here be dragons

Croatia is a new travel destination, perhaps in-part thanks to the ancient palaces and forts that attracted the producers of Game of Thrones and several movies including the upcoming release that continues the Star Wars franchise. But it has a lot going for it — mountains, sandy beaches, relatively low cost transportation options, and a keen interest in attracting tourists. We had a chance to sample bits and pieces — the inland city of Zagreb, the islands down the coast, Diocletian’s Palace in Split, and inside and outside the walled city of Dubrovnik.

Our stop in Zagreb was just one dark rainy night, so other than a couple of hours spent in a very old, very smoky bar (not much else was open on a Sunday night!), we didn’t get to fully appreciate the city. But it was the jumping off point for heading to Brac Island (pronounced ‘bratch’) and the small coastal community of Bol. This is a small town that is working the fine line between maintaining it’s sense of community while welcoming tourists visiting by boat for the day or staying for days and weeks at a time. It is perhaps lucky that the docks cannot handle the huge cruise ships that seem to draw the ire of others throughout the Mediterranean.

We’ve been using AirBnb to connect with hosts this trip, and we connected with a great host for our three-week stay in Bol. He picked us up at the airport, showed us where to find groceries and meals around town, and left a fridge full of food to get us started (including a bottle of local brandy!). We walked to the famous Zlatni Rat beach, the most commercialized stretch of sand on the island, but we spent most of our sun-time on a small beach just out of town in the other direction. We also visited one of dozens of military “caves” — huge disguised caverns that were carved out of seaside mountains to hide submarines and small naval vessels during the Second World War. Now mostly used of fisher(men) as a place to tie their boats and mend their nets.

From Bol we were able to explore some of the other islands in the area; Hvar Town on Hvar Island would be worth a return trip some time. It has an ancient hilltop fortification and many other old buildings that would be interesting to explore further.

Okay, now to Game of Thrones. We have not watched this series, but we know many friends and family members do, and to them we say, yes, head for Croatia! Start in Split, the location of Diocletian’s Palace — originally the retirement residence for Roman emperor Diocletian circa 305 AD and best known to GoT fans for a number of important scenes, especially it’s massive cellars (the photo above) — apparently this is where the dragons are kept.

But the real GoT treasure trove is Dubrovnik. This is an amazingly well preserved (and carefully restored following the “Homeland War”) walled city, and the site of many, many scenes in recent seasons. When we wandered within the walls, and over to Fort Lawrence, we encountered many Game of Thrones walking tours — and all the tour guides had photos from the series they could relate to where they were standing, and it was fun to listen in from time to time. “Here’s where the walk of shame scene was filmed”, “This is where the Battle of Blackwater was shot”, replete with references to the house of the undying, Red Fort, and so on. This is Kings’ Landing in person!

Even without the Game of Thrones, it was so much fun to walk the entire 2km along the top of the old walls, and look down on the city inside and the sea and city outside. It was also exciting to take one of Europe’s oldest cable car routes (new cars and cables we were told) to the top of the hill overlooking the walled city and beyond. Near the station at the top is Fort Imperial, originally built for Napoleon when the French held this territory, now a museum describing local resistance to Serbian attacks in 1991 and 1992. Sad to see how destructive humanity can be when there is so much to share and celebrate. Shame on warmongers!

Our favourite little cove near Bol on Brac Island. Stunningly clear water!

A portion of the original wall and a tower, Diocletian’s Palace in Split.

View of Dubrovnik from the top of Srd Mountain.

These steps are often featured in Game of Thrones.



freezing at 12,739 feet above sea level

​​There we were, at 3883 metres, the highest point we’ve ever been on earth, looking up at the top of Matterhorn Mountain, towering another 600 metres above us!

Well, that was the plan. When we arrived down the valley in Brig the afternoon before, there were scattered clouds, but we could see most of the massive mountains around us. In the morning we boarded the train that would take us high into the Alps. Clouds were rolling in but we hoped for the best. From the cable car station in Zermatt we could still see the mountain sides and glaciers but peaks were alluding us, and as we climbed, a strong wind brought more clouds in, and they brought snow. Sadly, as we emerged from the viewing station at the very top, the fog and clouds were so thick we could not see more than 10 metres out, and the Matterhorn and all other mountain tops were hidden from view. With the blinding snow it was freezing cold, with us in as many layers of summer clothes as we could muster. Oh well!

