Christmas Carols & Middle Eastern Music on Oxford Street

The melting pot doesn’t end in London, though.

“Immigrants have been coming here for over a thousand years,” said our guide, Debbie. The self-professed “London girl” also warned us that we’d all be foreigners in Kent, England, our destination 44 miles southeast of London.

We started in the historic Leeds Castle, owned by monarchs and lords from the 13th through the 19th centuries and purchased and restored by American heiress Lady Olive Baillie in the 1920s.

Leeds Castle, Kent, England

After she died in 1974, Lady Baillie left the property to a foundation created to preserve it for posterity. The building, grounds and personal effects are evidence of a time when American industrialists and cash-strapped European nobility were a match made in heaven. 

Lady Baillie’s Apartments

Up next, Debbie and our lovely coach’s driver, Joan, took us to the historic White Cliffs of Dover. The white chalk natural monuments are as much a homecoming sight for those sailing back to England today as once they were for “Dunkirk” survivors amid WWII.

White Cliffs of Dover

For the third and final leg of our day trip, we made it to the UNESCO World Heritage city of Canterbury. Syrian, Thai and Mexican food trucks—and even a Bolivian guy selling Andes-themed Christmas sweaters—lined the street market leading up to the medieval Canterbury Cathedral Gate.

Canterbury Cathedral Gate

The breathtaking Canterbury Cathedral, also known as “England in Stone,” has witnessed the country’s history for centuries. Magna Carta negotiations, royal weddings and funerals, WWII bombings and the martyrdom of Thomas Becket are some of the momentous events that happened within its walls. 

Canterbury Cathedral

Back in London, holiday angels flew over locals and visitors from all walks of life at the tune of Christmas carols and Middle Eastern music played by stores and the ubiquitous pedicabs from Oxford Street to Spitalfields Market.

Spitalfields Market.

The deliciously-looking Brazilian Bolinhos de Bacalhau, Napolitan pizzettas and other international delicatessen tempted me as I walked through the market and towards Brick Lane, the district famous for its Indian and Bangladeshi curry houses. 

Brick Lane, East London

London will treat you to the world’s flavors on one corner and its grand heritage on the next. Holborn Bars, a Victorian red terracotta building in Camden, stands on the site of a former Inn where Charles Dickens lived and worked.

Holborn Bars

Built by the Knights Templar, Temple Church is another national treasure. The official house worship of the Inner and Middle Temples, two of London’s four ancient legal colleges, holds the tombs of prominent jurists, knights and priceless works of art like the Blitz-surviving 12th-century Victorian tiles. 

Temple Church

The railings of another historic church, Holy Sepulchre London, preserve London’s First Drinking Fountain. The Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association built it in 1859 to end the cholera outbreaks that had plagued the city until then.

London’s First Drinking Fountain

Sir John Soane’s Museum is one of those underrated London treasures. The former Lincoln Inn Fields, home of the famous Neo-classical architect, remains untouched since the Victorian days, and it’s renowned for its sepulchral chamber with the Egyptian sarcophagus. 

Sir John Soane’s Museum

While Central London’s Christmas decorations are a must, it’s worth taking the trek to Christmas at Kew, where talented artists combined the botanical beauty with neon lights and holiday music to achieve spectacular, immersive experiences like The Palm House and The Cathedral.

Christmas at Kew

Last but not least, visiting Warner Bros. Studio Tour London — The Making of Harry Potter was genuinely magical, as was witnessing how the phenomenon based on J. K. Rowling’s famous books keeps bringing together people of all nationalities, races and generations.

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London — The Making of Harry Potter

Happy Christmas, England!

Japan: Real-Life Anime (Part III)

Japan, a country where anime artists design public transportation, is living in 2022, while the rest of us remain stuck in 1954.

Part I

Part II

There’s not a dull moment in Tokyo.

I’ve spent six days in the Japanese capital and have already experienced sensory overload, a lunar eclipse and an earthquake.

But none of these things stop Tokyoites, who are intensely punctual, clean and orderly.

No one jaywalks, and everyone wears a face mask while looking sharp (no sweats, leggings or any of that “business casual” nonsense).

The city has thirteen metro lines: nine Tokyo Metro and four Toei Subway ones, along with the JR East and Yamanote lines—each with multiple interconnected, numbered, Romanized and color-coded stations.

JR East

It is rush hour all day long, even on the weekends. Everything blinks and beeps everywhere: perennial PA announcements, ubiquitous video screens of all sizes, arcade game-type music and even artificially-generated bird-chirping.

This city is intense. And this is coming from a New Yorker.

Thank god for urban oases like Gotokuji Temple, the birthplace of the famous “Lucky Cat.”

Legend has it daimyo li Naotaka was hunting on the temple grounds when the abbot’s pet cat beckoned him inside, saving him from getting struck by lightning.

Gotokuji Temple

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is another peaceful retreat for stressed office workers and overwhelmed tourists in the middle of the busy Shibuya and Shinjuku districts.

The shogun bequeathed it to Lord Naitō in the Edo period. The latter used it as a family residence until the Meiji Restoration, when it underwent various phases, including as a botanical and an imperial garden. 

The current layout dates from the turn of the 20th century. As one sits on the tranquil and beautifully-manicured lawns, it’s hard to imagine the obliteration the site sustained due to Allied air raid bombings during WW2.

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden

Yasukuni Jinja, a Shinto shrine founded in 1879 by Emperor Meiji in Chiyoda City, memorializes many WW2 victims and those from previous conflicts. 

The grand First and Second gates, Tearooms and Divine Pond Garden lead to the Main Hall, which features the Japanese Imperial Chrysanthemum, honoring the over 2 million men, women and children who died for the country. 

The Memorial Fountain “Statue of a Mother Offering Water” was the most moving. The Kiwanis Club of Tokyo, a volunteer organization founded in Detroit, MI, dedicated it to many of the war dead who “longed for their mothers and pure water at the last moment.” 

