Things I Have Learned In Japan

“I will write peace on your wings and you will fly all over the world”                                       Saduko Sasaki     (young girl who developed leukemia from Hiroshima bombing)

Things I Learned  In  Japan

Deer are sacred animals at some of the temple sites. It is believed that one of the deities came to earth on the back of a deer. They run free through the parks and are quite brazen. I would avoid bringing small children with ice cream cones.  (Nara)

Japanese love affair with cats and dogs has created a booming industry in tasteful pet funerals and cremations. The twelve billion dollar industry is expected to increase next year by ten per cent.

The police have lost the battle of banning women carrying two or more children on bicycles, as long as the bicycles are sturdy, and they are not using cell phones or umbrellas.

Kyoto University will be offering the first graduate program in Manga ( comic) studies.

The Japanese are encountering a problem with  hybrid cars and the elderly and hearing impaired. The cars  are too quiet and they don’t hear them approaching. ( and by the way, we have the same cars!!!)

In the west, the recipe for a full life is happiness. In Japan, it is satisfactory performance, duty and obligation.

Japan has never been invaded until World War 2, therefore, ninety- nine per cent of the inhabitants are Japanese. They are also the largest consumers in the world of Louis Vuitton .

Most Japanese are not religious but celebrate traditions. They pray to the ancestors (Shinto) and they pray to Buddha.  They  like to get married in churches, wear wedding dresses and celebrate Christmas.  Who doesn’t like to wear a beautiful kimono to a tea ceremony or wedding?  (Kyoto)

When you pray in a Shinto shrine, you clap to awaken the deities. When you pray in the Buddhist temple, you don’t have to clap because the statue is already there and can hear you. (Miajima, Kamakura)

The plum, the bamboo and the pine are happy trees. The cherry blossoms are not happy trees because they are only  in full bloom for one week and show how fragile life is.  (Kyoto)

The correct way to enter a teahouse is to crawl through a hole on the side to show that all who enter are equal. If you eat in a Japanese style private dining room, the waiters must kneel down to your level when they speak or serve you. They cannot be higher than you . ( Many young girls with strong knees are working.)

People who shower quickly once a day and don’t wash their hair every day are unclean by Japanese standards. Everyone seems to be carrying toothbrushes and brushing their teeth in all public bathrooms.

Autumn is the season for luck in Japan and everyone is visiting the shrines. You pay some money, get a box and shake out your fortune. If it is lucky (like mine was) you are done. If not, you tie the bad fortune on to a tree at the shrine to leave the bad luck there.  Hence , a lot of  shrine trees are covered in paper.   (Kyoto)

Everything in Japan is expensive except,  shipping your luggage overnight from place to place, no tipping,  some street fashion ( because it changes so rapidly, it has to be cheap) , and having your crown glued into your mouth for twenty-five dollars.  You have to take your shoes off before entering a dental office but you can leave your lipstick on.

If you are watching old movies in Japan, they are white and black.

Tattoos are not allowed to be shown in public at many resorts and all bath houses.

When it rains in Japan, the airlines wrap your suitcases in plastic.

Stepping on a tatami mat with shoes is like spitting in public.  (Nagaoka, Izu Penninsula)

Japanese  trains are known for their schedule and punctuality. It is usual to see foreigners looking at their watches as the train approaches because they cant believe it. The conductors used to be penalized from their salaries if they were late. One day a conductor was rushing to the station and there was a terrible accident and 100 people died on the train. They stopped that practice and instead you hear in both Japanese and English that the train will be one and half minutes late.  (Tokyo)

In the country, the trains play Disney music or whistle when the doors are closing. If you approach a train station  in the country and only the foreigners get out, know that they did not consult the schedule . The express doesn’t run after five o clock and the conductor waits for them to get back on the local.  (Yufuin)

Because Japan is surrounded by the sea, there are too many aquariums.  (Okinawa)

There are more than five million vending machines in Japan.  They sell everything from drinks to porn.

Japanese give money for weddings. It must be an even number because an odd number is considered bad luck for the marriage.

Japanese give sweets for presents because they like to give something that will be used up  and not left behind.

see also

Japanese Food

Things I’ve Learned In Tokyo

Things I’ve Learned In Okinawa and Hiroshima

ki o twu kete


Things I Have Learned In Tokyo

“We mustn’t allow the characteristic Japanese aesthetic to die out. Aesthetics also include things like a sense of responsibility and a sense of justice. They also incorporate a respect for other people and for nature, an appreciation of the gift of life, and courtesy. They even extend to the ability to look at the world around one, properly.”            Tadao Ando

Things I Have Learned in Tokyo

Tokyo Narita airport is so far away from Tokyo, the word Tokyo should have been left out.

