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Fear of flying

How can one write about travel and be fearful of flying? Easy. You are a masochistic.

For me, my fear came late in life. My parents dutifully informed me that I took my first flight at 1.5 years old. I’ve been a frequent flier since. As a child I was restricted to domestic flights, but reveled in the opportunity ever time it arose. There was something glamorous, sophisticated, and worldly about flying. At 17 years old I had my first taste of long-haul, international flights and I was hooked. However, I look back now and realize that I was a rubbish traveler – always overpacking, forever taking more books than I could read, and always forgetting where I put my boarding card.

As the years have passed I have improved as a flyer with each mile – I now pack with the efficiency of a robot, each article of clothing packed is used, no more, no less; I travel only with a beautifully little and light Samsonite; I never leave home without my Bose noise-canceling headphones; and I always know exactly where my passport it.

However, there was a time when flying caused me great anxiety. I can’t put my finger on it, but around the time I moved to London it began. I would become anxious days before the flight, I started drinking a Bloody Mary before every flight, and at times would be reduced to tears while holding Miguel’s hand for dear life. It was a horrible way to travel. And in spite of all this I still traveled to 21 countries in 2012.

After an especially bad flight from Madrid to Bogota, Miguel said it was time for this to be over and for me to regain control over my fear and my life. I immediately booked British Airway’s Flying with Confidence course and it has been one of the best things I have done.

This course cannot help you root out the underlying cause of your anxiety – for some people it’s occurs when they become parents, for others it occurs later in life when they begin to understand their mortality, while others experience it after near death experiences, and for some the lack of control causes the anxiety. Whatever the reason this course and other similar ones will not solve your underlying issue, but they will help you to identify, manage and fly with you anxiety.

Various angles are used in the class from the scientific explanation of flying to the analogy of turbulence to riding waves in a boat to using visualization techniques. For each person, something different sticks and that’s what you hold on to and that’s what makes it easier. For most it is a matter of managing your fear and not allowing it to stop you.

For me, I actually got down to the root cause. I was scared of losing everything. I lived for so long without a true partner and now not only did I have that partner, but I was living with him and building a beautiful life. And a saw each plan flight as a possible chance to lose my life with him. When I made this realization I was able to move past my fears. I now sleep fine the night before flights, I now barely flitch with turbulence (I write this as I bounce around on a turbulent flight), and best of all, I stopped crying everything I got on a plane. No more dramatic goodbyes at airports. I am in control now. And I decided not to let anything stand in the way of my wanderlust.

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When I love England

This is one of the moments when I love England. Heading north on the East Coast rail line towards Edinburgh the sky is perfect and blue, it’s a lovely 17 degrees Celsius outside, and the landscape is a lush green with fields of bright yellow flower or pastures dotted with sheep. I swoon.

This was not the case last night. As I left work I pulled my winter coat tight around me and pulled my hood up. It was 6 degrees outside and the date was 24 May. I can understand why my friend suggested postponing our dinner, this is not the weather you enjoy yourself in. Nevertheless, we bundled up and dragged each other out.

English countryside We were happy we did, in a group of 8 people we had 6 countries represented and dined on some amazing Georgian food. However, at some point the conversation digressed to the weather and its impact on our lives. As all non-English we lamented the effect it had on our social interactions (or lack there of) with the English, the fact we were all still wearing our winter clothes, how you can’t help but talk about the weather (case in point), and how descriptions of weekend activities are always qualified with a weather report, for example “It was pissing rain this weekend so I just stayed in” or “There was a bit of sun in west London so we spent the day in the park.”

That all said, when you don’t have something, you really do appreciate it more. A day like today is the sort of thing you live for in England, because there is no countryside more beautiful than this one in all of Europe. I am convinced. I know this is the sort of statement that gets one in trouble, but for all my whining this country is starting to grow on me. After seeing the Italian, Irish, Portuguese, American, and countless other countrysides I love the English one the best.

But my relationship with England/Britain/the UK is as schizophrenic as the weather. Maybe it is the “warm” weather coupled with the baby lambs sunning themselves in pastures along the tracks, or the smooth gliding of the train that has me swept off my feet. But ask me two days ago or in a week I will have changed my mind and declared this country a fun-sponge of a place that sucks your soul straight out if you and that I will quit my job momentarily and move to a shack on the beach…

I guess this place is starting to rub off on me.

