Category Archives: Travel

Wanderlust Like Whoa

This is going to be a post about wanderlust.

Elephant. Nairobi, Kenya. Photo by MJ.

My Kansan friend just got back from a dream trip to Tanzania and Kenya. Listening to her describe her trip made me feel like a recovering cocaine addict listening to someone describe the intricacies of a recent high. I’m painfully jealous, and yearning for an adventure.

For the first time in years, I’ve had to live through my friends’ trips as I keep my mind focused on science and school. When I moved back from Ecuador, I went off my travel addiction cold-turkey — it hasn’t been easy. As we caught up and she told me all about the colorful textiles she saw, the giraffes she fed, and fun facts about the size of an elephant’s reproductive organs, she also mentioned a moment she had while visiting Serengeti National Park. It’s a moment I know all too well, but have gone too long without…

As she stood, looking over the landscape of the Serengeti, impossibly far away from home, she found herself suddenly overwhelmed with emotion. It was one of those experiences that comes unexpectedly while traveling, when an intense, pure sense of appreciation for the world just hits you like a charging rhino, and everything around you becomes insanely beautiful. In these moments, you just feel lucky. Grateful. Small in a great big, mysterious world. If you’ve ever traveled and had one of these moments, you know what I’m talking about. I miss that feeling. I crave that feeling. It is, all bundled up into one moment, what traveling is all about.

Sunset in Serengeti. Tanzania. Photo by MJ.

With less than a week before my 29th birthday, I realize that this was the first year of my life (at least since I’ve been able to walk) during which I did not even board an airplane. Yes, folks, Travels with Tavel has not left the country in over a year and it doesn’t feel right at all. I don’t even want to admit it, but it’s true. I almost feel ashamed, like I haven’t been true to a major piece of who I am. But, I know this is a temporary withdrawal. Needless to say, my wanderlust meter is binging loudly, and something’s gotta give. (My “Places” Board on Pinterest is NOT helping!) I don’t think my soul can take this much wanderlust for much longer! So, what am I going to do about it?

The bus I took from Tumbaco, Ecuador to Quito, Ecuador, hours before ending up in the hospital with a parasite. Trust me: with the stomach ache I had that day, this was NOT an ideal form of transportation!

Well, I don’t have many options. My funds are low, applications are due soon, and my priorities have matured in such a way that I feel guilty even contemplating throwing the money down for a travel escape — but is the guilt that much greater than the wanderlust? Nope. Never!

Wild horses with Cotopaxi Volcano in the background. Cotopaxi Province, Ecuador.

Luckily, there is one form of escapism that I can afford right now, and that’s daydreaming. For $0.00 I can take a day-trip anywhere in the world… in my mind. Trust me, I know this will only get me so far (technically, 0 miles away from where I am now), but I’ll take it.

29 won’t be like 28. I WILL go somewhere – mark my words. Right now, I’m trying to weigh my options and figure out where — if I can only afford one trip in two years — WHERE I should go. How does one choose?! My soul is craving the usual spots I’ve been craving for years — Southern Spain, Morocco, Thailand, Tanzania  — but life always influences the wanderlust list, and new people, friends’ Facebook photo albums, or random conversations often lead to new travel cravings. Suddenly, I find myself craving the Czech Republic, Croatia, Bosnia, Turkey and Kenya more than ever before.

Wildebeests. Tanzania. Photo by MJ.

So, I need your help. If you are experiencing wanderlust right now (and I KNOW you are!), please share your wanderlust list. Where, if anywhere in the world, would you want to go right now? If you want to suggest a place for me to go, or recommend a place you’ve been, please do so as a comment. This blog might be all I have for a few more months, so wherever it is you want to go, please take TwT with you.

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Filed under Africa, Life Stuff, School, Travel, wanderlust

Fried Clams, Chardonnay and an F-ing Rainbow: Exploring the North Shore

It was time to leave the city. A slight coolness in the air coupled with the constant threat of drizzle kept bikinis and towels at bay, but M, M and I were headed on a little North Shore adventure, and a little rain couldn’t stop us. In fact, it was a quintessential New England day — unapologetically overcast, a bit dreary, but promising, nonetheless.

Lobster Traps. North Shore, MA.

