It was 9 o’clock in the morning, and everything in sight was bathed in the brilliant, blazing light of an Arabian Peninsula sun. I had my sunglasses on and still felt the need to hold up a hand to shield my eyes from the glare. Around me stood men buying fresh produce, men selling khat for camel feed, men chatting amiably in long white dishdashas with colorful kumas perched atop their heads. I was standing in a souk in Ibra, Oman—the lone female and the lone foreigner—surrounded by Omani men going about their morning business in a market scene so customary to them it surely felt banal. Little here seemed ordinary to me, though, and I was savoring every second. I was the Other, the outsider, the ferenji, and my senses were heightened in anticipation of the unfamiliar, my eyes wide open to novelty. Situated somewhere between the dunes of the Wahiba Sands desert and the mountains of the al Hajar range, Ibra is an old city in a very old part of the world. Not for the first time, nor surely the last, I found myself wondering how did I get here?
At the end of an inauspicious road in a sleepy Chilean surf town sits the 8 Al Mar Bed & Breakfast. You won’t be faulted if you can’t initially find the place. The boutique hotel sits in its own isolated cove fronting the Pacific Ocean, tucked amidst white-paneled houses with such little signage that you’d think the owners preferred to enjoy their property in complete isolation. And maybe they do. The eight room structure of glass and wood, designed by the Chilean architect Igor Moraga, is a befitting of a profile in an interior design magazine. Each room enjoys panoramic views of the Pacific and private balconies from which you can spend hours watching waves crash against the rocky beach while fishermen scour the coastline for mollusks washed ashore. A sun-saturated wooden terrace is populated with sunbeds and furniture carved from driftwood. Across the way, three hot tubs are screened behind wooden fences, allowing for privacy where guests can enjoy a bottle of Carménère while listening to the sonorous ocean. Is this paradise? I think so.
“Make sure you visit Hatchards,” a friend advised upon hearing that I had an impending trip to London scheduled. “Wonderful bookstore. Adjacent to Fortnum’s. They have a subscription service—you pick a topic and once a month they’ll hand-select a book and mail it to you.” It’s no secret I love books. If I have spoken with you in the last six months, I probably asked you if you’re on Goodreads; and if you told me that you are not, I probably demanded that you download the app immediately and list what books you’ve read in 2016. I really, really love books. So when I heard there was a bookstore in central London which offers a monthly subscription tailored to the bibliophile’s individual interests, passions, and reading preferences, I made it my first stop after dropping off my bags at the hotel.
“Let’s go somewhere. We need an adventure,” a dear friend once said to me. We were sitting on the couch in my Denver, Colorado apartment, digesting Thai food and drinking wine. I had just earned a Master’s degree; Nicole was slated to begin medical school in the fall. We were both feeling equally free and adrift and antsy at that particular moment of our lives. Let’s go somewhere exotic. Somewhere far away. Somewhere where we could lose ourselves for a few weeks and forget our respective realities. Let’s go on an adventure—that’s what was said, but the subtext was so much greater than that statement. It took us five minutes of naming destinations—Turkey, the desert (but which desert?), somewhere beautiful in Europe—to settle on a trip so vast it would feel more like three trips in one: The Trans-Mongolian Railway. Rather than end in Vladivostok, the traditional terminus of the Trans-Siberian Railway, we would switch trains in Irkutsk and venture through Mongolia to our ultimate destination, Beijing. The distance from St. Petersburg, Russia to Beijing, China via train is approximately 6,000 miles. Eight time zones are crossed en route. We would begin our trip in Europe, end in Asia, and circumnavigate the globe before it was all said and done.
“Let’s go somewhere,” Nicole said. And so we went around the world.
For a detailed summary of the St. Petersburg to Beijing via the Trans-Mongolian Railway itinerary, see the full post in the Travel Itineraries section.
You need to visit Whistler-Blackcomb if you like any of the following: skiing; snowboarding; après ski; sore quads; shit-eating grins induced by big bowls, narrow chutes, and excess powder; sushi that tastes as if the fish was caught, killed, and filleted within the previous five minutes (and maybe it was); meeting Europeans outside of Europe; Kokanee or Molson; and stumbling upon attractive Aussies and Kiwis around every corner.
As the sun rises in Luang Prabang, Laos, hundreds of Buddhist monks depart their various temples and walk in a single file procession down city streets collecting alms. This daily ritual, dating back to the 14th century, plays out today largely in the same way it has for 800 years—as a silent and spiritual river of orange moving through the still, heavy air of an early morning along the Mekong River.
From muffins to murals in the Mission District and hunting for exotic bourbon in South San Fran to walking along Chrissy Field savoring iconic views of that big red bridge, here’s a top-line guide of what to do when you have a day to spare in San Francisco.
Charmingly authentic, Sala Lodges in Siem Reap, Cambodia isn’t so much a hotel as it is a collection of Khmer homes—and while you’re there, it’s your home. The Temples of Angkor, named the best tourist attraction on the planet by Lonely Planet in 2015, are only a few miles away. Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm, and Bayon along with the markets of Siem Reap and the rice paddy-speckled landscape of rural Cambodia are literally outside your front door. But with a house of your own so perfectly representative of rural Khmer life and with a staff so impossibly attentive and kind, the question becomes not where to go for the day but rather how you’re going to compel yourself to leave this personal paradise.
Searching for a place to habla español outside of the U.S. that emphasizes authenticity and altruism with a little bit of adventure thrown in for good measure? Check out La Mariposa Spanish School, located in La Concepción, Nicaragua, where $480 gets you a week’s worth of lodging, three square meals a day, 20 hours of one-on-one Spanish language lessons and a serious appreciation of Nicaraguan culture and history. La Mariposa promotes ecotourism and volunteerism and offers a wide array of activities, such as hiking and horseback riding, with a schedule any college student would envy—study in the morning, adventure in the afternoon.
Go for the Spanish but realize that a better understanding of verb conjugations is the least of what you’ll acquire during your Central American sojourn.