Life on a Roll

Inside Iran: Oasis of Kashan

Nan Pang

The city was once known among merchants as a prosperous oasis along the Silk Road. Nowadays, Kashan is better known for its production of fine rose water. Located between Tehran and Esfahan, the city is often overlooked by most travelers, but the magnificent architecture of Timche-ye Amin od-Dowleh in the bazaar itself is worth a trip. It is also fascinating to get a flavor of affluent carpet merchants lifestyles through the opulent Tabātabāei House and Sultan Amir Ahmad Bathhouse.


Life on a Roll

Bernie Langs

“The Lady and the Unicorn” tapestries are exhibited in Paris in the Musée de Cluny, also known as Musée du Moyen Âge–Thermes et hôtel de Cluny. The museum’s building, now undergoing a comprehensive renovation, served as a residence for the Abbots of Cluny and is the oldest surviving Parisian and Gothic-style townhouse. Dating back to the fourteenth century, it incorporates ancient Roman remains that are now part of the museum’s lowest level. The sumptuous and stunning Unicorn tapestries reduced tourists from around the globe to a hushed state of awe the day I visited in March of this year. The six intricate tapestries were woven around 1500 in Flanders from designs drawn in Paris and are recognized as masterpieces of the late Middle Ages.


Elodie Pauwels

The red walls of the Alhambra overhang Granada, Spain and hide several Nasrid-style palaces. This is the place Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile agreed to fund one of Christopher Columbus’ voyages at the end of the fifteenth century. A vivid description of life in and near the palace is offered by Washington Irving in his Tales of the Alhambra–a nice summertime read!

Life on a Roll

Blue Lagoon

Elodie Pauwels

Turquoise blue waters! How could you not fall for this lagoon and surrounding islands near Kissamos in Crete, Greece? To enjoy the warm transparent waters and light sand of Balos Lagoon, you need to earn it: be prepared to reach the spot by boat or by foot, and cope with the absence of shade. Then you can spend hours drooling over countless shades of blue.

Life on a Roll


Elodie Pauwels

Perspective makes parallel lines look like they will join somewhere in the distance. The laws of geometry seem thrown into disorder! This distortion however only exists when the scenery is observed from a particular point of view. These kinds of pictures are an invitation to discovery and travel for me. What about you?

Geometrical corridor, Angoulême, France

Railway, Breda, The Netherlands

The Majesty of Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris

Jim Keller and Dom Olinares

Following the devastating fire on April 15th, let’s take a minute to remember how the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris was meant to be seen, in all its magnificent glory. These photos were taken during our trip to Paris last year.

As we watched the flames engulf the Cathedral on the news, including its timber central spire, we felt helpless. Our hearts ached for France and for the world.

Although the cause of the fire is still unknown, on April 16, the Paris prosecutor said that nothing his office had learned suggested a deliberate act. The investigators most strongly suspect a case of “accidental destruction by fire,” but they have not ruled anything out at this early stage.

Whatever the cause may have been, in the words of French President Emmanuel Macron: “We will rebuild Notre-Dame together.” Less than 24 hours after the fire had broken out, over €800 million had been pledged for the Cathedral’s reconstruction. True to his word, an international fundraiser was launched by Macron the very next day.

Please visit for more information.


Life on a Roll – Aurora over Snaefellsnes

Megan Elizabeth Kelley (Twitter @MeganEKelley)

Photos by Megan Elizabeth Kelley.

On the Northern coast of the Snaefellsnes peninsula in Iceland, there is a horse farm nestled between the water and the mountains where I stayed for a few nights. As is typical for winter in Iceland, the wind howled, rain alternated with snow, and clouds often obscured the stars, but for a few hours one night the skies opened up and unveiled the Aurora Borealis. At times, swirling light shimmered overhead like idle tracings, while at other times there seemed to be a green spotlight blazing across the sky. The wind and rain continued to blow in from the side—I realized that I was still in my pajamas and they were stacking up poorly against the elements, but the awe-inspiring sight of the aurora kept me outside for hours. I was grateful when the clouds eventually rolled in over the mountains, as I needed sleep and could not have otherwise torn myself away from such a sight.

Life on a Roll

Elodie Pauwels

Jacques Cœur Palace

Bourges is located in the middle of France, where Jacques Cœur was born at the end of the fourteenth century. Among other duties, he was a merchant in charge of trading goods between his country and the Levant under King Charles VII.

Although he never lived there, Cœur ordered the construction in Bourges of an avant-garde gothic-style imposing hôtel particulier (now called palace). He chose scallop shells and hearts (in French: “Saint-Jacques” and “Coeur”) as heraldry, which can be seen at many places on and in the edifice. His motto “A vaillans cuers riens impossible” means “To a valiant heart, nothing is impossible.”