Despite living in Somerville for a couple months now, I had yet to feel the rugged charm of the New England coast. It’s still summer afterall, and honestly, I couldn’t stand the wait anymore. Luckily, a friend suggested a little day-trip adventure to the North Shore (the “Nahth Shahr” — does that sound like a Boston accent when you say it? Well, SORRY, I tried…).

Boats. North Shore, MA.

The day would begin with a lovely ride out to Essex, where we would kick things off with the most New England-y summer-y thing I can think of: fried seafood, lobster, blueberry beer, and Chardonnay at Woodman’s — an old school North Shore restaurant that began with Lawrence “Chubby” Woodman’s fried clams in 1916. When we arrived, we pulled into a parking lot beside a little creek, where people quietly kayaked by, and the sky stayed safely on the brink of not-raining. As we rounded the entrance of the restaurant, my big plan to devour obscene amounts of fried seafood was quickly replaced with my summer bucket-list goal: lobstah. Tough life, I know.

Fried Seafood, Chardonnay, and Lobstah. Essex, MA.

I chose my little lobster, grabbed a bib, a dish of butter, and some packets of wet-wipes, and headed into the restaurant. It was only slightly after noon, but our plates were stacked high with lobster, onion rings, fried clams, fried shrimp, and fried lots-of-other-stuff I couldn’t exactly identify. It felt like we were in the restaurant of a ship, docked at the shore, eating amongst the North Shore’s LL Bean-clad locals as well as the ship’s staff. Sure, I didn’t feel like I looked the same, dressed the same, or ate the same way as the rest of ’em, but a plastic cup of chardonnay and a sip or two of Sea Dog’s Blueberry Wheat beer brought me back to the Bowdoin days in Brunswick, ME, where I always felt oddly at home. Maybe it’s my partially New England blood… Honestly, between the company, the food, and the in-your-face-New-Englandness of the place, I couldn’t have been happier.

Sitting by the Creek. Essex, MA.

Once you stuff your face with that much seafood, it is important to sit like a fat piece of lard on a wooden bench by a creek. So, that is what we did. The glow of summer’s first lobster, and of course the chardonnay, had me in a happy and light summery place. In fact, I was happy as… a clam. Har har. (GET IT?! Too obvious, huh?)

Steps. Rockport, MA.

The day continued with a trip to the Cape Ann Museum in Gloucester, which had a beautiful courtyard and exhibits that stuck to the theme of the day: you guessed it — The North Shore. If you’ve never gone to a museum slightly tipsy, you should try it. Just don’t touch anything… And try not to giggle too much. (Oops.)

Sculpture. Cape Ann Museum courtyard.

It was a matter of time before the sky gave in, and rain drops escorted us along our walk through the adorable coastal town of Rockport which, over a hundred years ago, was used primarily as a source of timber for ship building (as well as fishing, obviously), but is now bustling with strudel, fudge, bikini, jewelry, and pretty adorable one-of-a-kind ice cream shops.

Doggy in a Window. Rockport, MA.

It felt appropriate to be in my black, Gortex rain jacket as we strolled through the town, to a pier where we spent a good 45 minutes or so just savoring the sea, the boats, and the jagged rocks sprawled out beneath us like a bunch of still, bathing sealions.

Boats. Rockport Harbor. Rockport, MA.

The day was satisfying in a way that cannot be planned; good people, hearty local food, and the rugged mix of fishermen and wealthy New England vacationers swirled me into a North Shore swoon that took me as far away as I needed to be for the day, despite barely having gone anywhere.

Sun Setting in Rockport, MA.

Every now and then, when you travel (it could be near, it could be far), something happens that reminds you to appreciate the people you’re with, the day you’ve just had, and the moment you’re all in. Just when we thought a good day was ending, as we drove away from Rockport, we caught a quick glimpse of a rainbow springing out from behind a cemetery.

Yes. A fucking RAINBOW. So, M — our lovely driver and the mastermind behind this trip did something that I think most people wouldn’t do. Without discussing it, he made a very quick decision to pull over onto the side of the road, and stop the car. One by one, we got out, ran a bit carelessly across the road, stood beside the brick wall to the cemetery and looked at the large, beautiful rainbow that streamed mysteriously out from behind the trees.

Rainbow. Rockport, MA.

Sometimes, these things just happen; people click, places and timing click, everything stops. And when they do, you’ve just got to pull over and look at the f-ing rainbow that forms. Because it’s beautiful, isn’t it?

