England in Black & White

While exploring the ancient cities of Bath, Oxford, and the quintessential villages within the Cotswolds, I was completely taken aback by the beauty of these timeless locations – even without color, one can witness the elements which entice one to explore these amazing places! These are a few of my favorite images in black & white.

Above : bicycles near Oxford University

Above : Stonehenge

Above : view of Oxford from the University Tower

Above : Castlecombe, Cotswolds

Ramsau – Quintessential Village in the Bavarian Alps

We found it. An off the beaten path destination that stole our hearts. That made time feel as if it stood still. Tucked away in the Bavarian Alps lies the quiet, little, quintessential, dream-like village of Ramsau.  Our timing of arriving in this village could not have been more perfect. We got to feel like locals as we were there when the annual Maibaumfest was taking place. There were no swarms of tourists, making one feel as though you were a part of the town. We stood among the villagers as we watched the local men use wooden stilts to lift up the towering may pole. This daunting task took close to an hour. We watched in wonder as our hearts danced to the sound of the German music playing all around us. The accordion, French horn and, euphonium played loudly, and I felt happiness fill my soul with each note that played. Everyone, from young to old, was dressed in their lederhosen and dirndls.

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One of my favorite moments of that day was sneaking off away from the festivities to explore the village. We had it to ourselves, as everyone was at the Maibaumfest, and it felt like we were in a ghost town. Just us. No greater feeling than to have a place all to yourselves to explore! After walking through the small town and peeking in to the old church, we made our way across the bridge that took us to the other side of the gently-streaming river. I will never forget sitting on the wooden bench and staring at the iconic view of the river and bridge in the foreground and the beautiful, white church in the background, and the Bavarian Alps, covered in snow, completing the picturesque scene. It was then that I felt very present, and I wanted that moment to last forever. How I long for the day when we return to this place where time stood still!

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“We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.” ~Pascal Mercier

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Camel Trekking (and other wanderings) in the Sultanate of Oman

What does it mean for one to “travel with no compass”? I suppose this quote could take on a myriad of meanings depending on the individual contemplating it. I suppose this quote could be answered in a literal manner, however I choose to answer it this way: to travel “with no compass” means to uproot from the certainty of the present and move forward beyond what is known – beyond what is comfortable and to be outside of one’s element, with no route mapped — to be off the beaten path.

 

Throughout all my travels, there is but one place I can state I’ve traveled to “with no compass” – only one place I can claim to have wandered far from the pavement [this] one place being the Bidiyah Desert in the Sultanate of Oman.

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Oman is an Arab country situated on the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula holding land borders with the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. Oman, while surrounded by nations currently at odds with one another, remains a peaceful nation, void of the violence and political upheavals we read about so often in the Middle East. This is one of the reasons which drew me to explore this stunningly beautiful, Middle Eastern nation.

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Prior to arriving in Oman, I knew only one thing would remain a certainty throughout my time, that is, I would be without my travel companion, my wife. My wife has been by my side during every adventure since marrying in 2011. In Oman, this would be different. I knew my travels in Oman would be without the comfort of family or friend, while unsettling to some degree, this fact was also exciting.

 

My adventure began the moment I stepped off the plane and on to the hot tarmac at the small airport in Muscat (the capital of Oman). As I gazed out towards the distant mountains which surround the capital city, I could feel the difference in the air -a difference which I was hoping to find – a difference which equated to a true adventure. I had wanted to experience something as opposite from anything or anywhere I had known. Oman was just the place to discover what it’s like to travel outside of my comfort zone — the food, culture, religion, smells. . . everything about this place was unfamiliar, which was exactly how I hoped it would be.

 

As I attempted to speak to the country officials regarding my visa and confirm my visa status and advise that “yes, the photo of the blond haired, green-eyed man on the passport is me!”.

 

After obtaining my visa and making my way through immigration control, I rushed through the crowds of men, all dressed in their finest white dishdashas, and hailed the first cab I saw. My cab driver, who didn’t speak a word of English, finally understood my request “…take me to my hotel…the Grand Saif…I need sleep…”. Sleep – ah yes, something which seemed as foreign to me as the land I was in, as it had been roughly 30 hours since my one-minute shut-eye.

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Without the wonderful company of my wife as my travel partner, I did manage to employ a local Omani guide, Ahmed, who proved to be not only an expert on all things ‘Middle Eastern’, but also a self-proclaimed sand dune off-road driver, conversationalist, haggler, and a heck of a great friend.

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The morning following my arrival, Ahmed met me bright and early at my hotel for our pre-departure breakfast, which consisted of Arabic dates and hot lemon tea, both of which were amazing. Ahmed shared with me a few tips about the desert adventure we were soon to embark on and what activities lay ahead of us, including “dune bashing”, camel riding, and what amenities existed (or rather did not exist) in the villages near the Bidiyah Desert. Learning about the conditions of the desert, and more particularly the camp site, made me happy my wife did not join me on this adventure. This was going to bring the term ‘roughing it’ to an entirely new level.

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Ahmed gladly loaded up my gear in his 4×4 Nissan SUV and we hit the road to our remote camp-site tucked away in the desert. The drive from Muscat to the Bidiyah Desert is approximately 3 hours. The tall minarets which filled the Muscat sky faded quickly as we reached the outskirts of the city and were replaced by rocky, dry mountains, dotted with wild sheep and goats…and the occasional camel.

