Kristine wanders

The musings of a wanderer......

Category: North America

Sacred Places

During my time in Prague we wandered around the Old Jewish Cemetery and it got me thinking about all the sacred places I’ve visited during my travels. Places where the ugliness of humanity once carried out unimaginable horrors or mother nature intervened in tragic ways, and the different ways people pay their respects and mourn for those that died. In the West we commonly lay wreaths. Have moments of silence or hold candle light vigils. We visit grave sights and place flowers. We bow our heads. We say prayers. Wandering this Jewish cemetery many of the tombstones had rocks placed on the top, or coins, or notes. Some of the notes said “Love from Italy.” Or Florida, or France. Many of the notes were folded in a way that the messages were kept secret. Sealed messages of mourning to honour the dead. I was really moved by this tradition of leaving behind something to acknowledge that we have been there, and that the persons memory is carried on by the living.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I remember one of my first trips abroad and visiting Hiroshima and seeing the Peace Memorial at sunset. In 1945 an atomic bomb was dropped there and some 70 000 people were instantly killed. Today the bombed out remains of one building are all that remain and I remember the building being lit up at night which made the visit very moving and that there was an eerie calmness to the site. In my memories it’s silent except for the sound of the wind thru the nearby trees. I’m sure there were other noises, but all I remember was the light and the setting sun. Since then I have visited Ground Zero in New York City. I’ve walked the beaches of Sri Lanka years after the deadly tsunami that claimed the lives of nearly 37 000 people. When I visited back in 2010 nearly 6 years later parts of the coast looked like a war zone with only the cement frames of houses that were otherwise completely washed away. It was heart wrenching to drive through these small villages and meet people who had lost family members or even their entire family, their houses, and had no choice but to continue living on the coast- in many cases living off the very ocean that took so much from them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I remember in 2010 when I backpacked thru Syria. Crossing by land from northern Jordan and driving up to Damascus the oldest city in the world. I remember feeling very safe while traveling there- my best friend and I taking public buses to the UNESCO sites of Palmyra in the northeastern part of the country near the Iraqi border and Crac de Chevaliers just outside of Homs. Both sites have been massively damaged in the Syrian conflict not to mention the estimated 250 000 Syrians that have lost their lives. Last year when I was in the Maldives there was a massive earthquake that hit Nepal, a country I had visited the year before. I remember exploring the alleyways of Kathmandu stumbling across tiny temples and statues amongst the hustle and bustle of such a populated city. Much of it was damaged during that earthquake in April 2015.

Palmyra in Syria

Crac de Chevaliers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few years back I visited the Killing Fields of Cambodia where over 1 million people were killed by the Khmer Rouge regime in the late 1970’s. 1 million. In my lifetime. I remember wandering the memorial site and crying. What took place there was horrific and barbaric. Processing it made the air feel thick and my chest feel heavy. It’s unimaginable. And yet it happened. In recent years it has become a tradition to leave a bracelet to remember the dead at the site of one of the mass graves. Rocks in Jewish cemeteries, bracelets in Cambodia. Different acts and yet the same meaning- to bare witness. To mourn for humanities evil. All of these sites have the same things in common. They are sacred. They instill the visitor with a sense of disbelief and an overwhelming feeling of despair. Apart from my reference to Sri Lanka and Nepal all these events are man made. The darkest parts of humanity did this. And it continues to happen today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This post wasn’t meant to be depressing but rather to acknowledge the different ways around the world people pay their respects and remember the dead on the actual soil where nature and man has claimed so many lives. I also hope that it motivates you to learn about these dark periods of history and compare them to current events. To bear witness to what is happening around the world today. Lest we not repeat humanities mistakes. That we realize that a life no matter how far away or how different from our own is still a precious life. That it inspires you to get out there and see the world, as the world and climate are always changing and natural events can forever change the face of a place.

My Top 10 from 2015

2015 was a pretty epic year of traveling for me. I’ve just switched over to my new 2016 calendar and I counted all the days I was out of Saudi traveling last year. It was 109. 109!!!! How is that even possible? Since the last time I checked I work a full-time gig as a VIP nurse in Saudi Arabia. But apparently I was on the go a lot. I visited 16 countries over the last year, 11 of them new for me, and I thought I would share my top 10 favourite memories from the last year. Enjoy!!

1. Cyprus

Way back in February I took a trip to Cyprus and my kiwi sidekick and I rented a car and drove around the quaint island. I have 2 favourite memories from this trip. The first was the a day we spend driving in the hills between Limassol and Paphos. The  day was cold and dreary and we visited a local winery and then made our way to a small village that was devastated and deserted by an earthquake in 1969. As we arrived in the village a torrential downpour started which only added to the creepiness of our visit, and we got soaked walking around taking photos. The village is on the way to a town called Lemona. The other great memory I have from that trip was the time a stranger gave us his BMW to drive for an afternoon. You can read about that travel tale here.