From Brig we took the train through the Alps over to Zurich. In all our travels so far, Switzerland has been the most expensive place for transportation, accommodation, and food. Just to give you a sense of what that looks like, imagine paying $17 Canadian for a Big Mac (we didn’t, we just walked by a MacDonalds and saw the price posted in the window). Groceries were easily three times the price we experienced in Italy and Spain. 

Aside from being expensive, Zurich didn’t have much to offer us — we walked across the city, viewed the lake and wandered around the old part of town. And before we knew it, we were deep inside a very seedy, smelly, and noisy downtown area of bars, strip clubs, and sex workers. We retreated and sought refuge at a small residential neighbourhood sidewalk cafe we passed earlier in the day that was laid-back, inclusive, and family friendly. Whew!

Next stop, Vienna, a much more fascinating city, and less expensive too. We found a self-directed walking tour that included many historical buildings and gardens, as well as some intriguing out-of-the-way side streets and stories to go with them. One side street happened to also bring us to the Vienna Peace Museum, a small organization that works to build peace, partly through promoting awareness of Nobel Peace Prize winners (congrats by the way to this year’s just announced recipient, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons).

As we’ve been travelling, as much as possible we’ve been purchasing groceries at local markets and from street venders. In Vienna we approached a fruit and vegetable stall, selected a bunch of grapes and handed them to the vender to weigh — he took one look at us, started loudly berating us (likely in German, which we don’t understand), and threw them back onto his table. Not sure what we did to offend him, other venders in the same outdoor market area responded much more favourably to us!

Otherwise, we quite enjoyed wandering around Vienna, especially finding the “beer, whiskey, and vegetarian” bar around the corner from where we were staying. Craft beer on tap, 1000 different whiskeys and scotches available, and the most delicious vegetarian goulash we’ve ever tasted. Our other favourite restaurant in Vienna: the quirky, off-the-beaten-track Pizzeria Mafiosi. Inside it felt like we were in an old fishing shack. And with his rough look, slicked back hair, and regular cigarette breaks, we were convinced that serving pizza was just our waiter’s day-job cover for something perhaps a little more sinister!

Approaching the top of the peak next to the Matterhorn.


For some reason, there were these large brightly coloured rabbits placed just out of reach throughout Vienna.


We enjoyed delicious empanada-like Zuricos in Zurich.


Lovely sidewalk cafe in Zurich, in the middle of a quiet residential area.


Klimt in Vienna.


Huge market in Vienna with fruit, vegetables, meat, cheese, and lots of olives.


Typical street in Vienna.

roman history lessons come alive


After a month in Malaga on the sunny Mediterranean coast of Spain, we spent three weeks exploring numerous cities and historic sites in Italy. We flew directly from Malaga to Rome, and on the bus from the airport to our first place to stay, we spotted the Colosseum, proof we had landed in the right city!

Our experience of Rome, and of Italian cities in general, is that they are the sites of ancient ruins and contemporary decay. While celebrating their history, Italians don’t seem to be paying much attention to the present when it comes to infrastructure and civic services: the sidewalks, roads, buildings, and public spaces are in varying states of disrepair or abandonment. A few centuries from now, will visitors be wandering through the ruins of various Italian cities, reading about a once thriving civilization that failed to properly invest in the future?

In the meantime, Rome presented us with the iconic Colosseum, the Vatican museums, the massive ruins of the Baths of Caracalla, the remains of numerous palaces and temples in the Palatine/Roman Forum areas, and the opportunity to criss-cross the city by tram. We tried a few brew pubs and discovered our favourite, Brewdog Roma, is actually an import from Scotland!

