I can’t tell you the last time I photographed a bunch of ordinary laundry here at home, but isn’t laundry much more charming and extraordinary when it’s in a foreign country?! On a walk on top of Dubrovnik’s ancient city walls, I was impressed by the red tile roofs and the glittering blue Adriatic Sea, but the gauzy fabrics (and teddy bears!) blowing in the breeze were what really caught my eye on a summer’s day in Croatia’s jewel of a city.
In recent weeks, I had been planning a post about the walled cities I’ve visited and was busy digging up photos of Dubrovnik, Xi’an, Kotor, Tallinn, and others. These (often) medieval towns have a historical charm that makes for both an interesting visit and great photos.
But the Weekly Photo Challenge went further, asking us for an image of a wall that reveals something about its place or about me.
I knew my wall photo had to be from Lhasa, Tibet, to reveal something about me. Visitors to my blog can see that I’ve traveled a good deal, but no trip has meant as much to me as my two visits to Tibet, especially Lhasa. For years, I had an inexplicable and deep-rooted captivation with Tibet in general. It started with reading Lost Horizon, The Snow Leopard, and Into Thin Air, and continued with Seven Years in Tibet and a growing fascination with Lhasa in particular. As I read about the young Dalai Lama’s years in the Potala Palace looming high above the city, this building and its forbidding walls came to symbolize for me the mystery and inaccessibility of this kingdom on the roof of the world. I vowed to see it someday before it was ruined by tourists (of which I would paradoxically be one, of course!).
Now I look at the mighty walls that surround the Potala Palace and hope that they can metaphorically hold off the onslaught of Sinicization that is rapidly overtaking Tibet as the Han Chinese flock to the city as tourists, residents, and government officials. The city’s face is changing, and the traditional Tibetan quarter shrinks yearly. I see this imposing wall as a last bulwark against the overbearing Chinese assault and their attempt to control this proud civilization.
It’s only November, and already a deep chill has settled into my bones. A dose of summer memories from this country and others seems like just the ticket today. Let’s pretend we’re warm …
Lately I’ve noticed that some world travelers seem rather unappealingly attached to their “country counts.” It is certainly tempting to do; once you do start seriously wandering the globe and the count does start creeping up into impressive numbers, it is hard not to get a little, let’s just say, aggressive about adding places. Why not sneak over to Colonia del Sacramento for a day while in Buenos Aires and add Uruguay to the tally? Or take a day trip to Montenegro from Dubrovnik to bulk up the Balkans score. I’ve done both of those myself and enjoyed them immensely, but (I’d like to think) not just to notch two more nations. I gave my son grief this summer for driving a car over the Bosnian border from Croatia for a grand total of fifteen miles, and I joked that he could not really say he’d been to Bosnia & Herzegovina. His facetious response/rule? If you have something to eat or drink in a nation, it counts. So a cup of coffee later, he had added a new country!
All silliness aside, for all my wide travels, I’ve discovered in myself a preference to go deep – to spend a whole trip in one country or even one region. Beyond this, I’ve also gone back to many countries more than once when I just couldn’t get them out of my head. Yes, I could use my hard-earned money and vacation time to add another place to my list, but on a second or third trip, I can dig deeper than the main tourist sites and really get to know a place, or I can branch out and visit lesser-known cities or areas. And I just love the feeling of going back somewhere and feeling almost like a native; it’s so satisfying to really feel attached and connected or, even better, to know every little shortcut in a town and even give directions to someone else in a city halfway across the world.
Greece was one of the first places I visited multiple times. I had gone there as a child with my Greek grandparents, attended a camp in my teens, funded my own way there one summer during high school, and returned years later with my own family. Spain, too, became a favorite after a study abroad program and two subsequent trips to see new places and revisit old favorites, and France (notably Paris) has managed to insert itself into almost every western European trip I’ve taken.
