Lyon: Better than Paris??

Well, for one weekend of the year, during the Fete des Lumieres, Lyon steps out of the shadows and shines.  With close to 100 light installations & performances over the course of the weekend, there’s no way to see it all.  Leaving you with a list of sights that you didn’t make it to, a requisite characteristic if you plan to compete with Paris.

The buildings come alive in a way that makes taking pictures seem completely ineffective.

The buildings come alive in a way that makes taking pictures completely ineffective.

The architecture is used as a backdrop for custom sized, animated, light projections set to music that pulsates through the streets.  An appreciation for light design is inevitable and, again, coming away with a greater appreciation of the arts…how very Paris.

A spoon full of fire helps the stage burn down, helps the stage burn down...

A spoon full of fire helps the stage burn down, helps the stage burn down…

Behind the scenes, Lyon always entices with its’ passion for food & boutique-lined side streets.  However, you add a weekend of fire, fireworks, aerial dancers, robots, magical installations AND an appreciation for cupcakes at breakfast, well there’s clearly only one winner.  Hands down, Lyon.  You got this one.

Eggs & cupcakes.  My kind of balanced.

Eggs & cupcakes. My kind of balanced.

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The problem with Barcelona…

The most pressing problem with Barcelona is that we don’t live there.  Like any place you love, there’s a list of spots you must visit anytime you’re in town.  With each visit, this list gets longer & subsequently requires more & more time in Barcelona.  Below is the “Must” list.  Which could be interpreted as the “Why we Must move to Barcelona list.”

1. We must practice our rudimentary Spanish.  Because “Donde esta la biblioteca?” never gets old.

2. We must visit a Gaudi masterpiece (even if it’s a return trip to La Sagrada Familia).

Gaudi is still at work from beyond the grave to complete La Sagrada.  But as he said, "My client is not in a hurry."

Gaudi is still at work from beyond the grave to complete La Sagrada. But as he said, “My client is not in a hurry.”

3. We must have lunch (multiple times their menu changes weekly) at Teresa Carles.  This is a new addition.  Before finding Teresa, we had lunchtime free for wander and discovery.

4. We must have dinner (multiple times the pork ribs are phenomenal) at Tapeo.  Definitely in the top 10 restaurants I’ve ever been to list.

The whole menu is worth it....but the chef makes eggs like no other.

The whole menu is worth it….but there’s something about the way the chef does eggs.  And they’re surprisingly good with sangria. 

5. We must find funky, interesting night life.  Flamenco used to be on the list, but we accepted that we don’t really appreciate flamenco dancing enough so that frees us to dive into other performances, music, people watching places.

Tap dancing, acordian playing, beat boxing, acapella singing duo at a hole in the wall bar.

Tap dancing, acordian playing, beat boxing, acapella singing duo at a hole in the wall bar.

6. We must go to the beach.  Our current home is landlocked.  There is a lake but if you’re used to the ocean, well then you know this is just not the same.

Nightlife & beach walking can be combined.  The W draws a particularly fashionable form of human.

Nightlife & beach walking can be combined. The W draws a particularly fashionable form of human.

7. We must spend hours wandering around Born wishing we weren’t tourists.

No one seems to enforce this but maybe that's because we blend...

No one seems to enforce this sign but maybe that’s because we blend…

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My Flu Shot

Shopping list: eggs, milk, bread, syringe...

Shopping list: eggs, milk, bread, syringe…

This is my flu shot.  It is not in a fancy medical storage unit at my doctor’s office.  No, it’s in my refrigerator next to the mozzarella and yogurt.  In Swiss, your doctor writes a prescription for any vaccines you may need, you pick it up at the pharmacy and bring it back to your doctor’s office.  Or not.  We have friends who gave each other their flu shots.  Now, I love IC very much, but I don’t think sticking each other with needles will do anything good for our marriage….

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La Biennale di Venezia

If you like contemporary art, then every two years Venice is the place to be.  (Well, Venice is always the place to be.)  Except maybe the mall food court, where else can you experience so many cultural perspectives in one place?