From Rome we scooted down to the town of Scafati in order to wander through the nearby ruins of Pompeii. One of the few things I remember from high school social studies is doing a report on the volcanic eruption that completely buried this ancient Roman town almost 2000 years ago. The descriptive panels indicate that while many people died from the volcanic debris, it was the wave of toxic gas that killed people in mid-motion. Which also means that when anthropologists started digging through the ruins hundreds of years later, everything was just as it was at the time of the eruption, and that helped them understand much more about first century Roman life than was possible before this discovery. We spent a full day wandering these ruins and seeing some amazing ancient frescos and tile work.

We then headed north to Florence, taking in more art and history, with the highlight seeing Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, along with Leonardo da Vinca’s famous unfinished (and carefully restored) The Adoration of the Magi. We also took a day to visit Pisa to see for ourselves, and climb, it’s famous leaning tower. Apparently a few years ago it was leaning too much and so they brought it back to the “original” 4% tilt. Great view from the top, all 297 steps up!

One of the attractions everyone said we had to visit in Italy was Cinque Terre, five little villages perched on coastal cliffs and down by the water that have become a major tourist destination. We visited and drifted around four of the villages, but it was the next day in Porto Venere, on a point south of the Cinque Terre, that felt more charming and relaxed — no hordes of tourists dashing about trying to see everything.

We didn’t know it at the time, but one of the claims-to-fame of our next stop, Verona, is the balcony that Shakespeare immortalized in Romeo and Juliet. It’s a major tourist attraction in the centre of the old part of town. We stopped by but did not get in line with tourists paying 6 euros each to have a turn standing on the fabled second-floor balcony. We did catch the train to Venice for a day, and joined a free walking tour that got us into some areas of the city less travelled. Our guide was quite good, and had recommendations for us around where to eat (“just wander into the side streets and get lost, if the menu is only in Italian and there are no pictures, eat there”), and to head for a rooftop terrace located above a luxury department store for a bird’s eye view of the city. 

The city is sinking, the water is rising, and some say tourism is ruining the whole place anyway — turning it into another soulless Disneyland. Apparently UNESCO has even said the city needs to get it’s act together or it will lose it’s status as a World Heritage site. 

Of course we didn’t experience everything “Italy”; that would obviously take many months, perhaps years. But we certainly enjoyed the art, history, cities, and landscapes we did find and wander through.

Baths of Caracalla, Rome.

Pantheon in Rome.

The Vatican Museums have an extensive collection of ancient Egyptian art and objects.

Many of the houses in Pompeii features wall paintings, from single animals to scenes like this one.

Inside on the the public baths in Pompeii.

Pompeii columns, either a mansion or a temple.

One of numerous tile floors that survived the eruption that buried Pompeii.

Pompeii shop, possibly a bar, with a fresco on the back wall.

Large house in Pompeii.

Pompeii was a favourite summer place for wealthy Romans.

The Birth of Venus by Botticelli, at the Uffizi Museum in Florence.

The tower in Pisa really is leaning!

One of the classic views of Cinque Terre.

Porte Venere, just south of Cinque Terre — there was a wedding underway in the ancient church on the rocky point.

Crowds gather in Verona to see Juliet’s balcony, some pay to stand in it for about 30 seconds. Not us.

Venice and the Grand Canal

a month on the mediterranean 


Our time in Malaga was very lovely, mostly slow-paced and relaxing. Of the four weeks we stayed in a wonderful two bedroom Airbnb at the edge of the Plaza de la Merced, the sky was clear and blue 6 days out of 7.

In the middle of the Plaza stands a monument to a general and 44 other freedom fighters who were executed for rejecting the “divine right to rule” asserted by the king at the time.

They were eventually so honoured by the peoples that all but one of the fighters were buried in in the monument so that the memory of their fight for democracy would not be forgotten (an English soldier was buried elsewhere).Facing the Plaza de la Merced is Pablo Picasso’s birthplace and childhood home. We toured it on a cloudy Sunday (free on Sundays!). I didn’t know that Picasso’s father was a great influence on him in the area of art. His dad was an artist himself and taught art at the university.

The Plaza is home to the Picasso Spanish Language School as well as the bronze statue of Picasso himself. One morning at the conclusion of his run, Don took a selfie with Picasso and shared it on his Facebook page.

On another cloudy Sunday, we walked through the Alcazaba Palace, from the 11th century, when the Moors controlled most of the Iberian peninsula. It would have been quite something back in the day. We chose to walk up to the Gilbralfaro fortification at the top of the hill above, and connected to, the palace. Fortunately for us, the temperature had come down from 39 degrees the week before but it was still over 30 degrees. The reward was a 360 degree view of Malaga and the Mediterranean.

The closest beach was virtually around the corner, but it was crowded, the sand rough and rocky, and the water not that clean (sometimes a yellow scum was visible, yuck!). We found a great beach about 4.5kms from our apartment. We walked there most days and totally loved the warm and clear water and the soft sand that continued out into the sea, all protected by a breakwater.

One day though, the water couldn’t even cool us, as there was an incredibly hot wind coming from Africa that blew all day long. It was our first experience of this phenomenon.

We enjoyed the almost daily walk, the beach and then bebidas at the VOX Restaurant and Bar. We would usually catch the bus back into town.

When we planned our visit, we didn’t realize Malaga hosts one of the biggest festivals in Spain, we were there for the entire ten day event. We headed to the beach for the opening fireworks (preceded by a 15 minute speech!) and the next day we awoke to a parade passing under our window — actually a procession of hundreds of people and dozens of horse drawn wagons. the drivers and passengers were decked out in classic Spanish aristocratic dress. They and the decorated horses all looked quite stunning. 

The most astonishing aspect of the festival was that all day, everyday, people of all ages were out in the streets drinking Cartojal, a popular local sweet wine, out of little plastic pink cups. Live music in numerous plazas in the historical district, and along the streets, and lots of groups of people obviously participating in stags/stagettes/birthday parties. Many drinkers, especially in the Plaza de la Merced, looked as if they were 15 or less but no one seemed to care. We read that Spain increased the legal age from 16 to 18 two years ago, but obviously not enforced — cashiers neverask for ID when the kids in front of us were stocking up with bottles of Cartojal. But by late afternoon some of the kids are staggering around and throwing up in the street.

We celebrated our first wedding anniversary in Malaga, at a fancy restaurant in the area near the cruise ship terminal. We mentioned the reason for our meal to our server, who at the end brought out a dessert that congratulated us for our 21 years together. Cheers!

Roman amphitheatre from the first century, 11th century Morrish palace in behind.

Thousands gather on the beach for a speech, fireworks, and concert.

Not sure if the horses appreciate all the decorations!

Wagon drivers enjoying themselves!

Massive ten day party in the streets of Malaga every August!

Live music and folkloric dancing!

Yes, we joined the party, although we prefer beer over sweet wine, so no Cartojal for us.

Lots of street art in Malaga – here’s someone’s take on Picasso.

Our favourite beach and local beach bar.

Anniversary dessert!

granada: favoured by moorish and spanish kings alike

We arrived in Granada on the evening of July 19th. We found our way from the bus station and dragged our suitcases through the narrow cobblestone streets of the Souk to our Airbnb in the old Albaicin neighbourhood. Must be a common sight as no one took any interest in us.

The next day we walked for hours around the area, and came across the Corral del Carbon, originally a roadhouse for the Arab traders bringing their wares for selling in the nearby Alciaceria, a major silk market in the early days, now a market for tourists. I bought lovely teal pants – made in Thailand, but perfect for travelling.

We walked around the Cathedral, a massive place. Nearby a musician making wonderful sounds from about 6 or 7 upturned pots… you can make music out of anything.A women was offering sprigs of Rosemary. The travel guides advise tourists to say no thanks; they offer the rosemary for free, but then take hold of your hand to read your palm… apparently they expect least 5 euros, or they will be insulted.

In gruelling 32 degrees Celsius heat, we followed steep winding roads up to the popular Mirador de San Nicolas (viewpoint). We checked later and the humidity was 16 percent in Granada… the lowest we have experienced in a long time. You were very hot, but any sweat evaporated quickly. 

