Adventures abroad: Museum of Islamic Art, Doha

There are not that many places to check out in Qatar, at least in 2014. (There was a lot of development going on in preparation for the World Cup, though, so there might be more things to check out nowadays.) There’s the souk, which was definitely made for tourists and probably not a place that locals hang out much at all. Great restaurants, though. There’s The Pearl, Doha’s artificial island that was probably spurred on by those crazy island-making developments down in Dubai.

And then there’s the Islamic Museum. The exhibits aren’t that exceptional, to be honest. I much preferred the smaller museums in Kuwait and Oman. The real attraction, though, is the building. The museum was built on an artificial island and designed by superstar architect I. M. Pei (he of the pyramid in the middle of the Louvre). It’s got a very modern look, with flat clean surfaces and a building-block aesthetic.

However, the materials and the arches make the building unmistakably Middle Eastern. The overall design discipline of Middle Eastern artwork — with its clean lines, repeating patterns and complimentary colors — to me already looks contemporary.  Now it’s simplified further to break the design down to the most basic of elements.  (Wikipedia says that I. M. Pei took inspiration from an ancient 9th Century structure: the Mosque of Ibn Tulun in Egypt.)

The best part is that the faces of the building are angled in such a way that the light casts different shadows on its surfaces different times of the day. At night, it’s lit up, and the gradients between light and darkness remind me of  something Picasso would’ve painted in his Cubist phase.

The island surrounding it is a lovely park filled with greenery … which I imagine has a heck of an irrigation system underneath. From there, the museum looks like a blocky pyramid — an update to its brethren in Egypt and Mexico.

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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.

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.”