First Impressions

AF-S DX VR Zoom-Nikkor 55-200mm f/4-5.6G IF-ED.

Quite a mouthful? I recently bought a new 55-200 zoom with VR (vibration reduction) based on excellent reviews and a price that’s hard to beat.

So how does it stack up? The verdict is still out but I can say the image quality is excellent. As far as the VR technology is concerned, I’m pretty disappointed. I’ve had better luck with the much heavier, much clunkier, no-VR, 70-300mm f/4-5.6G: sharper photos shooting hand held.

So much for getting a few extra stops advantage. More testing required to confirm if it was just bad luck or if the VR on this particular lens bites the big one.

Photo courtesy Nikon U.S.A

The Sting

Paris: Day 6, September 29
Saturday morning. We go shopping right after a light breakfast.

It’s still drizzling, the roads are slick, and coming near an intersection the Audi unexpectedly hydroplanes. We slide out of control and come to a stop by gently hitting the curb. The car in back of us, however, slams into our rear. Fortunately nobody gets hurt and the cars are minimally damaged. The driver of the car that hit us is white like a ghost though.

Family is preparing for company tonight so I’m on my own during the day. They drop me off at the Versailles train station and I head for Les Invalides in Paris. I get out and take some photos of the Alexandre III Bridge.

Pont Alexandre III is an arch bridge that spans the Seine, connecting the Champs-Élysées quarter and the Invalides and Eiffel Tower Quarter, commonly regarded as “the most ornate”, “the most elegant”, or “the most extravagant” in Paris.

While taking photos on the bridge, a kid comes up to me and says “Monsieur, look”. We both look down as he picks up a gold wedding band. He offers me the band, I refuse, but he insists, so I take it – sensing what will follow.
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Toe Manks in Paris

Paris: September 27 – 30, 2007.

Day 4, September 27
I left the U.K. office Thursday afternoon to catch a British Airways evening flight to Paris. James, our pleasant cab driver from Pakistan would bring me to Heathrow. He would also be taking the rest of the team to the airport the next morning.

To get back at my mates, I ask James to make up a story, to tell them I had gotten sick and thrown up all over the back of the van (where they would be sitting). The next day he obliged and while I wasn’t there, apparently they went for it, at least for a few seconds.

Thursday evening in France was quiet – a good veal roast sandwich before bedtime – and some pleasant time catching up with family.

Day 5, September 28
Unfortunately the weather is dismal in Paris and near Versailles where I’m staying – cold and it’s raining. Family are working so I take it easy, I still haven’t slept off the jet lag. After supper, we head for Paris.

We park underneath the fantastic Louvre and just walk around under some light rain. One of the girls starts looking for “les clous” on the ground just outside the pyramid. I ask her what the hell she is talking about.
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Kitchen Nightmare

London England, Day 3, Wednesday September 26th
Another sleepless night even though I was a good boy, I only ate a few of the remaining After Eight’s before going to bed. Now, on waking, I chuck the rest of the box, or what’s left, into the garbage to avoid temptation for tomorrow night – enough with the caffeine.

After work, we hire a van for the trip back to London and La Noisette. This time I call shotgun and grab the front seat next to the driver. Yeah, the hell with chivalry, although there is plenty of room in the back. Being in the front, and given my colleagues are exhausted and becoming quite silly, I’m the obvious target for their lame jokes. One of them tells our driver, a super nice guy named James from Pakistan, that I get carsick and frequently puke in cabs – this is bullshit but they all think it’s funny – I’ll get even though, just wait.

We don’t want to be late for La Noisette, that’s French for “The hazelnut”. The restaurant staff want to know in advance if you’re going to be late. If you don’t show up at all they will still charge you the flat sum of 65 pounds (over $130). Thankfully good old James gets us there in the nick of time.
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Gordon Ramsay

London England, Day 2, Tuesday September 25th
Another hard day’s work. I still haven’t enjoyed a proper night’s sleep. Let me see, could it be because of the dozens of After Eight dinner mints I scarfed down just before bed? Nah, not a chance.

