Tag Archives: international travel

Travel Theme: Mountains

As I have mentioned in previous blog posts, this is an extremely busy time of year at work. My brain is working much more than full-time right now, so I have not had the brain power to do much more than the Tunes Tuesdays series here lately. But Third Eye Mom’s post on the Where’s My Backpack Travel Theme of mountains grabbed me, since mountains are my happy place.

I didn’t get to share any photos from our trip South yet, so I will use this opportunity to do just that. Here are my favorite recent mountain photos from El Chalten and Calafate, on the Argentine side of Patagonia.

My husband at the beginning of our adventure...Copyright JC Politi Photography

My husband at the beginning of our adventure…
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El ChaltenCopyright JC Politi Photography

El Chalten
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Perito Moreno Glacier, Calafate, ArgentinaCopyright JC Politi Photography

Perito Moreno Glacier, Calafate, Argentina
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Perito Moreno GlacierCopyright JC Politi Photography

Perito Moreno Glacier
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What do you think? What is your favorite mountain location? Do you prefer the mountains or the sea? What do mountains mean to you?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you for reading!

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Filed under International, Photography, Photos, travel, Travel Challenge

Photo Friday: Frankfurt

The European Central Bank – I like the reflection of the historic building in the windows
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We arrived in Frankfurt by train from Berlin bright and early. We thought this would just be a quick stop on our way to the airport.

We were exhausted from all of our adventures, so we thought we would finally step foot on a tour bus for the first time this trip. We realized that we had not been in a car during the entire journey! How refreshing!

We took the train from our hotel near the airport, to the main train station, with the idea of hopping on a tourist bus. But when we got to the tourist information center, the woman informed us that Frankfurt is small enough to walk.

So, we set out on foot to explore the city. And we loved it!

We were too tired to go into any actual museums or anything, so we spent the day like locals.

We ate bratwurst from a stand outside the train station, walked through the city taking in the mix of old and new, ate pastries by the river, and finished the day in a residential neighborhood with one of the most authentic meals we had the entire trip.

The Bratwurst stand outside the train station where we had lunch
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We did not consult a guide book for the first time in weeks, and just enjoyed exploring the city without plans or agenda. It was decadent.

What struck me most about Frankfurt was the contrast of history and progress. Castles stand side by side on the same street with sky scrapers.

An Occupy Frankfurt demonstration outside the Central European Bank illustrated the ongoing debate about the European Union and Germany’s role in the Union.

It was delightful to experience the city without feeling like tourists. My favorite part had to be simply sitting outside in a residential area we discovered and watching the world go by. I hope we get to return and do more of that.

I feel so fortunate to have been able to take this trip. It was an extraordinary opportunity to visit places with such rich history. The museums and cafes and food and lifestyle were simply seductive. I must go back.

But for now, I will have to survive by looking back at some of my favorite photos. Here are my favorites from Frankfurt.

Castles next to skyscrapers – A great reminder that we don’t have to tear down the old to make way for the new
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The Occupy Frankfurt demonstration
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A cafe outside the Opera House
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One of the signs from the Occupy Frankfurt demonstration. I don’t know what it says, but I figure that anything with Millionaire and Democratic on the same sign is probably something I would be interested in
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The view across the river
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The Beer Garden where we had our last meal in Europe. It was a charming neighborhood restaurant where everyone knew each other. Such a perfect ending!
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Flowers from a neighborhood shop
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What do you think? Have you ever been on a trip and just decided to skip all of the tourist attractions and live like a local? When and where? What was that like? If not, does that sound like something that appeals to you or do you feel like if you are going to go somewhere, you have to see the most famous destinations in that location?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you for reading.      

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Filed under Architecture, Art, Business, Culture, Economy, Food, History, International, Photography, Photos, Policy, Politcs, Role of Government, Technology, travel

AMIGOS: Leadership Through Experience

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For one year, from 2008 to 2009, my husband and I lived in Houston, Texas. We lived through Hurricane Ike, which was directly over our house for about 7 hours; finding a copperhead in the bathtub; and a torn pup-ACL. It was not our best year.

But I also found Amigos de las Americas (AMIGOS) when I lived in Houston. I worked for this unique organization for about two years, fundraising to support their international youth leadership programs. This organization really touched me.

The people I met doing this work, from the dedicated and passionate staff at the office in Houston, to the parents and former volunteers who now serve on the board, were some of the most thoughtful and hardest-working people I have ever met. And don’t get me started on the young people who were participating in the programs.

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I had the opportunity to travel to Nicaragua to see the programs in action, which was a special treat. I have shared some of the photos from that trip here and on my new photography website.

This organization is truly unique. When I worked there, we received letters from parents all the time saying that their child left home as an unruly teenager and came back a grown up. This was a consistent refrain from the parents.

Young people came back and talked about how much their world view had expanded from the experience and how it was going to influence the trajectory of their future pursuits. And I have met many former volunteers for whom the program did just that.

