Sunday, December 30, 2012

Liebster Award

Museum Trekker has won a Liebster Award! What a wonderful way to end 2012. My blog was chosen to receive this award by Sara Max. Sara lives in Italy and is the author of Flowerland. Grazie Sara!

What is the Liebster Award? 

The Liebster Award's origins are pretty much a mystery. Bloggers nominate other bloggers that have 200 or fewer followers. “Liebster” is German for “favorite,” so this is kind of like the “favorite blog award.” It's basically a "Hey, that's a sweet little blog you've got there. Here's an award!" You can't just accept the award. You have to play by the (ever-changing) rules and pay it forward. Then you can put the award on your blog for all to see. 

Rules of the Liebster Award: 

1. List 11 random facts about yourself 
2. Answer the 11 questions given to you
3. Ask 11 new questions for the bloggers you nominate for the award
4. Choose 11 bloggers with 200 or fewer followers to nominate
5. Go to each bloggers page and let them know about the award
6. Thank the person who nominated you and link back to their blog

11 Random Facts About Me:

1. I am left-handed and right-footed
2. I can play the piano and saxophone
3. I am violently allergic to garlic (No, I am not a vampire)
4. I have eyesight like a superhero. My vision is sharper than 20/20
5. I've ruptured my left eardrum 3 times and lost most of my hearing in that ear
6. I'm terrified of speaking in public
7. I break out in hives when I get upset and my face turns red like a cartoon character
8. I don't like musicals or anything involving singing and dancing in unison. I like singing and I like dancing but I cannot stand when they are combined
9. I love the smell of old library books
10. I am the middle child- I have an older sister and a younger brother
11. I love sports. My favorites are soccer and surfing

Questions from Sara:

1. What is your zodiac sign? Gemini
2. If you have to go on a desert island and to take with you just three things, what would you take? I've learned from traveling that you really don't need much. I would bring to a deserted island the 3 best and most useful things I brought with me while traveling around the world: A really good Swiss army-type knife for building/cutting/fixing things, A water filter/purifier because I am ALWAYS  thirsty and cannot go ten minutes without drinking water, and rope because you can do a million useful things with it
3. Do you smoke? NO
4.Your favorite food? Chocolate
5.Your favorite superhero? Why? Rainbow Brite. She is the main source of the Earth's color and it is her job to keep everything colorful and beautiful.
6. Have you a lucky number? Which is it? Yes. Number 44. It was my jersey number when I played soccer
7.Sea or mountain? Sea
8.Your favorite animal? Giraffe
9. Are you a fashion victim? My wardrobe consists of bathing suits and flip-flops so I guess the answer would have to be yes
10. Have you a recurring dream? I frequently dream about earthquakes ever since I was in an earthquake in Nepal
11. What is your favorite mode of transport? Boat

My Questions for the Winners:

1. If you could possess any talent what would it be?
2. What is your favorite place in the whole world?
3. What is your favorite season and why?
4. Do you speak any foreign languages? Which ones?
5. Do you play any instruments?
6. If you could time-travel to any year in the past or future what year would you travel to and why?
7. Do you have a mentor or person you most admire? If so, who?
8. Coffee or Tea?
9. If you could transform into an animal which animal would you like to be?
10. What is your favorite holiday?
11. What is the best museum you've ever visited?

The 11 Winners I've picked for the Liebster Award:

Friday, December 21, 2012

MORE December News!

I'm very excited to announce that my paintings are now on display and for sale at the Karen Ledbetter International Galleries in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. 

There will be an artists reception next Friday night December 28th at 7:30 pm

Address: 760 NE 44th Street, Oakland Park, FL

Also, on the same night, December 28th, I will be part of another Artisan Fair at Longhi's in Lahaina, Hawaii from 5-10pm. 

There will be a cash bar, live music, and complimentary valet. 