 

After driving the curvy roads through the craggy mountains, we soon reached the fringe of the Bidiyah Desert. The fringes are ‘no man’s land’, quite literally. The only form of life I saw for miles prior to reaching our desert camp site was a few random skinny camels munching on dry weeds which had sprouted from the dry earth. We took a hard right from the highway and were en route via the one and only desert road which would take us to our camp site tucked away in the golden sand dunes ahead of us.

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Before reaching the camp site, Ahmed thought it wise to go ahead and show this Westerner what “dune bashing” was all about. Dune bashing, which consists of driving a 4×4 at high speeds up through the desert is an experience I will never forget – it was both exciting and quite terrifying! I was sure we were soon to meet our death, but obviously I was wrong.

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Next on the agenda was to meet the local Bedouins who had established the camp site where I would call home. The tents were as one would expect, canvas, upheld by palm tree trunks, and open-aired. Everything about this experience was traditional and again, shocking, but absolutely amazing! Throughout my time in the Desert, I witnessed the sun setting behind the seemingly endless sea of dunes. I rode camel-back during the early morning hours and heard not a sound other than the camel hooves slapping the sand as we ventured deep in to the dunes. I slept under the Arabian sky in my Bedouin tent and watched the stars shine like I have never seen before.

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Everything I experienced while in the Bidiyah Desert will remain in my memory for all time and will keep me interested in returning to Oman again and again.

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Traveling Without A Compass

From the time I was a little girl, I have always been a daydreamer. In school, I remember finding my mind drifting off and imagining and dreaming up my life when I grew up. I always have been a romantic, and so most of my daydreams involved a handsome prince riding in on his white horse to the castle where I was stuck and rescuing me. Just like the fairytale stories, I envisioned being taken away from all I’d ever known, and riding off into the distance where the unknown existed. Where the unknown was new, scary, and unfamiliar, making it all the more alluring. I dreamed of distant lands and being caught up in all kinds of adventures.

I experienced my first true taste of travel when I was in college. I found myself in Mexico, which was indeed a distant land to this girl who had never been out of the country before, and had spent all of her travels in the States, mostly in her home state of Texas.

Being on foreign soil for the first time, I was enamored with this place where everything was different from everything I’d ever seen. I fell in love with the feeling of being immersed in the unfamiliar – the unknown. I didn’t know the language, but it was so beautiful to me and I desperately wanted to be fluent so that I could carry on conversations with the locals. I wanted to soak up everything – this new, exciting, and vibrant culture that was so different from the culture back home. This time being abroad made me realize there was so much to learn – there was a whole world to see. While living with a local missionary family for six weeks in the colorful, culturally infused city of Guanajuato, I got a feel for what “real life” was like in a foreign land. I learned, along the way, that I have a deep appreciation for other cultures. I learned that I had a wanderlust spirit within me, and I soon found myself praying to find someone with this same type of blood flowing within their veins.

My prince finally came riding in on his white horse in the winter of 2009. His name was Josh, and I fell head over heels in love with him within a week of first meeting him. One of our first conversations, we were riding in his pickup truck on the way to our first date, and he told me of his most recent travels to London, where he had studied abroad. He spoke of his love for photography (one of my own passions) and we soon learned that we shared the same dream . . . to work for National Geographic one day and to live our lives traveling the world. “Who was this boy?” I thought to myself, and where had he been all this time?

We both knew right away that we were soulmates, that we had found the one our hearts had been searching for our whole lives, and we were married on the 30th of April, 2011.

 

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Photography Credit: Brandi Burkett Photography 

And so began a new chapter in both of our lives . . . we began to follow and actually live out our dreams. After being married only six months, and still getting used to married life, us newlyweds sold pretty much everything we owned, quit our jobs, said difficult goodbyes to our families, and moved across the globe. We moved over 8,000 miles away from our home in Texas to the dream-like world of New Zealand. While there, we experienced the ups and downs of traveling, including culture shock and homesickness. But we also had unforgettable adventures that to this day make us long for the Land of the Long White Cloud.

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Overlooking Wellington, New Zealand from Mount Kaukau

Since then, our travels have included Europe, Central America, and also Josh’s most recent solo trip to the Middle East.

Life changed for us in a wonderful way in October of 2014 when we welcomed into this world our beautiful daughter. Being parents has been a new adventure for both of us, and we are so grateful for this little girl who keeps us on our toes and fills our hearts with love and happiness.

Along the way of being married, traveling the world, and becoming parents, we have learned that life is unpredictable and that, we really don’t have a whole lot of control over anything. Life is a lot like traveling – in that we shouldn’t have our life (or travels) mapped out and like we are carrying around a compass that tells us which direction to go. There is no compass for life – it’s simply not that easy. And I am thankful that it is not so. Instead, I want to live a life where I don’t have everything mapped and planned out like I like it to be, but where I am a free spirit again, like the daydreamer I once was as a little girl. Back then, I was more comfortable with the idea of the unknown. Life is all about the unknown. Travel is all about the unknown. And so, though we may not always know the direction in which we are going, what matters is that we are going. That we are going somewhere. That we are moving forward.

And that we are always exploring new and distant lands, with no compass to guide us in our hands.

“Not all who wander are lost.”

-J.R.R. Tolkien