Sunday, November 9, 2014

Flashback to Before the Fall of the Berlin Wall



Hubby has been traveling internationally since he was a youngster. In the summer of 1976, his family took a trip to Berlin, both East and West sides. The city was still more than a decade away from being reunified. Today Google Doodle marking the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall reminded me of those old family photos.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Penang's colonial past at the Old Protestant Cemetery



Walking through the tombstones of the the Old Protestant Cemetery provides an interesting peek into Penang's colonial past. In use from 1789 to 1892, the people laid to rest on this hallowed ground represent a sampling of the expat groups that called Prince of Wales Island, as Penang was known back then, their home.

Friday, October 24, 2014

A Free Trip to Europe

Where in Europe would you love to go?

Where would you go if you won a free, all-expenses-paid trip to anywhere in Europe? Yes, anywhere. Ten days — flights, trains, hotels and meals all paid for. You even get a little spending money. Wouldn't you be beyond excited at this opportunity to travel without spending a dime out of your own pocket?

The contest rules were:

  • Enter by suggesting a destination
  • Present a  proposal of five sites to visit or things to do while on the trip.
  • Destinations will be ranked by all the contestants plus the people funding and organizing the trip.
  • Winner will be the top ranking destination.
  • Contestants must be under 18 years old. 
Best of all, contestants are guaranteed a spot on the winning trip even if theirs is not picked.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Wild Color and Good Eats on Burano

If Venice is like a masquerade ball, mysterious and opulent, then Burano is like a backyard picnic, festive and full of simple pleasures. 



We spent one of our days in Venice exploring the outlying lagoon islands. After a long morning looking at hand blown glass in Murano, we again board the vaporetto water bus for the 30 minute journey to Burano, an island known for its lace making and fishing. Even from far away, I couldn't help noticing the wildly vivid colors of the houses standing out against a brilliant blue sky. Fishermen's wives supposedly painted their homes like this so their husbands could see them while out at sea. I certainly could. What comfort these bright buildings must have provided on a foggy day, acting as a visual tether for the fishermen as they went out on their boats for their daily catch. The leaning tower of San Martino Church rises up above the rooftops and acts as a landmark you can see from all around the village.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Art for the Masses on Murano, the Island of Glass

Sweat drips down his forehead as he stands at the mouth of the furnace, evenly rotating the metal rod to gather molten glass on its end. Turning towards us, he carries the rod with its blob of gooey glass over to the table and rolls it back and forth, back and forth. Bringing the hollow rod to his lips, his cheeks bulge as he blows mightily, and the glass bubbles outwards. Back into the furnace it goes. The man does this repeatedly, sometimes rolling the hot glass in bits of colored glass to make it more vividly hued or pulling out points and curves with tweezers. When this piece is done, he pulls it off the rod and puts it in a controlled temperature oven which will slowly cool it down to room temperature.


Vitae by Denise Germin

Watching craftsmen create hand blown glass is one of the top reasons that my son proposed Italy as our summer vacation destination. Frankly, this took me by surprise because it has nothing to do with either Pokemon or Minecraft. You never know where you'll end up if you put a kid in charge.

We take a short ferry ride across the lagoon from Venice to Murano which is the center of Venetian glassmaking. Back in 1291, these craftsmen were forced to move to Murano because Venetians were worried that flames from the fiery furnaces would consume their town. For centuries after that, Murano was the main producer of glass for all of Europe.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Explore Venice by Boat

The island of San Giorgio Maggiore across the lagoon from St. Mark's Square


I realize that exploring Venice by boat isn't exactly a revolutionary suggestion. None of you are reading this title and thinking, "Boat, huh? Who would have thought? That's something new." I may as well be suggesting that as long as you're in Egypt, go and see the pyramids. If you go to Antarctica, make sure you bring a coat. On the surface, it's not exactly from the trenches travel advice. But in case if you've never been, you may be wondering about some of the details. That's why I included a few choice tips.

The most natural introduction to this city, once one of the most opulent in the world, is the backwards S-shaped Grand Canal that cuts through this collection of islands surrounded by a marshy lagoon. As the main thoroughfare for centuries, this waterway is lined by one magnificent palace after another. Most were built between the 13th and 18th centuries. My head seemed to be constantly swiveling back and forth trying to take in all the sights on both shores along its more than 2 mile route. Built on wood pilings driven downwards 15 feet into the clay and facing the constant threat of being flooded by high tide, these stone buildings were a far cry from the wooden huts on stilts I had seen on Southeast Asian lakes and rivers.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Postcards from an Afternoon Stroll in Rome

The first time I visited Rome was part of a whirlwind, seven-countries-in-two-weeks bus tour. Needless to say, we did not spend much time in Rome, and much of what I saw was looking out the bus window. Upon returning this last summer with kids and hubby in tow, I realized that Rome is a place that is best savored leisurely and on foot, preferably with a gelato in hand.

After landing in the morning and enjoying our first, authentic meal in Rome — pasta, of course — we let the kids pick our starting point for exploring the city. Considering that our stroll was not planned out in minute detail as is my usual modus operandi, we see a breadth of sites in one afternoon. Perhaps it's because in Rome, you can't go wrong. Anywhere you turn, there's something to see.

The Pantheon

Rome
Light streams in from the hole in the Pantheon's domed ceiling.

First up was The Pantheon. My daughter has been intrigued by it ever since reading Lonely Planet Not-for-Parents: Rome that's aimed at kids. From the outside, this two thousand year old building looks like a Greek temple. Eight grand columns hold up a triangular pediment. Step inside, and what immediately grabs your attention is the massive dome which happens to be the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world. With all the marvels of modern engineering, I'm amazed that the record has yet to be broken. The only light inside the building streams down from the 8 meter (26 foot) wide oculus or hole in the center of the dome. At mid-day with the sun nearly overhead, the large room is flooded with light. Small holes in the floor drain off any rainwater that falls in through the hole.
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