Homeschooling From Florence

Our daughter’s 7th grade classmates back home are currently studying the Renaissance so it’s fortunate that we’ve been in Florence for a month. While she is missing the day-in and day-out assignments that her classmates are getting, she’s living and breathing the Florence of Michelangelo. de’Medici, Brunelleschi, Savanarola et al., as we walk around and explore the city each day. She’s also reading Irving Stone’s fictionalized biography of Michelangelo “The Agony and the Ecstasy.” I knew she was getting a lot out of the book when she got very excited about seeing Michelangelo’s “Prisoners” at Florence’s Accademia. She breathlessly explained to us how Michelangelo felt he did not create a sculpture; he simply allowed the figure to escape from the stone.

Homeschooling in general is not that difficult; it’s a matter of knowing what the kids should be learning and focusing them on it. As for knowing what to study, most states post their grade-level education standards on their state web sites. For our state, California, I cut and pasted those standards into a long Excel spreadsheet. My wife and I looked through it and decided that we needed to follow the guidelines with respect to Math, Science and History but we would do our own thing for everything else. For Math it was easy; her middle school teacher and principal allowed her to follow with the class and access both the on-line textbook and homework assignments. For History and science it was a little more difficult. This is where I harnessed the power of the World Wide Web to find the materials we needed. First I typed in “7th grade history textbook California” and found many textbook web sites (Holt Rinehart Winston, Prentice Hall, Glencoe, etc.) but all of them were password protected. Then I added two words to my search string that made a big difference: “username” and “password” and voila! I found several teachers’ sites that gave out the username and password for forgetful students. From there it was just a matter of getting into the textbook and making an off-line copy. With digital copies of history and science textbooks for our kids, we were set for their homework in those areas, even if we ever found ourselves without an Internet connection.

While poring over textbooks has its place, it pales in comparison to experiencing a place first hand…and nothing complements that experience like reading books and watching movies set there. My son has a pretty good feel for the end of the Ottoman Empire in present-day Turkey after having seen Peter Weirs’ “Gallipoli” and having read de Bernieres’ “Birds Without Wings.” Both kids can now breeze through biographies on Julius and Augustus Caesar (Freeman and Everitt, respectively) after having seen every episode of HBO’s “Rome” series. (see earlier entry on this here)

We walked by a statue last week and my daughter said, “That’s Michelangelo! See his broken nose? He thought of himself as kind of ugly…that’s why he liked to make plain-looking people beautiful.” Yes, our daughter is getting behind on her homework back home. Or is she?


Florentine Perfection

The quandary over where to spend your time in Italy is a good problem to have. We had allocated seven weeks but we had come up with a preliminary list of locations and sights that would take us several months to see. Whenever we feel overburdened by the sheer amount of things to do and see, we follow our traveler’s instincts and cut back on the itinerary and try to experience more by doing less. Fortunately, my wife has a knack for finding perfect short-term vacation apartments – years of finding great Lake Tahoe condos for family ski weekends have honed her skills. More recently her resume includes us a week in a spacious Athens apartment and three days in a perfectly-located Venice apartment, so when she told me that she’d found something interesting in Florence, she had my attention.

This is how we found our month-long Florence apartment rental located in the city center for a mere $59 dollars a night. While the price and the location sounded perfect, the apartment description sounded ideal, as well: Kitchen with dishwasher, washing machine, TV/DVD and wireless Internet connection. All these things have value; the time and expense needed for a family of four to eat three meals in restaurants, wash clothes in a Laundromat, go to a movie and visit an Internet café add up quickly.

Even though we booked late, we got the apartment and were thrilled upon arriving. The flat was in a converted monastery and was very large, light and airy, and had a view of the Brunelleschi’s Duomo from our west-facing windows. We now looked forward to a month in Florence in a perfect place. While I went around the corner to shop at the supermercato, our son enthusiastically went to work making the furniture arrangements more family friendly. He moved a futon near the window, centered the TV/DVD in front of the couch, set up the small table as an office/homework space for the laptops and organized his private nook. Our son loves things to be organized but more importantly, both he and our daughter love a little routine – no doubt a reaction to our moving about so much. His “nesting” behavior was a statement that he was going to have his “place” and no one was going to tell him to catch a train or a bus anywhere for the next month.

