London: Giant mirrors land in Kensington Gardens

By Sean O'Neill
October 3, 2012
<small>Sean O'Neill</small>

I'm not aware of ever having attained inner peace. But on Thursday I came close to doing so while viewing the four oversize, curving sculptures that for the past week or so have been drawing visitors to London's Kensington Gardens. The city's star artist, Anish Kapoor, has made the mirroresque artworks specifically for this royal corner of Hyde Park, with its sightlines pleasantly free of any skyscrapers.

Kapoor is famous in the U.S. for his so-called "millennium bean," a glinting installation near Chicago's Grant Park. He cribbed that same "reflective object outdoors" concept for dreaming up these sculptures that he's put in the city's most central park.

One of them is a curved reddish disk floating on a lake and reflecting the landscape, a bit like the famous painting within a painting by Rene Magritte. Another is bent like a funhouse mirror. A third is conical, like an upside down tornado.

The most popular of the sculptures looks like a satellite dish large enough to contact Saturn. The mirror brings a reflection of the sky down to earth, placing an image of the clouds upside down and next to a lake that's home to several mute swans. Stare at the sculptures for a while, and you'll be surprised at the memories or ideas that pop into your head.

I found myself thinking that the sculptures looked like sinister objects from outer space. Maybe they will one day play a frightening chord, like those shiny monoliths in 2001.

But this installation is about inner peace. Hard for me to find, like I said.

Go and find the giant mirrors and your own center of calm before March 13, when they come down (, free).

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San Francisco: Keep your eyes on the sky this weekend

San Francisco's annual Fleet Week, starts this Thursday, so don't be surprised if you see fighter jets flying overhead or a general roar coming from the sky. During Fleet Week, the Blue Angels of the U.S. Navy and other pilots will be performing daring acrobatic air shows in the skies over the city. You can catch a glimpse from pretty much anywhere in San Francisco, but for ideal views of the air show, head down to waterfront near Pier 39 and the Marina Green between 1 and 4 p.m. on Saturday or Sunday. Reserved seating is also available, from $25. Military vessels will also be open for public viewing over the weekend, including the massive USS Pinckney, a guided-missile destroyer on Pier 35. The Canadian Navy will also have ships participating, for good reason&mdash;2010 marks their 100th anniversary. October 7-12, dates and times vary. See full schedule here.


Would you quit your job to travel the world?

What would it take to make you quit your job to see the world? Three friends&mdash;Jennifer, Holly, and Amanda&mdash;did just that. Known as the Lost Girls, these ladies gave up their media jobs in New York City and vowed to "get lost" with each other in a year spent traversing the globe. Their travels led them to 14 countries where they mingled with locals, provided volunteer work helping at-risk girls in Kenya, and took lessons on everything from capoeira in Brazil (Brazilian martial arts) to yoga at an ashram in India. Did their path lead them to some uncomfortable situations? Absolutely, but that's exactly what they were searching for. Their amazing tale is now available in a book released last May called The Lost Girls: Three Friends, Four Continents, One Unconventional Detour Around the World. Keep reading for travel tips from the Lost Girls. I recently caught up with the Lost Girls in New York, who told me how to wander a little more comfortably. What is your go-to budget tip that you could reveal to our readers? Jennifer: Slow down! As we learned, the faster you move from place to place and the more destinations you try to pack in, the more cash you're going to end up dishing out. Give yourself the opportunity to get to know a place beyond its tourist attractions. Holly: Consider subletting your place. I listed my one-bedroom apartment on a site called, and this greatly helped me defray the cost of my adventures. Amanda: Don't pay more for an overpriced travel wardrobe. I spent a ton of cash on quick-dry clothing and special convertible pants that I assumed I'd need, but very rarely wore. How often do you spontaneously get soaked while traveling and need your outfit to dry in an hour? What is one thing that you packed that seriously saved your sanity? Jennifer: A headlamp. I'm a night owl, and having a portable light allowed me to read after everyone else had gone to sleep. Holly: A sleep mask and earplugs. In noisy buses, trains, and hostels, these enabled me to shut out the world and get some shut-eye! Amanda: A universal memory card reader. It allowed me to snag photos from fellow travelers while still on the road (because, realistically, very few people actually email you after the fact). What is one thing you wish you'd packed that you now would never leave home without? Jennifer: Disposable contact lenses (I recommend Acuvue TruEye). I was trying so hard to save on space and money, so I brought my regular set of lenses that require constant cleaning and attention. Some things are worth the extra space and bucks. Holly: My rolling suitcase. I can pull it around whenever there's smooth ground, but convert it into a backpack when I'm on more rugged terrain. I used one from High Sierra for a trip to China, and I love it. Amanda: A top-notch, ultra-portable camera. I discovered a passion for photography during our trip, and I wish I'd had a better camera! I'm planning on buying the Canon G-10 before my next trip. So what's next for the Lost Girls? Amanda: As a group, we all feel strongly about visiting parts of Asia that we missed during our trip (or only explored cursorily), like Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Nepal. We're hoping to plan a trip to this area of the world this winter! Looking for more tips and travel stories? Check out this exit interview from the girls' trip to Panama last October to find out what they'll never do again, what they wish they had known before they set out, and what part of their journey they can't stop talking about.


