Vagobond in Bulgaria – Part 3 – Sofia Statues and Parks

Travel around the world can’t be considered complete without visiting at least one former or current communist nation. I’ve been to a few of them now though many would argue that China is about as communist as the USA. As an anarchist, it strikes me as sad to think of the hope that went into the monuments and art of communism and the tragedy of death and despair that usually emerged from it.

One of the things that struck me as particularly interesting about walking around in Sofia was the huge number of statues which were dedicated to the workers. Now, I’m certainly no communist, in fact, if anything I’m an anarchist- but I’ve always thought that the honoring of the workers who actually produce the value of a society is a good thing. Bulgarian communist statueUnfortunately, the way communism and capitalism both work is that the bosses get the profits and the workers get the shaft. At least in communism the workers get statues to make them feel better. In capitalism the workers get to imagine that they can be bosses someday. Either way it’s an illusion. Still, the statues are wonderful. I love the way they make me feel and can imagine that when the tragedies of communism were rearing their heads, it was the artwork of communism that spoke to the masses and kept them turning the wheel of the ship of state. If the workers of the world could truly unite, we really could have utopia, but unfortunately, the workers are susceptible to the lies of the bosses, so it will never work.

The political slogan Workers of the world, unite! (German: “Proletarier aller Länder vereinigt Euch!”, literally “Proletarians of all countries, unite!”), is one of the most famous rallying cries of communism, found in The Communist Manifesto (1848), by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. A variation (“Workers of all lands, unite”) is also inscribed on Marx’s tombstone.

Sofia, Bulgaria, ping pong in the park
Give the workers ping pong

This slogan was the USSR State motto appeared in the coat of arms of the Soviet Union, and on 1919 Russian SFSR banknotes (in German, French, Chinese, English, and Arabic). Contemporarily, some socialist and communist parties continue using it. Moreover, it is a common usage in popular culture, often chanted during labour strikes and protests

Sofia communist statuesBut of course, the proletariat usually get screwed as the consumers get screwed. You can’t win with government. When you consider that at the time the Communisit Manifesto was written that neither Marx nor Engels had ever had jobs, it becomes amazing that they could have come up with ideas, but understandable that as a couple of twenty something students that their idealism would outstrip the reality of how government is designed to oppress and can’t be converted into an uplifter.

From each according to his ability, to each according to his need (or needs) is a slogan popularized by Karl Marx in his 1875 Critique of the Gotha Program. The phrase summarizes the principles that, in a communist society, every person should contribute to society to the best of his or her ability and consume from society in proportion to his or her needs. In the Marxist view, such an arrangement will be made possible by the abundance of goods and services that a developed communist society will produce; the idea is that there will be enough to satisfy everyone’s needs

Sofia bulgaria, eve with appleSofia is filled with parks and open spaces. As I walked around this city, I tried to picture what it must look like in the summer. I imagine it is quite beautiful. In the winter it certainly is. Of course there are more than just statues of the workers. I particularly enjoyed this iron totem pole with religious iconography. Check out the detail of eve with the apple…yes, she looks worth sinning for.

* Borisova gradina. It`s the “lungs” of the city, with the Ariana Lake
* City Garden. It`s the oldest and most central public garden, in existence since 1872.
* Largo.
* Orlov Most. It`s a bridge over the Perlovska River in the centre of Sofia
* Prince Alexander of Battenberg Square.
* Slaveykov Square. It`s an open-air book market.
* Patriarch Evtimiy Square.
* Sofia Zoo, 1 Sreburna Str., . 09:00 to 17:00.
* South Park. A nice park in the south-east part of the city, although a bit to crowded on weekends. Sorry, no Cartman statues yet.

communist consumer statue, Sofia, BulgariaFinally, here is the most disturbing statue from inside a mall in Sofia. I got in trouble for taking pictures here with the security guard. It’s a classic communist worker with a designer shopping bag.

No Free Lunch in Montevideo, Uruguay – But This Tour is Free!

Story and Photos by Melissa Ruttanai

Free tours in UruguayCited as one of the “most livable cities” in South America, Montevideo in Uruguay is often an overlooked city. To many, Uruguay sounds familiar… Montevideo rings a bell somehow… But this seaside metropolis is an underrated gem jutting out into the Atlantic, worth a visit especially if you are in Buenos Aires. The city sits on a peninsula with ocean breezes, sweeping positive ions over cobbled streets and the meandering beach palisades called Las Ramblas. Everything centers around the Old City, or Ciudad Vieja, and for visitors new to Montevideo, the best way to learn about the history is on a free tour, given by Alberto Rodriguez of Ciudad Vieja Tours.

How to Get a Free Tour on Friday in Montevideo

Every Friday, free tours are held at 10 am and 3pm. No reservations are necessary unless you’d like to hire Alberto for a private tour on a specific day. My husband and I rented a small beach-side apartment in Montevideo’s Pocitos neighborhood. It’s roughly 5 km away from the city center but on the straightforward bus system, we navigated our way through the city without any problems. On Bus 116, we cut westward through town, along the water at some points. The bus dropped us off three blocks from the meeting point of the free tour: the gateway to the city.

