Dreaming of Jerusalem

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Jerusalem

Jerusalem’s Old Town (Photo: Where Is My Suitcase)

During these special days of Easter and Passover the thoughts, yearnings, and devotions of millions of faithful around the world converge on one of the oldest and holiest of cities: Jerusalem. Special for the world’s three major religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Jerusalem’s walled Old City – or Al-Quds, or the Holy City in Arabic, stretches over less than one square mile and yet is a universe in itself.

No, I haven’t been to Jerusalem. Yet. It definitely is on my to-do list. But this weekend I ventured to connect with Jerusalem somehow, even if just remotely. A good place to start? If you want to transport yourself to a place you’re dreaming about, use the help of a fellow blogger who has already been there. In my case that blogger is a friend at Where Is My Suitcase. I love the photos and this description of roaming around in the Old City: Read the rest of this entry

Cherry blossoms’ blissful craze

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cherry blossomsIt’s this time of the year again! The time when thousands flock to Washington DC’s Tidal Basin with their blankets, picnic baskets, strollers, and yes – above all cameras – to enjoy the fleeting beauty of cherry blossoms. They just peaked last Thursday after about a week of delay due to unseasonably chilly winter. Today the blossoms were on display in their full glory. But the window for viewing is closing! More and more petals are falling down and even the slightest breeze causes a “snowstorm” – the last of the season :)

In case you’re wondering, yes, it was crowded. Especially spots that offered iconic cherry-blossom-framed angles of Jefferson Memorial, the Washington Monument, FDR Memorial, the Capitol, and Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial were popular to put it mildly. Was it worth it? Absolutely yes! I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again! Spring in DC is not complete without the cherry blossom experience. A saukra-themed poem is obligatory as well. I like this one, very appropriate today:

“The first day of spring
are those snowflakes or petals
twirling in the wind?”
— Amy Liedtke Loy
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Fun in Frankfurt

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Frankfurt

Frankfurt skyline

Yes, I meant for the title of this blog to be provocative. For most people Frankfurt – the one on the Main river – has three leading associations: 1) one of the few European cities with a U.S.-style skyline, 2) the headquarters of the European Central Bank (ECB), and 3) a giant airport that they always transit through but never leave. None of the above (but especially the airport) typically brings the word “fun” to mind. But that impression changed for me when, after countless flight connections at FRA, my husband and I finally decided to venture outside having built two days in the city into our itinerary. And it was totally worth it!

Did you know that there used to be a Roman settlement here? While few artifacts remain, the Roman heritage lives on in the name of a hallmark medieval building in the compact yet surprisingly charming Old Town (Altstadt) called Römer, or Roman, after a merchant family that used to own it. Did you know that the world-famous Frankfurt Trade Fair (or Frankfurter Messe) dates back to 1150? Did you know that German kings and emperors were elected in Frankfurt since 855 and also crowned there from 1562 until 1792 at the impressive Frankfurt Cathedral of St. Bartholomäus? Did you know that Goethe was born here in 1749? I didn’t until I finally took the time to explore. Read the rest of this entry

Charming Charleston

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St. Philip's Church

St. Philip’s Church

Charleston, South Carolina is undoubtedly one of America’s most beautiful cities. Inhabiting an irregularly shaped peninsula at the mouths of the Ashley and Cooper rivers, Charlestown – or Charles Towne as it was originally known – was founded in 1670 and named in honor of King Charles II of England. Its colonial heritage is still visible today, especially when one wanders along cobblestone streets of the French Quarter lined with charming houses and ancient trees. Once this was a thriving neighborhood of Huguenot refugees and French merchants, and the core of the Charles Towne settlement.

Interestingly, that settlement was the only English walled city in North America. In the late 17th and early 18th century, the Spanish, the French as well as Native Americans posed a threat to the fledgling colony. The fort-like wall was built in 1690 and ran along what are now Meeting, Cumberland, East Bay, and Water streets. The north, west, and south walls were dismantled by 1730s but the harbor-side fortifications remained mostly intact until after the American Revolution. Not much remains today: eight bastion markers and a portion of the wall discovered during renovations of the Provost Dungeon in a cellar of the Old Exchange, the British customs office built 1767-1771 where Half Moon battery of the city’s fortifications used to stand. Read the rest of this entry

Blagden Alley Progression

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Blagden Alley

Blagden Alley

Tucked away between 9th, 10th, N, and O streets in Northwest Washington, DC Blagden Alley may not be easy to find but it’s worth the search. Blagden Alley-Naylor Court is a historic district and one of the few remaining intact examples of Washington’s characteristic alley dwellings. Thomas Blagden and Dickerson Nailor (now Naylor) were two 19th-century property owners. The former also ran a lumberyard and the latter was a grocer.

