The Big List of Highlights and Lowlights

By: leelefever on January 4, 2007 - 3:54pm

This is such a hard thing for us to do. To list the best or worst experiences, countries, cities, etc. is like trying to list a year’s worth of your favorite foods.  The complexity and variety of a year's places or experiences can’t be boiled down to a list so easily.  So, we’ve done our best to provide a few lists that reflect some of the highlights and lowlights of the trip. The items in the lists are in no particular order.

The links below link to corresponding dispatches or keywords on the site.

Favorite Countries Overall

Favorite Experiences


Not-So-Favorite Experiences

Favorite Cities

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Why Los Angeles?

By: leelefever on December 9, 2006 - 12:02pm

Why Los Angeles?, originally uploaded by LeeLeFever_TwinF.

We've heard interesting responses when I tell people that I'm excited about my first visit to Los Angeles. Among them: "Eh, its not that great", "don't bother", and simply "why?"

While LA has problems, I think residents and former residents just like to pick on the city in a self depricating sort of fashion. I am excited to have the LA experience, freeways and all. Even Sachi thinks that is a little weird.

I'm not interested in LA because of the celebrities, movie studios, the Sunset Strip or the Mann's Chinese Theater. I want to see those things, but what draws me to LA is the fame (or infamy) of the city itself. On a worldwide scale, Los Angeles is very well known and to many foreigners we met, one of the most coveted destinations in the US. We were both surprised to hear this as Americans would likely suggest alternatives to LA for a visit. Like me, they are interested in LA because it's famous more than beautiful, interesting or atmospheric. It is famously American.

I've run into this feeling many times on the trip - I want to see a city, a building, a sculpture not because I value it, or can even appreciate it, but because it is so famous. An example is Michaelangelo's "David", which is an amazing work of art, but one whose world wide fame supercedes its workmanship in my eyes. If you strip away all the fame, the experience of seeing the David is less exciting. In this way, fame is not a factor of quality, but quantity. I want to experience it because I've heard about it so many times.

And so it is for LA and me. The fame of the place itself, its problems, its beauty, its freeways, materialism and culture - it's interesting to me not because of its quality, but how much a part of the American experience it represents. Good or bad, LA is an experience I want to have.

The Sad and Sometimes Beautiful State of European Graffiti

By: leelefever on November 15, 2006 - 2:05am

The graffiti people should be hanged” – that is what I heard from a business owner in Lisbon, where graffiti is starting to take over nearly every inch of space in the Barrio Alto area of the city.  Walking through the Barrio, the graffiti is so dominant that it starts to blend into the look of the streets as if it is a mélange of paint and shapes.  In some ways, it gives the Barrio a unique and atmospheric feel while at the same time being messy and senseless.  Mostly it's messy and senseless.

And so it is for a lot of Europe from our experiences.  In nearly every city we have been saddened by the amount of graffiti sprayed onto walls with aerosol cans in languages that we mostly don’t understand – except the popular “Bush” reference.  Some locals don’t really mind – it’s as if it is a part of living in the city.  Indeed, it seemed that they had stopped noticing it and accepted it as normal and acceptable.  For me, it is mostly not acceptable even realizing that graffiti has been around since the ancient Roman Empire.

I have enough of a counter-culture lean to like some forms of graffiti. It is an art form and there are incredibly talented people who do their work with aerosol cans and public walls.  Unfortunately, these are the exceptions.  99% of the graffiti we’ve seen is not an attempt at art, but what appears to be late-night scribbles by disaffected individuals that wish to state publicly their discontent with politics, football, the environment, their personal lives, etc.  This is the sad and ugly graffiti that plagues Europe.

There is of course, a beautiful side as we saw in Paris and Lisbon.  Stencil graffiti, works done by spraying paint over a pre-cut piece of paper or cardboard,  can produce artful, beautiful and interesting visual experiences.  This is the graffiti I respect.


Jef Aerosol,  in Paris has been doing stencil graffiti in Paris for a few years and we ran across some of his works just off Rue Mouffetard in the Latin Quarter


In Lisbon we saw a few pieces that I really enjoyed – particularly this one of the painter covering himself. 

A few others struck me too.

In Seattle, where graffiti is also a problem, there is a city law that business owners must cover graffiti within a set amount of days or face fines.  As it turns out, Europe has similar laws and Britain has led the way with the Anti-Social Behavior Act of 2003 which was is similar to a piece of potential EU legislation with the aim to:

…eliminate dirt, litter, graffiti, animals' excrement and excessive noise from domestic and vehicular music systems in European cities, along with other concerns over urban life.

