Alhambra in Granada: Tactile Textures

Washington Irving sums up my feelings about Alhambra: “I gave myself up, during my sojourn in the Alhambra, to all the romantic and fabulous traditions connected with the pile. I lived in the midst of an Arabian tale, and shut my eyes, as much as possible, to every thing that called me back to every-day life; and if there is any country in Europe where one can do so, it is in poor, wild, legendary, proud-spirited, romantic Spain..” I’ve seen much in two years worth of expanding horizons. The Taj Mahal. Agra Fort. The intricate, never ending rooms and corridors of the City Palace in Udaipur. Lodhi Gardens in Delhi. Alhambra is a combination of all of these. Palace. Fortress. Gardens. Construction began in the 14th century, for the last Muslim Emirs to rule over the city during the Nasrid Dynasty. By 1527, the Roman monarchs had driven the Moors out of Spain and at least one palace, Palacio de Carlos V, was erected in a Renaissance style. In a creative writing capacity I’m all about the senses. As I explored each palace, gasped at the Generalife’s gardens, textures sang to me. I dreamed of having Alice’s ability to drink a potion that allowed me to grow bigger, so I could reach the ceilings and run my fingers across the patterns and carvings. Then I did along the walls – the curve of my index finger tracing the Koran in Arabic script. Nestled on al-Sabika hill, above Granada, Alhambra offers not only unparalleled architectural wonders, but stunning views of the city and surrounding Sierra Nevada mountains. As Irving suggests, simply close your eyes and slip into a past of legend, court intrigue and empires conquered and lost… […]

By |August 9th, 2012|Featured, Granada|29 Comments

The Day I Ran with the Bulls in Pamplona

5:30 a.m.: Oneika’s alarm bellows, dragging me from the pits of darkness. Allowing my foggy mind to waken, I lay inert for a moment, processing the reason for such an early wake-up call. Today, we run with the bulls. 6:00 a.m.: The girls and I start to dress. We slide on our white pants, lace up our runners and tie red sashes round our waists. I tie my red bandanna firmly against my throat, for the day before a Japanese tourist was dragged when his bandanna was snagged by a horn. I turn to the girls and say, “Tie up everything tight. No loose shoelaces, sashes or bandannas.” Why do I always feel the need to play mother hen? Pretend to be brave? When deep down, I’m not positive of anything. 6:10 a.m.: We continue a conversation that we’ve been having for days now. Where to run. How. What’s best. We’ve received so many recommendations. The top of Estafeta. Fifty meters down Estefata. No, Telefonica, near the bullring. Yet, we all agreed that the last place we want to end up is the bullring. There’s a waft of fear about human pile-ups. Stupid people on the route. Nicole B. jokes about fearing other runners more than the bulls. A consensus is reached that we’ll go fifty meters down Estafeta, stick to the right hand side and try not to leap towards a bull. Secretly, I want to touch one. Part of me is emboldened after watching a bull run from a balcony the day before. I saw female corredors, more than I anticipated. It was reassuring. Balcony observers – about to watch me 6:15 a.m.: Nicole B. vocalizes her nervousness. How her stomach is doing flips. Do it or not do it? She states this is what she’s always like before doing something. I wonder, doing something this crazy, you mean? I tell her if she truly doesn’t want to run, don’t. It’s an individual decision. I feel the pressure. Mainly because I created this idea and backing out even in the face of a goring or injury isn’t an option. To prove my point, I am willing to go all the way. Oneika reconfirms our plans. She’s been such an interesting force during this trip. As we watched the full length of a bull run on television the day before, Oneika squealed with unchecked enthusiasm. It’s dramatic tension cycling through in three minutes, so who wouldn’t be enraptured? This morning she seems more sober – logical. Stick to the right, yes? She asks. Let’s not get near the bulls. I realize, she’s simultaneously adventurous, but intelligent about it. How I long to be like her. Instead of grossly impulsive. […]

By |July 18th, 2012|Featured, Girls Running With Bulls, Pamplona|37 Comments

On Aging, Sex and Travel

In China, it is considered unlucky and offensive to give someone a clock on their birthday. The word for clock in Mandarin is similar to the word for death. It also symbolizes time ticking away  – bringing us closer to that unmentionable state. I just celebrated my birthday in China, where I’ve been living for over two months now, stationary as a bolted down chair. It’s been pleasant to slow down, celebrate my arrival to the earth in a calm, orderly way – go out with friends, eat food that melted in my mouth, consume liquor, dance like I was 20 again and pass out. It was painstakingly normal, a footnote of a birthday, yet oddly enough this one came with questions. I ran into a colleague a week ago, engaging in the usual banter, when my birthday came up as a subject and led to that delicate arena of dating and relationships. “Now that you’re settled for a while, are you going to start looking for a boyfriend?” He gave me the sly nudge and wink – to indicate cheekily that maybe it’s time. He has no inkling of my age and if he did – I imagine he’d audibly gasp. Time to readjust my usual mode of travel trysts and think about something serious. The facts of my life are going to unfold only one way in the next few years – abroad. I probably won’t be going back to Canada for quite a while. If ever. Maybe to collect the mail or drop in on old friends. Not to live. Not to exist. My colleague’s innocent joke churned the wheels in my brain towards options. What is truly out there in the expatriate world for women of my age? […]

By |April 13th, 2012|Featured, Life|99 Comments

Pandas in Chengdu: Photo Essay

Where is Chengdu you may ask? And why should you go? Located in Sichuan Province, Chengdu has been called the “Land of Milk and Honey”, because it’s so rich in resources. Truly, there are so many things to do in Chengdu. Wenshu Temple. Taking the bus to Leshan town and checking out the 71 meter Buddha. Climbing Mount Emi where the legend of Kung Fu was born within the respected monks of Emi. Myself? Pandas! It’s no mystery that I love animals. You’ll always find me petting anything furry, despite warnings of rabies and fleas. I seriously can’t help myself. Which is why a visit to the Chengdu Research Base for Giant Panda Research was high on my list. The Research Base is a non-profit and was founded in 1987 to focus on protecting and breeding the endangered giant panda. Their emphasis is on wildlife research, captive breeding and educating people on conservation. What is most unique about the Base is the educational tourism aspect. As you move through each section of the grounds, you’re encouraged to understand a panda’s life span and behaviors. There’s even a panda movie theater that shows educational films. With about 200 hectares of land to play with, the Research Base carefully reconstructed the natural habitat of pandas and created a haven for other animals like red pandas, swans, peacocks, birds and golden monkeys. Humans are also privy to a calming atmosphere with gardens to explore and the addition of a manmade lake and teahouse. It was relaxing to hang there after gushing over the pandas. Unabashed admiration is hard work. The Base is located about 30 minutes from Chengdu. If you plan on going on your own the entry fee is 58 RMB or you can book transport through your hostel or hotel. My hostel provided a van and driver with a guide for 98 RMB, which is a pretty decent price. […]

By |November 28th, 2011|Chengdu, Featured|39 Comments