Monthly Archives: October 2013

Dubai Scores 7 of 10

DSC04366I received another press release this week from Sarah Krenz at Emporis, tall building specialists in Hamburg, Germany.  She informed me that 7 of the 10 tallest residential buildings in the world are now located in Dubai.  The boom in construction in the United Arab Emirates continues with what Emporis,  international supplier of current building data, calls “gigantic apartment palaces” in the Marina district.  Princess Tower, the tallest at 1,358 feet, is followed by 23 Marina, Elite Residence, The Torch, HHR Tower, Ocean Heights, and the shrimp of the lot, Cayan Tower at 1007 feet. Emporis says that a 15 minute walk is all that it takes to see Dubai’s 4 tallest residential towers.

#9 on Emporis’ list is also in the Emirates, Abu Dhabi’s Eithad Tower 2.  The other 2 among  the top ten residential buildings are, to me, in surprising places–Australia and Russia.  The Australian Gold Coast’s Q1 Tower built in 2005 ranks #5, and the Capital City Moscow Tower erected in 2010 is #10.   Q1 sounds like quite a tourist attraction with outdoor terraces, a miniature rainforest in the form of a 10 story sky garden, and a steel spire that lights up at night.  Capital City Moscow Tower is the 2nd tallest building in Europe and looks like a giant’s cube collection with his favorites stacked crazily on top of each another.

Tall building competition is fierce internationally, but the Untied States is still a player.  432 Park Avenue in New York City, scheduled for completion in 2015, will be 1,397 feet high.  However, World One in Mumbai, India, will be 53 feet taller, a stunning 1,450 feet, and take over the top spot when it’s completed next year.  Its 117 stories will have 300 apartments in a dramatic 3-part steel and glass circular structure that looks scarily top-heavy to me in project drawings.  And then there’s the 93 storey, corkscrew Diamond Tower in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Once the tallest building in the world, The Empire State Building is an impressive 1,454 feet but only 102 storeys.  Its antenna adds 204 feet to its height.  It now ranks 24th in the world’s tall building competition.


The photo is of London’s Shard.

An Unexpected Dallas Delight


The Government shutdown made it impossible for Ruth and me to visit the new Bush Presidential Library until our 3rd day in Dallas.  Two days, no plan.  We had, we thought, seen all the major Dallas attractions on previous visits.  Wrong!  We had never been to its Arboretum.

I associate botanical gardens , arboretums, etc. with places like Hawaii and Florida.  But Texas?   Yes, and YES again.   There are reasons why Southwest Airlines Spirit Magazine ranked the Dallas Arboretum among the top 3 in the United States, 900,000 visitors from 70+ countries visited in 2012, and AAA listed it as one of the Dallas area’s 6 GEMs.

East of Downtown at 8525 Garland Road on White Rock Lake, this Arboretum is a total escape from urban speed and stress.  The dam creating White Rock Lake was completed in 1911.  By the 1930s its shore had become a recreation magnet with a resident ghost, the Lady of White Rock Lake.

The Arboretum’s current 66 acres were once two estates with lots of live oak trees.  Before that, part of this property was a dairy farm.  Opened to the public in 1984, The Dallas Arboretum is comparatively new and still has room to expand, but it already has 8 separately named gardens and additional garden areas with names like Crape Myrtle Allee that bring the total to 19.   What’s already there is sensational, especially in spring and fall we were told.

Ruth and I arrived a bit late in the day and got in only because of the generosity of Cristina Riccio Kenny who wisely told us to turn right from the ticket booth.   Thanks again, Cristina.   That right turn put us immediately into an all-ages fantasy named Pumpkin Village that will delight through November 27.   Strewn along paths on this autumn-crisp, sunny afternoon were 50,000 gourds, squash, and especially pumpkins.  Ruth had me take her picture in Cinderella’s Carriage in the Pecan Grove.

This seasonal display was so spectacular that Ruth, plant expert, didn’t find out about the 2-phase Woman’s Garden on this visit, and I didn’t learn about Dallas Arboretum’s new 8-acre Rory Meyers Children’s Adventure Garden that instructs young visitors to “Please do touch”.  Even though it’s mainly for children, I simply have to go back to Dallas and see the 9 feet long ant sculpture, walk through treetops on the Texas Skywalk, etc.

