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As evidenced by the Dutch-built Stadthuys, the over 230-year-old Hindu temple, and the Chinese-inflected Kampung Kling Mosque, Malaysia’s multicultural colonial port of Malacca has been fought over and ruled by a succession of Asian and European powers since it was first established over 600 years ago. Offering safe harbor during the ferocious monsoon season for trading ships threading between China and India—a virtual crossroads of the world—the city pulled in abundant riches and a pallet of cultures.

Tossed like a hot potato between the Malays, the Javanese, the Vietnamese, the Portuguese, the Dutch, and the English, Malacca is home to architecture, food, religion, music, and other traditions that reflect the various flags flown over the city, and which influence the dominant cultures (Malay, Chinese, Indian, mixes of the three) that populate it today. Malacca’s tangled history and relaxed, Caribbean-like atmosphere make it a popular stop on the backpacker trail, but there are still a few secluded corners that occasionally go tourist-free. Here are a few of Malacca’s beauty spots.

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I promise, yours'll be cooler than this.

When was the last time you got a postcard in the mail? You know, one of those rectangular snapshots of places and times that invariably tease you about not being there. I got one recently from fellow blogger and traveler extraordinaire Pam Mandel of Nerd’s Eye View, who’d been hanging-ten in the lovely florid archipelago of Hawaii. Well, I think it’s time to help resurrect a tradition waning in the wake of social media. I’ll be doing some major traveling in the coming months—São Paulo, Madrid, Washington, Berlin, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Miami—so shoot me an email with your mailing address and I’ll shoot ya back with a postie par avion.

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The first thing you notice about Switzerland’s largest city – Zurich – is that, by comparison, every other city in the world looks worn-down and raggedy. The whole place smacks of affluence, from the clean comfort of the airport to the understated high-end street fashion (even old people rocked dark denim and leather jackets by somebody famous). In Zurich, they riyotch, beyotch.

Early industrialization and the development of banking services (a business not exactly pure as Alpine snow) helped the Swiss obtain one of the highest per capita standards of living in the world. Food and clothing in Zurich aren’t necessarily the cheapest, but public services and infrastructure are top-notch. I flew into a world-class airport on a world-class airline, hopped a train to the main station, where I met up with my CouchSurfing host (Björn – Swedish name, Swiss dude) for some lunch-time Thai, then took a sleek and efficient tram to within a block of his apartment.

Great Domes of Zurich

I rested a bit from the 12-hour flight until Björn got home from work and we hit the streets of Zurich just as the sun dipped behind the Alps to the west. We walked around the old town, and I marveled at how multicultural the place actually is (I encountered Brazilians, Eritreans, Sri Lankans…), in spite of murmurings about Swiss xenophobia. It was strangely comforting to be in a place surrounded so completely by mountains; I’d lived in Bogotá, which sits on a high plateau surrounded by the Andes, but with 8 million people, comforting is the last word I’d use to describe the Colombian capital.

Skyline at sunset.

Conversation took us past 900-year-old churches and 21st century electronics stores, then down towards Lake Zurich where we hopped aboard one of the water shuttles that augment the city’s transportation options.

Lake Zurrk

According to Björn, the whole city is walkable in about 45 minutes, and we seemed to be testing out that assessment. Finally, as the temperature dropped into the upper-40s, Björn broke out the fondue set and we had some traditional Swiss potatoes and cheese for dinner. So much for my no-carb vacation.

Downtown shopping alley. Expensive.

The next day? Cold, gray, and rainy: perfect weather for a museum visit! The castle-like Swiss National Museum – Landesmuseum Zürich in German – chronicles the history of Switzerland from the Stone Age to modern times, even mentioning the Swiss role as financiers of the slave trade (no pics allowed). I’m always shocked in European museums by the amount of guts and gore that appears in depictions of Christianity: severed heads and people nailed to crosses and whatnot. Victory over violence, my brethren! I was also mildly chided by the old lady taking tickets at the entrance to the museum’s World Wildlife Federation exhibition because, as an American, I’m in some way responsible for America’s lax environmental policies. I just let her talk, responding every now and then with a “Yes, ma’am.”

Landesmuseum Zürich, where they filmed ‘The Haunting.’

Then, I shivered over to the nearby Museum of Design Zurich, mostly because I was sans-umbrella, and caught the temporary exhibition on skyscrapers (my favorite type of building). Photos, blueprints, and scale models of structures in major cities comprised the exhibition, and I took the opportunity to draw São Paulo’s Copan building in the guest book, since other people had drawn buildings in the guest book.

I took this picture on the low-low.

Soon, it was time to grab my onward flight to Berlin, departing from Zurich Airport’s über-chic “low-cost” terminal.