There are a lot of rules to wearing a kimono correctly. Most modern women have not gone to kimono school so they go to the hairdresser to have them tied correctly and have their hair done traditionally. I did notice free kimono lessons in the airport in Tokyo.

If you squeeze a lemon and put a slice of lemon in your sake, it cuts the hangover time in half.

Japanese toilets do everything automatically except actually extract the waste products from your body,. The seats open. They self clean and can play several songs while doing it. There are actually clean bathrooms in train stations.  Be careful pushing buttons if you don’t know what they are.

The Japanese have the same Kanto – Kansai (east – west) competition going that LA and NY has. Tokyo is East and Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe are west. It is is also carried on very politely so it takes a minute to realize they are insulting each other.

Tokyo loves cartoon characters. Everything has a mascot. The police have a smurflike character. The fire department  has a firefighter with a big helmet and horns. The railway has a penguin (which you see everywhere).  All the large companies have cute little characters as in cute never lets you down.

The Imperial Palace buildings and inner gardens are only open on Jan 2 ( for New years greetings) and Dec 23 for the emperor’s birthday. Ive never been in Japan on those days.

In Tokyo, you stand on the left on an escalator. In Osaka you stand on the right. This is always a problem with my sense of direction.

In Akihabara, in Tokyo ( the electronics area) there are many maid cafes. Women dressed as French maids are the waitresses and say things like master can I serve you? They stand on the streets and give out flyers. Modern geisha culture?

Anything can be made out of tofu.

21-21 in Roppongi  is designed by Tadao Ando. It  is Japan’s first design museum. Helsinki has had one for years.

Seeing  Mt  Fuji from Tokyo may not seem like a much of an accomplishment but it is hardly every visible.

Some Japanese wear masks because they are sick, some wear them because they don’t want to get sick and some wear them for allergies. How do you  know which one you are sitting on the train next to?

Tokyo has a no talking on the phone policy on the trains. That doesn’t include texting, emailing or playing games but it does allow tired office workers and students to sleep.

Nothing is so distasteful to the Japanese as feet bottoms  (except when they are giving those painful foot massages). Sox are preferable to bare feet.  There are toilet slippers and other slippers.  Don’t walk out of the bathroom in the toilet slippers.

View is the most important thing to Japanese people when reserving a hotel.


Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo is one of the largest fish markets in the world. It handles 2000 tons of seafood daily. It has become such a large tourist attraction and was not built for that so they limit the number of people now to 120 per day.  No heels or sandals (I definitely broke that rule). No small children or pets. No large bags or suitcases. Don’t touch anything. You must apply to see the tuna auction at Osakana Fukyu Center (Fish Information Center) at the Kachidoki Gate, starting from 5:00am on a first-come, first-serve basis. It is good to have fresh sushi for breakfast after the auction. The restaurants are open from 5am to12PM. I recommend eating at Ryu.

Sumo wrestling goes on for six hours. Luckily they only televise one hour and with the close-ups that is enough.

The current Kabuki-Za Theatre is closed until Oct 2013.  ( and when they give a completion date in Japan, it is usually correct, unlike here where they just rely on destiny). Kabuki combines different art forms such as dance theatre, music, costume design and set design.  There is a theatrical form of mime that has become associated with Kabuki Theatre. It is all blended together with the stories that have entertained the Japanese for over four hundred years. Kabuki is repertory theatre.  The same plays are regularly performed. There is no director and very little rehearsal time.  The actors have rehearsed  these roles since they were very young and should know them by the time they are performers. Make sure you get the English earphones so you can follow the story.  The performances are usually about five or six hours long. Sometimes you can purchase tickets for shorter time on the day of the performance. I did two hours and loved every minute of it and didn’t think I would – definitely try it.

The customer is God. As in “May I have the honor to serve you?’ Your happiness makes us smile.  Giving candy after a purchase, wrapping each individual item and carrying your package to the door is business as usual.

Harajuku in Shibuya has become known as the place for the most extreme teenage street fashion. Harajuku girls are girls dressed in many different styles of fashion in Harajuku. There  is punk style, ganguro – bleached hair, fake lashes and fake nails and tan (California girl rebellion against Japanese culture), cosplay – costume based from manga to bands, skaters and goth. Takeshita dori is the main street and is ridiculously crowded on the weekends.

Japanese love coffee.

The Sensoji Temple (the oldest temple in Tokyo) is Iocated in Asakusa.  It is nice to get out of modern Tokyo and feel some of the old Japanese culture.

As a fan of taxis, what is better than white gloved drivers with lace seat seat coverings and automatic doors? ( of course none of that matters if you are not with a Japanese person because they don’t speak English and you will not be able to tell them where you want to go)

Tokyo is officially the most expensive city in the world.

