Around the World in 18 Barbers’ Chairs

Sitting in a barber shop in the coastal city of Split, Croatia, I struggled to answer the stylist’s simple question: How long would we be visiting Croatia? I had learned a smattering of Croatian words, but the names of the months had so far escaped me.

Remembering the calendar hanging above my head – albeit adorned with nude calendar girls – I flipped through the weeks and pointed to a date. As I exposed each month’s voluptuous model, the 70-something barber’s moustache-framed mouth curled into a mischievous grin. However awkward the method, I had satisfied his curiosity. Clearly I was in male territory, though.

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A Bittersweet Introduction to Malta’s Celebrated Honey and Bees

Our first encounter with Malta’s revered honey was destined to offer a bittersweet lesson.

At a Christmas market in the Mediterranean country’s capital city, Valletta, we first met third-generation beekeeper and retired science teacher, Michael Muscat. On that chilly evening, girls dressed in holiday hues sang familiar Christmas tunes, peppered with Maltese lyrics. Politicians delivered their Christmas speeches in the open air, and I shook the country’s president’s hand three times. (She was making the rounds throughout the crowd, Shawn and I were moving about as well, thus the comical trio of salutations.) Inside an adjacent tent, vendors sold everything from handmade jewelry, to carob-infused wine, to candles. And as we edged towards the booth operated by Michael and his wife Mary, they literally had their last jar of honey in hand.

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An Apple for an Apple: An International Tale of Citizen Diplomacy

As the midnight train bound for St. Petersburg rumbled through the pitch-black Moldovan countryside, I tried valiantly to remain asleep, but my attempts were futile. The cabin was cozier than expected. We had plenty of room to stretch out and we were given care packages filled with comfortable bedding. However, the atmosphere was sweltering hot and unfamiliar. Romanian-Moldovan and Russian filled the air, and even though the train was nowhere near capacity, the cacophony of noise made it hard to drift into a deep slumber.

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Grape Diplomacy in the Moldovan Countryside

 

In the late-afternoon light, the gingerbread homes of the Moldovan village, Rosu, were bathed in golden hues. The homes’ green and periwinkle-blue fences, and wooden adornments on their gables cast frilly shadows on the dirt road, as Shawn and I embarked on an evening stroll.

The wire arbors over the homes’ driveways were brimming with grapes wearing muted amethyst, plum, and seafoam-green hues. They ranged from smaller clusters to plump specimens, calling me to spirit away a bunch or two. They looked so tempting.

As I stopped to photograph a green trellis studded with grapes overhead, two women chatting on the street, called out to us in Moldovan.

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Exploring the Mysticism of Greece’s Byzantine Icons: Profiling Iconographer Dimitrios Moulas

In a two-room workshop that is dwarfed by the surrounding massive Meteora rock formations, 38 year-old Greek iconographer Dimitrios Moulas demonstrates admirable focus towards his subject – an icon that will soon represent Jesus Christ. With a delicate paintbrush in hand, he carefully draws fine facial hairs. After a few moments have passed, the hairs have been transformed into a wispy mustache. As I quietly watch the process from behind, it seems as though the artist’s and subject’s eyes are locked upon one another, in an intense gaze.

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Finding Harmony on an Accordion in Shkodër, Albania

The moment we stepped into the tiny Albanian bar bearing mint-green walls, I regretted having not been more studious in Italian class years earlier. The five gentlemen inside the Shkodër establishment spoke Albanian, of course, but between the two of us, Shawn and I only knew about five Albanian words. The seven of us rapidly defaulted to Italian, soon learning that we really only needed to use the universal language to communicate. Music that is.

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Albanian Beauty & its 700,000 Bunkers: Profiling a Man Who Built Them

As our minibus chugged through the Albanian countryside during our 6-hour trip, my husband and I inadvertently created a new car ‘game’ to pass the time: who could first spy a bunker as a new one appeared in the ever-changing panorama?

With nearly 700,000 bunkers still dotting the southeast European nation’s landscape even today, the game didn’t prove challenging. We saw a man leading a donkey past a mammoth-sized bunker, and then small ones clustered at the tops of hills, plus another pair nestled beside a home.

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A Vietnamese New Year’s Reminiscence

When I unpacked a red and gold Vietnamese ox ornament last week, it reminded me why I love travel: serendipitous events, cultural immersion, and the opportunity to mingle with unassuming citizen diplomats.

With today being the Vietnamese New Year, or Tết, it seems fitting to reminisce on a Hanoi happening from my travel memory bank that epitomizes all three characteristics.

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