Discovering Renoir’s estate in the South of France

This post is for my pops-in-law Richard Swartz, who is a great artist and would have appreciated this. Pops, wishing you were here!

The impressionistic French artist Renoir lived in Cagnes-Sur-Mer (South of France) the last 12 years of his live. We visited his estate, his studio and an impressive view of the sea and olive orchard from his house.

Flying with a big balloon.. ie. Paragliding!

We spent 2 days at Grenoble. Thanks to my friend Severine’s encouragement, we decided to try Paragliding at St. Hilaire, a village outside of Grenoble. Apparently it is a very popular place for paragliding in France and Europe.

Getting reading to jump!


Taking off

This is when Brendan was up in the air, shooting from above.


We spent the night at my friend Marie-Sophie’s house in Grenoble and had the chance to attend a ‘block party’, as it happened to be the National neighbor’s day in France. People were hanging out, local band playing popular music, and dancing. A perfect way to spend a Friday night!

It feels good to be back in France.

Hi all,

Welcome to my travel blog. It has been 8 days since we arrived in France. We’ve visited many places in the South of France. Everything is as I remembered, charming and absolutely beautiful. We took our Vado flip video camera with us and took some videos to share bits of our vacation with you.

If there is anything you want me to video tape while we are here for one more week, let me know! Enjoy
St. Paul de Vence, people watching.

Road trip to Gorge du Verdon – Grand Canyon of France.

Chateau de la Commonderie, Grenoble
We finally arrived in Grenoble and checked in at my favorite hotel, a little Chateau, close to the HP office.

Dinner with HP colleagues. It was so nice to see my old team again! Though I am no longer with HP, I know I will have friends forever all over the world 🙂

Pinch pinch, We are in the Greek Islands

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been in Greece for 10 days. The weather has been perfect and we keep on finding ourselves saying ‘wow!’ throughout the trip.  Trying to soak up everything we see and experience as we know this is temporary. I guess that’s why they call it vacation.

Here are some highlights of our trip:

Red beach – we had to hike up the rocky cliff to arrive at this hidden gem. The water is clear and the rocks are red, contrasting against the blue sky makes it picture perfect!

Million dolloar sunset from our hotel balcony

Scooter ride to Oia to watch the sunset:

Our next stop was another island near Santorni called  Ios. This is a less known island but equally gorgeous. 9 euros and 1 hour of ferry ride later, we arrived in Ios. This is where we were stuck in traffic from goat crossing. I felt like we were in a movie, in the middle of goats. The sound of the bells on their neck is music to my ears, listen..

Driving through the windy mountain roads of Ios feels like a mixture between driving through Bryce Canyon (with their rock formation) and Switzerland (with the nearby islands almost look like the Alps), with the back drop as the deep blue Aegean sea. It is truly breathtaking. Pictures cannot do justice.

Thanks to TripAdvisor which we relied on religiously to find the best places to stay via social media (traveler’s comments), we stayed at Liostasi Hotel and Spa. It is now one of my favorite hotel to stay in the world! Our trick of getting great hotel deals is by calling the hotel the day before to book the rooms. We’ve been able to save about 30% on top of the already lowered low season rate. (Not advised during high season.)

While at the hotel, we met a Greek photographer George Lizardos, who was there visiting his good friend, the owner of Liostasi Hotel.  We sat by the pool and chatted with Mr. Lizardos while watching the sunset.  He was an interesting person to speak to. He got his big break when he submitted his photo to Nikon (using his father’s manual camera) for a world-wide competition 30+ years ago when he was only 17 years old. Mr. Lizardos won 2nd prize amongst 300,000 other photos submitted. From there, the rest is history. Mr. Lizardos was commissioned to capture the look, feel and character of many luxury hotels in the Greek Islands. Some of his work included Cavo Tagoo , Sunrocks, Katities, and where we stayed Liostasi Hotel. What I learned from George Lizardos? Simplicity is the key to good living! He only works on projects that he is passionate about, then he takes 1 to 2 years off. Note to self: Need to find a job like that.. Mr. Lizardos is in the process of building his dream vacation home in one of the Greek islands, one made out of pure earthy material with 60 windows. The home is designed entirely by him, including the furniture. George said that he would invite us there once complete. I should have had that in writing.  Stay tuned..

