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Posts Tagged ‘travel’

100 Percent Hot*

It’s pouring rain outside of my window and I finally feel like I’ve come home.

I was in Europe for two months. Two months always goes faster than you think it will: I could swear it was only a few weeks ago that I packed up my bags and walked through security at Logan Airport. But when I left the blossoms had just come out on the trees and it was still cold enough to wear sweaters in the morning.

Apparently a lot changed in my absence, because on Wednesday I stepped out of the airconditioning and found myself in the middle of a heat wave. The temperature peaked at 98 this week, according to my household thermometer. (That’s 36 in celsius!) For the last two days all I’ve done is sit on the couch in a stupor, reading Gary Shteyngart or staring off into space. I don’t know whether it was the heat wave or the jet lag that did me in, but I’ve hardly been able to move, never mind speak in complete sentences or write coherent statements. The Emotional Calendar has all kinds of tips for managing jet leg, but I was too hot and tired to do any of them. “I should have stayed in Barcelona,” I moaned several times a day.

Then this morning I woke up at 5:30 (that’s 11:30 Barcelona time!), just in time to hear the first drops of rain against the windows. Minutes later we were in the midst of a full-fledged thunder storm. Lightning flashed, water poured in through the wide-open windows (I took a break from writing this to run around shutting them) and the temperature dropped to 70 degrees. Finally, I’m glad to be home.

Weather: 70 degrees and raining
Mood:
Hannah: 8 out of 10.
Anna: in Beijing!

*Image courtesy of weather.com

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Sunset at Finnisterre

Sunset at the end of the world

The other day I walked to the end of the world, and I watched the sun set in the Atlantic from the most Western point in Spain. According to the Romans, this was the end of the world; each time the sun fell beyond the horizon there was doubt as to whether it would rise again. According to older traditions, a boat that sets out from this point will arrive eventually in paradise. Not to be too symbolic about the whole thing, but we now know that if I were to set out in a boat and sail west from Finnisterre, I would arrive, eventually, in Boston.

I walked about 790km, or 36 days, to make it to the end of the world. I walked through Basque country, where I could see my breath in the morning and where the fields of wheat rolled towards red clay towns nestled in the valleys. I walked across the meseta, which is utterly flat farmland that shimmers in the sun. I passed through Rioja, famous for its wine, and through Burgos and Leon, with the most beautiful gothic cathedral I have ever seen. Near the end I crossed a windy mountain pass and entered Galicia, where they speak Galician, a derivative of Portuguese. In Galicia the houses are made of slate and the hills are covered with oak forests that drip with moss: tradition says Galicia, which was once Celtic, is the home of witches.

One super-hot 40 degree day I walked 40km and ended up sleeping in a cow field on a hill surrounded by eucalyptus trees; the next day I got up early and walked to Santiago de Compostela. According to Catholic tradition, the Camino de Santiago ends there, and it was an ending of sorts as I reunited with friends I had made along the way. But the camino predates the Catholic church and so I kept on walking until I reached the ocean, which to me felt like a more fitting ending to a long road.

On the camino you follow yellow arrows, or scallop shells, which show you which way to go. It was a running joke among my companions that we would be totally lost without these symbols to guide us. And it’s true that for the three days I spent in Finnisterre, I didn’t know what to do without anywhere to go. I slept on the beach, I went swimming, I collected shells, watched the sun set, hoped (liked the Romans) that it would rise again. To my surprise, every day, with or without yellow arrows, it did.

Basque Country, Northeast Spain

 

The meseta, outside Leon

Approaching Galicia, northwest Spain

Weather: cool and sunny, London!

Mood: Hannah, 7 out of 10, a bit groggy after a long weekend.

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Buen Camino

Puente la Reina, Spain

I write from Puente la Reina, my fourth stop on the Camino de Santiago, a 30-day medieval pilgrimage route that goes from St. Jean Pied de Port, in France, to Santiago de Compostela, in the northwest corner of Spain.

It´s amazing how easy it has been to slip into a new way of life here. In Spain, I wake up at 5.45 and leave the Alburgue (hostel) by 6.30. A few hours later, if possible, I stop in a small village for a snack. I lunch on the road at noon – today, at a mysterious hexagonal cathedral surrounded by wheat fields. It´s mysterious because no one knows exactly who built it or why – perhaps, it is thought to be a 12th century structure modelled on Jerusalem´s Church of the Holy Sepulchre. But it may also be the cathedral where medieval pilgrims were buried when they died on the camino.

