Category Archives: Travel Reflections

The One About Going Back in Time?

I spent my March Break reading. It was wonderful. I feel refreshed and energized and although I didn’t get to travel anywhere, it sort of feels like I did. It’s been awhile since I’ve been able to just read and read and read and really, not do anything else at all. Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet (not a new book but one that has been on my list for awhile) was one of the better reads and it brought back my obsession with the Middle Ages. The story loosely follows the change in Romanesque to Gothic architecture and that alone had me hanging to every word. And, this is the point where I’ll also probably lose my blog readers, so without going into any further detail, let’s just say today’s post is a snapshot of a city that takes its visitors back in time:

Toledo, Spain

eurotrp2-1-288   eurotrp2-1-282  eurotrp2-1-365    eurotrp2-1-366 eurotrp2-1-3682   eurotrp2-1-292


Above – somewhat in this order: the Tagus River and bridges, city walls, arch entrance, Alcazar on one end and gothic cathedral on the other end, the city below and surrounding countryside.


The One About ‘Liya’s Top 10 Romantic Cities to Visit

I guess – in honour of recent V-day, not that we celebrate or anything, it’s just that I really did want a new blender and my birthday is just so far away… here’s to hoping that The Husband reads this post and sees just how much I want a new one… especially since someone broke my trusty handheld blender… but I don’t want to name any names.

This is the list in no particular order – oh, and please do enjoy the way I’ve blurred the images. I was playing around with the program and this effect is called “bloom” and I find it very pretty.

1. Paris, France

Cliché but true. This wouldn’t be a complete list without Paris, the city of light.


Above: Glass dome of the Lafayette Shopping Centre.

2. A Shanghai water village, such as Zhujiajiao, Tongli or Zhouzhuang

I would argue that these little villages built along the river have more charm than Paris and Venice put together but it may be because it truly feels like you’re stepping back in time without the crush of hundreds of tourists and souvenir stores every step you take.

IMG_9541 (2)

IMG_9606 (2)

3. Venice, Italy

Narrow pathways that lead to bridges over the canals, little boutiques and art galleries, riding a gondola… just make sure The Husband knows how much a private gondola costs so he doesn’t spend the rest of the trip complaining about how much he had to spend and therefore ruining the romance of it.


4. Kyoto, Japan

On our last night I spotted a geisha, yes I did. I was caught off guard and my hand wasn’t quick enough snapping pics, the end result quite out of focus… but the perfect end to our time in this city where every stop seems like a photo opportunity.



Above:  The Golden Pavilion.

5. Phuket, Thailand

Water at the perfect temperature all year round and that dreamy bluish-green colour that doesn’t need any photo enhancing at all. Take a boat to one of the islands. Just make sure to have a bag in case you need to vomit after the rocky boat ride. The contents of my stomach didn’t sit too well and as soon as we landed on the soft silky sands, out went my food, thank you Husband dear for helping me clean up :D

IMG_8911 (2)

6. Bavaria, Germany

Leave Munich for the Romantic Road, Alps, forests, lakes, little towns and villages and castles. Ludwig II’s Neuschwanstein stands out most due to its size and fairytale exterior but it’s his smaller Linderhof Palace which The Husband and I agree, is our favourite castle.


Above: The famous castle.



Above: The “lesser” and more “manageable” castle as we lovingly refer to it; the Linderhof Palace, ‘back and front yard views.’ No photographs were allowed inside, but that’s okay, look how beautiful the outside views are.

7. Jamaica

Everything is “irie” or good or right it seems, when on vacation here. Time slows down and even if it’s raining you can still enjoy the beach. Climb Dunn’s waterfalls for a different take on a waterfall to see the cascading beauty of the water at different levels. Wish I had photos of that experience, but was scared the camera would get ruined.


8. Istanbul, Turkey

The best of both worlds, one foot in Europe and one in Asia… the skyline from the Bosphorus is dotted with minarets and the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque look stunning almost mirroring each other in the early morning, day, sunset and lit up at night – so basically, all the time.

turkey-212    turkey-218

9. Santorini, Greece

This is where our balcony view was unlike no other. Eating fresh baklava outside watching the sun disappear into the water below… I don’t know which baklava was better, Istanbul’s or Santorini’s, but having the view all to ourselves it seemed, was unreal.


10. Seville, Spain

The problem with Spain is that so many of the country’s cities’ fit the romantic aspect perfectly. Barcelona and Madrid come to mind first of course but Granada’s Alhambra is stunning and Cordoba’s red and white striped forest of arches are mesmerizing. I fell in love with Seville’s Moorish-style Alcazar and can still remember the gardens.

eurotrip-6-144     eurotrip-6-160



“There may be something there that wasn’t there before” -  Beauty and the Beast.