Florence: Back with a report on eating and cooking

I'm back from Florence and eager to begin responding to the questions you posted before my trip. First off, Joe Routon asked about gelato, and readers Nancy and Christy chimed in to suggest Vivoli. While I agree Vivoli's a great choice, my vote goes to nearby Gelateria dei Neri (via dei Neri 26r), where the wide selection includes unusual flavors such as croccantino (a crunchy mix of caramel, almonds, and hazelnuts), pignolo (pine nut, available only in summertime), ricotta con figo (ricotta with figs), and a few soy milk-based products. A friend who grew up in Florence steered me to Badiani, a five-minute walk from the soccer stadium. It's worth the trek! Badiani made its reputation with the one-of-a-kind, creamy Buontalenti flavor; chocoholics like me will be drawn instead to the dark, rich dolce vita, mixed with hazelnuts. Joe also asked where locals go for ribollita, a hearty Tuscan bean soup (the name literally means "reboiled"). It's a staple on many restaurant menus in Florence, along with pappa al pomodoro, a bread-and-tomato soup. Da Sergio (piazza San Lorenzo, 8r, open for lunch only), Trattoria Mario, and Zaza are long-standing, reliable places to sample these soups. All are centrally located near San Lorenzo market, so brace yourself for some fellow tourists. One of my favorite go-to restaurants in Florence&mdash;for classics and inventive dishes like fiochetti di pera&mdash;is Quattro Leoni in the Oltrarno. But I stuck with my goal of trying new places this time and wound up at Trattoria del Carmine, where I tried both soups and traditional crostini misti (toasted bread slices with toppings like liver pate). It's got an appealing location in the Oltrarno's Piazza del Carmine, complete with outdoor seating, and attracts mostly locals. But I came away feeling that the atmosphere was more memorable than the meal. I was more excited by Zeb Gastronomia, a combination food shop and trattoria that has racked up praise since opening in 2008. Zeb plans to launch a cooking program, so Jennifer, who inquired about local classes, might want to follow up as her trip her family's April 2011 trip approaches. The restaurant and food shop Olio &amp; Convivium hosts customizable cooking classes for groups of up to 12 (call Massimo, 011-39/055-265-7639), and we've previously recommended Toscana Mia, a school run by two sisters with locations in Florence and at a 13th-century villa in Chianti. Our recent column Trip Coach: Cooking Schools provides a sense of what to expect and the issues to consider before booking. Check back for future posts about Florence's wine and aperitivo bars, advice for renting a car or an apartment, and fun stuff to do with kids and teens. RELATED: Having trouble distinguishing crema from panna at the gelateria? We've got a handy guide to decoding gelato flavors and pizza toppings in Italy.


San Francisco: 5 best October values

Castro Street Fair Founded by Harvey Milk in 1974, the Castro Street Fair is an excellent place to celebrate the neighborhood's culture, with dancing, food, live shows, and some of the city's biggest personalities. This year's theatrical highlights include live performances of the award-winning musicals Pearls Over Shanghai and Jerry Springer The Opera. Get ready to party with sword swallowers and contortionists, comedians, and burlesque and cabaret troupes, among other local characters. Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., $5. Intersection of Castro and Market, from 16th to 19th Streets. See map. LitQuake This weeklong literary celebration features readings and other events around the city. While there are big-name headliners like Jonathan Lethem and Daniel Handler, the festival is a great chance to discover local authors. The grand finale is a "lit crawl" through the Mission District, sort of a bar crawl/book reading, featuring some 300 authors doing five-minute readings at bars, shops, art galleries and even an alleyway. The event always draws huge crowds, filled with revelry, drinks, and literary inspiration. Most events are either free or cost around $10, but some, including Lawrence Ferlinghetti's night top off at $30. Full disclosure: I will be reading from my new book, Tortured, during the Oct. 9 Lit Crawl at the Elbow Room (647 Valencia St.) at 7:15 p.m. Stop by and say hi! Oct. 1-9. Check the website for full schedule and venues. Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Crowds of locals will be heading to Golden Gate Park this weekend to catch the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival, an annual favorite. It's one of the largest free music festivals in the country, with six stages and more than 350 musicians. Highlights for the 10th anniversary of the festival include Emmylou Harris, Patti Smith, the Indigo Girls, Elvis Costello, and many more. Food and drink is available, but I think bluegrass is best enjoyed with a picnic. Friday 2-7 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Speedway Meadow, Golden Gate Park. Valet bike parking available. "Japanesque" exhibit at the de Young To accompany the amazing Impressionism and Post-Impressionism exhibits on loan from the Museum D'Orsey, the de Young is also showing Japanese prints from 1700 to 1900. Many Impressionist artists, including Edouard Manet and Vincent van Gogh, were heavily influenced by the prints of this time, and the exhibit, The Japanese Print in the Era of Impressionism at the Legion of Honor is a rare opportunity to see the little-known Japanese artists who had a huge impact on their Western contemporaries. And remember, admission is free the first Tuesday of each month. $10 for adults. Tuesdays-Sundays, 9:30 a.m.-5:15 p.m.; closed on Mondays Happy Hour at the Beach and Park Chalets "Where the park meets the Pacific" is how locals know the historic Beach Chalet and small-plate sister restaurant Park Chalet. Both are popular for amazing views of the park and the ocean and are now hosting the new 3-6-9 happy hour. The menu has items priced at-$3, $6 and $9 (easy to remember, eh?). Try the house-brewed chalet beer ($3) or a $6 glass of wine, or the cevice ($6), fish and chips ($9), or sweet-potato fries ($3). Monday-Friday, 3 p.m.-6 p.m. and 9 p.m.&ndash;close, free parking, 1000 Great Highway at Ocean Beach.