Summer 2019 was the trip of a lifetime. We left our lives in Bangalore behind us and set off to make the transition to our new old lives in Portland easier. It worked out better than we ever could have imagined. Now, looking back on that vacation one year ago, it seems like different life. We went from seeing some of the most amazing things we have ever seen to living a life of Covid-inspired isolation, from living larger than we have ever lived to having the smallest lives we could ever imagine. For now, we can reminisce fondly and dream about trips to come.
Almost accidentally, every step last summer was just a little more Western. Armenia is in the process of defining themselves as their immense diaspora returns home in what is still very much the post-Soviet era. In the meantime, it is a country of lovely people and an ever-evolving landscape. Most of Georgia is trying like crazy to become more European while many in charge are still courting Russia. Georgian cities are cosmopolitan, and the villages we experienced in the countryside are holding tight to some very traditional, idyllic lifestyles. While Bulgaria is the poorest European Union country, the sense of national identity and pride is palpable at every turn. Sofia is highest on cities to which we intend to return. Then there’s Italy and France. What can be said about these beautiful, delicious countries with art and history at every turn.
We loved the parallels among the differences between the cultures we experienced. We went to public markets in Yerevan, Telavi, Varna, Pisa, Squamish and Seattle. We ate cheesy flatbreads in Armenia, Georgia, and Bulgaria, which isn’t even counting pizza in Italy, France and everywhere else we had more than one meal. We visited archaeology museums, art museums, and ridiculous tourist attractions everywhere we went. Most importantly, we came across warm, wonderful people all across our travels.
Some of the things that made living in Bangalore difficult started melting away. Cars stopped for pedestrians and drove in lanes. Stores were stocked with the things we needed for our meals. We didn’t have yell at someone to get what we needed. And we used clothes dryers! In the meantime, the things we loved about Bangalore started feeling way too distant. We missed the wonderful friends we grew to love in the two years. While we were experiencing rich and vibrant cultures everywhere we went, we found ourselves longing for the warmth and beauty of the Indian street.
Portland started feeling closer and closer. The unknowns about both of our job situations started looming. The work it would take to reestablish our home was feeling onerous. The need to remember the steps we wanted to take to make our lives better than they were before we left started feeling urgent. Also, our little nieces and nephews and sisters and brothers and mother and motherly and fatherly figures and friends of all types we have loved for so long were starting to feel within reach.
Some of our stats on the summer:
- Nine flights
- 14 airports
- Six trains
- Vehicles traveled in: tuk-tuks, planes, cars, buses, metros, ferries, horse, trains, gondolas, funiculars.
- 606,963 steps = 258 miles walked (Tom)
- 738,803 steps = 321 miles (Melissa)
- 18 museums
- Tom added four in Paris when we split up for an afternoon
- Untold gallons of wine
We built this trip around wine. Three of the countries we visited have legitimate claims to being the birth place of wine — Armenia, Georgia, and Bulgaria. Our favorite detail in this conflict was in an archaeological museum in Varna, Bulgaria, where they proclaimed that of course everyone knows wine was made in Bulgaria 7,000 years ago but the best evidence comes from 6,000 years ago. It just so happens that Georgia and Armenia both claim to have made wine 6,000 years ago, too.
For being such ancient wine regions, the wine industries in all three countries are relatively new. The Soviet Union used the Bulgarian wine know-how to supply its entire country, so quantity became much more important than quality, and they are still emerging from that backward priority. Armenia in its still relative infancy as a nation is developing the industry and making some interesting if young wines. Georgia is a completely different story.
The Georgian wine tradition is as proud as the French and Italians. Georgians still make wine in the ancient manner; the entire fermentation process is done in kvevris, clay pots that are buried in the ground and sometimes coated in beeswax. Families make their own wines the same way their families have made it for generations, so what is new to Georgia is the idea of producing enough of it to sell to others. Also, the kvevri adds a distinct flavor to the wine that people used to the French method of wine making are not used to, so they have started using oak barrels for at least part of the process for some of the wines.
Wine in Italy and France were of course incredible. We didn’t visit particular wine regions, so we didn’t get quite the great deal you get when you go to the source, but everything was so crazy delicious.
We finished the summer on the West Coast of North America. We flew from Paris to Vancouver (springing for super fancy seats!) where we were greeted by our friend Sean who took us to their home in beautiful Squamish where his wife/our friend Karen is the mayor. They tolerated our jet lag graciously while taking us on adventures around their amazing community, including hikes and the amazing logger sports celebration.
Finally, we reunited with our beloved friends and family at Hood Canal, Seattle and Portland. It was an incredible way to end a two year adventure that changed our lives. We were unendingly aware how lucky we were to have the chance to experience India, and to explore as much of the world as we did. Now, as we wait helplessly for the world to be safe for us to leave the three mile radius around our house, we cling to these memories with all we have. It’s cliche, but it’s all a reminder to live in the moment. When you have the chance to have new experiences, do it; don’t wait until tomorrow.
The past few months are also a reminder that no matter how big our lives, we have a microscopic understanding of the lives people lead. Every opportunity we have to experience someone else’s lives and listen to other people’s stories helps us understand our own privilege and blind spots. Understanding the smallness of our experiences opens us up to imagine the unimaginable and a world where our privilege is universal.