When we finally arrived, the view was worth every hot step. We could see over to the massive fortification, the Alhambra, surrounding hillsides and the city. It was marvellous! The sky is an amazing blue. The whole five days in Granada featured a lovely blue sky, making the world seem so much more vibrant.

It was so hot, so I suggested getting ice cream. There was a small store that sold ice cream right at the look out. For those of you who know me, ice cream is a no-no, but it felt good at the time.

The next day we caught the city bus up the hill to see the Alhambra, one of Europes’s top sights, and the the last Moorish stronghold in Europe. It consists of four sets of buildings, clustered on top of the hill overlooking the old city: the Palacios Nazaries, Charles V’s Palace, Generalife Gardens and the Alcazaba.

It apparently has around 8,000 visitors per day. We never felt squished or rushed in any of the fortifications. We did take the option of going early, arriving just before 9am. We knew it would be cooler then, and we would have more energy to explore. And explore we did!

First stop was the Generalife Gardens, it was the sultan’s vegetable and fruit garden and summer palace. They say this summer home of the Moorish kings was the closest thing on earth to the Quran’s description of heaven, planted more than 600 years ago. Apparently five hundred year old paintings show it much like it is today. It is really a peaceful spot.

Charles V palace and museo. It is a truly massive square block of a building with a circular inner courtyard that is one to the sky. The Christian king, Charles V didn’t want to live in the old Moorish palace so started to build his own. When his son took over, he abandoned this palace and built his own elsewhere… to me… so much waste and crazy extravagance. We didn’t spend much time there.

Our next stop was the Alcazaba. We engaged our inner mountain goats and climbed all over this oldest and most ruined part of the complex. These towers defended the town (medina) of 2,000 Muslims living within the Alhambra walls. Don took lots of photos!

Our last stop was the Nasrid Palaces. Spoken of as the jewel of the Alhambra, these Moorish royal palaces were certainly that! We saw rooms that were decorated floor to ceiling with ceramic tiles, molded-plaster walls, incredible carved wood ceilings (stalactites). There was open air courtyards with lovely fountains. There were calming and contemplation pools and gardens lush with vegetation. 

My favourite room was a small domed room a side step away from where all the tourists were… it was so cool… we realized we could hear ourselves… so I stepped into the perfect spot in the middle and starting humming “ohm…..” the space started to reverberate the sound and the vibrations were incredible! We so loved it!

I could go on and on about Grenada and our experiences… but you need to get on with your day!

Lots of love and happiness sent to all who read this!

Deborah

Alcazaba, Torre de la Vela (watch tower)

Moorish archway, for some reason known as the wine gate

The Spanish royal palace, inner courtyard

Palacios Nazaries (Alhambra, Granada)

Generalife gardens and palacio

Generalife gardens and palacio

Generalife gardens

Enjoying the Alcazaba and the whole of the Alhambra

View of Alcazaba from the outer rampart

View of Alcazaba from the main tower

Alcazaba

Alcazaba

Court of Myrtles, Palacios Nazaries (Alhambra, Granada)

Courtyard of the Lions (Palacios Nazaries)

One of the ceilings, Palacios Nazaries (Alhambra, Granada)

Arab bath, Palacios Nazaries (Alhambra, Granada)

Palacios Nazaries (Alhambra, Granada)

Polacios Nazaries (Alhambra, Granada)

Alcazaba, one of the oldest parts of Alhambra

we say more picasso, less gaudi

As you watch the landscape zip by at 300 km an hour, even though you’re on a train you feel like you’re flying. We travel a lot by bus when we’re on the road, this time we thought we’d try a high-speed train for the first time, as we moved from Madrid to Barcelona. Very comfortable and very fast — we hope to hop more fast trains as we continue our exploration of Europe.

Fresh from the major exhibition exploring Picasso’s Guernica in Madrid, we headed for the Picasso Museum in Barcelona. He spent many of his formative years here and this museum, housed in a row of 13th to 15th century mansions, features several dozen of the hundreds of works he donated to the museum in 1970, including his earliest work at the age of around 15 (1896), and an extensive selection of his work through to just before and after World War I. The exhibition also showcases some work from the 1950’s, especially the 57 studies and the final large work he did based on his interpretation of Valazquez’s Las Meninas, and a few pieces from later in his career.

