The tendency when one is serving overseas is to use each posting as a springboard to explore the region, to travel around the continent one calls home for a few years. In Africa, this strategy hits two snags. First, the continent is immense. Second, with the exception of a handful of hubs, intercontinental flights are unreliable and expensive. Serving in eastern Africa, for example, South Africa was accessible but the countries of the Maghreb not at all.
Posts tagged ‘culture’
We hit the sweet spot with last year’s Halloween celebration. Munchkin was obsessed with The Three Little Pigs for most of the year. Dressing up as the little pigs to his bad wolf was an easy win, and the wolf costume S’s mom made for him got plenty of use before and after the holiday. This year, Munchkin’s tastes have evolved too fast to keep pace.
The first thought that struck D on arrival in Prague was that the city was overrun by Russian-speakers. The Armenian taxi driver who picked D up from the airport and could barely string three English words together; the management company for the apartment D had hastily booked on hotels.com; the students and old ladies exchanging news on the street corners; even excluding the massive Russian tour groups, D heard about as much Russian during his first couple of hours in Prague as he had in Minsk.
D saw very little of the USSR during the ten years he lived in Moscow. Most people didn’t travel much around the Soviet Union. D vaguely recalls a trip to the Black Sea and a visit to St. Petersburg (then Leningrad). Thanks to his work, D now has set foot in five of the former Soviet Republics in the last few years: Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia, and most recently Belarus and Lithuania*.
After our hike in the Sawtooth Wilderness, which proved a little more hardcore than perhaps was advisable, we enjoyed a rest day in Sun Valley. It was the Fourth of July – a rare opportunity to celebrate this most American of holidays on American soil, only the third time we have been able to do so (out of eight potential Independence Day celebrations) since D joined the State Department.
The Ardennes Forrest covers a sizable portion of southeastern Belgium, spills over into neighboring Luxembourg, and extends into parts of Germany and France. Castles and other medieval ruins dot the landscape, extensive networks of subterranean caverns lie hidden in the Ardennes mountains, and Trappist monks continue to follow centuries-old recipes to brew perfect beer and make sumptuous cheese in abbeys scattered throughout this rugged corner of Europe. In other words, we expected to find a little slice of heaven and, despite our unpleasant reception in Dinant, the Ardennes did not disappoint.
Our last night in Bruges we were joined by a good friend who had taken the train all the way from Cambridge to meet up with us. Unfortunately, we had committed to spending the following weekend with other friends in Luxembourg, so we only overlapped for one night. We had chosen the Grand Duchy as our rendezvous point simply because none of us had ever been there before and were pleasantly surprised to discover that Luxembourg has quite a lot to offer. The capital is pleasant and scenic, but does not really have enough attractions for a full weekend of sightseeing. The rest of the country, however, is simply magnificent and definitely merits a leisurely visit.
Comparing Bruges and Ghent half a century ago, a friend recently told us that he liked the latter better because it felt like a real city where ordinary people lived. Bruges, on the other hand, struck him as a tourist city that existed solely for the enjoyment of foreigners. We’re sure that a similar charge could be leveled against Bruges now. As visitors to this magnificently beautiful city, however, we could not help but be completely taken in by its many enchantments.
“There’s not much to do in Lesotho,” a South African friend told D, “except to look at it.” This struck D as reason enough to plan a brief visit to this, the highest country in the world. Having already decided to spend several days in the Drakensberg Mountains – Lesotho’s spiritual homeland, according to another South African acquaintance – it seemed silly not to make at least a day trip to Lesotho. Getting there, however, proved a bit of a challenge.