Category Archives: Travel

Public Art for Better Space (2020 Quarantine Edition)

Many visitors arrive in Hanoi excited to check out the Ceramic Mosaic Mural which was recognized in 2010 by Guinness World Records as the largest ceramic mural in the world at that time.  Yes, it’s a great tour stop and one could spend hours strolling, inspecting, and photographing this 4 mile work of art.  But I’m never one to focus my time on the “popular” spots!  I took this opportunity to explore a lesser known but (to me) more beautiful work of art…and I’m glad I did.

The Vietnam-Korea Joint Project Public Art for Better Space (NGHE THUAT) Project was initiated as an art exchange project to celebrate 25 years of friendship between Vietnam and South Korea. 

The murals are located along a ~200m stretch of Phùng Hung Street under the railway which leads to the Long Bien Bridge.  There are 19 paintings designed to celebrate the culture and spirit of 1000 years of history in Hanoi.  But this is not just a historical exhibit.  The murals include interactive and 3D paintings which delight visitors and invite them to become a part of the art.  Some are truly incredible!

Some depict scenes of daily life in Old Hanoi…

The Master Caligrapher at Work usually draws quite a crowd!

Many of the murals invite viewers to interact and become a part of the scene.

The murals are not limited to just paintings – they are multimedia art.

This beautiful 3D cutout mural uses a technique called trompe-l’oeil.

And of course, the railway art project would not be complete without a depiction of the bridge to which it leads!

Photos don’t really do it justice, but I really enjoyed this experience. My only regret is not spending more time “interacting” with the murals!  Add it to the list for next time. 🙂

Kawazu Sakura Matsuri (2020 Quarantine Edition)

We’re stuck inside, travel (and other life) restrictions in full swing.  But our minds are still free.  And there are so many things we can learn, enjoy, and discover from the wonders of our own internet-filled living rooms.  So, where should we begin? 

I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel quite a bit over the past ~decade.  I actually started this blog hoping to share and process some of those experiences but to be honest, I’m usually too busy enjoying the trip to take the time to sit down and capture it in words!  And when I do, it takes me forever because I agonize over making it perfect – as any self-respecting, detail-oriented scientist would. 🙂 Ahhhh…luckily, I’ve suddenly found myself with a lot of time at home on my hands.  It still won’t be perfect, but at least it’ll occupy a few minutes of my time.  And maybe it’ll be a welcome and positive distraction for you, too.

Instead of debating the perfect opening post, I’m just going with the one that calls me in the moment.  Growing up near Washington DC meant that The Cherry Blossom Festival was always such a big deal.  If you’ve never witnessed first hand the pink and white beauty reflecting in the Tidal Basin, you should really add it to your bucket list! I can’t remember the last time I went, though, because the number of tourists usually outnumbers even the number of blossoms.  That is, if you are lucky enough to catch a peek before rain, snow, wind or any number of other natural “disasters” wipes the blooms off the trees and leaves puddles of pink on the ground.  If I lived within walking distance, this would definitely be the year to try since tourism is limited.  Anybody from DC reading this?  Have you seen them this year? ❤️

In early March of 2015, I went to another cherry blossom festival – the Kawazu Sakurai Matsuri on the Izu Peninsula in Japan.  Cherry trees in Kawazu are some of the earliest and slowest blooming in eastern Japan, providing the more than 1 million annual visitors with a wonderful welcome to spring.

Reaching Kawazu is a relatively easy by train and once you are there, you notice not just the beauty but also the street festival atmosphere during this time of year. 

Families come to enjoy good weather and partake in shows, games and of course food!

Luckily for me, not everything was made of fish…hahahaha.

If you want to learn more about this festival, here’s a great summary.

This trip was for me, at the time, a welcome break from the bustle of busy Tokyo (and life in general!).  Today, it brings back fond memories of a wonderful trip with friends and colleagues.  If you find yourself in Japan, make your way to Kawazu and enjoy!

A Layover in Doha

Have you ever been to Qatar? 🙂  I know….but that’s OK!  I didn’t really know where it was before I planned a 48 hour layover either.  This country occupies the Qatar peninsula on the Arabian peninsula…does that help?  There are nearly 3 million people living here, 80% of whom are expats.   

