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Wanderlust

This End “The Road goes ever on and on Down from the door where it began. Now far ahead the Road has gone, And I must follow, if I can… And wither then? I cannot say” - J.R.R Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

Wanderlust TRAVELS IN ASIA & EUROPE - TIZIANA SMITH


This trip would not have happened without my guardian angels. I dedicate this book to all of them, including the following non-exhaustive subset. I also thank them for their photographs.

“Not all who wander are lost” -J.R.R Tolkien, The Hobbit In September 2011, I began working and living in Hanoi, Vietnam. From my new home base, I embarked on several trips through Asia and Europe from 2011 to 2013. This book includes some of my favorite highlights from each destination. 

-To my gifts from Hanoi: Merel van Sommeren, Agnieszka Szymecka, Grace Lee, Ha Nguyen, Kelsey Holden, Hélène Maire, Aurore Souris, Nhung Pham, Luis Carvalho, & Sabina Dias

-To my generous Hosts - June Tiong, Richard Hill, Austin Shiner, Joelyn Oh, Herman Teo Jia Han, Deborah Go, Alisha, Jyoti, & Tushar Mashruwala & family, Nirasha Guruge & Family, Thibaut Stadler, Szymecka Family, David Dam & Family, Paredes Family, Jeongsu Sinn, Étienne Ladent & Laure Harmand, Hervé, Muriel Palengat & Matt, Seb & Tiphaine, & Justine -To some brief encounters: Gedun Tenzin, our scantily clad berth mate on the train, our Russian angel, the man who let me plant his fields in Bhutan, and the old Czech men in Ha Long bay, who prove that anyone can travel at any age.

Wanderlust

-To my travel companions & new friends: Yumar Castro, Claudia Smith Mercado, Marcela Martínez Mercado, Sarah Crites, Natália Takahashi, Vitor Ferrão, Luísa Reis, Ana Gómez, Rosiane de Freitas Rodrigues, Caja Stokvisch, Karen & Eva Marcus, Andrés Ramírez, & Claudia Oh.

This End “The Road goes ever on and on Down from the door where it began. Now far ahead the Road has gone, And I must follow, if I can… And wither then? I cannot say” - J.R.R Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

Wanderlust TRAVELS IN ASIA & EUROPE - TIZIANA SMITH

I was lucky to be joined along the way by various travel companions and to be hosted by generous  friends and adopted family. I feel extremely thankful to all who supported me along the way, especially those who helped me in what I will never even realize.  These trips have undoubtedly changed me in ways that are difficult to pinpoint but impossible to deny.  I hope that these photographs will inspire you as they have inspired me to admire the wealth of human experience and to never stop wondering how we can learn from and serve each other.


Tromso

Henningsvar Reykjavik

Bergen

Stockholm Tallinn

Amsterdam Paris

Moscow

Warsaw Szczecinek

Nizhni Novgorod Kazan' Irkutsk

Krakow

Bordeaux Marseille

Ulan Bator Nice

Beijing Seoul

Xining Xi'an

Doha

Kathmandu Thimphu Varanasi Paro Kolkata

Sa Pa

Hanoi Bangkok Da Nang Siem Reap Ho Chi Minh City

Yangon

Wanderlust TRIPS OF A LIFETIME, 2011 - 2013

Can Tho Colombo Singapore

Malacca

Bali


Hanoi, Vietnam

Although it is the capital of Vietnam, Hanoi has much more of a small town feel. In this city, you can find street food joints on the pavements in front of 5 star hotels and wandering fruit vendors in conical hats cycling alongside Bentleys through slowmoving traffic. Life in Hanoi is lived on the street, on the tiny stools of street food vendors, coffee stalls, and che shops. The center of Hanoi is dominated by old French architecture in glorious states of decay. Meanwhile, the outskirts of the city are busy birthing high-rises and shopping malls. Its a place where change is in the air, but history and tradition remain strongly engrained.