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Stranded.

734864_10100342112470874_1860618032_nI had to give up my passport today. It was a horrible experience. Not horrible because it was confiscated, actually I willing gave it up because I need new pages, but horrible nonetheless. Horrible because I now feel stranded.

I tried to explain this feeling to my European partner to no avail. He doesn’t understand how important my passport is to me. For him he can travel anywhere in Europe and the UK with just he European ID card. Thus he doesn’t understand what it is not have your passport and be unable to travel.

So for me my passport is something different, special and essential to me…

My passport is my ruby slippers and  with just three click and a “There’s no place like home,” I’m there.

My passport is my work, my play, my adventures, my romantic getaways, and my friends.

My passport is my one-stop-shop reminder of my travels, with beautiful stamps and visas.

My passport is my emergency exit.

My passport is my door opener, my story-teller, my picture-taker, my friend-maker, my barrier-breaker, and my dream-filler.

My passport is my wanderlust…

Stranded on a small island,

Carly

 

Different beginnings

I can’t help but notice that my partner does not share the same gusto that I do for traveling. He does still continue to be excited about the prospect of travel, but he does not welcome it with open arms and allow it to consume his thoughts the way I do.

I’ll give our most recent encounter as an example, mind you that is all occurred via text message.

Me: I’m going to Jordan for work. Want to come? We can spend the weekend there. Remember Casablanca, and how we both regretted you not going? With that in mind, say yes.

Miguel: Ok. (NOTE: I left out all of the discussion of flights and so on.)

Me: Should I book you flight now? Or tonight? Also, check whether you need a visa – I do for work.

Miguel: I get a visa on entry of the country, but a friend was there and he says that apart from the Dead Sea there is nothing to see and Petra is far away (250km)… Plus I saw its position on the map and the security announcements of PT embassies and it doesn’t look good…

Me: What??? Are you kidding me?!? I have had multiple people tell me it is beautiful! You have ancient Roman cities, Petra (which you can do in a day), there is wadi rum and everything in Amman. And you know i am a firm believer that if you are bored then you are just boring. There is more history in jordan! the only warnings are to stay away from the boarder with Syria.

About 5 minutes later…
Me: Fine. If you don’t want to go I’ll go by myself.

Miguel: Have you gone to google maps and seen the distance to all the borders? Iraq, Syria, Israel… Petra would be very cool though.

Me: I’m just sad because its a place we talked about traveling to last year! Which you were excited about then :/

Miguel: I’m mostly worried because there’s war all around that country! Does that not concern you at all?

Me: You are my favorite travel buddy and I want to explore this new country, in a new region with you. Just like I want to discover the rest of the world with you :) so either way I respect your decision, I’m just sad that’s all.

Miguel: I tried calling the embassy but they are closed now. I got conflicting facts from different web pages regarding visas for PT there. But why not? We can go to Petra which is south and should be safer. ;) let’s buy the tickets tonight.

Talk about some arm twisting. I wasn’t suggesting hiking in the mountains of Syria or sightseeing in Kabul. Nevertheless, while my first reaction to the opportunity of travel is a welcoming one, Miguel’s is a slightly more skeptical and reserved reaction. I started to wonder why this is the case, especially since our love for travel has been such an important element in our relationship since the beginning…

Low and behold, I found the answer in an EasyJet Traveller Magazine. An article inside the magazine interviewed a travel writer who said that he thinks his lack of travel in his youth is the reason for his enthusiasm later in life. Juxtaposition this with his own children, whom he has dragged all over the world, and are now less inclined to travel and almost weary of it.

So there you have it! While Miguel’s parents and grandparents took him from one European capital to the next, I was traveling from town to city in the state of Florida. It wasn’t until I was 17 years old that I left the US. My parents probably thought this was the best way to keep me close, instead, they actually aided in the creation of the current travel addict I have become.

As for Miguel and I, we have found a balance. While I am always pushing us towards adventure he is pulling us back to a more moderate, reality. He reminds me to be practical and frugal while I encourage him to be reckless and allow himself to fall in love with travel… Like I said, it works for us.

Here’s to being different beings,
Carly

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Road Trip!

