My Top 5 Man-Made Sights


Last month I posted about My Top 5 Cities to Wander. This month my Top 5 is about man-made places or things. These places or works of art hold a special place in my memories, my heart, and bring a smile to my lips.

  1. Michelangelo’s Slave and Bound Slave, Louvre Museum (Paris) – I have never been more captivated by art than these two unfinished statues. They are complete by being incomplete. I do not know how Michelangelo did it but there is feeling, emotion in those statues. I have seen them three times and still my heart stops each time. 
  2. Eiffel Tower, Paris – Anyone who knows me, knows I love this building. It was among the first iconic buildings I had seen when I first visited Europe and has been imprinted on my heart ever since.  I have been to the top twice, once on my birthday where I drank sweet sweet champagne with my sister and friends.  If I had never seen Michelangelo’s Slaves this building would be number one.
  3. Petronas Twin Towers, Kuala Lumpur – The circular and geometric designs of its spires and the walkway them give them a unique look.  I learned of them shortly after they were built I had wanted to view them for myself ever since.  They did not disappoint. I think they are most beautiful lit up at night against the backdrop of the dark sky and city lights
  4. Taj Mahal, India – I had wanted to see the Taj Mahal since I was a child. For a short span of years I thought I may never see and tried to downplay its importance, that it could not be that spectacular.  Silliness really. Yet I did make it to Agra. A hot, humid and crowded experience that was all shed to the side when I finally saw the splendour of this magnificent building. It stands majestically and rightly so.
  5. Pagodas of Bagan, Myanmar – There are so many things I could put for number five. Yet the pagodas throughout Bagan are the first I think of. The entire area astounds me with the sheer amount of pagodas to be found. I loved wandering through the back roads on my scooter and viewing the beauty and importance of these buildings  to the people. 

All photos taken and owned by Eeva Valiharju / Wanders The World

 

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Michelangelo’s talent is breathtaking

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Gustave Eiffel’s treasure to Paris.

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Those brightly shining Petronas Twin Towers.

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The Taj Mahal, a labour of love.

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One of the numerous pagodas in Bagan

A Chance To Be Brave


The plan had been for me to blog about my travels and experiences from my trip to SE Asia this winter. I had hoped to spend time elaborating on my stories and adding some fun photos. I did make one entry after my trip here, and of course my Sunday Specials. I had wanted to write more yet I did not. It was not due to lack of time or content that is certain. It’s that the last little while has been trying, scary and had me deep in thought. Five days after I returned to Vancouver I ended up in the Emergency department of the hospital. I had unexplained and severe abdominal pain for over two hours before I realized it was not going away. So I called a cab (yes a cab when an ambulance might have been smarter but…) and was admitted immediately. Ends up I had an orange-sized mass on my left ovary that had either ruptured or twisted thus causing the worst pain I have ever felt. After two days and numerous diagnostic imaging tests I was told that this endometrial mass contained a tumour. That meant it might be malignant. They were uncertain and a biopsy was not an option (due to a high risk of rupture). Yet it also meant that it might be benign. It was actually good that this happened as the mass may never have been found otherwise.  The plan was to have it removed surgically and should it be malignant then the next step would happen. So in the meantime I had to wait for the diagnosis until surgery day – six weeks from emergency admittance to surgery day. Why the wait? They did not know for certain and everything was contained within the mass so they hoped for the best and scheduled my surgery based on that. If it the doctors new for certain it was cancer my surgery would have been the next day.

That gave me time to work a bit, tell friends, visit my folks, and try to process the whole situation. Cancer is one of the scariest words. Ever. Evening thinking that I may have been victim to ovarian cancer was tear inducing. I like my ovaries. I wanted to keep them. Thoughts of chemo or radiation was debilitating. Also having to endure surgical menopause was an idea I could not entertain. So I did what I knew best – avoidance. I did that in the form of not talking about the possibility of cancer as much as possible. I aimed to focus on the positives I was told. I had to, especially when talking to others about it. I gave it my best to look at the best case scenario. I would cry if I didn’t. Naturally it was not all positive outlooks and I was sad at times, worried. Though I held my own okay. I even had some fun times with friends and family. I surprised myself. I was anxious as the date for my surgery grew near and concerned how it would go.  A few freak outs and some bad dreams. Oh the dreams were awful, simply awful.  Yet throughout this wait I was wanting more than anything to have it dealt with and a diagnosis, preferably a positive one.