We are now in Mykonos, 2 hours via catamaran from Ios, 28 euros pp. Didn’t like the hotel we stayed at the first night, the host was nice enough to let us check out early. We are now checked in at the Pelican Art Hotel . It is right in the Mykonos town, with modern and colorful decorations and most of all, great service! The best part is that we are paying 60 Euros per night, half of where we stayed last night for a much better place. We’ll be here for a few days before heading back to Athens.

Oia,The Best Place to See Sunset

One of my favorite things to do when I travel is exploring, without a plan. We have been operating without a cell phone nor a watch. It took a few days to get used to it but it is liberating living without a schedule! I know this is not reality so I am soaking up our unstructured days as much as I can before going back to D.C. where we call home.

Today we rode our scooter toward the North part of the island, where there are red cliffs on one side and the Aegean sea on the other. I know I sound like a broken record, but the view is spectacular and we are not taking it for granted.

25 minutes away via scooter, we arrived in a famous town called Oia. this is a village where buses of tourists get dropped off to see the sunset. While waiting for the famous sunset, we strolled around Oia village and found an art gallery exactly how I would imagine one look like in Santorni:

A glimpse of Oia prior to the Sunset,

I saw Santa vacationing in Santorini!

After 3 days in Fira, we packed up our scooter and off to the Southern part of Santorini in a town called Megalohori. It’s only 15 minutes away via scooter. This area of Santorini is famous for it’s winery and another spectacular view of the volcano and the Aegean sea. Because this is not yet the high tourist season (which starts on June 1st), we are able to find nice hotels with a view with a reasonable price, about 100 US$/night including breakfast and tax.

Gotta love the Dunkies in Santorini:

Megalohori is about 10 minutes away from the nearby black beach, Perissa. The beaches are black because of it’s fine black and gray pebbles on the beach. It is beautiful, though I can imagine during the hot summer days the black sand will get very hot and therefore make it difficult to walk on the beach bare foot.

The highlight of our day was definitely when we spotted Santa at the seaside restaurant where we had lunch! I was going to sneak a picture of him laying by the beach cabana, but I decided to give him some privacy as he only has 6 more months to rest up before Christmas.

My trip diary to the Greece

This is the 5th day of our 2 week trip to Greece. So far our experience has been beyond expectations. The people are warm and genuinely nice. Shop keepers at the tourist areas are not pushy and always greeted you with a smile. Food is fresh and fairly reasonable. We have been able to have a sit down meal for 2 for around $25. Not bad!

It took us 2 days to get our schedule in sync with the 7 hours time difference form the US – East Coast time zone. The 2nd day we woke up and said ‘Oh My God!’, as I looked at the clock and that says 15:58 (almost 4pm). Feeling lazy and a bit quilty for loosing an entire day, we rushed out to visit the Acropolis and wondered around Athens for the next 5 hours.

Getting around in Athens is fairly painless. Their metro system is extremely clean and efficient. Traveling via public transportation in a foreign country is a great way to get a taste of the local living. Just because we may look like a tourist, I don’t neccesary want to act like one.

After 2 days in Athens, we got on a one way plane trip to Santorini. Despite of leaving 3 hours before the flight, we managed to arrive at the gate 10 minutes before the plane takes off. Thanks to the demonstration/protest  at the city center. We had to jump off of our bus, run (with our luggages) for about 20 minutes to the next metro stop. 6 metro stops later, we had to get on the taxi and thankfully made it to the airport with seconds to spare.

It was all worth it when the 1 hour plane ride arrives at a small airport of Santorini. You can feel your blood pressure instantly lowered as the plane touched down and you look out and see the sea and some palm trees. The vew only gets better and better. Below is a quick clip of our first arrival at our hotel, the Blue Dolphin. (which I recommend highly). We stayed in a cave. Yes,  CAVE! It gets chilly at night but was definitely fun.

Our cave room:

The wonderful host Dionisis who greeted us with a history of Santorini at the hotel terrace


How to Engage Citizens through Social Media

I attended a session from the Gov2.0 Camp around Using Social media for OutreachHere are the notes.

