Emily Finds Sudden Interest In The Animal Kingdom

In her book Bossypants, Tina Fey writes, “I have no affinity for animals. I don’t hate animals and I would never hurt an animal; I just don’t actively care about them.”

Tina, I totally feel you on this. Thank you for being so honest and allowing me to feel I can finally come out of the closet regarding my Animal Indifference.

Animals are fine. I grew up on a farm. My childhood home was always overrun by dogs, cats, chickens, goats, sheep, donkeys, pigs, and the occasional ox, horse, or baby deer.  I obviously think nature is awesome, and I usually consider wild animals to be much better at life than humans. It’s just that I am somewhat “meh” towards animals, as a group. Thus, I never thought I’d be interested in going on a safari. The idea of sitting in a hot 4×4 with a group of strangers, driving slowly through fields trying to spot a rhino or chasing down lions, sounds absolutely heinous/pointless to me.*

But then my colleague Matt, his partner Mandy, and I drove our rental car through Kruger National Park and…Mind: Blown.

If you want to get the thrills of the animal kingdom without pulling a Bear Grylls, drive a tiny rental car through the wilderness where you may just come face-to-fender with animals bigger than your vehicle (scary/awesome). Kruger National Park is the size of Massachusetts and has every crazy exotic African animal you can possibly think of, roaming free. We drove our baby car up and down Kruger’s red dirt roads for a day, and saw one million animals. Really. I counted.

There was definitely something cool about our self-made safari. I think it was because A) I wasn’t surrounded by tourists (I am tolerance-challenged when around other tourists – I know, the hypocrisy, WHATEVER!) and B) we found these crazy wild beasts all on our own, without the help of a guide or a radio or anything but our own eyes and Matt’s stealth-driving tactics. So, I rescind my previous comments about animals being “meh”. At least, rhinos, elephants, giraffes and water buffalo, when seen at close proximity in their natural habitat, just being totally free and huge and beastly, are very much not “meh”.

*Of course, I don’t judge people who go on safari. Just like I don’t judge people for having pets. These things are totally normal and fine activities for humans. They’re just not for me.

Photos!!!

ELEPHANT!

ELEPHANT!

Deer thingies and a wildebeest!

Impala and a wildebeest!

Cute deer-faced thingy!

Cute Impala face!

Wildebeest!

Wildebeest!

Monkeys playing with each other!

Monkeys playing with each other!

One of many phenomenal giraffe sightings! Giraffes are weird looking up close, by the way. They might be dinosaurs.

One of many phenomenal giraffe sightings! Giraffes are weird-looking up close, by the way. They might be dinosaurs.

This pond was teeming with hippos and crocs! Hippos are terrifying! So are crocs!

This pond was teeming with hippos and crocs! Hippos are terrifying! So are crocs!

Zebra! (Common statement by the end of the day: "Oh, nevermind, it's just another zebra.")

Zebra! (Common statement by the end of the day: “Oh, nevermind, it’s just another zebra.”)

Zebra and zebra baby hiding.

Baby zebra hiding behind mama zebra!

We basically drove through the Lion King(dom).

We basically drove through the Lion King(dom).

Blesbok!

Blesbok!

WARTHOG!

WARTHOG!

Blesboks in a line under clouds!

Blesboks in a line under clouds!

The last animal we saw was this elephant. We rounded a bend and there he was, munching on a giant bush, about 3 feet from our car. It was really cool until I realized he could basically just step on our car without even thinking about it. Then it was really cool and a tiny bit panicky.

The last animal we saw was this elephant. We rounded a bend and there he was, munching on a giant bush, about 8 feet from our car. It was really cool until I realized he could kill us in 5 seconds and make it look like an accident. Then it was really cool and also a tiny bit panicky.

Our giant friend.

Our giant friend.

He didn't even pay attention to us. His bush was really tasty.

He didn’t even pay attention to us. His bush was really tasty.

One serious adventure we had in Kruger was a rhino-induced traffic jam. The following slideshow tells this story. It was all very wilderness-meets-the-modern-man.

After a full day of quietly sneaking up on dangerous animals in our teensy vehicle and leaning precariously out the window to take photos, we exited Kruger and headed to a backpacker’s in Nelspruit. The next day, I left the wilderness behind in exchange for a second trip to Johannesburg and then some Cape Town exploration. But I am happy to have experienced this self-made safari. It’s possible that it was, at times, a bit…unsafe. But it’s also possible that it was worth it.

Sunset as we drove out of Kruger. You can see a giraffe silhouette in the distance. Very Southern Africa. Love love love.

Sunset as we drove out of Kruger. You can see a giraffe’s silhouette in the distance. Oh, Southern Africa. Love love love.

Rome: Time Always Wins

Throughout my backpacking trip, a few themes have inexplicably developed. These are images or occurrences or references that appear over and over again, enough for me to notice and document. The least obscure, and perhaps stupidly obvious, of these themes involves time, clocks, age, and the unyielding authority of these constructions. In Rome, the power of time was omnipresent.

