Highlight of the Week
One of the most frequently asked questions we get is if all our travel has started to blur together. At first we were like "No, of course not!". But the truth is that memories do fade if they aren't handled more frequently. So that's exactly why we've created the Highlight of the Week!
Here we will post a previously unpublished image, video, sound or text that reflects our favorite experience of that week. If you like what you see, feel free to sign up to have these highlights & other fun things sent directly to your inbox!
Weekly Travel Highlight: 1/11/2019 Berrow beach shipwreck, bristol channel, UK
We are finding the best cure for jetlag is to go for a long walk the day you arrive - in nature is best, but even a city walk will do. It’s good for the body. :) So that’s what we did on my first full day meeting Jill at our Portishead house sit.
In 1897 the Norwegian ship SS Nornen was blown by a terrible storm up through the Bristol Channel, causing it to run aground just offshore the town of Burnham-On-Sea.
As you can see, attempts to free the ship were unsuccessful and it was sold for scrap pretty shortly thereafter.
If you come to visit the Berrow Wreck at low tide like we did today, you can see the bottom of the boat sticking out of the sand like whales ribs.
If you get too close, you’ll sink right in, just like the boat did. Just like I did when trying to get a final picture.
Weekly Travel Highlight: 12/07/2018 Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art
There was so much to love about all of the artwork we viewed at the Zeitz MOCAA in Cape Town. Not only is the art fantastic, it’s all contemporary and it’s all African. Our guide told us this was the very first museum of contemporary art focused entirely on African art on the continent.
It’s hard to believe that is the case given the quality of art we saw just in South Africa, but it seems to be true. The building opened last year and it is magnificent. The structure is a rehabilitation of old grain silos, and you just have to google it to believe what they did with it. But this is only a small part of why the MOCAA is our weekly highlight this week.
The other reason is that we had a friend with us who came to visit from Minneapolis. We’ve been truly lucky to have 3 friends visit us this year alone, in Norway and in South Africa. It’s been a great year for friends old and new, that’s the truth.
Weekly Travel Highlight: 8/25/2018 Rondane National Park, Norway
For better or worse, we gave up gift giving a long long time ago. Long before we started to travel full time. The decision was rationalized quite easily - we have everything we want and when we need or want something special, we just get it. The day doesn't matter. Celebrations for even the smallest thing became common for us. It's Tuesday! Let's go celebrate! It's a very privileged position to be in, I know.
But at the root our philosophy is pretty solid. Every day is a celebration. Being alive is a celebration. Don't put off enjoying your life for any reason. Find pleasure in the smallest of details. A crack in a sidewalk can be as beautiful as field of flowers if you are open to it.
So it wasn't that we were in Rondane on my birthday that made it so special. It was the remoteness. The feeling of being taken care of by my fellow human beings who decided that it is a basic right to provide warmth and shelter from any unsuspected storm. Because you never know when you are going to need refuge. And sometimes it's hard to find, especially when the roof looks like the ground!
Weekly Travel Highlight: 7/25/2018: Vestre Gausdal, Norway
It was a short trail, but what we didn't understand is that the distance we covered was to be vertical. I think the whole trail was 5 km, with options to continue off in any direction all through Norway and probably into Sweden. This is what I love about Norway. Well, one of the many things. The trails are amazing.
The first part was straight up from a gravel road that circled a lake near where we would come out again. It wasn't much of a trail. It was more just a quasi organized pile of rocks. We went through some forest climbing all the way. And then we hit a scrubby part and full sun at the peak of it's strength and had no relief from it until we reached the top and hid behind a pile of rocks.
What you see nearest the trail are all blueberry plants, many of them bursting with ripe berries despite the dry heat. The contrast in colors here impressed me, as did the panoramic view. Just around the corner the mountains to the north were snow covered.
Weekly travel highlight: 5/28/2018: Hono, Sweden
I didn't expect to love this house sit so much. I thought it would be relaxing certainly. but I didn't know I would have so many opportunities to perfect my fika. For those not in the know, fika is really just an afternoon coffee. But it's so much more than that, especially on the small island of Hono. First we make coffee and tea at home and pack that with a lunch and a blanket, strap it all to our bikes. Then we head out to any rocky point or beach and find a place to perch. There is so much to consider. Wind, sun, shade, views, flatness or sharpness of the rocks. It's an art.
Hono is one of four islands in this archipelago (connected by bridge) on the west coast of Sweden, and we can then take a ferry to several other islands if the mood strikes.
Or we could just stay at our house sit and listen to the wind in the trees. Fika at home anybody?
Oh, the one missing step: a stop at the local bakery to get delicious baked goods to go with your coffee.
Weekly travel highlight: 6/15/2018: Ubud, Bali
One of the very best things about Ubud, Bali, aside from the vast number of vegan restaurants and other consumables like amazing fresh juices - is the sheer number of temples and offerings set out for local gods. This one struck me on our first day in Ubud, so I walked a little closer. It doesn't matter how old the temples are here, or how big. Many are new and set up to lead you into a hotel or business. What matters is that they exist and they are everywhere.
