What’s not to blog about? I’ve been crossing continents all over the place; way too fast but way too enamoured with all the beauty - natural and personal - that I’ve seen along the way. Who knew they all spoke Russian in the capital city of Kyrgyzstan? Who knew Kyrgyzstan was so breathtaking? Who knew that on my next trip, I gotta get to Kazakhstan, 'cause I was pretty close to it and from what I saw, it seemed real pretty. Kazakhstan borders Kyrgyzstan to the north. So far, the Kyrgz has been the only Stan I've traveled to. There’s a big lake, called Lake Izzyk-Kul (well “kul" means “lake” so it’s just Izzyk Lake or Izzyk-Kul) that takes up a big part of Kyrgyzstan and the northern edge of it is very close to the Kazakh border. Jean and I spent six days circling the lake, as I stared out the window of the dusty marshuka (big van) at the never ending snow-peaked mountains, and stopping in little villages in between. Who knew each little village would be so magical?
I still don’t know how to spell Kyrgyzstan, but thank goodness for spellcheck. Go to the ‘Stans. I’ve been telling everyone….GO to the ‘Stans. And Georgia, the country.
Who knew that Ulaanbataar would feel like home, like an Asian city, instead of this exotic, isolated little metropolis in the middle of east Asia? Who knew Yurts and Gers were so comfy? Who knew that Georgians are the original “Caucasians”, from the Caucasus mountains. The area where Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia (the country) stand. That’s where that weird label comes from. And up until four years ago, I didn’t know Georgia (the country) even existed. People were surprised, and pleased when I told them I was from Canada. All the beautiful and smiley Georgians were so impressed that a Canadian would make it to their country just off the Black Sea, wedged between Europe and Asia. Some were shocked I even found them, and knew they existed. Rightly so.
In Georgia we talked to the other foreigners about where we were. We were all very confused. Were we in Asia? Europe? The Middle East? What does that mean, European? What does that mean, to be “Asian”? None of us could figure it out. We also met some people from Bosnia, and they talked about Balkan culture. I learned about them in Grade 10 and some Balkans that did some things during World War 1, and that was the extent of my knowledge. Who knew Balkan was still a thing? One of the Bosnian guys said that once his bus driver stopped for bread in the middle of his drive, and he thought that was pretty “Balkan” of him. Who knew? I’m learning so much.
In Georgia, wine lives in the basement, and bread comes out of the walls. And cheese is everywhere, and homemade. And the churches, oh the churches. The Orthodox knew what they were doing. Those are some beauties, in Georgia (the country). And I’m in a Polish city next to an old town with over 100 Baroque-style churches and castles. You can’t count them all. But in Georgia, in Georgia I couldn’t handle it. Who knew? Too many old buildings, too many bread shops or just “holes” in the wall where on the other end a nice old Georgian woman would hand you a giant loaf of bread for 0.80 Lari? (30 cents). Who knew Georgian wine was the greatest in the world? Too much beauty. Many feelings.
I just did the Schindler’s Factory Tour on a rainy Saturday afternoon in Krakow, which was a city taken over by the Nazis but the beautiful old town still remains intact. You know the movie, Schindler’s List? His factory where he was able to save over a thousand Polish Jews is a few blocks away from here, near the old Jewish Ghetto in the city from the 1940’s. And the main market square in Krakow, where I met a good friend from home a week ago, on a busy Friday filled with thousands of young Catholics preparing to see our beloved Argentinian Pope, was renamed “Adolt Hitler Platz” for a few dreary years during the war. I learned that today. I saw some photos. I learned about how the Germans claimed Krakow’s old buildings and beauty as their own, so they didn’t bomb them. Last Friday, my friend and I sat outside one of the many restaurants in the square, sharing stories about our year and about solo travel, and about our faith. People were dining outside and young Italian, French, Spanish, Polish, North American adults were dancing and singing, meeting each other and so excited for the weekend ahead. I talked about my last two years in Asia, and then thought only of the weekend. I was in Europe for the first time in 11 years. Lots of feelings. Much overwhelmed. Too many thoughts and reflections.
After two and a half hours at Oskar Schindler’s Old Factory I walked outside into the grey and rainy day, passing Krakow’s Modern Art Museum and a few tour groups, and one group of Israeli teenagers on a tour of the old Jewish Ghetto. We took pictures of some of the walls that remain.
I’m sitting in a quaint and cute (my favourite kind) little cafe by the river owned by a lovely Polish woman who makes great white coffees. Cafes like this are my refuge when I live in Korea, and not teaching on the weekend. When I don’t have plans with friends or I’m not in another Korean province hiking a mountain or shopping in Seoul, I’m writing and browsing in a small cafe.
I didn’t cry when I left Korea this time. Well, not really. I felt nothing, only hopeful (mostly because of my great students, who gave me hope that I really was a good teacher) on my last day of teaching, packing, having a beer by the beach and moving somewhere new, yet again. I teared up when I was doing my dishes in my apartment, a few moments before I put my backpack on and went downstairs to hail a cab.
Just before that I’d walked from the beach to my apartment for the last time, a walk that became too familiar after a year and a half. I stopped at the cafe I would write at after class during the week, and sometimes on weekends. I’d go when the wi-fi wasn’t working in my apartment, or when I just needed some inspiration. I’d write stuff, and Skype with family and good friends from home. The lady who owns it always let me stay a few minutes after closing, when I’d scramble to finish my sentence or my phone call. In Korea, people call each other by title instead of name. For example, “big sister”, “teacher”, “mother” or the famous “emo” which means “Aunt” in Korean. In small Korean restaurants you usually call the lady who serves you “emo”. I’d use my limited Korean and try my best to communicate and show appreciation to the nice woman who always made me feel at home in her cafe. So the last thing I did before leaving Busan was stop by her cafe on my last walk home. I was late and it was ten minutes after closing (midnight) when she was cleaning up. I gave her a handmade card and I’d written a message using my elementary level “hangul” (Korean script). I told her I was going home to Canada, and thanked her for everything. I gave her the card and we took a selfie.
As I was doing the dishes and realized that I was about ten minutes from being on the road again, having no idea what was coming next, I teared up as I thought to myself, “I don’t even know her name”.
Who knew names could sometimes mean so much? When traveling, people always ask what country you’re from before your name. Before your life story. Before your age and occupation. But you usually end up telling your life story to strangers, because everyone is moving places and everyone has a different story. Who knew all the great (and sometimes not so great) people I’d meet along the way?
I didn’t plan on going to Europe, or Central Asia, until recently. Only a few months ago. When I started the year having no idea where I’d be in the middle of it, who knew I’d be here, on one of those perfect cafe streets that only Old Europe can offer.
By now my coffee and cake is done, and it’s stopped raining. The record playing in the cafe sounds like a Polish version of Barbra Streisand. I’ve never heard it before. Wait, I just asked, and it’s an old Barbra Streisand record.
|The first room we went to at the Schindler Factory was a photo booth that was set up to distract the people from the war that the Polish government knew was approaching. August 6th, 77 years ago today.|
|So much ancient Tibetan Buddhism in Mongolia. Who knew?|
|There's a Beatles Square, right in the middle of Ulaanbataar, Mongolia. Lots of punks around.|
|So magical. Kyrgyzstan. |
|Lots of beautiful buildings in the capital city of Bishkek. This is a peace building to keep friendly ties between Russia and Kyrgyzstan. They are all over the city. Who knew?|
|The old town of Krakow is filled with over a hundred churches. But there's a big, beautiful one a few blocks away from my hostel, just outside of the scenic old town. |
|Last cafe night at Cafe Cantata. Busan, South Korea. |