These ancient ruins, colossal and grandiose, intricately decorated, precisely sculpted, represented power, wealth, victory, and accomplishment in their heyday. Now, all that remains are carefully maintained mounds of rock, leaning columns, empty brick boxes hundreds of feet high. Men cut grass on riding mowers around crumbling, millennia-old temples to ancient deities. A woman, suspended forty feet up in a cherry-picker basket, carefully scrapes mortar and re-connects bricks to a top-heavy, teetering once-wall. Construction workers place modern-day scaffolding on the remains of a dusty Roman palace, now sagging on an eroding grassy hill. Once the most powerful empire in the world, the Roman legacy succumbs to time as a handful of laymen are paid minimally to try to keep the last stone piles from being reclaimed by the earth.

Inner Colosseo

Inner Colosseo

Inner Colosseo

Inner Colosseo

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Arch by Colosseo

Arch by Colosseo

Such detail. So old.

Such detail. So old.

Roman ruins.

Roman ruins.

Woman on cherrypicker fixes Roman ruins.

Woman on cherrypicker fixes Roman ruins.

Sun shining through ruins.

Sun shining through ruins.

This was the most astonishing structure to me, because it's so HUGE!

This was the most astonishing structure to me, because it’s so HUGE!

My days in Rome were filled with directionless exploration and staring in wonder, trying to comprehend how some of these massive structures still stand at all, how they were created so long ago, how many hands have touched these stones over time, how much the world has changed since they were built by emporers and slaves. Eventually moving away from ancient ruins, I walked through countless churches, each more splendid than the last. I found my way to famous, as well as seemingly forgotten, fountains, exquisitely groomed parks, bustling city squares. The sun shone hotly every day, making it warm enough to walk in a t-shirt and justify at least one gelato each afternoon.

My least favorite part of Rome was the Vatican.  It was packed with tourists – we literally stood shoulder-to-shoulder while examining the infinitely high ceilings and gilded chapels – and the staff was pushy and rude. Any aura of peace or humility was promptly squelched by one million gawking and chattering foreigners shoving past each other and snapping photos. I found the sunset much more marvelous than anything inside the Vatican walls (though I bet if I’d made it to the Sistine Chapel when it was open, I would have appreciated the art equally to the evening sky!). (Don’t gasp at my failure to make the Sistine, Grandma, I just couldn’t get there in time both times I tried…)

HOLY MOTHER OF GOD. The Vatican was nice, but it can't compete with the sunset. Sky 1, Man 0...

HOLY MOTHER OF GOD. The Vatican was nice, but it can’t compete with the sunset.

Wow.

Wow.

I die. The sky is just too magnificent to handle every single day.

I die. The sky is just too magnificent to handle every single day.

Saturday, I folded my clothes (some of them freshly hand-laundered in the hostel sink) and re-stuffed my backpack, hopped an evening train to the airport and said farewell to Rome, to Italy, and to the first leg of my adventure, thanking Europe for an incredible two months of both world- and self-discovery.

More Rome Photos:

The Youngest Thing in Rome

Rome was my final destination in Europe. My plane to Nepal departed from Aeroporto Internazionale Leonardo da Vinci di Fiumicino on Sunday, November 25. I took a train from Pisa to Rome on a Wednesday, allowing myself about four days to explore the endless marvels of some of our most iconic ancient civilizations.

I arrived to Rome feeling excited, but anxious. The air was heavy, thick with a breezeless humidity, palm trees standing erect and motionless in the warm evening. I felt I was still overcoming some of the internal struggle I faced in Pisa. After dropping my pack at a hostel, I pulled on my boots, pocketed a city map, and walked out into the night, hoping to find some clarity and rekindle my enthusiasm for indefinite solo traveling.

Walking through a serene Roman park.

Walking through a serene and empty Roman park.

I took off in the general direction of the Coliseum, not knowing if or when I’d come to it. I walked through vast parks, observed trickling stone fountains, passed pile after pile of red rubble surrounded by high metal fences – ancient ruins at every turn, half without informational signage: history crumbling, unnamed, all around me.

The moon was bright, and I followed its light up a hill, hoping for a view of the city at night. The palm trees and shrubbery thinned, and I suddenly found myself staring down at the unmistakable dark-windowed curve of Colosseo, basked in moonlight.

One of my first views of the Coliseum.

My first view of the Coliseum.

Suddenly breathless, I grinned and gathered myself, inhaling deeply and remembering what I was searching for: this feeling, of seeing myself from above, pinpointing my tiny self in a giant world, a huge universe, just chillin’ by my lonesome in a random corner of the earth, experiencing something brand f’ing new every single moment. Doing nothing but being in Rome. I hopped down the hill towards the massive amphitheater, keeping one eye on the moon and its astonishing three bright halos, brightening up the midnight sky.

The Coliseum area was nearly void of tourists at this hour. I had the imposing structure all to myself. I walked around it a few times, taking in its immense proportions and thinking how crazily hard it must have been to build without modern technology and machinery. Meandering nearby, I examined the detailed carvings on a few stone arches then headed up a hill towards a church, which I circled a few times without finding an entry point, but enjoyed seeing in the quiet Rome night nonetheless. Eventually, I slowly strolled back to my hostel, collapsing into bed and feeling at peace for the first time in over a week.

