Innovation on Earth

Global Citizenship Resources for Innovation Academy and Beyond

Omi-Sensei Visits IACS

Yesterday Omi Sensei and her Japanese Tofu-San got to visit my school. It was a lot of fun walking around the pond, peeking into classrooms, and showing her the place that she’s heard about for the past 2 years. 

After our visit to the rural part of Massachusetts, we went back downtown to see the state from up high — the 52nd floor of the Prudential Center! We were joined by my friends Naoki, Kanako, and Kazu, who just moved to Boston from Tokyo. Omi pushed through the jet lag, and we headed out on a Duck Tour after that. This is a truck that can drive on land and water. Our guide was very funny and shared lots of interesting and obscure Boston trivia.

Before heading home, we also visited the Boston Public Library and Harvard Square.

Today we’re headed to… New York City!

Omi-Sensei Visits Boston!

My travels are over, but now my friend Omi-Sensei is here for some American adventures. Tofu-San was thrilled to meet a new friend from Japan. Two Tofu Sans

Today we did all the things in Boston! Highlights included…

Many stops on the Freedom Trail:

A saint’s festival in the North End, Boston’s Italian district:

A visit to George’s Island in the Boston Harbor:

A Boston Seafood Festival:Seafood Festival

Seeing Shakespeare performed in the Boston Common:Shakespeare on the Common

And much more:

As you can see, today was a BIG day. We have many more adventures planned for Omi-Sensei’s visit. It is very fun to explore all the sites in my own city, and we’ll also be hitting the road soon, for exploring some other parts of the U.S…

 

Highs and Lows of the Bridge City in Bosnia and Herzegovina

When traveling, you never know what to expect. That was especially true today, en route to Bosnia and Herzegovina, a country that I knew very little about. Generally, when I’ve talked about this part of the world, I am teaching geography, so we’re using my favorite mnemonic trick thinking of a crow (Croatia) eating Berries and Honey (Bosnia and Herzegovina). Doesn’t it look like that? Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 10.37.54 PM

Anyway, I shouldn’t have been surprised that today was filled with lots of unexpected happenings, some positive and some negative. Here’s a taste:

NEGATIVE: Google Maps said it would take about 2 hours to travel from Split, Croatia to Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina by car. Our packed bus stopped lots of time, and it took us more than 5 hours. We had scheduled a tour for an hour after our anticipated arrival, and we missed it.

POSITIVE: The “scenic route” was actually quite scenic. I mean, really truly stunning. Most of the trip with rocky mountains on the left and the sea on the right. Here’s a taste after we crossed the border into Bosnia.

NEGATIVE: It turns out that you can’t just hail a taxi here. You need to call for one. So, we stood in the blaring heat waiting for a while.

POSITIVE: Some random woman approached us after not too long, told us that, and then had a taxi called for us. Shopping Mostar

NEGATIVE: A lot of people smoke here.

MostarPOSITIVE: The vibe here is so chill and friendly. People are genuinely nice. And helpful! The shopping is so fun, because the market is packed with lots of interesting things, and the prices are MUCH lower than we’ve seen anywhere on this trip. And everyone so far has seemed really honest and not trying to rip us off. There are different ethnic groups, and today everyone seems to get along, whether Catholic or Muslim. Here’s a video of the edge of the market, while the Muslim Call to Prayer is being projected from a nearby mosque:

NEGATIVE: There’s more gelato here. For 50 cents a scoop. We are going to gain so much weight!

POSITIVE: The food here is amazing. I now know how to say Ćevapčići. It’s a kind of Bosnian mini sausage. Yum. We tried it first in Slovenia but it’s even better here.Food

Translation? Ćevapčići.Ćevapčići.

NEGATIVE: We’re trying to navigate 4 currencies here. The Bosnian currency is called the Mark, but they quote a lot of prices in Euros, and sometimes they’ll take Croatian Kuna. Here’s the math: 2 marks = 1 Euro, 1 Euro = 1.1 USD, and 10 Kuna = $1.50. It’s even more confusing when you pay in one currency and they give you change in another. What?!

