This week’s photo challenge: textures, one of my photography addictions. Hope you enjoy this amuse-bouche of textures from around the world. Next post on Portugal coming this Friday! See you then!
It was summer, 1972 — exactly 45 years ago. As my grandmother Peg set out on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Europe, I was almost two years old and learning to talk in the U.S., and my future husband was about a year old and learning to walk in Germany. When my grandmother landed in Frankfurt at the start of her itinerary, she was just 80 miles from his house. Small world.
Coincidences and connections are everywhere in the postcards she sent home and the journal entries she wrote. Reading them now, so many years later, I’ve discovered things we had in common that I never knew before. Among them, that we shared a deep affection for Rome and if she, or I, had to choose a site in Europe that left us most awe-struck, without question we would both choose St. Peter’s Basilica.
My grandmother had a fabulous time on her solo journey to Germany, France, England, Greece, Italy and Switzerland. She made friends along the way and embraced everything unfamiliar with curiosity and grace. But she had challenging days, too. In this final post of the series, she is worn out from looking for a hotel room, worn down from battling the heat, and worn thin from trying to communicate. All of us travelers have been in her shoes, so it’s easy to understand her frustration when she gets locked in her room and also experiences a major miscommunication with a hotel manager — who speaks English!
But Peg gets back on the right foot again and leaves us with some priceless thoughts about Italian men, Italian food and that feeling we all get when — even though the trip has been amazing — we’re done living out of a suitcase and ready to go home.
Well done, Grandma. You opened your heart, blazed a trail and left me with the most endearing account of your trip in postcards and journal entries. When you wrote, “Please save the cards I send” I don’t think you had any idea how many people would eventually read them and love them, 45 years later. You’re a star! But that’s nothing new to me. I love you.
Hi! Start saving your money so you can see St. Peter’s! This is worth the whole cost of a trip to Europe. I am absolutely stunned at its splendor! Everyone just gasps as they enter. Saw the Sistine Chapel this A.M. — simply magnificent! Saw yesterday the Forum, Coliseum, so many piazzas I can’t name them. Wish I could stay 2 wks. Food is the best in Europe so far — but expensive. Italians are great — love them! Thanks for your letter. Love, Mom
Rome Pleasant Rain at 5:30
July 15 — Saturday
Went through the Vatican & Sistine Chapel this A.M. Such crowds of people it was hard to hear the guide. The Raphael tapestries were gorgeous. Of course, the Sistine Chapel was fabulous but jammed with people & had to stand an hour & 45 minutes, but it’s worth it. I am still most impressed by St. Peter’s. Its impact is just unexcelled & unrivaled by anything else.
July 16 — Sunday
Went back to St. Peter’s today & spent about 3 hours. What a stunning place. It is surely my favorite place in Europe to visit.
Hi! Haven’t seen a thing in Florence yet. Spent the day just getting here & getting a hotel room. Waited in line 1 hour for a hotel reservation. Italy is hot & humid. Walked 2 blocks down the street to see what I could find & saw the most elegant shops with marble & silver artifacts. Saw the marble eggs you gave me — big containers of them. Beautiful — in all colors. Love Italy & the people — just great! Love — Mom.
July 20 Thursday
Took the Am. Express morning tour. Saw the Baptistry, the Medici Palace, Cathedral of Santa Maria Del Fiore, the Pitti Palace, & Galleries. In the afternoon I went to see Michelangelo’s David & then walked to Uffizi Gallery & window shopped. Such elegant shops — beautiful clothes, purses, & jewelry.
July 21 — Friday
Shopping today. Bought the big platters for each family. Am not real excited about my choices — but at least it’s something from Florence. Am. Express is trying to get me reservations in Lucern & Frankfurt. The hotel got me one in Venice, thank goodness.
Am reading The Agony & The Ecstasy for obvious reasons
Hi! I’ve just loved Italy. The people are just great — so warm & so happy. The men really know how to treat a woman! Even the porters are gracious! No pinches — just consideration for a woman. I have loved the food. Our lasagna is all wrong. Must work on that when I get home. Venice is unique & colorful, but it doesn’t equal Rome or Florence. Love, Mom
July 24 — Monday
This has been the worst day of the whole trip. Without the Klingles I would have committed hari-kari (harakiri). Train 45 minutes late in leaving. Train like a 120° steam bath. Trip until Lake Lugano so hot & unbearable. Last 1 1/2 hours were refreshing when we got to Swiss border. Got to hotel at 10:00. Big mix-up about the room. I was starving & needed food — no water on the train, either. Washed my face & wanted to get some food. Locked in my room for 45 minutes …
… Nobody could unlock my door. Finally, a man was called into the case & he told me to throw my room key out the window. They finally got the room open & I ate a hamburger next door & then fell into bed — completely exhausted but loving the cool night air of Switzerland.
