After 3 weeks of hard work and some play, Mr. Toutmerde and I are heading home. The past few weeks have been very intensive and productive work-wise, but I was very interested in the work I was doing, so that is always a plus. And it was great to see Olaf and the gang in Hamburg, I have been here enough times over the past few years that it feels a bit like a second home. I am currently at the Hamburg airport awaiting my flight to Oslo, where I will have about a 3 hour layover before flying on to NYC. I supposed it is a good thing I will have that layover time, because the airline I am flying with (Norwegian) refused to check my bags through to New York, even though both my flights (from Hamburg and Oslo) are with them. This is apparently due to the fact that I bought these two tickets separately, but this still seems ridiculous to me. So once in Oslo, I will have to get my bags, then check them in again. Whatever, I will be happy to be back home, it has been non stop travel since October.
It started out so beautifully, so innocently. Since it was such a gorgeous day out, Olaf suggested we go for a hike. We got in the car and then drove to a little town called Güster, where we were to begin our walk. Olaf had researched some hikes and had decided on this one he had not tried before. We were about 10 minutes into our walk when Olaf made what I thought was a joke about the 10 miles ahead of us. Ha ha, I thought, whatever Mr. German Drillsergeant. Olaf had prepared some sandwiches that we would eat at some point along the way, and about an hour and a half later I was feeling a little hungry and asked if he wanted to stop. “Not until we reach the lake.”, he said. And when I asked how far the lake was, he showed me a map of our trail and I noticed that it seemed like we were only about halfway to the lake which was about the halfway point. I thought perhaps the map wasn’t to scale, so I fired up Google Maps and realized to my horror that he had not been kidding about the 10 miles. By the time we reached the lake, the bottoms of my feet were already starting to hurt (note to self: don’t hike this far without proper shoes). We stopped for about 20 minutes to eat, then began the second arduous 3 hours to complete our circuit back to the car. It started to rain on and off. For the last hour I could barely walk and by the time we reached the car I was weakly hobbling and muttering references to the death march at Auschwitz that Olaf’s forebears had subjected mine to. In total, the walk was over 18km (which sounds even worse than 11.2 miles), and I am glad to have made it, but informed Olaf that I would be having a say in the next walk.
Yesterday Jonny and I took a walk around a beautifully sunny (if cold and windy) central Geneva. Most of the architecture of central Geneva is quite bland, neither offensive nor inspiring, but the lake is the real star of this place. The color and contrasts of the lake, the sky, and the mountains are what make this place beautiful. I also started coming down with a cold, alas, so we decided to stay in for dinner. Jonathan cooked us a delicious chicken and a friend of his came over with soup and salad. It was a calm but lovely evening with good conversation. I have a fairly developed sore throat today, which is no fun, especially since I am traveling to Hamburg.
Yesterday was a beautiful Swiss day. Jonathan and I first took a walk along the creek behind his house, and I was amazed at how beautiful it was. It also posed a query I am often obsessed with in these kinds of places: Who pays for all this? The path and creek and forest stretch for miles and is meticulously maintained. Are these part of some municipal, canton or federal budgets that one’s high taxes pay for? This isn’t that hugely a populated area, and yet it must be very expensive to maintain. In any event, it was beautiful.
After our morning walk, we took a 2.5 hour drive to Basel. Jonathan had heard great things about the Gaugin show at the Fondation Beyeler, so we first went to that. The show was good, but a bit too crowded which made it difficult to appreciate the work. I did learn a few new interesting things about Gaugin, an artist I have never much cared for in the past. While I can’t say I suddenly love his work, I do have a greater appreciation for it after the show.
Following the show we drove into the center of the old town and had a really lovely walk around. Even though it was Easter and most everything was closed, the feel of the historic city, the river views, the winding streets and the crisp, sunny day made this my favorite part of the trip.
So, after a pretty hectic work-filled week in Marrakech, I flew to Geneva to spend Easter weekend with my friend Jonathan (who was in NYC a few weeks ago you may remember) as his husband Michael is out of town visiting friends of his own. Yesterday we had a lovely dinner and hung out in Geneva, while today we crossed the border into nearby France to visit a very cute little town called Annecy, full of history and wine and cheese and lots of rain. Still, it was a super charming place to walk around, and we had a lovely time. Then this evening we were invited to a delicious home cooked meal by Jonathan’s friend Richard, and now we are back home where I am endeavoring to not feel like the fat pig I am for all I have eaten today. In case you want the rundown between lunch and dinner, there was escargot and tartiflette and jambon cru (salt cured ham) and vin blanc and vin rouge and gnocchi and steak and mousse au chocolat and some kind of lemon tart, and of course several coffees.