POSITIVE: Did I mention that everything is really cheap? Ok, we’ll do the math if it means we can get beautiful things for 5 Euros.Tree

POSITIVE: Our hotel has a nice room, the hotel staff are helpful, and they even gave us a welcome drink upon arrival. It is very centrally located, close to lots of interesting stuff, including some great live music.

NEGATIVE: The music is really really loud in our hotel room. Will we ever sleep?Tofu San Stari Most

POSITIVE: This city feels so welcoming and and we are hungry to keep learning more. After our initial late arrival, we eventually were able to have a tour with Ms. Alma Elezovic, who was personally recommended by Rick Steves in his book and in this video. Alma showed us around and explained that this city, Mostar, was named after the guards who watched over the bridges during Medieval times. This city really feels like a meeting place for many different peoples.

Bigger Bridge

Overall, today was not without its hiccups, but I am glad to be here, away from the crowds and tourist prices on Croatia’s Dalmatian coast. I’m very glad to be here (and will feel especially grateful if I can eventually get some sleep tonight)!

Island Life in Croatia

We’ve made our way to the coast of Croatia, with a lot of stops in between. At some point, I will write about…

  • Staying on Tourist farms in the mountains of Slovenia
  • Visiting Zagreb (the capital of Croatia)
  • Plitvice Lakes National Park (beautiful, but a bit overrated)
  • The coastal town of Zadar, where the waves play music on a big sea organ

It has been a whirlwind and I can’t keep up with the blogging!

Now, we are on the island of Korcula, off the coast of Croatia, and we are in full relaxation vacation mode. This afternoon I took a 3 hour nap. This is the view we saw from our apartment upon arrival:Sunset.png

Yesterday, we took a bus and two ferries to get here. It was a pretty fun day of travel, actually. There were snack breaks and listening to podcasts as we watched the views out the window.

On the way over here, we stopped for the afternoon at the island of Hvar, which seemed a bit upscale, but it was beautiful. People like Beyonce and Tom Cruise have vacationed there! We hiked up to the castle for good views.

We noticed lots of interesting vegetation on Hvar, most notably cactuses! This is a coastal area, but it is nothing like the Caribbean.Bee and Cactus.png

Marco Polo.pngThe island where we decided to set up shop for a few nights is Korcula, which I discovered is pronounced like “Core-ch’la.” It is the birthplace of Marco Polo. Apparently, the Italians take credit for him because his father was Italian and he died in Venice, but he was born in Croatia, so the Croatians claim him too!

We’ve only seen a small corner of Korcula Island, which is 29 miles long. We aren’t staying in a big town, but just in a little village where there are approximately 4 restaurants and 1 grocery store. And 2 ways to get to the sea! This morning, we explored one swimming area. The coast is rocky, but the water is crystal clear. Here’s one spot where we swam this morning:

Swimming.png

After my siesta, we took a long walk into the main “city,” Korcula Town. We followed the coastal road, and there were lots of opportunities to stop for photos.

On the way, we passed so many interesting plants. Grapes, pomegranate, olives, and figs all grow here. Wine and olive oil are especially cheap and delicious here.

We arrived in the old town and wandered around. Inside a walled area of the city there are many shops and cute restaurants.

I saw this little pulley system at a restaurant in a castle. I guess you’ve got to be creative if your work space has such old rickety stairs!

Tomorrow, we’ll do more exploring, and check out the interesting plants and animals here.  I have all sorts of questions as I see these new places. Trees that grow on walls?Trees

What are these cute bugs?Red and Black Bugs on Flower

Looking forward to more relaxation and observation tomorrow.

Up and Over: The Epic Vršič Pass

GoogleMaps.pngMy favorite day of the trip so far had to be the day we drove through Triglav National Park, Slovenia’s one and only national park. Thanks to my new friend Rick Steves, we did a self-guided tour through the highest mountain roads in the nation. We were ready for the hairpin turns — 25 up and 25 down. Googlemaps helped a bit, but there was really only one road to follow, and it was well marked.

At first the roads were pretty flat. There were always guard rails, but in the beginning, the roads weren’t too narrow or curvy. Flat

We saw a lot of farms with these iconic hay stands that we’ve seen all over Slovenia.