The Tokyo skytree is the world’s tallest tower. It is 634 meters and double in size of the Eiffel Tour. It has many shops and restaurants and yet another aquarium in Japan.

Shibuya crossing is one of the busiest pedestrian crossings in the world.(Im from NY and I was a little bit intimidated)

Do not even think about drinking and driving in Japan. The legal limit is less than one drink.  The fine is huge and you could be thrown in jail. Do not even think about getting in a car as a passenger with someone who has had a drink. You also will pay a huge fine.  There are always many taxis in the bar areas.

yo I sorano tabi o


Things I Have Learned and Loved at the 2012 Summer Olympics

Citius, altius, fortius”  (Faster, Higher, Stronger)

motto of the Olympic Games:

Things I Have Learned  and Loved at the  2012 Summer Olympics

I love the Olympics. I love the Opening Ceremonies with the spectacle of creativity and tradition. I love the Parade of Countries. I love the events. For seventeen days I watch as much as I can. I don’t really like sports so I don’t understand where this obsession comes from.   No event is too insignificant for me to watch if I am home. After seventeen days, at the closing ceremonies, I am emotionally exhausted from all the pressure.  I am just as  happy  as the host country  is,  that they are going home.

Every host country has the cutest and most children performing. Who knew there were so many adorable childrens’ choirs in the world? (  China  didn’t and decided to have their cuter child lip sync a less cute child with a better voice.)

Any  Opening Ceremony  directed by Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting), that starts with Kenneth Branagh quoting from The Tempest, brings the Queen Mum in with James Bond, and ends with Paul McCartney singing  Hey Jude is my kind of sporting event.

I love those 81 countries who have never won a medal and really are “just pleased to be nominated.” They are the happiest and proudest people walking in the Parade of  Nations.

Mr Bean  can play Chariots of Fire on the piano.

I learned several new countries in that parade – Djibouti, Dominia, Burkina Fasos, Comorros, Kiribati, Lesotho, Nauru, Moldovo, Sao Tome and Principe and Turkmenistan.

There were nightmares at the Olympics-  a weird and dark element that doesnt really make any sense unless you are Charles Dickens.

I enjoy seeing the countries I haven’t been to because it gives me a taste of the people who live in them. I love how they are all taking video of themselves , each other and the stadium as they march in. Their excitement  is so contagious, that I root for all of them.

I am suddenly interested in the Olympic Trivia.   Denmark is the most competitive in badminton. Some of the Muslims will fast because it is Ramadan. The others will fast later. A few will fast except on the days they compete.  It is the first time that Saudi Arabia sent women athletes. Bangladesh has the largest amount of athletes of the countries who have never won.  The United States has won way more Olympic Gold Medals than anyone else. China has thousands to catch up with. The NBC Pavilion has a Wolfgang Puck Café.

My favorite Olympic commercial is United Airlines “We move them before they move us.” It’s a true Hallmark card moment. ( and they play George Gershwin’s American in Paris)

It is a great Olympic Ceremony that includes  Clash, the Rolling Stones, Queen, the Sex Pistols and David Bowie .

“Its kind of a cool thing to do the best gymnastics of your life at the Olympics” – quote from the TV commentator…… uh,yeah.

Its very hard to medal in the swimming competition if you are in lane 8. It rarely happens – sorry Michael  Phelps. But congratulations on winning the most Olympic medals ever.

I tear up at the back stories and the medal ceremonies. I love watching their faces when they play the National Anthem of the winning country. None of them ever know all the words to their National Anthems.

I hate the nerves. There was a lot of slipping and falling  in men’s gymmastics by a lot of world champions. Women’s gymnastics was an emotional roller coaster . I cried with Jordyn Weiber . I cried with the Russians.  I was jumping up and down when the Americans won the gold. I am a wreck.

I love the crazy parents. Its the ultimate Reality TV.

I get caught up in the mystery surrounding who will be the last person to carry the flame and light the torch.  I usually have no idea who the person is, but it doesn’t matter.  I knew who David Beckham was.   I did not know Steve Redgrave, a five time Olympic Gold Medalist in Rowing.   There are no media scandals surrounding him. It is an event that is not televised in the US (unless it is at three in the morning)  .

The British added humor and wonder to the Chinese spectacle that no one thought they could top. (apparently there are many people who thought they didn’t)  I love the Opening Ceremony competition. So, bring it on Brazil.

Fly Safe



Where Is The Starbucks?

“The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat, etc. So people who don’t know what the hell they’re doing or who on earth they are, can for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee, but an absolutely defining sense of self.” Tom Hanks in You’ve Got Mail, Nora Ephron

Where is the  Starbucks ?