The sad reality from our perspective is that graffiti appears to be taking over the walls of Europe’s cities.  Art, beauty, or not, I hope that something can be done because the experience of the visitor to these historic places is being altered in a way that reflects a feeling of degradation or mis-care.  It appears that some cities are taking on the look of a “bad neighborhood” and nobody wants that.

Sometimes though, graffiti has a way of stating something that just wouldn't be as appropriate any other way...

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Loveable Lisbon

By: leelefever on November 13, 2006 - 10:30am

Grilled fish and local cheese – that’s what we heard we should experience from people like Nancy White and local Bev Traynor before visiting Portugal. They were right – within a few hours of arriving we asked our hotel about a non-touristy restaurant and they sent us to a place they described only by the address “#94” and an assurance that it wasn’t “touristical”.  The first thing to hit the table in the flourescent lit room was a small wheel of delicious goat cheese that was followed by grilled “Rockbass” – surely the best grilled fish I’ve had.

But Lisbon is not just about food, but atmosphere. The sidewalks of the city are absolutely covered by black and white 2 inch square cobblestones in every imaginable pattern, all placed by hand.  This makes the city appear to be a giant mosaic.


Most of the atmosphere of Lisbon must be felt, smelled or experienced – things that photos cannot capture. It is the sort of city that is perfect for wandering and letting the winding streets and scenes of real life seep into you.  You need not visit a single museum to see the best of Lisbon – it happens every day on the streets and in the stand-up cafes.  

Alas, we did take a lot of photos and these are some of our favorites…

This is a panorama taken while looking down a long set of stairs Lisbon Castle:




Albert Einstein is HUGE is Portugal...


 These kids lost their ball on this balcony, so they pushed the little guy up to get it and let him dangle until he dropped.  He was not happy with them.



 One of our last photos from Lisbon as we waited for the Aerobus to whisk us away to the Airport at Restauradores.

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Lisbon with Locals

By: leelefever on November 9, 2006 - 7:31am

Lisbon with Locals, originally uploaded by LeeLeFever_TwinF.

Sometimes things just come together in the most timely ways. Yesterday we stopped by an Internet cafe in Lisbon to check in on the mid-term US elections (Yay!) and found an email from our friend in France, JF Groff. JF had contacted his friend Andre in Lisbon (whom he met at a tech conference) and alerted him of our arrival. In turn, Andre contacted us with an offer to get together in his hometown. I got Andre's phone number and within a few hours we went from being alone and wandering to experiencing Lisbon with Andre and his girlfriend Batixa in their 4 door Smart car.

From their favorite pizzeria to gourmet desserts and a bit of nighttime sightseeing, Lisbon became a different place for us - and all we did was check email.

Andre and Beatrice, thanks so much for taking the time to hang out with us for a night - we had a blast and count you as great friends. I'll remember too that Portuguese dogs say "Ão! Ão!"

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Charge Your Electric Car in Paris

By: leelefever on November 7, 2006 - 1:59am

This is the first time I've ever seen this, but somehow I doubt the last.

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Siena, Italy: A City Preserved

By: leelefever on November 3, 2006 - 2:11am

I never thought about it during the first day there, but Siena, Italy is a place that can be viewed through a few lenses.  Sachi made an observation that put the city into a unique perspective and changed what really interested me about it.

We were wandering and visibly excited (I’m sure) to be experiencing one of the most atmospheric cities on the trip.  Siena blew us away with charm and history, as did her little brother San Gimignano.  Both walled, medieval cities with narrow, winding streets – they drip with Euro-charm and overall Tuscan wine country pleasantness. 

These cities are not practical for cars and thankfully, there were few.  It’s rare to see a car parked within the walls and only regulated commercial cars run about consistently.  This makes the cities very pedestrian-friendly and protective of their 12th century buildings.

After a day of wandering, Sachi mentioned that if you looked at the city’s appearance from a modern perspective, Siena looks dirty and a little broken down.  At first I dismissed it, but then took a second look.  She was speaking the truth.


I soon realized that Siena was showing its age in a serious and conflicting way.  The city is free of rubbish, but in many places, you can tell that the bricks have collected the exhaust from too many cars for too many years. 

 Plaster crumbles and paint fades.  Stone pavement covers nearly the whole surface as life finds a foothold among windowsills.   

