Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Imagine being surrounded and walking amongst brilliant shades of fuchsia, periwinkle and ruby red orchids.

That’s exactly what we did this past weekend at Kew Gardens as we caught the last day of the annual Orchids Festival in London. Unfortunately, I only had a little over an hour to admire all the orchids since I had to work that afternoon, but since we often go to Kew, that was plenty of time to see the highlights.

This year’s theme featured a celebration of Thailand’s vibrant colours, culture and diverse plant life. (Last year's show festival focused on India.) About 1,100 orchid species grow in the wild in Thailand, according to one of the exhibit’s signs. I had no idea! Many of these orchids grow in remote places and can grow in the ground in warm or cool-climate rainforests or even on trees, which are known as epiphytic.
Orchids seemed to fill nearly every inch of the Princess of Wales Conservatory – hanging in pots, planted vertically, suspended in air and even decorating a Thai palace. I took a ton of photos with my new Canon 50mm lens which allowed me to focus on the flowers themselves. I didn’t bother with finding out the names of the orchids, but if you can identify any of them, please feel free to comment.

Enjoy the orchid show!
Besides the orchids, Kew Gardens featured plenty of other spring blooms such as daffodils and crocuses, and even a random pineapple! I'm thrilled that spring is finally here!

My Traveling Joys

Friday, February 2, 2018

The magic of carnival gives Venice an enchanted feeling. Everywhere feels lively and jubilant, but the city also is very crowded.

This past weekend, we visited Venice during the opening weekend of “La Festa Veneziana,” which featured a music and light show parade on the Rio di Cannaregio on the first night. (Unfortunately, we couldn’t access this event because the streets were insanely overcrowded, so we went to a wine bar instead.) But on Sunday, we stood outside our hotel and watched the Carnival Regatta along the Grand Canal which consisted of countless gondolas and assorted boats with people decked out in splendid costumes. I couldn’t resist sharing many of the regatta photos I took, so I hope you don’t mind.
The theme of this year’s Carnevale di Venezia is “Playing,” and the carnival festivities run until February 13th. That means you still have several days to enjoy the carnival parties in Venice, or you can start planning your trip for 2019.

Gondolas with people decorated as pirates or animals seemed to be two of the most common themes. It was quite odd to see a cow and a zebra rowing a gondola!
And even more pirates!
History of Masks in Venice
I was surprised to learn that the history of Carnivale in Venice and the use of decorated masks dates back many centuries. In fact, carnival became an official public festivity in 1296, with an act of the Senate of the Republic of Venice, but its origins are even older. In official documents dating to 1094, they state there were already public celebrations held in the days preceding Lent.

For several hundred years, in the weeks leading up to Lent, people wore masks and costumes, making it easier to hide the wearer's identity and social status, or even to make fun of the aristocracy. The festivities also included public shows with musicians, dancers and jugglers throughout the city.

During the 18th century, carnival became internationally famous and reached its widest fame. You’ve probably heard of the writer Casanova, right? Well, it was during this period that Casanova spent his life in Venice attending wild parties and having love affairs. Then, the fun ended. At the end of the century, first with the French conquest of the Republic under Napoleon (1797) and later the Austrian Empire occupation, the tradition of wearing masks was forbidden and was even illegal. Surprisingly, the ancient traditions finally were restored 1979 when the city officially organized a Carnival program and that is what we see today.

This past weekend, many locals and tourists alike, dressed in extravagant costumes, walked around the main areas of Venice and happily stopped to pose for photos. I was impressed!
We even joined the Carnival fun and bought two handmade masks at Ca ‘Macana, an atelier started by penniless students back in 1984. This small shop, bursting to the brim with papier- mâché masks, gained fame when it produced the masks for the movie “Eyes Wide Shut” directed by Stanley Kubrick in 1999. You’ll find several ateliers in the artsy-studenty Dorsoduro neighborhood (which also contains several fun wine bars). Expect to pay at least 30 euros to more than 100 euros for an ornate handmade mask. However, you can find inexpensive plastic and fabric eye masks for only 3 euros at many tourist stands in the city center.
How about some kisses from Venice?
Here, I am wearing a cat mask along the Grand Canal.
More Carnival Regatta Photos
While the regatta rowed by, I tried to snap photos as fast as I could in the sports mode setting. Even if a few photos are out of focus, I think you can still admire how elaborate some of the costumes were.

We may have missed the main Carnival festivities in Venice, but we still had a wonderful time.

Have you attended Carnival in Venice or someplace else?

My Traveling Joys

Thursday, January 25, 2018

When my husband suggested horseback riding on our trip in Ireland, I thought he was crazy! I hadn’t ridden a horse in nearly 30 years…and then just the odd camel or two and a donkey on our travels in Turkey and Greece.

But the next day, I found myself up on a horse named Hemmingway and riding through the stunningly green Killarney National Park, which received the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve designation in 1981. We opted to take a two-hour, guided trek through the park, and I’m so thrilled we did. For once, my husband was right! Later on, my petite mother-in-law said her son’s weird ideas helps keep her young. 😉  
The friendly staff from the Killarney Riding Stables selected horses that would be easy to handle as novices. We got lucky and had our own private tour with our family. I think it was easier as a small group, and we were able to try and keep our horses at the same pace. However, sometimes, a horse would want to stop and eat grass or not move that fast, so we had to nudge them along with the help of our guide. 

And trotting on a horse was a whole different experience!
The Killarney National Park, located in the southwest corner of Ireland, covers more than 25,000 acres and includes three main lakes situated in a broad valley stretching south between the mountains. Closest to the town of Killarney is the lower lake (Lough Leane) dotted with islands and the historic ruins of Muckross Abbey and Ross Castle. The wooded peninsula of Muckross separates the lower lake from the middle lake sometimes called Muckross Lake. You’ll find tons of wooded areas with oak and ash trees as well as ferns and wild flowers and even the picturesque Torc Waterfall, which unfortunately we did not see.
What I quickly learned is that trying to ride a horse as a newbie and take photos at the same time is much more difficult than I imagined! I had to straighten out many crooked photos while editing them. Some of the photos in this post is from our horse ride and others are from another day that we took a long walk through the park. I recommend doing both activities, if you can, because you can see different parts of the park as well as the 15th-century Ross Castle.
The trail ride through the National Park was absolutely beautiful with stunning mountain scenery of the MacGillicuddy’s Reeks and the lakes in the valley surrounding us. We also saw several herds of Irish red deer in the park. Amazing! This Killarney Guide maps out some areas where you usually easily find the red deer. See if you can spy all the deer below.
Even though I was skeptical of riding a horse at first, I’m so happy we did this adventure in Ireland! Riding a horse through the national park allowed us to see so much more as well as give me a different perspective.

I will say that at the end of our two-hour ride, my butt and other aching parts of my body, was happy to be on solid ground again. I joked with my mother-in-law that I don’t know how Claire Fraiser from “The Outlander” series could handle riding for several hours in rugged Scotland.
The four amigos on our horses in Killarney National Park, Ireland.
Note: We paid for this activity ourselves. The cost was €240 for four people for a two-hour guided ride.

My Traveling Joys

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