Returning.

01.07.09

11:38 a.m.  Houston Intercontinental Airport

I’m sitting at gate A15, watching Continental Express propeller planes take off.  Houston’s skies are covered in a thin layer of gray and white clouds and only flecks of blue are poking their way through.  I’m flying Delta, and the plane is not yet here even though it’s supposedly on time.  Also, it’s overbooked.  Packed.  Ugh.  Why do airlines do this?  It’s so miserable for the passengers, and yet, we keep coming back for more.  We keep needing to get from point A to point B, and we keep putting up with horrible service and discomfort.

After being in the U.S. a month, I’m ready to return to Europe.  This time, I’m ready for an adventure through Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and (because I’m an addict now) a bit of France.  First stop: Zürich.  Peter has been in Germany a month now after a trip to the Holy Lands (Israel/Palestine), and I can’t wait to be reunited with my husband.  When we started planning this year of travel and adventure, we knew that there would be periods of time when we would be separated, but I don’t know if we thoroughly thought through how difficult it would be after awhile.  I’m tired of going to bed alone, of waking up alone, of making my own coffee.  I feel like I’ve been missing an appendage that I am now going to retrieve.  I’ve operated just fine on, say, one leg, but I sure miss the other.  I’m surprised by how much work it is to be single, and while I know I’m perfectly capable of doing it, I’m beginning to remember why it is that people play the love-hunting game with all their strength.  It’s hard out there by yourself…

And yet, sometimes that realization escapes me when I travel.  Is it because I am busy meeting people?  Is it because I am busy staying alive?  All my effort is toward making it through to the next moment, the next meal, the next day.  It’s intensified living– and that’s why I love it so much.

So, off I go on another adventure.  This flight goes to Atlanta.  In Atlanta, I catch my long flight to Zürich.  After Zürich, I head to Munich to reunite with Peter.  And maybe, I’ll be reunited with the piece of my heart that I previously left behind.  We’ll see…

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Today is the other day that I knew would eventually come, but I didn’t expect to feel quite the way I do as I sit in my window seat and look at the Swiss countryside fading beneath me.

This is the end of the first of three trips I will make to Europe over the next year.  But this is the only one that I have done largely on my own, without my husband or a particular traveling partner beside me.  I have chosen where to go when and with whom.  I have figured out train schedules and fares, restaurant menus and tips, and places to sleep and visit.  I have made friends with Germans and French people, Spaniards and Swiss.  And I leave this Continent with more of a sense of self than I had when I first stepped foot here back in that warm April day in Barcelona.

I learned, for starters, about the sorts of things that irritate me, both about myself and about others.  Traveling brings out people’s rough edges, those things we can safely set to the side when we’re at home.  I learned that my edges revolve around my fears and loneliness.  If I feel lonely or isolated, I tend to get more quickly annoyed with others than I ordinarily would.  And if I feel afraid or threatened in any way, I have a hard time admitting it to others or dealing with the war that wages in my head over shoulds and shouldn’ts.

I went for a long walk last night by myself through the vineyards and paths of Rivaz and the surrounding Swiss villages.  I was indeed alone, but I felt like I was on a walk with the Creator of it all.  I took my time strolling around, watching the incredible sunset over the Alps reflecting its colors on the surface of the water.  I could feel my tired body getting more tired by the minute, but I pushed myself further and further.  If there’s anything that I have learned about myself, it’s that I can indeed be pushed to limits that I never would have approached before– I can survive narrowly being pick-pocketed, I can figure out how to get from one place to another (even in a language I don’t speak!), I can power hike up a mountain to enjoy a quick but life-giving view, I can not let a rainy day ruin my enjoyment of beauty.

After this flight lands in Newark, I’ll be greeted by my husband who has been busy packing the belongings we’ve accumulated over the past three years of marriage.  In three days, we will both graduate as Masters of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary.  And in a week, we’ll be turning over the keys to our apartment– the only home we’ve known together– as we embark on the next adventures laid out before us.  Peter will be traveling to Israel and Palestine.  He’ll then travel to Germany, where, in one month, I will meet him for another month of travel.  I am eager to return to the U.S., where my husband and family call home, but I know that I leave a piece of my heart behind in Europe.  I hope that I can find it when I return.

Until then…

Adventure seeker on an empty street

Just an alley creeper, light on his feet

A young fighter screaming, with no time for doubt

With the pain and anger can’t see a way out

It ain’t much I’m asking, I heard him say

Gotta find me a future move out of my way

I want it all, I want it all, I want it all, and I want it now…

I have now split off from our larger group, and I am traveling with two friends– an engaged couple who I adore.  The only thing that is proving difficult is that, after almost three weeks of travel, I am really missing my husband, and their love is making me lovesick.  But I suppose that it is actually a blessing, to love and be loved… and to miss it.

Fortunately, we have landed ourselves along the Swiss Riviera, which is, without doubt, the most breathtakingly spectacular place I have ever been.  Behold:

Yes, THIS is the view out the window of the home I am staying in for the next few days in the little village of Rivaz, a village rich with vineyards and water sports.  I’ve been to the French Riviera, and I’ve gotta say that, as of now, it is way overrated in the realm of Riviera-ness.

The Swiss Alps are graced by the gentle embrace of clouds, and the sparkling Lake Geneva reflects the purity of the sky with perfection.  It’s the kind of water that I imagine even I could walk on.

Knowing that a place like this exists makes me re-evaluate the reasons I choose to live in the places I do.  There are people who live and move and have their being in places like this.  And, once I’ve seen it, I can hardly imagine living in a place that doesn’t have this sort of beauty inspiring my daily life.

And yet, I can’t escape my knowledge that Switzerland has one of the highest rates of suicide in the world.  How can this be?  How can people be surrounded by this kind of glory and lose hope in life?

