Giving Thanks to Mongolia

 

 

Flaming Cliffs

Flaming Cliffs and I

In this time of giving thanks for all that we have, I can’t help but focus on the incredible trip I took this past summer to the planetary middle of nowhere. It was one of those trips that hits everything on a traveler’s to do list and then some. And while I call Baltimore home, this begins the season of home being where you heart is, and my heart is now scattered all over the world thanks to this land called Mongolia.

 

gers

I say that my heart is scattered and not left in Mongolia because this trip opened more of the world up to me than my previous travels, and I have traveled a LOT. I’ve hosteled my way through Europe, snorkeled reefs at home and abroad, and spent more hours of my life than I care to count in airports. But this trip was different than the rest. Sure, I saw the incredible landscapes of the steppes, drank hot milk tea and marveled at the music of throat singers—and I do not want to belittle those experiences. Trust me, never say “No” to the chance to visit the land of the blue sky. But for me, the thing that made all the difference was the people I met and lived with along the way.

Travel means meeting new people and seeing new ways of life, but honestly how often does it mean new friends? With all the travel that I have done I can’t honestly say that I’ve collected a ton of friends along the way. Yes, I’ve broken bread or swapped a social media handle, but rarely have I made a connection with anyone that turned into true friendship. That changed in Mongolia, where making friends seems to be the unofficial national sport.

Mongolia Crew

#mongoliasquad

In a land where you can literally drive up to anyone’s ger, knock on the door and be treated like family, making friends was the norm. By the end of my two weeks, I realized that the people I spent this time with squashed in Soviet vans, waiting out dust storms and counting lichen on rocks, had become my international family. These were the people I never thought I needed to know but now couldn’t fathom my life without. When we went our separate ways to our true homes in different parts of the world, my heart went with each of them and I knew it would stay that way.

I’m so thankful for that trip because it gave me more to be thankful for than food, electricity and travel. It gave me an international family to follow and love and proof that no matter where you go you will never truly be alone—there will always be an open door.

What could just ‘B’ more great?

Cat Squad

Gotta Rep the Cat Ears

Advertisements

Seeing the City through a Newbie’s Eyes

amazon fish

At the beginning of the year I set out to achieve four goals for 2017. (If you missed it, you can read about it here.) Recently, I met one of those goals — Travel (around town) — in the most interesting of ways.

Last Friday, I received an alert on my phone from Couchsurfers: Jonathan has requested to stay with you. Seeing as my weekend was pretty empty and I had the room, I enthusiastically hit the “Yes” button. What happened next was not having a person crash on my couch, but even better. I made a new friend and gained a new perspective on the place I call home.

If you really want to fall back in love with Baltimore, then show around an out-of-towner.

jellies

The first place that Jonathan and I hit up was the National Aquarium. One of the city’s jewels, we decided to take advantage of the Fridays after Five deal and enjoy the underwater world without having to get soaked. (It was already raining, so staying dry was a bonus.)

Now, I will say that I am biased when it comes to visiting the Aquarium because I work there on occasion. But due to a pesky broken ankle that’s made walking a literal pain, I haven’t been back in six months. There is something about seeing a familiar place with a person who has never been there, which allows you to notice things that you may not have noticed — and get points of view on things you have always wondered. (For instance, Jonathan being an Aussie native, enjoyed the Australia exhibit and was delighted to get to see the archer fish being fed. Although, when you get to watch fish spit water to knock crickets out of the air, it’s hard to be disappointed!)

It also shows you that, even when you live on the other side of the world, some things are universal — like getting your picture taken at the bubble tubes, something I’ve seen every visitor do at least once. We spent a good two hours wandering the Aquarium, so Jonathan was able to see Maryland rockfish, sturgeon and horseshoe crabs. He appreciated all of that, since he wasn’t able to hit Ocean City on this trip.

20160328_204748

Jonathan really wanted to know about the city as well as the animals. He already knew to grab a crab cake, try Old Bay with fries and buy a box of Berger cookies. I figured we could make some of it happen that night.

crab dog

He wanted to get a real Bmore feel, but had to be at an event in an hour. I knew that if he wanted local Maryland beer and seafood, the best place close by was none other than my fave, Heavy Seas Alehouse.

Our awesome waitress helped Jonathan choose between the oyster poor boy sandwich, crab dog and crab cake sandwich — gotta go crab cake, man! I went with my own tried and true dinner of a foot long crab dog. We swapped stories of our homes while dining on lots of crab cakes, crab dip, Old Bay and beer. Just like a normal Bmore night, right? Well, with one Aussie twist: Jonathan brought Tim Tams from the land down under, so we swapped those in for dessert instead of searching for Berger cookies.

(By the way, tipping your waitress with an additional Tim Tam surprise is totally worth it!)

tim tams

Over the next few days, I wasn’t able to physically show Jonathan around (jobs are pesky like that). Instead, I steered him towards Hampden for some great music and dinner at The Food Market. And he enjoyed his crab cake so much, he hit up the Papermoon Diner for a crab melt. Before he left, he bought his own box of Berger cookies to take home. Rumor has it, his coworkers thought they were delicious.

I’m hoping that Jonathan and I cross paths again on the travel trail. And I must tell you, having grown up on crab cakes and Old Bay it was fun to watch someone experience the flavors for the first time. I was a little jealous! So if you ever get the chance to take someone around town, I say do it! You won’t regret it!

After all, what could ‘B’ more adventurous?

heavy seas

 

Going, Going… Gone? A Trip to National Geographic Museum

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Photo Ark at the National Geographic Museum

One of the best things about Bmore is that in a matter of moments (albeit very long ones) you can be in a different and interesting place. Today’s place of choice: National Geographic Museum in DC.

Interesting because I didn’t even know such a place existed, but it does indeed, just a short 3-minute walk from the Farragut North metro stop and right across from the Defenders of Wildlife building, which seems only fitting.

The building itself is unremarkable in its architecture, although there are nifty side walls that are topped with small metal mountains that were holding water from the day’s rain to create the scene of them overlooking a riverbed. On the first floor of this many-storied building are changing exhibits highlighting the nature, science, history and wonder that is both the natural and human world. Think of it like a really extravagant lobby – one with paths and treasures hidden in plain sight. The cost to enter is nominal ($15 for nonmembers) and, true to National Geographic form, the exhibits are spectacular.

My reason for venturing on the DC Metro to spend the day in a building I didn’t know existed was the special exhibit, “Photo Ark.” Photographer Joel Sartore is on a mission to take pictures of every creature currently living in zoos, aquariums and sanctuaries from around the world. To date, he has taken portraits of over 5,000 animals, from the tiniest frogs to enormous rhinos.

The exhibit is a must see for any animal enthusiast, photographer or parent who wants to show their children just what this planet has to offer and what we humans have to lose.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Red Wolf as photographed by Joel Sartore

To say the photography is stunning is like saying the Grand Canyon is large. These are moments in time of the animal’s life. They demand your attention in a startling, intimate way.

The subjects sneak up on you –, as you walk through the draped passageways, you feel a quiet, calm insistence to acknowledge them. Animals from the smallest to the largest, familiar to unbelievable, glance, stare and peek back at you. Some are sadly already gone from this earth, memorialized in these portraits. Sartore said he wanted you to look into their eyes, to consider them and their existence. If you take just a few seconds to observe them, you find you do just that. Their eyes are emotive, alive, and haunting.

The exhibit runs through April 2016.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Budgett’s Frog as photographed by Joel Sartore (frog from National Aquarium)