Everyone had their space and we were ready for our month-long assault on the capital of the Italian Renaissance. We had goals for our time in Florence. The kids would take Italian language class, we would visit most of the museums, sights and churches in the city and we would try to decide which of the many gelaterias in the city were best. We felt good about our decision to cut back on the Italian itinerary and focus our time in one place. When we thought things could not get any better, we learned the next day that it was European Culture Week and all the museums in Florence would be free for the next week. Now we had to decide how we’d see it all. That’s another good problem to have.


The Leaning Tower Of Pisa: Stairmaster Prototype

One of things that we were unprepared for when visiting Pisa’s Leaning Tower, was the sensation of climbing spiral stairs in a tower that leans a few degrees to one side. The best way to describe it is to compare it to a Stairmaster machine, and I’m wondering if the Stairmaster engineers climbed the Torre Pendente prior to the first launch of their wildly successful exercise machine in order to make sure that they got it right.

We visited the tower on an overcast Tuesday and timed our visit perfectly to coincide with a rainstorm as we parked our car near the Piazza Dei Miracoli. In addition to the climb, we were unprepared for the tower’s beauty. The arches and columns were elegant and the marble walls and interior were polished to white perfection. The town had thousands of towers in the late 12th century but it lacked a bell tower. A wealthy Pisan patroness bequeathed funds for the tower but it took over a hundred years to ultimately complete. Even during construction the tower started to lean due the local water table being so close to the surface. Once finished, the tower blended in perfectly with the Romanesque Duomo and Bapistry in the Piazza Dei Miracoli. For all its medieval splendor, it was the comparison to the modern Stairmaster that stuck with me.

It’s not that climbing the steps is a great workout. There are only 294 of them and visitors are motivated to make the trip quickly before the structure completes what it has already started. (Only 40 visitors are allowed at one time to make sure the Leaning Tower doesn’t have to come up with a new name) The similarity to a Stairmaster is due to the sensation of climbing alternating gradients. In my limited experience on a Stairmaster, I’ve marveled at how it can simulate climbing hills of various gradients, mixing in “steep” and “flat” climbs to give the user a balanced workout and recreate the sensation of a brisk walk in the hills.

We entered the tower and started our clockwise ascent up the marble stairs that spiral their way to the top. Imagining the footprint of the tower on the face of an analog clock, the entrance is at 6 O’clock and the tower leans to 3 O’clock. By the time we climbed to 12 O’clock, the sensation hit us: the gradient eased and it felt like we were walking “downhill” even though we were still climbing. Continuing our climb up, we wrapped around back to 6 O’clock and experienced the opposite: the climb became steeper and we felt like we were working harder to make it up the tower. At 3 O’clock and 9 O’clock we would lean either towards the inside or outside wall of the staircase and I wondered if the smooth, rounded depressions in the marble steps were made worse from centuries of climbers leaning to and from and side to side.(see photo) The experience was like a “fun house” in a circus or carnival, where you walk through a dark makeshift structure designed to challenge your senses. Along with image-distorting mirrors that make you look either fat or thin, there is often the room with a floor that tilts slightly, making you feel off-balance.

After 294 steps, we were slightly winded and made it to the top and admired the views on a rainy Tuscan day. We had about 15 minutes on the top and then it was time to go back down. The next group of 40 visitors were about to take their turn on the Pisa Stairmaster.


Safety Tactics On Cairo Streets: The Human Shield

I first heard the term "human shield" during the Iraq war in the 1990's, when the Iraqis were placing people near strategic military targets to deter the sites from being bombed. While the term entered my vocabulary 20 years ago, I'll bet the pedestrians of Cairo have had a word for it as long as they have had their serious traffic problems. Cairo traffic is so completely choked with cars and pedestrians that the safest way to cross a busy street is to keep the local Cairenes between you and the traffic. This works pretty well, especially if you've got gaggle of veiled Muslim women acting as your human shield.

Walking the congested streets of Cairo, this term popped into my head many times as, by experience, we discovered that this was the best way to cross the streets and not get killed. After a few days and many street crossings, the term became our rallying cry whenever we had to cross the street. My son delighted in yelling “human shield,” while running over to some locals, then turning to look at us with a big grin. We needed this tactic even if we wanted to cross the street in front of our hostel at midday just to go to our favorite bakery.