Ruth is normally steel when it comes to gift shops.  In the Hoffman Family Gift Store, however, she was aluminum foil.   As I waited outside, she bought, among other items, two heavy, almost tot-sized gingerbread figures that eventually needed to be Fedexed after her fantasy of taking them as carry-ons collapsed.


Off to Italy Again


“Imagine you wake up tomorrow and discover you’re Italian.  How would life be different, and what could you discover about Italy in just one day as a local?” challenges Lonely Planet.

When I read this a couple of hours ago, my imagination went wild, probably because Ruth and I will end 2013 in Italy.  Among other activities, we’ll take the high-speed train to Firenze to visit the Galleria degli Uffizi.

Our last visit to Italy was in 2011 and a lot has changed since then.  Tom, our Italy expert, is no longer there to travel with and instruct, the youth unemployment rate is reportedly 40%, and Pope Francis.   And that’s just tre major changes.

I’ve written before about my many cultural encounters with Italians–Gianfiero and the ride, the laundromat in Bergamo, being wanded in Le Marche, returning the rental car in Mestre, etc.–to name just quattro.   Just this morning I learned that bells in Italy are symbols of power and control. This stands to reason.  There are more than 900 churches in Rome alone and the Catholic Church has a long Italian connection to name just due. According to Lonely Planet only 15% of Italians regularly attend church on Sunday and its cathedrals are mostly full of tourists, not locals.  Pope Francis, however, may change this.

Tom taught me early on that the main social blunder made by Americans like me is breaking the rule of initial social interaction.  I walk up to a stranger in the U.S. and ask, “How do I get to I-70 from here?”  In Italy this would seriously offend.   Before he asked for help, Tom always spent several minutes with Italian strangers getting to know them.  Lonely Planet says, “It’s not merely a matter of being polite–each social interaction adds meaning and genuine pleasure to daily routines.   Conversation is far too important to be cut short….”    Certo.

According to Lonely Planet, I would wake up as an Italian in the morning and bolt down scalding hot coffee before charging out the door.  However, I’d take time to chat with Eduardo about his new baby so as not to be rude. New baby?  In Italy?  Thanks to cultural givens (figlie di papá–daddy’s girls and mammoni–mama’s boys) and shockingly high youth unemployment, most marriage-age Italians still live with their parents well into their 30s and beyond.  According to, the fertility rate for women in Italy is 1.41 children, ranking it 203 among 224 countries.   The source of this info is the Italian government’s statistical agency.

Another cultural difference I have trouble adjusting to is dinner at 11 pm. According to Lonely Planet, the most common phone comment overheard across Italy during evening rush hour is, “Mamma, butta la pasta!”  “Mom, put the pasta in the water!”  It’s no wonder most Italians prefer just scalding coffee in the morning.

I’ve been a victim of scams cinque times in Italy–the leather coat, the gypsy girl, the credit card, etc.–but positive Italian travel experiences always far outweigh the negative.  I’ve often called Rome the most exciting yet stress producing city in the world, and I’m on my way there again to be taken advantage of.


Eilean Donan Is not a Woman


The largest castle in Scotland is Edinburgh, which is often listed as its biggest attraction.  Deservedly so.  But there are about 1,200 other castles scattered across the Highlands.  150 are said to be haunted.  The second castle we entered is Scotland’s 3rd most visited–Eilean Donan.  Eilean is the Gaelic word for island.  And, indeed, Eilean Donan is beautifully situated on an isle where 3 sea lochs come together near Skye.

Eilean Donan is movie-set perfect, so much so that it has been used for that purpose since 1948.   Two fairly recent movies that used it for exterior shooting were Highlander and the James Bond epic The World Is not Enough.