The one about what to wear when visiting The Great Wall of China (in winter)


How to copy my style:

1. Check the weather forecast and know to dress warm when the temperature is lower than -10 degrees Celsius.

2. Wear double socks, leggings and stockings underneath thick workout pants. Plus, wear a tank top, a vest, a long sleeve t-shirt, and a thick woolen sweater underneath a winter jacket. In other words, wear so much so that your jacket can barely zip up. Don’t forget the mitts, scarf for the cold nose, furry hat and sunglasses so that opening eyes against the harsh winds won’t be an issue. It’s OK to be unrecognizable. Only The Husband has to know who you are to help pull you uphill when you can’t bend your legs under all the layers.

3. Wear contact lenses. You know from experience your glasses will fog up with every exhale. Dark sunglasses are fine because they hide the fog. Again, you are there to see that wall, the wall doesn’t care to see you.


How to copy his style:

1. Check the weather forecast but ignore it and believe your superhuman warming skills will activate when needed.

2. Ignore your wife pleading with you that you’re being unreasonable by not packing a winter jacket.

3. Pack your fall jacket, a hat that barely covers your ears, and don’t dress in layers, that is, basically freeze. Avoid contact with your wife’s I-told-you-so eyes behind her fogged up sunglasses. At least you look good.

The views were breathtaking:



Even the garbage can was pretty!


Depending on how you measure the wall’s length, you’ve got between 10,000-20,000 km. That’s quite a distance even on the lower end. In the summer, it’s said to be humid, smoggy and packed with tourists. In the dead cold of winter, the small slice of wall we visited gave us clear views into the distance and a serene quietness – perfect. But boy was it cold.



Hopefully this sign says something significant such as Great Wall of China, and not washrooms or exit:


Even the cats are huddled together for warmth:


“Let yourself be silently drawn by the stronger pull of what you really love.” – Rumi.

The one about the Magic Garden

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens isn’t your typical tourist stop.

Here, artist Isaiah Zagar has transformed a vacant city lot into another world. His mosaic walls (and floors and ceilings) are made out of all kinds of found objects, from traditional kitchen tiles, to bits and pieces of broken glass or recycled bottles. The outdoor gallery-like space is randomly located on what appears to be a residential street. Peering through the gate, a magical scene beckons, one without flowers and trees, but a “garden” of sorts  nonetheless.

Once inside, the place is a quirky collection of objects, colours, and mirror reflections and you don’t know where to look and you kinda just want to sit down. It was a bit like how I’d imagine walking into a kaleidoscope to feel like… only not ordered into a particular design like kaleidoscope designs are; this place was anything but organized.


IMG_0947  IMG_0927

As soon as we stepped inside, The Husband took one look around and said “this place is YOU – a younger YOU” I wasn’t sure if I should appreciate that comment or not. On one hand I was drawn to the unexpected treasures and little discoveries planted amongst the bottles and broken plates, such as this glass POM bottle:


However, on the other hand, it was all too much. Maybe the “younger” me was too much… as young girls are… the doodles and drawings, sparkles, jewellery, bows, the need to cover all surface areas with material things. I’m reminded of my students’ work, sometimes I just want to hide the glitter so they can’t find it, I’d rather they do without, they tend to go overboard, but they (the female students) always want to use sparkles and glitter, to them it’s beautiful, magical even.


The gardens are like a collage that’s thrown up sparkles and little toys and trinkets. The Husband refers to it as “the garbage house” because he doesn’t understand art in the same way, but he was happy with the low admission of $5.00 so that kept him quiet. I however, felt like I could stay there exploring for hours. And shhh don’t tell him, I have plans to transform his our basement in the same way.

“I don’t like formal gardens…” – Walt Disney


The One Where I Reveal Secrets –

- not my own secrets, just the work of others!


Photo taken in Santorini, Greece

So you see, those buildings weren’t always white. White gets dirty very fast. In order to achieve the fresh and clean look, the white cave houses on the Greek islands (well Santorini and Mykonos both, as far as I know), need constant upkeep. I was so excited when I came across this man re-painting his wall. I felt like I had stumbled upon some great secret. Of course, I asked for permission before taking the photo. Who wants some gawking tourist snapping photos while obviously hard at work in the heat of the sun?!

Did you know that white paint is used on houses in hot countries to reflect heat? This is also why people in hot countries often wear white.

Colour choices are made for specific reasons. I always thought the white and blue colours you see often on domes on churches, little island building doorways and windows etc. were supposed to represent the colours of the Greek flag. Instead, the blue is a colour meant to ward off evil (similar to the blue colour you see with the nazar, the Turkish symbol to ward off the evil eye). This turquoise-type blue originally came from a mineral found in Turkey (hence the name “turquoise”…). This vibrant blue is the perfect island colour, it’s the colour of a hot summer day, and it’s the colour of my favourite skirt (which is reversible and can be worn 4 different ways, which translates to 4 different outfits, which = a lighter suitcase).



