Having just come back from another great trip, I’m reminded again of the richness of Europe and the gifts it keeps on giving to any traveler willing to seek them out. I went to France on assignment for three mid-size, nationally-distributed magazines, and set to work almost immediately. It’s amazing how profoundly engrossing traveling and learning can be, especially when you have the added incentive of a contract for a story that must be delivered. Poking around the countryside and investigating ancient abbeys, ruined castles, and little medieval towns gives me a charge like nothing else. It satisfies my twin desires of adventure and knowledge.
As usual, the interactions with locals carbonated the experience. Sharing a bench—and soon after, a lively conversation—with a local man in half-timbered Rouen or chatting with the lady at the café table next to mine in the pretty little Burgundian city of Beaune added texture to the photos I’d taken. The clusters of pixels in my camera contained beautiful images of churches and historic buildings, but the connections forged with the everyday residents of these places gave depth and perspective to the memories in my own mind—a depth and perspective I hope will be felt by my readers.
It’s the local people—like the kindly town archivist in the German city who helped me make sense of his community’s tragic WWII history—that are the real repositories of history and tradition. Without him, I’d never had known about the moving memorial that sits on a seldom-visited hill just outside the town. It was a powerful, emotional experience to visit the lonely hill—the last resting place of so many of his community who lost their lives while the dueling armies fought it out around them—alone at sunset.
At those times you realize that the pretty stuff is only architecture.
Other travelers met on the road have become new friends too; I’ll soon be swapping trip highlights over email with the LA filmmaker from the Rhine River Valley village of Bacharach, the Seattle-area photographer from St. Goar, and the US psychology student from Colmar.
As I sit here shaking off jetlag and organizing my hastily-scribbled notes, I smile as I think about the experiences I crammed into my short trip. The research I did and the photos I took will yield excellent material for my article assignments. But more importantly, the experiences are already sowing the seeds of ambition for my next adventure overseas.
One of the reasons we travel is to reach across cultural boundaries and experience the world from a different perspective. It’s that genuine human interaction between different worlds, within the same space that is the essence of the value of leaving home and “seeing the world.” That connection is the moment that makes all of the uncomfortable moments on the road worthwhile. It’s the window that allows us to really see into a place, and a people. It’s the window that allows us to truly see ourselves and learn about who we are and our place in the world at large.
In our experience, those connections rarely happen on tour buses, or packaged experiences. There’s no way to set them up, or manufacture them for mass market. The moment someone tries, something is lost. The best of them are beautiful serendipities.
Today I’d like to ask my fellow travelers how they make these connections.
We have two, that are effective without fail:
Some of our best friends have been drawn to us while traveling because of soccer balls and musical instruments.
What about you? How do you make connections? What are your best “tricks?” Tell me about your experiences, as I’m seeking to learn and deepen my own!
Cost/day (for a family of five):
Strangest thing we’ve seen lately:
Before his wish to die, but well after 40 degree fever and horrifying nightmares, the kindly villagers performed ritual healing ceremonies on my husband Kobi. They picked two of this leaf, four of that one, this root, that berry and cooked them over a banana-leaf-sealed open-fired vat. Then, with ritual prayer chanting, candles, and incense burning, he was stuffed under a dozen thick blankets to breath the steam, drank a cup o it, and bathed in the waters. Their love and earnest determination to cure him were touching. Two days later, he was hospitalized.
“But you’re just going to leave!”
Although I hated to admit it, who said that was right. At the time I’d been seasonally migrating as a guide for four years. And had no intention to confine my adventurous spirit in domestic American life, then—if ever. The catch though was he was not American; Swedish born to immigrated Polish parents. And unless we got married, physically being together was a matter of juggling countless visas. I was willing to explore the challenges of the relationship. He proposed, and I accepted. However, the seemingly prince-charming-fairy-tale was soured after five months, in one evening by his jealousy. (I’d been out socializing–drinking and playing cards with colleagues after a conference—and being that my fiancé and I were nine time zones apart, I missed talking to him on the phone for a whole day.) When I told him why, he got irate. The plot got thicker; but, long-story-short things didn’t work out with us.
My traveling continued, and continues still…But for several years after that break-up I abstained from dating or intimate relationships.
How do us late “Generation X” travelers bridge tradition and progressive thought?
I grew up with a passion for horses, not wanting to get married, or have children. My passion for horses keeps getting stronger. I was intrigued with the idea of marriage a few years back, and now have warmed up to fostering or adopting a child down the road. So where does that adult understanding leave me?
My current boyfriend and I are in an open relationship. We are committed to one another, but are non-monogamous and can have relationships with other partners. This doesn’t mean I can be traveling half-a-world-away, get drunk, and wake up naked next to some stranger; then afterwards confess to my boyfriend that it “didn’t mean anything” the morning after. Rather, as a couple, we consent to our partners other relations—be it flirting, dating, sexual contact, or intercourse. Everything, all our feelings are in full disclosure. We talk about everything!
