Friday, May 6, 2016

Night Falls on Venice

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

Yellowstone
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?




It’s Your Turn, Link Up Your Newest Travel Inspiration



I've joined up as one of the co-hosts of Weekend Travel Inspiration.
  1. Link one of your inspirational travel photos or stories to this post by adding your info.
  2. Copy and paste our badge and a link to this page.
  3. Visit some of the other wonderful travel bloggers, read their posts, and leave a comment.  It would be great if you could comment on 2-3 posts.
  4. Tweet it and include this hashtag. #wkendtravelinspiration .
  5. Follow all the hosts of Weekend Travel Inspiration who are working hard to spread the word on what wonderful work travel bloggers are doing.
  6. Don’t forget to check out my amazing co-hosts and their pages: Reflections EnrouteThe Crowded PlanetContentedTravellerAlbom AdventuresSafari 254, and FamiliesGo.


I've also joined with the following linkups. Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Postcards from The Library of Congress

The Great Hall of the Library of Congress

Libraries have always had a special place in my heart. Growing up, books were a way to travel around the world and throughout time without ever leaving my cozy chair. I swear that in 6th Grade, I went to the school library every morning to check out a new book which I would read from cover to cover that night. Even now, I volunteer at my kids' school libraries and find a zen-like peacefulness in each book having an precise place where it belongs.


When we visited Washington, D.C. last fall, I wanted to go to the Library of Congress for no other reason than it has the second biggest collection in the world. I had no idea how drop dead gorgeous the building is inside. Tall windows flooded the room with light. Vivid colors popped out in contrast to the ornately carved marble. I had yet to lay my eyes on a single book, and I was already captivated.

Friday, February 5, 2016

China Two Ways

For the longest time, I thought EPCOT's China Pavilion at Walt Disney World would be the closest I would ever get to visiting China. Standing in the middle of the huge theater and watching the CircleVision 360 movie that surrounded me on all sides whet my appetite for a journey to the homeland.

If you're not familiar with EPCOT, half of the park is the World Showcase where pavilions from eleven different countries encircle a large lagoon. Each country sets the mood with iconic buildings such as the Eiffel Tower in the French pavilion and the Chichen Itza pyramid in Mexico. In Italy, you feel like you've just stepped into Venice's St. Mark's Square that happens to have a fountain evocative of Rome's Trevi Fountain on the side. In just a few hours, you can pretend you are hiking around the world as you walk from pavilion to pavilion.


The China pavilion at Walt Disney World EPCOT

As a kid, I was puzzled by the China pavilion as I didn't recognize the building. It was neither the Forbidden Palace nor the Great Wall -- the only two famous Chinese structures I knew. When I finally visited Beijing (the real one, not a Disneyfied version) a few years ago, I was excited to figure out that Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest within the Temple of Heaven complex is that building from EPCOT.
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