Post 9/11 Florence, Italy

Post 9/11 Florence, Italy

“To see the sun sink down, drowned on his pink and purple and golden floods, and overwhelm Florence with tides of color that make all the sharp lines dim and faint and turn the solid city to a city of dreams, is a sight to stir the coldest nature.” – Mark Twain

My daughter had the opportunity to dance in Florence during the Easter Break following 9/11. Most people were scared to travel. Airport security was a mess with very long lines.  It was my first time going to Europe in fifteen years. I fight a daily battle with anxiety but doing something for my kids always helped me push through my fears so off we went.

She danced all day and I walked around for the first time anywhere by myself. Florence was crowded. There were protests, shopping, antisemitism, more shopping, a lot of art and a looming terrorist threat at the Duomo on Easter Sunday.  Police were everywhere.

We were trying on shoes and an anti-American protest walked by. They were burning the American flag and there were a lot of people walking and cheering. I had only seen that in movies. In the post 9/11 world, we knew anything could happen. We threw the shoes and ran back to the small hotel. The owner laughed when we arrived completely shaken up. “It’s Italy. They protest everything here. Tomorrow they will burn something else.” I had a lot of anxiety during this trip. Luckily, there was so much to see and do, I had no time to focus on it. 

This was not my first visit to Florence and my number one thing to see is the Uffizi Gallery. Art haters will not agree with me. The Uffizi Gallery is Europe’s first modern museum created by the Medici family in the sixteenth century. It is the best collection of Italian paintings in the world. I forced my daughter to go there at eight am before dancing all day. In my mind, you could not go to Florence without seeing Botticelli, Raphael and Titian. There are huge lines and it is the one museum to plan in advance for. Get tickets before you go.

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The second thing to do is gelato. Art haters might make it the first thing. I am not even a fan of ice cream but eating gelato every day in Florence should be on everyone’s to do list. Gelaterie are all over Italy but it is the best in Florence. Festival de Gelato on the walking street is a good one to try. If you do not go there try to find one where the gelato is made fresh on site and not from a mix. Brightly colored gelato probably has other things in it and is from a mix. There is a lot of pre made gelato these days so do the research. 

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Piazza del Duomo is  good for people watching  but is the preferred hang out for pickpockets  so be careful.The two big sites here are the Duomo and the Baptistry. The set of doors on the Baptistry that faces the front of the Duomo was designed by Ghiberti in the early 1400s, and a young Michelangelo thought they were so beautiful that they could be the Gates of Paradise. The original panels are now kept in the Duomo Museum, but the replicas on the Baptistery are still gorgeous and attract a crowd. The Duomo’s relatively empty interior can be a bit of a disappointment  but most of the art was removed to the Duomo Museum after the 1966 flood.

If you feel like climbing and you don’t get vertigo or claustrophobia, climb up Brunelleschi’s Dome. You can also read the novel of the same name if you are interested in history or architecture. I opted for the novel and was not disappointed.

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Piazza del Signori is also a good spot for people watching and outdoor art. It is outside the Palazzo Del Vecchio and you can find the plaque where the monk Savonarola was burned at the stake in 1498.

Even if you are not a shopper, go to the leather markets. The one near San Lorenzo church leads into the Food Market which is always fun. There are also a lot of pickpockets here while you are focusing on gloves or olive oil so watch your things.

I don’t think there are any deals to be found  anymore for Italian designers like Gucci and Prada though filing for the VAT tax helps. There are interesting stores from young  designers that we do not have here that are more fun to look at.

I am fascinated by Dante Alighieri and I had plenty to see in Florence. There is a statue in his honor in Piazza Santa Croce, a museum dedicated to his life and works (including The Divine Comedy), and verses inscribed on various streets in the historical center.  Santa Margherita de’ Cecchi is  the church where  Dante fell in love with Beatrice which is the passion that is thought to have inspired much of his work. I spent Easter Sunday with Dante avoiding the crowds at the Duomo if the terrorist threat turned out to be real. It was not.

We had Easter Dinner at Il Latini, a famous Florentine restaurant known for its Bisteca Florentina. Ristorante del Fagioli is also good and it displays certification for sourcing the original Chianina breed of cattle, where bistecca fiorentina should come from. They are still among the best restaurants in Florence.