It started  as a gift from Beijing. It was my first.Yes, im a Starbucks girl.I get free soy and flavorings when I can find my  gold card.   I know it’s a lot trendier to drink Intelligentsia or French Press , but I am an iced grande soy  three pump sugar-free vanilla latte.

When I started traveling after many years, I was surprised to see Starbucks. The world had gotten a lot smaller. I bought a mug in Athens, Edinburgh and London that summer. Now  I had the beginning of a collection.

It gives me a bit of a plan in a foreign country. I check when I arrive  if they have Starbucks (yes,there are some places that still don’t)  Sometimes its easy. In Tokyo and Madrid they were right downstairs from the hotel. In Sevilla  and Osaka they were across the street.

The only Starbucks in Russia at that time was in Moscow on Arbat Street.  I walked with some friends past the Kremlin and statue of Gogol to find it. I took a picture of the Starbucks sign in Cyrillic.  No one spoke English in Russia in most restaurants. I said iced grande soy sugar-free vanilla latte.  They gave it to me. That was the only thing in Russia I could order without  serious hand motions. I had no idea what I was ordering  most of the time.

In Vienna I was telling the owner of the Starbucks store about my Russian Starbucks experience. He offered me a few hundred dollars for it . He also had a collection.They were out of Starbucks mugs in Lima . It didn’t taste as good as their regular coffee.

Spending a long amazing  day with Anna in Hiroshima and Miajima, I was too tired to go to Starbucks but Anna pressed on so I have a Hiroshima Starbucks mug –pretty incredible considering our history.  I brought home Starbucks mugs from every city in Japan  – between the coffee and tea, that country is fueled by caffeine.

The Dublin one came from one of the many bookstores.  I was shopping on Oxford Street  in London and stopped in for  Starbucks and found all the U.K .countries.. In Bangkok it was near  No Sex Thai Massage.  Changing planes in Hong Kong I picked one up on the way.  My friend Lisa brought me one back from Munich and the following year I went with her.  My daughter took me to the one near her room  when she was studying in Prague. The tour guide in Hanoi had never had Starbucks before. I bought him his first one.

Their mugs travel well. You just  wrap them in a t-shirt and throw them in your suitcase. They don’t break.

The stores look exactly the same as they do here – complete with the same people sitting with laptops.  It always reminds me of one of those dreams where you are in a place that you know but you don’t.  The food is different. .  There are  interesting  fresh juices  and fabulous thick hot chocolate in Spain.  The UK  has my favorite ginger cookies.  In Japan, there are beautiful green tea desserts and it is all about shorts ( a discontinued size here) . There are excellent looking pastries in Vienna, Prague and Germany (where afternoon is always cake time) The Starbucks are always crowded.

I drink coffee from one of the mugs every morning.  All the mugs have a story and stories last forever.  Sometimes it is a friend’s story of a place I haven’t been to yet.  It is the perfect gift for me.  This blog was written  this morning while drinking out of a New Zealand Starbucks mug.

Fly Safe


Things I’ve Learned In Venice

“ If you read a lot, nothing is as good as you’ve imagined it.  Venice is! – Venice is better. “             Fran Liebowitz

Things I’ve Learned in Venice

Venetians hate Napoleon because he stole from them the very treasures that Venice had previously stolen from Constantinople. The French hate that the Venetians have two museums (Palazzo Grassi and the Dogana) devoted to French modern art.

The pigeons in Venice have special protection because of their popularity with the tourists. No self respecting Venetian over the age of two would pay any attention to a pigeon.

There are two Venices – the actual one and the reflection in the water. Which is real and which is the illusion?

Directions in Venice may involve going” through a sestiere, past the scuola, down the fondamenta or the riva to the rama to the rio tera, to the calle, rughetta or salizzada and under the soltoportego”.( good to travel with map people)

Peggy Guggenheim has a room in her museum devoted to her daughter’s art. (don’t we all?)

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.

If you find  yourself in Venice on a vaporetto going out into the open sea, don’t worry, it will come back into the city……. eventually.

Vaporettos (water buses) in Venice are on the honor system. Many stops do not have kiosks to buy tickets which makes it hard to be honorable.

St. Mark, (patron saint of Venice) had his body “rescued” from his grave in Alexandria. Venetian fishermen covered the relic in pork to repulse the Muslim inspectors. There are mosaics that tell this story in the Basilica. If it was today, it would be covered in pork belly-something I see on every menu.

There is always reconstruction and renovation going on in Venice. The city slogan is “com’era dovera “  ( as it was and where it was)

The Biennale  ( Worldwide Art  Exhibition) in Venice is filled with the same pretentious art people one finds anywhere else. The difference is that in the summer,  they bring their kids. You can hear in several different languages, what was that? When are we leaving?

The Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri) connects the Doges palace to the Prigioni  (prisons). The name comes from the fact that the prisoners used to sigh as they saw Venice from the tiny windows on their way to the prison. “I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs; a palace and a prison on each hand.”   Lord Byron

There is always a small choice of musical concerts in Venice. They all play Vivaldi.

Napoleon called St Marks Square ‘the finest drawing room in Europe.’  In the summer it is filled with tourists, pigeons, musicians and waiters. Try to see it late at night or early in the morning .

Volare is a song I never expected to be woken up to in the morning or hear 100 times a day.

The Rialto Bridge was built in just three years between 1588-91. It replaced the wooden bridge built in the twelfth century. The architect was Antonio Da Ponte. He beat out Michelangelo and Palladio for the contract. His name means Anthony of the Bridge . I cant help thinking he went into the competition with an edge.

Venice has no sewer system. Household waste flows into the canals and is washed out into the sea twice a day with the tides.(in case you were thinking of tasting the water or swimming )

There are many mask shops in Venice but only a few are traditional mask makers. Remember if its cheap, its fake.  La Bottega Dei Mascareri is a traditional mask making studio near the Rialto Bridge.

They say the best way to explore Venice is to get lost among the endless narrow streets and bridges. I don’t think that is the best way to explore Venice with my daughter. But no matter how good at directions you think you are, you will get lost in Venice.

Bauer Il Palazzo Hotel is one of Leonardo Di Caprio’s favorite hotels. (and mine also!)

Don’t touch the produce in Venice. In fact it is considered offensive to touch  fruits and vegetables in the markets  all over Italy.

The Bellini was invented by Guiseppi Cipriani, founder of Harry’s Bar. It is fresh white peach juice mixed with Prosecco. (sparkling wine). Its pink color reminded him of the color of the toga of a saint in a painting by Giovanni Bellini.  It is named for the artist.

Gondolas are operated by highly skilled oarsmen.  Only 3 gondolier licenses are issued annually after extensive training and a written exam. There are only 400 licensed Gondolieri operating in Venice today and 350 gondolas. (I wonder if anyone else had to take it three times)

Almost everyone in Venice belonged to a scuola in the fifteenth and sixteenth century. They were  like fraternities formed around occupations or immigrant groups .The scuole were self governing and helped their members integrate into society or with their problems. They became important artistic patrons. The themes were usually the lives and miracles of the Saints. Caravaggio was a favorite painter of the scuole.  It is worth it to go and see the art in some of the scuole around Venice..

Venetian food is simple, fresh and delicious. There are no food jokes here. Seafood, small birds, liver,  fresh fruits and vegetables and local grains are the staples.  Some traditional dishes are risi e bisi (risotto with peas) eaten by  the Doge on St Marks Day, pasta e fagioli ( pasta with beans a hearty peasant dish), dried cod, cuttlefish cooked in squid ink and sardines with onions. They are not known for pizza,  but eating pizza in Italy is always a good thing.

Ciao, Fly Safe,


Looking For Buddha In Bangkok

“it is better to travel well than to arrive”.   Buddha

Looking for Buddha in Bangkok

Day 1. I didn’t see Buddha today among all the Golden Buddhas. He wasn’t at the most famous Emerald Buddha where all Buddhists go to worship. He wasn’t around the ancient Buddhist scriptures or at the giant leaning Buddha or the Grand Palace. I heard he was on the sky train but I missed him. I thought I saw him in the night market eating fried crickets on a stick. It turned out to be an old man with a beautiful smile. (it might have been gas- crickets are apparently better for the digestive system when eaten raw).  I didn’t see him  at Starbucks, nor was he having the most fabulous Thai  Massage.  I thought I saw him at the flower market among the beautiful orchids but it was just another Buddha wanna be.  He wasn’t having Pad Thai , Thai Coffee and Thai Mango at the restaurant on the river. He was not on any of the riverboats that I have been on today. I will look again tomorrow.

Day 2. No, not today.

Day 3. He wasn’t at the floating market.  Someone swore he ate lunch there everyday.  He wasn’t at the train market either.   The train runs through the market to Bangkok eight times a day. Eight times a day, they pack up and put out their food. The people help each other do it.  It is not very tranquil. No one seems to mind. They all have their shrines to him and they all smile. I think he has been there before.

Day 4. Buddha is not shopping at Siam Paragon Mall or MBK.  However, there is a monk on a cell phone and two other monks with shopping bags. I hope he is not begging for rice in the food court.   He is not at Best Quality Fakes either. Though, I’m sure he would know how to find them.

