Friday, October 31, 2014

Continuing on my Halloween theme this week, let’s travel to one of my favorite cities in the U.S. – New Orleans!

We loved this southern city so much on our first visit in 2007 that we decided to get married here in 2010. The city’s fantastic food culture and rich French architecture had us smitten!

After the French Quarter and Bourbon Street, one of the popular sites to visit is the St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, which is the city’s oldest and most famous cemetery, opened in 1789. This cemetery became the city’s main burial ground after a major city fire in 1788. All the graves here are above-ground vaults, which makes them unique compared to most cemeteries.
For me, coming from Nebraska, the vault-like tombs seemed strange. Some say the above-ground burial customs in New Orleans are because of the low water table, while the other theory is the vaults are based on French and Spanish traditions. The city was founded by the French and briefly served under Spanish rule as well.
The St. Louis Cemetery, though devoid of very little plantlife, is interesting to walk through and admire the different types of architecture. I even took my parents during our weeklong wedding festivities in New Orleans.
The cemetery also is home to several famous New Orleanians such as the renowned Voodoo priestess Marie Laveau, born in 1794 or 1801, is believed to be interred in the Glapion family crypt, which is pictured. People mark three “x’s” on Laveau’s tombs and others in hope to get a wish granted. However, the “x’s” are actually vandalism, according to the Save Our Cemeteries Organization, which offers daily cemetery tours.
Even American actor Nicholas Cage has purchased a vault here.

This cemetery may be small, but is home to thousands, and is worth checking out when you visit New Orleans.
Tombstones date back to the early 1800s at the St. Louis Cemetery No. 1.
More information:
The Save Our Cemeteries Organization offers daily tours of St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 at 10 a.m., and an afternoon tour at 1 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Tickets are $20 and must be purchased in advance online

Here’s a detailed map of the cemetery’s layout:

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

I stared out at the rows and rows of haunting tombstones at the Jewish Cemetery in Łódź, which was Poland's second-largest Jewish city before World War II.

I wasn’t prepared to feel so sad and devastated about seeing a cemetery where about 160,000 people are buried. But the Jewish history in Poland and in the rest of Eastern Europe is a tragic one.
The Jewish Cemetery on Bracka Street, established in 1892, sits on 40 hectacres (about 100 acres) and seemed enormous to me. In one section of the cemetery called the “Ghetto Field,” there are about 43,000 victims who died while they were living in awful conditions in the Jewish Ghetto in Łódź during WWII. In total, about 90,000 people have been identified, and the cemetery keeps a database of all the names that they have.
Many parts of the cemetery are covered in tall weeds, rambling vines, decaying branches and green moss.
The farther you wander from the main entrance, the more overgrown and wild the cemetery becomes. Fragments of tombstones lay on the greenery-covered earth. The engravings are faded.

I was lost in my own world, taking photos of the crumbling tombstones and continually questioning, how could the Nazi Germans have treated the Jewish people so horrendously?
In the 18 months that we’ve lived in Poland, I’ve read countless fiction and non-fiction books about WWII and Poland. I still cannot understand it. It’s not something I CAN understand.
To me, seeing the Jewish Cemetery in Łódź was almost as poignant as seeing Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps in person. I left with tears in my eyes.

Jewish Cemetery, ulica Bracka 40
Entrance and car park on ulica Zmienna.
Cost: 6 PLN/person (Admission is free on first Sunday every month.)
Surprisingly, there were several fancy mausoleums like these located on the right side of the cemetery. I'm assuming these families must still have living relatives since the grounds were so well maintained.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

One morning during our French road trip with the grandparents, hubby and I woke up early and decided to go walking in the nearby tiny village of Puisseguin.

We spent two nights here in the Bordeaux region so we could eat, drink and explore the famed city of St. Emilion. Grandpa wanted to sample wines from Bordeaux and Châteauneuf-du-Pape so I had coordinated our 8-day trip around that request.
I loved the pretty hydrangeas here!
Puisseguin is surrounded by vineyards in every direction and a perfect escape from the touristy St. Emilion. Taking an early morning walk allowed us to be together by ourselves; and I wanted to take photos of the scenery. As you know, I love taking photos, but our grandparents didn’t have the patience for all the photos I would have liked to have taken on our trip.

Right outside Puisseguin, we wandered off to what looked like a more local road. Amidst the lush grapevines, I could see crosses in the distance. We had stumbled upon the village cemetery in the middle of all the vineyards. What a beautiful location!
I tried to open the door but couldn’t. So I proceeded to walk around the cemetery to figure out if I could scale the stone walls to get inside. Meanwhile, hubby checked out the other side and eventually was able to get the old wooden door open.
We didn’t have much time to wander around the cemetery here, but I did take several photos of the elaborate and aging metal crosses. Most of the older plots dated to the early 1900s and World War II, but there were several newer tombstones as well. Again, I found the French architecture much different from other cemeteries we have visited.

If you were buried here, you certainly couldn’t ask for a prettier location, right?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Before we moved from Istanbul last year, I tried to tick off the remaining items on my bucket list.

Perhaps one of the odd items on my list was visiting an old cemetery, located in the Kurtuluş/ Feriköy neighborhoods, which is where I walked through sometimes from our apartment.