For this blog I have talked about train travel and plane travel, but never car travel. This is highly correlated with the fact that I have not owned a car since 2009, a fact that I am quite proud of. Having grown up in the US in a mid-sized city lacking most forms of public transport owning your own car was the only option to get around.

Additionally, in the US one is brought up on a steady diet of:

turn 15 -> pass written driving test -> spend many agonising hours driving with hour parents -> deal with parents criticising -> (finally) turn 16 -> pass your driving test -> beg and plead with parents for a car -> receive car from said parents -> obtain teenage equivalent of freedom.

It’s not necessarily a logical cycle, but it happens every day in the USA  and has been for years and will continue for years. When Europeans talk about the “car culture” of the US, they really don’t even know the half of it. Except for cities like New York, San Francisco, Boston, and DC (see the full list of the top 25 here) where public transport is extensive, usable and (mostly) affordable, the rest are ill-equipped for moving mass amounts of people about. Now I am unsure of the direction of causality, did the likes of Henry Ford and the resulting love affair with cars cause public transport to fall into disrepair and be abandoned or was it the lack of public transportation that pushed Americans to car? Either way, living without a car in most American cities is unthinkable and impossible. So America has become the nation of cars, for better or worse.

And that is how Miguel and I ended up on a road trip through the southeastern United States. Wanting Miguel to see as much of the country as possible and meet some of my family along the way, I planned this marathon road trip. We covered 9 states, 4,729 kilometers in 11 days.

I for the most part was not worries, but my most interesting observation while planning this trip were the weary looks and cautious warnings I received from friends and acquaintances. They all wished us luck and said prayers for our relationship. I became a bit worried at this point, especially since I have never undertaken a road trip like this. And to top it off Europeans and Americans, i.e.  Miguel and I, have different concepts of distance. For example, if you wanted to drive from the northern most tip of Portugal to the southern most tip, it would take you 6 hours, 58 minutes and cover 708 kilometers. Where grew up that wouldn’t have gotten you out of the state of Florida! And though driving 8, 9 or 10 hours in a day is not unheard of for American vacations, I was worried for Miguel’s endurance. And for the endurance of our relationship…

The outcome? Absolute success. Not only did our relationship endure, it actually thrived, even considering the fact that Miguel met my parents for the first time, attended a cousins wedding with me, met my brother and his family, and stayed at the house of my sister and her family. So how did we do this? Well it came pretty easy to us, but I don’t know if it would for everyone else so with that in mind here are my top ten road trip tips!

10. Be realistic when planning. Do not assume that you can cover 900 kilometers in a day with only one bathroom break. Take your time. This will also eliminate the need to speed and possibility of tickets or something worse.

9. Relax and don’t give yourself solid arrival times. I think Americans, myself included, are obsessed with “making good time”. Relax. The journey really is as important as the destination.

8. Play a game. Print out a blank map of the US (or Europe) and mark off all of the state license plates you see. My dad and I use to play this game during the winter time in Florida and I loved it. You definitely get a bit of a thrill from finding a new one and it gives you the opportunity to wonder what sort of crazy person drives an RV from Alaska to Florida!

7 Bring good music. This is very important as you may be driving through the South and not be able to find anything but country music stations. Nothing is a worse hell than that. And make sure to bring a selection that varies between early morning pump-up music to after-lunch sing-a-long oldies.

6. Bring reading materials. But don’t be selfish, bring something you can read out loud to each other. Miguel picked out a book called Microtrends for out trip- each chapter was short, interesting and packed full of information. The passenger would read out the chapter and then we would end up discussing it further. You can also do this with newspapers or a book of short stories. Audio books are also a fun option – check out Audible for audio books to download to all of your devices.

5. Bring healthly snacks and plenty of water. Dehydration can lead to headaches. Even worse, no snacks can lead to the dreaded ‘hangry’ state – this is when you are so hungry you become angry. Trust me, it isn’t pretty, so avoid this at all costs. And the healthier, the better. Salty gas station snacks will also dehydrate you and the sweet ones will leave you feeling sluggish after an initial high of energy. Think of dried fruits, nuts, and wholegrains.

4. Be fair, split the driving evenly. It makes a difference and allows you both the opportunity to rest and take in the scenery while on the road.

