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Archive for the ‘Foreign Travel’ Category

“When Pawel looks into the mirror, he can still sometimes see a neo-Nazi skinhead staring back, the man he was before he covered his shaved head with a skullcap, traded his fascist ideology for the Torah and renounced violence and hatred in favor of God.

“‘I still struggle every day to discard my past ideas,’ said Pawel, a 33-year-old ultra-Orthodox Jew and former truck driver, noting with little irony that he had to stop hating Jews in order to become one. ‘When I look at an old picture of myself as a skinhead, I feel ashamed. Every day I try and do teshuvah,’ he said, using the Hebrew word for repentance. ‘Every minute of every day. There is a lot to make up for.’

“Pawel, who also uses his Hebrew name Pinchas, asked that his last name not be used for fear that his old neo-Nazi friends could harm him or his family.

“Twenty years after the fall of Communism, Pawel is perhaps the most unlikely example of the Jewish revival under way in Poland, of a moment in which Jewish leaders here say the country is finally showing solid signs of shedding the rabid anti-Semitism of the past.” (cont’d @ NY Times)

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“Egypt’s most senior antiquities official will visit Britain tomorrow to push on with a campaign to have the Rosetta Stone returned from the British Museum to its native country.

“Speaking in his offices, amid piles of Pharaonic books, museum records and archaeological dig requests, Zahi Hawass, the head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, said he would not be swayed by the British Museum’s refusal to return the item, which he considers the ‘icon of Egyptian identity’.

“Dr Hawass, who will meet egyptologists in London, has been encouraged in his campaign by his success in securing the return of five ancient fresco fragments from the Louvre in Paris. Dr Hawass is also pursuing the return of the Queen Nefertiti bust from Neues Museum, Berlin, the Dendera Zodiac from the Louvre and a bust of the pyramid builder Ankhaf from the Boston Museum of Fine Art. Dr Hawass, 52, said he has an ‘entire department’ working to uncover evidence of other stolen Egyptian antiquities.

“‘We have evidence, direct evidence, that proves exactly what was stolen. For all of our history our heritage was stolen from us. It is important for Egyptians that it is returned,’ he said.” (cont’d @ TimesOnline)

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“It was a revolution that began with a lie.

Vaclav Havel, the dissident leader who spearheaded the Velvet Revolution that overthrew communism in Czechoslovakia and kicked off twenty years ago on November 17, 1989, once declared that ‘truth and love must triumph over lies and hatred.’ Yet the revolution — its name a reference to the clenched fist in the velvet glove — was sparked by a false rumor that to this day remains a mystery.

“On Tuesday, thousands of Czechs are expected to march through the streets here, to the sound of wailing sirens and the growls of police dogs, eerily replicating a non-violent student march, 20 years ago, in which police rounded on demonstrators and rumors spread that a 19 year-old mathematics students named Martin Smid had been brutally killed. Scores had indeed been violently beaten. But no one, in fact, had died.

“Jan Urban, a dissident leader and journalist who helped to disseminate the lie, recalled in an interview that news of the alleged death had spread quickly, helping to wake a nation out of its collective apathy and lighting the spark — eight days after the fall of the Berlin Wall — for the peaceful rebellion that culminated in the regime’s demise.” (cont’d @ NY  Times)

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lonely_planet“It was bought amid a flurry of raised eyebrows and has sat uneasily in a global broadcasting and media stable ever since — and yesterday Lonely Planet was once again the subject of speculation, uncertainty and possibly even a little controversy.

“The backpackers’ essential guides to, well, pretty much everywhere may, it seems, be heading back into the uncharted territory of the marketplace, barely two years after BBC Worldwide paid £90 million for the company.

“As part of Lonely Planet takeover in October 2007, its founders Tony and Maureen Wheeler, who published their first guide — South East Asia on a Shoestring — 34 years ago, were left with a 25 per cent stake, valued at A$67.3 million before the credit crunch, which they could have sold to the BBC at any time before Saturday.