So, we did.

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Filed under Life Stuff, Massachusetts, Summer, Travel

TwT Travel Playlist, The 2012 Edition

As I wake up for yet another physics-filled day, I can’t help but fantasize about making a break for it, and running/flying/getting away from all the incredibly hard work… The easy route is always tempting, but it’s never as thrilling (right… RIGHT?! Now is when you convince me this is true…). My creative spirit feels a little like a caged bird, or a plant that flowers in summer but has to be kept in the basement this year. My brain is mush, I’m exhausted,  and I’m just about to hit the halfway point in the most intense course I’ve ever taken (and I complained last year? HA!).

View. Sint Maarten. Netherlands Antilles.

But don’t worry! I’m used to dealing with this urge to escape every now and then. It’s in my blood. While I must be patient, I’m so looking forward to getting my time back to play with as I wish. (Only 4 weeks to go!) But just because I’m stuck in physics molasses (don’t get me started on drag forces…), that doesn’t mean my mind has to stay completely still. That’s the thing about wanderlust…

Horse statue. Rome, Italy.

A few years ago, we put together what has now become a pretty out-dated list of “Ultimate Travel Songs.” So, as a pleasant distraction for me and a fun opportunity for you, it is time to refresh this list with new music! I will now request that you — once again — provide me with a list of your CURRENT favorite travel songs. Again, this is not about judging people’s musical sensibilities; it is escapism through sound, wanderlust through music, a chance to get that excited little flutter in your heart that you (I?) get when you realize you’re headed somewhere foreign, and it feels like anything is possible. It’s that feeling on an airplane, when you take out your headphones because the captain announces you’re about to make the descent — the long trip somewhere is over, and you’re almost there. It’s that energy you get when you’re in a car with friends about to pull up to your first beach vacation of the summer and music is blasting through the speakers. It’s that stream of steady sound that accompanies you as you walk to work everyday, contemplating your next vacation, your love life, your hopes and dreams…

Prayers outside a shrine. Tokyo, Japan.

OK ok, you get the idea. Now don’t be shy!

Lantern in Sultan’s bathroom. Topkapi Palace. Istanbul, Turkey.

Please leave, as a comment, a list of 1 to 5 songs (with title and artist) that form the soundtrack for some sort of getaway — whether it is a getaway in your mind while you sit for another day in your sub-zero office chair wondering how to get out, an actual playlist you would play on your way to a perfect beach weekend, or a song that you listen to during a long flight to that new country you’ve been anticipating for years…

Guard outside Topkapi Palace. Istanbul, Turkey.

Once I have a decent list, I will add it to my “Music” tab with YouTube videos for every song. If you don’t do this for yourself, do it for me! I need new music, I need to daydream, and I need TwT to take me away from science, at least for a little while…

Cheers, and THANK YOU!!

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Filed under Contributor, Life Stuff, List, music, Travel, Uncategorized

5 Spots Within The Squares

The lawnmower roars next door as a sweet, grassy summer breeze floats through my bedroom. It’s all becoming home, more and more each day, and my daily explorations of the neighborhood and all its surrounding Squares (Porter, Davis, Harvard, Union, Inman) is beginning to pay off.

I wouldn’t exactly call myself a local just yet, but I’m beginning to shed some of my New York skin. For example, I try not to walk around with my usual “don’t fuck with me” face (feel free to ask to see this some day, it’s obviously really intimidating though, so consider yourself warned). I smile at strangers sometimes. I even whisper the words “slow down” to myself when I’m walking (sometimes).

Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Life moves at a very different pace in this town (oops, I mean city – sorry Somerville/Cambridge!) and, even though I’m used to a much faster pace, I think I’m beginning to catch up in this land of less intensity.

By now I’ve discovered some promising little Somerville spots, which I’d like to share with you before the Physics storm hits (yes, this would be “the calm”). Here is a short list of 5  places that have made me smile in one way or another, so far.