As usual we walked all over the city, down to the waterfront, along the Ramblas, a major pedestrian walkway that connects the waterfront to the oldest part of town, the Barri Gotic, and beyond. We also purchased a one-day pass for the Hop-on Hop-off bus that got us to the top of Montjuic where we hopped off for a picnic lunch overlooking the cruise ship terminal and out to the Mediterranean (in the photo above). We were able to complete all three routes and explore areas of the city well outside the main tourist area.

Everyone said we had to see it, so we stopped at the famous (infamous?) Sagrada Familia, the massive Antonio Gaudi-designed church that is both impressive and grotesque. Gaudi is the local architect wonder-boy, but we weren’t that impressed with this overwhelming project, still under construction, nor with the numerous mansions he designed for the wealthiest of the wealthy in Barcelona around the turn of the last century. Nor with the gated community he designed high in the hills overlooking Barcelona — only 2 of the more than 20 planned mansions were ever built and sold, and the wealthy industrialist who dreamed of a Gaudi-fantasyland for the rich eventually sold the whole thing to the city in the 1920s, which turned it into a park.

Barcelona has a vibrant craft beer scene, and we were able to sample the local products at a number of bars that were the size of tasting rooms, seating for 15 to 20 people, but with anywhere half a dozen to more than 20 local brews on tap. Our favourite spot was Chivuo’s Slow Street Food and Craft Beer — friendly service, good food, and excellent beer, what more could you ask for! Hmm, time for another round?

View from Park Guell, the failed Gaudi-designed gated community high above the rest of Barcelona

Sagrada Familia, half covered in tarps and surrounded by cranes as construction continues.

In case you were wondering just how big the Sagrada Familia really is.

One of many Gaudi-designed mansions scattered throughout Barcelona. Contrary to popular belief, the word “gaudy” did not come from the architect’s name, but we still wonder.

Barcelona is very proud of Christopher Columbus, here better known as Cristobal Colon.

Yum, local craft brew on tap at Chivuo’s

Who are you looking at?

madrid: hot and not so smoke-free

Madrid is a city of smokers. Everywhere one turns, people are smoking. On the street, at sidewalk cafes, inside crowded public spaces. Servers stand in the doorway and have a smoke when they’re not bringing out drinks and food orders. Added to the general high level of air pollution, it makes Madrid a difficult place for anyone with breathing challenges, or simply used to fresher air.

But one of the things we liked about Madrid, whenever you ordered a round of drinks, they also brought out a small tapa plate; olives, chips, salami and cheese, once even a small plate of Spain’s signature rice dish, paella. And all quite delicious; sometimes we didn’t order a meal because the free food kept coming. And it wasn’t that the drinks were expensive either, mostly between 2 and 3 euros each.

Royalty is a big deal here, and one of the main attractions in Madrid is the Royal Palace. Although it is the official residence of the royal family, it is used only occasionally for state functions and entertaining visiting dignitaries, mostly what you’ll find here are hordes of tourists gawking at the excess. Huge rooms, lavish decor, statutes, portraits, tapestries, massive serving sets, and stolen treasures from around the world. Impressive and grotesque at the same time.

Madrid is also known for it’s art galleries. We’re not huge fans of the old European masters, too many portrayals of Jesus being beaten or bleeding on the cross for us. Instead we are drawn to contemporary art galleries, in this case the Reina Sofia, where we knew we would be able to see Guernica.

Unknown to us, the gallery had organized a huge exhibition to help people understand Picasso’s development as an artist and how it shaped this artistic response to news in early 1937 that a small town in Spain had been obliterated by an air attack that specifically targeted civilians.

Guernica is a work that needs to be seen in person to be fully appreciated. You can see sketch lines through the white and grey areas, some black areas look unfinished, and there is a an overall roughness to it that produces a sense of urgency you don’t feel looking at a postcard version of the work — after all, it is 4m tall and 12m across, an imposing work to stand in front of.

