Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel

Pop-pop-pop-pop!! I was staying in a guest house less than two blocks away from Plaza Italia, the epicenter of political protests that happen most evenings in Santiago, Chile. Sirens had been screaming up and down the avenue outside my window for more than an hour when the first four shots rang out. The screams of demonstrators and rocks bounding off police armored vehicles, punctuated by occasional gunfire, continued until 10 p.m. Then, as quickly as it had begun, the protest dissolved and quiet descended. I’d put off my visit to Santiago till the last minute. During my cruise to Antarctica I’d met two couples who had visited the city over the previous couple of weeks. Both had been robbed. I could find little current news coverage that answered the question, “is it safe to visit Santiago at this time.” In the end, since I had to fly through Santiago in order to visit Easter Island, I decided to take my chances.

Is it safe to visit Santiago, Chile. These protestors in Plaza Italia not only welcomed me, they spent half an hour educating me on the reasons for the demonstrations and the people's demands.

Is it safe to visit Santiago, Chile. These protestors in Plaza Italia not only welcomed me, they spent half an hour educating me on the reasons for the demonstrations and the people’s demands.

Over the next five days I explored the Chilean capital on foot. My first stop was the boarded up Metro station at Plaza Italia, a couple of blocks from my guest house. I was reading slogans painted across the graffiti-plastered entrance when a 23-year old nurse on a bicycle stopped and began explaining what the protests were all about. On October 19, 2019, residents of Santiago, Chile, took to the streets to protest a hike in subway fares. Long considered to have the best economy in South America, that wealth had not trickled down to the common people, a majority of whom were poor and had little access to even basic services. Read More

Is it Safe to Travel to Santiago, Chile? Police and Demonstrators Continue to Battle.

For years, I’d been searching for a bronze Buddha statue to place on my home altar. I knew the pose I preferred, the one known as Calling The Earth to Witness. It depicts Buddha sitting with legs crossed in full lotus position, left hand resting in his lap palm upward and right hand resting on his knee with fingers pointing to the ground, palm inward. It is the definition of the moment of enlightenment for the Buddha. None of the images I considered were quite right, until I walked into a small antique shop on the east side of the Ping River in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I knew the moment I laid eyes on it that this was the bronze Buddha I’d been seeking. It spoke to me in a way that none of the others had. I carried it home and lovingly placed it on my altar but there was still something missing. My Buddha image needed to be awakened in a Buddha statue consecration ceremony.

Phrapalad Thanwa Khayantam places my brass Buddha on a pedestal in preparation for the Buddhist blessing ceremony

Phrapalad Thanwa Khayantam places my brass Buddha on a pedestal in preparation for the Buddhist blessing ceremony

With the help of my Thai friends, I identified a monk who spoke a little English, Phrapalad Thanwa Khayantam, who agreed to perform the ceremony. I met him one afternoon at at Wat Cheatawan, located just outside the walls of the Old City. He sat cross-legged on the floor and began by inspecting my Buddha image. He turned it upside-down and grunted with approval when he saw it was hollow and sand cast. I asked if he could read old Lanna script and pointed out the inscription on the base of the image. I explained that two different people had translated the inscription as, “Immortal Chiang Saen Buddha.” Phrapalad Thanwa agreed with their translation, adding that the image was very old, perhaps dating to the 12th century. He also opined that it came from Myanmar. Read More

Consecrating my Bronze Buddha Statue in Chiang Mai, Thailand

I admit it. My travel stamina is not what it used to be. As I’ve aged, long-haul flights have become more difficult. I can tolerate eight or nine hours but anything longer than that and I’m in misery. These days I break up my itinerary whenever possible. On a recent trip home to Thailand, I stopped for a day in Frankfurt, Germany, before continuing on to Bangkok.

Though I usually dislike visiting a city for just a day or two, in this case it was the perfect amount of time to discover the highlights of Frankfurt. I walked across the pedestrian bridge over the River Main to the historic Old Town. The love-lock strewn bridge provided a lovely view of the ornate Gothic spire of Frankfurt Cathedral, as well as Saalhof, the historic customs house and the oldest building in town.

