Monthly Archives: February 2010

Imperfect

Let me start you off with two Mystery Snapshots before I completely derail you with my inner musings…

This week’s snapshots are brought to us by my fellow traveler and friend, Missy! You may have noticed her name, as she is pretty much a Mystery Snapshot all-star, but now is her chance to be on the other side of the game…

Can you figure out where in the world this is? Start with the country. If you can get any more specific than that, power to you! Both photographs come from the same place, and there is a very small clue in the first shot that reveals the answer. Look carefully. Or, you can just use your knowledge of architecture and local flora to think this one through…

Missy 1

Missy 2

Now for my musings on the morning of an odd day at the end of a rough month…

Today was supposed to be my last day of official employment. It was supposed to be the very last day I walked into my office, sat at my desk, turned on my computer, went through my emails, and did my assigned duties after over three years at my job. But then it started snowing.

As life (my life) would have it, the three year build-up ends without a climax. There goes my farewell lunch, my goodbye party, my moment…  Ironic,  yes, but it’s ok. I might not be able to put a pretty little bow on this experience, but I know it’s all wrapped up and complete, goodbye party or not (and yes, it will be rescheduled).

In fact, this day actually captures how the past month has felt. A couple things in my life are lacking closure right now, and closure is very important to me. I need to know something is finished so that I can put it away in a specific Container Store drawer, preferably with a label that says something like “ex-job” or “ex-boyfriend” or “embarrassing moment.” That way I know exactly where I can find an experience during moments of nostalgia, weakness, or inspiration, and I can reflect on what the experience meant to me, and how I learned from it. If nothing else, completion allows for new beginnings; simply knowing something is done makes it easier to start something new. Right?

It’s kind of like reading a book. Sure, sometimes I overlap, but it never feels right. I need to read the last page, , think about it, let it soak in, and only THEN can I even contemplate the next one.  (You can’t just read the first page of a new book IMMEDIATELY after you’ve read the last page of another — there’s gotta be some space and time in between!)

OK, I’ve obviously stopped talking about my job and started talking about.. uh… OTHER things… Time to thrust this entry back to TRAVEL!

What I love about trips is that there is usually a start date and an end date: an adventure can fit between the bookends of two flights. No matter what happens in between, you know that the experience will fit nicely into one Facebook photo album, or a long email to your friends and family, and it will forever be that trip to Ecuador or that trip to New Orleans when something HAPPENED. (There are two past tenses in Spanish — the preterite and the imperfect, the first one describes things in the past that happened with a definite ending, “I lived in Spain for four months,” while the other describes something indefinite, aptly called the “imperfect,” that doesn’t have a defined ending, ie: “I used to live in Spain.) So what do you do when that second bookend is removed? Experiences bleed together, and it’s harder to wrap our heads around what each one means. It is, just like the Spanish tense, imperfect.

Today I am not at my last day of work. I have a Snow Day and, for now, I’m home. I do not get to celebrate the end of over three years at my little desk with my little to-do list like I thought I would, but I know it’s over. And with or without closure, perfect or imperfect, it feels right. As always, life doesn’t stick to my plans. Life is not perfect. But maybe that’s what’s so great about it? What trip ever went exactly how you expected? What trip wasn’t better when it veered off-course?

I’ll tell you this much: none of the stories worth writing about ever went according to plan. None of them were perfect.

So bring it on, snow.

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Everest

First, I want to thank all of you for the encouragement and support as I take a risk. It means more to me than you know!

Now,

take another look…

Everest and the Himalayas. Meghan G.

Yes boys and girls (specifically Ben, Missy, Geordie, and Ursula-sorta), the last Mystery Snapshot is of the one and only Mount Everest! (Wow, right?!) Located in the Himalayas, it is the highest mountain on Earth (29,002 ft above sea level). BUT, did you know that Mauna Kea on The Big Island, Hawaii, is the tallest mountain in the world from base to peak? And I’VE BEEN THERE! (see photo from Snowmance entry).  It’s a pretty cool experience to drive from a sun-soaked beach all the way up to a snow-capped mountaintop (a woozy experience, I’ll add). But well worth it when that sun goes down, let me TELL you. To put things in perspective, Mauna Kea is 10,200 meters tall (that’s over triple the altitude of Quito, Ecuador – the second highest capital in the world), but only 4,200 m above sea level (6,000 m is submerged), whereas the peak of Everest is almost 9,000 meters high! There are plenty of fun facts about Everest (easily Google-able), but fun facts mean nothing when you’re standing at the base of the tallest mountain in the world.