Added to this, you have small bamboo packages of incense and food and cigarettes and crackers and other things placed all over - on bikes, sidewalks, curbs, stairs, you name it. Don't feel bad for walking over them. It happens all the time, and they are replaced daily. We even saw a chicken pecking at one of the cracker offerings on the main street, so these are meant to be enjoyed. They are part of every day life in Bali.
Weekly Travel Highlight: 5/8/2018: Ch'ing-shui Cliff, Hualien, Taiwan
These cliffs are famous in Taiwan and around the world. People travel long distances to peer over the edge at the formations as they plunge into the Pacific. Most people take a bus or a scooter and stop along the road, but our innkeeper advised us on a more local route along the beach. He promised us it would be deserted, and he was correct. We saw one person walk by us on foot while we perched on the rocks and ate our picnic lunch from the 7 Eleven.
Some vans do pull up and empty out a dozen or so people, but they run to the water, take a few pictures and get back in and go on their way. They are easily avoided, and from our spot we couldn't even hear them. In the distance you can see a local man with his fishing poles. Other than that it's just you and the wind and the waves and the occasional rumble of the train above as it clacks northward.
Weekly Travel Highlight: 4/23/2018 Dharma Drum Monastery, Taipei, Taiwan
Jill had found the Dharma Drum Monastery while searching online, and through some communication and rough translations of the website, thought she was contacting a mountain retreat.
It turns out that she was really contacting the main branch of this global monastery that is in Taipei proper. Once that detail was sorted out we came over for a several hour tour of the place and a great lunch.
Our guide Doris was amazing. She gave us the history and told us of the awards they've won for architecture. It's unusual to see a temple so modern, which is part of the reason we wanted to visit. The idea is that this form of buddhism doesn't need any ornamentation or attachment to anything. But I would argue that this building is quite a distraction!
We did a walking meditation with a very full bowl of water and were challenged to not spill a drop. I managed this quite well until the very last second before my goal. Does that tell you something?
Weekly Travel Highlight 3/18/18: bukhansan national park seoul, S. korea
Bukhansan National Park is one of the most visited national parks in the world, but when we were there on a weekday, in the cold, with snow still clinging to the shadowy sides of hills, we were almost alone. Much of the visitor quantity has to do with the parks proximity to downtown Seoul and its 25 million inhabitants. You can see a slice of the city in the picture above. This is literally just a small slice of the city.
A few things are in abundance at Bukhansan, the first being stairs. There are tons of stairs to climb. This seems to be the theme in any Korean park we've been to. The second thing is the views. On one side of this ridge you get the city, and on the other side you get the peak of Bukhansan itself.
The walking is slow as it's mostly climbing up those stairs. Not the most pleasurable kind of hiking, but it's all worth it to get these views along the rebuilt fortress wall. Part of this wall was built by the fighting monks, which captivated my imagination the entire climb back down.
Weekly Travel Highlight 3/2/18: Silver Falls State Park
We returned to Silver Falls State Park when our dear friend D was in town for a quick visit. We all love to go for nature walks and Zac and I couldn't think of a better place to visit on a chilly late winter day. The weather in Portland in the days leading up to D's visit were snowy and Minnesota cold. But for some reason, none of us thought about the fact that below freezing temps + snow + waterfall mist would lead to incredibly icy trails. Now, icy trails that are flat can easily be dealt with, but icy trails that have an intense incline are a whole other deal. So we did what any sensible person would do - we attempted the icy trail. We were rewarded with this little snowman fellow but otherwise called bullshit on the endeavor and quickly turned around. We persisted and found another gorgeous thoroughly snow covered trail that was a bit more flat. After our 4-mile walk to/fro another fall we stopped for our packed lunch in front of a roaring fire in the lodge. We met some people who offered incredible chocolate chip cookies and we left a rather sated and exceedingly happy bunch. It turned out to be a perfect day out on the trails. Snow really creates some of the most beautiful scenery.
Weekly travel highlight 2/04/18; Portland Japanese Garden
I'm pretty sure that if I went to the Portland Japanese Garden every week, it would be my weekly highlight. No matter what else I did that week, like fly into space and orbit the earth.
I've probably been there half a dozen times in my life and never once have I been able to do anything but peer into this one structure. But this week it was open and there was an exhibit of baskets on display. All the artists were different, but all the baskets were from the same collection.
I'm not really one for baskets. I wouldn't list it as a hobby of mine. But the creativity and the skill and detail of this collection blew me away. If you are ever in Portland, vistiting the Japanese Garden is a must.
Weekly travel highlight 1/29/18; Silver Falls State Park
By all accounts Silver Falls is the crown jewel of the Oregon State Park system. It's not hard to see why with a quick google search.
Just about an hour south of Portland you can find yourself immersed in a large and busy park. If you have time, this is a perfect day trip.
With a 9 mile loop that passes around and behind 10 magnificent waterfalls you won't be disappointed.
Some tips for visiting Silver Falls State Park:
Go when the weather isn't great. It'll cut down on the number of visitors.
Go early. Parking can be a bear. By the time we left in the afternoon, the lots were full.
Bring a lunch. There is an old lodge that serves some food (and beer!) but the fireplace makes for a great indoor picnic situation.
If you are in reach of Portland and need to get outside, this is a great option.