Jacques Cœur’s story has been novelized by a French author, Jean-Christophe Rufin, a Bourges native himself.

Life on a Roll

Elodie Pauwels

Many comparisons can be made between a single day and a full year. Both are the result of the rotation of the Earth, on its axis or around the sun. This sunset—these three pictures taken within 15 minutes of each other—offered blazing colors, as it often does at the end of the year. Happy holidays!


Bernard Langs

While vacationing in London in May, my wife and I took the train to visit Hampton Court Palace in East Molesey, Surrey. ​Hampton Court Palace was occupied by King Henry VIII and his many wives in the early sixteenth century, and he utilized its grandeur to demonstrate power and magnificence. Several subsequent royals added structures to the Palace and William Shakespeare’s “King’s Men” first performed Hamlet and Macbeth there in 1603 for James I. The beautiful gardens were expanded by William III and Mary II in the late 1600s. Queen Victoria ordered the palace open to all of her subjects in 1838.

Life on a Roll

Fair Warning

Megan Kelly

Cold Spring Harbor, NY

Where the trail ended there stood a handful of trees in a field, one seemingly impaled by the fragment of another. Under the chainsawed end of fragment there was a glinting light. Upon closer inspection, the light revealed itself to be a glass hemisphere, and when viewed from the right (wrong) angle, the hemisphere displayed a warning. Maybe not all that is intriguing deserves investigation.


Life on a Roll

The Venice of the North

By Elodie Pauwels

So many Venices in the World! Before booking my trip to Russia, I had no clue that Peter the Great wanted the city he founded, Saint Petersburg, to look like Venice, Italy.

During the never-ending summer days, discover this colorful city with dozens of palaces along canals and the large Neva River. Lose yourself in the Hermitage Museum and its famous green Winter Palace. And catch up on the Romanov dynasty while visiting Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral in the middle of the fortress, the very place the city was founded in 1703!

Hermitage Museum from the Fortress

Peter and Paul Fortress



Life on a Roll

Qiong Wang – Morocco Series #2 – Fes

Fes, one of the four royal cities in Morocco, is famous for its rich culture and history. The old medina is like the sacred labyrinth of the moors. Hundreds of uneven narrow lanes turn and terminate capriciously, and thousands of short old houses have managed to squeeze themselves inside this royal city for over a thousand years. The tiny streets are so narrow that when a horse passes by, everybody needs to stand by to let them pass. Sometimes the lanes are ensconced in darkness — even during the day, keeping you alert. Less than 10 minutes after stepping into the medina, I found myself lost completely, and realized that English and Google Maps were not that useful.

The most famous scene of Fes is, of course, the colorful view of the dye pits from the rooftop at the expense of a very bad sulfur smell. This is where whole pieces of skin are stripped off the animals and processed into genuine leather. Luckily, the smell was not as strong during winter, but, still, it was not a pleasant scene to see up close. It is hard to imagine the factory workers submerging themselves in the dying barrels for hours each day. Fes might be a sacred place for many, but I think I will avoid a second visit.


Bernie Langs – Italy

Italy remains a favorite spot for my family to enjoy vacations. In May, we spent several days sightseeing in Florence and took a fabulous day trip for wine and cheese tasting, which included stops around Tuscany in Pienza, Montepulciano, and Montalcino.

As one climbs inner, narrow stairways to the roof of the Florence Cathedral (Il Duomo di Firenze), there are areas where one can emerge to view the cathedral from catwalks high above, including the fantastic sight of the upper painted interior under the dome. The Duomo, a majestic wonder of both architecture and engineering, was completed in 1436 from designs by Filippo Brunelleschi, and features paintings of the “Last Judgement” done by Giorgio Vasari, Federico Zuccari and their collaborators in the mid- to late-16th century.

The interior dome of the Florence Baptistery of Saint John is covered with spectacular mosaics. The octagonal building was constructed between 1059 and 1128 with the mosaics added over a century starting in the year 1225. The building’s famous “Gates of Paradise”, sculpted by Lorenzo Ghiberti in the early 1400s, have been restored and are now housed in the nearby Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.

Pienza is a beautiful small city in Tuscany near Siena. The 15th century Pope Pius II had the town rebuilt as an ideal Renaissance village, working with the Florentine architect Bernardo Rosselino. The views of the surrounding countryside are heavenly.

Life on a Roll


Between Sea and Sky

Elodie Pauwels

Taormina in Sicily is a corner of paradise, especially when you discover it before the busy tourist season starts.

