Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Remembering Sao Paulo . . .

When we come home from travels, what do we remember?

From one short month in Brazil, I remember our first days in Sao Paulo, its wide, palm-lined trees, its curious air of gentility despite the grand vistas of a major city (I was stunned to realize 19 million people live in its metropolitan area).

But our neighborhood was quiet, a small posada now closed that we found by searching that most valuable travel planner, the Lonely Planet.

Out for walks past mellow, yellow flowering vines, past the central plaza, we would turn a corner and see a street mural, outrageously vibrant and colorful, art that pleased everyone.

Street Mural, Sao Paulo (Camp 2009)

Fresh, flaky croissants for breakfast in a street side cafe. Unforgettable coffee. 

Coffee in Sao Paulo (Camp 2009)

I remember those first unhurried days before the desire to see everything overtook us.

This was our first stop in a four month trip through South America beginning in January, 2009 -- one month each in Brazil, Argentina, a ten-day cruise around the Horn with friends, and then to Uruguay, Chile and Peru. Somewhere as we crossed the border from Chile into Peru, I lost my notebooks and my laptop, so only those photos and notes that were uploaded into this travel blog remain.

For this September, I shall write about this trip and remember.

How do you keep your travels close?

Monday, August 19, 2013

5 UNESCO must-see sites in Spain

Today, my guest blogger, Tiffany Olsen, will take us to Spain, to four of her five recommended sites I have only read about -- so far. But I do have memories of two weeks in Spain  -- where I yet remember Cordoba, home of the greatest collection of works by El Greco, an afternoon drinking sangria and riding in a horse-drawn carriage, and, my favorite, Granada, where I fell in love with the Moorish Alhambra and was cursed by gypsies for having an 'evil eye'.   

Perhaps one day, we'll join those pilgrims who follow the Camino Santiago de Compostela and I'll wander by the Courtyard of the Lions at the Alhambra once again.

5 UNESCO Must-See Sites in Spain
by Tiffany Olsen

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has worked for decades to identify, protect and preserve sites and cities from all over the globe that are deemed precious to the culture and heritage of everyone in the world. With close to a thousand sites making the list, it's impressive to note that Spain is near the very top with over 40 locations being declared valuable. The European country stands out even more once you learn that 13 of those sites have actually been declared as World Heritage cities. The embodiment of so much historical richness makes Spain the ideal travel destination for just about anyone. Whether you're interested in the Camino Santiago de Compostela, monuments or ancient architecture, each of these recognized cities are worth visiting at least once in a lifetime. Here are 5:

Santiago de Compostela
Colexiata do Sar, Santiago de Compostela 07
Santiago de Compostela (Creative Commons)
Santiago is widely viewed as the final destination of Camino Santiago de Compostela (which UNESCO has claimed a heritage site as well), but aside from the pilgrimage, the city has much to offer on its own. The centerpiece of Santiago de Compostela is the grand cathedral, which is rumored to house the remains of the Apostle James, but roaming around beyond this, tourists will discover numerous things to fall in love with.

Ibiza is overwhelmed with tourists every year who come to party and experience the beautiful environment, but many never even realize they've come to a UNESCO recognized city. Much more than a party scene, the island of Ibiza is the hometown to some of Spain's most traditional sites, which encompass the country's role in the military, economy and settlement.

Cordoba is home to the great Mosque-Cathedral, which is a magnificent sight to see for any tourist, but it also serves to showcase the past religious struggles that have been such a big part in shaping Spain's culture. With one of the largest old towns in all of Europe, Cordoba boasts some of the most alluring spots to take in (i.e. the Jewish quarter, Fernandine churches, sculptures, gardens, parks and bridges).

Catedral de Santa María la Real de la Almudena - 08
St Peter,

Catedral de Santa María la Real de la Almudena

(Creative Commons)
Salamanca has a golden tint to it from the yellow sandstone that most of its buildings are made of. Another significant university city, Salamanca welcomes students from all over the world and provides a superior academic experience that complements its recognition as an intellectual and cultural hub with its treasured cathedrals, palaces, public square and more.

The old town of Caceres has sustained its melting pot of Roman, Renaissance, Moorish and Gothic influences and cultures for many, many years, which is sure to have captured the attention of UNESCO. Since it has gone unchanged for centuries, the city's aesthetically pleasing architecture, including towers, churches and homes, still stands tall as proof of a heavily defended history and is easily accessed as a stop along the famous Camino Santiago de Compostela.

Claustro de la colegiata del Santo Sepulcro, Calatayud, España, 2012-08-24, DD 02 

Catedral de Santa María la Real de la Almudena  (Creative Commons)

The UNESCO committee has seen the great value in Camino Santiago de Compostela and these other amazing Spanish cities.

Hopefully one day you'll be able to observe the beauty of architecture influenced by cultures all over the world and the captivating appeal of many other sights that these cities hold.

For a full list of the UNESCO World Heritage Cities, please visit:

Tiffany Olson hails from Northern California and has a special passion for travel. She worked for 7 1/2 years at an international hostel in San Diego and over that time, came to fall in love with travel and all of the amazing benefits that it can have on a person. Spain is on the top of her list for places to visit next time she plans a trip abroad. License: Image author owned.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The most beautiful bookstore in the world . . .

