Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Rila Deal (Rila Monastery, Bulgaria)

There is something decidedly special about being somewhere that many people have not. Over and over I read about the same places - Paris, London, know the rest of the list. Well, I'm here to tell you some important information...forget the list. It's not that these places don't have value, they do, in immense quantities, but it's worth taking the time to explore places that you haven't learned about just by nature of being alive. I knew what the Eiffel tower was and what Big Ben looked like before I knew exactly what they were, and why they might be important. The point is, when I got to those cities I was delighted, but I wasn't surprised.

There is immeasurable value in the moment of surprise.

In the misty foothills of Bulgaria lies a place you probably have never heard of, but need to know about. The Rila Monastery is astonishing for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is its age. It was founded in the 10th century, and it is the largest, most famous, and most coveted Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria, and some would argue the whole region. This place is so important to the Bulgarian people that it is actually on the back of the 1 lev note.

And, how is it that I didn't know this until a few months ago? Well, I know now, in spades.

The monastery was founded by St. Ivan of Rila, a man who lived in a cave nearby with absolutely no material possessions while his students and disciples constructed the famed structure. Since its formation, almost every single Bulgarian ruler has made contributions to ensure it could continue to thrive and remain an important cultural icon. It has been visited by many important people,  even a pope. And, It has been rebuilt several times in its pronounced history, always with care and attention to detail. During prosperous times it was an example of Bulgarian tradition and ingenuity, and during periods of foreign rule, it was a refuge for the continued preservation of Bulgarian culture and life. Often described as "Bulgaria's Jerusalem," it is truly astonishing.

The frescoes on the central building were like none I had ever seen.


I think that what defines me most in this life is my boundless curiosity. I covet this. If I ever lose that, then I am decidedly doomed because it's what keeps me focused - what keeps me interested. And, I am lucky to be interested in a large variety of things. But, most of all, I am simply interested in learning new things. When I saw the Rila Monastery, I knew that, forever, it would be something I now, in some small part, understood. And no one could take that from me.

That means something to me.

Travelling, a push towards all that is out there that I have not yet seen, allows me to colour in all the blank pages of my mind. That is, where there was once nothing, now there is, decidedly, something. And knowing that there will always be something keeps me inspired. If I ever lose that inspiration, then remind me of this post, because a dull, ordinary life is what worries me most. But only in the abstract - because every moment I am on this earth, my entire life has been a battle against that very worry. My experiences, travelling, my knowledge - it's what makes me who I am, and ensures that I can continue to strive to become the person I want to be. It's visits to places like the Rila Monastery that let me know that I'm still on the right path.

There's a quote that I can't help but share considering all that I've written and thought about today. I've always found it worth remembering,  and, just maybe, you shall find the same.

"The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled." - Plutarch 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Bri and Me

No matter which way you look at it, the most important thing that has happened in my life over the past five years or so has been meeting Bri. I imagine I could write a good 25,000 words on my feelings about all that, but I know that you people have things to do today. It's truly remarkable to think about all that I've shared with Bri - she is, undeniably, my everything. She should likely be in the running for some grandiose, high-paying award for the patience and love she has shown me throughout our relationship - it's seriously impressive (and, I should note, humbly appreciated). Travel and living abroad have helped me grow tremendously as a person, but not nearly as much as Bri has.

Today I looked over at the right side of my blog to note that I had 300,000 hits on my blog, and it occured to me just how many tales I've told on here with Bri right there with me. I think that at some point I just started saying "we" did this or that, and just assumed that everyone would know who I was talking about. That's how much we were doing together (and, fortunately, continue to do together). Well, just in case you didn't know who I was referring to, I decided today that I would put together a post, full of photos, that highlight some of our journeys over the last half a decade (yes, half a decade). At the risk of embarrassing her, it's probably best that I stop writing, and post those photos I was talking about.

