Europe

H-Bomb’s Friday Photo, week 32: lamps for sale in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar

Happy Friday! This week began with me being a contestant on an American quiz show. It was one of my best experiences ever! More about it in a new post that’s coming on Sunday! And tomorrow afternoon, I’m heading to JFK International Airport — but not to embark on any travels. What’s bringing me to JFK is my in-person interview in connection with my application for the Global Entry program. Assuming that I’m approved, whenever I return to the United States from overseas travel I’ll be able to bypass the immigration line at the airport — at least so long as my point of entry to the U.S. is one of the over 30 airports participating in the program.

So it’s going to be a fun-filled weekend. But now it’s time for me to share with you a new featured photograph. This week’s Friday Photo comes from the exotic city of Istanbul, and specifically from its sprawling covered marketplace known as the Grand Bazaar. Within the confines of the Grand Bazaar you’ll find over 3,000 shops; and 61 covered streets criscross its 75.8 acres of floor space. Many of its vendors sell glass lamps, which tend to be stunningly beautiful and colourful. Here’s a look at the merchandise that was available from one such purveyor of lanterns on the day of my visit:

lamps

This photo was taken during my trip to Istanbul that took place from December 2012 to January 2013.

Would you like to go shopping in the Grand Bazaar?

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H-Bomb’s Friday Photo, week 28: an abandoned amusement park near Chernobyl

Happy Friday, people! This week I decided that in the spring of 2014, I will finally make it to India. A visit to the Taj Mahal, is, of course, an entry on many bucket lists; and I know that the mausoleum that Shah Jahan built for his wife is just one of many unforgettable sights that await me in that exotic land. Naturally, I’m also looking forward to checking out the Indian karaoke scene! 🙂

Now that this blog is up and running again, the end of the work week means it’s time for another weekly photo from the travels that I’ve already completed. Today’s featured image comes from Pripyat, a ghost town near Chernobyl in the Ukraine. In Pripyat there’s a small amusement park that was supposed to open on May Day (May 1), 1986. Due to the catastrophic accident at Chernobyl’s nuclear plant on April 26, 1986, Pripyat was permanently evacuated and the amusement park never opened.

One of the attractions at the park was to have been a bumper car ride. Those bumper cars never carried a single paying passenger, and have been decaying for over 27 years:

decaying bumper cars

This scene is a reminder that in the end, nature always reclaims her own. This photo was taken during my visit to the Russian Federation, the Ukraine, and Moldova in May 2013; and it’s easily my favorite photo from that trip.

Oh, and one other thing: Ben Affleck??? I mean, really?

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H-Bomb’s Friday Photo, week 25: a ceremonial gate in Madrid

Today brings to a close what has been a somber week here in the United States — especially in the cities of Boston, Massachusetts and West, Texas. And as I write this, things aren’t over yet in Boston, with the city in lockdown, one of the suspects dead, another suspect still at large and a significant possibility of accomplices who haven’t even been identified yet. So this isn’t a particularly happy Friday.

But the world has always been a dangerous place and full of cruel people; and we must carry on and do the things that bring us joy. For me, of course, one of those things is travel. This weekend I won’t be on the road, but I’ll be attending the New York Travel Festival. If I’m going to be stuck in my home city, I might as well be at an event that will have me thinking of adventures in far-off places.

And I’m also reminded of other lands every time I post a new picture in my Friday Photo series. This week’s featured image comes from the Spanish capital of Madrid. It’s a capture of the Puerta de Alcalá (the Alcalá Gate). Designed by the Italian architect Francisco Sabatini, this neo-classical monument was completed in 1778. It can be found in Plaza de la Independencia; it was moved to that location in the 19th century. Originally it had stood at the eastern boundary of the city, so it was actually a functioning gateway. Today it’s purely ceremonial.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This photo was taken during my trip to Morocco, Gibraltar and Madrid in February 2011, during which Spain became country no. 22 on my World Karaoke Tour.

