Wonderful World

NYE Amsterdam

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I live pretty much just around the corner, but it wasn’t until last week that I finally visited Amsterdam. Every time I travel I lose my heart a little bit, falling in love with this new place, the atmosphere, the people. Okay there’s definitely a few places that I don’t have any urge to re-visit, but the general rule is that I fall in love a little. And with Amsterdam as well.

We did HomeExchange, staying in the center of the city in a wonderful neighborhood, having an entire apartment to ourselves, free of cost – for me this is one of the the best ways to travel. I’ve stayed the most amazing places around the world, and only had great experiences. If you haven’t tried this yet, I highly recommend you to.

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Even in the cold winter weather, the city is so beautiful that you feel like you’re walking around inside an old painting.

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IMG_2619In the winter, the Amsterdam Light Festival has filled the city with amazing art installations. This one is titled ‘178 bottles – one message’ and is a reference to the 178 nationalities living in Amsterdam. It’s created from bottles, lighting up while changing into all 178 flags, and obviously the message is LOVE.

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A lot of time was spent just wandering around admiring all the street art. IMG_2647 (2)

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I tried to do a panorama on this one, but it was such a narrow alley that I couldn’t get backwards enough.

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I do love Curtis Kulig and his ‘Love Me’, so seeing this made me happy. Last time was the Easter Egg hunt in New York.

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And then a little wisdom for the bike ride..

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And last, New Years Eve. Simply magical.

We didn’t get home until 6 in the morning – I can’t even remember when I last time partied this long and had so much fun. Btw I think this is the first picture ever on my blog that I’m actually in, even if it is only the back of me.

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If you haven’t been yet, go visit Amsterdam, do homeexchange, explore and have fun. And may 2015 be an amazing year with expanding horizons, valuable insights and a million reasons for gratitude.

Adventure itching creativity – let’s call it art

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Travel plans

 

These days I’m finding inspiration for the next adventure and my whole being is itching to just pick up and leave right this minute.

I do have a few projects to finish beforehand and so in the meantime I’m channeling all that adventure energy into highly creative processes; a picture I took in Hawaii plus a very fitting quote plus a little copy pasting and taadah- it’s practically art.

 

A slice of Heaven – spa retreat in Sweden

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I believe it’s important to prioritize your wellbeing. Whatever you need to breathe a little deeper, you should do that.

For me, taking time off but then staying at home doesn’t do the trick at all. I’ll go around in circles, not really getting properly rested and not really accomplishing anything worth mentioning, either. It’s very unsatisfying and within three hours I’m deeply depressed. Going away on the other hand, now that works! Whether it’s a borrowed house, camping or a nice hotel is not really important, as long as I’m away from my everyday settings.

A few days ago I finally did something I really should have done ages ago; spa retreat. My mom and I went to the wonderful Varberg Spa for two days of relaxing – it was a sort of trial run, just to see if this might be something worth doing more often. Turns out, it really is!

 

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The staff were professional and very helpful, the treatments were incredible, the food was delicious and the surroundings were just beautiful.

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Wearing a big fluffy bathrobe and being pampered all day and then fall asleep to the sound of crashing waves is definitely something I could get used to. I can’t wait to go on a spa retreat again.

There is just one potential (financial) danger one should be aware of; the seemingly innocent phrase “just put it on the room” is a slippery slope. Just saying..

 

Returning home, I brought with me an arsenal of new soaps and lotions, creating a spa kind of feeling in my apartment.

If nothing else, I now smell absolutely amazing.

 

~ ♥ ~

 

When you have the itch – but not the time…

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At least you can travel back through your memories..

 

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… and also, traveling shows can be an alright compromise..

I’ve recently discovered the show An Idiot Abroad and I’m equally amused and perplexed. Karl, the guy traveling around the world, is not exactly an adventurer and his attitude is less than enthusiastic. But he does have a lot of hilarious comments and this very simple kind of wisdom; the kind that could be confused with ignorance but really is not. Ricky Gervais is the surprisingly mean puppeteer who makes sure the reluctant traveler is confronted with the more challenging aspects of meeting other cultures and although I feel bad for Karl, it’s really entertaining.