I was appalled at the price of this room but I do love it. Went out to find a cheaper one. Found one on the 4th, 5th or 6th floor of a hotel down the street for 30 Francs a night. Am going to have to take it. Back at the Cachet, I packed my bags but decided to wait to talk to the manager about my bill & pay her directly. She was due in at 11:00. When she came …
… I explained I could not pay the price she was asking. After much adding of figures I finally paid what I owed & prepared to leave. She said, “It’s a shame you don’t pay the 30 Francs still owed from now until Friday when you leave.” I was stunned. All this time she was talking about the cost of 4 nights & I was talking about the cost of one.
July 25 — Tuesday
Today I tried to recuperate from the heat. Have done nothing to exert myself. Just heavenly to have a shower and be cool. Window shopped & got mail from the Am. Express. Only one letter from Fred. Lucerne is beautiful, but I can’t see enough of the mountains. The city is so clean & the people so friendly.
Thank you all so much for reading and commenting on
Postcards From My Grandmother, 1972!
This is the third post of a four-part series. To read the first two posts, go here:
After Wiesbaden, Paris and London, my grandmother continued on to Athens and Rome. Although she found Greece entirely foreign and unbearably hot, she was fascinated by the culture and in love with the food. As travelers know … when everything is lost in translation, a good plate of food or a hot cup of tea can delightfully bridge the gap between you and your foreign surroundings.
To me, my grandmother’s postcards and journal entries from Rome (which will continue into the final post of this series) are the most special and endearing of the entire collection. I visited Rome for the first time in 2001 and just like her, I was awe-struck when I entered St. Peter’s Basilica, captivated by the elegance of Bernini’s sculptures, and generally transfixed by the entire city of Rome itself. It is one of my favorite cities in the world — so worth seeing that years ago I took my mother there for her birthday so she could experience it, too.
We are three generations all in love with Rome. Truly, the apples haven’t fallen far from the tree. Or maybe in Rome, the tomatoes from the vine!
7/5 – Athens
Hi! Hope everything is all right with all of you. Athens is sunny & I’ve had very little sun in Europe. Temp 80° with a wonderful breeze off the Mediterranean. It’s so blue! Saw the Greek islands from the air. They are not green & lush but arid with almost no green on them — not what I expected. This is really strange because even the alphabet is Greek to me! I can’t read the signs! Love, Mom
∆∆∆ — That’s Greek, but doesn’t help!
Sent toys from Herrod’s
Athens – July 6
Hi! This is my idea of really being in a foreign country. Can’t understand anything except the money & you learn that fast out of necessity. I see things I can’t figure out, smell things I can’t identify & it is thoroughly fascinating! Had fish & eggplant for lunch — served separately but they tasted so different. Have met & seen only 2 Americans — a couple from Texas staying at the hotel. Had no trouble finding a cheaper one than I had last night. Love, Mom
July 6 – Thursday
Spent the morning on foot looking for a hotel room. Found one in about the 7th stop — Hotel Epidavros. Nice room for less than $3 — bathroom & shower right across the hall. Toured around on foot today to see the sights. The smells are what get me — so strange. Almost no one speaks English. Dimitrious carried my bags from the Ambassador to the Epidavros. He insisted! Nice boy.
July 7 – Friday
Took a tour to the Acropolis to see the Parthenon. Walked up the steepest steps & got separated from the tour. Read up on the history when I got back to the hotel. Saw the temple of Olympian Zeus, Hadrian’s Arch, the Stadium, & the Archeological Museum. Also saw the Olympic Stadium where the first Olympic Games were held in 1896. It is completely built of white marble but looks pale pink, just beautiful.
Athens Sweltering Must be 100°
Tuesday – July 11
Maria, her 4 cousins, & I went to Aegina by boat. It was a refreshing relief from the heat. Aegina is a little island where they make pottery. Ate lunch & the kids bought trinkets in the little shops. Got home tired but cooled somewhat.
July 12 – Wednesday
Dreadfully hot. Had my hair done at the Ambassadors Hotel. Feel civilized now. Spent the rest of the day trying to keep cool & repacking the luggage.