Address: 888 Front Street in Lahaina, Hawaii. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

San Francisco

After 20 hours of flying, we finally arrived in San Francisco. I had been to Los Angeles, California twice before but never to San Francisco. When people ask me what Los Angeles is like I tell them they can get the same experience for free by sitting in their car for six hours and going nowhere. Darren assured me that San Francisco was nothing like L.A. and if we didn't stop over somewhere, our trip home from Ireland back to Maui would have been a torturous 34 hours. We decided that since we needed to fly over it to get home anyway, that we might as well stopover for a few days to break up the long journey.

At the airport, we asked the information desk how to get to our hotel. They told us we should take the airport shuttle which would have cost $34. Here's a Travel Tip: These "free" information kiosks in airports are actually working for the shuttle companies. There's always a much cheaper and better alternative. We asked which train would take us to the stop closest to our hotel and she was immediately annoyed because it turned out that there was a stop just down the street from our hotel. So for $8 we could take a train from the airport directly to our hotel rather than spending many times that amount to sit in a van that would stop to drop off other passengers at hotels all over the city. As I've said before, riding the local transportation is all part of the traveling experience.

The only flaw we had in this particular situation was that although the hotel was adjacent to the train stop, we were so exhausted and delirious that we walked for about twenty minutes in the wrong direction so that by the time we finally reached our hotel we had been awake for 21 hours and my eyes were so bloodshot that I looked like Darth Maul.

I was pretty cranky and even though it was only 7:45 pm I was ready to go to bed. I went to close the curtains and I was greeted by this wonderful scene:

Less than an hour in San Francisco and I'm already in love.

I don't think I've been in bed that early since I was in grade school so we were up before the sun the following day. We walked all over the city. We had pre-purchased tickets to see Alcatraz so we began our walk in the direction of Pier 33 where we would catch our ferry.

Travel tip: Buy your tickets in advance online. Tours sell out quickly and you will be disappointed if you try to buy tickets at the pier and they are sold out.

The morning was foggy and cold but by the time we reached the pier, the sun was starting to burn off the fog. The ferries leave for Alcatraz every half hour and you need to arrive 30 minutes before your scheduled departure time.

The nice thing is that you don't have to wait in line and they have some interesting displays about Alcatraz to keep people occupied and give a little background information about the sights you're about to see. The ferry ride takes about 10 minutes and was so enjoyable I only wished it lasted a little bit longer.

Once you reach the island, a park ranger will greet your group and give you information about the island and tell you where to go and what to see. The first thing we did after that was head over to the theater to watch a 19-minute orientation video called, "Alcatraz: Stories from the Rock." I would recommend that all visitors not skip this as it gives a good overview of the history of Alcatraz and sets the tone or what you're about to see and experience. Then we went over to the cell house and picked up our headsets for the audio tour.  The narrators of the audio tour were real Alcatraz inmates, correctional officers, and residents. The audio tour is included in the admission price so there's really no reason you should skip this as the narration, sound effects and music will amplify your experience when touring the prison and give you a much better sense of what it might have really been like when it was a functioning prison.

We got to tour the entire prison, including the cells, the solitary confinement, the library, the dining hall, the yard, the morgue, the visiting area, the offices, and the warden's office. The cells were tiny. They were just big enough to fit a small cot, a sink, and a toilet. It was cold, damp and creepy.

Today, Alcatraz island is a national parkland with historic gardens, tide pools, bird colonies, and one of the best views of the city of San Francisco. Alcatraz Island is also part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and part of the Central California Coast International Biosphere Reserve, designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to promote education and preservation of habitats of international significance. In addition to touring the prison, outdoor interpretive walks through the historic gardens are offered throughout the day by park rangers and volunteers.

We had plenty of time left in the day after our visit to Alcatraz to wander around and see more of the city.

 On our way to Fisherman's Wharf, we stopped to see the sea lions at Pier 39.

After a seafood lunch at Fisherman's Wharf, we went to Ghirardelli Square to see the Golden Gate bridge but the famous fog had completely blanketed it from our view.

Then we walked all the way to the top of Lombard Street, known as the world's "most crooked street".

In addition to being crooked, it was also quite steep! The zig-zags were created in the road to allow for traffic to safely descend the steep incline.

