December 2013


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(c) 2013 Kathryn Pharr

Frankfurt has made me think of Christmas since I was a little girl watching Heidi, where Shirley Temple is taken away from her grandfather on the mountain to live with a girl named Clara in Frankfurt. Having a layover in Frankfurt is rarely high on business travelers list, but it should be during the Christmas season. Frankfurt has one of Germany’s biggest Christmas markets in its lovely city center (get off at Hapswache).

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(c) 2013 Kathryn Pharr

When I alighted onto the train to take me from the airport into Frankfurt’s city center, I asked a gentleman next to me how to get to the Steigenberger hotel. He ended up giving me directions that involved getting off at Hapswache where I could see the deserted beginning of the Christmas market. No one had opened their stalls at 7 in the morning next to the Katharinenkirche (St. Catherine’s church, which is Protestant). Finding KaisenstraBe, I walked along it until I came to the Steigenberger Frankfurt Hof. This amazing hotel had an old world charm and was so close to the Christmas market, I thought I must be dreaming. Turns out, I was. I actually had a reservation at another hotel owned by the same company: Steigenberger Hotel Metropolitan, which was closer to the Main Hof train stop. The walk between the hotels, in reality only about 10 or 15 minutes, felt longer in the drizzling morning rain after a red-eye flight. Still, I can honestly say I was thrilled with my actual hotel because having read my note on my reservation about my arrival, they actually had my room ready when I checked in at 8 AM. Most of you know how much that means. The Hotel Metropolitan is a good location, just more modern with smaller rooms than the Frankfurt Hof.

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(c) 2013 Kathryn Pharr

After awaking in the early afternoon, I sauntered down now familiar streets to the Christmas market where I sampled Gluewein (mulled wine) from the local Lions club and a wafflen zimt und zucker (cinnamon and sugar waffle). As much as I enjoy the Christmas markets in New York City, it’s impossible to compare with a market surrounded by historical buildings from the people that brought us Christmas trees. I was surprised to learn how many of my parents’ ornaments are German since I don’t remember their going on a trip there. Yet, ornaments I’ve never seen on anyone else’s tree where for sale in many of the stalls. Perhaps what was most interesting is that, unlike my Christmas in the holiday land, so much of what I saw in Frankfurt reminded me of how we celebrate Christmas back home.

The one Christmas tradition from childhood that I knew was German was the angel orchestra my mother would display on the piano each year. These wooden angels were hand-carved and could stand upright while playing various instruments. She also has a few angels that hang on a wreath of ivy from the chandelier. When my sister came home from Russia and stopped over in Germany, she looked for the angels without success. Today I was thrilled that after checking twenty stalls, I found what I’d been looking for. I also learned they are available online now, so I will never again be stuck if I run out of ideas of what to get my mom.

Amman in Snow Dec 2013

(c) 2013 Kathryn Pharr

Some of you may be wondering what I was doing in Frankfurt in the first place. This week, our GIST program hosted a boot camp in Jordan with awesome entrepreneurs! Imagine arriving in Amman to discover that the hills are covered in snow. The only thing stranger was arriving in Frankfurt which had no snow and was warmer than Amman! It was hard to literally be in the Middle East only long enough for the work event (I arrived an hour before the welcome dinner and left the hotel 3 hours after the event ended), but it was still nice to be back.

I have to admit it was a bit surreal to take a cab from the Jordanian airport and as we came closer to the city of Amman be offered views of olive tree fields covered in snow. This is the most snow they have had in twenty years, and I can’t help but be pleased to be in a place with more snow than home has in December. Walking into the hotel lobby, I was greeted by a poinsettia tree, very like the one in Cairo back in December 2010. It’s a truly lovely idea, and is next to a prominent, edible gingerbread house that has beanbags and coloring books for kids. Also like Cairo, I can smell the dust in the air even in the 5 star hotel. Everything is familiar and yet not simultaneously.