 

Bye Bye, India

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So, everything must come to an end – at least that’s what they say.. The people who say that..

This whole trip to India was kind of an experiment – I wasn’t completely sure why I was going, I just felt that I should go and so tried to keep an open mind and let myself be guided by some inner compass. I think that turned out pretty well.

It seems the trip can be divided into two very different sections; the India part for the first four weeks and then mini-Tibet for the last three weeks. Very different experiences indeed. India was fun and chaos and as much as I enjoyed that adventure, mini-Tibet was where I lost my heart. Before even leaving Denmark, I had a feeling that I needed to go to the mountains – where everything else was up for debate, going to the mountains was the only thing certain. I never expected it to have such a profound effect though – and it really did. There’s the places you like for various reasons, you either live there or could imagine yourself living there – they live up to your general standards plus a little extra. And then there’s the places which resonates on a much deeper level, where your soul feel at peace and at home. That’s how I felt there at the foothills of the Himalayas, surrounded by Buddhist monks and immersed in Tibetan culture. At peace and at home.

The first couple of days in Mcleodganj I stayed at a very nice hotel with great reviews, beautifully decorated rooms and a nice family running the place. And yet, it just didn’t feel right. I had noticed a house close to the temple that seemed to speak to me but which also looked very closed off – definitely not your regular tourist place. But of course I had to explore why I was drawn to it and so I rang the bell and met the most wonderful Tibetan family and their hysterical little dog – and the next day I moved into my new home. The room was small (but functional), the bed was a single (but not too hard), the shower was a bucket with a cup (but nice and warm) – and it just felt right. I loved my little and very simple room – my Tibetan cell :)

Walking around the town and the surrounding areas, exploring waterfalls and amazing mountain nature, eating delicious food, meeting people and making friends – those three weeks didn’t feel like some vacation trip, they felt like life.

A few days before I had to leave, I went to the temple like many times before – but this day there was extra security and I had to leave phone and camera outside. Inside there was decorated with flowers and flags and a sort of audience area had been set up. Honestly, it didn’t even occur to me to go stand there (I’m just not an audience kind of person) and so I went upstairs and sat with the monks and nuns who was filling up the place for what would obviously be a full day of chanting. By then I was pretty certain that the Dalai Lama would be there and I was excited to finally see him. In the meantime, I enjoyed the chanting as much as ever. Then, maybe an hour later, people downstairs started to move around and the photographers got into position. We all looked down and across the courtyard towards His Holiness’ house where a group of lamas and security people and other important people were making their way towards the temple. First I saw his feet, then his whole legs and then the entire body of this very sweet old man, walking and smiling and just looking lovely. It was a moving moment and maybe even more so because I was sharing it with a group of nuns who were just as excited as I was. He made his way across the courtyard and up the stairs to where we were all sitting and after a short round, he went into the temple – and shortly after the chanting started again and it went on for the next two hours. Then he spoke – and laughed – for about half an hour and then more chanting. Obviously, I didn’t understand what he was saying but nevertheless, experiencing him in person was special.

The final days there I made sure to soak up as much wonderfulness as possible while also taking care of the last practical things like sending the last package, meeting with friends and buying presents. I tried to keep the balance between feeling sad for having to leave and grateful for having been there.

The initial plan had been to leave a few days early and then celebrate Holi, a Hindu festival with Delhi friends before leaving India. But I really had no desire to be in Delhi again and the Dalai Lama would be giving a teaching on the morning on the 8th that I was sad to miss out on. And suddenly I realized that I had been limiting myself, thinking that I needed to do the responsible thing and take a bus to be in Delhi early enough to avoid stress – when I could just as easily attend the morning teaching and then take a taxi straight to the airport. Okay, it would be a 10 hour drive and also cost just a tiny bit more than the bus but I really don’t believe in limiting myself beyond absolute necessity – and I’m not convinced that ‘absolute necessity’ was applicable in this case.

On the morning of the 8th I woke up very early and decided to just get up and head to the temple. On the square in front of the entrance I had a glass of chai, then bought a chapati and went inside. This day there was a ton of people, a ton of security and in many ways it was no longer my temple but was now a place for all the tourists who had been filling into town the past couple of days in order to see the lama.

