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My Hong Kong Travel Log: Part 2 – The Adventure Continues – From the Peak to Macau and Home

By Seth Singleton

We left the Peak for the comfort of our beds and a chance to sleep in for a few hours later than normal.
Then we packed our bags and drove to the port and boarded a ferry to Macau.

We checked in to our rooms at The Parisian before heading down to Santo Antonio where the street food and the shops were brimming with people spilling onto the streets.

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We celebrated some of the most amazing Portuguese cuisines from the exquisite Michelin star restaurant Antonio

The next morning we recovered with a buffet and boarded a ferry back to Hong Kong and a drive through Repulse Bay and the homes of the expatriates.

My wife grabbed a nap while Dean and I made a Hawaiian bread recipe that produced two loaves, six nine rolls and one round.

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The next day Dean joined us for lunch after a doctor appointment and then we returned to the house for a day of relaxation.

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On our last day, my wife joined me on an adventure to see Hong Kong’s local comic book shops. We ventured to Causeway Bay and then finished our evening with a viewing of A Star is Born with Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson.

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The next morning we rode to the airport with Dean and boarded our plane home.

I’m not a world traveler, yet, but my love of traveling continues to grow.

Thank you for joining me on another adventure.

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A Return to Adventure with My Hong Kong Travel Log: Part 1 – SFO To Sai Kung To Mon Kok to Sneaker Street and the Avenue of Comic Book Stars

By Seth Singleton

Adventure

Somewhere in my 20’s traveling became a frustrating juggling act of responsibility and money.
Gone was the excitement of my childhood.

But, with a little work and a lot of time spent realigning my perceptions I found my way back to the stories at the heart of every journey.

That doesn’t mean that it is all roses and glory, or that I don’t have a few bumps along the way.

It means that the challenges and the rewards are equally important to the value of the journey and the reasons that we share it.

This is Part 1 of my travel log, about my journey to Hong Kong and everything I tried to remember along the way.

And it all starts with a return to adventure.

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Aside from a 30-minute flight delay, our departure from San Francisco’s International Aiport terminal SFO on Cathay Pacific was uneventful and fairly routine. I recorded a short video for my parents and my sister and her family using an app called Marco Polo and then Tracy and I snacked on a yogurt parfait and croissant egg sandwich respectfully.

On board, we loaded movies from the video player mounted in the headrest in front of us and settled in for the long flight. After an early meal service of BBQ pork and thin-sliced beef with tomato with rice, shrimp quinoa salad, and a passionfruit cheesecake, the person in front of me reclined their seat. I

was pinned. My legs are too long for most flights, and about 15 minutes later I had to stand up in the aisle. This happens to me on occasion and I have even written about it before. It’s an unfortunate side effect of air travel that can be an inconvenience if you are taller than your seat. This time I picked up my Ipad and read from a book and then watched a video I had downloaded last night.

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Each time someone passed I would slide back into my seat and then slide back out once they had passed. Because of the narrow space between my seat and the reclined seat behind me, my knees, hips, and butt would jostle the person seated in front of me. I don’t know if this was the only reason that they eventually looked up and back to see me standing with my Ipad, moments before I slid back into my seat when the next person approached. But, when I stood back up, they decided to move their seat back to the upright position.

I waited a moment to make sure this was not just a minor adjustment. When the seat stayed for more than 30 seconds I took it as a good sign, and my wife looked up at me with a relieved smile. I replied, “Yayy, I get to sit down again. That’s always a good part of a trip.”

We landed at 6:45 p.m. local time. We exited customs with our bags to find Dean and Andre waiting for us. We exchanged hugs and followed them to the car in the parking garage. The airport is on an island. Dean explained the layout of Hong Kong as we approached the city from a suspension bridge.

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About 30 minutes later we stopped for a quick dinner. I couldn’t help but chuckle that we had chosen a Japanese restaurant for our first meal in Hong Kong. But, the local influence was clear from the first bite. Not only were the portions twice the size of a similar order I liked to enjoy back home, but the rich flavor of the noodles and the texture of the chicken were absolutely sublime.

I had taken a moment before our food arrived to step outside. My sinuses had been a mess since our landing. I blew my nose into some crumpled napkins until I could draw a clean breath. I looked up at the night sky and smiled at my good fortune.

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Back inside, I could only smile thankfully that we had landed safely, were greeted by family when we did, and soon we would be driving to our new home for the next 10 days. It was the feeling I associated with receiving a gift.

I could only imagine what would happen the next day.

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Gorgeous Photos and Final Travel notes from St. Francis, Assisi, the Coliseum, Forum, and the Vatican

By Seth Singleton

Wrapping up travel notes

We’ve been home for a month now and despite my best efforts, there is no more time to write about our trip to Italy. Instead, these are my notes and reflections of our remaining days in Assisi and Rome in Italy.