Yasukuni Shrine Memorial Fountain

Every corner of this city is historical, including open-air markets like Ameyoko. The shopping street next to Ueno Station in Taito City is a haven for fresh and prepared food, clothing and technology. 

In the aftermath of WW2, it was the site of a black market that sold surplus US army goods, including candy, at a time when sugar was scarce. Among the current businesses, a store that sells military gear stands out.

The shopping district is bustling the week after Christmas when locals flock to take advantage of New Year’s sales, which offer many staples used in traditional Japanese end-of-year gatherings.

Ameyoko Shopping Street

Kappabashi Street—or Kitchen Town—between Ueno and Asakusa is another famous urban market that caters to the restaurant business. 

Stores selling sushi knives, ramen bowls and ultra-realistic versions of plastic dishes restaurants use for displays line the street.

A couple of shops specialize in chopsticks alone. They have multiple designs, which, upon sale, they wrap up beautifully. It’s hard to imagine such establishments in the US, where Amazon has substituted even the more general brick-and-mortar stores. 

Kappabashi Street

No Tokyo visit would be complete without riding the Leigi Matsumoto-designed Himiko boat. 

The anime legend, who collaborated with Daft Punk in several music videos for their 2001 album “Discovery,” created a real-life vessel out of his mythical space operas, like “Space Battleship Yamato” and “Captain Harlock: Dimensional Voyage.”

It’s a water bus fit to cruise Tokyo Bay and admire its futuristic landmarks, including the Tokyo Skytree and the Rainbow Bridge.

Himiko Cruise

Part IV

Japan: Real-Life Anime (Part II)

Remember when Bugs Bunny dug a hole so deep he ended up popping up on an upside-down oriental world? News flash: we’re the upside-down ones.

Part I

Japanese culture is rooted in politeness, loyalty, justice, modesty, refined manners and respect for the elderly. 

Do yourself a favor and research before visiting. 

If not, asking the hotel staff or your tourist guide about basic etiquette is useful. 

When everything else fails: read the room.

For example, when entering Meiji Shrine, walk along the sidelines, never through the middle, which is the gods’ path. 

Meiji Shrine, Harajuku Entrance

The Japanese people dedicated the shrine to their 122nd emperor, Meiji, a progressive leader who modernized the country through a “Japanese Spirit and Western Knowledge” philosophy.

Meiji Shrine

Leading by example, he encouraged the Japanese to wear Western clothes and haircuts and to broaden their food and drink consumption. French wine lovers, especially those who favor Burgundy, will marvel at the display of barrels after the Harajuku entrance.

Meiji Shrine Wine

Across the vast and lush gravel gods’ path, another display signifies the intersection between Estas and West through spirits. Barrels of sake, the only drink the Japanese enjoyed before introducing wines, whiskeys and beers, provide another Instagrammable photo op.

Meiji Shrine Sake

Nowhere is Emperor Meiji’s legacy more evident than from the Tokyo Skytree. The 2+ thousand-feet broadcasting structure’s observation deck affords a dizzying 360-degree view of the 40 million people megalopolis (think New York City’s One Vanderbilt times five).

Tokyo Skytree View

Nearby, Sensō-ji stands as the city’s oldest Buddhist temple. A gigantic complex with halls, gates, a five-storied pagoda and a shopping street, the site holds religious festivals attracting as many as 30 million local and foreign visitors a year.

Sensō-ji Temple

Tokyo feeds both body and soul. The Tsukiji Fish Market is one of the best places for the former. Opened in the 1930s, it encompasses wholesale and retail shops, restaurant supply stores and street-style eateries, like the one where I had the freshest (and most giant!) oyster of my life.

Tsukiji Fish Market

After sampling the delicatessen of Japanese cuisine, a stroll to Ueno Park, established in 1873, is in order. Tokyo’s oldest public park exemplifies the Westernization of the early Meiji period. Think London’s Hyde Park with museums, temples and shrines. 

Ueno Park

The park is home to the Tokyo National Museum and the National Museum of Western Art, among other cultural institutions. It also houses the magnificent Ueno Tōshō-gū Shrine, established in 1627, next to the Sacred Tree that predates it by 200 years.

Ueno Tōshō-gū Shrine

Ueno Daibutsu is another religious gem on the park grounds. The remaining head of an ancient Buddha statue, salvaged after earthquakes, fires, and wars, is a symbol of Japanese resilience and a popular spot for students to pray before exams. 

Ueno Daibutsu

North of Ueno Park, in Taitō City, you’ll find the upscale and bohemian neighborhood of Yanaka, which would give Venice Beach, CA vibes if Venice had ancient Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. 


The WW2 Allied bombing spared Yanaka, which shows in the well-preserved quaint homes. Wandering among its lovely neighborhoods, enjoying coffee and shopping for traditional Japanese souvenirs and stationery is a real treat.


The tomb of The Last Shogun in the Yanaka Cemetery is the cherry on top of this historic area. The last warrior to rule Japan surrendered Edo Castle helping to restore imperial power. In 1902, Emperor Meiji granted him the title of duke, which he bore until he died in 1913. The mausoleum is a nostalgic reminder of the end of an era in Japan.

Tomb of The Last Shogun

Part III

Protect Venice at All Costs

“La Serenissima,” which thrived over a thousand years despite plagues, wars and invasions, might face its most formidable challenge yet with dangerous rising sea levels or “Acqua Alta.”

In third grade, I learned that, in 1499, Amerigo Vespucci sailed westward along the northernmost coast of present-day South America, where palafitos built on stilts on the shores of Lake Maracaibo reminded him of Venetian homes (hence the name Venezuela).

Over five centuries later, a Venezuelan would come full circle by visiting La Serenissima and marveling at its seemingly floating palazzos, historic domes and romantic gondolas. Essentially unchanged since the times it ruled the world, rising sea levels threaten the city’s existence.