The hoodrat section of Zurich Airport.

Björn, thanks a lot for the Alpine hospitality! Zurich, you are small but sophisticated and your people are worldly and affable. I will be back!

Zurich’s got “something for every taste.”

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The other day, a friend asked me where I’d like to go next, now that I’ve got 30 countries under my belt. There’s still much of the world to see, aside from some of my favorite places that consistently call me back. Many places still incite visions of adventure whenever I see their names on a map, and here are a scant few (in alphabetical order):

Angola (above)

One of the homes of world-famous Brazilian martial art – capoeira – and one of the most expensive countries on the planet, it’s the culture of Angola that interests me. I’ve heard that it’s very similar to northeastern Brazil, but with a particular musical swagger all its own.

Australia

Packing for Perth. Image by TSM Photography.

I’ve yet to make it Down Under, and though Sydney is definitely on the itinerary, I’m also trying to hit Melbourne (artsy, bohemian, so I’m told), Queensland (tropical beaches, tropical beaches, tropical beaches), and Perth (just cuz).

Greenland

Titanic, she ain’t. Image by TobyAdamson.co.uk.

Greenland just looks cool as hell. Icebergs, li’l tiny villages at the edge of the sea, ludicrously-large landforms…as a native Floridian who travels mostly in the tropics, I’ve never seen anything like it! Well, I’ve flown over it and was duly impressed.

Libya

Roman ruins in Libya. Image by meena me.

Yes, there’s unrest going on in Libya right now, but unfortunately, unrest is a part of life. That still doesn’t stop me from thinking about trekking up to some of the best-preserved Roman ruins still in existence, called Leptis Magna. I hope to get there before they become – wait for it – ruined by mass tourism.

Papua New Guinea

Li’l Man in PNG. Image by carteretislands.

Not only does PNG, officially the only country in Oceania that borders an Asian country, offer up an interesting local culture and is off the radar of most travelers, it’s also got the Carteret Islands, which are in the process of inundation due to global warming. And, somehow, it’s got black folks. There’s something they’re not telling us (raises eyebrow).

Where do you want to go?

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Top image: Luanda at dusk by Mondo123.

Back in 2009, I took a three-month round-the-world trip to a planned five continents, and with the help of Fly Mother and some Zip-Lock bags, I was able to squeeze an adequate amount of clean underwear and other necessities into two very light-weight carry-ons. Observe:

That would be: One dress shirt and a pair of khakis, some jeans, 6 pair of draws, four pair of socks, 3 white tees, swim trunks, gym shorts, four short-sleeve t-shirts, two long-sleeve tees, and a pair of size-13 loafers.











Ta-Da!

Gracias, Mamita!

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I’m participating in Vai Via’s 15 Day International Travel Challenge, but doubling-up, as I’m not a daily blog poster. So…

Day 06 – What does “home” mean to you?
Of course “home” will mean wherever my family is, but I consider my circle of good friends as family as well, so there’s no geographic limit to “home” for me anymore. There’s also the feeling of belonging to a place, of walking down the street and being claimed by that place. For the moment, that place is São Paulo.

Day 07 – Besides people, what did/do you miss from home?
Barbecues, driving through cities at dusk with the perfect music for each place, cheap domestic airfares, cheap everything.

Day 08 – A favorite food from another country/culture
Mangú (mashed plantains) from the Dominican Republic. Yum! And a nice, flavorful chai from India (though they sell that at Starbucks here).

Avenida São João – aka Saint Johns Ave, baby – in the ‘new’ half of ‘old’ downtown São Paulo. For a few decades, The Ave was the place to see and be seen, with the sidewalk cafés, movie houses, bijou apartment blocks (like mine – the Palacete Ibis, built in the 30s), and an efficient trolley whisking the aspiring elite and their maids and doormen to and fro. Now, there are crackheads, sex workers, retirees, Bolivians, Nigerians, bohemian artists, foreign pseudo-intellectuals, surprised out-of-towners staying at one of the many faded business-oriented hotels, all buzzing on the streets and in-and-out of bedraggled and salacious commercial businesses all hours of the day and night, anchored by the 35-floor, Empire State Building-inspired Banespão. Damn, I love this street!

The famous street corner from Caetano Veloso's urban hymn, "Sampa."
At the turn of the 20th Century.
1929
1949 (Credit: Carlheinz Hahmann)
1940s
1950s
1960s
Bem Nova Iorque, hein? 1960s
1970
2008 (Credit: Paulino Tarraf)
2009
Dayum! Oh, and that's my building; the cream-colored one in the middle. (Credit: José Patrício/Agência Estado)
Avenida São João from the Banespão, 1986 (Credit: Cristiano Mascaro)


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