Why do you do it?

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It’s been awhile since I posted anything here, and for anything this is interested, for that I deeply apologize.  I haven’t honestly been really into showing my feelings about travel for a while  now and for a very good reason (or twenty).  Aside from the fact that I have been incredibly busy with my day-job and have been doing a lot of baking, I have been in a real mental hard place for me, hence the topic of this post.

Why do you travel?  Really, why do you do it?  Do you enjoy seeing the sites or trying all of the different and unique foods that you find?  Do you collect things, like clothes or books or antiques?  Do you just love to have (collect?) new experiences and capture new memories that only you and you alone will ever fully appreciate?

I used to think that I travelled more for the sake of it than anything else, and I think that, some part of me feels that way.  I travel as often as I can; as much as time and money will allow.  I used to think that, if I could, I would travel all the time, just collecting those experiences that no one else will ever have.  Like getting lost in Helsinki and walking into a suburb and on the way home, accidentally finding their amazing amusement park and riding on the Ferris wheel.  Or being the first white woman to set foot on a small island in the South Pacific and learn what it’s like to really be the odd one out, in every sense of the word.

As I get older, though, I realize more and more that those really aren’t the reasons that I travel.  Here’s the real reason, truly shown to me as I started to cry (in public) reading a passage in a book from a woman much like me, who was in search of the same thing:

I travel because I am looking for my home.  My real home.  Not that I don’t like the place that I live.  I love my little condo.  It’s a perfect size and a real haven for me (when the dog downstairs isn’t barking, that is).  I live very near to my parents, with whom I am very close, and I really treasure that.  But more and more, I realize that I am not meant to live here; that this isn’t my real home.  I think that that explains, more than anything else, why I haven’t dated anyone since I moved back to the US from Europe the last time.  I just don’t get American guys.  Or most Americans, for that matter.  Why?  I don’t fully know, but I just feel like the odd one out and as an outsider here.  I want to sit at a sidewalk cafe in the evenings with friends, and people here don’t really do that.  I want to go out and drink for the conversations with companions that happens, and Americans haven’t learned how to do that yet.  I don’t understand baseball caps, tennis shows, shouting at waiters or the need to photograph, tweet and post to facebook every single aspect of one’s life.

I don’t know why people don’t go out, but rather, stay at home, binge-watching shows on Netflix or On Demand.  I get lonely, because no one but my parents wants to go to the museums and then to a cafe and discuss what was on display.  No one wants to just take a leisurely time at a meal.  Talking.  Eating.  Enjoying the atmosphere.  That doesn’t happen here.  Buildings are too new.  People have to drive everywhere.  People, especially where I live, aren’t interested in meeting people and making new friends.  Not after high school or possibly college.  They will be nice to you, but never will that really translate into an invitation to join them for a meal or a trip to a movie or anything like that.

And more than that, there is something singularly intangible that I cannot even put into words, but that makes me cry in the US and smile broadly in Europe.  Call it atmosphere, call it whatever you will, but whenever I am in Europe I just become lighter.  Almost another person.  I stop more.  And I mean that in the sense that I don’t feel the incessant need to always be *doing* something.  No.  Instead, I stop.  I have a coffee at a cafe or a glass of wine somewhere and just watch the world.  Or I talk to people.  And there, they not only talk back, they start conversations, invite me to their homes or out with their friends or even into the backs of their restaurants to teach me to make real dumplings, in the case of my time in Shanghai, China.

I travel because I want to find the place where I really belong.  The place where I just naturally feel comfortable.  Peaceful.  Content.  Where people want to be my friends as much I want to be theirs.  The place where I would be happy to just ‘be.’

I have come very close on a number of occasions.  Germany was the first, when I visited my brother while he we stationed there.  Austria was even closer.  I spent a few days in Vienna, and on accident I had a last-minute issue that prevented me from going back to Hungary, so instead went back to Vienna and never regretted it.  Ireland was close, but somehow, not as much as Norway.  There was just a sense of total ease that I felt in these places.  Even Paris, not speaking any French or even really knowing the true Parisian culture, I felt it closely, though I knew all along that it wasn’t *quite* the place for me.  Close, but just not quite.