I was skeptical about AMIGOS in the beginning. I asked a lot of questions ranging from “Does AMIGOS have a religious bent?” to “Is there government involvement in AMIGOS?” The more I learned about this organization, the more impressed I became.

The intensive training that young people are required to complete in order to participate in the program should be a model for any organization or person doing international development work. The training requires kids to work through issues of cultural awareness and distrust of volunteers from the United States.

One very unique aspect of the AMIGOS program is that it is youth led and driven. Projects in Latin America are run by teenagers and college students who have been volunteers in the program. The training provided to the volunteers who work their way up the ladder to become project staff covers topics that I did not learn about until I was around 30. Topics include critical conversations, supervisory skills and budgeting.

This organization simply does it right.

I thought I would dedicate a post to this inspiring organization, in the hopes that there may be some of you out there with kids in high school or college, who might benefit from this program. Or perhaps you are in high school or college yourself and would like to learn  more.

AMIGOS just came out with a new video that illustrates the great work the organization does year after year. That is what inspired this post. But I encourage all of you to check out this organization’s website to learn more about the organization.

What do you think? What is your favorite non-profit organization and why? Have you heard about AMIGOS and considered sending your child through the program? Would you have fears or concerns about doing this? Did you ever participate in a program like this? What was the best part and what was the worst part?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you for reading!

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Filed under Culture, Education, International, Parenting, Photography, Photos, Poverty, Religion, Stereotypes, travel, Youth Leadership

Photo Friday: Berlin

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Border between East and West Berlin, where the Berlin Wall used to stand. Most of it is torn down now.

After leaving the quaint, but bustling Amsterdam, we took an overnight train to Berlin. We stayed in East Berlin, just down the street from Alexanderplatz, which was really the heart of East Berlin.

After all of the beauty of France, Spain and Holland, East Berlin was striking for its lack of decoration. It was a fascinating place to visit for its history, but the sadness and anger were palpable.

From what we observed, the division between East and West Berlin still exists to this day. We spent the vast majority of our time in East Berlin, going to what we were told was the trendiest neighborhood for dinner and visiting the historic sites.

But it is striking to stand where the wall used to stand and to look to the East and to the West. The East is full of cranes and development, but I couldn’t help feeling that the West kept moving forward while the East was stuck in time.

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Construction in East Berlin

East Berlin feels like a savagely damaged city, just now showing signs of rebirth. The evidence is everywhere, showing a city devastated by war, and then severely restricted and terrorized during the Communist occupation. It is simply tragic.

There is a solemn beauty to the city, however, even in the midst of the melancholy. I share some of my favorite photos here.

For those who would like to read more of the history of Berlin, this 1963 speech by President John F. Kennedy is a powerful denunciation of the communist occupation. When you visit Berlin, you understand this speech much more.

What do you think? Have you been to Berlin? What was your impression? Do you think that East and West Berlin will ever truly integrate? What kind of impact do you think a history like this would have on a culture?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you for reading!

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This has to be one of my favorite photos from the whole trip! I snapped this shot at a metro stop.

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A watchtower over Checkpoint Charlie

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The view from our hotel. You can see the Soviet TV Tower in East Berlin and the tall hotel in West Berlin. The hotel staff told us this was done intentionally by West Berlin to show their strength and contrast.

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An old car in East Berlin

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A powerful holocaust memorial

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A pretzel seller

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Berlin Cathedral

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Chairs in an historic East Berlin Cafe

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You can see the bullet holes in the old buildings

 

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Checkpoint Charlie now

 

 

 

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Filed under Culture, Economy, History, International, Photography, Photos, Politcs, Privatization, Role of Government, social pressures, Stereotypes, Terrorism, travel, Uncategorized, violence, War

Photo Friday: Amsterdam

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After a sad goodbye to Paris, we left for Amsterdam. What a lovely surprise!

I had never put much thought into Amsterdam and knew nothing about the city, but was wooed by its charms right away.

I got a chuckle after reading the warning in the guide book to look out for the “silent transport.” In Paris we were told again and again to look out for pick-pockets. In Amsterdam, the concern is the silent transport.

But soon after arriving, we completely understood what this means. Amsterdam is the wild west of bicycles.

We saw people pedaling as fast as they could through intersections full of other bikers, some texting, some with children hanging off of them and not one bike stopped to make sure an intersection was safe before going straight through. The motorized scooters even use the bike lanes – it is absolute chaos for a first-timer!

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I love this one because of the reflection of the bikes in the window. This was Amsterdam to me!

We were amazed that we didn’t witness an accident. When we asked the hosts at our Bed and Breakfast how people know who has the right of way, the response was “The person who looks the fiercest.”

Amsterdam is really a study in contradictions. On one street, you have peaceful, picturesque canals with rows of historic buildings. On the next street, you have the red light district, where scantily-clad women pose in windows, calling out for business.