When you can't find your human shield, you have to improvise. We needed to cross a busy street on our way to the Khan il Khallilly bazaar but there were no locals to hide behind. A man stepped between my wife and daughter and tried to halt traffic for them to cross, while my son and I, smelling a potential baksheesh liability looming, looked the other way and started crossing on our own. Once we all crossed, I looked over to see if he had asked for baksheesh but he was no longer escorting my wife and daughter. A fat, veiled Muslim woman had grabbed him by the ear and was dragging him across the street. A small crowd had gathered to watch and we craned our necks to see the very public, one-sided fight. She was slapping him over and over again and our guess was that he had disgraced his wife by being seen in public with two western women with their heads uncovered. (more on aggressive Egyptians here: What is Suez Canal?)

There are many dangers on the Cairo streets: from heavy traffic to angry housewives. Do yourself a favor and always look for the human shield.

For more Travel Safety tips, visit featured Lonely Planet blog Todd's Wanderings


Corsica's Mare a Mare Sud: Travels With Uncle Berny

After visiting Uncle Berny’s ancestral home in Cap Corse (Corsica’s Cap Corse: Travels With Uncle Berny) we drove south along the eastern Corsican coast on our way to meet Berny’s friend Gael and his friends. Our plan was to meet Gael somewhere near the midpoint of Corsica’s Mare a Mare Sud (“southern sea to sea”) trek and hike with him for a few days. The drive down was punctuated frequently by Berny’s heavily-accented renditions of old Sinatra and Beatles tunes. On the way to Bastia, it was “Strangerz in zee night, what were zee chan-zes, eet turn out zo right, for strangzers in zee night. Dooby-dooby-doo…”

Every time Berny sang, my son would follow, slowly perfecting the thick Marseilles accent, until we all started cracking up. Past Aleria it was time for some Beatles: “I’d like to bee, unzer zee sea, in ze octopuzzes garden in zee rain.” We continued to roll along the Corsican coast, a coast that has brought the destiny of this island dubbed “La Montagne en Mer” (Mountain in the Sea). The ancient Greeks were here, in fact many believe the waters near the southern port town of Bonifacio are the setting for Homer’s Odyssey. In the middle ages it was the seafaring peoples from the Italian peninsula (first Pisa, then Genoa) that occupied Corsica. After a brief 13 years of independence from 1755 to 1768, the French have pretty much ruled the island, having acquired it 1768 from the Genoans.

We turned inland and the rugged mountains inspired a new tune. “Baby you can drive my car, Yez I’m going to bee a ztar, and baby I love you.” More giggles as we climbed up and over the craggy Col de Bavella, a dramatic mountain pass in the Alta Rocca region of southern Corsica. Near there, we passed the treacherous GR20, one of Europe’s toughest hikes, a 168 km ramble atop the mountainous spine of Corsica. By evening we arrived at our Gîtes d'Etape in Serra di Scodamene and had dinner with Gael, his wife and another couple. Gîtes d'Etapes are mountain refuges that offer dorm beds, communal showers, dinner and breakfast for between 35 to 45 Euros. Once we arrived, we chatted with Gael and friends and had a delicious dinner of vegetable soup, salad, beef stew, red wine and some custard for dessert. We stayed in three different gîtes while in Corsica and the food was uniformly good, the premises spotless and each one offered to pack us a bag lunch for an additional cost.

The next morning we started hiking through pine and chestnut trees with the only sounds being birds chirping and Bernard: “I’d like to bee, unzer zee sea, in ze octopuzzes garden in zee rain.” And rain it did. Much of the day, it drizzled on our way to Sainte Lucie de Tallano, one of Corsica’s oldest hill towns. The trail was rocky and littered with furry chestnut husks discarded by squirrels. Taking into account an hour to eat our lunch, we hiked for about six hours and our legs were sore when we arrived in Sainte Lucie. We took much-needed showers and had another delicious meal that night.

The next morning Berny rose from his bunk and said “Oh putain de con.” This particular combination of French swear words is extremely vulgar but coming from Berny, everyone in our group found it funny, including my son, who began perfecting his French accent. During and after the three days of hiking, every time Berny got up from a bed or chair, he frequently said the “p” word, as if to swear at his aching joints. While alone with Berny, I politely asked him to cut back on the “p” word around my son; less profanity and swearing and more Beatles and Sinatra.