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H-Bomb’s Friday Photo, week 20: an impossibly colourful building in Helsinki

Hola! To all my readers of the female persuasion, happy International Women’s Day! Today is also a Friday (well, it still is in a few of the world’s time zones, anyway), and you know what that means: it’s time for another featured photo! Okay, admittedly that didn’t happen last week, but we still have a pretty good track record overall. 🙂

This week’s featured image comes from the Finnish capital of Helsinki. It’s a building that you’re unlikely to see in many travelogues, but one that I felt compelled to seek out because of its distinctive appearance and amazing colours:

colorful Helsinki building 1

Located in Helsinki’s Arabianranta district, the building, fittingly enough, houses a design school. (Specifically, that institution of higher learning is the Arabia campus of the Aalto University School of Art and Design; the architect behind it is Pentti Kareoja.) And because the photo above is sort of abstract, here’s a bonus picture of it that provides more of a context for its shape:

colourful Helsinki building 2

The place was off the beaten path, to say the least, and was quite far from Helsinki’s city centre; but in my opinion, the exorbitant cab fare that was required to get there was well worth it!

These photos were taken during my visit to Finland in June 2006.

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H-Bomb’s Friday Photo, week 17: mischievous monkeys in Gibraltar

Hello and happy Friday. Tomorrow is Groundhog Day, during which we’ll find out just how much more of winter is in store for us this year. And perhaps by the time nature is in full bloom, I’ll be regularly posting articles again, rather than just weekly photos. 🙂

This week’s featured image comes from the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar, at the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula. When most people think of Gibraltar, they probably think of its most salient geographic feature: the Rock of Gibraltar, the 1,398-foot-high limestone promontory that stands guard over the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea. The Rock of Gibraltar, in turn, is famous for its resident population of macaque monkeys, also known as Barbary apes. Shown here, a pair of those macaques has wandered onto a cannon outside the Great Siege Tunnels on the Rock of Gibraltar.

Cliffside monkeys on the Rock of Gibraltar

This photo was taken during my visit to Gibraltar in February 2011. (That was the same trip during which my World Karaoke Tour reached its sixth continent via an appearance in Casablanca, Morocco!) Photoshopping assistance was provided by my friend Erica Doubet-Tootikian; that assistance was limited to adjustment of the levels to tweak the colours and contrast.

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H-Bomb’s Friday Photo, Week 16: Istanbul’s Spice Bazaar

TGIF! I hope you had a good week. And now it’s time for me to share another featured image with you! Today’s photo comes from my recent visit to Istanbul, during which Turkey became the 27th country on my World Karaoke Tour. The photo takes you inside the Spice Bazaar, also known as the Egyptian Market.

spice spice baby

The Spice Bazaar is a gigantic indoor emporium in which you’ll find dozens of shops offering a dizzying array of spices. You’ll also find other products such as fruit and flower teas; Turkish Delight (a popular dessert confection); and even Turkish Viagra. This marketplace can be found in the Eminönü neighborhood, just south of the waterway known as the Golden Horn.

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H-Bomb’s Friday Photo, week 9: a postmodern pyramid in Paris

Another Happy Friday to you, as the holiday season is now upon us.

Today’s featured photo comes from Paris, the City of Lights. Fittingly enough, it’s an image created after dark. The subject is the I.M. Pei-designed entrance pyramid at the Musée du Louvre.

pei pyramid 2

This week, of course, has been all about pyramids here at H-Bomb’s Worldwide Karaoke! Unlike the ones in Giza, which were built with limestone bricks, the pyramid at the Louvre is comprised of 673 panes of glass in a metallic framework. (An urban legend, repeated in a certain low-quality Dan Brown novel whose name I won’t even bother mentioning, claims incorrectly that the Louvre’s pyramid contains 666 panes of glass and therefore draws power from the number of the Beast.) Completed in 1989, Pei’s structure contrasts dramatically with the Baroque architecture of the rest of the museum.

This photo was taken during my visit to Paris in the fall of 2005. When I took it, rain had just fallen, which made for some nice reflections.

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H-Bomb’s Friday Photo, week 4: skulls and bones in the Czech Republic

Today we have a special Halloween edition of our weekly photo series! Our featured picture is a chilling scene from the Czech Republic. Sedlec ossuary, in Kutná Hora (an easy day-trip from Prague), is a chapel that features the bones from some 40,000 people, arranged in decorative patterns. (For that reason, Sedlec Ossuary is also known as the Church of Bones.) Let’s take a look inside that chapel, where some of those skulls and bones form a very eerie tunnel:

Whatever you do, don’t go toward the light! 🙂 This spine-tingling photo was taken during my visit to the Czech Republic in June 2006. Incidentally, the historical town centre of Kutná Hora is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so the town is well worth a visit; there’s a lot more to it than just the spooky ossuary seen here.