Cultural Tourism DC further explains the history of Washington’s old allies:

“Alley dwellings were small houses situated on alleys behind large homes that faced the main streets. They often shared the alleys with workshops, stables, and other accessory buildings. During the Civil War’s severe housing shortages, alley housing was one of the few options available to poor and working-class residents. Interracial in the beginning, alley dwellings were predominantly African American by the turn of the 20th century.” Read the rest of this entry

San Diego beyond the zoo

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Cabrillo Monument

Cabrillo Monument

I miss San Diego. And I imagine I’m not alone in that sentiment. In fact, anybody who visits is likely to wish they could linger a bit longer and come back soon. To me San Diego combines the best of California: LA’s balmy weather with San Francisco-like character of distinct neighborhoods, history – and street cars. For most people San Diego Zoo is the first association with the city. It was for me as well and I’ll write another blog about the sun & fun side of San Diego, the zoo included. But this one is about old San Diego and its charms.

Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo – or rather João Rodrigues Cabrilho – sailing up the west coast of North America in service of Spain discovered San Diego Bay on September 28, 1542. He called it San Miguel. The voyage’s diary provides a description of the not-so-friendly first encounter with the locals:

“…they went about six leagues along the coast running north-northwest, and discovered a port, closed and very good, which they named San Miguel. (…) Having cast anchor in it, they went ashore where there were people. Three of them waited, but all the rest fled. To these three they gave some presents and they said by signs that in the interior men like the Spaniards had passed. They gave signs of great fear. On the night of this day they went ashore from the ships to fish with a net, and it appears that here there were some Indians, and that they began to shoot at them with arrows and wounded three men.”

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Nelson Mandela’s Robben Island

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Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela (Image: Smithsonian Magazine)

On December 5, 2013 the world bid farewell to one of its modern-day heros: South Africa’s Nelson Mandela. His compelling life story, amazing capacity to forgive and reconcile, and exceptional leadership during a pivotal period in his country’s history made him an icon. His death gave all of us a moment to pause, mourn – and at the same time celebrate his achievements in the successful struggle to end apartheid. These words from his 1994 inaugural presidential address come to mind:

Out of the experience of an extraordinary human disaster that lasted too long, must be born a society of which all humanity will be proud. (…) The time for the healing of the wounds has come.
The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come.
The time to build is upon us.

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Tropical Thankgsiving

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El Yunque

El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico

Last year we tried out this Thanksgiving concept for the first time – and loved it! Instead of hours of turkey consumption and sitting in front of TV, hours of exotic food and adventures in a tropical paradise. Our choice was beautiful Puerto Rico. We started our vacation in San Juan and I already blogged about the highlights. Then we headed east to explore the island’s natural beauty.

When searching for a perfect place to stay, I had in mind something similar to our amazing time in Costa Rica a few years back. We stayed on the Caribbean coast in a charming cabin nestled in the rainforest and yet only a few steps away from the pristine beach. I wasn’t exactly finding these kinds of accommodations in the area of Puerto Rico we wanted to explore, with the goal of staying relatively close to San Juan given how short our trip was. Most of the accommodations I was seeing where large resort hotels, and even smaller boutique ones were not quite small enough to match the peace and quiet of a secluded cabin. And then I found it!

When I came across photos of this log cabin on the edge of El Yunque National Forest, I knew I had to go there! I usually stay away from providing property reviews but I make exceptions for really special places and the Hamilton cabin is one of them. Read the rest of this entry

In love with Verona

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Juliet's balcony in Verona

Juliet’s balcony in Verona

Seeing a superb performance of Romeo and Juliet directed by Aaron Posner at Washington DC’s beautiful Folger Theatre took me back to summer days in Verona. Before I went there I really knew nothing about this city beyond its association with Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers. Verona surprised me, charmed me, exceeded expectations in every way. I was anticipating a mini-Disneyland with Romeo & Juliet-themed rides. I found a city rich in history and and points of interest beyond the famed Juliet’s balcony (which by the way is a tourist zoo).

Juliet’s house at Via Cappello 23 (Casa di Giulietta), dating back to the 13th century and owned by the family dell Capello, is usually the first stop on everybody’s Verona itinerary. Never mind that we’re not really sure whether Romeo and Juliet ever existed and that the balcony that overlooks the courtyard was added in the 20th century. Capello apparently sounds close enough to Capulet and that’s sufficient to create a tourist craze. Read the rest of this entry

London calling

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IMG_0249Earlier this year I saw a superb adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere directed by Jenny McConnell Frederick at Washington, DC’s Atlas Theatre. The story’s protagonist, Richard Mayhew, rescues a mysterious wounded girl he finds on the London sidewalk and he is soon plunged into an underworld of “London Below” where the struggle between good and evil, heroes and monsters, plays out among imaginary spaces with familiar names of London Underground tube stations. I had been to London before many years ago, but Neverwhere inspired me to reconnect and incorporate a few days in the city into the itinerary of a recent trip to Europe.

My impressions of London were not unlike those of Richard Mayhew:

“Richard had originally imagined London as a gray city, even a black city, from pictures he had seen, and he was surprised to find it filled with color. It was a city of red brick and white stone, red buses and large black taxis, bright red mailboxes and green grassy parks and cemeteries.” Read the rest of this entry