Athens – July 12
Hi! Went to this little Greek island yesterday with Maria & her cousins. Had fun & got cooled off on the beautiful blue Mediterranean. Maria is so much fun & so sweet. She & I love Greek food & I’m hooked on fish soup. She really knows the right places to eat so I’m really enjoying this strange food. Hope you are well and having fun in the new house. Leave for Rome tomorrow. Looking forward to nice cool Switzerland. Love, Mom
Hi from beautiful Rome. It’s cool & raining. What a relief from Athens! Am staying in a singles hotel and I have a private bath for the first time in Europe. It’s really cozy. Walked past the Spanish Steps & down to the Trevi Fountain today. Tomorrow I see Rome. Saturday I see the Vatican & Sistine Chapel. Can’t wait! Saw the Forum on the way in from the airport. La dolce vita — Love, Mom
Rome Cool Rain late aft.
July 13 – Thursday
Arrived in Rome after a beautiful flight. Rome is 71° and I think now I’ll live. Hotel Croce de Malta Via Bourgonona had a single with bath — $5.50. It’s great to have my own shower & toilet. Am on a side street one block from Spanish Steps. Walked to them this afternoon & to the Trevi Fountain. Love this city.
Rome Great weather Rain late afternoon Moses Fountain
July 14 – Friday
Took 2 tours — Ancient Rome this A.M. Forum, Coliseum, Arch of Constantine, Circus Maximus, St. Paul outside the city, only pyramid outside Egypt. This afternoon was the highlight of the trip to Europe — St. Peter’s Square & Basilica. Absolutely stunning. Tourists gasp as they enter. Bernini sculpture is magnificent. Pantheon is a truly great sight too. Raphael’s tomb is there.
The fourth and final post of this series is coming up next week. Thanks for reading!
*This is the second post in a four-part series. To read the first post, go here.
After landing in Frankfurt and traveling to Paris, my grandmother departed for London on June 27th, 1972. She explored the city for one week and made a side trip to Stratford-Upon-Avon. By the end of the week, she loved London for its history and regalia but not for its weather or food. Her thoughts came to us in postcards and journal entries from a bygone era when family members would send letters abroad to their loved ones who were traveling, to be picked up at places like Claridge’s or through the services of American Express.
I think I knew my grandmother pretty well, but while reading her postcards now — 45 years after her trip and 15 years after her death — I find bits and pieces of information I didn’t know about her before. She experienced the same anxiety we’ve all had in learning how to navigate London’s Underground. She admired the Magna Carta at the British Museum, just like I did in 2007. She had an evident appreciation for Oxford commas, and soaking in a bathtub was one of her most cherished luxuries in life.
She was like all of us travelers — brave and bold to travel across the world, yet a little timid and unsure about what she would find on the other side. But as the world unfolds in front of her, the delight in her voice appears on the page. And one of the things I find most incredible is that when she saw the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, that palace was occupied by the same person who lives there today.
Long live the world’s great grandmothers!
*Click on any image to make it larger, or read the typed text below it.
Hi! The Queen & I send greetings. Arrived this AM. Have my first bathtub in 10 days — a welcome sight! I soaked and soaked! England is the city of white starched curtains in every window — Paris was the city of bright geraniums on every balcony. Meet my friends tomorrow at a hotel right around the corner. They didn’t have a single for tonight. Have to learn to ride the subway — scares me, but I’ve studied maps & think I know how to do it. Love, Mom
June 29 — Went on a tour & thoroughly enjoyed it. Saw the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, the Cloisters at Westminster Abbey. Saw much more but there were 2 places we got out. W. Abbey holding services so we could not go in today — St. Peter’s Day. Had an excellent guide — Pam — a real authority on British history. Cloisters were fascinating — replicas of all Coronation regalia. Changing of the guard very colorful & interesting. Went to Claridge’s & got mail — hit the jackpot — 5 letters.
Cold & cloudy
July 1 — Saturday
Went to Westminster Abbey — loved the Poet’s Corner, but still feel Notre Dame is more impressive. Went to the Cockney Pride & had Scotch eggs. I wasn’t too impressed with those. British cooking is so unimaginative! Then went to Dicken’s home & encountered no mobs of tourists. Then went to British Museum — saw the Reading Room, but enjoyed the manuscripts the most — the Magna Carta in particular.
Hi! Hit the jackpot on mail & I feel better after hearing from you. Have taken 2 tours and have seen Old Curiosity Shop & the Crown Jewels which are stunning — a 317 carat diamond, & rubies & emeralds such as I’ve never seen before. Weather is cool, pleasant, & sunshiny. Am flying to Athens from here. Can’t afford Austria. Money is just evaporating! Cheerio Luvs, Mom
July 2 — Sunday
Went to Stratford on Avon & what a delightful trip. On the way up, saw Oxford, Churchill’s grave, had coffee at the White Hart Inn & saw the Rollright Stones (1500 B.C.) — older than Stonehenge. Had lunch at the Shakespeare Hotel (roast beef & Yorkshire pudding). Visited Shakespeare’s birthplace & Ann Hathaway’s cottage, a 12 room house with a beautiful flower garden. Cold & dreary day but the Eng. countryside is beautiful rolling land with beautiful trees.
