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It’s Monday!

Good morning and happy Monday! I have been terribly out of contact lately, overwhelmed by the reality of readjusting to life in America and getting married (plus everything that goes along with that). I can’t believe it’s already July, it feels like time is flying past at an ever increasing rate.

It’s been about three weeks since our wedding ceremony in the wonderfully small town of Marfa, Texas. I have a very limited number of photos from that day until we get more from our photographers, but here are two that were posted on Instagram, one taken by my father and the other by our photographers.

Siblings <3 #wedding

A photo posted by Lora Kathleen (@lorakath) on

A Sprinkling of the Best: The Unexpected, Part II

Welcome back! This is a continuation of a previous post (The Unexpected, Part I) covering the second half of the trip.

Tet Ho Chi Minh City Saigon Vietnam Lora Kathleen
Tet in Vietnam

Vietnam is one of those places that is absolutely incredible. It is one of those places that just seemed to call to me and is a place I so desperately want to go back to and see more of. Since we were here during a major holiday, we only were able to stay in one place and not explore the rest of the country. The north is definitely on the list for next time.

We were here during Tet, also known as Spring Festival, Lunar New Year or Chinese New Year. It was a thrilling combination of chaos and quiet, often wedged back to back and together. Ryan and I stayed in an AMAZING Airbnb (if you are not already signed up, use this link for $25 off your first stay!) with a family during the holiday. The family was SO kind and invited us to celebrate the New Year with their extended family on the night they hosted. We were able to visit Flower Street on New Years Eve and then watch the fireworks from our room. (If you are heading through Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) for more than a couple days, check out Chau’s Airbnb listing. It’s a wonderful base to explore from!)

On New Years Day, when the entire city shuts down, we visited the War Remnants Museum, a museum that remembers the other side of the US War with Vietnam. Growing up an American, I’ve always known what America collectively thought of the war, but it was very grounding to see what it was like for the victors and survivors. The museum also includes perspectives on the French colonial period and Chinese wars.

Lake Houhai Hutong Beijing Lora Kathleen
Beijing

Ryan studied abroad here and my sister taught English here, so I expected a lot out of Beijing. It fulfilled all my expectations and more.

We stayed in a lovely little hutong near Lake Houhai. And since Beijing is such an ancient city, we were never short on things to see and places to explore. Not to mention, the food was amazing! We had so many incredible dumplings, Beijing duck, hot pot and basically whatever we could find.

Bedouin Tea Wadi Rum Lora Kathleen
Jordanian Hospitality

In Jordan, you hear so much about “Bedouin” hospitality that I shouldn’t have been surprised when we were welcomed with wide open arms by everyone we encountered. From the hotel owner and his brothers (who showed us the best places to eat in Petra and took us to an illicit beer bar) to the random guy we met in a hookah cafe while trying to use the internet, everyone was so kind. It surprised me a little, since I’d heard some negative stories from other travelers, but for us it was great.

Ethiopian Orthodox Monastery Jerusalem Lora Kathleen
Jerusalem

Jerusalem actually falls under both expected and unexpected. The unexpected is that I didn’t expect to find such open dialogue and, for the most part, acceptance. When you have a city that is the holiest city in three major world religions, it’s hard not to find amazing things around every corner. The city emits a vibe of holiness, even outside the old city walls. It was a fascinating experience and I hope to get to return there some day.

 

That wraps up some of the best things that were unexpected, but next week I’ll talk more about the best of the expected.

A Sprinkling of the Best: The Unexpected, Part I

When you take a holiday, everyone wants to know what the “best thing” was about it. It’s easy to pick a couple if you visit Morocco for ten days. However, when your trip spans eleven countries and almost four months, it can be hard to choose.

But I did choose, only because it’s fun to remember the things that went well. Let’s call this list, the unexpected bests. The ones that could have gone either way (love or hate) or were just completely unexpectedly something I loved. This list is in order of travel, not order of love, because I wouldn’t even want to try. All of these were such different experiences.

Ganges Aarti Varanasi Lora Kathleen
Varanasi & the pervasiveness of religion

Oh Varanasi. This is one that, much like all of India, you either love or you hate. When we arrived it was pouring rain and the city was muddy and deserted. Since we only had one night, we headed out anyway into the twisted streets that rise up from the holy Ganges. People sprinted to their next destination. The guru continued to sit in his alcove. The funeral pyres still burned, despite the drizzle. And when it stopped raining, the fog settled in, enhancing the city’s already very holy aura. That night we had front row seats to the nightly Ganges Aarti ceremony at a nearby ghat. The place was packed, but only a handful were foreign tourists, the rest were Indian and many, very devout Hindus on pilgrimage to this holy city.

