May I Change My Mind? Part 2 of 2, in which I do!

“To move, to breathe, to fly, to float,
To gain all while you give,
To roam the roads of lands remote,
To travel is to live.”

― Hans Christian Andersen

Part 1 of this “Colombia cities” blog offered a few hints as to how I learned to travel calmly in Colombia, where there was much that could have been difficult. With a week’s perspective, the challenges have faded a bit, and the beauty, newness and awe come forward.

I browsed the hundreds of photos that I took during our six weeks in Colombia, and offer the following gallery of favorites; hoping they summarize better than words the many things in which I found true delight during the journey.

Joyful Colors...

Joyful Colors…

Cartagena Mural...

Cartagena Mural…

Beach Beauty in Tayrona

Beach Beauty in Tayrona

Bliss...near Tayrona

Bliss…near Tayrona

Coffee Culture, Hacienda Venecia

Coffee Culture, Hacienda Venecia

Vista in Salento

Vista in Salento

Popayan Silouette

Popayan Silhouette

Guambino Gentlemen, Silvia

Guambino Gentlemen, Silvia

Just Look Up!  Gamboling Statues...

Just Look Up! Gamboling Statues…

Locks...

Locks…

Lusciousness Everywhere

Lusciousness Everywhere

People, colors, food, nature, art…you can find them everywhere; and everywhere different. So much to learn!

Bogota, Medillin, Cali…A City is a City is a ? Part 1 of 2

#blogguilt? Yep, six fascinating, challenging weeks exploring Colombia and we’re already across the border in Ecuador (more on that “interesting” experience in Part 2!).

We spent a lot of time in Colombia’s large cities, learning that as beautiful as the surrounding mountains might be, the cities themselves leave a bit to be desired. To be fair, Bogota (8mil), Medillin (4mil), & Cali (4mil) are just rougher versions of many other million plus population cities around the world – traffic is horrendous and diesel/gas fumes reek – walking is not a lot of fun. Until we get city transit issues sorted out and move away from private cars to public, shared & more environmentally sustainable transportation, the world’s largest cities will continue to be increasingly difficult places to live as they grow. (And that’s my quasi-political/social statement for this blog.)

But Colombia’s big cities offer a good look at the country’s history, its art (fantastic), and a peek at how a tourist industry (while not quite in its infancy – hello, Cuba?) is developing. If you’re planning a visit to Colombia and want to do it without a glossy tour company, be aware -you’ll need the following:

Patience – you’ll be taking buses much of the time, and there are generally not set hours for departure. You will go the terminal, search for a suitable bus line (vendors stand about calling destinations), and either find yourself among the first or last to board…and then, only when the bus is FULL will it depart! Along the route, the bus will stop to let passengers off any old place…despite having told you the bus is “direct” (this does NOT mean “non-stop”.) As seats are emptied, the bus will stop along the route to allow others to board, including vendors who offer drinks, fruits, banana chips…and yes, these impromptu snacks can be delicious.

Earplugs – ah, those buses again. Usually, the music will be turned on, loudly, immediately, and constantly throughout the trip, whether 1 hour or 6. Be prepared.

Toilet paper – if you like more than a couple of squares, you’ll be happier if you put a packet of tissues in your pocket before you venture out. You’ll usually pay for the use of the toilet at bus terminals. And, if you’re female, be prepared for lidless toilets…great for the thigh muscles as you attempt to pee without touching the ceramic.

Ok, tips on how to “journeywise” out of the way.

We loved visiting the main plazas in Colombia’s cities – many are named for Simon Bolivar, the “Liberator.” Statues varied from a soldierly and solemn Bolivar to a “Bolivar as Condor” in Manizales, and naked Bolivar on a horse in Pereira…along with your run-of-the-mill busts. The gentleman was everywhere doing good deeds, until he ran into political and financial difficulties and ended his life in exile.

Bolivar Nude - Pereira

Bolivar Nude – Pereira

Museums and outdoor art were also a complete pleasure. From Botero sculptures to murals and graffiti, Colombia (whether on purpose or not) has encouraged a public sharing of exuberant art – it’s everywhere, splashing color along highways, streets, alleys and parks. While most is “art” for art’s sake, there is also plenty of politically motivated art relating to both indigenous peoples and the FARC guerrilla movement. More photos are available on Instagram @tojourneywise and commentary about traveling, organic agriculture and random thoughts on the journey on Twitter @tojourneywise. Enjoy!