3. Make lunch an adventure. Whether its stopping at a park for a picnic, a Diner, a Cracker Barrel or Cafe Risque (an inside joke for those who have driven near Gainsville, Florida), forget the speed eating contest, enjoy yourself and make it a time to take in some local flavor ;)

2. Be ok with silence. Silence is never a bad thing. Don’t feel like you have to fill the void, allow the silence to exist and be ok with it as there will be times when you just don’t have anything to talk about.

1. Laugh. Whether it’s at other drivers, funny signs on the side of the road or each other. Laugh and enjoy every minute of it.

Silence on the road…

 

Ps. Don’t forget to stop and sleep!

Pedal to the metal,

Carly

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Train catching

I start writing this post as I glide past the outskirts of Prague, waving good bye to my beautiful host for the past four days, on my way to the land of cheese, banks, watches, and chocolate… Switzerland! And couldn’t be happier that I am avoiding a £400 direct flight and the 7 hour layover option by enjoying a comfortable overnight ride that will take me through Germany and efficiently deposit me in the middle of Zurich come morning. Additionally, this is my first time on a sleeper train and for the bargain of £95 I get my own room and a view that would make you swoon…

Though I am a train lover, I did not take a real train ride till I was in my mid-twenties, this is however, excluding the little train that takes your around Disney world. And those first train rides were only between Washington, DC and New York city. It’s a four hour ride through some of the ugliest, run-down, urban neighborhoods and decrepit industrial areas in the US, and that’s only New Jersey!

So it wasn’t until I moved to Europe that I discovered how much I loved train travel. There are several factors at play that make train travel in Europe far more enjoyable than in the US, and really just an overall joy to experience.

First, it’s affordable. I paid the same to travel from Rome to Venice first class as I did from DC to NYC! Really it must be affordable if teens from all over Europe have been doing in for generations! And I can vouch that they continue to do so – trust me I was in line for my ticket behind a massive group of Spaniards ranging in age from 15 to 17 with no adult supervision in site.

Second, Europe has better landscape. This is true for rail and road travel. In the US you can drive for miles on I-95 and the scenery will remain constant. The same can be said about taking a train through the Mid-West, corn fields as far as the eye can see! Where as Europe’s landscape is as diverse as its cultures, and a good train ride will provide the opportunity to observe the subtle changes in landscape as you seamlessly cross borders.

Third, it is relaxing. Travel by car can be exhausting. Forever weaving in and out of traffic, just barely pulling out of the way of some guy auditioning for “Fast & Furious Five” and a continued obsession with “making good time”. Trains are generally slower than cars, and coupled with the fact that you are not in control forces you to sit back, relax and actually enjoy the journey as much as the destination.

Fourth and finally, train travel, like language,s in Europe is romantic. Functionality is an important consideration, but really we all like to imagine a slower time when the simple pleasures were more appreciated. There is something romantic about the act of packing a basket full of cured meats from you local butcher, cheese from your formaggeria, a fresh loaf from your corner bakery and a bottle of wine from your favorite vinoteca and indulging in a picnic on the train. I know this sounds a bit like in a movie, but really I have done it multiple times. My mom and I enjoyed this type of picnic on our train from Rome to Venice, and Miguel and I have done this several times in Italy and Portugal. Each time this simple meal has enhanced our journey and often brought about the opportunity to make friends.

So next time you have the chance take a train, not only for my reasons, but think of the reduction in your carbon foot print. An maybe like me, you’ll have the chance to enjoy a 12 hour sleeper train from Prague to Zurich which will afford you your very own sleeper cabin, complete with a bed, shower and proper breakfast. Oh, and don’t forget to pack a picnic for dinner ;)
Hold that train!
Carly

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I could be anywhere…

View from the cafe

As I sit in a small, neighborhood cafe on my first morning in Casablanca, I look around and realize that even though I don’t understand what people are saying, I understand the situations. I see the similarities, and become aware of the fact that some life themes cut across culture and language…

To my right, at a small table along the front of the cafe I see a set of older parents with their despondent, teenage daughter in an off the shoulder top, with tight leggings and Ugg boots. The mother wears a traditional, Moroccan headscarf and chats with the daughter who looks off with a disinterested face as she endlessly fidgets with her hair. The father sits silently, eating his breakfast and only speaking to the waiter when it is time to pay. The daughter escapes as quickly as she can at the end of the meal as the mother chases after her, and the father slowly, and maybe a bit hopelessly, follows both women.

