Saturday, December 6, 2014

Live from New York

The Statue of Liberty and lower Manhattan 


I've walked through the streets of New York City a thousand times. I've traveled on its subways and hailed taxis from the curb. I've caught a summer breeze on the fire escape of my Brooklyn walk up and sat on the steps of my Brownstone watching kids skip rope. I've spent weeks strolling down  the avenue gazing in store windows at a divine pair of Jimmy Choo shoes and meeting my gal friends for brunch. I've lined up for meals and desserts at all kinds of restaurants from the posh to dives.


Snow White in the Saks Fifth Avenue store window


I've spent the night at the American Museum of Natural History and watched everything come alive when the visitors are gone for the day. I've taken a spin in Gatsby's yellow car. I've romped in Central Park on a snowy December night and sang "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" with all my might until Santa's sleigh flew off into the sky.

Skating rink at Rockefeller Center

The thing is... until last week, I've only  physically spent a handful of days in New York City — not even enough to need more than one hand's worth of fingers to count. I've certainly never actually lived in the Big Apple.

But my oh my, I've been transporting myself there in my imagination for years. I went from being a kid who wondered if someone could tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street to eavesdropping on Seinfeld from the next booth over at the coffee shop. I've lounged around Central Perk with all my Friends, and enviously counted the vast number of times the ladies from Sex and the City managed to get together for brunch. (Seriously, my own friends and I don't get together nearly as often.) Law and Order had me looking over my shoulder, and "Live from New York. It's Saturday Night!"


Yellow taxis at night with a horse and carriage off to the left side

Long before Night at the Museum, I wanted to sneak in an overnight stay at the Metropolitan Museum of Art like the brother-sister duo in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Growing up in a suburban neighborhood in Texas, I was fascinated by the freedom of the kids in Harriet the Spy and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. Their world seemed so much bigger than mine.


The Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center on a rainy evening

I traveled back through time to the Roaring Twenties reading The Great Gatsby and wondered at the excess and decadence of Long Island's West Egg. I briefly pondered the merits of Objectivism as well as New York's modern architecture movement reading Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. Let the Great World Spin took me all over 1974's New York from the Park Avenue apartment of a grieving mother to the seedy sidewalks where hookers turn tricks just to put food on the table and heroin in their veins. I sighed with relief that I'm not in a city with the ultra-competitive parents  of The Nanny Diaries or the ridiculous workplace demands of The Devil Wears Prada. Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney, Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow... the list goes on and on. Reading the words on those pages, my imagination was caught up in what it is like to be a resident of New York.


Father-daughter duet on the The Big Piano at FAO Schwarz

New York in the movies? Where to start? I've danced on the piano at FAO Schwarz with man-boy Tom Hanks in Big and dance battled with the Sharks and the Jets in West Side Story. I've wept watching the boy reconciling with his loss on 9/11 in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and laughed at Will Ferrell in Elf. I've had Breakfast at Tiffany's (except that you can't). I've discovered the city with the sailors on shore leave in On the Town and thanked my lucky stars that my Malaysian monkey problems weren't the size of King Kong

Snoopy balloon at the 2014 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

New York is even a city that I've experienced via food. As a person who loves cooking and baking, I keep trying out recipes like Crack Pie from Momofuku's Milk Bar and the Oprah-recommended Frrrozen Hot Chocolate from Serendipity 3. I've watched famous chefs create signature dishes on TV shows and wished that I could reach through the screen for a spoonful.


The Empire State Building (left) and Manhattan at sunset as seen from the top of Rockefeller Center

Now that we are back to living in America, I excitedly turned my sights to New York City for our first big trip. Since we've returned, our pace of travel has greatly slowed. It's been 4 months since we've gone somewhere, much longer than the 6-8 weeks that used to pass between trips in cheap-to-explore SE Asia. It's allowed me to savor the buildup towards our vacation and actually take time to plan and research what to do.

Last week, we arrived in the Big Apple and actually, in reality, in person got to walk through the streets of New York City... just as I've done a thousand times before.

This post is part of the following link-ups. Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.

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.
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