It is now getting on two years removed from my year away… my year on the road, a year crossing mountains and deserts and large bodies of water, a year sitting in, and settling into historical cities and remote villages. A year that took me across North America and the Atlantic to a wedding in Austria. Up to the northernmost point in Poland, and then back down overland into Turkey. Way down to the southern tip of Africa and back up by plane, train, boat, bicycle, motorcycle, auto and even powered by my own two feet. Across the northern Mediterranean coast and up the Adriatic and into central Europe. Any semblance of a rhythm or an order to the travel and the route then fell apart… A brief skip across the pond to meet my new niece and nephew and then back over to the soggy north Atlantic isles. A bucket list hike across Switzerland followed by a flight across the world and another hike through the Himalayas… And finally across the breadth of Asia and the Pacific and back to San Francisco.

The question I’ve probably gotten the most is ‘What was your favorite part?’, which seems like a reasonable enough question to ask, but is really difficult to answer. Maybe by sitting here and getting my thoughts about it on paper I’ll be able to come a little closer to a sufficient answer…. but I doubt it…  My time traveling has manifested itself as a collection of really incredible memories that jump into my head at the most random of times. Some of these memories are majestic and some are funny and some are tense, but often they are just mundane snapshots… the kind that fill the time… the kind that really piece a trip like this together. It’s fun to take a kind of stream of consciousness approach to memory… to reflect and see what sticks… Every week these very random memories pop into my head, from out of nowhere, and I need to ask myself, ‘This moving picture in my brain, from a place I can’t really identify… is it a memory from my travels or is it something from a dream?’ Then I find myself trying to piece it together over the next few days. Did I really experience it or is it something that’s been fabricated in my subconscious? For example: I remember standing in the frigid cold, on a lookout over a river next to a giant cross lit in a purplish blue. I was with a couple of people I’d recently met. We drove up to the lookout (who did I meet who had a car??). I can‘t recall where this could have possibly been? It was cold and I was wearing my blue sportcoat, my scarf and my knit hat. There may have been snow flurries. For a week I wondered if this was a real place… if this circumstance was real. Then it came to me… Alexandra had given me a ride from Baia Mare to Cluj Napoca, a college town in north western Romania. I had met her and her boyfriend for drinks. They toured me around the old college town and took me up to the cross and the overlook. These situations happen all of the time. Sometimes I am able to close the loop, to solve the memory… but sometimes I am not and those moments live in some purgatory in my consciousness.

As I look back the moments almost overwhelm me… I crossed a lot of items off the bucket list and saw things that people would only dream of. I made lots of friends and crossed lots of borders. I saw a lot of places that you hear about from a young age that you have to see. Some breathtaking and some hyped to an unachievable level… I can now say that I’ve seen the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx… box checked… and I’ve been to the Taj Mahal… crushed it… Were they impressive? Sure… Did I really enjoy it? Not so much… The relatively unknown and overwhelmingly impressive carved churches in Lalibela, Ethiopia were far more meaningful and moving to me. As was seeing the sunrise from a hot air balloon while floating through the cave dwellings of Cappadocia. I will never forget summiting Kilimanjaro, the highest place in Africa, with one of my best friends in the world who I’ve know since I was a kid… and walking the esteemed Haute Route between Chamonix, France and Zermatt, Switzerland… that moment when I strolled into Zermatt with a cold rain wicking in my bushy dark beard, after walking those 200 miles… that moment will be with me forever. It will be hard to beat living aboard a felucca for a week, sailing the Nile between Aswan and Luxor, waking at dawn for hot coffee brewed over a fire… sailing, reading and napping as the wind took us north, past fisherman and cruise ships… pulling to shore each evening to sleep along the banks of the revered river. I got to lecture in a revived 15th century church to crowd of 300 eager Sicilians, most interested to chat about architecture and offer suggestions for future stops along the way… These were big moments and fantastic opportunities.

