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Photos

November 27, 2011 3 comments

Prompt #26: PHOTO my fourteenth entry in the 30 Days of Indie Travel Series

Post a photo of your favorite place and tell us what you love about it.

This should be a very easy post, but for some reason I am really struggling with it.  I am not sure if I have a favorite place.  There have been so many places i have loved.  South Africa was one of my favorite trips, filled with great sights, tastes and experiences.  I love Tibet and will always have a special place for Beijing, even with the difficulties that it can throw at you from time to time.  The United States and Michigan will always be close to my heart.  I love the mountains, and cities.  I love to experience new places.  In short, I don’t think I will ever have just one favorite place.  Instead, enjoy these five photos, some of my favorites and a representation of my favorite places.

This is also a good time to announce that I am launching a new photography only website soon that will feature a photo each day.  Look here for more details once I have them.

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Trans-Siberian Railway

November 23, 2011 1 comment

Prompt #22: TRANSIT – my tenth entry in the 30 Days of Indie Travel series

The word travel comes from a French word meaning “work” and sometimes, getting there is work. Between crowded buses, long airline delays, overnight trains and crazy rickshaw rides, transportation can be stressful, but it can also be a rewarding part of the tip. Tell us about a time when the journey became more important than the destination.

The more I travel, the more I enjoy the journey, at least in hindsight.  While stuck in a small airplane seat, wedged into a bus on curvy mountain roads or trying to sleep on a layover, I have done my share of complaining, but these aspects of travel are far outweighed by the ability to experience something new, to be immersed in a culture unlike your own.  Looking back on the memories of travel these unpleasant events are usually glossed over, replaced by the highlights of the trip.

One trip I have taken that was all about the journey, the experience of getting there occurred in 2007, my first year teaching in China, I decided to take the long way home.  It had long been a dream of mine to take the Trans-Siberian railroad.  While I didn’t have to take the whole trip (Vladivostok to Moscow), the Trans-Mongolian (Beijing to Moscow) journey was a perfect opportunity.  7 Days on a train is a long time, but an experience I would do again in a heartbeat.  

I arranged and purchased everything for this trip from Beijing, meaning that most of the people in my car were Chinese.  I had a very limited budget and as a result had a cheap ticket that went straight from Beijing to Moscow instead of stopping to see some sights along the way.  The seven days I had on the train meant I got a lot of relaxing (sleeping) done, some very thick books (the Brothers Karamazov and others) read and some great conversations with the one other American in my car.  I am not sure I would do it straight through on a repeat journey, but it was an amazing experience doing it straight this first time.

There were some hiccups along the way largely due to lack of funds.  I had expected my debit card to work in Russia but was distraught when I got the message that it was rejected.  Once I got to Moscow I found out that all ATM transactions are blocked in Russia by my bank due to worries of fraud.  This would have been nice to know before departing since it meant that I had no money (and thus no food) for 5 days on the train.  I had a few snacks with me which I rationed and my car mates shared some that they had with me keeping me from completely starving.  Oh well, lesson learned.

This seven day trip was simply about the journey, the sights along the way an accompaniment to the constant movement across Asia and into Europe.  Upon arrival in Russia I had a great time visiting Moscow, St. Petersburg and then on into Scandinavia but the journey remains a great memory.  Sometimes taking a bit longer to get to a place pays off and makes you appreciate the distance we are able to travel these days.

Spiritual Connection

November 20, 2011 1 comment

Prompt #19: SPIRIT – my seventh post in the 30 Days of Indie Travel series.

Some places have the power to make even the most die-hard agnostic reconsider their position. Have you ever been in a place where you felt more alive or more connected to nature, the universe, or a higher power than anywhere else?

