More updates!

I promise this will turn back into a travel blog at some point, but there’s been a lot going on since arriving back in Zürich last week. 🙂

Aside from standard moving back to Switzerland stuff (eating lots of amazing Swiss bread and cheese, registering with the state, setting up health insurance, getting to know the temporary neighborhood (we’re lucky enough to have a place to stay for a couple of months while we sort ourselves out), visiting friends and family, apartment hunting, apartment hunting, apartment hunting and more apartment hunting), I’ve been prepping for a new job (!!!) that starts TOMORROW!

It’s corporate but seems promising in that it involves topics that I’m actually really interested in and in some convoluted way, it actually kind of ties in with this blog and aspects of what I love most about traveling. I’m really excited for it!

I will be writing loads more and plugging the heck out of it in a post later next week, but for now, I’m mostly wondering how I will manage to walk around in heels all day tomorrow after two and a half years of wearing mostly sneakers, flip flops and comfy boots! 🙂

With all the change that’s been going on, I’ve also updated the “about” section of this blog. Take a gander here.

Sounds of Switzerland

And just like that, I’m back. It feels surreally normal to be here. I’m not sure if that’s the jet lag speaking or if it simply is so.
Here’s what woke me up on my second full day back in Switzerland.

A yoga teacher of mine once shared a old wive’s tale that if something is said and then a bell tolls it must be the truth. I like the thought of that but what I love even more is the sound of church bells in Switzerland. A nice welcome home. 🙂

A new tense

When we left on our world trip, my biggest cheer leader was my aunt, my mama’s baby sister.

All three sisters – my mama, my godmother, and my aunt – are renowned for their wilfulness (some may call them stubborn, perhaps even bossy 🙂 ). It’s possible that my aunt Gertrud, the baby of the family, was the most bossy of them all. She also had a great big heart and a sense of adventure that led her all around the globe.

I didn’t know her so well growing up, but I got to spend more time with her as an adult when I lived in Switzerland and I loved the woman I got to know – direct, strong, caring, warm and a great lover of life. She celebrated the idea of the highly ambitious world trip that Roman and I were embarking on. Unlike some people in our lives we tried to explain our idea to, she never hesitated for a moment in giving our plan her full endorsement and us her unabashed encouragement and I have been so grateful for that support.

She was very ill when she left and she passed while we were still in Asia.

It feels entirely unreal to me that I will be returning to Switzerland and that I won’t be able to hop on the train to visit her and tell her all about the fabulous places that we got to visit in Asia that she never saw, compare notes about both our experiences in the Galapagos, ask her for recommendations from her travels for our next trip (yes, we’re already dreaming of a sequel). I have a hard time comprehending that she won’t be there when I get back.

(Ok, let’s be honest. I HATE it that she won’t be there when I get back. I am ok with it because you have to be but still I HATE it.)

I mean, of course I understand that she’s gone. But some days, the precise sound of her voice still echoes through my brain as though I’d just gotten off the phone with her seconds ago. The feel of her personality is still imprinted so firmly on my heart. She has been in my thoughts at so many of the most beautiful places we visited on the trip. For me she is SO present.

So it feels wrong to me to speak about her in the past tense.

My mama and I were talking about her just this morning while I was helping her make her bed and I started to say something about my aunt and I found myself semi-consciously mumbling the verb in the sentence because my heart couldn’t decide between “is” and “was”.

Saying “Gertrud is so ….” feels like I’m being wilfully ignorant (wilfulness being a trait I am proud to have inherited from the strong women in my lineage). But saying “Gertrud was” feels even more wrong and also inaccurate. How can someone who is so very PRESENT with me be described in the PAST tense? I just doesn’t work for me.