Botero Sculpture

Botero Sculpture

Wall Mural Medillin

Wall Mural Medillin

Part 2 coming soon, more on Colombia’s big cities next time…then on to Ecuador!

Chiva Bus - Colombia

Chiva Bus – Colombia

Cartagena, Caliente!

Pegasus Before Port

Pegasus Before Port


The Clock Tower

The Clock Tower

Well, amigos y amigas, Cartagena was by far the warmest part of the trip so far (reminding us very much of Singapore’s heat and humidity); I quickly remembered that a wrung-out, wet bandana tightly twisted and tied loosely around the neck makes for an impromptu and successful personal air conditioner…that, plus multiple trips to La Palleteria for popsicle after popsicle made from fresh, incredibly flavorful local fruits, and yes, the occasional Swiss chocolate cream. Two key themes emerged from this most “vacation-like” part of the trip: Food & Art – and by “Food” I mean: food carts and stalls, restaurants, coffee shops, farms and even grocery stores. By “Art”: museums, street vendor crafts, the colors of the buildings, the sky, the sea; and the amazing graffiti and murals …

We’re well “medicated” with gingko – supposed to help with altitude (and so far, no problems with Bogota’s 8000’), yellow fever shots, and malaria pills. Drinking tap water and eating pretty much anything that looks appetizing, and so much does!

Fruit Carts Tempt

Fruit Carts Tempt

Watermelon to Order

Watermelon to Order

Citrus and More

Citrus and More

Treats at La Palleteria

Treats at La Palleteria

My blog subtitle includes “Learn it all, over again.” All of life is an education, but sometimes you can put yourself directly in its path – and that’s what’s happened in Colombia. The tiny Museo de Arte Moderno in Cartagena is in a fabulous centuries old building just off the “Reloj” (Clock Tower) Square. Its exquisite tiny collection of modern Colombian masters was immersion in an artistic culture that I haven’t known enough about. Botero, yes. Enrique Grau? No, but he was prolific, astounding, totally engrossing. And so many others.

Museo de Arte Moderno

Museo de Arte Moderno

Grau's View of Cartagena

Grau’s View of Cartagena

We stayed in the Getsemani neighborhood outside of the more well-known walled city in an Airbnb family casa, where we were also able to continue the Spanish lessons we’d started in Bogota. Cartagena is small enough that we walked everywhere, exploring tiny streets and alleys, sitting in the Plaza de la Trinidad at night with locals & tourists letting the cooler evening air waft aromas of grilled chicken, skewers of meat, and arepas (flat corn cakes cooked on a griddle and sometimes filled with cheese or vegetables.) Getsemani, particularly, is known for its vibrant and noisy nightlife – too bad we couldn’t stay up late enough to really appreciate it!

Airbnb Doorway Getsemani

Airbnb Doorway Getsemani

Airbnb Courtyard

Airbnb Courtyard

We’d anticipated a little time by some beautiful Caribbean sea while in Cartagena, but that wasn’t the case. The shoreline is not particularly pretty near the city, and not easily accessible by foot, so cooling off by the water wasn’t to be. Instead, we enjoyed wonderful walks through streets filled with color in every direction – whether the fruits, buildings, hats, hand-woven bags, or tshirts on sale everywhere, Cartagena is saturated with vibrant color. Thank goodness, the fact that we’re still in the early days of a 3-month journey makes it very very easy to say “no” to any purchases that can’t be consumed on the spot!

Color, Hot

Color, Hot

Color, Cool

Color, Cool

Color, Colombian

Color, Colombian

Color, Carnival

Color, Carnival

I’m reviewing many of the restaurants and activities at TripAdvisor as “tojourneywise” so you may find more information there about specific places I mention, or feel free to send a question or comment directly via the blog and I’ll be happy to reply.

Next up, truly off the beaten track…Tayrona National Park and another “secret spot.”

IMG_2775

Bogota – Bewildering, Enchanting

We’re travelling for three months in Colombia and Ecuador, putting cities here through the same filter as some of our top home prospects in the U.S. Will we end up falling in love with Popayan or Manizales, Cuenca or Ibarra? Come along for the journey and see!