 Although we were 15 minutes late, our guide Alberto waited by the stone archway, sipping mate in the morning sun. At 10 am, we were the only two travelers who’d met up for the tour. We couldn’t be happier. Alberto tailored the tour to our interests, waiting for us as we took pictures of stained glass windows and local artisans painting in the market. Two hours flew by.

 Highlights of the Tour in Ciudad Vieja

Montevideo, UruguayAlberto walked us through the old cobbled streets of Montevideo, explaining the architectural influences and the mysterious etchings in town believed to be Free Mason symbols. Great highlights included the Teatro Solis, El Pie de Murillo, and the sidewalk art. Alberto told us that the tour follows a general route past some of the most important sites in the Old City. But he prefers to customize each tour based on the group’s interests. Since we were the only two with him, we skipped around and spent more time in the places we liked.

About Our Montevideo Free Tour Guide

Alberto Rodiguez is a New Yorker, born and bred and educated at Tufts University where he studied Latin American History and Revolution. When he’s not leading tours, Alberto teaches English and studies for his degree in tourism. He’s married to a lovely Chilean, Veronica and together they have fallen in love with Montevideo. With all their dedication and hardwork, please remember to tip US$10-15 per person. It’s worth every penny. If you can’t make it to the free tour on Fridays you can book Alberto for paid tours on other days. Tell them Melissa and Neil say hi!

Quebec City Revisited – Musee de Civilization

Quebec

Most of my day was spent in the beautiful Musee de Civilzation. A natural place for an anthropologist to end up I think. They had several interesting exhibits, one on Egyptology, another on the long lasting effects in North America of the 7 years war which it turns out led to the French Expulsion from Nova Scotia, the war of Independence in the states, and most likely to the horrid treatment of indigenous peoples in Canada by the English after the much more enlightened treatment of the indigenous by the French. Full citizenship to genocide including the use of disease ridden blankets by the English. My favorite was a look at creatures from outer space in fact and fiction.

Bologna, Italy – Pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca

Bologna Italy Catholic Pilgrimmage

I should begin by making it clear that I’m not a Catholic. I believe in the God that makes it possible for me to worship with all of the people of the world, so when I found out that there was a famous pilgrimage in Bologna, Italy I determined to make the pilgrimmage since I was already in Bologna as a guest of Emilia-Romagna Tourism.

The Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca is a destination for pilgrims from all over the world and while I was in Bologna primarily to worship the food and architecture, I decided to make the trek to the magnificent sanctuary which sits atop the Guardia Hill and serves as the most prominent landmark in the beautiful city of Bologna.

Here is a complete list of  Hotels in Bologna, Italy – because even pilgrims need a place to sleep! (Complete and up to date reviews and pricing)

Bologna is remarkable for many reasons, not the least of which is ‘the people’s umbrella’ which consists of more than 53 kilometers of covered walkways which developed from the medieval habit of extending the first floor of houses out over the sidewalk. The extensions were then supported with wooden beams and stone – and eventually, they became public space within the city. The result is that people in Bologna need not carry an umbrella even in the most violent downpour because they can get just about everywhere without stepping out from under the porticos. While there are many famous portico walks, the longest of them is the trek to the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca.

This amazingly long and uninterrupted portico stretches from Porto Saragozza where you will find the Museum of the Beata Virgine di San Luca. The towers and crenalated porticos which house the museum dates back to the 13th century but had famous design work done on it by the noted 19th century architect Giuseppe Mengoni.

Virgin of Saint LukeFrom Porto Saragozza pilgrims remove their shoes and begin the 3,796 meter (about 2 1/2 miles) climb up the longest uninterrupted portico in the world.  The portico has been in place since 1433 and each year the famous artifact, which is a Byzantine portrait of Madonna and Child, is carried in procession from the Sanctuary, down the hill, and then back up. The porticos were designed by Gian Giacomo Monti and later continued by Carlo Franceso Dotti and others. The section completed by Dotti is perhaps the most amazing in terms of architectural values as it utilizes a huge number of perspectives and vanishing points which enhance the feeling of awe as the pilgrims climb the steepest sections.

While I wasn’t there for the procession, there were still hundreds of pilgrims marching shoeless up the hill and stopping along the way to say prayers, make signs of the cross, and in some cases weep. There were Malaysian nuns, South American groups, American devotees, and Chinese catholics marching and chanting side by side.

The reason is that Byzantine portrait which is said to be the work of the famous evangelist St. Luke, author of the Gospel of St. Luke in the new testament. Interestingly, he is credited as being the first to paint icons of the Virgin and Child. The effigy is the patron saint of Bologna. Upon reaching the top, the Sanctuary opens up in a wonderous display of outdoor Baroque architecture that is both beautiful and adds to the sense of wonder before entering the sanctuary.

I arrived, with the pilgrims just before Mass was to begin. As I said, I’m not Catholic, but when I saw nuns tuning up guitars and felt the hushed electricity of the pilgrims as they began to sit, I decided to stay for Catholic Mass, which was a first for me. I can hardly imagine a more serene or exciting setting and while I didn’t understand the words, I felt the tears of the old Italian couple next to me and afterwards joined the true believers as they wound through the sanctuary to come for a closer look at the Madonna and Child.

