Happy Friday, and happy last day of August! Can you believe that tomorrow launches us into September?
I usually try to hold out until fall actually begins before I get too wrapped up in autumnal culinary pursuits, but I couldn’t resist baking off a batch of pumpkin streusel muffins this week. I will blame it on pregnancy dreams, as I had back-to-back nights where pumpkin donuts featured heavily, but I also know that I’m just excited to start introducing pumpkin, squash, soups, potatoes, and other comfort foods back into our meal rotation. The only issue is that M and I have a fundamental disagreement on the maximum temperature that is appropriate for soup-making; he thinks it’s unacceptable unless it’s below 50°F outside, I feel that it’s a year-round food but will acquiesce to a limit of 70°F.
Marriage is all about compromise, people.
Anyway, I hope your September gets off to an excellent start! Here are some things I’ve been loving lately to close the door on August!
This selection to the National Geographic Short Film Showcase highlights the Mauritania Railway, a 700+ kilometer train line that runs between the iron ore mining outpost of Zouerate deep in the Sahara and Nouadhibou, a port city on the country’s coast. Traveling almost 440 miles through the empty expanses of the largest non-polar desert on earth, the train is a vital lifeline for the people who live along its route, many of whom still follow a nomadic way of life.
We also meet Malick, who makes a living transporting fish from the coast to the sell in the interior. Watching him and his fellows at work, I was given a new appreciation for human entrepreneurship and perseverance. Passenger cars on the train are rare, and merchants like Malick often traverse the route perched atop the hopper cars, at the mercy of the blistering desert sun. Without these intrepid travelers, the people along the route would have little to no access to such basic survival necessities as water and fuel.
I appreciated this quiet, modest film for the glimpse it gave into a country whose name many of us may not even recognize. Watching the coal-laden train rumble through the vast sandy landscapes of the Sahara, it’s amazing to think that people are able to survive in such a harsh environment. At the same time, there’s a red, lonely beauty to the desert that is very stirring, and you can feel the people’s deep connection to the place. It’s definitely worth twelve minutes of your time.
As I’ve mentioned before, I am pretty far from what would be considered a luxury traveler. I have never flown first class internationally, I’ve spent a lot of nights in hostels or Couchsurfing in strangers’ homes, and I am a stranger to the taste of a Michelin-starred dish. While I am willing to spend money on experiences that I deem worth the splurge, my travel thus far has been decidedly low-key and modest, comparatively speaking.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes pine for the finer side of vacationing. I’ve told M multiple times that one of my bucket list travel experiences is to stay in a luxurious, stupidly-expensive hotel in an incredibly beautiful or exciting location. (I’m thinking an unparalleled overwater bungalow in the South Pacific or a remote luxury eco-lodge in the Andes… something unique and worth the indulgence.) Another box I’d like to check is to fly ultra-first class; you know, to have an airplane ticket that entitles me to my own cabin complete with a full bed. Even small luxuries like splurging for a private tour guide or treating ourselves to an expensive, high-quality dinner at a famous restaurant have their appeal.
Regardless of what your particular brand of luxury travel dreaming might be, this article from The New York Times provides tips for how to have upscale experiences for less in some of the world’s most desirable but financially-intimidating destinations. Think it as having your Michelin-starred cake and eating it, too.
The featured cities include Hong Kong, New York, London, Paris, Mumbai, and others, and each has a short list of great ways to save some cash without sacrificing your experience. Some of the best and most common tips include visiting outside of peak travel seasons, splurging on a fancy lunch or tea rather than dinner, walking or using public transportation instead of hiring expensive taxis, and finding hidden cultural gems to visit for less than you’d spend on more famous alternatives.
Even if you’re not looking to luxuriate on your next vacation, it’s worth looking over these tips for some interesting ways to save money!
I tore through this book during my last work trip, devouring it over the course of my flights to and from Chicago. It was a quick, gorgeously-written read, the kind perfect for a day on the beach or an airplane ride, but I also really appreciated the depth of the story and characters and how much it made me think.
The novel follows two women: Elisa, the daughter of a sugar magnate who falls in love with a revolutionary as she watches the world fall down around her; and her granddaughter, Marisol, who has been raised in Florida among the wistful remembrances and righteous anger of the exiled Cuban population there. When Marisol returns to Cuba to scatter her grandmother’s ashes,
[she] comes face-to-face with the contrast of Cuba’s tropical, timeless beauty and its perilous political climate. When more family history comes to light and Marisol finds herself attracted to a man with secrets of his own, she’ll need the lessons of her grandmother’s past to help her understand the true meaning of courage. (source)
This book brought to life the hopes, dreams, and struggles of the Cuban people in a way that I had never experienced, and I feel like I learned a lot even though it was a work of fiction. I especially appreciated how the author explored the complicated web of priorities, values, and political ideologies expressed by Cubans from all walks of life from the 1950’s onward. While she didn’t pull any punches with regard to the brutality of the communist regime immediately following President Batista’s flight or its severe repression in the years since, she also gave legitimacy to those who were desperate for change and willing to die for it. In addition, I found her handling of the “two Cubas” phenomenon – the people who stayed behind and the population in exile that has longed for decades to return to the home they lost – to be beautifully nuanced and provocative. It’s a deeply honest love letter to Cuba as it was, is, and should be, though that “should be” looks dramatically different depending on who you’re asking about it.
Since the death of Fidel Castro and the increase of American fascination with visiting Cuba, I’ve been ruminating a lot on the ethics of traveling there. It’s a complicated and emotionally-charged subject fit for a whole other blog post (and requiring lots more research), but Next Year in Havana certainly had an impact on how I view the island and my thoughts on whether or not I will prioritize a visit in the near future.
Have a wonderful weekend!
What have you been loving lately?
Where would you choose to go on a luxury vacation?
Have you read any good books lately?
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