Category Archives: Travel

My Love for a City

White Space (2013)
White Space (2013)

This moonlit night, I made a long journey. A storm was on the horizon; a sadness crept up, the night I wasn’t prepared for. It would rain, I knew it. You see, connections hold us to places, strange and unexpected connections. If I’m lucky, you may wonder what holds me to Basel. I can write you a long story, I can write you a long truth, or I can lie to you. It’s true that the first day I was ever there, it rained. I walked along the Rhine, I seem destined to walk along the riverside. It calls me every time I’m in the city. Its vastness stops me in my tracks. Over the sunlit tops of factory spires, there are always clouds of smoke heading in the same direction. Such is the stability of Basel. It has held me into a solid state of reality and wiped the illusions from my eyes; the eyes in which I viewed the world. I never knew I would return to this city; I never knew I’d be connected to this city; I never knew I’d make my way back here in so many different ways; I wasn’t looking for anything but the openness of being away from my cloistered and suffocating existence; it was a time during which I had forgotten myself and I was only trying to find my way back.

So that first morning, I woke up early; I felt an excitement in my dried blood, an excitement that had left me entirely. You know those times in life when everything you have cared about is lying in a pile of ash in a shoe box you hid under your bed? Perhaps you don’t, I can see that it’s slightly specific. Nevertheless, that first morning, I was making my escape for a few hours. I won’t deny it, I was extremely vulnerable. I was like an open shell, you could reach in and pull out my heart, you could hurt me so easily; that’s the condition I was in; everything was so raw. So I dressed, I had my tea, I had some breakfast and I got in the train to this place, to Basel. My blood was starting to drum slightly; after so long, I had the space to just be myself, vulnerable or not. I remember getting off at SBB, the central station. I remember thinking hard about the direction I had to go in; knowing myself, my sense of direction is absolutely convoluted. I had to find the way, I didn’t want to be late on my first day. After so long, the bright sun was reflecting the mood of my mind; the wind was a little chilly but nothing more. But I made it, several twists and wrong turns, and I was there. In this green and white building, away from my reality back home; living my escape. It felt so good and so simple. That’s when I first met you. I remember, I wanted coffee and I didn’t know this place, and I was determined to be myself; outspoken and loud and free; I could talk to whoever I wanted to; this is one place where what haunted me couldn’t chase me. So I asked you, I recall, if I can find coffee somewhere in this place and you laughed. Out of all the rest, I just remember this first laugh. Was it my undoing? No, I wasn’t undone but I wanted to cry because I could feel life returning to something I thought had died within me. A spark, something, a reaction, some dregs of a lost magic. You see, when you love someone and they betray you, you question many things. But the worst is when you question yourself. These doubts, they circle around you, they echo again and again, they make you believe them, they make you believe in them, the lies, the reflection, the demons and the illusions. My personal thought demons, you see, I had them surrounding me when I first met you. But your laugh, your laugh broke through, just for a few seconds; clearing the mists of self-doubt and vulnerability, it broke through. How could you know? How could you expect to touch somebody this way? You can’t, how can you tell? You can’t. We don’t know how we may or may not influence people’s lives around us. And you certainly didn’t ask to do something like this, you certainly didn’t care, how could you? But you see, you did something.

After that, everyday, I had the courage to leave my bed. After that, every morning, I had the expectation of living my escape. After that, every second, I felt my power returning to me. After that, every moment, I gathered some strength, some remnants of faith I had lost along the way, the ones that were beaten out of me. After that, a new reality began to emerge, a new bravery, a new force. How could you tell you were the undoing of what I wanted to feel so badly? You couldn’t. But this story is about me, it’s about me. Your words, simple, little; your presence, silent but overwhelming; this was what I felt, this wasn’t something you intended, this wasn’t something you even knew. But drowning people grasp at straws… I had to live for something again, I had to live for someone again or I wouldn’t live at all. I wanted to feel strong so I borrowed your strength, I borrowed you for my one escape where monsters couldn’t chase me. There was no connection,there were no links, there were no bridges connecting Basel and my demons. When I was there, those 2 weeks, they were blissful. The clouds were so far away, I knew I was safe, I couldn’t see the demons, I couldn’t see the darkness, I couldn’t smell the fear, I couldn’t despair, I wouldn’t despair, I walked and walked and walked into you every morning. I needed something, I needed your illusion to keep me going; I needed it, and it kept me walking, it kept me going on.

