March 31, 2008

Celebrating Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe holds a special place in my heart, for a whole bunch of reasons. That's where my thoughts are this morning as the country counts up the votes in this most crucial election and hopefully rids itself of a man who is nigh overdue for retirement. No matter what happens, the next 36 hours will be historic. I snapped this picture more than five years ago high up in the eastern highlands of Zimbabwe. After showing me their mud hut filled with chickens, this boy and his older brother followed me around for most of the morning. That means he's about 12 years old today. I sincerely hope that when he wakes up tomorrow, he has a new president who's name doesn't rhyme with 'mug me'.

March 24, 2008

Going to Atlanta

FYI, just got confirmation that I am a featured speaker at the Atlanta Travel Expo on April 12, 2008. Despite my status as a totally D-list travel writer I will be speaking right before Arthur and Pauline Frommer of Frommer's travel empire. Followed by Patricia Shultz (of "A Zillion Places To See Before You Die" fame). In my head, I'm pretending that I'm the opening act. I'll be talking mainly about Iceland and how to get lost anywhere in the world and enjoy it. After which I'll be signing books over at Border's. I'm told that discerning Georgians are already lining up to get their autographed copy of Iceland. Meanwhile I'm looking forward to spending some time in this spunky Southern city, meeting all the folks at the show and catching up with some old friends.

March 20, 2008

Ik zie oe geerne België . . . . . . . . . . . . Je t'aime Belgique

Just wanted to let everyone know how relieved I am that Belgium is NOT getting a divorce! Whew. Tiny Belgium is an important country for me as one of the happiest years of my life was spent living in fabulous Brussels. It was my first real job, I was just out of college, and the city was filled with young, exuberant people from all over the world. When Belgians demand to know if I lived in the Flemish or French part of the city, I always reply "Turkish" because my neighborhood of Scharbeek was totally Turkish. Actually, while I was there it became Albanian as the city filled up with Kosovar refugees from the Balkans. But I'm so glad that Belgians all worked it out. Sometimes I feel like the future of human existence lies in the Belgians' ability to stick together. And I'm not being ironic.

March 19, 2008


This week for Gridskipper, I wrote my post on NoMa, Washington DC's attempt to revitalize the no man's land of vacant lots and boring office buildings just north of Massachusetts Avenue, NE. Admittedly, I feel a tad guilty mocking anyone's attempt to improve the city but I really think the trifecta of city planners, real estate moguls, and the federal government is an unholy alliance that definitely deserves a degree of ridicule. I'm more in favor of organic, bottoms-up urban development rather than hype borne from the boardroom.

The upside was that I got to take myself on a field trip into the so-called NoMa corridor, which felt a bit like a totally separate city than the one I live in. Periodically you do get a glimpse of the capitol building, but otherwise, it's all kind of barren and strange. The exception is the awesome brick behemoth that is the United States Office of Printing and Engraving. If only they would go condo! I am tempted to start a campaign to Bring Back Swampoodle, the old Irish shanty town that they are now trying to relabel as NoMa. I think if only they did a survey, they'd find more people in favor of Swampoodle.

March 14, 2008

Pakistani Packaging

What do you get when your friend has to rush off to Islamabad as a last minute observer in Pakistan's presidential elections and you agree to take care of her cat? This gorgeous packet of Halwa, the near eastern sweet that is not only delectable, but wrapped up so prettily that I dare not open it. Thank you Rachel! How I adore festive packaging and how I love food smuggled in from faraway places. It's a close second to actually traveling there.

March 11, 2008

There Are No Cats in Finland

Found this ad in The Economist and had a little moment of wait, huh, what? Finland's trying to get smart, skilled people to move there because I guess their own people have moved elsewhere. In three seconds I imagined a parallel existence of me living in Finland and being ruddy and hip and paying gigantic taxes. Still, it made me dream, not unlike the posters of last century that drew huddling European masses to the free expanses of the Dakotas or Oklahoma. Most likely I will think of Finland for the rest of the day.

To the ad people, one tiny nitpick: my pet peeve as a travel writer is anyone referring to anywhere as a "pearl". Pearls are pearls, sweet old ladies are called Pearl, and a good pal can be called 'a gem'. Still, I can list about 20 countries/cities that claim to be the pearl of such and such. It's tiresome. I'm dying to get to Finland, but not for it's pearl-like qualities. Just because it's Finland, that's all.

March 7, 2008


Music and travel go hand in hand. Musicians travel to live and music travels on its very own. In that same vein, Icelandic wonderband Sigur Rós has recently released their musical documentary Heima. This film means a lot to me because it was shot during the same wonderful summer that I spent touring the whole of Iceland. The band goes to all the same forlorn places in which I wandered and their music is the perfect soundtrack for all the landscapes I experienced. I finally caught up with them in Ásbyrgi, where I sat mesmerized on the grass during the entire transcendent show and then got to meet Jón Birgirsson in person. I recommend the film to anyone who wants to travel to Iceland because despite all the movies and tv shows made about the country none captures the whole of the country like this one. It's exactly what Iceland feels like. You can watch the film in its entirety online or buy the DVD at the band's website. Cheers to Dean Deblois who made the film; and Takk to Sigur Rós for making me homesick for Iceland.

March 4, 2008

Discovering Dahlak

Wrote a blog post on Eritrean culture in Washington, DC and now I wanna go see the real thing, obviously. More important I discovered a group of islands that have somehow escaped my knowledge and years of heavy atlas addiction. The Dahlak Archipelago lies in the Red Sea, betwixt Eritrea and Yemen. It is my dream to get myself there now, now, as they say in Africa. A quick googling also reveals about half a dozen Eritrean restaurants in America called 'Dahlak'. The trend appears to be a subtle territorial claim not unlike that of my Argentinian crewmate on my college rowing team in England who christened our new boat "Las Malvinas Argentinas". Ahem. Anyway, must get myself to the islands of Dahlak and I'm even checking flights for spring break. They say the diving is exceptional.

March 1, 2008

Gŵyl Ddewi

Dydd Gwyl Dewi Hapus! Happy St. David's Day! On March 1st we celebrate the patron saint of Wales and the the national holiday of CYMRU. That means wear a daffodil or a leek and be proud. Will do. Ah, but to speak Welsh well, too! I made a fair attempt when I lived in Britain with two years of language classes and a stint in the Welsh choir. Alas, I am still very much an American poseur with a Welsh last name, but a name that I carry very proudly. It comes from my great-great-great grandfather John Thomas Evans who left his little hamlet in southwest Wales and came to America. He later traveled back to Wales and 'walked and walked' all over the country, converting people to his faith. I have also walked lots in Wales. It is a country made for walking and a most beautiful place to be. What I find most amazing is being only four hours from London and meeting people who have never been to London. Llundain? Wales remains a western frontier.

On this St. David's Day I plan on celebrating with my very own Eisteddfod and doing what Welsh people do best: read, play music, and fight tyranny with fire-breathing dragons. Shall we start with a round of the Welsh national anthem, sung so gallantly by the Welsh Rugby Team and their adoring fans, of which I am one? Ladies and Gentleman, please stand for Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau.