Friday, June 24, 2016

36 Hours in Cody, Wyoming

The town of Cody, Wyoming is a popular stopping point for travelers making the long drive between Yellowstone National Park and Mount Rushmore. While I considered resting my head here for just one night, I'm so glad the family decided to spend an extra day exploring this cowboy town which was founded as a tourist magnet in 1896 by the already famous Buffalo Bill Cody.

The historic Irma Hotel and home to the Cody Gunfighter show

Gunslinger Showdown

We arrived in the late afternoon of a sunny June day. Driving through downtown, I noticed that quite a crowd was gathering in front of the historic Irma Hotel. While most cowboy stories tell of gunfights on the street taking place at high noon, the Cody Gunfighters put on a performance in front of the hotel at 6PM every Monday through Saturday during the summer months. It's like the Old West come to life.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Let Me Take a Selfie

I'm a big fan of art in public places. As a parent, dragging all my kids into an art museum is a bit of a hassle. So, it's nice when we encounter art as we are out and about. Bonus: Docents don't yell at your kids if they touch the art that's out in public like they would in a museum. After all, art that is exposed to the outdoor elements tends to be rather sturdy. (Well, except in this poor guy's case.)

Friday, May 6, 2016

Night Falls on Venice

St. Mark's Square under an indigo sky at night

Venice at night is a different creature than the one you'll encounter in broad daylight. While the sun is high in the sky, people are on a mission to squeeze in all there is to see. For many of the tourists, they only have a few hours in this glorious city. Hordes of people queue up at the entrances of St. Mark's Basilica, the Doge's Palace and the Campanile. Tour guides lead their people through St. Mark's square from one sight to another while waving their tiny flags in the air.

Friday, April 22, 2016

In Search of Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life

Long before I became an expat and started reading travel blogs, I was an ardent fan of expat books and travel books. Admittedly, many of them had to do with food such as Pretty Good Number One: An American Family Eats Tokyo or chef David Lebovitz's The Sweet Life in Paris. I laughed at Bill Bryson's attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail in A Walk in the Woods and tried to immerse myself in Parisian expat life with the classic Hemingway memoir, A Moveable Feast. I developed a better appreciation for PBS's Europe through the Back Door host, Rick Steves, when I read his book, Travel as a Political Act which I highly recommend. 

Celebrating New Year's Day 2013 watching surfers --  Tamarama Beach, Sydney, Australia

However, what I've never had an interest in is surfing books. My book club recently decided to read Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, an autobiography by Willian Finnegan. That's what I like about book clubs. They expand my horizons and get me to read books that I may not have chosen on my own. Looking back through my photos though, surfers apparently appeal to me enough that I snap pictures whenever I see them.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Delectable Desserts at Remy onboard the Disney Dream Cruise

Only Disney can get away with using a rat as a restaurant decor motif

Last year's Spring Break voyage onboard the Disney Dream cruise ship was so fantastic that everyone in the family couldn't wait to go again this year. I was keen to try Remy or Palo, the romantic, adults-only restaurants, but hesitated since the no-extra-cost dinners at the family restaurants were already on par with the type of fine dining we'd splurge on for an anniversary dinner. As I was looking through the Onboard Activities, the Pompidou Dessert Experience at Remy, also listed as the Remy Dessert Party, immediately caught my eye. Scheduled mid-afternoon during our Day at Sea, it was the perfect opportunity to indulge in my favorite food category. This was definitely a far cry from the free flow of soft serve ice cream that I would have otherwise had for my afternoon snack. And instead of replacing a fine dining meal, I was adding an additional one into my day. Great idea, if you ask me.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

12 Things to do at Yellowstone that aren't Old Faithful

Old Faithful is the big draw at Yellowstone National Park

I'm sure you've heard of Old Faithful, the most iconic feature of Yellowstone, the oldest of all the U.S. National Parks. It's not the tallest blasting geyser at the park. That honor goes to Steamboat Geyser whose eruptions can be anywhere between 4 days to 50 years apart. Although no longer shooting into the air with the near clockwork regularity that gave the geyser its name, Old Faithful still has an average of 17 eruptions a day. It's an ideal natural tourist attraction since there's a 90% success rate of predicting the next eruption within a 10-minute window. If you're willing to hang around and amuse yourself for up to ninety minutes at the excellent museum or nearby hotels and restaurants, you are pretty much guaranteed to see it blast.