The next day Gael and his friends moved on and we took a different route back to Serra di Scodamene, a route that covered 18 kilometers. We were mistakenly told it was a two hour hike; it took us over five hours, with the last hour a steep uphill. Berny kept us in good spirits by singing on that last stretch: “I’d like to bee, unzer zee sea, in ze octopuzzes garden in zee rain.”


Corsica's Cap Corse: Travels With Uncle Berny

Standing in the chilly Puno, Peru train station twenty-three years ago, no two people could have been more dissimilar. Bernard was a swarthy, French communist who didn’t speak English and hated Americans and I was a blond-haired, blue-eyed American capitalist who spoke no French, nor had ever been to France. We both were up before sunrise to buy tickets for the Puno to Arequipa train, a line that no longer runs. Peru in the 1980’s was more dangerous than it is now; local Peruvians advised us to band together for safety while on the train. In Spanish, Bernard said to me, “We can watch each other’s backpacks but we don’t have to talk.”

Despite the inauspicious start, we got along surprisingly well that day and traveled together for another two weeks in Peru before he had to head back home. Since then, Bernard and I have become very good friends. He has taken me on an eight week car trip in France; staying primarily with his communist friends scattered all over the country. I have shown him northern California, taking him to see San Francisco, the Redwood Country, Mendocino and we’ve climbed up the cables to the top of Yosemite’s Half Dome. He met my mother and I when we went to Paris in 2006 and our families spent a lot of time together when we did our Provence house exchange in 2002.

My son and I met Bernard – I call him “Berny” – for a week in Corsica and the first place we went was Cap Corse, the long narrow finger at the northeast corner of the island. I call him Berny and my son calls him Uncle Berny, perhaps as a way to de-Frenchify him, to tease him and make him seem more like a typical suburbanite in the U.S. The teasing goes both ways. He collects interesting knives from around the world and hangs them on the wall of his house in Marseilles. After he finally visited the U.S. he proudly showed me the new knife in his collection: a white plastic McDonald’s knife with its plastic wrapping intact.

The three of us went to see Bernard’s cousin and have a little genealogy lesson. We headed north towards the tip of Cap Corse, driving alongside Genoan watchtowers lining the Tyrrhenian Sea and past French-and-Corsican road signs with the French names spray-painted over. (There is a small independence movement in French Corsica; about 20% favor being independent) We arrived for lunch and Bernard’s cousin Phillipe and his wife Andre greeted us. While Andre prepared lunch, Phillipe gave us a tour of the convent. The convent was large, (perhaps 50,000 square feet), cavernous and cold. Uncle Berny can trace his family back to 1500 in Corsica and the family has been living in this renovated wing of the run-down convent in Rogliano for the past 200 years. The convent was taken by the state during the French Revolution and one of Uncle Berny’s family members had the foresight to buy it from the new government.

Uncle Berny and I communicate using a mélange of French, Spanish and English. When he suggested a year ago that we meet in Corisca, he wrote (in English) “It is very beautiful and the thumbs of my family are in the garden.” Thumbs? Was Uncle Berny a member of the Corsican mafia? A little clarification revealed that he meant “tombs.” We visited those tombs before lunch. They were in a modest plot overlooking the sea with long green grass starting to overtake the space. My son and I watched Berny lay down some flowers on the main tomb and we both wondered what it was like to have such a connection to a place.

Lunch was simple and typically Corsican. We started with warm figatellu sausage in a baguette. The intense flavor, seasoned by herbs from the local maquis that covers the island, was delicious even though it had a barnyard-like smell. Pasta with mushrooms from the local forest along with salad was eaten and washed down with a local Corsican rose. For the cheese course they brought out brocciu, the local specialty. The smell, just as intense and barnyard-like as the figatellu, was mitigated by the sweet fig jam that we spread on the cheese. It was a great meal and a great first day in Corsica.

My son and I envied Uncle Berny’s heritage and his connection to the past. Beyond the grandparents on both sides of my family, I know very little about my extended family. Perhaps this is why he has the ‘Uncle Berny” moniker; so that we can share a little of his connection to the past.