For me, this is Basel. This is the place, these are the moments, this is the eulogy, this is the speech, this is the aftermath, these are the fallen leaves, embedded with memories of a sunlight chasing away my demons and reminding me of laughter. For me, you are Basel.


Freiburg, a montage

The Train to Nowhere (2012)
The Train to Nowhere (2012)

I took the night train to nowhere. And I arrived in Freiburg, the city I came to, the place that lived in my dreams. The first time I set foot in this town in the middle of the Black Forest, I got lost on my way between the University and the Hauptbahnof (central station). They are less than a kilometer away from each other. It was my first landing in Europe, my first day in a new world. From Lahore, where I never walked, where I couldn’t walk; everywhere I went, I drove. Where the heat was too much, the people even more and the world different in its entirety. But now, I was here. Dear old Freiburg… If you were my love, I’d tell you I miss you. They said I would and I didn’t believe them. The last day I was there, the sky gleamed gold like the hilt of a royal sword. It was a clear, gleaming gold; in it reflected every single day I had spent in this place; in it reflected every memory, tiresome, old, lover-like, happy, wicked, sorrowful and joyous- in it reflected every single day of my life so far. For a moment, as I walked on the trails I will now remember forever, for this moment I thought it was a dream. And I was afraid I’d wake up.

That night by the lake, when the fireworks lit up the sky like a thousand fairies; walking in the tall grass, drunk, stumbling and laughing; those days, when summer had started to whisper sweet words of hope; the cool evenings; bulbs illuminating the graveled streets; the footfalls as we ran after the trams before the last ones left. Those were the footsteps of my freedom; it was my dance in the rain; it was the first glimpse into a new world of magic I couldn’t predict would affect me this way. It was the expression of my belonging; it was the start of a life I never thought I’d have.

A smell of coal and fire hangs in the air even now. Summer is approaching in Freiburg; people litter the streets, in their shorts, their caps, their backpacks. Some are casual walkers, some are climbers. The children run, trailing their little wooden boats in the Bächle (canals) behind them. The world is different when I look at it from the top of the Schlossberg; Freiburg shines and glimmers and beckons. The Münster watches over everything; the homes with their wooden windowsills; the shops with their hustle and bustle; the old facade standing proud, right where it belongs, at the center of everything, in the middle, like a throbbing and pulsing heart, giving power to all surrounding it.

An Island (2013)
An Island (2013)

In the morning I leave, like many do. Freiburg’s always been like a train station, the station where you get off only to take the next train. Life takes you places; you arrive in Freiburg and everything is a bit of magic, a bit of luck. You make friends and these friends become your family. You make a home for a couple of years; you learn to live, you learn to love; you work hard and you take your happiness and grief in stride; things change, they always do and time is but one step forward in the steps of life. And the ones who come after me, and the ones who stayed behind, I will tell them all how much I miss it.

the secrets among cities: Street Art in Düsseldorf

It is one of those best kept secrets. You never hear anything about it, you never read something about it. When people talk of Düsseldorf, it’s about fashion, or an upscale sheen that’s absent in Köln; it’s about the Düsseldorf-Hafen (Düsseldorf Harbor) or the Rhine Tower, Rhineturm in German. All memorable places, of course. The recognizable skyline has become the symbol for Düsseldorf. It’s a beautiful city and it shouldn’t be overlooked next to its bigger neighbor.

