From my window seat, I looked out at the glacier melt streaming down from the Himalayas, running through Nepal’s natural colour palette: crystal-bluish ice and sparkling white snow on grey rock, descending into the brown, dusty land and vibrant green jungles on the border of India.
If you’re lucky your plane will circle above the Kathmandu Valley a second time before landing. Mine did, and it allowed me to absorb the landscape, but also to try and identify Mount Everest among the endlessly sprawling and majestic Himalayan summits.
The perfect symmetry of the yellow stoned arches mirrored in Balikligöl pond only lasts a second. It is broken by the chaotic splashing of a few holy fish crowd surfing over the thousands more with mouths babbling ready for the feeding frenzy. They’re here because of a legend dating back millennia.
Sitting in the shade of a large tree outside the Cave of Ibrahim, I watch my hot çay tea sweat in the agonizing heat that is summer in Şanlıurfa. Reflecting on the historic significance of what I just witnessed is feverishly difficult. This is the cave where Abraham, the very same Abraham from the Old Testament, was born.
Leonard Cohen is my home boy. I refer him affectionately as L.C. or simply Leonard. He’s at once a living legend and an unknown mystery. Some people have never heard of him but they have undoubtedly heard his songs.
Adventure strikes the fearsome, investigative duo again. A simple enough plan turned ridiculous in the early afternoon heat. Follow the convenient tourists signs scattered throughout Lviv and make it up the city’s mountain to their main attraction, the High Castle.
Lviv’s High Castle
Where does the time go? I’ve been cruising down Eastern Europe these past six weeks in a trip that was both dreamt of for many years, and spontaneously executed. It even has a title: From the Balkans to Baltics and Back. And as I crossed the Bosphorus and landed on the Anatolian shore of Istanbul, this dream trip came to an end.
So I borrowed this post’s title from one of my favourite Bob Dylan songs, and one of the best Quebecois idioms. Not that it really applies much to what will follow. I wasn’t cursing when I arrived in Tallinn, though it was pouring rain and I got drenched the moment I got off the pier. I didn’t get stoned either in Estonia, nor did I find Tallinn to be backwards like, you know, something from the Stone Age. (Ok,that was forcing it).
Like I said, it was raining pretty hard when I got off the ferry from Helsinki. It was wet, cold and grey. I was thrilled! This is what I thought my first visit to the Baltic’s should be like. A miserable chill to the atmosphere, suffering. Suffering, but not in vain. This is what freedom earned through perseverance, non-violence, and endured captivity must look like.
The trans-Siberian train is a dream trip for some, an escape across continents for others, and just a normal passenger train for the majority of people who make a living working abroad, as migrant workers, or by trade between China, Mongolia, and Russia. My motives fell somewhere between the first and second as I took the train the non-traditional route, westwards out of Beijing.
Now, coming from the west there are a few different routes: two from Vladostok on the Russian pacific, one that traverses all of Siberia north of Lake Baikal called BAM that cuts the transit time, the other south of the lake; and then two from Beijing, one via Mongolia and the other through Manchuria.
I was leaving Beijing and opted for Mongolian landscapes out my window. My destination: Irkutsk, Russia. Some say, as my mom told me, that Irkutsk is the Paris of Siberia. But when I got there the locals didn’t really care for this comparison. They were also much kinder to me than Parisians, and I speak French! I didn’t feel the similarities with Paris, though Irkutsk is beautiful and especially on a grey night with a light mist. Anyway, I digress.
“You say ‘Chinese New Year’ to make people understand that it’s special New Year rather than the international New Year. Chinese people call it ‘Spring Festival’. We do say happy New Year, but when translated, it mostly makes you think about the international New Year. People do say ‘happy New Year’ during Spring Festival too, but Chinese nationals know that you’re talking about Spring Festival rather than the international New Year,” clarifies Xiao Zhao, who works at an embassy in Beijing.
The distinction between the two terms can be confusing; especially when subject to translation. In practice, however, they are the same 15 day celebration and the terms are used inter-changeably. Dai Zhezhen, a student from Chaozhou, a small town in south China, alludes to the symbolism of each day of the New Year festivities.
It was the second time in a month, and I’m starting to guess that this is something I should be use to by now, that I found myself roaming the streets at the dead of night outside a train station. This time, though, I had no reason to be there, I was just hanging around; I had no accommodation for the night, and I wasn’t leaving the city in the morning.
This time it was in Amsterdam, home to one of the most beautiful train stations in Europe. But don’t let the grandiose building on the outside fool you, the interior is filled with the lowest of the down and outers in the world, I imagine. Amsterdam is notoriously unexpected – it’s not what you thought from the rumors you’ve heard: Though those rumours are also true.
Head over to Dispatches International for my latest take on the Dutch society, once the weed smoke clears.