thoughts on travel

Hello, my dears! Or rather, Guten tag… ūüôā right now, I’m on an Austrian train from Salzburg to Vienna, have finished with my school trip to Ireland (which was amazing) and am about a week into my family trip. ¬†I’ll try to post as often as I can, because I have a lot to say, but we shall see.

This is where I went to church this morning:

It was lovely, and the choir may have honestly been the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. ¬†It was also entirely in German, but oh well. ¬†Details.

I thought I’d briefly type up some of the things I’ve learned thus far while travelling. ¬†Maybe it won’t be brief. ¬†But here are my reflections:

Pack light. ¬†With all of the stairs, trains, and cobbled streets, the last thing you want is a giant suitcase. ¬†Mine, regrettably, seems to be growing with each stop. ¬†I just keep sitting on it… Also, you don’t really need everything you think you’ll need. ¬†Vacuum bags are a thing of beauty.

Another reason to pack light is that you’ll buy things. ¬†And you should. ¬†Not the stupid knick knacks that they sell at souvenir shops. ¬†But if there’s something thats sort of expensive but that you’ll a) never see again b) use a lot c) cherish for a long time, buy it! ¬†I ended up going into a tiny Parisian shop that sold dresses and coming out wearing one of them. ¬†But it’s designed and made by a local woman, so I’m sort of excited about that.

Accept that you will lose something.  Like maybe a brand new CF card.  Or the food your brother steals from you.  Or all of your socks.

Accept that you will be a tourist.  That always makes me feel awkward, going to a sight and taking lots of pictures and speaking loudly in English, but I just had to say screw it and smile when my mom points the camera our way.

Be a good tourist, and not an ugly American. ¬†That means being quiet (such a struggle for me…) and being aware of cultural differences, like bathroom fees and opening train doors…

Unfortunately, you’re still going to offend someone. ¬†Like the very angry bathroom attendant who yelled at me when I didn’t have money to pay the optional fee. ¬†I didn’t know! ¬†Oops.

Make friends!!! ¬†This one is my favorite. ¬†People have so much to say. ¬†Just start talking to someone. ¬†If they‚Äôre unfriendly, then all you’ve lost is their opinion of you ‚Äď and who cares. ¬†They’re a stranger, let them think you’re weird or awkward. ¬†If they’re friendly, though, you‚Äôve gained a connection, a friend, a way to pass the time, and all of the stories that they tell you. ¬†Be safe, CLEARLY. ¬†But chatting with your cabbie, listening to the stories of two old Irish men revarnishing a Presbyterian church, getting emotional with someone about the Gutenburg Bible at TCD, or talking to a dapper British man reading Roald Dahl at a Parisian laverie? Probably okay.

Try to learn the basics of the language. ¬†I haven’t been very stellar with this one this time around, but I can say “please” and “thank you”, apologize (sort of), say “it’s good”, and greet people. ¬†My accent may be awful and embarrassing, and I’ll probably make some hilariously awful slip ups, but most people appreciate the effort. ¬†Well, some people. ¬†It’ll be a mess when we switch countries. ¬†Oh well…

Be aware of the homeless. ¬†This one doesn’t just apply to traveling. ¬†Okay, if I could, I’d give money to every homeless person or street performer I came across. ¬†Maybe not the rude ones. ¬†But I feel for them, and I really want to help them. ¬†Money doesn’t do much, but it’s one of the only ways I can show them that they are loved. ¬†I’ll never forget. ¬†We were walking into the subway system in one of the cities when this very sweet man asked for money. ¬†We moved on, since I didn’t have any, but I got some and ran back to give it to him. ¬†He kissed my hand and absolutely beamed. ¬†Not because it was a lot of money, but because I went back for him.That said, be careful (girls especially). ¬†Don’t be stupid, and don’t talk to people when you’re alone. ¬†Some homeless people will hassle you, and many are mentally unbalanced, so don’t disregard your own safety in your generosity.

Wander. ¬†Dear heaven, wander. ¬†This is some of my favorite advice, because I’ve found some of my favorite places this way. ¬†Stray a bit from the beaten path of touristy areas and find somewhere cool. ¬†Shakespeare and Co is the most wonderful place in the world, and I LOVED IT, and I wanted to live there… I’ll probably write a whole post on it. ¬†UGH. ¬†And in Salzburg, we walked through an outdoor market and bought food from lots of different stalls, then stood around a table outside to eat. We had fried chicken, pretzels, and raspberries, and it was lovely.

Be patient with your fellow travellers. ¬†This is something that I have not been, and I’m so sorry for that. ¬†When you’re with someone constantly, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, sharing rooms, you might start to wear on each other a little. ¬†And that’s normal. ¬†Be gracious, and forgiving. ¬†Try not to fight (or apologize after you do). ¬†Give each other space and alone time.

Don’t sleep in. ¬†Also ridiculously difficult for me. ¬†But when you roll over in bed, and it’s deliciously comfortable, and you’re warm and sleepy and never want to move, try to remember that you’re in a new place that begs to be explored. ¬†(this is a bit of a confession/ self-reminder since it took me 30 minutes and my entire family yelling at me and pulling off the covers for me to get out of bed…)

Do your research. ¬†It will help you be a savvy traveller, and you’ll feel super cool when you know your way around and have tickets and things planned out. ¬†It also makes things less stressful.