The sanctuary itself was also re-designed and enlarged by Dotti and carries a very solemn and profound energy. I found it very interesting to be in Italy, looking at a painting brought from Constantinople (Istanbul) a thousand years before listening to prayers in a language that wasn’t my own after traversing 666 arches (how odd they should use that number) to reach it with hundreds of barefoot pilgrims.

I offered my prayers to God asking that my own wife and child be kept safe while I was away from them and stepped out to enjoy the beautiful walk back down into Bologna – I was fortunate in that on the day of my pilgrimage, the sun was shining brightly.

Bergamo – Italian City of Festivals

Bergamo, Italy is a rich tapestry of trade roads, history, art, and incredible festivals. The city, home to the artist Caravaggio (who not surprisingly is honored in a festival each Autumn) and the furthest outpost of Venice’s once mighty domain sits at the base of the Alps and historically served as a way point for goods from the Adriatic on their way to central Europe, Milan, and thence to Western Europe.

Festivals of BergamoWith it’s mighty symbol of trade, the Sentierone, it’s natural that this city should still function as a trading crossroads for not only Europe but for the world. And, as a bonus – some wonderful festivals come with that.

The locals will tell you that the city’s flag colors were chosen because of the dish for which the city is well known. Polenta. Made from stone ground Maize and cooked in copper pots you can find it everywhere. The flag – the golden yellow and the red (to represent wine, of course) – the flag flies above every festival the city hosts.

The festivals are remarkable in their diversity. From the late October Cortopotere Short Film Festival which has been running for 12 years now and brings film makers from all around the world to the nearly decade old Bergamoscienza Festival which has talks, workshops, shows, and round table discussions with Nobel Prize winners.

Bergamo flower festivalThe City of Bergamo International Organ Festival is concerned with the instrument housed in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore and brings some of the greatest organ talent in the world to showcase this amazing instrument. Another festival centered around instruments is the Alfredo Piatti International Cello Festival which offers concerts from well known Cellists for the public.

The International Early Music Festival is another festival dedicated to the Organ – this time with the works of Bach. And of course there is the Bergamo International Jazz Festival.

The Gaetano Donizetti Music Festival of Bergamo takes place at the Donizetti Theatre and is a world renowned Opera festival. The Gianni and Fausto Rdici Trophy is an event that combines music and another great love of Bergamo – skiing!

Festival of Bergamo MusicThe Bergamo International marathon takes place each September and brings runners from around the globe to compete on the incredibly scenic course. The Valgoglio Vertical is a high altitude race through the Alps!

Alta Quota which means high altitude is a trade fair which is all about the mountains – literally. The Fiera Campionaria is a traditional trade fair which goes back more than three decades and brings ever growing numbers of visitors to the city. It’s not to be confused with the Mercantanti in Fiera international food market/trade fair which has been going strong for ten years and allows Bergamask to enjoy food from all over the world. Every continent (except Antarctica) was represented.

Villages, Castles, and Palaces in Celebration is a festival which highlights the many beautiful places in the Bergamo province and offers gastonomic, musical, and visual delights for attendees. Another festival honors the beatification of Pope John XXIII with fireworks, religious icons, music, worship, and more.

On a different note is the Presente Prossimo Festival Dei Narratori Italiani which is an Italian Presenters Festival in the Serio Valley that included writers workshops, a writing conference, and of course, lots of presenting.

Bergamo food and wine festivalThose who love wine will find plenty of wine festivals in Bergamo from the “International Competition Emotions from the World: Merlot and Cabernet Together” to the Polenta Tragna Feast which always has plenty of wine and the traditional Bergamask meal.

And a furniture and furnishing accessories trade fair is held each November as well.

One thing is certain – if you go to Bergamo – you are almost certain to find at least one festival going on and don’t be surprised if you find many!

 

Ferrara, Italy – From Castello Estense to Cappellacci di Zucca

Ferrara, ItalyFerrara, Italy is well off the beaten path of most visitor’s travel plans when they come to Italy – and that contributes to exactly why you should take the time to stop in this charming cobble-stoned Northern Italian town.

More than just having the chance to enjoy a medieval Gothic town including a rather beautiful duomo (cathedral) and plenty of delicious cuisine – the big draw to Ferrara is being able to explore the massive Castello Estense which sits, surrounded by a story book moat with drawbridge, right in the center of this charming little town.

Ferrara owes it’s charms to the architect Biaggio Rosetti and his patron, Ercole d’Este who was forward thinking enough to hire him and ask that he fuse the old and the new into Italy’s first modern town. Ferrara is a UNESCO world heritage city.

For those who are interested in history or famous persons (or who enjoy watching the series The Borgias) the son of Ercole d’Este was Alfonso, the final husband of Lucretzia Borgia. Lucretzia is actually buried in Ferrara.

Castello Estense was built first in 1384 and then later modernized during the reigns of Ercole and Alfonso.  Modernization continued until the 19th century – but because of the size and effectiveness of the initial design, the castle remains a wonderful example of Renaissance architecture with elements of the Gothic and Medeivil.

