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Where to Find Peace and Quiet in Japan


Why You Should Experience America From a Train W H E R E T R AV E L C A N TA K E YO U




Discover the Croatian Secret to Happiness














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Visit, call 1-855-8VIKING, or see your Travel Agent. From Travel + Leisure Magazine, August 2017 © Time Inc. Affluent Media Group. Travel + Leisure® and ‘World’s Best Awards’ are trademarks of Time Inc. Affluent Media Group and are used under license. Travel + Leisure and Time Inc. Affluent Media Group are not affiliated with, and do not endorse products or services of, Viking Cruises.

Fall in love with Cayman’s stunning shades of blue. Grace Byers Photo credit: Rebecca Davidson

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Rivers flow past ancient shrines and sacred trails on the Kii Peninsula in Japan. Take a step out of time and into nature on page 66. Photograph by Peter Bohler



Beleaguered by modernity, a writer finds peace on a Japanese pilgrimage. by Peggy Orenstein







When you’re here, you feel it. A new destination is unfolding all around you. Tailored to your perfect blend of bliss and play, chill and thrill, nature and nourish. Designed for the spectacular, with your choice of three celebrated hotels,


tantalizing collection of lounges and restaurants, a Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course, an ESPA spa, and a stunning ocean view casino. Welcome to Baha Mar, perched on the secluded northern sands of Nassau, where the breathtaking blue of the Bahamian sea will remind you... that life’s too short for anything less.













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To master the art of easy living, head to Dubrovnik, Croatia. by David Farley



Writer Eric Weiner takes a completely irrational journey across the United States of Amtrakistan.





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A honeymoon snorkeling trip in Fiji proves life really is better under the sea.

32 26


Why it’s time to weekend in the Catskills.



With paper map and film camera in hand, an AFAR editor sets out on a road trip in Sweden sans tech.





Can you judge a city by its library?



An expert on mindful travel shares tips on how to disconnect with tech and reconnect with the world.



Capture your travels the old-fashioned way with these stylish writing accessories.



In remote Micronesia, a Belgian photographer explores the limits of color.

Connect 43


France’s iconic Vuarnet sunglasses are once again getting their moment in the—ahem—sun.



In Armenia, a writer hears heavenly music, discovers soulful architecture, and drinks vodka for breakfast.



The one dish you have to eat in Hanoi—and no, it isn’t pho.



Far from the tourist path in New Delhi, an American magician rediscovers his sense of wonder.



A type-A traveler’s guide to slowing down.




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Mendocino County, California “This gorgeous northern California getaway is all cliffs, crashing Pacific ocean, and redwood forests. It also helps that there is nearly no cell service.” —D.W.

Where do you go to unplug?




EDITORIAL VP, EDITOR IN CHIEF Julia Cosgrove @juliacosgrove


EXECUTIVE EDITOR Jeremy Saum @jsaum

@ellenafar,, 646-430-9884

DIGITAL EXECUTIVE EDITOR Arabella Bowen @arabellabowen

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Quantabacook Lake, Maine “I have never felt as at peace as I did last summer while beach-hopping by day and idling in the black water to stargaze at night.” —N.A.

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Shima-shi, Japan “During a stay at the Amanemu, I found my ‘unplugged’ moment in the Japanese bathing tradition of onsen. The thermal springs soaked my troubles away.” —J.D.

Harbour Island, Bahamas “My husband and I limit our tech usage to a morning check-in at Arthur’s Bakery.” —T.D.

SENIOR UX DESIGNER Maria Stegner @mariastegnerz AUDIENCE DEVELOPMENT MANAGER Samantha Juda @slam_antha MANAGING EDITOR, AFAR CUSTOM Ann Shields @aegisnyc DIGITAL PHOTO EDITOR Lyn Horst @laurella67

Covigliaio, Italy “The natural beauty and friendly locals in this rustic Tuscan village make it feel OK to slow down and leave city life behind for a while.” —K.G.


Katie Galeotti @heavenk BRANDED CONTENT DIRECTOR Kate Appleton @ksappleton CONTENT PARTNERSHIPS DIRECTOR Lou LaGrange @loulagrange


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AFAR ID Statement AFAR® (ISSN 1947-4377), Volume 10, Number 2, is published bimonthly by AFAR Media, LLC, 130 Battery St., Sixth Floor, San Francisco, CA 94111, U.S.A. In the U.S., AFAR® is a registered trademark of AFAR Media, LLC. Publisher assumes no responsibility for return of unsolicited manuscripts, art, or any other unsolicited materials. Subscription price for U.S. residents: $24.00 for 6 issues. Canadian subscription rate: $30.00 (GST included) for 6 issues. All other countries: $40.00 for 6 issues. To order a subscription to AFAR or to inquire about an existing subscription, please write to AFAR Magazine Customer Service, P.O. Box 6265, Harlan, IA 51591-1765, or call 888-403-9001. Periodicals postage paid at San Francisco, CA, and at additional mailing offices. POSTMASTER: Please send address changes to AFAR, P.O. Box 6265, Harlan, IA 51591-1765.

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the next great cultural capital

All eyes are on Abu Dhabi, with the opening of the muchanticipated Louvre Abu Dhabi. So we asked the AFAR Travel Advisory Council for recommendations on how to make the most of a visit to this exceptional desert destination, rich in culture and tradition. Louvre Abu Dhabi, designed by starchitect Jean Nouvel, debuted in Saadiyat Cultural District in November 2017, and Guggenheim Abu Dhabi will soon follow. The city’s hotels are masterpieces in their own right, notably Emirates Palace and Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara. —Kristen Korey Pike, KK Travels Worldwide Abu Dhabi offers a fully urban experience, but with an authentic Middle Eastern feel. Its heritage lives on at places like the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital, where you can see an awe-inspiring demonstration of falconry. Unforgettable desert adventures include dune bashing, sandboarding, and camel riding. —Jennifer Wilson-Buttigieg, Valerie Wilson Travel My absolute favorite Abu Dhabi recommendation is the beaches of Saadiyat Island. Most travelers aren’t aware that they rival those of the Caribbean, with crystal-clear blue water and the softest white sand. You can enjoy a serene swim and amenities at the hotel beach lounges or opt for water sports like paddleboarding at the Saadiyat Beach

Club; it’s on a public beach where you might even encounter sea turtles. —Shelby Donley, Camelback Odyssey Among Abu Dhabi’s major attractions, the white-domed Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is a standout. It dazzles with its gilded chandeliers, reflecting pools, and water features that are illuminated at night, as well as the sheer scale of the world’s largest mosque—with a capacity of 40,000 worshippers. —William Kiburz, Coronet Travel Ltd Abu Dhabi’s lesser-known experiences include a nighttime kayak excursion through the mangroves. Noukhada Adventure Company has kayaks with LED lights so you can admire the fish below. I also recommend the oasis city of Al Ain (“the spring” in Arabic). The UNESCO World Heritage site is known for its date palm groves and historic forts, as well as the Qasr Al Muwaiji, an ancient fort restored and reopened in 2015 as a museum celebrating UAE president HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. —Ignacio Maza, Signature Travel Network You can soak up the atmosphere of a traditional Muslim city while in Abu Dhabi, where the call to prayer reverberates. Yet it’s hardly stuck in the past. At the Yas Marina Circuit on Yas Island, which is 30 minutes from the city, visitors to the emirate can get behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car. There are a number of packages available, whether you are ready to get a racing license or simply want to ride along as a passenger on the course used for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. —Katie Cadar, TravelStore

Photo: Qasr al Sarab by @ shutterrbabe (Instagram) and Yas Marina Circuit by @ domhowlett







Abu Dhabi is poised to become a must-visit destination for art lovers.







from the editor Take the #TravelUnplugged Pledge


my three-yearold daughter looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Mama, you’re not listening to my words.” She was right. She had caught me in the act: I was mindlessly scrolling through news feeds on my phone and not paying attention to her. I wasn’t listening to her words. Board a subway car or walk down the street: People are tethered to devices as never before. American adults spend nearly five hours a day on smartphones, and an astounding 11 hours a day in front of some kind of screen, be it a personal computer, television, tablet, or phone. At AFAR, we believe that travel offers the chance to step away from the never-ending noise and distractions of modern life, and actually connect with your fellow humans—and the real world—again. That’s why I’m especially excited about the issue you hold in your hands,

which launches #TravelUnplugged, AFAR’s new digital detox campaign. On page 29, read what happened when senior editor Aislyn Greene posed a phonefree challenge to herself, powering off her devices and using only paper maps to navigate the Swedish countryside. Deputy editor Jennifer Flowers tells how she perfected the art of doing nothing (except feeling the sand between her toes) on page 63. And on page 18, AFAR cofounder Joe Diaz shares his experience at a 10-day silent meditation retreat. Our hope is that the stories you read here— and on the Unplugged channel of— will inspire you to take our #TravelUnplugged pledge: Commit to taking a trip between February 14 and September 3 and promise not to use your phone or your computer. The trip can be any duration, to any type of destination, but the idea is to truly disconnect from tech-

nology. Get a little lost on a trail, ride the rails (see page 90 for more on that), or simply head out for a day in your own hometown without a plan—or a phone. I know I’m bound to my devices to an unhealthy degree and that stepping away from the barrage of social media will help me be a more present human being. So this spring, I’ll be spending a couple of days offline at the Sea Ranch (pictured), a coastal community 100 miles north of San Francisco. I hope you’ll take the pledge, go somewhere, and do something a little—or a lot—outside your comfort zone. Engage with the world at large, and then, when you reenter the digital realm, tell us about your experience via the hashtag #TravelUnplugged. —JULIA COSGROVE Editor in Chief






Savor the experience at

founder’s note in my knees, ankles, and back. My mind yells at me for the pain. It distracts me with a fire hose of random thoughts. I think about what people will say when I tell them about this experience. And then my focus on my body returns. The thoughts rush in over and over again at unpredictable intervals, until they don’t. And then they do again.

Disconnect. And Find a Deeper Connection.


OVEMBER 29. The morning after my 38th birthday. I’m in midtown Manhattan in a van that’s heading to a meditation center in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts. I have meditated before, but not like this. When I arrive, I will take a vow to be silent in body, speech, and mind for 10 days. I am immersing myself in an ancient meditation technique whose ultimate goal is embodied in its name: Vipassana, which 18



means to see things as they really are. I like to take big leaps, and, well, this is a big leap. It is 6:35 p.m. on day 4. For the third time today, I’m spending an hour sitting cross-legged on a cushion, eyes closed, without moving. Before the retreat, I’d never done this for more than 10 minutes, let alone 60. Our meditation leader tells us to observe the physical sensations within our bodies. As I sit, at times I feel subtle tingling. At others, strong ecstatic vibrations. At still others, pain, bubbling up like hot lava

9:15 a.m., day 10. I just finished the last of the 110 hours I’ve spent sitting. Noble silence is officially over. No more 4 a.m. wake-up calls. I stroll across campus with the guy I’ve been sitting next to for the past 10 days. Finding words is a struggle, but we feel joy and a sense that the experience we shared has given us a new perspective. The next morning I’m in a car, and the skyline of Manhattan comes into view. Driving through the city, I sense a calm beneath the city’s superficial chaos. Horns aren’t as piercing. I’m sure the taxi drivers aren’t honking any differently. Perhaps I’m the one who has changed? Now I’m walking toward my apartment. I notice the leaves on the trees. I feel the energy of people as they pass me on the sidewalk. I don’t remember whatever it was that was bugging me when I left a week and a half ago. As you spend time with this issue of AFAR, ask yourself why you might need to unplug and how you might do it: a hike in the woods, a book on a beach, or maybe even 10 days of silent, intense self-observation. I can say from experience that the right path isn’t always the easy one. However you do it, I hope you find a way to feel liberated from the status quo and to connect more deeply with yourself and the world we share. And I hope that when you come home, you find your life changed for the better. —JOE DIAZ Cofounder


“As you spend time with this issue of AFAR, ask yourself why you might need to unplug and how you might do it.”


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Kevin Faingnaert Photographer Slow and Steady p.78

Peter Bohler Photographer A Walk on Japan’s Quiet Side p.66

Nate Staniforth Writer The Street Magicians of Shadipur Depot p.58

Peggy Orenstein Writer A Walk on Japan’s Quiet Side p.66

Rise and shine: “In Dubrovnik, I took most of my photos at 5 a.m., when the streets are less crowded. That’s also when the locals come out to prepare their shops or go for a swim—they have the city to themselves.” The welcome wagon: “This was my third time going to Dubrovnik, but my first time traveling there alone, which made it easier to meet people. One day, a couple saw me taking photos at a bar and invited me to their home. We drank coffee and talked for hours.” Spot more shots: on Instagram @kevinfaingnaert

Hiking in style: “We saw so many wonderful details along Japan’s Kumano Kodo trail— beautiful Buddhist statues and, at one point, a face made out of rocks. I already knew Japan was a design-oriented country, but I didn’t expect it to translate to the wilderness.” Au naturel: “At the last hotel we stayed, there was a stunning onsen next to the ocean that I wanted to photograph. But you can’t wear clothing in the baths, so I was shooting naked! I hadn’t done that before on a job.” See the evidence: on Instagram @peterbohler

Everywhere, magic charms: “While traveling in India, I noticed an informal cultural separation between tourists and locals. For me, magic was a way to immediately break through social barriers. I’d do magic for someone, and afterwards they would want to talk or share a meal.” A (return) passage to India: “I can’t wait to take my wife and our sons, who are two and four years old. A train trip across the country would result in unavoidable adventures.” Be amazed by him: on Instagram @natestaniforth

Goal-getting globetrotter: “When I travel, it’s important to have an adventure that tests me physically or mentally. On my five-day solo hike through southern Japan, the biggest challenge wasn’t walking; it was disconnecting from technology.” Roadside assistance: “I knew I could do the trek alone because of the Japanese concept of chanto, which is that everything should be just so. I could trust that there would be water when I needed it and trail signs where I needed them.” Adventure with her: on Twitter @peggyorenstein







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The Belize Barrier Reef is our living, breathing crown jewel. It spans almost 200 miles and maintains hundreds of species of aquatic life. But what really draws divers is the unknown: only a fraction of the reef has been researched, only 10% of species have been discovered. Here, every dive is an opportunity to see something completely new in one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems. Learn more about this curious place at



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In the following pages, get inspired to #TravelUnplugged on your next trip. Why not take a wrong turn (p.29), make handwritten souvenirs (p.38), or go for a walk in the woods? You’ll find room to roam at the new DeBruce (p.26), an inn surrounded by 600 acres in the Catskill Mountains (pictured).