Hay

It didn’t take long to start seeing some remarkable views. We had to stop a lot for photos.

Early Views

As we drove further uphill, the roads got narrower and the views got more about more impressive. This might have been our favorite pull off point: Tofu San with Cairns.png

Close to the top, we stopped for lunch. The food was ok, but the views were incredible. Lunch spot.pngI decided to take a tiny walk to explore near the restaurant and ended up with this funny video:

We were close to the top then, so we just had a few more scary turns to go. Here’s a video that gives a sense of the driving as we arrived at the top:

We laughed when we saw sheep just chilling on the road, right at the top.Sheep.png

When we asked a shopkeeper why the sheep were huddled next to cars, she answered “sheep logic. They have all these beautiful trees and such, but they like tires.” Are sheep always this weird?

From this parking area, we decided to hike up a bit. We passed some old ruins, possibly from WWI, which was neat to explore.

Hiking at VrsicRuins

Eventually we explored a little path, and arrived at my favorite little secret spot, where we sat to take it all in.

No panorama or video could do it justice, but I tried.Sk with Pano.png

It was just beautiful up there. From the vast views to the little wildflowers. I loved it all.

Screen Shot 2016-07-22 at 11.26.29 AMFlowers

We also got great views of the famous Adja face (like New Hampshire’s Old Man in the Mountain, except it’s a girl’s face). Can you see it?!

And then, of course, we had to go down the mountain. Slowly. We stayed at two different tourist farms and did a lot more driving, but some of this other stuff will have to wait for later entries. I do have to give thanks to my little VW polo rental car which was brand new and we offered it 700+ km on the road. It was an amazing little car, getting great gas mileage because it turned off instead of idling when stopped for a few seconds, and it automatically adjusted to lower gears as needed. I’m proud to say that I returned it safely to Ljubljana without a scratch.Polo.pngAfter only a week, I was sad to say goodbye to both our lovely little car, and even more so to Slovenia, a beautiful little country. It was much cooler weather than Venice, but the people were so warm and sweet.

Zagreb graffiti.pngNow, we are in Croatia! We were a bit worried about getting around without a car, but we successfully made it to Zagreb yesterday, and this morning we booked a bunch of buses and ferries. In fact, I’m currently writing this on a bus with wifi, traveling through Croatia. So, we keep moving onward, without our own wheels.

Failing at Getting Off-the-Beaten Track in Slovenia

Let me start off by saying that I LOVED the Lake Bohinj area, in Triglav National Park, where we spent most of the day. However, today did not go exactly as I planned.

In the morning, I decided that I wanted to do a hike somewhere far away from all the other tourists. After consulting our hotel owner and a tourist info booth, we set out for a scenic walk just north of a small village called Starza Fuzina. We had a plan, maps, and water in our backpacks, and the views from the parking lot were impressive enough to make me excited for the hike.Parking Lot.png

We started the hike and found ourselves quickly surrounded by woods, ascending a steep path.Path

It was very steep, but we passed a few other hikers and decided to be persistent. We trekked onward, looking for the first trail marker. We didn’t see it. For a long time. We did see a lot more rocks and trees, and just kept following the path. Ok, there were a few flowers too.

Eventually, we saw a little clearing, with a tiny view, and stopped for a break. Best view.png

Some Slovenian women passed by, asking us if we’d seen a trail marker. It was then that I realized… hmmm… maybe we’re on the wrong trail. After chatting for a while with the women, consulting GPS on my phone and more maps, we realized that yes, we were not on the trail at all. We stayed with the women a bit longer, though their English skills were not super strong (though better than our Slovenian language skills). Slovenian Friends.pngFinally, we found a trail marker! For a mountain that was not at all where we wanted to go. We decided to turn around and head downhill, this time on a proper trail, with red dot markers.

Once we hit a road, the views were beautiful again!HorsesAnd eventually we found the original trail, though by this point we were too hungry for lunch to see much of it. We saw a bit though.

Gorge.png

For the afternoon, we decided to head back to the tourist route. For 14 Euro, we got a round trip ticket on the gondola / cable car headed to the top of Vogel Mountain.Wires.png

I’m kind of terrified of heights, so I got some butterflies in my stomach and my ears popped, but it was so worth it. The views were incredible.Pano.png

Did I mention that I LOVE mountains?!