Tonight we dine in Kingswood (Surrey) with our U.K. colleagues at the Boscoreale Ristorante Italiano. The waitress is from Poland. She hardly speaks a word of English, but I use hand gestures and we understand each other just fine. I’ll leave it to your imagination to figure out how I was able to communicate “beer me” to her. At least I didn’t get slapped.

It’s a lovely evening. Nice ambience, great company, excellent food including possibly the best homemade ice cream I’ve ever had. Just what I needed too, more chocolate to help me sleep tonight! The Boscoreale definitely gets my recommendation, if you ever get lost in that part of the world that is.

The really exciting news today: we’ve managed to book two tables for tomorrow at La Noisette – one of Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants! So much for waiting lists! So who is this Ramsay guy anyway?

Gordon James Ramsay OBE (born November 8, 1966 in Johnstone, Scotland) is a Scottish celebrity chef and currently one of only three chefs in the UK whose restaurant is rated at three Michelin stars. He has been awarded a total of twelve Michelin stars. He is famous in the UK for presenting TV programmes about competitive cookery and food, and improving cooking and restaurants around the country; he is best known in the United States as the host of FOX’s Hell’s Kitchen, which debuted in May 2005. On September 19, 2007, he debuted in a new FOX series Kitchen Nightmares.

Who would’ve imagined we could book one of his restaurants a mere day in advance. I can’t wait to go – what if he actually shows up and becomes my BFF? Find out here.

Two Capitals

London: September 24 – 27. Paris: September 27 – 30, 2007.
Another tale of two cities, two capitals, two of the most exciting cities in the world.

As Yogi Berra (not to be confused with Yogi Bear) would say: “It’s like deja-vu, all over again”. This was my third Paris & London trip in the last 12 months. This time the order would be reversed however, with London being the first stop.

Day 1, Monday September 24th
I left Montreal Sunday night, headed for the UK on a business trip. After the usual long overnight flight I landed at Heathrow with 3 colleagues – a fourth, my great Greek buddy Ike would join us at the office.

One of the perks of flying Business Class is being able to take a hot shower and change into clean clothes at the Air Canada Arrival’s Lounge – not that taking a hot shower compensates for a sleepless night (I just can’t sleep on a plane, even in Business class).

Our driver was waiting for us in the lounge. Doesn’t that sound just a little pretentious and bourgeois? We followed him to the parking lot because tight security at Heathrow does not allow for curbside service. His vehicle was a nice, clean, late model Mercedes, so far so good right?. Wait, the story gets better.
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I Left My Heart

Part 5 of California 2007 – San Francisco
Wednesday August 22nd:Day 13 – Another beautiful drive down the incredibly scenic Pacific Coast Highway – back to SF – with more fog along the way. Lunch is Mickey D’s at Strawflower again – in or near Half Moon Bay.

Once in San Francisco we drive to the Presidio while waiting for our room (once more at the Comfort Inn). We walk down to Union Street a few blocks away from the hotel and do the shops. Later in the afternoon we hit Ghiradelli Square (more free caramel samples).

Supper is at the excellent Michelangelo’s in North Beach.

Thursday August 23rd:
Day 14. We take it easy. A drive to the beach near the Cliff House, then off to Lincoln Park site of the California Palace of the Legion of Honor. A bit later we stroll through Golden Gate Park.
We also do Ghiradelli Square again, given it is so close to the Hotel, where we enjoy Kara’s cupcakes.

In the afternoon we take the bus down to Chinatown one last time and do some browsing and window shopping. We return our car and have one final great meal at Pane e Vino on Union Street – superb cheesecake!

Friday August 24th:
OMG – It’s a 4h50 am wakeup to get the SupperShuttle to the airport. We stop at Toronto and then back to Montreal.

The loveliness of Paris seems somehow sadly gay,
The glory that was Rome is just another day,
I’ve been terribly alone and forgotten in Manhattan,
I’m going home to my city by the bay.

I left my heart in San Francisco, high on a hill it calls to me
To be where little cable cars climb halfway to the stars.
The morning fog may chill the air, I don’t care.
My love waits there in San Francisco, above the blue and windy sea,
When I come home to you, San Francisco, your golden sun will shine for me.

[1.California 2007] [2.City by the Bay] [3.Wine Country] [4.The Peninsula] [5.San Francisco]