Sims and Kirsten Harlow Foster were once among the stressed-out Manhattanites they now try to lure from the city. The husbandand-wife team recently opened the DeBruce, an inn located on 600 acres in the town of Livingston Manor in the Catskill Mountains, a two-hour drive north of New York City. Sims, who was born in Livingston Manor, and Kirsten are part of a group of entrepreneurs who are reviving this historic vacation area, dubbed the Borscht Belt

during its mid20th-century heyday, when hundreds of local resorts catered to Jewish families. The foodfocused DeBruce is one of four inns the Fosters have opened in the western Catskills to create an immersive escape for nature-starved city dwellers. “In today’s fast-paced digital world,” Kirsten says, “we crave a more grounded, analog lifestyle, which is precisely what we have up here and what our guests are attracted to.” Housed in a restored 19thcentury inn, the 14-room DeBruce has cozy common spaces that invite guests to linger in wingback chairs next to stone fireplaces or chat on

porch swings. In a dining room that faces the lodge’s ponds, chef Aksel Theilkuhl, formerly of BLT Steak Group, serves a nightly tasting menu. His preparations of locally sourced ingredients might include grass-fed beef, housemade chicken liver mousse, and smoked trout. “Our goal at the DeBruce is to introduce our guests to the agricultural bounty here in the Catskills,” Sims says. “The restaurant highlights the amazing produce abundant in our area.” From $399, including dinner and breakfast.

A visionary couple opens the door to an enticingly sleepy corner of New York’s Catskills region. by Jennifer Flowers






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wander Pro tip: An instant camera adds a touch of nostalgia to an unplugged trip—and makes it easier to ditch your phone.


How a weeklong, tech-free road trip through Sweden helped a writer reclaim her travel life. by Aislyn Greene

Where’s our blue locator dot? Staring down at the blanket-size map of Sweden, I knew logically that a piece of paper couldn’t reveal our coordinates. But it wasn’t until that moment, sitting in a rental car at Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport, that I grasped how completely technology had infiltrated my consciousness. Without that little blue dot reassuring me that we were at least facing the right direction, I couldn’t figure out how to begin. You asked for this, I reminded myself. I had wanted to spend a week driving across Sweden without the help of technology. And fortunately, Jeannie, my travel partner for life, was game to forgo Google Maps for the paper kind, Yelp for actually talking to people, and our iPhones for an Instax instant camera with only 60 sheets of film. In that parking lot, I realized that traveling without technology would feel like hiking without shoes: Stripped of the comfort of our digital soles, we were going to be forced to move more gingerly across this foreign terrain.





It’s not as though I hadn’t done it before. I first went to Europe in 1997, years before Google eased (dominated?) our lives. I booked tickets via a travel agent and captured 10 days in France and Italy with a Canon point-andshoot. These days, however, I wake up to news alerts on my phone. I listen to podcasts while walking to work, read my iPad on the train, text while waiting in line. I’m not a social media obsessive, though I dip my toes in regularly. In other words, I am your average slave to digital connectivity. But it often leaves me feeling overwhelmed and unable to shut down. And when I travel, I’ve increasingly felt that rather than exploring the world for the sheer joy of it, I’m traveling to have something to show. After wrangling the map to a more manageable place-mat size, we still weren’t totally clear on the route. So we decided to wing it, and after a few wrong turns, we finally merged onto the E4 highway, feeling as though we’d climbed a very small, but critical, mountain. 30



“Wing it” became our mantra for the week. Don’t know where we are? Drive until we do. Don’t know how to pronounce ursäkta mig? Say it anyway and wait for a kind Swede to correct us. (It’s oor-SHEHK-tuh MAY, meaning “excuse me”—a good phrase to master.) On our arrival in Gothenburg, the largest city in West Sweden, we were swiftly reminded the region is at its peak in summer. We had come in late September, when many Gothenburgers shutter their adorable shop/ bakery/stationery stores and leave shoulderseason travelers to fend for themselves. It was a Sunday—double whammy—and the city was barely operational. My resolve weakened. My fingers twitched, anxious for a hit. Shouldn’t we just ask the digital world what might be open on this quiet day? I pushed the thought away, and we walked down one cobblestone street and up another, past a lone open restaurant that looked vast and bright but impersonal, like the IKEA of brunch. A few blocks later, we spotted a group of people, even—could it be—a crowd? Yes, it was! We had stumbled onto a Sunday flea market on Masthamnsgatan Street. Rickety tables

held records, T-shirts, and wool sweaters. Just beyond the tables, cafés overflowed with people. We stepped into Caféva and within 10 minutes were sitting in front of massive bowls of vegetable soup and slices of carawayflecked limpa bread in a sunny, flower-strewn room that fulfilled all the Swedish fantasies I hadn’t realized I had. Victory number two. We collected these minor successes as our trip went on. No one told us about the Smögen Whisky distillery in Hunnebostrand—we just found it. We couldn’t look up how to pay for an inter-island ferry, so we just drove on and hoped for the best. (Turns out it was free.) By the third day of our trip I felt, in a way I hadn’t in years, that we were creating every moment for ourselves, inhabiting each one fully. We observed, rather than photographed, most of the beautiful things we passed: the cable bridge that leads to the quaint island of Tjörn, a row of brick-red boathouses in Stångehuvud Naturreservat, a nature reserve with rolling hills of prehistoric granite. If something felt truly special, such as the spandex-clad septuagenarian who roller-skied past us one day, we’d snap an instant photo. But even those were only for us, unburdened by any expectation of “likes.” There were also frustrations. The riddle of Stockholm’s parking signs. Trying to convert prices in my head. Swedish gas pumps. That said, the struggles were empowering; each was a knot, like the ones we’d seen mooring boats in the Tjörn harbor, waiting to be untied. A week later, as we drove back to the airport in the predawn hours, our map lying tamed and highlighted in the backseat, I didn’t need a blue dot to tell me where to go.





C IT Y TO S EA Consider this your open invitation to pull up a seat, sit back and savor a life that’s just a little bit sweeter. Varied in vibe and size, the Charleston area has five beautifully distinct beach towns offering their own character, flavor, and allure, making it a perfect destination for every style and season. Say hello to Charleston, your new favorite place.


Find everything needed to plan your getaway at EXPLORECHARLESTON.COM


The best way to get a read on a city is to head to its library. These places, from Berlin’s Philological Library to Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum Research Library, have stories to tell.





wander Nine earthenware domes allow light to permeate the 19th-century Richelieu Library in Paris.













wander In the Venice Lagoon, the island of Giudecca offers a refuge from crowds and the chance to meet artists in their studios.


Sara Clemence, author of the new book Away & Aware: A Field Guide to Mindful Travel, wants you to switch your phone to airplane mode, talk to strangers, and tune in to a world without digital noise.


by Ashlea Halpern

“I’m just old enough to remember what it was like to travel without a cell phone,” says Sara Clemence, a freelance travel writer and former travel editor of the Wall Street Journal. “There were advantages and disadvantages, of course, but now everyone is taking selfies, checking Facebook, texting somebody—and missing out on the

destination around them.” This bugged Clemence so much, she wrote a book on the subject. Away & Aware: A Field Guide to Mindful Travel (Dovetail Press, 2017) is packed with practical advice on how to draw technological boundaries and reconnect with a destination through analog means. We caught up with Clemence

at her home in New York City to ask what inspired the book and how she learned to stop worrying and put down her phone. As a travel writer, you face constant pressure to document what your life on the road is like. Was this notion of mindful travel a big departure? It’s easy to get sucked

into social media, but I’m not the world’s most egregious example. It’s not like I glanced up from my phone one day in Venice and was like, “I haven’t looked around me!” But since writing the book, I am increasingly conscious of how different travel feels when I’m interacting less with my phone. Doing stuff on your

phone can be really efficient. You can figure out how to get from place A to place B quickly or find a restaurant in your neighborhood. But “most efficient” doesn’t always mean “best.” If you don’t use your phone to figure out public transportation, it will take longer. But this is a vacation, not a commute. Who cares?

Technology preempts a lot of conversations we might once have had with strangers— like asking for directions or chatting up a bartender. Completely. It changes your vibe. Say I’m traveling with my family in Hamburg. The kids are hungry, so I’m looking up a lunch spot on my phone. I stop hearing my own children. It’s




like my brain goes inside my phone, and I just tune out sights and sounds and smells around me. It’s weird. In the book, you advise asking strangers for restaurant recommendations instead of vetting everything online. But what if they give you terrible advice? Well, sometimes the recommendations you get online are also terrible. And sometimes terrible is an experience, too! This is part of the modern travel affliction: We feel like we need to maximize every moment. Everything needs to be the best meal or the most beautiful food shot or the most amazing sunset— but that’s not real life, it’s not real adventure, and it’s not real travel. What was your research process like for Away & Aware? I did a bunch of reading about what device use does to us, and how it affects our bodies and brains in negative ways. Then I started thinking about the way we travel and all the things we are doing with our phones that we don’t actually need phones to do. Like taking photographs. We can shoot an infinite number of photos with our phones—it’s 36


and restaurants know that if their place is Instagram friendly, it’s like free marketing.

easy, it’s convenient, and it allows us to experiment. But it also makes us mindless in the way we shoot. One of the things I suggest in the book is going back to 35mm. With film cameras, you have a limited number of shots, so you’re not just pushing the shutter button willy-nilly. You think about what’s worth using a frame on, which forces you to consider your surroundings more closely. Right. Suddenly you’re not taking 65 photos of your sandwich. You might not even take one photo of your sandwich. You might be like, “You know what? It’s a sandwich.” The point of a vacation is to take a break from your hamster wheel of a job, but social media can often just put you on a different kind of hamster wheel. That’s right. I was in London recently, and I saw more people preening and pouting and trying to position their selfie in front of Big Ben than I saw actually looking at the thing! We spend half of our vacations figuring out how we’re going to portray our vacation. [Social media] is affecting the travel industry, too. Hotels


Has writing this book made you more cognizant of your own tech habits? So much more aware. People get in line and they pull out their phones. People get on the train and they pull out their phones. When I instinctively reach for my phone now, I pause and say, “Do I really need to do this or can it wait?” I try to be observant instead. Who’s on the train? What are people wearing? What conversations are taking place around me? People pay good money to go on digital detoxes or sit in silent retreats. But your book advocates a more moderate approach. You encourage readers to choose a place on the “spectrum of disconnectedness” that’s comfortable for them. I have never purposefully taken a digital detox. I have unwittingly ended up in places where there was no cell signal, and I once lost my phone in Stockholm. My husband felt so bad. He was consoling me, but I was like, “You know what? It’s OK. It’s just a thing.” And the next few days were really enjoyable! It was liberating. A digital detox vacation seems kind of gimmicky; just be thoughtful about how much time you want to spend with your head buried in

your phone versus being aware of the world around you. What happens when analog technology fails? The map is outdated, or the disposable camera blows out every picture. . . . Look, you have to be OK with things going wrong. If you have to get all the way across Copenhagen to your 7 p.m. reservation at Noma and it’s 6:15, maybe this is not the time to bust out the paper map and try to remember how to navigate. It’s about situational appropriateness. But if you’re in Paris and you have a loosely structured afternoon, who cares if you get lost? Your book warns against overstuffing an itinerary. Cramming 10 cities into eight days has always been a bad idea, even before we had phones. It doesn’t give you the mental space to appreciate what you’re

bus and see a part of a city you would otherwise miss. Have you done that? Yeah! That idea came from my mom. She was a really adventurous traveler. We rode the bus together in Hong Kong. It’s relaxing because you’re not going anywhere in particular; you’re just sitting on a bus, seeing what you see. You also recommend food quests— exploring a specific cuisine or dish in depth. What was your last food quest? Pastéis de nata, these fantastic egg custards they make in Portugal. My husband and I spent half of our trip seeking them out, comparing notes, and asking locals and restaurateurs which pastry shops made their favorites. It was exciting because it gave our trip a theme, but it was also a good excuse to connect with people. They

on your phone, get a watch. Totally. Because if you look at your phone, you’re going to see a text message that popped up, or an Instagram notification, or a New York Times alert. It’s all about breaking these habits. Things like Google Maps and currency converters seem so indispensable today. But people traveled for thousands of years without them. Do you think other generations were better off? They probably had more exciting travel experiences because there was a greater sense of discovery. More surprises. You had to be more open and adaptable and attentive to your surroundings. On the other hand, having all of this information at our fingertips makes travel less scary and more doable. I try to imagine my mom, who in the late 1960s was

“A digital detox vacation seems kind of gimmicky; just be thoughtful about how much time you want to spend with your head buried in your phone versus being aware of the world around you.” experiencing. Would I rather glimpse six monuments in Washington, D.C., or have a really lovely experience at one lesser-known museum? I go for the latter. One of your book’s suggestions for slowing down is to board a random

felt like their culture was being seen and appreciated when we asked questions. Some of your suggestions read like interventions— attempts to put physical space between a person and their device. For example: Instead of checking the time

hopping on ferries in Asia by herself, not knowing where she was going to end up. Can you imagine doing that today without looking it up first? Where is this thing going? Is there an Airbnb on the island? No?! I can’t imagine taking that kind of leap into the unknown.



Urban Escapes You don’t have to go far to get offline. Here’s where Sara Clemence recharges in seven of her favorite global cities.



“Giudecca is a much quieter, more local island. I especially love Artisti Artigiani del Chiostro, where you can stroll around a serene courtyard and watch glassblowers, mask makers, paper artists, and other artisans at work and buy directly from them.”

“Atelier Brancusi at the Centre Georges Pompidou is often overlooked. It’s a re-creation of Brancusi’s workshop, full of his minimalist, soothing art.”

Hong Kong “Po Lin Monastery is a lovely escape from the buzz. You can also share a vegetarian meal, sitting at communal tables, at the monastery’s restaurant.”

Milan “I love the heart of the Brera neighborhood, with its narrow pedestrian streets and cool shops. There’s great people-watching from benches and cafés, too. Everyone there has such style.”

Charleston, South Carolina

“The city has a number of beautiful churches, which are great for escaping the crowds, cooling off, and having a little thinking time.”

Washington, D.C. “Dumbarton Oaks is a historic estate turned museum, garden, and research center. It’s off the beaten path in north Georgetown and pretty unknown. I love walking the terraced grounds and exploring the small galleries of pre-Columbian art.”

New York City “At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, everyone goes for the impressionist or Egypt galleries. But my favorite is the under-trafficked Asian Wing, specifically the Astor Chinese Garden Court. It’s this traditional Chinese scholar’s garden, tucked away indoors. The galleries themselves are quiet and dimly lit, with scrolls, Buddhist art, and decorative objects like vases and carved boxes. Some might find the pieces boring, but I think they’re fascinating, and nobody’s standing next to you, trying to get a shot of it.”

