Archive | 2011
December 22, 2011

POTD: Venice Grand Canal

Yes, Venice again. I know it’s quite possibly one of the biggest travel cliches out there, but I adored this city. We spent a few days here during our holidays in Italy, after visiting Rome. This is the Grand Canal, the major water-traffic corridor in the city. You can take either the water buses (vaporetti) or gondolas. Since the gondolas were way out of our price range, we stuck to the public transportation. The canal is is 3,800 m long, 30–90 m wide, with an average depth of five meters (16.5 ft). The buildings that line the banks of the Grand Canal date from the 13th to the 18th century. We had an excellent lunch at a nice little cafe along the canal and loved watching the boats go by as we chowed down on pizza. Since boats are the main form of transportation in Venice, there are ambulance speedboats, police speedboats, mail boats, and even UPS boats so the locals can receive their packages.

December 20, 2011

POTD: Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung

This portrait of “Great Leader” Kim Il-sung and “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il was hanging in a Pyongyang souvenir shop when I visited North Korea in September 2009. The pervasive cult of personality that surrounded the Kims ensured that every building you set foot in prominently displayed portraits of the two leaders. Now that Kim Jong-il is dead, it will be interesting to see if 28 year old Kim Jong Un, Kim’s youngest son, is able to consolidate power and take the helm of the state. I do not have much faith that he will be any less cruel or dictatorial than his father and grandfather, but regardless I wish the North Korean people the best of luck.

December 18, 2011

POTD: Roman Forum

The above structure is the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina, originally built in the year 141. It is currently in the Roman Forum area in the center of of Rome, and contains a number of ancient structures dating back to Rome’s heyday as an empire. Along with the Colosseum and Vatican, the Forum will certainly be on the itinerary of whatever tours to Italy you might take.

The Temple of Antoninus and Faustina was built by Emperor Antoninus Pius and was initially dedicated to his deceased wife, Faustina the Elder. When Antoninus Pius died in 161, the temple was re-dedicated to Antoninus and Faustina at the behest of his successor, Marcus Aurelius. It was later converted to a Roman Catholic church, known as San Lorenzo in Miranda, sometime in the 7th century.

I visited the Forum while on a trip to Rome and Venice in 2005. While I would love to go back someday, I would prefer one of the Italy tours that focuses on the countryside, perhaps in Tuscany.

December 7, 2011

Hiking the PNW: Snow Lake

One of the great things about living in the Pacific Northwest is the hiking. Yes, the east coast has hiking, but nothing that compares to what we have on the West Coast (in fact, I am hard pressed to come up with anything the east coast does better. Subway systems, maybe).

Back in October we hiked the Snow Lake Trail, located in the Snoqualmie Region an hour’s drive from Seattle. The hike was eight miles roundtrip, and not very strenuous, especially considering how quickly we seemed to gain elevation. This supposedly one of the most popular hiking trails in the region, but since we went in October when it was a bit chillier, it wasn’t very crowded.


There were still a few patches of snow on the surrounding mountains.

At about 3.5 miles in, once you reach the ridge, you are greeted by the sight of this beautiful alpine lake:


One of several waterfalls


By the lakeshore

And what better way to end a long day of hiking than by visiting the local brewery? The Snoqualmie Brewery and Taproom is located not far from where we went hiking, so we ended the day with a giant plate of nachos and delicious beer sampler:

December 6, 2011

POTD: Russian State Duma

Although the Soviet Union fell nearly 20 years ago, symbols of the regime still remain throughout the former USSR. This hammer and sickle adorns the Russian State Duma (the lower house of the federal legislature) building in Moscow. This building formerly housed Gosplan (State Planning Committee), the agency responsible for economic planning in the Soviet Union, which included the infamous five-year plans.

December 5, 2011

North Korea: Arch of Reunification

The Arch of Reunification (or, Monument to the Three Charters for National Reunification as I’ve also seen it called) is your typical North Korean monument: large, not particularly beautiful, and glorifying some event that either didn’t happen, or will likely never happen (according to the plan North Korea has devised, anyway). And, of course, there are some statues of soldiers and workers strategically placed around or on the monument.

The Arch of Reunification was built in 2001 to commemorate the Korean reunification proposals put forth by Kim Il-Sung. The two women symbolize the two Koreas, and together they are holding a map of a reunified Korea. Of course, reunification is just a pipe dream right now, and will, when it eventually happens, be according to the wishes of South Korea more so than North Korea’s, especially considering South Korea’s economic power.

The monument is located on the outskirts of Pyongyang and straddles the Reunification Highway that begins in Pyongyang and ends at the DMZ.

Since this particular highway, and really any road in North Korea, isn’t known for its traffic jams, you can easily have your photo taken (with an “American pose”, of course) while standing in the middle of the highway. Don’t try this in LA.

All photos are here.

November 13, 2011

Travel Wishlist: Chicago


(Courtesy of the Chicago Wikipedia entry)

Despite traveling to the far reaches of the world, from Pyongyang to Cairo to Rome to London, there are a surprisingly large number of major U.S. cities that I have yet to visit. One of these would be Chicago. I’ve been pretty close; I once had a business meeting in Rosemont, just outside chicago, near O’Hare airport. But, as with most business trips, I had no time to myself, so never made it the actual city of Chicago.

So, why Chicago? Easy. Sports and food. Growing up, I was a HUGE Cubs fan. My mom’s side of the family is from Illinois, so that’s probably why. I was seriously obsessed with the Cubs as a little kid. Jersey, posters of Ryne Sandberg, a signed Ernie Banks ball – yep, I had all of it. I would love to see a game at Wrigley Field someday, and if someone wanted to offer me Bears tickets, well I certainly wouldn’t turn those down. Since I would probably opt to visit Chicago in the summer, I’m leaning toward the Cubs tickets (which I am sure will cost me an arm and a leg).

Second, the food. Chicago is known for its deep dish pizza, hot dogs, steakhouses, and Polish food. Granted, none of these foods are particularly healthy, but when on vacation, that doesn’t really matter. And besides, are any “famous” foods from an American city particularly healthy? None that I can think of.

So, the above are just a few of the reasons why I would like to visit Chicago (the WWII U-boat at the Museum of Science and Industry would also be cool to see). I’m sure I’ll get to visit the city eventually!

November 8, 2011

North Korean dance party at Moranbong Park

And finally, here is the last of the footage I shot in North Korea. This was taken at Moranbong Park during North Korea’s national independence holiday. With plenty of beer and meat on the grill, it’s not that far off from an American 4th of July celebration (except for, you know, that whole notion of freedom and liberty).

Still, this can’t compare to this North Korean dance party, perhaps the greatest YouTube video ever produced:

November 2, 2011

Pyongyang through a tour bus window

Here is the last of the footage shot while we were driving around Pyongyang. Not many recognizable landmarks in this video, but there are some large portraits of Kim Il-Sung and other propaganda.

November 1, 2011

Rural North Korea

Here is some footage taken on our drive south from Pyongyang to Kaesong and the DMZ. There were hardly any cars on the expansive six lane Reunification Highway, and as you can see from the video, the road itself was in very poor condition.

The next video was taken at a rest stop that straddles the Reunification Highway. The women selling tea, coffee, and fruit stopped momentarily to sing. The fellow on the harmonica is Nick Bonner of Koryo Tours.