Photos taken in Kyoto, Japan

I love the vermilion colour he’s using and the little glass bottle in his hand. Vermilion is not one specific hue. In China, it’s more of a red hue, in Japan, the colour takes on this brilliant orange-red that veers more to the orange-y side.

But look at the size brush this guy is using, it’s going to take him all day… all week if he has to touch up all 10,000 torii gates that line the tunnel walkway of the Fushimi Inari shrine… The Greek guy had a roller, he’ll be done his touch ups in less than 30 min I think! The Japanese are so meticulous about everything. One of the first things that caught our attention in Tokyo was someone cleaning the glass along the side of an elevator in a subway station – a subway station! It’s not just the trains that are super clean, the subway stations were spotless. That’s just incredible.

It takes 2.5-3 hours to hike to the top of the shrine on the mountain through the torii-gate tunnels. The Husband and I walked for about 15 minutes before I knew I couldn’t take another step. I wanted to re-trace the Memoirs of a Geisha (do you remember the movie?) – but that wasn’t happening, not with my heavy boots, and my umbrella-turned-walking- stick which did nothing to help my case.

I was most pleased when I came across the opportunity for these pictures though. Again, it felt like a behind-the-scenes kind of look, a glimpse into the making of the place, a reminder that nothing man-made is ever perfect.

“When you are older, you realize that everything else is just nothing compared to painting and drawing.” – David Hockney.

Repost (from the old blog): Mandela, Prisoner to President

This is Robben Island where former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela (and other political prisoners) were imprisoned during the apartheid. The island is about 8km away from Cape Town and ferries regularly take visitors to the former prison to learn about the site. Two things I found surprising: 1. ex prisoners conduct the tours, 2. people still live on the island. I can’t imagine the strength you’d need to have to willingly want to work in the very environment that represents such a challenging and difficult personal time…

Above: Entrance, barbed wire fence, Mandela’s cell…

Rest in peace Madiba.

“Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people.” – Nelson Mandela.

The One About Painting the Sea

This is JMW Turner’s painting Storm at Sea:

Storm at Sea

In the Bahamas, The Husband and I sat down with paint and canvas, and painted on the beach. We both shared the same view and the same paint. He thought he did a better job, and I have to admit that I really admired the light feathery touch he had with the paintbrush. But I still thought I did a better job. I preferred my heavy, dark and deep colours and the build up of paint on the canvas over his more whimsical scene. His painting had a certain happiness to it, mine was a bit depressing and lonely, but in that, I feel, more thought. I don’t know where those paintings are anymore. I can’t remember if we ended up leaving them behind or where we might have put them if we brought them back.

Maybe you’re not as attracted to Turner’s study of water-meets-sky-movement, as I am. Perhaps you’re drawn more to Claude Monet’s foaming waves and his interest in sunlight and weather effects in Waves Breaking:

Waves Breaking

These two paintings sort of illustrate the very different results The Husband and I got.

Everyone wants to paint the ocean. There’s something captivating about the movement of waves that’s inspiring. It helps that the same view you stare at one day, is different the next day - no two days look the same if you pay attention to all the details.

To read more about Turner and Monet’s paintings, or learn about other artists who’ve painted the ocean, check out The 10 Best Sea Paintings.

“There is one spectacle grander than the sea, that is the sky; there is one spectacle grander than the sky, that is the interior of the soul” – Victor Hugo 






The One About Istanbul

“Rome may be The Eternal City, but Istanbul can make a pretty good case for immortality too. The cities are about the same age, both over two-and-a-half millennia, and for much of that time the larger, wealthier, and more influential of the two was not the one in Italy. In fact Istanbul, known as Constantinople at the time, spent hundreds of years ruling over Rome as the capital of the Roman Empire.” – see full article here

Istanbul is magical. That’s all I can say.

8 Things Not to Miss in Istanbul lists the eight must-sees for all. Below are my images of the 8 rather 7… #4 was eaten and not photographed :D

#1 Be awed by the Blue Mosque

turkey 212

turkey 076

#2 Learn the mysteries of underground Istanbul

turkey 1043

(underground water cistern – the conclusion of Dan Brown’s Inferno takes place here)

#3 Get lost in the Grand Bazaar

turkey 1119

#4 Enjoy Turkish delight (yeah this one didn’t get photographed, but was definitely enjoyed)!

#5 Be blown away by Hagia Sophia

turkey 218

tuerky 2 210 tuerky 2 240

#6 Learn how Turkish carpets are made

turkey 1103

#7 Live like a sultan in Topkapi Palace

turkey 993

#8 Ride the funicular (to Taksim Square)

turkey 1251

turkey 1254

For more info on these places/things, check out the article.

“If the earth were a single state, Istanbul would be its capital” – Napoleon Bonaparte.