What's behind your wall?

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By George Stone, TRAVEL Executive Editor

Crossing borders is one of the thrills of travel. I've been thinking about barriers with the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, a turning point in history in which an existential threat became a mere impediment.

Walls can hold things in, keep things out, and mark boundaries for explorations of all sorts. The theme of containment has inspired much creative wandering; the Berlin Wall inspired classic rock albums (David Bowie, Lou Reed, Pink Floyd), great movies (Goodbye, Lenin! and The Lives of Others), and Cold War thrillers (The Spy Who Came in from the Cold). For travelers, the Berlin Wall remains a pathway for exploration, even if the structure itself has ghosted away. Here’s our new guide for exploring Berlin, Wall and all.

Transcending geographical frontiers leads to bridging cultural boundaries of language, ethnicity, religion, and opinion. In some ways, the act of acknowledging a boundary is the first step a traveler makes. Whether we intersect with it, work around it, or just observe it—all of that is travel. What’s especially rewarding is when travel helps tear down walls we create ourselves.

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A student clambers atop the Berlin Wall, one of the first daring to do so in November 1989.

Today in a minute

Follow the sheep: By doing that in Idaho, you’ll find delicious cider and Basque traditions in the towns of Ketchum, Hailey, and Gooding. “When I moved here in 1968,” recalls Alberto Urango, a veteran sheepherder of 30 years, “every Saturday during the wintertime or early spring, we’d go to downtown Gooding, and it was like being in Basque country. There were sheepherders everywhere.”

Whole lotta Monet: French impressionist fans may be heading to Colorado for the most comprehensive exhibition of Claude Monet’s work in the United States in two decades, Afar reports. Some 120 works spanning 58 years of Monet’s life will be shown through Feb. 2 at the Denver Art Museum.

De-parked: What happens when the National Park Service turns over a federal park to a state and gets out of the way? Here’s a look at “re-designated” or abandoned parks around the country that you can still visit. Watch our film, Into the Canyon, documenting a 750-mile hike through the Grand Canyon. It’s now streaming on Disney+.

We asked, you delivered: Last week, we reported on our in-house travel book club, which has ripped through these 98 books, and we asked if you had recommendations. Among those coming in: The Wayfarer's Handbook: A Field Guide for the Independent Traveler, which reader Dan Dinkle called “one of the most interesting travel/exploration books I've ever read.” For our next—and 99th—book, we're heading to Peru for Mario Vargas Llosa's classic novel, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter.

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Celebrations by candlelight. Here’s the view of Saint Peter's Church in the northwestern Italian town of Porto Venere during the celebrations of Madonna Bianca. The festival commemorates the reported apparition of the Virgin Mary in 1399, after which the plague ended in Porto Venere. Every year, candles are set in the old town, around Saint Peter's Church, and lit in the evening.

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Overheard at Nat Geo

Photo mania. “How much are you willing to pay for a perfect selfie?” Peter Gwin asks at the end of this episode of Overheard. Would you stick your terrified kid in a cage with a tiger? Reporter Natasha Daly witnessed it. “His mom forced him to do it and then said it'll be worth it for the photos. And he came out and he wouldn't even look her in the eye,” Daly told Gwin. “I remember looking at him thinking like he kind of has a normal, natural reaction to this.” Catch additional Nat Geo stories on Overheard. Subscribe here.

The big takeaway

Roaming this big world. "Curiosity," wrote Freya Stark, "is the one thing invincible in nature." In her century of life, Stark did her best to sate her relentlessly inquisitive drive. Her 20+ books provoked fearless explorations of the remote deserts of the Middle East, Traveler magazine wrote. Stark kept traveling despite dysentery, measles, and dengue fever, at home on the back of a donkey or camel. A fine introduction to her work: Baghdad Sketches, first published in 1932, based on four years of travel, much of it solo, in Iraq and Iran. In 1972, Queen Elizabeth II appointed her a Dame Commander of the the Order of the British Empire.

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One last glimpse

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Idaho Basqueland. Thousands of sheep parade through downtown Ketchum, Idaho, during the Trailing of the Sheep Festival, which takes place annually in October. The state is home to a thriving Basque community.

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard. Have an idea or a link? I’d love to hear from you at david.beard@natgeo.com.