Sary Mogul, Kyrgyzstan: An Unlikely Hamlet at 12,000 Feet

There isn’t much space devoted to places like Sary Mogul, Kyrgyzstan in guidebooks.  Sary Mogul is one of those places that is typically seen as a stopping off point, or a place to have a sort of layover, perhaps in the midpoint between two more noteworthy destinations.  But for whatever reason, I was immediately struck and fascinated by the place.  Neat rows of one-story mud houses, free-roaming cows and pigs, a lack of vegetation (save for the odd potato plant), and the curious people made it very hospitable, and I found it to be an absolute delight to explore and photograph.img_2302 img_2300

Places like Sary Mogul, traditionally, shouldn’t exist in Kyrgyzstan.  Sary Mogul, like it’s larger neighbor to the east, Sary Tash, were founded in the 1940s by Soviets in an attempt to supply nearby Murghab with potatoes and livestock.  Murghab was a strategic point along the Pamir Highway, connecting the major parts of the southern Soviet Empire with the relatively more Russified Kazakh and Kyrgyz Soviet Social Republics.  Thus, Sary Mogul came to existence to support another town that wouldn’t exist if it were left to the rules of traditional Kyrgyz nomadism.  It was truly a manufactured place, and in that respect, it had been given a blank canvas for independent cultural development. Read more

Off the Beaten Path in My Google History: July 2016

As a full time employee of Corporate America, I spend a lot more time daydreaming about travel than actually traveling.  I toyed around with the idea last year of posting about the places that take me down wikipedia and travel blog rabbit holes, but with little follow through.  And as I’m kind of spent talking about Southeast Asia for the moment, I couldn’t think of a better time to revisit my various wanderlustings.  So without further ado, find below the five spots keeping me up at night, planning adventures well into the 2020s.

Mozambique

I have never been to Africa.  And while there are a million places I would love to visit there, Mozambique is at the top of the list.  I know a few people who have had the privilege of traveling there and I have only heard amazing things.  From the unspoiled Indian Ocean beaches (the country stretches from South Africa in the south all the way to Tanzania in the north – that’s an impressive coastline), to a fascinating and tragic history of Portuguese colonialism, to the diversity of people found there (like many places on the Indian ocean, trade routes catalyzed cross fertilization of cultures belonging to the nations surrounding the body of water), everything about Mozambique is attractive to me.  There’s even a healthy dose of modernist architecture to be found in the larger cities of Maputo and Beira.

Well, maybe everything but the million hours and several thousand dollars it takes to get there from Seattle.5984289274_0b89e1edfd_z 23533936000_f4703e77f9_z Read more

A Tale of Two Cambodian Train Stations: Kampot and Sihanoukville

Coming into our trip to Southeast Asia, architecture peeping wasn’t in my plans.  Despite evidence to the contrary from our tour of New Khmer architecture in Phnom Penh, I didn’t actually plan any of our adventures in modernist architecture – they just happened to occur.  Sure, I may have screamed and waved my hands for tuk tuk drivers to pull over at random places on the streetside for me to take pictures, but that was about the extent of my planning.DSC_0963 (2) DSC_0978 DSC_0993 (2)

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Things We Didn’t See in Luang Prabang, Laos

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you’ll know that I have a problem with editing.  I’m notoriously unsuccessful at editing experiences, places, and things to do out of an itinerary.  A large part of my travel ethos has been that, because I have such precious little time off from my other life as a corporate employee, I need to see as much as possible in my time away.  Many would even consider our recent Southeast Asia itinerary to be too ambitious – but for us it was actually quite slow.DSC_0580 DSC_0627 DSC_0531 (2)

Then we arrived in Luang Prabang, Laos.  We’d spent a harried couple of days in Siem Reap, and despite only seeing five or so temples there, were fatigued.

Nature and atmosphere had a way of forcing us to slow down in Luang Prabang.  We had planned on renting motorbikes while we were there to explore around, but put it off until we didn’t have any days left. Read more

Visiting the Dancing Bears Sanctuary in Belitsa, Bulgaria

Of all of the things that define me as a person, not even just a traveler, but a person in general, animal lover is right near the top.  In fact, in my day to day life, animal lover would probably outrank travel luster on most days.  I am a dog dad to two loveable jerk-ass senior rescue Dachshunds, and a step dog dad to the world’s sweetest Golden Retriever.  For our wedding, instead of having a registry, David and I directed people to donate money to Old Dog Haven, our favorite local nonprofit dedicated to rehoming senior shelter dogs, instead of bringing us gifts.  So, without too much hand wringing, it’s safe to say that we’re certifiable animal whack-jobs.Dog Halloween 2014-53

So, how is this relevant to our time in Bulgaria, you may ask?  I’m getting there – on the day we left Sofia on leg one of our self-drive road trip we had originally planned to drive south to visit Rila Monastery, then through Plovdiv to Kalofer, where we would spend the night before hitting up Buzludzha the next morning.  This was a great plan, and we were both content with it.  But, knowing my past with and David’s PTSD surrounding monastery visits, we were less than enthused about visiting Rila Monastery, despite its status as Bulgaria’s number one tourist attraction.Jpegs-265 Jpegs-266 Read more