I got into town in time to join everyone for a wonderful supper at a local restaurant on Rainbow street. One thing I really miss when I go to Middle Eastern restaurants at home is not having enough people to justify ordering all the mezza/saladas that make the meal authentic. They even had an eggplant and lamb recipe similar to one I tried out a few months ago from my Jerusalem cookbook.

I did hear the adhan once. I even tried a Jordanian shiraz, which was quite good. This trip was good, even if a whirlwind, but I’ll be happy to be home in time to celebrate Christmas with my family.

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Some years have a theme. For me, 2013 has been a year of weddings. Briefly here, I’d like to wish the best for my five friends and their new spouses who have decided to make the big plunge of lifelong commitment.

Laura and Nat

Tied the know in Lexington, VA. Laura and I met in 2nd grade, and I’m so glad she went to the puppet show where she met the wonderful Nat who was visiting NYC from Australia. I was so happy to get to sing “Today” at the wedding. Yes, those are wombats on top of the cake. Haven’t you heard of the hit single “Wombat Wiggle” written by our esteemed couple?

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(c) 2013 Kathryn Pharr

Laura and Matt

The first of the Nicholas crew said “I do” in St. Bede’s where we’d sang in folk group mass so many times. It was truly magical to be part of the music there once again. Even the Williamsburg rain was in character. The only thing better than Laura getting Matt is that he finally got the dinosaur pillows his mother had been promising to make since he was a kid. Laura and Matt spontaneously did some break dancing during their couple’s song but were perfectly in sync, as always.

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(c) 2013 Kathryn Pharr

Kylie and Matt

Fittingly, I had two college roommates get married in back-to-back weekends. When Kylie called to tell me that Matt proposed during a kayak trip, I knew he good for her. When I found out at the wedding that the honeymoon would be Montana, which she’s talked about visiting since we lived together in 2005, I considered the deal sealed.

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(c) 2013 Kathryn Pharr

Chris and Mona

I think Chris knew immediately that he’d met his soulmate in saying hello to Mona. They’ve already traveled to Costa Rica, the Galapagos  Islands, and now they are taking a lifetime journey.

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Elizabeth and Matt

Not everyone manages to marry their high school sweetheart. So glad I’ve gotten to know both of you since moving to D.C. It was so much fun to explore Atlanta (which I’d never been to) where they had grown up before the wedding. Just hours before the wedding, our group saw an underwater proposal at the Atlanta aquarium. Talk about putting you in the mood for a wedding!

the happy couple

Photo by Becky Barnes

 

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(c) 2013 Kathryn Pharr

I was very excited to stop in Singapore on the way home and stay with my friends Tom and Nicola. They moved to Singapore about nine months ago and were able to show me around. Singapore is a prosperous city-state between Malaysia and Indonesia. Its population is rapidly growing from immigration. In order to deal with this density of humanity, cars are highly taxed and not allowed to be imported, in an attempt to keep traffic reasonable. The metro is clean and easy to use, but doesn’t go everywhere. As a short person, I particularly noticed how here I was able to easily hold onto the railings above my head (unlike in DC which I swear they design for people 6 feet tall).

Singapore is amazingly tropical year round, a bit like an eastern North Carolina summer, complete with high temperatures and full-on humidity. A number of impressively tall malls offer strong AC to combat the heat. Housing is very, very expensive, so the government has subsidized food stalls in courtyards where you can go and get a chicken and rice meal for roughly $2. Much of the older architecture styles, like in  the neighborhood of Tiong Bahru, are post-WWII and focused on “form follows function” in other words clean lines, nothing ornate. Whether a fancy restaurant or a food stall, the food was amazing and the variety & fusions were excellent.

I highly recommend a visit to the Asian Civilizations Museum, which focuses on the history of the Singapore River but also on the region as a whole. I loved seeing all the artifacts from India, China, and Southeast Asia. I was surprised to learn that the boats on the river caused so much pollution that they were completely cleaned up in the 1970s; now there are no boats on the Singapore River. While I’m sure this makes the place cleaned and better smelling, I imagine some regret the loss of “atmosphere” of this change.