A little after 8am, His Holiness appeared and took his seat in the front and for the first 20 minutes there was different rituals taking place and chanting. I was sitting with a group of elder Tibetan people in front of me and monks and nuns on all other sides of me. The elders had brought little dried flowers that you use for a symbolic offering to the teacher, the lama, and was making sure that everybody around them also had one, me included, and a monk sitting next to me explained all the formalities. For more than three hours the lama was teaching, cracking little jokes a few times and being really cool. I actually ended up having to leave before he was done because I had a taxi to catch but it turned out that he stopped shortly after. The entire teaching is available online;

http://www.tibetonline.tv/videos/999/jataka-tales-2012

I managed to zip my backpack – quite an accomplishment since I had bought around 15 pairs of pants, several shirts, a ton of yakwool hats and gloves and shawls and other presents. Three times throughout my trip, I sent home packages of stuff to be able to fit everything and still it was a challenge and I had to wear three shawls on my way home because there was no way I could fit more in the bag.

Me and my driver left Mcleodganj around 2pm – he was very colorful because of the Holi but luckily completely sober. I have never had any problems with motion sickness but going down the mountain with all the sharp turns, holes in the road mixed with the Indian driving made me so sick. It was awful and I don’t know how people who get motion sickness ever go anywhere. I didn’t really have much choice and just closed my eyes and tried to embrace the motion. And so for the next almost three hours, I was in the backseat in a kind of fetal position, clutching the seatbelt and with my eyes closed – focusing on breathing, not throwing up and really regretting  starting our road trip by eating a sandwich. The poor driver seemed a little worried and once he realized how crappy I felt, he tried to avoid the holes and drive softer. Once we got down to flatter grounds, I got better and we stopped for chai – both of us relieved that I was going to survive. Back in the car we put on music, Hindi pop, and now it was a real roadtrip. Driving towards Delhi I was reminded of how the real India looks and I both reconnected with the warm feelings I have for the country as well as was relieved that I was experiencing it from the peacefulness of a car and not having to actually deal with it :)

Driving is really meditating for me and a time for trance like reflexion (I really hope it’s a different experience for the person who is actually driving) and as we moved through the landscape, I relived the entire trip. It seemed like the perfect way of wrapping up my Indian adventure.

After a few hours more we started seeing a lot of Sikhs all going in the same direction, dressed up and riding sometimes three and four on the same motorbike and in caravans in big trucks. Apparently there was a very important Sikh festival and as we got closer to the city where it was, the traffic got more and more congested. Reaching the town where it was, it took us more than an hour to pass through and if we hadn’t been pressed for time, I would have wanted to stop for a while.

The festival plus a couple of accidents (other people’s) put us behind schedule and so the last 4 hours the driver just stepped on the gas and raced towards Delhi – I was struggling to stay awake but failed. At 1am we pulled up in front of the airport – the drive had ended up taken 11 hours and my body was not happy and my head was blurry. We said goodbye, I went in and through security, spend my last rupees on some snacks and found my gate just in time for boarding – perfect timing.

Sitting down in my seat, I noticed a foul smell. Seriously bad. I was a little surprised and very embarrassed to stink like that but thought that maybe it was understandable after spending all day in a hot car. And then I saw them. The source of stinkyness. And they didn’t belong to me but to the man sitting behind me. And they weren’t wearing socks. And they were gross. I was appalled and very irritated to find them right there, within my smelling reach, on an eight-hour flight. But honestly, I couldn’t bear bitching about it – I mean, what could he do. But I could bear to take a picture and then I used the flight blanket to cover the gap between my seat and the wall and that way blocking the flow of the stinkyness.

I slept most of the way to Frankfurt, spend two very boring hours in transit and then a short flight to Copenhagen where I was picked up at the airport.

I never like returning home and more and more I realize that maybe I should start taking that seriously.. And change reality..

India has been amazing. I have so much newfound inspiration and gained valuable insights. This journey has been so much more that I could ever have imagined it would be – and I’m not even done digesting it all.