“However, BBC insiders said yesterday that the Wheelers’ put option had been extended, triggering speculation that the broadcaster is preparing to offload the travel publisher, whose original purchase has so damaged its reputation.” (cont’d @ Times Online)

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pg-32-brothel-AFP-g_251491s“A Berlin brothel is claiming the title of Germany’s first ‘green’ sex establishment after offering clients eco-discounts if they can prove they arrived by bicycle or public transport.

“The concept has been dreamed up by the Maison d’Envie (House of Desire) brothel in the city’s fashionable Prenzlauer Berg district where Germany’s Green party won 46 per cent of the vote in last month’s general election.

“Regina Goetz, the former prostitute who runs the establishment, explained yesterday: ‘The environment is on everyone’s lips around here and it’s pretty hard to find a parking space, so we came up with the idea of an eco-discount of €5 (£4.60) for anyone who leaves the car at home.’

“Ms Goetz, 56, said that the recession had cut the brothel’s turnover by almost half, but the introduction of eco-discounts has proved so successful that business was virtually back to normal again.” (cont’d @ The Independent UK)

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Stencilled graffiti on wall in Tarnow, Poland “celebrating” anniversary of destruction of World Trade Center towers on 9/11 (May, 2008). [Click image to enlarge]

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Venice Gondola“With the splash of her oar, nine centuries of taboos in this romantic canal city shattered as [Giorgia] Boscolo passed a rigorous exam of brains and brawn to become Venice’s first official female gondolier — or gondoliera in Italian, a term that didn’t even exist until her achievement made it necessary. . . .

“Boscolo’s breakthrough propelled her into the ranks of what can no longer be described with complete accuracy as an elite fraternity, made up of bluff and hearty boatmen whose presence along Venice’s winding waterways seems as timeless as the city itself.

“Fewer than 500 gondoliers are licensed to navigate Venice’s network of 150 canals. They’re a fairly macho bunch, instantly recognizable in their jaunty black-and-white-striped shirts, lounging lazily against the bank-side walls waiting for tourists to hire them or letting loose the occasional low whistle at women who walk by.

“They are heirs to a tradition stretching back nearly a millennium, when the signature banana-shaped boats first began plying the waters as a quick and easy means of transport. The men who captained them became indispensable fixtures around the Venetian lagoon, proud of their skill and bonded by shared experience.

“As is inevitable when such a testosterone-laden citadel is breached, not all of Boscolo’s new colleagues have been thrilled about her entry into their midst. Some grumble sotto voce that she’s become too big for her britches, upending the old order and hogging all the attention.” (more @ LA Times)

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Au Revoir“On Bastille Day, as chefs from the Flatiron District were holding a benefit in Madison Square Park inspired by food from around the world, a couple of blocks away Michael Steinberger was sounding the death knell for the most legendary cuisine of all. The occasion was the launch, at Idlewild Books, of his book ‘Au Revoir to All That: Food, Wine, and the End of France.’ . . .

“Steinberger, an ardent Francophile, sat on a stool on a low dais in the front window, next to a giant illuminated globe of the world. ‘For the first time in the annals of modern cuisine, the most influential chefs in the world are not French,’ he declared. ‘If you wanted to come up with the top three, you would say Thomas Keller, American; Heston Blumenthal, British; and Ferran Adrià, Spanish.’ He spoke of France’s thirty years of economic stagnation and crippling regulation and high taxes, which have translated every year into the loss of thousands of bistros, cafés, and brasseries, along with thirty thousand farms, all of which, together with a certain gastronomic indifference, he feels has led to the decline of French cuisine. Only ten per cent of cheeses in France are now made from raw milk (there’s just a single artisanal producer of traditional lait cru Camembert left in Normandy), and the consumption of wine—wine!—has dropped fifty per cent, to the point where thousands of small producers are effectively destitute.” (more @ The New Yorker)

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venice water“In this hot and noble city, discarded water bottles float by gondolas on the edges of the canals and spill out of trash cans on the majestic Piazza San Marco. Because Venice has no roads, trash must be collected on foot at enormous expense. And while plastic bottles can in principle be recycled, the process still unleashes greenhouse gases.