So I need a new tense, one that can let me talk about the people I love with all my heart who may not be here in the world but who are very much here with me, today and always. Not entirely sure what I’ll say while who ever is in charge of the English language sorts that out for me but in the mean time, I will be (stubborn and proud of it) keeping Gertrud PRESENT in my thoughts and heart. ❤❤❤

From left to right: my mama, Gertrud and my godmother as girls

From left to right: my mama, Gertrud and my godmother as girls

A quick “where’s she been?” post

In case anyone is still checking this blog, I hope the past months have been really good to you. 🙂

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I decided to take a hiatus from blogging back in February. Life has conveniently filled in my spare time while I’ve been staying with my family in Connecticut, so that it’s hard to believe that around three whole months later it’s “already” just about time for me to return to Switzerland. I’ve been away for over two and half years and I can’t even begin to think about what it might feel like to return cause I’ve been pretty darn busy here in the States – too busy to think too much about how the future might feel. I may not have been moving around the way I used to, but staying put has been feeling tremendously productive and there’s been a lot of movement in non-physical ways. 🙂

 

Since I’ve been here, I’ve….

 

supported my parents through the remodelling and redecorating the ground floor of their house,
have dealt with a cancer scare/health situation (I’m fine now!!! 🙂 ),
have put a lot of energy into taking care of myself with yoga, diet, Ayurveda and spiritual work, have been getting back into my practice (with a delicious amount of time in the yoga studio, a couple of amazing weekend workshops (thanks to Dew Yoga and Elements Yoga!) and I’ve even taught my first yoga class in years which was a lot of fun),
have been spending lots of time with my super duper nephew who at two and a half is more awesome than ever,
have done some freelance writing and design work for my dad,
got to see Sheryl WuDunn of Half the Sky fame speak which was tremendously inspiring, have been applying and interviewing for jobs (keep those fingers crossed! 🙂 ),
have been processing the last two plus years of traveling through regular flashbacks which has been kinda trippy and fun,
have been spending a LOT of time with friends and family (love, love, love, love to the point of my heart overflowing), some virtually through the wonder of the internet,
and most recently have been helping out while my dad spent five days in the hospital with a seriously acute infection (freaking yikes!),
have been soooo enjoying the arrival of spring and all the beautiful flowers here in my home town.

 

That’s off the top of my head. Have probably done some other stuff as well that I can’t remember at the moment. 🙂

 

I feel full to the brim with love and I wonder how things will gel once I start building up a life in Switzerland again. I have some pretty ambitious dreams. I hope that I am brave enough to even dare to attempt them. I hope that  I can hold onto the sense of gratitude that humbles me to the point where I feel compelled to try to really live with intention.

 

One small dream – more of a goal really – is to keep capturing my memories from the trip in this blog. So hopefully there will be space to get back to and keep up with my writing once I get settled back in Zürich.

 

Let’s see how it goes…. 🙂

 

Full circle

I don’t have anything insightful to write. Only I want to make sure I mark the date.

Today is January 17th. Actually, by the time I post this, it’ll technically be the 18th, which is Roman’s last day in the US. His last day of our epic journey.

After ten weeks and two days driving a rather lopsided oval through the United States of America, we’re back where we started – that is, my childhood home, staying at my parents’ house in Connecticut.

US Road Trip

We’ve been here for coming up on two weeks now. When hit the road to head west back in the Fall, we were still fresh from our Southern Hemisphere adventures. Australia, New Zealand. Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru and Galapagos. What an awesome hemisphere!!

And exactly a year ago today, we were here in Connecticut as well, still reeling, trying to get our heads and hearts around the jam-packed 15 months of travel through fabulous Asia.

Two years ago today, we were in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where we were trying – there as well – to get our heads and hearts around all we’d just experienced in our three months in India – the spectacular first stop of our grand odyssey.

Tomorrow, I’m driving Roman to the airport, where he’ll head to his first (my second) home – Switzerland – for the first time in 850 days. That’s well over two years since he left Zurich, since he’s seen his family and friends, since we’ve covered all this ground and since we’ve made a third home of the world in general. Why be a citizen of just one country when this whole planet has so much to offer?

That being said, I’ll follow him to Switzerland in a month or two and am lucky and grateful that we have a chance to try and make that particular corner of Earth home again.

Although at the moment, I can’t even imagine what that’s going to look like or feel like.

Mostly, I’m focusing on helping Roman pack and tomorrow’s coming goodbye and wondering what it’s going to be like for him to take those first steps in the Zurich airport, to see his mom and step-dad waiting for him, to smell that distinct, familiar and oh-so-comforting Swiss air as they drive away from the airport.

