Category Archives: Travel

150 of the Most Beautiful Libraries in the World

Books – With National Book Lover’s Day coming up on August 9th, I think that this is a great list of libraries we will want to visit. When I travel I try to visit interesting libraries and post on my blog about them as well. This is a wonderful compilation and now gives me even more places to put on my visitation list.

The Critiquing Chemist

(Suzzallo Library; Seattle Washington; Photo by Priyaranjan Pattnayak)

I’m beyond thankful that the Critiquing Chemist has celebrated two very exciting milestones in one week! Last week was my blogging anniversary, where I observed having been posting for over three years. I celebrated in true analytical fashion with a compilation of statistics, including a variety of pie charts.  This week I reached a milestone that The Science Geek has been predicting I would eventually reach all along! The Critiquing Chemist broke 4000 followers! Reflecting back on my beginnings as a blogger, I’m blown away and immensely grateful with the attention and support my blog has received over these fast flying years! Thank you everyone for your wonderful encouragement, as your interactions have made my day on a routine basis. As I started to near the 4000 follower mark, I started brainstorming as to an appropriate post to highlight…

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Singapore, Singapore – marché Mövenpick

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Food & Locations – We had never heard of the marché Mövenpick until we came across it in the 313@Sumerset mall the other day. On the main floor, it looks like a coffee shop and bakery (it has some very nice breads and rolls). If you go downstairs though you find a full, very large restaurant.

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This restaurant is one of 80 around the world (only two in North America, and unfortunately they are both in Toronto, Canada), though I have never come across them before. They seem to be very family friendly and even offer birthday packages for kids.  These packages start at $29.90 SD (Singapore Dollars) per child with a minimum of 10.

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When you enter the restaurant, you are given a card, much like a credit card. As you wander about the floor you choose the items you want to eat. You hand the cook/server your card and they electronically record your selection. You do have to be careful or you could easily run up a pretty hefty bill.

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When you are done eating, you exit through a cashier who scans your card and then prepares a bill based upon your selections. I was happy to find that Apple Pay was accepted here.

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We tried marché for dinner one night, then again for breakfast. The food was very good and, for the most part, prepared to your order. It is a little expensive, but then Singapore is an expensive city to live in. Shown above is the daily special of “White Asparagus Savory Crepe” at $19.90 SD or about $14.80 USD at today’s exchange rate. You do get a good meal for your money. That Crepe is about 14″ long and about 3″ in diameter and comes with a side salad.

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There is a station (shown above) where you can have a pasta dish prepared.

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There is also a salad station where you choose a small, medium or large plate, then fill it with your choice of salads and vegetables.

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There is a selection of meats and fish that you can have prepared to your taste. About the only difference we saw between the dinner and breakfast menu was the availability of omelets and waffles during breakfast. The omelet was good, but the ingredients were fixed – onions, tomatoes, and mushrooms.

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There is a dessert station where they have ice cream and baked goods. After our dinner, we tried a couple of their desserts. A Vanilla Marange and a piece of Praline Chocolate cake. They were both very good.

Would I come back to marché? – definitely, though I am not sure if I would come for breakfast again. If you are in the Somerset MRT (subway) Station area in Singapore, this is a place I would recommend.

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Travel tip – Always carry a ‘Cheater Plug’


Tech Tips – On my international travels, I have stayed in hotels that, for the convenience of travelers from the US, have 110 V. outlets installed. These are really great to have, but generally, they are only non-grounded receptacles. This was the case recently when I was in Tokyo, Japan. I was traveling with my MacBook and the power cable includes a ground pin making it incompatible with the provided 110V outlet.


This is where having a ‘cheater plug‘ can save the day. The ‘cheater’ is simply a 3-prong to 2-prong adapter that allows grounded plugs to be used in non-grounded receptacles. Having heard about Akihabara Electric Town, we dropped in while out exploring Tokyo. After asking in a few shops we found and purchased a few of these adapters to add to our travel kit.

Back in the States, we could easily have picked them up almost anywhere. Looking at them on Amazon they are about $4 or less each. If you are going to be traveling with any electronics that has a 3-prong grounded power plug, adding one of these ‘cheater plugs’ to your travel kit may be just what you need to keep yourself in operation.

Japan, Tokyo – Akihabara Electric Town

I read about the Akihabar area of Tokyo in one of the tourist brochures. This area of Tokyo can be found near the Akihabara station on the JR rail line. The area established itself as the place to find electrical goods for the home in the years after World War II. Today the area is the shopping district for video games, anime, manga, and computer goods.