It´s not just me that´s taking on this new way of life. There are people here as young as 20 and as old as 70 – I have met folks from France, Spain, and Italy, as well as Hungary, Holland, Korea, Japan, and of course the Americas. Everyone is here for a different reason and the common language is, as in so many other places, broken english.

But it´s fun to be on such a strange adventure with so many different people. Fun to feel united, too, not just with this group of walkers but also with those who travelled centuries ago, by donkey or on foot, to pay penitence or ask for favors or seek god or, a la Chaucer, because it was the thing to do.

Next week, I hope to return with some of the stories that I have heard along the way. Until then, Buen Camino!

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Basilica Julia

Really Old Stuff in Rome

I’ve been thinking a lot about time these past few days.

I’ve had good reason. In the past week I have walked on stones that have been in place for thousands of years. I entered temples dedicated to pagan gods and I wandered through the ruins of palaces intended for emperors. I’ve even participated in rituals from another time or place. A few days ago I threw a coin into the Trevi Fountain, build in the 1700s but inspired by Greek mythology. According to the story, it depicts Pegasus striking the rock that brought forth the fountain of the muses, from which water all poetic inspiration springs. And then yesterday, at the church of St. Peter, I was blessed with the holy water of the pope.

My brother, who spent the semester in Rome studying art history and classics, knows all of these stories. He has an intimate relationship with all of the Roman emperors (his favorite is Aurelius). He has a Roman god of preference (Sol Invictus) and he knows how to distinguish between Paul III and Pius XI, between Mark Antony and Marcus Aurelius. When he walks around the city, every single spot tells a story.

Because Rome is all new to me, I have a very different experience of time and space.  I don’t know this city’s stories yet, and so for the most part I am forced to make my own. My stories tend to be more based in the present: this is the giant column near where we got great pannacotta. This is the amazing church with the water fountain that sprayed me in the face. This is a giant head. (that’s all I’ve got for the giant head).

I love it when my brother tells me the “real” stories about popes and emperors. But for me, it’s the stories I create that bring the city to life.

Weather:
Warm and sunny. They say it will be in the 70’s today.

Mood:
Hannah: 7 out of 10 on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. Still a little sleepy today.
Anna: Wrong side of the Atlantic.  Still sleeping! [EDIT: Anna is now awake and working. Mood=5 because it won’t stop raining!]

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My decision making process: as represented by an engraving by Giovanni Battista Scultori, Italian, 1538.*

“You know, Hannah,” my friend David said to me once, “this may just be part of who you are.” David was referring to my tendency to fall into complete turmoil every time I am confronted with a major decision. I had just moved to my Somerville apartment after weeks of agonizing (Concord or Somerville? Central Square or Porter?) and I was disappointed that the decision had been so hard to make. I wanted my decisions to fall into numerical place, as if it really was just a matter of weighing pros and cons. Some people are capable of that. But, as David pointed out, it’s just not how my mind works.

My flight to Italy departs tomorrow night and this past week has been a plague of decision-making. There are tickets to buy, rooms to reserve, itineraries to arrange and re-arrange. Since I haven’t been working (I left Idea Platforms a week ago!), I have been faced with plenty of time to make the necessary arrangements. For better or worse. The truth is, I’ve been feeling a little bit crazy.

I’ve tried to keep David’s words in mind as I prepare to leave. My decision making process is ugly, but torturing myself over it just makes it worse. I’ve been trying, instead, to accept the chaos as part of the process. And to remember that as difficult as it seems now, it’s going to be worth it just as soon as I step on the plane. After all, the next time I post, I will be in Rome!

Weather: Chilly. Fifties and cloudy with a chance of rain.

Moods:
Hannah: 7 out of 1o on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. Actually I’m feeling a little too overwhelmed to quantify.
Anna: 6.5.

*art from the met!

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it's summertime!

This is the time of year when things start to change.

One day, there’s frost on the ground, ice in the streams, and dirty piles of snow melting at the edge of the parking lots. The next day, it’s seventy degrees and the sun is shining and, more miraculously, the dead trees that line the streets suddenly start to look like something out of the lorax.

This is the time of year when things start to change. Remember being in school? This is what the air smelled like in the afternoons in the weeks before summer vacation started. It is the smell of Fun Day, and final exams, and those neon ice pops that squirted out of their plastic casings.

