Category Archives: Travel

Washington Is Losing a Panda — The Last of Bei Bei


The Giant Pandas at the National Zoo, like all the other pandas at zoos in the United States, don’t belong to the Zoo itself. They’re effectively rented from the People’s Republic of China on a 10-year lease, for about a million dollars a year, each.

If a panda cub is born in the US, the Zoo is charged a $400,000 baby tax, and the cub must be shipped to China when it turns four years old.


Bei Bei Celebrates His Fourth Birthday

Bei Bei, the Zoo’s youngest panda, was born on 22 August 2015, so it’s time to say goodbye. Next Tuesday, 19 November 2019, he’ll leave for China.

So much for birthright citizenship.


The National Zoo has scheduled a week of special events leading up to Bei Bei’s departure, including Q&A sessions with panda keepers and panda feeding times with special treats. Airbnb is providing free hot chocolate to Zoo visitors on Saturday morning. Here’s a full listing of what’s planned. As always, admission to the Zoo is free.

If you’re not in the area, or just want to avoid DC’s November weather, you can watch the action on the Zoo’s Giant Panda Cam. Camera One will be focused exclusively on Bei Bei for the full week. (Note: Pandas sleep a lot. The cameras operate 24/7, but your best chance for seeing live panda action is at feeding times and around midday, East Coast time.)


The National Zoo has posted videos of some of Bei Bei’s most memorable moments  Here are two of them:

Bei Bei’s First Steps

Playing in the Snow

From BBC Earth — A Glorious Seven Worlds, One Planet

For the past few weeks, a brilliant new nature series called Seven Worlds, One Planet, has been playing on BBC One. Each of the seven episodes focuses on a different continent; segments of the show were filmed in 41 different countries.

The narrator is naturalist Sir David Attenborough, as if it could be anyone else.

Here’s a sample, in which a Giant Leopard Seal pursues a Tiny Penguin:

Warning. The photography in the show is stunning, but Nature is not always pretty. Some viewers in the UK have responded to parts of the series with tears or nausea.

US viewers will be able to judge for themselves when Seven WorldsOne Planet premieres on Saturday, 18 January 2020, on BBC America, AMC, IFC,  and SundanceTV.


Survivor: Galápagos

From Planet Earth II — View in Full Screen

Remember the famous “Iguana vs Snakes” sequence from the BBC series, Planet Earth II?  When that little iguana made a run for safety as the rocks around it erupted with dozens of hungry snakes, we witnessed the most exciting chase scene in any movie or TV show released in 2016. I’ve reposted it at the bottom of this item. Three years later, it’s as breathtaking as ever.

New, Improved Version of Titanic

And it didn’t cost nearly as much as the original!

This is from Studio 188. From the I’ve found on the Net, I think they’re Russian, but beyond that I can’t find much information. They’re supported, in part, by Patreon contributions.

I’ll be posting more of their very clever “Low Cost Videos” soon.

Another Day, Another Christmas Market

The most popular Christmas Market in Budapest is on Vörösmarty Square, right in front of Café Gerbeaud. It’s one of my favourites—I’ve been there more than a dozen times, by day and by night. Day visits are a joy, and nights are even better.

Repeat visits are easy, since the market is open every day from early November through New Year’s Day, usually from 10 AM – 9 PM.

Like most Christmas Markets, this one has booths selling anything and everything even vaguely related to the holidays, or to winter in general, or to the seasonal decoration of houses, preferable in shades of red and green. Where it really excels, though, is in the quality and variety of its food offerings.

If you aren’t currently in Budapest, Look on these Booths, ye Hungry, and despair!*


*Shelley wrote “Ozymandias” in 1818, so this year is its 200th anniversary. My trivia fact du jour.

Café Gerbeaud and the Best Desserts in Budapest

Café Gerbeaud

Café Gerbeaud

It’s possible to spend time in Budapest without visiting Café Gerbeaud, but why on earth would you do a silly thing like that? The café, dominating Vörösmarty Square in the heart of the city, is celebrating its 160th anniversary this year. Long known as one of the great coffee houses of Europe, Café Gerbeaud has survived two world wars and a dismal 50-year period of nationalization. After the collapse of Communism in the 1990s, it was purchased by a German businessman and, like Fashion Street a few blocks away, beautifully restored to its former glory. There’s no better place in Budapest to enjoy fabulous desserts in a truly elegant setting.

Here’s what I ordered:

Caramel and Dried Plum Sundae

Caramel and Dried Plum Sundae

The menu describes this Caramel and Dried Plum Sundae as “Two scoops of vanilla ice cream, two scoops of caramel ice cream, dried plum ragout, caramelized hazelnut pieces, walnut croquant, whipped cream, caramel bon-bon, and a walnut crisp”, which left me unsure about the exact dfference between a “walnut croquant” and a “walnut crisp”. That uncertainty didn’t prevent me from savouring every delicious spoonful of this unforgettable sundae.


Café Gerbeaud Interiors
Images Found on the Web

Look Closer

No, it’s not a shoddy Photoshop job. It’s intentional, and you’ve got to admire its effectiveness.

Variations of this ad have shown up in DC Metro stations over the past month or so. I suspect that no more than one person in a hundred really looks at subway advertisements, let alone remembers them five minutes later. This one, though, gets noted and reposted.

The image, combined with the emphasized and unsubtle “DTF” text* make it memorable.


*If you don’t know what  “DTF” means, look it up in the Urban Dictionary.