Here are some more photos:

Moon, stars, old things.

Moon, stars, old things.

Colosseo by night. The place was nearly deserted. Excellent.

Colosseo by night. The place was nearly deserted, which I found to be excellent.

The moon was so bright!

The moon was so bright!

Moon and Arch of Constantine.

The Arch of Constantine, close to Colosseo.

Another post on Roman Adventures coming ASAP!

A Glimpse of München

I traveled from Prague to Munich to meet my friend Robin’s twin brother David, who had promised to take me hiking into the Alps in addition to hosting me for as long as I wanted (!). I ended up staying with him for 5 days because he was so awesome.

Emily hearts David 4-Ever!

My time with David will comprise 2 posts: the first one on Munich in general, and the second on our incredible, breathtaking, challenging, EPIC hike/climb up Kramerspitze, which lies just on the Germany/Austria border in Bavaria.

To begin. Post #1: A mere glimpse of Munich, in photos.

Here is a photo from my train ride from Prague-Munich.

Even though it’s dreary, I loved the colors. Roofs all over Europe are so pretty – always red or yellow. It makes things look cheerier, no matter how much it (always) rains.

David and I spent a few days exploring the city together. He was full of random facts about many different things (after all, he was born in Munich). This kept me interested, despite the fact that I had begun to grow a bit weary of city after European city filled with beautiful buildings, magnificent churches, famous art, and rich, long histories.

I’m kidding about the weary part, of course. Though I can get tired of city life, I have not been bored once on this entire adventure. I think boredom would mean I’m trying too hard…

Anyway, here are some pictures of Munich! The city’s just full of fancy buildings and interesting stories…thanks to David for the ongoing narration 🙂

“DRAGON!!!”, I squealed in excitement. “Actually”, replied David, “That’s Wurmeck. Part worm, part dragon. Rumored to have brought the plague to mankind, out of the depths of a well.” Fun fact #283.

A busy area in central Munich known as Marienplatz. Lots of nice buildings, expensive shops, and stroller-pushing, T-shirt buying tourists!

I have been searching high and low for gargoyles since I landed in Europe, and I finally found some in Munich! They were all over this building. It was awesome.

This is a famous clock known as the Rathaus-Glockenspiel (I love the name). Every day at 11AM, tourists flock to its base to watch the life-sized figures re-enact two stories from the 16th century – one involving a joust (the Bavarian knight wins every time). It chimes and plays music, and the figures dance around, for something like 7 minutes. We kept expecting it to end…and it just kept going…

We climbed that! This is “Alter Peter” (Old Peter), the oldest recorded parish church in Munich and presumably the originating point for the whole city. I ordered our tickets in German, by the way. I’m pretty sure David was proud (or just amused at my horrific pronunciation). (Photo: Wikicommons)

A view from Alter Peter of the Glockenspiel and Frauenkirche cathedral, a landmark and symbol of the Bavarian capital city. Did I mention Bavaria is super religious? They even have a church tax – and you have to opt out. (All information from David Jakob, Munich Historian).

Another view from Alter Peter.

Ok, yes, I took a lot of photos from the top of Alter Peter.

LOOK! THE ALPS!!!! Note that I took this photo before actually climbing any Alps. I could not have been more excited to see these snow-capped beauties in the distance, just knowing they were waiting for me…

Doesn’t this just make you want to shout “Bavariaaaa!” from the top of a bell tower?

One day in Munich, I visited the famous Deutsches Museum. It’s huge, but I found it a bit anticlimactic. It’s full of machines and technology and engineering things. Not really my cup o’ tea.

Really only two things excited me about the Deutsches Museum. First, this huge astrological clock (and there were a bunch more inside).

And second, this gigantic, working replica of actin and myosin, ATP and everything! (Nerd alert – if you have no idea what I’m talking about, don’t worry. I think this is probably the most boring part of the museum to most people.)

Once when David was at work, I made my way to Nymphenburg Palace, a baroque palace previously used as a summer residence by the rulers of Bavaria. It was built in the early 1700s.

A closer view of the palace. Fancy, but with a mole problem.

Why the crankypants, Neptune? So much attitude…

Just one of many “smaller” houses in the forested parks behind Nymphenburg palace.

A little pavilion and babbling brook on the Nymphenburg properties.

A beautiful yellow cathedral, just beside Siegestor (Victory Gate). Man, they love their churches here.

Siegestor! David and I ran into the middle of the road to take a better photo – such tourists – but it came out blurry. That’s karma for stopping traffic, I guess.

Cloudy Munich.

This is a traditional Bavarian cake. I forget the name…as soon as David reminds me I’ll stick it in. It was chocolate on the outside and spiced inside. Good with coffee!

We took a long walk through Englischer Garten, bigger than Central Park. It’s really pretty in autumn. And there’s a Beer Garden in the middle of it. And a lake. Double win!

Munich skyline at sunset, seen from the pavilion in the photo above.

David found this tiny swan in the park. You’re welcome for this amazing photo, David.

Next post…ice-climbing in the Alps!