To my left, nearest to the sidewalk and in the best position to be seen by passersby, is a set of young parents. Cruising in with their designer stroller, they carefully select a location where their conspicuous consumption will be on greatest display. The new mommy absently feeds the baby as she chats on her cell phone behind her over-sized sunglasses while the father sits there in his Klose jersey shielded from both baby and mother by a makeshift wall of newspaper.

Across the cafe, I observe a group of older man all 50+ in age. It begins with just two of them, but slowly grows to six and looks to me as their usual Sunday morning tradition. They look to be old friends with each new joiner greeted with a handshake and two kisses. Though their life paths appear to taken them in different directions, their bond remains strong. One of the men lounges in his Kappa running suit, proudly displaying his full moustache – I like to think he was the one who embraced the offer of early retirement and is finally enjoying a relaxed existence. Another of the men looks to me like a professor with a pair of loafers, khakis, and a causal jacket accompanied by a leather shoulder bag that I imagine full of tests to grade and papers to review.  One of the men who most catches my eye, appears to be the dashing one of the group, I bet he is the ladies’ man. His well-groomed appearance is complimented by a wide-collared shirt and tailored trousers. The final arrival is the only one of the group in a proper suit with a smart brief case. He enters with a bit of a pompous air about himself and begins by forcing a rearrangement of the seating situation to ensure he is at the head of the breakfast table. Though all different in appearance they seem to be blissfully reminiscing about old times while sharing new stories over their omelets.

Just two tables away, I witness the entrance of a relaxed, moderate couple who arrive with their two daughters. The parents chat and joke with one another while one daughter sits quietly as the younger one ventures off to introduce herself to the other tables. The parents only half-heartedly try to pull her away as everyone fawns over her big blue eyes and crazy, curly hair. Only upon the appearance of food and the first stern word from her mother does she reluctantly return to the table for a laughter-filled, breakfast.

And in the opposite corner, I observe a father alone with his little girl. One eye is on the newspaper as the other follows his little girl, who scampers about the cafe making friends with everyone. The father finally looks up for an extended moment with a stern face that quickly melts into a smile as he watches his little girl knowing that before he can blink she’ll be a grown woman.

And at that moment I realize that I could be any where in the world watching this scene unfold. A thought that reminds me that no matter racial, lingual or religious differences, human life is the same for each and every one of us.

One world for one people,

Carly

Wedding world travel?

My number this year is one, but last year it was three and I already have one for next year. I met someone recently who was a 5 and another who was a 7 (plus her own!)…

What could I possibly be talking about? Weddings of course. About seven years ago I remember hearing my older friends ramble off all of the weddings they were attending in various locales across the US and sometimes the world. I happily nodded my head and feigned empathy, content with the fact that I did not have any…

However, over the past couple of years that has changed. First it started with a few cousins which required treks to Florida. It was then followed by college friends who sometimes required intercontinental travel – which I quickly turned down under the fiscal responsibility exemption clause of wedding travel. And most recently, it has become a couple’s activity with Miguel and I traveling together to the weddings of various friends and family – we have been to four in the past year and a half with a fifth planned for March.

And though it does sound fun from the side of the bride and groom, soon-to-be guests rattle off the amounts they will spend on flights, hotels and presents for each and every one of the nuptials they attend. And I must admit, exposure to these whiny wedding wards made me weary of the experience. However, over the past year I have discovered the beauty of weddings – true cultural events that are of the most intimate level they are only shared with the closet of friends, family and that weird “uncle” nobody likes. But seriously, I feel lucky for the experiences I have had and hope to share with you what I have had the opportunity to participate in. For a review of the Portuguese wedding I attended last year, see HERE. But now I’ll take the time to relate my German wedding experience…

First off I will admit to stereotyping the Germans as quite a stuffy group. Though generally friendly, I never imagine them enjoy more than a beer… But, man was I wrong! The festivities kicked off the night before the wedding with the neighbors of the soon-to-be-wedded partaking in the decoration of the front door. For our happy couple a beautiful wreath lined the entrance which was adorned with delicate, paper flowers. Though simple, it was elegant. However, as was explained to me by the participants, it is just an excuse to drink. And so we did. I thoroughly enjoyed the home-made liquor curtsy of the mother of the bride. Short and sweet is how I would describe the shots, and they definitely went down easy :)