Mecca Photo Courtesy of Flickr User AlJazeerahEnglish CC License

Travel allows us to get outside of our comfort zone, to experience and reflect on our place in the world.  There have been a few places that I have travelled through that seem especially spiritual.  Mountains tend to do it for me, making me appreciate the grandeur of nature and fresh air.  Man made structures such as the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Notre Dame in Paris and even Stonehenge impress in a different way.  These religious structures make you appreciate what man can accomplish, especially when trying to honor their beliefs.  While I will probably never experience it, I am always awed by aerial photos of Mecca at the time of the Hajj.  The number of pilgrims that descend on Mecca at this time is a testament to their belief that this pilgrimage is a necessary part of their religion.  This sacrifice is impressive, regardless of your own beliefs.  Of the places I have traveled to, there is only one place where the natural environment, the man-made structures and examples of human devotion have come together to connect me with the spiritual world, Tibet.

Tibet is a place that you expect to be spiritual.  It holds such an aura of separateness, of intrigue that is tied into its history as a secluded Buddhist mountain kingdom where outsiders were prohibited.  Today, many Tibetans are clinging to this religious past, trying to keep a sense of their history and their religion as China is making a larger and larger push to assimilate Tibet into China.  China is winning the battle between history and progress and at least at some level, the people of Tibet appreciate this push to modernity.  That said, Tibet is still a place that holds a spiritual connection.  Whether or not you hold Buddhist beliefs, you cannot help but be impressed by the devotion that many Tibetan people have to their religion.

One of the single most impressive building I have ever been to is the Potala Palace in Lhasa.  Once the home of the Dali Lama, today it is open to the public as a museum.  The Potala Palace dominates Lhasa, sitting far above any other building in the city.  Going from room to room makes you consider the lives of the people that have spent their time here, their devotion over the centuries to their religion.  Outside the Palace, circling in a clockwise direction, Lhasa is filled with pilgrims that have often made their way on their hands and knees to the city.  Once they arrive in Lhasa, pilgrims can be seen circumabulating the Barkhor.

Whether struggling for breath in the high altitude climbing the steps to the Palace or wandering the city gazing out at the mountains, you are constantly reminded of where you are, high up in a remote corner of the world.  Somehow this realization make you feel closer to God. The fresh mountain air of Lhasa, combined with the temples and devotees make Tibet one of the most spiritual places I have ever visited.  The feeling of connection, of calm, permeated my time in Tibet, making it impossible not to consider my place in the world and my connection to God.

Cities

November 16, 2011 6 comments

My third entry for 30 Days of Indie Travel

Prompt # 15 – Cities

When traveling, I tend to be attracted to big cities.  Given the option of a beach or a city, I will almost always choose the city.  Perhaps this is because cities are usually a bit easier to get to, but I think the bigger reason is that cities are exciting for me.  I love that there is always something to do, always something to see.  The best of a country tends to be drawn to the cities.  That is not to say that there is not good to be found outside of cities, but it is a bit harder to find.

Throughout my travels I have been to many cities that I have loved.  There are the few that I find awful, but this almost always has something to do with something out of the cities control, like weather or my mood at the time.  While each great city has something to offer, these ten rise above the others I have been to.  I am not sure that I can really choose a favorite hence the two number 1’s, so instead I will give a few reasons why each of these have provided some of the best experiences I have had while traveling.