In the middle of my coming-home-blues, I feel incredibly grateful for the advice of good friends, for the support of my family and for allowing myself to follow the signs and going on adventure.

A Day at the Temple

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Sunday morning I was woken up by the sound of chanting monks – and honestly, what could be more wonderful? At first, it was still dark but a few birds had begun singing and I could feel that stirring of a waking day. Then gradually it became lighter and more sounds mixed with the chanting and there was no way I could stay in bed.

I was actually sick and had spent most of Saturday being pretty pathetic – and as I got dressed, I realized that okay, perhaps I’m still sick. But how often are you in mini-Tibet, being woken up by the most beautiful chanting, chanted by the most beautiful Tibetan monks? Right. So off I went to the temple.

I recognized the chant as being the same as at Losar and I now know that it is the Tibetan Chant for World Peace. I’m still not sure if that is the name for the whole prayer or just part of it, the text takes up an entire book and there might be several chants. Before I leave here, I will find out.

The temple was full – well actually the temple itself is pretty small and only holds what seems to be the oldest and most important lamas, the ones leading the chant, a few of them wearing yellow half-moon shaped hats – the rest of the monks and nuns are sitting outside in sections covering three sides of the temple.

After another half an hour or so everybody breaks for about 15 minutes and then assemble downstairs. The downstairs area also has a temple, a very small one, and two monks are now sitting in the doorway of it, facing out (and actually facing across the courtyard and directly into HH. the Dalai Lama’s residence – I imagine him peeking out the window to see what’s going on :)). All the monks sitting as audience on one side and all the nuns on the other, first one monk, the two, then four, is standing in front of the two sitting monks, asking them questions and clapping loudly in their hands while doing so. The tone of their voices is sometimes provocative and mocking and the whole thing seems like some kind of theater.

At this point I’m very much aware that my body is challenged, my head feels very warm and prickly and a couple of times my sight goes black with little stars and I have to sit down and lean up against a pillar. I probably should have been in bed but how often are you in… Right.

Several times the standing monks are being replaced, the two sitting remains the same and it seems they are being tested. I’m doing the best I can to decode this strange phenomena but tone of voice and gestures etc doesn’t always mean the same in different languages so what I see as mean mocking, might be completely harmless.
One of the standing monks, one who have been particularly menacing, is finishing his round and leaves the area for a short while before returning and finding a seat among the monk audience. He looks exhilarated and very satisfied with himself, and in a very innocent and likeable way, like a proud and happy kid, with a bounce in his step and a bubbly grin. The reality of this performance is definitely something other than just mocking.

After a while I’m deciding that maybe I should go get some rest, it would be horribly embarrassing to lose conscience right in front of all the holiness, not to mention right outside the lama’s windows. So I leave and on the way I ask one of the security guards what is going on. He explains that it is in fact a test, he calls it mind wash. The monks are practicing and debating and every clap marks a question. His English was not the best and my sharpness not the sharpest so I will find out more – but I have read about the debates, I just didn’t know they looked like this.

On the way back I stop at my favorite cafe, OneTwo Cafe, for some breakfast and then back to bed for a few hours. The cafe is almost exactly between my room and the temple, it’s the nicest Tibetan girls who run it, the food is great and it’s overlooking the square right in front of the temple so there’s always life to watch. The yellow building in the back is the temple. Around noon there is chanting again and I feel better and so I head back to the temple.

I have never considered myself a chanting kind of person. I mean, I can see the purpose of it and I can even enjoy it once in a while but it has never been my choice of devotional expression. But this chant for world peace.. It goes straight into the deepest of my heart and it makes every cell in my body vibrate in the most beautiful way. Well, I guess I can’t really explain it but the effect is overwhelmingly powerful and makes me feel that if I could just sit and listen (at least until I learn the words myself), I would be happy – nothing more in life would be necessary. And that’s a pretty powerful feeling. I wonder what it would take to convince the monks to come back to Denmark with me…

Well, okay so anyway – for the next hours I’m sitting there outside the temple, surrounded by monks and nuns and chanting, being happy, contemplating life. There is little breaks here and there, tea and bread is being passed around, there is chatting and laughing, and just like at Losar, the chanting never stops, the intent remains strong. The energy being accumulated on a day like this must be profound and I can only imagine how far it reaches or how astonishing it must look through the eyes of a clairvoyant.