Grand Canal

Either by public ferry or private water taxi, the entrance into the city from Marco Polo Airport via the Grand Canal is a triumphant one. Unmistakable landmarks like Palazzo GrassiRialto Bridge and Santa Maria della Salute will welcome you.

Rialto Bridge

The latter, Saint Mary of Health, was our stop. The republic dedicated the two-dome, two bell-towered octagonal basilica as an offering of deliverance from the Black Plague that killed 50 thousand—a third of the population—in the 1630s.

Santa Maria della Salute

Across the Grand Canal, one Vaporetto stop or a short Traghetto ride away sits the historic St. Mark’s Square with the Doge’s Palace. The residential and administrative compound of the Duke of Venice, built in 1340 and modified through the centuries until it became a museum in 1923, houses the Doge’s apartments, institutional chambers and infamous prisons.

Doge’s Palace

A structure stands out: the Bridge of Sighs. This white limestone overpass connected the interrogation rooms with the cells over the Rio di Palazzo and provided prisoners’ final look at freedom. They peered through the small windows and saw the Ponte della Paglia with the Lagoon in the background.

Bridge of Sighs

Next door, St. Mark’s Basilica houses the relics of Saint Mark the Evangelist, the city’s patron saint, smuggled out of Alexandria in 828. The current building is the third version modeled after the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople, modified to meet structural needs and embellished with spoils from the Fourth Crusade to reflect the republic’s wealth and power.

St Mark’s Basilica

Its bell tower, St. Mark’s Campanile, stands alone in the square near the front of the basilica. The contemporary structure, a square brick shaft with vertical pillars initially intended as a watch tower, was reconstructed after the original one collapsed in 1902. Historically, the campanile signaled government assemblies and public executions, among other civic and religious events.

St. Mark’s Campanile

That evening, a beautiful full moon glowed over the Laguna and bathed the city in an almost supernatural light. After dinner, we took Il Vaporetto, hopped off at the Rialto Bridge stop and headed to Campo Bella Vienna. In this ancient piazza, local kids enjoyed music, Aperol Spritzes, beers and cigarettes. I felt transported to the “Call Me by Your Name” dance scene

Campo Bella Vienna

We started our second day by visiting Gianni Basso Stampatore. The legend showed us around his traditional printing shop and next-door museum, including the hand-operated machines with which he and his son produce beautiful cards and stationery. Signor Basso proudly displays thank you notes from satisfied celebrity customers like the late Queen Elizabeth II. He also told us how they spent six months repairing the shop after it was severely flooded in 2019.

Gianni Basso Stampatore

Up next, we experienced our “Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy” moment at the iconic Rialto Fish Market, which it’s been operating in the San Polo district for almost a thousand years. Five minutes away, through a maze of charming medieval streets, we found the CNN-famous All’Arco. We queued for half an hour to try the traditional Cicchetti or Venetian tapas (totally worth it!). 

Rialto Fish Market

Then it was onto Gallerie dell’Accademia for the Anish Kapoor retrospective, presented during the Venice International Art Biennale. Beyond the exhibition, I loved the juxtaposition of contemporary art and the classic building. I see it as a city’s commitment to preserving its past while looking toward the future.

Gallerie dell’Accademia

And speaking of using art to preserve the past while looking toward the future, London’s Maritime Museum showed last August the temporary exhibition “Canaletto’s Venice Revisited,” with works the acclaimed Venetian artist painted in the 1730s and how these inspired art, culture and generations of travelers. 

“Canaletto’s Venice Revisited” at London’s Maritime Museum

The curators also examined Venice’s social and environmental challenges. Overtourism, while contributing to the city’s coffers, also exacerbates rising sea levels, or Acqua Alta, making plastic boots one of the best-sold souvenirs and ultimately threatening the way of life depicted by Canaletto in his paintings.

“Canaletto’s Venice Revisited” at London’s Maritime Museum

Venice, which against all odds, thrived and survived plagues, wars and invasions, may be facing its most challenging test yet. And perhaps, its traditionally representative way of government, guaranteed by a robust system of checks and balances, could be the key to its survival.

Ciao, Venezia!

Last year, after intense activism, the city finally banned large cruise ships from sailing through the iconic St. Mark’s Square. These monstrous vessels now have to reroute and dock on the mainland: a win for Venetians and one step further for La Serenissima to look more like its former self.

Canaletto would be proud.

The British Museum Is Not My Favorite

Here are other London museums to visit instead.

The British Museum (photo featured) is not very popular.

It’s not only because they hold the Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Parthenon Marbles, both of which have had official repatriation claims from Egypt and Greece, respectively (to be fair, other American and European museums rightfully face similar requests).

Parthenon Marbles

Despite boasting an imposing building and a carefully curated collection, it feels sterile, almost corporate, as though not honoring the global cultures but Britain’s bygone imperialism.

The Rosetta Stone

But, as Bill Bryson wrote in “Notes from a Small Island,” “Museums, particularly small, unlikely museums, are something the British do remarkably well.”

And there’s no shortage of them in this fascinating city.

London Transport Museum

Like the London Transport Museum, which awakens the inner child, it shows the history of the transport system—from the first boats that crossed the River Thames to tube stations used as bomb shelters during the two World Wars. 

The Cartoon Museum

Or, The Cartoon Museum and its collection of political satire, from the Industrial Revolution to Brexit.

Museum of Brands

Another favorite, The Museum of Brands, will quench your nostalgia thirst with the history of consumer products and their influence on British culture.

Museum of London

History nerds will gag at The Museum of London, documenting the city’s existence from pre-historic times to the present—including a remnant of the Roman wall.

Sherlock Holmes Museum

For private eye fans, the Sherlock Holmes Museum offers quite the immersive experience at 221B Baker Street, “one of the world’s most famous addresses.” 

Churchill War Rooms

The Churchill War Rooms, located in the bunker where the then prime minister directed WW2 during Hitler’s advance on Europe, is the next best thing to a time machine.