When we become adults, the world tells us to suppress the instinct for change as best we can and soldier on as if the year were not dynamic, and cyclical. Fortunately, Anna and I are doing no such thing. Anna is moving with the IPI office to a new, shinier and substantially hipper space. There will be no more racing to catch the train, and no more reverse-commute into the suburbs. It’s an exciting time.

As for me, I’m about to embark on a more long-distance venture. In two weeks I will be departing Somerville for a week in Rome – and if all goes as planned, I don’t expect to return until August. But never fear! I’ll be tracking my emotional calendar from abroad, and filling you in whenever I find myself within internet access.

How are you embracing your desire for change this year?

Weather: Sunny and warm.

Moods:
Hannah: 8 out of 10 on the ‘can’t get out of bed’ to ‘jumping to joy’ scale. I just ate a really great ice cream cone. With sprinkles.
Anna: 8 out of 10.

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Migration

I know it’s April and I’m supposed to be looking forward towards sunnier times. But for the last month all I’ve been thinking about is cold. I wake up, I poke my head out of the covers and I think I am so tired of being cold.

I bike to work and no matter what super-nice gear I wear, I arrive freezing. My hands burn. My toes are numb. There is a chilling sensation in the very core of my body that can take hours to thaw out.  I am so tired of being cold.

It’s partially my fault. I put my down jacket away last month and swore not to take it out again until next year. Then it snowed. But I have stubbornly insisted on wearing my spring jackets and lighter sweaters, determined not to let New England’s endless winter win out.

Did I mention that New England’s winter is endless? Even if I was still wearing my down jacket and my wool hat, I’d be unhappy. The temperature may jump up to the forties at mid-day but it is still damned cold outside. “You know,” Anna said, “The main thing I’ve learned so far from tracking my emotional calendar is that winter is horrible.”

The emotional calendar has lots of recommendations for what to do once you’ve learned you hate winter. You can wear nicer clothing. Drink hot chocolate. Watch movies that take place in the desert. Go skiing. Find ways to reframe winter in a more positive light.

That’s all well and good but I think there are more productive ways to handle bad weather. I think it’s time to take a hint from the birds and start travelling south. Maybe to the Carolinas. Georgia. Texas. New Mexico. South America. The Caribbean.

How far would you go to escape the cold?

Weather: 48 degrees and cloudy

Moods:
Hannah: 5 out of 10 on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. Tired.
Anna:  7.5 out of 10. It’s friday, it’s sunny, things are starting to bloom.

**Image credit to the New York Audubon.

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I grew up in a house full of clocks.

Some of the clocks were more accurate than others. The boat-themed clock on the mantelpiece has been right twice a day for my entire life (an accuracy I can only dream of). The clock in the hall goes irregularly, depending if anyone remembers to wind it. The clock in the kitchen — designed and built by my father — is consistently five minutes fast.

The irony, of course, is that, despite being the daughter of a clock-maker, I have never been particularly good with time. In elementary school I was called in regularly by my teachers for a conversation about tardiness. In college I was regularly kicked out of my Spanish class for arriving late (an injustice, given the 9am class time).

Today, my life requires precision. My alarm goes off at 7am. I leave the house at 7:29 and my train departs at 7:37. I leave the office at 5:10 to catch the 5:23 train and arrive home at 6:00. Russian class is at 6:15; dinners are usually at 7; doors open for performances at 8:30 and shows start at 9.

But this winter, things have been a little more flexible. When I work from home due to snowstorms (as I have several times this month), I suddenly find myself freed from the shackles of a tight schedule. I wake up — sometime before eight. I go to bed — sometime before midnight. I eat when I’m hungry. Leave the house when I’m feeling courageous. Make plans to meet at 7:30ish, or around 9.

It reminds me of the summer that I spent without a clock. It was 2006 and I think that perhaps my watch broke, or I forgot to pack my travel clock. I was working at the Virgin Island Sustainable Farm Institute, nestled in a valley on the west end of St. Croix, with wireless internet but no cell phone reception. There was no electricity in my cabin anyway. Time was always approximate.

That summer I got up with the sun. I worked until it got too hot. Then I hiked the ravine trail down to the beach. You may have thought that this post was about time. But it’s really about choice. Sometimes our schedule is beyond our control. But we choose how tightly we cling to it — just like we choose to be in Boston, when instead, we could be here:

Weather: 15 degrees but sunny.