There’s a Polish proverb that says, “Love enters a man through his eyes, women though her ears.” So shouldn’t it be every womens’ dream to have a guy that will actually talk to her?
So I began this post with a very traditional phenomena of girl-meets-foreign-boy-and-falls-in-love fantasy. And while I don’t doubt that could happen, it didn’t eventually work out for me. In the end, my original prince charming and I lacked one true thing…an open line and space of communication. But the guy who was always there happened to be my best friend.
At the root of most relationships, communication is lacking. Distance shouldn’t matter. In the end, every human is seeking a connection. It could be simply a friendly conversation; an exchange of directions; or one’s life story that just needed to be expressed.
My point is that communication should, and can be, the heart of travel when it comes to any form of relationship. Within in a few moments, or several hours of stories, you can make a friend.
What are you willing to give?
Personally, I’ve known my current boyfriend for more than a decade. He knows everything; all my travel stories, personal/health issues and fears. Perhaps that makes an open relationship plausible. We agree. We work. We love each other unconditionally.
And yes, I realize, both within my country (of the USA) and copious amounts of others it presents a multitude of controversy…
But because we as a whole, at vagablogging, share this progressive space…how do you feel about open relationships? Or in general…the way communication happens between fellow humans that you meet along your travels…
A week from now is All Hallows Eve “vigil of All saints” or commonly known in North America as Halloween. The holiday’s roots are of pagan Celtic origin; but it seems to be spreading around the world in modern fashion. When I was young, it meant dressing up in a costume and walking around my small town neighborhood, knocking on doors and gathering more candy than I’d ever eat. On October 31st my three year-old-niece will dress up as a frog fairy princess (her creative idea) and I’ll take her to go trick-or-treating.
But today’s celebration barely resembles the original festival known as Samhain. It was the eve before the official start of winter for the Celtics. It was a huge transition; cattle and sheep were brought in to closer pastures, crops were harvested and stored. Pagans also believed the cloak between this world and the other was thin on that night. Therefore ghosts of the dead could walk freely among the living and all the souls who died that year would pass into the otherworld.
Reminisce of this holidays roots linger today. But what about the belief that ghosts walk among the living…
Are you in a county that observes Halloween?
Have you ever encountered ghosts during your travels?
Please share your stories…
Who doesn’t like getting a postcard in the mail?
With the overwhelming evolution of technology, the act of putting pen to paper almost seems old-fashion. Words have the same definition whether typed or scrolled by hand. But handwriting can reveal clues about an individuals personality where digital text lacks that touch.
Years ago I discovered a site called Postcrossing that links together people who enjoy writing postcards. Once signed up for a free account, you request an address, and can begin exchanging postcards with random people around the world! All cards are assigned an ID that you write along with your message. Once the person receives your card, they register that ID and a map program calculates the distance it traveled. It’s a fun way to learn about other cultures, geography and connect with real people. I’ve received amazing handmade cards and messages that took me a while to translate.
Do you enjoy sending postcards? Have you ever used postcrossing?
My mother tongue is American English. According to my Swedish friend, I speak her native language with a Russian accent. In my own country I’ve been asked where in Australia I’m from. And when I met a guy on the road–who grew up less than an hour from me–I marveled at his strong accent. Why don’t I have the same one?
Language mimicking is common, and often times unintentional. Apparently several years ago Oprah offended someone by doing so. But Arika Okrent, author of “In the Land of Invented Languages” says it’s a human trait to mirror accents, body posture or behavior. And I guess if you listen carefully, Oprah does it all the time. And so do I!
After a few weeks abroad, I began adopting local phrases and arranging words differently. My accent and the pitch at which I spoke morphed. Of course I wasn’t aware of the drastic change until I went home several months later and heard how loud American’s speak. It was almost deafening. One friend told me to “Drop the fake accent.” But it took several months before it began morphing into the local rhythm.
The friend who told me that does not leave town much. When I explain that accents vary within every country—even our own–they only drew a blank stare. Obviously the concept was foreign to them! Yet Curtis at Overseas Exile says living abroad won’t give you an accent. So then why do lots of people pick them up even within their own native country and language?
According to one site, people that pick up accents are language geniuses but don’t realize it! One major trait is being able to identify regional or foreign accents. A second plus is being a musician because, “Language and music both have rhythm, meter, and intonation. Languages and music both have pitch, tempo, and sometimes even melody.”
Relating language to music made complete sense to me. Though I wouldn’t call myself a musician, I’ve played a number of instruments in my life and tend to gravitate to music. I also pick up accents and regional phrases within my own native language.
What do you think? Do you pick up accents while traveling?
The 10 day silent meditation retreat I attended last July in Wat Khao Tham, a monastery in Ko Phangan, Thailand, was my 4th experience of this sort, all but one of them in the land of smiles, each of them in a different temple.