Natural History Museum

Also known as “The Cathedral of Nature” because of its larger-than-life skeletons and Charles Darwin-collected specimens, the Natural History Museum will take your breath away.

The Wallace Collection

Richard Seymour-Conway, 4th Marquess of Hertford, left The Wallace Collection to his illegitimate son. The widow of the latter donated it on the condition that the nation would exhibit it free of charge. 

Royal Observatory

The Royal Observatory at Greenwich is worth the hike not only for the dramatic 1893 equatorial telescope but also because the historic Prime Meridian passes through it.

National Gallery

There’s something to be said about walking, free of charge, into one of the world’s most flawless painting collections, with works from the mid-13th through the 19th century, from Giotto to Cézanne. Hat tip to The National Gallery.

V&A Museum

The Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum‘s most impressive part is its fashion collection of over 14 thousand outfits and accessories from the 1600s to the present. The Met Gala could never.

Somerset House

Somerset House, the Neoclassical complex built on the site of a Tudor Palace, refreshingly hosts exhibitions about current topics like climate change and colonization.

Royal Academy

The Royal Academy (RA) of Arts is an independent and privately funded institution led by artists in its iconically gorgeous Burlington House building.

After I did visit the British Museum, I took a cab back home. 

Assuming I didn’t speak English—even though I had indicated my address before boarding, as it’s custom in London—the driver looked through the mirror and slowly (and loudly) modulated, “WH-ERE-AR-E-YO-U-FRO-M?” 

When I replied, “New Yawk City,” he somewhat mortified apologized, “I’m sorry, sir. I thought you were from the Arab states!” 

“Don’t apologize. I take it as a compliment,” I replied, for Arabs are not only beautiful people, but their civilization’s achievements are second to none.

Looking for the Mighty Hercules in Greece

Why I experienced deja vu and a feeling that time stands still in “the cradle of civilization.”

In the pilot of my favorite childhood cartoon, “The Mighty Hercules,” the Demigod defeats his friend Theseus (slayer of the Minotaur and founder of Athens) in a foot race and a wrestling match.

As a reward, he asks Zeus to send him to defend humans against evil and injustice. His father reminds him he’d become a mere mortal on Earth—unless he wears a magic ring endowed with His Thunder.

From ancient mythology, the story trickled down through literature, music and film to the classically-animated television series that entertained my childhood’s Sunday mornings—and perhaps catalyzed my sexual awakening.

Odeon of Herodes Atticus

We owe Greece so much: democracy, philosophy, politics and tragedy, to name just a few. Its influence is so pervasive that when I finally reached “the cradle of civilization,” I experienced deja vu

And a feeling that time stands still, particularly at the Acropolis, home of legendary ruins like the Odeon of Herodes Atticus.

The Roman senator built the musical venue in 161 AD to memorialize his wife, whom he allegedly killed in one of the first episodes of domestic violence.

The Slavic invasion of 267 AD destroyed it. It wasn’t until 1950 that the city restored it and used it to host the Athens Festival and performances by the likes of Maria Callas, Frank Sinatra, Nana Mouskouri and Luciano Pavarotti.

Ancient Agora of Athens

The nearby Ancient Agora of Athens was the center of political, commercial, religious and social activity for free-born citizens.

Destroyed by the Persian invasion of 480 BC and rebuilt by Pericles, the building has witnessed history’s most infamous episodes, like Socrates’ death sentence for impiety in 399 BC. 

Although the Agora kept its function through the early Roman period, the Germanic Heruli destroyed it in 267 CE.

In 1931, the American School of Classical Studies started restoration with a grant from the Greek government, the Marshall Plan and the Rockefeller Foundation. 

Emperor Hadrian Statue at Ancient Agora

A larger-than-life, headless statue of the Roman Emperor Hadrian also basks in the timeless light of the Agora.

The sculpture wears a chest plate featuring Athena standing on top of a she-wolf that feeds Romulus and Remus.

The scene represents the founding of Rome and Hadrian’s vision of Greece as the cultural capital of the empire.

Hadrian, emperor from 117 to 138 AD, encouraged military might and personally supervised numerous buildings in virtually every corner of the empire (including Rome’s Pantheon).

He’s also famous for his relationship with Greek youth Antinous, to whom he memorialized with the founding of a city—Antinopolis—after his untimely death by drowning in Egypt. 

Arch of Hadrian

To the west of the Acropolis, Athens erected The Arch of Hadrian in the 2nd century AD to honor the Roman emperor’s visit.

An inscription on the western side of the gate reads, “This is Athens, the ancient city of Theseus.” On the eastern side, “This is the city of Hadrian, not of Theseus.”

Scholars think it means the arch dividing the city between “old Athens” and “new Athens.”

Temple of Olympian Zeus

The adjacent Temple of Zeus (photo featured) was one of the largest in all of Greece, probably constructed around 470 BC.

Sculptures of the early Classical style, including a chariot race between Pelops and Oenomaus, adorned it. 

The most magnificent of them was Phidias’ 42-foot golden statue of Zeus, one of the seven wonders of the Ancient World.

The monument represented the god seated on an elaborate throne. Sadly, an earthquake of biblical proportions destroyed it around the 5th century CE.

Panathenaic Stadium

A ten-minute walk away, The Panathenaic Stadium stands on the site of an ancient racecourse. 

Lykurgus built it in 338 BC for the Panathenaic Games, where nude male athletes competed in track and athletics. 

Under the reign of Emperor Hadrian, Herodes Atticus rebuilt it in marble as a 50 thousand-seat sports arena. 

The advent of Christianity and a ban on pagan events around the 4th century AD rendered it obsolete and eventually abandoned.

In the late 1800s, benefactor Evangelos Zappas, encouraged by French aristocrat and founder of the 1894 International Olympic Conference, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, sponsored the Zappas Olympics, the precursor to the first modern Olympic Games. 


