Seeing clearly

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When I put on my first pair of glasses for the first time as a teenager, it was like I had a revelation. Things that were previously a blur now appeared clearly, and I could see the details of the physical world with ease – the math formula on the blackboard, the strands of fur on a cat, the intricate petals of a flower, even the wrinkles on someone’s face …

For me, travelling is like wearing that pair of glasses. But it’s not necessarily those physical details I notice more; it’s the heart and soul that feels through a different lens that is blown away by an initially unfamiliar environment. An increased awareness notices a set of profound thoughts and delicate emotions within, intangible objects one cannot see or touch, which rise to the surface and make me appreciate the simple fact that my heart is beating, that I am feeling, that I am among incredible beauty in this world. I feel like it’s LIFE that I see more clearly.

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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. ☮

“Living” in Tbilisi

I have had an incredible August so far. Perhaps unusually, the summer has normally been a time where I have worked. In fact, I’ve worked every summer since I’ve been an adult save for one when I was “studying” in Mexico for five weeks in 2007 (“studying” in quotations because really, I don’t remember much studying and remember too much tequila – but that’s another story). This is the first time in the summer since then that I’ve been travelling – and it’s been wonderful and packed with so much more than what I can put into words…

Since leaving Mostar on 4 August until arriving in Tbilisi on 14 August, I’ve gone hiking in the highlands of Bosnia; found some really great nightlife spots in Belgrade; stayed with family in London and was treated to delicious home-made Filipino food; and met up with friends in London, Dusseldorf, and Brussels, grateful for the opportunity to meet up with wonderful people that I met on previous travels last year. But whenever I’ve gotten comfortable in a place, it was time to leave…

Which brings me to Tbilisi – the capital city of Georgia with a population of almost 1.5 million people. For me, Tbilisi has been an incomparable blend of modern and traditional, shiny and glistening to rotten and crumbling, a place where I’ve been the recipient of indecipherable, unstopping stares to receiving some of the warmest hospitality that I’ve ever experienced, and that which transcends the language barriers that certainly exist. Figuring things out for yourself is an outright challenge, as Georgian has its own written script, one which I know only a handful of characters at best. And the most common second language isn’t English – it’s Russian – a language I don’t speak! There’s much to see and do, although I’m content if I leave the hostel some time in the afternoon and walk somewhere that I haven’t yet seen. I’ve been here for five days and don’t yet know when I’ll be leaving, although I know I’ll be coming back at least twice – Tbilisi is pretty central in Georgia and I know I’ll be going to Kazbegi, Batumi, and Armenia some time in the next month and will have to return to Tbilisi before continuing on to my next destination. I’m in the region until mid-September, and I’ve given myself a month to explore the Caucasus, but I certainly don’t think it’s enough time as it is!

I’m staying at a very interesting, laid-back, “homey” hostel a few minutes walk from the central Freedom Square. It’s comfortable and inviting, though doesn’t boast of any eye-popping facilities. It’s gem, though, undoubtedly lies in its guests. There’s an Australian guy that has been here long-term, and by “long-term”, I’m talking about months in the double-digits. There’s also an Iranian guy who’s been here for about a half-year, and a Lebanese girl who arrived earlier this month who’s staying and working here for a couple of months. There’s also an American couple who I think has been here for a week and will be here for another week more. I feel that I’m falling into this realm of a handful of wonderful, incredible human beings with each additional night that I stay here. I want to leave and explore more of the amazingness that I know Georgia has to offer, but for some reason (fatigue? desire for familiarity?), can’t bring myself to pack up my bags and get on a marshrutka (shared mini-bus) and go!

In any case, I know that I’ll have an amazing time, either just “living” in Tbilisi (breathing, cooking, eating, drinking, interneting, meandering) or exploring more of Georgia…

Travel updates

Looks like I haven’t posted anything in two and a half months!  It’s not for lack of anything to write, that’s for sure.  Initially, I wanted to take some time out while on the Camino de Santiago, and then I didn’t know where to begin blogging again once I had finished my pilgrimage.  And from there, it was just one place after another, with me overwhelmed about doing my experiences justice by putting into words everything that I lived and sensed and immersed myself in.  This post is a humble attempt to summarize where I’ve been the past few months and where I’m going the next few.

