Posted by: kimberlysullivan | August 14, 2018

Berlin’s spectacular Pergamon Museum

Pergamon Museum, BerlinThere are a lot of great museums in Germany’s capital of Berlin, but the Pergamon Museum is not to be missed on your next visit.

Located centrally, in the city’s Museum Island, the museum building was designed by Alfred Messel and Ludwig Hoffman and constructed between 1910-1930, and it attracts over a million visitors every year.

The museum was designed to hold the impressive spoils gained from excavations Germany was carrying out in Babylon, Uruk, Assur and Ancient Egypt. It was the first museum in Europe to be designed to showcase monumental architectural exhibits.

Pergamon Museum, BerlinThe Museum’s name comes from the monumental Pergamon Altar, the 2nd century BC Ancient Greek altar taken from the city of Pergamon. Pergamon is present-day Bergama, Turkey.

Excavations on this ancient altar took place between 1878 and 1886 by a German engineer, and negotiations allowed the entire series of friezes to be shipped to Berlin, where they were reconstructed in the Museum Island museum.

The market gate from Miletus is another masterpiece in this spectacular museum. Dating back to 100 AD, this market gate is over 16 meters tall and used to stand guard over the Roman Empire town of Miletus in Asia Minor.

This gate is believed to have been commissioned following a successful military campaign, and it is dedicated to the gods Zeus and Athena.

Pergamon Museum, BerlinAnother spectacular part of the collection is the Ishtar Gate from the ancient city of Babylon, dating back to the 6th century BC. The spectacular glazed bricks in rich blues and golds grace the huge gate itself and the processional way leading up to it.

Much of the Ishtar Gate is reconstructed (including many of the blue bricks), but the lions, which were sacred to the goddess Ishtar (goddess of love and the sky and patron of the army), are originals.

Standing before the exhibit gives you an idea of the vast scale of the construction. The original Processional Way was 180 meters long, and standing before this exhibit, you get a real sense of the awe inspired on viewing this ancient wonder.

Pergamon Museum, BerlinA small, scale model provides visitors a sense of true dimensions of the entire complex.

The Assyrian Palace (9th – 13th century) and the Aleppo Room (around 1600) are also must-sees to this spectacular collection.

Even if you have limited time in Berlin, make sure to carve out adequate time to explore this splendid museum and its impressive collection.

The Pergamon Museum is open daily 10 am – 6 pm, with later hours on Thursday. Enjoy your visit back to the ancient world at this spectacular museum.

Pergamon Museum, Berlin

Pergamon Museum, Berlin

Pergamon Museum, Berlin


Posted by: kimberlysullivan | August 10, 2018

He says, she says – and when. It’s all in the timing for a writer

Pen writing“You must know all, then not tell it all, or not tell too much at once.”

-Eudora Welty

Excellent observation from American short story writer and novelist, Eudora Welty (1909-2001). This sums up the process of writing perfectly.

A good novel offers a slow reveal, one of the joys of reading is slowly uncovering the story of the protagonist.

Everyone knows the dangers of “information dump”, when all the character’s backstory is laid out in the opening pages, when you still don’t have much interest in the leading lady or gentleman.

As Welty notes, a good author will tease out her characters and her story slowly, “knowing all”, but revealing the details in slow and deliberate way that keeps your readers rapidly turning the pages.

And when we do, we know we are in the hands of a very skilled author…

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | August 7, 2018

On the menu in Brussels

Belgian foodI’ve already posted a fair bit about a four-day get-away my younger son and I made to Brussels, Belgium. He chose the city for our get-away (his first time there) and we saw a lot, but he continues to rave about Brussels and say he’d like to go back.

Although we had a lot of fun, and saw some interesting places, when it comes to all this enthusiasm from a kid who is pretty well traveled, my money’s on the food.