Like most European capitals, Athens empties in the summer. That’s why we hopped on the ferry to the quaint island of Hydra, a nearby oasis with no roads, cars or bikes—but with plenty of charm, water taxis and donkeys.

What Hydra lacks in size, it makes for in popular culture relevance. 

After Sophia Loren played a “wild Greek island girl” in her 1957 English film debut “Boy on a Dolphin,” shot on the island, celebrities, writers and aristocrats flocked. 

Even First Lady Jackie Kennedy made it!


Following Jackie O’s Greek summer journey of ’61, we went to Mykonos next, where I found the most spectacular sunsets on Earth—and scores of men with Herculean proportions.

Mykonos sunset

Mykonos is, according to mythology, the site of Gigantomachy, or the battle between the Olympian gods and the Giants. 

The epic face-off symbolizes the struggle between the cosmic order and the forces of chaos.

Enter Hercules, who—thanks to his status as a Demigod—could defeat and kill the Giants, whose dead bodies became the mass of rocks that form the island.



London off My Beaten Path

I hopped on the brand-new Elizabeth line, and it took me to places I’d never been before.

Yes, London’s classic landmarks never get old, and sometimes it is good to experience a place beyond its metropolitan limits. But the point of big apples like London, Paris or New York is that they always have something new to offer.

St Dunstan-in-the-East

Like St Dunstan-in-the-East, the church between London Bridge and the Tower of London was mostly destroyed on WW2 and then turned into a beautiful public garden where open-air services are occasionally performed. Commercials and video clips are routinely shot. 

Elizabeth line

The brand-new Elizabeth line was a delight to ride. Not only because it’s fully air-conditioned, but also because the trains are so quiet that you wouldn’t spill a martini even when they’re breaking.

Elizabeth line station

The frequent, hybrid and rapid rail service between central London (Paddington) and its suburbs (Heathrow to the west and Shenfield to the east) features accessible stations and trains, including cushioned seats and platform edge doors.

Elizabeth line Canary Wharf station

I rode it to Canary Wharf, where I transferred to the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) to reach the historic southeastern town of Greenwich, where many London gems are. 

The Painted Hall

Including The Painted Hall in the Old Royal Naval College. Also known as The British Sixtine Chapel, the grand room’s walls and ceilings covered with dramatic images depict the United Kingdom’s ascension as a dominant maritime global empire.

Tulip Stairs

Nearby, the Tulip Stairs are the crown jewel at the Queen’s House. One of the most Instagrammable places in Britain is also the location of the infamous 1966 “ghost” photograph

The Royal Exchange

Greenwich’s wealth of treasures makes it impossible to cover it all in one day, so more on that later. Meanwhile, back in central London, I headed to the financial district to experience a couple of sights that—while not “hidden”—had been out of my radar up until then.

The Royal Exchange

I had seen TikTok videos of the beautiful Royal Exchange, the 16th-century-designed former stock market now a luxury shopping center and eatery, but seeing it in person was short of breathtaking. 

The Sky Garden

I also stopped at the nearby Sky Garden. The observation deck/food plaza on the 36th floor of 20 Fenchurch Street (“the Walkie-Talkie building”) was perhaps the most touristy of them all, despite the stunning views of the London skyline on such a bright and clear summer day.

Leadenhall Market

My favorite in the neighborhood, Leadenhall Market, was established in 1321. Its elaborate roof structure, painted in pastel colors, makes you feel like you just stepped into a Wes Anderson movie.

The Museum of London

A 10-minute walk away, the Museum of London brings to life the city’s history, from pre-Roman through Edwardian, Victorian to modern times—including vivid representations of the Great Plague, the Great Fire and other calamities suffered by Londoners throughout their long history.

London Wall

The most impressive part is the juxtaposition of the London Wall (erected c. AD 200) and the glass high-rises outside the museum and close to the Barbican Centre.

The Vaults

And speaking of the future, The Vaults, London’s underground home for urban, alternative and immersive art, lives in Waterloo station‘s unused tunnels. Also known as Leake Street graffiti tunnels, the one and only Banksy founded it.

Tomb of Karl Marx

Highgate Cemetery in the borough of Camden opened in 1839 to solve overflowing and unsanitary church graveyards. The Victorian funerary ground is best known for being the final resting place of Karl Marx.

Tomb of Radclyffe Hall

Come for Marx and stay for Queer icon Radclyffe Hall. The author of the controversial Victorian lesbian novel “The Well of Loneliness” is buried in the Batten family’s vault in the Circle of Lebanon on the western side of the cemetery. Singer Mabel Batten was Radclyffe’s first lover. 

Museum of Brands

I live for London’s niche museums, and the Museum of Brands in Notting Hill didn’t disappoint. It documents the history of consumer culture through items from the Robert Opie Collection (The most extensive collection of British nostalgia).

Museum of Brands

Curated and installed as a “Time Tunnel,” the museum takes you on a 200-year journey of the history of labeled packaged goods, from Victorian times to the present, describing how brands, shopping habits and human behavior have evolved and their influence on pop culture and movements like the emancipation of women.

Thames River Sightseeing

For my second visit to Greenwich, I hopped on a Thames River Sightseeing boat, which took my fellow tourists and me through the historic waterway on a bright, beautiful day to admire London’s landmarks—including a brief stop at Tower Bridge/Tower of London.

Prime meridian

After a 40-minute ride, we disembarked at Greenwich Pier, from which I climbed the 15-minute steep Greenwich Park hill to the Royal Observatory to witness the legendary Prime meridian.

The Great Equatorial Telescope

The Royal Observatory is also home to The Great Equatorial Telescope, installed in 1893.

National Maritime Museum

At the bottom of the hill, the National Maritime Museum documents Greenwich’s maritime history from the landing of the Romans through the times of Henry VII, Charles II and beyond.

“Canaletto’s Venice Revisited” at the National Maritime Museum

A temporary exhibition, “Canaletto’s Venice Revisited,” shows paintings from the 1700s by artist Giovani Antonio Canal representing Venetian life and how it inspired British and other global citizens to visit the beautiful Italian city.