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(c) 2013 Kathryn Pharr

On this visit, I also got to see my first Buddhist temple and my first Hindu one! (Both of these require taking off your shoes.) The Buddhist Tooth Relic Temple is in the Chinatown section of Singapore and built in the Tang Dynasty style. The glitter of the main room was a bit overwhelming. On two walls were 100 Buddhas each. In the center was a place for people to sit and write. While I was there, mostly tourists filled the space. I did not see any monks, but here is a guide for how to behave in your own adventures in Buddhist temples!

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(c) 2013 Kathryn Pharr

The Sri Mariamman Temple is the oldest Hindu Singapore and located in Chinatown. In Little India, Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple is one of the oldest in Singapore and is dedicated to its namesake who is a powerful goddess and Destroyer of Evil. Best of all in both Hindu temples, I arrived during a service. Several people were performing puja, by gazing at images, in this case those within the temple, and others by giving fruit or flower offerings to these images, which are not believed to be divine themselves but provides a connection to the divine. The priests were blessing some of the people by marking them with a yellow or white paste. With the approach of Diwali, a Hindu festival of lights autumn celebration, Little India was having an outdoor market of vendors. Naturally, I found myself buying a wonderfully cool and comfortable kameez, tunic top. I really enjoyed exploring what the vendors had.

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(c) 2013 Kathryn Pharr

For a small island, there was so much to see. I particularly loved the Gardens By the Bay. While more people might be intrigued by its neighbor, the Marina Bay Sands hotel that literally has a cruise ship on top of it (with an Olympic size pool & casino), I loved these gardens. Looking like something out of a sci-fi novel, they beautifully blended outdoor mini-gardens of different styles with indoor hothouses: the Cloud Forest and the Flower Dome, with horticultural species from around the world. I particularly liked the Baobabs and Bottle trees that hold water in a way that gives them a belly (at least for some of the varieties). Founded a 150 years ago, I also loved the Singapore Botanic Gardens, not least because I had two young, excited guides who looked remarkably like Tom and Nicola’s twin toddlers.

I am definitely going to have to come back.

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(c) 2013 Kathryn Pharr

Sometimes I think it helps on a 34 hour trip to know that you are in fact going halfway around the world, 12 time zone differences, from where you began. Such a long trip to get to say Morocco, as I experienced back in March, is just disheartening. I had a very brief layover in the Tokyo airport where I had a sense of déjà-vu upon recognizing the dolls my uncle brought back for me as a gift when I was six and he was working with Japan. Landing in Singapore for a seven hour layover, I learned a very important lesson: book a hotel room at the Singapore airport weeks (not days) beforehand.

On the ride to the hotel in Kuala Lumpur, I shared a cab with a Scottish engineer who works with Christmas trees (oil rig equipment, not the holiday decoration) and is overseeing a project here. It then seemed appropriate when I realized that the Petronus Towers (a main character in Entrapment and the 7th tallest building in the world) are named after Petronus, the national oil company of Malaysia.  Furthermore, the Petrosains Discovery science center is at the foot of the Petronus towers in the top level of the Suria KLCC shopping mall. All of which is across the Kuala Lumpur Convention Center (KLCC) park from our hotel, Traders. Anna and I, true scientists that we are, visited the Petrosains Discovery before my hotel room was even ready; it was a fabulous interactive science facility, especially for kids. It even had an automated TRex singing welcome in Malay. Later in the week, I went to a reception at the Petronus Towers. It was cool to look out on the sky bridge, but the rain hindered any brilliant photography.

We're GISTOf course, I was in Kuala Lumpur for the 4th annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit, which featured GIST Tech-I finalists. All of us on the GIST team had been working very hard for the past six months to make this event a success. I was beyond thrilled with Secretary Kerry mentioned some of our participants and the GIST program in his keynote at the Summit’s opening. As always, our Tech-I finalists were inspiring. The Summit was a great success as was GIST.