Weekly travel highlight 1/14/18; Visiting Seattle for Two Hours
One of the more delightful things about my life right now is that I can do silly things just for the hell of it. Like wake up early to take a four hour Amtrak from Portland to Seattle, have lunch with a Facebook friend and then get back in the train to head back to Portland.
Ostensibly this was to be fodder for an article on Amtrak’s website, but it seems to have turned into another friendship due to a mechanical failure on the track. (If you sign up for our email list, I promise I'll send you the link once it's published.)
It was a beautiful day in Seattle, despite the rain. I had a great sandwich at Salumi and a very nice coffee before starting what should have been a 4 Hour return trip arriving back in Portland at 6p.
I didn’t get home until after 10 that day, and it wasn’t via train.
It was a long and fun and boring and silly day, and when I returned to Portland I wasn't even sure the car would be there. All in all it was totally worth it. Seattle is beautiful. And that sandwich? Devine.
Weekly Travel Highlight 1/7/2018; Latourell Falls, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
One of the downfalls of full time travel is that we don't get to see our friends very often. We left them behind when we sold everything in 2015. Which brought one of the unexpected joys of traveling and living the way we do, which is the rare occasion that a friend will come visit us! That is what happened over New Year Eve this year. Our friend Rebeca came in from Minneapolis and we took her to see some places none of us had ever been. Namely the Latourell Falls trail along the Columbia River Gorge. We've been to the Gorge a few times and hiked the main trails, but this was our first time back since the fires.
This trail has it all. A river to walk up, some great viewpoints of the valley and if you go past the people parked and looking at the falls you see above, you'll find a nice suprrise of another waterfall (the Upper Latourell Fall).
You can walk right underneath both of these falls, but fair warning: bring your rain gear. Even though it was a dry day, the wind pulled a downpour from these falls!
Weekly Travel Highlight 12/29/17: Wintry walk through Mt Talbert Park in Happy Valley, Oregon
Christmas day brought quite the surprise weather wise for us here in Portland. In the early hours of the morning the ice turned to snow then back to ice again as the temperatures barely reached freezing. We didn't want to take the car out since it was so icy (and we're living on a rather steep hill) so what are two nature loving people to do? We bundled up and walked down to Mt Talbert Nature Park near our house. This was our second visit to the park and seeing the trees and leaves all decked out in ice and snow was magical. Our feet crunched along the footpaths as we wound our way up to the top of the hill and back down. This was our first real ice and snow event in nearly two years and one of the coldest mornings we've seen in as long. It was an amazing way to spend the holiday and an even better way to appreciate all that mother nature has to offer. Winter just brings such a different perspective on things and I, for one, am loving it.
Weekly Travel Highlight 12/3/17: Chinese Garden of Portland, Oregon
The last time we were at the Chinese Garden in Portland, it was raining and we had to hide under several pagodas. I don't recall ever coming here before in any detail, so this memory comes from Jill. This time in Portland will be our longest visit by far, as we are house sitting for two lovely cats just outside the city.
It was a bit chilly the day we visited the Chinese Garden and the sun was just beginning to dip down. There was a tree being oddly illuminated by the reflection off one of the nearby buildings surrounding the garden causing some mental confusion for me (why is it so bright in this ONE spot?!) but it was cool. A few helicopters passed by to break the tranquility, but we did see a bluebird land in the fruit bearing persimmons tree where he started to nibble on the bright orange fruit.
It seemed that every room or space at the garden had different pattern to the floor. There is so much to look at, even in the winter as the leaves on many plants are gone, leaving the stark branches that cast themselves sharply against walls.
Weekly Travel Highlight 11/21/2017: Los Angeles, California
We were quite smitten with this kitten, to say the least. We fall in love with every single cat or dog we sit for, so that isn't unusual, but for whatever reason this cat literally stole our hearts. We barely left the house because we wanted to hang out with him. We could barely take a photo of him that didn't include one or more of our hands as well. Baba is incredibly soft, friendly, quirky and just plain fun to be around. We were with him for only a week, but it was totally enough for him to sink his little claws into our hearts.
There were other notable elements from our week in Los Angeles, like our visit to the Broad and the MOCA and our first vegan Thanksgiving, but Baba was the reason we came to LA and he is the reason we want to get back there as soon as possible.
Weekly Travel Highlight 10/29/2017: Ek Balam, Yucatan, Mexico
We were in Merida for less than a week and decided to take an overnight road trip out to some Mayan ruins. So we rented a car and drove a few hours east and south and wound up within a stone's throw of several well preserved ruins.
Ek Balam is well worth a visit for many reasons, one of which is that it ISN'T Chichen Itza. Don't get me wrong, Chichen Itza is great, and we visited it the next day, but it's so crowded and big and you can't climb on anything. So there. Several reasons to visit Ek Balam!
Jill climbed to the top like a champ, but I was too terrified by the sheer steps to give it a go. This happens sometimes. I know that I could power through to the top, but then get totally paralyzed there or at the midpoint and be unable to move. So I sat in the shade under some trees and watched people make their way up to the top. About 3/4 the way up you can jump off to the left or right and look at some amazingly well preserved stone carvings and several large carvings of jaguar teeth.