Although people have lived near this tidal island in Loch Duich since the Iron Age, a castle wasn’t built on this triangle of land surrounded by water until the 13th century.   Long before that it had been named for a 6th century Irish saint.  By the 13th century, defenses against Vikings were popular and the Isle of Donnán provided a perfect defensive position.  The 13th century Mackenzie clan used it for a stronghold aided by their buddies, the Macraes.  The inscription over the gate read, “For as long as there is a Macrae inside, there will NEVER be a Fraser outside.”

Today Donan crawls with tourists, but way back in 1331 an Earl visited and found the 500 severed heads on its battlements both welcoming and a sight of justice.  “Sweeter than a garland of roses,” he reportedly exclaimed. Today’s visitors climb ramparts with complete access to all castle nooks, listen to a lone bagpiper, look through spy holes, try to lift cannon balls, etc. What they aren’t supposed to do is take photos of the surprisingly cozy, family friendly interior often used for weddings.  One guard told me that his biggest challenge is preventing stealthy cell phone owners from photographing the many possessions set about thanks to the generosity of the Macrae’s overseeing Trust.

In 1719 Eilean Donan was a garrison for Spanish soldiers who were Jacobite supporters.  They were ousted after bombardment failed.   This was followed by 200 years of stately ruin until John Macrae-Gilstrap bought the island in 1911 and turned Eilean into a family home that wasn’t fully completed until 1932.   Among his improvements was the long footbridge to the main island that we traversed at low tide when Eilean was not at her scenic best.  However, it is a worthwhile stop even though it’s not haunted like Borthwick, where Mary Queen of Scots had to disguise herself as a man to escape.  Today she often seen dressed as a pageboy.


Ruth Loves R. W. Norton


Going from Little Rock, Arkansas, to College Station, Texas, last Sunday, Ruth and I had extra time so we tried, and failed, to find a museum in Louisiana that we visited many years ago.  We did, however, find the R. W. Norton Art Gallery.  Ruth fell in love with it the moment she saw its extensive, unusual Steuben glass collection.  Over time, Norton moved up to a 5 Compass attraction for me too.

Free and non-profit, R. W. Norton is at 4747 Creswell Avenue in a park-like, high-end Shreveport neighborhood setting.   Richard Norton, who died in 1940, discovered Louisiana’s Rodessa Oil Field and his wife, Annie Miles Norton, and their son, Richard Jr., amassed an eclectic collection that required the addition of North and South museum wings.  I was told that even though the Norton just expanded again, some of its best stuff is still in storage.

Since the Norton’s mission is “to advance knowledge of works of art and literature”, quotes by well-known people now grace its walls.  Ruth loved them as much as the Steuben and kept coming over to borrow my notebook to write them down.  #1 is a Persian proverb, “He who wants the rose must respect the thorn.”

The first time I wandered into the research library, I didn’t see the Nortons’ most impressive acquisition, a complete, intact 1st edition of John James Audubon’s Birds of America.   Luckily, I went back after I found a room literally stuffed with Remington’s and Russell’s, where Norton moved up to 5 Compass experience, and learned about an artist far better than Audubon, John Gould.

Ruth’s favorite Charles Russell painting was “Indian Beauty Parlor” in which a tough looking warrior type is having his hair braided.   Ruth was enchanted by this tender scene of domestic life in Native American society and insisted that I photograph it.  By this time she had also fallen in love with The Grey-Blumenstiel Doll Collection.   She dragged me away from Norton’s guns to see these dolls.  Queen Victoria would probably be pictured above instead of the braiding maiden if Ruth had written this blog. I did pause to read about the Queen Victoria doll, however, and learned that Victoria started a fashion trend when she wore a white wedding dress in 1840.  Until then, most wedding dresses were grey.  Who knew?   Dolls are the world’s oldest toys according to the R. W. Norton Art Gallery.

Ruth cared only slightly for Felix Kelly.  He was, I thought, a pretty good painter who lived to be 80 and died in 1994.  A New Zealander who spent most of his adult life in England, Felix somehow fell in love with the beauty and decay of the traditional American South and painted romanticized New Orleans scenes, riverboats, plantation mansions, etc.  The Norton surely has one of the best collections of his stuff.

If you like offbeat, atypical museums, Norton will win you over quickly and lead to an intense love affair.  Just ask Ruth.