I’ve already written about all the wonderful chocolate we consumed while in the Belgian capital. Months later, we’re still remembering this chocolate fondly…

Belgian foodMy son also loved our first “meal” when we arrived – Belgian waffles. Topped with chocolate sauce and what seemed to be about a kilo of whipped cream – what child could resist?

Then, of course, for seafood fans like us, there was the local specialty of moules-frites. Mussels and french fries. This was a favorite dinner choice during our nights out here.

There were also the french fries/chips stands all around the city that my son so enjoyed visiting. Ironically, my older son was on a school trip in neighboring Holland at the time, and this was also one of his favorite foods on that trip.

Belgian food ... via the AlpsOne dinner choice was not local. My son selected a Swiss/French Alps restaurant one evening, where he ate fondue and I accompanied my Belgian beer with an Alpine specialty I hand’t had in over ten years – tartiflette.

Tartiflette is reblechon cheese, lard, and potatoes in a delicious but deadly combination that made me realize why it had been a decade since I last ate it. That block of cheese sat in my stomach, and we both pretty much rolled back to the hotel after that.

My athletic son had insisted we hit the tread mills in the hotel gym each evening after our grueling walks, and that evening was no different. However, neither of us lasted very long in our workouts following fondue and tartiflette. Lesson learned.

So on your next visit to Belgium enjoy all these (calorie-laden, but delicious) local specialties.

Belgian food

Belgian food ... via the Alps

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | August 3, 2018

Knowing your local library

You all know the famous words about libraries from Albert Einstein. And if you don’t, you should:

“The only thing that you absolutely have to know, is the location of the library.”

-Albert Einstein

When I travel back to New York, I’m always lugging books over with me. Then, of course, having so many English books available, I am buying a ton more, reading them and then transporting those recently read books across the ocean.

This time, I decided I still will be transporting newly purchased (yet still unread) books back with me, but borrowing the books I’ll be reading during my holidays from the local library.

While – ahem – this would never hold water when it comes to physics, at least I can claim a meeting of the minds between Albert E. and me when it comes to our thinking on libraries. Happy August reading to all!


Posted by: kimberlysullivan | July 31, 2018

Picturesque Pau – tucked away in France’s Pyrénées

Pau, FranceOn a very long drive last summer from Rome to France’s Pays basque, along the Atlantic coast, we decided to make some tourist stops.

One of those stops was in Pau, a charming town nestled in the Pyrénées. Pau  is the capital of the region of Béarn and offers a lot to see for visitors.

Had we had more than a night, we would have enjoyed using this town as a base to explore nearby towns and hikes in the surrounding mountains. But with only one day to explore we did our best to see the town’s main sites.

Pau, FrancePau’s most famous monument is its castle, which began as a medieval fortress and was most recently remodeled in the 19th century. The original structure was built in 1370, and sported triple line defenses for this strategic passage theough the mountains.

During the Renaissance the castle became the resident of Béarn’s viscounts, the royal court of Navarre.

In 1560, its ruler Jeanne d’Albret would declare the region a Protestant state, a decision that led to much violence during the religious wars between Catholics and Protestants. Her son, the future Henri IV, would become France’s king and the first Bourbon monarch.

Henri’s conversion to Catholicism was rather pragmatic, summed up by his infamous words “Paris is worth a mass.”

Pau, FranceNevertheless, the region would not formally become part of France until much later, in 1620, when Henri’s son – Louis XIII – brought it under France’s rule.

The tour of the castle was quite interesting, especially because there is an impressive collection of furniture and artwork, including impressive Flemish and Gobelin tapestries.

My children most enjoyed the table that could seat 100 (in the aptly named Salle aux cent couverts) and the tortoise shell where – oddly – the infant Henri is said to have slept. Parents may want to think twice before trying this at home…

The castle gardens are extensive and make a pleasant walk after the castle tour.

Pau, FranceThe town itself, with its mix of  half-timbered medieval homes and luxurious 19th century villas, offers wide promenades and parks with views over the surrounding mountains.