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Country no. 26 on my World Karaoke Tour: singing at an Irish bar in Germany during Oktoberfest

On my way back home from Egypt this past weekend, I stopped in Frankfurt am Main, Germany to do some karaoke singing. While my stay in Frankfurt was brief, it was over 2 1/2 years in the making; it was as integral to the plans for my trip as singing in Egypt itself (to say nothing of visiting the pyramids). 🙂

To reach Egypt from my home city of New York, I arranged to fly via Lufthansa from New York to Cairo, connecting in Frankfurt; and for my return voyage I reversed that itinerary. I deliberately scheduled an overnight layover in Frankfurt during the return journey, in order to afford me a long-awaited opportunity to sing karaoke in Germany. The country that’s been bestowed with the sobriquet of the Land of Chocolate had hitherto been a glaring omission from my World Karaoke Tour, but that would finally change! (I’d been to Germany before, having spent several days in Berlin during my summertime romp through Europe in 1993. But although I’d sung in three countries during that same trip, Germany hadn’t been one of them. This was during the dawn of my World Karaoke Tour, and I wasn’t focused then, as I am now, on searching for karaoke in every city I passed through.)

Once those plans were in place, it took an unexpectedly long time to bring them to fruition. My Egyptian holiday was originally scheduled to happen in February 2011; but 18 days before my departure date, a revolution erupted in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, culminating in the overthrow of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak and the installation of a democratically elected government. Given the chaos and danger that attended the uprising, my Egyptian tour — which I’d begun planning nearly a year in advance — was canceled by the tour operator. So I went to Morocco instead (a trip that will be covered in one or more future articles on this blog) and had an amazing time; and Casablanca, rather than Cairo, became the first African city on my World Karaoke Tour. I rescheduled my Egyptian vacation — including the overnight stay in Frankfurt — for one year later, in February 2012; I assumed that the situation on the ground in Cairo would calm down by then. Continue reading

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Country no. 8 on my World Karaoke Tour: Vive la France!

Generations of Americans have been drawn to Paris for its culture. I came for karaoke.

Not long after returning from my 2 1/2 week Eurotrip in 2004, I tendered my notice of resignation to my horrible boss. I was finally extricating myself from an untenable work situation. My last day at the office was in early November. I left without having a new job in hand; that’s an indication of just how much I felt the need to get out.

It took me nearly a year to find a new position, partly because a headhunter who’d promised to help me seemed more interested in having me perform cut-rate legal work for his company than in placing me with a law firm (I referred to him as the “laissez-faire headhunter” when mentioning him to my friends). Only when I initiated my own networking efforts the following summer did my job search finally acquire momentum. One of my contacts referred me to an elite recruiter, who hooked me up with the law firm where I still practice today. I arranged to start that new gig in early October, 2005.

Before embarking on the next phase of my career, I decided to visit London and Paris for a little over a week. Paris was to be a weekend excursion from London. Continue reading

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Countries no. 6 and 7 on my World Karaoke Tour: the Netherlands and Belgium

After my World Karaoke Tour was shut out in Italy, I headed north and hoped that things would go differently in the Netherlands and Belgium. Three train rides later, and some 16 hours after my departure from Venice, I rolled into the Dutch capital.

Dutch courage in Amsterdam

Amsterdam is well-known for its Red Light District, where one can indulge in certain activities that are unlawful in most of the world. To gain a full flavor of the city in which I now found myself, I made sure to check out the Red Light District (strictly out of curiosity, of course). 🙂 Actually, I didn’t have to wait long after my arrival in Amsterdam to observe one of the city’s legalized vices: as soon as I disembarked from the train, I witnessed people smoking joints on the platform.

I probably could have gotten high myself from the secondhand smoke that was wafting up from all of that cannabis. But doing the Cheech & Chong thing was unnecessary for me. As this blog reflects, singing karaoke provides a natural high for me. So, although many tourists in Amsterdam end up in that city’s “coffee shops”, I set out in search of a venue where I could indulge my addiction to song. Happily, that quest proved much more successful in Amsterdam than it had in Rome; and on Tuesday night, August 31, 2004, the Netherlands became country no. 6 on my World Karaoke Tour.