“Canaletto’s Venice Revisited” at the National Maritime Museum

It also examines how over-tourism and rising sea levels threaten the Venetian way of life, as evidenced by the sale of colorful plastic boots to keep tourists’ feet dry during acqua alta

“Africa Fashion” at the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum

Not an “off-the-beaten-path” destination, the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum stands out for its outstanding permanent collection of the history of fashion, which could give the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute a run for its money.

“Africa Fashion” at the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum

A couple of temporary exhibitions are prime examples. The first, “Africa Fashion,” displays legendary couture, photographs, textiles, music and visuals from the mid-20th century to the present, exploring the artists and movements parallel to decolonization and its impact on a global scale. 

“Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear” at the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum

The second one, the Gucci-sponsored “Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear,” highlights male fashion through the history of men’s clothing and the way designers, tailors, artists and their clients have molded masculine gender identities.

“Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear” at the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum

The British’s eagerness to question themselves is at the core of these exhibitions. Often dubbed a “dying empire,” the bruised United Kingdom seems determined to keep treasuring its glorious past while looking toward the future. 

Keep calm and carry on, indeed.

Previewing the Heat Wave in Historical Bourdeaux and Cap Ferret

Sweltering temperatures started to punish France’s Nouvelle-Aquitaine region earlier this summer.

Bourdeaux and its beach town Cap Ferret, were hot.

The Southwestern wine capital, which, after Paris, has the most registered monuments in France, looked stunning with the cloudless bright blue summer sky as a backdrop.

The Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux

The Grand Théâtre, which stands at Place de la Comédie, is an excellent place to start admiring Old Bourdeaux.

The Girondins Monument, Bourdeaux

A 5-minute walk toward the waterfront, The Place des Quinconces, Europe’s largest square, serves as the city’s most important public transport hub.

At the center, the Monument aux Girondins commemorates the Girondists, a political group that initially supported the French Revolution but ended up being one of the first casualties of the Reign of Terror.

Place de la Bourse, Bourdeaux

Keep walking towards the water and make a right along the promenade. In 8 minutes, you’ll find Place de la Bourse, where the people destroyed King Louis XV’s statue.

Across the street, the 2006 Water Mirror (photo featured) is the world’s largest reflecting pool, a much-needed oasis to relieve the 100+ F temperature. 

Calihau Gate

The Port Calihau or Calihau Gate will take your breath away just five minutes back into the town.

Functioning as the main entrance into medieval Bordeaux, it was built in 1495 to celebrate King Charles VII’s victory at the Battle of Fornovo. 

Port de Bourgogne

The 1750 Roman-style Port de Bourgogne is another jewel. It was created by the legendary architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel, famous for redesigning the Petit Trianon at Versailles and Place de la Concorde in Paris.

The Grosse Cloche

Venture westward towards the medieval town through the Cr Victor Hugo, and you’ll come upon the 15th-century Grosse Cloche at rue Saint-James. 

The old Hôtel de Ville bell tower used to announce the harvest season, and it’s the city’s symbol, as seen on the coat of arms.

Place de la Victoire

The culmination of several of the city’s main streets, Place de la Victoire, is one of the main squares.

It features the Porte d’Aquitaine—a 17th-century stone arch—and a 2005 bronze and marble obelisk to commemorate wine production.

Bourdeaux Cathedral

Finally, it was time to quench my thirst with a well-deserved glass of local vin, which I fittingly drank across from the Bourdeaux Cathedral, where Eleanor of Aquitaine married Louis VII in 1137. Cheers to them!

Palais Rohan

Nearby, admire the Palais Rohan (City Hall). Constructed in the 1770s as the Archbishop’s Palace of Bordeaux, it also served as the Gironde department prefecture after the French Revolution.

It was almost 8 PM, despite what a bright sun and a 95-degree temperature might’ve suggested. Time to go back to my digs, figure out dinner and pack for tomorrow’s check out. 

Maison Fernand, Bourdeaux

Shoutout to Cleo and Ahmed from Maison Fernand, who made sure I enjoyed my stay in and out of their charming B&B, accompanying me via WhatsApp with recommendations and securing a table at the coveted Restaurant LouLou.

Restaurant LouLou, Bourdeaux

As per Ahmed’s advice, I checked out the Chartrons District, located northeast of the capital’s historical center, the following day.

Temple des Chartrons, Bourdeaux

Strolling through this mix of bourgeois and bohemian, built in the 14th century and lined with lovely wine bars and antique shops, was a delight.


Highlights include the Church of Saint-Louis-des-Chartrons, the ancient protestant Temple des Chartrons and the CAPC Contemporary Art Museum of Bordeaux.

The CAPC Contemporary Art Museum of Bourdeaux

It was time for Le Ferret, 45 miles west of Bourdeaux and accessible via coach from Place des Quinconces.

The region is famous for outstanding oyster farming, the magnificent Dune of Pilat and its iconic lighthouse.

Cap Ferret Lighthouse

Most impressive to this WW2 nerd were the ammunition bunkers or “Pill Boxes” built by the Germans to protect the entrance to Arcachon Bay against Allied invasion.

WW2 “Pill Box”

Some graffiti-covered structures are still visible, albeit in different spots from where they were constructed due to erosion.

A group of locals have set up an association to research, understand and preserve these relics, which still give the peaceful beach unmistakable “Dunkirk” vibes.

I Love Barcelona

A city of 1.6 million, which annually receives over 27 million visitors efficiently, is a global example of sustainable tourism.

Twenty years ago, when I rode the first wave of the Venezuelan diaspora to the United States, my friend Rosalía went to Barcelona.

I visited her for the first time in 2010, and aside from being delighted with the “All About My Mother” tour she’d personally designed for me, I was awed by her office: a government building that sat on carefully preserved and proudly displayed ancient Roman ruins!

