If you’re wondering how to get to paradise, you should know that getting there is not quite as easy as being there. For us, the process was as follows: Schedule a doctor’s appointment to get malaria medication and begin taking it several days prior to the trip If you’re leaving in winter, are far away … Read more Raja Ampat
To wander into a restaurant in Harbin, the capital city of China’s northernmost province, is to find a scene not too unlike one you might find in a ski lodge. Red faces appear frozen in their last expression, hands cling desperately to hot beverages, mounds of clothes lay piled on any available furniture, and, perhaps … Read more Harbin
Pictures can only prepare you so much for the reality that they depict. Just as watching your favorite actor in your favorite movie can never dull the feeling of fluster and starstruckedness upon seeing them walking past you on the street, so a photograph of a beautiful place can never fully prepare you for the … Read more Bagan
“Mei you hua,” the fruit vendor shouted in a bemused tone as we hiked past her stall perched on the hillside. We were making our way through the mountainous countryside of Wuyuan in hopes of seeing the region’s valleys flooded by the seasonal rapeseed flower and were just told that there weren’t any. The bright … Read more Wuyuan
If the beauty of a place is measured by the amount of wows muttered and gasps taken while witnessing it, then China’s Jiuzhaigou National Park may very well be the most beautiful place we’ve ever seen. With lakes so blue they practically glowed through the damp browns and greens of the forest surrounding them to … Read more Jiuzhaigou
This is a song about class divide and how we view the rich and poor of our society. I chose the metaphor of the cherry and the pit because, while they are part of the same system, they are viewed and valued very differently. The cherry (wealth) is the sweet dangling fruit at the center of our admiration and the pit (poverty) is the ugly thing that we want to quickly discard and forget about. In the song, the cherry’s verse remains the same because our view of poverty remains the same: that it is escapable if one would simply choose to apply themself more. Poverty is a pit though, and often times no amount of hard work is sufficient to climb out of it, which is where the cherry pit finds itself by the end of the song. You can find a link to me singing the songhere to help give you a sense of its rhythm.
I am the cherry pit, I make the tree grow sound and when it’s done with me it castes me to the ground. How I wish that I could be just like the fruit surrounding me; a life I’ll never see.
I am the cherry fruit, I live a life so warm and sweet atop the tree until I’m chosen as a treat. How come the pits don’t do the same? Only themselves can they blame. Different only in name are the cherry and the pit.
I am a fruitless pit, in the soil I find my chore. Set to toil to what end I care no more. From me the tree it grows anew. My seed trapped beneath the fruit I grew, a cycle sure and true.
I am the cherry fruit, I live a life so warm and sweet atop the tree until I’m chosen as a treat. How come the pits don’t so the same? Only themselves can they blame. Different only in name are the cherry and the pit.
My life is but a pit and to its poison I am bound. These roots of mine growing ever deeper down. I long to shake this dirt from me, to live a life of warmth and sweetness I’m tired…I’m tired… I’m tired of the pit.
This is a song I wrote while living in Shanghai. It was a time in my life where, daily, I struggled to figure out how to navigate and comprehend a city, people, and culture entirely different than anything I had experienced in my life up to that point. The song touches on some of the biggest frustrations I had while living in the city: its pollution, the feeling of always being foreign and recognized as such, the relentlessness of living in a megacity, and the Chinese people’s indifference to all of these things. I learned many important lessons while living there, not only about China, but about people and society as a whole and, despite all of the infuriating moments, I wouldn’t trade my 5 1/2 years spent there for anything. You can find a link to a video of me singing the song here to help give you a sense of its rhythm.
Good morning Shanghai. I almost passed you by. I almost missed your grandeur and might, stretching out of sight, in all of my forgotten days, the things I said, my words, my ways and… Out of a smoke-colored sky came a ray shining through to my eye. I blinked, it was gone, though the smoke it rolled on down alleyways, up straightened lines, through hallowed halls and hollowed minds and… All the citizens say: “Hey it’s a lovely day! You know that morning mist really sends me on my way. For to accept a secret kept from me is a part of my identity.”