Went to the bank, then rode the Underground to Herrod’s. Had lunch there and had my hair done. What a treat! Herrod’s is exclusive & expensive. Was not impressed with the toy department. Bathroom shop was fun with the flowered bathtubs.
Have really enjoyed London. Saw everything, I think. Loved the changing of the guard, Mme. Tussaud’s wax works, and Stratford On Avon which we did on Sunday. Have taken in British Museum, West. Abbey, saw Churchill’s grave, 10 Downing St., Dicken’s home, Fleet St., the Tower of London, & on & on. The weather is gloomy, gray, & overcast. It is cold in the mornings. Have worn a coat every day but one. Something about icebergs in the Atlantic. Fly to Greece tomorrow. Love, Mom
Thank you for reading! To read the next post in this series, go here.
When I think of her, I picture her sitting at the kitchen table next to the window, working on the crossword puzzle in the Denver Post. A deck of cards sits in front of her next to a stack of papers to be graded. Depending on what day it is, she’s either watching the weekend golf tournament or looking forward to The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Depending on what time it is, she might be drinking a scotch and water. A shallow glass dish on the coffee table holds a handful of lemon drops, and the living room decor centers on turquoise. She steps outside to enjoy the shade of the back patio. The grass has been cut, leaving the distinct scent of summer lingering in the air. Mint grows thick along the north side of her single-story brick house and her pinkish ’65 Ford Mustang is parked in the driveway.
My grandmother’s name was Margaret but everyone called her Peg. She earned a living as a middle school English teacher in an inner city school district of Denver, where her love of the English language met the challenge of teaching teenagers. She had the demeanor to handle it — serious and scholarly but happy to see any child learning and growing, including me. I don’t remember her being a disciplinarian but her desire for me and her other grandchildren to be good students, good people and succeed in life was always deeply implied in the focus and intensity of her pure blue eyes.
In 1972, my grandmother was divorced, in her late fifties and planning what would be her first (and only) trip to Europe. She would land in Frankfurt, see a bit of Germany, travel to Paris and on to London. From there, she would fly to Greece, travel to Rome, Florence and Venice, and end her trip in Switzerland. She would go alone except for a few acquaintances she knew who were also traveling to Europe for the summer break. I admire my grandmother’s courage to take on such a grand itinerary by herself, as a single woman, with very little travel experience. In one trip, she defined Go Big or Go Home before it was ever a trendy cliché.
When my grandmother passed away 15 years ago, I inherited a few of her possessions including her travel journal and postcards from this once-in-a-lifetime trip to Europe. I was just beginning my deep dive into traveling the world so I wasn’t yet aware of the significance these items would eventually have for me. Today, I cherish her journal and postcards not only as a record of traveling in a different era but also as a portrait of her character and personality. She was sometimes pessimistic and frustrated but a nice sunset or a good meal or even a bathtub in a hotel room could persuade her back to happiness.
She departed for Europe forty-five years ago this month. She shared her thoughts and experiences using the social media of her day — postcards from abroad sent by mail to my family. They offer a unique look at the challenges of travel so long ago — no internet, no Google maps, no booking ahead, no way of knowing where you’re going to stay upon arrival. No, no, no, no. But my grandmother said YES to all of it and documented much of it. I’ll be sharing her journey with you in a series of four posts over the next few weeks. I hope you enjoy her thoughts, her experiences and the trail she blazed for many of us travelers who have followed in her footsteps.
*Click on any image to make it larger, or read the typed text below it.
Hi! The logistics of all this is really a hassle! But here I am in Wiesbaden on a beautiful Sun. afternoon. Frankfurt is noisy and confusing. I came here by train, got a hotel room, and feel as though I’m learning the ropes fast! I’m in a sidewalk café having a drink and enjoying all the local color. Everyone is so nice! I just smile & nod my head! Love, Mom
Hi! Greetings from la belle France! Am having the most unbelievable experiences! Ran into Dave Mendes from Morey (junior high school) while buying apricots for the train trip to Paris. This was in Cablentz at the end of the Rhine boat trip. Can you believe it? We had lunch together! Slept on the train & got a hotel 1 block off Champs Elysee for $5 a night. All is well! Love, Mom
Cool, Need a coat
Paris — We arrived at 6:40 and the Jensens & I had coffee & then parted company. I then met a nice New Jersey gal who told me where to find out about rooms. French Tourism — 125 Champs Elysée. Took a taxi & came down the C.E. with the sun hitting the Arc de Triomphe & it was so beautiful. They got me a cheap room & I took it sight unseen. I learned something. It’s a hole in a garret. I feel like a starving literary genius. No window — just a skylight. If the weather were hot, it would be insufferable. The water won’t stay in the sink so I can’t wash clothes successfully. I was dismayed when I saw it, but it’s less than $5 a day, so I’m going to rough it — 22 Francs to be exact. Always ask if the room has a window! It still is not as bad as Frankfurt!