More poignantly, there were those moments that at the time seemed so ordinary, but in hindsight so rich and layered. They’ve stuck with me and have consistently woven their way into my consciousness… There are far too many to recount them all, but here are a few that seem to linger…

I remember hitching a ride on the back of a motorcycle in Letoon. I was trying to regain the trailhead for the Lycean Way, a long distance hike across the south of Turkey that passes through ancient Roman ruins. There was some communication breakdown and I was dropped off at a closed restaurant at an off season stretch of beach near Patara, 10km from my destination. Initially a setback, the remedy had me hiking the 10km back along a remote beach to the village of Pydnai. I remember walking along and ahead seeing the sand moving and changing shape in the surf… I saw thousands of crabs dancing and scurrying along the waters edge. As I got close they would retreat to the water. Such a seemingly banal moment, it stuck with me always brings a smile to my face.

Another time, at the suggestion of my new friends in Sicily, I remember a chilly evening, walking around the tight streets of the Sassi, the old town carved from stone in Matera in southern Italy. I spent hours walking around the city. Up and down steps, discovering little courtyards and alleyways… the most enjoyable time for me was in the evening. All of the tour busses had left and the groups had been ushered off to their safe accommodations on the outskirts somewhere. There always seemed to be a light rain falling… I had the place to myself… The city is the home to a music conservatory, and as I wandered the streets, with the rain falling on the rooftops, there was a great soundtrack to the city… students practiced with open windows and the music bounced and echoed off the stone facades, filling the ravine with dissonant sounds that met to create its own kind of orchestra. I spent my last evening walking from one private concert to the next, just lingering in the streets under the windows of any particular piece of music I fancied…

While in Cairo, early one morning I took the Metro to the Ataba station and walked through the Khan al-Khalili souq as it awakened. I was heading north to the Bein al-Qasreen area. I walked through courtyards and alleys as the sun rose, shining on the intricate details carved into the buildings. The morning is such a great time for strolling through Cairo, before it really fills up… before it gets too hot… I wandered past the ancient mausoleums of famous Egyptian rulers and found myself at the Wikala al-Bazara, a caravanserei, sort of merchant and traders inn built in the 17th century. There used to be over 360 of these inn’s scattered throughout Cairo, but this is one of 20 remaining. Stables and store rooms surround the courtyard on the ground level with guest rooms for traders on the upper levels. The one here in this part of town was recently restored and is beautiful and surprisingly minimal. I toured the building and identified a drawing that might be nice, then sat down to get into it. I wanted to try to capture the proportions of the courtyard, not just in plan, but in elevation as well, as the height of the courtyard is just as critical as the general size of it.  I started with the plan, being sure to get the details as close as possible. It was a quirky plan, with the east facade having 8 bays and the west having only 7. This inconsistency I think made the space feel richer. The stacked stone base added mass to the stables and storefronts while the living quarters seemed to float above. The offices and living quarters were sparse and effective, almost monastic. I couldn’t help but think about the merchants, traveling from city to city, selling their wares, arriving at these caravanserei’s tired with animals and goods in tow. The perspective/ elevations took some time. I didn’t want to do just flat elevations. I wanted to understand how the building transitioned from one facade to the next, and I wanted to realize that transformation in the drawing. A small detail, but I think an effective one. I was starting to fatigue halfway through the 3rd elevation, I remember being embarrassed that I was suffering from drawing fatigue! I am not sure if it was visible, but this is when a local merchant came over and looked at the drawing, then gesturing with his hands asked me if I would like a cup of tea. Sitting and drawing is probably one of the best way’s to connect with locals. People tend to get really excited about seeing a drawing come to life right in front of them- a drawing of something they are intimately familiar with. I probably sat in that courtyard for three and a half hours. First along the north elevation, then the east, the west and finally the south. After a while I became kind of invisible to the people who worked there, and it was interesting to see how this little community functioned. Instead of being a visitor, I’d become a resident, a fixture in this landscape, and the locals treated me as such, and continued to visit me, bring me tea, and check in on my drawing…

As I said, there are too many of these ‘in between’ moments to recount, but hopefully this provides an idea of the richness of the in between…

