Tibet Adventures: Chapter 3 – Potala Palace

We’re climbing the steps at Potala Palace, and indeed they are a challenge. Olena and I are panting as we ascent ever more slowly, and my dad is just a few steps behind. Considering he had another restless night, he’s doing very well. Even with a full night’s sleep and plenty of food, each of these 360-something steps feels like ten.

While we climb, I’ll fill you in on a bit about this place. The Potala Palace was built in 1645 under the 5 th Dalai Lama. After its completion it was traditionally the residence of the Dalai Lama for generations, until the current 14th Dalai Lama fled Tibet to live in India in 1959. Since then, it’s basically become a museum for tourists, though some monks
do work and worship here.

Now we’ve reached the top of the steps, and our fatigue is for the moment forgotten. The view from up here in incredible. I’ve been to many mountainous areas of the world, but there is something unique about Lhasa’s landscape as it mingles with the city. None of the buildings is very tall, so it’s the mountains that dominate the scene. It’s as if someone has painted a beautiful brown-gold mountain scene and added a small city as an afterthought. It’s remarkable that this city has been around for so long because it seems to have only expanded outwards and not upwards.

Entering the Palace, we come upon yet more stairs. Every time we round a corner it seems like there is another set of stairs. “It’s like at Disney World” my dad says from behind me, “They torture you by making you think you’ve made it, but there’s always still more hiding around the corner!” I agree, and suggest we make a stop to rest. The others go on ahead of us, and I figure we can catch up…

We’re waiting on the steps going down the other side. It turned out, we couldn’t catch up. At the top of the palace there was a fork in the road, and the group went one way and my dad and I went the other. In an attempt to catch up, we snaked our way through the palace, passing by other tour groups speaking at least three different languages.

I curse myself for losing the group and I’m a bit sour at Olena for not waiting for us, but to be honest we have already seen a few places like this. I don’t mean to sound insensitive, but once you’ve been to a monastery in Tibet, others are remarkably similar. I’m of course not saying that they’re not each unique and wonderful in their own way, but you end up a bit jaded when you’re travelling through them so quickly. Our guide is impressively well-informed and tells us about many of the statues – this one of the female aspect of the Compassion Buddha, this one of the 6 th Dalai Lama – but it all starts to blend together. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to absorb all of this in a week-long trip. Yesterday I started writing down little facts at Drepung Monastery, but I’ve since given up. I’d rather just enjoy the sights and move on, rather than feeling like I’m in school.

Ah, here they are. After twenty minutes of waiting and a dozen attempts at contacting our guide on WeChat, we spot our group coming down. Reunited, we head down the stairs with our group.

Ah yes, our group. Let’s take a look at them, shall we? We have representation from all over the world – USA, Ukraine, China, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, England, Wales, and Ireland. It’s quite a mixed bag but we get along pretty well. The middle-aged couple from England like to go off on their own during tours, and the Australian guy is around our age. Olena and I usually sit next to the Chinese-English 20-something couple on the bus, and we they’re very nice too. There’s even one other vegan on the trip from the USA, so we can commiserate about the lack of food options sometimes!

Now we have a few hours off before going to the Welcome Dinner. It’s a bit late in the trip for a Welcome Dinner in my opinion, but I understand that it’s only because the itinerary got switched around. This was actually supposed to happen yesterday, but the plans changed. Time to go back and rest for a bit!

We’re in a taxi with our new vegan friend, on the way back from the Welcome Dinner. We left early, because we felt absolutely terrible. Olena and I had thought it was a fantastic idea to split a rum and coke earlier today, and that was a terrible decision. If you visit Tibet, just avoid alcohol altogether.

The dinner was ok, but anything that was vegan was doused in oil. This didn’t help the way our stomachs felt, and overall, we were just dead tired. After the steps of the Palace, time on the bus and all the other walking we have done today, we just had to call it quits and leave early. There was apparently some kind of show, but we can hear about it from the others. No point forcing it if we’re feeling this badly. Let’s just go back and get some sleep… Tomorrow we finally head in the direction of Everest! Stay tuned!

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(Guest Post) CZECH TRADITIONS: CHRISTMAS

Merry Christmas from the Czech Republic! In recognition of our time here, I wanted to learn more about their culture and traditions. Czechs celebrate their Christmas on Christmas Eve (so Merry late Christmas to all the Czechs out there). The only way that it made sense to me was to compare it to how we celebrate the new year on New Year’s Eve. Regardless, what we (Americans) call Christmas Eve is Christmas to Czechs – Štědrý Den meaning “Generous Day”.

By Rachel Kitai (Guest Blogger)

While Christmas trees are readily available to purchase from December 01st, most don’t decorate the tree until the morning of Christmas Eve. At least to me, that makes for a sad room – just a naked tree sitting in the middle of their living room…for a month. Traditionally, they would decorate it with apples, candies, and other ornaments.