AirBnB View Bogota

AirBnB View Bogota

It now seems a good idea that I’ve let a few days pass by since we were in Bogota, as I’d drafted a rather negative post – it started:

Bogota feels in some ways like a third world city; why is that? Let me count the ways:
1) dog “popo” (yep, that’s what they say) everywhere; 2) gigundo (no that is not a Spanish word) holes in the sidewalks and streets; and 3)trash.

Pity the Taxi Drivers

Pity the Taxi Drivers

The State of the Sidewalks

The State of the Sidewalks

But Bogata is compelling in many ways, so let me count those too:

1. El Museo Botero – you know, the guy who paints and sculpts those wonderfully voluptuous people and objects. He donated a massive amount of his personal collection to the museum, which is set in an old colonial palacio with a lovely courtyard. Fantastic. Free. Culture.

Museo de Botero

Museo de Botero


2. El Museo de Oro – gold, gold and more gold. Antique, ancient gold, and plenty of English-translations so it’s easy to learn what the displays are all about. One section involves entering a circular, darkened room and listening to the chants of early Colombian religious ceremonies. During the chants soft lighting illuminates a 360 degree display of thousands of tiny gold objects, arranged in swooping arcs of flight and clouds.
Room of Chants and Gold

Room of Chants and Gold

3. Food – interesting and often tasty! Hot chocolate with cheese cubes (Chocolade SantaFerena.) Very sweet pastries and very dry pastries. Some amazingly good Peruvian food at “Pasion Peruana.” Incredible vegetarian lunch at “Quinua y Amaranto,” in La Candelaria neighborhood.

Hmm, Hot Chocolate with Cheese?

Hmm, Hot Chocolate with Cheese?

Vegetarian Lunch with Quinoa

Vegetarian Lunch with Quinoa

4. Architecture – from the tiny casas in La Candelaria to the palacios of the colonial era and through the early/mid 20th century, Bogota offers up some glorious buildings. The only risk is that by looking up, you may step in a nasty hole in the sidewalk hole while admiring the grimy but otherwise charming buildings.

Plaza Bolivar

Plaza Bolivar

Colorful Candelaria Street

Colorful Candelaria Street


Apartments in the Round

Apartments in the Round

Faenza Theater

Faenza Theater

5. Art – murals everywhere. If you follow me on Instagram (cnewmanwise) you’ll see more examples of the incredible art that’s on most available surfaces.

Sombrero Hombre Azul

Sombrero Hombre Azul

Beauty...

Beauty…

Where Are You Going, Bicycle Boy?

Where Are You Going, Bicycle Boy?

A few days in Bogota was a great introduction to Colombia and adding 10 hours of intensive Spanish lessons kickstarted our ability to get around. Angie, our teacher, can be reached at (spanish1.english1@gmail.com). She was a good instructor, understood that we wanted a crash course in survival Spanish, and that’s what we got, with smiles.

We’re off to Cartagena and the Caribbean coast next…flipflops at the ready!
City, 8000', Mountains Higher

Shades of Pink…

“I am not a great cook, I am not a great artist, but I love art, and I love food, so I am the perfect traveler.”                                                                                      Michael Palin

Peaches

Peaches

Irreverance...

Irreverance…

Strawberries

Strawberries

Travel Equation:  Enjoy food + Love art + writing = My Sweet Life Right Now!

4 Big Rivers, 5 Days, 7 States, and 1000 Miles…

We’ve crossed the Delaware, Susquehanna, Potomac, and Ohio rivers in the past 5 days, and look forward to sunny days and more leisure to enjoy the ones yet to come (The Missouri! The Mississippi! The Columbia!) One highlight of the trip so far was the memorial service in the chapel at the Virginia Military Institute, honoring the ten young cadets who died in the Battle of New Market in May 1864.

Soft, lilting southern accents permeate the air – the wait staff at restaurants, in particular, sound gracious and kind, and even if the service is a bit slow from time to time, it feels simply good to just sit and wait, talking about the day, the drive, the scenery, the breweries!

I’ve already lost count – there was Star Hill in Crozet, Blue Mountain Brewery in the heart of the Blue Ridge mountains, Devil’s Backbone and Blue Lab in Lexington, VA….the Charleston Brewery in West Virginia…and more.