Moods:

Hannah: 7 out of 10 on the can’t get out of bed to jumping for joy scale. Happy to see the sun. And I had a productive day yesterday!

Anna: 4 out of 10. She’s tired.

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Three years ago this week I was in the Grand Canyon!

Actually, three years ago this week my life was flashing before my eyes as I tried to swallow my fear (and my pride) and slide across a frozen waterfall over a 15-foot drop at the Grand Canyon.

Yesterday was possibly the worst day ever. It was gray out and preparing to snow and it felt like one in a long line of gray days that extended not just since winter began, but across all Januaries past and future.

And then today, the sun is shining, and I’m thinking about the Grand Canyon. I went there at the end of a poorly planned trip across the country with my then-boyfriend. A few days before I left there was a snowstorm just like yesterday, and I wrote an e-mail to a friend: driving across the country is the worst idea I’ve ever had.

Then the snowstorm ended and the sun came out. I drove north to Maine between glistening piles of snow on freshly-plowed roads. I wrote an e-mail to the same friend: this is the most gorgeous place I’ve ever been. The next day I headed west. A week later, the sun was shining and I was in the Grand Canyon.

I’m not in Maine today, or in the Grand Canyon. But the sun is shining on fresh piles of snow and even though I’m sitting at the same desk as yesterday, I’m filled suddenly with a sense of adventure. Today, I’m thinking, anything could happen. I could leap over a melting waterfall above a 15-foot drop. I could write a really brilliant chapter for the book I’m working on. I could make bread.

I made bread.

I guess I can’t go on an adventure every time a storm ends and the sun comes out. But it’s nice to remember the things that are possible. And it’s nice, after a month of storms, to have a beautiful day.

When I lived in Maine I used to recite a Robert Frost poem to my students that begins like this:

Happiness Makes Up in Height for What It Lacks in Length

Oh, stormy stormy world,
The days you were not swirled
Around with mist and cloud,
Or wrapped as in a shroud,
And the sun’s brilliant ball
Was not in part or all
Obscured from mortal view—
Were days so very few
I can but wonder whence
I get the lasting sense
Of so much warmth and light.

Weather:
32 degrees and sunny!

Moods:
Hannah 7 out of 10 on the can’t get out of bed to jumping for joy scale.
Anna: 6 out of 10 and much better than yesterday, which was a 2! (our worst ever – sorry anna.)

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As Hannah indicated, I’ve been traveling the world, or at least part of it, for the past couple of weeks. Stops included Prague, Vienna, Berlin, Thessalonike, Meteora, Athens, and Nafplion. That’s a lot of travel for only 15 nights.

Highlights included all imperial palaces, castles, summer estates, and massive Greek temples, particularly those elaborately decorated with delicate inlays and master carvings. Sort of like my apartment. Or not.

Just like home.

Despite adventuring, I realize that I’ve returned without any killer stories. There were no crazy encounters. No out of body experiences. No swashbuckling tales. But there were some tasty morsels of food, excellent birds-eye views, and more than a few masterpieces along the way.

I haven’t taken a two-week vacation from work for nearly three years. Last summer I had a week-long escape to Maine, prior to which I had had a terrible fever (which led doctors to mistakenly believe I had cat scratch fever). My body was recovering when I left, I didn’t feel up to snuff, and taking antibiotics every morning and evening of the trip did not spur relaxation. It was not ideal.

When I was a kid, my dad and brother and I would take long, leisurely vacations to tropical islands—the more remote, the better. About five or six days in, my father would declare he was finally starting to relax. A highly knowledgeable seven-year-old, I’d counsel my father to relax more quickly. Who could possibly need all that time (practically a year!) to adjust to frozen drinks and blossoming flowers?

But when I arrived in Vienna (Trip Day 5), I realized it had taken that long to stop thinking about work. Day 5 was followed by a week of actual relaxation, and also full of museum-hopping. It wasn’t until the Friday before I flew back to the States that thoughts of current and future projects again pushed their way to the surface. Fifteen nights left me with seven blissful, carefree days. And now I’m thinking that two-week sojourns may have to be here to stay.

Weather: Mountains of snow. And even when it’s not snowing, the wind whips the snow around, making it look like we’re being further buried.

Moods:

Anna – 5 out of 10 on the “so miserable I can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. Still getting back in the swing of things.

Hannah – 4 out of 10. She’s had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Luckily, it’s a Friday.

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