It is perched 200 meters above the Ionian Sea and surrounded by small mountains. Mount Etna keeps an eye on the ancient city. The 360-degree view from the Greek Theatre (“Teatro Greco”) is probably the most beautiful panorama I saw. For further  adventure nearby, nothing was better than discovering Isola Bella by foot via its isthmus.

Teatro Greco

Isola Bella

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Life on a Roll

Morocco Log #1

Qiong Wang

Stepping straight onto the tarmac of Casablanca Mohammed V International Airport after a 6 hour flight with the Royal Air Morocco, I am officially on the continent of Africa!

The reputation of Casablanca would be overrated if it were not for the magnificent Hassan II Mosque by the Atlantic Ocean. Marrakesh, on the other hand, is what I imagined Morocco would be like – vibrant colors, ancient history, and exotic culture blended with chaos everywhere. Djema Square at the heart of the old medina is the biggest outdoor marketplace in Marrakesh. Every day, when the sky dims into a scarlet sunset and the square is re-lit with a sea of tent light bulbs, when the delicious smell of BBQ travels to your nose through clouds of smoke that rise above vender stalls, when the boisterous crowd and circus animals pour into the square from all directions, you can’t help but realize that this place has just woken up and the show is about to begin.

Life on a Roll

In the Middle of Paris France

Elodie Pauwels

The Saint-Jacques Tower, with its flamboyant gothic style, is located in the middle of Paris. It is all that remains of a church built in the 16th century and demolished during the French Revolution. The 171-foot tower has had many functions since then (including a shot tower!) and undergone many phases of restoration. It is now open to the public (tour guide only), and the view from there is simply stunning.

Life on a Roll


Nan Pang

Machu Picchu is arguably the most famous historical ruin not just in Peru, but in the Americas. Since the re-discovery of this Inca citadel by American historian Hiram Bingham in 1911, this iconic lost city in the sky has been attracting visitors non-stop for the past century. 

 From the stunning view at the top of Huayna Picchu, to the carefree llamas chilling in the lawns, Machu Picchu possesses magical enchantments hardly describable by words. Peru prides themselves as “the richest country in the world” in their recent marketing campaign. Well, it was. It truly was. 

Life on a Roll


Qiong Wang

Philadelphia is renowned for being the City of Brotherly Love and the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence, but, in my experience, people in this city seem to have a lot of appreciation for art. From an academic level, the city is home to many famous art museums including the Barnes Foundation and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  From a street perspective, many strikingly usual wall murals are painted all over the buildings in Center City with awed messages. From every historical building you pass by and every street corner you turn onto, there is a sense of heritage and era.  Unexpectedly, you bump into a modern bank-affiliated coffeehouse offering hot drinks & free WiFi. How interesting!



Life on a Roll


Pretty Seasonal Colors

Elodie Pauwels

“The falling leaves drift by the window, the autumn leaves of red and gold…” Here we go again, fall has arrived, with its bright and warm colors. Who does not love walking around in this season, amazed by the beauty of the trees? Enjoy it!

Life on a Roll


The Old City of Quebec

Qiong Wang

Quebec is an authentic city of rich history, vibrant art, and French culture. It was my first visit to this old city, and I was pleasantly impressed. Quebec means “the narrowing of the river” and in this case it refers to the Saint Lawrence River. Its geographic heritage endows the city with its strategic significance in wars and economy.

The entire old city is a UNESCO heritage listed site. The only fortified city wall in North America is preserved in Quebec.

Apart from French being spoken and written everywhere, the characteristic that struck me most is the rich art element infused in every detail of the city: from the landmark Le Chateau Frontenac to a vast painting on the side of a building, from restaurants to galleries, and from sculptures to street signs.

Life on a Roll.

A Day in the Gulf of Kotor, Montenegro

Elodie Pauwels

I have recently spent a few days in Dubrovnik, Croatia. One of the highlights of my trip was a one-day trip to Montenegro, since it was not planned and I therefore had no idea what to expect. I didn’t even realize the currency is Euro (I’ll let you Google this!).

I was given the full .tour of the Gulf of Kotor. Imagine a landscape of fjords and mountains, with Mediterranean vegetation and clear blue water. Pretty nice, isn’t it? Like most cities in the area, the old city of Kotor (a UNESCO world heritage site) is surrounded by fortifications and walls. If you’re fit enough, you can climb 1500-plus steps up to St. John fortress, built by Emperor Justinian in 535.




I also discovered Perast, a tiny village on the Gulf, and its two small islets, Our Lady of the Rocks (the only artificially-built island in the Adriatic sea, shown here), and St. George.