It’s actually a great layover location – as long as you’re not travelling in June-August when temperatures routinely top 45 oC!  American citizens do not require a visa and Qatar Airways has a fantastic transit program that allows you to book a room in a 4* or 5* hotel for as little as $23USD/night.  Come on…..why choose two consecutive red eye flights instead of sleeping in a comfy bed for a bit?!

Although I knew little about this place, it took only a few internet searches to determine that Souq Waqif was the place to be.  It’s centrally located in the heart of the touristic area – perfect for wandering about in a jet lagged stupor.  I booked a room at the Souq Waqif Boutique Hotels – a conglomeration of 9 small hotels spread thoughout the Souq – and ended up in the Najd building.  It’s new, clean and can I mention has a super comfy bed? 🙂

In an attempt to stay up longer than 4pm, I headed out for some dinner and to get my bearings.  Souq Waqif is bustling at night with lots of people enjoying the evening – complete with street music!.  A delicious meal at Al Shurfa Arabic Lounge (try the Al Shurfa mocktail!) with amazing views of the Doha skyline was a perfect way to end the night.

In the morning, the Souq was (mostly) empty and I had time to check out one of Doha’s more unique sites.  Named “Le Pouce”, this is a statue of a….giant thumb.  Yes.  A giant thumb.  I’ve seen it, read about it, and still can’t explain it but it gets 2 thumbs up from me!

Next, it was time for a three hour tour booked through Discover Qatar.  Our guide took us all around the city to see the major sites.  At each stop we got “5 minutes to take pictures”.  Call it a “Doha Sampler”.  Perfect.

Our first stop was the National Museum of Qatar.  No time to go inside, haha, but it was definitely worth a stop for pictures!  The innovative design is meant to bring together the past, present and future and compliments the collections of the museum which focus on the culture, heritage and future of Qatar.  A longer stop will be on my list for “next time”.

Our next stop was the Museum of Islamic Art.  Another stunning building set right on the water.  You guessed it – snap snap snap and we were back in the van.

We cruised down the Corniche, a fabulous waterfront promenade…

…past the dhow harbor on our way to the Katara Cultural Village.  The Village was pretty deserted, so we made a short stop to view the new masjid and pigeon towers, which are typically used to house thousands of pigeons and collect droppings for fertilizer.

On the way out, we swung by one of Doha’s many high end malls.  No one was ready to open their wallets, but the interesting thing about this place is that it has air conditioning – outside!  Those grates on the sidewalk blow cold air when the temperatures rise.  Clever?  Seems like a good way to encourage spending.  I have no comment at this time about the waste….I mean, “utilization”(!)….of energy and resources.

We next crossed the bridge to visit the West Bay area of Doha.  This is where the business of life happens – in very tall skyscrapers!  People (and, thankfully, traffic) were scarce but we can assume they were upstairs chained to their desks while we were gallivanting about having fun…. 

We were on our way to our last stop of the tour – The Pearl.  This is an artificial island created in Doha, where foreigners can buy condos starting from the low low price of $6000USD/m2.  It reminded me very much of the gated communities in Florida.  Perhaps not surprising, since the project is a collaboration between a developer in the US and the people of Qatar. We got a sense of the project at the Welcome Center, where they have a model of the area, and then had a few minutes to enjoy the sunshine.

Throughout the day, I was intrigued by the signs I saw.  The next time you take your “normal” for granted, think about this! 🙂

After 3 hours I was more than ready to exit the vehicle, and took one more walk through the Souq before calling an end to the sightseeing.  I was particularly excited to visit the Falcon Souq!  Collecting falcons is a national pastime in Qatar.  Read more about this hobby (and sport) here.

I returned to what had become my favorite viewpoint in the city to enjoy a cold juice, take in the skyline views and people watch. 

What a pleasant surprise when we were treated to an impromptu airshow.  I do love a good flyover!  These jets are preparing for the celebration of Qatar National Day on December 18.  Maybe that’s a good time for a visit to Doha? 🙂

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (October 2020)

It is estimated that only 70% of Ethiopia’s housing is in need of total replacement. With a population of over 3 million, Addis Ababa is considered a slum area characterized by lack of adequate sanitation facilities. Solid waste is generally disposed of into storm water, ditches, sewers or rivers. There are no water points within acceptable distance for families living in poverty. HFH Ethiopia works on home renovations/reconstruction and access to safe water and improved sanitation in slum areas. It is in this area that our project will take place.