The Mayans really believed in the power of the natural world around them, and carved all kinds of creatures real and imaginary in order to conjure this power.
Weekly Travel Highlight 10/1/2017: All the cats in essaouira, Morocco
There are tons and tons of cats in Morocco, and if you are casual reader of this site, you'll know that this means Morocco is just about heaven for us. There are PILES of cats here. Which in many cases can bring tears because you see cats of all levels of health and deterioration, kittens in the street, kittens being chased by dogs and underfoot in heavy traffic, kittens with eye disease. You name it. You even have kittens napping on kittens, as pictured here.
Of course any shop selling the most useless crap will draw my attention because of the cat factor. In this case I really stopped because the man in the shop asked if we spoke English. We assumed this was another ploy to get us inside a shop, but it turns out he wanted one of us to write a thank you letter to a friend. Jill obliged and I overheard the first part of the letter that began with "Dear Peter, thank you for the medicine." After that I was petting the cats and before long they were both climbing into my lap and snuggling in with my warmth. It was a glorious moment.
Jill politely turned down the offer of saffron tea in recompencence for the letter writing and on we went, wondering how we had been scammed.
Weekly Travel Highlight 8/27/2017: WW1 Evacuation Dramatization Vermiglio, Italy
On Wednesday this week, Gabriella told us that the WW1 re-enactment was happening on Friday night. We were curious about this because we had not seen any posters or information detailing the event. As Friday rolled around, still no info other than Gabriella and when she said to meet her at 7:30p we headed up, up, up and began our wait for the event to begin. It seems each year the town of Vermiglio re-enacts or dramatizes the evacuation of the town during WW1. Last year, the re-enactment involved much of the town dressing in historical costume and walking part of the path telling the stories of struggle and danger at various stops along the way (all in Italian, of course, so we can only really guess at what was being said). But this year, the town put on more of a dramatization which felt like outdoor theater. There was dramatic lighting and performances and music to set the scene between stories. It was a beautiful night and the effect was mesmerizing. Again, we couldn't understand most of what was being said, but we've done enough research and can understand enough to know that this is a pivotal moment in the lives of these families and of this town. We are so happy we were here to experience this event again this year and see all the ways they changed it. This time it was less re-creation and more of a dramatic presentation. It was well worth the year's wait. We're sad we're going to miss next year's production, because I'm sure it's going to be amazing.
This week there's a special audio track to accompany the photo. There was a group that would sing in between each vignette or story being told. This is the first song they performed to welcome the start of the event.
Weekly Travel Highlight 8/13/2017: volti di somacort, Vermiglio, Italy
This is one of my favorite events here in Vermiglio, and there are a few. Forgive me for writing about it again as I believe it was a weekly travel highlight last year as well. Here is how it works. You buy a ticket for 15 euro and in exchange you get a punch card of 8 or 10 tastings of regional dishes throughout the old section of Vermiglio. So not only do you get to sample a bunch of homemade northern Italian dishes made by local families, you do so inside historic 16th century homes that survived the bombings of WW1.
There is plenty of polenta, gnocchi, stew, cheese, risotto and wine (which is extra) to go around. There is live music in the form of a brass band that travels from corner to corner, a magician, two women on stilts and a woman playing the accordion. It's festive fun for the whole family, and while the food is the same year to year and the houses are the same, it just feels so good to walk up to the center of the town at night and seeing the lights and hearing the revelry echo throughout the valley.
Weekly Travel Highlight 8/8/2017: Gabriella w/my Sunglasses, Vermiglio, Italy
This is Gabriella. We consider her our nonni (or grandmother) even though she is really only our parents age. She just seems like such a nonni! Some man from the village came to help us cut down a ton of weeds in the field, so my job was to stand behind a big plastic board to shield the flowers and herbs we keep from being splattered with flying weeds. I was watching him cut down all kinds of things I would like to keep like nettles and yarrow, but it's not for me to decide these things. It's up to the nonni.
At one point I thought she was taking my position behind the plastic screen so gave her my sunglasses for protection. It turns out she kept wearing them for some time after. I think she liked how cool they made her look!
In the background you can see where the camomilla used to be, along with a row or two of thyme and savory.
Next to the "greenhouse" are the tall and yellow tipped fennel, which we let go to seed before cutting the tops and taking the seeds. We actually never get to cut the tops off because Gabriella likes to do it. And the nonni gets what the nonni wants.
Weekly Travel Highlight 7/25/2017: Flower Picking & Picnic, Vermiglio, Italy
We went for a walk along this path to find achillea, or yarrow, which grows wild. It's used for body creme by the small business we are here to pick flowers for. Once you know it, you'll see it everywhere. We were in the early stages of our walk when the woman pictured here came up behind us and started talking to us. She continued even after we expressed a near complete lack of understanding of Italian.
We told her what we were picking and I sat down next to her. Her hands were knotted oak. Wide and big. We talked about the weather. I asked her if one of the plants before us was wild oregano, but it wasn't.
I asked if I could carry her bucket of caraway, even if only for a short distance. She asked if we were from Bolzano.
I expected to see her while we ate our picnic of figs and gorgonzola, but she didn't appear again. I suspect she took the spur path that goes higher into the mountains.