Please find the original post with more photos here: https://guyandgalphotoblog.wordpress.com/2012/12/25/czech-traditions-christmas/

Rachel Kitai is a travel and an artist, check out her art here: http://rachelkitai.com/

Dinner is also very important for their Christmas celebrations. You can read more about their Christmas dinner here. Not to spoil anything, but they are a meat and potatoes kinda country. After (or during) dinner, the parents rush to put the presents under the tree ringing a bell as soon as they are finished signifying the visit of Ježíšek (Baby Jesus). To the children’s belief Baby Jesus visits each family’s house as soon as they finish dinner, flying in through a window to have their presents materialize under the tree (I’m pretty sure he doesn’t have wings). After the presents are opened, family time ensues with playing games, watching TV, and the adults drinking beer (obviously). At Midnight, most will take their family to a mass at one of the major churches (půlnoční mše – meaning Midnight Mass).

Baby Jesus is exclusive to the Czech Republic living in a small town in the mountains called Boží Dar where a post office accepts letters from children (similar to those sent to Santa Claus). Unlike Santa Claus, Baby Jesus has no distinct appearance – staying rather abstract. If you wish to visit Boží Dar, the highest town in the Czech Republic, make sure you make a point to visit the Baby Jesus hiking trails where children can visit various fairy land creatures and complete tasks to receive a prize from Baby Jesus.

In addition to the aforementioned traditions, there are many superstitions and traditional activities related to predicting the future. Most of these are no longer practiced but I thought them intriguing enough to share.

In relation to Christmas Dinner:

  • Set the table for an even amount of people. An odd number of people brings bad luck or even death in the next year.
  • The first person to leave the table will die sometime in the next year. Everyone should therefore leave the table at the same time (so everyone dies instead).
  • No one should sit with their back to the door.
  • Hog tie the table with rope to protect the house from thieves and robbers.
  • No alchohol is to be served on Christmas Eve (clearly not practiced anymore).
  • After Christmas dinner, each person cuts an apple in half (from top to bottom). If everyone sees a star in the center, then it means you will meet again in the next year in happiness and health. If there is a cross pattern instead, someone at the table will become sick or die that year.
    Predictions/Superstitions:
  • If there is a young maiden in the family, it is common for her to throw her shoe over her right shoulder. If the toe points towards the door, she knows that she will be married sometime that year.
  • Similarly, if a young unmarried woman shakes an elder tree and a dog barks, she will not only get married sometime that year but the same direction from which the dog barked is where her future husband lives (Well, that explains the random women I have seen hugging/shaking trees lately).
  • If a woman is pregnant, she will know if her child is a boy or girl based on the gender of the first visitor.

Food-Related:

  • Place fish scales under plates or the tablecloth to bring wealth to the family (or smelly tablecloths).
  • Garlic brings strength and protection (no wonder it helps defeat vampires). A bowl of garlic can be placed under the table (perfect snack for pets).
  • Honey guards against evil. Place a pot of honey on the table to welcome Winnie the Pooh ward off evil and evil spirits.
  • Mushrooms are believed to give health and strength. Mushroom soup is a common appetizer to Christmas dinner.
  • A sheaf of grain can be dipped in holy water and sprinkled around the house to prevent it from burning down the next year.

Read more about Czech superstitions and traditions here. While they are all very interesting…they are also kinda morbid – “If you don’t do this you’ll die or get very ill and be close to dead.” Keep in mind that most of these traditions/superstitions are not widely followed anymore. They make for good stories though.

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Tibet Adventures: Chapter 2 – Lhasa Monasteries

We’re eating again, this time the next day at a buffet with our tour group. We are seated outside, and I’m currently devouring a stack of deep-fried vegetables. There are actually quite a few vegan options here! A dog circles around our feet. “Can we get it some chicken?” Olena suggests, “He looks hungry!” I agree and go get some, and the little guy is quite pleased with his afternoon snack.

Whew, it’s been a busy day already! How are we doing you ask? You’ve heard about our first night at 3700 meters, so let’s go back to when we got up and boarded the bus to Drepung Monastery.

Drepung Monastery is the biggest Monastery in Tibet. It’s not as old as some other monasteries we visited (built in 1416) but it’s huge. It held the position of largest monastery in the world for a while, and because of the altitude, it was quite a feat to explore. With our guide, Kunchok, leading us, we snaked our way up and down stairways, in and out of prayer rooms, passing countless statures of every aspect of the Buddha and every Dalai Lama you can imagine. Until the 5th Dalai Lama had the Potala Palace constructed, it was the home of the 2nd -4th Dalai Lama.