World Travel With...The Lonely Planet Bloggers

About six months ago AlpacaSuitcase was selected to join Lonely Planet’s beta Blogsherpa program. That means that posts are automatically fed to the appropriate destination page at the Lonely Planet web site. Lonely Planet has handpicked a great group of world travel bloggers and they’re listed below in this post along with a short description of their blog. I have read quite a few of them and they’re really good!

One of those travel bloggers, Brandon at has also listed every one over at World Travel, which has them all in one place with real time feeds as blog entries are posted. According to the World Travel site: Lonely Planet has selected the cream of the travel blogger crop to take part in their blogsherpa Beta program. All of the bloggers below syndicate their content live to the Lonely Planet website so that you can view their articles by location as you research travel destinations. The LP bloggers have banded together to bring you a complete, up to date view of the world by syndicating their content live to this squidoo lens. Sit back and take a trip around the planet with the premier world travel bloggers on the Internet...

Check out AlpacaSuitcase and other great world travel bloggers at World Travel.


A Lady in London
The adventures of a 20-something Californian living a fabulous life in London and traveling around the world.

A Traveler's Library
Travel and books and movies that inspire travel.

A View To A Thrill
Gives travelers ideas and tips on how to travel around the world on a budget. Our goal? To help you sample the world at a fraction of the price!

Lonely Planet Author Scott Kennedy blogging, taking photos and shooting video around the world. Adventure travel, outdoor activities and the adventure life are the focus.

Africa Attraction
Oliver Robinson - One of the three Gentleman Explorers

All Seasons Verona
Stories and experiences from my trips to Verona, Italy over the years and at different times of the year. An introspective description as I relate new experiences as a visitor of the city to my childhood growing up in Verona.

Alpaca Suitcase
California family escapes suburbia to volunteer, travel and homeschool their kids for a year: 6 months in South America and 6 months in the Mediterranean

Are we there Yet?
Stories from a mother of three school-age kids who travels the world whenever she gets a chance.

Barefoot Inked
Ever wanted to just jump in the deep end? Throw all the responsibilities and expectations of the real world away and just explore? Well, this girl is doing it solo and sunburnt in south east asia.

Bear Shaped Sphere
Expat in Chile blog. With a dash of wherever else I go, which can be anywhere!

Big City Blog
Sold it all - house, car, (not my soul though) - and am now based in Amsterdam, travelling throughout Europe.

Broke-Ass Stuart's Goddamn Website
We write for busboys, poets, social workers, students, artists, musicians, magicians, mathematicians, maniacs, yodelers and everyone else out there who wants to enjoy life not as a rich person, but as a real person. Namely, we write for you.

Brooke vs. the World
Brooke vs. the World is the rtw travel blog of a girl fulfilling her travel dreams one phase at a time. Travel/living in Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, Guatemala and Australia (and more!).

Cheap Weekend Breaks
Exploring Europe, one weekend at a time.

Coconut Radio
Lonely Planet author based in French Polynesia but covering everywhere from South America to Southeast Asia & more

Destination Anywhere
Sshiksa blog is a travel and photography blog, covering so far Mexico, Cuba, UK & Ireland and Morocco. I'm a 27 year old Estonian woman and the blog is about my travels the way i experience them, not so much as a guidebook or "how-to".

Diario de a bordo
Diario de a bordo is a diary about my travels around the world. It's written in Spanish but with English translations!

Dotted Route
Blog about traveling through SE Asia and my internship in Germany

Ever The Nomad
Lonely Planet author based in New York but always on the road, blogging about all things travel

First Time Travels
This travel blog was created to help first-travelers as they embark on something different. It is an assurance for every tourist and traveler that even the most seasoned one has started out as a neophyte.

Florence Journal
Living and tourism information for Florence, Italy.

Four Seas As Home
Living/traveling in China

Travel - Adventure - Life outside the box - Currently in Alaska

Ginger Beirut
Insight on Near Eastern society by an Englishwoman living in the Lebanese capital.

Grand Cycle Tour
An Aussie couple share their experiences of riding bikes around the world

Great Places in Bulgaria
Alternative tourism in Bulgaria - the real natural wealth of Bulgaria you won't find in brochures.