Creepy right?!

2. Norway

Two words. Lofoten Islands. Quite possibly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. They are picturesque and have this kinda of awestruck beauty that isolated and desolate places have. Every which way you turn your head was a postcard perfect view. The gagged snow covered peaks drop dramatically into the arctic sea and I would go back in a second. I think an Atheist would have a hard time believing there isn’t a higher power of some sort after visiting this island chain. See for yourself…..

3. Sweden

The whole of Scandinavia is awesome, and travel there is pretty easy. It would be a real shame if you went to Sweden and didn’t visit the Ice Hotel, even if only for the day! The Ice Hotel is an artistic marvel in that every year the design and decor is completely different. Different artists take part every year so the theme rooms change, which you have to admit is pretty cool. It is pricey, but well worth the stay. You can sleep in one of the actual ice rooms, or stay in a heated cabin like we did. Oh, and if you go make sure to do the tasting menu at the restaurant there- it is phenomenal. Maybe you’ll luck out and the Northern Lights will come out like they did for us!!

4. Finland

Dog sledding in Lapland has got to be one of the best things I’ve ever done. It was bloody cold, but so worth it.

5. Maldives

This view……I dream about it often. This is one of the most relaxed vacations I have ever had. Ever. It was hard to decide between spa, pool, eat, nap, read, repeat. This is also the place where I attempted to overcome my fear of the water and tried scuba diving.

6. Bahrain

So VIP culture is huge in the Middles East. You rarely see anything VIP in North America unless it’s in a mocking nature, but over in these parts everything is VIP. VIP movie theaters, hospitals, parking spots, entrances. It’s all a little over the top. That is until you catch a ride over the causeway to Bahrain in a vehicle with diplomatic plates and get to cross via the VIP lanes. Yep. And funfact….they have tea boys who come right up to you car to serve you tea, while you wait in line to cross the border.

7. Morocco

I blogged at great length about how difficult it was traveling in Morocco, but one the best things we did while there was take a cooking class thru Souk Cuisine. This class included a shopping trip to buy the needed ingredients in the Medina and was a great way to learn about local ingredients whilst mixing with the locals. Even though Morocco was sometimes very challenging the food was ALWAYS delicious. I would pretty much recommend doing a cooking class or food tour whenever you travel. I’m doing one later this month in Spain and can’t wait!!

8. Bali Indonesia

At the end of August I took part in a retreat on the northern part of the Indonesian island of Bali with 17 other ladies from all over the world. My time there was so needed and really came at a time when I needed to slow down and work through some things on my own. The location was beautiful, as were the many lovely ladies I met. This was a time of much needed R&R and reflection, and I’m so thankful for the wonderful friendships that were formed from my time in Bali.

9. Oktoberfest Germany

Even though I ended up with a GI bug from hell, Oktoberfest was a seriously fun time (while it lasted.) I mean what’s not to love about a group of traditionally costumed and hugely intoxicated people smashing beer steins together while singing traditional German songs at the top of ones lungs. It was a good time, and YOLO you really only do live once so you should go.

10. Sparkling Hills Spa in British Columbia Canada

Last month I took my mom to this spa about an hour from where she lives. This is a place people have been raving about since it opened a few years back and I was keen to see what all the hype was about! The hotel is pretty much the luxury accommodations in the Okanagan region of British Columbia and known for its spa, saunas and heated outdoor infinity pools. The views from the rooms are amazing, as are the 7 saunas and the indoor floating pool with classical music playing under the water. Well worth the visit, and it was a great mother-daughter retreat.

So really that wraps up 2015. It was a pretty great year. I’m really excited to see what is in store for 2016. I’m excited for the new faces I will meet, the new sights I will see, and the changes that will take place inside of me.  I found this quote that sums up my thoughts about the upcoming year perfectly, and my hopes for both you and I…..

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world.

You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly you’re Doing Something.

So that’s my wish for you, for all of us, and my wish for myself.

Make new mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before.

Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t prefect, whatever it is; art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing. Do it. Make your mistakes, next year and forever.”

Neil Gaiman

Thoughts on Home……

Earlier this month I traveled back to Seattle, the place I think of as my adult home and up to Canada to where my family is. Both hold very strong emotional ties for me, and after having not visited either since last October this trip was long overdue. This was in fact the longest stretch of time I’ve been away from home. I had been counting down the days coming up to this trip the last few months. I was super homesick, and couldn’t wait to surround myself with those I love dearly and who love me in return.