So Sunday was wonderful and I went to bed feeling grateful and peaceful and connected with myself, my heart and the whole universe – just how it is supposed to be.

Experiencing Tibetan Medicine

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The past couple of days I’ve been hanging out at the Tibetan library, expanding my horizon. The library is in the same little area as the government in exile and the medical & astrological institute so in a way you have the essence of Tibet represented in one place. To me, that place is pretty much perfect; the view of the mountains, full exposure to the culture and ancient knowledge readily available – what’s not to love?!

Outside the library, a number of very content dogs are hanging out. The dogs here are much healthier, happier and relaxed than other places in India – here they have their own place in society and are not just outlawed and homeless animals.

A few days back a friend gave me a tour of the area, including the astrological museum. I had been wanting to get an astrological consultation, which is a little different from our western classical astrology – among other factors, past and future lives as well as the influences of the elements are included. It turned out that because of the huge demand of horoscopes, the department have been forced to put all consultations on hold and focus on catching up on analyzing. They still had two kinds of consultations available; partner compatibility and death prediction – one I don’t need and one I don’t want :D

So instead we visited the astrological museum and that was actually very interesting – astrology and health are very much related as opposed to the western world where astrology is mostly considered on the more alternative side.

Then a couple of days later, I meet someone who is suggesting that I should get a physical by a Tibetan doctor. He says that might be interesting and describes it a little bit. There’s more to the story regarding that meet but that’s down a completely different path – let’s just say that I was ready to follow whatever suggestion he might have had. So the next day, yesterday, bringing a small plastic container with urine, seriously, I walk down to the Drungtso Healing and Astrological Centre. I think this was the most excited I’ve ever been about going to get examined by the doctor, it was definitely the adventure of the day.

The clinic is very simple and the people working there are very nice – the whole thing has got what I’ve come to understand as the ‘Tibetan atmosphere’, happy and relaxed in perfect balance :) I go meet the doctor and sit down and she starts by measuring my pulse – with three fingers. index, middle, and ring finger, each finger doing its own thing*. Very accurately she goes through the process of diagnosis, once in a while asking me questions. Afterwards she takes the container with urine and shakes it. She does that a couple of times, making little remarks about the size of the bubbles and such. I’m just sitting there fascinated and if she had let me, we could have stayed there all day, me asking a million questions. She concludes the consultations by prescribing me four different kinds of medicine, one for the cold that is creeping up on me and three other kinds for making my whole system get into perfect balance. She also makes a few suggestions as to what I should and shouldn’t eat.

Out in the clinic again I first go to the cashier with my prescriptions and then afterwards I go to the dispensary where they take almost 15 minutes counting the exact number of pills needed, carefully putting them in small plastic bags with little notes of guidance.

After the doctor, I headed straight to the library and spend the next few hours reading about Tibetan medicine, which is just amazingly fascinating – and not just because I’m easily fascinated. Its approach to health is holistic in the most holistic way possible and I can’t wait to learn more about it!

Okay, so the pills look like little goat poop, you know, the little round things that could assemble licorice.. They’re different variations of brown and smell very nature’ish. I’m supposed to crush them and then mix with hot water – three at the time, spread out across the day.

This morning I then started my treatment towards perfect balance. I don’t have a pill crusher here but the doctor said it would be fine just crushing them between my teeth and then drink hot water to flush them down.

My first thought was that the pills were actually harder than expected. My second thought was pure panic. The taste was awful! I wanted to rip out the whole interior of my mouth to make it stop. Horrible!

So this afternoon I tried to crush the pills, using two forks, and then mixing them with water. Two forks are not sufficient for crushing Tibetan goat poop but the experience was definitely less traumatizing and I feel confident that this too will lead somewhere satisfying :D

* If you should feel like learning just a little more about Tibetan medicine, the website of the Drungtso Centre is very informative;

http://www.tibetanmedical-astro.com/about_tibetan_medicine.php