It’s hot in Madrid, crossing the 40 degree Celsius mark two days in a row, and not much air movement. And there wasn’t always a shady side of the street to walk along. Whew!

beginning at the end of the world


Hello all family, friends and fellow voyageurs;

After a six hour delay in Vancouver and London, we arrived to our first destination of the year… Lisbon, Portugal.

It took three Metro lines to get us to Alfama, quite efficient but with the flight delays, we arrived well into the night. Alfama is a neighbourhood full of hard working and creative people, we could see that and our driver on Sunday said so as well. We had to drag our suitcases up several steep cobblestone streets, a rather loud process. One person slammed their window as we walked by… we tried not to make less noise, but hey…

The trip door to door was 24 hours, not a record for us, but long enough. We went to bed at 2am and slept till noon and started our 6 hour walk around 1pm.  

We thought we would walk in our neighbourhood, as we had no other plans for the day. 

The National Pantheon was right outside our front door… it is where important people have their death services and buried. We walked around it… not going in.

Lisbon is a city of hills, and so, Alfama is also a place of hills. We walked up the hill closest to us and found, way up there, an incredible look out and saw not too far… a Fort….St. Jorge.

St. Jorge was not a place where people lived, but was an active defence post. Some of the walls were four feet thick and had openings for cannons and people with weapons all around the place… like so many forts around the world.

Our next day in Lisbon, we walked to Barra Alto, specifically to see Pavilaho Chines. This bar was recommended to us by the Lisbon immigration officer who let us into the country. Our entry was a bit odd as this was the only time ever in our travels that we were asked whether we were married or not… we said yes, as that is the truth (last year in August). He then suggested to Don that he might take me to a few specific places to impress me…

The Pavilaho Chines, was interesting… had all kinds of collections in it… from hundreds of GI Joe figures, all kinds of china, model airplanes… lots of red velvet and chandeliers… numerous rooms and alcoves. The area, Barra Alto, as well as many neighbourhoods in Lisbon, reminded us of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The next day… my birthday… we caught the local, above ground metro train to Belem…we went to the top of the Monument to the Discoveries, walked over to the ancient look out tower and sampled the famous Belem pastries… delicious!

We decided to get out of the city and took a tour around the coast… Cascais (a fishing village… but really a very upscale retirement area), the Devil’s Mouth (a craggy lava rock outcrop over looking the Atlantic Ocean), Cabo da Roca (the end of the world… the most western point of continental Europe) and then to Sintra (park and palace of Pena).

The whole day was great. In our tour we 2 people from Switzerland, a fellow from Australia, a woman and her aunt from South Africa, us and our driver, Daniel. It was not too hot and we were able to jump the rocks at Devil’s mouth, walk the trail at Cabo da Roca and climb the 500m to the palace (14 degree incline).

I must say that we loved Lisbon. It was so walkable for us… about 6 hours per day and the buildings were covered in all kinds of tiles… enjoy the photos! Maybe some day we’ll return!

Happiness, Deborah

lining up for a harsh lesson

Early Saturday afternoon in Mexico City, and the line up is long. I reluctantly position myself at the end of the line and think to myself, this is going to take longer than I thought. I cast a glance at the people in line, which runs around the corner of the building – lots of teenagers in groups of two, three, four and more, many families, and people of all ages, all anxious to get in. And this is just the line for tickets, there is a second long line to actually get inside. A pop concert? An amusement park? Celebrity appearance?

Nope, I’m in line for the Museo Memoria y Tolerancia — the Museum of Memory and Tolerance. It’s astonishing to see ordinary people lining up, including the aforementioned young people, to venture into a building that describes the Holocaust and the too numerous other genocides that took place in the 20th century. The displays are graphic and unrelenting – everything we need to know about the discrimination and hatred that fueled each and every one of these horrible crimes against humanity.

Oddly, entering the museum involves airport-level security – you hand over all bags and the contents of your pockets before walking through a metal detector. After picking up an audio guide visitors are directed to the line for the elevator to take you to the starting point on the fifth floor. From here you pass through numerous galleries that explain the events that led to the rise of Hitler, the persecution of Jews and others, and the invasion of neighbours that led to World War II. The Final Solution is vividly illustrated through text, photos, and artifacts: on display is one of the rail cars used to ship Jews across Europe to extermination camps.

