The Cherry and the Pit

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 song here 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?
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?
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.”

Good morning!
Good day!
Good night!

The Moth and the Flame

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.

The Badlands

In this post you’ll find our layout a bit flip-flopped with the poem from Kate coming at the beginning instead of at the end. Enjoy her words and the pictures below!

The Hidden Badlands

Brown and brittle
December prairie
rolls and undulates
right on through
the horizon.

With no warning
the earth collapses
into canyons
of striped rock
marbled with a dusting
of snow.

It seems a barren
a trap
to ensnare
an unassuming

Do not be deceived.
Be still
and watch.

Finches flutter,
solitaires soar,
and chickadees chirp
their cheerful hellos.

A squirrel scampers
then leaps
onto a lush green branch
of pine.

Despite their name,
given by others,
they are a sustaining source
for generations of life.

The Black Hills

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:

Horsethief Trail

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
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.

Checking out a waffle shop

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.

Enjoying some Christmas tea with Doriane in her apartment

On our way into the city


The gilded buildings of Grand Place which most definitely earned its “grand” moniker. Like the skyscraper-laden banks of Shanghai’s Bund, it was hard to believe that a place so impressive had started as nothing more than a small market in a muddy swamp.


The spire of the Town Hall. No matter where we went in Brussels, whether it be candy shopping, museum hopping, or looking for a cozy place to enjoy a hearty Belgian ale, our path always seemed to lead back to Grand Place. We were happy for this as our feeling of awe at entering the plaza never faded even after a week of countless visits to it.

The buildings in the plaza were no less spectacular at night







The crowded walkways of Brussels’ sprawling Christmas market

Enjoying stew and fritters from one of the few vegan-friendly booths at the market

Outside of Grand Place, we were never at a lack of finding buildings that peaked our interest. We were especially enamored by the tops of the buildings, which were usually pyramidal in form but varied from one to the next in how they went about from arriving at their point from their base. Some curved elegantly upwards towards a mushroom-like cap and others rose jaggedly like a set of stairs. Because of the uniqueness of each building, we were always making sure to look up as we wandered the streets of the city.



The National Basilica of the Sacred Heart



The famous Manekkin Pis, which we were surprised to find was an incredibly small statue lying unceremoniously on the corner of an intersection. We probably would have walked right past it if Doriane hadn’t pointed it out. While naked in this picture, the statue is usually wearing a costume, a tradition that dates back to the 18th century.

We thought this building looked a lot like Gringott’s Bank from Harry Potter.



If there was one thing we enjoyed more than Belgian sweets, it was Belgian beer

Taking in a Magritte painting at a museum dedicated to his life and work. Relatively unknown to us prior to our visit, we were very glad to have been introduced to the surrealist artist, whose work tickled our brains as we tried to make sense of his unordinary depiction of ordinary objects.

During our time in Brussels, it felt like we stumbled upon this group of musicians just as much as we did Grand Place. Their music added a jazzy liveliness to whichever street we found them on.

Worthless junk or priceless antiques? That was the question looming over us as we toured an antique market in Brussels. After walking through it, we leaned more towards the former.

Another city fixture that we fell in love with, along with sweets and beer, was Art Nouveau, an early 20th-century art form that inspired various architectural projects from the same era. We were always excited when we happened upon a building that we could identify as being Art Nouveau.

An Art Nouveau-inspired bar, one of our favorites of the many we would visit while in the city




As our time in Brussels, and, by a very long extension, our time abroad, came to an end, we nostalgically reminisced about all of our travels while traversing the city on foot. It was fitting then that we came across a shell marking the way of El Camino, one of our greatest adventures from our eight years spent overseas.

Have I mentioned yet that we enjoyed beer…

…and sweets while in Brussels?

Decorating for Christmas in Doriane’s apartment on our last night

I started the blog talking about how easy it is to feel like a child at times and will end it on the same note. On our last morning in Brussels, we were giddy to find that our shoes had been stuffed with presents from St. Nicholas.

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:

Mannekin Pis

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.

Our reason for visiting London was to see a former student of ours, Ian, and his parents Bessie and Yves. We enjoyed our time with them just as much as we did sightseeing in the city.

We were disappointed to find Big Ben under a thick layer of scaffolding upon our arrival to downtown London. Thankfully, the rest of the Houses of Parliament were in full view.


We learned that at one point within the last decade or so, London had removed all of their iconic telephone booths since they were no longer in use. After complaints from tourists, they reinstated them.

The Christmas market in Trafalgar Square

One thing we loved about London was all of the free museums. At the National Gallery we were excited to see paintings from the likes of Van Gogh, Da Vinci, Rembrandt, and Monet among many, many others.

One of the famous Landseer lions of Trafalgar Square. The lions‘ namesake and creator was a career painter, not a sculptor, who gathered his inspiration for the statues from a lion corpse. When the corpse had rotted beyond recognition, Landseer had to finish his creation from memory and sketches he had made.


