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.

Things That I Don’t Understand – Round One

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1.  Mayonnaise on Pizza (see:  Budapest teenagers on their way to the subway trains snacking on slices of mayo-covered pizza slices while trying to simultaneously walk down steep staircases to the platform).

2.  Remote Controls for Toilets (see:  Tokyo hotel toilets that I never did figure out.  At one point, I pushed a button and it started to play music, and another button apparently engages that uber-flush, but I never did figure out the other, oh, thousandish buttons that apparently all controlled that one single device that in China wasn’t even available, as they basically still used the good old-fashioned hole in the ground with a couple of small footholds on either side.)

3.  Kinnie (See:  Malta – Wow.  Who thought that the idea of a “soft drink” with the advertised flavor of “bitter oranges and aromatic herbs” was a good idea was obviously smoking something and whatever that something was, I certainly never want it).

4.  Umbrellas in Ireland – Honestly, the winds are so strong (gale-force, really) that umbrellas are no match for them.  You could always tell those people that used them from those that didn’t; not because you saw some people actually using them, but rather because when you got into the classroom at the university, there were those people that were soaked head to toe (those without) and those that were soaked only from the waist down, since they tried to put the umbrella facing the wind, so that it wouldn’t get pushed inside out.  Really.  At some point, whether all of you is wet or only part of you, just acknowledge that you are still wet, still cold, and that the umbrella was a waste of money.  You would be better served just downing copious amounts of tea to compensate for the chill that inevitably consumed you for a good ten months of every year.

5.  Cars / Taxis in London – I once spent about a week in London with a relative on vacation (I had been living there for some time already and really knew the ins and outs of London by that point) who always thought that everything was so far away from everything else and for the first few days wanted to take the atrociously expensive black cabs everywhere.  I tried to remind her that there is literally *no* place in London that is more than a couple of blocks from a tube station.  Literally.  You just needed to turn a corner, any corner – just pick a corner – and you would find one right there.  Why do people bother sitting in endless traffic, and potentially spending enormous amounts of money just to travel a few blocks, when the tube can get you there for pennies and in minutes?  I will never understand that.

6.  Cars in Malta – You can *walk* from one side of the country to the other.  Seriously.  Just give yourself a couple of hours and you have done it.  You could probably even do it in heels.  Try it, it’s fun!

And that’s just a start….

How do you say Merry Christmas in German? Or, how I spent a lot of down-time in Germany

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I love my parents.  I really do.  They always mean well, even when things don’t go quite as I think that they plan.  Case in point, the time that I spend a Christmas (sort-of) with my older brother in Germany.

I wanted to spend some time in Italy over the holidays with my friends that I had met while in Ireland, and in order to do that, my parents said that perhaps I spend Christmas itself with my brother, while he was stationed in Germany in the military.  Again, I am sure that they had the best intentions.  I am sure that they thought that he and I would spend a of lot quality time together bonding and driving around the countryside and generally having a lovely holiday, and for the most part, they were right.  They did, however, not take into account a couple of key factors:

1.  They gave the money for the trip to my brother, the person who thinks that if he has check blanks then he has money.  By the time that he picked me up in the rental car, I saw where most of that money went – the backseat, in the form of a few CD’s that he had recently purchased. And,

2.  No self-respecting 20-something guy wants to spend a ton of time with their kid-sister.  Ever.  No matter what the circumstances.  But especially not when they have a reputation of coolness to protect in the military.  I mean, honestly, I get it, and I agree and can’t blame him a bit. But,

That means that, after we spend some really harrowing hours driving on the autobahn (and by we, I mean that he was driving and I was praying that I would survive the trip in Germany and make it to Italy alive – he likes to use the accelerator, that’s for sure) and visiting a few of the really great highlights of Bavaria (including Neuschwanstein Castle and the Nurnberg Christmas Market) he would drop me off at my teeny hotel in a teeny village that had only one hotel.  Usually by five in the evening.

This village, by the way, was so small that there was nothing to do, especially since it was the Christmas season and everything was closed.  Not to mention that I didn’t have my own transportation to travel around in the evening and didn’t speak enough German to really get along.  This means that I spend a *lot* of time in the hotel, and specifically my hotel room, itself.  What did I do for that time?  Well, not a lot, really.  You see, back when Kindles weren’t around and people actually read real books, I wanted to save space in my luggage for souvenirs, so I brought only one book.  And this was the start of my trip, so I didn’t want to read the whole thing in the first few days.  So, i tried to ration it out and instead watch TV.  Except that the television only got about four channels, all of them in German.  Including MTV.

Did you know that apparently, even in Europe, MTV only rotates about five videos all day and night?  Yup, that means that I saw the same five videos (including J-Lo’s “Jennie from the Block” and something repulsive from Brittany Spears) about a thousand times.  I finally got a break by watching Evita (yeah, that one.  The one with Madonna), only because since it was a musical, it wasn’t dubbed into German.