The cable cars were all full so we had to walk back down and find a cable car at a less crowded stop. They are mainly used by tourists but you just have to ride at least once if you're visiting San Francisco. A one-way ticket costs $6 and you can buy the tickets when you get on board. There were no seats available so we had to hang onto the outside which I thought was way more fun anyway.

We were staying just outside the Chinatown gates so the next day we explored Chinatown. I've seen a lot of different Chinatowns in many different cities but I think San Francisco's Chinatown is one of the coolest I've seen.

I loved the brightly colored lanterns and little shops with rows and rows of glass jars filled with mystery spices and herbs. We bought a huge bag of fennel for only $3. We had been hooked on fennel ever since we went to India and now we found a year's supply. It's definitely best going on foot, or you would miss all the little alleyways hiding visual delights.

Afterward, we walked down to the Embarcadero and strolled through the outdoor flea market. They are held every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday morning. It had local artisans, baked goods, fresh flowers, something to please all your senses.

There is also an indoor marketplace within the Ferry Building which is open every day and consists of gourmet shops and restaurants. We tried to see the Golden Gate bridge again but the fog was still being stubborn. Little Kimmie and Little Darren really wanted their picture taken in front of the Golden Gate Bridge but the Bay Bridge would have to suffice.

It was a quick two day stay in San Francisco. There's was so much more we would have loved to see and do. We checked out of our hotel and still had a few hours before we needed to leave for the airport so we locked our bags in the luggage room at the hotel and made a quick trip to see the Cable Car Museum.

Admission to the Cable Car Museum is Free. 

Cable cars were introduced to the city on August 2, 1873, by inventor Andrew Hallidie. Downstairs you can see the Sheaves working underground. They are giant cogs turning the pulleys which feed the miles and miles of cable that move the cable cars through the streets. Upstairs we could see the cables coming in from the street and being fed around the massive pulleys. This area is also where the cables and cars are repaired. I loved that we could see the real inner-workings of San Francisco's cable car system.

The exhibits displayed tools and pieces of machinery, old cable cars, old tokens, ticket punchers, and fantastic old photos of San Francisco from the late 1800s.

There were newspaper articles about how the people of San Francisco fought and voted to keep the cable cars when the city wanted to shut them down. All the rest of the world shut down their cable car systems. San Francisco's beloved cable cars are the only vehicles of their kind still in operation and are designated National Landmarks.

The cable cars were the primary mode of transportation until the 1906 earthquake and fires that destroyed the city. There were videos and photographs of the earthquake as well. I learned from one of the original newspaper articles displayed on the wall that martial law had to be enforced. It declared that anyone caught thieving would be shot. The quake and fires destroyed most of the cable car system and only a few lines were restored as the city rebuilt. In the 1890s there were 600 cars and today there are only about 40 but it was nice to see that the system has remained almost completely unchanged from when it was first introduced in 1873.

The cable car museum was a really nice way to end our short but sweet visit to San Francisco. I definitely want to visit again so I can see all the places we didn't get a chance to see on this trip.

I have a couple more Travel Tips for San Francisco. First, you will absolutely need to bring a comfortable pair of shoes. The hills are a killer and you don't want sore legs and feet to ruin your trip. Second, pack for all seasons. We experienced winter in the early morning, fall mid-day and summer in the afternoon and then back to winter at night again. Be prepared for the fog and the moody weather.

I'm also going to (slightly) rescind a travel tip in a previous post where I advised my readers never to fly Delta. I obviously did not take my own advice because we flew with Delta (for the simple reason that it was the cheapest ticket) and when our layover flight from Los Angeles to Hawaii was delayed they said they were going to start making popcorn and giving out refreshments. I thought they were joking but they literally rolled out a movie theater-style popcorn machine and started popping popcorn at the gate and handing out bags of chips and sodas. This was the most amusing layover I've ever had. I pictured top Delta executives sitting in a board room and trying to think of the best way to distract their customers from the fact that their flights are never on-time and the popcorn machine was the winning idea. So even though the flight was delayed (again) it seems like Delta is making more of an effort to show they care about their passengers.

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Monday, December 10, 2012

December News

This Friday Night (December 14th) is Art Night in Lahaina. I will be displaying my work at Longhi's from 5-10pm. Please stop by and say hello!

