La Catedral de Mallorca: The Cathedral of Light, the Sea, and Space

Some buildings are impossible to miss. Even in cities where the skyline is dominated by skyscrapers, one or two will stick out, like the Empire State Building or the Willis Tower (still pronounced Sears Tower in Chicago, by the by). In Europe, though, you’ll notice that there are very few skyscrapers. Being places of long … More La Catedral de Mallorca: The Cathedral of Light, the Sea, and Space

City of Literature and Festivals: The Edinburgh International Book Festival

I’ve mentioned before that Edinburgh is a UNESCO World City of Literature. And that a great many of the greats of English literature have ties to Edinburgh. And that Edinburghers love reading. And that they have bookshops like Americans have Rite Aids. Well aware of its own literary character, Edinburgh also plays host to the … More City of Literature and Festivals: The Edinburgh International Book Festival

Book of Kells

Tucked away in a back corner of Trinity College Dublin’s campus is an old classroom building which has been retrofitted with all the modern bells and whistles. There’s climate control. There are heat sensors. There are relative humidity monitors. There are low-level soft lights. Alarms. State-of-the-art display cases. Proximity monitors. A gift shop. All of … More Book of Kells

To the Presses

One of the great things about traveling by yourself is that you get to do whatever you want to do without thinking about whether or not someone else will enjoy it. I was recently in Dublin for a few days, and, being by myself, I was able to have one solid day of lit-nerding around. … More To the Presses

Magnificent Beasts

If you ever take a tour out of Edinburgh, there will come a moment when you’re driving down the M9 when the tour guide will interrupt themselves mid-sentence and shout, “Get your cameras ready – look over here to the left!” Then, while you’re zooming by at 60 miles an hour, you’ll catch a glimpse … More Magnificent Beasts

Word on the Water

I love books, boats, and cats. It’s not a very well-kept secret of mine. Most people figure that out very quickly. A friend of mine in Poland was no different. After a bit of chit chat, he deduced my likes (I’d brought Flannery to Poland, effectively bestowing her with the moniker The Expat Cat, I … More Word on the Water

A Three Hour Tour

Back in the day, few places could rival Venice as a sea power in the Mediterranean. Dubrovnik did, though. In all the time that Venice tried to do away with its rival, Dubrovnik stood firm on the promontory out into the Adriatic Sea. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that they still has a bit … More A Three Hour Tour

King’s Landing

My friend and I were walking into the Old Town from our hostel. We passed a tour group standing on the edge of the dock, gathered close around the tour guide, who was showing them a picture. “This man here, who is pushing the boat,” he was saying with a thick Balkan accent, “when Myrcella … More King’s Landing

A League Distant

Sometimes, you just have to get out of town for a bit. Smell the flowers, walk on the grass, fell the sunshine, and all that. Luckily, in Edinburgh, it’s really easy to do just that. Holyrood Park, smack in the middle of town, is a wee taste of the Highlands within walking distance of your … More A League Distant

The Pearl of Scotland

It’s easy to get caught up in the royalty of Edinburgh. After all, there’s Edinburgh Castle, one of the ancient strongholds of Scotland and birthplace of James VI/I, son of Mary, Queen of Scots. There’s Holyroodhouse, the official residence of Her Majesty the Queen when she’s in Scotland (Balmoral is a privately owned estate). The … More The Pearl of Scotland

City of Literature

When I visited Prague for the first time, I remember telling my father that you could feel the literature seeping out of the cobblestones. The place was just oozing with literary intent and potential. For someone who’s as in love with literature as I am, it was an experience that was hard to beat. And … More City of Literature

The McLeod Story

A Lowlands laird invited all his friends to his grand hall, newly built, for a feast celebrating its completion. The lairds came from all around, from the Lowlands, the Highlands, and the Islands, for the party. At the dinner, the host grabbed one of his guests, a laird from the Isle of Skye, by the … More The McLeod Story

The Fairy Glen

Scotland is a land of well-educated people. Since times immemorial, Scottish people have been on the whole better educated than their English counterparts (sorry, Limeys). Some of the greatest Enlightenment thinkers – Adam Smith, David Hume, Francis Hutcheson – came from Scotland. Some of the greatest writers of all time – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, … More The Fairy Glen

