My first love may be the mountains, but I’ll never turn down a bit of sea air when I’ve got the chance…especially if I can breathe it in Saint-Malo, the small walled city that I tacked on as a short day trip after visiting Mont Saint Michel. In the past, Saint-Malo was the base of corsairs, and its walls were constructed against the threat of British attacks. Nowadays, Saint-Malo is a beautiful seaside locale…the perfect place to work up an appetite by walking along the beach and then eat a dozen (or two) fresh oysters, still briny from the sea, washed down with a glass (or two) of cider.
I feel like I need to add a disclaimer to the beginning of this post. It was one of the most difficult I’ve ever written; I don’t often think it hard to find the right words when I’m writing, but this post was the exact opposite of that. I tried to be as respectful and inoffensive as possible in my descriptions and opinions, and I apologize if I offend any who read this.
You can’t come to India without expecting the country to have a severe and permeating impact on your life. I saw things in India that I’d never seen before and likely never will again. That being said, the way I felt in Varanasi has become the emotional center of my trip. Nothing could have prepared me for Varanasi, our last stop in India before heading off to Nepal.
Varanasi, which has also historically been known as Banaras, is a city with multiple claims to fame. For one, it’s the longest continuously inhabited city in the world. Other cities, like Rome and Athens, may be technically older, but Varanasi wins out on the terms that somebody has always called it home. It’s a title that you can’t really contest either; Varanasi’s streets positively ache and groan with age. Mark Twain had it right when he wrote, “Banaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together.” Continue reading The Ghats of Varanasi
Today’s my 25th birthday, and I figure that’s a good enough excuse to get me off the hook from writing a full-length post. When my mum posted a bunch of pictures of my childhood and teenage years, I couldn’t help but ask her to send me my favorite. It’s from my very first birthday party, back when I was Ali, not Alex, and had years to go before I entered my ludicrously awkward glasses-and-braces phase. It’s weird to think that I’m now a quarter of a century old, but I’m willing to bet that this next year will be just as fantastic as the ones before it.
(And even today, over two decades later, I still definitely get this excited when I see cake. No shame in that.)
As exciting as my days within Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra were, I was more than happy to escape the frenetic energy of the city for far quieter surroundings. Enter Orchha, a tiny town in Madhya Pradesh with a population of only ten thousand. Compared to the Golden Triangle, Orchha was a completely different world that seemed like it was still enshrined in the past and unspoiled by modernity. For the first time since entering the Subcontinent, my ears weren’t ringing from the constant beeping of horns and I could cross the street without fearing for my life. It was an entirely different world.
Seeing as it’s Valentine’s Day, I though I’d dedicate a post to Cupid and his well-aimed (well…sometimes) arrows. Before I moved to Japan, I confess that my opinion of Valentine’s Day had flat-lined at “meh”…now, though, it just means that my desk disappears under a mountain of homemade chocolates, cookies, and other deliciously unhealthy sweets from my students. It’s a pretty good development all around.
I’ve written about how much I love untranslatable words in the past; the fact that a feeling is familiar to people across cultures and continents and yet is only expressed in a certain language is fascinating to me. On Valentine’s Day, emotions run a headier, more dramatic spectrum than most other days of the year, and there are plenty of foreign language words to describe all of those feelings. Here are fourteen of my favorite untranslatable words that have to do with love in some way or another. Some are about the euphoria of falling of love, some are about the depths of heartbreak, but most are feelings that, I’m willing to bet, we’ve felt at one time or another.
1.) Forelsket (Norwegian) – Let’s start off with something positive. Forelsket describes how you feel when you first begin to fall in love. It’s that euphoric feeling of walking on air, when you view your paramour through rose-colored glasses and are convinced that the sun shines out of their posterior. All you want to do is gaze into each other’s eyes longingly and forget the rest of the world exists.
I’ve learned over the years that side trips can often mean the difference between a great trip and a trip that you’ll remember for the rest of your life. The more I’ve traveled, the more I’ve found myself reasoning to myself, “Well if I’m here I might as well…” If you’re already in a certain part of the world, making the hop, skip, and jump over to some other significant location doesn’t seem all that difficult. As paradoxical as it may seem, when you travel a fair bit, miles shrink. Compared to some of the day trips I’ve made, the twenty-kilometer train ride from Prague to Karlštejn, one of the most beautiful and famous castles in the Czech Republic, was nothing.
Some destinations are so hyped up, so seemingly magical and otherworldly, so commonly listed on bucket lists that they sometimes can lose their luster when you finally come face-to-face with them. So high are your expectations that the reality cannot possibly measure up with the image that you’ve built in your mind.
The Taj Mahal is not one of those places.
No, the Taj Mahal fulfilled every bit of my sky-high expectations and then some. I was expecting it to be easily one of the highlights of my week in India, and I wasn’t disappointed. Taj Mahal means “crown of palaces” in Arabic, and it’s a fitting name. It’s the crown architectural jewel of Agra, of Uttar Pradesh, of Rajasthan, maybe even of the entirety of India. You can’t argue with the fact that the shining white marble mausoleum, with its bulbous dome and the spindly towers that flank it, is one of the most impressive and iconic buildings in the entire world. Continue reading Taj-struck in Agra