Longhi's is located at 888 Front Street in Lahaina, Hawaii. There will be a cash bar, live music, and complimentary valet.

If you can't make it to Maui, much of my work is also for sale on Etsy. Like Kim Wagner Designs on Facebook to receive 10% off your entire purchase. 

Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

And the Winner is....

Last week I donated one of my adorable handmade tropical snowmen to a raffle organized by Tales-of-a-first-grade-teacher. The winner of the raffle was Sarah M. from California, USA.
Congratulations to Sarah and thank you to everyone who participated!
I still have a few snowmen left and you can purchase them from my Etsy store but hurry because they are selling out quickly!

I also have a new item available. This cute Surfing Gingerbread Man is the perfect Tropical Holiday decoration or a great gift for your friends and family who love surfing (and cookies!)

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Friday, November 23, 2012


I'm giving away one of my handmade Tropical snowmen as part of a fun giveaway at
Click the link to enter the raffle to win a melted snowman and other really cool stuff like
 a $10 Starbucks gift card and lesson plans for teachers.

*Edit (Dec. 1st): The raffle is now over. Please click here to see the winner

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Lovely Ireland

Last year I wrote about our trip to Ireland. It was my 2nd all-time most popular post. If you're now wondering what post could top Ireland, my #1 post of all time is  Walkin' in Memphis, where I took my first of what would become three trips to Tennessee and the world-famous Graceland. So now we know that the only thing that can top Ireland is Elvis. Not even a country can compete with the King.

We visited some new places that we hadn't been to before so I won't repeat any museums from last year's post. You can click here to read all about it. However, I have not written a post about one of my previous trips which was to Northern Ireland so I will just quickly recommend some of my favorite places.

The first would be Belfast. I took a day trip to Belfast and enjoyed it so much that I took another day trip the following day. It is a very user-friendly city and I was able to go alone and not get lost and I tend to get lost very easily! I took the train and walking distance from the train station is a visitor information building where they have real live human people giving you information about things to see and do and handing out free maps. That's where I found out about the black taxi tour.

I went on the Political tour of the city where we drove around and my driver explained all of the murals, we visited the prison, the cemetery, and the Europa hotel-also known as Europe's most bombed hotel. It wasn't the most cheerful activity but I think it is important in terms of learning about Irish history. In Belfast, it's very hard to ignore the history with the murals on all of the buildings.

You can also visit the City Hall and take a tour, the Titanic Memorial, or visit many art galleries and museums.

Belfast City Hall
Another absolute favorite of Northern Ireland was Giants Causeway. Scientists say that the 40,000 basalt columns stretching out into the ocean were formed by a volcanic eruption 60 million years ago but legend argues that it was formed two thousand years ago by a stomping giant named Finn McCool. I don't think my American vocabulary has suitable adjectives to describe Giants Causeway so for this post I'm going to steal some Irish ones. Giants Causeway was positively brilliant. Just lovely. It is located on the Northeast coast of Ireland in County Antrim about three miles northeast of the town of Bushmills.

Giants Causeway
And of course, it wouldn't be a proper visit to Northern Ireland if I didn't take a tour of the Bushmill's Whiskey Factory. I won't lie. The best part about the tour was the free whiskey at the end.

This year we were back in County Wexford again for our niece's christening. There was much excitement going on in Wexford as the girl's Camogie team won the All Ireland Finals for the third year in a row. I think it's great that a girls sports team received so much support and television coverage. They even got a big parade. If it were America, I bet no one would even know that there was a women's Camogie team. And I'm willing to bet that my non-Irish readers are googling "Camogie" right now. Camogie is women's hurling. Don't ask me why they just don't call it women's hurling. I've asked my Irish relatives this question and no one seems to know. Now you're googling "Hurling". Hurling is an Irish sport that's sort of a cross between lacrosse, rugby, and field hockey. What it looks like to an American who's never seen it before is a bunch of lunatics wearing no padding and beating each other with sticks.