Good day Shanghai. Soft stare in my eye from a face I thought that I knew, but as the closer it grew I found it to be just as foreign as the other faces blurrin’ past me… Each one racing to the great melting pot to be mixed in with culture, ideas, and the lot, then poured through a crack cut so fine that most don’t slip through in time and are left as puddles lying on the ground to be stepped on or walked around and… All the citizens say: “Hey it’s the only way! You know to get ahead I must not stray from a life made up of strife. I don’t even get why Jack would want to play.”
Good evening Shanghai. Light still shines from the high places that your people have built upon sand, upon stilts while shadows creep into the depths below and drown the frowns and talks of woe and… Up from a jagged horizon comes an orb spreading rays like the sun, but with a transition so slight, most couldn’t tell the day from night. Trapped in time a generation, endless shine yet still stagnation and… All the citizens say: “Hey, I’ll get to it one day! You know I’ll get ahead. You know I will not stray, but if the stroke of fate is late then I guess I’ll just have to hesitate.”
This is a song about arrogance. Too often, I feel we as a society (the moths) give our attention to the loudest presence in the room (the flame) at the cost of the genuine voices amongst us (the candles). How much better of a place the world would be if, rather than celebrating the flames as we do now, we instead tried to emulate the candles. You can find a link to a video of me singing the song here to help give you a sense of its rhythm.
Atop a candle sits a flame, and flames they all do burn the same; from the wick they flicker in the night, each fluctuates but still burns bright, you’ll see, it’s not a matter of reality. And the moths they flock around the glow for show outshines the dull of know and the candles without a flare are flown by without a care for the moth knows not the beauty of a scent, only the light of that which it will never get.
And as the flames take in their air from moths around without a care, in them the idea radiates that one must always shine great. Oh no! To reach high even when you’re feeling low. But flames are fickle, weak at best and feel dim just like all the rest, still the candles without a flare are flown by without a care for the moth knows not the beauty of a scent, only the light of that which it will never get.
And as the flame flutters about, a lonely moth begins to doubt and blows upon the flame to find a burnt and withered, blackened rind. Well well! The lure of fire just a simple spell. For attention whether earned or not can take root in the mind and rot making anybody feel that they’re a flame and it’s a shame.
But me I’ll take the candles, the quiet and forlorned, who put forth their beauty without want of being adorned. Me, I’ll take the ones forgotten, the ones who’ve been ignored, downtrodden. Me I’ll take the ones labeled weak (no they can feel). Me I’ll take the one labeled a freak (no they are real). Give me the ones who aren’t the same. I’ll take the candle not the flame.
Few transitions are quite as dramatic as the one that takes place while driving west through South Dakota in the winter. After eight dull hours of looking at flat, barren, wind-whipped land from which the only thing one finds refuge in is the nearly inexhaustible Wall Drug signs staked into it, the scenery suddenly collapses into the canyons of the Badlands and then rises inexplicably into the smoothed mountaintops of the Black Hills. Clearly, someone up top had mixed up blueprints while laying out designs for the area we thought, as the memories of the long and uneventful drive that had brought us there quickly turned to excitement for the days ahead.
With this being our first trip since Covid-19 broke out nearly a year ago, we were a little worried about what traveling would look like amid a pandemic and whether or not we would be able to stay safe during our time in the state. The answer to the first question would be that it’d look a whole heck of a lot like it did pre-pandemic and the answer to the second would be most definitely not, at least in public spaces anyway; the reason behind both of those troubling answers being, well, the fact that we were in South Dakota.
As it turns out, along with the aforementioned geographical transformation that took place during our drive across the state, there was also an ideological one. The Black Lives Matter signs of Minneapolis dissipated the further west we drove, giving way to an outdoor museum of Trump paraphernalia. In one memorable moment, we passed a lawn lined with over twenty (or maybe thirty, we lost count) Trump flags waving ostentatiously in the wind. Yes, we were deep in Trump country, and that meant that mask-wearing was very much not a thing. So, like Puritans shuttering at the sight of a bikini, we winced away from the surplus of maskless faces bustling around us, choosing instead to spend our time exploring the inexhaustible scenery of the Black Hills, which is where you’ll find us in the photos below.
Read on for a poem by Kate:
We pull off the road and leave our car behind to slip between two boulders and step over the threshold of the trail.