How We Didn’t do Saaremaa Justice

We went to Saaremaa with the best intentions.  We had a list of things to see and a finite amount of time to see them.  We were also coming from a long day of driving, and sightseeing, on the Estonian mainland.  The day we left Saaremaa, we had a similiarly long day of driving ahead of us, and a similarly long day of sightseeing.  And somehow, amidst the general craziness of the two stacked days of traveling, Saaremaa got lost in the fold.honeymoon-jpegs-256_21287806198_o honeymoon-jpegs-266_20854531713_o honeymoon-jpegs-259_20854538053_o

I am not a slow traveler, and yet I am an advocate of slow travel.  My travel style is necessitated by the amount of time I am able to travel yearly (15-20 days, generally) while still keeping my corporate job.  And because I am generally an ambitious traveler, I try to pack as much into my vacation days as possible.  It’s an unfortunate circumstance that will be remedied whenever I get out of the corporate rat race.  I think I have about ten years left in me before I make that change. Read more

Roadside Attractions in Rural Lithuania

When you’re on a road trip (through the Baltics, or anywhere, really), one of the challenges in keeping things interesting is finding places to stop in between your destinations.  I can say from experience that this can be difficult when you’re driving, for example, the vast stretch of land in Southern Idaho – just flat enough to be totally boring, and conservative enough to be pretty scary.  However, when driving from Klaipeda to Vilnius in Lithuania, as we did on the last day of our Baltic Road Trip Honeymoon ™, we found no lack of interesting/kitschy/somber roadside attractions to keep us entertained.honeymoon-jpegs-15_21464890172_o

The Hill of Crosses

The Hill of Crosses is located just north of the city of Šiauliai in North Central Lithuania.  I know that every time I talk about a church or other religious site, I preface with the fact that I am not a religious person.  Let me repeat that, I am most certainly not a religious person.  That said, I very much enjoyed visiting the Hill of Crosses.  Gift shop aside, the site was very impressive.  Hundreds of thousands of crosses piled on top of one another as a monument to the nation’s Catholicism.  It is uncertain when folks started placing crosses there – Wikipedia says sometime in the mid 19th century.  The real action at the Hill of Crosses, though, took place when Lithuania was under the Soviets.  The story goes that the Soviets tried many times to destroy the monument – burning the crosses, bulldozing the hill, etc.  But the Lithuanians continued to put crosses there in silent religious protest to the atheist Soviet regime.   Read more

We’re Going to the Balkans…Day after Tomorrow!

Where to start?  My life has been a crazy whirlwind the past two weeks and I want to tell you all about it.  Where to start…

David and I got back from our honeymoon on September 12.  On September 11, a random on Linkedin added me to his network, and I confirmed about midway through the week on September 16.  Turns out, it was a recruiter, and I ran through about six rounds of interviews with a major company in Seattle, let’s call them…Ahab’s Tea…and last week (September 30) received a ridiculously generous offer from them.

October 1, I put in notice with my current job, with my last day being Friday, October 9.  Also October 1, I confirmed with Ahab’s Tea that I would start on October 22.

So…I know what you’re thinking – there’s a 12 day gap between those two dates.  We’re taking a trip – looked around for cheap(ish) airfares, and landed on a trip overland, starting in Pristina, Kosovo, through Macedonia, and into Bulgaria.

Here’s what I’m most excited about, and what I’m reading to get me excited:Christ the Saviour Cathedral in PristinaPrizren o6.01.2010- Read more

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High Heels and Crucifixes: Attending a Gozo Festa

When we first were thinking about our honeymoon, we tacked Malta on to the end of our week in Tunisia to provide some rest after a week of what was to be some intense exploration.  And when we cancelled Tunisia after the tourist-targeted terrorist events there earlier in the year, and decided to spend that week in the Baltic States, Malta remained the more laid back portion of the trip in our mind.  For whatever reason, neither of us did much planning for this week of the trip – opting to plan for some pure R&R sitting by the pool of our Gozitan farmhouse.

I'll be here all week. Literally, right here, not moving. Gharb, Gozo, Malta.

A post shared by Nick M. ✌🏽❤✈️ (@concreteandkitsch) on

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The Quintessential Latvian Towns of Cēsis and Kuldīga

When travelers think of the Baltic States (if at all!), it’s usually of Tallinn and Riga, the relatively well-touristed capitals of Estonia and Latvia.  We loved Tallinn and Riga, but in our time in the Baltic States, we also wanted to get off the beaten path a little bit and discover parts of the region that weren’t as frequented by our ilk.  honeymoon-jpegs-292_21287541390_o

The issue was that we were on a fairly compressed time frame in the Baltics – we had to be in Vilnius, Lithuania by a certain day in order to catch our flight to Malta (ugh), so most of the rural, provincial parts of the Baltics we could see would be in passing.  Luckily enough, many of the small towns scattered throughout the Baltic States, and especially Latvia as we would find out, are small enough to be walked in a couple of hours, after which you can be on your merry way to your next capital or abandoned Soviet military installation.  Did I mention I loved the Baltics? Read more