I would say that nearly any bookstore is wonderful, but my vote for the most beautiful bookstore goes to a bookstore in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Originally built as a theater in 1919, the El Ateneo Grand Splendid offers book lovers a truly unique experience, complete with romantic murals and architecture.

Facing the door at El Ateneo

Available at the coffee shop at El Ateneo
(Note: coffee in Buenos is superlative!)
Facing the stage at El Ateneo
Imagine sitting in one of those box seats, snuggled up with a book -- Spanish or English, it really doesn't matter any more.

Eden Mabee's post on what to blog about when you have the blahs led me to Bookshelf Porn, a site highlighting pictures of amazing libraries and bookstores  -- which reminded me of one afternoon when we took time away from traveling through Argentina to visit this bookstore.

Thank you, Eden.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Facing into that last journey . . .

A friend's husband has an incurable disease, and he's a little less strong every day. A photo she posted on her blog shows him resting into himself, still able to talk, but his voice is softer every day. She said she didn't know what to do. She knows his death approaches, but she doesn't know how to prepare for that last breath, that last goodbye.

The simple truth is that we are not prepared to let go of those we love, and we each must find our own way. Some are cradled with religious belief. Some have strong families. Some face the death of a loved one alone.

I can only share what I learned when my sister's husband died two years ago.

First, he was cared for at home until that was impossible.

At hospice, my sister moved into his room. She was with him every day and every night. She held his hand, and she comforted him. Family and friends came to say their farewells. On the very last day, two cousins he had been close to came with their guitars. His last twenty-four hours, he was surrounded by all the songs he loved all his life, my sister by his side.

A large, public memorial service comforted us all.

At his wish, he was cremated. His 'cremains' rested in my sister's night stand for over a year until she was ready to let go. They had talked of scattering his ashes in the mountains or at sea; either would have been acceptable.

About a year later, my sister and I drove into the mountains one morning, past the nature trails and picnic areas, high into the mountains where the sweep of the valley could be seen far below. She carried his cremains in a backpack, and we walked up a narrow mountain road.

She wasn't sure where she would stop or what she would do next. Suddenly, his container fell from the backpack with a thud.

"He's telling me this is the place," said my sister.

We walked off road and found a flat open space encircled by pine trees, with a vista of the mountains and the valley below. A quiet ceremony with burial and prayers followed. My sister and I stayed in that place until it seemed right to leave.

I like to think of him in that special place. He was well loved and that's the memory I hold dear.

When I shared my experiences with friends, I was surprised by how many people I knew had quietly done the same -- simply scattering the ashes as their loved ones wished. State laws are inconsistent, so research is needed. Permission is also needed if you plan to bury on private land. According to the National Cremation Society, about half of all people in the United States now prefer cremation. Some families elect to bury the ashes; some keep them. And about one-third scatter the ashes of their loved one. As we did.

Trail near Anthropological Museum,
University of British Columbia, Vancouver (Camp)
I haven't feared death for a long time, perhaps since that day, some 40 years ago, when I hit a patch of ice, the car twirled around, and I slammed into a bank, half ejected, with the car on top of me. What saved me that day was that bank of mud I landed on. But I remember that moment of twirling, the vista of the mountains serene, the blue sky above. I remember thinking my life had been beautiful, each day, and it was enough.

Now retired, grateful each day for husband, family, and grandchild, I cherish each day.


Cremation Solutions. "Scattering Ashes -- Laws & Regulations." 2009.

Lovejoy, Bess. "Cremation is On the Rise But Where to Put the Ashes?" Time. June 13, 2013. Online:

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Travels with Paul Kane . . . in 1846.

While doing research on the artist Paul Kane, I found this lovely 14-minute video, "Paul Kane Goes West." The film highlights Kane's paintings and sketches made over a three-and-a-half trip across Canada to Fort Vancouver and Fort Victoria between 1846-1850.

What intrigues me most is that Kane travelled over 3,000 miles to observe and record Native Americans throughout Canada and in the Pacific Northwest. Many helped him along the way; several tribes invited him to sit in on various ceremonies as his artistic talent had, they believed, magical properties. 

Paul Kane c. 1850 (Wikipedia)
Kane had met the famous American artist George Catlin in Europe and was inspired by Catlin's argument that Native American culture was disappearing. 

Without money, somehow Kane persuaded George Simpson, the head of the Hudson's Bay Company, to sponsor his trip west. Simpson originally had reservations that Kane could handle the hardships of the trip, but commissioned several works from Kane and later helped Kane publish his book in London. 

Interestingly, Kane lost his eyesight and died rather young, at 61, but not before marrying, settling down in Toronto, and fathering four sons. 

While the sharp contrast between the diary Kane kept on his journey and his later published 'official' recounting of his travels has led some to suggest ghost writers rewrote much of his original diary, I was able to find Kane's travel book online here

Paul Kane. The Wanderings of an Artist among the Indians of North America from Canada to Vancouver's Island and Oregon through the Hudson's Bay Company's Territory and Back Again. London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans & Roberts (1859). This book reproduces many of Paul Kane's vivid paintings and sketches of peoples and lands now difficult to envision.

Also, Diane Eaton and Sheila Urbanek's Paul Kane's Great Nor-West,Vancouver: UBC Press, 1995, presents and analyzes his paintings, sketches, and writings. What an amazing journey.