Travel Highlight 7/16/2017: Nonni Festival, Vermiglio, Italy
One year ago Gabriella invited us to a picnic on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Filled with unanswered questions we got into a bus filled with the elderly and headed into the woods. Due to a language barrier we weren't sure if we were invited to join the festivities so we went for a walk, sat by the river and then wandered back into Vermiglio after a crappy sandwich at a local bar.
This year we were invited again, and so asked more questions. And it turns out that we totally screwed up last year and missed one hell of a party!
First we went for a walk with Gabriella and then came back to the campsite for the tail end of a generally blessing of the elderly by the Vermiglio priest (who presides over nearly every event in town).
Then we sat down and a tray of food was brought to us. There was wine and after the meal slabs of half melted cheese was passed around. Then came coffee (with grappa if you so choose). Oh, and the entertainment was rockin. 6 accordions blazing along with dozens of elderly singing traditional songs. I told Gabriella that we really screwed up last year and she kindly agreed.
Travel Highlight 7/9/2017: Mobile Grocery Store, Vermiglio, Italy
Last year when we were in Vermiglio we heard the sound of the approaching grocery store as it announced it's arrival, but for several weeks we didn't know what it meant. This year we are much wiser and more prepared. So come Monday and Thursday at around 9a, we have our bags and our cash ready, and at the sound of the horn we drop everything!
We were greeted so warmly by the owners of this mobile grocery store that we felt like family. I didn't expect they would remember us at all, but they did.
Here we are buying some cherries from the mobile grocery store. They have nearly everything you would want from fresh fruit and veggies to canned beans and dried polenta.
We wrote about our experience with the mobile grocery store last year. I'm afraid to read it.
Travel Highlight 7/2/2017: Parking Lot View, Vermiglio, Italy
To say that we are pleased to be back in Vermiglio Italy is an understatement. This is the view from the parking lot of the local grocery chain where we buy some of our groceries. The rest of our food comes from the little deli across the street from our apartment or the grocery truck that comes down the valley twice a week, honking it's horn to announce their arrival. Much to our surprise the couple who run the truck remembered us and greeted us warmly with a handshake and two cheek kisses. The whole town feels like a hug and looks like a dream.
Oh, and then there is the garden filled with lettuce and arugula and raspberries and the fields of mint and thyme and oregano waiting for us. How could I forget that?
But the real reason we are here isn't to buy groceries (although it seems like that at times). It's to pick herbs and flowers that will be dried and then turned into various natural products for the skin or to be consumed.
Beyond happy to be back in Vermiglio again.
Travel Highlight 6/24/2017: Cats and kittens in Istanbul, Turkey
I think by now you have seen that we are crazy cat people and Istanbul is a perfect city for people such as ourselves. There are cats everywhere and the people here really do take care of them by putting food out, water bowls and taking them to the vet when they are in trouble. This little kitty was living on the street where we were staying so we would hang out with her quite a bit when we saw her. Zac would cut up the cheese we were served at each breakfast and bring it out for her each morning. We would call to her and she would come running to us meowing all the way. There's so much to see and do in Istanbul and we have loved every moment, but getting to play with all the cats throughout the city has been the most fun we have had.
P.S. - We were so close to taking this little one for vaccinations, et al and bringing her with us on our travels! We even talked about settling in Istanbul just to take care of her.
Travel highlight 6/11/2017: White Mulberry Picking in Armenia
I absolutely love berry picking and it is something I have dearly missed since leaving the Minneapolis. I have had few opportunities to pick but serendipity struck on our walk in Armenia. We had spent the morning at the beautiful Tatev Monastery (which should probably really be the highlight) and then embarked on a very short walk to the Tatev Hermitage where we came across a huge mulberry tree. Mulberries seem to be everywhere in Armenia and are in season as we speak. We've had the dark version several times while here, but the white are much more fragile and rarely available in markets. So we were so excited when our guide said, "ahh, a white mulberry tree". I'm not sure he was ready for my excitement but, we dropped everything right there and grabbed a plastic bag we had on hand and just started picking. The fruit was ripe and tasted absolutely amazing. We had to stop ourselves from picking too many because we knew they wouldn't last long. And in fact, they did not. The fruit themselves were quite discolored and very wet the next morning, though that didn't sop me from eating them. I really needed this experience. It was so great to pick some fruit again.
Travel highlight 5/29/2017: Saint Gayane Church, Armenia
The heat was picking up outside. Old men and dogs were seeking shelter in the shade of any tree. Inside it was oddly bright for a church, but commonly cool.
We were on a tour with 14 other people, but I don't like to listen to the history of churches. It's almost always about the size and the age and who built it in whose name and whose bones are now dust there.
Instead I like to watch the people who visit. Not people like me, a tourist, but people who live near. Believers. If you break from the group and find some quiet you can witness a peaceful moment. Or a moment of pain.
I'm not sure why this woman was wearing all white and weeping, but for me it's enough to wonder. The not knowing is often more powerful than the knowing.