Rusted horse ties, broken street lights and powerful doors adorn a city preserved.  Siena is a city where the evidence of age and 100’s of years of use has become an asset - a defining factor.


Siena is also a city that has been left alone.  The buildings have not been painted in years and may never see paint again.  There are no cars, but the walls have been shaped by years of opened doors and clipped corners.  Foundations of buildings appear to be wilting away before your eyes. Yet, it is all part of the undeniable charm that becomes invisible as it blends so perfectly with the overall atmosphere. In Siena, age is beautiful.


The city leaves us both comparing the ways in which historical cities and sites are managed.  Siena is a preserved city – it looks and feels like a city that is 1000+ years old and it represents what we look for in sites.  You can see how time has changed it. 

Compare this to many of China’s sites that have been renovated recently (many after demolition by the Communists).  The Great Wall is a great example of renovation.  It is quite difficult to visit the wall from Beijing and see the “original” wall.  In most tourist-accessible places it has been renovated into a safe and secure experience that is mostly free from many of the genuine articles of the original wall.  Not interesting to us.

Siena helped us to see that preservation is something that we look for and appreciate (when reasonable).  I want to see a city that wears its years like a badge of honor.  I want to scramble over the Great Wall that is still trying it’s best to stand up to the years.  I want to see the effects of time on the genuine articles – and preservation is what we’ve learned to appreciate most.

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Venice in Photos

By: leelefever on October 26, 2006 - 5:34am

Sorry to rush into this, but Venice is fairly self-explanatory...not off the beaten track by any means, but one of my favorite places.  This was my third visit and Sachi's first, so I tried to play guide as best I could.  here are the photos... 



Yup, that's UPS - and DHL has boats too...


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Venice Underwater

By: leelefever on October 26, 2006 - 5:28am

Most people agree that Venice, Italy is sinking, but it's only about a few millimeters a year.  The real problem is that the water is rising more and more each year. We were surprised to arrive and find that a great deal of the city was inaccessible due to floodwaters.

This short video is not our smoothest effort, but does show you what was happening...


This article has more info.

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Sex and Drugs in Liberal Holland

By: leelefever on October 14, 2006 - 3:58am

I described Amsterdam to my Mom as "A bastion of hedonism".  Sure, it has beautiful canals, nice people, amazing sights, about a billion bicycles and a ton of charm, but what is truly impressive about Amsterdam and what differentiates it on a worldwide scale is the liberal policies of the Dutch government concerning drugs and prostitution.

For instance, we stayed in a guesthouse in the Red Light District and within two blocks of our guesthouse, anyone with the money can legally buy "soft drugs" like marijuana, mushrooms and hashish in small quantities and sexual services from a host of licensed prostitutes who display their wares in large windows under red lights.  I suppose you could also see some music and complete the hedonists triumverate of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll.

The view from our place:


Coming from George W.'s America, this all seems quite surreal. Surely these things must be causing all sorts of social ills. As it turns out, the Dutch policy is quite calculated and appears to be surprisingly healthy for the country compared to other EU countries. 

From wikipedia:

Most policymakers in the Netherlands believe that if a problem has proved to be unsolvable, it is better to try controlling it instead of continuing to enforce laws with mixed results.This means that the sale of sex and drugs are regulated and taxed, ensuring as much safety as possible and that the government can benefit from the revenue.  Further, it means that the government can exert control when it is needed. But, what about drug abuse?  Doesn't the availability increase the instances of abuse?  

Apparently not.  Through studies completed across the EU since 2000, The Netherlands ranks 7th in the use of marijuana - after Cyprus Spain, the UK, France, Germany and Italy.  The prevalance is similar for other types of drugs.

For the visitor to Amsterdam, these elements of the city can be surprising and intimidating - we talked to some people who would not step foot into the Red Light District. However, I think it is more surprising that the city doesn't have the overall feel of a "bad neighborhood" with a high frequency of drugs, sex shops and prostitutes.  There is a ragged and depressing element to the Red Light District, but I don't think it is much different than any other city - it is just that tourists are exposed and invited to participate in activities that would otherwise be managed in dark alleys and controlled by criminals instead of government agencies.

The Dutch policy seems based on the idea that people are going to do what they are going to do, regardless of the government or the potential for punishment.  And if this is true, their only tools are regulation, taxation and tolerance.  It makes sense to me and the Dutch folks we talked to about it.

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