In the 19th century, Pau reinvented itself as a watering hold for wealthy foreigners, in particular the English. The area was known for its clean air and health benefits. Partly to appeal to this new demographic, in 1856, continental Europe’s first golf course was built at Pau.

That night, we enjoyed the local specialty: canard – duck. We had a platter of duck prepared in every conceivable way.

Pau was a wonderful stop-over on our long journey. One day I’d love to get back to explore more of Béarn and its pretty mountain views.

Pau, France

Pau, France

Pau, France

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | July 27, 2018

Catherine McNamara’s reading of The Cartography of Others in Rome

Catherine McNamaraEarlier this week, I went to the Otherwise bookstore in Rome to see Italy-based Australian author Catherine McNamara read from her new short story collection entitled The Cartography of Others.

I met Catherine some years ago, and I’ve already blogged about her work. You can see my earlier post about her last collection, Pelt and Other Stories . I also did an author interview with her about her first novel and her writing process.

But this is the first time I attended one of her readings, and I enjoyed hearing her read from her stories.

Here’s the publisher’s background about the collection:

A Japanese soprano sets sail for arid, haunted Corsica where she seeks her lost voice. A nude woman at the window of a Hong Kong hotel watches her lover dine in an adjacent building, but is her desire faltering? With a young son and her photographer partner, a journalist traverses Mali to interview an irascible musician. A son relives his mother’s last hours before a hiking accident in the Italian Dolomites, while in London a grieving family takes in an ex-soldier from the Balkan wars, unaware of the man’s demons.

The Cartography Of Others takes us from fumy Accra to suburban Sydney, from scruffy Paris to pre-fundamentalist Mali. Each bewitchingly recounted story conveys a location as vital as the fitful, contemplative characters themselves. Lives are mapped, unpicked and crafted, across vivid lingering terrains.

I look forward to reading the collection. At the reading, Catherine expanded on her collection, noting that the themes tying the stories together are arrivals and departures and a sense of alienation and misunderstanding for those who live and travel elsewhere. She is also interested in dishonesty and the multiple layers buried under the personal narratives of her characters.

She also spoke a lot about short story writing, and the differences between novels and short stories. Contrary to common belief, Catherine pointed out that short stories are not easier to write than novels, and that those readers who do not enjoy short stories often complain that they lack the same sense of satisfaction one feels when he or she reads a novel, with its clear point of beginning, developing plot arch and satisfying resolution. Short stories only examine a sliver of time, and they are often defined more by what they do not reveal than by what they do.

I enjoyed Catherine’s reading and look forward to reading her latest collection.

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | July 24, 2018

Outdoor cinema at Piazza Vittorio, Rome – 2018

I am a big fan of outdoor cinema, and every summer I’m happy to see the screens set up outside at Piazza Vittorio, a neighborhood near me in Rome.

There are two screens in the park, and each evening there are two movies shown at what is officially called Notti di cinema a Piazza Vittorio.

This late 19th century park surrounded by beautiful buildings constructed at the same time (known as Umbertan architecture, from King Umberto who reigned in Italy at the time) has been in a long decline. Luckily, keeping it for the evening cinema over the summer helps with the maintenance and security that should be happening year-round – one of the reasons I always support this initiative.

But it’s also a great way to spend an evening – out on this pretty piazza, with cool Roman breezes following hot summer days.  I never manage to see all the films I “plan on seeing” but never do during the year, so the summer outdoor cinema is when I manage my catch-up.

This year I went to see Wonder with my kids, also a funny Italian comedy poking fun at the relationship between Rome’s center and its suburbs Come un gatto in tangenziale, and a fabulous documentary Maria by Callas, a must-see about the famous opera diva. Sadly, I missed the talk by Italian director Gianni Amelio, because they switched the dates, but there are a handful of interesting director talks, too.