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The city is full of carbs. I ate either pizza, pasta or panini daily. Sometimes I had all three and I loved every second of it.  Since I walked all day long, I did not gain any weight. Don’t try this if you live in LA and sit in your car all the time.

Florence is the birthplace of the Renaissance and  there are many famous people buried here. In Santa Croce, you can find Galileo, Machiavelli, Rossini, Ghiberti and Michelangelo.There is an honorary tomb to Dante.

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Adjacent to San Lorenzo is the Medici Chapel. The wealthy Medici family sponsored the great artists of Florence and Michelangelo statues adorn the tombs. The Lorenzo Library with the great Michelangelo Staircase is also worth a visit.

Watch the sunset on the Arno from the Ponte Vecchio like the Medicis did or see it on one of the less crowded bridges.The Ponte Vecchio has survived floods and World War ll making it one of the oldest bridges in Italy.

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The Renaissance capital of the world  also has a lot of Modern and Renaissance street art so enjoy it as you walk around the city.

The Bargello Museum which is housed in a former prison has some incredible early Michelangelo works and Donatello’s David. It is much less crowded than the Uffizi.

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The Salvatore Ferragamo Museum  is a fashion museum dedicated to the life and work of Italian shoe designer Salvatore Ferragamo. The museum has 10,000 models of shoes created and owned by Ferragamo from the 1920s until his death in 1960 The museum is housed in the historic Palazzo Spini Feroni, which was purchased by Ferragamo in the 1930s. If you like shoes and need an art break, it’s a fun thing to do.

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The Pitti Palace is a  very large Renaissance Palace  on the South Side of the Arno near the Ponte Vecchio.  It was started by Filippo Brunelleschi  for Luca Pitti but was eventually purchased by the Medici family and finished by other architects. Today, the palace and the Boboli gardens house the Palatine Gallery, the Silver Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Costume Gallery, the Porcelain Museum and the Museum of Carriages.

The collection of the costume gallery comprises six thousand items including costumes dating from the 16th to the 20th centuries, theatre costumes and accessories. It is the only museum of the history of fashion in Italy and one of the most important in the world. The Palatine Gallery has an impressive collection of Titian,Correggio, Raphael and Rubens. It is second only to the Uffizi.

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Piazza Del Michelangelo is where everyone takes their view of Florence  picture from. There is another fake David in the square.

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The real David by Michelangelo. is in the Galleria dell’Accademia and has a high entrance fee. David is the only thing worth seeing here. I had to see it but if you don’t, you can be happy with all the fake Davids around the city.

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No matter how much time you spend in Florence, it never feels like it is enough. There is always more to see and do.

Ciao and fly safe, (not my photos – mine are in storage.) 

JAZ

Eleven Of My Best Instagram LA Photos That Are Not On A Beach (travelwellflysafe)

“California, that advance post of our civilization, with its huge aircraft factories, TV and film studios, automobile way of life… its flavorless cosmopolitanism, its charlatan philosophies and religions, its lack of anything old and well-tried rooted in tradition and character. “J.B. Priestley

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Fly safe,
JAZ

Adventure Sports In Queenstown, New Zealand

Adventure Sports In Queenstown, New Zealand

“If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.” ~ Anonymous

How do we think an adventure sport gets started?  I imagine that you have this one crazy friend who does something that seems to invite death — or at least serious injury — like jumping off a bridge while attached to a rubber band. Perhaps you are a  slightly saner, financially minded person and you see that he lived after doing this. You think, how can I turn this into a business? How can I find a way so people can do this safely but still feel like they’re inviting death or serious injury? I believe they call this thinking out of the box. You figure it out and hordes of young thrill-seekers come running. It happens that many of these type of people live in New Zealand. This is how  Queenstown became the unofficial capital of the adventure industry.