Sculptor Constantin Brancusi’s harmoniously arranged Paris studio has been precisely reconstructed at the Centre Georges Pompidou.



Detail your journey in style—a new line of elegant Swiss notebooks is bringing longhand back. by Sara Button

The century-old Swiss company Caran d’Ache has launched its latest line of notebooks (pictured, $54-$60), perfect for stashing into a purse or tote. They come in four colors, two travel-friendly sizes, and include the popular 849 ballpoint pen. For something sleeker, consider the Ecridor set ($250), a collaboration with Danish design brand Hay. It has a pair of slim blue notebooks and two pencils, plus an Ecridor pen (a Caran d’Ache staple since the 1930s). You’ve never looked so good jotting down train times or sketching the skyline.





U · K







You were still unpacking when your girls found their way to Robert at Huaka‘i Outfitters. The next thing you knew, the sea spray was drenching your skin as Kukui‘ula’s 32-foot Mahealani sped out of the harbor while Robert talked story about growing up on Kaua‘i. The story continues at

Idyllic setting. Epic days. Indelible memories. There is a place for discerning families who seek to balance luxury with the laid-back lifestyle and awe inspiring beauty of our island home. Welcome to Kukui‘ula on the South Shore of Kaua‘i. Homes and homesites in a breathtaking setting, surrounded by an abundance of resort amenities and unforgettable outdoor adventures. Plan your visit at or call 1-808-427-2570. Clubhouse | Farm | Golf | Pools | Spa | Dining | Homes | Shopping Only current views are described in this advertisement and no person is authorized to make representations on view preservation and no value has been assigned to view preservation. Views from residential properties may change over time. Kukui‘ula Realty Group LLC. Obtain a property report or its equivalent as required by Federal or State Law and read it before signing anything. No Federal or State Agency has judged the merits or value, if any, of this property. This is not an offer or solicitation in CT, NJ, or NY or in any state in which the legal requirements for such offering have not been met. Warning: CA Dept. of Real Estate has not inspected, examined or qualified this offering. Fees, memberships and restrictions may apply for certain amenities. Details available. Price and availability subject to change. ©January 2018. Kukui‘ula Development Company (Hawaii), LLC. All rights reserved.


start exploring now!


The Alps Plan Your Alpine Adventure Beginning on March 12, AFAR Journeys heads for the hills—or rather, the Alps, the soaring peaks that straddle three countries at the heart of Europe: Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. We’ve created itineraries focused on culinary, cultural, and historic highlights; its pristine peaks, lost-in-time villages, and exciting cities like Innsbruck, Munich, and Zurich. Whether you are looking to conquer its summits or relax in its spas, you can find the trip that is right for you at:

connect Mar ch /A p r il 20 18



Hanoi is justly famous for its vibrant street-food culture. But, as we reveal on page 55, one of the city’s most fascinating and flavorful dishes is served tableside, not curbside.





JOIN OUR PHOTOGRAPHY EXPEDITIONS Experience the world’s most scenic destinations while receiving mentoring from leading photographers and access to the latest Nikon equipment. Book now to join this spring’s final expedition!


connect workshop


France’s most famous sunglasses are making a comeback. by Kelly Bastone

M Clockwise from left: The celebrity board in Vuarnet’s new Paris boutique; Edge Pilote sunglasses in amber; workers in the Meaux factory fit lenses into a frame. PHOTOGRAPHS BY ALEX CRETEY SYSTERMANS

to wait for perfection. Located 25 miles northeast of Paris, the city took 400 years to build its cathedral. Meaux’s celebrated Brie cheese is known to get better with age. And every pair of Vuarnet sunglasses—also made in Meaux—requires 17 steps and one full week to produce. Vuarnet isn’t interested in speeding things up. Manual lens craftsmanship is precisely what the brand is famous for. “Shaping, engraving—it’s all done by hand,” says Vuarnet CEO Lionel Giraud. EAUX KNOWS HOW

That’s rare in today’s eyewear market, which is flooded with cheap, disposable shades. Vuarnet, known originally as Pouilloux, was founded in 1957 by a geeky lens-crafter named Roger Pouilloux, who developed the Skilynx lens: a distortion-free glass lens that gave skiers an unprecedented ability to discern variations in the snow. Seeking a celebrity endorsement, Pouilloux gave a pair of his high-definition sunglasses to French skier Jean Vuarnet, who wore them during his gold medal–winning runs at the 1960 Olympics in Squaw Valley, California. Vuarnet later MARCH/APRIL 2018



connect workshop This page, clockwise from top left: A pair of Glacier 1957 frames gets fitted with lenses; Vuarnet’s Rx lab; a final lens coating is applied. Opposite page: Lenses await cleaning and their last inspection.

agreed to lend his name—and his cachet—to the French-made sunglasses, which quickly became an icon of cool. For years, skiers favored them, as did Miles Davis (who wore Vuarnet’s Glacier glasses onstage) and Mick Jagger. The Dude— as played by Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski— paired his shabby bathrobes with Vuarnet 03 aviators. But fads fizzle, and Vuarnet didn’t keep up with the times. The brand fell from prominence in the 2000s, when it withdrew from the U.S. market and lost relevance in France. Now, classic ’80s looks are hot once again, and new leadership at Vuarnet—helmed by Giraud—is revitalizing the brand’s image and growing its sales. The company renewed U.S. distribution in 2015. While fashions may have changed, the company’s exacting production standards never wavered. The process begins with a puck-size disk of mineral glass—made from silica—which is produced to Vuarnet’s specifications and tempered to resist cracking at 44



the Corning factory, a 90-minute drive from Meaux. The company disdains plastic lenses: “The optical precision of glass is so much better,” Giraud explains. “Can you imagine a high-performance camera with a plastic lens? It’s the same for eyewear. With glass, you see everything better.” To create a crystal-clear lens, the disk is polished from 3.2 millimeters to 1.7—the thickness of a quarter—and curved to mimic the shape of the eye while maintaining a perfect symmetry between the front and back. “Even the slightest difference in curvature distorts

the clarity,” says Thierry Bouché, the company’s manufacturing manager. Shapers then bevel the lenses’ edges and engrave them with Vuarnet’s logo—the letter V perched atop a ski—a finesse that takes time to develop. “Our main concern today is finding workers,” says Giraud, explaining that it takes new hires two years just to develop entry-level lenspolishing skills—and even more time to master them. The best shapers have been honing their craft for at least 15 years. The lens is tempered once more, to make it impact resistant, and then undergoes a shock

test: A worker drops a metal ball onto the lens from a distance of four feet. (Only a lens free of imperfections will not shatter.) Finally, the lenses receive their iridescent rainbow of coatings and are hand fitted into frames designed in Paris and produced in factories throughout France and Italy. Like Vuarnet’s lens standards, frame styles haven’t changed much. The latest collection, Edge, presents trim, lightened-up versions of Vuarnet’s classic Glacier design, as well as aviator and other shapes. “The idea is to keep the brand’s aesthetic DNA, but rejuvenate it,” Giraud says.

Jean Vuarnet passed away in January 2017. But the company that bears his name is enjoying a surge of popularity, in part because shoppers around the world once again appreciate the brand’s vintage styling. At Vuarnet’s new Paris boutique, which opened in spring 2017 in Pouilloux’s former studio, the V logo T-shirts that were ubiquitous in the 1980s are flying off the shelves. Celebrities are re-embracing the sunglasses, too: Daniel Craig wore Vuarnet Glaciers in the latest James Bond film, Spectre. Says Giraud of the brand’s iconic look, “Vuarnet is sporty, but with elegance.”

Where to Buy Vuarnets in Paris In 2017, Vuarnet opened its first store in the 8th arrondissement space where founder Roger Pouilloux once crafted his eyewear. The boutique is also part gallery: Displays include a collection of skier Jean Vuarnet’s sunglasses as well as those worn by other high-profile fans. Current lines include a series of limited-edition Glacier frames issued to celebrate the brand’s 60th birthday. 28 rue Boissy d’Anglas. MARCH/APRIL 2018



NO 07

An island’s not deserted when it’s all yours for the day.


Islandology is our way of life. It’s deciding to land on any beach you see. It’s hopping ashore and letting time pass by. It’s looking forward to leaving the world behind. Plan your trip at





Strolling the pristine white sands and collecting shells is a natural way to unwind in Southwest Florida, which includes Sanibel and Fort Myers. But there’s so much more to experience in the area, from historic and cultural attractions to water sports and wildlife spotting. GET CULTURED In the last decade or so, downtown Fort Myers, along the Caloosahatchee River, has been transformed into a vibrant walkable destination buzzing with restaurants, live music venues, and boutiques. It’s also notable for The Edison & Ford Winter Estates, which will delight history and horticulture lovers alike with its period furnishings and 21-acre botanic garden. It counts more than 1,000 species, among them, orchids, roses, flowering bromeliads, and a 400-foot banyan tree.

EMBRACE OUTDOOR ADVENTURES With their location on the tranquil Gulf of Florida, Fort Myers and Sanibel are ideally suited to standup paddle boarding and kayaking. Whether you opt for a tour or go it on your own, keep your eyes out for natural wonders and wildlife, such as mangrove tunnels and manatees. You can even go kayak fishing. On land, numerous bicycle outfitters offer full-service rentals: Take advantage of drop-off and pick-up services so that you can cruise around the communities of Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Lehigh, Estero, Bonita Springs, Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel, and Matlacha.

GO WILDLIFE SPOTTING There are few more immersive nature activities in Southwest Florida than the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve. As you explore this 3,400-acre wetland, anchored by a LEED-certified Interpretive Center, keep your eyes peeled for herons, egrets, otters, and alligators. Another way to truly appreciate the coastal nature of Southwest Florida is to embark on a nature cruise from Sanibel Island. And it’s a quintessentially romantic experience to sail alongside a pod of dolphins on a sunset cruise.


connect spin the globe


With only 24 hours’ notice, writer Anya von Bremzen boarded a plane to a randomly chosen destination. She landed in a former Soviet republic that is building a new identity out of heavenly music, space-age architecture, and grandmothers’ recipes.


of 3 million souls, geopolitically squeezed between Russia and Turkey, less than half the size of West Virginia but a cultural giant. Me? A small person, with a Soviet past and a part-time Istanbul present, five foot three, culturally aware, I’d like to think. How could it be? Of all places, I was headed to Armenia from my Istanbul pied-à-terre. Hectically texting my Armenian contacts in Moscow, New York, and Istanbul before my flight to the capital, Yerevan, I pondered this twist of fate. Was it some kismet second chance for me in that country? I’d been to Armenia once—as a U.S. citizen, in the late summer of





1989. Terrible timing. An earthquake in 1988 had ravaged the cities of Spitak and Leninakan in the north of the still-Soviet republic, filling Yerevan with refugees. When I arrived, the shocking first ethnic explosion in Gorbachev’s crumbling empire had left Yerevan blockaded, without gas or supplies. (The conflict had erupted in NagornoKarabakh, a region populated by Christian Armenians but included in Muslim Azerbaijan by the whims of early Soviet cartographers.) My then-boyfriend and I had planned to see Armenia’s medieval monasteries, its mountains, and Lake Sevan, whose turquoise beauty in the crudely colorized postcards my dad brought back from his Armenia excursions had inflamed my childhood imagination. Instead, we were ILLUSTRATIONS BY ANGELA MCKAY

connect spin the globe stranded in a gloomy, desperate Yerevan, with no working transport and only sporadic electricity. My two lasting impressions: the pink Soviet edifices and the mournful air of a country whose extensive tragic past forever oppressed any present. DAY ONE Arrival is brutal. The lone direct flight from Istanbul leaves around midnight, a consequence of the icy relations between Turkey and Armenia, so we land at 3 a.m. Why the Azerbaijani visa on my passport? demands Yerevan passport control. Why all the Turkish stamps? Finally, my boyfriend, Barry, and I meet Babik and Anna, the driver and guide who are part of the warm welcome conjured up on incredibly short notice by my contact at MIR, a U.S. tour company specializing in the former USSR. We reach the overblown vastness of Republic Square (formerly Lenin Square), which is framed by familiar silhouettes typical of bulky Soviet monumentalism. We enter our hotel through a typically over-scaled Stalinesque archway. Built in 1958 and operated by Intourist as Hotel Armenia, it’s now the Marriott Yerevan. Before crashing, we toast from a duty-free nip bottle of 10-year-old Ararat brandy, an iconic “good-times” brand since Soviet days. That night I dream of birthdays and pompous socialist banquets. The next morning, our hotel breakfast stirs more nostalgia. Blistered lavash bread, stringy Armenian cheese, fenugreek-scented basturma, a type of cured meat—I’m transported to Moscow’s Gorky Street and the opulent food store called Armenia, where my mother and I endured Soviet queues for tart yogurt and briny grape-leaf dolmas. Our hotel’s young staffers, though, are pure non-Soviet—the sweetest. Out the windows, sunny Republic Square, so oppressive and drab in 1989, looks quaintly handsome now, a spruced-up throwback diorama of repeating arches and curving facades ornamented with Armenian folkloric motifs. “National in form, socialist in content,” the hoary Stalinist cliché, comes to mind. Yerevan’s buildings, many carved from tawny-rose local tuff stone, are even pinker than I remember. Barry, the Googler, pipes up that the square and its Government House were both designed in the early 1920s by one Alexander Tamanyan, a Russian-born Armenian architect brought here to concoct an urban plan for the newly socialist ancient city. Plan and man are to this day revered. Outside, Amaliya Akopova is waiting to “abduct” us. Another lucky connection via my last-minute networking, Amaliya exudes young Moscow-style hipster with her skinny jeans and swish sneakers, and is a tourism adviser to Armenia’s prime minister. And naturally, we discover that her relatives were friends with my first piano teacher in Moscow, the daughter of the Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian. Dear, dear AFAR, why have you globe-spun me straight to my past? Amaliya promises us a surprise. Driving past shoddy Khrushchev-era apartment blocks—much like the Moscow one I grew up in—we arrive at the Megerian carpet factory and museum, where, after a disquisition on rare dyes and Armenian double knots, we meet Amaliya’s surprise:

Sedrak Mamulyan, the country’s most illustrious chef, who consults at the snug, carpet-hung restaurant on site. For lunch, Sedrak showily constructs a meat-and-rice Mount Ararat, along with garlicky wild chard with walnuts. He seems every bit the grand Soviet type, with his stovepipe toque and firm conviction that everything tastes better with sour cream. But his mission is counter-Soviet. “They lumped us