Day 5. The real Buddha is not at the old  capital city of Ayuthetta. There are many Buddha statues and many more decapitated ones. It is the ruined city that is  left after the Burmese ravaged the old capital.  it must have been quite beautiful when Buddha was there. I couldn’t see him when I was riding the elephant and I was pretty high up.

Day 6. He was not at Chatuchak  Weekend Market . If he was there on a weekend, I would never see him because it is one of the largest and most crowded  markets in the world. It covers over 27 acres and has more than two  hundred thousand visitors per day.    Surprisingly, He was not at  (BIA) Buddhadasa Indapanno Archives. It is the  most beautifully decorated space combining art and nature dedicated to Thai Buddhism. When I meditated there , I didn’t find   Buddha but I did find peace.

  As I rode to the airport I wondered where was he in this very Buddhist country? Was he in the faces of the children, the kindness of the people, the quiet dignity of the elephants, the beautiful orchids, the peace at the meditation center?  Was he there all the time?  Or, will I just have to look harder on my next visit?

Sa wat dii kha, fly safe


Rick Steves -Love Him or Hate Him?

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.”               Mark Twain

I have this hate love affair with Rick Steves. Rick Steves is the host of Rick Steves Europe on American Public Television and Public Radio.  He has published many guide books. On the surface , we have nothing  in common.

Rick travels around Europe with a backpack or carry on luggage (which never looks very heavy). He wears relaxed comfortable clothing and sensible footwear.  He motors through countrysides finding quaint inns and farmhouses to stay in.  He is always looking at something old. He goes to places that we have been to or would like to go to –nothing outrageous or dangerous.  If he is shopping , it is in some outdoor market or picturesque shop. He is always using a lot of hand motions to show that  he is buying it for himself to eat now. There is nothing that Rick Steves ever buys that I would want.  He has perfectly behaved children who eat Sacher Tortes in the Bavarian countryside and don’t get hopped up on sugar. Sometimes they stay with a Czech sitter at the hotel while Rick and his wife go to a medical spa in Karlovy Vary. Rick is the everyman of traveling.

So what is his appeal for me? He makes us feel safe and comfortable in a place we have never been.  If Rick has been there or met them, we will be ok.

That is how I ended up having an amazing vacation in Croatia with my kids. I had been trying to go to Croatia for two years.   Both my tour and my cruise had been cancelled. I decided to use the internet for the first time to find a tour guide.  I found Petar Vlasik .  I went to look at his references and there it was –recommended by Rick Steves.  I immediately emailed Petar and he immediately emailed back.    I had a good feeling and ….Rick Steves liked him.  We planned to go to a few places in Croatia  – Dubrovnik, Hvar, Split and Cavtat as well as some side trips. .  Petar was  an amazing  charming, knowledgeable, helpful  cool guy to organize our trip and take us around . The trip was perfect. We have a friend in Croatia.   I highly recommend Petar to all of you when you go to Croatia (and you must).   Would I have done this without Rick Steves? ( I do now – that is another blog) I like to think I have good intuition but Rick Steves definitely helped.

Which is how I came to watch his shows . We aren’t as different as I would like to think.  I  realized that I love to travel as much as he does. I love meeting the people in new places  as much as he does.  I love the old churches and ruins as much as I love the modern buildings and  contemporary art. I admire him for making a  successful career out of his passion.  I  love his enthusiasm over a tiny hand made flute or an old French cheese.  I feel exactly the same way when I find the perfect bracelet or  walk into an amazing five star hotel.

Fly Safe


Things I Have Learned In Munich

“You can’t be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline – it helps if you have some kind of football team, or some nuclear weapons but at the very least you need a beer”
- Frank Zappa

Things I Have Learned In Munich

Pedestrian crossings in Munich often have a sign saying “Set an example to children”  Something we should all remember to do.

Seen in German fashion magazine.  “.the new recessionista, crunch chic.”

“Dachau is a lovely town in Munich which happens to have the first concentration camp located there. But this was not an extermination camp and the largest number of people were not killed there. “ (quote from a guide book)

Birds never sang in Dachau even though there are many trees, because birds do not like the smell of death.

Brausebad is the old German word for shower. It was written outside the door of the “shower” in the camps. After WW2 they were not allowed to use that word anymore and it became douche instead.

Nazis are big business in Germany. You can take a third Reich tour in Berlin and Munich. You can visit Dachau outside of Munich or Sachenhausen outside of Berlin. In the tourist bookstores you can buy Hitlers Favorite Places in Munich, Famous Nazi’s of Munich, and Hitler’s Berlin or Hiltler’s Munich..

