The Stone and Waters of Venice

Water and stone are soothing to me, so it’s no surprise that I love Venice with its jade green canals and its stone pathways. As soon as I stepped onto those narrow streets last week, I felt calmed. I wore my hard heeled boots, so that each step clacked and resonated with the marble and Istrian stone of the buildings towering over me.

My friend and I didn’t do much traditional touring — no tours, no following long lines of crowds into well trodden iconic buildings. Mostly we just wandered, getting comfortably lost among the twisting, narrow streets. We let each turn lead us where it may, whether to some small, empty square or dead ending at a canal. We found our way into churches and observed their historic beauty in the dim light. Sometimes we were brought us to the door of some hidden-away restaurant, a quiet spot away from the bustle of San Marco Square.

Our second main focus of the trip — eating copious amounts of delicious pasta, pizza, fresh seafood, gelato. I was introduced to the Aperol Spritz, a bright red, lightly sweet and bitter drink that I included with almost every lunch or afternoon appetizer.

Walking by a real estate office, I was surprised to learn that the cost of purchasing or renting a home in the city is quite reasonable (particularly in comparison to my current rental prices in California). Of course, there are downsides to the city — massive crowds of tourists so thick you wan barely walk down certain streets, flooding that seems to be getting worse year by year. But a part of me still took a moment to daydream about living in Venice among all its stone and water and carving out an artists life of being perpetually lost in these labyrinthine streets, drinking coffee in the morning, Spritz in the afternoon, and writing to my heart’s content.


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Touring Petra

In the midst of our nine days in Egypt, my sister and I took a day tour into Jordan to visit Petra. This involved getting up at 3 a.m. for a two hour bus ride, one hour boat ride across the Red Sea, and another two hour bus ride, during which was had to pass through border control (and then the reverse for our return). It was a long journey for such a short (four hour) tour of Petra, but it was absolutely worth it.

Petra was the capital city of the Nabataeans, a nomadic people who used the city as a trading hub. The most famous structure is the “Treasury,” a tomb carved into a sandstone cliff at the end of a narrow gorge — a structure that was featured at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The Treasury style is influenced by the Greek and Egyptian cultures. The upper level includes images of two Amazons, with the the Egyptian goddess Isis at the center. At the center of the middle band is Medusa, who acts as a guardian of the tomb. And there are other references as well. Watching the Treasury slowly be revealed as you walk(while dodging out of the way of speedily moving horse-drawn carts) down the narrow gorge is stunning.

The Treasury is the most famous structure at Petra.

But there is so much more to Petra than the Treasury. The rock formations alone are beautiful. And there are numerous tombs carved into cliffsides, as well as a theater, a church, a monastery and other structures. Altogether, my sister and I only saw a fraction of Petra (and even less of Jordan)  — and we were immediately struck with a desire to return and hike through more of the site.

petra
Moving through a gorge in Petra.
Petra – the Royal Tombs
Petra – the Royal Tombs

Six Things I Loved About Egypt

When my sister and I told family and friends that we were planning to spend nine days touring through Egypt, we were often greeted with warnings — it was dangerous, they said, we should stay away. But that didn’t stop us.

Egypt was a phenomenal place to explore. Although there were annoyances (as there always are when traveling), both my sister and I felt safe during our nine days in Egypt. The food was (for the most part) great — often kebabs or chicken with rice, salad (a mix of cucumber and tomatoes), tahini sauce, and pita bread for dinner and falafels for breakfast in the mornings. We also tried and rather enjoyed koshari, a dish with rice, pasta, lentils, and fried onions with a red sauce.

My sister and I packed as much as two people could humanly pack into our nine days, visiting dozens of pyramids and tombs and temples while we were in Cairo and Luxor, as well as managing a trip to Dahab on the Red Sea and a day trip into Jordan to visit Petra (which I’ll talk about in a separate post). With the heat — which varied between oven and hell most days — and out packed itinerary, we were exhausted by the end but it was all worth every second. Here are a few of the moments I loved.

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Travels in South America (Part III): Argentina 

Wrapping up my journeys in South America — following Peru and Chile — my sister and I elected to drive across the border from Puerto Varas, Chile, into the Patagonia region of Argentina. Renting a car provides a freedom when traveling that going by public transportation and by foot does not. We were free to take any road we wanted, to wander and explore. Plus, the roads were well maintained and most people seemed to obey the traffic laws (at least as much as they do in the U.S.), so driving around Patagonia was fairly easy.

We drove past lakes and up into the mountains, where we quickly went through the border checkpoints (since it was the slow, winter season). In between each set of checkpoints is the actual border, welcoming drivers into Argentina on one side and into Chile on the other.

When I saw “we drove,” I should really clarify and say that my sister was the one to do the driving — and she hates driving. I would have been happy to drive, but since the car we rented was a manual transmission and I don’t know how to drive manual, she was stuck with it. She didn’t complain though, because it was some beautiful driving.

Argentina
The twisty road we drove over and through mountains from Chile to Argentina.

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Travels in South America (Part II): Chile

Continuing on my journey to South America, I’ve already shared about Peru, so now we’re on to Chile.

For Love of Pablo Neruda

My main purpose for visiting Chile was the opportunity to visit the home of one of my favorite poets, Pablo Neruda. He had three homes that were turned into museums — La Chascona in Santiago, La Sebastiana in Valparaiso, and his home in Isla Negra.

I was able to visit two out of the three homes, both of which feature an impressive collection of old maps, found objects, and artwork gathered together by the poet, who also served as a diplomat.

La Sebastiana is a narrow tall home, with a tight hallway leading up to each of its four or five floors. At the top was his writing room and his desk, with a few papers contained there under glass.

La Chascona is situated on a hillside in the Bella Vista district of Santiago. Neruda named the home La Chascona, which means “tangled-haired woman,” after his wife and lifelong love, Matilde Urrutia. La Chascona also featured some poetry in Neruda’s own handwriting, displayed at his desk, as well as a display of his published books in editions from around the world.

Pablo Neruda died from cancer shortly after Pinochet’s military coup in 1973, overthrowing democratically elected Allende. After Neruda’s death, La Chascona was ransacked, items were stolen and destroyed, and the drainage ditches were blocked off so the house would flooded. Matilde held the funeral in the destroyed house and the funeral procession that followed turned into one of the first public protests against the military regime. Matilde continued to live in La Chascona, restoring it and the art within, eventually starting a foundation to preserve Neruda’s legacy. She was also a human rights activist, which brought her into conflict with Pinochet.

My poet heart soared walking through the spaces Neruda once walked. I adore Neruda’s words and the passion he had for his wife, his country, and the world. It was an honor to two of his homes and to see how his love of life translated in to the spaces Neruda and Matilde made for themselves.

The one home I missed out on, Isla Negra, was actually the home I had in mind when wanting to come to Chile. Somehow I confused it with the Valparaiso house, but that’s alright. I was thrilled to have visited the two homes I did and now I have a reason to return to Chile.

La Chascona
A very happy me standing outside La Chascona, Pablo Neruda’s home in Santiago.

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