Travel highlight 5/14/2017: Monastery of Seraphim Sarov, Borjomi, Georgia
When we set out on our hike to the Borjomi hot springs, we thought we would be close enough to detour to the Seraphim Monastery. In fact, the trail goes directly to the Seraphim Monastery before heading down to the springs.
At first we were the only people there. The dogs that had been walking with us patiently rested in the sun while we went inside. It was dark and small but not cramped. It was almost cozy. The air smelled of candle wax and incense and the walls were all painted lavishly, as you can see. I lit a candle for my mom as I always do when candles are on offer for the lighting.
As I was about to light my candle, a group of three people came in and turned on the lights. This made it easier to take pictures, but ruined the ambiance and cozy feeling of the monastery.
St. Seraphim as it turns out, is quite the figure in Russian Orthodoxy, and he lived and prayed in a small log house that you can also visit. I won't go into his story here as in some ways that's the equivalent of turning the lights on.
Travel highlight 5/7/2017: Poliphonia, Tbilisi, Georgia
What's Poliphonia? It's a restaurant in Tbilisi, Georgia. It was an event sponsored by the Poliphonia restaurant. It's harmonic music (shortened version). And it's our highlight of the week. We were so incredibly fortunate to gain entrance to this event through Living Roots in Georgia. We have been working with them on building a tour and their co-owner also co-owns Poliphonia. I had seen ads for the event and was super interested and voila, it all came together. This was one of the most incredible dinners we've attended - 8 courses of food paired with organic wines paired with songs all representing 8 different regions of Georgia. The music complemented the food which complemented the wine which complemented the environment which was just magical. We left the event around 12:30 am and were feeling nothing short of amazing. The singers were funny, kind, and had great harmonies. This was a special night we will not soon forget.
travel highlight 4/30/2017: Bird House Mosaics, caesarea national park, israel
Everybody and their mom is going to post the same pictures of Caesarea National Park in Israel. Pictures of the amphitheatre, the hippodrome, the roman baths. Rightly so. Those are pretty cool features of the park. But one part we almost missed, and suspect other people do too is the Bird House Mosaic.
If you look on the map the park guides give you, you'll notice a few points that are outside of the park, a short drive away. After spending hours wandering at the main site and not finding but a sliver of shade, it's tempting to skip these other points.
The mosaic is enormous and depicts many birds in circles all ringed by predators (such as this bear). You can read more about our visit to Caesarea in our 7 Israeli National Parks in 7 Days post!
travel highlight 4/23/2017: Negev Desert, israel
There were so many highlights this week, but I think the overarching one was staying in the Negev Desert for 4 nights. This photo basically sums up that experience - camels, sun, sand, hills and, did I say, sun? It became insanely hot over two of the days we were in the Negev so we had to curtail our activities a bit. We managed to get out to see the Makhtesh Crater, Colored Sands, Masada, Avdat but we spent two afternoons languishing in the heat under a tree on the Negev Camel Ranch where we were staying. So not only were we living in the desert, but we were living with nearly 100 camels. I loved looking out from the hammock or our hut and seeing them standing there waiting for a chance to get out in the wide open space. I also loved hearing their sounds of settling in to bedtime and even some snoring! The camel's presence really helped us feel the desert and what it means to exist in such a harsh environment. They are incredibly creatures.
travel highlight 4/16/2017: Passover seder in jerusalem
We really, really, really wanted to attend a Passover Seder while here in Jerusalem. This was no easy thing. Zac spent many emails back and forth with friends and connections of friends and finally, voila! We had an invitation to a family Seder. The Tsevi family was amazing and gracious with their inclusion of us into their family celebration. From the moment they picked us up to when we said our goodbyes, they were incredible. We heard stories of their family history and tradition of inviting others into their home to celebrate this holiday. There was such joyousness (and rowdiness) amongst the family members the likes of which I have not experienced before. The head of the family read from the Haggadah and we each had our own copy to follow along. Zac and I lucked out with the English pop-up version and were the envy of our table. Many amazing dishes were eaten, songs were sung, instruments played all culminating in songs from The Sound of Music. I think we skipped the last half of the Haggadah, but amidst the jubilation, no one really minded.
travel highlight 4/03/2017: Tel Aviv, Israel
There are a few things in this world that are nearly impossible for us to resist and they are both represented by this piece of street art in Tel Aviv. We had read that Tel Aviv has some amazing street art, so found a few tours online and contacted them. Turns out they were a little too expensive (as is the case with nearly everything in Israel!) so opted to take our own tour. Zac noticed that one tour had a starting point in the Florentin neighborhood, so we made that our destination as well, and just wandered from there and found all kinds of treasures. Such as this irresistible stencil of a cat.