After so much hard work though, I needed a little break when the Summit finished. I flew up to Langkawi, an island very close to Thailand, in the Malay province of Kedah. There were so many places I wanted to visit in Malaysia, but I only had a few days. Monsoon season meant many places were a no-go for diving. Due to the rains we got in Langkawi, I ended up not diving anyway, which was disappointing but understandable. Instead, I just relaxed on the beach and ate amazing food. I stayed at Lanai Beach 

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(c) 2013 Kathryn Pharr

Resort at the edge of Pantai Tengah, a small village that merges with the slightly larger Pantai Cenang. I wanted a nice, quiet hotel with a beach and a swimming pool, which is exactly what I got. Every day I’d walk into Pantai Tengah and Cenang and stop at whatever restaurant smelled too good to pass up. When it looked like rain one afternoon, I enjoyed the Underworld aquarium where I watched penguins being fed. It was a beautifully designed aquarium.

I loved the Indian food at Sagar, a lovely open air restaurant in Tengah. Having supper one night at the hotel’s beach hut where I could hear the invisible waves crashing as I ate was rejuvenating. I only wish the weather (and my energy levels) had enabled me  to really take advantage of all that Langkawi has to offer: scuba diving, boat tours of nearby islands, the cable car, and mangroves to name a few. However, having not been to the beach in well over a year, I was very happy with my beach and spa time. Like Indonesia, Malaysia has spa opportunities that won’t break your bank account. I loved Yuan Spa, very close to my hotel. It always amazes me how wonderful a good quality, low price massage feels! I really hope that next time I visit Malaysia, I’ll have more time to explore!

2013-07-19 15.36.03This July I was lucky enough to go to Austin, TX, for work. One of my favorite programs in my work portfolio is the Building Opportunities Out of Science and Technology (BOOST) program. Working with UT-Austin’s IC^2 Institute, BOOST trained about 40 Turks from different sectors within its innovation ecosystem on technology commercialization. The winning teams came to Austin for a week to learn about the city’s innovation ecosystem. We visited accelerators, the local city economic development office, the city chamber of commerce, a VC firm, and various aspects of UT-Austin. The meetings with the local Austin government provided participants with an excellent example of what government can do for entrepreneurship and the necessity of all players working together on a collective strategy to reach the goal of making an area attractive to the innovation and entrepreneurship community. I was excited to learn that Austin has 230 clean energy startups. Who knew?

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(c) 2013 Kathryn Pharr

Of course at the end of the day, we did manage to squeeze in some fun. Heath took us to amazing restaurants, often local favorites like Gourdoughs Doughnuts. Since it was bat season, we went down to South Congress Bridge to see the bats come out at night. So cool! 1.5 million bats make it the world’s largest urban bat community. Holy cow, Batman! We ended up on a boat tour of Lady Bird Lake to watch the bats come out. It was unbelievable to watch so many go right over our heads!

We also checked out Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar downtown, a very similar set up to the one in Nashville complete even with the football team gimmick. We all enjoyed it. The time off in the evenings was fun like downtown Austin always is. I wish there’d been more time to check out Barton Springs and the other key sights I didn’t make during my brief visit a few years ago.

 

DSCN2401So many of my posts are about my travels that I did want to take a little time to share some of the great things that D.C. has to offer. Anyone who has lived in the area or visited in the spring has heard of the Cherry Blossom Festival, two weeks of festivities in D.C. centered on the blossoming of the cherry trees around the Tidal Basin, originally given by the Japanese in 1912. Restaurants offer Cherry cocktails, and the National Mall is jammed with tourists. One year I worked odd hours to get off early on a weekday to get some fabulous photos. This year, Ali had a much better idea. A group of us went for a Cherry Blossom picnic at the National Arboretum. Established in 1927, the Arboretum is on the NE edge of  town-far from the tourists. It is 446 acres of countryside hidden from the city are are famous for their Azalea collection. They have over 30 varieties of cherry trees. Wouldn’t you know that we ended up picnicking under the one Chinese one? 🙂

