Baltic Sunsets

Sunset … it’s that time of day when the sun descends from the sky and disappears beyond the horizon, signalling the transition of the afternoon into the early evening, and it has become my favourite time of day when I’m off travelling. I don’t often pay attention to sunsets when I’m back home, but when I’m away, I make an effort to find a good vantage point, usually from a spot a bit high up, and admire the occurrence of this daily phenomenon. I am prone to taking a plethora of photos when I’m travelling, many of which are taken during sunset. After my latest trip to the Baltics, I have a few more to add to the “sunset collection”…

Taken from the shore of the town of Kuressaare on the island of Saaremaa, which is the biggest island of Estonia, I took this picture after exploring the town’s castle and learning a bit of the island’s history. I was half a week into my travels and as the last of the sun’s light was reflecting on the Baltic Sea, so too was I reflecting upon my experiences during the last few days in Helsinki and Tallinn…

Kuressaare is the largest town on the island of Saaremaa, which is Estonia's largest island

Kuressaare is the largest town on the island of Saaremaa, which is Estonia’s largest island

South of Riga’s historic, UNESCO-listed Old Town is the Latvian Academy of Sciences, and from atop the 17th floor of this skyscraper is an observation deck where you get simply magnificent panorama views of the capital city of Latvia. I had just arrived into the city a few hours ago, and fortunate to see a clear sky (the weather is very changeable in the Baltics in September), I decided that it would be a good idea to pay the €4 fee to get a good bird’s eye view of the city during sunset. In the coming days, I’d explore the city’s Old Town and Central Market, green spaces and Art Nouveau district, and become acquainted with the main railway station where I took day trips to other parts of the country…

As seen from the Latvian Academy of Sciences observation deck

As seen from the Latvian Academy of Sciences observation deck

The Old Town of Vilnius, Lithuania felt the most vibrant and full of local life of the 3 Baltic capitals. Locals and tourists alike flock to Gediminas Hill during the late afternoon to watch the sun say goodbye for the day. The day I took this picture began very cloudy, and I took a day trip to nearby Trakai. As I mentioned earlier, weather is very changeable in the Baltics and by early afternoon, the clouds had cleared, allowing the sun to make an appearance. The sky was still clear by the time I got back to Vilnius so I wanted to make the most of this opportunity and was not disappointed when I got to the hill. I found a spot on a low stone wall, took a seat, and watched this…

From Gediminas Hill

From Gediminas Hill

I’ve been blessed to see the sun set from so many awesome locations in our world and can only hope that I’ll continue to do so in the future…

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It ain’t too far

Camino - en route to Acebo

Often during my month in India, a rickshaw driver would pull up to me and try to convince me that where I was going was too far to reach by foot. And I’d just be thinking, “I once walked 800 kilometres across Spain. It ain’t too far.” 😉

Thank you

Where do I even begin to describe my life since 1 May 2013? How do I even begin to express my gratitude? A mere “thank you” is the greatest understatement I could possibly make. But here goes…

When I was in Turkey at the end of my 6 months in Europe last year, I said that I felt like a writer who had found his pen. Well, I’ve been writing with that pen a lot this year, most often just in personal memos in my notebook, laptop, or phone in raw scribbles that may never be revealed. Writing has been a therapeutic tool and the times that I’ve shared my experiences with you all, I’ve been overwhelmed at the responses I’ve received from my posts and blogs. Please know that I value every “like” or “comment” from each posting, and I feel blessed that you’ve taken the time to read what I have shared, and that you have extended so much support, enthusiasm, and goodwill to me.

But even having found this pen, I am struggling to put into words something that would do justice for the gratitude and love in my heart for everything I have experienced (and yes, that includes the good, the bad, and the horrible) during all this travelling.

At the very least, I must start with a thank you to each one of you, for being part of my incredible journey in one form or another. I’ve met some of you while on these travels (some only after sharing a conversation before exchanging contact info), some of you during past travels; some of you are my family, some of you are my friends back home or in another part of the globe. You’ve all supported me in your unique way and I wouldn’t be where I am without the irreplaceable interactions I’ve had with each one of you. Thank you for sharing my love of travel, exploration, and discovery.

Thank you for giving me the most wonderful memories a guy could have. These memories are my treasure; they shine more brightly than silver or gold and to me, are worth infinitely more.