Within the castle, much is as you would expect, massive kitchens, dungeons, hidden twisted passages – but there are a few gems hidden away.   For example, one doesn’t expect to find an orange grove on the roof of a tower – but here there is one.

Castello d'EstenseThe Ducal Chapel is equally surprising, not for it’s ornamentation, but rather for it’s lack of frescoes and decoration which is easily contrasted with the rich frescoes and ornamentation of the Chamber of Dawn just a bit further.  The surprise here are the massive mirrors which haven’t been added so tourists can see the ceilings easier, they were a part of the original design! In fact, this room (and the two following) were known as The Mirror Suite. Slightly further on the nude Greek figures wrestling on the ceiling are the defining feature of the Hall of Games.

View from Italian CastleWhile there is much more, the truth is that exploring this castle needs to be done in leisure and in person for maximum enjoyment. Once you’ve done that, my suggestion is that you head out into Ferrara, hire a bicycle, and then dig into the local culinary specialty cappellacci di zucca which is  a round pasta stuffed with pumpkin and served with al burro e salvia – or butter and sage.

One thing is for certain, you won’t be disappointed with a visit to Ferrara, Italy.

 

Lake Como, Italy – A Beautiful Daytrip from Bergamo or Milan

There are few places I’ve traveled where I feel so completely at ease as the Lombardy region of Italy. I’m not sure if it’s the quality of the air, the familiarity of the way people look, the food, or something all together different, but Lombardy certainly speaks to my soul.

Lake ComoWhile Milan and Bergamo are both wonderful places to explore Italian art and culture, there really isn’t much better than getting away from the cities and visiting Lake Como – one of the most beautiful lakes in the world and a crown jewel of Italian masterpieces. Lake Como is the third largest lake in Italy.

Lake Como is shaped like a large inverted Y and has nine major towns and dozens of small villages along its shores. The easiest town to reach is Como since one can get a train from Milan, Bergamo, or elsewhere for next to nothing. The transfer station is at Monza, on the outskirts of Milan and from there you have a direct journey to San Giovanni train station in Como. Since the journey is only a few hours and incredibly cheap (6.25 Euro each way from Bergamo) this makes for an incredible daytrip. Another option is to come from Lugano, Switzerland through Chiasso.

Lake Como SwansTo come from further abroad you can take overnight sleeper trains from Amsterdam via Duesseldorf, Cologne, Frankfurt and Basel.

 

Of course if you want to stay (and trust me, you will want to stay) there are a great variety of Hotels and Hostels in Como and the surrounding towns that offer everything from luxury to simplicity.

Lago di Como sits at the base of the Alps and the top of the inverted Y sits amid gorgeaous alpine scenery. For those who are curious, Como is a border town with neighboring Switzerland.

Lake Como gardens and villasComo was a popular destination as far back as the Roman era and has a considerable history even before that. Touristic sites include the beautiful lakeside mansions and the Sacro Monte di Ossuccio or Sacred Mount of Ossuccio which is part of a group of chapels leading to a monastery and a UNESCO world heritage site.

Tremezzo, Griante, Menaggio, Nesso, Bellagio, Verrena, Bellano, Colico, Lecco, and Cernobio are the other towns that surround Lake Como. Perhaps you thought the Bellagio was only a casino in Las Vegas? It’s a beautiful little Italian town and like all the towns and cities around Lake Como VillasLake Como it has gorgeous villas, lush botanical gardens, and incredible churches – but the big draw is the views of the lake and the Alps surrounding it.

Getting around Lake Como is easy. If you have a car, motorcycle or bicycle – the roads are just fine. Buses are cheap and frequent between the towns but the best way is to take the boats. Like Istanbul, this is a region that relies on ferries to move from one place to another.

A funicular runs up one of the mountains and offers spectacular views plus some incredible sites within the town itself.

If you are interested in more than historic sites, Lake Como offers a huge variety of outdoor activities from sailing, boating, hiking, camping, walking, strolling along the water, fishing, and even kite surfing or flying lessons!

Finally, for a reader and writer such as myself, Lake Como is a special treat (not to mention as a geek, I appreciate that I’m actually at Star War’s Naboo) but- in literature we have:

Mark Twain who writes about Lake Como extensively in The Innocents Abroad. Ernest Hemingway used the Lake as a setting in A Farewell to Arms when his character Lieutenant Henry talks about taking a vacation to Lake Como. Victor Frankenstein married Elizabeth in the vicinity of Lake Como in the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley anLake Como Parkd Fyodor Dostoevsky mentions Lake Como in his novel Notes from Underground.

In addition there is Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities which has Maria Ruskin escape from New York to Lake Como and The Poems and Fragments of Catallus, In Praise of Como, Alessandro Manzoni’s The Betrothed , The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendhal, August Strindberg’s magnum opus play Miss Julie, Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan, Samuel Beckett’s play Endgame, and Gladys Theodora Parrish Huntingdon’s novel Madame Solario. There are certainly many more – and did I mention it’s also Naboo?

One thing for certain. It’s a beautiful and relaxing place and I look forward to returning.