I also learned some great new Irish phrases on this trip such as "A storm in a teacup" which means "a little thing" in Irish English or "no big deal" in my American translation. I don't know why they don't just say "a little thing" but I'm going to steal this one because it makes me laugh every time. I have to admit their overly embellished version of English does sound a lot nicer. For example, when the wheels on my friend's shopping cart were buckling, instead of telling her the wheels were crooked, Darren (if this is your first time reading my blog, Darren is my Irish born and raised husband) told her "the wheels on your trolley are buckling like a baby calf's legs" or when we were in Florida, Darren said to my brother, "There's a fair amount of heat in that sun." To which my brother agreed, "Yeah. It's hot." Even his complaints about the heat sound nicer.

The other big excitement was the National Ploughing Championship which was going to be held in Wexford this year. To my extreme disappointment, the championships started the day we left. I would have really liked to see this. I had so many questions. I asked my relatives again how one wins the plowing championship. No one really seemed to know for sure but they think the plow that makes the straightest line is the winner. 

We went to a couple of great new places in Wexford this year. The first was the John F. Kennedy Arboretum. After Kennedy's assassination, United States citizens of Irish origin desired to create a memorial to him in Ireland. The Irish Government suggested they create an arboretum in his honor.  There is a prominent hill adjacent to the Arboretum called, Sliabh Coillte which serves as a viewing point. It provides a view of the whole Arboretum as well as six counties. 'Tis a lovely Irish view.

Ireland has less than 30 native tree species but its climate allows trees from all over the world to thrive there so the Arboretum showcases approximately 4,500 species and varieties of trees, plants, shrubs, climbing plants and woody ground clover.

The site was chosen because it allegedly lies just 5 km from Kennedy's ancestral home. The homestead is open to visitors so we followed the signs which said it was just another 3 km up the road. Then we got to another sign that said it was another 3 km away...and so on and so on. We drove for about half an hour before we found it and found a sign on the gate that said it was closed for renovations. So here are some pictures of the outside.

Kennedy Homestead
Some other places we visited that we hadn't seen last year were Enniscorthy Castle and Vinegar Hill. Enniscorthy Castle is an ancient Norman stronghold located on Castle Hill in Enniscorthy, Wexford. Inside you can explore the development of the castle and the town over 800 years, including its role in the 1916 Rising. 

Enniscorthy Castle

We had access to the entire castle, including the dungeon where prisoners were kept as well as the roof where we could view the entire town and Vinegar Hill. 

A prisoner painted this on the dungeon wall
On display on the top floor of the castle was the work of designer Eileen Gray. This part of the museum made no sense to me. It was completely disjointed from the rest of the exhibit which was totally cohesive. It appears that they ran out of ideas for the top floor and just threw in work by Eileen Gray simply because of her connection to Enniscorthy. After learning more about her from the exhibit, I'm bothered even more when I learn that she wasn't even born in Enniscorthy, but rather "just outside" Enniscorthy. Gray was born in Ireland but her parents were Scottish. While she did spend her childhood in Ireland she actually studied in France and then spent most of her life back and forth between France and London. I mean no disrespect to Gray or her work but I just think that there is a more appropriate venue than a Norman Castle for the display of 20th Century lacquered furniture. Perhaps in the Irish Furniture exhibit at Johnstown Castle would be a better fit.
View of Enniscorthy and Vinegar Hill from the roof of the castle

Vinegar Hill
Vinegar Hill was the most famous outpost during the 1798 Rebellion and a defining symbol of County Wexford. It was the site of one of the bloodiest battlefields in all of Irish history. Today it is a peaceful and serene memorial with a splendid view. 

Before we left Ireland we spent the day in Dublin. I had heard so many great things about the Guinness Factory and I never got to see it on trips one, two, or three so this time it was number one on our list. I think if there's any museum that could actually rival Graceland in its grandeur and glory it would be the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin. I'm going to use my Irish adjectives again and tell you that it was brilliant, gorgeous, grand, absolutely stunning, and lovely (American English translation=Totally Awesome). I know those aren't words you'd think would come to mind when you think of a brewery but that's what it was. The biggest question I had when walking through the exhibits was how big was the budget for this museum?  It appeared that endless amounts of money were poured into turning this fermentation plant into a seven-story museum.