The Feriköy Protestant Cemetery (Feriköy Protestan Mezarlığı) is tucked away off the busy streets of the neighboring, working-class neighborhood and surrounded by high brick walls. The gravestones here date back to the 19th century and depict the melting pot that once lived in Istanbul. In 1857, the Ottoman government donated the land for this cemetery to the leading Protestant powers of that time, the United Kingdom, the United States, the Netherlands, Prussia, Sweden, Norway and Denmark. The cemetery is even divided into separate sections for the different nationalities.
You’ll even find a section, separated by a stone wall, that is reserved for Armenian Protestants. The history information I found stated that since Armenians were regarded as “Ottoman subjects,” they had to be separated from the burial plots of the other foreigners. Strange!
Here is a place where you can gaze up at the sunny skies above and find a piece of quietness in Istanbul. Trust me, this doesn’t happen very often when you live (lived) in a city of 15 million. Here, you can block out the yelling simitci, the annoying honking horns and the Turkish children frolicking after school.
Though you may find it odd, I like walking through old cemeteries. I find them peaceful. It’s interesting to see the different architecture and sculptures and take note of the elaborate headstones. I think you also can discover a little bit more about a city’s history by walking through a cemetery. This one in Istanbul is worth searching out if you have extra time or are interested in cemeteries like me.
At the Feriköy Cemetery, I think you will find a lil bit of beauty among the chaos.
Listed as Feriköy Mezarlığı on Google Maps
About a 20-minute walk southwest of the Osmanbey metro stop.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

I’m usually very typeA personality when it comes to planning our trips. I map out whole days involving every meal, sightseeing and where we can eat or drink in between sightseeing.

However, every now and then, I step back and put the planner down. In March, we booked a weekend trip to Lake Como, Italy, with our foodie friend from Germany. I hardly planned a thing for this trip because I trust our friend when it comes to food and he had visited the area a few summers ago. I also was traveling with a recently sprained ankle so I wasn’t too mobile yet.

After a 90-minute drive from Bergamo airport, we arrived at a cloudy-covered, but still beautiful Lake Como. I had no expectations for this place, especially since we were visiting in a very off-peak season.
Our first order of business was finding food. Luckily, our agriturismo owner recommended a local wine bar that perfectly (and cheaply) served our needs. We consumed 8 glasses of wine and a large platter of Italian cured meats at Comini Enoteca, Via Montello 1, in Mandello del Lario, for only 40 euros! This was a fantastic start to our weekend at Lake Como.
Afterwards, we drove down and parked at the local train station so it wouldn’t be too far for me to hobble downhill to the pier area in Mandello del Lario. We stopped at what seemed like the only open café where we bought gelato and walked along the pier.
Then, we continued north up the coast to the next town of Varenna so we could figure out the ferry boat schedule for the next day. Varenna was full of charming, rustic houses, narrow, cobble-stoned paths and a long lakeside promenade. I’m sure the town is even prettier when the weather is nice.
On Sunday, we woke up to these wonderful views from our hillside agriturismo, Crotto di Somana

If you visit Lake Como, I can highly recommend our agriturismo, which had been recently renovated around a “crotto,” a natural cave typical of the mountain regions of the surrounding Lombard and Swiss Alps. After a pleasant breakfast featuring homemade jams, breads and cheeses, we left early to catch the ferry boat from Varenna to Bellagio.
View of Bellagio on Lake Como from the ferry boat.
The resort town of Bellagio has an ideal lakeside location so the rich and famous can just pull up in their fancy boats. We didn’t see anyone famous, just some British tourists. We wandered around a bit and then plunked ourselves down lakeside to enjoy the sunny weather.
From Bellagio, we decided to catch the ferry boat to Menaggio, located on the lake’s western side closer to where George (Clooney) lives. Unfortunately, our plans to meet up with George fell through so we decided to drive to Switzerland!
Visiting Lake Como in March was the perfect season for us because it wasn't crowded.
The town of Menaggio.
The drive was only about 45-minutes from Menaggio to the town of Lugano in Switzerland. But first we were stopped by the cops. We hadn’t done anything wrong, just had to wait for a cycling race to pass through, so we got out to take photos.
The clear waters of nearby Lago di Lugano looked quite inviting!
Lugano itself didn’t look as picturesque as the towns by Lake Como, so we stayed long enough to have a drink and enjoy the views.
Back in Menaggio, our plans went sideways. We parked the car in line for the next ferry boat and ran into a small café for something to eat. We didn’t have much time, so our friend went back out to the car. Well, hubby and I got distracted and soon enough we were running outside just in time to see the ferry boat pulling away from the shore. We literally had missed the boat!

We had to wait another hour for the next ferry boat while our friend had a drink back in Varenna and (thankfully) waited for us with the car. At least, we saw the sunset over Lake Como.

We ended our lazy weekend with a home-cooked, four-course dinner at one of the best places in Mandello del Lario – Osteria Sali e Tabacchi. Eating here was like being invited into an Italian’s mother’s home. The dishes were simple, but delicious and featured local ingredients. A few of the dishes I remember: local fish in two dishes, cured Italian meats for an antipasti, braised beef with polenta, pumpkin-filled ravioli and homemade pistachio gelato. Be sure to make reservations in advance!
Despite having a badly sprained ankle, we were able to sightsee a bit around Lake Como, relax and simply have fun catching up with our good friend. I realized sometimes it pays not to have a perfect plan.

 Have you been to Lake Como? If so, do you have any recommendations for our next trip?