Still have quite a few films I’m hoping to see. See you out at the cinema of Piazza Vittorio…

“I would like critics to like my plays because that is what makes plays successful. But a few people I respect are the only ones whose opinions I’ve worried about in the end.”

-Lillian Hellman

Wise words by American playwright and screenwriter Lillian Hellman (1905-1984).

I love that Hellman admits that good reviews are crucial for the (financial) success of her plays, while simultaneously – and diplomatically – revealing that she honestly doesn’t give much of a damn because the approval she seeks is from a more restricted circle of readers.

A writer can become too much of a slave to the critics, so it is refreshing to see one who recognizes the commercial importance of such approval, while truly seeking another type of admiration.

As writers and readers, we can only applaud such an approach…

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | July 17, 2018

Sperlonga’s Truglia Tower

Truglia Tower, Sperlonga, ItalyItaly’s coastline is dotted by picturesque watchtowers. These have a long history – and were generally constructed to thwart off Ottoman or Saracen invasions. Luckily, today they are merely photogenic spots.

One such tower is in the town of Sperlonga – a pretty, medieval beach town south of Rome, on Lazio’s southern coast.

I’ve already written about postcard-perfect Sperlonga and its past as a sea resort to Emperors.

Sperlonga’s Truglia tower actually dates back to the Ancient Roman era, when Tiberius had his summer palace here. Those ruins were built upon in the 9th century, when a new tower was constructed to guard against Saracen invasions that were leaving their base in Sicily.

Truglia Tower, Sperlonga, ItalyThe tower would be reconstructed once again in 1532, and only two years later would be severely damaged in the attacks of the Ottoman naval admiral Khayr al-Din Barbarossa (Red Beard).

In 1611, the tower was reconstructed once again, only to be destroyed in 1623 by the Ottomans.

You start to get the drill …

The tower would be rebuilt and used by the Guardia Finanza from 1870 to 1969.

Today, it is open to tourists free of charge. Visitors can climb up to the terrace and admire the breathtaking views over the crystalline waters … luckily, free from Ottoman and Saracen invaders.

Enjoy Sperlonga and its spectacular Truglia Tower.

Truglia Tower, Sperlonga, Italy

Truglia Tower, Sperlonga, Italy

Truglia Tower, Sperlonga, Italy

Posted by: kimberlysullivan | July 5, 2018

Manneken Pis: Symbol of Brussels

Mannekin Pis, BrusselsI’ve already expressed my doubts about the symbols of Brussels. I enjoy Belgium’s capital. I love its elegant art deco galleries, and its stunning, gold-plaited Grand’ Place, so it does seem odd to be that the symbols of the city are a giant model of an atom and a fountain dedicated to a urinating boy.

That little urinating boy – officially known as Manneken Pis – is (somehow) a beloved symbol of this elegant city.

I’ve walked by this fountain many times during my visits to Brussels. On my latest visit with my younger son, he was curious to see this fountain that inspired countless chocolates, tourist souvenirs, including statues, bottle openers, refrigerator magnets, mugs – all to be found on every street of Belgium’s capital. You name it, and this little boy is emblazoned upon it.

Manneken Pis, BrusselsWhen I took my son to see it and he was able to squeeze through the big crowd taking their obligatory selfies, his first question was: “That’s it? That tiny statue?” Not such a strange question since the little boy is a mere 61 centimeters tall.

The statue is believed to date back to 1451. One of the oddities of this Brussels’ landmark is that this little boy has a wardrobe to envy. Apparently, it is customary for foreign heads of state and government and distinguished vistors to present this statue with sartorial gifts from their home country.

About 100 of these outfits are displayed, on a rotating basis, at the City Museum. Among his extensive wardrobe are a miniature Santa Claus outfit, a samurai robe and impressive Elvis wear.

On the next visit, we’ll be going to see this sartorial collection. On this visit, we only admired the tiny Manneken Pis. Nice, but not exactly the Trevi Fountain…

Mannekin Pis, Brussels

Mannekin Pis

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