My visit to Canada was so needed, and yet a little difficult at the same time. Lots had changed in the year I’d been away. Lives had changed. In the couple months surrounding me coming to Saudi my parents had decided to part ways. Each starting different lives in different addresses. The family home was sold. Granted I hadn’t lived in this home in like 15 years, but mentally it was the place I would go when and if everything fell apart. It was my safe haven. The place I knew I would be welcomed and cared for unconditionally. And it no longer exists for that purpose. I was immensely nervous how I would fit in. If there would be room for me. If I would feel out of place. As it turns out there was space, both physically and emotionally for me to fit back in to the mix. I shifted my time between my mom and pop’s places, and spent a night surrounded by family at my brother’s. I caught up with old friends, many who I’ve known my entire adult life. I treated my mom to an early Christmas present and we escaped to a luxury spa for the night where we drank wine overlooking the snowy hills that flowed into Okanagan Lake. It was a great week!

 

 

 

 

 

 

My time in Seattle was spent running what felt like a million errands and a majority of the time sitting on my best mate’s couch, wine in hand thankful to have some much needed catch-up time. I felt honoured that so many people went out of there way to carve out a slice of time in their busy lives to see me. Truly. Even now that I’ve been back a week my heart is huge and I’m so thankful to have so many great friends. Many I’ve known for years, some only in the last couple years I spent in Seattle. Thanks to modern technology I can easily keep in touch with them and connect whenever we find ourselves in the same geographical locale. It’s pretty awesome. So thank you- you all know who you are!! To those of you I missed- I promise to see you next time I’m in town….whenever that may be…..

So now that I’m back here in Saudi Arabia, I feel myself split in three pieces. The part of me that lives in Saudi and loves adventuring around the world.  A part of me that misses my old urban life in Seattle, where so many of my dear friends are. A place where any day of the week you can find a double happy hour, and there’s always something going on.  And then the part of me that will always call Canada home, regardless of the number of years I am away. I think Pascal Mercier sums it up perfectly with the following quote “We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find only by going back there.” Wouldn’t you agree?

 

Vancouver Island, Canada

I wanted to share a place with you that is one of my most favourite places in the world. This is a place that holds great memories of my childhood, and one that I know will be in my future. I’ve always had a love of the west coast. Whether it be Vancouver, Victoria or Seattle, I love it all. I love the ragged coastline and the ocean, and I especially love a good winter storm.

Growing up as a child I have many fond travel related memories. We would spent much of the summer camping, and we even owned a pretty rad camper that fit in the back of my Pops 1977 Ford. I lived most of my childhood in Alberta and it has some of the best camping a person can imagine. But, my fondest memories by far were of camping on the west coast of Vancouver Island. A tiny slice of land between the small towns of Tofino and Ucluelet. This area is known as the Pacific Rim National Park, and I can remember roaming the miles long beaches as a child, seeking refuge from the wind in deadwood forts we would build. The 4 of us trailing along- mom and dad in the front with my brother and I pulling up the rear, each in our own little world as we combed the beach for treasures, such as shells or feathers. Our crazy water loving dog Dusty was always somewhere in view, and often we would walk for hours without seeing hardly any other people. I remember a summer afternoon spent watching my brother and cousin body surfing the chilly Pacific Ocean waves. I remember it was a place of peace. A place of quiet. And these memories are what drew me back to it as an adult.

After a particularly bad breakup I was seeking solitude and the only place I longed for was this coastal area. I headed here in late November and spent 3 nights reading, journaling, and exploring the empty beaches. I was fortunate to visit the day following a winter storm, so the ocean was still churning and frothing as the huge waves crashed into the shore. It was spectacular. There are numerous hiking paths within the Pacific Rim National Park that I explored and braved the cold of Chesterman Beach to watch the surfers take advantage of the large waves. A couple years later I returned with my dear friend during the spring when the season was still full of rain, and the winds cold. We rented a cabin with a hot tub, and would sit out in the warm water as the rain poured down with the sound of the crashing sea in the distance. If my heart where divided into territories a huge piece of it would belong to this place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tofino and Ucluelet couldn’t be more different considering they’re separated by a mere 40km. Tofino is more worldly and trendy. There’s more to do there in terms of art galleries, restaurants, and shopping. I personally prefer the quiet and seclusion of Ucluelet. I’ve walked the 2.6km loop trail to the lighthouse numerous times, and it never gets old. The recent times I’ve stayed in Ucluelet I’ve booked at Reef Point Cottages. They are middle of the road in terms of lodging, but I love that they have a kitchen, and that you can get cottages with hot tubs. Also, they are pet friendly. If luxury is your thing there are tons of beautiful resorts and inns scattered between Ucluelet and Tofino.

 

 

 

 

 

If you find yourself on the west coast of Canada you should make the trek to Vancouver Island, and to the western coast. Go in the winter. If you’re lucky you’ll get to see a winter storm. Bring a good book, warm clothes, and rain gear. It will stay in your heart and memories long after you’ve left. Trust me. I’m living in the Middle East and longing for this place……

© 2017 Kristine wanders

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