Römer, a complex of nine houses that today form the Frankfurt City Hall

Römer, a complex of nine houses that today form the Frankfurt City Hall

I began my self-guided tour in Römerberg square, site of the Altstadt (Old Town). One side of the square is dominated by the Römer, a complex of nine houses that today form the Frankfurt city hall (Rathaus). One of Frankfurt’s most important landmarks, it was built by a wealthy merchant family, which sold it to the city in 1405. In addition to housing municipal offices, community halls in the Römer are popular venues for weddings. But the best known room, located on the second floor, is the Kaisersaal (Emperor Hall), where emperors were crowned and feted during the days of the Holy Roman Empire. Read More

A Delightful Day in Frankfurt, Germany

A salty sea-scent hung in the air as I strolled around the historic Hanseatic Wharf in Bergen. In earlier centuries, the fragrance would have been a bit more, well…ripe, to be kind. I tried to imagine how it must have smelled in centuries past, when the fishing fleet delivered thousands of tons of codfish to the pier every year. First, the livers of the cod were cut out, stuffed into giant vats, and set out under a blistering summer sun. The fish fermented in the heat, forcing the cod liver oil to rise to the top, where it could be skimmed off. The gutted fish were hung up on racks to dry or split and salted to make klipfish, while the roes were salted in enormous oak wine vats. In later years, cod liver oil was extracted by boiling or steaming, but I doubt that would have improved the smell around the wharf. In a word, it must have reeked.

Old wooden guild houses in Bryggen, location of the original Hanseatic Wharf in Bergen, Norway

Old wooden guild houses in Bryggen, location of the original Hanseatic Wharf in Bergen, Norway

Bergen was founded in 1070 by King Olaf III Haraldsson. From the beginning, it was an important trading center. Wood and furs were major exports, but it was codfish that had the most impact. Fish was in demand in Europe, as Catholics could not eat meat on Friday. The federation of north German towns and cities known as the Hanseatic League took notice. Formed in the 12th century, the league established trade centers that stretched from Russia to Britain. For more than 400 years it monopolized trade around the Baltic Sea, especially in salt and fish. By the 14th century, the league had taken over the codfish trade and turned Bergen into one of the largest cities in northern Europe. Read More

Bergen, Norway – A City Built by Codfish

Geiranger Skywalk atop Dalsnibba Mountain viewpoint in Norway

A still photo can barely convey the magnificence of the Norwegian landscape, but this view from the Geiranger Skywalk, perched on the craggy peak of Dalsnibba Mountain, comes close. We’d driven to the top along a ribbon of winding road, a portion of which can be seen at the bottom of the valley. Mesmerized by an otherworldly landscape of warped rocks and deep blue glacial lakes, conversation virtually stopped in the bus. We scrambled from side to side, snapping photos of one spectacular view after another.

But nothing we had seen during the ride compared to the panorama that spread before us as we crested the mountain. Norway’s glaciers dripped down every peak like cream cheese frosting on a vast, crumbling cake. In awe, I climbed out of the bus and battled the blustery, frigid winds to reach the Geiranger Skywalk. Gingerly, I stepped out Read More

The Seven Sisters Waterfall in Geiranger Fjord, Norway

It’s a tale of eternal, unrequited love. Deep within Geiranger Fjord, Seven Sisters waterfall plummets from vertical cliffs into the ultramarine waters of Norway’s most stunning gorge. The name of the waterfall is no mystery. In times of heavy rainfall, its twining strands resemble the hair of seven women. Directly across the fjord another waterfall gazes longingly at the sisters. Legend says that this second cascade, known as “The Suitor,” asked one of the sisters for her hand in marriage. When she declined, he proposed to the second sister, only to suffer the same rejection. Seven times asked and seven times shunned, the Suitor turned to the bottle. As my ferry boat sailed past, the unmistakable shape of a Jim Beam whisky bottle emerged from the rocks. Read More