Happy Time Blog
Backpacking around the world on a budget

Heather on her travels
Travel inspiration and destination information from Europe and around the world with travel tales, photos, videos and podcasts

Hello, Pineapple?
Gap Year Blog. Told one day at a time, in no particular order

Hole In The Donut
Independent, long-term, solo travel around the world

I Am Koh Chang
All you need to know about the island of Koh Chang, Thailand. The good, the bad and the ugly. (Plus a bit of sarcastic humour.)

I Moved To Africa
I moved to Africa, traveling, experiencing life on a US Embassy compound and waiting for the recession to end.

Indian Bazaars
About the traditional bazaars in India

Innkeeper's Blog - Dove Inn Bed & Breakfast
Innkeeper's blog, Dove Inn B&B in Golden, CO

Inside the Travel Lab
Exploring the art and science of unusual journeys. Professional writer Abigail King travels around the world.

Itinerant Londoner
Travel around the world, within Europe, and in London. Also lots of hiking.

I've Been Meaning To Tell You...
The way I see it: world travel + girl = girl in love with world and happy to serve up her experiences to those interested in a dose of Turkish hospitality

Jeroxie - Addictive & Consuming
All about food and reviews in Melbourne and our travels around the world. happy to take travellers around on an eating adventure.

Jetsetting Joyce
The decisive guide to Brisbane, Australia

Jetsetting Joyce
The decisive guide to Melbourne, Australia

JJ's Travelogue
One Year+ Backpacking through Latin America. Going on 19 months of vagabonding through Central America, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina.

Just Wandering
Budget travel in the Philippines, Southeast Asia and Australia

Kate McVaugh's Rambles
travels in US, Mexico, Vietnam, or wherever i happen to land

La Tortuga Viajera
A travel resource and blog based on my experiences as an American living in Spain with my Spanish fiance.

Legal Nomads
Former corporate lawyer turned world traveler, with a focus on solo female travel, street food and exploring cultures in Asia.

Let's Do Something Different
A site mainly about travelling with children

Lex Paradise
All about travel in South Korea - Experience Sharing

Living the Dream
Graduate student traveling around the world on a budget showing others how to do the same

Love & Sex & Backpacking on the cheap
Love and Sex and Backpacking.

Malaysia Asia
A site dedicated to travel around Malaysia and Asia

Matthew's Travel Blog - My thoughts on everything
A travel blog focusing on the wierd, wonderful and more traditional aspects of Thailand. My website is South East Asia focused.

Midwesterner in Mexico
Mexico City + travels across Mexico, as seen through the eyes of a 6'2 blonde gringa :) Discover the side of Mexico that rarely makes the int'l news!

Museum Chick
I am a expat New Yorker living in Paris. I visit museums, art and special events around the world. I share my travel photos, stories about museum visits and art spotting with cultural information. I also have a MuseumKid section for parents.

Music Road

Muza-chan's Gate to Japan
Passionate about Japan, travel and photography;

My Bella Vita
A site about living and traveling in southern Italy, with a main focus on Calabria

My Kind of Town
Lonely Planet author based in Chicago and covering destinations in the USA, Canada, Caribbean and Europe.

My Trails
Travelling and taking pictures is my passion. MyTrails is about the places I've been, the experiences I've had, the things I've seen (through my camera lens) and the people I've met.

I am from Penang, Malaysia and currently living in Singapore. I am passionate about travelling - be it short trips around South East Asia or longer trips elsewhere. These are my reflections on my travels (and everything else that I love).

No Borders
Mara Vorhees is a writer and photographer who blogs about food, fun and adventure around the world. She has written guidebooks about Belize, Brazil, Costa Rica, Morocco, New England, Poland and Russia for Lonely Planet.

No Curry Curry
Two Americans who quit their jobs to go on a 10-month around the world honeymoon

Orange Polka Dot
A California mama living in Catalunya. My experiences raising two young children as an expat family, local events and curiosities about culture, tradition and food.

Around the world travel with focus on Asia, solo female travel and expat living

Passed Ports
Anecdotes from a year around the world

Patrina Does the Globe
Stories from our round the world honeymoon and other travel tips

A travel journalist's confessions

Life in different countries and cultures around the world

Roving Gastronome
Food and travel writing by guidebook author Zora O'Neill -- adventures in Astoria and beyond

Personal odissey through Indonesia and Asia

Seat of our pants
Currently in Sweden. Next: Turkey, UK, US

Send The Bugger Back
The travel log of a bugger ... this site covers my adventures in 30+ countries in 3 continents so far.