Peanuts & Money fall from the sky in the Russian installations.

Peanuts & Money fall from the sky in the Russian installations.

Along with gallery upon gallery of contemporary art (including an entire floor curated by Cindy Sherman), 80+ participating countries have individual pavilions or space in Venetian houses to display their chosen artist(s) installations.  The level of stimulation is seismic.

You lose time in the US Pavilion trying to understand how Sarah Sze's universe works.

You lose time in the US Pavilion trying to understand how Sarah Sze’s universe works.

The art is anything but contained.  With the exception of Arsenale & Giardini, the galleries/country specific pavilions sprout throughout the city.  As you meander over canals & through narrow passages, you bump into a number of water logged Venetian buildings reinvented as art spaces. In a city that already feels like a giant art installation, the addition of La Biennale leads to the unfortunate admission that whatever amount of time you had planned for Venice isn’t nearly enough.

Latin America (pictured) is one of two pavilions I went to serving drinks.  Espresso here, tea in Great Britain.

Latin America (pictured) is one of two pavilions I went to serving drinks. Espresso here, tea in Great Britain.

Venice: Amazing installations of stone, water & laundry.

Venice: Amazing installations of stone, water & laundry.

 

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White Truffle Wonderland

Each year the White Truffle festival is held in Alba, Italy.  It spans well over six weeks and includes flag throwing, donkey races, a marathon reading of Fenoglio, markets, tastings, truffle dogs, a dinner in the dark, art, handball tournaments, music, and the best hazelnut in the world.  But these are all opening acts leading up to the main EVENT: “Truffle of the Year.”

Is one of these the diamond in the rough?

Is one of these the diamond in the rough?

Spending a weekend eating homemade tagliatelle pasta, coated in butter, flavored with sage and generously topped with freshly shaved white truffles leaves your taste buds wondering how they will manage through the rest of the year.  Especially since adding fresh ones to your plate puts you back 30 Euros, not to mention the obscene cost of the ones kept guarded behind glass cases.

I wonder where this falls on the Weight Watchers point scale....

I wonder where this falls on the Weight Watchers point scale….

Although it is no longer possible to take a stroll through the woods with a truffle hunting pig (they use dogs in Alba), navigating the truffle market is an adventure in itself.  Whether a well-heeled, bourgeois Italian foodie or a fresh from the forest, muck under their nails farmer, everyone under the tent knows a bit of heaven can come from the ugliest of places.

You can smell but if you squeeze, the dog, pig or man may bite you....

The mustache helps savor the flavor for longer. 

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We’ll be coming round the mountain…..

Switzerland likes its’ cows.  They let them roam free in picturesque pastures, decorate them with bells, and include them in most of their festivals (either as contributors or observers).  They also give them summer and winter homes.

Heading into their party.

Sauntering into their party. 

Each fall, many Swiss villages participate in a festival called Desalpes.  During this festival herders bring their cows from the Alpine mountain top pastures down the mountain to a valley pasture for the winter.  The festival busts at the seams with alphorns, traditional costumes, crafts, dancing and of course plenty of cheese, sausage & wine.

A more traditional herder.

Smoking without hands is a prerequisite for herders.

The festival also includes a pageant where one bovine beauty is crowned the queen.  But at the end of the day, come rain or shine, there’s work to be done.  And the cows are led down that windy mountain road to their winter homes.  If you go, plan to stay well past the cows,  as they turn into real hogs on the road….

Young herder love.

Why don’t we do it in the road? 

 

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Krakow, Poland: Not for the squeamish.

For such a cozy, clean, convivial, cosmopolitan city, Krakow packs a death and destruction double punch.  The city is aesthetically pleasing and easy to walk around; however, literally just under the surface lies an excavated burial ground.

Golf cart rides to ghettos....does it get more mixed up than that?

Golf cart rides to ghettos….does it get more mixed up than that?

The Rynek Underground is an interactive exploration of the old city that remains under the current city square.  It is complete with ruins, bones and hologram photographs that follow you with their eyes as you walk down the corridors.

Rather than gravestones, you can communicate directly with the dead.

