I love to write. As all of you who follow my blog know. I often share pictures in the middle of my posts, but usually the focus is on my words and my stories. One of the things I enjoy most on my travels is finding unexpected views. I love taking pictures. Of gorgeous sunsets, of nature, of landscapes. Of funny street signs, museum paintings, street art, products in different languages. Of people and places that make me go “wow” or think about the place I’m in a bit differently.
So before I end up writing another word-based blog post, I’d like to share some of my favorite photos. I hope they make you “ooh” and “wow” and “huh?” as much they as they did for me. I’ll occasionally add some backstory or captions, and sometimes will let them stand on their own. I hope you enjoy!
This picture is from Colares, Portugal. A town you’ve probably never been to- but should if you want to get to…
Cabo de Roca, Portugal. And one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen.
Speaking of sunsets, one of my favorite is from Stroumpi, Cyprus, where I spontaneously decided to climb a mountain. With nothing but my jeans, sneakers, some water, and a boatload of motivation. I took these pictures from the very top, watching the sky illuminate as I waited for my bus back home:
This picture doesn’t even come close to doing this sunset justice. And if I’m honest, Cyprus is filled with gorgeous sunsets. Like this one in Polis:
I took this picture while walking along the side of a road (with no sidewalk) for about an hour and a half to get back to the bus stop. And I just had to pause for a moment (while making sure no cars would hit me) and soak in this view. To me, it looks like the sky is a giant glob of cotton candy.
Cyprus, like many other countries, has some funny signs. This is one of the cutest warning signs I’ve ever seen:
There can’t be a cuter hazard than a crossing pelican. I’ve dreamed of visiting Greece since I fell in love with My Big Fat Greek Wedding as a kid. I’ve watched the movie at least 15 or 20 times. Which is why this street sign in Paphos cracked me up:
But Cyprus is not the only country with funny signs. I learned Portuguese for a semester in college and I’m now having my first chance to visit a country that speaks it- Portugal! I’ve long listened to the sounds of Fado music and devoured the beautiful sounds of the language itself. Personally, I think it’s one of the world’s sexiest.
I found myself reading a sign in a park that said: “trajetos pedonais”. Which was unfortunately translated as:
Who knew the Portuguese could be so country?
Now I try to not to make fun of other country’s English. After all, at least they’re bothering to speak my language. Less than half as many Americans as Europeans are bilingual. Although we’re not the only ones who expect everything as we like it. I met a British tourist in southern Spain who was astonished at the low level of English. It would be astonishing if not for the fact that you were in another country…
Now sometimes I do get a little chuckle. Usually no one around me knows why I’m laughing. But I found this restaurant in Italy and had to take a picture:
Italians are an amorous folk. But who knows what you’ll get on your pizza here…
Before I get all hot and heavy, I’ll move to a more cultured topic: art. My favorite color ever since I was a kid was teal. So it was to my great pleasure that I discovered a Portuguese art form called “azulejo”, which comes from the word azul, meaning blue. Based on Moorish forms, the tiles are ornately patterned and gorgeous. And frequently, accompanied by streaks of teal. It was like an entire museum dedicated to my favorite color. Here are some pics:
As frantic tour groups rush by, I often find myself lurking in a room alone. Staring at the mesmerizing patterns, feeling a sense of calm. There are few things better than a quiet space with something inspiring to look at.
Which is why I often find myself at libraries and archives. One day, when I have the money, a benefactor, or a university to donate to, I will collect my books together and start a library. Books are the physical possession most valuable to me- they are the only thing I ship when I move.
So when I discovered you could go to city archives in Europe and after filling out a one page form, touch 1000 year old documents, I said “yes please!” One of the first archives I visited was in Girona, Spain/Catalonia. I simply walked in, said I wanted to see stuff, and they set me up. Other than the two archivists, I don’t think a single other person was there that day. I had the whole place to myself.
I ended up reading Judeo-Catalan documents like this one from the 1200s. I even helped the archivists fix the digital imaging of the documents, which had them upside-down. But once I found the digital images I wanted, I got to sit down with the originals. To put my finger on history itself:
I’ve learned that while people pay a lot of money and wait a long time to enter super-crowded museums, you can simply walk into the city archives and have thousands of years of history to yourself. You don’t need a press pass or a reason- just go and say you want to learn about a certain topic. It’s worth it 🙂
I have a lot more stories to tell, but it’s getting late here in Lisbon. So before I share some gratuitously beautiful images (and some funny ones), I want to share a message. I live off the beaten path. I’ve dreamed of going to the places I’ve visited the past year and a half all my life. I downloaded my first Romanian manele music 11 years ago. My first Portuguese song 13 years ago. My first Mizrachi song 19 years ago.
I don’t know what’s next. I have a lot of challenges on the horizon and I’m not sure how I will carve my path forward.
What I do know is I can look myself in the mirror and say I’ve lived my dreams. I’ve danced dabke with Druze kids, I’ve visited my ancestral homeland of Romania, I’ve seen the largest synagogue in Europe, I’ve met Roma, I’ve hiked through rural Italy- and learned enough Italian to speak for a few hours with a guy at a pizza place in Salerno.
None of this was handed to me on a silver platter. I’ve spent the past year and a half healing from years of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. And travel, exploration, language, culture, and trying new things has been a part of that healing process. And I’ve realized that I am capable of so much. That once these barriers that held me back begin to crumble, I am capable of even more than I’ve done so far. And I have done a lot already.
I discovered how much I love to travel, to explore cultures, to spend time by myself, to reach out to new people I’ve never met before, to find the quiet types, to bask in nature, to learn new languages by visiting new countries, to rely on my English when I need to show I’m a foreigner and want a break from learning, to feel grateful when I see the tombs of my people across Europe, to feel inspired when I see Jews and Arabs who live outside society’s expectations.
In short, as much as I’ve gotten to know the societies around me, I’ve gotten to know myself. To realize certain things have been and will probably always be a part of who I am. And some things kind of shifted. I got a new lens that allowed for increasing nuance, expression of feeling, and an openness that allowed me to make some important decisions. And sometimes, to change them.
May your journey bring you awareness, comfort, and growth. Mine continues to evolve. And I hope that even if the next step in my journey is to spend most of the day in an office, that I still find time to adventure and wander and explore and find the unexpected to open me to new ways of thinking. And I have a feeling that even if I end up a little more geographically “put” to tend to my bank account, I’ll be meandering again soon. To Thailand, to Vietnam, to Australia, to Jordan, to Tunisia, to Eilat (I still haven’t made it there), to the Jordan Valley, to Lithuania, maybe even Ethiopia. And probably places I haven’t thought of yet- which is the magic of being willing to change course when the moment seems opportune.
And Lord knows, I have enough stories from the past year and a half, including many I haven’t told you yet, to last a lifetime. I tried to make this post about the pictures, but ended up telling a story in any case! Because stories are what I do and an open mind is always ready to adventure.
Pack your bags…