Life on a Roll

Inside Iran: the Columns of Persepolis

Nan Pang

Persepolis, or “the city of the Persians,” is located northeast of Shiraz—just about one hour by car. As the history of the site stretches back almost 2,500 years, Persepolis had embodied the magnificent wealth and prosperity of the Achaemenid Empire and is considered one of the most significant archeological sites of the Achaemenid Empire as well as pre-Islamic Persia until its destruction by Alexander the Great. If you want to see what it was like back then, renting a pair of Virtual Reality 3D reconstruction glasses at the entrance is highly recommended. Although the stones decay and colors fade, the columns of Persepolis still stand high and proud today—as if they have been witnessing the turbulent history of Iran for over the last two and half millennia.

Life on a Roll

Inside Iran: Holy City of Yazd

Nan Pang

After spending a night in the Varzaneh Desert in Iran with Hamidreza and his father, I was ready to head east. Because Varzaneh is a small desert town and does not have a bus stop, I decided to hitchhike from the nearest highway. It must have been a peculiar sight for the Iranians as they saw me with my 40L backpack standing at the highway to stop a car, as there is no hitchhiking culture in Iran. Luckily, a father and son picked me up and dropped me off at the nearest city called Na’in. There, two nice police officers at the highway checkpoint tried to stop a bus for me so that I could hop on to Yazd. They were curious about my background and the sneakers I was wearing. We chatted about sneaker brands and their police car while waiting for the buscars and sneakers are surely the lingua franca across the globe.  

I arrived at Yazd in the afternoon. This place probably has the essences of the middle eastern cities you imagineit has well-preserved mud bricks, a bright blue mosque, and iconic wind-catchers. I barely saw anyone on the street on my way to the Amir Chakhmaq Complex, most likely due to the extreme heat and the fact that the tea houses seemed to be closed due to Ramadan as well. Though Yazd is not considered  to be a religious city like Mashhad or Qom, it is definitely conservative and traditional. I noticed more women wearing traditional chadors as I walked down the street, adding a unique atmosphere to the city. After all, the word Yazd does mean “holy.” At twilight, the city came back to life once again. Rooftop cafes were popular spots among locals and tourists. People gathered around to share stories while sipping on drinks. Sekanjabin is a good summer drink to try if you don’t know what to get. It is one of the oldest Iranian drinks, made of honey, vinegar, and cucumber.

Jāmeh Mosque of Yazd

Wind-catchers of Yazd

Yazd art house rooftop cafe

Amir Chakhmaq complex

Yazd art house

Life on a roll

Winter in Scotland

Bernie Langs

Traveling off-season in Scotland allows for quieter access to tourist sites, such as castles and palaces, that are usually crowded and overrun in spring and summer (although some shutter for winter months but allow for strolls on their grounds). In December 2019, my wife and I lucked out with unusually mild weather for our entire stay in Ballater, a burgh in Aberdeenshire on the River Dee and close to Balmoral Castle. We also spent a few days in Edinburgh.

Stirling Castle

Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh, with ruins of Holyrood Abbey in the background; an after hours tour of the Palace was great fun

Doune Castle, a medieval stronghold near the village of Doune, in the Stirling district of central Scotland. Scenes of the movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” and TV show “Outlander” were filmed here. The recently deceased Monty Python member, Terry Jones, narrates the amusing visitor audio guide.

Dunnottar Castle, Stonehaven, on the North Sea

Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness near Drumnadrochit; arriving by boat was an incredible experience.

Braemar Castle, near the village of Braemar in Aberdeenshire; constructed in 1628.

Life on a Roll

“Carrelet” fishing in the Aiguillon Bay, France

Elodie Pauwels

Fishing huts overhanging the Atlantic Ocean

Fishing hut and “carrelet” net

You might be surprised by these strange little wooden shacks on stilts overhanging the ocean in some places on the French Atlantic coast, like in Esnandes in the Aiguillon Bay. These huts are called “carrelets,” named after the square nets used to fish (“carré” meaning square in French). A winch allows the net to be immersed and pulled up. Well found, don’t you think?

Life on a Roll

New York City, Angoulême and the Comics Festival

Elodie Pauwels

Did you know there is a close relationship between New York City, U.S.A. and Angoulême, France? When Giovanni da Verrazzano discovered the New York Bay area, he named it New Angoulême after French King Francis I, Count of Angoulême.

Angoulême, city of festivals, is mainly known for its International Comics Festival that held its 47th edition a few days ago. This event was even larger this year as the city has recently been integrated into the UNESCO creative cities network, literature category.

If you plan to visit the Comics Museum, you will be welcome by the statue of Corto Maltese, a character from comic book creator Hugo Pratt.


Cité internationale de la bande dessinée et de l’image

Corto Maltese

Corto Maltese

Life on a Roll

Bernie Langs

The Musée Rodin in Paris was founded in 1919 as a showcase for the works of the French sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840-1917).  It is housed in the Hôtel Biron, which was used by Rodin as his workshop. He later donated his entire collection of sculptures, along with paintings by Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir to the French State. The sculptures “The Thinker” and “The Three Shades” are located in the beautiful gardens of the museum.


Nan Pang

Inside Iran: Sand Dunes of Varzaneh

Between Isfahan and Yazd, I decided to take a detour at the Varzaneh Desert. After a minivan ride and hitchhiking, the majestic sand dunes of Varzaneh suddenly appeared in front of me. According to Hamidreza, our beloved local guide, the average height of those dunes is the highest in the Iranian deserts.

The magic began at the dusk, as the sky started to paint the desert. Five minutes before sunrise was probably the most silent time of day. Yet still, I thought I heard Scheherazade finishing her tale, travelling on the wind across the dunes.

Life on a Roll

Philharmonie de Paris

Elodie Pauwels

Philharmonie 1 is a symphonic concert hall which opened in January 2015 and is part of the Philharmonie de Paris. Its architect, Jean Nouvel, used interlaced aluminum panels and sophisticated tesselation that will make your head spin, especially if you reach the rooftop to admire the view.


Inside Iran: Blue Wind of Isfahan

Nan Pang

Isfahan, once called “half the world,” was the capital of Persia during Safavid dynasty. In the vast Naghsh-e Jahan Square, the Shah Mosque greets visitors with its gorgeous symmetry and heavenly blue tiles. Lotfollah Mosque, one of the architectural masterpieces of the Safavid Empire, is just a few steps from the Shah Mosque. The breathtaking arabesque patterns on the dome are almost synonymous with Isfahan.

At twilight, taking a walk to the Khaju Bridge is a great idea. Locals gather under its beautiful arches and hold nightly singing competitions. Their welcoming songs echo across the bridge, and transcend any language barriers.



Anna Kaczynska

Guangzhou is located in the south of China. Everyone I asked said that it is the place to enjoy Cantonese food. You will not be disappointed. It has many local restaurants, but street food is amazing and highly recommended. Besides the cuisine, temples, and parks, you can find the famous Opera House designed by Zaha Hadid as well as the famous Canton Tower standing tall above Pearl River. With over 14 million people in Guangzhou, you will never feel alone.

Life on a Roll

Anna Kaczynska

One of the wonders of Wuhan and a symbol of the city is the Yellow Crane Tower. The stunning building, which dates back to 223 A.D., was rebuilt in the early 1980s and is considered one of the Four Great Towers of China. The modern version of the tower is located on Snake Hill. It is a beautiful place and perfect spot to admire the city and the Yangtze River.

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.