I opened with “Footloose,” perhaps a risky choice because most of my audience in the bar that night consisted of first-year university students (They were in the midst of their orientation week). Those whippersnappers hadn’t even born yet when Footloose: the movie was released in 1984, and they’d probably never heard its title song, originally recorded by Kenny Loggins. (An atrocious remake of the movie — a “reboot,” in current Hollywood parlance — would be foisted upon filmgoers in 2011; but on that magical night when I strode onto the stage in Amsterdam, the release of the Footloose remake was still seven years in the future.) One thing that I had going for me: the Footloose theme song is an outstanding dance anthem that invariably gets a crowd fired up. Have a look at the closing scene from the movie, in which the full potential of the song is realized:


My concerns about my song selection proved unjustified; the young scholars responded with enthusiasm to my rendition of “Footloose.” If this was their introduction to the song, it had made a favorable first impression on them. My trademark H-Bomb leg kick at the end of the song didn’t hurt. And my Amsterdam karaoke appearance marked the first time that I uttered what would become a signature line for me at my appearances in foreign venues: “New York City is in the house!” This too helped endear me to the audience.

In addition to “Footloose,” I performed four other songs over the course of the evening. I couldn’t tell you what those other songs were, as I neglected to document that information (The name of the bar where my singing took place has also long since been erased from my memory banks). Keep reading to learn more about my experiences in Amsterdam and Brussels

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Countries no. 2, 3, and 4 on my World Karaoke Tour: United Kingdom, Austria, and Iceland

As of June 1993, I’d been singing karaoke sporadically for about two years. That month, having just completed my first year as a student at Georgetown University Law Center, I flew to London to commence a summer law study program. My summer was to divide into three segments, each three weeks long: First, in London, I was taking a course on “Comparative Litigation.” Next, in Salzburg, Austria, I was taking a course on “Fundamental Rights in Europe and the U.S.,” which was co-taught by Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. Both the London and Salzburg sessions were under the auspices of a program that was operated not by Georgetown but by the McGeorge School of Law at the University of the Pacific in Sacramento, California. Following my six weeks of academics, I would spend the final three weeks on a sort of abbreviated version of the Grand Tour, passing through various Western European cities. By this time I had come to regret not having spent a semester abroad during my undergraduate years at Johns Hopkins; and I viewed my summer excursion as a way of partially compensating for what I’d missed out on. (This was at a time when study abroad programs were far more likely than today to take place in Western Europe; naturally, I assumed that if I had gone abroad for my junior year, my destination would have been somewhere in that region.)

The entries on my law school transcript from the summer of ’93 are not particularly important to this blog (although it was pretty cool hanging out in an Austrian beer garden with a Supreme Court justice, and asking him about a case that I had just seen one of my professors argue before him and his fellow jurists a few months earlier). But that summer in Europe had another, unexpected impact on my life. It saw the genesis of my World Karaoke Tour.

London, United Kingdom
I’d been in London for no more than a few days when I decided that I needed to find a British pub in which to sing. So one afternoon after my classes let out, I walked around from bar to bar, asking the bartenders if they knew of any pubs that offered karaoke. In one response that was seared into my brain, a bartender not only stated that he knew of no such pubs, but gratuitously added that “karaoke is old hat.” He said this all the way back in 1993! Talk about being on the wrong side of history. 🙂 Of course, in 2012, karaoke is ubiquitous almost everywhere on the planet — an outcome that would not have surprised the 23-year-old me in ’93. So anyway, when that bloke made his smug comment, I wanted to respond, “Hey man, your whole country is old hat!” But I held my tongue. (Note: I’m a huge Anglophile; so when I call England “old hat,” I say that term with nothing but affection. But there was something ironic about a denizen of such an ancient land deriding as antiquated an invention of the 1970s.)

Naturally, I did find a place to sing in London. Continue reading

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What I did in Lisbon after I put down the mic

Lisbon is a beautiful city. Its combination of vintage buildings and sweeping hills, together with its location on a major port, supply its aesthetic charm. When you factor in the cable cars (known locally as trams) that traverse the hilly streets of its downtown, Lisbon bears more than a superficial resemblance to San Francisco, a city to which it is often compared (The two cities also share a delightful Mediterranean climate. A further point of similarity: while San Francisco is much more famous for its seismic hazards, Lisbon suffered a catastrophic earthquake in 1755, with a magnitude estimated to have been as high as 9.0, that helped inspire Voltaire’s Candide. If you visit either city, you risk being in the wrong place at the wrong time when the next Big One strikes).

And like San Francisco, Lisbon has now been a stop on my World Karaoke Tour. I sang on my very first night in Lisbon, a Friday night. I was staying in town through the following Monday morning. How did I occupy the rest of my long weekend? Continue reading

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