The following day was spent preparing for the wedding which began in the afternoon. After a rather boring hour and a half catholic wedding service – it was in German – we made our way to the reception hall. Quickly greeted with drinks we began where we had left off the night before – if for no other reason than to do as the locals do. Once the happy couple arrived we took our place at the back of the line in what we figured out was the time we were to present our gift. Thank you´s and hugs were exchanged as we presented our gift, but our attention quickly turned to the dinner that was about to be served. And when I say served, I mean it! Think of almost every animal that is commonly eaten and we ate it – chicken, beef, veal, venison, pork and more! Let´s just say it wasn´t easy for the vegetarian member of our crew.

But it was the festivities beyond the meal that made meal time so interesting. First, we had an impromptu performance by the village band which the groom is a member of. Their repertoire included John Denver´s Country Road and Johnny Cash´s Ring of Fire, selections I was inclined to sing along with of course ;) Then between the next set of courses we saw the bride and groom participate in their very own version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? During which they answered questions – with a bit of audience guidance – about where they were on important dates in their relationship, it was complete with theme music and announcer. Spoiler alert: they got all the questions right.

In between the following courses the couple´s love of music was put to the test as they played a sort of memory game where they matched verses of songs together, verses that selected guests sang . Each successful match concluded with a group rendition of the song – unfortunately this only occurred in German and it wasn´t till almost the end that we finally figured it all out :/

Once dinner and dessert were finished the entire wedding party, plus the band, headed outside. This enabled the staff to clear away the tables and make room for the dance floor, but I can promise you that it was just an excuse to drink more. So as we all gathered in a circle around the bride and groom, the band started to play and the months of the year were shouted out, the purpose being that when your month was called you entered the middle of the circle with the couple (and anyone else born in your month) and drank a shot. Though it was chilly outside everyone enjoyed themselves.

However, this was short lived as we were ushered back inside for the dancing portion of the night. This part of the night – the majority that is – was all sort of a dancing blur for me interlaced with German traditions. I have memories of the bride and groom dancing under an outstretched veil with eager guests tossing money into the veil for a chance to dance with one of them. This was only finished when everyone had had their turned. There was also a massive conga line at some point that sucked in every single guest, from grandma to high schoolers. Another song saw a massive circle form around the dance floor and people spontaneously grabbing ahold of one another and dancing to the other side only to split and rejoin the circle before finding another partner to cross the floor with. And of course there was the bouquet toss – though I must admit this is one of the first I have seen in a while, maybe my generation is less about the luck bestowed by catching the bouquet and more practical about the costs associated with catching it. Nevertheless, I did my duty and stood in the back of the pack, hands firmly by my side as an aggressive young German girl got her way.

The rest of the night was filled with dancing to Adele, Sweet Home Alabama, and anything else the band could belt out, schnapps, incidences of being surrounded by friendly Germans and given beers and schnapps to toast with, a few drinking songs, and by the end of the night my German was nearly flawless. Or so I like to think ;)

It all ended for Miguel and I around 5:30 in the morning, a fact we were quite proud of – though Grandma only left an hour before us! Nevertheless, as our designated driver – a local college girl – drove us home I couldn´t help but think about all the love that was shared over the night. In a village of only 6,000 people, Miguel and I, plus 3 other couples from outside Germany, were invite to participate in a beautifully, intimate part of this village´s existence. They took us in and made us feel like family, and even with a language barrier at times, we felt at home – it is amazing what good will can be built by knowing the words for ´thank you´, ´cheers´, and ´shots´.

Now don´t get me wrong, I am not suddenly won by marriage, nor am I in a hurry to have a wedding, but I do appreciate the experience and am thankful to feel, at least for a weekend, like part of the family in Spelle, Germany.

Prost!

Carly

 

 

The Random, The Beautiful, and the Unplanned

Some of the most amazing experiences that I have encountered while traveling have been unplanned, random and beautiful. From these experiences I have realized that those unplanned moments are easily the most memorable. And thus I have learned to plan less, embrace the random, and enjoy what comes my way.