Daytrips from Hanoi Living in Hanoi was great, but sometimes leaving it was even better. Northern Vietnam hosts spectacular landscapes, particularly Ha Long Bay and Sa Pa. The Perfume Pagoda and Mai Chai are interesting cultural stops as well. While Vietnam is rapidly urbanizing, rural life and agriculture are still very important for the culture and the economy of the country. It is strikingly rare to ever see virgin land when driving through Vietnam. Skinny sausage houses and emerald green rice fields dotted with grave stones stretch on and on, a product of very thorough settlement policies of both the French and Vietnamese governments.

Top: Sa Pa Images, Bottom and Left: Mai Chau


Above: View from our Junk in Ha Long Bay


Central Vietnam - Hoi An and Hue Central Vietnam has been and remains an important cultural and economic hub for the country . Hue is the ancient Capital of the Nguyen Dynasty and hosts the ruins of the Imperial Citadel and many Imperial tombs. Hoi An is a historical port city populated by old Chinese shophouses. Finally, Danang is a growing city with beautiful beaches that are slowly being appropriated by luxurious international hotel chains.


Southern Vietnam - Saigon & the Delta Saigon is Vietnam’s financial capital and business hub, and I was lucky enough to have family in the city! Saigon served as the stronghold for American forces in the war, but only a short drive from the city can be found the Cu Chi tunnels, where resistance fighters lived underground in confined spaces. Can Tho is the largest city in the Mekong Delta. In the Delta, know as the rice basket of Vietnam, life depends on the nutrients and biodiversity of the Mekong’s waters.


Singapore Singapore is a melting pot where South Asia, East Asia, and Southeast Asia meet. Singapore’s perfection initially seemed very chilling, but ultimately I ended thoroughly enjoying sampling the city’s cuisine and learning about the history of the region. For a water nerd like me, it was also great to visit the New Water Factory where wastewater is treated to potable levels for drinking water. But the best part by far of visiting Singapore was being shown around by locals and friends and enjoying great meals with them!!


Malaysia - Malacca & Kuala Lumpur LIke Singapore, Kuala Lumpur oers the chance to sample and learn about various cuisines . In particular, I truly went out of my comfort zone to try the famously pungent durian fruit (I survived). Malacca is a beautiful port town with Dutch and Portuguese influence. I was lucky to be shown around by a college friend, and even to spontaneously run in to friends at Malacca. Later, I returned to Kuala Lumpur to show my family around - I think they liked it too!


Indonesia - Bali Bali has a reputation as a surfer’s paradise, but it was even more incredible to experience the culture and the spirituality of the island. We sampled weasel coffee, snuck into a Balinese dance performance, and admired the temples (clothed in Sarongs so as not to offend!). And we even got to celebrate a birthday on the island!! Feliz cumple Kele!!


Thailand - Bangkok Although Bangkok can be overwhelming, the cultural highlights, including the Reclining Buddha and the Royal Palace, do deserve a repeat visit. And you will always be guaranteed fantastic food when dining in Thailand!!


Cambodia - Angkor Wat & Siem Reap Cambodia is a humbling place to visit. This country has a rich, powerful, and tragic past from the ancient kings of Angkor to the brutal social experiments of the Khmer Rouge. Exploring the stunningly intricate Angkor Wat temples is an experience beyond description, one that often collides with a jarring reality when children and adults maimed by land mines try to sell you souvenirs. A short boat ride also takes you to the Tonle Sap, a lake with cultural , ecological, and agricultural significance for the entire country. The stilt villages that live off of the lake are often precarious and poor.


Laos - Vientiane and Kong Lor Cave The highlight of my trips to Laos was a village home stay. Despite the language barrier, there is much to learn from observation & signs! Laos’ resources makes for great ecotourism as well as great controversy over economic development.


Myanmar - Yangon Where to even start with Myanmar? It was a very exciting time to visit, with sanctions lifting and international organizations announcing their imminent appearance to “promote” economic development. Aung San Suu Ky had recently been elected to parliament and her face was finally allowed to be displayed in homes and on keychains everywhere. Excitement was definitely in the air. Yangon’s crumbling colonial buildings were juxtaposed with bustling construction sites, yet few people owned cell phones. We had to bring all of our money in pristine U.S. dollars since there were no ATM’s in the country. All of these developments were irrelevant, however, at the famous Shwedagon Pagoda. Schwedagon is an ancient and humbling Buddhist holy site where worshippers make endless clockwise circles in their lungyi sarongs.