Meghan in Tibet.

Let’s hear what Meghan has to say about her encounter with Everest:

After a 48 hour train ride, a multi-day jeep ride, several breakdowns and an eight kilometer walk, we finally found ourselves below the majesty of Everest. It was a breathtaking sight – one of the most amazing and incredible sights I have ever seen.

Everest in the Distance. Meghan G.

To get to the base camp we parked the jeep at a nearby monastery, and after a riveting game of high altitude frisbee with the locals we embarked on our walk to Everest.

Meghan Discovers Everest.

Struggling with altitude sickness, the walk seemed to stretch on forever and the looming grandiosity of Everest seemed to be almost a mirage. The starkness of the mountain stood in sharp relief against the barren landscape, and the simplicity of the environment (not another tourist for miles!) illustrated the reverence the Tibetan people have for their sacred mountain. Instead of turning it into a tourist trap, the Everest Base Camp is a simple green tent with a Chinese official checking permits. There is not even a sign to let you know where you are (Everest speaks for itself).

Shivering in the Himalayas. Meghan G.

Once past the tent there is a small mound which we climbed up to get a view of the mountain. I could not believe how strong the wind was – I was knocked over twice and taking pictures was quite the ordeal (but we managed!). Standing there on that tiny mound we encountered only six other people (fellow travelers from Switzerland, England, Bulgaria, Canada and America) who were also battling the wind. On that mound we shared a common bond as we each, in our own little world, took in the reality of this mesmerizing natural landscape. (Little did we know that these people would become our traveling companions on and off for the next month!)

Tibetan Prayer Flags, Meghan G.

Everest truly is a symbol of the Tibetan people: strong, solid, peaceful, and unassuming. It was a journey I will never forget and an experience I will carry with me for a lifetime.

Here, Meghan explains each of the photos:

Himalayan Sunrise, Meghan G

After a freezing cold night, we arose bright and early in order to catch a glimpse of the sunrise over the Himalayas. We drove for about 1 1/2 hours in the pitch black until we turned a bend and there in front of us was the vast range of the Himalaya Mountains.  My friend and I had a habit of chattering away incessantly and oohing and ahhing at every beautiful thing we saw. But when we caught that first glimpse of the mountains we lost all ability to speak as we gazed in awe at nature’s canvas in front of us. After parking the car we went for a long walk up a hill and came to the top just as the sun was hitting the peaks (as seen in the photo). There was not a single soul to be seen for miles, just the rising sun, the beautiful mountains, me and my friend Selena. The stillness and peacefulness of that moment humbled us as we realized just how majestic and beautiful the unspoiled natural world can be.

Tibetan Prayer Flags and Everest, Meghan G
Any traveler to Tibet notices how spiritual and devoted the Tibetan Buddhists are. Their culture and way of life is integrally tied to the practice of Buddhism and it seeps though their art, architecture, and natural landscape. Due to their reverence for the natural environment, the entire landscape is left practically untouched, save for the encroachment of new Chinese high rises and hydro power plants.

Driving from Lhasa to Kathmandu in a 4×4 we had days during which we saw nothing but vast open space with a sprinkling of monasteries and sheep. Standing in stark contrast to the vast openness and simplicity of the Tibetan landscape were the mounds of prayer flags heaped over trees, mountains, roads, hills, and monasteries. Prayer flags are strung up to purify the air and pacify the gods. All contain the symbol of the the longta [windhorse] who carries the prayers up to the sky. The colors — red, green, yellow, blue and white — represent fire, wood, earth, water and iron.

This picture [the pile of prayer flags with Everest in the background, above] was taken on the walk to Everest Base Camp. The bright, colorful flags stood in contrast to the crisp bright sky and the blinding white snow capped mountains. The colors in this photo don’t even do the landscape justice, I have never seen such colors in my life. The landscape looked as if it were a painting and we had to keep reminding ourselves that it was actually real.

Tibetan Landscape. Meghan G.

Tibetan Children, Meghan G.


Meghan’s Note on the Chinese presence in Tibet: It is impossible to travel through Tibet without developing a strong, strong, wrath over the Chinese presence there.