 

The World Through A Photographer’s Lens – Southeast Asian Festivals

Photos and Words by Dave Stamboulis

Around the World Through a Photographer’s Lens is a weekly feature from Award Wiinning travel photographer and writer, Dave Stamboulis.  Every Monday afternoon you can find Dave’s work here at Vagobond. See the world through a photographer’s lens.

Festivals play a big part in SE Asian life. Every season or Buddhist holiday heralds a new festival. Here are a few of them…

1) A young boy becoming a novice monk at Poi Sang Long Festival in Mae Hong Son, Thailand.  Getting the head shaved is the first step to becoming a novice monk.

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2) Songkran New Year, also known as the Water Festival, celebrated with vigor in Luang Prabang, Laos

A young boy becoming a novice monk at Poi Sang Long Festival in Mae Hong Son, Thailand

3) Songkran in Thailand involves massive drenching

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4) The Rocket Festival is celebrated before planting season and features plenty of home made rockets to go with the festivities, held both in Thailand and in Laos

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5) Young novice monks to be at Poi Sang Long, which comes from the Burmese Shan State

Poi Sang Long Best Wai

6) The entire town of Mae Hong Song celebrates Poi Sang Long, during which time the novice monks are not allowed to touch the ground for 3 days, and are carried throughout the town by their relatives and friends

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7) Hmong girls celebrating the new year in Luang Prabang, Laos

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8) Poi Sang Long Festival, Mae Hong Song, Thailand. The best fan of them all.

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Photo Essay: Bird Watching on Italy’s Po River

Seeing flamingos in the wildDuring my time in the Emiliga Romana region a few months ago, I was fortunate to be able to take part in a bird watching tour on the Po River. With more than 350 species of birds having been sighted in the Po River Region, this is a territory that at first glance looks unvaried, but is actually quite surprising richness.

Indeed, the agricultural landscapes vary much more than the human eye can see. Birds can profit from this, finding what they need to feed themselves and, in some cases, to breed.

This is one of the best places in the world to watch herons, kites, kestrals, and of course, flamingos. I didn’t have the fancy bird-watching camera that many of the other passengers on the boat had, but I still managed to catch some images that I hope show how nice the day was.

In particular, there was a large group of senior citizens from Belgium who are part of an RV camping club, these folks with tattoos and piercings on wrinkled old arms are exactly the type of old person I hope to someday be.

While it was exciting to see the Peregrine Falcon, a red-footed falcon and the lesser kestrels, the highlight for me was just being on the water and seeing this unique landscape filled with pink flamingos!

In addition, the French speaking tour guide pointed out some fish smuggling camps. An interesting note was that there are always two doors in the smuggler cabins so that when they see the patrols coming they can run out the back and escape in their long fishing boats.

I’m very grateful to Emilia Romagna Tourism for setting up this trip.

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Moussem Sidi Ali Ben Hamdouch – Sacred, Mystical, Muslim, Madness

Editors Note: This article was written to help promote Culture Vultures Fez. For more information you can go to this link. Vagobond is proud to support the arts and cultural exchange through programs such as this one.

Moussem Sidi Ali Ben Hamdouch
Moussem Sidi Ali Ben Hamdouch – Every year on the anniversary of the prophet Mohammed’s  birth, (‘Eid al-Mawlid) many Moroccans take part in pilgrimages to sacred places, saintly tombs, shrines and grottos, and places frequented by ‘junuun,’ those mystical beings from the Qur’an who hold a special place in Moroccan folklore and popular culture.

Thousands of pilgrims descend upon Sidi Ali to  commemorate Sidi Ali Ben Hamdouch and to delve into the world of the supernatural, the trance, the aura of the junuun, to experience the ritual bath at the spring of Aïsha Ben Hamdoucha and incantations that bring spirits and humans together in remembrance of God.

During the week of the pilgrimage, tents and stalls line the streets of the small town. The smells of tea and grilled meat mix with those of live sheep awaiting slaughter and the sweet incense used in ritual offerings. Music fills the foggy mountain air as impromptu street performances take place in every corner.

Musicians playing anything from the Ahidous native to the Atlas Mountains to Sufi music in the Hamadsha or Gnawa traditions descend upon Sidi Ali, set up camp in a ground floor garage or room in an apartment for the week to perform ceremonial ‘Lillas’.

Spectators are slowly brought into the ritual – dancing, swaying and being offered breaths of incense until some fall into a trance. Participation with the mystic during the pilgrimage of Sidi Ali ben Hamdouch is very much like all mystic experiences: it requires initiation, belief and surrender.

The sweet smell of incense and the rhythmic clapping of metal castanets and chanting of the Gnawi form an experience that flows between the spiritual and the sensory – between mere curiosity and more esoteric meanderings. Hardly advertised, the pilgrimage of Sidi Ali Ben Hamdouch is still known by most Moroccans. This is an opportunity to be transported deep into Moroccan tradition.

Belgrade’s Nikola Tesla Museum

Nikola Tesla was perhaps the greatest wizard of the modern age. He invented radio at the same time as Marconi, invented alternating current which powers the world’s electric grid, and contributed to the fields of electrical engineering, physics, and power generation and transfer. His work touches the daily lives of most people on the planet.

