What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
Ancient Mayan religious rites being performed in a Catholic cathedral… a unique blend of religions that tells stories about a part of the world with a conflicting history.
Having just come back from another great trip, I’m reminded again of the richness of Europe and the gifts it keeps on giving to any traveler willing to seek them out. I went to France on assignment for three mid-size, nationally-distributed magazines, and set to work almost immediately. It’s amazing how profoundly engrossing traveling and learning can be, especially when you have the added incentive of a contract for a story that must be delivered. Poking around the countryside and investigating ancient abbeys, ruined castles, and little medieval towns gives me a charge like nothing else. It satisfies my twin desires of adventure and knowledge.
As usual, the interactions with locals carbonated the experience. Sharing a bench—and soon after, a lively conversation—with a local man in half-timbered Rouen or chatting with the lady at the café table next to mine in the pretty little Burgundian city of Beaune added texture to the photos I’d taken. The clusters of pixels in my camera contained beautiful images of churches and historic buildings, but the connections forged with the everyday residents of these places gave depth and perspective to the memories in my own mind—a depth and perspective I hope will be felt by my readers.
It’s the local people—like the kindly town archivist in the German city who helped me make sense of his community’s tragic WWII history—that are the real repositories of history and tradition. Without him, I’d never had known about the moving memorial that sits on a seldom-visited hill just outside the town. It was a powerful, emotional experience to visit the lonely hill—the last resting place of so many of his community who lost their lives while the dueling armies fought it out around them—alone at sunset.
At those times you realize that the pretty stuff is only architecture.
Other travelers met on the road have become new friends too; I’ll soon be swapping trip highlights over email with the LA filmmaker from the Rhine River Valley village of Bacharach, the Seattle-area photographer from St. Goar, and the US psychology student from Colmar.
As I sit here shaking off jetlag and organizing my hastily-scribbled notes, I smile as I think about the experiences I crammed into my short trip. The research I did and the photos I took will yield excellent material for my article assignments. But more importantly, the experiences are already sowing the seeds of ambition for my next adventure overseas.
Strangest things we’ve seen lately:
Back home, before 2011 when we hit the road to become The Nomadic Family, we used to not move without seat belts. I would allow the kids to unbuckle only when the car came to a complete stop in the driveway, and not a second earlier. Today, after hitchhiking on the back of banana pickup trucks throughout Central and South America, our motorcycle accident in Cambodia, and most recently, after sitting on the roof of a jungle expedition truck in Gopeng, Malaysia; we no longer regard transportation safety a parental concern. (God help us!) Strangest thing I’ve seen lately, is all five of us on the back of motorcycles on the curvy mountain roads surrounding Da Lat, Vietnam, with not a care in the world. I’ve spent my entire motherhood telling the kids how motorcycles were death traps, and here we are, with the Bull Riders of DaLat, on motorcycles. Strange, and liberating, indeed.
We all know that most cities are desperate for tourism money in this lousy economy. Some are going to great lengths to generate interest. Now a PR man (or woman) has looked at a map and cooked up the tourism industry’s latest publicity stunt: Two towns, separated by an ocean and thousands of miles, plan to launch a joint promotional effort to entice tourists with a day of celebration that boldly promises to be a total snooze.
It all began when a UK traveler, passing through the west coast of America on vacation, happened upon a community with a name similar to his own hamlet back in Scotland. Before long, the Oregon town of Boring had itself a “sister city” called Dull, a tiny Scottish village.
Now an article in the UK paper Telegraph describes Boring and Dull’s plan to make August 9th— the anniversary of their union , or whatever—a mutual, transatlantic day of celebration of all things uninteresting. The intention is to draw free publicity to their respective communities’ charms. With a low population, rainy climate, and eight hours’ time difference, it is still unclear whether Boring and Dull’s event will be, well, eventful.
Having recently been in Memphis over Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday weekend, I realized once again that few things make you feel connected to history like being near a historic landmark on a significant anniversary. In this case, it’s the thought-provoking National Civil Rights Museum on the birthday of the great icon of the movement.
Ironically, the site is located not at the place of his birth but the place of his assassination. The façade of the Lorraine Motel, where King was murdered by white supremacist James Earl Ray in May of 1968, is all that remains of the low-rent building. Left just as it was at the time of King’s murder, the façade remains eerily frozen in time: a tacky 60’s turquoise-and-yellow sign stands in the parking lot. Nearby, a wreath marks the spot where King’s life was taken as he relaxed on the balcony outside room 306.
It’s not just the site of his death that draws visitors; the museum complex attached to it is the real attraction. Built in two phases over several years, the sprawling, state-of-the-art space—much of it underneath a hill adjacent to the motel’s dingy façade—features listening posts, artifacts, records, and archival films detailing the civil rights activists’ efforts to win equality for all. Aside from the physical relics, a 12,800 square foot expansion project called “Exploring the Legacy” offers compelling insight into King and the movement he led.
On my first visit to the museum a few years ago, Memphis sweltered under a boiling summer sun and only a handful of visitors were present. This time, as I enjoyed a friend’s wedding weekend on the anniversary of MLK’s birth, the chilly winter day saw hundreds coming to show respect for King and, more importantly, to show their children the museum dedicated to the civil rights struggle. I imagine how strange it must be for a child to learn that, just a few decades ago, a large movement of brave activists had to fight bullets, bombs, and hate to win liberties now taken for granted. The fact that this birthday celebration coincided with the second inaugural of the nation’s first black president only underscored how far the movement has come, though more work remains.