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Queenstown is a less developed version of Aspen or Lake Placid with about six main streets and a lakefront promenade. (photo by Cordulia Reins)

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Every adventure activity you’ve ever heard of is on offer (river rafting, sky diving, jet boating, bungee jumping, ziplining, mountain biking, sky gliding) and probably several you haven’t (snow-kiting, parapenting, white-water sledging)

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Adventurers inundate Queenstown in the summer the way skiers do in the winter. I began to notice a parade of different types. There is one group  that is rugged and unkempt who is there to do every crazy thing they can afford. They go right to the Nevis Bungee Jump. It is the highest jump in New Zealand You can travel 134 meters in 8.5 seconds,  No heart conditions here. People over the age of seventy-five can bungee jump for free in Queenstown. (?) The second is friends and family who are there to make sure that the first group survives. Then they go on to do more crazy things together. The third group is the trampers- the hikers. They have all the cool gear and are basically using Queenstown as a base for the surrounding  amazing tramps and walks. They might try a packaged tour like jet boating which seems about the wettest but least dangerous adventure.

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I’m kind of the Woody Allen of adventure sports. I like knowing they are safe and maybe in books where other people are having them. I prefer it when you aren’t too wet, hot, cold, hungry or dizzy.  I hit bad weather in Queenstown and activities were cancelled. I didn’t get to test my fear level. I thought that I would feel relieved but I was disappointed. Avoiding danger doesn’t always keep it away. Luckily the world has a lot of adventures for me to find and now I have the clothes and gear so I will have to go find them.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Fly The Unfriendly Skies

Fly The Unfriendly Skies

“This is the story of America. Everybody’s doing what they think they’re supposed to do.” Jack Kerouac

Flying is stressful these days.  Passengers are more nervous to fly than ever. Going on a plane gives people a lot of anxiety. It is annoying to get to the airport an hour or two before a flight. Security is a headache. Fear of terrorism makes flying scary.  Flights are crowded. Fewer people are willing to volunteer to take a later flight. By the time you are on the plane, you just want to get where you are going safely.

My older cousin worked for United Airlines. It was at a time when stewardesses were always beautiful and families of employees could travel for free. Planes weren’t crowded and he was proud that he could always score first class tickets for his parents. My cousin’s license plate was FTFS    Fly the Friendly Skies. He loved his job. He was sick for a while and died young – a week before 9/11 happened. We were glad that he missed that.  What would he think about this particular incident?

There is no explaining away the forceful removal of a person with a ticket from an airplane seat who is bloodied in the process, because the airline has overbooked the plane. Computers are not always able to solve human problems. People who fly on Sunday nights tend to have to be in work Monday as well. We have no idea what was going on in his head, how he felt about flying to begin with or what he had to do to cause that reaction.

I read an article about this particular passenger’s character and mental state.  An unknown number of passengers travel with every kind of mental disorder. Many have sat next to me. It is alarming that they are trying to turn this around and blame him. I don’t know how I would have reacted being told that I was randomly selected to leave the plane so a stewardess could get to work. It wouldn’t have been pretty.

If airlines are going to throw people off flights where they will be losing income from their jobs, vacation days, non refundable hotels or activities, they have to offer better compensation. My price is a first class cross-country ticket or 50,000 frequent flier miles but that is just me. 

Several years ago, my friends and I were walking slowly through an airport to change flights to return home from a school ski trip. When we got to the gate, we were told that the flight was overbooked and we would have to spend twenty-four hours in Brussels. It made sense not to let us get on, if we couldn’t fly.  I was a bit surprised because we were sixteen and seventeen years old, part of a chaperoned school group and in a foreign country for the first time.

No one paid us, took our luggage off or called our parents who were waiting at the airport the next day. It was clearly a different time and a European airline. We were escorted to an elegant old hotel in the center of Brussels.  Dinner  had a dress code and since we did not have the correct attire or any attire with us, they asked us to eat an hour early and prepared a special dinner so we could taste some local food. We walked around the city and went to some bars where no one asked us for ID. In the morning we saw more of the city and then they came and picked us up and escorted us to the gate for our flight. We had fun and got to see Brussels. 

I still get nervous if I am at the end of a line going on a plane that it will be overbooked and I will not get on. Do I have to worry about being dragged off a flight as well? Given all the highly mediated flying incidents, did they really need to do this?  Bad behavior doesn’t stop being bad behavior just because the airline says it is legal.