I was often asked in surprise if I was traveling alone? Usually this question was followed up with ‘aren’t you lonely?’. The idea that someone would choose to intentionally travel alone for enjoyment escaped many of the people I encountered.  I remember getting into a little debate with a Turkish guy I’d met on the pros and cons of solitary travel. He preferred to travel with his ex wife rather than travel by himself because he wanted someone to share these magical experiences with. While I can understand where he might have been coming from, I found great value to spending time with myself. When I had traveled with people in the past I found that I relied on them. It was too easy to limit my interactions to the people I knew. There was no need for me to put myself out there, to make myself vulnerable… and I didn’t meet people. When you are on your own you have no choice. And the great part is, it never felt awkward. I never felt alone. Sure there were some tough days (like arriving back to your flat in Prague late in the evening and finding yourself locked out and needing to walk the cold November streets until 6 in the morning), but not as many as I thought there might be. My biggest fear going into this trip wasn’t about violence, physical injury or bodily harm… it was about surviving the mental challenges that might present themselves. I was terrified by the idea of spending so much time by myself. But a funny thing happened… I came to really cherish and enjoy that time. I really enjoyed getting to know myself and my tendencies and limitations… And I really enjoyed getting to learn about my own resilience! Throughout the journey I smiled with content a hell of a lot more than I hung my head in despair…

In some sense, ‘The best part of my trip…’ will continue to change for the rest of my life… when whatever random thought pops into my head at any given time, giving me a warm nostalgic feeling… There were so many unique and fulfilling experiences whose relevance to my mood or perception can change like the weather. All that said, and without a doubt, the most fortunate moment was the day I walked onto that cafe terrace in the remote village of Abu Simbel in lower Egypt, when a brief glance to my left changed my life forever. Here it is almost 3 years later and I still get goosebumps thinking about that moment when I first saw her. And I still get goosebumps today thinking that I get to spend every day with that beautiful girl I met on that terrace and I get to call her my wife.

Before I left for this trip I was lonely. I wondered what that moment was like… that moment you meet the person you want to spend the rest of your life with. I honestly can’t believe it happened to me… and I can tell you it was worth the wait. I had a lot of chance encounters with all kinds of people while on the road, in the air, and floating the waterways… but none as significant as that conversation struck up on that terrace in lower Egypt. I wouldn’t say Abu Simbel was the best place I went, and I am not sure I (we) will ever go back, but it provided the backdrop for what was, without doubt, the moment that changed my life forever… a chance encounter that was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.

8 Responses to “Final Post”

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  • vik, iceland
  • gulfoss, iceland
  • high tatras. zdiar, slovakia
  • prague, czech republic
  • eger, hungary
  • cafe era. brno, czech republic
  • gdansk, poland
  • breb, romania
  • breb, romania
  • sigishouara, romania
  • mt. kilimanjaro, tanzania
  • lolindo, tanzania
  • lake baringo, kenya
  • st. george. lalibela, ethiopia
  • st. george. lalibela, ethiopia
  • lalibela, ethiopia
  • st. george. lalibela, ethiopia
  • lalibela, ethiopia
  • rim gadel, ethiopia
  • rim gadel, ethiopia
  • cairo, egypt
  • the nilometer. cairo, egypt
  • wikala al-bazara. cairo, egypt
  • wikala al-bazara. cairo, egypt
  • saqqara, egypt
  • sahara desert, egypt
  • sahara desert, egypt
  • alexandria, egypt
  • luxor, egypt
  • queen hepshetsut's temple. luxor, egypt
  • istanbul, turkey
  • istanbul, turkey
  • the new mosque. istanbul, turkey
  • cappadocia, turkey
  • stromboli, italy
  • bay of kotor, montenegro
  • dubrovnik, croatia
  • chamonix, france
  • paris, france
  • carnaween. donegal, ireland
  • sandinos. derry, northern ireland
  • glen nevis, scotland
  • celtic park. glasgow, scotland
  • col de balme, france
  • la fontanelle, switzerland
  • agra, india
  • auden's col, india
  • kharsoli, india
  • the best picture of all time: the first time i ever laid eyes on my beautiful wife!