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Florence to Assisi

We boarded a train for Assisi and found our way down the tracks for two hours.

We arrived under a sprinkle of rain and looked out the window to see the city of Assisi resting on a hill. The city looked like something from a textbook.

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We arrived and met our host Francesco at the cafe that he his father and brother owned.

Our check-in was magical and even recorded for posterity.

We spent our first day wandering around and eating a late lunch or early dinner at the little pizzeria next door to our place.

We downloaded a tour from the laudable Rick Steve’s Europe website.

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Assisi by rooftop

We followed the first tour around the city.

The next day took a tour of the church named after the town’s most famous resident, Saint Francis. The theme that was recurring during the tour and in almost all representation of Francis were the examples of how Francis was willing to surrender the comforts that he had grown up enjoying. for his entire life until that moment.

The repeated story was that Francis confronted his father and removed all of his wealthy clothing as a physical example of his renouncement of all worldly things.

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Church of St. Francis and the Basilica.

His wife Claire. Followed his bath and with her Poor Claire’s she created a women’s nunnery that lived by the same example that Francis founded his monastery.

We left Assisi and our friend Francesco behind with a sadness. Assisi felt magical and welcoming in the same breath.

Our last stop was Rome

We started with an afternoon landing at the train station. When we checked in and put down our belongings we went outside to find somewhere to eat. then we went to the Vespa rental and secured a pair of two wheels to let us get around town. That evening we drove out to the Coliseum and then around town. It was a challenge to recognize the way the Italians drove.

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Lane-splitting is common back home, but there is still an adherence to the need for the double-yellow line. In Italy, lane-splitting is a flexible concept. The double-yellow line is more of a suggestion than a hard rule. When traffic backed up or was just moving too slowly the scooters would dip and drift around and between the cars. It was very common to see a scooter coming straight toward another vehicle. Sometimes it was another scooter, other times a large truck.

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We started at the Coliseum. It was really breathtaking to walk around the stones and see the way they fit together like carved pieces. Our tour guides were a little unimpressive. But, the knowledge we gained was decent and we moved on.

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Next came the forum. It was probably the most peaceful place I have ever been.

For all the crowds and the growing heat of the day, it felt so comforting. I had the sense that if I needed or just wanted to I could lay down there on a block of stone or a just the ground. I felt like the arms of the place like the past of the place would keep me safe and warm and at home.

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The next day Tracy had arranged for us to take a private tour of the Vatican. Our guide was wonderful. She understood where we need to pay the greatest focus. She often pointed to the ways we could stop and rest and enjoy a drink of water.

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Statues were painted to look alive. The eyes were designed to look alive. Only the best-preserved statues retain these colors

When we reached the place that stood above the place where St. Peter’s tomb lay there were no pictures allowed and no talking. Our guide warned us that when we entered we would be able to turn around and see the beautiful paintings by Michelangelo.

Later we walked down to the post office and bought postcards for our parents. We took video and stared in wonder at the beauty of the thing.

 

The church was originally the place where the body of Peter was kept. Peter was one of twelve disciples of Jesus. When he joined up his name was Thomas. Jesus told him that he would be the rock and cornerstone that the Catholic Church would build upon and changed his name to Peter. When planning for the Vatican expanded the church to include an outdoor arena there was an intent made to make the extensions curve so they appear to look like two large arms. The hope was that each person who entered the arena would feel the welcoming embrace of the church.
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Our final stop was the Pantheon. It is the largest domed structure to pre-date Roman construction. The width of the dome is the same as the base of the building.

It houses the statues of many old gods and after it was repurposed for the Catholic church it began to hold the bodies of saints. The light through the stained glass at the top was soft and dreamy.

Our trip was over. We dropped off the scooter and had dinner at the same restaurant where we ate every night since we had arrived.

In the morning we gathered our luggage and took a taxi to the airport. We left the city where we first landed more than a week ago. The plane lifted off into the air and we carried memories of Florence, Assisi, and Rome into our hearts.

 

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The Academíe was the school where student artists studied masterworks of history like the plaster molds of statues by Bartolini and Pampolini, and legendary musical instruments by Stradivari and Cristofari found sanctuary

This is a series of posts following my wife and me on a tour of Italy.  

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By Seth Singleton

Why the Academie?

We had already seen the statue of David. It was gorgeous and stunning. Our guide Sylvie had explained that David had been viewed in a public square for decades. That love had brought it indoors. But, why here? We were told that it had been a center of learning since 1784. What was this place before?

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Before it was the Acedemíe

It was a hospital. The Friary Hospital of San Matthew. The adjoining building was the Convent of Saint Niccolo of Cafaggio. Little is recorded about the hospital before this time. Peter Leopold, the Grand Duke of Tuscany chose the building because it adjoined the Accademia di Belle Arti or the Fine Arts Academy. The collection was regularly updated with paintings gathered from other convents and monasteries by Grand Duke Peter Leopold and then Napoleon.