Fly safe, (and I mean it)

JAZ

Ten Amazing Travel Days

Ten Amazing Travel Days

“It’s a perfect day, drank Sangria in the park, later on when it gets dark, we go home”  Lou Reed

A perfect travel day is when everything falls seamlessly into place. There are days when you experience amazing things because the world is an incredible place. I picked ten of my favorite days

Cappadocia , Turkey

Cappadocia could be among my favorite places in the world.  The dramatic landscape is the result of volcanic eruptions that happened millions of years ago. Wind and water eroded the land leaving these odd surreal land formations, fairy chimneys, caves and underground cities.

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Floating across the sky at sunrise, above the lunar-like, rugged moonscape of Cappadocia in a hot air balloon was one of the most incredible mornings of my life and should be on everyone’s bucket list.

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Dubrovnik and Peljesac Penninsula, Croatia

I had a great time in Croatia with my kids. A particularly beautiful day was spent exploring the Peljesac Peninsula with our tour guide Petar Vlasik http://www.dubrovnikrivieratours.com.  We stopped at a few different wineries for wine tasting. Ston is a fortified city from the middle ages with stone ramparts said to resemble a small great wall of China. Ston is known for their lush oyster beds and salt pans and is a great place to eat the freshest oysters and buy salt.

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That night we attended a really good jazz concert at the Old Rectory Church in Dubrovnik. It was a great family memory.

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Onsets and Ryokans, Japan

Ryokan are Japanese style inns found throughout the country in hot springs resorts. Ryokan are a traditional Japanese experience, incorporating elements such as tatami floors, futon beds, Japanese style baths and local kaiseki ryori (eight course typical Japanese meals with local and seasonal specialties).

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The main activity besides eating is bathing. The geothermal springs located throughout the country( onsens) provide hot mineral-rich water for indoor and outdoor baths. The chemistry, temperature, pressure, buoyancy, sulfa and magnesium of thermal baths have curative properties . The meals show all that is beautiful about Japanese culture. Kaiseki is a multi course meal rooted in the Buddhist idea of simplicity. I have been fortunate to visit a few ryokans in Nikko, Yufuin and Iso Nagaoka. Each one has been special.

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Marajo, Brazil

Marajo is an island in Brazil in the state of Para at the mouth of the Amazon. It is the size of Switzerland and home to many beautiful birds and water buffalo.

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The story goes that a ship laden with goods and water buffalo from India hit a reef and sank off the coast of Marajo. Some of the buffalo escaped the wreck and swam to shore. The buffalo are descendants of this shipwreck though now more have been brought in. There are large herds of domesticated water buffalo on the island. At Fazenda Sanjo you can experience life on a farm in the Amazon. There is piranha fishing, riding and milking buffalo, canoeing and horseback riding through the river with the buffalo. We did the riding with the buffalo. It was definitely the most different thing I have ever seen up close and pretty amazing.

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Edinburgh, Scotland

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is a summer theatre festival that includes cutting edge theatre, interesting comedians, and everything else. It is a festival where anyone can perform and my daughter’s high school took advantage of that and had a three-week summer program in Edinburgh. My son and I went to see her perform. It was my first time at the Edinburgh Fringe. Being a theatre person, I loved every minute of it and have been back a few times.

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My son worked there the following summer. The Royal Mile is the definitive part of the fringe. This road is packed full of street entertainment, groups doing excerpts from their shows (mainly musicals) and lots, lots and lots of acts trying to flyer you to get you to see their shows. There’s not really any equivalent to this anywhere else. Theatre goes on all day and all night. We had a blast.

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Cartagena, Colombia

The heat in Cartagena gives it a sleepy feeling which kind of makes it okay to sit on the wall, browse through shops and street vendors, buy fresh fruit from a woman carrying it on her head and not go to a museum.

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La Boquilla is a poor fishing village twenty minutes outside of Cartegena. It is a peninsula at the end of a beach with the Caribbean Sea on one side and a lake with mangroves on the other. The guide takes you on an old canoe through mangrove tunnels with flocks of birds and fishermen fishing for crabs ,shrimp and small fish.