Mohinga Fish Soup for Breakfast!


Myanmar - Bagan Bagan must be one of the most fantastic places on Earth. The barren landscape is pierced with ancient temples as far as the eye can see with few tourists in sight. Never will you feel to free with just a bicycle and a sense of adventure.


Myanmar - Mandalay Mandalay is the intellectual and religious capital of Burma. In the early hours of the morning, monks and nuns roam the streets with bowls for collecting alms. We were immensely lucky to be invited to serve rice to1,500 monks for one of their two daily meals! Mandalay is also surrounded by multiple holy sites and hills. The teak footbridge - the world’s longest - is an iconic symbol of the city and of the country. Strolling on the bridge, you see people from all walks of life, from monks to schoolgirls to snack vendors on bicycles.


Myanmar - Inle Lake & Nyaungshwe Inle lake and the surroundings could be explored for days. We went on leisurely bike rides to nearby vineyards and rode through villages with young kids greeting us along the way. We went on a hike with our intrepid guide: Momo. He told us about tattoos that will protect you from death and the powers of meditation to effortlessly lift you over mountains. On the way we ran into young monks that were certainly not practicing their meditation by playing ball outside! It was fantastic to see the floating gardens in the stilt villages on the lake itself. They give a whole new meaning to eating fresh & eating local!


India - Bombay I’m blessed to have adoptive family in Bombay who have taught me so much about Indian culture & cuisine! I attended the first of what I hope will be many Indian weddings & ate my way through all kinds of food during my last 2 visits.


India - Varanasi and Sarnath

Having visited India several times and even lived in a rural village for a few months, I foolishly thought that this country could no longer surprise me. But I was not ready for Varanasi. Varanasi, also known as Benares, is nicknamed the city of lights and the oldest living city on earth. It is one of the holiest cities of Hinduism, where people bathe away their sins and scatter ashes of deceased loved ones in the holy Ganges River. The sights and smells of Varanasi were truly overwhelming at times, but the conviction of the faithful was incredible. I had never seen death and filth so closely juxtaposed with life and faith. Nearby Sarnath, where the Buddha gave his first sermon, is also one of the holiest sites of Buddhism. It is striking to me that these two religious sites should be found so close together.


India - Kolkata

As the onetime capital of the former British India, Kolkata is full of imperial architecture and quirky vestiges like old Ambassador cabbies and police in white uniforms. In Kolkata we explored new cultures and new food (Bengali food is famous in India!). We witnessed the creation of disposable sculptures to be paraded through the city and dumped in the water during Hindu religious festivals. Imagine all of that work and money for just one day! We also encountered two other religions in Kolkata. We were intrigued by a visit to the elaborately decorated temple of Jainism, a religion dedicated to nonviolence. We also visited Mother Teresa’s house, which was a very moving experience. Regardless of religious affiliation or creed, it was inspiring to learn about her dedication to her cause and to witness the hope and inspiration generated by one woman’s devotion to the poor of Kolkata.


Sri Lanka Such a tiny island with so much to oer! Sri Lanka has given rise to powerful kingdoms with unique architecture and a flair for building in extraordinary places, such as atop Sigiriya rock (above). Incidentally, Sigiriya is one of two volcanic plugs visited during this trip! At first, I spent my time comparing Sri Lanka to India, but soon learned to appreciate it in its own right. Sri Lanka crunches religious, racial, and ecological diversity into a small space with mortal consequences in the case of the recent civil war. Here again I was lucky to be shown around (and generously fed) by my friend and her family.


Qatar - Doha My visit to Doha lasted less than 12 hours, but I had time to see the stunning Museum of Islamic Art designed by I.M. Pei and to have a quick look at the souk. There was even time for the waiter at a restaurant to proposed marriage to me!


France - Paris, Nantes, La Rochelle Our tour de France started with a quick rendezvous in Paris and a rideshare to surrealist Nantes, where we got to experience la fĂŞte de la musique. Next we explored the medieval harbor of La Rochelle.