Statue in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Union Square Farmers Market – Sure, in NYC I had the (dare I say “real?”) Union Square Farmer’s Market… so I can’t exactly say this is a first. But these farmer’s markets are very different. I always dreamed of living somewhere where I could walk to a farmer’s market every Saturday and stock up on freshly baked breads, excessive amounts of leafy greens, and things I never cook with, such as rhubarb, just because I can. Now, this weekly outing will become a part of my life. Yes, there are great sources of fresh, local produce in NYC. But, for better or worse, my Saturday mornings usually led me to some delicious brunch spot instead. Having a weekly farmer’s market within walking distance is my little country fantasy coming to life! (YES, I know I am not in the “country” — give me a little more credit, people!) The Union Square Farmer’s Market might not be very big (by NYC standards), but I can still buy overpriced bags of spinach, wild flowers, or local strawberries, and end up with way more than I need for the week. Maybe a Saturday morning trip to the farmer’s market will begin to replace my intense Saturday brunch tradition. When in Somerville…

Casa B – The first night I met one of my roommates, she and her Romanian boyfriend took me to Casa B. Casa B is everything I never thought I’d find “just down the street.” This newish, trendy restaurant is an interesting contrast to the somewhat off-beat little neighborhood (Union Square) full of Brazilians and Koreans. But the Latin-flare tapas restaurant quickly won me over when I walked inside; it was a modern and sleek upstairs, with fresh white tables and stylish details, but more sultry and seductive downstairs — although still comfortable enough for a gathering of friends. I was immediately satisfied with its delicious orangey sangria and a summery fava bean spread, which we generously applied to plantain chips and devoured alongside a revolving selection of tapas (the most memorable of which was the tabla de ceviches and a special vegetarian dish full of fresh, local legumes and wasabi-yuca). The place earned bonus points for having kalimotxo — a very common and popular drink in Barcelona, which consists of red wine, Coca Cola, and a splash of grenadine. While the bill added up (as it always does when ordering tapas), I’d come back here the next time I have something to celebrate… Or, just because.

3 Little Figs – One of my favorite treats is an adorable cafe. This little spot is as cute as its name. While I have yet to sample its salads, sandwiches and baked goods (I know, I know… how can I even put it on the list already!?), I did sample its chai — and it passed with flying colors. Not to mention, the staff was friendly, the ambience was happy, sunny, and bright — perfect for hanging out alone or meeting a friend for coffee, and I love that it is small enough that you know you’re somewhere precious, but available enough that I can people-watch out the big glass windows (the very few people who pass by) from a solid high chair, with my chai at my side, and my physics textbook in front of me. An hour of sitting will bring in just enough customers that I am neither distracted, nor bored. And the lighthearted vibe ensures that — even if I’m studying — I’ll be happy.

Bloc 11 – This is “that cafe” that I always want to have nearby — the one with the good coffee, the hipster on his Macbook in the corner (ok, maybe that’s not a requirement), and a mean salad (I already have a favorite — the Wisteria, which consists of hard boiled egg, pear, caramelized onion, dried cranberries and almonds topped with blue cheese and a pomegranate vinaigrette). Bloc 11 is going to be one of my regular spots for studying, or meeting a friend for an iced tea. That, I can promise.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum – OK fine, this is in Boston not directly in Somerville, but it is going on the list anyway because I can’t NOT mention it. When my roommate described The Gardner Museum, she gave me a good idea of what to expect. It was enough to get me to go, without ever having heard of it (but apparently everyone else has). The second I walked in, it hit every love-of-humanities-and-art chord in my science-filled soul that I didn’t even know I was looking to hit. The museum is absolutely wonderful; the Moorish architecture, the impressive collection of Italian art… It’s truly a remarkable place, and I felt temporarily transported to Venice and Southern Spain while I wandered the many rooms of the palace (yep, I said palace). Built in the home of the New York City-turned Bostonian socialite, Isabella Stewart Gardner, it houses her private collection of art – and a very eclectic one at that. There is plenty more to say about the museum and the art, and probably Isabella, but I’d rather you check it out for yourself. This is going to be the museum I recommend to everyone who visits me in Boston from now on. You might as well put it on your itinerary.

Side view of El Morro, in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.

OK, I need to dash out in the sun. Since it feels like Brazil weather out there, here’s a little music to get you in the sweaty, Brazilian summer mood. Eat a mango, play this song, and keep the AC off — we wait all year for this heat, so no complaining! Happy summer, everyone!

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Filed under Boston, Coffee, Life Stuff, School, Travel, Uncategorized

Danger: Thieves!