Rather than gravestones, you can communicate directly with the dead.

Wawel Castle is another attraction that lures you with it’s grandeur and then exits you through the “Dragon’s Den.”  The castle grounds are complete with the only fire-breathing statue I’ve ever seen….nothing like shooting flames into a crowd of tourists.

Probably this statue stays relatively pigeon poop free....

Probably this statue stays relatively pigeon poop free….

But you find the real horror story after a short bus ride to Auschwitz-Birkenau.  A day wandering around the death camps is so intense that you can’t help but feel flooded with gratitude for freedom & sorrow for all the people who witnessed this history without a tour guide.

The last stop for some many unfortunate souls.

The last stop for so many unfortunate souls.

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Basel, Switzerland: A French/German Love Child

Bordering France and Germany, Basel vacillates from croissant to pretzel with ease.  With an appreciation for both art and bureaucracy, Basel is a lovely mix of it’s neighboring countries.

Is that briefcase filled with immigration paperwork? Even the art takes care of business.

Is that briefcase filled with immigration paperwork? Even the art takes care of business.

Basel demonstrates an inherited love for aesthetic in its’ town hall, city offices and museum architecture.  And then there’s the actual art collections and galleries.   When it comes to balancing creativity and practicality, even the river takes up the cause.  Complete with ferries pulled across on ropes.

Isn't this beautifully efficient?

Isn’t this beautifully efficient? And Green!

If you believe art is life, as long as it’s demonstrated in a clean efficient way, then Basel is the fountain of youth.  Even the signs to the bathroom take the opportunity to flaunt a more creative side…

Is that a gnome, sleep walker, or performance artist?

Is that a gnome, sleep walker, or performance artist?

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Berlin: All that is Missing

Most of the six hour walking tour consisted of pointing out spaces where something is missing.  Jewish cemeteries flattened during WWII, left as a gated green space.  An opening in a row of houses, now plaques of names, an invisible installation.  The gold plaques flush with the ground in front of houses where murdered Jews had lived.  An empty bookshelf, sized to hold the number of books burned in front of the library.

From dust to dust...a gated garden where a Jewish cemetery stood.

From dust to dust…a gated garden where a Jewish cemetery stood.

So by the time you reach, “The Memorial for the Murdered European Jews” it’s easy to feel the ghosts in the the space around you.  Even if you enter with someone, you quickly find yourself alone in the shadows of the undulating, growing, tomb-like blocks.  There is only space for one.  I guess, when you are talking about murder each “one” is all that matters.

It's not possible to walk the memorial together.....

It’s not possible to walk the memorial together…..

People flicker into view.

You quickly lose sight of each other.

From within the Memorial, you can always see a sliver of blue sky, a direction out, a piece of hope.  As you walk forward, among the space, through the ghosts, you realize these painful reminders are branded on Berlin’s skin.  The scars remain because remembering all that is missing gives hope for a different type of future.

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Varenna, Italy: A vivid daydream

Varenna is a village from the past.  Complete with, supposedly, functional public baths and a crumbling hill top castle.  Hiking around the village provides magical views and mythical sitings.

Care for a refreshing dip after a sweaty hike??

Care for a refreshing dip after a sweaty hike??

With views to dream about, ghosts in the garden, unlit underground hideaways and an uncanny ability to grow olives in an unlikely Northern climate, Varenna is shrouded in surrealism.

My favorite castles all have draw bridges...

My favorite castles all have draw bridges…and potted plants.

Although the walk to the castle is ripe for your imagination it isn’t until you’re within the castle walls  that you are faced with the falconry.  The birds of prey are within arm’s reach and watching you.  It’s easy to get lost in a fantastical daydream based loosely on the movie “The Labyrinth.”

This castle dweller may feel it's more of a prison than a palace.

This castle dweller may feel it’s more of a prison than a palace.

And if none of these things spark your senses, well there’s always the pizza at the bottom of the hike.  After a hot, summer walk in Italy the pizza, if this is possible, tastes even more out-of-this-world!

A look-out for invaders.  All's well.

A look-out for invaders. All’s well.

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