A downy blanket embraces the forest, a ribbon of untouched beauty winds ahead, inviting us in.
All around us a hush echoes, rays of frigid sun shine off marbled ponderosa bark, illuminating tiny tracks left by a mink, perhaps on a trip to the icy stream we walk along.
Leaving the path, we climb up a craggy hill to perch on a rock and gaze out at the world of trees below us.
Patches of snow and fallen logs reveal themselves as we peer between the trees.
We climb down, taking a new route. Descending, a doorway in the mountain appears, fiercely swirling snow into the gray sky it has nothing to cling to— around or behind.
The door looks to be a portal to a mysterious realm. It is alluring as it beckons us forward. As we step through, we realize we’ve been walking in that realm the entire time, experiencing first hand how real the magic is.
As much effort as we put into proving otherwise, we are still children at heart no matter our age. At no time is this more apparent than when we unexpectedly find ourselves confronting a smell, or taste, or sight of something long forgotten that makes us feel like we did long before attaining the overcelebrated title of maturity. For us, what transported our minds to a more youthful state was the window of a chocolate shop that lied down a glittering hallway in Brussels on a gloomy December day. Trimmed in glowing evergreen branches that illuminated the red poinsettia leaves running alongside it, the shop offered a cinematic picture of Christmas that beckoned us towards it. Practically pressing our noses to the glass, we peered inside the shop as elvish workers strolled about the gold and burgundy trimmed store. Sweets of every shape and size filled the shelves with the crown jewel of the collection being, in our mind anyway, the pralines which, befitting of their value, were neatly displayed behind a glass case much like a fine jewelry would be. The value of the two were indistinguishable to us.
Across the hall, the aroma of fresh waffles and chocolate sauce demanded the attention of our noses, which we promptly followed only to be distracted by a nearly life size cookie depiction of St. Nicholas in a speculoos shop. Now, if the word speculoos does not send you salivating, you should know that the cookie can be best described as thin, crunchy, caramelized, and infused with flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, and cardamom among others. Perhaps now you can understand our distraction at the sight of them and also, perhaps, our childlike joy at finding ourselves amongst a heavenly array of sweets. There was only one problem, we were vegan and everything described above was most definitely not. Did I mention that the disposition of children is also very flexible? Along with our obsession over sugary treats, it appeared that we would be adopting that trait as well, if only for our week-long stay in Brussels.
Like our other stops in Europe after finishing El Camino, our main purpose for traveling to the Belgian capital was to visit friends. This time, it would be to see Doriane, whom we had shared a house with in Spain in 2012 and who had traveled to the States to be a bridesmaid in our wedding in 2016. It was time to return the favor, and we were very glad we did, if not only to see a good friend, then also to experience the festive mood of the city as it kicked off its holiday season.
And of course, no blog about a visit to Doriane would be complete without mention of her cat Pumpkin Pie, or as his friends know him, Pumpkin, whom we will pay homage to in the next two photos.
Read on for a poem by Kate:
Man oh Manny,
you really had to go.
Four hundred years of one steady flow.
You don’t seem to care
that people can see.
Don’t you want some privacy?
My only request
for the sake of this town,
is that when you finish, put the toilet seat down.
Most places Kate and I travel to require our family members back in the States to pull out the nearest map before being able to appreciate our excitement in going there. “Oh, Raja Ampat?! … And that’s in…Indonesia. Okay…which is…above Australia kind of. Okay, cool!” Knowledge of our destination’s geographical location never quite cut it though and it usually wasn’t until after our trip, when pictures and blogs had been posted, that family members were truly able to share in our excitement for having visited the places that we had. It was refreshing then, to have a city on our itinerary as synonymous with international travel as London was. Finally others would be able to take part in our enthusiasm prior to our trip.
Never before had we been to a place depicted in so many movies, tv shows, books, songs, and the like. Seeing double decker buses whiz past us, red telephone booths dotting the street, and the Union Jack waving from atop the Houses of Parliament, we were positively star struck; like getting to spend a few days with a celebrity. It was a feeling that would last for the entirety of our brief four days in the city. Some may argue that that is far too short a time to see London, and I would agree, but in a way, it was perfect. We were able to leave the city at the peak of our excitement in being there and, for that, it will always retain a special place in our memories.