France - Bordeaux and Surroundings In Bordeaux we had fantastic couch surfing hosts that showed us around the city and the outskirts. We visited the Dune du Pilat and watched paragliders coast down the giant sand dune. On our own, we strolled and snacked and slept in Bordeaux and its many parks. Later our generous hosts took us on another day trip to medieval Saint-Émilion and surrounding vineyards.


France - Montpellier & Toulouse In Montpellier and Toulouse we met up with more friends to explore the Student City and the Pink City, respectively. This part of the trip involved a lot of wandering and drinking beer in city plazas in great company! :) Something of a miracle happened in Toulouse when a woman spontaneously oered to help us and show us the fantastic mirror in the Couvent des Jacobins in the picture below.


France - Marseille & Cote d’Azur In Marseille we also had great couch surfing hosts who even threw a BBQ for us! We enjoyed exploring this beautiful city, and a hike in the stunning calanques was unforgettable.


Italia - Milano A quick look around Milano on the way to a Ryan Air flight allowed me just enough time to see the Duomo and catch an opera. And the visit wouldn’t be complete without a Happy Hour too!


The Baltics - Latvia and Estonia Riga, Latvia struck me for its unique architecture, including colorful art nouveau as well as the odd remnant of Stalinist Russia. I also noted the musical inclinations of the city’s occupants as so many street corners were filled with performers of every age. Watching Latvians party in the night to 80’s tunes with their curious haircuts and man purses was quite unlike anything I had ever seen. Talinn, Estonia has a quaint Old Town, but the charm is somewhat diminished by ubiquitous restaurant staff in cheesy costume trying to entice you into their dining establishment.


Russia - St. Petersburg What can I say about St. Petersburg? I loved this city. On the surface, it exudes color and European culture, but its core is definitely Russian. Its the small details that reveal this, such as men’s haircuts and paper ticket stubs on dilapidated buses.


The famed White Nights are every bit as beautiful as they are rumored to be. I could have spent hours at the Church of the Spilled Blood admiring mosaics and contemplating the changing fate of the church and city during recent trying history.


Russia - Moscow The contrasts of Moscow are seemingly endless! The Red Square is served by a huge McDonalds and Stalinist architecture co-exists with Russians orthodox churches. One would need weeks and various history lessons to even begin to grasp the passionate past and ongoing controversy in this city! Moscow is by no means the friendliest of cities, but it is an engrossing destination. It was quite fitting to visit Moscow at the start of our journey through Siberia, Mongolia, China, and back to Vietnam as it gives some understanding and foreshadowing of the strong historical and ongoing ties between these countries.


Beyond Moscow & St. Petersburg A Russian train ride is an experience never to be forgotten! We encountered a rich playboy, a kind old man, a naked napper, and a kind young man who gifted us each an angel statue before his departure despite our language barrier. By plane, boat, bus and train, we left the big cities to visit destinations including Peterhof, Catherine Palace, Suzdal, Nizhny Novgorod, Kazan, Irkutsk, and the stunning Lake Baikal. Among other things, we saw a mosque inside a Kremlin, an orthodox granny who hit us for photographing inside the church, and Russians at play in the largest freshwater lake in the world.


MONGOLIA

Experiencing Mongolia has fundamentally changed my world view. It is amazing to think that this country was once the genesis of one of the world’s most feared empires, yet today it is characterized by overwhelming emptiness. There seems to be empty space as far as the eye can see - no roads, no electricity wires, no houses. Only the occasional ger and sheep. It is surprising to think that humans haven’t “conquered” this landscape as in other parts of the world. I evenwonder if this lack of development is because Mongolians don’t want to “conquer” their land…Who wants to work in an cubicle when the steppes are your office? It was also enlightening to learn about religion in Mongolia and the country’s time in the USSR’s sphere of influence. Tibetan Buddhism was prominent in the past, and Mongolians had their own alphabet. Under communism, religion was outlawed and religious buildings were destroyed. The Mongolian script was also replaced with Cyrillic.