But when I stop and think about our huge road trip, about where we were a year ago, and two years ago, about all that we’ve seen and done, I do get rather bowled over by it all. Hopefully I’ll be able to be a bit more articulate about it all at some point once I’ve been able to digest it a bit better.

For now though, I think it’s bedtime. There’s one more flight yet before the Journey’s over.

This is us on the balcony of our old apartment in Switzerland, the day I flew to India. Roman joined me there a few weeks later.

This is us on the balcony of our old apartment in Switzerland, the day I flew to India. Roman joined me there a few weeks later.

At a pooja in India

At a pooja in India

Zip lining in Thailand

Zip lining in Thailand

Exploring ancient ruins in Myanmar

Exploring ancient ruins in Myanmar

Bringing alms to a temple in Laos

Bringing alms to a temple in Laos

Cambodian tuk tuk!

Cambodian tuk tuk!

Trying to cheer up after my phone got stolen in Vietnam

Trying to cheer up after my phone got stolen in Vietnam

Learning how to manage an unruly camel in China

Learning how to manage an unruly camel in China

Wreck diving in the Philippines

Wreck diving in the Philippines

Carnival fun in Melbourne, Australia

Carnival fun in Melbourne, Australia

Silliness on an Argentine bus

Silliness on an Argentine bus

Chilean desert!

Chilean desert!

At the amazing Uyuni salt flat in Bolivia

At the amazing Uyuni salt flat in Bolivia

We wore ourselves out hiking around Machu Picchu, Peru

We wore ourselves out hiking around Machu Picchu, Peru

Galapagos!

Galapagos!

Horsing around on a misty day in the Grand Canyon, USA

Horsing around on a misty day in the Grand Canyon, USA

Winter wonderland without pictures part 2, or “Overcoming my winter sport phobia”

And for my mental record, here is the verbal account of further snowy adventures in Ushuaia.

We got back from dog sledding and snow shoeing. High from the cold, beauty and exercise, we popped happily into our favorite café in town where I foolishly downed a Bailey’s-laced coffee. This pushed my sensibilities over the edge of a mountain, so when Roman suggested we forget the insane cost and just jump at the chance of skiing/snow boarding at the end of the world (for goodness’ sake!!), I was just silly enough to enthusiastically gush: yes, absolutely! I am up for it! How could we not??

We ventured forth to make arrangements and rent equipment for the next day – our last in Ushuaia.

We staggered forth from the rental shop to our hotel. I felt increasingly sober AND klutzy with each step in the cold winter air and my mind began to wander towards all the things I had wanted to do while still in town plus my last two experiences on the pistes.

The first was as a child, where I spent an endless miserable afternoon trudging duck like up a slope with what felt like lead skis attached to my feet while developing a raging fever. Strike one against winter sport.

The second encounter was more recent. Roman is a snow boarder and had convinced me to overcome my childhood misgivings and give his favorite winter sport a go. This was after I’d already lived in Switzerland for many years without ever visiting the mountains at winter – a feat I had found very sensible and was quite proud of. I gave in to his coaxing and even started boasting around the office about how we were taking a week off at a ski resort and I was going to learn how to snow board, just watch me!

So children, let this be a lesson about hubris, because I didn’t even make it through the first day.

My instructor was a sweet lady and we were taking it slowly, learning how to stand and slide on the board on a flat bit of snow, not even on the bunny slope yet. I made one stupid move and down I went – crack! – right onto my sacrum. The wind was knocked out of me and my eyes teared up as I lay there, stunned, staring at the sky. I got up and tried to get on with the lesson but by the time Roman and I had left the slopes for the après ski beer, it was clear that something was wrong – I couldn’t stand to sit down, even for a reviving beer.

I spent the rest of my ski-vacation-week moving around our rented flat like an arthritic 100-year-old woman, lying on my stomach reading magazines and books and trying to nurse my bruised ego. The worst was showing up at work the next week, having to tell everyone the story AND stand at my desk, because it was another week or so before I could sit properly again. 😛

So, all these fond memories were swirling through my head as I tried not to drop my ski poles (still too soon for snow boarding!) or impale Roman or myself on my skis. By the time we made it to our hotel room, I was having a full-blown freak out. I did my best to contain it, but it was still there when I woke up in the morning as we boarded the bus to take us to the slopes. Boy was I a miserable cow! I buried my head in Roman’s shoulder and tried to sleep until we arrived, hoping for oblivion and that this whole thing was just a bad dream I could still wake up from.

