Saturday, March 21, 2020

Time to Read

Hello everyone,
If you’re like many people I know, you’re going to have a lot of time on your hands over the next few weeks, perhaps months.
As my inbox flooded with emails from CEOs across the country telling me what they were doing to help me through this time, I started to feel like a bit of a laggard. I mean, here are all these folks running multimillion/billion dollar companies (boring!) with all this great info about how they will continue to stock toilet paper for when we need it most, how drive-thrus will be operational, and how I will somehow still be insured after all this is behind us. Important stuff to be sure, but what was I doing? How was I going to fill the unimportant void in your life when you aren’t making use of the drive-thru or the 200 hundred rolls toilet paper? 
What could I possibly offer that isn’t covered by these two industries? In times like these, what could anyone possibly want besides food and toilet paper?
And then it hit me.
Now, if you’re thinking, “Holey Moley, Rey’s gonna give me some free art!” you can just hold your horses right there. The kind of art I do takes a lot of time, and I’m not about to just start handing away these tiny chunks of my soul for nothing. But on the other hand, what about writing? I mean, honestly, anyone can be an author these days. That’s why I became one! You can practically write in your sleep, while your driving to work, or while you’re travelling (if you didn’t catch the typo in that sentence, put the kibosh on you becoming a writer any time soon).
So, that big idea. What could I possibly have that might be interesting to you in times like these? Where we are stuck at home for weeks on end with enough toilet paper to last three pandemics? With thoughts of travelling to interesting places completely banished from our hopes and dreams?
To that end, I’ve made my first book, Today I Ate Cow Stomach, available online for free for anyone who wishes to click the link below. DO NOT WORRY! This is not some link to a page that will ask you to pay for my other two books, whereupon you will get my first book free….although, that’s probably not a bad idea, and reason number one as to why I’m not the CEO of my own billion-dollar empire. 

Regardless, click the link below and you will be taken directly to the site hosting my book. You do not have to pass go or have a get-out-of-jail free card (not that that makes any sense) in order to access the book. It is free. Free as in “no money required.” You simply need to have an interest in travel, perhaps a desire to look at glorious, colour-filled pages of exotic destinations only marginally cramped by my mindless bouts of chatter. Actually no, that’s not true. It’s not mindless, but there is a lot of it, but that’s the charm of being me. An opinion on everything that isn’t about fast food or toilet paper.
If you have a friend or relative or neighbour who is interested in travel, feel free to pass this link on to them. I just know they will thank you for it because you are a good person.

For those of you who don’t know, Today I Ate Cow Stomach is about my family’s travels through Italy, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt, the first 137 days of our 275-day trip around the world a number of years ago. Loads of stories, hundreds and hundreds of photos of beautiful places, and some artwork as well. So I guess in a way there is free art involved!

Please know that I am not in any way making light of the situation we now find ourselves in. This is serious business, and likely the only way we’ll get through this is if those of us who are deemed “not essential” hunker down at home for a long period of time. In order to make at least some of those weeks go by a little quicker (it’s a long book) and more enjoyably, I thought I’d offer up Today I Ate Cow Stomach.

Stay well in these interesting times, and enjoy the read.
Again, pass this on to anyone who may be interested.


Wednesday, March 11, 2020

The Thrill of Exploration

When planning the Turkey chapter of our 'big trip,' I came across a photograph of the theatre at Termessos. It wasn't really near the places we wanted to see in Turkey, so I set to work finding new things to see on a path that would get us reasonably close.
The hub for our Termessos trek turned out to be the city of Antalya, right on the Mediterranean Sea coast. It's a fine city with a fabulous (if outdated) museum, good restaurants, and the friendly Sabah Pansiyon. Also worth seeing if you're around Antalya is Chimaera, home to a hill with a few dozen fires poking their way out of the ground.
But Termessos was our focus at this point. The Sabah rented cars so that was easy enough, and the route up to Güllük Dagi National Park also pretty straight forward.
"The drive north of Antalya is simple and beautiful. We’re driving in Turkey. And I’m not sure what we’ve done to deserve yet another sky that is so blue it seems to sparkle. Not far out of town, we begin to make the upward climb into those remarkable hills, where the drive becomes very dramatic, and not just because the road crumbles away from the edge and spills down the hillside. Not the ground beside the road, but the concrete that was once a part of the road. A never-ending stream of mostly-intact hairpin turns takes us in a continuously vertical direction, into Gulluk Dagi National Park, and past the set of outer walls belonging to the ancient city of Termessos." (From an earlier post describing our day at Termessos, Check it out for many more photos.)
There are many places around the world where the atmosphere just begs you to stop, settle yourself, and listen to the centuries of history that have passed since Alexander passed through, places that, with more than a little sense of quiet urgency, invite you to ponder what once was, and how it ever came to end.
I didn't plan on taking this panorama photo. In fact, I had to sift through a couple hundred pictures to find the four or five that would make up this final one, that would come to fully represent our day in that ancient city, and one of a few that would encapsulate the thrill of exploration, and the wonder of this entire trip.
I could go on and on; in fact, I just erased several sentences of superlatives so that you could spend more of your time just looking at this picture.
Turkey's time in the travel spotlight has been up and down over the past decade, and it seems as though it's experiencing a bit of an upswing again. If you plan on going, do not miss this place. Get there early, and you will likely have the city to yourself.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

