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My Perfect Hour in Venice

venice-gondolas-sunrise-san-marco

The shrillest sound of early morning Venice is no sound at all. As I slide across the cobblestones, my rubber soles grip the alleys, sticky but silent. The sun and the moon are invisible, in that tiny wedge of time when dawn is darkest and daytime about to announce itself. Even the motorized vaporetti boats have taken a break [...]

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Preparing for Venice: Is There Anything Left to Discover?

storm over venice, italy

I’m less than 48 hours from flying to Venice and I’m not sure how I feel about it at all. My last trip to Venice was around 1985, to meet friends from Montreal a year after my move to Europe. That’s more than 30 years ago, and here’s what I remember: crowds, terrible and expensive food, cheap [...]

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The Unusual and Not-So-Secret Brotherhoods of France

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She wears a leprechaun green hat, her velvet cape wrapped around her body in the cold. Around her neck hangs an olive green ribbon, holding up a bronze medallion. The operative word is olive. Meet Madame Laget, one of the few women in the Brotherhood of the Knights of the Olive Tree, a not-so-secret organization [...]

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What the Heck is a European Capital of Culture?

Guimaraes, European Capital of Culture

And what does that have to do with a bunch of cows migrating across downtown Marseille? Plenty. Because the transhumance  - the migration of herds between pastures - was staged during Marseille's tenure as European Capital of Culture for 2013. Yes, culture, one of those terms so broad it could strangle you. It can mean the arts... painting, theater, dance, poetry, [...]

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Why I’m Finally Giving Up On Spelling

Photo John Keogh via Flickr cc

Please, keep breathing - let me explain. I've decided effective communication is more important than spelling. There. I've said it. Now before you march down to the comments section and start pelting me with pencil shavings, please hear me out. I'm a trained journalist, not a grammatical vandal, and while your toes may be curling and your hair [...]

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The Fascinating Story of the Indonesian Rijsttafel

Lithograph after an original work by Rappard, The Rice Table. Photo Tropenmuseum, part of the National Museum of World Cultures

The fascinating thing about the Indonesian rijsttafel is that it isn't Indonesian at all: it is a Dutch invention. Indonesian food is involved, of course, but the construct is a product of colonial Holland, which ruled Indonesia - calling it the Dutch East Indies - for more than 350 years. Because yes, initially the Dutch colonists avoided the [...]

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2015: You Were NOT What I Expected

Lagoon Sri Lanka

I’m standing in line waiting for my chicken. It’s two days before Christmas and in my village (as in thousands across France) we order our holiday fowls well ahead of time. I’m impatient to greet my poulet de Bresse, which the ever-modest French consider the ‘best chicken in the world’. After the requisite 20 minutes in line, the [...]

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Wild Rides in the Philippine Cordilleras

Filipino Jeepney

The rains come early to the Cordilleras this year and we watch as the waters rise from the river below. Slowly, inexorably, a few bushes disappear each day. Our food supplies dwindle. We’ve eaten more than half our sardines and two-thirds of our rice. The tempting coconuts are stuck up in their trees, the slick palm trunks [...]

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Yes, You Can Get Lost in the Amazon

Amazon rainforest Brazil

I didn’t think I’d ever find my way out. The two children spoke a language I had never heard before. I tried Portuguese, and then used my hands in a clumsy version of charades. I even attempted to imitate a car on a road but their raised eyebrows hinted that they might have never seen either. [...]

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My Accidental Dinner Date with Royalty

Iftar dinner Abu Dhabi

I didn't know what to do with my hands. I thrust one out to shake his, but that didn't feel quite right. I hung my arms by my side and that felt worse. Finally I compromised. I clasped my hands together in front of me, waiting for a sign from each of the white-clad Arabs [...]

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How We Celebrate Bastille Day in France

French Air Force 14 July

Bastille Day is July 14 - but you'll find the French celebrating several days beforehand. Like this. The Fête Nationale, as it's called here, or le 14 juillet, is the perfect excuse for a long weekend, often combined with the summer holidays. The weekend before it is usually labelled 'black', a dangerous driving day during which everyone [...]

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Hambantota International: The World’s Emptiest Airport?

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The dual carriageway could be anywhere… Germany, the US, Sweden… Its sharp new signs direct traffic off a wide ramp towards the spiffy airport, still smelling of clean since its inauguration in 2013. Except that my car is the only one on this road. I share part of the highway with a herd of buffalo. [...]

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