Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Virtual Vacation - The Island Town of Burano, Italy

The ancient port town of Altinum in northern Italy was a bustling trade center until the mid-5th Century when ravaging Huns laid the place to waste. The town made a comeback, but when the Lombards began running barbaric roughshod through the region a hundred years later the people put down their pasta and scattered, taking refuge on a series of islands in the Venetian Lagoon. In an interesting mix of nostalgia and tempting fate, these refugee settlers named six of the islands after the six doors that did absolutely no good protecting their now-obliterated city.

One of those islands, Burano, was named after the Porte Boreana, the North Door. Burano is known for having lots of fishermen, dwindling numbers of traditional lace makers, and homes that make Martha Stewart look like a bore.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Virtual Vacation - Mae Salong, Thailand

Mae Salong is a quiet mountain ridge village in the highlands of northern Thailand. Once part of the Golden Triangle opium trade, Mae Salong in 1961 became a refuge for asylum-seeking members of China's anti-communist Kuomintang (KMT) forces. Known today as Santikhiri, Mae Salong is a subtly exotic island in the sky. Getting there on a bicycle is an excruciating kind of fun.

In 1949 approximately 12,000 anti-communist rebels fled the Yunnan Province of China and hid out in Burma before eventually crossing over into Thailand. For a while they supported themselves through their involvement in the healthy opium trade, but in the 1970's the Thai government made them an offer: help the Thai government put down their own communist uprising in exchange for Thai citizenship and a solid pat on the back. One condition of the agreement was that they give up their opium habit and replace it with something more healthy. And the Mae Salong tea industry was born.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Virtual Vacation - Old Town Ljubljana, Slovenia

The symbol of Ljubljana, capital city of Slovenia, is the Ljubljana Dragon. According to myth, the slaying of a dragon brought a bounty of water to the land, ensuring the fertility of the Earth. Oddly, this is said to have also created the Ljubljana Marshes, which periodically threaten Ljubljana with flooding. The people of Slovenia thus have an ancient love-hate kind of thing with their mascot.

The Ljubljanica River may be unimaginatively named, but it has a colorful history. It seems that this river has served as a sort of ritualistic dumping ground for various civilizations over thousands of years. From the Stone Age to the Renaissance the Romans and the Celts and innumerable lesser-known and unnamed peoples have offered their artifacts, dropped their wallets and tossed out their trash in the waters between here and Vrhnika, about twenty kilometers upstream. The inevitable clash between historians and treasure hunters compelled Slovenia's national parliament to declare the river a site of cultural importance, making it illegal to dive without a permit. Swim at your own risk.