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After the canoe they pull out a fresh coconut and make a hole for a straw with a machete. I walk for a long time on the beach with my feet in the Caribbean Sea. I have lunch on the beach of fresh fish, plantains and coconut rice.

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Gabriel Garcia Marquez became a writer in Cartegena. His novel Love in The Time Of Cholera Is set here. It is one of my favorites. I see Fermina riding in the horse and carriages and Florentino wandering everywhere in despair. You can see how much of Cartegena is in his books.

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Hoi An, Viet Nam

Hoi An is one of the most charming cities in Viet Nam .Hoi An’s Old Quarter is lined with two-story old Chinese buildings that now house shops with elaborately carved wooden facades and moss-covered tile roofs.

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The food market reminds visitors of another era when it was filled with goods from all over the Asia. (mangos, rambuchan, snake wine) Hoi An is a place where you can get clothes and shoes made at a reasonable price as long as you have a picture. It is also one of the best eating cities in Viet Nam and known for cooking classes and especially delicious food.

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After spending the day in the hustle and bustle of the busy streets of Hoi An, i head back to the Nam Hai all-villa resort on quiet Hoi An Beach. The contemporary architecture is welcoming and eye-catching as feng shui mingles with strong modern lines.

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The Spa at the Nam Hai is truly something wonderful. Composed of 8 villas, floating around a lotus pond, it is the ideal location for a relaxing massage, steam shower and herbal tea! The people who work there are most helpful and always want to practice their English.

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Venice, Italy

Every corner you turn in Venice ,you walk deeper into some real-life watercolor painting that a camera can never do justice. It’s like no place else I’ve ever been.

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It’s  a maze of canals and small streets, whimsical bridges, and colorful buildings. And as with all mazes, you should prepare to find yourself lost a time or two. I was there with my kids and a friend,  It was during the Art Biennale in the summer.

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We got to see incredible modern art from all over the world in the morning and explore the city in the afternoon.

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An important Venetian holiday is held on the third week in July. It is the Feast of the Redentore commemorating the end of the plague that killed fifty thousand people including Titian. The fireworks display is so extensive and significant that the re-election of the mayor is contingent on their quality (sort of like us picking a governor based on his movies) I have to add that they were the most incredible fireworks of our lives –I hope that mayor got re-elected.

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Buenos Aires, Argentina

It started in Tigre, a port a half hour from Buenos Aires. We sailed through the different rivers of the Delta Del Parana.

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At lunchtime, we went to Tres Esquinas in Barranca, a working class barrio in Buenos Aires for steak and empanadas. I love outdoor markets but the Sunday antiques market in Plaza Dorrego  in San Telmo is a phenomenon. The antiques are around the plaza but the shopping continues with arts and crafts vendors for many blocks. It is curbside capitalism at its finest.

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La Confiteria Ideal did not start as a tango hall but as  a pastry café in 1912. In the nineties it became a tango hall. Its faded glamour was a perfect background for the faded glamour of the tango dancers I saw that day. Dance has been a big part of my life. Andres Miguel my tour guide is a tango dancer.  tango@culturacercana.com.ar  Everything we did that day was related to tango  –  a boat on a river, good food and shopping, a milonga and always tango stories. He was the perfect tour guide for me and gave me a gift of the perfect day.

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Krueger National Park, South Africa

My daughter and my new son-in-law  were married on a safari In South Africa with sixty-five of their closest friends and family. A game park in Africa is an unlikely wedding destination. (We Love Pictures)

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You know that word that we Americans overuse for everything – awesome? i didn’t expect to have the feeling of humbleness and awe I had when seeing the African animals in the wild up close. There are moments of joy in your life. Watching your daughter get married to the right guy   in the peace and beauty of the African Bush is a distinctive moment of happiness. Watching your son officiate the wedding with intelligence, humor, kindness, sensitivity and even a bit of spirituality  (albeit in the form of animals)  makes it perfect.

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Fly safe,
JAZ

Seventeen Ways To Tell If You Are A Foodie Even If You Do Not Cook

Seventeen Ways To Tell If You Are A Foodie Even If You Do Not Cook

“People who love to eat are always the best people. – Julia Child”

You read restaurant reviews in bed before you go to sleep to relax.