Read on for a poem by Kate:
Hop off the bus and look around,
Tower Bridge is easily found.
While passing through Trafalgar Square
observe the lions’ stately stares.
Spin around the London Eye
to see the city scrape the sky.
Watch Houses of Parliament wield their power
while Big Ben tolls at every hour.
Near St. Paul’s stretches Millennium Bridge,
Be sure to look down at each thin ridge.
There are treasures there easily missed,
not found on any tourist’s list.
Tiny wads of discarded gum
have been shaped and painted for a bit of fun.
Once forgotten, dismissed as trash,
they’ve found a home in an artist’s cache.
On our last day in Belarus, we spent the afternoon walking around Minsk looking for a sign labeled “сувенир.” If you happen to read Cyrillic, the alphabet of the Slavic world, congratulations, you can skip ahead. If not, take a wild guess at what that word might translate to. A couple of hints, it is pronounced almost exactly the same as its English counterpart. Need another one? The sign pertained to a shop where we would be able to find traditional Belarusian keepsakes to take back to the States with us. Still can’t crack it? Perhaps you can use this phonetic key to help: с=s, у=u, в=v, е=e, н=n, и=i, and р=r. Yes, “сувенир,” is “souvenir.” If you enjoyed doing that and are amused at how a word pronounced exactly the same can look so different, then you may understand just how fun it was for Kate and I to learn the Cyrillic alphabetand try to decipher signs, seeing if they bore any resemblance to their English translations. A few more of our favorites were:
While we found the most joy in deciphering common items like those above, perhaps our favorite contrast between the two alphabets was for the city of Nezvizh, which in Belarusian was written as “Нясвіжскі” (pronounced “knee-ez-Vee-chee”). There, we planned to tour the city’s palace, which dated to the 16th century and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Belarus. Before being allowed to enter though, we had to go through our first ever mandatory coat check, where our coats were taken from us with such sternness and efficiency that we almost felt as if we had done something wrong by choosing to dress warmly that day. Being a bit chillier than we had hoped to be after being unburdened of our coats, we began to tour the palace, where we were confronted with the excessiveness of wealth, inspiring in us equal feelings of awe and envy, as all displays of wealth seem to do.
Prior to the trip, Belarus’s history had been completely unknown to us and we were now coming face to face with the physical manifestations of its grandeur. As a part of the ill-fated Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the land and people of present day Belarus were once members of one of the largest, most populous and most powerful empires of the Middle Ages. It remained this way for the better part of three centuries until the Russian and Germanic forces that bordered it began eating away at its prominence. We were glad that remnants of its glorious past were still on display for us to have a glimpse into.
Perhaps the easiest (read “least fun”) translation we came across was the town of Mir which was unceremoniously translated as “Мір.” There, we would tour a castle that shared its name with the town. We thought that the name for the castle, which is Belarusian for “peace,” was a rather Orwellian name to bestow upon a military fortress. Inside, we roamed its vast halls and elaborate rooms, though it was its exterior that intrigued us the most. This created a dilemma as seeing the outside of the castle involved being outside, a feat that presented a significant challenge as the weather was in an arctic kind of mood that day.
As we went outside, we were thrust into the grips of winter and shuffled about the castle’s grounds in a futile attempt to stay warm, teetering all the while between our desire to see as much of it as we could and our increasingly more urgent desire to find a warm place to escape into. Before succumbing to the latter, we made one more heroic push against the gusts of frigid air in a quixotic attempt to walk around the grounds outside the castle so we could view it from afar. As these grounds were even more open to the elements than we had been when in the castle, our heroism didn’t last long. Kate made it about one hundred yards in, turned around, looked at the castle for about five seconds, chattered “Okay, good enough,” and shivered her way back to the cafe where our friends Emmet and Olga were waiting for us. Foolishly, I continued on, though once bodily numbness became an issue, I quickly abandoned my pursuit to circumnavigate the castle and scampered back to the cafe to join them. There, over a cartoonishly large cup of hot cocoa, and some of the more delicious Belarusian food we would have during our time in the country, Kate and I had a long and painful thaw as our toes and fingertips regained feeling. Just as we were beginning to recall what warmth and comfort felt like, it was time to leave.