Darjeeling Railway Lora Kathleen
Darjeeling

Ever since I saw the movie the Darjeeling Limited, I knew I wanted to go to Darjeeling. (Spoiler: The real place is nothing like the movie, but it was awesome anyway.) Plus, they grow amazing tea!

Darjeeling is a precious little mountain resort that lays in the foothills of the mighty Himalayas. In fact, you could see Kangchenjunga, the third (or second, depending on the ice caps) tallest mountain in the Himalayas from the doorstop of our local hosts house. Most days it was covered by fog (more on this later), but our last morning we caught a glimpse of the peak. We took a train ride on the famous, narrow-gauge track called the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, a functioning coal train, and spent hours drinking the many Darjeeling Teas at Nathmull’s Sunset Lounge. The final morning we visited the Tibetan refugees who’s camp literally looks out over Tibet.

Sunderbans Morning Fog Lora Kathleen
Fog

While I’m talking about India, I have to mention the fog. It followed us EVERYWHERE. But instead of it being a curse, it was a blessing. No one wants photos shrouded in fog, but it didn’t bother me. The monuments were empty. It gave the places we visited a mysteriousness that can be hard to envision when you’re sweating and the place is crawling with people.

Rice Paddies Burma Myanmar Lora Kathleen
Trains!

I don’t have any photos of this (fail) but with the major exception of Burma, we had the BEST experience with trains around the world. India’s trains are top-notch. I did the research and got us on the highest-level trains possible (meaning if there were delays, these would be put through first) so we didn’t have any crazy, multi-day delays. I think the worst was 4 hours, but most of them were on time.

Thailand and China also had most excellent trains.

Bagan Myanmar Lora Kathleen
Bagan

When I first arrived in Ethiopia, I received a travel magazine from my mom and in it were two photos that inspired this entire trip: Mt. Kyakito (Golden Rock) and Bagan. This made Myanmar, a country that had recently been taken off the “do not visit” list, at the top of mine.

It can be hard to fathom, and indeed to photograph, a plain with 2,000 temples spread across it. It was awe-inspiring, to realize what humans are truly capable of when called. At sunset, the pink rock glows under the setting sun. I talked about this a little in my earlier post on the temples at sunset.

(By the way, the United States (including the US Peace Corps) still calls Myanmar by it’s old colonial name, Burma. It is a political choice. I have chosen to call it Myanmar, as that is what it seems to function under in most of the world and my choice is in no way political. It’s just simplest.)

Climbing Crazy Horse Chiang Mai Thailand Lora Kathleen
Northern Thailand

Chiang Mai was not originally on our itinerary, but due to some logistical issues with India’s visa, we ended up with two extra weeks here. That turned out to be a happy change! We LOVED northern Thailand and did so many fun activities. I wrote this up in a post at the time, and after everything, it still rings true. Chiang Mai was awesome and next time we’ll explore more of the surrounding area.

Just a little slice of paradise after a day of diving

A photo posted by Lora Kathleen (@lorakath) on

Scuba!

This was something that Ryan really wanted to do. I was willing to give it a try for him, but I had a ton of concerns. For my Open Water, we used Scuba Junction in Koh Tao, Thailand, and could not have been happier with them. They are such a world class organization and I felt in good hands at all times. It also turns out that I really loved scuba diving. So much so that we added more scuba to the end of our trip when a happy flight cancellation gave us several extra days in Israel. We went down to Eilat and did our Advanced Open Water and Nitrox with Shulamit’s Diving Adventures, another world class dive shop.

And if you are wondering whether to dive Eilat… it was amazing. The clarity of the water was absolutely jaw-dropping and coming up on the wreck in that clear of water was absolutely incredible. And so much marine life!

Also, I do not have one single photo of us in scuba gear, or of the places we scubaed, save the one above I posted to Instagram. That’s how you know I enjoyed something, when I forget to photograph anything.

P.S. Follow me on Instagram!

 

So that covers the first two months of the trip, stay tuned for The Unexpected, Part II coming up next week!

Being Home

I arrived back in my hometown around midnight last Monday and have been spending the past week catching up with my family and eating a lot of cheese. I promise within the next few weeks to get my thoughts and photographs in order and start sharing more from the our trip. Somewhere near the end I finally was overwhelmed with the pace of travel, returning home and keeping track of my blog, so huge thanks to all my readers for continuing to follow along!

Zunmod Hike

It’s hard to accurately describe the vastness of the Momgolian steppe and the feelings of isolation that arise when you hike out into them. It’s amazing.