Sophie's World
Sophie wanders the world, mostly with kids, sometimes solo.

Suzy Guese
Traveling with a redheaded temperament, sharing tips, rants, and stories

Teach Travel Play
Stories, tips and photos from a year teaching in South Korea and other adventures along the way.

The Brink of Something Else
Born as a blog about long-haul travel and my continual search for new experiences, The Brink has taken a somewhat unexpected turn as I've found myself setting up full time in Cusco, Peru, and starting a different sort of journey - opening my own hostel.

The Hussainity Defense
Humorous, sarcastic and sad stories of kind of special encounters that occur during my world trip post an existential crisis caused by turning 30, being laid off from my job as a corporate attorney, and remembering my passion for art, writing and surfing.

The Planet D
The world is one big adventure playground and Dave and Deb want to prove to other travelers that you don't have to be an elite athlete to have an adventure. Their motto is "Anyone can do it!"

Environmental site

The Saturation Point of Bells
Expat Melbournite living in Edinburgh and making up for a few decades of lost travel time.

The Silent I
Family Travels around the world, including Greenland, Libya, Galapagos, Iguazu Falls, and Asia.

The Turkish Life
The travels, linguistic misadventures, and observations of an American expat living in Turkey.

The View from Fez
The main English language site for Morocco, contributors include a Lonely Planet author and two established authors and photographers as well as casual contributions from visiting journalists.

The World Is A Book
Travel and reading blog

This is Ghana Guide and Blog
Ghana, blogging and social entrepreneurship

Tie Dye Travels
Former TV producer discovers the real world, shares tales from Arkansas and across the United States. Tie Dye Travels focuses on longform storytelling; Eat Arkansas is the food blog for Arkansas food lovers.

Todd's Wanderings
Travel, adventure, advice and food from 10 years on the road...and counting

Trans-Americas Journey
Overland Journey through North, Central & South America

Travel With DenDen
About slow travel and sometimes expat experiences. At the moment focusing on Europe, mainly Switzerland

Traveling Naturally
Green Earth Guide author - I write about green/eco traveling mostly in Europe and the USA

Travelling Wakanoobies
Travel as we see it, all around the world.

Uncommon Travel

Unpopped Collar
Travel, Social Entrepreneurship and my random adventures

Morocco Life, World Travels, Vagabond Info

Viva Latin America!
Travels in Central and South America - advise for travellers etc

What Up, Vienna?
Americans living as expats in Vienna and traveling through Europe.


Dream Patterns, Weave Memories: Nilda Callanaupa

As Published in Hand/Eye Magazine on November 14, 2009

Nilda Callanaupa and CTTC work to preserve Peruvian textile traditions

Nilda Callañaupa, founder and director of the Centro de Textiles Tradicionales de Cusco (CTTC), is a woman on a mission. As a young girl growing up in the 1960’s in her home village of Chinchero, most weaving was of inferior quality with synthetic fibers and DayGlo colors. Learning traditional weaving techniques from the elders and educating herself at university (the first person from her village to do so), she began to encourage, teach and support what she had learned. During the turbulent political crisis of the 1980’s and early 1990’s Nilda remained focused on her mission. In 1996 she founded CTTC in order to further promote and preserve traditional Andean weaving techniques.

Although Peru is in a period of relative economic and political stability, Nilda remembers the political crisis during the 1980’s when she was a university student. “You could feel it,” she says. “Friends you knew went missing; some were captured by the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), or were sent to jail. I saw it and knew it was happening and there was a general feeling of fear in the town.” Violence like this obviously impacts a community, both emotionally and economically; tourism in Peru suffered greatly during this time. “Because of Sendero Luminoso, there were not many tourists here in Cusco, so many young people went to Lima looking for greater opportunity. That affected us a lot. The production of textiles for everyday use did not change much…weavers were still weaving, but the production of textiles for tourists declined greatly.”