Barcelona Cathedral, Gothic Quarter

Five years later, I went back, this time with my partner. We attended Rosalía’s wedding: a romantic affair where Venezuelan and Catalonian cultures amalgamated under the beautiful summer sky.

Seven years and a global pandemic later, I’d visit for the third time, stoked not only to see my good old friends but also to witness the interior of the Sagrada Familia for the first time.

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

Antoni Gaudí’s magnificent masterpiece began in the late 1800s and is still unfinished. Despite being partially destructed during the Spanish Civil War, it has become synonymous with Barcelona’s skyline.

The completion of the Gothic jewel, funded solely through private donations, has also been delayed because the technology couldn’t keep up with Gaudí’s ahead-of-time vision.

Detail of Sagrada Familia’s facade

When the legendary architect died in 1926, less than a quarter of the project was complete. And thanks partly to advances in computer design, about 70% of the church is currently up.

Though the goal was to complete the project by 2026 to commemorate the centennial of Gaudí’s death, the COVID-19 pandemic likely hampered it even further.

Interior of Sagrada Familia

Nothing is straight, plain or boring in this unorthodox building: various geometrical forms intertwine to produce abstract shapes that, combined with the bright Mediterranean light that streams through the colorful stained glass, create myriad optical illusions.

There’s something for everyone in the eclectic temple. From a facade featuring Asian cherubs, Masons and a faceless Veronica (who appears to be wearing a headscarf) to a rich interior resembling Mother Nature, the church reflects the artists from all walks of life included in the project.

Faceless Veronica

Gaudí lives on in Barcelona’s fantastical architecture. Park Güell is another fine example. Located in the mountain range of Collserola, the park’s spectacular views match the ginger house-like pavilions, colonnaded pathways and serpentine seating. It all resembles the Grimm Brothers’ universe.

Park Güell, Barcelona

Casa Batlló is another of Gaudí’s masterpieces. Initially built in 1877 as a classical building, industrialist Josep Batlló bought it in 1903 and commissioned its redesign.

Casa Batló

The locals call it Casa dels Ossos (House of Bones) because of its skeletal structure. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2005, it’s also a museum and cultural center.

Gaudí even designed Paseo de Gracia’s unmistakable street lights. Is there anything this man couldn’t do?

Paseo de Gracia, Barcelona

Barcelona’s juxtaposition of artistic and cultural expressions reaches its zenith in the Old City, home of the Picasso, Moco and World Cultures museums.

Picasso Museum, housed in five adjoining medieval palaces, opened to the public in 1963 with initial donations from the artist’s lifelong friend Jaume Sabartés and Pablo himself. 

It contains over 4 thousand of his works, including “The Dwarf Dancer,” “Blanquita Suárez,” “Las Meninas” and “Science and Charity,” which he painted at age 15!

“Science and Charity,” Picasso Museum

The Moco Museum, located in the historic Palau Cervelló-Giudice, shows works by Banksy, Jean-Michel Basquiat, KAWS, Keith Haring, Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst. As its mission states, it attracts “broader and younger audiences.”

The Moco Museum, Barcelona

The Museum of World Cultures focuses on ethnographic art from Asia, Africa, the Americas and Oceania, including Yoruba, Indian and Mayan sculptures, ceremonial artifacts and bodily ornaments.

The Museum of World Cultures, Barcelona

Nearby, the market-turned-cultural center, El Born, sits on la Ribera district archaeological ruins, destroyed in the 18th century after the defeat of Catalonia in the War of Succession.

El Born Centre, Barcelona

El Born Centre explains and helps understand the history behind the separatist sentiment among Catalonians, as does the Eternal Flame Memorial behind the Basilica of Santa Maria Del Mar.

Eternal Flame Memorial

Alfons Viaplana created it in 2001 to pay tribute to the 10 thousand Catalonians killed or wounded during the Siege of Barcelona in 1713–14. It stands above a cemetery where many of them were buried.

Eternal Flame Memorial, Barcelona

And speaking of Santa Maria Del Mar, the construction of the historic 14th-century basilica—which sits on the site once occupied by a Roman amphitheater—was funded by local sailors, harbor workers, artisans, fishers and merchants. 

Me at Santa Maria Del Mar

The 2006 historical novel “Cathedral of the Sea” by Ildefonso Falcones immortalizes the church.

It tells the story of Arnau Estanyol, a fugitive serf who becomes one of the cathedral’s stone workers. The book was adapted in 2018 as a TV series by Antena 3. Soon after, Netflix distributed it worldwide. 

Interior of Santa Maria Del Mar

Centuries later, the church still overlooks one of Barcelona’s busiest squares frequented by locals and tourists on their way to and from La Barceloneta beach.

You will also find pedicab drivers and international street performers, like the acrobatics DUO AXN. One afternoon, they commanded attention and entertained the square as we enjoyed one of Barcelona’s best wine lists at La Vinya del Senyor


The following day, I was one of those beachgoers. I popped into an adorable Barceloneta store where a cute Indian-Spanish lady sold me flip-flops, a beach towel, and even a cold beer to quench my thirst in the 100+ °F heat. I was all set!

“Peix d’Or” by Frank Gehry

Barcelona is an artistic city, and its beach couldn’t be the exception. Frank Gehry’s “Peix d’Or” and Rebecca Horn’s “Homenatge a la Barceloneta” (also known as “The Wounded Star” or simply “The Cubes”) are among the public artworks.

“Homenatge a la Barceloneta” by Rebecca Horn

As someone who became temporarily paralyzed due to a significant health event last year, I was delighted to find a section of the beach dedicated to the disabled. Tell me your city is progressive without telling me.

Platja de la Nova Icaria, Barceloneta

Barceloneta (and, for that matter, Barcelona) wasn’t always the urban oasis that now attracts over 27 million visitors per year.

The 1992 Summer Olympics and the popularization of the world’s favorite soccer club—FC Barcelona—helped transform the ancient Roman city into the bonafide global destination that it’s today.

