Rediscovering Home

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The bluff overlooking Fairhope Pier

Perspective is an amazing thing. I recall as a teenager feeling restless and antsy, always dreaming of leaving my small town for the great big world beyond. I eventually did, first to Kentucky for school, then D.C. for work, and now everywhere for life. But now that I’m older, (maybe) wiser and a bit more traveled, I have come to appreciate and enjoy the quaint lifestyle that I took for granted (or worse, scoffed at) as an adolescent. After traveling around the world and back, I can report that people just aren’t that friendly everywhere, sunsets aren’t always the breathtaking masterpieces I grew up seeing along the bay (read pretty much anything I wrote from China for more information), and a plate of fried crab claws isn’t the seafood staple that you’d assume it to be.

Now when I go back to lower Alabama, which is where we were for the past month on R&R, I can see why so many never want to leave. Granted there are still a few things that aren’t really my cup of tea (for instance, the social changes that occur ever so slooooooowly), but having lived in a few places and experienced multiple cultures I realize that many of the things that had me itching to leave all those years ago exist all over the world. Now, with my nuanced, grown-up lenses on, I see that home was a pretty fantastic place after all.

In addition to taking in the sights, seeing family and friends, and eating delicious food, we also contributed our fair share to the American economy, which included the purchase of a dandy new camera. I leave you with photos–taken with said camera–from the Eastern Shore, the quaintest area that I ever took for granted as a kid.

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Fairhope Pier
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Downtown Fairhope during First Friday, when all of the shops keep their doors open for the evening and host various bands.
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First Friday in Fairhope
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I could post photos like this until the cows come home. Seriously I have a ton of sunset pics. Can you blame me?
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Alabama: our flags are bigger than yours.
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Safari Party: quick vacay to South Africa

A few weeks ago we again took the opportunity to get a out of Libreville for a few days. This time Ben needed the breather, and while Europe was wonderful, it was really only a vacation for me since he worked most of the time. So he was due for a respite, and of course I was happy to oblige. We knew we didn’t want to spend a lot of time traveling, so out of the handful of direct flight destinations available to us from Gabon, we decided Johannesburg would be the best option. On the advice of a friend here, I booked a safari in the Madikwe Game Reserve, a park about five hours north of Johannesburg, and man am I glad I did. It may have been the best vacation we’ve ever taken.  I’ll write a separate post on the lodge where we stayed, but for now I’ll share pictures of some of our sightings.

Madikwe is a “Big Five” game reserve, meaning it contains lions, leopards, elephants, buffalo and rhinos (technically only black rhinos are part of the Big Five, but they are so rare these days that the white rhino has become an apt substitute for the typical tourist). We were lucky enough to see all five (even the black rhino!!!) during our three night stay.

Starting at top left, going clockwise: a small group of elephants at a watering hole, a lone buffalo trailing the herd, a leopard in a tree (photo courtesy of Ben), the elusive black rhino (a very rare spotting!), and a lion waking up for his evening prowl
From top left, moving clockwise: a small group of elephants at a waterhole, a lone buffalo trailing the herd, a leopard in a tree (photo courtesy of Ben), the elusive black rhino (a very rare spotting!), and a lion waking up for his evening prowl

Not to be outdone by the Big Five, plenty of other less dangerous, but no less fascinating, animals traversed our path during our adventure. We spotted wart hogs, hyenas, cheetahs, impalas, giraffes, and zebras to name a few. Speaking of zebras, did you know zebra is pronounced with a short e in British English?

top: cheetahs on the prowl; bottom: a herd of zebra
Top: cheetahs on the prowl; bottom: a herd of zebra (or zEHbra for all the Queen’s English adherents out there)

 

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A group of giraffes drinking at the waterhole (fortunately somebody hasn’t poisoned it)

 

The Jungle Patrol deems the park to be in tip-top shape
The Jungle Patrol deems the park to be in tip-top shape

After the safari, we spent an additional two nights in Johannesburg before heading back to Gabon. It was nice to be in a large sprawling city reminiscent of those in the States, but if I had to do it over again we would have spent only one “rest” night in Jo’burg before departing the following day. I imagine it’s a great place to live but as a tourist it’s just not an easy place to sight see and experience the culture. We did manage to visit a dairy farm just outside of town, and while it was quaint and fun for the kiddo, the real draw of coming to Johannesburg for us was getting out of town and into the wild. I did capture some artsy fartsy farm photos, though, so there’s that.

Irene Dairy Farm

 

I see London, I see France…

Recently, by some stroke of scheduling luck/karma/voodo/miracle, the kiddo and I joined Ben for a work trip, first to Paris and then to London. While life here along the equator is pretty great, the difficulties of a developing country can wear on you after awhile so this last minute vacation came at a much needed time. Full disclosure: at this point in the conversation I had intended to describe said difficulties with my quintessential witty prose (indulge me), but no matter what I wrote, it rather sounded like I was whining. Then I happened to listen to a recent 60 Minutes segment on Middle Eastern and North African migrants risking their lives for a chance to survive in Europe and it solidified my suspicions: I was whining. I’m not sure if I’ll every fully grasp how lucky I am to be an American, but that segment sure did nudge me in that direction. Not that the U.S. is without its faults, but at the end of the day we are so. damn. lucky.

So with a new reminder of the fortunate place I landed when my mama brought me into this world, not to mention a nagging feeling that the more I talk about my luck the faster I’ll jinx myself, I give you pics from Paris and London.

paris collage for blog
From top left, going clockwise: inside Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the Love Lock Bridge, a walking tunnel along the Seine, the Seine River, Notre Dame Cathedral
Moving clockwise from top left: the back side of Notre Dame; macarons (heaven on a plate!); inside Notre Dame; the dome inside The Galeries Lafayette, an upscale shopping center in Paris
Moving clockwise from top left: the back side of Notre Dame; macarons (heaven on a plate!); inside Notre Dame; the dome inside The Galeries Lafayette, an upscale shopping center in Paris
Next up, London! Moving clockwise from top left: Big Ben and Parliament, Big Ben, St. Margaret's Church in foreground with Big Ben in background, Westminster Abbey, front gate of Buckingham Palace, Parliament (with a wonderful bird photo bomb)
Next up, London! Moving clockwise from top left: Big Ben and Parliament; Big Ben; St. Margaret’s Church in foreground with Big Ben in background; Westminster Abbey; front gate of Buckingham Palace; Parliament (with a wonderful bird photo bomb)
I call this collage All About Hyde since we went to Hyde Park nearly every day. Moving clockwise from top left: The Long Water; a telephone booth outside of Hyde Park; one of many expansive green fields in the park; the pirate ship at Princess Diana Memorial Playground; the backside of Kensington Palace (photography is forbidden along the front); a fountain at the Italian Gardens inside the park
I call this collage All About Hyde since we went to Hyde Park nearly every day. Moving clockwise from top left: The Long Water (capitalized because that is indeed the name of the body of water); a telephone booth outside of Hyde Park; one of many expansive green fields in the park (oh the things you document when you don’t see them everyday); the pirate ship at Princess Diana Memorial Playground; the backside of Kensington Palace (photography is forbidden along the front); a fountain at the Italian Gardens inside the park