Toured the city on a tour bus & thoroughly enjoyed it. Am learning the city layout. Have not had the nerve to ride the Metro. I can walk the full length of the Champs Elysee without too much trouble. It ends at the Place de la Concorde where Tuileries Gardens & the Louvre begin. It is probably a mile & a half — but so exciting. I can’t believe the traffic! C’est dangereux!
Cool, & cloudy. Please save the cards I send
Bonjour! Toured the Louvre and learned what you told me — all the early sculptures were painted. Guide pointed out traces of red paint on men’s hair & lips. Wish you had been with me, Jo, to enjoy the masterpieces. Only 12
Raphaels DaVincis in the world & 6 are in the Louvre. All have the Mona Lisa expression as the guide pointed out. I’m exhausted but loving it! Love, Mom
Hi! Have walked about 20 miles today. Saw Notre Dame & went in. The stained glass windows are truly majestic — just magnificent. Saw the stalls along the Seine. Walked back again to the Louvre & did the Rubens gallery. Just huge pictures & at least 20 of them. They must be each 20 ft. by 20 ft. Voluptuous women. Hope you’re all well. Kiss Kelly & Tommy for me. Next from jolly old London. Love, Mom
You can find part two of four posted here. Thank you for reading!
Our taxi stops in the middle of traffic and we step out into the mayhem of Mumbai at rush hour. Across the pulsing artery of cars and pedestrians, I see the ruddy stone exterior of Crawford Market with its clock tower silhouetted against the hazy blue sky.
Crawford Market opened in 1865 and in 1882 it was the first building in the city to be lit by electricity. The market goes by two names : Crawford Market (the original name, after Bombay’s first Municipal Commissioner Arthur Crawford) as well as Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Market (the current name, after Indian activist and social reformer Mahatma Jyotiba Phule).
There’s a bust across from a small shop in the market where we stop to buy water. I have no idea what the inscription on the bust says, but I think this is Mr. Mahatma Jyotiba Phule himself.
The order and color of Crawford Market is a nice relief from the chaos just outside the entrance. Fruit is arranged in piles, big and small. A pineapple vendor is totally surrounded. Which ones are new? Which ones are old? It’s a secret only he knows. The watermelons are bright green and stacked with such precision it seems like removing one would release the whole pile into a rolling mess.
Behind the fruit stalls, the betel nut seller sits on a stone step with his basket full of concoctions. He’s a willing subject when I motion with my camera so I crouch down and see the leaves, the white lime residue and the intensity of his stare. Even now as I edit these photos, I’m struck by the directness — not only in his eyes but in the eyes of a number of men in these photographs. Sometimes people smile with uneasiness when photographed, but in Mumbai there is fearlessness… a willingness to engage. He asks to see the photo and is happy with the result.
I watch the porters who work for hire carrying heavy loads for shoppers and shopkeepers. Dressed in plaid sarongs and sandals, they come and go with their big circular baskets — hoisted up high with one hand, placed on the top of the head or at rest on the ground.
In between loads, the porters hang out together. Maybe he’s checking the score of the cricket match.
This is a spice market, too, where we find jar after jar of exotic smelling masala and curry powders. There is no such thing as a teaspoon here. The spice sellers place heaping scoops in shallow dishes and we inhale the complexity: vindaloo curry, chicken tikka masala, green curry, madras medium curry, tandoori chicken masala, hot curry and even just “normal curry.” And then there’s the Special Spice King Masala 96 — a proprietary blend. With their intense, earthy hues, the spice powders look as rich and powerful as they smell.
We leave Crawford Market. The displays of fruits and vegetables continue on the street. We wander through Mangaldas textile market (where a female officer warns me that I can’t take photos) and emerge on the other side. Cows wander the street, a guy roasts peanuts over a fire on a wooden cart, and another guy stirs the pot… making big swoops with his ladle through a steaming pot of dahl while he stares at me with all the intensity of Mumbai.
Big, beautiful baskets of color greet us at the flower market. We duck into a narrow alley where men sit on elevated platforms, fulfilling orders for customers. They string flowers together in fragrant garlands used for festivals, marriages, rituals and to honor deities at temples.