Perspectives of Kiefernstraße (2014)
Perspectives of Kiefernstraße (2014)

As I was walking from the central station- the friend I was with promised there was something else here that I would absolutely love. He was right. I think this is Düsseldorf’s best-kept secret. You’re walking along surroundings that look ordinarily gray and dull and you turn a corner and suddenly there it is: a magical street full of homes painted with wild colors and even wilder imagination. It’s enough to say that I was dancing with joy. On this day especially, it was completely empty. No one else was there- just I, and the treasured explorer who had brought me here.

Kiefernstraße is simply delightful. In itself, it has an interesting history with regards to squatting issues that emerged in the 1980s. Along with the first view, above is a little grid through which I am trying to convey the atmosphere of this mysterious street. I am not aware of who the artists were, I am still looking into it but it’s slightly difficult because most of the information is in German (at which I’m not so good). Little trailers are parked along the sides of the street, painted in different themes; perhaps attempting to capture the aura of bygone hippie days!

Strange Faces, Kiefernstraße (2014)

These two pieces spoke deeply to me. The amount of work and imagination that went into them is absurd. On a sunny but brisk winter day, as the light reflected above the house tops, I thought to myself that it was worth it coming to Europe. The biggest pleasures are unexpected- not waiting in public places and famous city symbols (those are great too, of course!) but my ultimate fulfillment from travel comes from places like these.

Shadowy Reflections, Kiefernstraße (2014)


exploring the centers: forgotten treasures

Dreams (2013)
Dreams (2013)

From Konak Square, it’s is not a long way off to an old and glorious market in Izmir. Kemeraltı Çarşısı, the historical market of Izmir, is a trip back into time. Parts of it are covered by brick and mortar, parts of it are sheltered by large canopies. I walked along old hallways, on cooling marble, I still remember the musty smell of things long forgotten. Outside, the marketplace is full of noise and vigor; inside, there is a silence. It’s not an empty silence, but it throbs with secrets; you have to walk along those lanes and look into windows smeared with dust to discover some of them.

Along treasures and old things no one wants, antiques and what-nots dating as far back as World War I, I stumbled upon this wedding dress. It was ethereal, almost glowing, yet sad in its loneliness. Would someone wear it again? Or did someone wear it already and give it away a long time ago?

There is beauty and history amongst the oldest places in Turkey.  It is just waiting to be discovered by each individual, in his or her own special way. Izmir has magic; the city breathes and lives like a slumbering sea serpent. Kemeraltı is still not so far from the bay that you can’t smell the sea. Once in a while, a breeze will blow by and you’d know not that far away, there is the bay that leads into the Aegean Sea.

No, it’s not easy to forget Izmir.

exploring the centers: an afternoon in Izmir

Taking Flight (2013)
Taking Flight (2013)

So the idea just occurred to me… Why not start a series of photographs of all the city centers I’ve had the chance to see?

Midway through watching ‘The Voice’ reruns from season 6 (wasn’t Josh Kaufman just heavenly?), I realized these pictures, simply sitting in my laptop, are going to waste! On a side-note, as I like to ramble, does anyone else miss Usher as a judge on the Voice? I know I do.

Anyhow, this city scene is from old-town Izmir. It’s right in front of the Clock Tower in Konak Square, which is, incidentally, a lot smaller than can be led to infer from all the travel logs about Izmir- or so it was for me! This is somewhere in September, 2013- so quite hot still, but full of gusty bay breezes everywhere I went. This part of Izmir is worth exploring. It’s close to old markets, unlike the modern parts of the city, and has a different feeling surrounding it. Most of it comes from the scents and sounds of the hustle and bustle of marketplace talk, coffee brewing, large canopies sheltering small stalls and shops- a lot of places to buy nice, oriental souvenirs to take back home. The best part is taking the ferry across the bay- given that I’m water-phobic and terribly afraid of deep, unfathomable water bodies, it’s also extremely exciting!

(Taken with my trusty Canon 600D. I also don’t watermark my photos, so if anyone wants to use it, please credit it back to me. Thank you!)