In this website there is already a guide to Meditation Retreats in Thailand, that I recommend you reading to get a good picture and “Find your own damn Buddhist meditation retreat!“ (more…)
“Living abroad is an opportunity to reinvent yourself that rarely exists outside the witness protection program.” ~Karen McCann
From their first date, Karen and her husband-to-be, Rich talked about living abroad. Instead–after getting married–they moved to Cleveland, Ohio for two decades. Yet during a vacation en-route to Italy they stopped to visit a friend in Seville, Spain. One visit led to another and eventually Karen, Rich along with their dog, Pie went to live in Southern Spain for a year. But like many of us who have a notion our wanderlust will be curbed with one epic adventure—one year has turned into many. The couple splits their time between Spain and San Anselmo, California, USA.
Dancing in the Fountain gives a warm, humorous account of fitting together life’s puzzle pieces regardless of surface. Karen McCann slowly wiggles her way into a Spanish community where friendships are nurtured “since baptism” by befriending tapas owners (and attempting to understand what they are saying) along with reawakening her love for painting. She makes shopping for a screw driver sound like a grand adventure especially when language pronunciation happens to be slightly off; and adopts the local health care ways for lowering cholesterol —wine, chocolate and ham. Throughout the book you’ll not only come to know her expat town but also laugh at Cleveland snake wrangling and her dog getting drunk after sneaking a whole rum cake!
Karen encourages fitting-in by learning the local language and adorning the areas fashion—perhaps even down to a haircut. She also states that when you live in a destination city “people visit you” (though the trick might be getting them to leave). In her chapter “Culture Lag” she talks about the necessity of mentally unpacking when waltzing between homes splint by 9 time zones and a very different view on the beloved Spanish practice of a siestas.
So how did the title of the book come about you wonder…
“Late one blazing hot night, I was returning home from a club meeting and passed through Duck Plaza to find Rich and L-F sitting in folding chairs with their feet up on the rim of the duck fountain, sipping scotch from a little silver flask…After a while, we took off our shoes and began dipping our toes in the cool water. Then Rich planted his feet in the fountain and stood up…Rich, who can never resist a movie moment, swept me into his arms and began to waltz me around.”
Eventually a local “old curmudgeon” passed by and growled, “’You wouldn’t do that back where you come from!’”–which she found to be true. Traveling lends oneself to live out loud.
With over 20 million people, Seoul is the second largest urban agglomeration in the world, far behind the endless tentacles of that postmodern monster commonly known as Tokyo. But Korea beat Japan in something his neighbour is famous: in fact Korea is the most ethnically and linguistic homogeneous country in this planet, even with the highest contingent of English teacher who take the opportunity of high salaries and low-cost of life.
No way I could catch the soul of this monolithic giant in only one week of permanence, nevertheless I tried.
Cost/day: 20-25$ a day, without accommodation, but including 2 visit to a jimjibang and dining out every night.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
The way Seoul is built. The metropolis looks even bigger because it’s delimited by the sea and the mountains, crossed by a big river and his affluents and with many parks scattered between urbanized lots. So you pass from extremely dense populated area, with several high-rise aligned next to each other like pieces of domino, to hills and parks big enough you can spend the day hiking, re-emerging into a civilization made of small villages.
The overall feeling was very pleasant to me. Seoul is a micro-world, where nature and civilization are in harmony, a place that gave me the sensation I can spend months simply wandering around before getting itchy feet and start dreaming of a new place to explore.
Describe a typical day:
Walk until I get too tired, than taking the subway for a new part of the city, walk again until my legs begs for a break, stop a couple of hours for my daily fix of coffee and internet in one of the many internet cafe, walk again until I can enjoy dinner in typical restaurant.
What do you like about where you are? Dislike?
Liked: Seoul airport is awarded as the best in the world and one of the reason is you can spend the night instead in uncomfortable benches on the mattress of a jimjibang for a cheap fee. It was not my only visit to this beautiful concept of Korean bath house. I went to the biggest in the city, 7 floors of pure wellness. I may go to a jimjibang every day.
Dislike: in a big city there is no better place to me for people watching than the subway, but I never felt like in Seoul metro the lack of humanity and a sense of extraniation. Everyone lost in his smart phone, everyone feeling the other like a instead of a mirror where observe himself from a different angle and the world.
Describe a challenge you faced:
Not to react when pushed by people. Like in China, Koreans tend to be rude and impolite when they are in crowds. Nobody will hint at a smile if waiting the elevator with you, no matter if it’s your neighbour since you were born, instead they will cut your way as soon as the door will open. I understand it’s just the reflection of a different culture, but I will never get use to such behaviours. More than once I was pushed out badly and I had to control myself and not to throw them at least some loud insult, when their reaction at the clash was far from a “Excuse me” or “I am sorry”, instead a truce look or the pretension you don’t exist.
From the most homogeneous country in the world to the most diverse city per square mile I have ever been: Georgetown, Penang.