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Why it Mattered

It was a place of learning.

Students went there to learn perspective and proportion from the statues in the “Gipsoteca Bartolini.” The statues were plaster casts made by legendary sculptor and academy professor Lorenzo Bartolini. The molds were pierced with steel pins or rods. Students could use these pins for reference when they compared limbs and fingers with the head and torso.

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A key value of the Rennaisance was the return to realistic art that portrayed life with fullness and authenticity. One aspect that arose from this pursuit was the concern given to perspective. The pins allowed them to scale fingers, toes, eyes, lips, nose, and chin. It brought life to statues and paintings by making them appear more human.

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The Gipsoteca meant “the hall of models” creates a visual timeline from Neoclassicism and Romanticism.  Bartolini’s busts and medallions were in high demand from Russian, Polish, and English families.

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The large collection of infant statues were the specialty of Luigi Pampolini. Pampolini’s ability to match Bartolini in grace and beauty rose the two sculptors to equal fame in the eyes of Florentine’s art patrons. The details they capture are so clear they provide insights into hair and clothing fashions and popular ideologies of the time.

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A Sanctuary for Musical Instruments

The same passion that brought to life painting and sculpture during the Rennaissance can be seen in the exhibits housed at the Museum of Musical Instruments.  The 50 original pieces of the Grand Ducal collection include the roots of the piano invented by Bartolomeo Cristofori and the tenor viola made by Antonio Stradivari.

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Cristofori and the Pianoforte

Cristofori was born in 1655 and worked for the son of the Duke of Tuscany making harpsichords and clavichords. It is believed his work on the first piano began during the 1690s. The first version was completed in 1709.

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The pianoforte was the first name of the device Cristofori invented. By connecting each key to little hammers that strike the strings, the instrument that would become the piano produced a louder sound than the clavichord. The complication of dampening the sound from the string was avoided with an escapement. This allowed each hammer to fall away from the string immediately after it was struck.

Numerous innovations produced tones that reflected the force used by a player striking the keys. This new instrument did not catch on for a very long time. Cristofori was among at least 100 other artisans He was considered a mere tinkerer.

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The piano he created was modified many times over the three centuries that bring us to the modern piano. The changes replaced Cristofari’s name with words like Steinway, grand, and upright.

Imitation is the Sincerest Form…

Stradivari crafted over 1,100 musical instruments before his death. Over 650 still exist today, but there are also thousands of replicas that were inspired by the different changes and styles of violins he produced. To many collectors, this has led to confusion about what is an authentic Stradivari instrument. Adding to the problem is the addition of the phrase Antonio Stradivarius Cremonensis Faciebat Anno followed by the numeric year.

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A travel blog is much like the destination it describes. The academy was a place where we went to see the statue of David by Michelangelo.

What we found was more than the home for a brilliant sculpture by a legendary artist. This was a home where students worked and strived. The evidence of the artists they aspired to emulate line the floors and walls.

Now it is the home for paintings, sculptures, and musical instruments that offer a timeline in three dimensions.

 

Click the link to contract blog content from Seth.

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Finding David in the crowded Galleria della’Academíe di Firenze feels like the Prisoners carved by Michelangelo are breaking away from the stone to reach him

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By Seth Singleton

This is a series of posts following my wife and me on a tour of Italy. Our touchdown in Rome and immediate transfer to Florence by train allowed us to cross the Il Duomo off our list early. 

On Day 3 we seek the statue of David. Our story opens with jet lag, naps, coffee, naps and finally the museum.

Our Journey Begins at the End of a Celebration

What a confusing time a day can feel and be without enough sleep. The night had been a dizzying affair. After eating too much — not really too much, but more, so much — good food during a glorious dinner reservation arranged by friends of Tracy at La Casalinga, the enormity of our meal demanded we rest for just a moment.
We had returned to our Airbnb. I was supposed to make a call to Jabari to go over the details of the meeting that I missed while we were at dinner.
I was fighting 22 hours of sleepless travel ended by a four-hour nap and 18 hours of sights and then five hours of sleep. Whatever additional hours of sleep Tracy had gained over me, and been fitful at best.
I opened my notes and corresponding documents in GDrive. My eyes would not focus. The ratio of sleep to awake was catching up.

