The Best Swords in Spain

According to my husband, Spain is the place to go in Europe if you want a souvenir sword. If you want more than just a souvenir, but a finely crafted blade, look no further than Toledo. But don’t worry. Toledo offers more than just finely crafted blades. Jewelry, plates, and other decorative pieces of damasquinado crafted by hand also beckon travelers to this amazing place.

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Very close to the cathedral in Toledo is the store run by the Mariano Zamoraňo’s family. Mariano Zamoraňo Fábrica de Espadas y Armas Blancas is a fascinating place, even if you are not interested in making any purchases. On one side, you can find artisans creating damasquinado. Our children were enthralled with the detailed and delicate work, creating a design on blackened steel with a delicate thread of gold. The artisan we watched spoke only Spanish, but was happy to tell us all about his craft. We were able to watch him create a bird and flower pattern using a thin strand of gold. He showed us what the blackened Damascus steel looks like before applying the gold design. Then we watched as he quickly and expertly used a small tool to press the gold onto the steel. The gold shone brightly against the stark background. I think I fell in love with damasquinado while watching it being crafted. My girls were thrilled to leave the store with their own piece of damasquinado jewelry. I have to say, I was thrilled to leave the store with my own piece (or two) of damasquinado jewelry.

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On the other side of the store, they sell what are, according to our guidebook, the best swords in Spain. Swords of all shapes and sized adorn the walls. The shopkeepers are very friendly, and invited us to go in the back workshop to see a sword being sharpened.

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I love to see the process of how things are made. It’s quite impressive to think how lumps of metal through skill and hard work are crafted into beautiful swords! If you are interested in artisan crafts, be sure to visit Toledo!

Hong Kong: First Impressions

As the list of cities that I have visited grows, I become more and more interested in what sets each apart from the other. When we first land in a new city, we like to spend some time walking around and exploring, without too concrete of an itinerary set. Our first few days in Hong Kong, we stayed in Kowloon, very close to Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade. As we walked out the front door, one of the first sites that met our eyes was a couple dressed in clothes from a bygone era. It was like they had stepped straight out of the 1930’s in a British colonial style. Of course we knew that Hong Kong had been owned by the British for over a hundred years. It had only recently been returned to the rule of China. But it was still interesting to see how the British and Chinese cultures meshed within the modern city of Hong Kong.

Our first morning wanderings brought us to one of the main shopping districts of Kowloon. At first glance it looked very similar to a street you might see in New York, or any other large fashionable city. There was one striking visual difference.

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The scaffolding was made of bamboo! I decided the bamboo scaffolding is much more visually pleasing than the metal and blue walls that is used in New York. Building and renovating happen in cities all over the world. The small differences in details in universal activities like this are just so interesting.

Another difference we noticed as we strolled along were number of jewelry stores, and how different the jewelry was. The gold was yellow, a much deeper and richer yellow than gold used in jewelry in the U.S. In China (and Hong Kong) they use 24k gold to make jewelry. It is a tradition that brides are given gold jewelry by their families when they marry. Their jewelry is one of the few items that traditionally they retained ownership over. The deep yellow of the gold is gorgeous and attention catching. The other jewelry that was really interesting was the pearl collections. So many different colors and sizes! While the pearl jewelry in Hong Kong didn’t quite rival that of Mikimoto (a Japanese jewelry designer), it was still far more varied and intricate than pearl jewelry in the United States.

If you would like to see a sample of the gold jewelry from Chow Sang Sang, click here. To see a sample of the pearl jewelry click here.

I love visiting the green public spaces in the middle of a towering urban metropolis. There is something really interesting to me about the juxtaposition of nature and concrete jungle. The layout of the park, its structures and plant life, as well as the people in the park, can give you a taste of the culture of an area.

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Kowloon Park was a beautiful green oasis, filled with quiet waterways, animals, and a playground that our kids loved. In Central Park you’ll find people doing yoga. In Seattle’s public spaces, you’ll possibly see Butoh or Capoeira. In Hong Kong, you see people practicing Tai Chi or martial arts.

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The Peninsula Hotel, an icon of British colonial culture in the midst of Hong Kong’s Kowloon, is located very close to the Star Ferry. This hotel oozes with the luxury of a bygone era, reminiscent of the height of British colonial power. You can go to the Peninsula and experience afternoon tea, in true British style. Although intrigued by the idea, we didn’t go to afternoon tea on this trip. Maybe next time!

***Correction – The above picture is not the Peninsula Hotel, but a nearby building called 1881 Heritage. You can follow a link to the Peninsula Hotel’s Website here. ***

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This is a part of Tsim Sha Tsui looking over Victoria Harbor into Central Hong Kong. I love these kind of relaxing moments when traveling with our children. No one can teach you to stop and enjoy the moment like small children, who find the joy in splashing in a fountain, gazing at reflections, or watching the ships moving across the water. The Star Ferry was a big hit with both of our girls. It is really a very short ride to cross Victoria Harbor from Kowloon to Central Hong Kong. I am more used to the ferries going to and from Seattle, which are much bigger and far longer crossings. The Star Ferry is about a 10 minute ride, but it gives you an excellent vantage point for taking in the skyline of Central Hong Kong and Kowloon. Plus, I just love the name. Who wouldn’t want to ride a Star Ferry?