The first country with which I truly fell in love, though, was Peru. I distinctly remember getting on the plane after trekking the Inca Trail and spending a little time in Cusco and Lima. I looked longingly out the window and just knew I would be coming back. In fact, I was back on a plane by myself a mere five months later to further explore the Cusco area and the Sacred Valley. I stayed in a small neighborhood in Cusco and fancied myself a Cusqueña; I walked all day, shopped in the local markets, and took a few day trips to Pisac and other towns along the Urubamba River. Rather unbelievably, I was offered the opportunity to go back again four months later to help lead a small group of visitors for a microcredit organization, and a year after that, I repeated that trip. Other than Peruvian tour guides, I may be one of the few people who has visited Machu Picchu three times in less than two years! I am now certainly the go-to source on Peru among my friends.
I have an even deeper connection and infatuation with Tibet, a country that is difficult to get to once, let alone twice. I originally went to Lhasa as part of a bigger trip to China but, again, before I’d even left this mystical city, I knew I was destined to go back and see more of both Lhasa and Tibet overall. A year later, I was back on the roof of the world and, this time, I hired a young man I had met on the first trip to take my daughter and me deep into the countryside. We spent days bumping along dusty roads on the Tibetan plateau. We stopped in raggedy little towns and ate with the locals; this eventful ride culminated in a brief stay and trek at Mount Everest’s north base camp, a place I had often imagined from all my reading. If I could, I’d jump right back on the brutal flights necessary to deliver me to spiritual Tibet yet again.
But other lands do call. One of them is Russia, the land of some of my favorite authors and a place that has long attracted me through its history and literature. In January, I will finally walk the streets of Anna Karenina and Raskolnikov, and in the bitter winter cold, I hope to experience in some small way the plight of so many pre- and post-revolution Russian characters, both real and fictional. I will see as much as I can, but after the Russian feast, I will do what the country-counters do – I’ll stop in Tallinn, Estonia and Helsinki, Finland for a small bite of dessert on my way home!
My recent Friday Photo of some Guinness kegs in Dublin got me thinking about beer. The nectar of the gods is always a big part of my travel enjoyment. Before you think me a sot, let me say that I am simply an enthusiastic social drinker who particularly relishes a cold beer after a long day of trekking, sightseeing, or laboring.One of my fondest beer memories is from a trip we took to the Monteverde cloud forest area in Costa Rica. Our family joined a larger group to work for nine days in Santa Elena, CR, where we mixed concrete by hand, dug trenches, hauled concrete blocks, and built bookshelves, among other duties. At the end of each long, hot day, we were filthy and exhausted. When we arrived back at our humble hostel each night, the dilemma was what to do first: quench our thirst and relax our aching bodies with a drink, or clean ourselves up? As the days passed, the original binary choice of Beer or Shower morphed into a multivariable quandary expressed as Beer-Shower-Beer? or Shower-Beer-Beer? or Beer-Beer-Shower? or (screw the shower!) Beer-Beer-Beer! Imperial was definitely the ale of choice here, regardless of whether it was consumed before or after the bathing.
On the Inca Trail in Peru, we became quite partial to Cusqueña Dark, while in Glacier National Park in northern Montana and Canada, we consistently grabbed a Moose Drool out of the cooler. Asia is not a high point for beer, but once we had acclimatized in the Himalayas in Nepal, we enjoyed a Gorkha or Everest most evenings after a day on the Khumbu trails. And a cold and rainy Mount Fitz Roy climb in Argentina was blissfully followed by two delicious home-brewed dark and blonde beers at cozy La Cervecería in the tiny town of El Chaltén.
Even a casual sightseeing day is enhanced by a good beer during or after. The light and dark Sarajevska brews in Bosnia & Herzegovina were both excellent at the end of a travel day, and in Düsseldorf, Germany, we drank our way through a day-long layover at the Braueries Uerige and Zum Schlüssel, both famous for their altbiers.
In Iceland, we happily whiled away several afternoons in Reykjavik with some Brios, Gulls, and Egils, and we tamed our post-trek PTSD after a particularly daunting mountain hike with a good Borg Úlfur draft.
And then there’s Ireland, oh Ireland! A real Guinness Draught the minute we arrived in Dublin at 10:30 am and a weekend full of Murphy’s Irish Stout, Harp Lager, and so many more rich and creamy Irish ales. A “beer from the roof of the world,” a Lhasa, perked up a lunch at 11,000+ feet in Tibet, an Ožujsko welcomed us to Dubrovnik, Croatia, and we lingered over a luscious Laško in Ljubljana, Slovenia.