Saturday, December 22, 2012

A year in review

We didn't quite know exactly where our trip would take us this year when we departed from Calgary  in January, 2012. For example, we had intended on two or more months in India only to discover it was basically impossible to get a Indian travel visa on the road. Over the year we visited 12 countries; Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Nepal, Bhutan, Italy, France, Spain, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland, and the USA. On the map, the countries in red are ones we've travelled to this year and the countries in green are ones we travelled to previously, some like USA, Japan and Indonesia we've been to more than once! (Our travel list before this trip includes: Antarctica, Falklands, South Georgia, Cuba, China, Egypt, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, India, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, French Polynesia (Bora Bora & Tahiti), 1 night Germany, and 1 night in Singapore. All 7 continents, and a total of 29 countries to date.)

These are 10 highlights of the year:

1.) Surfing: J practiced daily and learned how to surf in Bali. While he completed this amazing accomplishment I spent time soaking up vitamin D while reading.

2.) Epic trekking: Our first foray into hiking was our plan to trek up to Everest base camp. Sometimes you get wrapped up in the excitement and the fact that no one is there to stop you, and you do something stupid. This was one of those moments. Once booked I decided to look up the trek and I realized there was no way in hell I would make it out alive with out an expensive helicopter evacuation. After spending some time throwing up in the bathroom, while J was asleep, I had to admit that I could not do the trek. It was a dream of J's so I was very disappointed to cancel, but he agreed swallowing our pride was the least objectionable option. We settled instead on trek up Annapurna mountain range. I had no idea I could survive an epic 50 km hike (with over 2000 meter height gain) in the Himalayas, Nepal. The hike was more physically demanding than anything I have ever done! Although I am not sure I would tackle it again, I am impressed I made it. We also hiked up to Tiger's Nest Monastery in Bhutan, which is impossibly perched 3100 meters up, on the side of the mountain. The views of the unspoiled countryside and the ornate temple were breathtaking. Thankfully no donkeys were needed in either trek. The guides in both treks were very relieved when I successfully made the ascents. I recall our guide in bhutan telling me afterwards, "I did not want you to lose hope but I did not think you would make it!"

3.) Isle of Capri: It has always been a dream of mine to go to the Isle of Capri, as I was named after it. What a gorgeous island with interesting architecture surrounded by deep blue sea. I totally stocked up on stuff with my name on it including postcards, a necklace and of course "I Love Capri" t-shirts for the family.

4.) Copenhagen biking: We spent about three weeks in Copenhagen, Denmark, the most bike friendly city in the world. We picked up two second hand bikes, which we named Finn and Juhl, and spent our days riding all over the city. It was so relaxing and made me feel like a kid again.

5.) Building bikes: We worked 7:30am-5:00pm Monday-Friday for four weeks to complete our two frames.  I am surprised that I enjoyed bicycle building as much as I did. I learned to braze and the experience of putting together such a project taught me a lot about management in general. After literal blood, sweat and tears, if anyone steals my bike there will be hell to pay.

6.) NYC: The goal of NYC was to live as New Yorkers for two months and boy did we accomplish that! We loved our little 5 story walk up apartment in the Lower East Side, surviving the Sandy Hurricane and the end of the world,  the amazing vegan dining and shops, copious museums and art galleries, movies, shopping, the Leonard Cohen concert, wandering the streets, and spending time with friends.

7.) Food: We have enjoyed the most amazing vegan food from all over. We were also fortunate to attend the Vegan Fest in Italy, where we also met a new friend, Kristin, of the great travel blog: Will Travel For Vegan Food.

8.) Art: We've enjoyed countless museums, galleries, antique shops, architecture, and public art. One of my favourites was the Joan Miro museum, Barcelona. We also spent hours wandering the The Centre Pompidou, in Paris, and snapping photos of worldwide graffiti. We bought an annual pass to MOMA NYC, as it paid for itself with our visits, visitor passes and museum store discounts. We have explored amazing architecture, to name a few; Petronas TowersGreat Buddha of Kamakura, Sagrada Familia,  Eiffel TowerNepal Great Stupaduomo square cathedral,  Leaning Tower of Pisa, and Tiger's Nest Monastery.We even picked up a few treasures along the way; an antique sculpture in Denmark, a vase in Toronto, two paintings in Las Vegas, two Shafford cats in Tucson,  a rug in NYC, and a few pieces of costume jewelry.

9.) Accommodations: Starting from our tiny room in Tokyo, we have stayed a variety of dwellings including; apartments in France, Spain, Denmark, and the USA, a rocking hostel in Malaysia, a Buddhist monastery in Nepal, and a tent on the USA road trip. We've had both a few nice luxury hotels with pristine bathrooms and also sparse, unheated tea houses. We've also encountered some questionable bathrooms.