Shining Path leader Abimael Guzmán was captured in 1992 and the era of terrorism soon ended. In 1996 Nilda started CTTC: “It would not have been possible to start CTTC in the 1980’s. Many non-profits were leaving Peru and some foreign volunteers were killed, especially in Ayacucho. During this time there was no CTTC project but I was doing it anyway. I noticed that there was a lot of demand for high quality textiles…mainly by collectors. Many grandmothers lost their beautiful woven heirlooms, either by selling them to collectors or having them stolen. I wanted to expand this high-quality end of the market and also return to the traditional weaving techniques of the past.” With Shining Path subdued and tourists coming back to Cusco, Nilda was ready to exert a leadership role. “When we started the center in 1996, political turmoil was behind us, tourists were coming back and the market was ready for us. It all came together.”

Thanks in large part to CTTC, traditional Andean textiles are blossoming and youngsters aren’t moving to Lima anymore. Nilda acknowledges that income plays a part in this, but she also sees this as an expression of cultural identity. “Well, I’d say that part of the motivation for the younger generation was the financial opportunity, but for many people who had these traditional weaving skills, it was a way to show status in their community…something to be proud of…and it was good for their self-esteem.”

As Nilda looks into the future, she sees indigenous Andean textiles evolving. “At this stage, I am seeing more creation of new products that are more acceptable to world-wide markets. I’m talking about products that are more functional, like wall hangings, placemats, pillow covers, clothing and jackets.” CTTC will host the Encuentro de Tejedores de las Americas in October 2010, inviting weavers from all over the Americas to come to Cusco to share knowledge and experiences with one another. “It’s my dream. Most importantly, it’s an opportunity for the weavers to share with one another and to let them say what they have to say.”

For more information about CTTC, visit’s book Weaving in the Peruvian Highlands: Dreaming Patterns, Weaving Memories (ISBN 978-1-59668-055-5) can be purchased at


Venice Walking Tour: Leave The Map Home

As a person who prides himself on finding anything with a halfway decent map, Venice had me confounded. I’d check our location, take note of what was coming up (Three turns: first left at the next corner, second left at calle vendra-something, then a right to reach the square) and almost every time I’d wind up nowhere near where we wanted to go. It got to the point where after each corner, I’d stop to consult the map to see if we were on the right track. Prior to coming to Venice, my wife and I talked about doing the six-hour walking tour in our guidebook. With gondolas expensive, cars nonexistent and plenty of things to see, this seemed like a great idea, but now we weren’t so sure.

Venice is built on 117 small islands connected by 400 bridges over 150 canals. There are no automobiles and the only modes of transport are either walking or taking a gondola, vaporetto or traghetti on the canals. Aside from the Grand Canal, there is no principal thoroughfare and the pedestrian walkways turn at almost every corner. Streets are not straight, vias veer at all angles and squares (campos) are not square. With calles going off in all directions and fondamentas ending abruptly, it is extremely easy to get lost.

I guess the question is: does it matter if you get lost? With one of the most beautiful cities in the world in front of you, would you rather spend your time looking up at the gothic architecture or looking down at a map? Everything you see in Venice is old, unique, beautiful and worthy of inclusion in a walking tour, anyway. We didn’t mind getting lost because around every corner was something interesting to see. A wrong turn meant seeing a beautiful Gothic church, a gondolier poling down a canal or a tower leaning slightly to one side.

Venice’s physical environment is indeed unique but so is its history. Interestingly for us, it had nothing in common with the places we’d been to on our trip. In South America it’s a familiar theme: the Spanish, and to a lesser extent the Portuguese, colonize the continent about 450 years ago and in the 1820’s most of them get their independence from their European masters. The details are different but the story is the same. In the Eastern Mediterranean, once Egypt’s great civilization is on the wane, it’s all about the Greeks, whether they’re Mycenaeans, Spartans, Athenians, Macedonians or Byzantines. The Romans ruled for quite a while but they begrudgingly admired the Greeks (their gods were renamed Greek gods) and the Renaissance was a rediscovery of Greek ideals. Traveling through the eastern Mediterranean, most of the places we visited told a story of Greek, Roman, and to a lesser extent, Ottoman occupations. Again the details are different but the story is the same.

After two days of walking around and getting lost, my wife and I had pretty much decided that we weren’t going to do the walking tour. We were having too much fun discovering things along the back streets and side canals and by now we were starting to learn how to get around without a map. From that point on the map stayed in our apartment.

This post is part of Denise Pulls' Blogsherpa Blog Carnival Memorable City Experiences at Travel With DenDen.