Saturday, April 26, 2014

Isui-en: peaceful meandering in Nara

I've always loved gardens.  Ever since I read The Secret Garden as a child, I've been enchanted by the idea of big gardens with lots of nooks and crannies in which to get lost.  So, when I learned that Japan is famous for its gardens, I was quite excited to explore them.

During my time in Kyoto, I took a half-day trip to Nara, the ancient Japanese capital.  During the Nara Period, Buddhism flourished here, and as such, some of the most famous Buddhist temples in Japan are located in Nara.  Along with temples, Nara is home to a lovely garden, Isui-en, which was created in the Meiji era (late 1800s to early 1900s).

One of the things I enjoy most about Japanese gardens is the fact that many of them contain teahouses, where you can enjoy a cup of matcha while enjoying the beauty and serenity of the garden.  In that respect, Isui-en was definitely my favorite garden in Japan.  Our first order of business after entering the garden was to pay a visit to the teahouse.  It was almost empty at that time of morning, and we were able to relax and enjoy the beautiful view.

The pond outside the teahouse

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Sunset at the Lotus Temple

The Lotus Temple is an iconic building in Delhi that is known for its unusual shape.  It is a temple of the Baha'i faith, which originated in Persia in the 19th century.  The Baha'i religion is an independent monotheistic religion that is based on the premise that all of the world's major religions are part of a unified process through which God reveals his will to humanity.  Followers of the Baha'i faith subscribe to the belief that humanity should become unified into one global society.  I'm not normally one to promote any kind of religious beliefs, but I'm a fan of belief systems that call for global unity and world peace, no matter how idealistic a goal that may seem.

The construction of the Lotus Temple was completed in 1986.  There are a couple of interesting architectural elements that are common to Baha'i temples, which are found in the Lotus Temple.  All Baha'i Houses of Worship have a nine-sided circular shape and a dome.  The nine sides of the Lotus Temple are formed by the petals of the lotus flower, and the dome is formed by the center of the lotus.  The temple is built from Grecian marble.

Since its construction, the temple has won numerous architectural awards.  Considering its striking appearance, it is not difficult to see why.

Though it is lovely during the day, the Lotus Temple is especially special at sunset, with the sun's last rays reflecting off the white marble.

Lotus Temple and gardens at sunset

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A vegetarian food tour of Houston

The best vacations involve a lot of eating, and such was the case on my recent trip to Houston.  It was a weekend trip to visit a friend, and food was the emphasis.  Houston is not a place that I typically associate with an excellent selection of vegetarian food, but we found a surprising number of tasty vegetarian and vegetarian-friendly places.  Of course, it helped that Lily had scoped out all of the possibilities prior to my arrival, so all I had to do was show up and eat.  It's definitely not a bad way to spend a weekend.

Our first stop was The Original Marini's Empanada House, an Argentinean empanada restaurant.  I had a savory empanada and a sweet empanada, both of which were very tasty.  There were many vegetarian options, but I ended up choosing an empanada that tasted like caprese pizza, which is my favorite kind of pizza.  The sweet empanada was delicious and involved strawberries and cream cheese.  I'm not normally a big fan of cream cheese, but I do appreciate its use in desserts, so I still enjoyed it.

Empanadas and curly fries at The Original Marini's Empanada House

Friday, March 21, 2014

An ode to socks

I've seen all kinds of travel-related articles on different types of clothing: dresses, hats, pants, shirts, coats, shoes, scarves, and a myriad of other accessories, but it's not often that people talk about socks.  I love socks.  They are my favorite article of clothing.  They are also the necessity I most often forget to pack, which is unfortunate because they are crucial.  There are few things more uncomfortable than walking around with cold feet, for example.  And there are few things more annoying than getting blisters on your feet from your adventures.  Packing the right types and the right numbers of socks is a must for a happy holiday.

Socks for flights:
I love fuzzy socks for all occasions: the fuzzier, the better.  I could wear them everyday, but they are especially wonderful for long flights.  My feet get cold easily, but I don't like wearing shoes the entire time that I'm on the airplane, so a pair of fuzzy socks is a good compromise.

Colorful fuzzy socks are great!

I'm also one of those intractably unfashionable people who occasionally wears socks with sandals.  I nearly always keep a pair of sandals in my backpack, and once I get on the plane, I take off the shoes or hiking boots I'm wearing and put on my sandals instead.  Wearing heavy shoes for hours on an airplane is quite uncomfortable, but there is no way I'm setting foot in an airplane bathroom without some sort of protection on my feet.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A Warm Weather Tour of Downtown Chicago

Winter has been a bit colder and longer this year than previous years.  Most of the time, I'd rather be sitting at home under a blanket, sipping a cup of tea, than walking around outside.  When the weather warms up though, Chicago is an incredibly fun city to explore.  Being right on the shore of Lake Michigan, the city is very picturesque for a big city, and there are lots of things to do downtown.

Chicago Theater on State Street