Bees buzz around the piles of blossoms, the aroma of jasmine lingers in the air and life in Mumbai carries on.
Happy New Year everyone!
Thinking about where to go in 2017? Here are my top twelve travel experiences (ever, not just this year) by month. I hope you find some ideas among these journeys. Thank you all so much for reading, following, commenting and being such an inspirational community!
January: Finding Zen in the Maldives
If you want to forget about everything except the horizon in front of you, this might be the place. Yes, it’s painfully expensive but if you can get to the Maldives you’ll find every tint and shade of blue within an intense peacefulness that will inspire you to do nothing but stare at the view, put your toes in the sand and maybe swim around with the resident tropical fish.
February: Longtail Boating Through the Canals of Bangkok
This was a short but sweet experience that I’d love to repeat someday. Hop in a longtail boat at the edge of the Chao Praya and ask your captain to take you on a tour of the canals of Bangkok. You’ll get to see a different side of the city with a much less frenetic pace from a cool and relaxing perspective. Don’t forget to stop at the floating market for a bite to eat.
March: Touring Bagan’s Temples by Horse Cart
If you like history and architecture, you’ll love Bagan. The landscape is crisscrossed with paths from one ancient temple to the next. A good local guide with a horse cart can take you to the most notable temples, or you can follow your whim by looking for spires and biking your way around. It would take months to see them all, but don’t miss the Shwezigon Pagoda — covered in gold and by far the most opulent.
April: Safari in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is one of my favorite destinations of all time. With temples, history, tea country, train rides through the hills, lush jungles, pristine beaches, friendly locals and abundant wildlife, Sri Lanka has a rare combination of everything that makes traveling wonderful. My favorite experience was a three-day safari at Yala National Park with its incredible diversity — elephants, sloth bears, water buffalo, deer, wild boars, foxes, crocodiles, hornbills, and leopards that are bigger in size and more densely populated than anywhere else on the planet.
May: Chasing Waterfalls in Yosemite National Park
When the snow stops and the spring sun shines, Yosemite National Park is in its prime. Venture to the valley floor where you’ll feel like a tiny human in the context of the thousands of years of geology surrounding you. Yosemite’s waterfalls — Upper Yosemite, Lower Yosemite, Bridalveil, Nevada and Vernal among them — usually reach peak flow in May. From the road, from the trail and from Glacier Point especially, they are spectacular in their power and beauty. Just don’t get too close!
June: A Homestay in Borneo
Saloma shares her family home with anyone seeking an authentic experience in the jungle of Borneo. We spent a few days with Saloma and marveled at her way of life and knowledge of the land. From cooking rice in a stalk of bamboo, to foraging for plants and enjoying a barbecue lunch in a hut deep in the jungle, to walking through a longhouse and meeting the neighbors, this homestay was a direct connection with a way of life unfamiliar to us but hundreds of years old in tradition. Saloma is a real-life Queen of the Jungle.
July: Following the Tour de France Through the Alps
Fly into Geneva, rent a car or a camper, buy some wine and cheese and hit the road into the Alps. The Tour de France is a road trip party with people from all over the world. It’s so much fun that loving the sport of cycling isn’t even necessary (but it does help). There’s a lot of
waiting around partying and when the péloton finally shows up it blows past in a matter of minutes. But seeing all the pretty French villages on the route, being able to camp anywhere you want, having cheese and wine every afternoon and and doing it all over again the next day … Mon dieu! C‘est magnifique!
Runner-up for July: Carnaval in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba
August: Car Camping Through Italy
Che cazzo! I don’t have any photos of this trip since it happened way back in 2001. But if you’re looking for slow travel through Italy, car camping might just be the thing. We rented a car in Milan, drove to Florence and Rome, cut east to Francavilla, stopped in Vieste and ended the trip in Bari (before catching the ferry to Greece). We car camped the whole way, astounded by the comfort of the campgrounds — many with markets, pools, laundry facilities and restaurants. Among the best was camping on the beach in Vieste (aerobics every day at 4:00) and our spectacular campsite across the river in Florence (best view of the Duomo anywhere). Why August? Nearly all the shops and restaurants of Italy are closed in August since everyone is on vacation, but this means you’ll be immersed in local culture, make new friends and see the refined art of Italian family camping. Quite an experience — just make your campsite reservations well ahead of time.
September: Trekking Nepal’s Khumbu Valley
This is a true journey of a lifetime. Trekking farther into the Himalayas each day gets progressively harder and being in tune with your body is especially important. Each step and each breath gets you closer to Mount Everest and on some mornings those are the only two things you can even think about. But when you crest that mountain and see that view of Everest from Kala Patthar, there is nothing like it in the world. Mother Nature sits right in front of you with a greeting that took millions of years to get to you.
