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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.

October 19, 2011

POTD: The Brezhnev / Honecker kiss on the Berlin Wall

Brezhnev and Honecker kissing on the Berlin Wall

This one of the more amusing panels you will see at the Berlin Wall East Side Gallery. It is a reproduction of a Berlin Wall graffiti painting titled “My God, help me to survive this deadly love” that depicts an actual kiss that took place between Soviet Leader Leonid Brezhnev and East German leader Erich Honecker in 1979:

A quick peck on the cheek was a typical greeting among communist leaders in Eastern Europe, but Honecker apparently took it to extremes, provoking the ire of General Wojciech Jaruzelski, the last communist leader of Poland. In a 2005 interview, Jaruzelski claimed that one of the most unpleasant parts of his job was kissing Honecker, due to his “disgusting way of kissing”.

September 28, 2011

POTD: Portraits of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il on the Pyongyang Metro

Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il on the Pyongyang Metro

Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il on the Pyongyang Metro

You are always under the watchful eyes of the “Dear Leader” and “Great Leader” wherever you go in North Korea, including the metro. These portraits of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il were spotted in a Pyongyang Metro car in September 2009. While we were only allowed in one metro car (seperate, of course, from the North Koreans) I imagine that these portraits adorn every car.

September 27, 2011

POTD: Fort Bokar, Dubrovnik

Fort Bokar in Dubrovnik

Fort Bokar in Dubrovnik

Completed in 1463, Fort Bokar is a key part of the system of defensive walls that surround the Old City of Dubrovnik. These walls are considered one of the great fortification systems of the Middle Ages, as they were never breached by a hostile army during this time period. Since its founding in the 7th century, Dubrovnik has been subjected to various sieges throughout its long history, most recently in 1991, when it was besieged and shelled by the Serb-dominated Yugoslav People’s Army.

Of all the places I have traveled to, Dubrovnik remains one of my favorite destinations. Its beauty is unrivaled, the food is amazing, and the people are warm and hospitable. I hope to return there sometime in the near future.

September 11, 2011

POTD: Saints Cyril and Methodius statue on Prague’s Charles Bridge

st charles bridge in prague

st charles bridge in prague

Taken on a cold winter morning in late December 2009, this photo shows the statues of Saints Cyril and Methodius, two Byzantine Greek brothers who introduced Christianity to the Slavs and invented the Cyrillic alphabet. Prague Castle can be seen in the background.

September 6, 2011

POTD: The Valley of the Queens

Situated on the west bank of the Nile across from Thebes (modern day Luxor), the Valley of the Queens is the final resting place for the wives of Egypt’s Pharaohs (who themselves are buried in the nearby Valley of the Kings). The Valley of the Queens contains over seventy tombs from the 18th, 19th and 20th Dynasties, including that of Queen Nefertari, wife of Ramesses the Great. In addition to the queens, various princes, princesses and members of the nobility were also laid to rest in the Valley of the Queens. Unfortunately, when we visited, hardly any of the tombs were open to the public, so most of what we saw was exactly what is displayed in the above photo. Many of the tombs have also been ransacked by robbers, so some contain hardly anything.

I visited Egypt in 2005, when I was living in London and it was much easier to travel to the Middle East. I would like to return to the Middle East someday, perhaps to Jordan (Petra looks amazing), Lebanon (I hear Beirut is a fun city), or the United Arab Emirates (Dubai trips are quite inexpensive, especially if you live in Europe). I would probably choose to go in the winter, though, when the temperatures are milder.

August 22, 2011

POTD: Playa Avellana, Costa Rica

The above photo was taken at Playa Avellana, during our last full day of our Costa Rica trip in February 2010. Amazingly, however, I almost did not make this trip to Costa Rica due to an airline mishap. Thankfully, however, I had purchased a travel insurance policy when I booked my trip, so that salvaged a bit of the trip.

Basically, the night before I was scheduled to fly to Costa Rica, American Airlines canceled my February 13th flight and notified me that they could not get me to Costa Rica until February 15th. They had also scheduled me for a 13 hour overnight layover at the Miami airport. As you could imagine, I was rather pissed off, but a quick call to my insurance company Cover-More confirmed that my $70 policy covered trip delays and interruptions, so I could expect to get some of my hotel and food expenses covered. When I arrived back in the U.S., I filed my claim and was pleasantly surprised to discover that the company was reimbursing me for my hotel and food expenses in DC and Miami as well as the two days of pre-paid lodging and surf lessons that I missed due to American Airlines’ inability to get me to Costa Rica on time. So, lesson learned, if you are traveling abroad, make sure you have travel insurance!

August 17, 2011

POTD: Roadside propaganda in Pyongyang

Kim Il-Sung, sporting the red scarf of the Young Pioneer organization, watches over the youth of North Korea in this large roadside propaganda painting.

July 15, 2011

POTD: The Sonoma Coast

Here is another photo from January’s West Coast road trip, when we drove 1500 miles up the coast from Southern California to Seattle using a discount car rental we snagged online (here is a small bit of advice, though – if the rental agency gives you a Chevy HHR as your rental car, ask for a different car. It is horribly uncomfortable).

While Central California’s Big Sur seems to grab all the glory when it comes to panoramic ocean vistas in California, I think the coast of northern California is just as beautiful (and certainly far less crowded). Sonoma Coast State Beach is located just off Highway 1 approximately 80 miles north of San Francisco. If you are lucky, you may be able to spot the gray whales, harbor seals and California sea lions that live in this area. Just be careful of the cliffs and don’t enter the water unless you are a strong swimmer, as the rip current can be deadly (also, the water is incredibly cold up here).

As much as I loved this place, we didn’t spend much time here, just stopping briefly at this spot to take a few photos before continuing 100 miles northward to Fort Bragg, where we had a delicious dinner of beer and fish and chips at the North Coast Brewing Company. I would definitely like to return to the Sonoma Coast sometime in the future to explore it further.