Last night I told this story to some friends, so I’ve decided to break away from the “life” posts and re-post an oldie but goodie. It’s about my tug-of-war with a thief in Spain. This answered the age old question: Are you FIGHT or FLIGHT? As future experiences would prove again and again, I continue to be all “fight” and never “flight” — for better or for worse. It’s not necessarily the smart move, but it is the way my body responds to danger. Which do you think you are: Fight or flight? (Originally published by http://glimpse.org/ in 2006.)

After living in Barcelona for four months, I was almost robbed three times. Out of the 40 Americans on my study abroad trip, only about eight of us had avoided the extreme inconvenience of losing money, credit cards and passports in another country. Somehow, I was one of them.

Week after week, I passed grown men and women sobbing on the gritty sidewalks of La Rambla, showing empty wallets and cut purse straps to unsympathetic police officers who silently nodded their heads at yet another hapless victim caught off-guard at the epicenter of Barcelona’s pickpocket scene. These people served as a reminder that I had made it another day without becoming one of them.

View from my apartment in Barcelona, with the Mediterranean Sea and La Sagrada Familia in the distance. Barcelona, Spain.

When I arrived in Barcelona, I was fully aware that the odds were against me if I wanted to get through the semester without being robbed. Unfortunately, the city has a reputation as a breeding ground for petty thieves—artists in their own right—whose clever ruses for robbing tourists would almost demand a certain type of respect if they didn’t evoke so much anguish from their victims.

It is hard to determine exactly why Barcelona has become so infamous for pickpockets. Some Spaniards believe the thieves—many of whom are Northern African immigrants—are attempting to recover lost riches from the English tourists after four centuries of war. With its myriad tourist attractions, Barcelona has no problem attracting a constant, year-round influx of wealthy visitors who wander La Rambla in a haze of naïveté, distracted by the many sites and sounds of the vivacious neighborhood while their bags and wallets bounce temptingly at their sides.

Constant reminders to guard my belongings were sprinkled throughout the city, as well as within the literature provided by my study abroad program. I knew to be careful and to never, under any circumstances, leave my valuables unattended. It was important to remember that the thieves could be anyone: the guy who looks like a bus-boy in your restaurant, the little old lady who asks you to help her cross the street, the friendly young tourist who can’t speak English, or even the little boy who asks you to help find his mother. Thieves in Barcelona have taken their tricks to a level that could almost qualify as performance art. They are so good at what they do that sometimes even the savviest travelers become unknowing victims, unaware they have even been robbed until they try and buy a glass of sangria and find their pant pocket has been cleanly slashed open.

Spray-painted image on a corner in Barcelona, Spain.

My favorite warning was a simple, black, spray-painted image that appeared on the corners of stone walls in the tiny, dark, romantic streets of the Gothic district. In it, a two-dimensional silhouette of a woman throws her arms in the air while a male silhouette runs away with her bag. Underneath the drama of the cartoon-like image are two words of precaution written suggestively in English: “Danger: Thieves.” These two words served as a blatant reminder that tourists like me are easy and attractive targets for the professional Spanish pickpocket.

For several weeks, I saw these signs and found them funny. But the stories about my friends getting robbed kept trickling in until the signs began to take on a more ominous tone. I even began to imagine that I heard a quiet tick-tock sound every time I passed one by. Yet despite my fears that soon I would be the black, spray-painted woman with my hands up in the air, on my last day in Spain, I had yet to be robbed and I thought I was in the clear. It wasn’t until around 11 p.m., approximately six hours before I boarded a plane that would end my four-month Spanish adventure, that the spray-painted man came to life.

Since my flight was leaving early in the morning, I figured I could fit in one last night of partying before my entire Spain experience would be tied up and packaged with a nice little bow to be stored on one of the cluttered shelves in my memory. I met up with a friend of mine, who was visiting from her study abroad program in France. She had some other friends in town, but we decided to meet up for dinner together before joining the rest of the group.

Sidewalk in the Medieval city of Girona, Spain.

As a temporary resident of Barcelona, I had learned by now that Plaza Catalunya, located just at the top of the most popular street in the city, was like a flytrap for robbery victims. Unfortunately, my friend Jessica had naively planned to meet her friends in the center of the circle at 11 p.m. so that we could all go out together from there. As soon as she told me this, I had the feeling that something was going to happen. My gut, my brain and everything I had read told me not to enter the Plaza, but we had to take the risk. Jessica’s friends did not have cell phones and they were in a foreign city without guidance. We had no choice but to find them in the dreaded Plaza Catalunya, and then get on with our night as safely as possible.