Perhaps I’m too quick to judge.  I still have a few days in this country before heading back to the States.  I have a feeling that a place like this has much to teach me, not only about the beauty of this earth, but also about the humans who indwell it.

I’ll keep you posted…

 

Carcassonne.

26.04.09

I was right to remember France so fondly.  The stereotypes of the snobbish French who refuse to help Americans are so ridiculous, and I imagine that, nine times out of ten, the American comes at the situation with that characteristic American assumption of entitlement.  I do think the French are right to be proud of their language.  It is so beautiful, melodic, and full of a kind of quiet passion.  I have to learn it.  Soon.

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Carcassonne is an astonishing place, amazing in its continued existence and regality.  It was even magical as I walked away from it this afternoon, over Pont Neuf being showered with more rain.  Yesterday, I decided to venture out into the cold and rainy town, first stopping at the Vinothéque across the street, Comptoir des Vins et Terroirs.  There, I had the best glass of wine I have ever tasted in all of my life and all of my travels—a strawberry-infused rosé native to the region.  The woman working there was very kind and patient with me, even when I broke the characteristic French solemnity that seems always to accompany food by ramming my daypack into a metal sign.

I watched the rain fall outside on the slick cobblestone streets, as I sipped my wine and ate two cheeses with a biscotti-shaped herb bread, an olive tapenade, and a jam.  It was so beautifully presented that my raging hunger was the only thing that kept me from just enjoying its presentation for long.  Still, this is something that I would probably not have thought to eat in the U.S.  There is something about traveling that brings out a kind of courage and adventure in me that I normally don’t feel.  Maybe it is necessary to survival or maybe it’s just a silly romantic wanderlust.  I tend to prefer to think of it as the former…

After a wonderful time at the Vinothéque, I decided that I just had to take a walk around this town, even if I ended up with pneumonia from the rain and cold.  The theme of my last trip to Europe seemed to be something along the lines of, “Eh, we’ll figure it out.”  So far, figuring things out doesn’t seem to be nearly as much a concern for me as does just living life to the full as opportunities present themselves.

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I walked and walked and even climbed the slippery wall a bit.  I took tons of pictures, tried to spot everything in my guidebook, took in the church and the posh hotel, and decided to head back to the hostel, soaked to the bone but feeling good all the same.  When I finished resting, I met another hosteller, Maartje, from Holland.  It’s always nice to make a friend in a rainstorm.  And she made me feel less insane by sharing that she had done basically the same thing I had in the horrendous weather, walking from the train station and meandering through the rain-soaked streets.

After our conversation, I decided to get some dinner at the Auberge des Lices down the street.  My dinner was incredible—a salad of romaine lettuce, slivers of meat and parmesan cheese, quartered tomatoes, and walnuts; Cassolet, the regional specialty stew with white beans, thick broth, and meat; and a “chocolate cappuccino,” which was utterly amazing and served with a perfectly round scoop of almond ice cream and a cinnamon-and-sugar stick of toast.  All of it was amazing, and the restaurant itself was beautiful and quiet.  So far, the best meal I’ve had in Europe.

Afterwards, I started wandering the spooky night-lit streets of Carcassonne, around 11:00 p.m.  Alone, I wasn’t brave enough to make the entire circuit around the town, but I got some wonderful photos nonetheless.  I was walking the first main road when I heard a clicking sound behind me.  But when I spun around, no one was there.  So I started to walk again.  Again, the sound: “click, click, click.”  I turned around again, sure that I was as pale as the lights that were shining in the town walls.  No one.  But then, a voice from far away on the wall.  “Bon-jour!” said a non-French speaker, snapping photos.  “Bon soir,” I replied.  It was clearly time for bed.

When I woke up and showered, Maartje and I decided to go to the Chateau Comtal together.  First, we wandered around town and found a place for a quick breakfast.  She told me that she was hoping to study to become a doctor and maybe work with Doctors Without Borders or some other non-profit agency.  Maybe it’s just our idealism, but I feel, when I meet someone like Maartje, that there is something special to our generation.  I hope we continue down this road, idealistic or not.  This world is in desperate need of some leaders with some actual ideals.

The Chateau offered some incredible and unique views of La Cité and the surrounding area.  It was nice to have someone to talk to after several days of solitude.  And it helped tremendously that she spoke some French.  While we were handing our tickets to the ticket-taker at the Chateau, he said something that made her laugh.  I just smiled and asked her later what he said.  “He told me to be careful with my head on the low ceilings.  But he said that you didn’t have anything to worry about.”  Nice.  Short jokes in French.

Sounds better than in English, at least.

Genesis.

22.04.09

I have loved traveling since the very first time my parents strapped me into an airplane seat.  Our destination was Anchorage, Alaska, and I was six years old.  My father worked for the now defunct Eastern Airlines, and we hopped on a standby flight from Salt Lake City.  By the end of the flight, I was best friends with the grandmotherly woman sitting beside me and the over-eager-with-the-little-ones stewardess (they were still “stewardesses” in 1987).

I caught the travel bug, and my wallet has been trying to cure me of it ever since.  Largely, it has failed.

And so I find myself now at the ripe-and-ready age of 28, road-tripping and world-traveling at every chance I get.  My ongoing existence is proof that one does not need oodles of money or good fortune to continue feeding this passion.

I have traveled to or through 37 of the 50 United States, 8 Mexican cities, 6 European countries, and one Canadian province.  Paltry perhaps for someone deciding to write about her travels.  But, I have to start somewhere.  So I’ll start here, on a wordpress blog, writing about my adventures.  And, more than likely, I will babble a bit about other stuff, too.  I do hope you enjoy.

Love, TB