Unexpected


The food in Spain is fantastic. That’s what I remember most of all. But there were also tourist sights to see, and of all those sights, one of the most arresting and memorable was the oculus in the Toledo Cathedral. It’s a gigantic hole in the vaulted ceiling that lets the sun in from a window above it to light a Baroque altarpiece far below. So unexpected.

Looking up at the ceiling of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul was a completely different experience. Though built as a Christian cathedral in the sixth century, it was converted into a mosque by the Ottoman Turks in 1400s, then turned into a museum by the founder of the modern Turkey in 1935. (In July, the Turkish government declared that the Hagia Sophia can only be used as a mosque, not a museum, and the mosaics dating back to the Byzantine Empire were covered with curtains.)

Hidden in the jungles or in the middle of vast lakes, the crumbling temples at Siem Reap were also built by an empire. I climbed to the top of several (fighting acrophobia all the way) almost expecting to see Lara Croft, but she wasn’t there.

Keukenhof wasn’t on our itinerary. Farms and gardens don’t excite me, but we were told this area was open to the public only a few weeks every year and we were lucky to get a chance to see it. Those are tulips.

When the Empire State Building is lit up you get a sense of occasion. When the Eiffel Tower is lighted, you think of diamonds.

The changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace is worth the wait on any day, but on this day, to celebrate someone’s birthday or something, the military marching band stayed behind and gave a concert of songs from The Beatles. Maybe they had a sergeant named Pepper.

Somehow, even more than Lenin’s Tomb and St. Basil’s onion domes, the star atop the Kremlin wall towers against the deep black sky drove in the fact that we had arrived at Red Square.

Walking back alone from a packed theater to the hotel, I came upon a lonely fountain in the middle of a large empty plaza. The great city of New York had turned all blue, no filters, no special effects, but here was a moment of calm, of freshness, of hope.

In the end it’s always about the food. It wasn’t quite up to the standard of our own top ten, but it was a joy nonetheless to find the Norwegian version of crispy pata.

Six months into community quarantine. When can we travel again?

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© 2020 by Dan Albert S. de Padua

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