We discover the most interesting things when we aren’t looking for them

When I think about highlights from 2014, I remember my trip to Buenos Aires.  I’m reminded of how the beauty of traveling is in discovering the unknown and most importantly, the unplanned.  Sure, we did the usual touristy stuff expected of any visitor to BA.  We cruised through the famous colorful Boca neighborhood, took tango lessons, and ate way too much steak, but best of all, the memorable parts of our trip were discovering little surprises along our way that weren’t on our itinerary.

MALBA Museum

MALBA Museum

This picture of this cool bench with the ‘runaway’ wood is from the MALBA – Museo de Arte Latino-Americano right in the heart of Buenos Aires.  We actually stumbled upon this museum after a long jetlagged first day in the city and almost skipped it.  It turned out to be the best museum with the innovative architecture and modern art that piqued our curiosity.

Statues at a roundabout

Statues at a roundabout

The next day, we were on the hunt for a good cheap eatery and discovered two statues at a roundabout.  I thought they were interesting – an elegantly poised female statuette with a stern-looking rigid statue in the background.  We loved how we would turn the corner and find art in the form of statues, paintings, architecture wherever we went.


A bicycle in a courtyard

A bicycle in a courtyard

On one particular afternoon, we turned into a courtyard and found this non-working bicycle with a pebbled arrow next to it.  This piece of art blended nicely in the background and we almost missed it.

This turned out to be an amazing soup!

This turned out to be an amazing soup!

Finally, when it comes to eating when traveling, it’s best to be spontaneous.  We arrived late in Tilcara, a small dusty town in the north close to the Andes Mountains.  As soon as we sat down to eat in a cozy restaurant, we saw a guy next to us eating what we thought looked like potato soup.  “I’ll have what he’s having,” we told the waitress.  It turned out to be a hearty TRIPE dish – not what we expected!  It was delicious and my husband Eduardo ate every last bit of it.

On Seeing John Keats’ Tombstone in Rome

Cemetery in Rome

Cemetery in Rome

Poor guy – he had it rough from the start: his father was killed when he was eight, his mom died of tuberculosis several years later, and he himself lived only to the age of 26 before he gasped his last breath, alone in a foreign country and in despair.

When I was in Rome recently, I visited John Keats’ tombstone in a beautiful cemetary.  I had majored in English Literature many moons ago, and I remembered how my favorite literary era was the Romantic period, particularly Keats’ sombre but heartfelt poems.  Unfortunately, his poetry career didn’t take off until AFTER he passed on, and I believe that all he wanted was for his poetry to be taken seriously.  Keats indeed got what he wanted because he’s one of the best known Romantic poets today.

John Keats' Tombstone in a Cemetery in Rome

John Keats’ Tombstone in a Cemetery in Rome

When I came back from Rome, I dusted my old English lit books and flipped to the section on John Keats, the corners of the pages worn and yellowed over the years.   His words still have an impact on me because he felt so closely to death and was weighed down with the heaviness of his unrecognized art.  Check out the first lines of one of his most famous poems On Seeing the Elgin Marbles, which still blow me away:

“My spirit is too weak – mortality

Weighs heavily on me like unwilling sleep

And each imagine pinnacle and steep

Of godlike hardship tells me I must die

Like a sick eagle looking at the sky.”

Rest in peace, Keats.

Let’s Chill Like the Buddha – My Day Off in Paris


Chill out! said the Buddha

Chill out! said the Buddha

“Why can’t you just chill out?” said the Buddha, his face calm and steady before me.  It was my day off in Paris today after a long week of work, and I had big plans.  Big plans, I tell you!  I wanted to cram way too much Parisian activity into a weekend, starting with visiting the Guimet Asian Art Museum.

By the time I arrived there, I was a sweaty mess.  I had walked way too fast because of the limited time to see the Buddhist sculptures exhibit before seeing a friend.  I huffed up the stairs, bought my ticket and then ran into a slow-moving tour group.  Move out of my way, I have to see some Buddhas!

Of course, the Buddha’s peaceful face mocked me.  How can I possibly enjoy the gorgeous Angkor-era Buddhist statues and bas reliefs in this gorgeous museum when I’m rushing around?  I couldn’t possibly enjoy the moment.  Traveling isn’t about ticking the boxes and cramming a gajillion activities into a weekend. It’s about exploring the moment and soaking up the culture and everyday life around me.

So for the rest of the day, I abandoned my to-do list..  After drinking tea and eating yummy macarons with an old friend, I explored the Marais, the hip shopping area with small windy roads, and I got lost.  Gladly.  I did manage to find Place des Vosges, a bustling park, and I read a book and watched a group of teenage girls munch on cheese and crackers as they gawked at boys nearby doing the same.


Place des Vosges, Marais

Place des Vosges, Marais

I’m reminded again of how I can get so caught up with doing it all, seeing it all. that I miss out on the main reason why I enjoy traveling:  to explore a new place and to live in the moment.

Well, tomorrow’s a new day!  Off to bed…will keep the Buddha’s calm face in mind.





Why I’m Only 75% Beautiful in Indonesia

I love renting bikes when exploring a new place

I love renting bikes when exploring a new place

Years ago, I met a Javanese artist who thought in percentages and actually told me that I was only 75% beautiful in Indonesia.  I was traveling solo through Yogyakarta, a community known for its artists with art studios lined up and down the streets.  In a café where I was having breakfast, he strolled over to me, sketchpad in one hand, the other gesturing at the empty seat next to mine. He was in his late 20s, Muslim like the rest of the population in Indonesia and his hair was black, thick and matted.  Around his neck sat a red painted wooden beaded necklace.

We chatted for a while about how he wanted to be an amazing artist like “Salvador Dali” with the “droopy watches” when he suddenly asked,  “How many husbands you have?”

“What?”  I had forgotten I was wearing a fake wedding ring.  Even though I was single at the time, I still wore a ring to be left alone while traveling.  “Uh…just one.  He’s waiting for me in Bali.”

“I see.”  He paused.  “Well, if another tsunami coming, you my wife okay?”  I laughed.  “Okay, deal.”  We high-fived across the table.  “I bet you say that to everyone.  How many wives do you have anyway?”

“I’m good Muslim.  I deserve five wives.  But for now, no wife.  No money, no wife.  In Indonesia, can have many wives.”

“Why do you think you’re a good Muslim?”

He touched his beaded necklace for a second. A flash of guilt crossed his face and then he said, “Only 50% good Muslim I am.  I pray, go mosque every day.  But I smoke and sometimes drink beer and if lonely, I have lucky-lucky with women.”

“Don’t you want to be 100% good Muslim?” I asked.

“Yes but I artist.  So I live artist life.  Why you only have one husband?”

“In Canada, I can only have one husband.”

“Oh.  Is he 100% good husband?”

I chuckled.  What’s up with the percentages?  “Yeah I guess so,” I said about my phantom husband.

He looked down at his paint-speckled hands.  “You are beautiful.  75% beautiful.”

I smiled.  “Only 75%?”

“Yes.  Better than most 100% foreign women, I think.  Maybe 50% of 100% foreign woman okay pretty.”

After that I went to his studio across the street to view some of his paintings which were really nice. He was quite talented.

He painted on cloth, stretched them out with wooden sticks and dried them in the sun.  One painting of three Javanese women posing and looking in the same direction drew me in.  It reminded me of my two sisters.  I decided to buy it.

“Really? I so pleased you buy!” he beamed.  He rolled it up and then placed it carefully in a brown paper bag and handed it to me with both hands.

“Miss Debbie, I enjoy our chat.  Now you are 90% beautiful!”