Finally the morning of my surgery arrived. Doctors and nurses asking questions, reviewing my chart and my best friend standing by quietly supporting me. I remember cool air in the surgery room and seeing the stark light about me as I lay on the table, feeling rather nervous. Then the anesthesiologist placing an oxygen mask over my mouth and nose. Then nothing until I awoke in the recovery room. My mouth was very dry, I asked for water and was given a small ice chip. The nurses doted on me. I was aware but still a bit groggy, anxious to hear the results. I slept some more. I was soon moved. I hear the news.

I cried a bit.

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Simultaneously the most unflattering and best photo of myself. Just received the good news (and dopey).

Then I smiled and felt immense relief. The mass, the tumour was benign. BENIGN! The sweetest word I have ever heard! I am so freaking lucky! So lucky. I honestly am so fortunate to have had such great news. Even my oncologist wrote in her report “This is excellent news!!!”. Since that surgery 6 weeks ago I returned to work as of last week (thanks to my sis for her help in caring for me) and have been fully discharged from the BC Cancer Agency. And my surgical scar is my reminder that I am so very fortunate. For anyone who has or has had cancer, you are incredibly brave and strong. I have no idea how I would have dealt if I had had another diagnosis.

So now what? I certainly have had time to think about a number of things. Some I share, others are privy only to my mind. Changes may come about and still things will remain the same. I am thinking continually now of so many things in our world and my life. The constant (at least I hope) is gratitude and of course travel. 

“When life gives you something that makes you feel afraid that’s when life gives you a chance to be brave.” Lupytha Hermin

Wanderlust


Sojourn, trip, journey.  Travel, wander, rove, roam.  Wanderlust – a desire to travel. The definition in its simplest form, in my opinion. Yet, it means much more to me and to many people out there. It is more than a desire – it’s a longing, an ache, a part of oneself that must be sated.  When not travelling I often experience what in German is called “fernweh” or far-sickness. I find this feeling even stronger than wanderlust. It comes in waves often lasting for days. I feel lost at home and the familiar surroundings around me, as if I didn’t fully belong. Other times it’s for a few hours or a day, gone a suddenly as it came yet its impact lingering in my heart, in my soul. That’s the strongest of my ‘travel’ feelings. When I tell others I want to go away during my bouts of fernweh I am never certain if they understand the depths of yearning. As for wanderlust,  it is the constant. Always there, an ever-present gentle hand guiding me. That part of me that craves new adventures, new sights and experiences is spurred on by that continual feeling of wanderlust. Even just the simple idea of being in another location is lit by wanderlust.  I gladly embrace it.

