Parks and Recreation

As I leave Europe and enter Asia, I reflect upon the places I’ve felt happiest. With the exception of cities in which I met unforgettable people, the places that come to mind recall rolling hills more than flashing lights: the air here smells as green as a freshly mown lawn, as wet as an afternoon before the storm sets in, as unpredictably fresh as a city park can be. It is easy to go back to these places. I just need to close my eyes and breathe.

I remember watching the purple-pink-orange sunsets splay across the sky at the ostrich farm in Bulgaria.

I remember tipsily looking over Chateau Vartely’s terrace to the storm clouds marching toward us across the valley.

Łazienki Palace

Łazienki Palace

I remember serendipitously finding myself lost in Warsaw’s Łazienki Park, six story trees blocking the city beyond and rain above.

The Bogs of Lahemaa

The Bogs of Lahemaa

I remember paddling through the bogs of Estonia’s Lahemaa National Park, smirking at my Oompa Loompa orange skin, stained by the peaty water.

I remember Peter the Great watching over me in Moscow’s Gorky Park, where I spotted rollerbladers rolling, ping-pong players whacking, and BMXers doing whatever it is that they do, all amidst fairy-lit cafes and reflecting lily ponds.

I remember much more than the airy moments I lingered in these parks and valleys. I remember how I smiled, my up-turned mouth holding its pose for long after.

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The Baltics Broke Me

Cēsis Castle, Latvia

Cēsis Castle, Latvia

Gripping a candlelit lantern in my right hand and the ladder in my left, I squeezed into the dungeon. I thought I might fall to the stone below, but I arrived unscathed.

Bemused by my success, I realized that to figure out my limits, I had to test them. What better way to test limits than through travel?

In the Baltics, I tested various limits and in the process, broke. But all my pieces came back together again. Here’s what the Baltics broke:

View of the Ladder into the Cēsis Castle Dungeon

View of the Ladder into the Cēsis Castle Dungeon

  1. As I climbed up the ladder at the Castle in Cēsis, Latvia, I noticed an eraser-sized whole in the crotch of my jeans. I hope the couple beneath me didn’t see anything. If they did, at least I was wearing cute underwear.
  2. Waking up a few days ago, I heard a squeaky, hoarse pubescent boy speak when I opened my mouth. Horrified by my husky timbre, I nevertheless continued talking. Hey, it made people laugh 🙂
  3. Many cultures claim pride in their unbeatable drinking abilities. I haven’t been to Russia or Ireland, but I have witnessed Australians drink beer like camels prepping for a trek through the Sahara. Expect them to outdrink you. Expect to be hungover or drunk when you wake up the next morning. And expect the Aussies to keep drinking throughout the day to ward off hangovers (It works!).
  4. My jeans, voice, and liver all survived these events. Tragically, my favorite leather cross body purse did not. I hear they can fix anything in Hoi An. Here’s hoping.

    Deconstructing Subway in Riga, Latvia -Photo Credit: Crazy Aussie

    Deconstructing Subway in Riga, Latvia- Photo Credit: Crazy Aussie

  5. Drinking at party hostels like The Naughty Squirrel in Riga and Jimmy Jumps in Vilnius inevitably leads to potentially embarrassing situations, especially when you add single, cute 20 somethings traveling the world. But whether you shout that you’re “King of the World” like Leo or deconstruct a sandwich from Subway before eating it, most of the time, your dignity remains intact. Plus, at the next party you go to, your stories will have people snorting out their drink. Mission accomplished!