I couldn’t stop taking pictures at the top. My little friends Tofu San and Loki got in on the fun too.

I even did this. Don’t worry, I’m not as close to the edge as it looks:

Jumping.png

After hanging out in the obligatory tourist areas, where even the cows are used to tourists, we headed back down in the cable car.Cows at Pizzeria.png

Lake Bohinj is really a gem, much less built up than Bled. It’s just a clear turquoise lake surrounded by big mountains. Bohinj from BelowAfter coming down the mountain, we found a beach for swimming, paid our 1.50 Euro for parking, got some popsicles, and enjoyed the crisp water alongside a bunch of other people. This time, no complaints about the tourists. Apparently, they know how to find the good spots too.Tourists at Bohinj

Lake Bled, Vintgar Gorge, and the Internet

The first time I planned an international trip with a friend, I realized on the way to the airport that my passport was expired. I eventually made it on that flight, though I’d like to think that I’m a bit more responsible now than I was in the 90s.

SK at Bled Castle.png

Me Yesterday!

Since then, a lot has changed in the world, but nothing has shifted our reality like technology. I’ve been thinking about it a lot during this trip. We are currently in a very touristy town called Bled, where there’s a beautiful lake, with a castle on a cliff above and an iconic church on an island in the lake. Beforehand, I looked at lots of blogs and photos online, and now I can confirm that, yes, it’s as beautiful as everyone said it would be.

Lake BledSwan and CastleCastle at Night

Other tourists have also figured that out. Even though Slovenia is a tiny country, with only 2 million people who live here, this town is packed with tourists.Castle Happenings.png

To be honest, I read lots of blogs, but I was worried about all the chances to read other people’s trips. I was worried it would ruin the sense of adventure that makes travel so fun. It didn’t.

Yesterday we set out with bikes that we borrowed from our hotel, to bike around the lake. On the way, of course, we stopped for more photos. Paddling

ButterflyThen, we saw a sign for the castle on the cliff. Even with GoogleMaps, we couldn’t totally figure out the route, because, as it turns out, the path we selected was closed. We ended up meeting a nice Slovenian couple who helped us navigate the path (even around some fences and construction equipment). HikingAt the castle, the couple even got us in without paying the 10 Euro fee, heading straight for the restaurant where we spent our money on a lovely castle-top meal instead. The views were stunning.Tofu San at Bled.png

The other tourists didn’t matter. We ended up sampling honey in a shop, and chatting with this guy works in the print shop. For 8 Euros, he’ll help you make yourself a souvenir using old school printing methods. Instead, we just hung out and chatted, and I made him a balloon crown. Much more fun!

Balloon Hat Bled Castle

Honey StoreWe eventually got back to our hotel, where we traded in the bikes for our rental car, and headed out with our friend GoogleMaps. When we hit another closed road, this time we re-rerouted into tiny narrow roads in residential neighborhoods.Narrow Roads.png

The adventure getting to Vintgar Gorge was as interesting as the destination. Jesus and road.png

And then we arrived at Vintgar Gorge, which again, lived up to its hype. The paths were beautiful and the water was so clear.

It was a great day, and I’m grateful for all the blogs I read before, and all the benefits of offline maps. I still feel like I got a chance to discover these beautiful spots, just in a different way than the days of traveling without technology.

Art and Heart in Ljubljana

Maybe you’ve never heard of Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, but it’s a really fun city with a lot of interesting art to see. Where can you see some art in Ljubljana? If you ever go, here’s where to look:

1) On random street corners: BootsFace and Skinny Alley

2) On the sides of buildings, even in residential neighborhoods:

Close Up

3) In public art exhibits (This one was an area where it rains whenever it feels like it, even when the sun is blaring. Small wires hung very high are almost invisible, making it really seem like there’s a bizarre alternate reality where it’s raining in just one spot.)RainOwn Weather

4) In the city’s architecture! This morning we went on a free walking tour, and learned a lot about the city’s history, and all the architectural influences, from baroque or art nouveau.