Virginia’s many historic markers included one marking the location of Meriwether Lewis’ birthplace – this gave me a thrill (yes, it did!), because we’re going to be driving in large part along the Lewis & Clark trail once we arrive in St. Louis.

Meriwether Lewis

Meriwether Lewis

Our drives haven’t started early yet, so there’s been room for morning exercise either at the hotels (terrible equipment!) or running.  Rest stops include some serious stretching of legs, hips, shoulders, back – otherwise, yikes!

I’m reviewing many of the places we’re eating on www.yelp.com – so you can look up Pronto and The Red Hen in Lexington, and others I’ll share as we go along.  The Red Hen was an extraordinary, tiny restaurant serving meals prepared from daily ingredients sourced locally – truly fine dining, and not something we can afford to repeat every day!

We left Lexington on Friday and drove to Charleston, West Virginia, along miles and miles of absolutely beautiful, winding S-curves, up and down roads across the Blue Ridge, and through West Virginia – I now understand why it’s called the “Mountain State” – it feels like the entire state is series of tiny towns in narrow valleys set between lush green hills.  From Charleston we made it to Lexington, Kentucky, site of one of Mary Todd Lincoln’s childhood homes.

Winsome Sculpture

Winsome Sculpture

This Lexington had no VMI, but does have Henry Clay’s home and law office, a thriving bourbon/craft brewing industry, and a busy Saturday morning farm market which I explored.  I didn’t get a doughnut today – but Cathy of Cedar Ridge Farm had a delicious sour cream cinnamon roll that was superb with the pourover coffee from MagicBeans Coffee (www.magicbeanscoffee.com.)  The growing season has already brought tomatoes, gorgeous peaches, blueberries, strawberries and various greens to the market.  The market is set up under a glass pavilion just outside the old Lexington Courthouse, parking was easy, and dogs were abundant!

Farm Market Peaches

Farm Market Peaches

On to Columbus, Indiana, home of some extraordinary public buildings designed by world-renowned architects…

C’est Vrai, C’est Pondicherry

At long last and after a brief respite, we’re back in the U.S. and in the process of planning the next trip (a cross-country drive). But before that, here’s a recap of our final, lovely and restful days in India:

After the short flight from Cochin to Chennai, and then the inevitable 3+ hour drive to Pondicherry (or Puducherry as it’s known these days), we arrived at the lovely Hotel de L’Orient (http://hotel-de-lorient.neemranahotels.com/) in the evening – leaving the pleasure of discovering the city to the morning light. After checking out our lovely room we walked the block or two to the promenade – and strolled along the Bay of Bengal, along with hundreds of residents who were enjoying the refreshing breeze.

The hotel is another Neemrana Hotel project; the “de L’Orient” was converted from an 18th century school building into a gorgeous, unique guesthouse. We had dinner in the outdoor dining room the first evening, under a shady neem tree, and enjoyed a great buffet breakfast the next morning in the loggia – so that we could have breeze from the overhead fans…it was HOT! Person after person told us that we were visiting at what is considered the end of the real tourist season (the first week in March.) Breakfast had a particularly French feel – delicious croissants, pain aux chocolate, yogurt, baguettes and Neemrana’s housemade pear, plum and mixed fruit jams, which we’d enjoyed at the other properties in Bangalore and Coonoor.

De L'Orient Key

De L’Orient Key

Lobby Figurines

Lobby Figurines

Walking in Pondicherry was a real treat – the former French colony has lovely old homes, many painted in a lemony yellow color to designate that they are still owned by the French. Our guide told us that there are 5,000 French families in Pondicherry, and it seemed like there was a Lycee Francais on every other street corner. A favorite visit was to the Sri Arulmigu Manakular Vinayagar Temple, celebrating the Hindu god Ganesha. There are 32 sculpted reliefs of Ganesha on the wall of the temple, which are incredibly detailed and colorful – http://www.manakulavinayagartemple.com/Types.htm. At the end of the day, an elephant is brought to the temple and offers blessings to those who bring appropriate offerings of grass, nuts or flowers. My handful of grass resulted in a good tap on my head from Lakshmi’s (the elephant) strong trunk.