The past that has passed

My trip through France was leading me from the centre of the country down to the southwest to St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port, the starting point of the Camino de Santiago (Camino Frances, Way of St. James).  It was a great ten days exploring different cities in a country that I’d wanted to visit for so long, especially learning French throughout school.

The Camino de Santiago was an intense, unrelenting, unforgettable journey of the spirit that took my body from the Pyrenees all across northern Spain, walking on average between 20-30 kilometers a day with a rucksack on my back through rain, shine, and wind over all sorts of terrain.  I very much hope to write more about this experience because I believe that it has been the most significant thing that I have done with my life, and these mere words right now cannot possibly explain everything that my body, mind, and soul encountered during this blessed time.

I spent a few days in Santiago de Compostela, afforded with the luxury of sleeping in the same bed for more than one night and walking the same streets daily, even having a cafe that I frequented.  After moving around every day for the past month, it was a welcome change!  Then, I headed into northern Portugal for six days.  Portugal is a country that will always be on my list of places I want to return because of the friendliness and sincerity of the people.  Of course, there’s also the food, the port, the cities, the landscape, the Mediterranean way of life…

From Portugal, I flew to Morocco where I spent thirteen days.  Morocco is an explosion for the senses where everything hits you unapologetically and makes you feel more alive!  Everything from the exquisite food, the calls of the vendors in the souqs and its related hustle and bustle, the oppressive desert heat – it’s overwhelming and intoxicating, but somehow leaves you wanting more… DSC00669

After Morocco, it was back to Europe where I relaxed for a couple days in Madrid, then a few hours exploring Zurich and a few days in Budapest, Hungary where I did a few things that I hadn’t done during previous visits, like ride a railway line run by kids!  The conductor, of course, was an adult, but the selling and validating of the tickets were undertaken by kids 10-14 years old…

From Budapest, I took a train to Vienna where I didn’t do nearly as much as I would’ve liked due to an illness that unfortunately had me staying at hostels more often than seeing the city.  After moving on to Salzburg, however, I got my groove back and did plenty of hiking, including a 1400-metre ascent up the Untersberg mountain (part of the Alps), the accomplishment of which highly lifted my spirits!DSC01957

And now, I write this post on a couch in the common room of a hostel in Bled, Slovenia, where I have spent the past four nights.  Bled and the surrounding area is a haven for nature and adventure enthusiasts, and I’ve thorougly enjoyed the past few days strolling around Lakes Bled and Bohinj, taking a dip in pristine waters, appreciating a lazy boat ride, and of course, hiking – to waterfalls, through gorges, through quaint, picturesque towns…

Foreseeable future

There’s just under three months left of travel for me, and I do have at least a rough idea of where I’m going.  I’ll be heading to Ljubljana in a couple days, then southeast to Bosnia and Herzegovina (possibly with a short stop in Croatia), down to Montenegro and the wonderful
Adriatic Sea, then up to Serbia where I’ll catch a flight in Belgrade to London.

I’ll spend a few days in England with family and friends, then fly into Dusseldorf where I’ll meet up with a friend for a couple days before going to Brussels to meet up with another friend.  From there, I’ll fly to Tbilisi, Georgia – the beginning of a one month itinerary in the Caucasus which will also include visits to Armenia, and hopefully Azerbaijan, if I can secure a visa.

After this month, I’ll fly back to Belgrade from Tbilisi, and from there, round out the Balkans with forays into Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Bulgaria before heading into Turkey where I’ll spend my last week or two before heading home!

Anyone care to join me?

September – October 2011 Itinerary

A rough itinerary of one of my most fascinating travels to date:

12-Sept-2011: Greyhound bus to Buffalo; flights: Buffalo – Chicago – Munich on United Airlines

13-Sept-2011: 5-hr layover in Munich which warranted leaving the airport to see a bit of the city centre, Munich – Budapest on Lufthansa, dinner and drinks in Budapest

14-Sept-2011: a bit of sightseeing in possibly my favourite city in the world; more crazy barhopping

15-Sept-2011: train from Budapest to Zagreb

16-Sept-2011: some sightseeing in the capital of Croatia, followed by afternoon bus to Zadar

17-Sept-2011: admiring the beauty of this Dalmatian city on the Adriatic Sea

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