But then we were there, having a coffee, buying our lift tickets and signing me up for an afternoon class. Roman offered to stay with and comfort me until the instructor showed up but I thought there was no point as I was inconsolable and I wanted at least one of us to have a good time. I sent him on his way and proceeded to wait till it was time for class, experiencing the definition of a bad head space:

Suddenly all the people around me looked 20 times more glamorous, sophisticated, at ease and graceful. I, by contrast, felt like I was stomping around like an elephant in a tea shop. I felt ugly and awkward and out of place, lurching around in my massive ski boots. I already had lost complete feeling in my feet and was getting colder and more miserable by the minute. I was convinced I was going to injure myself again and started fantasizing about skipping class, going back down the mountain to where my comfy Ugg boots were waiting, and drinking beer all afternoon while Roman boarded. I decided my teacher was going to be some arrogant guy who only spoke Spanish, and I started working on phrases in my head with my rudimentary vocab about how I was scared, not feeling well, currently hating my boyfriend for “convincing” me to go through with this, etc.

I’d worked myself up to a point where tears were actually welling in my eyes when this little sprite of a girl in oversized ski gear, a wild pony tale on the top of her head, a button nose and apple red cheeks came up and kissed my cheek (as Argentinians do with friends), introduced herself as Dana, my ski instructor, and immediately, effectively washed away all my fears with the strength of her warmth, ease and down-to-earth presence.

I don’t even know how she did it but clearly she is a charmed ski instructor because before I knew it, I was swishing my way down gentle hills, taking turns, laughing out loud at the rush and yes, even ENJOYING myself. Miracle worker.

She is ten years my junior, has been competing in ski competitions around the world for well more than half her young life, is from Ushuaia and LOVES the place, loves the sport, loves what she is doing. And that love and passion was so strong that I couldn’t help but focus on that instead of all those cobwebby fears I’d spun in my head.

We chatted about all sorts of things and I even got to practice some of my Spanish, and in between that, she taught me the basics of skiing. She also reminded me to stop, to breath and look around at all the beauty – the light coming through the criss-crossing patterns of black, back lit tree branches. The stunning, wide view over the mountains and valleys. The color the sky turned as the sun began to get low. This is the power of a true, passionate teacher.

So, thank you Dana, for not only helping me to overcome a fear, but transforming it into something really joyful – a beautiful memory from our last day in Argentina!

Obviously left the camera at the hotel for this day too, but here are some pics Roman took with his phone

Elated not only about having survived but about having actually skied AND enjoyed myself!

Some last thoughts on Xinjiang

I can’t believe our time in China is about to end! As of today we’ve been here for eight whole weeks. Tomorrow we fly to Taiwan, where we’ll be visiting a high school friend of mine who I haven’t seen in ages. So excited!

You may have noticed that during these past two months the majority of my posts have concerned the ONE week we spent in Xinjiang. I will be posting plenty about the rest of our time in China but if it’s not already obvious, I totally fell for Xinjiang.

Looking back, I realize I am heavily predisposed to like the place. We’ve been traveling in Asia for a long time now. Xinjiang is not eastern or southeastern Asia; it’s central Asia and being there I could feel its long reaching roots stretching out across the expanse to touch the edges of eastern Europe. This is probably just a flight of fancy, but it made me feel closer to Europe than I have in ages and given how much I love my second home, this made me happy. 🙂

This also might be just me, but I did feel some echos of Eastern Europe and gypsy culture in some of the details of the place. Thanks to Roman (who is half Serbian) I am a huge Kusturica and Bregovic fan, and for some reason something about gypsy style has appealed to me for as long as I can remember. Many people we passed on the streets looked like they could have just stepped out of a Kusturica film; the way women dressed (especially in Tashkurgan) – stripy stockings, glittery heels, ruffles, layers, red, red, red – was like something out of a fantastical fairy tale. For the aesthetics alone I love Xinjiang.