Ganesha Temple Decor

Ganesha Temple Decor

Another incredible visit was to the Sadhana Forest (www.sadhanaforest.org) outside Pondicherry, where we visited a young relative who was starting an environmental internship. Sadhana is 70 acres of formerly arid, eroded land that is being transformed into an indigeneous tropical dry evergreen forest through the volunteer efforts of dozens of people from around the world. Over 29,000 trees have been planted over the past 10 years, watered and cared for by the volunteers. Through water management and retention efforts including building earthen dams and trenches, the organization has raised the aquifer’s level by 6 meters, and dramatically improved the water table for the rural residents. I walked around in awe – from the handbuilt bamboo and coconut palm multi-story buildings and dormitories to the communal kitchen, recycling center and solar array, the entire enterprise is an incredible, inspiring testament to what can be accomplished through devoted, passionate, hard work, and many many caring people.

Sadhana Buildings

Sadhana Buildings

From Pondicherry we went north to Mahalbalipuram (arghh, once we’d finally figured out how to say that correctly, we learned that this town is now called “Mammallapuram”), a fishing village with a quaint French flair, a nice beach with traditional fishing boats, and good restaurants. Mammallpuram is known for its shore temples and ancient outdoor sculptures carved from single enormous boulders and rock formations. Generations of stone carvers have thrived here, and as you drive the narrow streets there are dozens of small businesses with sculptures ranging from tiny, easily transported carvings to enormous sculptures that you’d need a crane to lift into your garden, assuming you’ve got both the garden and the budget to transport it there!

Mammallapuram Shoreline

Mammallapuram Shoreline

Our too short visit to Pondicherry and Mammallapuram ended with a late night dash to the Chennai airport for our long flight home. Five weeks in India were not enough, by far, and we’re already thinking about where to go when we return! The far north and the distant south. I’ll post a selection of India photos in the next blog, without the lengthy text. I hope you enjoy…Namaste.

Holy Cow...Farewell

Holy Cow…Farewell

London Reprise

Let’s go back to London just once before focusing on its former “jewel in the crown,” and recap some of the highlights of this trip.

We revisited the National Portrait Gallery, trying to put faces to the many kings and queens, went again to the Tate Modern, which is always a wonderful extravaganza of contemporary and sometimes challenging art, and briefly visited the Seven Dials area, mostly to walk in to tiny Neal’s Yard Dairy, featuring fantastic cheeses from all around the British Isles – and to purchase tastes of various blues, and a sliver of Stinking Bishop…enjoyed after making dinner at our friend’s flat, while watching live womens’ rugby – what a treat!

New explorations took us for a walk over the Millenium Bridge; for a city boat commute from London Bridge Pier to Greenwich, where we admired the gorgeous tea clipper Cutty Sark, which hauled tea from China to England in the late 1800’s; and the National Maritime Museum, which had a wonderful exhibit of JW Turner maritime paintings and a collection of his sketch books. Borough Market was another treat, with stalls of vegetables, cheeses, breads, prepared foods and craft soaps (of course!)

Travelling around London is easy – buy an Oyster Pass which you scan entering and leaving the underground or bus. Topping up is easy too and maps are on the trains and in the stations, including magnified street maps as you depart the station. Stand in front for a few minutes to orient yourself and you’’ll be more at ease when you get above ground. Time to write about India…but enjoy these few photos, and I’ll upload a gallery of London pics when I’ve figured out how to do that!

Neal's Yard Dairy "Blues"

Neal’s Yard Dairy “Blues”

Tea Clipper Cutty Sark

Tea Clipper Cutty Sark

Double Decker Bike Rack

Double Decker Bike Rack

How the Journey Began…

JourneyWise burst into life a couple of months ago while I was on a United flight from Washington, DC to San Francisco, the start of a two-week trip (can you call it a vacation when you don’t have a job?) that included Thanksgiving with family in San Francisco and then a leisurely exploratory drive to San Diego.  Two weeks was a bit arbitrary, why not one week, or three? What’s the perfect amount of time to be away from home?  Thoughts like these had kept me scribbling away in a notebook (not enough room to open the laptop) in my economy seat, and as we landed at SFO I wondered not only how the flight had gone by so fast, but whether I might have found a new focus for our year of travel sabbatical.

Zio Ziegler Mural San Francisco

Zio Ziegler Mural San Francisco

 

Across from Rainbow Grocery San Francisco

Across from Rainbow Grocery San Francisco

Our next trip starts soon, and will take us to India via London, for almost six weeks.  Next time, I’ll share some of the ways in which we are trying to JourneyWise…