The city is surprisingly urban, but geographically tiny. The smell of marijuana pervades the city and shops selling mushrooms and bongs are simply another form of commerce.

We loved Amsterdam. It is a high energy city with a little something for everyone.

Highlights of our trip included the Anne Frank House, the Van Gogh Museum and a bike ride through the countryside.

Since this is Photo Friday, I thought I would share some of my favorite photos.

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Parking lot at the train station. This was at least 4 stories high of bicycles!

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These were the houses lining the canals. They all lean forward and have hooks at the top so they can use a pulley system to pull furniture up and through the windows!

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This is a brewery that is under one of the last windmills in the city. The windmills helped regulate the water flow to Amsterdam, which is below sea level.

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Amsterdam canals at night

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We went on a beautiful bike tour to the countryside and visited a farm where they made cheese and clogs.

What do you think? When you think of Amsterdam, what comes to mind? Have you ever been to Amsterdam? If you were to go, what would you look forward to seeing most?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you for reading!

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Filed under Art, Culture, International, Photography, Photos, Stereotypes, travel

Hunger Knows No Borders: Poverty at Home and Abroad

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There is an article in the New York Times this week about the increasing number of people living in poverty in Spain.

The article references the fact that the unemployment rate in Spain is over 50% for young people and that over 20% of families in Spain live in poverty. It tells the stories of people who find themselves forced to search for food in trash bins in order to feed themselves and their families.

It is striking to read about how dire the situation is in Spain right now, especially after having just visited the country. We were blown away by the food and the beauty, but this article makes it clear that there is another, much more tragic, story to be told.

As I read this article, I felt like I was reading about the United States. The article spoke of people who had never been on government assistance who are now accessing food pantries or searching through dumpsters for food.

So frequently, we read an article like this and look at it as an interesting, but sad anecdote from a foreign land. But the truth is, we can see the same thing here in our own back yards every day.

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The recession has had far-reaching implications across the globe. The number of people in the United States who are accessing public benefits has sky-rocketed.

Some people complain about the number of people who are accessing government assistance, including food assistance. I don’t understand this.

If jobs are not available and people are hungry, why would we not be grateful to live in a society where people who have hit rock bottom have a place to go to feed themselves and their children? How can we be so sure that we will not be the next family to come upon hard times, through a loss of a job or through a medical emergency that leaves us financially devastated?

I am honestly baffled and saddened by the lack of compassion in much of the United States during these difficult economic times.

What do you think? Why do you think people are so critical of government efforts to support low-income families? Why do you think people are so quick to judge families who have come upon hard times? How can people be so sure that they will not be the next person to need a little help? And how can we reduce the stigma associated with accepting government assistance so that more people can have a bridge to survive their current hardship in the hopes of eventually getting a job and escaping poverty?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you for reading!

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Filed under Culture, Economy, Ethics, Health, Income inequality, International, Photography, Photos, Policy, Politcs, Poverty, Relationships, Role of Government, Stereotypes, travel

Photo Friday: Paris

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View from the Pompidou Museum

Paris – doesn’t just the word itself transport you to another world? As I mentioned in an earlier post, I fell in love with Paris at first glance. Yes, figuring out the metro system and where we needed to go was a challenge at first, but when we came out of the subway the first time, my jaw dropped.

We have all seen places that are described as “French-style”, so I was expecting beautiful architecture. But to see every single building with wrought-iron balconies as far as the eye could see – it is hard to describe. It is clear that beauty is simply the top priority in Paris, held in the very highest esteem.

I loved the cafes and the restaurants, the business-people and beautiful women on bikes, the churches, the plazas, the museums, the pastries, the music which seemed to be ever-present, the small boutiques, the bread shops, the cheese shops, the wine shops – I even loved the metro, which turned out to be easy to use and convenient to get us everywhere we wanted to go.

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View from our sidewalk restaurant in Montmartre

Montmartre had to be my favorite place. Even though it has become more commercialized, you could feel the bohemian energy all around. And while it was filled with tourists, I felt a kindred spirit with many of the tourists there who made the trip to seek out this bohemian enclave.

What I found so amazing about Paris was how charming and intimate it feels, despite its size. We did all the requisite tourist activities, but I would give anything to go back and skip all tourist areas and just get to know some of the neighborhoods. I will do that one day.

For this Photo Friday, I wanted to share some of my favorite Paris photos with you. I hope you enjoy the photos and are able to feel a little bit of the romance around every corner.

What do you think? Have you been to Paris? What was your favorite part? If you haven’t been, but would like to go, what would you look forward to most? Where is the most romantic place you have ever visited?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you for reading!

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Plaza in Montmartre, Paris

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Stained Glass Window in Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris

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The Eiffel Tower, Paris

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Birds in flight outside the Pomipdou Museum, Paris

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Paris, France

For those wanting more:

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