Promises, Promises

My promises to myself that I just needed 10 minutes to close my eyes and collect my notes first, were futile and foolhardy. The notes were useless if I could not open my eyes to read them. I was exhausted and I was spinning across my list of goals when sleep brought me down and away.
I am sure that my alarm went off and that I turned it off and I am sure I don’t remember. I woke up hours later.
I inhaled my first three pots of coffee and scheduled a time to call Jabari. The pots are small, strong, and take forever to kick in. When they do, it feels electric.
It was a review call, most of the topics had been covered two days prior, but new details were always developing. One writer was working on plotting, editing would be staged in layers, and everyone’s assignments were beginning to set like we concrete molds.
When we were done, I crawled back into bed with Tracy.
She continued to the toss and turn and then so did I. The mosquitoes were feasting and just when I thought that I had killed the last one, I would wake up 20-45 minutes later to a buzzing sound near my ear. Once I killed it or gave up trying I would find the 1-3 new bug bites that were the size of a quarter — or a two Euro coin —  or larger.
When I could not sleep anymore, I read and made edits to the document that Jabari and I had talked over.
Tracy had given up hope for trying to get any more sleep. We found a brunch spot, mapped our walk, left with bellies sated. Then we walked back toward the Il Duomo-side of the Basilica Saint Mary of the Flower.

Walking like a Ghost

The tour organizer who had helped us reach the top the day before was named E. Patel. He smiled each time I asked what name the letter E began to spell. When we spoke with him the day before to schedule our tour to the top of the Duomo, he had mentioned that individual tickets for David usually had a 3-4 day wait because of its popularity. We had considered that option before we left the United States, but we had both experienced the unpredictability of domestic and international air travel. When we had factored in our train ride from Rome to Florence, the list of variables had outweighed the benefit of buying tickets for David in advance online.
The best bet if time was short, and it was, was to find a tour company that had already purchased tickets and squeeze in with them. I knew that E Patel had tickets available when he was telling us. But, that was the day before. Today we needed to find out if he had tickets that would fit our schedule.
We found E. Patel. He smiled at our request and called over an associate who made an appointment for 3:30 p.m. later that same day. He handed us our receipt and we started walking.
It was 1:10 p.m. Two hours to use and after ten minutes I knew I needed more sleep. Tracy asked what I wanted to do next. I tried to stall and see if I could do something like shop, or find a place to relax. A few minutes later and I had no suggestions. I said I needed to go back to sleep before the tour. She guided us back to our place. We walked into the apartment at 1:25.
I set the alarm for an hour and it seemed only minutes later when Tracy was waking me up. I dressed to head back out.
Ten minutes later we met our guide Silvia and the group outside the Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze or the Accademia Gallery Museum of Florence, Italy.

The Academy Tour

After my short nap, the heat of the sun felt draining. I looked around to see others seeking shade or something to drink and I felt a little better.
We waited for 20 minutes and then Sylvie handed out the same receivers and headphones that we wore on our tour of the Duomo.
Our audio check-in to confirm that the units all worked was followed by directions to follow her to the security checkpoint. Bags were scanned, and phones were checked through. We were reminded that all areas allowed photography without using a flash.
Sylvie provided a brief historical context for the Academy. It was established in the 18th century to be a school of art and took over two spaces that were originally the Hospital of Saint Matthew and the Convent of Saint Niccolo’ of Cafaggio. A complete history is available here.

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That’s our guide Sylvie in the bottom right corner.

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The walls were hung with paintings from convents and monasteries and the hallways lined with sculptures. These collections were rescued from the widespread suppression by Grand Duke Leopold of Lorraine and later expounded by Napolean the Great were learning tools for the students.

Signs of International Gothic

Sylvie pointed out that some of the stranger aspects of the paintings and other art reflected the customs and fashions of the times. She pointed to three or four lesser-known works that appeared to be men in dresses until she explained that the women were part of a wedding painting. At that time it was fashionable for women to shave their foreheads. So, we were not looking at balding men, but women.
This wedding painting and others like it were examples of international gothic. Odd angular proportions of arms, hands, bodies, and heads were common.
Sylvie invited us to compare the works we saw here with the Madonna, the Mona Lisa in Paris, and Brunelleschi and the Duomo and the Tower.
Sylvie reminded us that the purpose of this art was equal parts religious worship and practical investment in the afterlife. Essentially, you could buy paradise by commissioning a painting or sculpture featuring religious subjects.
We received a review on the Renaissance from Sylvie. She reminded us of the change that the new view of thinking brought to artists in every field.
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She then told us that the statues of the prisoners were the first teachers of Michelangelo.
Michaelangelo believed that the spirit is a prisoner in our bodies. The statues are slaves.
Then she brought us to the statue of David.
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David is the moment before the kill. He is calm and thoughtful and preparing for the battle that he has agreed to fight.
A shepherd, sling over his shoulder, stones in his hand.
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His hands are so big. They were meant to be viewed from below. The angle and degree that it is seen from now are different from its original intention.
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David was carved from a single block of rare marble. Two other artists attempted to carve this statue. They both stepped away from the project and cited that it was too hard.
Florentines fell in love with it.
They called it the Giant.
Michelangelo was buried in Christi church.