In addition to the electrical/electronics products that can be found there, the area is considered by many to be an otaku (a Japanese term for people with obsessive interests, commonly towards the anime and manga fandom) cultural center.  As you can see in the video clip above, icons for anime and manga are on the buildings throughout the area. Many cosplayers can be found on the streets handing out ads for area shops. Prominent of these are those advertising the ‘maid cafés’.

The area has several ‘maid cafés‘ and ‘cosplay cafés‘. We saw several young Japanese women in front of shops dressed up in the ‘maid’ costumes. I did not realize why they were dressed up like they were until I started researching for this blog post. As one might expect, the area was crowded and most of that crowd was made up of young men.

We just past quickly through the area looking. I could easily have spent hours looking through the shops.

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Japan, Tokyo – Jimbocho, the Used-Bookstore District


I wasn’t aware that the “Kanda Second-hand Books Area” existed until I happened across it on a “What to see in Tokyo” map. The formal name for the area is Kanda-Jimbocho. Jimbocho is named after the 17th-century samurai Jimbo Nagaharu who lived in the area.

After a fire destroyed much of the area in 1913, Shigeo Iwanami opened up a bookstore in the area. It later became a publishing house which is still located in the district. After that has followed many other bookstores. Somewhere between 150 and 180 bookstores can now be found in the area.

Most of the bookstores sell used books, but there are quite a few with new publications on sale.

While some English language books can be found, most as you would expect, are in Japanese.

I took photos of just a few of the places that we walked by.

As you can see there is a wide variety of shops.


You walk by some of these shops that lean towards older works being resold and you can smell the old paper and ink. That is not something you find in modern bookstores. It is more likely what you would find in the stacks in older libraries.

If you like books you may want to visit this area of Tokyo, even if you can’t read Japanese.

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Japan, Tokyo – Grand Prince Hotel and Garden

This is the first time I have been to Japan. We stayed at the Grand Prince Hotel.


This is one of three Prince Hotels (Takanawa, New Takanawa Prince, and Sakura Tower) all located in a 10-acre garden which formerly belonged to the Takeda Palace of Prince Tsuneyoshi Takeda. The hotel is modern and very nice.


We were fortunate to have a view from our 6th story room onto the garden area. It is very well maintained and I saw a steady stream of visitors while we were staying there, including more than one wedding party.


The garden is well laid out and marked. We were visiting Japan in May so we missed most of the flowers identified on the chart. I had the opportunity to go down and walk around through the garden. It is a very tranquil place in busy Tokyo.Â

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USA, New York, New York – Zabar’s


While in New York, I unexpectedly ran into a friend from when I worked at IBM in Austin, TX. While we were looking for a place to eat dinner, he introduced me to Zabar’s. Zabar’s is located right on Broadway at 2245 Broadway (at 80th Street), New York, NY 10024. Zabar’s Store Hours: Monday-Friday: 8am – 7:30pm, Saturday: 8am – 8pm, and Sunday: 9am – 6pm.

Zabar’s was opened in 1934 at their current location. The beginning found Zabar’s with a modest 22-foot wide storefront, today it nearly spans the entire block. As they say on their website:

The principles and practices of our founder and father continue to guide us: Respect the customer. Never, ever stint on quality. Offer fair value. And last but not least, keep searching for the new and wonderful.

Without question, this last point has accounted for some memorable moments. Back in the 1960’s, we introduced New York to Brie, in the ‘70’s we brought them sun-dried tomatoes and gnocchi, and in the ‘80’s, we got so excited about caviar – and wanted everyone to taste it – that our prices set off a so-called “Caviar War”. (Incidentally, we won.)

Over the years, the business kept growing, and today we span practically the entire block front. With our sons, daughters and their cousins, we’re still at it – hand-slicing meltingly delicious smoked fish behind our deli counter…offering tastes of the latest artisanal cheeses…setting out fresh-baked batches of rugelach (it’s our Bubbe’s recipe)…overseeing the roasting of our special coffee blends (we sell 400,000 pounds a year!)

You can find all sorts of things to eat at Zabar’s. They have a large bakery with all sort of goodies. They also have a wide range of fish, meat, and cheese. There is also a small cafe attached to Zabar’s and the second floor is filled with various housewares. In addition to what you can walk in and buy, they do a brisk online business, particularly at holidays. They have nice catalogs of both their food and housewares offerings.