Nikola Tesla MuseumTesla was born in Croatia, then a part of the Austrian Empire but his father was an Orthodox minister and since he was born in the former Yugoslavia and once visited Belgrade where he said “I am a Serb,” he is perhaps the proudest son of the Serbian people. He is on the 50 Serbian Dinar note and when you visit Belgrade it’s worth it to pay a visit to the Nikola Tesla Museum located in a 1929 residential villa built by Dragiša Brašovan, a distinguished Serbian architect.

The museum is open from 10 am to 6 pm Tuesday through Friday and weekends from 10 am to 1 pm. Entrance is 150 Serbian Dinars (about 1.5 Euro)

Belgrade Tesla MuseumThe story of how the museum which contains the bulk of Tesla’s personal effects and some of his inventions came to be is a result of Tesla dying and leaving his estate to his nephew, a resident of Belgrade. Tesla himself was a U.S. citizen and died in New York City where he was working on a way to create ‘free energy’ which conspiracy theorists believe was sabotaged by the electricity companies. Furthermore, they say that his inventions along this line were seized by the U.S. government and hidden in the deepest vaults for safekeeping. Because of his eccentric personality and his seemingly unbelievable and sometimes bizarre claims about possible scientific and technological developments, Tesla was ultimately ostracized and regarded as a mad scientist by many late in his life.

Conspiracies aside, Tesla was working on a way to transmit power without wires but when the project neared completion the backing was pulled by financier JP Morgan who notoriously said that if you couldn’t put a meter on it, you couldn’t make a profit from it.

Ashes of Tesla
Nikola Tesla’s Ashes

Despite his world changing inventions, Tesla died penniless and alone. As a result of all of this, the Belgrade Nikola Tesla museum is the only one in the world that contains his notes, letters, and personal belongings. These include more than 160,000 original documents, 2000+ books and journals, 1200+ historical technical exhibits, 1000+ technical drawings and schemata, 1500+ photographs and photo plates of original, technical objects, plus many of his instruments and apparatus.

The museum is a major draw for those who are deeply involved in environmental protection projects and studies of pollution-free energy sources. It is also the last resting place of Tesla as his ashes are kept in an urn at the back of the museum. Here is a short video I took with my phone of the Tesla coil…sorry for the bad cinematography 🙂

While the historical and personal effects of Tesla are interesting, the real fun is in the working models of his inventions including a small tesla coil, a poly-phase system, a core-less Tesla transformer, and his wireless remote control. The engineering students who volunteer at the museum give a wonderful demonstration and explanation (in English, Serbian, French, Italian, or Spanish) and if you want to feel what it is like to have thousands of volts of electricity pass through your body (safely) or to witness the power of Tesla’s inventions, there is no better place to do it. Knowing that his umbrella, hat, and the ashes of his body are in the same building makes it all just that much more exhilarating.

Jazz in Paris – Paris Jazz Bars and One Swinging Town

There's no jazz like Paris JazzThe legend says jazz was born in the New Orleans at the end of the 19th century. Very fast, this new music expands to Europe, where many black American jazzmen decide to stay, because they are more recognized and accepted than in the US. Many of them stay in Paris after the war and will contribute to the success of Jazz in Paris from 1918 onwards. Music historians say that without Paris, jazz would not have known such a great success all over the world.

Asking a Frenchman what the best jazz bar in Paris is like asking him to find the best croissant in Paris: it’s impossible. Every jazz club has a certain flavor that makes it unique. Every club has its specialty and has a different characteristic. And there are so many jazz clubs in Paris that you can find every different flavor you want.

If you want to be in an little club that is not crowded with tourists and where you can discover young talents, then the Caveau des oubliettes is the place to be. It is one of the few jazz clubs in Paris to be free, and many celebrities like Keziah Jones enjoy spending the evening there, so maybe you’ll get lucky! And, if you do get lucky, it might be good if you’ve found your own jazz crashpad – there are plenty of Paris apartment rentals to choose from, so no reason to deal with the hotel scene.

 

There's no jazz like Paris JazzAnother one of my favorite bars is the Swan Bar. There, you can drink some delicious cocktails prepared by the lovely waitress Isla in the historic jazz district of Paris. The lineups are very different, there are a number of different “styles”, from great fusion jazz trios to gipsy music. The ambiance is also very friendly and the drinks are relatively cheap. A great place to finish the evening!

 

The Duc des Lombards has been one of the most popular clubs in Paris for 25 years. The atmosphere is quite intimate and many great jazz musicians come to play there, and contribute to its great success. Lots of free jazz on the lineups, it will bring you back straight to the 50’s.

 

There's no jazz like Paris JazzThe New Morning is considered to be the sanctuary of jazz in Paris. It is one of the largest jazz bars (up to 300 people can fit in) with great artists on the program all year long (Lucky Peterson Band, Pat Cohen Blues Band, Mo Rodgers, etc.). But before you go, make sure you have a ticket to avoid the queuing for hours.