More information about this project is below. If you would like to make a financial contribution in support of this project, please use this link.

Habitat for Humanity Ethiopia (HFHE) started working in 1993 with the aim of assisting low income families to move out of substandard housing. As a result of the efforts made over the years, more than 67,000 families (over 200,000 people) who could not afford even basic renovations of their housing units now live in decent homes and healthy environment. The target beneficiaries are people with low income, vulnerable and marginalized groups, women headed households and elderly people. While providing decent houses, Habitat Ethiopia has been able to help families in 19 communities across the country.

HFHE also partners with families and communities to create access to safe water, improved sanitation and hygiene, and communal infrastructure. Disaster Risk Response and Reduction has also been implemented to assist families affected by drought.

About Habitat for Humanity Global Village

Global Village is Habitat for Humanity’s international volunteer program. Teams travel to over 40 countries to work alongside communities, build housing solutions, and experience local culture. Our goal is to change the lives of the people we serve, as well as the lives of the volunteers. To learn more, visit www.habitat.org/gv.

About Habitat for Humanity International 

Driven by the vision that everyone needs a decent place to live, Habitat for Humanity began in 1976 as a grassroots effort on a community farm in southern Georgia. The housing organization has since grown to become a leading global nonprofit working in more than 1,300 communities throughout the U.S. and in more than 70 countries. Families and individuals in need of a hand up partner with Habitat for Humanity to build or improve a place they can call home. Habitat homeowners help build their own homes alongside volunteers and pay an affordable mortgage. Through financial support, volunteering or adding a voice to support affordable housing, everyone can help families achieve the strength, stability and self-reliance they need to build better lives for themselves. Through shelter, we empower. To learn more, visit habitat.org.

Maseru, Lesotho (September 2020)

I’m looking for 12-14 volunteers excited to support families in Lesotho achieve a stable and durable home! Some basic information about the project is below. Here’s how you can join this team or make a financial contribution in support of Habitat for Humanity Lesotho.

Habitat for Humanity Lesotho launched its program in 2001 and has worked in seven of the ten districts. These districts are located in both the lowlands and the foothills of the Mountain Kingdom. HFH Lesotho constructs block and brick homes consisting of corrugated iron roofs. Homes range from either a single-room addition to three-roomed houses. All houses have a detached latrine.

The current initiative at HFH Lesotho is called the BUILD Lesotho Project (Bringing Shelter and United Initiatives to Lift Disadvantaged Children), which is a multi-year project targeting orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) in the northern districts of Lesotho. Since many OVC families cannot afford minimal loan payments, HFH Lesotho provides fully subsidized homes to ensure their protection. HFH Lesotho also advocates on behalf of vulnerable groups, such as OVC and widows, by disseminating information about inheritance and property rights as well as providing will registration assistance. Through these activities, HFH Lesotho helps vulnerable families in Lesotho improve their lives and protect their futures.

About Habitat for Humanity Global Village

Global Village is Habitat for Humanity’s international volunteer program. Teams travel to over 40 countries to work alongside communities, build housing solutions, and experience local culture. Our goal is to change the lives of the people we serve, as well as the lives of the volunteers. To learn more, visit www.habitat.org/gv.

About Habitat for Humanity International 

Driven by the vision that everyone needs a decent place to live, Habitat for Humanity began in 1976 as a grassroots effort on a community farm in southern Georgia. The housing organization has since grown to become a leading global nonprofit working in more than 1,300 communities throughout the U.S. and in more than 70 countries. Families and individuals in need of a hand up partner with Habitat for Humanity to build or improve a place they can call home. Habitat homeowners help build their own homes alongside volunteers and pay an affordable mortgage. Through financial support, volunteering or adding a voice to support affordable housing, everyone can help families achieve the strength, stability and self-reliance they need to build better lives for themselves. Through shelter, we empower. To learn more, visit habitat.org.