Chinese Military Presence in Lhasa. Meghan G.

Earning Merit, Tibet. Meghan G.

Monk and Meghan, Tibet.

THANK YOU MEGHAN for contributing your beautiful photos and for sharing your experience with Mt. Everest!

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Mountain Hint

So far, nobody’s gotten yesterday’s Mystery Snapshot. That’s ok, but I want more guesses! So here is a confidence-boosting (I hope) HINT:

Meghan G 1b

Meghan G 1

Now do you think you can guess the mountain and/or where it is??

And, uhhh, can we pause to just say WOW! Look at this place: it’s AMAZING.

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Hello World

Today, my official one-week countdown to “living the dream” begins.

On Friday, February 26, I will walk out of the office where I have spent the last three years daydreaming about my next adventure, and I will go LIVE it! I have the feeling it’s going to feel like…

THIS:

From Meghan G.

Yes, I’d be the person with the red shirt looking up, thinking: wow, this is completely intimidating but beautiful. I’ve got to get closer…

This week, I have chosen a Mystery Snapshot that represents the feeling of GOING FOR IT, whatever that “it” might be. I’m leaving my job to pursue my (inconvenient and impractical) passion (can ya guess what it might be from this blog?) during a merciless economic recession, but a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. I’m going to face plenty of speed bumps, but I know I’ll never regret the decision to give my little dreams a chance.

This photograph was provided by my old roommate, Meghan (thanks MG!). I chose it this week because I think it captures the exhilaration of facing a new challenge. Some of you might recognize it instantly. Maybe some of you have even been there (I = JEALOUS). Whatever information you’ve got, do share. Tell me WHAT you see (what’s the name of the big white thing with snow on it?), WHERE it is (country/region/mountain range), and any fun facts you might know about it. If it brings up any other thoughts, share those too!

Meghan, I still cannot believe you got to stand there and take this photo. Awe.

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Wander-Lust Addendum!

I came across this article about “Where to find romance in the world” this morning. It’s from Lonely Planet, and the results of their survey match up pretty accurately with what all of you said. Fun! But I’ve really got to start getting my ideas out there sooner. (For example, I wanted to do a 36 hrs in Morningside Heights and, go figure, a certain Sarah Maslin Fir got there first! Now I have to wait at least a YEAR to cover the same ‘hood! I’m learning… This city is just so quick on its feet!)

According to Lonely Planet readers, ITALY is the single most romantic country in the world. I mean, it’s hard to disagree. I’ve been to Florence, Venice and Rome and, yes, they are pretty damn romantic, but perhaps too in-your-face romantic for me. I’m a big fan of subtlety and accidental romance… Romance that’s just for one person (me!), not for every tourist who happens upon a certain fountain or view. Of course, some things are just irresistibly romantic — and I get that. Nevertheless, I’m excited to head BACK to Rome at the end of March, perhaps as “research” to follow up on this theory, if not to indulge in many forms of pasta. I’m excited that the US and Argentina both made it on the map! Check out the article HERE. Notice the heart graphic…

I want to leave you with a quote from Carrie Bradshaw (I know I know, maybe outdated, maybe too girly, but I love it and it matches up with this topic!):

“I’m looking for love. Real love. Ridiculous, inconvenient, consuming, can’t-live-without-each-other love. And I don’t think that love is here, in this expensive suite, in this lovely hotel…in Paris”

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: while some places (ah, Paris…) are more romantic than others (uh, prison?), love and romance work in mysterious ways. Life will never be as simple as “Paris” or “Italy,” but at least we now know where to start…

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Wander-Lust

When it comes to romance, travel can be the inspiration or the backdrop. Going somewhere far away can set the mood and create the perfect atmosphere, or it can provide the setting that triggers new feelings and experiences. Being surrounded by the exotic can make us more attune to detail; suddenly we notice the smell of foreign flowers and burning sugar cane, or we hear the distinct beat of music pulsing nearby that transports us out of our routines. When we travel, our senses become hyperactive and we can smell, see, feel, and take in more. We’re very adaptable, so when we get used to certain sensations, we notice them less (can you describe the smell of your own apartment? Tough, huh? But it is one of the first and most overwhelming things I notice every time I walk into someone else’s place). With such a heightened awareness of nuances, it’s no wonder that travel can instigate and/or perpetuate many romances…

(Yep, I’m guilty as charged 🙂 )

Thank you for sharing what you consider the most romantic places in the world. Your responses are a reminder that, while travel can take us to incredibly romantic places, sometimes those spots are right in our proverbial “backyards.”