I also have a big affinity for Muslim cultures. My first two Muslim friends in my life, Yasmin and Kumayl, introduced me to the beauty of this religion (thank you both!) and so the presence of this religion is another thing that produces an automatic happy response in me. I also love unlikely cultural mixes, and Xinjiang is about as mongrel as you can get, and fascinating for it. I mean, how many places can you visit where the signs will be in Chinese, Arabic, Roman and Cyrillic characters?? Awesome.

Then there is the landscape. For sheer drama and beauty, I’m hard pressed to think of a place we’ve been on this trip whose nature can compete with that of Xinjiang. And we’ve been to some incredibly beautiful places. Small caveat though – I am a mountain girl at heart. I grew up with my mother’s stories of idyllic childhood in Liechtenstein, I was weaned on Heidi and my vacations as a girl nearly all involved the alps. So mountains automatically make me happy too – and boy were those Xinjiang mountains friggin’ amazing. It makes me sad to think of the mining projects that are and probably will take place there, of the scars that will be inflicted on all that beauty.

Lastly, I am a big sucker for underdogs. There is a lot I don’t know about the situation in Xinjiang, and I don’t want to discount the point of view of the Han Chinese living and working there. But all the literature I could find out about the place cast the Uyghur and other ethnic minorities of the province as the being clearly on the losing side of the equation as progress and development comes to Xinjiang. Certainly the Uyghurs we talked to echoed this sentiment.

One woman explained how controlled their movements were. Where other people in China pay RMB 200 (around USD 30) for a passport, Uyghurs have to pay nearly 1000 times that price, something few people can afford. For her, travel outside of China is a distant dream.

Another man talked about the difficulties of running his business. He was friends with many Chinese in the area but he said that once a Chinese person started to make real money they would change; no longer consulting with others and doing what ever they wanted in their adopted homeland. The success of his business was bounded by the whims of the Chinese government and businesses in the area. “Like Tibetans, we are free to breathe the air…” He trailed off here, implying with a resigned shrug all that is not free to the minorities.

Our guide seemed to harbor strong feelings on the subject; he nervously refused to translate at one point when I wanted to ask locals their views on the increasing presence of Chinese farmers in the area, but at other times his own opinions would come through. I remember him poetically observing at one point “(Spoken) Chinese always sounds like someone arguing and the letters look like broken houses”…

These are just a few small vignettes; I realize that after a week and a bit of Internet research I still have a lot to learn about Xinjiang. But three months ago I’d never even heard of it and I’m so happy that I discovered this place at all!

So thanks for indulging these numerous posts on the topic. Although we had one more stop within the province – Urumqi – I’m going to skip over this and push on to the rest of our trip in China. (Suffice to say, it’s no Kashgar.) I will do one more post though with general travel notes for anyone who might want to do their own trip to this incredible place.

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Thank you Xinjiang!

Quick notes on Da Lat

I wrote a little bit about Da Lat back when we were actually there.

It took some doing to get there as our original flight was canceled due to a severe storm in the area. It worked out for the best though as I got sick with some sort of flu and was better off in bed burning off my fever than traveling on the day our flight had been scheduled. If only we knew before we got to the airport that it had been canceled! 😉

The cab drive up the mountain from the airport to the city itself was … exhilarating! Our cab driver had a penchant for speed and passing anyone and everyone on the road. Luckily for us his speedometer was broken and the needle sat reassuringly at 0 km/hour – I don’t think I want to know how fast he was actually driving! 😉

Da Lat is known for its cheesiness and serves as a starting point for regional bike tours of the Central Highlands. From Lonely Planet: “Whether it’s the Eiffel Tower-shaped radio tower, the horse drawn carriages or the zealously colourful heart-shaped cut-outs at the Valley of Love, this is a town that takes romance very seriously – yea, unto the full extent of kitsch.”

We decided to take limited part in Da Lat’s standard offerings, doing a bit of sight seeing but mostly just reveling in the change of scenery from Saigon and from the wonderful mountain atmosphere and cooler weather. We also decided against doing a bike tour – since we’d pretty much only just gotten over being so waterlogged from our bike adventure in Laos and the weather in Vietnam wasn’t any drier! 😉

The town was a gorgeous place to walk around and explore though, with some interesting architecture (from the surreal, over-the-top Crazy House to the slightly forlorn but interesting colonial-era train station).