October: Seeing the Fall Colors from a Ryokan in Kyoto
Japan is art. There’s no other way to describe it. Immerse yourself in the composition by staying at an authentic ryoken and venturing around Kyoto’s many landmarks and gardens to see the bamboo forests and changing colors of fall. We stayed at Seikoro Ryokan and loved every minute of our stay. From the tatami mats to the sliding screen doors to the unknown dishes of our Japanese breakfast, it was a visit that has inspired us to return to Japan whenever we can to unlock the meanings of its many customs and traditions.
November: Touring Sa Pa’s Weekend Markets
If you want to find culture then find the night train from Hanoi to Sa Pa. Plan your visit around the weekend so you’ll be there for the market when minority hill tribes come down into Sa Pa from their surrounding mountain communities. Textiles, clothing, embroidery, beading and color give subtle clues to hill tribe identity. One of our best experiences was sharing a beer and hot bowls of pho with a hill tribe woman at the main market. And discovering the sewing shop and buying a quilt and a custom pair of pants — made overnight. Visiting Bac Ha, the Sunday market in the neighboring village, takes the whole experience to the next level.
December: Desert Camping in Oman
December had a close runner-up: Christmas markets in Germany. Whether you sip glühwein while eating a bratwurst and shopping for ornaments, or drive your 4WD vehicle into the uncharted desert to drink Omani coffee and do some sand dune sledding, you can’t go wrong. Both experiences are unique, memorable and evoke a sense of place that won’t be forgotten. I still think about Oman’s desert silence, the unexpected cold of the morning, the sunsets and shadows, and the feeling of being very far away from everything.
Wherever you are in 2017, I hope you find yourself in love — with life, with yourself, with each other, with the world, with the kindness and beauty that persists and will always be there for discovery. Happy New Year!
Last month, spending ten days in Mumbai left such a powerful lasting impression that I haven’t written a word here since I returned. Not since Peru in 1999 and Cambodia in 2010 has a destination left me so deep in thought, so totally at a loss for words. The emotions I feel and the questions I have alternate between hope and despair. I would guess that if you’ve spent any time in Mumbai you might feel the same. Mumbai is undeniably a productive and thriving city, rich in culture and humanity. But the pace of its growth and the dire state of its infrastructure is a foreboding juxtaposition.
Traveling through a metropolitan area with more than 20 million people shoves all the associated problems right in your face — transportation, jobs, waste, sanitation and pollution among them. I couldn’t help but compare and contrast Mumbai with Tokyo — a larger city with a far more robust infrastructure accommodating a metropolitan population of more than 38 million. These are two of the world’s largest cities but they are vastly different in their complexions. Tokyo is clean and efficient, with an underlying etiquette that maintains control. Mumbai is dirty and loud, with a relentless bustle that cannot be avoided. But in the middle of it all, glimpses of beauty are everywhere — like the architecture of Victoria Terminus or the care taken in displaying a basket of vegetables.
Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness…” I think travel is also fatal to judgement. For everything I saw and experienced in Mumbai, I have no judgement. I think the people of Mumbai are doing the very best they can in the conditions they’re living in, some of which are heartbreaking. The people I met were lovely — curious, engaging, gracious and smiling. And they’re brilliant at dealing with horrendous traffic (and an unexpected currency crisis!) with grace and compromise. Try taking a taxi from the Gate of India to Powai around 7:00 p.m. (with no small change!) and you’ll see what I mean.
From the broadest perspective, Mumbai scared me. At the closest interactions, Mumbai endeared me. These are the short stories in between.
Finding Myself in Dharavi
If you’ve seen Slumdog Millionaire, you probably know of Dharavi — Mumbai’s largest slum and one of the most densely populated places on the planet with between 700,000 to 1,000,000 residents in less than one square mile (2.1 sq. km). I toured some of Dharavi with Reality Tours. (Their tour is not for photography, only for education and they give back to Dharavi through Reality Gives.) At first thought, touring a slum might seem sad and exploitive but seeing Dharavi was one of the most enlightening experiences for me in Mumbai. Dharavi hums with productivity — from recycling (plastic mostly, sorted by color and melted into pellets) to pottery to the production of nearly all the poppadoms served in Mumbai. Trash is a huge problem in Mumbai and, were it not for the recycling happening in Dharavi, I can’t imagine how much worse it would be.