10.) Nature: We have seen some spectacular natural sites such as Uluwatu cave beach in Bali, Mount Everest, Annapurna mountain range, Paro Valley Bhutan, the Grand Canyon, volcanic scenery and blue lagoon of Iceland, blue grotto in Isle of Capri, ocean view in Kamakura (Japan), Venice river,  the red vistas of Sedona, Yellowstone geothermal areas, We have also seen countless critters; birds (including puffins), cats, lizards, and many monkeys.

As we review our trip in our last few days in NYC, we feel so grateful for the experience. We are looking forward to coming home and eventually planning our next travel adventure. You can check out the year's photos here: My flickr & J's flickr.

"We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again-to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more." Pico Iyer 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Wandering in the footsteps of others

We had another lovely friend, Chris, visit us here in NYC. We went back to MOMA and also The Guggenheim Museum. At the Guggenheim we checked out the Picasso Black and White. As time goes on I like Picasso more and more. We've seen examples of his all over the world on this trip! The exhibit is of course in the wonderful Frank Lloyd Wright building. He is one our favourite architects. In addition to Picasso, I thoroughly enjoyed the Asterisms exhibit by Gabriel Orozco. It is a large installation of found objects, carefully arranged like a human bowerbird nest. Of course we also checked out more delicious vegan dining.

We checked out a super funny and intelligent comedian, Jamie Kilstein that I randomly heard about on twitter. We spent another fun day with our friend Enki (and talented photographer) at Prospect Park, a 585 acre park in Brooklyn. It was nice to be such a green space in the middle of NYC. We all went to MOMA PS1 Museum, up in Queens, NYC. The building was great and while the current exhibits were not of my particular taste it was neat to see some different more contemporary modern art. A highlight was actually outside the museum; a building across the street covered in amazing graffiti. We attempted to go to the Intrepid: Air, Sea and Space Museum, but it was closed until at least December 21, 2012 due to Hurricane Sandy damage. We did walk around the pair to view the aircraft carrier and the Enterprise space shuttle. From a distance we could also see a concorde plane.

A favorite museum was the Tenement Museum, which "tells the stories of 97 Orchard Street. Built on Manhattan's Lower East Side in 1863, this tenement apartment building was home to nearly 7000 working class immigrants." Access to the building is by guided tour only. We went on the Hard Times Tour; "Discover how immigrants survived economic depressions at 97 Orchard Street between 1863 and 1935. Visit the restored homes of the German-Jewish Gumpertz family, whose patriarch disappeared during the Panic of 1873, and the Italian-Catholic Baldizzi family, who lived through the Great Depression." The tour was terrific! We walked through the two different restored apartments imagining how the families lived, their struggles and daily lives. The German family had to survive through the patriarch disappearing, leaving the mother the sole care giver and provider for her three children (a fourth passed away. She ended up becoming a seamstress, working from her small apartment. In the Italian family's apartment they had a recording of the, now adult, daughter describing her experience living in the apartment. Their triumph over adversity sure put my own worries into perspective! The museum experience was enhanced by our previous watching of episode one of the seven part series on history of New York city, called New York: A Documentary Film. 

The history experiences spurned me on to get to the New York Public Library, to research my granddad who was a New York City police officer (patrolman), in 1905 to at least 1910. I had intended to spend some time at the NYPD Museum and archives, but sadly they sustained significant damage during Hurricane Sandy as are closed for an indefinite period. I received some great tips of where to search at the library from a librarian online and I was able to get a free visitor library card. Via the library, I was able to access the old microfiche rolls for the Police Special Orders records for 1905, 1906 and 1909 (1907-1908 are not available). We sent four hours each pouring over the rolls and made it through 1905, 1906 and half of 1909. Much of it was quite boring with details such as officers sick days, vacation days, transfers, appointments etc. 

However, there were interesting records of some officers misdeeds and subsequent punishments. Some misdeeds included not feeding the horses, not showing up for patrol or leaving early, being found in a liquor store or saloon while on duty, not being found at home when supposedly sick, sitting while on the job, speaking in an insolent manner to supervisors or citizens etc. Thankfully my granddad did not show up in any of those reprimanded! However, I did a learn a few facts of his appointments, duties and locations. I also found out he got a raise in 1906 to $900.00/year. I was also able to access the site via the library for free (which you can also do so via Calgary Public Library). I was able to find my granddad in the 1910 census, locate his address and view his apartment on google maps street view! The next plan is to go take a photo of his apartment. I was also able to access the newspaper archives and found an article from 1906 detailing the award my granddad received for saving a man who was drowning.  It's been fun playing family detective and I plan on putting all the information together in a family timeline booklet. 

It has been rather surreal to wander the streets of NYC and wonder what my granddad saw and felt a 100 years ago...