After a couple glasses of wine at dinner and the euphoric excitement of meeting up with a friend in a foreign country, a slightly tipsy Jessica and I made our way toward Plaza Catalunya, arms linked and my guard stiffly up. Blue-eyed, blonde-haired Jessica was all smiles, unaware of the potential danger that lay ahead. Without trying to sound too worried, I asked her if she could keep her voice down, knowing that as soon as we were identified as Americans we would be an easy target for thieves.

We approached the Plaza, which is a big circle, and I felt the presence of danger like a cat senses ghosts. As we entered the circular walled-in area, a homeless man interrupted his public urination to stare at us with a threatening smile. My instinct was to turn around and get out of there as quickly as possible, but we had to find Jessica’s friends, if only to warn them to be careful, so we kept walking toward the center.

Sure enough, Jessica’s friends were late. While Jessica talked to me about France and the wonderful places she had visited, I noticed six men sitting on a bench nearby, laughing and staring at us. I wanted to get out of that circle. I wanted to play it smart, like I had all semester, but instead I had to pretend I was in control. Just beyond the walls of the Plaza were hordes of people embarking on the earliest stage of their Saturday nights. Buses were slugging along and music was overflowing from nearby restaurants, where people casually drank beer and smoked cigarettes outside without a care in the world. I wanted to be outside of the Plaza with all of them, laughing, having a beer, safe. But I wasn’t.

“I see them!” yelled Jessica, blonder and with bluer eyes than ever.

My tension began to give way as we were finally allowed to leave the circle and shed ourselves of the giant bull’s eye that seemed to follow us inside the Plaza. As we made our way from the center to the periphery, I felt someone’s glare piercing through me, so I clutched the strap of my bag tightly and picked up the pace. Jessica, still laughing and talking, motioned for her friends to stay where they were. Then, I felt someone getting closer to me from behind my back. The walls to safety were right in front of us, but we were still in Plaza Catalunya, still vulnerable, and someone was following us. We were so close.

My left arm was linked with Jessica’s right arm and my bag was slung over my left shoulder in between us, which I also clutched tightly with my left hand. Suddenly, I felt an aggressive tug that whipped me around with unexpected force. Jessica screamed and jumped to the side. I found myself on the tiled floor of Plaza Catalunya, resting on one knee and one foot, facing a young man who must have been twice as strong as me, but I still had one hand tightly gripped around the strap of my bag. I wasn’t about to let go.

What took place after that initial shock was something I cannot fully explain. The man who had pierced my sense of safety with his eyes from a distance was now standing less than a foot away from me trying to pull my bag out of my hands. He had one hand on each strap of my bag, and I had one hand holding the center of the strap. At that moment, a surge of energy overtook every inch of my body. Much to my surprise, I was not scared at all; I was furious.

I managed to get my other hand around the strap and decided the strap would have to rip from the bag before I let go. I think that is the decision that carried me through the next few seconds. Everything else in the world just dropped out of focus; there was only me and my determination not to let this thief win. As he yanked angrily and fiercely at my bag, I yanked back just as fiercely, just as angrily, while staring him right in the eyes. His look of aggression and intimidation began to fade with each extended second of our tug-o-war until my eyes began to pierce through his confidence.

Me (Tavel) looking for the famous frog on the fascade of the Universidad de Salamanca building. The bag pictured here is the one they tried to steal. Salamanca, Spain.

I don’t know where it came from, but in the loudest voice I could muster, fueled by adrenaline and anger, I yelled, “Get off!” at the man. He gave my bag a couple more yanks, but I yanked back harder, until … he gave up. Before I knew it, the man had let go and was sprinting back into the darkness of Plaza Catalunya, leaving me on the ground with a new hole in my jeans and a couple spots of blood soaking through the knee area. But there in my hand, I had my bag, which somehow—like me—did not break.

When I got up and looked around, I had chills. People were everywhere, buses and taxis and cars were just doing what they always did. Jessica was covering her mouth, looking at me, asking me if I was OK. I think I could have lifted up a bus with the adrenaline still surging through my body. As I walked away, chills still running down my spine, I realized that I was going to beat the odds after all.

