Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel

Potemkin Stairs in Odessa, Ukraine

I stood at the top of the Potemkin Stairs in Odessa, Ukraine, and contemplated the hike down. No problem, I thought. It looks like a lot of landings and very few steps. I started down but soon realized there were way more steps than I originally thought. Fifty, 100, 150…was I ever going to reach the bottom? Finally I reached the last step, 192, and turned to look backup the staircase. From the bottom it looked like a single staircase with no landings! Had I first seen it from the bottom, I might have decided to ride the Funicular down instead of walking. The Potemkin Stairs in Odessa were purpose built to create an optical illusion. The top step is 41 feet wide and the bottom step is 70.8 feet wide. As a result, a person looking down sees only the landings, while a person looking up sees only steps. Because this photo looks down from the harbor, both the steps and landings are visible. Read More

Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kiev, Ukraine

When UNESCO turned an eye toward Ukraine, the first site they chose to inscribe as a World Heritage Site was the magnificent Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kiev. In somewhat of a departure, UNESCO opted to inscribe Saint Sophia along with the monastic complex of Kiev-Pechersk Lavra as a single site, even though they are two separate complexes at two different locations. Saint Sophia Cathedral is located in the historic city center, while Kiev-Pechersk Lavra is some distance away, on a plateau overlooking the Dnieper River. Read More

Not so long ago, traveling as a vegetarian or vegan was a challenge. Fortunately, in recent years vegetarianism and veganism have become more mainstream, thus an increasing number of restaurants cater to those of us who do not eat meat. Unfortunately, quantity does not always mean quality. I have suffered through some meals that were borderline inedible. But during a recent trip to Italy, I was delighted to discover two exceptional vegan and vegetarian restaurants in Milan.

Mantra Raw Vegan Restaurant in Milan, Italy

Mantra Raw Vegan Restaurant in Milan, Italy

Mantra Raw Vegan Restaurant

Marina Dell’Utri, owner of Mantra Raw Vegan Restaurant was born and raised in Milan. After completing secondary school, she moved to California to pursue a degree in Marine Biology. During her time in the States, she noticed that everyone was selling cold pressed juices. On a day when she was not feeling well, she bought a six pack of the juices to detox. At the same time, she also began doing Yoga. Read More

Stortorget, the oldest square in Stockholm, Sweden

Stortorget is the main square in Stockholm’s Gamla Stan, the Old Town area of the city. The name translates to “Big Square” in English, but ironically, it is actually one of the smallest Old Town squares in Europe. Stortorget stands on the site of the original settlement that grew to become the Swedish capital. By 1400, more than 1,600 residents were living around Gamla Stan and stone homes and businesses had begun to spring up around it. The Stock Exchange Building, which today houses the Swedish Academy, the Nobel Museum, and the Nobel Library, was added to one end of the square in 1776. A community well, shown above at left, made the square a natural meeting place for merchants and residents. Read More

The Royal Palace in Stockholm is the official residence of the King of Sweden

With seven stories and more than 600 rooms, the Royal Palace in Stockholm is one of the largest palaces in Europe. Located in the Old Town of Stockholm, it is the “official residence” of the Swedish monarch, King Carl XVI Gustaf. Though the King, Queen Silvia, Crown Princess Victoria, and other members of the Royal Court maintain offices and work there on a daily basis, the King and Queen don’t actually live at the Royal Palace. Since 1981 they have resided at nearby Drottningholm Palace. Read More

At first blush, Stockholm was a pleasant place to spend a week. I began in its medieval Old Town, known locally as Gamla Stan, where I visited the Royal Palace and Stortorget, the oldest square in Stockholm. I toured the spectacular City Hall. Built of eight million bricks, this remarkable building is the venue for the Nobel Peace Prizes each year. I toured free museums, ate picnic lunches in the city’s attractive parks, and took boat tours around the 14 islands that make up the city. But it was when I went underground that Stockholm morphed from pleasant to astonishing.

One of the most startling examples of art in the Stockholm Metro are these silhouettes of the workers who built the station

One of the most startling examples of art in the Stockholm Metro are these silhouettes of the workers who built the station

The three Metro lines beneath the Swedish capital stretch for 68 miles and include 100 stations. Nothing unusual about that. What is unusual is that more than ninety of these stations feature massive art installations. I began my exploration of art in the Stockholm Metro at T-Centralen, the system’s main hub. It was here that the idea to use the Stockholm subway to bring art to the public was born. I had to look hard to find art at T-Centralen’s ground level entrance. Eventually I spotted the trunk of a birch tree engraved on one of the glass panels, branches laden with oak leaves cascading down another, and a couple of hiking boots marching kitty-whompus up the glass. Read More