If you are looking for more images of Tel Aviv Street Art, look no further than our roundup!
travel highlight3/31/2017: tate britain, london
We've been staying about one hour outside of London for that past week and decided to venture into to town one beautiful sunny day. The weather was glorious and we took full advantage of walking around amazing London. We even stopped for a picnic with several dozens of others in a quaint little green space. But the real reason for our adventure was to check out the David Hockney exhibit at the Tate Britain. Neither Zac nor I are deeply into Hockney. We each have a passing remembrance of some of his California work. Nonetheless, we were super excited to check this out. The exhibit profiled 60 years of his work. There were expected favorites from the California periods (pools, gorgeous lighting, clean lines) but then there were new pieces as well. Including Hockney's enthrallment with the iPad. This was the first time we'd seen projections of time lapses of an artist's work using an iPad. It was intoxicating and we could feel his liberation from materials. It's the ultimate in ethereal creation. I will go on about this in another post but the other remarkable thing about our visit is the Tate Britain itself. The collection is fantastic and the building is filled with amazing detail. Like this gorgeous art deco pattern that surrounds the central staircase. It's just dreamy to me.
travel highlight 3/19/2017:eglise saint malo, dinan, france
It seems fitting that in our last week in Brittany, we went all out - we were desperate to hit a few places still on our long list and revisit some special destinations along the coast. But it was in the charming town of Dinan that we wandered into a big old church. Now at this point in my life I'm a little jaded about churches and temples. I even proclaimed temple fatigue while touring Vietnam and Thailand and Cambodia.
On occasion there are little details that really stand out, such as this hidden corner of the church with a fine collection of plaques thanking Saint Therese.
I love how they are all slightly different and rather unadorned. The motives behind them are known only to the person who bought them.
It feels like an appropriate way to end our time in Brittany. Merci and Au Revoir!
(Note: Saint Therese was called "the greatest saint of modern times" by Pope Pius X. She died in 1897 at the age of 24 from tuberculosis.)
Travel Highlight 3/12/17: La Cathedrale Saint-Tugdual, Treguier, Brittany, France
We had a break in the rain and clouds one day and decided to set out for the northern coast of Brittany, Plougrescant, to be exact. And while our time on the coast was amazing and beautiful I thought I would prefer to highlight the stained glass window I saw at the Cathedrale de Saint-Tugdual in Tiguier. First, this cathedral is incredible. It carries some similarities in style to the Parish Closes that dot the Bretagne countryside but is so much more. The stained glass windows are just amazing. I've never seen anything like them, and found this one particularly endearing. I love the various states these people are in and I can feel some anguish, joy, concern and love emanating from them. The posture, color and movement of the figures is so evocative to me that I had a hard time pulling myself away. I am particularly in love with the baby in the right panel - he is so swaddled in blue that he sort of just looks like a tube or a little wooden doll. We could have spent much more time here contemplating the peace we were feeling in this lovely place. If you find yourself here, take some time to feel the presence of these people and visit the cloisters out back. Peace will overtake you, I promise.
Travel highlight: 3/5/17, Leclerc Foundation, Landerneau, France
We had been waiting our entire house sit to come visit the Leclerc Foundation in Landerneau for two reasons. One, they hadn't been open at all until March, and two, because we've been doing most of our grocery shopping at Leclerc.
This is a small gallery built as we joked "on the margins of produce". It's a small simple gallery, but they really curate it quite well. Our visit revealed to us the artist Hans Hartung. And while he was fabulous and we got lost in his paintings, we were both really blown away by this Helen Frankenthaler.
I'm still not sure if we've just been starved for art and the Leclerc Foundation served as a welcome salve to our parched eyeballs, or if there is a special energy here. The lighting is perfect, the gallery spaces big and airy and the gift shop had brilliant postcards and a set of colored pencils for Jill.
Travel highlight: 2/26/17, Chapelle de Tremalo, Pont-Aven, France
Pont-Aven is famous for a reason; it is a charming and gorgeous town in Brittany. Probably the reason you know of it is because of the Pont-Aven school of painting and Gauguin. I had been wanting to visit Pont-Aven for a while and was not disappointed. We wound around the streets along the river Aulne viewing the ruined mills and port along the way. We stopped at the Museum to check out the works of the famous artists who were so inspired by the lighting in Brittany and the hospitality in Pont-Aven to make it their home or simply return time and time again for inspiration. One of the best parts of our wandering was the walk up to the Chapelle de Tremalo. It's an unassuming chapel in the woods on the outskirts of town and is well worth the walk to see it. The big deal about this chapel is the fact that it served as the inspiration for Gauguin's "Yellow Christ". I had only just read about this before we set out on our adventure and really hadn't known anything of Gauguin's "troubles" with the church or his more religiously inspired works, so seeing the inspiration for this painting wasn't what drew us here. What drew us was the walk and the thought of what we might find in this inspiring place. There's a lot of discussion about Gauguin here; posters of his work, documents outlining his interactions and varying paintings he created while in Pont-Aven. But then, there's also the worship side of this place. It was hard for me to see this chapel as somewhere people would still worship amidst all the tourist focus, but we saw signs of private moments throughout the building. This rosary was one such private artifact that grabbed our attention. This became our inspiring moment as we watched the sunlight change how each blue bead sparkled and cast its light across the floor and surrounding areas.
Travel Highlight: 2/19/17, Îlot des Capucins Roscanvel, France
As many of our adventures in Brittany, this one started out as a dot on a map and ended in war ruins.
We slid/scrambled down a steep slippery gravel "staircase" only to find a second one to follow. It's one of those moments where you stop half way through and ask yourself how the hell you are going to get back up. Putting those minor fears aside, we continued.
You can't see from this picture but the ruined house on the right has a steep staircase going down into the bedrock another 50+ feet. I walked down until the stairs dissolved and the drip drip drips got the better of my imagination and I returned to daylight.
Travel Highlight: 2/12/17, Plum Village Mindfulness Retreat Thenac, France
It's difficult to talk about how special this week was to me. It was filled with revelations - about myself and my place in the world. It was only a week, but I learned the simple practices of mindfulness, meditation and the power of silence.
Time had pretty much stopped during this week. It's the slowness you feel when you disconnect from your phone and media and friends so you can just be. No reacting. It's a beautiful practice, mindfulness. By changing the pace at which you walk and eat and talk you really start to notice the smallest detail, and to find the biggest revelations they contain.
Travel Highlight: 2/5/17, Wall in Huelgoat, Brittany
Interesting pick, huh? Yep, this wall was the highlight of our week. We were wandering around Huelgoat on one of our only outings for the week (the weather was a bit rough this week which made it unappealing for outings). We've been taking photos of these sorts of walls all around the world. I generally find them inspirational for paintings or potential tapestry ideas. This particular wall spoke to Zac because of the little plant just hanging on it. I took photos of the walls down the street. They were more mossy and had interesting color patterns. I always find it interesting what draws each of us to take a photo of something.
TRAVEL HIGHLIGHT: 1/29/17. PINK GRANITE COAST: PLOUMANAC'H BRITTANY
The coast of Brittany is amazingly diverse with sections ranging from wide flat beaches, tidal marsh, towering cliffs and rocky boulders. Personally I'm in love with every inch we've seen so far, but the wind eroded boulders of the Pink Granite Coast - so named for the pink tinged granite - are breathtaking.
There is a walk along the coast that takes you on a loop through the town of Ploumanac'h, but we skipped the town to stay on the coast so we could climb on and over and through the boulders. If you've been to Joshua Tree National Park you'll recognize the large organic and windswept shapes. But close your eyes and inhale. The sea salt in the air and waves washing the rocks transport you back to this otherworldly landscape.
Once its a little warmer we are going to pack a lunch, bring books and a blanket and sit out (and climb) these pink granite boulders all day.
Travel Highlight: 1/22/17. Rose.
This week we are taking a moment to highlight the hen we called Rose. We discovered Rose was ill on Saturday morning, and by Sunday, after a chat with her permanent caretaker, we made the decision it was best to end her life. She was suffering and we needed to help her along and end that suffering. Before we made this decision, we gave her a few baths (she even fell asleep in the water) and I even tried all the "woo-woo" I know (chanting and abdominal massage were involved).
Nothing worked. She had a prolapsed vent and she could not keep it inside. We were heartbroken. We had tended to another hen earlier in the week and were able to save her. This time was not the same. With a heavy heart, Zac decided "moving her on" was something he needed to do. I had to honor that. Many moments of thoughtful discussion and a lot of tears streamed from our mouths and our eyes, respectively. We cared for this hen and wanted the best for her. It's a heavy head that bears responsibility for taking the life of another being. We learned a lot from Rose in our short time with her. We will remember her for a long time to come. Cheers, Rose. And thank you for your lessons.
TRAVEL HIGHLIGHT: 1/14/17. the oysters of CARnac, BRITTANY, FRANCE
After being cooped up in the house for about five days of rain we looked at the weather on the coast and found that Carnac was clear and sunny. So we set out to see the famous ancient stone formations in the area. And while there were many stones, and they were large and indeed ancient and slightly mysterious, what I'll never forget is my first home oyster experience.
I've had my fair share of fresh oysters, but always prepared for me. It isn't the season for this vendor to prepare them -they do this in the summer with a glass of wine. So I bought 6 of them for 3 Euro, did a little research on how to open an oyster without a knife (secret: it's a screwdriver) and had a small feast standing in the kitchen. It was marvelous.
TRAVEL HIGHLIGHT: 1/1/17. Coastal Walk CARMARET-SUR-MER, BRITTANY, FRANCE
We bookmarked a bunch of walks along this section of the Brittany coast, but neglected to do any further research and set upon our coastal walk one sunny day. This section of the coast has a little bit for everybody - prehistoric stones, wide sandy beaches that blissfully empty in January and WWII fortifications.
It's one thing to read about WWII, and another to encounter abandoned fortifications, many of them riddled with bullet holes.
You can walk among the structures and even climb into them. Peering out at the horizon it's hard not to imagine being under siege, but at a distance some of the fortifications wouldn't be out of place on the California coast, a Bentley in the drive and a starlet in the pool.
travel highlight: 12/26/17. Saint Malo, Brittany
We're from the midwest of the US and that means very cold winters. But this December 26th was a sunny beautiful 52 degrees fahrenheit, which made for the perfect outing to Saint Malo. We basked in the sun along the wall that circles the old town of the city. It's a great short walk and affords views like this one - water, rocks, fortifications, and then in the other direction, the old town itself. This is an incredibly charming town made all the more so by the fact that the Christmas market was still on. Christmas markets have not been Zac's thing, but once he took a look at the tartines on offer he quickly changed his tune. We each grabbed a tartine to accompany us on our walk on the wall. I really can't think of a better way to spend the day after Christmas than this.