Here is the contributor-created list:

From Emily P: Outside of Auckland, in Piha, NZ. Extremely beautiful but has some of the world's most dangerous surf breaks.

From Sarah Z who writes, “I am sticking to the most romantic spots I have been, in no particular order.”

1-Paris, France (though this is #1!)
2-Cinque Terre, Italy
3-Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
4-Venice, Italy
5-Vence, France

From Julie N:

“Tavel, I would like to suggest the Sacre Coeur in Paris. Its basilica sits atop the city and looks out on all the beautiful rooftops of Paris. When I went there when I was 16, I thought to myself, “When I meet the man I am going to marry, I will bring him here. And, if he cannot see the beauty here, then he won’t be able to see beauty anywhere and I won’t marry him.”

From Ben R:

“The Alhambra in Grenada Spain. Look it up. Love it.”

From Dawn R., who writes “I haven’t found my romantic place yet…..but I have some ideas where I’ll find it:
Provence
Tuscany
Australia
Borneo, Dominica, or somewhere with a beach, a sailboat, and not many other people. It doesn’t matter which corner of the world!

“I’ve seen Paris with friends, so it hasn’t opened up its romantic side to me, but it IS stunningly beautiful–and Parisians are really good at romance. Can’t discount the city of love! I’d go back to Sacre Coeur with someone special to give it a chance in a heartbeat.”

From Susana:

Venice!

From Emily P: Sunset Point, New Zealand. We didn't even get to experience one of it's best sunsets, but it was still beautiful.

From Geordie:

“The top of Sacre Coeur is certainly a gorgeous spot (it’s featured prominently in Amelie actually) and Paris (the architecture, the public parks, the bridges) is a wonderfully romantic place, if a little bit tainted now by having become a cliche. Personally, I’m a real sucker for the beach and I’ll nominate something a little closer to home and with some personal resonance: Newport, Rhode Island’s Second Beach, mid August, at sunset, just as the day is beginning to cool off.”

From Noah:

Maine Coast, sunset, preferably on the rocks and not a beach. Giant Steps on Bailey Island comes to mind. Watching the sunset and the waves crashing on the rocks while being with someone you love = amazing.”

From Michael R.:

Haas Promenade, Jerusalem, Israel, at Sunset. And not just because I proposed to my fiancé there. Really.”

From Raechel H.:

Rome. Most amazing city on earth. It doesn’t really get more romantic than sitting at a cafe in front of the Pantheon and watching the crowds go by.”

From Jackie L: Charleston, South Carolina

I’m sure there are many places to add to the list, so feel free to contribute in comment form any time.

I had to think for a little about what makes a place romantic to me. I’ve felt romance everywhere from Spain to Argentina to St. Maarten to right here in NYC. But there have definitely been a few places that have affected me more than others. Here are only three places from my VERY long list:

Girona, Spain. Located in Catalonia, along the Costa Brava and just south of France, this medieval city completely captivated me. I visited it for a long weekend with my study abroad group while I was living in Barcelona and it just cut right through me, and that is when I realized I needed to make traveling part of my life.

Walking through Girona, Spain.

At night, the cobblestone streets are lit up only by starlight and iron lanterns that hang on the high stone walls. A warm savory-combined-with-sweet smell wafts between gelato shops and tapas bars. Flowers and vines wrap their way around the small balconies of ancient-looking homes, and you find yourself lost in time.

Strolling with friends through Girona, Spain.

I remember one evening, just after the sun had set, I went for a long walk with three of my best friends (shout out to Lisa, Shannon, and Ronnie!). After so many beautiful moments in these tight and narrow stone walkways, we came across an opening. Three tiny sidewalks converged into what was sort of a cobblestone patio, the floor uneven like rolling water. Several tiny tables had been set up, visible only through the shaking light of candles and lanterns, and a man with wavy brown hair played flamenco guitar in a corner. It was a creperie. There was nothing left to do except pull up a seat, order some crepes, and try our very hardest to take in every detail of a moment which, for the rest of our lives, would probably seem too romantic to have been real.