“The Neo Nazis aren’t the bad Nazis.” (quote heard at Dachau)

The Irish backed the Germans in World WarTwo. (anything to go against the English)

Soccer is a hooligan’s game played by gentlemen. Rugby is a gentlemen’s game played by hooligans.

I was in Munich in November and missed Oktoberfest.  I didnt have to bring my lederhosen and dirndl and missed the overindulgence of beer and pretzels , beer and weisswursts,  beer with sauerbraten , beer with potatoes and beer with beer.

Haidhausen is the place to be in Munich if you are a schiki miki (club going Bavarian Hippie), or Eidel chic or one of the Mueslis (European granola types)

Weisswurst breakfast which consists of boiled white sausages in milk  that you eat by sucking  out of the casing, with a fresh baked pretzel and mustard is surprisingly delicious.

A sign seen in a Munich store window “Wurst Fuchs”.

Pabst Blue Ribbon beer means the Pope’s beer. Every year the Pope comes to Munich to bless the hops

If you want to see hordes of tourist getting ridiculously drunk with huge steins of beer, go to Hofbrau House in Munich (Hitler’s fav)

The German New Wave Goth Punk teenagers are not people you want to share a train car with.

Neuschwanstein castle  in the Bavarian Alps (the sleeping beauty castle) is probably best visited when it isn’t snowing.

After returning from Germany, I was watching a documentary  entitled, The Rape of Europa.  It was about  European art stolen by the Nazis . I  saw a castle that looked familiar.  I was there in a snowstorm so I didn’t recognize it right away.  The first art recovered from the Nazis( that had been  stolen from the French) was stored in Neuschwanstein castle. There were many rooms filled with stolen art  and it was a fact they left out when I took the guided tour of “the Sleeping Beauty Castle. “

On the program at the ballet in the Bavarian State Opera House, they list the minutes of each act and each  intermission and the starting and ending times. German attention to detail put to good use! (and Mia was great! )

Munich being closer to Milan than it is to Berlin has amazing Italian food and great pizza.

Whenever you are in a coed sauna (especially if it says naked area)  in eastern Europe and Germany just know that it will be inhabited by fat, old, naked men.

In the 1960’s and 70’s the next generation of Germans were horrified when they learned what their parents have done.  I had this feeling in Munich and Berlin. Dachau, the Resistance Museum , the Jewish memorials and the Jewish museum were filled with  school children on class trips.

gute reise and fly safe


Leap Of Faith

“Sometimes  your only available transportation is a leap of  faith “

Margaret Shepherd

I am  the first one to get on a plane to go anywhere I have never been. But sometimes you can travel without ever leaving your hometown.  Every big city has its ethnic neighborhoods with interesting restaurants,  markets, specialty shops, massages, acupuncture, threading,  henna ,fortune tellers , museums, theatres, music and dance programs,  herbalists, houses of worship etc.  There is always an opportunity to learn something new.

That was the experience I had  with the New Grounds Muslim Jewish Fellowship put together by Temple Emanuel and King Fahad Mosque.  In our first meeting a group of women walked in wearing hijabs  (head coverings) and traditional blouses in beautiful colors. The men came in with somber faces . ( I probably had one as well) We stopped to have a break  for them to pray .  It felt strange to stop a meeting to pray. Prayer isn’t so easy for me anyway.

We got to know each other through special exercises. We had to really break down our own barriers to talk about issues.  Slowly, we became friends. Our last meeting was in the mosque. All the women wore the hijabs and everyone had to leave our shoes at the door.   I was inspired to put together a beautifully colored outfit with matching head covering as well. (not my usual black) .

I had seen the blue dome of the King Fahad Mosque in Culver City many times.  As I pulled into the parking lot, a man approached me. He was wearing a black skull cap  and  a long-sleeved white cotton shirt  that came below his knees.  He said,” Are you  one of our guests today?”  He directed me to the women’s entrance.  I watched the men greet each other as they prepared to pray.   It didn’t look strange at all .  It wasn’t  a scary place filled with terrorists.  It was beautiful and welcoming and peaceful.   The blue and white tiles reminded me of the Alhambra in Spain.   I remember learning that blue is a protective color and I look forward to seeing the Blue Mosque in  Istanbul .  I understand more about praying now. Praying five times a day doesn’t seem weird to me anymore. . It is about taking time during your day to think about  something bigger than yourself – to step back and remember what is important.  I am trying to find the time to meditate everyday – also to step back.

I know that we are all Americans. If we had met in a mall, a museum or at a UCLA class, we would have been brought together by similar interests.  This time, we were brought together by our differences.  This is what happens when you travel. The differences are obvious. The similarities are later revealed.

