Adventures domestic: Funko HQ

Traveling is fun, but sometimes it’s great to see what’s in one’s own backyard.  Toy company Funko has always been in Everett, WA, but recently they relocated their office park space to the recently closed Lutheran school downtown.  The entire first floor is their flagship store, and let me tell you… it’s got goofiness ratcheted up to 11.

It’s more like a pop culture shrine.  In one corner are fiberglass statues devoted to the Adam West Batman TV show.  Across the hall is a Funko version of Hoth from Empire Strikes Back.  Stan Lee looks over his creations and Willy Wonka looms in a cafe.  Outside, a Funko Spider-Man is perched over an old walkway.

I’ve always thought Everett to be an underrated city, and downtown especially needed some attractions.  I gotta say, it’s a great sight seeing families strolling the streets to check out the Funko store.

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Adventures abroad: The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

There is a thrill in seeing worship sites from antiquity.  Most modern Western religions emphasize humility, so it’s often a treat to see cathedrals that were built in olden days.  We love the grandness of the architecture, the magnificent paintings, and the rich materials used to make the marble shine, the gold sparkle, and the other precious metals glint with riches more opulent than one can imagine.  These are done not for earthly billionaires but for the glory of a higher power.

Few modern places of worship can compare, which is why the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi is such a treat.  This mosque is huge.  It is a crown jewel in a region full of spectacular mosques.  The white domes and minarets with inlaid precious stones are the perfect match for the surrounding desert landscape.  It’s both an amazing exercise in modern minimalism and a throwback to ancient history.  It is, unmistakably, Arabian.

Inside is the world’s largest carpet, a 35 ton behemoth made from wool cultivated in New Zealand and Iran.  Seven chandeliers hang from the ceiling made of Swarovski crystals.  Columns are inlaid with marble and mother of pearl.  Outside, a pool of the bluest blue surrounds the buiding.  There is something transcendent about the combination of dark blue, marble white, and gold that just speaks the purity of the sand dunes.  It’s so clean, so crisp, so beautiful.  It may be the grandest place of worship that I have ever seen in my life.

Modern, yes, but an instant icon.  It’s such a wonderful building that it earned the world’s second favorite landmark this year according to Trip Advisor.  The only one it was behind?  Angkor Wat.  That is amazingly high praise.

10 Tips to Traveling the Gen-X way!

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An article at Forbes commented on how the travel business has been pivoting towards Millennials.  The article, I think, correctly surmises that this means that travel companies are targeting younger travellers.  “Because we know you only get one life, one shot. So you better make it count,” says one travel outfit.  Which means they have tapped into the Millennial zeitgeist, at least from what I’ve seen.  So… good job, you travel marketing people.

This is fine… but it also means that they’re narrowing focus on one set of people and cutting down on diversity.  What about Gen-X?  You know… you know, that generation that literally all marketers totally ignore?

So, in response to all those thinkpieces like How To Travel Like A Millennial on HuffPo, here’s my awesome guide on how to travel like a Gen-X’er.

Continue reading “10 Tips to Traveling the Gen-X way!”

Adventures abroad: the Absolut Ice Bar


Do you know what’s ridiculously touristy?  The Absolut Ice Bar.  We were actually checking into Hotel C Stockholm, which houses the original Ice Bar, and we had to push our way through tourists just to get through to the front desk to check in.

You know what’s really yummy, though?  Drinking vodka out of a glass made of ice.  Mmmmm…. such flavor.

Also, sitting on the ice throne was dang awesome.

Adventures abroad: The Gold Drawing Room


St. Petersburg, Russia, is a high recommendation as a vacation spot.  There, the Hermitage is pretty much the A Number One attraction.  It consists of two adjoining palaces that make up a giant museum.  One of the palaces is The Winter Palace, home of the Czars.  

Within that are many awesome architectural flourishes that boasted of the Imperial might.  The Jordan Staircase gets the most press, and indeed it is suitably breathtaking.

Underrated, though, is the Gold Drawing Room.  As we wandered around the private quarters, we got a ramping up sense of opulence.  From the Malachite Room to the Boudoir, you got a palpable sense of people who had more money than they knew what to do with.

And then… you enter the Gold Drawing Room, and all those previous rooms look like pre-made mock-ups for a McMansion model home. Because… holy moley there is so much gold.  I was whisked away to Imperial Russia, where Czars would take an audience here.  Everything about it says, “You are talking with the most powerful person on Earth.  Compared to us, you are nothing.”

Adventures abroad: The Little Mermaid

So when you get to Copenhagen, there’s clearly only one site to see: the statue of the Little Mermaid.  And you also get the same reaction from all the locals, “Why would you want to do that?  It’s such a small statue.  It’s not worth it.”

TripAdvisor seems to agree with that sentiment, ranking the statue a #48 of 374 things to do.  It only gets 3.5 out of 5 stars.  This ranks below the very scenic spiral spire of The Church of Our Savior (4.5 stars, though we were warned away by my uncle due to the neighborhood being a notorious drug den), the Tivoli Gardens amusement park, and the palace where the Royals stay at.  It’s probably not my top site either.  I was most excited about the Round Tower of Copenhagen, another local landmark that was mentioned many times in Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales.  (I’ll have to talk about that some time in the future.)

And yet… when you get to The Little Mermaid, you’re greeted with crowds of tourists pushing and jostling to get into position so they can have a picture of this tiny, insignificant statue.  One that has the face of a celebrity ballerina and the body of the sculptor’s wife.  I should know.  I was one of those tourists.

Fortunately, I was already prepared for the underwhelming scale: I’d already seen Vancouver’s “Girl in the Wet Suit”, a modified copy of The Little Mermaid. (Though the Copenhagen version is still better.)  After all, it’s called “The Little Mermaid.”  “Little” is part of the name.  It’s a unique statue in which the lighting is never, ever going to be right.  Even when you get a postcard, most of the statue is going to be hidden in shadows.

But, seriously, why the fascination?  Well, it’s got a strange totemic quality in that if you visit a certain city, you feel like you’ve wasted your day by not seeing the city’s symbol.  Like… going to New York and not seeing the Statue of Liberty or going to Seattle and not going up the Space Needle.

And, well… it’s actually a fairly intriguing statue.  I mean, it’s barely the Little Mermaid.  It’s just a nude woman reclining on a rock.  The only clue is that her foot is still partially a fish tail.  But you do start to wonder… what’s going on in her head?  What drove her to leave everything she left behind?  Knowing the original non-Disney doomed conclusion, are we seeing this poor girl mere weeks before she meets her demise?  There is a bit of a sense of doom in seeing how precariously she balances on that smooth rock, as if any false step means her end.  The arm is angled out as if she’s unsteadily feeling the ground for the first time.  The shadows work to her advantage, as if she’s still carrying the dark ocean depths with her as she arrives on land.

The statue has been vandalized many times, and the Copenhagen city council has toyed around with plans to fence her off or put her further out at sea… but the close proximity to which tourists can approach her is, I feel, also part of the appeal.  As in, we are the world that she’s getting so close to, but will never fully join.  If you set her apart for the sake of safety… well, I feel you lose that element.

All that was probably never the authorial intent.  (It was commissioned by a noble who was obsessed with a ballet based on the story and who was obsessed with one of the ballerinas, in general.)  But I think that’s what it finally came to represent, and why the statue remains the top Copenhagen tourist attraction.