One of the fun things about traveling is getting to that point where you know that you’re not home any more. Though you do have to be careful about becoming weirdly jaded–cities are cities and they all contain common elements–traffic, garbage, pushy people, great shopping–that can override your sense of appreciation for what’s definitive and amazing, though some cities do make their unique characteristics much more difficult to ignore. I’m looking at you, Paris. As for traveling through the countryside…well…I live in the country. I know what a cow looks like.
See? Weirdly jaded and not groovy at all.
Below are a few photos that represent for me the moments when I fully appreciated the impact of being somewhere new and different, that had much more to offer than a wide array of stylish shoe shops.
Inis Mór, Ireland
Staring out into the North Atlantic from the edge of Inis Mór (Aran Islands)
One of these days I’m going to go in and fix that white blotch on the picture. This was a film camera, not digital, and apparently the film had a little flaw. Anyway. Inis Mór, one of the little fingertips of granite poking out of the North Atlantic off Ireland’s west coast, is quiet. During the day Kilronan, the town we stayed in, bustles with activity. Tourists come in from Galway and shop for Aran Island sweaters (I have one in green) and other crafter’s goods. At night, many of them are gone, and the island falls profoundly quiet. It’s a quiet I’ve rarely had a chance to experience and can be found if you wander only a short distance away from the center of town. It’s well-nigh impossible to photograph quiet, but I can photograph empty and deserted. We encountered a father and son pair of hikers on the way up to this spot–and that’s it. To get here, you have to climb over uneven terrain, and as you can see by the clouds the weather isn’t always on your side. There’s no easily-graded hiking path, there’s no handrails, there are no guardrails or warning signs to keep you from the ledge. I was glad to be so profoundly out of my element. It’s good to recognize the times that you stand on the edge of the world. There are all sorts of ways we can stare into the abyss; this was just one of them.
Along the Seine, Paris
Keeping in line with my statement about being weirdly jaded, Paris shares a lot with other cities. Its avenues are far more tree-lined and gracious, and the art and architecture you find everywhere you go…amazing. It is a spectacular city and one of my top three (Venice and Boston also jockey for the top position, dependent on my mood) but again, it’s a city. You can still get hungry and sweaty and cranky walking around, you can still get tired of getting jostled and just want to chill out in your hotel room. What you can’t necessarily have, though, is someone playing sax along the Seine, at night, under a street lamp. This was somewhere near the Île de la Cité, the island on which Notre Dame is located, and we came across him after a long day of walking and looking and stuffing ourselves full of food and sights. I remember hearing the sound waft up, and I had to follow it to its source. There he was, looking like he stepped off the set of a movie, under the light with a few nighttime listeners sitting around. I was mesmerized as I realized just how far from home I was, and I loved every moment of it.
The Colosseum, Rome
We got to Rome on a Monday. Monday is not the best day to be in Rome, if you’re a tourist, because a lot of museums and such are closed, unless it’s a biggie like the Colosseum. Since visiting the Colosseum was on our must-do list, and it was one of the things that was open, it was the first thing we did once we got to Rome and dropped off our stuff at the hotel. We took the metro, got off at the Colosseo stop and…stood blinking our eyes in slack-jawed disbelief as we walked up the metro steps and saw the Colosseum rise before us. There it was, sitting in the middle of traffic, a feast for the eyes before you even step in the door. (I’ve said this before but I can’t stress it enough. FYI, if you do go to Rome, get the Roma Pass. You’ll be in that door so much more quickly.) The thing about the Colosseum is, it’s so well preserved and maintained, you can’t help but find yourself transported. I found it impossible to not step outside myself and imagine sitting in the crowd, or find sympathy for the combatants waiting in the (now exposed) hallways under the main floor, who knew their likely death would serve as entertainment for the crowd. The Colosseum didn’t just stress to me that I was in a different city, but it took me to a different time and a different mindset, and forced me into a humane and human exercise I didn’t expect. And that? Is not something you get every day.
You can see more of this week’s “Foreign” photo challenge here.