But embrace when things don’t go according to plan. ¬†I say when, because they won’t. ¬†Make the most of it, though, and see where the changes take you, because it might be better than what you originally planned. ¬†One day, our episode of Awkward Adventures in Germany was entitled “We don’t get off of trains when we’re supposed to”. ¬†So it turns out that doors don’t actually open automatically… Another American was very upset about it. ¬†And we were too, to a degree. ¬†But we were¬†sitting (serendipitously) next to a wonderfully sweet stranger from the Railway Advisory, and he helped us. ¬†That day was also one of the most fun I’ve had with the jokes that happened and the people we met (Too late…….).

Record your adventures. ¬†Take pictures (but don’t spend so much time behind the lens that you miss out!). ¬†Keep a travel journal. ¬†Don’t say, “I’ll remember”. ¬†You won’t (I’ve forgotten many things this way). ¬†Write it down.

Finally, consider it a beautiful, glorious thing that God is the same in any language. ¬†Christianity allows people to keep their culture and individuality while still being a part of the same family, and it’s amazing to meet and see others who worship the same God all over the world.

That’s all for now! ¬†And I realize that wasn’t brief at all. ¬†OH WELL! ¬†I’ll write more soon with excerpts from my Ireland travel journal and places I’ve been (SHAKESPEARE AND CO). ¬†Until then!
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neruda and my totally unrelated feelings about life

Soneto XVII

No te amo como si fueras rosa de sal, topacio
o flecha de claveles que propagan el fuego:
te amo como se aman ciertas cosas oscuras,
secretamente, entre la sombra y el alma.

Te amo como la planta que no florece y lleva
dentro de sí, escondida, la luz de aquellas flores,
y gracias a tu amor vive oscuro en mi cuerpo
el apretado aroma que ascendió de la tierra.

Te amo sin saber cómo, ni cuándo, ni de dónde,
te amo directamente sin problemas ni orgullo:
así te amo porque no sé amar de otra manera,

sino así de este modo en que no soy ni eres,
tan cerca que tu mano sobre mi pecho es mía,
tan cerca que se cierran tus ojos con mi sue√Īo.

Pablo Neruda, 1959

Things I miss:

voraciously reading books I want to read, home, my family, friends, certainty, the presence of those certain few that would listen and understand whatever you said, not doing homework, sleeping.

Things I have:

homework, gained knowledge, an education, God’s love and presence, new friends, the opportunity to have new conversations with people.

But still, I’m looking forward to Christmas.

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Read this (in English…): http://poemhunter.com/poem/sonnet-xvii/

cab drivers.

I always have the most interesting conversations with cab drivers.¬† I don’t know why this is exactly.¬† Maybe I just like talking to people, and they’re usually pretty talkative.¬† I also think it’s basically a rule that they have to be foreign, so that’s also interesting to ask them questions about where they’re from, how they ended up in America, and what they miss most about their home country.

Last night, on my ride back from the airport, I talked with my East-African cab driver about school and family.¬† It was hard to understand him through his accent, but he had some pretty interesting things to say.¬† He moved here ten years ago in order to keep his entire family together.¬† He said that he gets to see his mother, brothers, and sisters on a regular basis now.¬† “Family should be together, in the same place,” he told me, asking me why my family wasn’t all together.¬† “It’s not good to be apart, and only see everyone once or two times a year, on holidays,” he said.¬† Which is an interesting point.¬† Is that an American thing, everyone being so far from each other?¬† I don’t know.

My cab driver the time before was Ethiopian Orthodox, and happened to be driving me on the same day as the Ethiopian New Year.  He told me about all of their different customs and holidays, which happen at least once a month, when the entire community comes together to celebrate.  They invite people to share coffee, an Ethiopian treat, and just enjoy spending time with the whole neighborhood.  There are also two separate holidays when the men and women go from door to door, singing to everyone.

And that time when my family was briefly in San Francisco, when we all talked to our Russian cab driver and discovered that he used to be a ship’s captain, and he had been to over fifty different countries.

These encounters have taught me a few things:

First, it doesn’t hurt to listen, ask questions, and appreciate someone’s culture.

Second, everyone has a story.¬† Those people that we walk by every day, who we see as inferior or unimportant.¬† All of us have somewhere we’ve come from and somewhere we’re going, and it never hurts to find out what their story is.¬† You could be standing next to someone who survived a war, or has seen something amazing, and you would never know.

Finally, show an interest in someone’s language.¬† People always appreciate it, even if you totally butcher it.¬† Well, apparently, Parisans aren’t so kind, but most people genuinely become happier when they hear their own tongue- I said “privet” to the Russian cab driver, and he babbled an excited stream of Russian back at me until I had to tell him that I could only say “hello”.¬† I also thanked my cab driver last night in Arabic and Italian when I learned that he spoke them, and we had a brief, 17-second conversation in Italian that quickly ended when my minimal vocabulary ran out.¬† But still.¬† Making connections is good.¬† One aspect of the American perspective seems to be keeping to yourself and ignoring strangers.¬† But who knows what they’ll have to say.

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