Club, courtesy of our host, retired Air Force Colonel Conway Jones.  It was quite a day.  The weather was perfect although, as the photos show, the air quality kind of varied depending on how many jets had flown by.  This photo is before any of the jets arrived.

Alcatraz Island and San Francisco Bay, Fleet Week, 2014

Alcatraz Island and San Francisco Bay, Fleet Week, 2014

All the photos for this day are in my gallery Blue Angels 2014on my SmugMug site, including more shots of all the planes, plus some pictures of the bay.  If you want to see any of these photos blown up, you should go look at them in the gallery.  The links I post here won’t enlarge if you click them.

As you can see, we were right at water level, looking across to Alcatraz.

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About Locks

Locks are how boats go around waterfalls and rapids, and dams.  Locks are probably the oldest technology we dealt with on our Viking River Cruise.  They still work the way they did in the 14th century (in China, in the 11th century).

You have a chamber with a heavy gate at each end.  The water height at the 2 ends can differ by a couple of feet, or several tens of feet.  Your boat enters the gate at its water level; the gate closes; the lock keeper opens valves that let water pour in, or out, depending.  You sit there while the lock chamber fills, or empties.  When it matches the new water level, the other gate opens and you move on.  The water is entirely moved by gravity; there are no pumps.

Some locks can take several boats at once; some locks are so small they can only take one; and they all handle traffic going both upstream and downstream.  We had at least one major delay where the Embla was in a line behind several other boats at a small lock, and another where a boat got stuck in a lock.  There’s a lot of boat traffic on the Rhine-Main-Danube route, including cargo haulers, and it all goes through those locks. The Embla barely fit in some small locks – I can remember standing on the side balcony and reaching out to touch the lock wall with my hand.

There was some confusion over how many locks we went through.  My original notes say 68, and I’m not sure where I got that.  I Googled the question “how many locks are between Amsterdam and Budapest” and came up with an estimate, from a site on river cruises:

  • From Amsterdam to the Rhine, 1
  • On the Rhine itself, 12
  • On the Main, 34
  • On the Rhine-Main-Donau canal, 16
  • On the Danube, 16 that we went through (there are more downstream from Budapest)

That comes to 79 locks!

Also posted in Vacations Tagged |

Thoughts on the River Cruise

After 3 years (sigh) I finally finished writing up the Viking River Cruise we took in 2012, from Amsterdam to Budapest.  I enjoyed it thoroughly, but I have some comments on the experience that I’d like to share.

Walking:  Don’t do one of these cruises unless you can handle walking several miles a day over unpredictably rough ground, or if you have trouble walking distances in heat.  Some cities are well paved, some have cobblestones, and some places aren’t paved at all.  I wore a pedometer, and my records show I walked 3-4 miles most days, a few times more than 4.  One day in Amsterdam I walked almost 8 miles.  If this kind of walking daunts you, you should not take the walking tours – they’re optional, but if you don’t take them, you basically just sit on the boat.  If you do take the walking tours, don’t count on having a lot of free time to explore on your own.  On several occasions we had time to explore a place only because the boat was stuck in line at a lock and was late picking us up.

Weather:  Be prepared for hot, muggy weather.  The farther into the European continent you get, the hotter it gets in summer; the rivers we were on carry enough water to make the weather very humid but not enough to make it cool.  The interior cities can get into the 90s.  Of course, it could also be cool and rainy.  You never know.

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Does anyone enjoy high school?  I didn’t have an especially good time in high school.  For that matter, I don’t recall enjoying school much at all, although I took pleasure in getting good grades.

I grew up in Napa, California in the 1950s.  My parents moved there from Vallejo when I was four.  I attended Lincoln Elementary School, Redwood Junior High (2 years), Silverado Junior High (2 years; change of districts, I assume), and Napa Senior High (2 years, class of ’63).  I recall mother saying Napa had the only 6-4-2 school system in the state, probably because at that time, Napa Senior High was the only high school in the county (at least, the south county), and it barely had space for 2 grades.  My graduating class (1963) had 700 students in it.  They have more high schools now.

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Our next stop after Vienna was Bratislava, capital of Slovakia. Frankly, I found Bratislava intimidating, because it was the first time I’d ever been in a country where the written language (on signs and so on) made no sense to me.  I understand enough German and French to get by; in Amsterdam the language was close enough to German for me to guess at meaning (don’t tell the Dutch that!); anybody who lives in California has some idea of Spanish.  But the Slavic languages are a mystery to me.  Fortunately everyone I really needed to talk to spoke English.

The earliest recorded town in this location was founded by Celtic tribes around 200 B.C.; when the Roman Empire expanded this far north, the town became part of the Limes Romanus, or the border of the Empire. The town has had at least four names over its history; the country has only been independent since the Velvet Divorce in 1993.

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Good-bye, Hewlett-Packard

Today I got rid of the least satisfactory desktop computer I ever bought, an HP Pavilion Slimline s5280t.  If you have one of these loads of crap, and it’s still running, buy a new replacement immediately and transfer everything.  If you wait, you may not be able to.

Here’s the failure timeline:

  • Nov. 2009 – bought the system and paid for extended “house call” support (a colossal mistake)
  • July 2010 – the power supply failed.  Online tech support was trying to coax me to “prove” it was a bad power supply by removing the motherboard (I am not making this up), when I balked and insisted on talking to a supervisor.  Getting a tech out to replace the power supply cost me an extra $200 which I consider close to extortion.  The damn thing was under standard warranty.
  • Dec. 2010 – the scheduled monthly hardware maintenance tool showed a hardware failure on the drive (which was one year old!) and when I called tech support they had me run a separate BIOS test which also failed.  Tech support confirmed this means the drive is failing.  This time they shipped a new drive and sent out a tech to install it without any arguments; apparently they knew about this.  I had even more trouble when I tried to restore a disk image taken with a new program which I didn’t fully understand, but I can’t blame that on HP; eventually I had to do a full rebuild.
  • Dec. 2012 – H-P sent out a routing upgrade to their Support Assistant (the program that did the hardware checks) which was so buggy I couldn’t install it.  I couldn’t get any sense out of H-P. Since it wouldn’t run, I uninstalled it and ran blind on hardware problems from then on.
  • Aug. 2013 – got a very strange message, “can’t access the D drive due to a recently installed update.”  System extremely slow.  Eventually ran CHKDSK which fixed errors in the master file table BITMAP.  I don’t have notes on the next item but it was just a couple of weeks later that the system wouldn’t come up at all.  I took it in to East Bay Computer Center in Oakland for diagnosis.  They said the disk was so far gone they couldn’t even recover data from it; they also said it was a poor-quality refurb.  Thanks, H-P support.  The only good thing about this is that it died the day after I took my regular local backup, so once they’d built me a new Win7 Pro 64 bit drive, I was able to restore all my data.  And rebuild all my programs…
  • Sept. 2014 – the power supply from July 2010 failed.  East Bay Computer now has the whole box and will build me a new drive and transfer the data from the old hard drive (which should be good because they installed it!).  They also said they get these H-P boxes in with problems all the time.

It’s only 4 failures, you say.  True, but four extremely disruptive and annoying failures in 5 years.  I’ve had Dell computers that ran for 5 years without a single problem; I’m pretty sure I had a Dell that ran for 6 or 7 years without any problem.  When I think of the days when Hewlett-Packard was the absolute gold standard for any kind of technical equipment, it just makes me cry.

In any case, I’m somewhat limited in my ability to respond to email these days, so bear with me.  I hope to get the new system back by the middle of next week.

Also posted in Technical Tagged |