Making mochi in Tokyo; spending quality time with family in the Philippines; being treated like a king in Sri Lanka; trekking through mountains in Nepal; exploring Thailand on (the back of) a motorbike; interacting with the beautiful people of Myanmar; biking to the ruins of Angkor in Cambodia; eating my way through the Balkans; the singular exception that is Albania; catching up with friends I’d made during previous points in my life in Japan, Nepal, Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore, Albania, Czech Republic, Germany, and the Netherlands…

I could go on and on and on. But you’d probably stop reading at some point (if you’re still reading these words!). So I will just say one more time, from the depths of my soul, THANK YOU!

The last weeks…

This past year in Asia, I was attempting to be more flexible with my travel plans, to see where the world would take me depending on who I met or how I was feeling or what I had heard about. The effort brought me to some amazing places on this Earth and in my heart.

The past three weeks, I’ve made more concrete plans to be in certain cities during certain times to stay with friends that I’ve met during the last year or so of travelling. I dare say, things couldn’t have turned out any better. Nothing in this world is perfect, but I couldn’t have imagined or conjured up a better way to end all these months of travelling.

It’s been such a welcome change to spend time with people who have come to matter to me, and not just do the hostel thing and exchange the obligatory pleasantries and travel questions (e.g., where are you from? how long are you travelling? where have you been? where are you going? how was [this city]? how was [that country]? oh yeah, what’s your name?)

Sean, who I met in Armenia, and later again in Georgia and Japan – dekuji for hosting me in Brno! Sally, who I met in Georgia, and later again in Armenia and Turkey – shukran for hosting me in Hamburg! Bernard, who I met in Nicaragua – bedankt for hosting me in Amsterdam! Philipp, who I met in Thailand – danke schön for hosting me here in Berlin!

It’s been my pleasure to have all those whimsical conversations with you where others would think I’m crazy, it’s been my privilege to see and reconnect with you again, it’s been a blessing to share more meals with you, and it’s an honour to call you my friends. ☮

Countdown to Zero: Day 30

Today’s throwback: Pliva Lake, an hour’s walk outside Jajce, Bosnia and Herzegovina, early August 2013. Clean and clear, calm and peaceful, and practically devoid from any other people, it took practically no effort to find a secluded place along the lake to go for a swim, soak up the sun, and relax before a bus ride to Mostar.

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Curiosity at a cafe

I was walking back to my hostel in Shkodër, Albania when a couple of men at a cafe made a gesture of hello and stopped me, then insisted I go inside to buy a drink and join them.

During times like these, instead of asking myself, “Why?”, I find that it’s often better to ask, “Why the hell not?”

So I bought an ayran (a salted liquid yoghurt drink) and sat with them. They spoke absolutely no English and my Albanian is limited to a mispronounced “thank you.” But I was able to introduce myself and tell them my background and nationality. Beyond that, they talked a lot and I couldn’t decipher any of it. It was a lot of fun but no less sufficiently awkward.

Isn’t it great, though, to have these interactions with people with whom you can barely communicate but who are so welcoming and curious to know a bit about you and why you’re in their country? That’s such a great part about travelling that too often gets lost in the scuffle when you’re principally concerned about just getting somewhere…

Another photo for the Balkan sunset collection

I’ve seen so many sunsets in the Balkans that I feel I can make a photo collection out of them. Well, I took another one for the collection today. Unfortunately, I took it from inside a bus and the windows were dirty and stained, which contributed to a blurry image, one certainly not worth posting. But the sunset was so vivid and stunning that it’s certainly worth the effort to at least attempt to describe what my eyes witnessed.

It happened shortly after crossing the Bulgarian-Macedonian border on narrow, winding, bumpy roads through empty hills with low-lying mountains in the distance. The horizon was every shade between purple and yellow, and the sun made a striking appearance under the few clouds accentuating the sky, clouds shaped like free-formed swirls echoing the whims of the people in the Balkans. It was the same sun I’ve seen thousands of times before, but today particularly remarkable and spectacular, a perfectly circular, pulsating orange sphere slowly descending into the mountains. A flock of birds, black shadows flying in unison in the sky, rendered the image even more arresting. A lone shepherd tending to his flock of grazing sheep in the rolling fields might, too, have noticed.

The sun’s disappearance signalled the end of another day of travel, a day when I left Bulgaria after spending two wonderful weeks there, a day when I came back to Macedonia and reminisced my time here last year. It’s the end of another day in the Balkans, another day of intense vibrancy in which I recognize how alive I always feel in this corner of the world. The Balkans is my favourite place in the world – there’s something about this region that does something for me – piques my senses, gives me energy and makes me feel more alive, makes me strive for something better yet makes me appreciate all that I already have…

How many sunsets I have admired over the past four years in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Kosovo, Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey, and hopefully soon in Albania and possibly in Greece…