We’re not let off the hook too soon, however, because the next series of galleries takes visitors into the dark centre of seven genocides with more graphic details and images, and artifacts, including the weapons used by perpetrators and the clothing of victims. Horrifying in every way.

Then comes a series of galleries that explore challenges around immigration and migrant workers, especially those from Central America but mostly on their way to the US, updated with several video screens that show the speech by Trump where he talks about Mexico “not sending their best people” to the USA. A temporary display focuses on high rates of femicide in Mexico and there are many references to the high numbers of people that go missing in Mexico in general. Finally, there are several display areas that promote tolerance, respect for human rights, and taking action to change the world.

Sure, there were a few kids disturbingly taking selfies in front of large photos of concentration camps, but most people, young and old, were respectful and thoughtfully engaged with the exhibitions. I continue to be struck by how many people were in a museum like this on a sunny Saturday afternoon. I’ve visited several human rights museums around the world, and usually there are no line-ups, no crowds, no teenagers. My hope is that the young people working their way through the galleries were impressed in the right way, and will find their way to promoting and living tolerance, social justice, and human rights despite the significant challenges described in this museum.

(Don visited MYT in March, 2017)

art seen in san jose

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In mid-January we had a chance to spend a couple of days in Costa Rica’s capital city, San Jose. We visited two public art galleries specializing in contemporary art, and later found that not all the art in San Jose is hanging in galleries.

We were staying in the Sabana Norte area, so our first stop was the Muse de Arte Costarricense. We quickly learned the building was once an airport terminal, complete with an ornately decorated room upstairs for visiting diplomats. That explained why the nearby futbol pitches were so flat – that’s where the planes used to land. It also explained the unusual tower emerging from the center of the gallery.

Art exhibitions are housed in what we imagine were originally waiting rooms, refitted of course for displaying Costa Rican paintings and sculptures. When we were there the work of two artists was being featured: large and dramatic wooden figures carved by Manuel Vargas (Estrategias del Recuerdo), and paintings and scaffold-inspired installations produced by Manuel Zumbado (Transversal).

The building itself is a work of art, small panels describe some of the original features of the building, and of course the intricately craved panels in the diplomat’s room are worth a visit themselves. They vividly depict the colonial history of Costa Rica, from “discovery” by Columbus on through to the mid-twentieth century. Behind the building, where airplanes used to pull up to load and unload passengers, is a modest sculpture garden – several large artworks that look rather dated and not nearly as interesting as the artwork on display inside.

After grabbing a coffee downtown, we found the Museo de Arte y Diseno Contemporaneo. It’s located in an historic building that was once part of a massive distillery – other buildings in the compound house cultural offices and various workshop and performing spaces. The featured artist was Salvadorean Simon Vega who offers a fascinating and fantastical exploration of space and tercer mundo — the third world. The exhibition, on three levels, included in intriguing vodka bar, photo-booth beach rover, a submarine-shaped encampment, and an artist’s studio — adorned with hundreds of drawings and artifacts, and loaded with fun and imagination.

From the old distillery we headed for the Mercado Artesenales, a market primarily for tourists. Although most stalls featured the same mass produced goods for tourists as the next, it was still interesting to wander through and pick up a few things for people back home, knowing that the airport souvenir shops have exactly the same items at 10 times the price.

About two blocks up hill heading south, we came across a wall of murals, then another, and around the corner, yet another wall of murals – leading us along old railway tracks and in the direction of the trendy El Escalante neighbourhood. When we were in San Jose two years ago, there was very little street art, just a few tags and stencils, but this was like an explosion of art – some of it possibly commissioned or at least sanctioned, some of it probably produced in the dark. We enjoyed it all!

Oh yes, we also sampled local art in the form of craft beer. Tried a few, our favourite: the Majadera. It is described as a Pale Ale but tasted more like a west coast IPA. Yum!

A sample of the street murals and stencil graffiti art we encountered in San Jose: