Camel Trekking in the Sahara of Morocco

Desert always means journey. Nomads living in it, tourists traveling across it, refugees escaping through it — the Sahara is wide and the journey often long. We move across its orange-golden dunes with no sense that we will ever reach anything but another dune. Even the small part of it I visited in February, the Erg Chebbi, seemed endless when I was in it. I had traveled by minivan over a two-day span, and then by camel for another hour and a half, and the anticipation and tedium of the long journey had built up, but once I was in the middle of the desert, that all blew away to nothingness.

erg chebbi sahara desert morocco

Erg Chebbi, Sahara Desert, near Merzouga, Morocco

erg chebbi sahara desert morocco

The Sahara was vast and immutable. Continue reading

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Happy New Year 2016

Happy New Year, dearest fellow travelers! I hope you had a nice holiday period of stuffing your faces and taking many naps. I had a lovely, quiet time with family and friends during the last week of 2015. Now that we’re fully into the new year, let’s jot down some New Year’s Celebrations. I enjoyed a lot of my celebrations from last year (I’ve really come ’round on real ale, for example). But although I had a lot of fun last year and saw a lot of new things, I still didn’t get out as much as I’d thought I would/hoped to. So for 2016 I’m hoping to:

  • Go somewhere new to me in London a couple of times a month (museum, landmark, park, etc.)
  • Get out of London and see another part of the UK once a month
  • Every 2-3 months, take advantage of my proximity to Europe and visit somewhere on the Continent
  • Also, as I look forward to every year, spend at least one entire day reading

Last year, I made good use of my English Heritage membership, and since I’ve had it renewed for Christmas, I can do more of that in 2016. Bring on the stately homes and drafty cathedrals! (I promise I’m 32, not 82.)

I saw a lot more than I managed to write about last year, but as ever, I’m playing catch-up. I have more to tell you about South America, for example, and I left there in 2014, but no matter. If I were in the mood to make real resolutions, this year mine would be to give you a written post a week, in addition to your Where in the World Wednesdays. I’ll do my best.

How about you, any New Year’s Celebrations you’re looking forward to?

Happy New Year! Here I'm decked out in red for Chinese New Year 2013 in Singapore.

Happy New Year!
Here I’m decked out in red for Chinese New Year 2013 in Singapore.

The Museum & Catacombs of Lima’s San Francisco Church

Some sightseeing places are famous not for their original purpose, but for an added-on bit of architecture or discovered hideaway. Think of Southwark Cathedral in London, which has a Roman road underneath it that people find much more interesting, for example. The Church of San Francisco in Lima is another such place. The church itself is nice enough–a yellow colonial structure that warms in the light of the setting sun–but here, as with inspirational posters the world over, it’s what underneath that counts.

San Francisco Church, Lima

San Francisco Church, Lima

The catacombs of the church are the main tourist attraction. In the early days of the city, people were buried under the church as a matter of course; this was like churchyard cemeteries, but under the church instead of next to it. I couldn’t get good information from my guide on whether the bodies were always buried in mass graves, or whether that happened later.

I’m also not sure whether the particular arrangement of the bones happened before or after the rediscovery of the catacombs in 1943. It’s a strange thing to see, though; some of the bones are piled up all higgledy-piggledy, some are grouped by type (tibia, femur, etc.), and some are arranged in geometric patterns. Those are the creepy ones, and you think, someone decided the best resting position for these skeletons is in a design not unlike a psychedelic sunburst, but with bones. A central circle of skulls, surrounded by a circle of leg bones, skulls, arm bones, skulls. Who were these for? I can’t find any information on whether these designs were made specifically for tourists to gawp at; let me know in the comments below if you know more. (No photos allowed in the catacombs, sorry, but check the link earlier in this paragraph.)

Catacombs are a standard part of large churches, of course, and I’ve been in some before, but this is the first network of catacombs I’ve seen filled with bones. I know these people were buried on consecrated ground and at least some of this was what they wanted for their skeletons, but just the imagery of piles of bones was far too close to what I saw in Cambodia for me to not shudder.

lasdkfj

I visited the doors on the left, never the main church door

After the catacombs, I visited the museum aboveground. Just as in the catacombs, no photos were allowed here.

One of the main features of the museum, which is attached to the monastery, is the massive staircase, topped with a Moorish-style cupola. The staircase leads to the library of the monastery, which is a lovely long room full of light and polished wooden shelves lined with old books and ancient scrolls. I was horrified. All that southern light just streamed in on these delicate papers! It’s an archival nightmare! I comforted myself with lies that these were just replica books, and all the real ones are safely stored in climate-controlled rooms with dim lights.

The cloisters are lined with murals depicting various biblical scenes. One particularly grating American on my tour took a look at the third mural our guide showed us and said, “These guys were really religious, huh?” Yes, the monks who lived and worked in this monastery attached to a church were really religious. Good catch.

The final mural our guide showed us was the famous Last Supper by Diego de la Puente, which shows Jesus and the apostles eating Peruvian foods, including roasted guinea pig. I believe there are similar Last Supper paintings throughout South America, but this is the only one I saw.

I never did go into the church itself, instead visiting its varied museum and fascinating catacombs, but two out of three ain’t bad.

Slovenia by the Numbers

Lakes circumnavigated on foot: 1

Lakes jumped in mid-circumnavigation: 1

National poets side-eyed for their choice of muse: 1

Fancy breed horses that rebuffed my attempts to pet them: 4

Entertaining guided tours taken: 2

Picturesque castles viewed from a distance: 5

EU-wide award-winning ice creams tasted: 2

Attempts made to take this one special elevator to a club in Ljubljana, only to have the elevator stop a floor below the right one every time: 5

Mini-waterfalls admired: 2

Total days spent in Slovenia: 6

Total money spent: $361

Average per day: $60

Times I said, “Seriously, so beautiful” out loud: It basically became my catchphrase

Lake Bled, Slovenia

Lake Bled, Slovenia

Croatia by the Numbers

Hailstorms spent hiding on the portico of a basilica/mausoleum: 1

Clouds of cigarette smoke accidentally walked through: at least a dozen, ew

Roadside breakdowns while driving up a mountain: 1

Elaborate breakfast buffets consumed on a hostel balcony: 4

Outdoor choir concerts stumbled upon: 2

Adorable French children befriended: 1

Bell towers climbed while Vertigo played in the back of my mind: 1

Nights spent dancing on a giant outdoor light-up disco floor: 2

Green-blue waterfalls admired: at least 10

Island beaches sunbathed on: 2

Servings of the very strong local rakia consumed: 5, aka plenty

Total days spent in Croatia: 14

Total money spent: $1,078

Average per day: $77

Total money spent, minus the airfare: $906.36

Average per day, minus the airfare: $67.74

Expanses of otherworldly blue water seen: leagues

Looks good from here

Looks good from here

A Short Photo Tour of Zagreb

By the time I got to Zagreb in June 2013, I was worn out after nearly two weeks of late nights along the Croatian coast. I stayed just a couple days in the capital city, long enough to visit the Museum of Broken Relationships, catch a choral concert outside the cathedral, and eat burek. I spent at least half a day seated on a bench in one of the plazas, near a bubbling fountain, reading a book in the sunshine–a very pleasant experience, but one which doesn’t lend itself to exciting retellings or dramatic photos. So here’s a photo post of some of the sights I enjoyed on my short walks around Zagreb, a city worth a closer look on another visit.

Cathedral of the Assumption

Cathedral of the Assumption

Grand interior

Grand interior

zagreb

I always enjoy a good stained glass window

I always enjoy a good stained glass window

Opera House

Opera House

If you're looking for a change in your eyelashes routine, you've come to the right place

If you’re looking for a change in your eyelashes routine, you’ve come to the right place

Decorative flourishes

Decorative flourishes

Church of St. Mark

Church of St. Mark

This tile pattern depicting the coat of arms of Zagreb is very old, but it kind of looks like a pixelated video game screenshot

This tile pattern depicting the coat of arms of Zagreb is very old, but it kind of looks like a pixelated video game screenshot, or Legos

Possibly the only non-sketchy train station neighborhood in Europe--this is across the road from the main station

Possibly the only non-sketchy train station neighborhood in Europe–this is across the road from the main station

King Tomislav

King Tomislav

Burek! Delicious meat (and/or cheese) pastry

Burek! Delicious meat (and/or cheese) pastry

Next up, Croatia by the Numbers, and then on to new countries!

Five Years of Stowaway

Today is the five-year anniversary of Stowaway! Hurrah!

In that time, I’ve gone from Chicago to California, from Wellington to Waterloo, from Budapest to Buenos Aires, from Luang Prabang to La Paz. One of the reasons I write this blog is so that readers can stow away with me on my trips to various places, and as usual, thanks for your patience as I catch you up on where I’ve been.

I won’t be catching you up today. Today I’m continuing my job and housing search in London, because I really want to try living here for at least a little while. Today I’m just going to rest on these five-year-old laurels and appreciate the journey that took me all over Chicago, around the world, and here to London, the latest home for this Stowaway.

As ever, thanks for reading. There’s still much more to come.