The Wonder of Travel

I don't know how much Gokarna, India has changed in the last twelve years, but back in 2008 it was wonderful, everything one could have asked for. From the landscape to the people to the beaches to the restaurants, it was all literally full of wonder.
We walked these headland paths between Kudle Beach and Gokarna Beach every day for two full weeks, twice a day - in the late morning sun after managing to extricate ourselves from the comfortable rooftop terrace and perfect breakfasts at Mahalakshmi Restaurant, and again hours later heading back home, as the sun began to sink into the far edge of the Arabian Sea. More often than not, we’d clean ourselves up in our room, then walk back to the centre of town for dinner at the Pai Restaurant. A truly enjoyable thing about staying in one place for an extended period of time is getting to know where you are, getting to know its people, and of course, becoming more and more acquainted with its food. Both the Pai and Mahalakshmi served exceptional dishes, and each day it seemed, we were greeted a little more warmly, a note of recognition in the eyes and smiles of the people there. Mahalakshmi’s owner was usually the one to greet us inside the front door, and I remember that first day how he guided us through his building, out the back door, and up a set of stairs to the rooftop. I was skeptical at first as to what we could possibly find out here after what we witnessed on the inside, but this view…and the food. After that day, he merely waved us on through, allowing us to find our own way up stairs, and he would follow along with the menu minutes later.
After about a week of walking the seaside path to Kudle Beach, we somehow discovered a tiny bakery hidden in the bushes, up the hill, out of sight. Cinnamon buns were added to the daily routine.
Part of the fun of travelling for long periods is meeting other travellers on more than one occasion. On an overnight trek to sleep under the stars in Jordan’s Wadi Rum, we met a British couple, Allan and Maggie. They had been to India numerous times, and as we talked of our future plans, they had some recommendations for us. “If you want to see Goa like it was twenty years ago, go to Gokarna. You won’t regret it.” A full month later, we bumped into Allan and Maggie four thousand kilometres away on Kudle Beach and spent a couple days hanging out together. 
This photograph conjures all of that and more. The endless sunshine. The warm salty water. Beautiful coastline. Green as far as the eye could see. Gokarna itself, but also the possibilities that travel represents. The opening up to new experiences. Discovering these amazing places that we’d never heard about before. Seeing life played out in a way so different from our own back home.
I think we would say that Gokarna was one of our favourite places in all the world.
After our last breakfast at Mahalakshmi, we told the owner that we would be leaving early the next day. After a few words to us, he leaned forward and looked into our kids’ eyes. “We’ll see you again someday.”

What are some of your favourite places?

Monday, March 9, 2020

The State of the World

I've been thinking for some time now that I need to revisit my favourite travel photos and talk about what makes these images powerful. Sometimes it's just a reminder of what travel means to me, others are a moment in time that is irreplaceable. It's a long list of things that can make a photo stand apart in my memory, so considering the state of the world today, not just the travel industry, I figure now is the perfect time to reflect on the wonder of exploring our planet.

Let's start at the beginning. Anticipating a trip can be almost as much fun as the trip itself. When you are in the planning stages - narrowing down where to go, looking for places to stay, things to do - the energy created is a magical thing. Opportunities are seemingly endless, and the skies are always, always sunny in these times, as no one imagines themselves on a rainy beach or taking cover in a hilltop town to escape hurricane winds. No, these imaginings are filled with brilliant skies and pleasant temperatures, error-free days and maximized potential.
Thanks to a price war involving some European airlines in the fall of 2016, we got an unbelievable price* for a two-stop jaunt to Madrid in spring 2017. Five minutes before we left for the airport, I found an email from KLM informing me that one of our KLM flights was cancelled. We were free to rebook another flight, but in the meantime, they would looking into finding us an alternative. One minute later, KLM emailed to say that they had managed to rebook us on an Air Canada flight from Montreal to Heathrow, followed (very closely (full-sprint close, as I recall)) by an Iberian Air flight to Madrid. We would arrive half an hour later than originally planned. Crisis averted.
As dawn broke the following morning, not long before landing at Heathrow, the sky blossomed into the colour of dreams and opportunity, the pinks and blues and oranges intensifying until I relented and got out the camera.
This image epitomizes that feeling of anticipation, where everything is perfect, everything how you want it to be. You know it's going to be a good day.

What is it that makes one of your travel photos stand out from the rest?

Here's a bit more from Spain:
And a little more detail about that KLM incident:

*That unbelievable price has forever clouded my judgement when it comes to the real cost of inter-continental travel, but no mind, this is a happy post!