 

If you are a real jazz addict and you want to come to Paris this summer, a great event is the Paris Jazz festival, which takes place in the Parc Floral. There are over 1500 seats available, but you will certainly enjoy this open air festival a lot more just sitting on the grass with some friends, a bottle of good wine and a picnic. The festival takes place every Saturday and Sunday at 3pm from mid-june until the end of July.

There's no jazz like Paris JazzThere is so much choice it becomes overwhelming and you can spend hours trying to decide which bar you want to go to and you generally end up walking all night from one bar to another.

To avoid this, you should try one of my personal favorites: the Balle Au Boat. It’s a boat/restaurant that is permanently moored alongside the “Ile Saint Louis” What better evening can you think of than listening to Jazz in Paris on a boat, sipping on a good glass of wine in good company? I can’t! However, the schedule is quite unpredictable and jazz nights are relatively rare but definitely worth it.

 

Sheet Music & Toilet Seat Art – 13 of Bologna’s Offbeat Museums

A visit to Bologna, Italy is usually characterized by great food, exploring the wonderful architecture, perhaps doing the Portico walks, checking out the tall towers, and perhaps enjoying music, art, or cinema at Bologna’s many festivals.

Offbeat Art in BolognaHidden in the midst of all of that, are several wonderful offbeat museums that are definitely worth your time.  First of all, near the train station and slightly away from the center is a museum filled with works that just about no one thinks of when they go to Bologna – Modern Art.

The Museum of Art Moderne Bologna or MAMBO is bursting with treasures both inside and outside. The Museum covers Italian Art from World War II to the present.

The Galleria d’Arte Moderna di Bologna opened in 1975 in the spaces specially designed by artist and architect Leone Pancaldi; it was born in the atmosphere of intellectual fervor that pervaded the city at the beginning of the Sixties. Before GAM’s opening, more than a decade of events, exhibitions and competitions had taken place in hope of its construction, culminating in the opening activities joint under the title “A museum today.”

Inside you’ll find a wide array of rotating exhibits and a wonderful permanent collection that ranges through such an eclectic mix as tribute to New York break dancing videos to Toilet Seat art (which, by the way, the security seems a little uptight about – when I began lifting the lids to see the symbols painted under them, a very upset guard began yelling at me in Italian and then followed me the rest of the way through the museum – my contention is that there was art under the seats, so obviously the artist intended it to be seen!) Due to the close scrutiny, I was unable to take a photo of this wonderful toilet seat display.  Shit!!

Mambo museum in Bologna
A shot of the wonderful Marcel Boadthaers at MAMbo in Bologna, Italy

When I visited there was an immensely interesting  Marcel Broodthaers  temporary exhibit which highlighted his artistic path and how it developed over the course of an extraordinary career that lasted just 12 years, from 1964 to 1976. Titled, Marcel Broodthaers. L’espace de l’écriture, the exhibition was extraordinary.

Another Bologna Museum that I found to be well worth my time was the Museo Internazionale e Biblioteca Della Musica (International Museum and Library of Music). While this was a small museum, for music lovers it is a must see.  Tucked away inside the 16th century Palazzo Sanguinetti, this museum was designed to hold the musical objects of the city of Bologna, but quickly grew to become an international library for sheet music! With wonderful murals, a delightful old curator, and plenty of old instruments – you won’t be sorry if you pay a visit.

Offbeat Art in BolognaThe frescoes alone are worth the price of admission as they are meticulously restored 18th century examples of Neo-Classical and Napoleanic art that are unlike just about anything else in the city.

Here is a blurb from the museum’s website:

The first and most important intent was to bring awareness to the greater public of the rich variety of musical heritage that the Comune di Bologna owns and has kept for a long time. Until now, much of this heritage remained confined in warehouses for various reasons – the first and foremost being the lack of adequate space – and was only brought out occasionally for temporary expositions.

The museum’s core musical collections were created by Franciscan Father, Giovanni Battista Martini in the 1700’s who was not only a great scholar and collector but also the teacher of Johann Christian Bach and Wolfgang Amadé Mozart. In addition to enriching his library day after day, gathering manuscripts and musical works of various kinds, Padre Martini collected portraits of musicians.

Offbeat Art in BolognaFor me, the most fun was to see the instruments: lutes, flutes by Manfredo Settala from 1650, the pochette, various little violin, the ghironde, the serpentoni, the extraordinary series of horns and cornets from the 16th and 17th centuries, and finally, the tiorba, which is in the shape of a khitára.

So, as you can see – Bologna offers much more than just food and architecture. Here are a few more museums you may want to explore while you are in the heart of good living.

1) The Tapestry Museum in Villa Spada
2) The Leccaro Collection of Modern Art
3) The Herb Museum
4) Missionary Museum of Chinese Art
5) Civic Medieval Museum
6) Museum of Comparative Anatomy
7) The Toy Soldier Museum
8) Resistance Movement Museum
9) Industrial Heritage Museum
10) The Communications Museum
11) The Museum of Bee Keeping

If those thirteen museums aren’t enough for you, there are about fifty more within the center of Bologna and that ought to keep you busy!