I have learned that a complete stranger in a country so different from yours can become your friend.  If you spend five minutes getting to know someone from another culture, chances are you will find much more in common than you thought.

Leaving the mosque felt exactly like leaving a foreign country.  It feels strange when I arrive and it feels comfortable when I leave.  I ‘m always leaving new friends, and I always want to return.

Fly Safe,


Things I Have Learned In Berlin

Many small people, who in many small places, can alter the face of the world.”    A quote from the  Berlin Wall

Things I Have Learned In Berlin

Checkpoint Charlie is the Cold War Security point between East and West Berlin. This is not the original one  in Berlin. The original one is fourty kilometers away. This is the one they set up for the tourists because it is closer to the wall.  There doesn’t seem to be anyone who knows who  the American soldier is, in the very large photograph in front of Checkpoint Charlie.


In 1996 Berlin became  the center of Germany’s commercial and underground art movement. The galleries quickly moved from West to East Berlin forming the East Berlin Art Mile on Auguststrasse in Mitte.

If you are a fan of “form follows function” (as I am)  visit the Neue Nationalgalerie designed by Mies Van Der Rohe (twentieth century paintings)  and the Bauhaus museum designed by Water Gropius ( they used his building plans) The Bauhaus school  was closed in 1933 because the new National Socialist government was afraid of their “subversive ideas and degenerative art.”

Kandinsky had a problem with the color green when teaching at the Bauhaus.

The German born artist Joseph Beuys had a big exhibit at the Hamburger Bahnhof –(old train station) Museum of Contemporary Art.  I love contemporary art but I have never gotten him or his fascination with fat and felt.

Fredrik the Great of Prussia ordered that potatoes and cucumbers  be the staple of the German diet because it was cheap.The portions are usually large and filling. Berlin has the largest immigrant population of any German city so there are may types of food –most common are Russian, Turkish, Vietnamese and Dutch.

“Berlin has a bit of a bad reputation when it comes to the treatment of its Jews but anti-Semitism was around long before Germany” (from the Scottish tour guide)

The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin occupies a large outdoor space near Hitler’s bunker and the Brandenburger Gate. It is made up of 2,711 gray stone slabs of different heights and shapes. They have no markings such as names or dates.


The Adlon Kempinski Hotel in Berlin has had Presidents, royalty and most recently Obama staying there, but it is most famous for being the place where Michael Jackson put his baby out the window.

Bebelplatz (where they burned the books in 1933) in East Berlin, is now the location of one of the most beautiful hotels I have ever stayed in (Hotel de Rome  was originally the Dresdner bank building. They kept a lot of the building intact.  ).

There is a parking lot over Hitler’s bunker because they don’t want it to become a neo Nazi shrine.

The Reichstag, the seat of the German Parliament, is one of Berlin’s most historic landmarks. It is close to  the Brandenburger gate and was located right next  to the Berlin wall. You have seen it in many movies.


I should explain the Brandenburger Gate since I keep mentioning it. It is the only remaining gate to the city, rebuilt in the eighteenth century and again after World War 2.  It is one of the landmarks of  Germany. It is the entry to Unter den Linden –the boulevard of Linden Trees . King Frederick of Prussia had the trees planted as a sign of peace leading up to his palace. It was on the East Berlin side of the wall and inaccessible to the west until the wall fell.


World War Two has had more books and papers written about it than any other period in history.

Kaiser Wilhelm the Second said, “More enemies, more honor”.

There is as much security at the Jewish Museum in Berlin as there is at the airport (except for the pictures of Terrorists of the week at Passport control)  The new section designed by David Leibskind is based on an exploding Star Of David. The spaces disappear into angles. It  is more about space  than what is in it.

The Resistance museum is housed in the building where the attempt was made on Hitler’s life by his generals.

It is illegal to have a swastika out in the open in Germany (except for historical purposes)

The Berlin Wall was built after WW2 to keep the East Germans from escaping to the west. It was a symbol of the “cold war.”  Most of the wall has been taken down in 1989 but some places still  stand. The East Side gallery which has 106 graffiti paintings painted in 1990 as a memorial to freedom is the most interesting.


East Berlin is now the trendy part of Berlin – first the artists, then the galleries,then the gays, followed by trendy restaurants, bars, boutiques and hotels, and then the yuppies.

In 1870, Rosa Strauss left Germany with her young son Levi.  He teamed up with a tailor to make a kind of  material that would be good for the men going to the gold rush.

Berlin has no famous industry except culture.(and now its history – sorry, I loved Berlin but  between the Nazis and the Communists it was hard to make jokes. )


Also see Things I’ve Learned In Munich

Going To Neuschwenstein

Haben Einen Sicheren Flug