Armenia: A small craggy country still economically poor, but rich in culture, mooring a far-flung diaspora of more than 10 million people through memory, heartache, and loss.

with the Caucasus—but we’re not the Caucasus,” he proclaims. “We’re a highland cuisine of our own.” Ten years ago, Sedrak founded an NGO to resurrect and preserve Armenian traditions. That is, to construct a post-USSR identity, a common challenge throughout the fallen empire. He began by walking around villages collecting recipes. “I learn a lot by assigning my cooking students essays about their grandmothers’ dishes,” he says. After spending the rest of the day touring and talking, by 10 p.m. we should collapse in bed. Instead, we discover local Areni and Sireni grape varietals at an outdoor table of the sleek Wine Republic bar. There, wine consultant Vahe Keushguerian opines on how Soviet central planning “interrupted” Armenia’s ancient viniculture. “Georgia got assigned wine,” declares Vahe. “Armenia got assigned brandy—it’s our 400-pound gorilla.” Syrian born, Lebanon raised, Vahe lived in California, then made wine in Tuscany and Puglia before moving to Armenia in 2009. He tells us of the existential dilemma faced by members of the Armenian diaspora scattered around the globe. “We grew up longing for an abstract homeland we didn’t know,” Vahe muses. “We come to this Armenia, and it’s alien—especially the weird Soviet past! But this is reality, no? And you can make something of it.” Armenia: A small craggy country still economically poor, but rich in culture, mooring a far-flung diaspora of more than 10 million people through memory, heartache, and loss. DAY TWO Vahe’s friend Sarhat Petrosyan, on the other hand, is passionate about Soviet Armenia—at least architecturally. The young Iranian-born architect is an urban preservationist, and we pounce on him for an impromptu tour of Yerevan’s socialist specialties. MARCH/APRIL 2018



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We meet at the statue of Tamanyan and squint in the sun at the Cascade, a 1970s extravaganza of white stairways that connect the lower town with the sword-wielding Mother Armenia statue that has loomed above the city since 1967, when it took the place once occupied by a looming statue of Stalin. Then off we march to a constructivist edifice with spiraled windows that was designed in the mid-1930s by Tbilisi-born architect Gevorg Kochar—to house the KGB. “The architect spent a couple days imprisoned here in his own building en route to the gulag,” Sarhat says with a poignant grin. By car now, we hasten over to the hill-topping Karen Demirchyan sports and concert complex. As genuinely sensational as anything by Frank Gehry or Zaha Hadid, this voluminous structure from 1981 on one side evokes the Sydney Opera House’s wingspread, and on the other, a great dark-shingled, domed hive decorated with little terracotta bucket balconies. “Seventies and ’80s work across the non-Russian USSR is finally being celebrated for its adventurousness,” Sarhat notes happily. Our time with Sarhat ends at the Tsitsernakaberd, the museum complex built in memory of the mass deaths of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire more than a century ago. Modern Turkey’s refusal to accept the term “genocide” still poisons relations between the two countries. Alas, the museum itself is closed. But the minimal outdoor memorial, built in 1967 by the lead architect of the Karen Demirchyan complex, grips us in its somber power. A circle of tall gray basalt slabs leans over a central ring of flowers laid around an eternal flame. 50



“Anyone who thinks Soviet architecture is without soul should come here,” Barry murmurs. Choral music plays. We walk away wiping at tears. DAY THREE Today is my birthday! We ride two hours north through barren mountains to Gyumri, formerly known as Leninakan. En route, we catch a hazy glimpse of Mount Ararat, the symbol of Armenia’s identity, towering across the border in what Armenians call Western Armenia—the part of their country lost to Turkey by treaty in 1921. Nearing Gyumri, I realize we’re only some 40 miles from Kars in Turkey, the 10th-century capital of an Armenian kingdom, now behind the tightly sealed border. Two years ago we celebrated the New Year in Kars with Turkish friends. While we were with them, we traveled to nearby Ani, the ghostly hilltop ruin of another Armenian capital, where we gazed straight across into presentday Armenia. How uncanny that the luck of the draw has put me right where I was gazing then. Gyumri, Armenia’s second-largest city, considers itself the country’s historic cultural center. Other than the Tamanyan-designed Vardanants Square, it looks richly un-socialist. Old men sell pre-Revolutionary samovars at the outdoor bazaar, and streets of recently renovated blacktuff neoclassical and art nouveau buildings evoke the long Russian czarist rule here. Part of the reason I wanted to spend my birthday in Gyumri is Cherkezi Dzor. Yerevaners drive hours to eat this restaurant’s succulent trout and grilled baby sturgeon enfolded in house-baked lavash. Barry

connect spin the globe and I share the fish, fresh from the restaurant’s own ponds, and the house-distilled apricot vodka, with our gracious friend Aida, a Gyumri resident with whom we celebrated that New Year in Kars. The toasting continues at Aida’s apartment, where the dessert table— chocolates, a fruit cornucopia, Ararat brandy—is a vision straight out of the Book of Tasty and Healthy Food, a Soviet kitchen bible conceived by Stalin’s wily Armenian-born food commissar, Anastas Mikoyan. My mother still has her copy. Aida sighs: “This East German china,” she says over her delicate tea set, “is all that’s left of our pre-earthquake luxury.” For 18 years after 1988, Aida, her late husband, and their daughter lived in a one-room trailer. They were offered housing in Yerevan. But how could they leave their precious Gyumri? DAY FOUR Sunday morning. Celestial voices soar over the throngs a half hour out of Yerevan. The whole country, it seems, is packed into Armenia’s Vatican, Etchmiadzin Cathedral, founded in 301 c.e. and the seat of the Catholicos, or head of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Ever since the third century, when Armenia became the first country to adopt Christianity as its official religion, the church has been an anchor for Armenians, a beacon throughout the country’s tumultuous history. Stalin tried to quash that connection. But you can feel its strength as the liturgy unfolds: It’s a dynamic public event, the opposite of passive and rote. There are no pews. People crowd in and out under the chandeliers and frescoes, press to take photos of monks in black peakhooded robes. A young ecclesiastic in a snowy garment stands alongside leather-jacketed dudes near the women’s choir. The singing takes our breath away. Armenia’s top opera stars come to take part on Sundays, explains Anna, our guide. An hour’s drive east, in the village of Garni, another Armenian Sunday ritual of sorts awaits. It’s a midday breakfast of khash, a notorious morning-after cow’s-foot soup cooked for 12 hours. We confront this thick gelatinous brew in the garden outside the rambling restaurant of Sergey Gabrielyan. “You don’t eat khash how you want,” Sergey announces, tearing up tandoori-charred lavash to add to his bowl. “You eat it how it’s supposed to be eaten!” Sharp pickles, loads of pepper, and shots of homemade 60-proof fruit vodka—for breakfast!— are all part of the protocol. Ripely opinionated and craggy-handsome, Sergey is a former photographer who taught himself to cook by watching international food TV. He peers at me suddenly. Wait: Hasn’t he seen me on a Russian foodie show? Yes, I gulp—flummoxed again at having been globe-spun into my personal history. What does Armenia mean to you, I ask him, a native son. “This house,” Sergey replies. “This water, these fruit trees—my khash.” His Armenia: the opposite of a diasporic abstraction.

Today, however, Sevan’s postcard-turquoise waters are a dull Jersey Shore gray. A small gale blows under an overcast sky as we stand at close to 6,300 feet in the rust-colored mountains two hours from Yerevan. Barry, Anna, and I struggle up the windswept hill to Sevanavank medieval monastery, on what became a small peninsula when the Soviets lowered the level of this huge lake for a dictatorially imposed irrigation project. The peninsula was still an island in 1930, when Osip Mandelstam, the great Russian poet, spent a blissful month here, recounted in his magical Journey to Armenia travelogue. But our main interest lies below Sevanavank: the now-iconic resort of the Union of Writers, a mini-cathedral of Soviet Armenian modernism that Sarhat, the preservationist, arranged for us to visit. Its mid-’60s restaurant juts straight out from the slope—a spaceship balanced on a single pedestal pier. The architect was none other than Gevorg Kochar, the architect imprisoned in his own work en route to the gulag in 1937. He survived his gulag years, was rehabilitated in 1954, and went on to build this space-agey masterpiece. The yellow typewritten order for his rehabilitation hangs in the resort’s tiny museum.

I’m transported to Moscow’s Gorky Street and the opulent food store called Armenia, where my mother and I endured Soviet queues for tart yogurt and briny grape-leaf dolmas.

DAY FIVE At long last, here it is. Lake Sevan, of my father’s colorized Soviet postcards. Of my own childhood abstractions.

The restaurant is closed now for the season, so I ponder the twists and turns of Soviet fate over Lake Sevan’s famous crayfish in a freezing tourist restaurant nearby. Then we head north, to overnight in the alpine resort town of Dilijan on the way to Tbilisi, Georgia, where we’ll catch our flight back to Istanbul. Babik, our driver, an unapologetic Sovietophile, annotates every USSR-made car and bus and truck we pass along the way. We pass a lot of them on the road, as well as rusting hulks off in the weeds. These archaeological remnants, a quarter century after the empire’s collapse, fill me with an almost cozy nostalgia—lamplit by my childhood, I realize. Approaching the Georgian border, I recall Mandelstam’s poem of farewell: “I will never see you . . . nearsighted Armenian sky. . . .” I’m seized with gratitude that fate has granted me my own second chance. Anya von Bremzen wrote about Athens in the January/February 2018 issue of AFAR. MARCH/APRIL 2018




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PIGMENTS OF THE IMAGINATION On a remote tropical island in the Pacific, a Belgian photographer explores the meaning of color among a population that sees in shades of gray. by Sara Button


a word to those who cannot see it,” says Belgian photographer Sanne De Wilde. For her new book The Island of the Colorblind (Kehrer Verlag, 2017), De Wilde traveled to Pingelap, a Micronesian atoll where, by some reports, nearly 10 percent of the population has achromatopsia: total color blindness. De Wilde’s work often examines the effects of geo-specific genetic conditions. (Pingelap’s achromatopsia is believed to have been passed down from one of the few survivors of a devastating 18th-century typhoon.) Her time in Pingelap led De Wilde to question her own perceptions of color and challenged her to experiment with different photographic techniques. For example, black-and-white shots parallel the varying tones an achromat might see. She also shot in infrared, as seen in the image at left. The pink and blue hues create a surreal romanticism that invites those who aren’t color-blind to imagine a world unrestricted by the boundaries of color. OLOR IS JUST





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To try the city’s most iconic dish, you have to go beyond the noodle stands. by David Farley



secret ingredient to cha ca,” Hung told me after the server walked away from our table. Hung, a friend and Hanoi native, was introducing me to his city’s classic dish at the restaurant Cha Ca Kinh Ky. “But if I told you, you wouldn’t want to eat it.” Soon the server returned to deposit on our table a constellation of flavors: a mound of rice noodles, a dollop of shrimp paste, some fish sauce, a couple branches of baby basil, a small bowl of peanuts, and a large bowl of bright green dill and spring onions. Another server brought a frying pan filled with turmeric-laced chunks of ca lang,


or Hemibagrus—a genus of catfish— and placed it atop a small portable burner at the center of our table. He mixed in some of the dill and spring onions, and we watched as our meal began to take shape. If there’s a traveler’s obligation to drink a pint of Guinness in Dublin or eat ragù Bolognese in Bologna, in Hanoi one must eat cha ca la Vong. For a Vietnamese dish, cha ca la Vong is unusual in that it is served exclusively at restaurants—not at the country’s ubiquitous street-side food carts— and cooked at your table. For this latter reason, it is considered a fancy dish. And its sophisticated flavors have led high-profile international chefs—such as Andy Ricker at Pok Pok in Portland and New York, Chris Shepherd of Houston’s Underbelly, and empire-builder Jean-Georges Vongerichten—to




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WHERE TO EAT CHA CA LA V ONG IN HANOI 1 Cha Ca La Vong plan trips to study cha ca la Vong in Hanoi just so they can add it to their menus back home. At Cha Ca Kinh Ky, once the fish had cooked, I spooned some into a bowl filled with vermicelli noodles, peanuts, and a sprinkling of fish sauce. The combination was complex, both in flavor and texture, with the turmeric taking center stage on my palate. It was far from the simple Hanoi fare I’d been eating all week, including the national dish, pho. I chewed, studying the flavors. That’s when Hung decided to share the rumored secret ingredient. “Dog fat,” he said. I stopped chewing. “But don’t worry, dog fat is hard to find these days. Here they render the fish in either oil or chicken or pork fat.” I started chewing again. It was good, I thought, but Hung was underwhelmed. There wasn’t enough turmeric and not enough 56



Clockwise from top: Catfish is the main ingredient in cha ca la Vong; a server sautés the dish at Cha Ca La Vong; the exterior of the venerable restaurant.

sauce to go around, he said. He suggested I try the version at the restaurant that inspired most of those visiting chefs: Cha Ca La Vong, where cha ca originated more than a century ago. There’s a general consensus that the building the restaurant occupies today was, in the late 19th century, a safe house for insurgents fighting French colonial rule. According to the owners, the Doan family, their ancestors fed the dissidents catfish pulled from the nearby Red River mixed with whatever they had on hand, including dill, a main flavor in the dish (and an ingredient that’s rare in the rest of Vietnam). The Doan family still runs the restaurant—and cha ca la Vong is

the only dish they serve. To taste it, one must climb steep, ladderlike stairs to the second floor—and pay what, for Vietnam, is a handsome price (about $15 for two people, nearly double the price at other cha ca restaurants). Once I caught my breath and took a seat, a sauté pan was placed on a charcoal burner at my table. Again, I watched as the server cooked the fish, tossed in a handful of dill, and then deposited everything into my bowl. I took a bite. Immediately, I understood why this place can charge more for its cha ca: The turmeric-laced sauce from the fish, rendered with oil, had spread throughout the bowl, coating the noodles and vegetables. The soft fish conspired with the snap of raw basil, the crunch of peanuts, and the freshness of the cooked dill and spring onion to create a textural delight. And call me a nontraditionalist, but I didn’t even miss the dog fat.