I was mostly indulging in fantasies about Switzerland though; with a cozy little restaurant where we went for breakfast transforming into a chalet-style Swiss café in the mountains, or the drink we had along the lake bringing me back to times spent by the Zürich See. (Have I mentioned how grateful I am for the wonderful time and life I had in Switzerland?? If not, I am doing so now! 🙂 )

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Entering the Crazy House

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Locomotive at the train station

Accommodation and food notes

We hadn’t booked ahead, knowing that Da Lat is a tourist stop with plenty of hotels and that we weren’t in peak season. However, we were surprised to find that our first choices for hotels were all booked. We had expected things to be more like in Cambodia but throughout Vietnam it seemed that rooms the best hotels (as per Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor) were always being snapped up very quickly.

We ended up staying at Hotel Chau Au – Europa, which had run down but interesting and spacious rooms and a super nice owner (although his wife was less friendly!). We didn’t find any amazing food while were there, but I really enjoyed the ambience and the food was quite all right at Art Café. Our breakfast spot was Chocolate Café – pretty average but the place just had something about it that charmed me. Maybe it was the fake flowers in the window! 🙂

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Fake flowers; oddly comforting

Last notes on Cambodia

Writing this from Hong Kong, our time in Cambodia already feels very distant. I’d thought I would have written my farewell post to Cambodia by now, but actually maybe it’s better this way.

“Good luck for you”

Our visit to Cambodia was intense for me. I’d done more pre-arrival research for it than for any of the other places we’ve been so far and thus came in with a lot on my mind to begin with. For reasons still not clear to me, I had bigger emotional reactions to things we experienced in Cambodia. The country seemed to contain more extremes than the other places we’d been – extreme poverty and extreme power, the presence of deep, jagged tragedy s well as incredible and pure beauty.

(By way of contrast, I’d describe India as having extremes too, but it has a much fuller spectrum: there is so much filling the space between light and dark there.)

After the likes of Myanmar, Thailand and Laos, Cambodia and Cambodians definitely had a tougher edge.

I witnessed a lot more rough housing between kids and even adults. Play seemed to involved a lot more hitting, pushing and pulling than we’d seen anywhere and I even got hit – with a good amount of force but without any malice – by one boy in Battambang who was exuberant about the photos I took of him and his friends and wanted me to take more. It didn’t bother me at all, but it was something I could never imagine happening in the countries we’d been to before Cambodia.

One’s overall impression of a place is subject in part to completely random encounters and occurences. While we were in Cambodia, we happened upon four different funerals. These take place every day all over the world but it was striking to me that we kept crossing paths with funeral processions and ceremonies. The last place we had witnessed anything like this had been in Varanasi, where it’s simply a part of being in that city.

It didn’t feel like a morbid or depressing thing, but it left me with the feeling that death is very much present in Cambodia. While the reign of the Khmer Rouge is over, that recent history and all that happened off the back of that regime’s time in power remains a tangible presence in the country and its people.

It was rare for us to speak to people who had been adults during that time, but we did have more opportunity to talk to people from our generation. Each had a substantial list of relatives who had been lost during that dark period. When they would share this information with us, it pretty consistently had an air of deep, inherited grief combined with total matter-of-factness and acceptance – an interesting combination.

I felt currents of this sort of energy – deep passion as well as fatigued resignation – in other interactions we had. For example with drivers and guides who would have the chance to make really good money for a week or two – if they were the lucky one that a tourist would pick to hire out of the dozens of men all jostling to offer the same service.

Something small that I noticed everywhere we went in the country was that to close an interaction with us, people wouldn’t say “Thank you” or “Have a nice day” but “Good luck for you!”.

In a country where death, poverty and lack of opportunity are accepted and expected, perhaps the best one can hope for is the rare and good fortune to escape these circumstances – or just the luck to be that one tuk tuk driver that bags the generous tourist who tips so well that he and his family can eat for a month.