It’s truly amazing how long a few hours can seem when you are sitting in a tiny room, as the lone guest in a hotel in the middle of nowhere in southern Germany with nothing to read and nothing to listen to (I left my CD player in Ireland) and nothing to really watch on TV either.  But, if you really want to make sure that you get your vacation time’s worth, I suppose that the fact that it feels like forever means that your vacation might seem longer?  Sigh.  Well, not better, right?  Just longer.

Meanwhile, I know that my brother was back at the base having a lot of fun with his friends, while I was stuck in the hotel.  I was still in Germany, which in and of itself was great, and while I was with my brother, I had a great time.  Walking in the woods around the castle, eating great sausages in the local restaurant nearby and walking around Nurnberg in the evening light.  Simply amazing (more on those parts later, I am sure).  But still, it was a little lonely in that hotel room.  Just sayin’.

Tourist Sites That Surprisingly Impressed Me (Part One)

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1. The Leaning Tower of Pisa – Okay, I know, it leans.  I get it.  I have seen it in photos my whole life and have heard all of the stories about why, and all of that.  It’s really, though, just a building that was constructed in a rather bad location.  Well, I wasn’t expecting much.  Mostly because I figured that, really, being just a building in an unfortunate location, the hype is probably pretty exaggerated.  Let me say this, first:  I saw it *only* at night, while it was in the process of being propped up with wires, so I didn’t see any of those in the pitch dark.  There were lights in it that were glowing, but only slightly.  Really, just enough to let you know that the tower is actually there.  Couple that with the fact that I was there when there were only a handful of others around (which naturally detracts from the whole “touristy” feel of the place) and one Australian guy who happened to join me from Florence to Pisa, since he was headed that way eventually anyway, and you have the makings for a very positive experience.  Quoting my actual words when I first saw it:  “Fuck me.  It really leans!”  (I told you there would be colorful language, so it’s your own fault if you are offended, sorry).  That sucker, for all of the hype, and all of the “touristy” schtick surrounding it, really does, completely, visually, incredibly, lean!  It’s great!  It was the most underrated thing that I saw during my whole trip to Italy.  Cooler than Venice (which smells), cooler than Florence (riddled with tourists), better than Rome (I think that I am still disappointed that I didn’t get to ride a vespa – still want to do that just once, by the way).  I loved it.  Highly recommend it!  Just, you know, try to see it at night.  The lighting is better, trust me.

2.  Inis Mor – I had already been in Ireland for a good couple of months when a friend invited me to join her for a trip to one of the Aran Islands.  We travelled up through Galway and to a ferry that took us to the largest of the islands, Inis Mor (or Inishmore, if you must).  Now, I am aware that Ireland is famous for being green, and rainy and rich-looking (due to the fact that that place rains like it’s going out of style, with gale force winds to boot).  And I had heard that the people on the Aran Islands still spoke Irish <sigh> Gaelic (if you must) and not much English.  And I guess that a part of me never really believed that to be true, or at least not to the extent that people told me about.  However, I have never, and I mean never, seen any place in the word so utterly, completely green in my life.  Every square inch of the island that wasn’t a gravel or stone road was green.  Shades that Crayola couldn’t even replicate!  The air was so fresh smelling that you almost never wanted to exhale, because you would be afraid on not being able to smell the freshness for half a second.  The people literally spoke minimal English.  and not just because they wanted to hide it from us tourists.  Some of them spoke English well, but in the one loan pub that ran were in, the older gents in it…nothing.  Not more than a handful of words.  They as much English as I do Russian.  And I can basically just swear in Russian, if that tells you anything.  Anyway, back to the point.  The point is, Inis Mor is amazing.  Utterly.  I don’t even need to get in to the Cliffs of Dun Aengus (which I will, though, eventually, in it’s own post).  It’s just the quintessential Ireland.  In every respect.  Complete with the giant crucifix in the bedroom at the B&B that my friend and I stayed in.  Along with a Celtic cross.  I mean, you might as well cover your bases, right?

3.  The Temple of Karnak, Egypt – Talk about monumental!  This temple was the last one, actually, on my trip through Egypt.  I had already been Luxor and Deir-el-Bahri, the temple of Queen Hatshepsut and was duly, though slightly less than I would have predicted, impressed.  Karnak, however, is on a whole other scale.  We were there on a perfect day, too.  There were clouds, but plenty of sun, and that let the light shine down into the temple – there was no roof – and highlight the hieroglyphics on the walls and the paint that was left on some of the columns.  The temple itself is more imposing than I ever could have imagined.  It dwarfs anything else, not necessarily in size, but in proportion to everything around it.  And it was meant to be that way, too.  And you feel about the size of an ant.  At one point, I broke my own rules of not touching anything, and just sat down on the foot of a column and just took it all in.  It was the most small that I had ever felt in a temple or ancient construction of any kind.  And I loved it for that.  What’s more, over time, nature had taken its course and trees and flowers and other plants had taken over part of the area, even though the government tried to keep them at bay.  It made it all the more impressive with those, though, because the juxtaposition was incredible.  Hard stone, stories tall, paired against green, beautiful foliage.  It’s hard to even know how to describe that feeling of at once being so a part of the past, and yet so removed from it that that temple gave me.  I will never forget it.