Inside St. Martin in the Fields Church, where we attended a free concert featuring a burgeoning cellist with piano accompaniment.




At the Houses of Parliament. While we were walking by, a door in the ceiling of the enclave opened up, making for a cool picture.

Westminster Abbey

Stopping for a cup of coffee in a pub outside of Trafalgar Square

Spending the afternoon with Ian


Outside of Buckingham Palace

We were just about to leave the palace and move on to another sight when we started noticing a lot of commotion inside the palace gates. Outside, a regal line of heavily decorated horse riders began filing down the street, led by a man on a white horse sounding a trumpet. Shortly after, the queen came zipping out of the palace gates and past the ecstatic crowd. The scene could have been plucked from any number of centuries except for the fact that the queen was inside a Land Rover and not a horse carriage.

While walking back from Buckingham Palace, we passed a park where we came across a small group of people surrounded by a significantly large and eclectic group of wild animals. Squirrels, geese, pigeons, and, parakeets enthusiastically buzzed around the members of the crowd fighting over handouts of peanuts.

At the Christmas market in Hyde Park


While getting a picture inside one of the telephone booths, Kate discovered that they weren’t entirely out of use. Apparently, they functioned quite well as public toilets, as evidenced by the puddle of urine Kate stood in while taking the picture.






Almost immediately after arriving in London, we discovered mincemeat pies, which, in spite of their name, we were happy to find entirely meat free. We would eat an unnecessary amount of them during our brief stay in the city.



St. Paul’s Cathedral


Millennium Bridge



Apart from seeing St. Paul’s Cathedral, we were also excited to go to Millennium Bridge as Kate had read that there was artwork on the bridge made from discarded chewing gum. At first, we thought we had missed what we thought was a permanent exhibit but then, upon further examination of the bridge, we notice tiny specks of color tucked into its crevices. The artwork, to our delight, was miniature. A scavenger hunt then ensued, trying to locate as many of the colorful creations as we could.

One piece of work next to my boot



Apart from the free museums, concerts, and an abundance of iconic landmarks, another thing we loved about London was knowing that buried beneath our feet were centuries and centuries of history waiting to be discovered. While walking down a street in between fairly modern looking apartment blocks, we came across a significantly more ancient looking wall. From an indiscreet plaque, we learned that we were looking at the Grand Hall of Winchester Palace, a site of once great importance and prestige. The ruins had been discovered during the London Blitz and weren’t entirely unveiled and restored until development started taking place in the area in the 1980’s.

A couple important things we learned while touring London was that this is called Tower Bridge, not London Bridge

…and that the Tower of London isn’t merely a tower but an entire castle complex.







Going to the London Natural History Museum with Ian, Bessie, and Yves. We could probably could have spent every day for an entire year in the museum and still not seen everything we wanted to, just like London itself.

Read on for a poem by Kate:

Hidden Treasure

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.


Belarus (An Overview)

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:




Restaurant (the top word)

Mini Market

Big Z Supermarket

Dodo Pizza


And, a subway station map with the Cyrillic word on the left and what it would roughly sound like in English written in yellow on the right.

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.


Kate imagining herself as a knight

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. 


Looking up at a very symmetrical ceiling within the castle

coming up from one of the castle tower’s spiraling staricases

A view of Mir from atop the castle


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.


A church on the castle grounds


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.

Emmet guessed that the reason for the houses’ unorthodox colorfulness was that bright colored paints were cheaper and easier to come by and therefore a better option for painting a large surface like that of an entire house.



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:

Merely Mir

Groups shuffle past
oil-painted faces
frozen in frames,
staring out
at each passerby
who absently takes in
their features
and scarcely scans
their golden name plates


They pass through
sitting rooms
dining rooms
bed chambers
and libraries.

From family trees,
centuries-long branches
reach out
but can’t
get past
the glass
that now encases them.

their roots stood firm,
growing into a home
for generations
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.

Looking up at Puslovskys Palace. We thought it looked like a large birthday cake elaborately decorated with white and pink frosting.


One of our favorite experiences was going to a banya, which was like a Belarusian spa. There, you  sit in a sauna that’s so hot inside that you can only last about ten or fifteen minutes. After leaving the sauna, you  dump an ice cold bucket of water over top of your head to cool off. In between sessions you can sit in a common area and have snacks and tea. At the very end of your time at the banya, once your pores have opened up entirely, you take a bundled group of leaves dipped in water and hit your body with them. This is supposed to help your body absorb the nutrients in the leaves.

In Minsk, we went to a Soviet-era cafeteria where they served food much like they would have during its time under the rule of Communism. The food, simple, consistent, dirt cheap, and delicious, was enjoyed in a bare bones dining area with videos of Russian pop music playing on a television screen.

Inside an Eastern Orthodox Church in Minsk




Ruzhany Palace

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:

Nature’s Rule

I wander through
hollowed halls
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.

The room
once closed off to the outside
is now open to the elements
to hold court.

Tangled branches
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.