Emotional hindsight

If I’d written this a month ago, that might be the note that I’d have ended on. Time and contrast can be useful things though and getting some distance from the intensity of Cambodia plus some perspective thanks to our experiences in Vietnam, the strong reactions and emotions I felt while in Cambodia are softening into a more steady gratitude and affection for the country and its people.

Though I went in with far fewer expectations and pre-conceptions about Vietnam, I had a much harder time to connect with people and places there. I’ll write more about that in a separate post, but that experience has certainly tempered the way I’m thinking about our time in Cambodia.

The beauty of the place and of the people we had the chance to meet runs deep. The interactions we had with people – once the business side was agreed upon – were open and heartfelt. When I was first living in Switzerland, I read somewhere that the Swiss are like coconuts – tough to crack but sweet once you get on the inside. Maybe Cambodians are like rambutan fruit; a bit spiky and rough but also beautiful and colorful and soft on the inside. 🙂

Travel notes

On a slightly different subject, the list of locations visited in Cambodia is relatively short, compared to other places we’ve been. We’re conscious that, as much as we’d often love to, we can’t spend infinite amounts of time in each country we visit. We decided to experiment, choosing fewer stops in Cambodia but hoping that having a bit of time in each would still allow us to get a good feel for the country. In the end the balance of our time got tipped towards Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Both places were fascinating, thought-provoking and clearly essential to any visit to Cambodia.

But I feel strongly that getting off the typical tourist spots and seeing Kratie, Kampong Chhnang and Battambang was equally vital. If I had to do it all over again, I’d probably try to spend even more time exploring towns and villages – although I’d also allow myself more than four days for Angkor as well. 🙂

Over all though, I think we managed to get a good mix into our month and a bit in Cambodia and I’m grateful for the chance to see all we did – even the less comfortable, more challenging parts.

One more random note – I stumbled upon a great blogger whose different perspectives on Cambodia were really interesting and helpful for me while were traveling there. Check her out if you want another perspective on the country. 🙂 http://summerinsea.wordpress.com/

Our Cambodia itinerary

June 20 Kratie Morhautdom Hotel
June 24 Phnom Penh Golden Gate Hotel
July 3 Kampong Chhnang Sovannphum Hotel
July 6 Battambang Royal Hotel
July 9 – 22 Siem Reap Angkor Pearl Hotel

Current events: Vietnam

Feels like ages since my post about the phone incident. Since then, I’ve been sick – not sick as a dog but sick enough to have “lost” a couple of days to sleeping and a feverish, hazy, dreamy state of mind – and we’ve managed to leave Saigon after some tropical-storm induced travel delays. I have a whole bunch to write and post about our last stop in  Siem Reap and Angkor but I want to quickly check in with where we are and where we’re going.

So far Vietnam has definitely thrown a few curve balls our way, and while we’ve been mostly able to laugh or get philosophical about them, still it’s feeling good to have some movement. We are now in Da Lat, which is a quirky, kitschy mountain city north of Saigon. It’s definitely very Vietnamese, very Asian, but there are little things about it that make us think very distinctly of Switzerland, which had been oddly wonderful and comforting. The elevation and the sometimes blustery, cool weather, some of the architecture, the hilly streets.

Walking around to find a place for breakfast yesterday, the streets were wet from one of the frequent rain showers, the air was cool and fresh and we were bundled up against it – Roman said it almost felt like being on ski holiday. 🙂 It’s also the first place we’ve caught some occasional, wonderful bursts of sunshine – also like being up in the Alps during the winter. The sound of running water (from a roof after the rain or of a fountain in a cafe) keep making me reflexively think of melting snow at the start of spring – a funny feeling since we haven’t come close to seeing snow since I glimpsed some on distant peaks from McLeod Ganj back in September. I’m loving it though, and my heart is warming on residual affection for my dear old Switzerland.

We’ve gotten a sufficient taste of the place and movement is still feeling good for us though, so we’re leaving today for our next stop. Hoi An is a town that is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, meant to be a tremendous tourist trap, but also a tremendously beautiful tourist trap. We’ll see how it treats us. 🙂 Hopefully the WiFi will be more consistent and I can catch up on Cambodia while we’re there. 🙂