“Italians are the leading consumers of bottled water in the world, drinking more than 40 gallons per person annually. But as their environmental consciousness deepens, officials here are avidly promoting what was previously unthinkable: that Italians should drink tap water.

“For decades bottled water has been the norm on European tables, although tap water in many, if not most, cities is suitable for drinking. Since the 1980s, the bottled water habit has also taken hold in the United States, prompting cities from New York to San Francisco to wage public education campaigns to encourage the use of tap water to reduce plastic waste.

“But here in Venice, officials took a leaf from the advertising playbook that has helped make bottled water a multibillion-dollar global industry. They invented a lofty brand name for Venice’s tap water — Acqua Veritas — created a sleek logo and emblazoned it on stylish carafes that were distributed free to households.” (cont’d @ NY Times)

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Anti-Nazi and Anti-Papal graffiti, Rome, Italy (May, 2009) [Click images to enlarge]

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Posting will be spotty between now and the first week in June. I’ll be in DUMBO next week to see my son in “Sine Wave Goodbye” at the Ontological-Hysteric Theater and to attend my daughter’s commencement at Fordham University where she’s receiving her M.S. in TESOL Education. On the 17th my wife and I are off to Italy for two-plus weeks: Venice, Naples (Pompeii, Herculaneum), Sorrento & the Amalfi Coast, Rome. While in Italy I’ll post my impressions — especially of the food — on Twitter (you can follow my feedings either through the Twitter widget on the NSRG home page or directly on my Twitter page). Arrivederci!

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“In “Defiance,” a clunky but well-meaning action film set during World War II and starring Daniel Craig, the Bielski brothers save hundreds of fellow Polish Jews by battling Nazis in the Belarussian forest. Directed by Edward Zwick and based on a true story, the movie, released around New Year’s, tried among other things to counter Hollywood’s usual tales of Jewish helplessness during the Shoah.

“Whether it did, or instead implied that Jews who didn’t fight bore a measure of responsibility for their own fate, became a matter of some passing debate in America.

“But the film provoked a different sort of fuss shortly before it arrived here some weeks later. Movie critics in Poland wondered whether Hollywood would ever get around to showing Polish partisans as heroes, as opposed to anti-Semites. . . .

“As Europe diversifies, nearly every nation and culture on the continent seems to battle for victimhood status. Poles have especially good reason to see themselves as long oppressed, having been fought over and occupied for much of the last century by vicious regimes. Shifting political power struggles during and after the war, among other complications of Polish Jewish history, led some Polish Jews at certain points to side with Soviets against Nazis and Polish partisans. The whole moral morass, essential to Polish identity, tends to be lost on outsiders, many of whom unthinkingly regard the country, throughout most of the last century at least, as just a Jewish killing field.” (more @ NY Times)

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alhambra“One of Spain’s most enduring historical mysteries is close to being solved as experts decipher and translate more than 10,000 Arabic inscriptions adorning the walls of the Alhambra palace in Granada.

“The intricate Arabic inscriptions carved into the ceilings, columns and walls inside the imposing hill-top fortress have long fascinated visitors. They contain everything from snatches of poetry and verses from the Qur’an to clever aphorisms, pious wishes and boastful slogans.

“There are so many of them, however, that nobody has ever managed to study each and every one. Now a team of researchers armed with 3D laser scanners and digital imaging software is slowly working its way around the complex recording, transcribing and translating every inscription.

“‘There is probably no other place in the world where studying walls, columns and fountains is so similar to turning the pages of a book,’ said Juan Castilla, of Spain’s Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), who heads the team.” (cont’d @ Guardian UK)

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cuba_postcard“Roughly a year after Fidel Castro stepped aside and handed much of the responsibility for leading Cuba to his brother Raúl, there is new momentum in Washington for eliminating the ban on most U.S. travel to the island nation and for reexamining the severe limitations on U.S.-Cuban economic exchanges.