Barbados. This is just a honeymoon waiting to happen! When I got there, granted I was a teenager on a family vacation, I was instantly entranced by the smell of plumeria and then stunned by the combination of green grasses and tress against a rich blue ocean; a one-two-punch of tropical perfection. It was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, but — as a reminder that life isn’t perfect — I ended up with the WORST sunburn of my life! That’s what I get for not wearing ANY sunscreen (thanks mom and dad). Wish I had digital photos to share… (Of Barbados, not my sunburn!)

Central Park, New York City. Ok ok, so I know this isn’t what you were hoping to hear. But I cannot deny the perfection that is Central Park during the spring and early summer, when cherry blossom and magnolia trees cover the ground with petals, and people are smiling, playing, running, biking, sipping wine, laughing, sunbathing, reading, falling in love…  Walking through the park on a warm evening is bliss. There is nowhere else in the world I’d rather be. Nowhere.

Sunlight through a cherry blossom branch. Central Park, NYC.

The list goes on and on (Taxco, Mexico… a thunderstorm – anywhere… Greenport, Long Island – one of my favorite places in the entire world, which deserves it’s own entry). But, in the end, I think we can all agree that sometimes the geographical “where” is not where romance comes from. The single most romantic and wonderful place in the universe has got to be in the right person’s arms (ahhh, yes, I got cheesy, but I stand by this!). And quite frankly, as long as I’m there, anywhere in the world would do.

Thank you everyone for participating. Feel free to add on to the list now.

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Snowmance

Happy Snow Day to everyone in NYC and beyond!

As I sit here in my US Rowing sweatpants, black China Town slippers, and an old green Bingo t-shirt won many years ago, fat snowflakes float around and drop heavily in the window behind my laptop. Besides the scraping sound of shovels below, the city is quieter than normal; it sits still under a blanket of moving white specks while my mind wanders.

View from my dorm room in The Tower. Jr Yr. Bowdoin College. Brunswick, Maine.

I can’t help but think a little about romance this week. Not in the personal sense, but in the universal, travel sense. We all know that February 14th is lurking around the corner like a loaded gun that, for many, may or may not fire. And what a mess of thoughts, feelings, expectations, happiness, love, and disappointment that day can be! Loving people is very complicated, isn’t it?! Luckily, loving travel is not!  I’m surprised I’m even bringing Valentine’s Day up, btw. Usually — no matter what my circumstances — I find it safer to just ignore, like skiing with a bad knee. But now that it’s been brought into the open, I want us to focus instead on our romance with travel!

Sunset and pigeon. Tarragona, Spain.

Let’s try something a little different. This week — all week long — whether you have someone  you want to kiss,  someone you want to punch, used to, will, or are scared, excited, or inappropriately “necking” (that was a “Catcher in the Rye”/JD Salinger shout out) as you read this… I want us to put together our own list of what WE consider THE WORLD’S MOST ROMANTIC PLACES.

Sunset at 9,200 ft. from Mauna Kea, The Big Island, Hawaii.

Trust me, I know the word “romance” can make a lot of people gag (kind of like the words “crusty” “moist” and “purse” for me…), but it cuts to the chase. I could try and describe what I really mean in several other ways, but you get the idea (and I’m probably already losing you — come back! Stay with me!)…

Traveling can give many of us the same satisfaction and the same za-za-zoo buzz as love does. (Holy crap. I just realized that might have to do with why I travel so often! I LOVE THAT FEELING! I feel so… exposed! Hehe.) For me, perfection is combining the two… But I better stay away from ME in this particular entry… (Walk away, Tavel… WALK AWAY!)

Sun starting to set. St. Maarten, Netherlands Antilles.

PLEASE CONTRIBUTE! I want you to share what you believe are the most romantic spots EVER. Tell us the places you’ve been, the places you want to go, a short story about a romantic experience, an adventure, a dream destination, and/or send me (travelswithtavel@gmail.com) a photograph of one of the most romantic spots you’ve visited. I will post all the photographs and comments in the next entry.

Me mid-air in front of the Torre de Belem. Lisbon, Portugal.

And while we’re on the subject of love/romance… Trust me, I certainly know that sometimes, even if you’re in the most beautiful, romantic place in the world, it usually comes down to the one person who’s there with you (or who you want there with you) — anywhere. But this week, no matter what you have going on in your little hearts outside of T w/ T, let’s celebrate the love we all share for travel… with or without Tavel 🙂

(Preferably, with!)

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