In this spirit, and to inspire you to embrace the unexpected, I’m listing some of the great parties, events, and happenings that I have encountered, randomly, in my travels.

Moldova Independence

Most recently, a national party for Moldavian Independence day in Chisinau. A tame celebration by some standards, against the backdrop of soviet-era architecture. Nevertheless, the coming together of generations to celebrate a recently won independence (only 21 short years ago) in a festival of nationalism, tradition, fun, and my favorite, food.

National Cultural Day in Latvia. Miguel and I stumbled on this one during a day in Vilnius. At first we thought maybe it was customary to wear traditional dress on Sundays, but in fact it isn’t, and the dress was due to Cultural Day. Not only were we treated to traditional songs sung by children’s choirs in the garden of the presidential palace, but we were also were audience to many adult groups placed randomly throughout the city.

World Peace and Western Sahel rallies around the corner from one another in Madrid. I was on my way to the Reina Sofia museum when I hopped off the bus and walked straight into these two protests. The first, a cheery, colorful one full of groups from all over the world highlighting their differences, but also their similarities. The second protest for Western Sahel was a youthful, drum-filled, slogan-chanting sort of protest. I loved them both and happily skipped the museum for them.

A flash mob in Florence, Italy. Ok this was a bit planned. I was going to Florence for a one night visit and saw on the Florence Couchsurfing website that there would be a freeze flash mob in front of the basilica at 1400. So without hesitation and without knowing any other participants, I followed the instructions and froze in place exactly as the bell tolled 1400. I stood froze for exactly five minutes as I saw others do the same while curious tourists inspected us. After five minutes we all continued on our separate ways, never meeting, but linked by the common experience.

Munich Pride

I found myself totally at random in Munich for the Euro Cup final that saw Bayern Munich play Inter-Milan. Though I am a football fan I headed to Munich to see a good friend and only later was pleasantly surprised to find myself in the midst of the most excited city in Europe (maybe the second after Milan)! I knew there was only one option upon arrival, so without a second thought I scoured the city and purchased the last remaining Bayern Munich scarf and proudly embraced my new team, if only for the night.

São João in Evora. After spending an amazing night on the streets of Porto celebrating Saint John, the patron saint of the city, we made our way south to visit friends of Miguel. Little did we know that we were in for our second São João in just 3 days! Though the same saint, the atmosphere were completely different and I felt that we had walked into the Portugal I dreamt about – not in a longing way, just in the way I imagine it would be – a large fair in the middle of town with rides, games, drinks and food with young and old laughing and joking with neighbors till late into the night.

La Luminara

La Luminara in Pisa, Italy. This one is an exception, though I did not plan it, it was planned by Miguel. And what a plan he had! Having heard about the festival the year before, but unable to attend, he promised himself he would go and in doing so took me with him! The festival is beautiful with every window of every building along the river outlined with individual little candles. And the streets are filled with people of all ages singing, dancing, eating, and watching fireworks.

Hopefully this provides a little inspiration for your next trip. And remember, if some asks, “Do you wanna…?”, don’t hesitate, do it!

To the random, beautiful, and unplanned,

Carly

One of the best things about traveling…

In the year of 2012, which so far has only been a full 8 months long, I have traveled to 14 different countries (12 if you don’t count Wales and Northern Ireland). Some of these adventures took place with Miguel, while others were solo, and still some others with friends or work colleagues.

It was during these 14 countries that I made an important realization. This realization was actually a difficult one for me to come to terms with because I thought it somehow meant that I was ageing, becoming weary of travel or possibly losing my wanderlust all together. Nevertheless, after some tossing and turning, I have accepted this realization and embraced it for what it is.

So without further ado, my realization: One of the best things about traveling is coming home.

There are, of course, other amazing elements to traveling – the exploration of the unknown, the cultures you experience, the food you eat and  the challenges you face. But for me, nothing beats coming home to your familiar doormat, the distinct aroma of your house, the comfort of your bed, and most importantly, a smiling face, welcoming eyes, open arms and sweet kisses, because only then do I know that I am home…

Welcome home!

Don’t worry, I am not implying that I will stop traveling – I would need a new blog name if that were the case. Instead, I think it is the travel that allows me to appreciate each of these elements of my home and of my partner.

Till we part again,

Carly

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