A Solitary Ride


It was my second day renting a scooter. I felt more confident and chose to venture out on my own. It was past the hottest time in the afternoon, about 3:00pm and the Myanmar sun was making its slow descent, casting longer shadows on the ground below. Today’s scooter was blue. I decided to go left as yesterday my hostel mate and I turned right. Starting out slowly I headed toward the main street opting to go where any whim would steer me. Still a bit nervous I meandered along at 20km/hour, often hearing the honk of others on scooters or the occasional car, alerting me to their intention to pass. I kept closely to the right of the paved road. With care I turned right onto the main street of Bagan-Chauk Road,  feeling more and more confident. “A bit faster”, I told myself while slowly increasing the accelerator. The wind on my face felt good. I felt secure. 25km…30km…35km. “I’m really going fast.”, I thought, well as fast as an electric scooter can. This was so much fun!! Now I began honking my horn and passing others. Pagodas dotted the landscape, rising above the yellow, dry grass. All sizes they came in. Some small, almost personal. Others grand enough that if you climbed to the top it would seem you could see forever. Some white, some gilded, yet most red brick. Numerous stupas were covered with scaffolding – a dispirited reminder of the earthquake that damaged so much of the region. I spot a collection of pagodas on my right and turn gently onto the packed sand path. The going is a bit tougher with fine sand yet my scooter keeps up. Grass and bushes almost a foot high gently graze my bare legs. “Oh no! – I’m wearing shorts”. How could I forget? I can not enter any pagoda while wearing shorts. I did not bring a scarf with me to cover up. “Well then”, I muse, “I will admire from outside as I won’t be allowed in. It’s still beautiful”. As I go along I take in the beauty of the area. I see no other tourists or locals making their way through this particular section. Pulling into a spot filled with 5 small pagodas I slow down to a stop. The air is still and dry. The hum of cars is in the distance yet I feel as though I am in a world of my own. Just me and the Buddha staring at me from the small pagoda to my left.  A lone tree stands to the east of these small buildings. I take in the view before me.  This moment is almost magical. I sigh, a sigh of gratitude at seeing all this for the first time, a newness in my eyes and my being. Bagan is filling with tourists as Myanmar’s doors open wider and wider. It is already host to more people, shops, restaurants, bars and locals constantly trying to sell items than I had anticipated. Much has changed in the past few years. I think of the stories I was told by friends who had been here only 3 to 4 years ago and what I saw today. Travel here was easier than I expected. Yet this moment was just me and the pagodas. A stillness surrounded me. I wondered what more could I see. I return to the path ahead of me and proceed on my afternoon journey. The land is covered with high grasses, bushes and a few trees with bright fuchsia flowers. And pagodas, always pagodas. The bumpy, curved path takes me to a moderate size shrine. As I slow and take the turn I see a brick fence and trees before it providing some shade. I follow the entry between the fence and turn back to see behind me. The yellow sun lowering itself behind this ample building gives it a glow and takes my breath away. Absolutely stunning. I consider stopping to take photos upon photos yet I am compelled to keep moving, to continue, to see. I move forward and soon encounter monks and what appears to be their dwelling. I slow to turn around yet one waves to me and points to the path right through their community. I make my way through slowly. A sleeping black dog raises his head, considers me, then decides I am not worth any effort as he returns to his slumber. I pass another monk who is on his cell phone – a quick reminder that I am still in the twenty-first century. Soon I am back on the main road. I decide to see how far I can go, to keep following this stretch of paved road. I long to stop at every spot yet know I will not make it far as there are far too many pagodas to be able to see them all. And I am not dressed to be allowed in. Nonetheless I take in all that is around me. Scenery so new to my eyes. I continue on feeling the sun on my body. Despite the wind on my body I feel sweat trickling down my neck to my back and droplets making their way along my calves to my ankles. The traffic is moderate with mostly everyone on scooters or motorbikes, tourists and locals alike. Dogs wander about now and again. Horse drawn carriages are more common as I come closer to Old Bagan. As I continue on shops, buildings and street-side vendors become more and more frequent. The auto and scooter traffic increases and there is even a roundabout ahead. I manage to maneuver around it without causing an pile up of wheels and metal. I wonder where I am and pull over and check Google Maps. Ah yes, coming up on Nyaugh-U, a town where I could explore. But do I go there or do I turn and wander the back paths in search of pagodas and everyday life of the people? I turn and head back the way I came. I stop at some of the places  I motored past. I go down a wide dirt path for some time. I turn left, then right and then straight ahead randomly choosing my direction. I come upon a neighbourhood, children playing outside. They wave and yell “hello!” I wave in return. The homes are shabby, wore and old. Battered wood walls with corrugated metal roofs. A woman is cooking outdoors on an open flame over a brick grill. Garbage is strewn in the street along motorcycles and a few cars. Random dogs everywhere. A scraggly ginger cat saunters by. I think to myself how very fortunate I am for living where I do. A yearning to learn of the history of this country. One that has been closed off to visitors for so very long and now is opening its itself to the world. “What effect will it have?”, I wonder.  I exit the neighbourhood and head back to the main street. The fading yellow sun is low in the sky as it casts a pink and orange glow on the horizon. My scooter must be returned soon. I head back onto Bagan-Chauk Road, no longer in need of my sunglasses. I relish in the ride back to my hostel. In a way I feel free. I can not explain exactly why and am not sure I want to. I am simply glad to wander. 

All photos taken and owned by Eeva Valiharju / Wanders The World