Educate – Frame the conversation – Deliberate on the issues – Identify shared priorities – Refine conversation – Bring back conversation – Act

Gov2.0 Camp March 27, 2009

Gov2.0 Camp March 27, 2009

Questions people want to get out of the session:

  • How can we use web 2.0 tools effectively?
  • Twitter strategy for outreach
  • Using social media to create awareness
  • How do you define success? (Google moderator)
  • How to engage public in a meaningful way
  • How do we use social media to gain trust in the customer base
  • Connecting communities – promote collaboration
  • Building online audience and drive to 1:1 relationships
  • Media think tank outreach
  • Communication to senior leaders on why they need to be involved in the social media
  • Metrics, privacy issues, how do you know the impact
  • Sharing best practices
  • Security issues, guidelines on what to say and what not to say
  • How we filter what will help us and what’s jus t the noise
  • Inform the public on what we do
  • Want to make sure that the vocal people do not drown out the conversation –by having topical blogs to drive the conversation
  • Capitalize greater government transparency through social media
  • Bridge cultures using social technology
  • Elaborate and leverage the network
  • Want to get beyond the numbers when measure success. How are we going to action the information to help set priority and utilize the information in a meaningful way
  • How to overcome management resistance
  • How to engage in the public through technology in the time of crises

What is meaningful participation? Meaningful is in the eye of the beholder, start with the mission and define the right mix that help you as an organization.

  • Recommend a book written in 1965 by Ellul: Propaganda How you skew information, depending on your purpose and how you are trying to influence. How unity and action need to work together.
  • You can use social tool to establish relationship with people with 1:1 levels
  • How do you start? Begin with a dialogue, keep it rolling by user generated content

o Make sure you know what people want to do

o How will you make it successful? Credibility

It’s important to include what the citizens think (comments) as meaningful metrics

– One of the success measure is to see that their audience / comments self moderate

  • People have to have a mechanism to know that their comments will make a difference
  • Need to be responsible for managing the outcome, take ation and communicate that to the public
  • Recommend to use Metafilter and Dailypost, which has a 24 hour delay to monitor the comments
  • Set expectations to your audience has to understand that not every comments has to be responded to
  • Social media Showing a face from the inside of the agency can express more government transparency
  • America Speaks is hiring. Check out

Are we loosing young talents in this country?

A BusinessWeek article Why the US is Loosing Foreign Graduates, indicated that increasing number of foreign students graduated from U.S. universities are going back to their home countries to pursue careers. Some says it is due to tightened restrictions of the H-1B visa (temporary work permit); Others argue that is caused by the current economy with lesser jobs to offer. I think it is a combination of both. The H-1 visa restriction has certainly hindered a pool of talented international students to pursue careers in the US. On the other hand, with the globalization of the economy, US is no longer the gold mine of opportunities it once was.

Another article The Argument Left Unsaid About Foreign Students written in 2008 still holds true today. I hope the new Obama administration takes this into consideration and rethink ways retain talents in our own country. America is established based on diversity an innovation.

As we trend towards a knowledge-based economy, it is imperative that we remain competitive in the global marketplace.

If American universities and American politicians want to help higher education and the economy, it’s time to move beyond just lobbying to get foreign students into the country for a few years – but to talk about why it makes sense to welcome many for their careers.
Gautham Pandiyan

Is our Govenment Open to Share?



I attended the Gov 2.0 breakfast yesterday, hosted by BearingPoint and Information Week. We discussed topics around how government can benefit from using web 2.0 technologies. Below is the summary and my walk-away from the meeting:

·         Social media is a new way of managing across organizations, breaking the boundaries.

·         Set expectations and be realistic.

·          You cannot manage the entire group, but you can involve all for collaboration

·         How to get greater adoption to social media with the organization?  By gaining top-down advocacy.

Support needs to come from top leadership, where they have true interest and can benefit from the efforts. I have seen a few social media initiatives stall due to the lack of management support coupled by lack of linkage to business objectives.


·         Where do you look for inspiration? From other agencies/organizations that have implemented web 2.0 technologies.

·         Beware of the Shiny Object Syndrome. Web 2.0 seems to be the hottest thing on the web. Do spend some time to understand the technology and culture before you venture out.

·         80% of the value initially may be searchable information. Rather than file cabinet hidden. Don’t underestimate ‘electronic search’. Getting information out to the public.

·         There is inherent conflict between rules and usage. The more rules you create the less participation.

·         Organizational hierarchy is going to get disrupted. Thanks to web 2.0, communication is no longer coming from top-down. Rather bottoms-up, crisscross in all directions.


How do you start? 

·         Try out now tools while at the same time figuring out what you want to achieve

·         Understand your business objective and set a realistic goal

·         Expectations management , taking baby steps to approach this infancy stages of social media

·         be open to learning and be patient

·         A new set of shiny web 2.0 tool is only good if people adapt to it. And the reality is that it takes a while for the culture to shift and eventually change

My favorite quotes of the day:

·         Can political leadership not be an oxymoron?

·         Letting a 1000 flowers bloom when the gardener is anal-retentive