This third time someone tried to rob me in Spain was the most aggressive encounter I experienced, but I didn’t throw my hands up in the air like the spray-painted woman who had warned me on random stone walls of the city to beware of thieves. And the thief lurking behind the walls of Plaza Catalunya hadn’t become the spray-painted man running away with my purse.

After the ordeal, I was still in Barcelona, I still had all the valuables I had arrived with, and I had only one more night to complete the experience of living there for a semester. When I looked down at my watch, it was only a few minutes after 11 p.m., but after four months of thinking I had gotten to know Barcelona, those few minutes after 11 p.m. changed everything.

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Filed under Life Stuff, Spain, Travel, Travel Disasters

A Brief Tour of Cairo

Time to reveal the Mystery Snapshot! But first, I want to quickly say THANK YOU to the past four weeks. My staycation has come to its inevitable end, and tomorrow I head back to school for more NYU pre-med intensity. It’s been a pleasure having a social life again, but farewell dear friends… Back into the study cave I go. (Although, I am determined to have a little more control over this semester — both academically and socially, so we’ll see how it pans out.)

Alright…

The Mystery Snapshot was taken outside of Hatshepsut’s Temple, built just outside the Valley of the Kings (Cairo, Egypt). Andy, you are the official Mystery Snapshot winner. Good job! Egypt is one of those places I’ve been wanting to visit for years. Some day, I will actually get over there. For now, I’ve got this post.

Below, guest contributor, Raechel H. explains more about Hatshepsut’s Temple and about Cairo itself. (Enjoy!)

Guest Contributor Raechel H. w Sphinx and Pyramids in Egypt.

By Raechel H:

Random fact about Hatshepsut: She was the longest-reigning female ruler in Ancient Egyptian history.  She ruled for 22 years, when she took over for her husband.  Basically, her son, Tuthmosis III was supposed to take over, but Hatshepsut declared that he was too young to assume the throne. Instead, she sent him to military school abroad, and ruled herself.  Eventually, Tuthmosis III came back, took over, and then tried to erase Hatshepsut from Egyptian history.  She built tons of temples, obelisks, and other monuments to the gods, and Tuthmosis tried to destroy all of them – thankfully he did not succeed.

What’s really cool (in my opinion) is that for the longest time it was believed that Hatshepsut’s mummy was missing.  Turns out, they found the mummy of Hatshepsut’s favorite nurse in her tomb, and found a tooth in some kind of box. A few years ago, they x-rayed the box, and the tooth fit PERFECTLY in another mummy that was already in the Egyptian museum in Cairo!  So they had Hatshepsut’s mummy all along!

Foreground: courtyard of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo (symbol of ancient Egypt). Background: Mubarak's National Democratic Party HQ, a symbol of Egyptian modernity

EGYPT:
Egypt is a place I’ve wanted to visit since I was a kid, and especially during the past year (which is no surprise to the people that know me, I’m sure).  Egypt provides a fascinating juxtaposition of ancient and modern culture, in the cross-world between sub-Saharan Africa and the rest of the Middle East.

Pyramids. Cairo, Egypt. Photo by RH.

Cairo itself is an enigma of sorts; it is absolutely overflowing with people (approximately 18 million officially, but more likely close to 21 million residents), and every one of them seems to have a car. All of that on top of ancient aquaducts, pyramids at the city limits (you can see the Cairo skyline from Giza), ancient markets, and the Citadel.  Traffic in Cairo is like nothing I’ve ever experienced — absolute gridlock at all times of day, with the exception of Friday mornings when everyone is at prayer or at home.

Cairo graffiti outside voting site for Parliamentary elections. Photo by RH.

During the Revolution, I didn’t understand why my friends who live in Cairo were making such a big deal about no one being on the roads, about it being completely shut down – but now I certainly do.  The traffic itself is absolutely fascinating. Cairo drivers get into this rhythm where they’re able to find every hole in every lane as they progress down a highway or main thoroughfare, and that’s how they progress from point A to point B.  Lane lines, when present, are merely suggestions – not absolute.  And most times, you’ll see at least one car, truck, or motorbike driving the opposite direction from the rest of the traffic.  As multiple Egyptians told me, this is “democracy in action – you can drive whichever way you like. If people don’t like it, they can have another revolution!”  Crazy to hear members of the Egyptian military joke about this, but it’s a good sign that people are proud of what they’ve accomplished.