Towards the end of our time in Belarus we began feeling very confident about our Cyrillic skills, so much so that I assured everyone that I could comfortably split from the group and follow road signs to meet up with them at a predetermined destination. My reason for doing so was to get some pictures of Belarusian houses, whose colorful facades had intrigued me since our first day in the country. “It’s very easy, just look for this sign, take a right, and then the next left and that road will take you directly there,” Olga explained to me. “Got it,” I said. I didn’t have it. Not even one hundred yards into the walk I saw the street sign that I thought could possibly be the one she was talking about…and walked right past it. As it turns out, like with the Roman alphabet, the Cyrillic alphabet has different fonts and letters can look slightly different depending on which font is used. So, despite the letters on the sign looking similar enough to the ones I was expecting to see, they were still just different enough for me to convince myself that I should continue lumbering forward. It wasn’t until I got to the edge of town and the road I was walking on turned into a highway that I suspected that I may have missed my turn. I frantically retraced my steps through the rapidly darkening landscape, making guesswork of where to turn and, by complete dumb luck, happened across the store where we were supposed to meet. As it turned out, beer had saved the day. Kate, Emmet and Olga, justifiably worried that I was lost, were planning to get in the car and drive around to look for me until they remembered that they had forgotten to pick up beer in the store and went back in to get it. I arrived just as they were checking out. The panicked moment was brief, but worth it as I was able to capture the houses that I had become so endeared by.
We’ve come to look forward to seeing what seemingly mundane things capture our attention when visiting a new country. If you had asked me before traveling to Belarus what I thought would intrigue me the most, grand medieval castles and palaces or modern everyday houses, I would undoubtedly have chosen the former. But, as I look back on our time in Belarus, it is the houses that come to mind first along with the language whose characters, masquerading as the familiar Roman alphabet, twisted our minds time and again trying to discover what familiar word lay behind them. We’re thankful to have been able to see all of the incredible sites that we have throughout our travels, but it’s the unexpected places, people, and experiences in between that have stuck with us the most, and for those, we are even more grateful.
Read on for a poem by Kate:
Groups shuffle past
frozen in frames,
at each passerby
who absently takes in
and scarcely scans
their golden name plates
They pass through
From family trees,
that now encases them.
their roots stood firm,
growing into a home
to live their lives
in a palace meaning peace.
the castle is a museum,
as disconnected from its visitors
as it is from its former inhabitants.
A part of a holiday,
a piece of an itinerary.
Below, you can find some pictures that didn’t quite fit in to any of our posts about Belarus, but that we thought were worth sharing still.
Nothing quite captures the imagination like a good, old-fashioned ruin. One can fill their hollow shells with as many fantastic stories as they wish, conjuring up a cocktail of questions that are just as entertaining to answer as they are to think of.
Belarus’s Ruzhany Palace was no exception to this. As we toured its dilapidated remains, we wondered at the idea that the ruins we were walking through used to be a center of bourgeois life in one of the largest and most populous empires of medieval Europe. Hallways once tread by kings and queens now bore a carpet of grass and dirt. Grand halls once famed for their literary collection and the world-renowned theater troupes that performed inside of them, now harbored a mini-forest, collections of bushes and twigs replacing the vast collections of books and art that once called them home. Blurring the line between the two extremes was a thick fog, concealing hidden corners and obscuring the blemished state of the palace. We found that, if we unfocused our eyes just enough, the imagination didn’t have to work too hard for an image of what the palace once was to come into focus.
Read on for a poem by Kate:
I wander through
covered in tapestries
woven by brittle vines
and decaying leaves.
My feet sunk
into plush carpet
of rich soil and fragrant grass.
I find myself
in a grand ballroom,
or perhaps a kitchen,
a whisper of stairs clings
to the crumbling brick wall.
once closed off to the outside
is now open to the elements
to hold court.
offer their winged subjects
places for shelter and rest.
Breezes loosen seeds
from dried flowers,
scattering them about the earth.
They take root, new life rising up
to join the old.
I watch through the fog,
marveling at the harmony
of nature’s law.