The original cha ca restaurant. Climb up the steps, take a seat, and the ingredients and tableside sauté pan magically appear. 14 Cha Ca, Hang Dao, Hoan Kiem, +84 4-3825-3929

2 Cha Ca Kinh Ky Chef Nguyen Thi Thuan cooks a version of cha ca la Vong from a recipe handed down from her grandmother. 104 Hoa Ma, Ngo Thi Nham, Hai Ba Trung, +84 4-3945-4656

3 Cha Ca Thang Long Traditional cha ca la Vong is served up in a spacious dining room in Hanoi’s old quarter. 19-21-31 Duong Thanh, Cua Dong, Hoan Kiem,

4 Cha Ca Thuy Hong Popular with tourists and locals alike, the more modern Thuy Hong is a solid choice for cha ca. 12 Hang Ga, Hang Bo, Hoan Kiem,



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A disillusioned American magician rediscovers his sense of wonder in one of New Delhi’s poorest neighborhoods. by Nate Staniforth


FELT EVERYONE watching us. The children sat and looked at us warily, having momentarily stopped their hunt through the trash. Two men broke off their conversation on the steps of a building across the road and now stared silently in our direction. Amit, my friend and guide, stared back. A woman carrying a large bundle of yellow cloth on her head crossed the road and then looked sharply up, noticing us, startled, before hurrying off. All around, I felt the day-to-day life in Shadipur Depot—a slum on the outskirts of New Delhi—stop and take note of our arrival as we stood on the corner. “There,” said Amit a moment later. “That must be him.” A man walked toward us from one of the side streets. He wore a bright yellow shirt and a gray vest that looked out of place in our burned-out surroundings. He looked more like a dad at a soccer game than a great magician. “You are Nate?” I nodded. “My name is Ishamudin Khan. Welcome to my home.” Ishamudin led us down a path into the slum and I became lost almost immediately. The path was narrow and seemed to lead through houses as often as it led around them—we crossed a small courtyard, turned down a side passage, walked through someone’s kitchen, turned onto another side street that also served as a hallway through one of the buildings, and descended a long staircase that somehow both started and ended at ground level. The narrow strip of sky overhead vanished frequently as we passed through tunnels, doorways, hallways, and buildings. We passed a monkey chained to a wall and sleeping on a pile of cloth, and a man standing next to an upright oil barrel, working on a fire. We kept going. I stood to one side as a young boy—a toddler, really, no more than three years old—staggered down the hall carrying a baby. The two were practically the same size. The older boy smiled at me as he passed, carefully gripping his baby brother as he stepped across an open drain in the floor. They turned

the corner and were gone. We stopped when Ishamudin announced that we had reached his house. He opened a door and led us inside a dark, low-ceilinged room. It was filled with magicians. Ishamudin introduced me to the group; then I sat silently as they spoke to one another. A plate of potato chips sat in the center. I would learn later that this was an extravagant gesture of welcome—potato chips for the American visitor—but at the moment I didn’t know what to think. Amit was clearly uncomfortable. This made me uncomfortable. Finally Ishamudin said, “I understand that you are a magician?” “Yes.” “Could you show us one of your tricks?” Of course. They wanted to see if I was any good. In America, entrance to the various clubs and societies of magicians is sometimes contingent on a performance, to demonstrate that you’ve already put in the requisite time and commitment to the craft, and this group— quite rightly—wanted to verify the same. The potato chips indicated that their hospitality would be offered either way, but I wanted to talk to them about magic. I gathered the group in a circle and removed the spool of thread from my backpack. Some illusions rely on subterfuge or technology, some rely on psychological subtlety and a mastery of the ability to manipulate the attention of the audience, but some illusions rely on nothing more than pure sleight-of-hand technique that cannot be faked, purchased, or obtained by any other means than standing in front of a practice mirror and putting in months and often years of work. I didn’t know whether I could amaze this group of magicians, but I wanted them to know that I had chops. I broke a three-foot section of thread from the spool and held it at my fingertips so that everyone could see. They were watching very closely. Slowly and deliberately, I broke the piece of thread into four or five smaller pieces, handing each piece to a different magician

to demonstrate that the thread was actually broken. Earlier in my trip, when I had performed this for the teacher at the ashram in Rishikesh he had watched sharply, trying to catch any false move. But I felt a warmth from this group and remembered that magicians love magic tricks more than anyone else. “Roll the pieces into a small ball,” I said. Amit helped with the translation, and one of the magicians collected the broken pieces and rolled them together. “Watch this.” I retrieved the ball of broken thread and pulled slowly on two of the loose ends. The magicians began to smile. As I pulled on the string, the ball continued to unroll and within seconds they saw that the thread had been completely restored. Laughter, applause, handshakes, pats on the back. I’m sure that any of them could have performed a similar feat easily, but my execution had been flawless and their reserve fell away. We spoke for an hour about magic, first in generalities about our careers and then about specific illusions. One of the tricks in my show has its roots in a traditional piece of magic from India and they watched—with amusement, I think—as I demonstrated my version of an illusion that has been handed down from father to son in their tribe for millennia. I passed out a handful of sewing needles for inspection and unwound another length of thread. After gathering the needles, I placed them on my tongue, closed my mouth, and swallowed. In my show this moment elicits groans, gasps, shrieks of disgust and dismay. Here, nothing. No response. I opened my mouth to show the needles were gone and they just waited. One man nodded politely. The same thing happened when I swallowed the length of sewing thread—no response. It was only when I pulled the thread back out of my mouth—now with all of the needles threaded along its length, dangling and glinting in the light—that they responded with any sort of enthusiasm. “It’s good,” one of them offered—a young man about my own age who spoke no English but communicated with me through Amit. MARCH/APRIL 2018



connect bookmark “You have good technique.” A pause. “Would you like to see how we do it?”


SAT ON THE ROOF OF Ishamudin’s house across from an 82-year-old man who was about to breathe fire. He opened his mouth to show that it was empty. Then he closed his eyes and exhaled smoke through his nose, and the hair on the back of my neck stood up. The smoke hung lazily in the unmoving air and joined the smells of shit, filth, and garbage that rose from the ground and the open sewers and clung to the slum like flies on rotting food. The sun had been high in the sky for hours, days, years, and the bricks under my feet radiated a deep, ancient heat, as though they had never completely cooled from the kiln. The T-shirt I’d worn for the last month traveling through India stuck to my back, thin and soaking. I was hot and thirsty, but at the moment none of this mattered. Word of this performance had spread throughout the neighborhood and 20 or 30 people had crammed onto this patio to watch Ishamudin’s father come out of retirement for one last show. At the sight of the smoke everyone jostled for a better view—children on shoulders craned their necks and leaned left and right for an opening in the crowd. Older children perched on the wall above like a row of pigeons. Across the alley, neighbors from the building next door hung from their windows. Everywhere you looked you could see people straining and shifting to see him, but when he raised his hand the entire audience stopped moving. Everyone was silent. Even the children were still. We were watching a sensation. Another wisp of smoke rose involuntarily from his nostrils. He winced. The old man seemed more like a prophet than a magician and appeared frail in his white coat and turban, until our eyes met. Then he did not look frail. He stared at me as if to say, “You want to see magic? This is magic.” He raised his head back and up and inhaled a great quantity of air. For a moment, everything in the world stopped moving. I could hear my own heartbeat. Then the magician exhaled and there was fire everywhere. One, two, three flashes of flame from the old man’s mouth, bright, hot, and painful. I felt as if I had stepped into the pages of a story. It didn’t look like a conjuror’s trick or a sideshow stunt from the circus. It looked like magic. For a moment, the audience was transfixed—stunned, reeling—and then there was a great deal of shouting. The children jumped




and squealed and turned to one another, laughing and surprised, but the loudest reaction came from the adults. Behind me I heard Amit booming “Oh! Oh wow!” I could not stop laughing. The man was a street performer and this was ostensibly meant as entertainment but there was nothing trivial about it—fear and joy mixed and taken straight back, all at once, so you felt you were going to fall over. The magician stood there looking at us. The ferocity was gone now, and he didn’t look like an old man anymore. He looked like a 10-year-old, eyes bright and full of wonder. One after another the street magicians of Shadipur Depot performed the feats they have perfected and preserved from generation to generation. When Ishamudin’s father did their version of the needle illusion he used no thread, no needles, and, as far as I could tell, no illusion. His mouth was empty—unassailably empty—I know how this sort of thing works— and then he closed his eyes and regurgitated mouthful after mouthful of needle-sharp thorns, three inches long. They kept coming, and each time he proved their sharpness by taking one of the thorns and sticking it deliberately into the palm of his hand. By the end, his hand looked like a pincushion and a pile of thorns rested on the ground at his feet. I was beside myself.


SHAMUDIN LED US downstairs where he showed me his computer, glowing incongruously in the darkened room. In 1995, one of his performances was featured on TV networks around the world, and this exposure allowed him to bring his show to Europe and Japan. He used the money from this modest success to wire his home with both electricity and Internet access—a feat far more amazing than any of the magic I had just seen—and children from all over the neighborhood came here to learn. “I learned English by radio and television, but this is better,” he said, pointing to the computer. “Here you can learn science and math, too.” Ishamudin went to speak with his wife about dinner, and for a moment I sat alone on the floor in Ishamudin’s living room. I thought about how many people must see this slum from the train as it rushes through Shadipur Depot station on the way into the city. It is one slum among many on the way to downtown New Delhi—how many notice it at all? And of those who do look up from their phones or their newspapers and see the crumpled ruins of brick buildings and the

burning drifts of garbage, how many know that in this dying neighborhood there lives a family of magicians who endure this ruined place and rise in all ways above it? No one on that train could guess that in one of these buildings a group of young boys and girls huddle around a computer screen in the evenings to learn about biology, and astronomy, and evolution. And if this unexpected richness hidden just behind the illusion of the mundane is here, it could be anywhere. And if it could be anywhere, then my assumptions about most things are almost certainly inadequate. And because my assumptions govern every decision I make and every judgment I pass and form the fundamental worldview from which every single thought, action, and impulse in my life has originated, then all I know for certain is that I am lost. If lives like that can grow in a place like this, then I know nothing. The thing about certainty is that it only takes a tiny crack to bring it all crashing down. And this is not a tiny crack. This family’s existence in the middle of a wasteland is a miracle.


N HOUR AF TER THE performance we all sat together in front of a five-course meal prepared by Ishamudin’s wife with a hot plate and a one-burner stove. Its aromas, tastes, and sheer abundance drew a firm border between this room and the neighborhood on the other side of the bare concrete walls. Outside, the slum seethed under the lateafternoon sun, agitated and decomposing. Inside, we were somewhere else entirely. Inside we had been transported by the warmth of this hospitality, and I was embraced like a returning son, long lost and joyfully recovered. “You have traveled a long way and are welcome here,” they seemed to say. “Eat and share with us. Sit and rest. Today this is your home, too.” Piles of rice, naan, a dark orange curry, and a hot green sauce with paneer, steaming and perfect, rested in the center of our circle, which expanded to accommodate a steady stream of visitors who arrived to join the celebration. Cousins, neighbors, and fellow magicians had heard about the visiting American—the American magician—and wanted to see this curiosity from the other side of the world. We had nothing in common except magic, but that was enough.

Excerpted from Here Is Real Magic: A Magician’s Search for Wonder in the Modern World by Nate Staniforth with permission from Bloomsbury Publishing. Copyright Nate Staniforth, 2018.


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THE ART OF DOING NOTHING An agenda-free beach vacation may be the most eye-opening trip you take this year. by Jennifer Flowers


a world where we’re encouraged to take transformative trips—vacations we fill with experiences that broaden our perspectives and take us outside our comfort zone. But what if the biggest challenge is to do nothing? On a recent trip to the Shore Club in Turks and Caicos (pictured), a new retreat set along secluded Long Bay Beach on the island of Providenciales, I was surprised to find out how hard it can be to take it easy. To some, the beach getaway seems like a cop-out. I was in this camp until recently: A typical trip for me involves a dizzying list of restaurants and off-the-beatenpath hangouts. But this time, I was going to try to slow down. My daily schedule went something like this: Wake up. Eat breakfast. Locate lounge chair on beach. Order frozen margarita. Enter water. Return to lounge chair; flip over. Migrate







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Four Perfect Places to Do Nothing




3 Rosewood

2 Coral Caye

4 Amanoi

Mexico The beachfront Chileno Bay Resort may be among the most luxurious new retreats in Cabo San Lucas, but it exudes a down-to-earth vibe. Its 60 guest rooms and 32 villas feature outdoor showers and floor-to-ceiling windows that showcase ocean views. The beachside bar sells tacos and artisanal tequilas. The resort also has one of the area’s few swimmable beaches. From $675. chileno bay.aubergeresorts .com

to me that by doing nothing, I was actually doing something: I was wiping my mental slate clean, reminding myself that there was more to life than to-do lists. I was resetting my senses, and renewing my energy to meet the demands on my time back home. If you’re an antsy traveler, here’s what I suggest: Book a trip to a sandy destination. Leave your phone in your room. Master balancing in a hammock. Float in the ocean on your back and marvel at your weightlessness. Contemplate the sand beneath you. And don’t forget that experiences such as these can be just as transformative as packing things into your itinerary. Sometimes, the less you do, the better. Doubles from $700. theshore

The rooms at Chileno Bay Resort in Cabo San Lucas feature walls of locally sourced stone and are furnished with teak-root tables from Guadalajara and rugs made in Mexico City.

Belize Film director Francis Ford Coppola and his wife, Eleanor, own the low-key, thatch-roofed Turtle Inn, which recently debuted Coral Caye, a lodging on a private two-acre island. Sheltered by the Belize Barrier Reef, it lies a 25-minute boat ride from the main resort. Two cottages with verandas and beach decor can accommodate up to 12 people, and the central great house, managed by a dedicated staff, has daybeds and a full bar. $1,895 per night; two-night minimum. thefamilycoppola

Bermuda Rosewood Bermuda, formerly known as Rosewood Tucker’s Point, is set to reopen in April after an extensive renovation. Look for local artwork on the walls of the 92 rooms and suites, and custom furnishings that offer a modern spin on Bermuda’s colonial heritage. The Beach Club, on the island’s largest pink-sand beach, will have new cabanas and a restaurant that serves freshly caught seafood. From $535.