In about a week, I am taking another trip.  I have chosen to keep it a secret to everyone bu my parents and two trusted friends, so forgive me for not mentioning it here.  I will say this, though.  I feel as though I am getting messages from the universe that this might be “it.”  The one.  I don’t want to jinx it, and I don’t really want to get my hopes up, at least any more than they already are.  But at night, and when I am having a rough day at work, I let myself say “maybe” a few times, and I dream.  Maybe I will meet a friend that I can stay in contact with.  Maybe I will meet someone “special” as my mother and grandmother would say.

Maybe I will, this time, not use my return ticket.  Maybe I will, but immediately file for a visa.  Or maybe this isn’t it, and I will check it off my list and start trying to find time and money to make another trip somewhere else to try it again; getting ever closer each time until I finally find it; sigh to myself, and make that call to my parents letting them know that I won’t be needing them to come and fetch me from the airport.

For anyone out there reading this – especially those that might feel the same way – wish me good luck.  And I wish all of you out there in the same position the same good luck.  I hope that we all manage to find our respective homes, wherever they may be.

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Good Company on the Train to Austria

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I was on a trip through parts of Europe, including Eastern Europe a few years ago, and at this point in the trip, three countries in, I had experienced both wonderful things and ones that I would rather forget (all of Hungary, for instance – I think that I might still be traumatized by that whole experience).  I had seen people eating mayonnaise on pizza, and others that introduced me to the wonderful baked delights of Croatia.

I was on the train from Slovenia to Austria, through the most picturesque landscape that I had seen in years, filled with lush valleys, rugged mountains and the cutest, quaintest villages of colorful houses that I have ever seen this side of Norway.

The trip itself was only a couple of hours, and I thought that I had the car to myself, since I had gotten there early and no one had joined me in the four-person car in almost half an hour.  Suddenly, outside my window, I see a grandmother with what appeared to be her daughter and toddler granddaughter at the station platform; the older woman bugging the two younger ones and waving and blowing kisses as she walked toward the train.  A few moments later, she appeared in the doorframe and walked through, sitting opposite me.

She didn’t speak a word of English, just Austrian-inflected German, as I quickly found out when I said hello to her.  She almost ignored me totally at first, too busy waving goodbye over and over to the little girl outside the window.  She smiled at me, and continued to wave, all the way to the point where we could no longer see the station or the little girl and her mother.

She settled in to her seat and smiled at me again, giggled a little bit and said something to me that I couldn’t make out.  Whatever it was, I could tell that this was a person that I wouldn’t mind spending a couple of hours with, happily just staring at the passing countryside, anticipating what I would encounter in the next country (Austria).

I had managed to snag some extra green grapes from my final breakfast at the hotel in Slovenia and brought them out to munch on a few.  I offered some to the woman, and although she demurred at first, a little nudge was all that it took for her to join me in finishing them off in a matter of a few minutes.  She took a few, then a few more, thanking me and again giggling and saying more things that I couldn’t quite make out.  I managed to understand enough to know that she was telling me a little about her granddaughter and that she asked me something about myself, but all that I managed was my name.  She told me hers, but as I have never been great with names, I can’t recall it.  I did manage to take a photo of her enjoying the grapes, though, smiling and with the same glint in her eye as my German-American grandmother.  Actually, she reminded me so much of her that for a moment, I almost thought that my grandmother was with me on that train.  It was a very comforting feeling.  We then spent the next couple of hours just enjoying each other’s quiet company and watching the countries, the villages, the houses, slowly change from one to another; the sun shining and a slight breeze moving the trees in the distance and creating ripples on the water of the lakes that we passed.  It was a truly lovely experience.

When the train arrived at my station, I said goodbye to her and thanked her for being such a lovely travelling companion, and then waved to her as I walked by her window.  She actually smiled back and waved to me as I left the station to find a cab to my new hotel in Vienna.  She, most likely, was off back home or somewhere equally comforting.

I have no idea what ever happened to her, and I likely never will.  But, I have a photo of her to remind me of her giggle, her smile and that delightful trip through the mountains and valleys of Slovenia and Austria.

Thank you, kind woman.  Whoever and wherever you are.