Guess what? There are other things to do at Yellowstone! They may or may not be as crowded as the boardwalk around Old Faithful, depending on how far off the beaten track you wish to go.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Austin's Graffiti Park at HOPE Outdoor Gallery

My favorite piece

Street art started catching my interest when I was living in Penang, Malaysia. Taking a photo next to the Kids on Bike mural  and going on street art scavenger hunts has become one of the must-do activities for visitors there. As I've traveled around the world, this particular public art form has been a draw for me whether I'm in Paris, France or Rapid City, South Dakota. So, I was excited to discover that the street art scene has taken off in my hometown of Austin, Texas during the years that I was overseas.

HOPE Outdoor Gallery

Most of the popular street art around town seems to fall into the wholesome category suitable for using as a backdrop for the holiday card family photo. The HOPE Outdoor Gallery, a.k.a. Graffiti Park, has a edgier feel to it. It first came to my attention when a friend posted photos of her daughter's hip hop dance crew taken at HOPE. "What?!," I thought to myself. "Something this cool exists in Austin?" I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised what with the "Keep Austin Weird" motto of this Portland-of-the-South.

HOPE Outdoor Gallery launched five years ago as part of SXSW. Spread across three tiers of concrete walls that are supposedly what remains of an abandoned condo construction project from the 1980's, it's said to the be the largest outdoor mural project in the city. The original info I found for it asks artists to submit applications to be considered for displaying their creations here. In magazine and travel blogs, it shows up as a place that everyone, both Austin residents and tourists alike, must visit.

A few weeks ago, I was finally in that part of town and decided to pay HOPE a visit. On this quiet weekday afternoon, parking was already scarce. I imagine it must be rather difficult on a fine weekend. With the tiers rising up before me as I approached the outdoor gallery, it was a little hard to take in. There was so much going on visually. 

There's now a trailer near the street entrance that supposedly sells cans of spray paint if you want to get in on the action. It was closed when I visited, so I didn't get a chance to leave my mark. I was glad that I'd worn sturdy shoes as the hike uphill alongside the concrete walls was a little steep and uneven. No stairs were in sight anywhere. I wanted to get closer to the art on the upper tiers but didn't feel like I was quite agile enough to hop over walls and drop-offs.

Heading through a gate at the top of the hill, I was surprised to find myself in front of an office building disguised as a castle. This city landmark belongs to Castle Hill Partners, owners of the property where HOPE is located and sponsors of the original art installation launch. Hmmm... it also seems like the parking here (West 11th Street off Blanco Street) was a much better option as long as the gate to the gallery is open. I've always wanted to get close to Austin's famous Castle, so stumbling upon it during this outing was a bonus.

As I walked around HOPE, I didn't quite know what to think. I really had, pardon me, high hopes for this place. It is so hyped up as a essential part of the Austin experience. But compared to what I've seen elsewhere, I was disappointed. It may have started out great and semi-curated, but the current practice of letting any person let loose with a can of spray paint has diminished the quality in my apparently not-so-humble opinion.

My favorite piece, the woman's face in the first photo of this post, has probably survived unscathed because it is up high and out of reach to anyone without a ladder. Every other surface was covered with layers and layers of random scrawlings, like the kind you see at restaurants where you can grab a marker to write on the wall. Empty spray cans littered the ground. Broken beer bottles were scattered around, too. I must be a hypocrite because I found this urban art experience that I sought out a little too urban for me. How I long for Singapore sometimes. 

As an observer, I give this place 3 or even 2 out of 5 stars. I think the magic must be in getting to be a participant. To be the one wielding the spray paint and leaving your mark without fear of repercussion.

Do you consider this art?

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