  1. Cape Town, South Africa – Perhaps the most beautiful city I have been to.  Cape Town also features great weather, a great dining scene and so many options of things to do that it was impossible to be bored.                                                                                               
  1. Barcelona, Spain – I wrote about my visit to Barcelona here.  The food, culture and architecture set this apart from most others I have been to.  This is a quintessential city that is so easy to get lost in, enthralled in the sights, sounds and history of the place.
  2. Istanbul, Turkey – Sitting at the crossroads between Asia and Europe, Istanbul has reminders of history around every corner.  Add in some fantastic food and good weather and you have a winning combination.
  3. Amsterdam, the Netherlands – I am not sure if I have ever visited a more comfortable city.  It’s charm is simply in being there, experiencing everything it has to offer.  It’s food does not stand out, the weather is chilly and rainy, it is expensive, but I am not sure if there is any other city in the world that I would like to spend an afternoon wandering around.                   
  4. Buenos Aires, Argentina – Great food, a very vibrant culture, good weather and a feel that you are in Europe instead of South America but still with South American passion make for a great place to travel to.
  5. Kyoto, Japan- Of my top 10, this is the one that caught me by surprise.  On my first trip to Japan I was looking forward to the food of Osaka, the modernity of Tokyo and the reminder of past mistakes in Hiroshima but Kyoto won my heart.  The culture and history, combined with good food and beautiful mountains make Kyoto my favorite city in Japan.
  6. Hong Kong, China – This city that feels simultaneously Asian and Western.  If visiting from China (as I have) the western aspects stand out.  If coming from the west, the combination of Asian cultures make for a fantastic Asian experience.  The pace of life, the busyness of a city are all on showcase here along with great food, good shopping and good transportation.                  
  7. Stockholm, Sweden – Set amidst the Stockholm Archipelago, Stockholm takes all of what Scandinavia is well known for and somehow improves on it.  The architecture, design, shopping, and wide range of activities make this a must visit in Summer.  Winter might be a bit cold.
  8. Chicago, U.S.A. – Close to one of my homes, Chicago is a great city with impressive and important architecture, fantastic food, great shopping, amazing museums and a cultural scene that rivals any other city on my list.
  9. Shanghai, China – A 21st century city with a long history.  This is one of the most modern cities on my top 10, but just around the corner from modern skyscrapers you are able to find older neighborhoods.  The food is great, the architecture impressive and the history fascinating.

Honorable Mention – London, Beijing, Moscow, Portland OR, Tokyo, Singapore, Frankfurt, Lhasa

Wildlife part 3

This is the second gallery of the photos I took on Safari in Mala Mala.  Time and again on safari I was shocked to find myself as close as I was to these majestic animals.  To see them in their natural habitat far exceeded the experience of any zoo I have been at.

Categories: Photography

Wildlife part 2

This is the first gallery of the photos I took on Safari in Mala Mala.  Time and again on safari I was shocked to find myself as close as I was to these majestic animals.  To see them in their natural habitat far exceeded the experience of any zoo I have been at.

Wat?

September 18, 2011 1 comment

Inevitably, wherever you travel it seems that you wind up in religious buildings. In Europe you see one massive Cathedrals after another and in Asia you see Buddhist, Taoist and Hindu Temples. Religious buildings are usually some of the best preserved buildings as offering a look at what is important to the local population. With more travel you are able to tell the subtle differences between locations and beliefs and also likely to get tired of seeing similar buildings repeatedly. In Bangkok there are Wat’s scattered all over the city. These range from the grand to the more basic. There are a number where tout’s promise you good luck and fortune with a visit, but most are calm, filled with contemplation. This trip we kept our visits limited, seeing just two. This left us wanting to visit more and promised some additional sights on a return trip to Bangkok. The most magnificent that we visited was part of the Grand Palace, the sometimes home of Thai Kings, including the current ruler, King Rama IX. As befitting Royal grounds, the collection of temples and monasteries were incredibly ornate. The most important religious site in the complex is the Royal Monastery of the Emerald Buddha, featuring a giant carved jade buddha. The other buildings featured gold leaf, intricate carvings, numerous religious artifacts and a wide variety of gems. Like cathedrals in Europe, the Wats in Thailand were designed to honor Buddha without sparing expense. The other Wat that we visited was right next to the Grand Palace, Wat Phra Chetuphon, that featured a massive reclining Buddha. Far less crowded with tourists than the Grand Palace, this had more of the feeling of a working religious building, rather than a tourist attraction. The lower visitor numbers allowed for a calm, reflective pace as we walked through, sharing the space with practicing Monks.

The Wat’s in Thailand differed enough from Tibetan and Chinese Monastaries to really feel unique. The fact that we only saw these two also ensured that we did not have Temple overload. What they did not do, however, was give that close of a view into the life of a Thai Monk. When I plan my return to Thailand I would really like to see this aspect of Buddhism in Thailand. Have you been to Thailand? If so, where is the best place to observe this?

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