Travel Vignettes – from Moldova to Kyrgyzstan

Our Uber driver wears a pastel rainbow striped button down, a la the nineties. He is nearly bald with only a downy layer of white still intact. Just a few words are exchanged before he cranks up, what I assume is, Ukrainian rock music. Orange digital letters on the radio display confirm the genre; “roks”. He turns it up louder, clearly enjoying showing off what his speakers can do. Shouting over the music, Fatih and him play a game of let’s cobble together a conversation with the little bits of languages we have in common. Broken German, Polish, Russian and English are volleyed back and forth over the blaring sound in the hopes of making contact. Taxi conversation at its most basic and entertaining. I watch from the backseat as our driver’s arms open up and down like an alligator to indicate that the forested area we just passed was, in fact, a zoo. I smile as his whole body shakes and whistles like air escaping a balloon to indicate something of which I’m still unsure of. I stare out the window as the new scenery passes by. One of my favorite parts of arriving in a new place. Letting my mind go blank as I absorb a new environment, as I try to imagine about the land and the people, unconsciously comparing it to all of the places I’ve been before. Part of me wishes the music wasn’t so loud so I could peacefully gaze at the scenery rather than having my senses affronted by the sound. But then I stop caring, or more accurately, I remind myself to stop caring. I think of it as a small reminder of what travel is about — soaking in the unexpected and sometimes uncomfortable, letting in the way others do things.

[Layover in Kiev, Ukraine | August 5th, 2017]

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Weddings speckle the city like snowy bunnies clumped across a field. At every church, every open square, every park we exclaim; “Look, another one!” Each time, I take a look at the bride and linger for a moment as the happy couple takes the customary photos. Bride and groom smiling straight ahead at the camera, groom’s head in the bride’s lap, playfully looking up at her face. “What’s the deal with all these weddings?,” I say. Well, it’s a Sunday, in the summertime. So maybe we need to think no further than that. Still, I Google it to see if this happens to be a special Moldovan tradition. If August 6th bears some significance for weddings. No results. I’m left to wonder like a pre-internet traveler, and I find something nice in the not-knowing.

[Wandering the green streets of Chisinau, Moldova | August 6th, 2017]

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The heat hits us like a hazy wall. The air is dry and thin — mountain air —although there are no mountains in sight. The buildings are taller and more impressive than our previous location, all of them made of a distinctive reddish-pink hued stone. We walk through the capacious main square defined by its outline of colossal buildings, and I long to take off my heavy denim pants as we drag our luggage towards the hostel. Are we there yet? Funny how quickly in our journey the familiar, juvenile complaint rises up in my mind. Later, we will return to this square at night and be surprised by the crowds of people out and milling about, all of them congregating around the fountain in the center of the square. Apparently this is the meeting point, a place where people hang out and wait with their children and friends to see the fountain’s water show that plays every night at 9 pm. The temperature will cool, too, and the wind will come out from wherever it was hiding, picking up with surprising force and blowing particles of dust, or maybe sand, in our eyes — people and air both seemingly freed from the heavy sun beating down, weighing everything still.

[Entering Yerevan | August 9th, 2017]

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Walking through the streets of downtown Almaty at night, I catch a trailing feeling of loneliness in the air. Maybe it’s the darkened, wide streets filled with cars racing to unknown destinations, the nondescript buildings that lack any sort of cohesion or coordinated look that indicates I am, in fact, in the city center or maybe it’s the lack in general, the lack of any one element to focus on that adds up to this momentary feeling of nothingness. Walking to dinner, I try to imagine living here or even traveling here alone and the thought causes something subtle to creep up within me. I feel grateful that I don’t have to.

Later, walking back from dinner to our apartment, we stop in a supermarket and I’m struck by how just on that short walk alone the atmosphere has transformed like a morphing cloud into something more vibrant and more alive. People are out on the streets, dressed up, en route to their Friday nights. In the candy aisle at the supermarket, a simple question; “Do you know if this is dark chocolate?” evolves into a conversation and then an invitation to a yoga festival the next day. “You have to go!”, a petite woman about my age tells me, referring to a festival in the foothills of the mountain nearby. Back in our apartment, we start Googling all of the things to do in and around Almaty and our attitudes blossom open like flowers opened by moonlight. Who knew? Almaty.“We might need more days here. Maybe we can change our flight.”

[Almaty, Kazakhstan | August 18th, 2017]

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The stream of people was near incessant. My eyes flighted from left to right, taking in all that was on offer — dumplings sprinkled with dill and pomegranate, mounds of spices balanced in bowls, haphazard piles of shoes and slippers laid out on pieces of cloth, knock-off hand bags requesting my attention, as well as things that we could only point to and guess at. As I walked through, (most likely visibly) gawking at the sights before me, Fatih reminded me to be discreet if I wanted to take a picture. Here, eyes were on us. We looked different from most of the people around us, unusual perhaps. To me, it was one of those humbling travel moments that present themselves from time to time. A reminder for when I’m back home and encounter someone else who seems out of place or is a visitor just passing through, a reminder of how it feels to be in their position, to feel all eyes on you.

[Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan | August 27, 2017]

>Have you traveled somewhere recently? What struck you most? Tell me in the comments!

>Read more travel vignettes and follow along with my travels in real time on my Instagram page!

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