Vietnam The Amanoi, located in one of Vietnam’s largest nature reserves, already had a 118,000-squarefoot spa. Now you can have a spa to yourself. A stay at one of two new Spa Houses—the Thuy Lien (Lotus) or the An Son (Peaceful Mountain)—includes daily massages and access to private pools, steam rooms, and relaxation decks. Multiday programs focus on stress reduction, weight management, or mindfulness. Spa Houses for up to four guests per house; from $2,100. amanoi .com


to pool. Order jerk chicken. Watch sunset with another margarita. Order dinner. Fall asleep. Wake up, rinse, repeat. It was surprisingly difficult to stay put beneath my beach umbrella, staring off into the mesmerizing blue horizon, when I thought of all the things I could be doing instead. Did I miss a photo-worthy sunrise by sleeping in? Should I see if there’s a boat tour this afternoon? Is there a secret, locals-only conch shack I should check out? My perspective shift was subtle. I started listening to my internal clock. (Feel warm? Jump in the ocean. Feel tired? Take a nap. Feel social? Talk to the strangers at the swim-up bar.) Free of distractions, I had no choice but to take in my surroundings more fully: the gradations of blue in the water, the sensation of soft white sand between my toes. Walks on the beach became intimate studies of the island as I looked down and focused on the microcosm of seashells and driftwood. In those moments it occurred

1 Chileno Bay Resort

“This experience has opened many doors for me.”

Learning AFAR has been an integral part of my high school experience because it showed me how to be a leader and a shaker, and how to take my future into my own hands. I can only hope that this program will continue transforming the lives of my peers because it immensely revitalized my life. Thank you for changing my life. —Nora, Learning AFAR Chicago

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SIDE No CROWDS. No COSPLAY. Just TEMPLES, TREES, and a WARM BATH at the end of the day. by Peggy Orenstein photographs by Peter Bohler




“YOU’RE GOING alone?”

a friend ASKED ME. We were hiking in the hills of Berkeley, California, something I do several times a week (OK, try to do several times a week), usually with a few girlfriends and our dogs, or at least with my phone, so I can listen to music or an audiobook or chat with my sister-in-law in Minnesota. I had been talking about a five-day trek on Japan’s Kumano Kodo, a 10th-century network of trails roughly 100 miles south of Kyoto that in 2004 was named one of two UNESCO World Heritage spiritual pilgrimage sites. (The other is the Camino de Santiago in Spain.) My 42-mile route, dotted with more than 100 Shinto and Buddhist shrines, would traverse the secluded Kii Peninsula through sleepy farm towns and forests of cedar, cypress, and bamboo, over mountain passes, across rivers, and past waterfalls. 68



And yes, I was going alone. I’ve visited many times since then: Marriage I wasn’t pulling a Cheryl Strayed, who (and eventually motherhood) unexpectedly wrote Wild after hiking the Pacific Crest made Japan part of my cultural fiber. Most Trail. I have no personal demons to exorcise. of my time, though, has been spent in urban If I were to write a book about my life centers. Even my Japanese friends raised an struggles, it would have to be called Tame-ish. eyebrow when I told them about my plans. Nor, although the eating sounded good, was “That’s . . . remote,” one said, tactfully. Which I seeking to “pray” or “love.” is exactly the point. But I do suffer from a modern A Kumano pilgrim’s task Previous page: The malaise: a highly contagious is to rid the body and spirit of Kumano Kodo pilgrimage computer-communicated virus impurities from both past and path leads to sacred sites whose symptoms are informapresent lives, to be ritually including the Seiganto-ji. tion glut, monkey mind, and reborn and rejuvenated by the The 4th-century Buddhist temple stands next to the compulsion to watch just powers of the deities. I’m not Japan’s tallest straightone more episode of Billions. an especially spiritual person, drop waterfall, Nachi A break from our hyped-up nor much of an ascetic. I don’t no Otaki, which is more world was the only cure, yet I’d expect “rebirth.” I will don than 430 feet high. found it impossible to enforce sturdy hiking shoes instead one. Kumano was a chance to go of straw sandals and have my back a millennium, but also back to, say, 1994— luggage forwarded each day for a nominal fee the first time I traveled to Japan, when leaving rather than carry it on my back. But my own home meant being truly out of touch. Back quest feels no less sacred: retreating from an then, I spent a month in Hiroshima with my incessantly reactive, whack-a-mole world to husband, a Japanese American documentary seek solitude in nature, to reflect, find calm, filmmaker, researching the atomic bombings. and reconnect to my deeper self.


Hongu Taisha Shrine Hayatama Taisha Shrine


Nachi Taisha Shrine




heart of Japan’s holiest region, the cradle of its creation myth. This is where the country’s first emperor, the child of the sun goddess from whom all emperors are believed to descend, is said to have launched his battle to conquer the nation. The section I’d chosen to travel, called the Nakahechi or “imperial” route, passes two of the region’s three grand shrines. (The third is accessible only by water.) Each is home to various animist spirits (rocks, rivers, trees, waterfalls) as well as both a Shinto and a Buddhist deity. Those religions coexist peacefully, almost interchangeably, in Kumano despite an attempt, during the 19th century, to weaken Buddhism and promote emperor worship by forcibly separating them. (Today’s Japanese aren’t particular about religion, going with whatever best suits an occasion; friends there have often quoted the adage “Born Shinto; marry Christian; die Buddhist.”) The first day started easy: just 2.3 miles, beginning near a river said to cure all ills. At least it sounded easy. Ancient Japanese, it turned out, didn’t believe in switchbacks. One of the basic precepts of Japanese Buddhism (and of the country’s culture itself ) is gaman: enduring the seemingly unendurable with patience and stoicism. So when you climb a mountain, you go straight up—none of this namby-pamby zigzagging across the ridge that whiny Westerners expect. What’s more, thick traceries of tree roots and randomly sprinkled boulders cover the trail. I had read that two-thirds of Japan is forest, but I was used to Shinjuku’s neon, Harajuku’s cosplay, maybe a meticulously cultivated temple garden in Kyoto. Such wild nature was a surprise.

After 15 minutes of climbing, I hit a symbol of hope because they recovered so shoulder-width passage between two boulders quickly after the bombing. Before paying my called Tainai Kuguri. Squeezing through is respects at the shrine, which housed an image both a symbolic rebirth and a test of faith (preof Buddha, I used the provided ladle to rinse sumably because it seems fully possible to get my mouth and my hands—the left first, then stuck). Nearby, another boulder marks the spot the right—with water. I pulled hard on a thick where an ancient pilgrim gave birth. She and rope, ringing a bell to alert the kami to my her husband left the infant to be suckled by presence, clapped twice, bowed twice, and ofwolves until they returned. Call me a helicopfered a 5-yen coin. Although it’s not required, I ter mom, but I had to wonder: Who does that? also bowed to the camphors before heading on Why not just strap the kid onto your back and my way because, again, you never know. take him with you? NCIENT PILGRIMS were supposed I continued through the trees past a sutra to suffer to achieve purification. mound—a pile of rocks where sacred texts were They would not only make the once buried—and the first of dozens of statues arduous journey over the mounalong the route depicting Jizo, a bodhisattva tains shod in straw sandals, but who declined entry to paradise in order to help also would perform ablutions in icy streams, the rest of us get there. What a guy, right? Jizo becoming ever purer with each plunge, until also protects travelers (explaining his presence their sins were washed away. Me? I’m cool on the trail) and small children, especially with a few sins, so jumping naked into frigid dead infants, whom he shepherds on to their water was a non-starter. I gladly, however, sank next lives. I had my own brush with him years into a traditional Japanese bath after a long ago after suffering a miscarriage in Tokyo. day on the trail. At the Organic Hotel Kiri no Back then, I made an offering of toys and Sato Takahara, I headed for the women’s bath, candy, acknowledging the loss in a way that as I would every evening before dinner, first Western culture does not; doing so brought changing into a yukata (a kimono-like robe such comfort that when I returned home from appropriate in all public spaces, including that trip, I bought a Jizo statue for my garden, where he still stands today. On Kumano, I’d see the dining room), making sure to cross the left side over the right, as the reverse is only for Jizos—often wearing cheerful red bibs—who corpses. I sat on a low stool in front of a shower had been left bottles of Pocari Sweat (a drink spigot, lathering my hair and scrubbing every similar to Gatorade) or teddy bears, whether by travelers or by women healing from miscar- inch of my body before rinsing off. Then, squeaky clean, I slid into a steaming commuriage, abortion, or child loss I couldn’t say. nal pool. Gazing over a serene vista as I soaked, One Jizo could heal dental pain. Another cured my tiny “modesty towel” balanced on my head, backaches—and although it’s customary to I felt every muscle in my body, along with any offer a mere 5 yen in prayer (the number symnoise in my head, instantly ease. bolizing good relationships, especially with The ancients also sought heavenly rewards God), I slipped that one an extra 100, wanting through their journey, but modern travelers to stay on his good side. As I said, Japanese are want our compensation right now, on Earth, pragmatic about religion—might as well hedge ideally at mealtime. In a soaring, your bets. cedar-beamed dining room, Jian The forest thinned out, The Kumano Kodo Shino, the hotel’s Wonka-like replaced by houses, as I artraverses the tip of the Kii owner, conjured a parade of rived in Takahara, also called Peninsula on the island small, exquisite dishes: shimeji of Honshu. One of the Kiri no Sato—“Village in wettest places in Japan, mushrooms with scallions and the Mist.” The local shrine, it receives up to 80 inches octopus; sautéed eggplant; delidating back to at least the 15th of rain a year. Mountains cate fiddlehead ferns; the freshest century, was surrounded by rise to more than 6,000 sashimi; a cube of decadent deep1,000-year-old camphor trees, feet in elevation. fried peanut “tofu”; kobe beef heavy-scented and majestic, cooked to buttery perfection in draped with the small paper an earthenware bowl over a candle flame; the streamers that signal the presence of kami— requisite rice and pickles; a sublime berry sorspirits or gods. Kami often make their home bet. I ate until I was in actual pain, then kept inside camphors, which can grow nearly as eating anyway. This was my kind of suffering. high as redwoods. Other magical creatures Every night would be like this, whether in do too: Totoro, in the Hayao Miyazaki film hotels, historic hot-spring inns, or family-run My Neighbor Totoro, lived in one. Camphors guesthouses: a blissful soak—once from a are the official tree of Hiroshima, as well, a





“Absent distractions, I was more aware of TEXTURE and color: the curl of cypress BARK, the MAGENTA AZALEAS and frilled, LAVENDER edges of wild IRISES, the innumerable shades of FECUND GREEN.”


COULD TELL YOU THAT the teahouses of sulfurous source hot enough to cook an egg— Kumano, now little more than rubble, followed by a feast featuring local ingredients. were where ancient pilgrims met and (I was particularly pleased that umeboshi, a tart, exchanged gossip; or that according pickled plum eaten with rice, was a specialty to legend if you climb a particular hill of the region.) Breakfasts were equally exon a particular date you would see the moon travagant, though decidedly Japanese, usually split into three orbs, one for each of Kumano’s including broiled fish, tofu, pickles, rice, and main deities; or about the statue of an emperor miso soup. The two-tiered “Kumano bento” as a boy simultaneously riding a horse and boxes packed for my lunch held rice balls a cow. I could tell you about the village of wrapped in pickled mustard leaves with a variety of side dishes. I reluctantly left some of that Chikatsuyu, a name that translates to “blood or dew,” because that same horse-cow riding midday meal uneaten each day, to carry along emperor saw a red drop pooling on a reed he’d in case I needed it later to ward off daru: invisplucked as a makeshift chopstick, and asked ible serpent-witches who, if you become too which of the two it was. But truly, tidbits like fatigued or hungry on the trail, can infiltrate that felt less meaningful to me than the mere your body and, according to one guidebook, act of walking through the woods, listening to inflict “painful torments.” the creak of bamboo, the eerie howls of distant Back in my room in Kiri no Sato that first monkeys, the snuffling of wild night, my futon was rolled out boars, the singing of frogs and the lights of the village Many pilgrims end each and Japanese warblers. If not twinkled below. I pulled a day with a soak in a traexactly silence, I had certainly book from my suitcase, taking ditional bath. Yunomine found isolation. Though I didn’t a moment to appreciate the Onsen is a settlement feel quite alone: Spirits of the tactile sensation of paper, the of small inns based dead are said to gather in these smell of the page. I had brought near hot springs that are believed to have been mountains, and, especially detective stories featuring an discovered 1,800 years when tendrils of cool fog rolled Edo-era sleuth named Inspecago. Locals and travelers in, the trail could feel spooky. tor Hanshichi and Japanese boil vegetables and (Reading the ghost stories every ghost stories by Lafcadio Hearn. eggs in a public hot spring night didn’t help.) What if I got But that night, I was drawn to dedicated to cooking. lost? Every double-arrowed Michael Finkel’s Stranger in kumano kodo sign I passed felt the Woods, about a young man like an old friend; I blessed the periodic not who disappeared into Maine’s forest and didn’t come out for 27 years. Retreating from modern kumano kodo warnings as well, since they kept me straight and true. society, living in nature’s serenity, was starting Absent distractions, I was more aware of to sound unusually appealing. That is, as long texture and color: the curl of cypress bark, the as I was fed this well and had a hot bath ready magenta azaleas and frilled, lavender edges of for me at the end of every day.




wild irises, the innumerable shades of fecund green. In early summer, everything teemed with life. Ferns sprouted in the cracks of woodplank bridges, the stones behind waterfalls were covered in miniature leaves, boulders and tree stumps were carpeted with moss. Even a van abandoned at the edge of a town had become a trellis. More than two-thirds of Japan’s population now lives in cities. Villages such as the ones along Kumano are fading away. Deep in the woods, I passed a group of decaying, abandoned houses, their roofs collapsed, the remnant of a settlement whose last residents were relocated in the 1970s as part of a government “initiative for relief of depopulated areas.” Their descendants still come back sometimes to remember their home. Even so, there were signs of vitality. My trip fell shortly after Children’s Day, which celebrates the healthy growth and happiness of youth; bright-colored carp streamers flew from some homes indicating that young boys (and often, these days, girls) lived within. Other roadside displays were more eccentric: One afternoon, as I was daydreaming about walking in the steps of the ancients, I passed a life-size hand-carved wooden Pinocchio holding his penis with one hand (“peeing” water into a trough) while waving with the other. A sign next to him read, in English, welcome to kumano kodo. have a nice trip.



Fushiogami-Oji translates to “kneel and worship shrine.” The first glimpse of Hongu Taisha grand shrine from here would cause weary pilgrims to drop to their knees in devotion. I was about ready to drop myself when I arrived there on the third day, about 11 miles into a 13-mile hike. But the site was notable for something else as well. Kumano Kodo is known as a “female-friendly”—dare I say feminist?— pilgrimage. Other sacred sites, such as the more famous Mount Koya, were historically forbidden to women. But the traditional keepers of Kumano were a sect of nuns who actively marketed the trek as a source of salvation for women. A plaque at Fushiogami tells the story of a 10th-century female poet who realized, after making it this far, that she was menstruating, rendering her “impure” and unable to enter the grand shrine. Naturally, she wrote a poem about her distress. That night the deities came to her in a dream. Even gods are impure,

they told her. We mingle with dust; we aren’t put off by a bit of blood. I contemplated that, trying to recall whether I’d ever—in any other culture, on any other trail—heard a divine story about a woman getting her period, let alone seen it commemorated for posterity.