People living and working in Dharavi come from all over India, in search of good jobs and wages they can send home. The economic output of Dharavi is more than USD $500 million annually. Hazardous working conditions leave a lot to be desired, but many jobs in Dharavi are coveted and kept in the family. For instance, if a man from Himal Pradesh who works in scrap metal suddenly needs to go home, he’ll send a family member to take his place until he can return.
Upon seeing Dharavi, I saw hope along with the universal human desire for a decent life no matter the challenges. As Maya Angelou said, “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.”
Proof that there is order to the chaos of Mumbai, Dhobi Ghat is the city’s largest manually powered laundromat. Viewed from a bridge at the south side, Dhobi Ghat is a maze of concrete washing pens and a patchwork of sheets and clothing hanging out to dry. The complex is as fascinating for its size and function as it is for the life and labor within its walls. Kids play in the water, a dhobi brushes his teeth, mom watches the baby and somehow all those sheets and towels — sorted by color and washed by hand — find their way back to all the hotels and hospitals where they came from.
Photos at the Jain Temple
I stood in central Mumbai, admiring the detail of a new Jain temple constructed entirely of marble. Photos were not allowed, so I just stared for a few minutes while thinking about Jainism — all new to me. One of the main teachings of Jainism is non-violence, or ahimsa. Jains are strict vegetarians and also avoid eating root vegetables because they believe removing a plant by its root inflicts harm. Jains also try not to harm insects and even avoid traveling at night because if you can’t see insects, you can’t avoid harming them.
The man overseeing the temple must have appreciated my interest because he motioned that it was okay for me to take photographs. Sweet! But really, he mostly wanted me to take a photo of him and his buddies — some of whom were more willing than others. But the interest in having your picture taken? That’s also a pretty universal human desire. And if you can share the result in the display of your DSLR… even better.
Funny with Sunny
Sunny was my guide through Dharavi and I also booked a private walking tour with him so I wouldn’t get lost in the mayhem of Mumbai while shooting photos. After a few hours at the Crawford Market (next post), flower market, sari market and seeing all the cows at Bombay Panjrapole, we hopped a cab back to our starting point. The taxi driver was super chatty (in Hindi), telling Sunny all about the drama of driving a taxi. Sunny turned to me and told me that his father is a taxi driver so he already knew all about this subject, so I taught Sunny a new English phrase: preaching to the choir.
The taxi driver turned his attention to me — “Madam” — in the backseat. He asked Sunny where I was from, then continued with a curious string of questions about Madam translated by Sunny. Are there trees where Madam is from? Do they grow crops where Madam is from? Does Madam eat rice? Do they grow rice where Madam is from? Most of it is imported, I told Sunny — an unexpected answer.
The driver was excited to have a translator in the car — he couldn’t speak much English or communicate with any tourists. He told Sunny that his conversations usually consisted of two sentences: How much to Colaba? Okay, go to Colaba. He told Sunny he wanted me to speak some Hindi so I read Sunny’s Hindi phrase card and did my best to get it right. We all had a good laugh.
Rajesh and the Rickshaw Rides
Upon walking down the driveway of the hotel on my first full day in Mumbai, a rickshaw driver stopped me and asked me where I was going.
“Down to the main street and turning right into the neighborhood.” I could see the neighborhood from my hotel room. It looked questionable but so did everything in Mumbai.
He pointed to his face and made a circle with his finger.
“You are white. Don’t go there.”
I had promised everyone that I would be careful in Mumbai and heed any warnings. This was a warning. Whether it was just to get me to ride in his rickshaw, I’ll never know. But I found out later that this driver — Rajesh — lived in that neighborhood so perhaps he was right in telling me to stay away.
Rajesh took me roundtrip to a more acceptable neighborhood (by his standards) and I took his number when I got back to the hotel. A couple days later I texted him about going to the Khaneri Caves (post coming soon). With rupees in such short supply, I negotiated in Canadian dollars and he picked me up the next morning. The caves were exceptional and when he dropped me back at the hotel I handed him two twenty dollar bills — the $35 we had agreed on, plus a tip for waiting for me throughout the five hour excursion.
Later that day I got a text.
“mam one peypar is crek.”
One of the plastic twenty dollar bills had a crack in it.
“Put clear tape one side. No problem in Canada.” I was flashing back to Myanmar where only pristine, crisp U.S. bills had been accepted when we were there. One tear or blemish rendered the bills unacceptable.
“ok mam i chak.”
“If problem, come back. I have only one more paper but can exchange with you.”
“okay mam i chak.then messages you.”
“OK. Leaving early morning for Goa!”
I didn’t want to leave him hanging. But the clear tape must have worked because I didn’t hear back from him until a week later.
“mam you back in mumbai?”
“Back in Canada!”
“mam any job in canada for me?”