Solar boat, discovered in the 1980s. It was found buried in The Great Pyramid. Its purpose was to transport the Pharoah to the afterlife (in particular, to the Sun God, Ra). Photo by RH.

I was fortunate enough to be there during the Parliamentary elections – seeing lines of men and women at the polls was pretty inspiring.  I was able to hit up the Khan el-Khalili (the famous market), wandering around the Ali Muhammad mosque and the Citadel, meandering through Islamic Cairo, trying out fantastic restaurants, and walking through Tahrir Square (although we were discouraged to do so).

Temple of Hatshepsut. Photo by RH.

Obelisk built by Hatshepsut, which Tuthmosis III tried to destroy by essentially covering it up. Ironically, this just preserved the obelisk, leaving much of the original details visible. Photo by RH.

During my trip, I was able to check out Luxor. I left as Cairo started to get crazy again (there was a sit-in at Parliament that led to clashes between different sides), which was probably good timing.  Luxor is the complete opposite of Cairo: it’s pretty tiny, there are only a few hotels where tourists stay, and you absolutely have to take a cab to get from point A to point B.  Luxor is more restrictive than Cairo in that sense – in Cairo we could walk around a lot more (mainly because there were things close by, in Luxor that’s not really the case).  Since I was solo, I hired a guide and a driver (a friend of mine connected me with a good company), and saw Karnak and Luxor temples before exploring the Valley of the Kings and Colossi of Memnon.

Cartouche for Ramses II, the longest ruler of Ancient Egypt (this particular cartouche is engraved all over Karnak Temple in Luxor). Photo by RH.

The guide and I talked about a lot of things — the revolution in Egypt, Occupy Wall Street, the impact of everything on Egyptian tourism (tourism has obviously taken a major hit, which is problematic), the efforts that the government is making to regulate and organize things a bit more (to try and give licenses so folks can set up stalls to sell things outside of tourist areas rather than letting various people bombard tourists who are trying to enjoy what they’re seeing), and Luxor itself. After everything we discussed, I left with a bit of hope that maybe Egypt, post-election, can go back to a semi-normal state.

Mosque built at what was street level before they discovered the Luxor Temple. The mosque is still a functioning prayer site. Photo by RH.

Additions to Luxor Temple made by Alexander the Great. Photo by RH.

I definitely need to go back and see more – there are tons of sites in Luxor that I was not able to explore, and I did not make it down to Aswan or along the southern border (which I’ve been told is pretty amazing).  Hopefully, I’ll be able to make that happen soon – and I’m always looking for someone to travel with me if anyone is interested!

Luxor Temple, Egypt.

Egyptian Sunset. Photo by RH.

Raechel lives and works in Washington, DC; Raechel and Tavel met while Raechel was conducting a Fulbright Fellowship in Brussels, Belgium.  While Egypt was phenomenal, Raechel’s favorite place to travel is Rome, where she spent a year abroad. She hopes to continue to cross countries and continents off her bucket list, and will head to Costa Rica this Summer with her family.

So there ya have it – Egypt. THANK YOU Raechel for contributing to TwT!

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Filed under Africa, Contributor, Egypt, Mystery Snapshots, Travel

Mystery Snapshot Time

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a Mystery Snapshot. Call it nostalgia, call it envy, or just call it Tavel-has-an-extra-bit-of-time-during-her-last-few-days-of-vacation… Whatever you call it, here’s the deal:

I may be staying put, but I’ve still got friends traveling all over the world all the time.  So, without further ado and/or rambling about how I don’t get to travel enough anymore, here is a Mystery Snapshot provided by a mystery friend who will tell us more about it in a follow-up post later this week.

For now, can you tell me:

1) The country in which this was taken

2) The city

3) The temple

4) Any other random fact related to this — whether it is from an architectural, historical, or personal perspective

The more detailed you can get, the better. If you’ve been – tell us. If you’ve written about it, link to that post. As always, the winners will get an honorable mention and linkage to their blog (if that’s your thing) in the next post. Or if you prefer, I can just tell everyone that you are very sexy. Happy Wanderlust-ing.

Jan 2012 Mystery Snapshot

OK… GO!

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Filed under Mystery Snapshots, Travel