NLY A LIMITED number of pilgrims can trek the Nakahechi route on any given day—there are just a handful of rooms at some stops, and if they’re full, you are out of luck. That means the trails are relatively empty, a luxury when you consider that, say, if you scaled Mount Fuji, you’d be in the company of thousands of other climbers. When I did bump into people (usually Australians, who, aside from Japanese, were the most numerous), they would invite me to walk with them, but I begged off, committed to my solo status. Then, after my third time running into a British woman, also traveling alone, she commented, “You know, part of the traditional pilgrimage was meeting and getting to know other pilgrims.” She had a point. Plus, we were staying at the same hotel that night, which involved calling from a pay phone in the tiny village of Koguchi and waiting 30 minutes for a pickup. So I threw in with her, and we shared our life stories while striding through a sun-dappled forest. No question: That made the day’s route go faster (though, at eight miles, it was fairly easy anyway). I hardly noticed the

How to HIKE the

KUMANO KODO by Miranda Smith

Located south of Osaka on the Kii Peninsula of Japan, the Kumano Kodo trail system is one of only two UNESCO World Heritage pilgrimage sites. Nakahechi, the most sacred of the Kumano’s seven trails, was developed in the 10th century and connects three



grand shrines known collectively as the Kumano Sanzan. There are a couple of ways to take on Nakahechi: a 72-mile route that includes a boat ride down the Kumano-gawa River and passes all three shrines, or the 42-mile route that writer Peggy Oren-


I didn’t indulge—it seemed like the naturalpain in my knees walking downhill, but I also world equivalent of graffiti—until now. I placed paid less attention to the sights and sounds a stone on top of a pile, then another for good around me. By the time we began debating the measure. After conquering the body breaker, merits of The Wire vs. Breaking Bad, I knew I damn it, I’d earned it. was backsliding fast. I needed to ditch her. A few hours later, I emerged from a cypress That night, having already broken my vow grove to see Nachi falls cascading down a of solitude, I was tempted to check my email, mountain behind a threetempted to watch just one story vermilion pagoda. Nachi episode of Game of Thrones, Daimon-zaka is a path Taisha, the last grand shrine, is tempted to text my husband of 267 cobblestone stairs another feminine site, home to to be sure he remembered that passes through a forest of ancient cedar Izanami no Mikoto, the Shinto our daughter’s orthodontist and camphor trees on its goddess of creation and death, appointment. way to the Nachi Taisha and Kannon, the Buddhist I picked up my phone, shrine, the Seiganto-ji goddess of mercy. It’s a popular thumbs at the ready, and then temple, and the Nachi no spot, even in the off-season, paused. Five days, I thought. Otaki waterfall. with schoolchildren buying Five measly days. Was I really amulets; young women giggling so weak, so dependent on in rented replicas of colorful garments from obsessive connection? I put the phone down. Japan’s Heian era; a photographer offering to I picked up my book. I did not give in to snap portraits at a scenic point for 10,000 yen. temptation. (It hadn’t occurred to me until then that, since THREE-MILE STRETCH OF the last I had prepaid for food and lodging, I hadn’t day’s trail, ominously called “the bought anything in five days.) body-breaking slope,” ascends I continued down the stone steps, through more or less straight up 2,600 a wooden torii gate, and finally to the roaring feet. If you find that a little hard falls themselves. A light spray, supposed to to conceptualize, you are not alone. Consider confer longevity, hit my face. I filled my bottle what a poet in the 13th century, at a loss for with healing water from a dragon-head founwords to depict this “seemingly endless tain and took a long swig. My pilgrimage was slope,” wrote in his diary: “This route is very over. I was dead on my feet, but I felt clear of rough and difficult; it is impossible to describe mind—and maybe, in my own way, just a little precisely how tough it is.” Eight hundred years bit reborn. later, that still sums it up. All along Kumano Writer Peggy Orenstein and photographer Peter Kodo travelers had placed rocks, sometimes in cairn-like piles, as testament to their presence. Bohler are profiled on page 22.


stein traveled, which begins in the village of Takijiri Oji, passes east through the Kii Mountains, and ends at the grand shrine Nachi Taisha. Depending on which route you choose, the trip typically takes three to six days to complete, and while the hiking can be strenuous, you don’t exactly rough it: Pilgrims stay in hotels, ryokan, and minshuku (guesthouses) at villages along

the way, most of which provide meals (including a lunch box for the trail) and access to hot springs or a traditional Japanese bath. Plus, you can opt to have your luggage moved each day. Here’s how to plan your trip.

Choose your own adventure Browse itineraries and book transportation and lodging through Kumano Travel, the official

reservation system of the Tanabe City Kumano Tourism Bureau. Accommodations (including meals) run about $90 a night, and luggage-shipping services cost around $35 a day.

Get a little help

Several tour companies will organize everything for you. Opt for one of Oku Japan’s self-guided trips—four- to 11-day itineraries starting at

$955. Or, for a local’s perspective on the region’s culture and history, travel with a guide on Oku’s nineday Kumano Ancient Trail tour, which begins and ends in Kyoto and includes transportation to and from the trail, entrance to temples, accommodations, meals, and luggage transfer (from $3,165). A similar nine-day tour with Walk Japan starts at $3,360.




The secret to experiencing Croatia’s most famous city? Do as the locals do: Stay in the moment.

by David Farley

photographs by Kevin Faingnaert

Slow and Steady

As the sun pounded down on my pale forehead, I strutted onto the terrace of Orsan, a mostly local haunt hugging Dubrovnik’s marina, to meet my friend, Ivan Vuković, a tour guide. I was 30 minutes late. And that was intentional.

Ivan put his palms in the air as I approached and then mimed looking at his watch. The waiter immediately put an espresso in front of me. “I think I figured out the secret to fjaka,” I said. “Being late is not fjaka,” Ivan said, letting out a chuckle. I sighed and took a gulp of coffee. “Neither is drinking your coffee like that.” Ivan took a tiny sip of his coffee. For the next hour, he nursed his espresso, micro sip by micro sip, and I sat there fidgeting, trying to focus on our conversation as we gossiped about mutual friends in Dubrovnik, this city on the southern coast of Croatia. My mind drifted in and out of serious and inane thoughts: an article deadline, my credit card bill, and why the chupacabra terrorizes only Spanish-speaking countries. After Ivan finished his coffee, we began grazing on just-pulled-from-the-sea oysters from nearby Ston—so famed that Roman emperors used to place delivery orders—and gavuni, small fried smelts. “See those guys back there?” Ivan said, nodding to a long table flanked by gray-haired crusty-looking sailor types. “They come here for coffee in the late morning. They linger, like cats lying in the sun, for lunch. Then they’ll have a rakia”—a robust fruit brandy—“and maybe drink another coffee or a beer until the afternoon.”

“So, they’re unemployed losers,” I suggested. “At best, hedonists?” Ivan shook his head. “You don’t get it. Maybe you’re too American to understand fjaka.” I let out another defeated sigh and took a drink of the rakia we had ordered, making sure to take only a sip this time. It was the first day of a monthlong stay in the city. I’d just come from my father’s funeral in Los Angeles. I’d spent an emotionally difficult month volunteering at a refugee camp in Greece. On top of my usual type-A habits of favoring work over play, I was an anxiety-loaded wreck. I was desperate for a different mind-set. I had come to Dubrovnik because I love it. I was first drawn here in 2004 simply because I saw an aerial photo of it. On a piece of land jutting out into the Adriatic Sea, Dubrovnik had 80-foot-high walls that surrounded a warren of shiny limestone streets and crammed-together red-tile-roofed stone houses. It seemed like something out of a fantasy movie or a TV show. It’s no surprise it has a recurring role on Game of Thrones as “King’s Landing” and was a setting for Star Wars: The Last Jedi. But Dubrovnik is more than just a film set. During my first visit here, I felt something about this place, something deep and elusive. I knew as I stood on Stradun, the main street in the pedestrianized Old Town, that I’d be back here again and again. My certainty was prescient: I’ve now made almost a dozen visits to the city. But I had never heard of fjaka until my friend Zrinka Marinović, a lifelong Dubrovnik resident, dropped the f-word. Aware of what I was going through, she also knew I was coming to town for a while. “You should explore fjaka while you’re here,” she told me in a text message. “It’s exactly what you need.” When I asked what it was, she said, “It’s difficult to explain.” Online dictionaries (and Croatians from outside Dalmatia, the region that encompasses much of Croatia’s central and southern coast and islands) often define fjaka as “laziness.” The term probably arrived in the Middle Ages, via Venetian sailors and traders who used the MARCH/APRIL 2018



Banje Beach lies just outside Dubrovnik’s ancient city walls, which have encircled the Old Town since the 16th century.

Italian word fiacco, which means “tired” or “listless” and comes from the Latin flaccus, for “flaccid.” Someone from Dubrovnik, on the other hand, will tell you it’s a sublime state of mind, a detachment from worries and anxiety about other goings-on in life. It’s 100 percent Dalmatian, an idea swirling in the warm jugo

Slovenia CROATIA

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Adriatic Sea

Dubrovnik Italy

wind, drenching the azure shores, etched into the streets of centuries-old cities, and layered under the olive-hued skin of its sun-soaked populace. My plan was to plant myself in the city of 42,000 people for a month and see if I could learn how to unlock the Dalmatian secret to doing nothing and being happy about it. After Ivan, the next person I went to see was Marc van Bloemen, an insightful, opinionated Briton by birth who has lived in Dubrovnik’s Old Town since 1972. For the last 20 years, he’s run Karmen Apartments, a cozy inn where I stayed on my first visit to the city. He did his best to explain. “We have a different sense of time here,” he said, when I met up with him about a week and a half into my stay. “We see tourists coming and racing around, looking at their watches and their phones.” As we stood on a narrow street in Old Town, selfie stick–wielding tourists marched past us as if on cue. Marc pointed behind himself with his thumb. “The Seaman’s Club is all fjaka, all the time.” He was referring to one of the few remaining local bars in Old Town, and the

one I’d always seen as the most intimidating. I had long wanted to stop in for a drink, but the perpetual presence of surly-looking old Dalmatian dudes nursing beers and glasses of rakia, amid fluorescent lights and walls covered with Motel 6–style nautical paintings, scared the hell out of me. “You’re right: It’s not welcoming at all,” Marc said. “They don’t want it to be welcoming. And this brings us back to fjaka. They’re not after your money or business. They don’t have to please you. But on the inside, they are very friendly.” Seconds later we were sitting at a table in the Seaman’s Club with two silver-haired artists, Mišo Baričević and Josip Škerlj. Rounds of rakia were ordered. Marc continued. “Fjaka inspires people to not be bothered by things. It’s about not being money oriented. We have different priorities here that exist outside of capitalism. Like if a tourist says, I’ll pay you to take me to that island, the Dalmatian may not do it, no matter how much money the tourist is paying. It’s not because he’s a jerk; he doesn’t want to break his mellowness.” MARCH/APRIL 2018



The Mellow Side of Dubrovnik


EAT Orsan Located on the harbor of Gruž Bay across from the cruise ship terminal, Orsan serves fresh seafood and wine from the nearby Pelješac Peninsula. Go for a long lunch. Marina Orsan, Ivana pl Zajca 2, Gradska Kavana Arsenal It’s hard to say what’s more compelling about this romantic Old Town restaurant: the views (a historical trifecta of fortress, port, and city walls) or the food (the freshest seafood, the local wines). Mull it over between bites of sea bass and sips of a Croatian sauvignon blanc on one of the two terraces. Ul. Pred Dvorom 1, nautikarestaurants .com

STAY Hotel Excelsior Dubrovnik and Hotel Dubrovnik Palace The Adriatic Luxury Hotels group offers a number of lodging options in the city. The landmark Excelsior is a short walk from Old Town and faces the Adriatic. A recent renovation updated the 158 large guest rooms with natural tones and dark-wood furnishings. The Palace is located two and a half miles from Old Town, on the Lapad Peninsula. The 308 rooms all have balconies with sea views. Hotel Excelsior: Doubles from $1,100. Frana Supila 12. Dubrovnik Palace: Doubles from $850. Masarykov put 20. adriaticluxuryhotels .com

Caffe Bar Libertina For a master class in fjaka, settle into Libertina for an hour or two. Owner Luči Capurso, an easygoing former musician, sets the tone for this relaxed and simple bar and café, where the espresso is strong, the drinks stiff, and the pace languid. Ul. Zlatarska 3

Rakia, the name given to brandy (often made from plums), is the drink of choice throughout Croatia.

The Seaman’s Club With its harsh lighting and gruff Dalmatian regulars, this old-school haunt in Old Town feels intimidating—and its patrons are just fine with that. Visitors brave enough to step inside will be rewarded with rakia and some genuinely friendly folks (but, shh, don’t tell anyone). Ul. kneza Damjana Jude 6

Karmen Apartments Ultra-friendly Marc van Bloemen’s Old Town inn has four comfortable fullservice apartments that will make you feel like Dubrovnik is home. Most have views of the old harbor and the city walls. From $90. Bandureva ul. 1,




Today, yachts, sailboats, and kayaks float in the Adriatic waters that made Dubrovnik a center of maritime trade (and a target of pirates) for centuries.