“At a Capitol Hill news conference scheduled for tomorrow, a wide array of senators and interest groups — including Senate Democratic Policy Committee Chairman Byron L. Dorgan (N.D.); Banking Committee Chairman  Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.); Richard G. Lugar (Ind.), the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; and Human Rights Watch — will rally around a potentially historic bill to lift the travel ban.” (more @ Washington Post)

Update

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“This month, a 33-year-old Belgian artist has started a project called I Got a Postcard, where people leave self-addressed stamped postcards that encourage the people who find them to personalize and mail them.

“Two weeks ago, he left his first 100 cards in 10 locations in New York City — including a library, airport, theater and bus — and waited for them to return. The cards read: ‘Dear finder, personalize this postcard and then return it to me. Be as original and artistic as possible and your creation will be submitted to igotapostcard.blogspot.com.’

“The artist, Renaud Dehareng (the artist name of Jason Burns), says he was inspired by PostSecret. And Postsecret itself was inspired by Found magazine.” (more @ NY Times)

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Timely advice from Matt Gross, the New York Times’ “Frugal Traveler,” for “Staying in Touch Internationally, on the Cheap” using SkypeIn and SkypeOut with iPhones or unlocked cell phones.

RelatedAs Airfares Fall, Save Even After Buying

Update: Frugal Traveler: Skype Midterm Report

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Wall built from gravestone fragments, Remu Shul (Synagogue) cemetary, Kraków, Poland.

The Remu [also: Rema, Remuh] synagogue (acronym for Rabbi Moses Isserles) is located in Kazimierz, the Jewish quarter of Krakow, and was founded in 1553 by Israel Isserles.  The Remu was considered to be the ‘Maimonides of Polish Jewry’ and was known for his universal outlook, his extensive Talmudic and secular knowledge, his manner of study, and his humility. . . .

“The adjacent Remu cemetery was used until 1799, and contains the graves of the Remu and his family. . . . After [World War II], the cemetery was restored and pieces of broken headstones which could not be matched were used to make a memorial cemetery wall.” (more @ New Cracow Friendship Society; Full photo; May, 2008)

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I’ll not be posting to the NSRG this weekend when I’ll be visiting Washington, D.C. in order to view, in advance of my May trip to Naples, the exhibition, “Pompeii and the Roman Villa: Art and Culture Around the Bay of Naples,” at the National Gallery of Art. The exhibition, which includes recent discoveries on view in the United States for the first time, as well as finds from excavations dating to the mid-18th century, closes this Sunday. 

The New York Times review of the exhibition can be found here.

A slideshow, “The Treasures of Pompeii,” can be found here.

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“More than 9,000 books are missing from the British Library, including Renaissance treatises on theology and alchemy, a medieval text on astronomy, first editions of 19th- and 20th-century novels, and a luxury edition of Mein Kampf produced in 1939 to celebrate Hitler’s 50th birthday.

“The library believes almost all have not been stolen but rather mislaid among its 650km of shelves and 150m items – although some have not been seen in well over half a century. . . .

“The library records all of these items as ‘mislaid’ rather than gone for ever, still less stolen. Despite well-publicised recent cases – such as that of Edward Forbes Smiley III, convicted in the US three years ago of stealing more than 100 maps from institutions including the British Library, and Farhad Hakimzadeh, an Iranian collector jailed in January for cutting maps, illustrations and pages from priceless volumes in the British Library and other collections – the library is convinced that almost all the missing texts are still somewhere within its walls.” (more @ The Guardian)

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viewmaster_red_with_reelFirst introduced at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, “the iconic [View-Master] reels of tourist attractions, often packaged with a clunky plastic viewer and first sold to promote 3-D photography, are ending their 70-year run after years of diminishing sales. . . .

“Scenic discs are no longer a good fit for the Fisher-Price division of toy maker Mattel Inc., a spokeswoman said, and the company stopped making them in December. Fisher-Price, based in East Aurora, N.Y., will keep making better-selling reels of Shrek, Dora the Explorer and other animated characters, spokeswoman Juliette Reashor said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.” (more @ MSN)

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