One thing I would never get used to on this trip was the smell of yak butter. They use it for everything, including candles throughout the monasteries. When you think of Buddhist temples it usually conjures up olfactory images of fragrant incense, but here it really smelled like we were inside a dairy factory… on fire. I can’t imagine how these monks deal with it! Is there a Butter Lung disease similar to the Black Lung that coal miners get?

Speaking of the monks, there are about 400 of them living in this place now, which is nothing compared to the thousands who used to inhabit it. In its prime, we were told there were 10,000 monks living here. There are several orders of Monks, some holier and more revered than others. I found it quite confusing that we saw some monks walking around in fancy shoes while tapping away on iPhones. It was explained to me finally that the lower orders of monks don’t need to abide so strictly by the rule of no possessions. This isn’t Zen Buddhism, where one should renounce all possessions, so I guess they have slightly different rules. Anyway, I will never get used to the idea of a robed monk sitting in a chamber full of statues of the Buddha, smoking a cigarette and chatting away on WeChat.

What’s that on my leg? Oh, it’s that dog again. Looks like that bit of chicken wasn’t enough for him. I’ll go get some more…

We’re in bed again, trying to sleep. Actually, Olena is asleep next to me, but I’m having a bit of trouble and I can tell by my dad’s sighing that he’s as frustrated as I am. Like last night, my body and mind are completely exhausted, but it’s difficult to fight the feeling that I’m not getting enough air. My head hurts, probably from a combination of real physical symptoms and hypochondria-induced fear that I’m dying… Eventually, I fall asleep…

And wake up feeling pretty ok. The breakfast helps a lot; there are a lot of options for Olena and me. We stuff our faces, and prepare for the day’s agenda: exploring the Potala Palace. If you look at the back of a 50 RMB note, that’s where we are going. Notice the steps? Yeah, there’s a lot of them. We saw this building from a distance in the bus, and those steps are going to be a challenge….

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Protein of the Future: Save Cows, Eat Insects – From Home!

The world’s first desktop farm for edible insects promises to do more than put bugs on people’s plates: Livin Farms aims to empower individuals to start a food revolution from the comfort of their kitchen. After months of research, testing and redesign, the Hive is off the assembly line and is one step closer to arriving at your doorstep.

Here’s what you need to know about entomophagy (eating insects). Millions of people around the world are eating insects RIGHT NOW. Yes that’s right, while you pick the legs and rip the guts from your gourmet shrimp, someone somewhere is chomping on a slightly different many-legged creature.

Actually, insects – cockroaches in particular – are most similar to lobsters. They are both bottom feeders that occasionally munch on some trash, are full of protein and are both a delicacy in some parts of the world. Unlike most seafood however, insects don’t contain mercury or plastic in their systems. Plus, eating them doesn’t result in the devastating by-catch of dolphins, sharks and whales (just to name a few). It also doesn’t destroy beautiful reefs…

The production of insects happens to be incredibly sustainable because of their size, growth rate and low demand for resources. Did you know that it takes almost 2,000 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef? Leaving your shower on all day would be less hazardous to the environment. I’m not even going to get into the inhumane ways that cows are treated and then slaughtered… But I do want to point out that the waste a cow produces (that doesn’t accidentally end up in your cheese which happens all the time) is slowly killing the planet we live on.

Eating insects might be surprisingly healthy and delicious. But just because it’s sustainable for the environment doesn’t mean that it won’t drain your financial resources. In today’s society, eating insects isn’t for those on a budget. Which is ironic, since in developing countries people are shying away from eating bugs because it’s considered “only for poor people”. This is where the Hive comes into play.

Sure, there are many start-ups that are selling insect products ranging from pasta, cake, protein bars and plain old fried insects. The Hive takes it a step further and allows you to have full control over your ‘livestock’, a.k.a meal worms. Entire populations that once grew up on farms are now so distanced from food production that they no longer know where their food comes from or what is even in it.

The Hive is an apartment-friendly desktop farm with it’s own climate that allows you to breed meal worms and control every aspect of their life. They can eat most food scraps so you can minimize your eco-footprint by reducing your organic waste. The food you choose to feed them will also influence the way the meal worms taste once you freeze them.

The cold initiates hibernation and once they are dormant you throw them in boiling water. This is relatively humane, especially considering that some scientists claim that they don’t feel pain in the first place. Let’s say that the insects do in fact feel pain, ending their already short life-spans early by forcing them to hibernate sounds a lot less cruel than what happens to intelligent farm animals on a daily basis.

In the last few weeks, Livin Farms have finished manufacturing, assembling and packaging the Hives that will be sent to 33 countries around the globe! The insect revolution has taken off with a blast since the EU posted a study urging people to replace their beef burgers with buggy buns. Although people have been eating insects since the beginning of time, entomophagy now has the power to literally change the world.

