The Windows of Arles, France

A collage featuring 9 colorful windows in Arles, France. Some are shuttered; others have flowerpots, or laundry adorning them.

Arles, France circa 1888: If you were to peek through the window at 2 Place Lamartine about this time, it’s likely you would’ve seen Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh at work in his studio. Van Gogh lived in Arles for about one year, spending part of that time in a building that’s since been called the Yellow House.

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Shades of Blue: Capturing the Island of Malta in Azure & Indigo

With perpetually-blue skies and a location in the heart of the Mediterranean, Malta naturally seems defined by the color blue.

If you’re a fan of blue, as I am (it’s my favorite hue), you’ll be delighted to find that it’s often Malta’s color of choice for much more, including its classic doorways, wooden balconies, and traditional fishing boats.

We called this southern European country home for twelve months; it’s hard to believe that two years have passed since we left it!

During our year in Malta, there were certainly moments when we were “feeling blue” — whether because of challenging neighbors (who let their children run wild until the wee hours of the morning!), or pollution, or notoriously-bad traffic.

However, in hindsight, it’s the happy memories that we made in Malta that remain at the forefront of my mind, like when we went sailing, or watched locals harvest sparkling sea salt, or took part in festa celebrations, or met a world-famous diving dog named Titti.

In this piece, I’ve focused on Malta’s blue accents, including the island’s sky, sea, architecture, and other details. I hope you enjoy the series!

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Around the World in 18 Barbers’ Chairs

Sitting in a barber shop in the coastal city of Split, Croatia, I struggled to answer the stylist’s simple question: How long would we be visiting Croatia? I had learned a smattering of Croatian words, but the names of the months had so far escaped me.

Remembering the calendar hanging above my head – albeit adorned with nude calendar girls – I flipped through the weeks and pointed to a date. As I exposed each month’s voluptuous model, the 70-something barber’s moustache-framed mouth curled into a mischievous grin. However awkward the method, I had satisfied his curiosity. Clearly I was in male territory, though.

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A Sunset Safari in South Africa’s Addo Elephant National Park

As golden-hour rays of sunshine cast shadows upon South Africa’s Addo Elephant National Park, we remained cautiously optimistic that we’d spot wildlife. Our open-air safari vehicle rolled through the stunning landscape, characterized by sage-colored foliage and terracotta-hued soil. Water droplets sparkled on the vegetation, the result of an earlier rainfall that had quenched Addo’s parched terrain.
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A Guide to Exploring Valletta: Malta’s Tiny, But Mighty, Capital City

Malta’s capital, Valletta, is a grande dame undergoing rapid change. With more than 300 monuments crammed into the city’s small peninsular borders, Valletta has one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world. This means that there are lots of things to do in Valletta, whether you’re an architecture aficionado, military-history buff or passionate wanderer eager to see a city reawakening from a long slumber.

Shawn and I were delighted to have called Valletta home this past year, living on one of the city’s most infamous streets – a narrow lane which was once a red-light district that lured sailors. When we first learned we’d be moving to Malta for Shawn’s studies, we thought we might develop island fever living on a tiny island nation for twelve months. Surprisingly though, there was so much to experience in and out of Valletta that our weekend calendar was always replete with activities.

A decade before moving to Valletta, I also played tourist in the capital city, making it my home base during a long-weekend visit. Back in 2006, Valletta was eerily quiet. Half of the city’s buildings were boarded up and abandoned. Accommodation in Valletta was so scarce that I literally had to sleep in a spacious maid’s closet for one night, until a proper room became available. Coincidentally, ten years later, my future in-laws would choose to stay at a boutique hotel located just across the street from the same guesthouse in which I stayed as a solo female traveler in 2006. It’s funny how life comes full circle like that!

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Hvar Island: A Croatian Odyssey of Music, History & Wine

The Croatian island of Hvar is renowned for its 2,800 hours of sunshine, intensely-blue water, luxury yachts, and summertime nightlife. Visiting there during an early spring weekend, however, Shawn and I encountered something quite different from the Hvar of postcards: refreshing rain showers, landscapes that appeared to be wearing a sepia filter because of clouds overhead, and quiet lanes via which to explore the paradisiacal island. After we’d had a picnic at the Hvar Fortress and spent countless hours aimlessly strolling Hvar Town and Stari Grad’s streets, we had the great fortune to mingle with a talented winemaker and his lifelong chums, who together with our friend from mainland Split, painted an idyllic picture of life on the real Hvar.

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Basking in Bilbao’s Renaissance: A Walking Tour of the Basque City

As we passed Bilbao’s state-of-the art structures, juxtaposed with timeless buildings flashing Old World flair, I had a hard time imagining what the Basque Country’s largest city was like before the Guggenheim Museum sparked its economic renaissance in the late 1990s. Still new to Bilbao, I was also fascinated with what constituted a Basque identity – what makes the Basque people unique from others in Spain. Our host, Marta, would help me better understand both as we explored the northern Spanish city’s highlights.

“Bilbao used to be grey and sad,” Marta said, as we began our day together. “It was dirty and industrial. There were political problems and high unemployment. People used to always say ‘I’ll go through Bilbao, but I don’t want to step foot there.'”

On this summer day, however, the aesthetics of Bilbao were a treat for the senses, because it was so different from other European cities we’d explored.

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