I am back in Marrakech for work once again, and so far not a ton is new to report. I did bring Mr. Toutmerde along for the ride, so I have a little bit of company. I am happy to note that my friend Bjorn is also in town, and we will be having dinner tomorrow night. The company I am working for put me up at the Bab Hotel, which was really run down and terrible the last time I stayed here, but they told me it was under new management so I agreed to give it a another try (not that I had a choice). I have to admit that several things are quite improved since the last time. The service and attentiveness of the staff is much better than before, and the breakfast is actually fresh this time around, instead of the stale mess they used to serve. The place is still in serious need of a maintenance budget, but overall things are ok and the design of the place quite good. As for the work itself, it is as I expected it would be (when you work in Morocco, you don’t hold your breath for things to go off without a hitch), but the people are nice as always and the weather has been 80 and sunny, which is a wonderful change from NYC.
…but not in the good way. I mean that I have rarely seen such a massive line at the security checkpoint. And even though there were at least 15 scan lines, the hordes of people snaking their slow way through to get to these lines was insane. Is there some holiday happening that I am unaware of? Fortunately, I got to the airport with plenty of time to spare, and I am now ensconced in the SWISS lounge (why on earth did they change their name from Swissair, anyway?). Despite not having the appropriate pass, they let me in anyway, and I am now enjoying free water, brownies, brisket, cantaloupe, and Wi-Fi, not necessarily in that order. My flight boards in a little less than an hour. I will then have about a 3 hour layover before catching my flight to Marrakech. Maybe by the time I return to NYC, Spring will actually be a thing.
Like Peter, Paul, and Mary said.
As fate would have it, I am leaving tomorrow for three weeks out of the country. Again. I know what you are thinking, but this is (mostly) a work trip. First up is Marrakech for a week, then Switzerland for a little Easter weekend road-trip with my friend Jonathan, then off to see dear Olaf in Hamburg for more work (and a little fun) with him. On the plus side, I will be blogging again for the fans out there (all 5 of you).
It has been a nice run, hasn’t it? At 4.5 months, this has been the second longest trip of my life (the first being the 2+ years’ travel adventure that started this blog back in 2006). This trip was never destined to be the mid-life crisis shakeup that earlier trip turned out to be. This trip was about taking an opportunity that presented itself, rather than letting it slip by. That said, it is impossible (I hope, anyway) to travel so much without it changing you, without it leaving a mark. The whole reason for travel is to be exposed to new cultures, new climates, new experiences, new ways of thinking, and of course new foods. To learn from what is beyond the border of your experience, and then integrate those lessons into your world view. Travel pushes you to live in the present moment like no other experience I know, because you can’t rely on routine and habit to navigate it, you need to really pay attention.
The past months have taken me to a wonderfully diverse set of places away from my home in New York. Colombia, California, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Singapore, India, Turkey, and finally Portugal. I have seen amazing places, met wonderful people, tasted amazing food. I have figured out logistics in a variety of foreign places and languages, some very easy and some maddening difficult. I have spent time with friends old and new. And although I knew this trip would make my finances take a hit, it was totally worth it. Some people might feel exhausted after such a long journey, but I feel invigorated. While I am definitely looking forward to getting home, it is less about a particular place and set of familiar things than it is about the people I know and love there, people I have missed.
I was expecting to miss most of the winter in New York, and I suppose I have, but it is bone-chillingly cold there at the moment and I guess I will still have about a month or so of winter to experience. Just as well, I will be snug in my apartment, chipping away at the large amount of work I have let pile up over the past few months. I am currently at the Lisbon airport, awaiting my flight to New York. See you all on the other side of the Atlantic.
I have to admit to liking Porto better today, for a few reasons, but mostly having to do with much better weather. This morning Arnaud and I crossed the river for a wine tour and tasting, then walked around, took the teleférico up the hill for some stunning views, and then made our way back across the totally insane Luís I bridge and back to our flat. I say the bridge was insane because there is a very low guard rail for a very high crossing. I can’t believe there aren’t a huge number of suicides off this bridge, it is crazy vertigo-inducing, but also affords truly spectacular views. We had a lunch of Bacalhau (what else) and then I bid a fond farewell to Arnaud who left to catch his flight back to London. Finally this evening, on the advice of a local, I sampled a local culinary horror called the Francesinha, sort of a distant inbred cousin of the already classy Monte Cristo. I am feeling a bit ill but proud for having taken up the challenge.
I will go to bed early tonight because I have to be up to catch my taxi to the airport at the ungodly hour of 4:15am. I am finally heading home after 4 and a half months on the road.