Driving through town I catch a fleeting glimpse of the site. The commotion of my friend’s wedding weekend is temporarily forgotten as the instantly recognizable motel sign catches my eye. I feel a sudden, poignant tug at my emotions as I glance to the Lorraine’s aging façade. There, just outside room 306, a small wreath lies on the cold concrete of a motel balcony, a silent testament to a profound truth: Lives can be taken, but words and ideals that speak to the better angels of our nature can change the world. And that’s worth celebrating.
Cost/day: $75-250 (depending on lodging and meals)
Hello and g-day from down under! How are you going? That last bit, “how are you going” always trips me up – I never know whether to answer to “how are you doing” or “where are you going”. I’ve been living in Sydney since September, and here are a few of the things that I have learned… (more…)
Recently I’ve been reading, “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed. When the author was in her mid-twenties she solo hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. Her book unfolds as she treks north, nursing her blistered feet and cumbersome heavy pack along a majority of the 2,663mi (4,286km) trail. It initially begins at the Mexican border, passes through California, Oregon, and Washington in the USA and over the border into Canada. Several years ago I’d been gearing up to ride my horses along the same trail, but heavy snows in high mountain ranges and challenges with support team coordination threw a wrench in the trip–so it never happen. But I did ride sections of that trail, along with parts of the Continental Divide Trail, Chilkoot Trail, and the historic Oregon Trail. On foot I’ve graced sections of several other long paths, and driven a dog cart on one pulled by twelve huskies.
Reading Strayed’s book got me thinking about other long-distance footpaths around the world. A popular one in Europe that comes to mind is El Camino de Santiago which starts many different places but ultimately ends at Santiago de Compostela in Spain. I first heard of the trail in a novel by Paulo Coelho called, “The Pilgrimage.” Other countries in Europe such as Germany, Italy and the Netherlands have quite a lot of paths. In Asia I’d looked into hiking the Annapurna Circuit in central Nepal. But it appears that Israel and Japan have many for the choosing as well; Japan’s most popular being the 88 Temple Pilgrimage.
Here are the worlds’ best hikes according to National Geographic.
Mark Moxon has an extensive website of information and stories from his long walking adventures.
The UK has a Long Walkers Association.
One Canadian man even walked around the world in eleven years.
Have you ever hiked or ridden on a long-distance path? Or do you have plans to do so?
Please share your stories or plans in the comments!
Cost/day: FREE (airfare not included – ha!)
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
As I write this, it is now 3:40am and I’m bunking in the San Francisco Airport after 16 hours of flight changes, delays and one emergency turn-around. Some of the things I’ve seen tonight include:
Technology has made it easier to take pictures. Cameras have gotten more compact. Snapping a postcard perfect picture at the edge of the Grand Canyon will later jog your memory of that moment but so could a google image search keywords “grand canyon.”
I say that not to discourage the classical snap shots of iconic places–I’ve taken plenty over the years–but to encourage you to be creative and capture the details of your life.
Here are some examples:
All three of the pictures below are from heavily visited areas which draw multitudes of people each year.
These next two were misadventures…taken at destination places.
All five images illustrate what caught my attention at those moments. Yet don’t really give clues about the location.
A fellow beach goer was eager to point out the lizard in the cliff at Tulum Ruins. Another hiker ahead of me at Canyonlands National Park drew the smiley face in the mud. Someone–or possibly two people–wrote on the butt of that parks statue in Paris. The healing wound is my horses skin two months after being attacked by a bear in Alaska. And the shredded tire brings back the smell of burnt rubber in Moab.
Do you have a detail image of your life you’d like to share? Please visit our Facebook page, upload a photo and tell us a little about it.
In travel writing, I’ve often found that it’s better to capture the soul a neighborhood of a city than try to describe an entire metropolis. A city, after all, is just a collection of neighborhoods, and the best ones are distinctive.
An example: A few scenes of my novel-in-progress take place on Lisbon. Rather than try to convey the vibe of an entire city, I instead enrich the sense of atmosphere by putting the action in a specific location. In this case, I chose to set the action of these scenes in the Alfama quarter, a salty tangle of old-world cobbles that somehow survived till now.
The city itself was devastated by an earthquake two hundred years ago, which explains some of the nice boulevards and squares; they were built on the rubble. Fortunately the Alfama quarter wasn’t too damaged. It’s a ramshackle place pretty much as the old sailors left it. No carved monuments, just creaky, smelly authenticity. That’s why I love it. Every time I think of it I smile, as if thinking of an old friend.
I try to take readers on an amble down the hill from more upscale Belem district, where we reach the briny smell of fresh seafood that wafts up from the cobbled quarter below, as does a dingy racket from the rowdy bars.
I take them into a bar off a side street. The place is crowded and hot, its dark walls lined with old drawings of ships. We sit back and enjoy Portugal’s folk music, fado. People think it’s mostly sad songs about sailors, and it is, but really they’re ballads that can be about anything. The singer launches into a mournful ballad about generations of women awaiting their seafaring men at the Alfama harbor. The patrons sing along well into the early morning, before the sun rises over the well-worn cobbles of the old fishermen’s quarter.
Before long, a picture starts to form. It takes off from there, and soon the scene—and the reader—are on their way.