Port Olímpic, Barceloneta

Luckily, for the locals like my friend Rosalía, the government is committed to sustainability. It has established a model that prioritizes relations between visitors and locals through the clever redistribution of spaces and resources. The result? The enjoyment of tourists and the financial reward of the brave and welcoming Catalans.

Visca Barça!

America, This Is London Calling

The dismantling of women’s rights feels even more surreal from across the pond.

The BBC anchorperson reported that the United States Supreme Court had ended the constitutional right to abortion, leaving the door open to reverse access to contraception and marriage equality.

Punch to the gut.


I went to Hyde Park to walk it out.

The bright summer day felt bittersweet.

BST Hyde Park

They were setting the stage for British Summer Time Hyde Park (BST Hyde Park) that, between June 24th and July 10th, would feature the likes of The Rolling Stones, Eagle and Adele as headliners.

I felt that, at the time, a more apt corner of the park was the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain, designed by Kathryn Gustafson and Neil Porter and inaugurated in 2004.

The beautiful and sizeable Cornish granite oval stream surrounds a lush grassy field. It is accessible to and popular with children as the designers intended to pay tribute to Lady D.

Water flows from the highest point of the fountain in two directions, cascading, swirling and bubbling before meeting in a calm pool at the bottom, representing two sides of Diana’s life: “happiness and turmoil.”

Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain

London is all about its parks. That’s why defying the public transportation strike, I decided to go beyond the central part of the city and headed out to Parliament Hill Fields.

All it takes it’s a 45-minute double-decker bus ride to feel like one’s in the country side.

The stunning grassy public space, one of the highest points in London, from where the Houses of Parliament are visible on a clear day, embraces ancient woodlands, playgrounds and a training track.

The site is also home to a remnant of Victorian times: the iconic Hampstead Heath Ponds—London’s early water supply, and sex-segregated swimming ponds, which opened in the late 1890s and continue to serve the community today.

Highgate Men’s Bathing Pond

Ever the WW2 nerd, I needed to get my fix by visiting the Churchill War Rooms, the historic underground complex that housed the British government’s command center during the Second World War from August 1939-45.

Highlights: The Map Room, where British Army, Royal Navy and Air Force officers produced daily intelligence for the King, Prime Minister and the military Chiefs of Staff. And The Cabinet Room, from where Churchill famously declared: “This is the room from which I’ll direct the war.”

Churchill War Rooms

Another crucial rooms were the Transatlantic Telephone Room, from where Churchill spoke securely with US President Roosevelt. And Churchill’s office bedroom included portable BBC broadcasting equipment from where the prime minister made four wartime broadcasts.

we would rather see London laid in ruins and ashes than that it should be tamely and abjectly enslaved.

Winston Churchill
Churchill’s Transatlantic Telephone Room

One of my favorite things about London is that it’s the next best thing to a time machine. And so, from the mid-20th century, I transported myself back to the 1000s by visiting Westminster Abbey.

The place of coronation, marriage and burial for monarchs, and where prime ministers, poets, writers and military leaders are buried or memorialized, also houses the historic King Edward’s Coronation Chair, the Chapter House and the stunningly beautiful Medieval Wall Paintings.

Coronation Chair, Westminster Abbey

From a young fisherman having a vision of St. Peter to Benedictines worshipping on the current site to monarchs establishing it as a Royal Church, Westminster Abbey has a rich history.

My favorite part is the Poets’ Corner, inaugurated in 1400 with the burial of The Father of English Poetry, Geoffrey Chaucer. In 1740, William Shakespeare was commemorated with a memorial that reads “buried at Stratford-on-Avon.”

Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey

Other famous artists buried or memorialized at the Abbey include Lord Byron, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Lewis Caroll, Oscar Wilde and T. S. Eliot.

This town’s breadth and depth of culture encompass not only a multitude of eras but also genres, as demonstrated by The Cartoon Museum—a hidden gem in the Fitzrovia neighborhood of Central London.

The Cartoon Museum, London

With a political satire-oriented permanent collection exhibiting original works from the 1700s on, I was in heaven. Some of the most important historical events, including “recent ones” as WW2, the Watergate scandal and Brexit, have been brilliantly immortalized by the most legendary British cartoonists.

The museum runs events and has books on the history of cartoons, comic strips and graphic novels available for research upon appointment.

The Cartoon Museum, London

It also holds temporary exhibitions, one of which, “Love Stories,” includes previously untold LGBTQ+ narratives commemorating Pride Month. I’m in love. It’s my new favorite London museum.

The Wallace Collection is another hidden gem in the heart of Marylebone. The former townhouse of the Seymour family, Marquesses of Hertford, it’s named after Sir Richard Wallace, who—along with his descendants—built the extensive collection in the 18th and 19th centuries.  

The Wallace Collection, London

The collection features Old Master paintings by Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Velásquez and many more, as well as pictures, miniatures, decorative arts, arms and armor and furniture.

Richard Seymour-Conway, 4th Marquess of Hertford, left it to his illegitimate son Sir Richard Wallace, whose widow bequeathed it to the nation. The collection opened to permanent public view in 1900, and admission remains free. 

“The Laughing Cavalier” by Frans Hals, The Wallace Collection

I contemplate an imminent return to my country and wonder whether, after leaving the United States, I would be coming back to Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale’s” dystopian Republic of Gilead.

And, once again, these somber thoughts contrasted with my bright surroundings: a picture-perfect day at Regents’ Parks’ Queen Mary’s Garden.

Queen Mary’s Garden, London

The gardens, contiguous to the Japanese Garden Island with its waterfall, a couple of bridges and statues, it’s famous for their 12,000 roses and are beautifully arranged circularly.

I saw the BT Tower perfectly framed by the flowers. The icon, which serves as orientation in the city, gave me some perspective about the situation that looms across the pond: my fellow Americans, do not keep calm and carry on!

BT Tower, London


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