Backstage at Brad Paisley concert

(c) 2013 Kathryn Pharr

While I love concerts, I don’t like my ears ringing after the show is over, which makes outdoor summer concerts the perfect solution. For the first time, I accompanied Ali and friends to Jiffy Lube Live, an outdoor venue closer to Mananas, to see Brad Paisley in concert. I loved seeing Lee Brice and Chris Young open, and our seats were great. Now, it’s obvious I need a cowgirl hat for such events. It’s not often that you find a performer who enjoys making fun of himself as Brad does in “When You’re a Celebrity.” They even played one of my favorite songs “Southern Comfort Zone.” By far the best was getting to be up on stage with the band for the closing song; a friend from Nashville works backstage for Brad and got us VIP passes. It was a bit surreal to be waiting backstage, where I haven’t been since undergrad. We came out onstage for “Alcohol”where they actually poured us whiskey shots while we danced. What a night! The other country music show Ali and I went to was Miranda Lambert. One of the best aspects of her music is how she focuses on girls and women standing up for themselves and not waiting for someone else to help them. Yes, that might involve guns, but it sure beats the plastic, passive-aggressive types I often see portrayed in the media.

Hands down, my favorite concert venue in the area is Wolf Trap. For Ceci’s birthday, the Nicholas girls (plus Matt) had a great picnic and listened to Joan Baez and the Indigo Girls. No concert could have been more perfect for Ceci. It was unbelievable when they all three performed together for the encore! I also really loved seeing She & Him, who came out with a fun, 1960s beach style album this summer, play at Wolf Trap. I’ve enjoyed them ever since my cousin Kyle and my sister introduced me to them several years ago. I didn’t except them to be even better in concert!

Art is among the top D.C. attractions year round. The Diaghilev and the Ballets Russe exhibit at the National Gallery of Art this summer was touring from the Victoria and Albert in London. Having not known much about Ballets Russe before going, I was interested to see the early 20th Century art styles (e.g. cubism) brought to the ballet stage. The exhibit included original costumes, props, and backdrops as well as videos of the ballets being performed, often from reproductions.  I enjoyed it as much as the Pre-Raphaelites exhibit, from the Tate, that came to D.C. earlier this year. After the year of passing Kate’s print of Ophelia by Millais when we all lived together in Nicholas, it was amazing to see the original. Having never taken an art course, I was surprised that Pre-Raphaelites actually occurred during the Victorian period as a hearkening back to the scientific precision of Raphael.

And of course, there’s the theater! Ali and I went to Signature’s production of Miss Saigon, which is based on Madame Butterfly. Since I was leaving in two days to go to Southeast Asia, it was really powerful. At the Washington National Opera, Dad and I saw Showboat and Tristan & Isolde. Showboat was one of my favorite movies as a kid and to see the play, not the movie script, was wonderful! The last time I saw Tristan & Isolde, I was sixteen and all I could see was another stupid doomed love story like Romeo. This time, I was completely enthralled by Wagner’s music and the depth of the story, and the five hours (YES, FIVE HOURS) flew by. If that’s not a ringing endorsement, I don’t know what is. Just Saturday, Laura and I got to see Idina Menzel in the pre-Broadway premier of If/Then, which opens in NYC late March, here at the National Theater. It was amazing; just go!

102_5335In looking over photos, I realize I should add things like a day trip to Harper’s Ferry that I finally went on, but instead I’ll update this post to say that several of us went to the Arlington Library’s fundraiser, a 1920’s ball with live music by the Hot Society Orchestra. Ali and I even managed to remember parts of the Charleston that our grandmothers had taught us when we were little girls. This was the first such gala event, but it was so well attended (with a best costume prize) that I’m sure it won’t be the last!

And yes, most of this post is an advert to light a fire under all of you people who keep hoping to come see me to get out here! 🙂