You refuse to eat a grilled cheese sandwich with less than three different cheeses.

Bacon or pork makes anything better.

You spend hours researching your dining itinerary whenever you travel including making reservations from home whenever possible.

Your day in a foreign country goes like this – wake up – eat breakfast, walk around city, think about lunch, eat lunch, take nap, walk around city,  think about dinner, go to dinner at pre made reservation restaurant.

The first thing you ask your friends when they return from vacation is “What  did you eat? What are the good restaurants there?”

You use words like truffle season, farm to table, organic, fusion, layers of flavor, deconstructed and tasting menu in an annoying way.

You can’t date anyone who is into health food, a vegetarian or a picky eater. 

You judge other people by the food they order. 

You refuse to vacation anywhere that is not known for its good food – like  Disneyworld.

You own more than three kinds of salt. That also goes for vinegar, oil and mustard.

You wait on a long line to try the newest must eat thing. 

You have more pictures on your phone of food than of your kids.

You feel obligated to try every interesting food  truck that you see.

You will drive for hours to eat a delicious  meal.

People give you restaurant gift certificates as a birthday gift.

You are planning the next meal before you finish the one you are eating.

Fly safe,

JAZ

 

Things I Have Learned In Wellington, New Zealand

Things I Have Learned In Wellington, New Zealand

“Travel ennobles the spirit and does away with our prejudices.’ Oscar Wilde

The National Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, has 36,000 square meters of public floor space, taking up five floors and the size of three rugby fields.

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The museum sits on 150 shock absorbers to protect it from earthquake movement and has enough reinforcing steel to stretch from Wellington to Sydney. The architecture is amazing and admission is free.

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I find that museums are different for everyone. Some people like to spend ages reading all the wall plaques and examining paintings, while others just want a brisk walk to check out the best bits and then go for a coffee or get a tea towel at the gift shop. The Wellington Museum is great because  the methods of display and subject matter vary throughout the museum. There is less of a structure than some other museums to reflect visitors preferences .

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Gallipoli The Scale Of War is a larger than life exhibit that  uses the experiences of real New Zealanders who served, fought and died to capture the human face of what became known as the Great War and the battle of Gallipoli.

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I had trouble with the massive scale of the soldiers which gave it a more Disneyland and less human feel.

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But traveling throughout Australia and New Zealand and being at Gallipoli in Turkey made me also understand that it is still a larger than life experience for these countries.

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Wellington’s waterfront is a beautifully walkable public space, dotted with cafes, parks, sculpture, bars and ice cream vendors.

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Legend has it that Wellington’s well-known Parliament building, the Beehive, was actually sketched as a joke. While some say the architect’s paper of choice was a napkin, others claim it was drawn on a cigarette packet. (photo by Cordula Reins)

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Wellington’s compact geography isn’t just handy for visitors; over 18,000 of the city’s residents walk or jog to work and the waterfront is popular with runners. While Wellingtonians may be keen on foot traffic these days, it was a local man – William McLean – who imported the first car into New Zealand in 1898. (photo by Cordula Reins)

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Said to have more cafes, bars and restaurants per capita than New York, Wellington is also fuelled by some of the strongest coffee you’ll ever find.

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Home to hipsters, artists and lovers of vintage, Cuba Street is a bohemian haven with some of the city’s most colourful shops, bars and cafes.  Stop at Fidel’s for coffee.

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It’s been said that over one-third (33%) of Wellington residents have a bachelor degree or higher qualification – the highest in the country.

Zealandia is the first award winning fully-fenced urban eco-sanctuary in the world.(photo by Cordula Reins)

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Wellington recently became known because The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy was made there.

Wellington, is the southernmost capital in the world. Wellington replaced Auckland as the capital city of New Zealand in 1865. (photo by Cordula Reins)

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Wellington is located on the Southern end of North Island. You can take the ferry from Wellington to South Island.

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Interislander’s Cook Strait Ferries travel between Wellington and Picton New Zealand.

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The 92km voyage takes 3 hours and has been described as “one of the most beautiful ferry rides in the world.

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I love a good ferry ride.

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Fly safe,

JAZ