Snapshots from DC

Washington DC Jefferson Memorial Lora KathleenWashington DC Washington Monument Lora KathleenWashington DC WWII Memorial Lora Kathleen
Washington DC Lincoln Memorial Lora Kathleen

Relearning How to Run

Citrus trail line. Looks remarkably like fall… #augustbreak2015 #capecodsummer #vscocam

A photo posted by Lora Kathleen (@lorakath) on

Three years ago I was preparing for my first marathon, regularly running 20-30 miles a week. My first few months in Ethiopia, I broke my little toe and never quite recovered. I stopped running. Eventually, even walking–my only option in Ethiopia and while travelling–became miserable as I developed plantar fasciitis in my left foot.

Reteaching my body to run has been slow going.

At first, my feet protested the walking, but as my muscles have rebuilt, the plantar fascia has healed. Then it was the physical act of running, something my body had forgotten how to do. Slowly by slowly it has worked up from walking… half a mile, one, one and a half. It’s amazing how quickly that mileage builds up over the course of just a mere few weeks.

Right now it’s mostly the competition with myself, the frustration that I’m running a mere fraction of the distance each week that I used to be able to. But I remind myself that learning takes time. I didn’t expect to run a marathon in a few weeks the first time, so it’s unfair to hold myself to those expectations. It’s a constant battle in my mind because I know there was a time I had the ability.

But I’ve started to relearn how to run. And it feels so freeing.

A Sprinkling of the Best: The Expected

I’ve already covered the unexpeced things and places I loved on our travels (here is part I and part II), but now for the expected.

Part of the planning of our big trip was that we would be visiting some of the most amazing places on Earth, places that may not be around forever. There is a reason the Taj Mahal and Angkor Wat are world-famous and that is something we took into consideration when explaining what I considered “the best thing.”

Taj Mahal in Fog Lora Kathleen
Taj Mahal

Delhi was covered in a fog the morning we left for Agra, our train crawled across the country side and we couldn’t see a thing. That didn’t bode well for the Taj everyone told us. So we arrived in Agra in the late morning, only a couple hours overdue, and headed to a cafe near the southern entrance where we could wait off the fog. Our tuk tuk driver told us the afternoon would be better, but as the minutes ticked by we figured we’d go ahead and enter.

The Taj Mahal in the fog was stunning. This photo is the first time we could see it. It was impossible to see from the entrance. There was no crowd and it was actually quite cold, making our experience rather pleasant. We could study the inlay without being rushed. It was a good day to see the Taj after all… however no beautiful sunset photos here. Another time maybe? If it doesn’t collapse first.

Golden Rock Kyakito Myanmar Lora Kathleen
Golden Rock

As I mentioned in a previous post, Golden Rock was THE inspiration for this entire trip. Of course, it was one of the expected amazing things. You can read all about it here.

Angkor Wat Cambodia Lora Kathleen
The Temples at Angkor (more commonly called Angkor Wat)

Of course the Temples at Angkor were amazing. This city was lost and then rediscovered by missionaries in 1860, a vast complex of crumbling Khmer temples. Ryan and I reserved a motorized tuk tuk with driver for the day and went to some really inspiring places. While Angkor was amazing, I didn’t love the town of Siem Reap that has grown up around it, but that is for another blog post.

In sum, Angkor Wat is amazing and it is worth seeing. You can see more photos here and here.

Great Wall of China Lora Kathleen
Great Wall of China

Another big hitter on the list of amazing places. Here we took a day tour, arranged through our AMAZING Airbnb homestay (also, please use my Airbnb referral link… free money for both of us!), to the Mutianyu portion of the Wall. It had snowed the previous day and was freezing when we left Beijing in the morning. Fun fact: if it’s cold and windy on the ground, it only gets worse up on the wall without the protection.

We were very lucky that day, as the sun was shining and the wind was generally low. Meaning it was somewhat hot up on the wall with all the hiking around. We opted to take the stairs to the top, instead of the gondola, and covered something like 7 watchtowers. I wish we’d had a little bit more time to explore, but am happy I got to see a beautifully preserved/rebuilt portion of the wall. Seeing the expanse of wall laid out before you is incredible.

Hagia Sofia Istanbul Lora KathleenInside Hagia Sofia Istanbul Lora Kathleen
Hagia Sophia

The Hagia was once said to be the most beautiful building in the world. It served as a functioning Christian cathedral for over 900 years and then a mosque for almost 500 years, making it the longest-serving religious building in the world. Atatürk converted it into a museum in 1935, allowing everyone the ability to see a piece of this incredibly beautiful building.

I’d seen the Hagia before, on a previous trip to Istanbul, but it was just as incredible to see a second time.

Camels at Petra Lora Kathleen Panorama of Petra Lora Kathleen

Petra is considered one of the Modern Seven Wonders of the World, and with a very good reason. Seeing this ancient city carved out of rock–and seeing the engineering it took to make it happen–was phenomenal. Click through on the panorama for a bigger photo.

We visited in mid-March, shortly after news came out that a Jordanian pilot has been executed by ISIS in Syria. Petra is in Jordan and Jordan is just south of Syria. Needless to say, the place was deserted. Others loss was a huge gain for us, as we were able to spend an entire day exploring without seeing very many people at all. Most of our photos are empty of people, a bizarre experience to say the least. That said, we felt perfectly safe the entire time we were in Jordan. Most of the big tourist sites lay toward the south, near Israel or Egypt. Jordan was incredible and certainly a highlight despite the short time we spent there.

Western Wall Jerusalem Lora KathleenInside Holy Sepulchre Jerusalem Lora Kathleen

Jerusalem is another one of the world-famous big hitters. The entire old city is a UNESCO World Heritage site, but it’s more known for the pervasiveness of religion that surrounds it.

The only place we weren’t able to visit was Temple Mount because it’s restricted to Muslims only during a vast majority of the time. However, Ryan and I really enjoyed the Via Dolorosa, ending at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where Jesus is believed to have been buried and risen (by Catholics and Orthodox, Protestant Christians believe he was buried elsewhere) and we visited the Western Wall, the holiest place in all of Judaism. The Western Wall is often referred to as the Wailing Wall and my experience there was quite powerful and personal, something I have found difficult to experience in the modern Western religious context.

Side note: Jerusalem was also on my list of unexpected places I loved.


So there you have it, the places we expected to be awesome, and they were.

Ethiopia in Unexpected Places

Bet Israel Jerusalem Lora Kathleen

This is a young man we met in Israel who is descended from the House of Israel (Bet Israel). He is doing is military service right now and let us chatter away at him in Amharic, even though he spoke neither Amharic nor English much, only Hebrew.

It was the first person we met with ties to Ethiopia after leaving six months ago. Little did we know we’d soon see some of the Ethiopian Orthodox community in Jerusalem on our way along the via Dolorosa.

Ethiopian Orthodox Priests Jerusalem Lora Kathleen


These are the priests who keep watch over the Ethiopian Orthodox altar at the Church of the Holy Selpulcher. One of these three is actually from Bahir Dar.

While it shouldn’t have been wholly unexpected to meet these Ethiopians in Jerusalem, it was a wonderful experience all the same. I’ve been contemplating over the past couple days as Ethiopia has appeared once again in unexpected places.


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

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 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.