More or less, the start of our travelling adventures together. *gasp* look how young we were. Athens, Greece - 2010

Loving the Boryeong Mud Festival together along with Dave and friends. South Korea - 2012

Bundled up. Tokyo, Japan (2) - 2012 

Zip-lining through the jungle. Chiang Mai, Thailand - 2012

A baseball game with close friends. Seoul, South Korea - 2012

When the family came to visit! Seoul, South Korea - 2012

Using  the waterproof camera case for some kayaking. Koh Lipe, Thailand - 2012 
Cabin-mates aboard our boat. Ha Long Bay, Vietnam - 2012 

My favourite person to dine with. My birthday on Koh Phangan, Thailand - 2012

Slow-boating down the Mekong River. Laos - 2012

An action shot from our vespa expeditions. Paros, Greece - 2010

The one and only Everland Resort. Seoul, South Korea - 2011

The picture says it all. Mykonos, Greece - 2010

Living the life on Koh Lanta, Thailand - 2012

A historical moment. Athens, Greece - 2010

Hiking up Pura Lempuyang Lehur. Bali, Indonesia - 2012

The White Temple in all its obscurity. Chiang Rai, Thailand - 2012

I believe we may be on an extended motorcycle here. Koh Lipe, Thailand - 2012

Our bed for the night (one of many times). Kuala Lumpur International Airport - 2012

Sunrise at the Angkor Archeological Park, Cambodia - 2012

Hongdae Trick Eye Museum, Seoul, South Korea - 2012

Jumping for joy at Lotte World. Seoul, South Korea - 2012

The sun setting in Gili Trawangan, Indonesia - 2012

At the top of Taebaeksan ("The Grand White Mountain") - 2012

Angkor Archaeological Park, Tomb Raider-esque - 2012

Fake snow dropping from the skies of Universal Studios, Singapore - 2012

Among new friends in our new home. Istanbul, Turkey - 2014

Settling into Istanbul, Turkey, happy as ever - 2014

Man, does it ever put a smile on my face to look through these. It puts an even greater smile on my face to look up from the couch at this very moment, and see her sitting right across from me. We joke that if we ever did break up our future partners would likely say something like "who is this damn person in all of your photos?" Thankfully, I'm not worried about that in the slightest. So, here's to many more adventures together, everyday. I am, truly, the luckiest man in the world.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Meaningful Memories: A Photo-essay of Pearl Lagoon, Nicaragua

Pearl Lagoon, Nicaragua remains a place that is near to my heart. Scrolling through photos, I get a sincere sense of joy recalling all that occurred. I taught English there for a month at Las Perlas Instituto, but it was, undoubtedly, so much more. This morning, it occurred to me that perhaps I hadn't really shared a lot of my experience there. The food that I ate, the relationships I forged, the teaching, the long walks, and the brilliant sun - I owe Pearl Lagoon so much. I decided that my memories from Pearl Lagoon have a vivid sort of feel, so this post will be best served in the form of a photo essay. This would be my second photo essay, as I've done one previously for Ecuador. I have selected an amount of photos that would signify about how many days I spent there, more or less.

I do hope you enjoy, and this provides some insight into my life there. A life I sincerely appreciated. Between this post and the post on Orinoco recently, my mind has gone back to Nicaragua momentarily, and I'm relishing it. Though, of course, I'm appreciating the present here in Istanbul - a wonder in its own right.

I digress. Here you are. As Kurt Vonnegut says when he begins Slaughterhouse-Five:

"All this happened, more or less."

Those grassy streets of Pearl Lagoon

Taken by one of my favourite kids in the community

Queen Lobster, a bar and restaurant that was like my second home

Las Perlas Instituto, where I taught

Miss Ingrid's niece (more or less). She was a special young lady. 

You wouldn't believe how hot these classrooms got. No, I don't miss that.

The wonderful Miss Ingrid, with family and friends. I was so fortunate to stay with her.

A heavy meal wasn't hard to come by in these parts. Suited me just fine.

Kevin, Geri, Jimmy and a traveller rolling through. So much love for these folks.

Near my home. I walked past this everyday. The dog was always there.

The local basketball court served as a community beacon. 

Jimmy cooked up some of the meanest shrimp around. Delicious.
This was my cozy home for the month. I grew to love it. 

Baseball was life in Pearl Lagoon.

Kymani and I became fast friends. Many games of baseball played, many meals shared.

Receiving my service award for my work there from Miss Gerda. She didn't like photos, but was full of joy.

Fred's Place - Kevin and I essentially lived here.

Sweet, sweet Pearl Lagoon

With love, always love.