China - Beijing and Xi’an

Beijing can be an overwhelming place to visit, especially during the summer when places like the Forbidden City become very crowded and hot. However, the cultural highlights of Beijing are still awe-inspiring even the second time around. For me, few experiences are more memorable than walking along the Great Wall and a visit to the Summer palace. Once back in the city, it is nice to escape to the small alleys of the hutongs where you can quickly forget that you are in the capital of the world’s most populous nation. Thankfully, I had already eaten roasted scorpions at the night market on a previous visit to Beijing, so I allowed myself to skip out on that particular eating challenges! In Xi’an we ogled at the terra cotta soldiers and were surprised to learn about the Muslim community in China. Have you ever seen a mosque in traditional Chinese architecture?


China - Labrang Monastery Visiting this Tibetan Buddhist Monastery was unforgettable. We stumbled upon the monks debating Buddhism in their yellow hats and were spontaneously invited to tea by a senior monk. But loveliest of all was just watching the pilgrims who came from far and wide.


Sweden & Norway I had the privilege to meet two of my favorite people in the city of Stockholm as a kick o to a crazy cold adventure that I never would have imagined! While I am no lover of cold weather, visiting Scandinavia in February was a wonderful (if chilly) experience. We discovered many a snowy landscape on our trip up the Norwegian coast on the Hurtigruten ship. We even woke up to orca whales o of the port bow since we were sleeping in the lounge (to avoid paying for a cabin). I came away from Norway and Sweden with an admiration for the hardiness of these people who live in such harsh places yet love the outdoors so much. And I will never, ever forget mushing my own dog sled under the Aurora Borealis.


Bergen: Norwegians ascend mountains like this with baby carriages.


Seoul, Korea I only had a 24 hour stop in Seoul but luckily I had an excellent host to receive me. Thanks to my friend, I had a crash course in Korean history and politics, including the deep linkages to my own country. I also ate bibimbap, which may or may not have cause some of the worst food poisoning of my life!… But it was all worth it! It is enlightening to see how Korea has turned around its economy in a very short time to position itself as a global leader, including on issues of “green” growth and development.


Bhutan

Upon arriving in Bhutan, I was bothered by a sense of artificiality and pretense generated by the mandated tourist guides and ubiquitous English signs. I got the feeling that the country known for inventing Gross National Happiness might not be as rosy as it is presented to the outsider. However, I also came away with useful questions about my own definition of happiness and of development. In Bhutan, the government - which includes an Oxford-educated monarch, a religious leader, and a parliament - controls a great deal, from tourism to meat consumption to clothing. The country is literally caught between its behemoth neighbors of India and China, who are happy to supply soldiers to guard borders and money to build religious statues. Many are interested in the country’s potential for hydropower. How will this small, relatively young nation hold up against so many pressures?


Bridges are the perfect place for prayer flags - the wind is always carrying your prayers to the universe.


Nepal Nepal surprised me as a truly fascinating place to visit. Kathmandu Valley itself has seven World Heritage sites, and each of them deserves a lengthy visit. It was interesting to witness the mixing of Buddhist and Hindu tradition and art and to visit the medieval strongholds of Nepal’s ancient kingdoms. I learned much about the country’s recent civil war, beleaguered monarchy, and ongoing political tensions. Nepal is, of course, also host to incredible nature. We bathed with elephants, saw baby rhinos, and even found a pretty fresh bengal tiger print in the forest (maybe 6 or 7 hours before, which was close enough for me!). On the flight from Paro to Kathmandu we glimpsed Mt. Everest above the clouds‌


Poland

Polska! What a fantastic country to visit with a Polka! I had the best tour guides in Poland, not just because they showed me the best things in Poland, but also because they took care of me when I fell mysteriously ill halfway through the trip (trust me, you do not want to visit Polish hospitals). The Poles insist that they are “Central” European, but I’m still not sure why they try so hard to fit with the rest of Europe when they are so fabulous in their own way. I loved the optimistic Polish spirit and the beautiful architecture of their cities. Driving around, we saw the conviction of the Polish people in the Christian pilgrims walking to holy sites, which was strangely reminiscent of Hindu pilgrimages I had just witnessed in India. It was also sobering to see some of the negative literal and intangible remnants of communism and World War II in the country. I felt a violent reaction in the pit of my stomach when I saw a pile of human hair weighing several tons in Auschwitz. This feeling and image will always stay with me.