For those who want to pick up something pre-cooked to take home, they have a great selection. I took my wife and granddaughter into Zabar’s the night after I was introduced to it and they loved it. We each were able to pick something appealing out of the ready-made counter (photo above) to take home for dinner.

We liked it so much we returned the next night for dinner again. We would have made three nights in a row, but it closed (it was a Sunday) before we could get there the third night.

Should I find myself in New York, hungry and near Broadway and 80th, Zabar’s will be where I go.

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Product Review of TripMode


Product Review – I had read about TripMode, but it was a discussion of it as a recommended utility on the Mac Power Users podcast #386 Must Have Utilities that convinced me to purchase it. TripMode is a Mac utility that allows you to (per their website) “Easily block unwanted apps from accessing the Internet the second you connect to a hotspot“.

The utility is very useful when you are operating your MacBook over a hotspot instead of WiFi (IEEE 802.11). As I have found while traveling, there are many Mac software packages that are constantly trying to use the Internet. If you have a limited monthly data allocation for your hotspot device, you can very quickly find it used up in just a few days. I recently found that I had used 90% of my monthly 15G allowance in just six days! While my connectivity doesn’t end when I hit the 15G limit, my access speed is severely constrained.

TripMode seems to be the answer. I purchased ($7.99 from their website) it yesterday and put it to work on my MacBook. With TripMode in place, I was able to both monitor and control my data usage.

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Data monitoring is an option not enabled by default, but I wanted to see how much the various applications were using so I enabled it through the TripMode settings.

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You can create as many profiles as you like, giving each a separate name. You have can then choose which Apps are allowed to access the Internet in the profile by checking those you want in the list (Safari is selected in the image above).

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TripMode shows up in the Menubar at the top of your screen. The icon blinks red every time an App attempts to access the Internet and is blocked. When the TripMode icon is clicked you get a drop-down list of the Apps with an indication of which are enabled in the current profile and their data usage. This drop-down also lets you switch between profiles (the profile currently in use in the image above is ‘writing’.

You can set up the usage monitoring to start on any day of the month and to last for periods of a single day, a week or a month. Using TripMode I have been able to keep working over my hotspot, yet limit which Apps are using the limited resource. TripMode remembers which WiFi access points it has been turned on for in the past and automatically activates when one of those access points is used in the future.

Now that I have used this App, I consider it a must-have App for my MacBook. If you ever use a hotspot while traveling, this is an App you need to consider.



  • Easy to install and configure
  • Multiple profiles user definable
  • Profiles for different operating situations
  • TripMode starts as soon as you connect to Wifi
  • Vendor claims there is no tracking of Internet sites visited
  • An abbreviated user manual is available through the App



  • The $7.99 seemed a little high, but it was worth it
  • No indication of which App is being blocked when the icon flashes red

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You Have $80,000? Reserve Your Spot for Aurora Station


Space – Are you interested in space and have a little extra cash? If you have $80,000, you can reserve your spot. Then you only need an additional $9.5 million for your full trip. Where are you going? To Aurora Station.


Aurora Station is a space station planned by Orion Span. Unlike the other current space stations Aurora Station is planned as a luxurious space hotel. The hotel will initially be able to accomodate four guests and two staff in the 43 foot long by 14 foot diameter module.

While it is certainly not open for business yet, the plan is to have it open by 2022. You will get on-line training, followed by three months of training at the Orion Span facility in Houston, Texas, then a 12-day excursion to Aurora Station. Once on Aurora Station guests will experience zero-g and help with research. The company eventually plans to expand the station and add possibly offer ‘space condos’ in the future.

Orion Span announced this venture back in 2007. They report that they have had nearly 40 people lay down the money to reserve a spot. If you are of a mind, you can reserve your spot now.

Whether or not this commercial venture actually opens their space hotel, I think that someone will in the near future. The price tag is hefty, but as commercial launch services  mature, the costs will drop.

France, Paris – Variantes


I certainly was not looking for this store, but simple stumbled upon it as I was wondering around Paris. Variantes is a small store that overflows with games of all kinds. It can be found at 29 Rue St André des Arts.


What really caught my eye was the spectacular chess sets and pieces. There are some very well done, and expensive, pieces available. A set made with these would be quite a work of art to put on display. I play chess, but my style is more in line with the cheep plastic sets than something this magnificent.

If you are into board games in general, or chess in particular, you will want to stop in at this shop if you are in Paris.

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