 

Eating Horse Flesh in Chiasso Switzerland

Ah yes, Switzerland. A day of banking, Swiss cheese, chocolate, yogurt, smoked meat, and a bit of yodeling. I did it all in Chiasso. Cliche, yes – but oddly enjoyable.

My first pic of SwitzerlandThe day trip from Bergamo to Lake Como had cost me just a few hours and 6.25 Euro so I decided to splurge and take a trip across the border to Chiasso, Switzerland.

The train fare was 1.30 Euro and the trip took less than ten minutes as we slowly went under a mountain. I’m told that the Swiss love to make tunnels every bit as much as Koreans like digging. Anyway, it was a nice tunnel and then we were in Switzerland!

I set off on a whirlwind tour. I visited a shop that sold Swiss Army Knives and Swiss Watches but didn’t buy one because I don’t wear a watch and I only carry a carry on bag and so a knife would have been confiscated. After that I walked through the streets breathing the fresh Swiss air.

Swiss International Air Lines
Since I was in Switzerland, it seemed appropriate that I do some banking so I visited the ATM and got 50 Swiss Francs which I wasn’t entirely sure was enough to buy anything but wondered if it was a lousy conversion rate…didn’t know. But, I did some Swiss banking.

Chiasso Shopping CenterNext stop was the grocery store, because even though there were restaurants, I wanted to eat real Swiss products for lunch and I needed to see how much the beautiful Swiss currency would buy…so, I grabbed a Swiss shopping basket and walked through the Swiss aisles getting Swiss products – and by the way, I was hungry – but managed to control myself.

I bought some Swiss yogurt, some smoked Swiss horse meat, a big block of Swiss cheese, and three bars of Swiss chocolate (but no Swiss Miss).

I walked through the streets which were filled with now mostly closed shops since (and I never knew this) apparently the Siesta is a big deal in Switzerland. I decided not to visit the big International Duty Free Shopping Center but instead sat in a very green and clean little park eating my yogurt, cheese, horsemeat, and a bit of the chocolate.

Discover the joys of smoked horse!

Park in Chiasso, SwitzerlandI have to admit, I’d never eaten horse before but this particular cheval fume seche coupe was incredibly delicious. The Swiss yogurt may have been the best I’ve ever eaten. The Swiss cheese was ever so good and then the chocolate – my goodness. I was so overwhelmed with the very Swiss-ness of the situation that I did a little bit of yodeling (after looking to see that there was no one else in the park).

Finally, I decided to end the day in Switzerland in a spectacular fashion by walking to Italy. No border check, no nada nothing. I was afraid my Swiss Chocolate and Cheese would be confiscated, but all was well. By the way, the price for my groceries was 8.75 Swiss Franks which ended up being about 6 Euro – amazingly affordable!

If you would rather spend more time in Switzerland, here is a list of Chiasso Hotels or you can take the train a bit further to Lugano.

The walk back to Lake Como took a bit longer than I expected (since I had to go over the mountain the train had gone under) but I still had time to enjoy the beautiful place while munching on a bit of horseflesh before I had to catch the train back to Bergamo.

5 Ways to Experience Florence like a True Florentine

Florence, Italy is the birthplace of the Renaissance: with over 70 museums and over 60 churches there is so much to see in a limited about of time and you should see as much as humanly possible. But amidst your museum hopping take some time to live like the locals do and enjoy il dolce far niente (the sweetness of doing nothing). Take in all the city has to offer with the top five ways to make the most of your time in Florence.

Florence, Italy1.Move Away from the Tourist Traps

When it comes to Italian food and dining options, convenience and location are top priorities for site seers & Florentines know that. Top tourist destinations like the Piazza del Duomo and Piazza della Signoria are lined with quick and tasty dining options but they’re often more expensive and less authentic. Wander over a few streets and you’re sure to find a quaint trattoria or osteria that will not only be less crowded but also less expensive.

2.Make it to the Market

The San Lorenzo Market is a must-see for anyone seeking a true Florentine experience. Lined with vendors selling everything from scarves to produce, the market is where you’ll get a true feel for Florentine lifestyle. The market is also a great place to interact with the locals and pick up any souvenir you could possibly imagine.

3.Check out the View from the Top

Winding through the narrow streets it’s often difficult to fully comprehend the beauty of the city that surrounds you. The Boboli Gardens in the Pitti Palace, and the Bardini Gardens have great views of the city but perhaps the best view of all of Florence comes from Piazzale Michelangelo. This small piazza is at the top of a hill and provides a picturesque look of Florence at sunrise and sunset. In the heart of the city, you can climb to the top of the Duomo or the Campanile for another great perspective.

4.Save Room for Gelato
No trip to Florence is complete without indulging in gelato, multiple times a day. When looking for an authentic gelateria, pay attention to the color of the gelato. Flavors should resemble the actual fruit they come from. That means banana should be slightly grayish and pistachio should be a pale green, not florescent.

5.People Watch

A favorite passtime of Italians, people watching is an enjoyable way to not only truly experience Florence but also way to give your feet a break from pounding on the cobblestone streets. Find a bench in a busy piazza and take in all of the families, fashion, and tourists that wander by. Side note: Piazza della Signoria is my favorite place to people watch!

 

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