5) Inside the Ljubljana Cathedral (just this regular old ceiling there):Church Ceiling

6) At the Saturday market ~ There were all sorts of crafts on display, from traditional to modern. It took A LOT of will power to resist buying all the things. The lace making was my favorite:

7) Metelkova Street, where squatters / artists have taken over a former military barracks:

One of the buildings on that street had sculptures with the best faces ever. You’ve got to look closely to see how expressive they are!

ColorsFacesClose Up Faces 2

So now you know where to go to see art when you visit Ljubljana! Do you know that the word LOVE is part of sLOVEnia? The locals know.Love

Better than Disney: Caves, Castles, and Sweets of Slovenia

Yesterday was our first full day in Slovenia, and it was a whirlwind. We started out at Postojna Caves, where visitors ride a Disney-like train through a cave.Cave Train 2.png

Except instead of fake displays, the cave is real! And unlike in the U.S., there are no seat belts and sometimes the passageways felt extremely tight.Cave Train.png

Once inside, we got to walk around a bunch on the paths.Walking Path

The views were very impressive.

After caving, we had lunch at the dream-like Predjama Castle.Predjama Castle.pngIf you think kids would have liked this part of the day, they would REALLY like the desserts of Ljubljana. We thought nothing could beat Italy’s gelato, but… then we tried pudding-like hot chocolate at Cacao. With whipped cream, of course.Hot Chocolate.png

It got even better when we wandered into an “open kitchen” market which happens every Friday throughout the summer. Open Kitchen.png

My friend Erica got so excited about one of the desserts that the chef gave us one for free! It was something called a Tiokin Brulle from Pri Levu Restaurant at Union HotelsTionkin Brulle

Wow. Two bites in!Tionkin Brulle Close Up.png

And then… if you thought Dippin’ Dots were the ice cream of the future, you’d be wrong. Check out these amazing ice cream rolls that we tried (not so traditional Slovenian):

I’m pretty sure that kids would LOVE Slovenia. It turns out that Slovenia has one of the best party shops for balloons I’ve ever seen, even compared to ones I’ve seen in the U.S. Party Shop.png

We met up with the party shop’s owners and balloon professionals visiting from Hungary and Japan, and they also loved the yummy food here. I think we’ll stay!New Friends New Desserts

New Balloon FriendsWhy don’t more people visit Slovenia? They should!

 

DaVinci and the Venice of Old

Walking around Venice, there are certainly many modern things, but overall, the city feels old. Really old.

This random building that we passed this afternoon just blew me away, imagining all the layers of history:

In fact, in one photography gallery, I noticed that the walls were covered in salt. Inside! Apparently, that’s really common in Venice. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised because the city is built on the water, but it’s still kind of mind boggling to me!Salt

A favorite part of my day was visiting a brand new Leonardo DaVinci Museum. Apparently, there are two Leonardo DaVinci museums in Venice. We had passed by another one on our first night, and tried to go back today, only to realize that we were at this newer one. Who could have guessed that there would be two museums in one small city dedicated to one person? After visiting the new museum, I decided that DaVinci was amazing enough to deserve many more than two museums! Leonardo DaVinci died in 1519, but he had visions of many modern day inventions before they were created! His sketches show that his ideas were well ahead of his time (of course, in addition to being a famous artist). He had designs for bridges, catapults, bikes, submarines, machine guns, tanks, cities, and more. DaVinci Bridge

Among other things, he designed this super cool spiral windmill, which I’d love to see in today’s world!DaVinci Machines 1

It was really fun playing with his “machines” which the museum re-created from his drawings.DaVinci Mirrors

For instance, before photography existed, he invented this tool to help artists break down images for sketching them in pieces. I tried modeling behind the screen:

I took a bunch of video so that you could see DaVinci’s machines in action:

Venice is a city like no other I have ever visited, and I’m trying to imagine what it might have been like when DaVinci lived here. Maybe not too different! There’s lots of hustle and bustle, but I haven’t seen a car since we arrived. Venice Canals

Church

To celebrate our last night here, we got A LOT of gelato after dinner. I don’t think we should probably leave every city with this kind of sweet goodbye, but tonight was pretty yummy.

 

 

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