Tag Archives: travel

The Surprise of Travel

The modest roadside cafe we saw outside the Armenian village of Sevkar lacked a sign in English, much less a website. It was hardly the place you’d expect two older Americans to stop for lunch. But we did, unexpectedly, while traveling last week and it turned out to be a highlight of our trip. It also provided a reminder about how we all need to look beyond our plans and checklists to embrace life’s surprises.

It was before noon and we were the only customers there. The owner led us into his kitchen, pointed to some bowls of meat and asked what we’d like him to barbecue over his charcoal fire. IMG_8603Then, as the meat sizzled, he sliced bread, tomatoes, onions and cheese onto a plate and took them outside to a wooden table, where he invited us to sit.

The barbecue was beyond delicious, as was everything else. Here along a small road in northern Armenia, we enjoyed one of the best meals of our lives.

This happened only because we asked our driver to find somewhere to stop early for lunch so we could spend our remaining Armenian money before crossing the border into Georgia.

This is one of the things I love most about traveling. No itinerary can anticipate many of the experiences that end up making a trip memorable.

Here’s another example: While in Armenia we also came across an area filled with small stone cairns, which reminded us of the mani stones people in Nepal pile along trekking paths. Beside them were hundreds of cloth and plastic ribbons wrapped around trees and bushes, which people placed for good wishes and luck. They, too, fascinated us, even though we’d actually come to see the adjacent Geghard monastery, partially carved out of a mountain.

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We were surprised at a Jewish synagogue, too. Its caretaker in Tbilisi, Georgia, gave Champa and me a private tour, even opening the ark to show us some of their Torah scrolls. He told us about Tbilisi’s small Jewish community and took the photo you see here.

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While near Tbilisi, we also discovered wine ice cream, from this woman at Mtskheta. We thought it was a gimmick but I bought a cone and it was wine ice cream, and pretty tasty, too.

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We also were surprised by people like this New Zealand woman, Lesley, who we met at an Armenian restaurant that provided a demonstration of traditional lavash baking. We discovered she lived previously in Turkmenistan, where she was friends with a young American woman who is now in our Peace Corps group in Moldova.

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Then there was the woman with the red jacket you see talking with Champa. She is a physical therapist from the Philippines who works in Dubai. She and her husband came to Armenia for a brief vacation while renewing their visas. They were among several foreign nationals we met in Armenia who work in the Gulf. Who knew? The two Chinese women in the foreground, who took selfies and texted nonstop during our tour, are air hostesses for a Gulf airline.

It’s humbling for a planner like me to acknowledge that my detailed trip itineraries often fail to anticipate what Champa and I will remember most about a trip. As I wrote when I started this blog, one of my goals in being “not exacty retired” is to recognize the richness of life’s surprises and make the most of them, especially when traveling. “After being tied to calendars and project schedules for so many years,” I wrote then, “I wanted to embrace the unknown.”

Now, two and half years later, and especially after returning from a great trip, I feel that way even more. Spreadsheets are great but, in both the dictionary and on the road, serendipity will always come first.

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Travel Fair

If you haven’t planned your summer vacation yet, how about a trip to Macedonia, Ukraine or Bulgaria?

IMG_3612Not for you? Well, then maybe someplace here in Moldova: to see crafts in Nisporeni, a beautiful mansion in Hîncești or the castle in Soroca?

All of these destinations had booths at a travel fair Champa and I attended on Saturday at the MoldExpo convention center in Chișinău. There was also information about destinations more familiar to American travelers, such as Greece, Israel and Hungary. But most were places you’ve probably never heard of, much less considered visiting.

IMG_3673In other words, it was our kind of travel fair. We went there to gather information for a trip we hope to take at the end of 2017 to Bulgaria, Macedonia and Albania. But we were also curious to see what the travel industry looks like in this part of the world. I’ve also been working with several other Peace Corps volunteers on a project to highlight the importance of friendly customer service and online marketing for Moldovan travel destinations.

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Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey had some of the biggest exhibits at this weekend’s fair. All are popular among Moldovans who have the means and interest to travel. Moldovan national travel organizations and companies had exhibits, too, as did some of its 37 raions, or districts. There was a small booth for Georgia, where an enthusiastic guy told us about that country’s hiking, food scene and night life in Tbilisi. We also picked up brochures for everything from holidays in Montenegro to the painted monasteries of Bucovina, Romania.

My favorite booth was for the Slovak Republic, where I recognized the man in a casual shirt and blue jeans who was laying out brochures and pouring free beer. It was Robert Kirnág, the Slovak ambassador to Moldova, who I met last month at a ceremony to launch a water project.

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I said hello and he thanked me for the the article I wrote about the  project, which his embassy posted on its website. We chatted and posed for the photo you see here of him with Champa, me and our friend Denise, a Peace Corps volunteer from California who is working with me on our tourism project. He also told us more about Slovakia, which we now plan to visit if only because we like its ambassador so much.

Champa’s favorite moment was learning to paint an egg in the traditional style of Romania, which we’re visiting in one week. In my next post, I’ll show you what she created.