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Posts tagged ‘culture’

the sacred deer of Nara

Much as we loved Kyoto, after a couple of days of jam-packed sightseeing, it was time for a change of scenery. The crowds might have been less oppressive had we planned our stay midweek. Instead, as luck would have it, our visit to Kyoto fell on the first pleasant weekend after a massive typhoon had rocked the country. After two days of battling the crowds and trying to squeeze in a representative number of sights, we realized we needed to take the intensity down a couple of notches. Instead of spending a third day shuttling between temples in Kyoto, we headed south for a day trip to Nara.

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kimono watching

In addition to history, culture, art, and food, we would add one more reason to the list of rich experiences that make Kyoto a must-see destination: it just may be the best place in Japan to people-watch.

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city of emperors

Kyoto, with its overabundance of temples and shrines, fantastic food scene, and a wide array of small artisan shops filled with intricate handcrafted wares, is widely considered Japan’s most tourist-friendly city. Our first 24 hours in Japan felt more stressful than relaxing. It wasn’t until we checked into our AirBnB in Kyoto, took a stroll around our neighborhood, and immediately stumbled on a covered arcade lined with cute shops and hole-in-the-wall restaurants that we felt like our vacation had truly commenced.

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rules and regulations

D’s mom, comparing life in America to the one she knew in the Soviet Union, once succinctly summarized the difference by pointing to a sign at a public beach, which enumerated prohibited behavior: “In America they tell you what you cannot do, and anything that is not explicitly forbidden is allowed. In the Soviet Union, it was the opposite: if it was not expressly permitted, then you couldn’t do it.”

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sweet and sour

The Philippines’ most (in)famous food – a developing duck embryo that is boiled and eaten from the shell – might not be for everyone. Luckily, there is a much sweeter way to ease into the local food scene. We have previously lived in the tropics on two different continents, but this is our first time living in Southeast Asia, and there is a vast array of fruit here that we are seeing for the first time. In addition to eating our weight in mangos, pomelos, and other more familiar produce, we have enjoyed sampling the local delicacies, a few missteps notwithstanding.

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red rock secrets

We ended our ten-day trek through Arizona and New Mexico in Sedona – one of the Southwest’s most acclaimed destinations. In addition to the gorgeous red rock buttes that ring the town, what struck us most is how different Sedona felt culturally and spiritually from the rest of the state.

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Tunisian travels

The tendency when one is serving overseas is to use each posting as a springboard to explore the region, to travel around the continent one calls home for a few years. In Africa, this strategy hits two snags. First, the continent is immense. Second, with the exception of a handful of hubs, intercontinental flights are unreliable and expensive. Serving in eastern Africa, for example, South Africa was accessible but the countries of the Maghreb not at all.

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hometown Halloween

We hit the sweet spot with last year’s Halloween celebration. Munchkin was obsessed with The Three Little Pigs for most of the year. Dressing up as the little pigs to his bad wolf was an easy win, and the wolf costume S’s mom made for him got plenty of use before and after the holiday. This year, Munchkin’s tastes have evolved too fast to keep pace.

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Bohemian rhapsody

The first thought that struck D on arrival in Prague was that the city was overrun by Russian-speakers. The Armenian taxi driver who picked D up from the airport and could barely string three English words together; the management company for the apartment D had hastily booked on hotels.com; the students and old ladies exchanging news on the street corners; even excluding the massive Russian tour groups, D heard about as much Russian during his first couple of hours in Prague as he had in Minsk.

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back to the future

D saw very little of the USSR during the ten years he lived in Moscow. Most people didn’t travel much around the Soviet Union. D vaguely recalls a trip to the Black Sea and a visit to St. Petersburg (then Leningrad). Thanks to his work, D now has set foot in five of the former Soviet Republics in the last few years: Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia, and most recently Belarus and Lithuania*.

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