The building is designed in the shape of a giant pint of Guinness. If it were to actually be filled it would hold 14.3 million pints. Each floor was filled with hi-tech video interactive experiences. There was very little static signage so you didn't have to pause every few paces to read about what you were looking at. The few signs they did have, were well incorporated into the design of the space and had some serious custom hardware.

I'll take you briefly through all seven floors. The lower level ground floor is where you are welcomed into the storehouse and purchase your tickets. There are some artifacts from the building's history as a fermentation house which opened in 1904. On the ground floor, a staff member will greet you and give you an introduction to the museum. Located in the heart of the museum is a copy of the famous lease signed by Arthur Guinness on December 31st, 1759. Guinness begins with four natural ingredients (barley, hops, yeast, and water) so in the ground floor displays, you will learn about how these ingredients are harvested and used.
I can't think of a better way to stress the importance of water
 to the Guinness recipe than a giant waterfall in the middle of the museum

On Floor one, you will find a video interactive in which a Master Brewer will guide you through the brewing process. You will also explore various transport methods used by Guinness for centuries. In this part of the museum, you will find models of Guinness boats, planes, and trains.

Also on this floor were my two most favorite parts of the museum, the Taste Experience where you can sample the finished product and the Cooperage exhibit where you will learn about the fascinating time-honored craft of cask making. I think this was a favorite for many other visitors as well since it was the most crowded part of the entire museum aside from the pub on the top floor! There were stacks of old wooden casks piled up and inside them were monitors playing looping black and white footage of a Cooper making a cask. The entire process was painstaking and done completely by eye. It truly is an amazing skill and lost art. I wonder if the Guinness in the wooden cask tastes any different from our modern metal casks.
The second floor is dedicated to Guinness Advertising. There are rows and rows of displays with old Guinness bottles, labels and advertisements, including the very first advertisement which appeared in the national British press in 1929 with the slogan, "Guinness is Good for you." I also learned about the history of the Guinness Book of World Records and that it was created in a pub to solve disputes about facts. Now that is a fact I did not know!

On the third floor, you can use a computer kiosk to trace your Guinness roots and find out if any of your family members ever worked in the Guinness Brewery and what role they might have played. Other kiosks give quizzes about your "Drink IQ" where you can learn about socially responsible drinking. Then there is another room in which you can learn about all of the sporting and music events sponsored by Guinness.

On the fourth floor, you can attend the Guinness Academy and learn how to pour the perfect pint of Guinness. I earned my certificate here and made my Irish relatives very proud!

By the time you've reached the next floor, you will probably be very hungry and very thirsty! On floor five you will find Gilroy's waiter-style bistro with traditional Irish food and the informal Brewer's Dining Hall where you can grab a quick bite of cafeteria-style food. There is also Arthur's Bar which is a traditional Irish pub.

The top floor is floor seven. The museum actually skips over the sixth floor and jumps from five to seven. I'm not sure if they are counting the lower level ground floor as the sixth floor but it is a bit confusing. I'm looking at the map I was given and on the page showing floor five, it says, "Toilets are available on the sixth floor," yet the restroom icons on the map are located on floor five. I can't recall one hundred percent but I think floors five and six were partial floors split by an escalator. It's a little odd but I'm sure it's just a storm in a teacup!

Getting back to my description of floor seven, here you will find the Gravity Bar. It's a busy bar where the bartenders were pulling pints two at a time. The room is large and circular with windows all around providing a 360-degree view of Dublin. On this particular day, we had a typical Irish view of pouring rain. As my relatives would say, "It was lashin' out of the heavens." My only negative comment about the whole experience (besides the oddly disappearing sixth floor) is that much like Enniscorthy Castle, they fall short on the top floor with blasting music by the Backstreet Boys. I think in this setting, visitors would want their Irish pub experience in the Guinness factory in the heart of Dublin, Ireland to fill their ears with traditional Irish music but in this case, any Irish music would do.
Overall I'd give the Guinness Storehouse a lovely. No make that a double lovely and an absolutely brilliant!