Blood and Wine

I don’t write very much about nightlife. That’s because I don’t usually find nightlife that interesting. Give me a glass of wine and a good book any night. But, every once in a while, something comes along that’s too good to pass up. One of the great things about living in a city is that … More Blood and Wine

Burns Night

Whether or not you’re particularly literarily inclined (as I am), when you come to Scotland you’ll notice that there are references to one literato everywhere you look: Robert Burns. Good old Rabbie Burns was born on January 25th, 1759 in a small farming village on the west coast of Scotland, near Ayr. After his father died, … More Burns Night

Greyfriars

If you walk down George VI Bridge south of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, you’ll come across a statue of a dog. Across the street behind the statue, there’s a pub that shares the dog’s name: Greyfriars Bobby. Behind the pub is the church from which both take their name: Greyfriars Kirk. Named for the … More Greyfriars

Julemarked

One of my favorite things to do at Christmastime is visit a Christmas market. It was something that I started doing in Chicago, and it became a tradition of sorts to visit Christkindlmarket on Daley Plaza on Black Friday (my family and I being allergic in the extreme to superstores on this particular day). I’m … More Julemarked

Quel Beau Lieu!

Everyone knows that the highlands are beautiful, but every once in a while someone says it. In the year 1230, a group of monks, called the Valliscaulians, built themselves a priory just outside Inverness. The location was ideal for them: It was close enough to the city to have some help in emergencies, far enough … More Quel Beau Lieu!

Uisge Beatha

Queen Victoria was a big fan of Scotland. During her reign, she decided that it would behoove her to see how the people of her nation lived. She also realized that her kingdom extended beyond England, and she traveled accordingly. In 1842, five years after taking the throne, she made her first trip to Scotland. … More Uisge Beatha

A Greek Play, in Italian, in a Greek Theater, in Italy

I love seeing a good set of ruins. They’re grand, they’re picturesque, and they prove to you that all that stuff you learned in your sixth grade history class actually happened. Also, you can get awesome pictures that make you look like you’re all sorts of cultured. At the same time, though, it’s sad to … More A Greek Play, in Italian, in a Greek Theater, in Italy

Gelato a Roma

As far as I’m concerned, Rome is a gelato aficionado’s Mecca. I mean, the place is just rife with gelaterie. And as with any business that has to vie for tourists’ attention, they’re all trying to one-up each other. While maintaining standards and coming up with new ideas like that might be difficult for the … More Gelato a Roma

Buona Pasqua!

Happy Easter! Or, as we say in Italia, Buona Pasqua! Last Sunday was Easter Sunday, the most important day in the Catholic calendar, which kicked off the Easter Season (Catholics don’t have months, we have seasons; this means that you can wish people a happy Easter all the way until Pentecost, which falls on May … More Buona Pasqua!

Siracusa’s Old Town: Parco Archeologico della Neapolis

If Ortigia is the place in Siracusa for the aesthete and eater, then the Parco Archeologico della Neapolis is the place in Siracusa for history buffs. (pahr-koh ahr-key-oh-loh-jee-koh deh-lah ney-ah-poh-lees; Neapolis Archaeological Park) As Ortigia is too small for anything other than the absolute necessities of a town, the entertainment district was built on the … More Siracusa’s Old Town: Parco Archeologico della Neapolis

Buon Cibo

It’s no secret that Italians love their food. It’s also, at this point, no secret that I also love all manner of tasty treats. Naturally, if you put the two of us together, we’re going to do a bit of eating. Being from the United States, specifically a part with a great many Sicilian immigrant … More Buon Cibo

What a Wonder It Is!

The Duomo in Milano has been flabbergasting people for centuries, and not always in the good way. According to John Ruskin, the Victorian-era art critic, the cathedral stole “from every style in the world; and every style spoiled.” Ouch. Oscar Wilde was of much the same opinion: “The Cathedral is an awful failure. Outside the … More What a Wonder It Is!

La Valle dei Templi

My students usually roll their eyes when I tell them what I did over the weekend. Most of them are pretty sure that there are more interesting things to see in Italy than museums and archaeological parks – namely, night clubs and shopping centers. As I explain to them, though, we have those things in … More La Valle dei Templi