Knowing what we know about the health benefits of eating insects and the environmental impact of replacing meat with insects might very well redefine modern cuisine. The great thing about the Hive, specifically, is that you don’t need to sit back and watch the world change before your eyes. Order one today and lead the food revolution from your home!

The photos below are from Living Farms Twitter and Facebook page.

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What NOT to do with Essential Oil

Two weeks ago I discovered the wonders of essential oils and became a walking cliche. I’m a vegan who loves essential oils and I blog about it. But hey, at least I don’t do yoga and I don’t have a cat… yet. Anyway, it seems like everyone and their mother is obsessing over essential oils these days, and it’s no wonder why.

I bet you’ve already heard all about the healing properties. Some people use essential oils and other natural ingredients to fight off colds, stomach problems and even prevent cancer. Beauty queens look to oils to keep their skin young, glowing and blemish free. Others simply use essential oils as scents, either to diffuse in their homes or as perfume.

The lady who I bought my oils from had me sold when she described how essential oils enhance your moods, keep you serene and bring out your femininity. She was carelessly beautiful and smelled heavenly – I was ready to buy everything she was selling. Unfortunately, dōTERRA® does not come cheap and I could only buy Lemon, Wild Orange and of course, Clary Calm Monthly Blend for Women.

I’m not a complete essential oil noob, so I already had peppermint and lavender at home but I was clueless about how to actually use it. I was given a brief intro and warned not to drink peppermint oil, and I wrongly thought the rest was obvious.

That’s why this morning I naively added two drops of wild orange to my morning bath. Everything was fine at first while I soaked under mounds of bath bubbles while watching Netflix. I have perfected propping up my laptop in just the right spot on top of the toilet seat to give me the perfect binge-watching angle. At first I just thought that my leg was itchy until I realized that there was a nasty rash going all the way up my leg.

After doing a quick Google I found out that it is common knowledge to not put any sort of citrus essential oils in a bathtub. A lot of people get rashes from it just touching their skin! Apparently, that’s not the only danger of essential oils. So if you’re new to this trend, like I am, make sure to research the oils you buy before you use them. They could literally bite you in the ass…

Fortunately, my rash faded quickly from my butt but it taught me a great lesson. I’ve read up on the other oils that I bought and found out that according to many people you shouldn’t drink any oils because they could damage your organs. A single drop of peppermint oil contains 26 cups of tea worth of mint! It also leaves a tingly feeling on your skin just like Tiger Balm – so steer clear of your eyes when massaging your temples with it or you might as well spray yourself with mace.

If you’re planning on using oils as perfumes or to diffuse in your homes, you don’t have too much to worry about. But before you start dripping it into your teas or using it to treat serious help problems, please consult a specialist or preferably, a doctor. Warnings aside, essential oils are amazing and can improve your health, beauty and state of mind. I definitely recommend that you try out essential oils – and start with something more exciting than lavender!

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(Guest Post) CZECH TRADITIONS: CHRISTMAS CARP

About a month ago someone told me to be on the lookout for tubs of carp being sold on the street for Christmas dinner. I immediately imagined bath tubs of carp. Claw foot bath tubs on the side of the street with carp. Unfortunately, there are only plastic tubs of carp – no bath tubs. But to my glee, there are tubs EVERYWHERE. Where there are Christmas trees, there seems to be carp. A LOT of carp. For some reason, I have always been overwhelmingly excited at seeing fish in contained units – whether it be exotic-looking fish in a personal fish tank, sharks in an aquarium, or lobster in a grocery store’s tank. I clearly get excited by weird things.

By Rachel Kitai (Guest Blogger)

Please find the original post with more carp photos here: https://guyandgalphotoblog.wordpress.com/2012/12/24/czech-traditions-christmas-carp/

Rachel Kitai is a travel and an artist, check out her art here: http://rachelkitai.com/

On Christmas Eve, Czechs have a very large dinner – sometimes several courses including: mushroom/sauerkraut/fish soup as an appetizer, carp and potato salad as the main dish, with apple strudel for dessert. According to tradition, dinner is not to be served until the first star has appeared in the sky after sunset.

Anywhere from a day to a few weeks before Christmas, they will purchase carp from one of these sellers in one of two ways. The first way is to ask for the entire carp, alive, and then to keep it in their bathtub as a pet. The second is to have the professionals cut it up for you. Most seemed to be doing the latter.

One of my students told me about the year he bought a live carp. Per tradition, he kept it in his bathtub a few weeks before, allowing his children to name the carp (BIG mistake). When it came time to kill the carp for dinner, the children refused and implored their Dad not to. Eventually, they convinced him to release the carp into the wild – aka the Vltava River (the main river in the middle of the city).

Safe to say, I won’t be purchasing any carp: alive or dead. If I were to cook some carp for our Christmas dinner, I was told to soak it in milk beforehand to avoid a mud-taste. I think I’ll get some next year…when I (hopefully) know more Czech.

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