“Fjaka is meditation without the meditation,” Škerlj said. Just then a woman with a nicotine-tinged voice at the next table yelled, “Fjaka is having another beer!” and burst out laughing. We followed with a collective guffaw, and then Baričević said, “We have a saying: Fjaka is like when everything is a straight and flat line”—he made a horizontal slicing motion with his hand—“you’re not interrupted by the ups and downs.” “You have to go see Luči,” Marc said, meaning Luči Capurso, a onetime Eurovision Song Contest participant and the owner of Caffe Bar Libertina in Old Town. “He’s a professional in fjaka. He’s brought it to perfection. He just closes up his bar when he feels like it. It doesn’t matter to him if he makes more money that day or not. It’s not about if you can afford to do that. You choose to do it. You decided to be that way. It’s important to understand that there is no time concept involved.” I stopped in to Luči’s café about a week later. Luči and his son Mario were there. After ordering an espresso, I mentioned fjaka. 86



“Ah, fjaka,” gray-haired Luči said, which was pretty much every Dalmatian’s first response, as though to the name of a dear old friend you have in common. I asked him for advice on how a non-Dalmatian might be able to attain this esoteric attitude. “You can start,” he said, holding up his index finger, “by having a nice, typical Dalmatian lunch outside on a sunny day. Even after you finish, sit there in the sun for a while. Relax. Watch the sea. Don’t think about what to write or where to go. Don’t think about tomorrow or even tonight. Turn your phone off. You have no goals for the next few hours.” So I did. Or at least I tried. I left my phone in the apartment I had rented for the month. But sitting in a café while constantly feeling the urge to check my phone amounted to something of an existential crisis. I couldn’t cope with those blank spaces in between. Then, on one phone-less coffee meeting, I asked acquaintance and local art historian Ivan Viđen what fjaka meant to him. He took a long 10 seconds to think about it,

staring up at the high, ornate ceiling of Gradska Kavana Arsenal, a café smack in the center of Old Town, and then said: “The pauses in the music are also part of the music. You wouldn’t have a melody without the stops. They make music together. So the pauses in life are part of life, too.” It started to make sense to me. Those pauses, or similarly, that sense of time, kept coming up in my thoughts the longer I was in Dubrovnik. Time has sped up in the last two decades. We now document and time-stamp nearly everything we do. Everything we eat. Every place we visit. Our minds have blurred into a miasma of needy narcissism and selfaffirmation. I didn’t realize I spent so much time obsessing about all those things until I was around other people who don’t. And those people are in Dubrovnik. In the month I spent there, not one person I hung out with checked their phone while we were chatting over coffee or lunch. No one complained about how “busy” they were. No one rushed back to the office. No one even

At the waterfront restaurant Orsan, fresh octopus is served in a traditional salad with olives and onions, or simply grilled (pictured).

talked about their job. The longer I was in Dubrovnik—and, admittedly, the warmer it grew as summer approached—the more sluggish I became. I put off responsibilities (including the writing of this article). I walked more slowly. And I did something nearly every afternoon that I’d never done before: I napped. The deeper the Dalmatian sun sank into my skin, the more fjaka did the same. As I walked around the city, physical signs were suddenly revealing themselves to me, things literally built into Dubrovnik—fjakadelic messages from decades and centuries past. The numbers of the digital clock on the bell tower, for example, change only in five-minute increments; you needn’t know the exact time in Dubrovnik, because time moves differently here. I began noticing café after café where outdoor tables were filled with locals looking as relaxed as Buddhist monks, as if they had no urge for the bill any time soon. And then there’s the layout of the city itself: The buildings, including the medium-size 88



cathedral, are all in harmony with each other in size and color scheme, no one element more dominant, more gravitational, than the other, leaving you to just pull up a chair and gawk at Old Town as a whole, instead of running around to check things off a list. Spending time in Dubrovnik might be the perfect remedy for the way we travel now. Most of us know how it feels to try to cram as much as possible into a vacation, as though we’re trying to get our 10th stamp on a travel punch card. We count nations we’ve visited. We do countries. I’ve dashed through Southeast Asia and Central Europe like there was a ribbon waiting for me to break through at the airport gate, making sure to Instagram every moment along the way. If we’re not careful, travel can become an exercise in exhaustion. I had never realized this until fjaka started to filter into my system. But I felt I wasn’t a full-on fjaka practitioner just yet. And then, on one of the last days I was in Dubrovnik, I met up with Zrinka Marinović, the friend who first introduced fjaka to me. We had just finished

feasting on grilled sea bass on the sunny terrace of the Hotel Dubrovnik Palace, the vast shimmering Adriatic Sea as our backdrop, a saline breeze gently slapping us in the face, and the sun warming our skin. I asked her how one realizes they’re having a fjaka moment, when they’ve entered into that sublime, elusive Dalmatian state. “Are you ready to go?” she asked. It was a Tuesday afternoon, and we both had work-related things to do. I rotated glances between the twinkling sea and the sunsplashed terrace where we sat. “When I think about it,” I said, “there’s no place I’d rather be than right here, right now.” She raised her eyebrows a bit and nodded at me. The work would get done. Maybe in a few hours. Maybe tomorrow. I ordered glasses of rakia for Zrinka and me. Contributing writer David Farley wrote about the Black Forest in the May/June 2017 issue of AFAR. This is photographer Kevin Faingnaert’s first story for AFAR.

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One afternoon, I find myself at Union Station in Washington, D.C., nervously clutching my luggage. I am about to journey to a strange new land, one with its own odd customs, mores, and even, in a way, its own physics. I am going to Amtrakistan. Amtrakistan is not for the timid or, frankly, the sane; traversing the North American continent by rail makes no sense. It makes no sense in terms of money or time or social acceptability. It is not—and, really, I cannot stress this enough—a rational thing to do. Which is precisely why it appeals to me and why I find myself standing on platform 15 shoulder to shoulder with my fellow irrationalists: Mennonites; train enthusiasts (“foamers,” as they’re known by some, since they supposedly salivate at the sight of, say, a rare locomotive); the fear-of-flying crowd (larger than you’d think); and sundry others drawn to the irresistible absurdity of long-distance train travel. I clamber aboard the Capitol Limited, heaving my luggage up a narrow flight of circular stairs, down an even narrower corridor, and into Roomette 009. It is a marvel of spatial efficiency. Into an area smaller than that of a typical sedan, the room manages to squeeze two beds, a table (which doubles as a checkerboard), reading lights, pillows, blankets, coat hangers, a magazine rack, a trash bin, and a closet so svelte I won’t notice it until Indiana. I find my new home either cozy or claustrophobic, a verdict that changes by the minute. I glance at my wrist: 4:03 p.m., says my watch, a device I consult dozens, if not hundreds, of times a day. It’s a habit—a compulsion, 92



really—symptomatic of a more serious ailment: chronophobia. I fear time. Or more precisely, I fear the lack of time. I’m always pleading with the time gods for just another five minutes. Just another five minutes to send this email, to finish this article, to . . . breathe. I’ve always assumed that I will eventually find this missing five minutes if I simply move fast enough. So self-evident is the primacy of speed that I hardly stop to contemplate it. Of course, faster is better. Of course, traveling from D.C. to Portland in a speedy five and a half hours on a plane beats a poky 64 hours on a train. But why, exactly? In my rush to get somewhere—anywhere—as quickly as possible, what am I missing? We depart Washington without the drama that accompanies aeronautical travel. No roaring jet engines, no shimmying fuselage. We are simply stationary, then we are not. This transition is so subtle that I have to look out the window to confirm that we are indeed moving. Looking out the window turns out to be a popular pastime in Amtrakistan. Partly this is because there isn’t much else to do. But there’s another reason. When you’re traveling like this, at a refreshingly human speed, an otherwise invisible world reveals itself. Feeling childlike, I decide to play a game of I Spy. I spy graffiti, museum-worthy explosions of color and form. (You don’t fully appreciate the creative flair of U.S. graffiti artists until you take a cross-country train trip.) City yields to country, and I spy dirt roads and baseball diamonds and old fairgrounds, dismantled and forlorn. I spy wheat fields (they really are

golden) and barns—more barns than I, a child of Baltimore, have seen in my life. We pick up speed. We’re really humming along at 40, maybe even 45 mph, when suddenly we decelerate, then stop. We wait. And wait. I look at my watch. I fidget. It’s not the stopping that irks me but, rather, the not knowing why we’ve stopped. In Amtrakistan, I eventually learn, one does not ask why. Why is the café car open some mornings but not others? Why do freight trains have right of way over our train, which is carrying sentient beings? Why? They just do. By eastern Illinois, I realize I’m not going to change Amtrakistan. I either bend to its ways, or I break. I decide to bend. The next morning we lumber into Chicago’s Union Station, and the Capitol Limited snorts to a stop. We’re 17 minutes late—or, as they say in Amtrakistan, on time. I stretch my legs, then board the Empire Builder for the long haul to Portland. I’ve been assigned the last roomette on the last car of the train. The caboose of the caboose. For hours, I plant myself by the stern window and watch the world retreat, empty tracks stretching to the horizon, like viewing a movie that’s perpetually ending but never does. I’m not looking at anything in particular. I register the passing landscape—trees, fields, shuttered factories—but I don’t linger. I make no demands on the scenery (be beautiful, damn it!), and it makes no demands on me. Hours pass like this—I can’t say how many— before it’s bedtime. The good news about sleeping in Amtrakistan is that the gentle







rocking motion lulls you into slumber. The bad news is that various other motions—including, but not limited to, violent lurches and sudden stops—jar you awake repeatedly. I wake, groggily, to North Dakota sky. There’s a whole lot of nothing out there. But what beautiful nothingness it is! The morning light, golden and otherworldly, the vastness of sky and earth, punctuated with the occasional bison. When it comes to nature, I subscribe to the Woody Allen School: I’m all for it, as long as I don’t get any on me. Amtrakistan is the perfect place for people like me. Rivers, dense forests, craggy mountains, infinite plains, deer, bison—they all pass before my eyes, seemingly close enough to touch, but securely encased behind a thick plate of glass. Another unexpected joy is that Amtrakistan not only expands my world but shrinks it, too. The monstrous sprawl of options that define a typical day is reduced to something more manageable. Yes, there are choices to be made, but not many. What time do I want to eat dinner? Which book should I read? (I’ve brought a small library.) Do I nip into that little bottle of Jose Cuervo I’ve smuggled on board now, or later? Maybe both? Time, I discover, turns suddenly benign. I experience none of the temporal whiplash induced by air travel. The hours, the days, the time zones simply melt into each other. (There’s a reason the term “train lag” doesn’t exist.) Time flattens, and it swells. That extra five minutes I’m always looking for is right here. I’ve hit the mother lode of time. At first, I’m not sure what to do with this temporal surplus. I rearrange my roomette, moving my luggage from nook to cranny, then back again. After a few hours, I grow bored of this charade, and decide to explore. I walk. Now, to be clear, I’ve been walking most of my life and consider myself fairly adept at it, but activities one takes for granted elsewhere are fraught with difficulties here. (Shaving, for instance. My one attempt leaves me a bloody mess.) When I try to walk, I teeter and totter like a drunkard. I body slam complete strangers. “You’ve got to dance with the train,” says an older woman witnessing my incompetence. She’s right. I’ve been fighting the train. I need to dance with it. Let the train lead. It takes me a while, but I soon get the hang of it. The key, I learn, is to stay loose. The train pitches left or right, and so do I. No resistance. Finally, I make it to my destination, the lounge car, relishing a sense of accomplishment, as if I have just summited K2. The lounge car affords views of the countryside through dirt-smeared windows and serves 96



mediocre coffee and snacks. Where it excels, though, is in people-watching. It is Amtrakistan’s public square. I take a seat and marvel at the odd mix of inhabitants: a woman crocheting; a young couple playing cards, six empties of Bud Light stacked next to them like some ancient monument; a gray-haired ponytailed guy playing the banjo (and playing it well); a bearded millennial reading The Catcher in the Rye. Fellow travelers in a strange land. Certain rules of discourse prevail. Rule Number One: Studiously avoid politics. You just never know. Rule Number Two: Commence all exchanges with one of the approved opening gambits, such as “Where ya from?” or “Where ya headin’?” and let the conversation unfurl naturally. Adhering to these rules, I meet Al, a businessman who gets more work done here than he does in a hotel room; Dan, a bona fide foamer who has loved trains since he was old enough to say “train”; and Stan, a retired trucker and lung cancer survivor who’s always wanted to go to Portland, so, damn it, he and his remaining lung are doing just that. Then there is Denise. The previous evening, I was seated with her and her 13-year-old twin daughters in the dining car. Denise is a talker, and I learned a lot about her before our seared shrimp arrived. I learned that she is from Cleveland but is on her way home to the boom-and-bust oil town of Williston, North Dakota. I learned that she “comes from a family of nervous Nellies,” that she has always been afraid of flying— “afraid of crashing,” she clarifies—and that she has a particular fondness for apple trees, which don’t grow easily in the cold, hard earth of North Dakota. Later, after dinner, at one of the designated smoke stops, I noticed Denise puffing away. I was tempted to suggest that the cigarettes are more likely to kill her than an airplane, but I demurred; pointing out such inconsistencies is frowned upon in Amtrakistan. This is a world where logic takes a holiday. Besides, Denise enjoys her train time. She thumbs through magazines, talks to strangers, and stares out the window at nothing in particular for very long stretches of time. Now, we approach the outskirts of Williston, a muddy, broken land dotted with stilled oil rigs that look like sleeping dinosaurs. I’m standing with Denise and her daughters as the train lumbers toward the station when a sudden, unexpected sadness creeps up on me. I’m going to miss Denise. We are not friends, I know that, but we connected, and in a way that

never would have happened at 35,000 feet. Up there, we’d likely have sat in silence, or perhaps exchanged pleasantries before retreating to our interior lives. Don’t get me wrong: I’m no misanthrope, but in a plane I’m trapped with my seatmate, for better or worse. There’s no escaping a chatterbox or, worse, an amateur comedian. On the train, I can always withdraw to my roomette. That’s why, I think, it’s the perfect place for introverts like me. I’m free to engage with my fellow humans. Or not. On my last morning in Amtrakistan, I wake to the Columbia River Gorge, and wind farms with vanes turning lazily, stark white against

the brown hills. The rains come quickly, and with them, two-car garages, box stores, ranch homes. Civilization, with its attendant pleasures and obligations. Peering at these homes, I feel like an alien sent to observe a distant planet. What is life like there? Do they measure time in coffee spoons or something larger, something grander? We pull into Portland’s Union Station. I glance at my watch—something I realize I haven’t done for a while. 9:46 a.m. Twenty-four minutes early. I have traversed 2,994 miles and crossed 12 states, four time zones, and countless ecosystems. All without breathing

pressurized air or tussling with a complete stranger over precious armrest space. Yes, I have taken off my shoes, but by choice. I have learned much during my stay in Amtrakistan. I can now distinguish among the various kinetic sensations of train travel. Not only the bump but the lateral lurch, the sudden tilt, the rolling wave. I’ve met people such as Denise—a chain-smoking, groundbound North Dakotan—whom I never would have encountered otherwise. I have learned that faster is not always better and that time is relative. No longer do I view it as such a scarce commodity. Sure, I still crave that extra five

minutes, but not as fiercely, not as desperately. I used to think I would find that time by speeding up, doing everything faster. Turns out I just needed to slow down. As I step onto solid ground once again, finding my bearings like a sailor returning to shore, I instinctively roll my wrist, about to glance at my watch, when I catch myself. No. It can wait. I have time. Writer Eric Weiner is the author of The Geography of Genius. Photographer Michael George shot “On Puglia Time” for the November/ December 2015 issue of AFAR. MARCH/APRIL 2018





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