 

Liebster Award

A lovely fellow traveler and blogger, who I met on the bus from Toronto to Detroit, has nominated me for the Liebster Award. Per her post, “The Liebster Award is awarded to newbie bloggers with under 500 followers by other bloggers to welcome them to the blogosphere and to congratulate them/highlight their blog. It is a great way to discover new blogs and to help drive traffic to each other’s sites.”

Katie is a Kiwi writing about travel, hiking, and food over at The World on My Necklace (love that name). Check out her musings from the other side of the world!

I don’t generally perpetuate chains, so I won’t do the second part of the thing, which is to pose new questions to everyone you nominate. But I do think it’s good to spread the word on other blogs you enjoy, so here are a few travel blogs that deserve a larger audience than what they have:

Who Is Spiro?
Jenna’s Travel Blog
It’s Time for Me to Fly
Existimatio

Here are the questions Katie posed. Thanks, Katie; this was fun!

1) What is your favourite travel movie?
I love a good road trip movie, even the darker ones like Thelma and LouisePriscilla, Queen of the Desert is also a winner, as is The Motorcycle Diaries.

2) What are your three favourite cities and Why?
Chicago was my home for five happy years, and although I have no immediate plans to move back, I have a strong loyalty to the city of neighborhoods, the lake, the architecture, the food and beer scene.

Melbourne’s mix of laid-back Australian charm, edgy art, hipster activism, and familiarly temperamental weather appealed to me, as did its proximity to the Great Ocean Road and the fact that wild penguins live within city limits.

I really enjoyed Buenos Aires. The mix of neoclassical and art nouveau architecture, the hundreds of cafes, the green spaces and grand places, the tango hideouts, the nightlife–I liked it all.

3) What has been your most memorable hotel/hostel stay?
That’s a tie between the two weeks I spent on a beach in Ecuador and the three weeks I spent partying and cultural appreciating in Cusco. I made good friends in both places, which is always the key to a good stay. (The only memorable-in-a-bad-way I can think of are the bedbugs hostel in Krakow and the roommates-having-sex hostel in Australia.)

4) Have you ever been robbed while travelling?
Sure have!

5) What is your best wildlife experience?
I loved working with elephants in Thailand, but for pure joy, it has to be swimming with dolphins in New Zealand.

6) How do you save money for travel?
I’m not great at budgeting (either at home or abroad), so I didn’t cut back on my lifestyle too much in Chicago. But for the last year before I left, I did set aside a third of every paycheck, which really saved it up fast.

7) Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
Um… doing something fulfilling somewhere I enjoy? That is as specific as I can get right now!

8) What is your biggest travel fail?
I felt a right idiot getting robbed, and also pretty stupid when I didn’t notice the exchange office had given me Czech money instead of Croatian. But the one I’m most annoyed about is missing the big Easter parade in Cusco by less than 24 hours–bad planning!

9) What is the best hike you have done?
Hiking around Uluru in Australia. Stunning!

10) What destination will you keep going back to?
I like this question, although I’m having a hard time deciding. I still feel like there’s so very much I haven’t seen, so I’m focusing on that. But I will always return to my family and the countryside in England, and I’d like to see much more of Japan than I got a chance to.

11) When did you first fall in love with travel?
From infancy! My parents took me to England when I was a baby, and I swear I liked travel from that moment on. I’ve liked solo travel ever since I first tried it, when I was 18 and going around Western Europe for a few weeks on my own.

If there are other great travel blogs you’re a fan of, please put them in the comments. I’m always looking for new people to read.

Ecuador by the Numbers

Hours spent in Spanish class–my first classroom experience in a decade: 40

Hours spent valiantly struggling to make conversation with my host mother in Quito: 20

Iguanas encountered: 12

Delicious soups consumed: 20

Waterfalls admired: 8

Ankles sprained: 1

Inca ruins visited: 1

Equatorial lines straddled: 1

Waves dived in: hundreds 

Presidential palaces toured: 1

Chicago Bulls paraphernalia seen: countless items

Total days spent in Ecuador: 47

Total money spent: $2,663.25

Average per day: $56.66

Total money spent, minus the airfare: $1,983.25

Average per day, minus the airfare: $42.20

Blissful beach and waterfall moments experienced: many

Las Tunas, Ecuador; March 10, 2014

Too Old for Hostels

Matador has a great post up about how you know you’re too old to stay at hostels. Just about every one of those applies to me, except I don’t think about telling people to shut the hell up after 1:30am, I actually say that to them.

Most cities have non-party hostels, so those are the ones I usually stay at, thus bypassing many of the problems mentioned in the Matador post (party boats, etc.). And in Southeast Asia, a private hotel room with attached bathroom was so cheap, I usually went with those.

But some of the things they mention–rolling your eyes any time someone talks about “just living,” stereotyping Australians–well, those apply anywhere.