The Netherlands

What a pleasure to finally visit the Netherlands! For a water geek, this is one of the best destinations. It was a particularly personal highlight to canoe through the canals of Utrecht, drive along dikes, and visit the impressive Delta Works that keep the sea at bay. The Netherlands is a quirky country to be sure, but my spectacular guide and friend helped me navigate the confusing sea of red pants, gelled male blond locks, and bathroom birthday calendars. I even tried the legendary raw herring so beloved by the Dutch, although I couldn’t bring myself to like their salty licorice. And who knew that the pragmatic Dutch love peanut butter as much as we Americans? Of course, I also learned of rich history at places like the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh museum, and the Anne Frank house. All in all, who can help but love a country where grown men can have sprinkles for breakfast and powerful ministers cycle to work?


Iceland My visit to Iceland was blessed with some of the best weather the country has to offer: 55 Fahrenheit and raining! While I was not pleased with the cold, I came away from the country with an admiration for the resilient Icelander - and for Icelandic men’s sense of style, which I describe as “effortless combination of hipster meets Viking.” I was lucky enough to stumble into Reykjavik during Iceland’s biggest party, complete with fireworks and plenty of live music. The isolation and high prices that characterizes life in Iceland are definitely not for me, but I have to admit that the landscapes are otherworldly and the hot springs are worth a soak!


This trip would not have happened without my guardian angels. I dedicate this book to all of them, including the following non-exhaustive subset. I also thank them for their photographs.

“Not all who wander are lost” -J.R.R Tolkien, The Hobbit In September 2011, I began working and living in Hanoi, Vietnam. From my new home base, I embarked on several trips through Asia and Europe from 2011 to 2013. This book includes some of my favorite highlights from each destination. 

-To my gifts from Hanoi: Merel van Sommeren, Agnieszka Szymecka, Grace Lee, Ha Nguyen, Kelsey Holden, Hélène Maire, Aurore Souris, Nhung Pham, Luis Carvalho, & Sabina Dias

-To my generous Hosts - June Tiong, Richard Hill, Austin Shiner, Joelyn Oh, Herman Teo Jia Han, Deborah Go, Alisha, Jyoti, & Tushar Mashruwala & family, Nirasha Guruge & Family, Thibaut Stadler, Szymecka Family, David Dam & Family, Paredes Family, Jeongsu Sinn, Étienne Ladent & Laure Harmand, Hervé, Muriel Palengat & Matt, Seb & Tiphaine, & Justine -To some brief encounters: Gedun Tenzin, our scantily clad berth mate on the train, our Russian angel, the man who let me plant his fields in Bhutan, and the old Czech men in Ha Long bay, who prove that anyone can travel at any age.

Wanderlust

-To my travel companions & new friends: Yumar Castro, Claudia Smith Mercado, Marcela Martínez Mercado, Sarah Crites, Natália Takahashi, Vitor Ferrão, Luísa Reis, Ana Gómez, Rosiane de Freitas Rodrigues, Caja Stokvisch, Karen & Eva Marcus, Andrés Ramírez, & Claudia Oh.

This End “The Road goes ever on and on Down from the door where it began. Now far ahead the Road has gone, And I must follow, if I can… And wither then? I cannot say” - J.R.R Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

Wanderlust TRAVELS IN ASIA & EUROPE - TIZIANA SMITH

I was lucky to be joined along the way by various travel companions and to be hosted by generous  friends and adopted family. I feel extremely thankful to all who supported me along the way, especially those who helped me in what I will never even realize.  These trips have undoubtedly changed me in ways that are difficult to pinpoint but impossible to deny.  I hope that these photographs will inspire you as they have inspired me to admire the wealth of human experience and to never stop wondering how we can learn from and serve each other.


Wanderlust

This End “The Road goes ever on and on Down from the door where it began. Now far ahead the Road has gone, And I must follow, if I can… And wither then? I cannot say” - J.R.R Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

Wanderlust TRAVELS IN ASIA & EUROPE - TIZIANA SMITH


Wanderlust